Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Tie Goes to the Runner!

At the recent Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament in Toronto, on several occasions, an electronic umpire was used, following an appeal from one of the players, to determine the location of the ball when it hit the court. The flight of the ball is shown on the television screen, and the exact spot where the ball touches down is indicated. So precise, so correct.

Hockey referees now rely on cameras to determine a variety of issues in the arena. The most important determination involves the position of the puck near the goal line. Goals are scored when the entire puck crosses the goal line. With a variety of television angles, an official located in a television booth is better able to determine the ins and outs of scoring opportunities. Perfection? Not exactly. But certainly more accurate than without the electronics.

At times, football games can be held up a little longer than seems necessary while an on-field official hides under a blanket, complete with a head set, to determine certain situations in the professional game. Announcers in the booth fill the void with precautionary comments: “Patience is required here. At least with the multitude of camera angles, the officials are in a position to get it right.” Most of the time. But not always.

Baseball has finally relented on the issue, and is now allowing television cameras and off-field officials to determine the success or failure of balls hit long and deep, that is, whether or not they are home runs. There are times when this determination is critical to the game, and could result in a dramatic change in the nature of a season, not just a game. Fair or foul, caught or missed, fan interference: these issues may be decided by electronic judges.

But this is where baseball falls far short, and needs tweaking. Recently, a batter sent a roller just in front of the plate-a little nubber that only the catcher had a chance to field. The batter ran to first base down the base line. When he got to the special lane that he is supposed to take, well defined on all major league diamonds, he curled toward the infield so that he might impede the catcher from throwing the ball to first base to get him out.

The catcher fielded the ball, and threw to first. The ball hit the runner in the back, and he reached first base safely. The umpire spread his arms to signal that the runner was successful. The umpire was responsible for watching the first baseman’s foot, while listening for the sound of the ball in the first-baseman’s glove. (does anyone still call them trappers?)

The home plate umpire is responsible in determining whether or not the batter ran the proper path to first base. They seldom do. Most often, runners tend to slide a little toward the infield to help their cause. At this point, a manager storms from the dugout, protesting the error in judgement by the home plate official. Does he expect the call to be changed? Not his year, Abigail. He simply is trying to make hay for the next close call.

But it could be changed. It could be reviewed, electronically. It could be corrected. Justice could be done. (Upon review, that last statement has been determined to be slightly superfluous, and should be stricken from the record. Sorry)

But baseball fans have been educated in the ways of electronic determination, and they are now looking for ways to get it right in baseball.

There are many situations that are subjective, determined solely by the judgement of the umpire---balls and strikes, fair and foul, safe and out, caught or missed. There is no reason why a camera could not be used to determine whether or not a looping fly ball is caught or trapped by a charging outfielder.

One of the umpires on the field should be fitted with an ear piece before the game. An official in the booth will whisper the correct call into his ear. This will cut down on the long delays in football decisions. (They may want to stretch this out a little, perhaps time for one or two commercials!)

Although I am not familiar with the systems, there are processes for improving the decision-making abilities of umpires. Clinics are held before the season starts to help them improve. Supervisors are in attendance at many games, assessing the performance of these arbitrators. Umpires who are challenged more often than others will soon learn the colour of the carpets in the major league offices. Some fans believe yearly eye examinations would improve their calls. As a former arbitrator, I take great exception to that position.

Not all decisions on the baseball field require replay decisions, nor should they; however, there is room for a little more justice in the game.

Perhaps some day we will find “Y’re out!” will change to “This will be determined shortly by electronic means.”

James Hurst

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Walter Curry-A Class Act

Walter Curry, Adam Graves # 53-Hotch's Auto Parts-On His Birthday, James Hurst

Walter Curry loves playing football. He has been under contract with three National Football League teams: Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was allocated to the Rhein Fire in 2006 by Jacksonville, then to the Berlin Thunder in 2007.

For the past two seasons, he has played with the Toronto Argonauts. He likes his situation in Toronto, and would like to continue to play there. “It is still a business,” he told me last Sunday. “I have to weigh all my options when making decisions. Some players leave the game because they want to be closer to home. I like playing football. If you have a team on the moon, I will go there and play football.”

Curry was in Belleville as part of an Argo activity at Rib Fest. He spent more than an hour with young players from the Belleville Minor Football League. He answered all of their questions. He put them through a series of drills. He advised them to work hard. He told them that his parents were the greatest influence on his football career. “Even after I had been cut by some teams, they just told me to stick with it, to work hard, and to dedicate myself to the game.”

Curry is a giant, standing six feet four inches, and weighing almost three hundred pounds. The first minor football player he met was Ryan McDougall. Ryan might be close to five feet tall, and almost one hundred pounds. Curry stared him down. “What position do you play?” he asked.

McDougall responded: “I’m a quarterback.”

Curry growled, “We’re not friends. I love hitting quarterbacks!” He quickly added, “Just kidding.” McDougall exhaled, and smiled.

Curry relished the opportunity to spend some time with the young players. It was not something available to him as a youngster. “I had a cousin by marriage who played in the NFL, Clarence “Pooh Bear” Williams. He encouraged me to play, but that was when I was in high school.”

Walter got a late start at the game, unable to play “Pop Warner Football” or any other minor football “because I was too big”. He began in high school, and went to Albany State in Georgia. He won the award as the All Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and led the nation in sacks. Originally a linebacker, he was moved to the defensive line as an Argo, and likes playing that position.

His time in Europe was truly an educational experience for the South Florida native. “I had the opportunity to learn so much history while playing in Europe. I toured museums, learned a great deal about the World Wars and the holocaust.”

His first visit to Canada came as a result of his football skills. Yet another geography lesson.

He is most impressed with the Canadian Football League. “It certainly is faster than the college game, and likely faster than the NFL in many ways---wider field, more motion in the backfield, only three downs to make a first down.”

One of the young players wanted to know something about his diet. “I’m really not a big eater,” he began. He then backtracked a little. “I did have a couple of racks of ribs last night. The ones at “Jack the Ribber” were very good.”

Curry is now twenty-eight years old, and has been relatively injury-free. “That comes from a lot of preparation,” he told the group. “I do have a couple of fingers that are supposed to go straight, but they are now pretty crooked.”

He likened the locker room to a family situation. “It is like having 50 to 60 brothers. We work together, we play together, we often do other social activities together.” He mentioned swimming, eating pizza and ice cream as favourite activities.

Curry knows that kids enjoy his visits. “They get a chance to see us outside our helmets. I like to talk to them and shake their hands.” Argo fans also have the opportunity to meet players after each home game. They are invited onto the field to meet players after the game. Not the Leafs, not the Jays. Not the FC boys. Just the Argos.

Curry believes that the Argos will turn around the season after a rather dismal start. “We have a great team. We need to get back to the table and put the puzzle pieces together.”

The affable lineman left a great impression with everyone present. A quality individual in the prime of his career, more than willing to share the dream with a few kids from the minor football league. An experience they will remember forever.

James Hurst

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Damn Yankees! And This, And That

The Red Sox Nation quietly exited the turnstiles from Yankee Stadium last Sunday night. They had been humiliated by the New York Yankees for the fourth game in a row. Strangely, the Bostonians had won the eight previous meetings between the two teams this year.

The win did not come easily for the Bronx Bombers. Nor would it have settled nicely for the Bosox. Boston had spent the entire weekend looking for offense, to no avail. They were outscored 25-8 in the series.

There was a glimmer of hope in the eighth inning when newly-acquired Victor Martinez smacked a two run homer for the Sox to take the lead. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees stormed back on consecutive home runs by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira. Alex Rodriguez had homered earlier to move into ninth place on the all time list past Harmon Killebrew.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays were packing their bags to follow the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Yikes! The Yankees have had but one loss at home since the All Star break. They had put thirteen wins on the board. Their pitching is hot. They are playing great defence. They are tearing the cover off the ball.

Final score Monday night? Blue Jays 5 Yankees 4. Go figure.

One Blue Jay did not suit up for Monday’s game-Alex Rios. He had been placed on waivers by the Jays, and had been claimed by the Chicago White Sox. The Blue Jays’ Communication blurb stated: “Blue Jays assign Rios to White Sox”. Rather kind, don’t you think? Dump is a word that comes to mind. Sadly, too.

Alex Rios had super star potential, no question about it. Occasionally, he excelled beyond expectations; however, he has been going through a dismal season, and the Jays have freed up many millions of dollars in the “assignment”. Rios signed a long-term contract through the 2015 season.

Rios had been in the Blue Jay organization since 1999, drafted in the first round. He could run, hit, field, throw, and execute with the best in the game. Sometimes. Now it is simply water under the bridge. In the quirky baseball world of drafts, waivers, and trade deadlines, the Jays received no players, no future considerations, no cash, not even any cracked bats for Rios. Just a lot of breathing room.

The National Football League opened its pre-season with its annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. Many local fans tuned into the game to watch their Bills and the Titans from Tennessee. The Titans outlasted the Bills 21-18. Bills’ supporters were thrilled to see Terrrell Owens snagging a couple of first quarter tosses from Trent Edwards. The Bills should be explosive this year, providing the offensive line holds up reasonably well. They are young and inexperienced, and will be tested. But pre-season games in the NFL do not count; little credence should be put on the result.

The Toronto Argonauts have fallen on tough times lately. There are the usual rumblings coming out of Hogtown, especially since the Hamilton Tiger Cats have moved ahead of them into second place in the east. The Ticats have won four games so far this year, lost two. That’s more wins than they had the last two entire seasons!

After all of the dust had settled, the Argos traded Arlin Bruce to the Ticats. He was the leading receiver for the Tabbies last weekend. That does set up an interesting Labour Day Classic between the Argos and the Ticats.

Two Argo players, Bryan Crawford and Steve Schmidt, will be in Belleville on Saturday as part of Ribfest. Look for the enormous RONA display at West Zwick’s Island. Crawford and Schmidt will conduct a clinic for young football players at 11:00am Saturday morning. Parents may sit and chat with the Argo cheerleaders.

The Alouettes stumbled a couple of weeks ago and lost a game. Several pundits were mumbling that they would not lose a game this year. They still remain on top of the league, and will be tough all year. Passes from Calvillo to the elusive Ben Cahoun merit the price of admission to an Alouette game. Simply magic, Jimmy.

And finally, Michael Vick is out of jail and is looking for a home. He likely will back up some NFL quarterback; however, he would fit nicely into a CFL uniform. He can run, throw the ball two hundred miles an hour, and is elusive. Ideal credentials for the Canadian game. Stranger things have happened.

Get your blades sharpened. Training camps are opening.

James Hurst

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