Sunday, October 26, 2008
Bulls' Cameron Climbing the Ladder
According to the experts, the Belleville Bulls are off to a fairly miserable start to the 2008-2009 hockey season. This past weekend, they completed their first northern swing to Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie, and came home almost empty handed. They picked up one point in an overtime loss to the Hounds.
The first road trip to the north has always been difficult for the Bulls. Perhaps it’s psychological. Maybe it’s the food. More than likely, it is the first time that they have had to adjust to the rigours of travel, and they are young.
As for the initial predictions of the experts? Pure bunk! This is a team that has lost all of its front line scoring from last year. Gone from the score sheet are the likes of Shawn Matthias, Jan Mursak, Matt Beleskey, Adam Perry, and a couple of other scorers. The expectation that the Bulls would rebound from those losses to be in the upper echelon of the CHL was most unreasonable.
And yet the pundits placed the Bulls first in the OHL, third in the nation at the beginning of the season! Silly boys! So much for early season predictions.
Bryan Cameron recently tallied his hundredth goal for the Belleville Bulls, a milestone shared by only nine other players in the quarter century history of the club. Since the beginning of the season, he has hopscotched over a few well-known former Bulls on the goal scoring list: Chris Stanley, Ryan Ready, Mike Renzi, Bob Berg, Darren McCarty, and Matt Beleskey. For many of us long time Bulls followers, every one of those names brings back fond memories of great hockey.
Cameron trails Dan Quinn who had 101 goals, and John Porco and Nathan Robinson, who each had 109. Jon Cheechoo had 111 goals for the Bulls, and has rung up a few for the San Jose Sharks since entering the NHL. “Cheech” also won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the most prolific goal scorer in the 2005-2006 season in the NHL.
Cameron has struggled somewhat this season, primarily due to the bout of mononucleosis he contracted at the end of last season. He played the entire Memorial Cup Tournament with the debilitating disease, and spent the summer recovering.
Cameron was drafted by Los Angeles Kings in the 2007 draft. The product of the Toronto Marlboros minor hockey system will someday skate with another Belleville hockey product, Brad Richardson. Richardson moved from Colorado to Los Angeles in the off season, and another local player, and former Wellington Duke Andrew Raycroft took his locker with the Avalanche. Incidentally, Raycroft is off to a fine start with the Avs, posting two wins in his first two starts. (Did I hear a Leaf fan saying, “Why didn’t he do that for us?”)
To their credit, the Bulls are in first place in the East Division of the Eastern Conference. They have lost two squeakers-one in overtime and one in a shootout. They recently lost a one goal struggle to the Windsor Spitfires, and all of their games have been close. There is no reason to panic. When push comes to shove, the Bulls will be there when the playoffs begin.
Cameron had 41 goals last season. With forty more this year, he will move behind only three other players in the Bulls’ record book: Dunc McIntyre, Justin Papineau, and Dave MacLean. In a recent article in the Intelligencer, Paul Svboda reviewed MacLean’s hockey career. Despite his prolific scoring feats, MacLean was never able to catch on with any NHL team. Although drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the fourth round, he played briefly in the AHL, then played with Brantford in the Ontario Senior “A” hockey league.
The Bulls host Peterborough Wednesday evening, then entertain Owen Sound on Saturday night at the Quinte Sports Centre. Plenty of tickets are available. Avoid the lineup. Get them in advance. Go Bulls Go!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Ye of Little Faith!
Shame on you. You Red Sox fans. You, of the Red Sox Nation. Quietly filing out of Fenway last week while those young upstarts from Tampa Bay were laying a drubbing on your beloved Sox.
By the time you got to your vehicle, you must have realized that something was amiss. There would have been great noises coming from the Park. For, in the seventh inning, the bats came alive.
For six innings, the Red Sox had failed to put a mark on the board at the bottom of the Green Monster. The Rays had taken advantage, and had chalked up seven runs. That would be considered a virtually insurmountable lead. Not on this night.
The Sox came roaring back and plated the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 8-7. Truly, one of the greatest comebacks ever. The Sox packed their bags for game six in Florida.
Not to much avail. The Red Sox made it close, very close. It was not decided until the bottom of the ninth in the seventh and final game, when Akinori Iwamura hustled over to touch second base with Jed Lowrie’s ground ball, with a force out to end the game.
Now it is down to two teams, the best from the National League and the American League in 2008. The Philadelphia Phillies have a long and storied tradition in Philadelphia, but only one World Series triumph to their credit. That came in 1980, when they knocked off the Kansas City Royals in six games. The winning pitcher in Game Six was Hall of Famer Steve”Lefty” Carlton.
Carlton led a crew including Tug McGraw, Mike Schmidt, Bake McBride, Larry Bowa, and Pete Rose. They got to the World Series two years later, but were knocked off in five games by the Baltimore Orioles. Their last trip to the championships ended in Toronto in 1993.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Joe Carter was told to “touch ‘em all” by veteran Blue Jays’ announcer Tom Cheek as he rounded the bases. In one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history, Carter’s three run shot dashed the hopes of the Phillies, and led the Jays to their second Series triumph in as many years. They were denied a “Three Peat” in 1994, due to the work stoppage.
The Tampa Bay Rays have never even come close to a World Series title. This is just their tenth year in the Big Leagues. In those ten years, they have been the worst team in baseball. They finished last again last year. They have never had a winning record. Over the last five years, they have drafted well, and have stuck to a developmental system. With the youngest team in baseball, they are now primed to win a few big ball games.
Players like Carl Crawford, James Shields, B. J. Upton, and Matt Garza bring an excitement to the ballpark. Lefty Scott Kazmir, following their American League Pennant victory stated: “I knew we were going to be good, but never in a million years would I ever have expected this.”
And so the young upstarts from Florida will host the boys from the “City of Brotherly Love”. These Phillies are no shrinking violets. They are also built from the draft, with a few pieces of the puzzle thrown in for good measure. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, and Ryan Howard all came through the Phillies system as first year draft players. Former Blue Jay Matt Stairs, the New Brunswick native, will come off the bench as a pinch hitter in the Philly cause.
Stairs has hit .385 with three home runs in 13 at-bats for the Phillies. Manager Charlie Manuel will use Stairs in the late innings, especially with runners on base. Incidentally, Manuel played in the Major Leagues for two teams, Minnesota and Los Angeles. His two managers were Walter Alston and Billy Martin-plenty to learn from both of them.
The World Series is truly the Fall Classic. No problems with weather under the dome in Tampa Bay. Better layer on some extra clothing for late October winds in Philly. Play Ball!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Toronto Raptors 2008-2009
There is a certain energy that begins to unfold before every major event, before every season. The coaches sense it, the players feel it, the fans have waited all summer for it. For now it is time for the players to take the stage. They stroll on to the floor from the locker room, they scrub their sneakers on the hardwood, they refocus on the lights, on their surroundings, then the rim and the backboard. That moment of anticipation has arrived. It is game time.
The scorers, the talkers, the media minions arrange themselves courtside. The announcer welcomes the faithful. Even the referees prepare themselves for the event. NBA referee # 48 Scott Foster visited with Raptor announcer Herbie Kuhn before the game. He placed two game balls on the score’s table. He borrowed a ball point pen and scratched three marks on each ball. The letter “X”. Herbie left one ball on the table, tucked the other beneath his feet.
“Every referee has his or her own way to identify game balls,” he told me. Perhaps a precautionary move to keep the famous Globetrotter shenanigans out of the NBA! Herbie began his professional career when Toronto hosted the 1994 World Championship of Basketball. He has travelled extensively with “Athletes in Action”, and has visited several Prince Edward County Schools with the program. “I love your area,” he told me before the game. “Especially Wellington.” He assisted a most capable rookie announcer Ocean Henry with the starting lineups before the game. Ocean is seven years old.
Chris Bosh led off the game with a sweet roller for two points, then stole the ball and strolled in from centre for an easy dunk. That got the crowd into the game, and broke the ice for the upcoming season. This was the first home game for the Raptors, the beginning of a couple of weeks of exhibition play. I spoke with veteran announcer Jack Armstrong at half time. Jack is a familiar face to most of us as he has been with the Raptors as a television analyst for more than ten years. “It’s great to see the guys back on the court again. It is pre-season, so the expectations are not high. But there is a decent flow to this game.”
The Raptors will rely heavily on veterans, and with their key acquisition in the off season, Jermaine O’Neal. Bosh, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, and twenty-two year old Andrea Bargnani form the nucleus of the squad. Bargnani is in his third year with the Raps, and played professionally in Italy for three years with Benetton prior to his arrival in Toronto.
Coach Sam Mitchell always reflects carefully when fielding questions from the media after each game. He was pleased with his team’s performance after their first home appearance. “We got some shots when we needed them. I’m not too concerned about our veterans. I want to see our young guys make the plays they have to make in order to improve.” He is careful not to slam any particular player in his report, especially at this time of year. He is excited about having Jermaine with the team. “I just want him to get comfortable with his team mates. He needs to work on his timing a little. He will get his minutes as the season begins.”
He had this to say about Calderon: “I really think he is getting more comfortable every game.” Calderon shared the point guard duties with T. J. Ford last year. Ford ran into injury woes last season, and was part of the package that brought O’Neal to Toronto.
I spoke with Calderon after the game, in my somewhat rusty Spanish. He raised his eyebrows and smiled when I mentioned that I made a mean “paella”, a popular Spanish dish from the Mediterranean area. “Ah, Valencia! Castellon es en el pais cerca de Valencia!” He also indicated that he noticed the large sign in the rafters held by young Spaniards. He said that he appreciated their support. I spoke with one of them after the game.
Celia is a twenty-one year old student in the process of becoming an elementary school teacher. She was near the end of a three week trip to Toronto to improve her English. She also hailed from Valencia, and was thrilled with her first NBA game, and her first chance to see Calderon. Her group also caught a Blue Jays game.
“For me,” she told me, “this was the best. I have always been a Raptor fan, and it was exciting to see Jose play.”
The Raptors have another couple of weeks of practices and exhibition games. They open in Philadelphia against the 76ers, and play their first game Hallowe’en Night at the Air Canada Centre against the Golden State Warriors.
No better time than the present to get those tickets. Arrive early. Watch the warm ups. Enjoy the Raptor experience.
October 13, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
This is the time of year when it is difficult to chose a sport to watch-either at the park, or the arena, or on television.
The cars are flying around the tracks on the NASCAR circuit, nearing the end of that season. The National Hockey League has begun another season, albeit on the European Front. The Senators split with the Penguins, and the Rangers swept the Tampa Bay Lightning to start the season.
The Canadian Football League is winding down, and there have been some recent unexpected results. The Hamilton Tiger Cats have struggled since early in the season, but managed to knock of the first place Alouettes from Montreal last weekend. That was their third victory of the season, just one shy of the Argos.
The National Football League south of the border is in full gear, and the Bills entered the past weekend without a loss. When quarterback Trent Edwards left the game after the third play of the game, hopes to continue an undefeated season were somewhat dimmed. Losman played effectively, but the Bills suffered their first loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. They have a bye next week to recover, and will face the Dolphins in Miami on the 26th of October. The “Fish” return north to face the Bills at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on December 7th.
But the primary sports focus at this time of year, at the professional level, is baseball. America’s Pastime is now in playoff mode, and a couple of contenders have already packed their golf clubs. There were high expectations for the Cubs from Chicago, to no avail. The West Coast Dodgers overwhelmed Lou Piniella’s squad, with little difficulty.
Russell Martin handles the catching duties for the Dodgers. Born in East York, Ontario, he resides in Chelsea, Quebec in the off-season. Although only 25 years old, he has had a remarkable career thus far with the Dodgers. He has been an All Star the past two seasons, and won the Gold Glove Award as well as the Silver Slugger Award last year. Only two other catchers have accomplished this feat: Gary Carter and Benito Santiago. He also won the Roy Campanella award, voted on by his teammates as the “Most Inspirational Dodger”.
Martin’s father also played for the Dodgers. An accomplished saxophone player, Russell Sr. played the anthem before the Dodgers game against the Pirates in 2006.
The Red Sox boast another All Star Canadian in Jason Bay. The Sox grabbed Bay in their complicated trade which landed Manny Ramirez in Dodgertown West. Bay has been patrolling left field for the Bosox, and instantly endeared himself to the Beantown faithful. He simply does everything well. His powerful stroke has resulted in several critical wins for the Red Sox.
The Rays from Tampa Bay have truly captured the hearts of many baseball fans this year. A remarkable Cinderella story, they have emerged as a very serious contender for the World Series title. They are led by a cast of young and hungry players, managed by the remarkable Joe Maddon.
Maddon took over the Rays two years ago, amassing a record of 127 wins and 197 losses. The team finished fifth both years. They broke camp last spring with high expectations, as have all teams. But the Rays, hit, ran, fielded, and executed better than all the other teams in their division to end the season at the top of the heap.
The Philadelphia Phillies are also ready to take a shot at the crown. Their General Manager knows a thing or two about winning. He has also experienced one or two crisp Canadian winters. Pat Gillick has been a General Manager in the Major Leagues since 1978, when he began with the Toronto Blue Jays. He remained with the Jays until 1994, after they had won the Back to Back World Series Championships in ’92 and ’93.
Gillick spent a little time in Baltimore and Seattle before joining the Phillies in 2006. He has been in baseball for 51 years, starting in 1958 as a left-handed pitcher in the Orioles organization. He pitched at the University of Southern California that year, and won the NCAA College World Series before joining the Edmonton squad of the Western Canada League.
They is still a ray of hope for the White Sox and the Angels, at press time. A faint hope, to be sure.
But until that last out is made, anything can happen. And probably will.
Peanut shells may be placed at your feet, at the ball park. Not in my living room, thank you.
October 6, 2008