Saturday, October 31, 2009
World Series 2009
The New York Yankees disposed of the Los Angeles Angels from Anaheim last Sunday night to secure a berth in this year’s World Series. Somewhat surprisingly, the last time that the Bombers from the Bronx participated in the Fall Classic was half a dozen years ago. It just seems like they are there every year.
Despite the large number of sluggers on the squad, they reached the final clawing and scratching at the Angels’ pitching staff. They showed patience at the plate as well, drawing several walks in key situations. In the final game, the winning run was scored on a bases-loaded walk. That is enough to drive any manager to distraction.
The Yankee got outstanding pitching from one of their off-season acquisitions, C.C. Sabathia. The gentle giant mowed down Angel hitters in his appearances, and garnered MVP honours for the championship series. He stands six feet, seven inches, and is just shy of three hundred pounds. He stands on a mound of dirt about thirty inches above the rest of the field. He unloads the baseball at almost one hundred miles per hour. The distance between the mound and home plate is six inches more than twenty yards.
The Yankees also got good pitching performances from Andy Pettitte and A. J. Burnett. The relieving staff, with one exception, has become a little bit suspect. That exception, of course, is the incomparable Mariano Rivera. The Panamanian has baffled hitters since he was signed by the Yankees almost twenty years ago. His fastball does not have the same zip that it did when he signed. No matter. He has adjusted by adding nasty little glitches to his delivery that make him the best relief pitcher in baseball. Ever.
Although he signed in 1990, he did not make his first Major League appearance until 1995. Since then, he has amassed records in many categories. For example, he now has almost forty postseason saves in his career. Second on the list is Dennis Eckersley with fifteen! Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter have all played fifteen seasons with the Yankees. They are the longest serving, active players with one team in the big leagues today. Loyal, and likely quite wealthy, too.
To his credit, Rivera makes an effort to give back to the game. He has been honoured with the “Citizen Award” from latinobaseball.com for his commitment to the well-being of children throughout the Americas. He helped finance construction of a new elementary school and a church building in Puerto Caimito, Panama. He does what he can to enrich the lives of Panamanians in the off-season, with gifts to many of the local children.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been waiting for the Yankees. They are the reigning World Series Champions, and are not about to concede the title to anyone. They disposed of the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They are well prepared to face the Yankees in an East Coast shootout which will concluded some time in November.
The Yankees pitching staff will face Jimmy Rollins, Chase Uttley, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard and company for the next week or so. And the Yankee batters will have to contend with Cliff Lee, Raul Ibanez, and “El Perfecto” Pedro Martinez, one-time favourite Montreal Expo.
It all begins, weather permitting, on Wednesday night in the Bronx. They will head to Philly for a chilly Hallowe’en encounter Saturday night. Hide your children. It will be a scary affair!
October 26, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Belleville-Hockey Haven for a Weekend
Last weekend, the Society for International Hockey Research held its annual Fall Meeting in Belleville at the Belleville Club. More than thirty hockey enthusiasts from Canada and the United States met to share their passion about the great game.
The organization is described on its web site as “a growing network of writers, statisticians, collectors, broadcasters, academics, and just plain hockey buffs.” The hoard met in Belleville to share their stories, and their particular interests in the game.
I was fortunate enough to come out of the weekend with three great hockey books.
On Saturday afternoon, Todd Denault, a freelance writer from Cobourg, took the podium and told us about his adventures in the pursuit of the story of Jacques Plante. With great tenacity, Denault interviewed more than forty of the late, great goaltender’s teammates, coaches, hockey friends. He chatted with Andy Bathgate, Johnny Bower, Red Fisher, Dick Irvin, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, and Scotty Bowman. He chased the elusive legends about Plante all the way to Switzerland, where Plante was laid to rest. For a time, at least.
Denault whet my appetite to the extent that I can hardly wait to tear into the book. He received seven offers from publishers to do the book, finally settled on McClelland and Stewart. Not a bad start for his first book. He did hang his head slightly when asked about the fortunes of the Cougars from Cobourg. I believe I did mention that the Wellington Dukes had swacked them the night before.
I also received a copy of a fine volume of the hockey history of Kingston. The irrepressible Bill Fitsell, one of the founders of SIHR, and Mark Potter put together a wonderful tome on shinny in the Limestone city. Needless to say, there is the odd quote in there from Don Cherry. Cherry writes: “Make no mistake, Kingston is the cradle of hockey and I’m proud to be a Kingstonian.” It must hurt Don every time a Belleville team goes in there and comes out with yet another victory.
There was a “Meet and Greet” on Friday night, and Wayne “Weiner” Brown, a key player in the McFarland triumphs shared his stories for a couple of hours. Mayor Neil Ellis brought greetings from the city, and announced that the long-anticipated unveiling of THE SIGN had taken place. On Pinnacle Street, north of the Moira, there finally is a sign proclaiming the McFarlands as Canadian and World Champions. Somewhat overdue, as it took fifty years to come up with an appropriate location. There will be another erected near the Quinte Sports Centre.
On Saturday, following the usual business requirements, Benoit Clairoux from Verdun, Quebec shared his thoughts on the Battle of Quebec-Thirty Years Later. An intriguing topic at this time, as there have been rumblings about moving a disenchanted NHL franchise to the capital of Quebec. Another hockey enthusiast, James Mancuso from Utica, New York, related his research on the various trophies from the minor leagues. He was well familiar with the exploits of former Belleville Bull Scott Feasby, who had a sip or two from the Turner Cup in Muskegon with the Fury. Mancuso was not aware that Feasby had slipped into Rochester for a spell, and got his name engraved on the Calder Trophy when the Americans won the American Hockey League Championship.
The meeting ended with a screening of Peter Lockyer’s “Celebrating Hockey History: The Story of the McFarlands”. The crowded room rose to its feet as the movie ended, and applauded loudly. They were overwhelmed when three of the players who won the World Championship were introduced: David Jones, Keith Macdonald, and Lionel Botly. The players spent half an hour answering questions about their triumphs until Macdonald announced: “Sorry folks, I’m a farmer, and I have chores to do.”
Most of the group hung around the city to watch the Bulls beat the Kitchener Rangers that evening. Yet another hockey experience for the members of SIHR. Check the web site. Google: Society for International Hockey Research. New members welcome!
October 20, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Preparing For the Fall Classic
The Official American League Division Series program contains the rosters of the New York Yankees, the Minnesota Twins, and the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers and the Twins finished the regular season tied after 162 games, and they played one game to decide who would move on to the ALDS championship.
The Twins won that game, celebrated briefly, then headed to New York to play the Yankees the next day. Certainly, fatigue was a factor in their first game loss to the Yankees.
The second game of the best of five series also took place at Yankee Stadium. Passports in order, it took less than eight hours from the County to stand in the shadows of the house that George (Steinbrenner) built. A quick trip south on 81 past Watertown and Syracuse takes one to the border at Binghampton. East from there, highway 17 winds its way through the Catskills to the Tappan Zee Bridge. The skyline of the Big Apple lies to the south as you cross the Hudson River into the borough of Tarrytown, and its twin sister of Sleepy Hollow. Both towns are now preparing for Hallowe’en, including late night walks in the cemetery. Not for me, thanks.
Parking at the Police Station in Tarrytown costs six dollars a day. The return train trip directly to the Stadium is four dollars, seniors’ rate. We bought our tickets from the machine beside the track, birth certificates not required. In other words, a great way to get in and out of the city.
The Yankee faithful ambled into the park for the 6:07pm start. There was an element of hustle and bustle, but not much. Scalpers had tickets for less than $ 100. The game had been sold out, but here was little panic for patrons seeking seats. The old Yankee Stadium is still standing, covered in a gray shroud.
Reggie Jackson threw out the first pitch. “Mr. October” took a few strides from the dugout, practiced his swing a couple of times to delight the crowd, and threw the ceremonial pitch ten feet into the dirt in front of home plate.
Burnett started for the Yankees, Blackburn for the Twins. Both pitched well until the middle innings when managers began manipulating pitchers and batters. The Twins almost broke the goose egg in the sixth, but Carlos Gomez overran second base, and was tagged out just before teammate Delmon Young touched home plate. Baserunning gaffes would be the undoing of the Twins in the series.
Naturally, power hitting also had something to do with the loss. Alex Rodriguez clubbed a two run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. Mark Teixeira won the game in the eleventh with a shot inside the foul pole in left field. The Bronx Bombers of 2009 had left another footprint in the sands around the bases of Yankee Stadium.
In the final game of the Series, the Twins again had a chance to win a game when poor baserunning did them in. Derek Jeter snagged a shot up the middle behind second base. With no play at first, he spied Nick Punto rounding third, heading for home. He snapped a throw to Posada behind the plate, who easily caught Punto scampering back to third base.
The Yankees now face the Los Angeles Angels from Anaheim. The Angels disposed of the Boston Red Sox in three games to earn the right to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, slated to begin Friday, October 16th. The last four games of the World Series are scheduled for the first few days in November. As we have seen, they are having difficulty getting through the first round of the playoffs in Colorado. Can you imagine playing there in November?
Toronto got it right when they installed the retractable roof. Baseball needs to be played in a hospitable climate. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks do not mix well with snowflakes.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
For many of us sports fans, this fine fall weather leads us to football, in many different directions.
The high school programs are now in full gear, and there has been a resurgence this year with new programs added to a couple of schools. Down the road a piece, the Queen’s Golden Gaels are experiencing another successful season.
The same cannot be said for the Canadian Football League west of us, as the Toronto Argonauts continue to flounder. They were not expected to contain the potent Montreal offence last weekend, and lost again. With the recent success experienced by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Argo playoff hopes are quickly fading.
A little further west, the Bills show promise, but need to be more consistent. They will find success once they get Terrell Owens untracked with a few touchdowns.
Within three hours driving distance of the Quinte area, there is a fine football venue just a little south of the border. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, soon to be renamed the “Ernie Davis Stadium” has been a landmark high on the Onondagan Hills for almost thirty years.
Again this year, we made an early morning trip across the border to catch the action under the bubble roof. The Syracuse University Orangemen faced the University of South Florida Bulls in their fifth game of the season. The Bulls have yet to lose this year, and kept their undefeated streak alive with a 34-20 win over the Orange.
College football on the State Side is truly spectacular. There are more than one hundred members in the University marching band, called “The Pride of the Orange”, with plenty of brass and drums. Team mascot Otto the Orange leads the cheers. The stands are a sea of orange, as students and alumni assemble to support their boys.
During the weekend team, the 1959 team which won the National Championship was honoured in the Fiftieth Anniversary of their title. Members of the team gathered on the sidelines, and were introduced at half time. One of the members of that team was Ernie Davis, who was nicknamed “The Express”. Davis won the Heisman Trophy in 1961, leading the Orange to a Liberty Bowl victory over Miami. Tragically his football career ended at that time when it was discovered he had leukemia. He died two years later. There is a wonderful movie about his life, naturally called “The Express” now on the movie channels.
The great Jim Brown preceded Davis at S. U., and also wore number 44. He led the Orange to a berth in the Cotton Bowl, and is a member of both the Pro Bowl and the College Bowl. He set a single game record by scoring 43 points against Colgate. Number 44 was retired in 2005.
A stroll around the stadium concourse is always a prerequisite at any sporting event. There are trophy cases, photographs, memorabilia: plenty of reminders of the accomplishments of the home team.
One particular case caught my eye, and led me to a little research. It was entitled “The Syracuse Eight”. As Canadians, for the most part, we are somewhat removed from the great struggles faced by the American society during the Twentieth Century. The civil rights movement, and the challenges to the Vietnam War simply had little impact on Canadians; nonetheless as observers, we showed an interest in those struggles.
The “Syracuse Eight” was a group of football players involved in a civil rights struggle. One of those players was John Lobon, from Connecticut. The players noticed a trend of “institutional racism against African-American players by the Syracuse coaching staff involving everything from allotting time to medical care”. The quote comes from an article on the group by Don Rully, in the Bloomfield Connecticut Journal.
Lobon had played for the Orange in 1968 and 1969, but by the spring of 1970, he and his group decided changes had to be made. Legendary head coach Ben Schwartwalder believed in a military process, and showed little flexibity. He was offended by Lobon’s ‘Afro” haircut. The group also asked the coaches to call them by name, rather than “boy”. The black players then asked the school to hire a black coach.
Jim Brown offered to mediate the disagreement. The players reached an agreement and were told they could return to the team. Then only four players were told they could return. That is when the “Syracuse Eight” walked out.
Lobon reported that all of the members of the group were blackballed by the National Football League. Two of the members were cut by the Washington Redskins on the first day of practice.
In 2006, the efforts of the “Syracuse Eight” were recognized by the university. They were honoured with the Chancellor’s Medal for “extraordinary contributions to the university”. Greg Allen, Richard Bulls, Ronald Womack, Clarence McGill, A. Alif Muhammad (known as Al Newton at Syracuse), Dana Harrell, John Godbolt, and Duane Walker were the other members of “The Eight”. Only Allen and Lobon were allowed to play again for Syracuse.