Monday, October 25, 2010
World Series 2010
There are two teams remaining in the battle to be crowned as champions of North American baseball to become “World Series Champions”. The Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants will take the field on the West Coast Wednesday night to determine the victor in a best-of-seven final.
The Rangers disposed of the mighty New York Yankees in short order, with brilliant pitching, and timely hitting. The Giants outlasted the favoured Philadelphia Phillies to gain a berth in the final.
The Rangers and the Giants were not expected to get to the finals this year. In fact, if you were to lay your money down in Vegas last spring in support of that possibility, you would be a wealthy baseball fan. You might even be able to purchase a ticket for one of the games.
At the helm of the Texas Rangers is a wizened customer named Ron Washington. He assesses the Giants thusly, on the internet: “They are a very solid team. They can certainly pitch, and when you get to this point, pitching is the most important thing.” Sounds like a cool individual; however, if they focus on him when his base runners are in motion, he is certainly a whirling dervish. Keep your distance.
The Giants do have great pitching, led by Tim Lincecum. He has the credentials: two Cy Young Awards for being the best pitcher in the National League the last two years. He has the stuff: great control and a fastball that reaches into the upper nineties on most occasions. But he no more looks like major league pitcher than Rodney Dangerfield. Lincecum is not six feet tall, and weighs about one hundred and sixty pounds. He has droopy hair well past his shoulders. But he is the best.
Another interesting character emerges from the Giants’ bull pen in the late innings. Brian Wilson has one of the ugliest beards in baseball. There might be a touch of Grecian Formula in it, for effect. His hair is coiffed in the manner of Charlie Sheen, “Wild Thing” Vaughn from the movie Major League. He can mow batters down with great stuff. Like many other finishing pitchers, he often walks a batter or two in critical situations, driving Manager Bruce Bochy to distraction.
All Giants’ pitchers will be facing an awesome lineup when they take the field Wednesday. The first game is in San Francisco, as the National league won the All Star game this year, and the right to home field advantage in the World Series. That also means that Vladimar Guerrero will have to play outfield, rather than act as a designated hitter. The Giants may try to take advantage of Vladdy’s restricted mobility.
Guerrero is just one of the mighty bats in the Rangers’ dugout. Others include: Josh Hamilton, Jeff Francoeur, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and Michael Young. Don’t be surprised if you find Bengie Molina also rounding the bases for the Texans. He hit the for the most improbable cycle in baseball history this year, just a few games after he had been traded from the Giants to the Rangers.
The Rangers added Cliff Lee to their starting rotation this season. He will lead the troops into battle as their starting pitcher Wednesday night. All of the baseball pundits have him moving to the Yankees next season. That may be, but in the mean time, he has his work cut out for him in a Ranger uniform.
His duel with Lincecum will be a classic.
Buster Posey will be behind the plate for the Giants. One of the youngest players on the team at twenty-three, he is regarded as a major factor in their success, both with his bat and with his brilliant play in the field. Cody Ross came over to the Giants from the Marlins late in the season, but brought surprising pop to the lineup in the post season.
It is indeed a long season, with plenty of post season play. But we are now in the final leg, and these games are worth the price of admission. Pass the cracker jacks, if you don’t mind.
24 October 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Nathan Moon-Kingston Frontenacs
A week ago, Nathan Moon was announced as the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week. He had scored three goals and had six assists in three games.
I spoke with Nathan last week about his accomplishment.
He downplayed the honour, and indicated he hopes it is a step toward better things in his hockey future. “I really appreciated hearing that I had received the honour,” he told me, “but I still have a lot to accomplish”.
Way back in 2008, Nathan Moon was selected in the Fourth Round of the annual National Hockey League cattle call, sometimes called a draft. The NHL selects the best players from around the world by calling their names, and then posting their names on a board. From that moment on, for the next couple of years, a player’s fate is tied to that particular team. In Moon’s case, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins had arisen to the top of the NHL about that time, thanks to a great group of players led by a couple of kids named Crosby and Malkin. Moon knew that he had his work cut out for him. If he were going to sign an NHL contract, he would have to convince the authorities in Pittsburgh that they had made a wise choice. He would have to fit into their plans for the future.
He told me that Stirling’s Matt Cooke took him under his wing at the camp. “Cookie told me to get in touch with him if I needed anything. He invited me to dinner. As a rookie, I really appreciated that.”
Following training camp, the Penguins decided not to sign the young Belleville native, releasing Moon from any contract obligations with the team. He is now a free agent, and can sign with any other professional organization. Certainly a disappointment for a nineteen year old kid, but also an opportunity to move ahead.
Moon has taken the situation as a challenge, and the proof is in the pudding. “This past summer I worked really hard to get ready for the season. I have been following regimented workouts, and have improved my eating habits.” As a result, in only the third week of the season, he was selected as the top player in the country.
He credits his teammates for their play. He credits his coach, Doug Gilmour, for his expertise and his encouragement. He knows he is in Kingston because of the efforts of their General Manager, Larry Mavety. At the end of the day, however, only Moon himself can get the job done.
Nathan Moon was an outstanding football player as a kid. He played three years in the Belleville Minor Football league, a real pleasure to watch. He loved his position as a running back. He took every play as a challenge, following his blockers, deking in and out of the holes in the defence. He credits a lot of his success to his coach, Dick Howe. “Mr. Howe taught me how to win. He demonstrated the importance of footwork, and deception. He taught me how to compete.” Moon also played briefly at Quinte Secondary School before leaving for Kingston. He had honed his hockey skills in the Quinte “AAA” system to prepare for his hockey future.
He also spent several nights in the Duke Dome, and played half a dozen games with the Dukes. He made a point to credit Coach Tod Lavender for a few valuable tips about positional play. “Tod emphasized playing hard at both ends of the rink. I appreciated his input.”
Nathan Moon has led the Frontenacs in scoring the past three years. He is now in his fifth year with the team, and plans to make a statement with his play this year. He is a durable commodity, only missing a handful of games in his OHL career.
The Frontenacs recently welcomed back Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. They added former Belleville Bulls netminder Philipp Grubauer before the start of the season.. For many years, they have trailed their arch rival Bulls. It appears as though they may outdistance the Bulls this season.
Moon wants to make a statement this year. Even if it is at the expense of the Bulls. “Sure, I get up a little extra for our games against the Bulls. They are special games. But I just try to do my best as a two-way player.”
October 18, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Ben Cahoon-One Fine Receiver
On a brilliant sunlit Thanksgiving Day in Montreal, Ben Cahoon celebrated a brief moment in his stellar career. He had just caught a pass from his old pal, Anthony Calvillo, the 1 007 pass he has received in the Canadian Football League. He now has the distinction of catching more passes than any receiver, ever, in the history of the CFL.
With that reception, he surpassed the mark established some years ago by Terry Vaughn. Another notables on that list include: Darren Flutie with 972, and Allen Pitts, with 966 receptions. Pitts spent his entire career in Calgary with the Stampeders. Cahoon has been with the Alouettes since day one, having been drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft.
That same year, the Alouettes went shopping for a quarterback. On March 18, 1998, they signed a young free agent who had been discarded by the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Anthony Calvillo, without question, has been the leader of the Alouettes since that time. He has also used Cahoon as a prime target for twelve years.
The game was halted last Monday,momentarily, as Commissioner Mark Cohon presented Cahoon with an award. Cahoon graciously accepted the award. “I’m glad that it is finally behind me,” he told the television audience, surrounded by his wife and family.
Although he was born in Orem, Utah, and is a devout Mormon, Cahoon spent much of his youth in southern Alberta, and qualifies as a “non import” within the rules of the CFL. In that same vein, he qualified as the “Most Outstanding Canadian” player in the league in 2002 and 2003. He was also the Most Outstanding Canadian in the Grey Cup games in 2002 and 2009, winning his second Grey Cup with the Alouettes in 2009. He is the all-time leading receiver in Grey Cup history with 632 yards.
Two of the most remarkable features about Calhoon are the following: he has played his entire CFL career with one team, almost unheard of in these transient days, and secondly, he stands five feet nine inches in thick socks and football cleats. He is relatively tiny in today’s game, especially for the type of game that he plays. He has always been willing to run patterns across the middle, and take the licks that opposing linebackers love to give.
In his thirteen year career, he has only missed nine games due to injury. He has always been resilient, and elusive. (At that size, he had to be to survive!)
The combination of Calvillo and Cahoon has been recognized by the CFL as one of the greatest of all time. Sam Etcheverry tossed a few fine passes over the years to Hal Patterson for the Alouettes. Russ Jackson found Whit Tucker on many occasions for the Ottawa Rough Riders. Warren Moon could always find Brian Kelly for the Eskimos. Saskatchewan Rough Rider fans remember the days when the ‘Little General” Ron Lancaster threw strikes to Hugh Campbell. All well and good, but none surpassed the marks set by Cahoon and Calvillo, for distance and for longevity.
There have been several outstanding receivers for the Alouettes over the past thirteen years. But they have come and gone, and Cahoon has survived and prospered.
The Alouettes have yet again clawed their way to the top of the Eastern Division, with their victory Monday over the Calgary Stampeders. They will likely play for the right to defend the Grey Cup in late November.
Cahoon will be wearing Number 86. Watch as he sneaks out of the backfield, snares a pass from Calvillo, and ends up under a pile of several three hundred pound tacklers. He will scramble to his feet, kick off the dust, and ready himself for the next play. Truly a remarkable athlete in the Canadian Football League.
12 October 2010
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Baseball: Cito's Game
Cito Gaston retired a couple of days ago as the Toronto Blue Jays’ Manager. He announced his intention in August, but stayed with the game until the end of his tenure.
The towering Texan, now sixty-six years old, wants to spend a little quality time with his wife and family. Last week the Blue Jays had a fan appreciation night for Clarence Edwin Gaston at the Rogers Centre. It preceded the Jays’ last home game of the season. (Cito told Toronto broadcasters that he took the nickname from a Mexican-American wrestler he watched as a young man in Texas). His baseball card printed in 1971 lists him as “Clarence”, and that is how he signed his name on the front of the card!)
In the second last game that Cito managed in Toronto, he was frustrated by one of the quirky rules in baseball. There is a lane, well designated with solid white lines, that runs parallel to the first base line in foul territory. All runners from home plate must run in that lane to first base.
In the second inning, Yankees’ centre fielder Curts Granderson struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Jays’ catcher, John Buck, gathered up the ball and threw it to first base to record the out. Granderson ran all the way to first in fair territory, on the left hand side of the first base line (Most players also do that, ignoring the lane in foul territory.) Buck’s throw went past first baseman Lyle Overbay into right field. Granderson ran on to second base. Buck was charged with a throwing error.
In the sixth inning, the Jays’ young designated hitter, J. P. Arencibia, raced to first base on a ball that he had hit. It landed in front of home plate. The Yankees’ catcher, Jorge Posada, scooped up the ball and threw it to first base. The ball hit J. P. in the back. He was called out because he had not entered the special lane in foul territory while running to first.
Cito stormed from the dugout. It was apparent that he wanted justice. It was not to be found. In fact, home plate umpire tossed him from the game. It was his third ejection this season. (Several weeks previously, I asked Cito about getting thrown out of games. He smiled, and said: “It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s like being sent to your room for being bad.”)
After the game, Cito stated: “Whenever there is a situation like that, I have to go out and protect my players. I really didn’t say anything to get run out of the game. But the line to first is a crazy rule. There are a lot of crazy rules in baseball that need to be addressed.”
In essence, that is Cito Gaston, a baseball guy through and through. Most concerned about one of the goofy rules in baseball the night before the big celebration of his retirement.
Off and on, Gaston has spent almost two decades in a Blue Jays uniform. He started as a hitting coach in 1982. He began his playing career in 1967 for the Atlanta Braves. Following stints in San Diego and Atlanta, he finished with the Pirates in 1978. He had a banner year as an All Star in 1970. On the back of his card it states: “Clarence virtually rewrote the Padres’ record book last season.”
His friends came out to pay respects on his final night in Toronto. Sitting in the second base area before the game: Pat Hentgen, Joe Carter, Devon White, George Bell, Vernon Wells, Blue Jays’ brass Alex Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston, and Nadir Mohamed, and Linda Gaston.
A video clip brought greetings from a host of baseball buddies: Paul Molitor, Tony Fernandez, Dave Winfield, Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Gord Ash, Jose Bautista, Bobby Cox, Bud Selig, Dusty Baker, and Hank Aaron. Selig got the “Bronx Cheer”.
Not a dry eye in the house. The great crowd appreciated Cito’s contributions to the game, and to Toronto. Cito showed his colours when he began his address; “I know that we have a game to play.” In other words, thanks, everyone. Now let’s get on with it.
As a wonderful tribute, many of the Jays’ players sported moustaches as a tribute to their manager. Young slugger Travis Snider looked magnificent as he trotted around the bases, the first batter in the game for the Jays, sporting his cookie duster.
Enjoy the off season, Cito. See you in the Spring!
October 5, 2010