Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Strawberries and Cream 2010

They are mulling their way through the preliminary rounds at Wimbledon. They are consuming great quantities of strawberries and cream, washing it down with Pimm’s spritzers.

In most cases, these are not terribly interesting tennis matches. Occasionally, one of the higher seeds is knocked off, for a variety of reasons. An upstart may have had a perfect day; an undisclosed injury may contribute; terrible calls, perhaps unchallenged.

There are more than a dozen courts on the grounds to accommodate all of the matches; singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. There are three main courts for the most important matches. Tickets are available for the fanatics. Take a tent and a sleeping bag, and line up the night before the matches. If you happen to be one of the lucky five hundred to be chosen by lot from the queue, you may catch all the action at Centre Court, or the first and second courts.

In recent years, two players have dominated the courts at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club: Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova. Sampras won seven singles titles, Martina nine. They received their silver plates from a member of the Royal family, another Wimbledon tradition. They will not receive any awards for their croquet expertise. There are no longer courst on site.

All players are required to wear white tennis togs. The Williams sisters from the United States are heavily involved in the design and marketing of tennis apparel of all shapes, sizes, and colours. At Wimbledon, they have to dig into the bottom drawer of their bureaux to find the standard white uniforms.

Daniel Nestor is the current reigning doubles champion, along with his partner, Nemad Zimonjic. They were also champions in 2008. Daniel is a Canadian, the only Canadian ever to win two Wimbledon titles. He has also won other Grand Slam events, with other partners over the years. Needless to say, he is the finest tennis player this country has ever produced.

The longest final ever to have been played at the championship took place in 2008 when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer went at it for four hours and forty-eight minutes. Both of these men are still in the hunt this year, and there is little doubt that they may be the last two standing when their names are announced to face each other in the final in a week or so. They are simply the best, Nadal on clay, and Ferederer on any other imaginable surface in the world.

The record for the longest match was recently established at the tourney. John Isner from the United States and Nicolas Mahut from France went toe to toe for eleven hours, five minutes. Isner, who stands at six feet nine inches, boomed in serves to establish a record for the most aces in a match at Wimbledon. Mahut wad equal to the task. Isner won the final set 70-68, but lost his next match, due to exhaustion. Quite understandable. The match went on so long that there is a good chance they will change the rules to prohibit such an event ever happening again.

As a tennis buff, I am truly overwhelmed by their match. It was even stretched over three days, due to darkness. The bulk of the match was played on day two, and they retired tied at 59 games each in the final set.

No other professional sporting event has ever come close to matching what those men did at Wimbledom. Comparisons were made to hockey: it was suggested that they would have to play almost thirty overtime periods to decide on a winner. Baseball players would be on the field for many thousands of ball and strikes.

I recall a sun-baked match at centre court during the French Open in Paris when one of the competitors lost eighteen pounds during a final which lasted five sets.

Tradition shall reign supreme at Wimbledon, and rightly so. They will adorn the grounds in purple, (mauve, if you insist), and dark green. The ball boys and ball girls will come from the traditional schools in London. (In years past, the job was given to the Barnardos children.) Thank goodness they have adopted video replay to decide questions of whether or not shots are in the court, or out. Soccer officials, are you listening?

Game, set, and match. Breakfast at Wimbledon. Game ON!

29 June 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


We've Got Your Ticket!

The Canadian edition of professional football is just around the corner. The Hamilton Tiger Cats open their regular season on July 2nd in Winnipeg, then return home to face the Calgary Stampeders on July 10.

The Belleville Minor Football League will be there. More than one hundred seats are available for players, friends, family, coaches and fans. There is a good chance that you could be there as well. Tickets are now available, and include the Foley Coach trip up and back from Steeltown.

It should prove to be an exciting day because, after all, Ivor Wynne Stadium is the best place in Ontario to watch CFL football. Most agree that the Rogers Centre, where the Argos play, is simply too cavernous to really catch the flavour of the game. The stadium in Hamilton will be packed to the rafters for the opening kick off.

Expectations are running high for the Ticats this year. The Ticats faced the Blue Bombers last Sunday in exhibition play, and beat the Winnipeg squad 38-20. Coach Marcel Bellefeuille was pleased with his team’s effort, not only in the game, but on the practice field as well. “Our offence has excuted at a high level all of training camp. And when that first group of players was in, they did a nice job.”

There will likely be a battle for the pivot position on the Ticats. Seasoned veteran Kevin Glenn started and played well, completing 16 of 26 pass attempts. Under his leadership, the team came up with 15 first downs in the first half. Quinton Porter replaced Glenn to start the second half. With less than six minutes remaining, Adam Tafralis finished up at quarterback.

As previously stated, this was an exhibition game, the second for the Ticats. The Tabbies also played the Argos in Toronto the previous week, and now prepare for the season opener. It is always difficult to predict a team’s potential from pre season games. The true test is in the effectiveness of the team in their practices, and their final roster. Cuts will be made in the next week.

Fans will enjoy the play of Arland Bruce III, a wide receiver for the Ticats. He is an exciting receiver, always a threat to score at any time. DeAndra’ Cobb provides explosive power from the backfield.

One of the truly fine features of Tiger Cat football lies in its storied history. All Canadian football fans who might be greying slightly around the temples have fond memories of the “Oskee Wee Wee” boys from yesteryear: Angelo Mosca, Bernie Faloney, Tommy Grant, Ralph Goldston, Hal Patterson, Bronko Nagurski, Ron Howell….the list goes on and on.

The Canadian Football League Hall of Fame is located in downtown Hamilton. It reflects the essence of the game: the grit, the triumph, the struggles, the heartbreak. The city itself has had its fortunes change along with the value of the commodity that has driven the town: steel.

Many of the forgotten heroes of Hamilton football come from its roots. They are the sons and grandsons of the men who worked in the smelters, turning iron ore into steel. They came from Europe to find a new life, principally after the Second World War. That great tradition continues today.

A graduate of McMaster University, Ray “Moose” Mariuz began his CFL career with the Toronto Argonauts, spending four years with the Double Blue. He returned to Hamilton four years ago, and has been rock-solid with the Ticats.

Peter Dyakowski is in his fourth year with the Tabbies. He holds the distinction of being the first Canadian ever to sign a scholarship with LSU-Louisiana State University.

Home opening games are always spectacular, and the July 10th game will be just that. Pull on those shoulder pads. Fasten that chin strap. Put on your game face. It is time for football.

Tickets for the trip are $ 70. They may be obtained by calling: 613-399-2278, or by emailing: jhurst1@xplornet.com.

James Hurst
June 22, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


World Cup 2010

A couple of days ago, I was out doing some gardening, and a swarm of insects passed nearby. I was almost convinced there was a World Cup soccer match in the neighbourhood. I am paying reference to the main complaint about the World Cup games currently under way in South Africa.

The culprit is the dreaded vuvuzela. A small horn which has caused more controversy at the World Cup than any other single factor. Some of the players are seriously upset by the noisy little devices. The captain of the French team complained: “We can’t sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from six o’clock in the morning”.

Soccer fans on this side of the Atlantic are starting to make noises of their own about the horns. Some resort to the mute button while watching the games on television. Others tolerate the buzz for a while, then turn off the set. Major advertisers are listening. They do not like to spend their dollars when no one is watching. The organizing body, FIFA, is also concerned about the complaints.

The concept is not new to North American sports fans. We have had long plastic horns in the crowd for many years. They also make obnoxious sounds. It is not fun to sit beside an eight-year-old who wants to honk into the horn throughout the game. If there were fifty thousand similar kids with horns at a football game, I would opt for ear plugs, or perhaps pinking shears.

Let us get to the games. There will be contests that will stun the experts. The United States played to a one-one tie with England in its first game. The Brits scored early, then played defensively. The Americans got their chance late in the game, rolled an easy shot at the British goal. The ball bounced off the keepers’ hands, spun towards the goal, and trickled into the net. Heaven forbid! Those damn Yanks! They should have been routed in 1776!

There have been a couple of other upsets, none too serious at this time. The final is not until mid-July. There are eight groups with four teams in each group, and a potential winner in almost every group.

Perennial challengers include: Brazil, Spain, England, Italy, Argentina, France, and Germany. South Africa scored the first goal of the championship, raising the spirits of the hosts. Mexico came back to tie; nonetheless, a moral victory for the South Africans.

There are twenty-four other contenders for the title. Some have little chance. But they are in the mix, having qualified in a series of contests prior to the World Cup. The calibre of play is still out of the reach of Canadian teams, even though there are some fine players in this country. Many play professionally, in North America, and in Europe. For several reasons, the Canadian soccer establishment has yet to put together a team good enough to represent this country at the big event. We are not alone. There are more than a hundred other countries in the same boat.

There are two Korean teams at the championship. Will Lee, the congenial proprietor of the Wellington Convenience store, will cheer for both teams, just not when they face each other. “They are both Korean teams. Of course I will cheer for them!” I mentioned that there were some South Koreans who could not bring themselves to cheer for North Korea, in the wake of recent political events. “Games of this nature, like the Olympics, give us a chance to pause, to forget about politics. This is sport, this is what is important at this time.” Sensible thoughts, in my estimation.

They will not shut off the television at Four Seasons Sports in Belleville until the games are over. Ike and Taso Christopher will keep a close eye on the event. Ike does not believe any one team will walk away with the title, although from what he has seen so far, he calls the German team “a real machine”. He added that the title is really up for grabs. “Definitely an open book at this time,” he added.

Every four years, soccer takes centre stage in the world of sport, and rightfully so. Because of the nature of the game, it can be played everywhere, almost any time.

Time to go now, I have to get my ear plugs. Enjoy!

James Hurst
June 15, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Safe or Out?

In last Sunday’s game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, there were no disputed calls at first base.
The Yankees’ Nick Swisher got called out on strikes in the eighth inning. The umpire decided that Swisher had made an attempt to hit the ball, and decided that he had “gone around too far”, in baseball lingo. That really means that he stopped his swing, but not soon enough.
His manager, Joe Girardi, came out of the dugout to argue the call. “I thought that the umpire had a generous strike zone throughout the game. I didn’t think that Swisher had swung.” When asked whether or not he expected to be thrown out of the game, Girardi replied, “As soon as you argue a checked swing, you’re out. Players have a little more latitude.”
The bottom line, of course, was that the Yankees won the game.
There are hundreds of decisions made every baseball game: by the umpires, by the players, by the fans, by the managers and coaches, end even by the ball boys. (In the second inning, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano smacked a ball along the third base line. The replacement ball boy scooped it up when it got to him. He did not realize that it was a fair ball, still in play. Morrow struck out the next two batters, leaving Cano stranded. The ball boy was off the hook.)

The most controversial decision made in a baseball game this year occurred in the ninth inning of a game recently in Detroit. There were two men out, and the Tigers’ pitcher, Armando Galaraga, had retired the previous 26 men in order. He had been perfect up to that point, and needed only one more out to finish the pitching gem.
The Indians’ Jason Donald grounded the ball to the right side of the diamond. The first baseman scooped it up and threw it to Galaraga, who was covering first. The ball arrived before the batter reached the base. The batter appeared to be out. The umpire, long-time veteran Jim Joyce, for some unknown reason, spread his arms with his palms to the ground, indicating that Donald was safe.
There is tremendous pressure at that point in a game. A perfect game is truly rare, having taken place only twenty times in tens of thousands of baseball games.
Upon further review of the video of the game, there is no question that the ball arrived after the runner had banged his foot on the base.
Following the game, the umpire apologized to Galaraga, and to the world. Galaraga accepted his apology, and the keys to a new Corvette.
Even the White House got involved in the situation. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that he thought that “Washington could learn a lesson from this”. My goodness!

Hold the phone.
The waters are a little murky, but I am going to add another important element here and now. The baseball thrown by the first baseman was caught by Galaraga at the very top of his glove. It is called a “snow cone”. The ball then continued down into the palm of the pitcher’s glove, and settled finally in the pocket. At the same time, Jason Donald touched the base.
The point is: Galaraga did not have control of the baseball when the runner touched the base. The runner is therefore safe. Joyce had in fact made the correct call, purely by luck. He could not see the movement of the ball in Galaraga’s glove.
Nor did the video show that movement from a side angle.
Tom Giordano sits quietly in the third row of the Press Box in Toronto. He has been in the game for sixty-four years. I explained what I had seen on the video to him, and he was surprised. “If that is the case,” he told me, “that the pitcher did not have control of the ball, the runner is safe. I will take a closer look at the replay.”
In football, for instance, if a receiver is juggling the ball when he steps out of bounds, the pass is ruled incomplete. Giordano and I agreed that the situations could be regarded as being similar.
Larry Milson has been covering sports for years. “I saw that in the replay. Someone mentioned it to the official scorer, and there was some discussion that it might have been ruled an error.” (likely the correct scoring!)
You could not help but feel sorry for Galaraga, and for Joyce.
This is America’s Pastime. But it is just a game. I am certain that both have moved on, at least I hope so.
Several Blue Jay fans hid their brooms at the end of the game.

James Hurst
June 8, 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


You're Welcome, Philadelphia!

There is some attention focussed on the Flyers at this time; however, many Philadelphia sports fans are showering the city of Toronto with their gratitude for a very special gift: Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay.

After twelve years in Toronto with the Blue Jays, Halladay decided it was time to move to a contender, and ended up in Philly. He began the year with a few wins, lost a couple of close games. Then last week, he joined a very select group of Major League baseball pitchers by throwing a perfect game.

Twenty-seven men faced him. Nine innings, three outs per inning. No walks, no hit batters. No one got to first base.

There have been twenty pitchers, in fact, who have pitched perfect games. It is indeed an impressive list: Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Dennis Martinez, David Wells, Kenny Rogers, Randy Johnson, David Cone, and Don Larsen-the only hurler to accomplish the feat in a World Series game.

Last year, Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game, the first in several years. This season, Halladay’s gem is the second perfect game, following the work of Dallas Braden in Oakland. Expectations are not as high for Braden, a lefty who has lost three games since his “No No”. He has been battling injury, to be fair.

Halladay had previously come within a whisker of a no-hit game a couple of times. On this occasion, he put on his unflappable game face, and went to work. “Early in my bullpen, I was hitting spots more than I have been. I just felt like I just carried that out there.” (to the mound)

The Marlins manager, Fredi Gonzalez, praised Halladay’s effort: “You’ve got to take your hat off to Doc.”

Hallady heaped praise on his battery mate, catcher Carlos Ruiz. ‘We just felt like we were in a groove early, and about the fifth or sixth inning, I was just following Chooch. I can’t say enough about the job he did today.”

National League teams have seen Hallady work in several All Star games. It is indeed a rare occasion when he is not selected to go to the mid season classic. One year, he was bypassed for the game. He ended the season winning sixteen games, losing seven. Pretty fair stats. Lifetime, he has won 155 games, and lost 79. He is now 33 years old, and likely has ten seasons left in his right arm to average fifteen wins a season. That would put him over 300 for his career, an unwritten magical number for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After the game, he turned over his jersey and hat to the Hall of Fame people. They wrenched the rubber from the mound and gave it to him. “Memories, I think, sometimes last longer than the collection of stuff,” he added. He smiled when asked about conversations with his family after the game. He talked to his wife, but not his kids. “It was too late to talk to my kids!” He did appreciate the call from American Vice President Joe Biden, reputed to be a Phillies fan.

Len Barker pitched a perfect game for the Cleveland Indians several years ago. About fifteen years ago, on a cold and rainy morning in Belleville, he lined up with another ten former Major League players to play a few innings against local talent. I asked him if he ever got bored talking about his perfect game. “Not at all,” he said. “It was just a very special occasion, and I always remember it fondly.”

Barker and Hallady are both imposing figures on the mound, more than six feet, five inches. That is an asset for any pitcher. They both threw hard, with good command when necessary.

Other notables who braved the elements that day in Belleville? Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Ron Leflore, George Foster, Bill Lee, Elias Sosa, Rennie Stennett, Ernie Whitt, Paul Blair, and Doug Flynn. Some pretty impressive talent in that group. Sadly, very few fans turned up for the game. Those that did have special memories for a lifetime.

For those of you on the internet, Wikipedia has some fine notes under the title: “Perfect Game”.

But now it’s time for the Stanley Cup finals. The Jays are hosting the Rays. I’ll hold the remote, thanks.

May 31, 2010
James Hurst

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