Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Blue Jays in May, 2010
For most of us baseball fans in the Quinte region, a trip to the Rogers Centre to see the Blue Jays is a rite of summer. One must participate in all of the necessary ingredients: giant hot dogs, friendly beverages, batting practice, a stroll around the entire concourse, a peek into the bull pens. All part of the experience, and for a baseball fan, a necessary part of the experience.
This year, the Toronto Blue Jays have stormed from the gate. They are in third place, completely unexpected. They lead the league in home runs, beyond Cito Gaston’s wildest dreams before they headed north from Dunedin. They are battling every inning, and have come back to steal wins eleven times this year.
The most recent addition to the team, Fred Lewis, has been most welcome. Since his arrival from San Francisco, the Jays have gone 12-8. He has impressed with his bat, and with his fielding. He has earned his starting position in the field.
Travis Snider, always a bit of an enigma, has recently found a welcome groove. He has hit close to .400 in his last ten games. Opposing pitchers are now more wary of his power, and his pitch selection.
Another pleasant surprise for Jays’ fans has been the play of Vernon Wells. Wells has been the whipping boy of the Jays boo birds the past couple of seasons, often appearing to play indifferently; however, he has really stepped up to the plate this season, leading the Jays in many offensive categories. He now has 201 home runs in his career as a Blue Jay, and trails three legendary former Blue Jay players in that category: George Bell (202), Joe Carter (203), and Carlos Delgado (336). There is no doubt that Wells is enjoying his success this season. He appears to be free of all injuries, which has not been the case the past several seasons.
The Jays have seven potential starters now on the disabled list. With some luck and good medical care, those players will return soon to help the cause.
The biggest surprise this season has been the performance of their starting and relief pitching. There was great concern about the arms coming out of Spring Training. There were few hurlers with much Major League experience. All of those fears have been put to rest, thus far this season.
There have been some great pitching performances. The Jays’ brass knew that Doc Halladay would be impossible to replace. They were correct. He has recorded six wins thus far with the Phillies in the Senior League, and is mowing down the batters as he did in Toronto. But the young crew now in Toronto has been sharp, and has given the team a chance in almost every game.
All of the intangibles come into play at this time in the season: timely hitting, great defence, finding a groove, hitting the spots. Added up, they spell success.
The Toronto Blue Jays are having some difficulty putting bums in the seats. Here area few good reasons to visit the Rogers Centre.
1. Give Away Games. Sunday May 16th-Cap Day. The first 10 000 fans through the turnstiles get a free Jays’ cap. Tickets can be had for $ 14. a great deal!
Sunday, May 30th-Photo Day. Take little Rickey to the game and snap a picture of him with his favourite Jay. Sunday, July 11th-Mr. SUB Sports Bag day. Sunday, August 28th-Dave Stieb Bobble Head day. You will also get a free Jays’ T shirt at the game on September 26th.
2. Junior Jays Saturdays. A variety of activities: kids 14 and under are selected to announce players coming to bat, and may accompany players on the field. Beginning May 29th, you are welcome to enter the ballpark two hours prior to game time to catch the flavour: face painting, inflatable riders, and player autographs. (Head down to the front row along the base lines. Have your pen and autograph book ready. Be polite.)
3. Great Baseball.
To make it even easier to get to the games, there are three bus trips running out of the County this summer: June 6th (Yankees), July 11th (Red Sox) , and August 29th (Tigers). Call Bob at 613-399-1486 to reserve a spot.
You may also order tickets directly from the Jays at 416-341-1234, or by ordering on line. When it snows again in May, the roof will be closed. Had a look at the fans in Boston lately? Not nice. Too cold!
11 May 2010
Who's Going to Win the Stanley Cup in 2010?
That question has been uttered more than a few times lately, as the playoffs continue. The frontrunners are now on the beaches, and on the fourteenth tee. It truly is anyone’s guess who will sip from the silver goblet at the end of the hockey journey.
Four contenders remain: Montreal, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Chicago.
Of the four, only San Jose has yet to experience the thrill of hoisting the Cup.
Many local fans remember the night when the Chicago Black Hawks last won the Cup in 1961. They were strong, and young, and looked to win many more championships after that occasion. But that was not the case. They came close a few times, but the cigar has been unlit since that time.
The captain of the Hawks was Eddie Litzenberger. He had begun his career as a Hab in the 1954-55 season, and is the only winner of the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year during the season in which he was traded. He was shipped off to Chicago, and had a most productive career in the Windy City. He also won a couple of Cups with the leafs in 1963 and 1964.
Some of Eddie’s teammates on the Hawks included: Glenn Hall, Moose Vasko, Chico Maki, Al Arbour, Eric Nesterenko, the Balfours-Earl and Murray. Murray played on the “Million Dollar Line” with Hull and Bill Hay. Murray Balfour was later traded to the Bruins, and began complaining of constant fatigue. Tests revealed he had inoperable lung cancer, and he died two months later at the age of 28.
The Philadelphia Flyers are getting teary-eyed reminiscing about their glory days as the “Broad Street Bullies”. Bobby Clarke has appeared in front of microphones discussing the fortunes of his beloved Flyers. He has fought the wars on the ice, and in the boardrooms. He knows the pitfalls. The Flyers last tasted champagne in 1975, after winning the second consecutive Cup.
Clarke was the team captain, and led by example. Although saddled with diabetes, he soldiered on and played the game for keeps. His cast of teammates included: Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Bernie parent, Moose Dupont, Rick MacLeish, Terry Crisp, Jimmy Watson, and Bill Barber.
The Flyers were a team to be feared, and they nourished that reputation. At one point in that year, the Russian National Hockey Team refused to take the ice in the third period of a game because of the intimidating tactics of the Flyers. And yes, they always had Kate Smith to give them a little advantage with her rendition of “God Bless America”. Nothing has changed. They played that tape before the first game in Philly, when the Flyers blasted the Habs 6-0!
The Habs won the Cup in 1986. At that time, Hall of Famer Patrick Roy was at the top of his game. Bob Gainey captained the team. Other notables on the squad were: Rick Green, Bobby Smith, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, and a few nasty ones-John Kordic, Chris Nilan, and Claude Lemieux.
Although he resigned his post with the Habs as General manager during the season, Gainey is still in the upper perches of the arenas watching intently. There must be some personal satisfaction for him in knowing that he had some role in building the club.
And then there are the Sharks. This is a band of fine players, yet to taste the bubbly from the Cup. This may be the year for JoeThornton, Dan Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley. They are in tough against the young Hawks.
My prediction? Forget about it, as far as team selection, But I will predict great hockey, no matter who takes the ice. Enjoy!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Hockey Night in Montreal 2010
The National Hockey League playoffs can be a long and drawn out affair. Each series can last seven games, with the winner of the seventh game advancing to the next round.
This is not something taken lightly by fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Game Seven was played last Wednesday night, and every Hab fan in existence was watching, listening, cheering for the beloved “Bleu, Blanc et Rouge”.
The Canadiens can thank a Slovakian goaltender for their survival. They were in tough against the powerful Washington Capitals, and looked completely outclassed at times in this series.
Coach Jacques Martin made a few critical decisions before Monday night’s game, and the result was a 3-1 win for the Canadiens.
First of all, he decided to start a young rookie who had never played in any Stanley Cup playoff games. P. K. Subban is a familiar figure to local hockey fans, as he played his entire Canadian Hockey League career for the Belleville Bulls. (At one point in his commentary, analyst Pierre McGuire gave credit to Bull’s coach George Burnett for aiding in Subban’s development.)
Subban simply wowed the Hab fans. He showed no fear, no hesitation in his play. He jumped into the fray with all the confidence in the world, and assisted on one of the Hab markers. His skating ability was described as “World Class”, and he handled the puck well. He played as if he belonged at that level, and there is a good chance he may never dress in a minor league uniform again.
But it was the play of Jaroslav Halak that put the game in the victory column for the Canadiens. Time after time, he plucked the puck out of the air with his trapper, often with a touch of embellishment. His play was reminiscent of the play of Patrick Roy, indeed high praise. Comparisons could also be made to Ken Dryden, who lifted the Habs to the Stanley Cup in his early days in Montreal. For Halak, all of that remains to be seen. The Habs victory over the Capitals certainly was one for the ages.
There have been several local heroes on the ice in this year’s edition of the Cup playoffs. Some have now departed, others are still in the fray. Belleville’s Brad Richardson played well in a losing cause to Vancouver. Richardson’s move from Colorado to Los Angeles has worked out well for him. Andrew Raycroft has the best seat in the house as a Canuck, backing up Roberto Luongo; however, at any given moment he could be thrust into the fray if coach Vigneault thinks a change of keepers might inspire his team.
Daniel Cleary has put together another outstanding season with the Detroit Red Wings. He has been joined by another former Bull for the playoff run-Jan Mursak.
Jason Spezza, Jon Cheechoo, and former Wellington Duke Derek Smith skated with the Senators this season. David Clarkson, also a former Belleville Bull, again received accolades for his gritty play in New Jersey. Cody McCormick has surfaced again for the Buffalo Sabres, and has given them some much-needed toughness.
Although it has become a difficult chore in all professional sports, repeating as Stanley Cup champions is at the top of Matt Cooke’s list. He continues to play his role with the Penguins perfectly, always in everyone’s face. But he has also supplied some much needed scoring for the Pens. He does trail Sidney Crosby in that category. Eric Tangradi, a former Bull, has also been called up for the rest of the playoffs for the Penguins.
Less than three weeks ago, I watched the conclusion of a Habs game in Montreal. They trailed by a goal, and, for the last two minutes, they booed their team mercilessly. They are an impatient lot, expecting nothing less than a repeat of the glory days of yesteryear. Sorry, mes amis, it just doesn’t work that way.
And I do hope the Hab fans forget that dumb chant of “Ole, ole, ole, ole” over the summer. It belongs solely in soccer stadia.
Nothing like a late April snow to bring out the worst in everyone! Drop the gloves!
29 April 2010
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Coach Sheahan and the Vanier Cup
Queen’s University football coach Pat Sheahan lives and breathes football. A ta recent meeting of the Belleville Sales and Ad Club, Sheahan talked football. A little more specifically, he talked Queen’s Gaels’ football.
Sheahan has been coaching Canadian university football for twenty-five years, and is heading into his ninth campaign at Queen’s.
He developed his love of the game during his high school days in Brockville. He played his university ball at Loyola, and played in the Canadian Football League long enough to enjoy the proverbial cup of coffee. During his address, he poked a little fun at himself when he spoke about centering the ball for Hall of Fame quarterbackWarren Moon. Moon always addressed Sheahan by his nickname: “Hey you. How about a snap?”
Incidentally, Moon is one of two individuals to be inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the CFL Hall of Fame in Hamilton. The other? Legendary coach Bud Grant. The only Canadian in Canton is Bronko Nagurski.
Last year was truly a highlight year for Sheahan and the Gaels. 2008 had been tough on the players and the coaches. They had finished that season with an 8 and 0 record, and were marching to the Canadian University finals. They ran into a little adversity in the form of key injuries, and a team from the University of Ottawa that would not quit.
Once the season was over, Sheahan knew he had to retool the machine. He was thrilled that Brannagan came to camp with a “new found hunger and a great desire to play”. He stocked his offensive line with “five guys over 300 pounds”. Perhaps more importantly, he was able to convince Shomari Williams to leave Houston and attend Teachers’ College at Queen’s. Williams was recently rewarded for his efforts by being the first overall choice in the CFL Draft.
Jimmy Allin toiled in the Queen’s defensive backfield for his entire university career. He began his football days as a quarterback in the Belleville Minor Football League. He then went to Quinte Secondary School and led the Saints to several championships. He also returned punts and kickoffs for the Gaels, often providing the spark when required to get the offence moving. His play was crucial throughout the season.
Sheahan credited his defence for their first playoff win last year against McMaster. The team then hosted Western for the Yates Cup. In what Sheahan called “the greatest college football game ever played”, the Gaels outlasted the Mustangs 43-39. He credited the fans for their inspiration that day. “Never before had I ever heard so much emotion from our fans. It was magnificent.”
The victory over Laval for the Mitchell Bowl was not entirely expected. Most of the experts had picked the “Rouge et Or” from Quebec, and the team even had a plane waiting on the tarmac at the Kingston Airport to fly them home. They would need all the rest they could get for the Canadian Championship.
The Gaels then faced the highly regarded Calgary Dinosaurs for the Vanier Cup. Trailing 25-7 at half time, the coach entered the dressing room to face a dejected crew. Without raising his voice, he reminded them about their mission. He told them that if they scored first in the second half, they had a shot.
His son Devon scored a critical touchdown in the second half, and the Gaels trailed 25-19 going into the fourth quarter. The real key to their victory, according to Sheahan, was that they controlled the ball at the end of the game. “We had the ball for six of the last seven minutes.”
Sheahan said that he thinks there should be more Canadian players in the Canadian Football League. There are currently quotas on the number of imports allowed on each team. Sheahan thinks it is time to lessen those quotas. “I personally don’t watch the CFL to see Americans”.
He is fiercely proud of all of the players who have gone on to play professional football. And he is equally proud of all of his players who have graduated to become successful in other chosen fields.
He fired a couple of quotes at the group to end his address, one from Colin Powell: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
For Sheahan, the success from last season is sweet; however, he seldom rests in his quest to build the team for this September, and another season at Richardson Stadium.
May 3 2010