Monday, July 28, 2008


Sports For Everyone!

Once I remove all of the cobwebs from the brain on Sunday morning, I am better prepared to watch a couple of the finest sports talk shows on television.

I have very little time for many of the talk shows that take up an enormous amount of time on my sports channels. I will repeat that---“Sports Channels”.

Lately, we have been presented with a wide variety of some of the greatest sporting events of all time on our sports channels: Dart Championships from “Over ‘ome”; Billiard Contests from around the globe; Sport fishing (would that be an oxymoron?); the North American Spelling Championship! Honestly! A little much to take!

The Reporters comes to us in two versions, American and Canadian. The Yankee edition features four top columnists and reporters south of the border. There are often changes in the lineup, but the quality is not affected. They simply review top sports stories, and add a little personal touch.

Last Sunday’s panel included: Mitch Albom, John Saunders, Rick Bozich, and Marcos Breton. Two of their main issues were the great Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and the plight of Marion Jones.

Jones is serving six months in prison for a variety of activities: perjury, drug-related usage of performance enhancing substances---the whole Ben Johnson thing. She is seeking a Presidential pardon. Poor thing. The panel advised her to do her time.

The Yankees were in Bean Town for the weekend in an American Division East race that is heating up all the time. The Yankees won the first three games, dropped the last. There are bits of controversy regarding a certain left fielder for the Red Sox-Manny Ramirez. The “Red Sox Nation” has adopted Ramirez as some sort of prodigal child, and, in their eyes, he can do no wrong. He fails to run out ground balls, he jogs after balls in the outfield, he defies authority. He is a coach killer. But he can whack the cover off a baseball, and so he stays, for now.

The Canadian Reporters naturally focuses on Canadian events. Last weekend, the Canadian Open Golf Championship wound up in Toronto. A relatively unknown golfer named Chez Reavie (one golfing enthusiast mispronounced his name as Chavez Ravine, which of course is a baseball diamond in California!).

Dave Hodge, Steve Simmonds, Dave Naylor, and Dave Feschuk all spoke well about sports in general. They reviewed the performance of Rafael Nadal at the Canadian Tennis Championships, winning the title in straight sets. They were in the process of anointing him the King of the Courts, but, at twenty-nine years of age, Roger Federer will have something to say about that. That will unfold soon at the U. S. Open.

Soccer had its day in the sun recently in Toronto. The North American All Stars, including David Beckham, took on one of the European teams in a friendly match. Beckham drives that league like no other player, and he will be missed when he heads back to Europe. The Montreal Impact, a soccer team which plays in a lower division, tied the Toronto Football Club to take the Canadian title, shocking soccer fans in the process.

In the meantime, we could also watch NASCAR and Indy Car races, Arena Football’s Championship game, rugby between Australia and South Africa, boxing, and various forms of wrestling.

The Canadian Football League also boasts its own panel of experts, supplying dialogue prior to, and during game telecasts. Dave Randorf, Chris Schultz, Matt Dunnigan, and Jock Climie are all well versed with the game, and “tell it like it is”. During a hail and rain delay in the Argonaut-Roughrider game, Randorf asked Schultz what the players might be doing in the locker room during the break. Schultz replied that they were likely readjusting their medication. There was a brief pause. Schultz was then chastised for making such a comment on the air. He added that he was just being honest. As a former star in the CFL and the NFL, he knows from whence he cometh.

Kerry Joseph, the Argos quarterback, received a respectful standing ovation from the Saskatchewan fans prior to the game. That love ended with the opening kickoff. Behind the spectacular running of Wes Cates, the Riders squeaked by the Argos for their fifth victory this year, a streak that has not been matched in 74 years. Let’s see. Yes, they were just edging out of the Great Depression when they first won that many games at the beginning of a season.

And they said it would never be done again!

The Buffalo Bills have two games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto this year. They will play the Steelers on August 14th in a pre-season game, and the Dolphins on December 7th. I have a few extra tickets for each game. Try me at 613-399-2278.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting

James Hurst

Last Saturday night, professional boxing made a return to the Quinte area. It has been twenty years since we have seen a prize fight in these parts. Steve Molitor

Certainly, it is not for everyone. I asked a few people prior to the fight if they might be attending. One friend said that he would pass on the event because it was too violent. He stated that every time a boxer was hit that it might result in a concussion. I do not doubt that he is right.

Personally, I have always enjoyed prize fighting. I think it involves the “King of the Castle” syndrome. In simple terms, it is a carefully orchestrated battle between two equally matched human beings, stripped to shorts and shoes---T shirts for the ladies, of course. No weapons, no place to hide, no opportunity to cheat, as is the case in professional wrestling. Mano a mano. One of the three classic conflicts-man against man.

It is indeed violent, and there are going to be injuries in every fight. That is the nature of the beast.

There were five preliminary bouts and a main event. Belleville’s own Harrison “Harry” King McBain fought Jorge Banos, a Mexican who fights out of Montreal in the last bout of the evening.

There were the usual elements of fanfare throughout the evening. The first fight was between Ray Kovinic, a well-tattooed scowl-faced pug from Niagara Falls, and a bruising fan favourite from Whitby. Brock Arthur was paraded into the ring with his entourage including bagpipes. The kilt and tunes were helpful, as he bested Kovinic before the bell of the first round had rung.

The third fight also pleased the crowd. Scott “The Spark” Paul from Niagara Falls won the fashion prize of the night with bright red socks and shoes. He sensed by the third round that he had a battle on his hands with a wild swinging African fighter, Aboualye Coulibay, who also fought out of Montreal. His haymakers rarely landed, but were treated with respect by Paul. Coulibay did receive a standing eight count, rare in professional boxing, at the end of the fourth round. Paul won unanimously.

Two ladies entered the ring for the fourth bout. Lindsay Garbatt won on a TKO in the fourth round over Lucia Larcinese of Montreal. Lucia protested the referee’s decision to stop the bout; however, she had been beaten to the punch throughout the fight, and would have lost decisively on the three judges’ cards.

The longest fight of the night, six rounds featured a pair of light middleweight boxers. Phil “The Sudbury Sensation” Boudreault squared off against Tebor Brosch from Mississauga. Even though Brosch was the aggressor throughout the fight, the brawler from the north won a close unanimous decision.

For many fight fans, one of the highlights of the evening was to see the International Boxing Federation super bantamweight champion at the event. Steve Molitor entertained the crowd with an interview between bouts, and also worked the corner for Boudreault. He was completely involved in the bout, shouting encouragement, ragging the ref about low blows, cooling off his fighter between rounds.

Molitor has a record of 27-0 as a professional. He regularly fights at Casino Rama before six thousand fans. He last fought April 5, 2008, and defeated Fernando Beltran at Rama in a twelve round unanimous decision.

King-McBain had a large group of supporters at the event, and responded with a very respectable effort to defeat Banos in the four round lightweight event. Two judges scored the fight as a draw, while the third judge gave the nod to Harry. King-McBain is a southpaw, moved in and out of the range of Banos quickly, and battled the distance.

Most of us shielded our eyes as beautiful leggy women paraded around the round numbers between the rounds. There were former boxing greats in attendance---Belleville’s own Sean O’Sullivan and Patty McWilliams. Lisa Brown paraded her world championship belt. Spider Jones, who often offers his opinions on the “Off the Record” show on TSN supplied dialogue between rounds.

Officials decked out in blue blazers with Ontario Boxing Council crests circled the ring. There was the mandatory fight doctor in attendance. At the end of each round the fighters returned to the corners to have their wounds sealed, to be mopped down, greased, towelled, and returned to the fray. Belleville’s own Jack Miller did an admirable job as the ring announcer. Promoter Tyler Buxton received rave reviews for the event.

It was fight night in Belleville, long overdue.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Josh Hamilton's Home Run Triumph

by James Hurst

Last Monday night, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers hit 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby in New York to shatter the previous record. The record was held by Bobby Abreu of the New York Yankees who hit 24 dingers.

The home run is one of the great status symbols of baseball. When you think of the greatest players in the game, you think of Mays, Mantle, Ruth, Aaron, Duke Snider, Jimmy Foxx, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson---all home run hitters. Certainly there are other superstars in the game that might come to mind. They may have been great pitchers, or infielders, or players who hit for average.

But the big money has always gone to the home run hitters, and that is where Josh Hamilton made his name Monday night. There was not one baseball superstar in attendance at the game who was not in awe of Hamilton’s accomplishments. David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Griffey Junior, and the rest of them took a back seat to Hamilton.

Hamilton ended the second round with a total of 32 homers, and had to face off against Justin Morneau, the Minnesota Twin who hails from New Westminster, British Columbia. Morneau trailed Hamilton by 15 home runs; however, at that point the slate was wiped clean, and the batters had to start again at point zero.

Morneau batted first and hit five home runs before recording his tenth out. Any ball that the batter swung at that did not classify as a home run was counted as an out. Hamilton was virtually spent, could manage only three round-trippers in the final, and gave up the crown to Morneau.

Morneau was quoted in the news: “We are all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way.”

The Josh Hamilton story began in a good way. He was the first overall draft in 1999 by Tampa Bay, out of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball.

He signed with the Devil Rays, receiving $ 3.96 million signing bonus. He spent his first season in the Devil Ray chain with Princeton Devil Rays, and the Hudson Valley Renegades. He spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. He was accompanied in his travels by his parents, who had quit their jobs so that they could travel with their son.

Just before the start of the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in a serious car accident. His mother was also injured, and went home to recuperate with her husband. At that point in time, things started to unravel for Hamilton, and he began a series of seasons in and out of baseball, and in and out of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

He did not play baseball at all from 2002 to 2006.

Through the efforts of Roy Silver, who owns a baseball academy in Florida, and Rick Zolzer, the Hudson Valley Renegades’ director of special events, Hamilton began to change. But it was through the efforts of his grandmother, Mary Holt, that Josh made the conversion. Simply stated: “It’s a God thing. Faith in Christianity is what brought me back. It is what keeps me going.”

The Rays gave up on Hamilton and left him off their 40 man roster. The Cubs picked him up as a Rule 5 Draft, for $ 50 000. He was then sold to the Cincinnati Reds, and spent the 2007 season with the Reds. Last December, the Reds traded
Hamilton to the Texas Rangers.

He plans to stay in Texas. He provides urine samples for testing three times a week. Rangers’ Coach Johnny Narron thinks he looks forward to the testing.

Currently, Hamilton leads the American league with 95 runs batted in, and is tied for third with 21 homers. He has a respectable .310 batting average. Justin Morneau is second with a .323 BA, and third with 68 RBIs. He has 14 home runs.

With the season well past the half way mark, races have tightened up in all divisions. The Tigers have rebounded from their horrendous start, and are knocking on the door in the Central Division. The Blue Jays are making noise in the east, as their dormant bats come alive. And yes, the Red Sox are again perched above the rest, slightly ahead of the faltering Rays. And the Yankees? With all the hoopla at Yankee Stadium in its final season, they will find ways to win games and challenge for the titles.

Keep the faith.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Viva Espana!

For the second time this year, Spaniards have a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of their athletes.

Rafael Nadal, a twenty-two year old native of Mallorca, outlasted Roger Federer to win the Wimbledon tennis final in London.

Both men were completely drained at the end of the match, described by many as the greatest tennis match ever played. Having followed the game for half a century, you will not get any argument about that comment from me. The last Spaniard to win at Wimbledon was Monolo Santana in 1966.

Santana watched the match with Bjorn Borg, the Swede who owned the single men’s title at Wimbledon for many years. They were both great players, but did not possess the game that Nadal and Federer have today.

For Federer, it was a tough loss. He had won the last five titles at Wimbledon, and no one has won six in a row since 1880. Nadal is the first to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles in the same year since Borg. This can be attributed to one’s ability to play on all types of surfaces. Federer excels on grass, Nadal on clay. Rarely does not do well on different surfaces.

Next year, the final will be played in different conditions, thankfully. There were rain delays this year, and the last few games were played in poor light. They had been at it for almost five hours, and had waited through a couple of rain interruptions.

Both of these players are also gentlemen. That has not always been the case on the tennis court. Agassi, Connors, McEnroe and a few others nurtured a brat image for the game. But in the dark, following the match, as the flashes from the patrons blistered the finalists, Federer politely criticized the conditions following his loss: “It’s tough on me now, you know, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light.” An understatement, to be sure.

There are also building a retractable roof over the centre court next year. About time. There are only a few of them in the world today, and one of the finest is in Toronto. I cannot fathom why anyone, in our climate area would build a new stadium without some type of roof.

The other moment of joy that led Spaniards into the bodegas for a sip of Sangria came when they recently won the European Championship in soccer. Fernando Torres trickled in a first half goal, the team dominated the German side, and the Spaniards returned to Madrid with their first international success since 1964 when they won the UEFA cup.

A midfielder, Xavi Hernandez, who plays for FC Barcelona, was chosen as the top player in the tournament. The coach, Arragones, was the epitome of demonstrative emotion on the sidelines.

Despite the torrential rains that swept across Austria and Switzerland, the host countries, the tournament went off with very few hitches. There is no doubt that the people from Bejing were watching carefully, as they prepare for this summer’s Olympic Games. Let there be no political games in China.

The Spaniards completed Group D play with nine points, followed by Russia with six, Sweden with three and Greece, held pointless. I am sure heads will roll in Athens!

The boys from the Iberian peninsula then advanced past Italy with a nil-nil draw, trounced Russia 3-0 in the semi-final, and dusted Germany in the final.

Two great triumphs for Spain. Felicitaciones! Bien hecho!

James Hurst

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


We Punt on Third Down

The annual northern migration of American football castoffs to Canada has begun. All of the teams in the Canadian Football League eagerly scan the cuts from the NFL to fatten their rosters for the season.

The Canadian season has begun, whereas the Americans have just opened their training camps. There will be more cuts as the opening game approaches in the United States. Scouts on this side of the border will keep an eye on the talent that becomes available, and will try to entice the talented ones to play in the CFL.

There are a few differences in the game between the CFL and the NFL. One of the most notable differences involves the reception of punts. In the Canadian game, the receiver is afforded the benefit of a five yard restraining area. No opponent is allowed in that area when the receiver touches the ball. Otherwise, a penalty is assessed. Coaches hate penalties. Players try to avoid them, unless they enjoy watching the game from the bench.

In the American game, on the other hand, there is no protection for the receiver, except for the “fair catch”. In this case, the receiver signals that he will not try to advance the ball once he catches it. With his hand wave, he tells the opposition that he does not want to die. But if he thinks he can run the kick back, he will take a chance that he may live another day. Many a kick returner has met his Waterloo in the American game. The act of running backs kicks, State-side is tantamount to suicide.

We have only three downs in Canada. They use four, but not because they are inept. Remember, we cherish the players they discard. This is strictly an historical item. There is much more movement in our backfields, and our field is much larger-wider, longer, and fitted with an end zone that is almost twice as large as the American zone. As a result, pass receivers have more room to run patterns. Defenders consequently have more difficulty covering these receivers.

Even the footballs are different sizes. A couple of years ago, in order to generate a little excitement, the CFL advertised that in Canada, we have bigger balls. It caught my attention. Other than that, I have no comment at this time. I can be politically correct, now and then.

No matter where the game is played, the most important position on the field is the quarterback. He is the general on the field of battle, the straw that stirs the drink. The Canadian quarterback, however, needs to rely on quickness and speed more than his American counterpart. The classic example is an American who came north to demonstrate his ability.

Doug Flutie played his college ball in Boston. He rattled around the American game in a couple of pro leagues before coming to Canada. He was a failure in American parks. He was too small for the American game, they said. He quickly found a home in Canada. He won Grey Cups, and all of the individual awards available. He was mobile, he was lightning quick, and he could think on his feet. He loved the expanse of the Canadian field which gave him more time to execute.

The Toronto Argonauts have two premier quarterbacks at the helm. It is causing some controversy in the media, not so much in the coaching and managerial ranks. It is critical to have two good quarterbacks. Because of the nature of the game, any player can (and will be) injured at any time. Backup is important at all positions. Kerry Joseph was snatched from last year’s Grey Cup Champion Saskatchewan Rough Riders before the start of the season. He is competing for the starting role with Michael Bishop, who had the job last year. The results of this competition will play themselves out as the year progresses.

The Hamilton Tiger Cats suffered with several quarterbacks who could never find a comfort level in the Steel City. This year, they are relying on Casey Printers to help them escape from the doldrums. He has been in the league for half a dozen years, and he knows what it takes to be successful. There must be good chemistry between him and his receivers, good protection from his line. There were glimmers of hope in their first game this year, but not enough for a victory.

In Montreal, Anthony Calvillo demonstrated in his team’s first win of the season that he is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game in Canada. He picks apart defences with accurate throws, and an occasional scamper for half a dozen yards. He reads defences instantly, and can manipulate his receivers so deftly.

Later in the year, we will take a look at the quarterbacks in the western regions of the league.

On Thursday, the Ticats take on the Double Blue in Toronto. This is a traditional rivalry that is not equalled in any other sport in Canada. There is only one major league baseball team left in Canada, sadly. The Leafs-Habs, and perhaps Habs-Senator battles just don’t cut it the way they used to cut it.

The Tiger Cats then take on the Grey Cup Champion Rough Riders in Hamilton on Saturday, July 12th. There is a bus running from Belleville and Trenton to the game. Two buses, in fact. The first is sold out. Tickets are $ 70 for the coach and the game ticket. Always a great place to see the CFL. Call for tickets: 613-399-2278.

And if anyone calls to ask you to field punts for that game, give them an excuse, any excuse.

James Hurst

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