Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The International Side of Baseball
Ever since I began following the game in the early 1950s, it has gradually morphed into a wonderful international pastime. This does not mean that I fully endorse the “World Baseball Classic”, nor the inclusion of baseball at the Olympics.
I attended a few of the World Classic games, and they offered about as much excitement as poker on television. Why is it still on several sports channels?
Whenever a young Canadian star breaks into the big leagues, or another Canuck plays so well that he gains all star recognition, we can take a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Not a lot, mind you, because, as a nation, we do not have the climate to turn out superb baseball players, nor the mentality to wave the flag too high, or too often.
But we have had our share of great baseball players who were born in Canada, and excel at the game today. Joey Votto of the Cincinatti Reds, Ryan Dempster with the Cubs, Jason Bay, now with the Mets, Russell Martin of the Yankees, Rich Harden with Oakland, Justin Morneau from the Twins, and Jeff Francis from Kansas City: a good way to start the conversation. One of the newest Blue Jays, Brett Lawrie, hails from the British Columbia. He has captured the hearts of Blue Jay fans, and rightly so.
I do not normally endorse a rookie until he has had a chance to prove himself. Lawrie has done so many things well since being called up to the Big Leagues. He is fun to watch, and brings great enthusiasm to the game. At this point in the season, as the Jays stumble into September, fans need a little something to keep their attention. Lawrie has supplied that in spades. He hits with power, he excels in the field, he stretches doubles into triples whenever the occasion arises.
There are several other nations waving flags in support of their players. In a recent article in USA Today, Paul White listed the countries with the smallest representations in the major leagues.
At this time, there is only one South Korean currently on a big league roster: Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians. Understandably, he is a hero in his native land. The only other South Korean to gain similar status is Chan Ho Park, now playing in Japan after 17 seasons in the majors.
There are two players from Nicaragua: Wilton Lopez, who is with the Astros, and Vicente Padilla with the Dodgers. Taiwan is represented by Hong-Chih Kuo, a Dodger, and Chien-Ming Wang, with the Washington Nationals.
Greg Halman, who plays with the Seattle Mariners, is the only big league player who was born, raised, and trained in the Netherlands. Bert Blyleven, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, was born in the Netherlands, but grew up in California.
Columbia and Curacao boast three players each toiling at the highest level of baseball. There are six Panamanians in the game, led by the incomparable Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, now in the twilight of his career, but headed directly to the Hall of Fame. “Baseball’s not as popular as it was before,” Rivera commented in the article. Apparently, soccer has gained a foothold in Central and South America.
Curiously, there are six major leaguers from the “Land Down Under” on current rosters. There is a wonderful training facility in Melbourne, and the climate is conducive to the game. I’m sure it is a bit unnerving for a catcher from Kentucky, settling in behind the plate, to have a batter lean back and say, “G’day, Mate!”
Japan, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic lead the list of other nations supplying talent to the Big Leagues. An interesting flair to the great game. No matter where you are from, I am certain, “Y’er out!” means that you should head back to the dugout.
August 30, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
American Football 2011-Ready to Go!
They are about ready to kick off the regular football season south of the border. That’s where they need four downs to move the yardsticks. As you have read here, for several weeks, we have been playing the Canadian game in the fine summer weather. The Canadian Football League teams will have played almost half a season before their American counterparts rumble onto the gridiron to do battle.
The season was in some jeopardy earlier this year. There was plenty of posturing on both sides, players and management, regarding the collective agreement. With several billion dollars at stake, cooler heads prevailed, and training camps opened several weeks ago.
Mind you, not everyone is entirely happy at this time. The Eagles’ Michael Vick, who had an outstanding season last year following a prison stint, is trying to extend his contract into the future. The terms have yet to be agreed upon, and the waters became clouded recently when Larry Fitzgerald agreed to play for $ 15 million a season. The Arizona Cardinals made him the highest paid receiver in the National Football League, trailing four quarterbacks in the salary category: Peyton Manning from the Colts, Tom Brady from the Patriots, Eli Manning from the Giants, and Phillip from the Chargers.
All eyes will be focused on Cam Newton, the rookie quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. Newton will start on Thursday night against the Bengals, and should get to handle the bulk of the snaps. He is the highly-touted rookie out of Auburn who may have picked up a bauble or two while finishing his college career in the States. College players must not receive any remuneration while toiling in the halls of education. That concept seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird, as most pundits agree that the system has to change. Most colleges are flaunting the rule, and are constantly under investigation.
Closer to home, the Buffalo Bills will fight an uphill battle again this year. Last year, C. J. Spiller was expected to star as the Bills’ running back. Fred Jackson put together another fine season as the premier ball carrier for the Bills, rushing for 927 yards, and a decent 4.2 yards per carry average. He recorded five touchdowns, and caught 31 passes. He has been with the Bills since 2006, when he signed as an undrafted free agent. Spiller will get his chances, but may have to take a back seat to Jackson for another term.
Bills are expecting big things from Marcell Dareus, their first round draft pick from Alabama. At six feet three inches, and more than three hundred pounds, he is described on the back of his Topps Rookie Card as an “explosive lineman, often compared to Warren Sapp”, the perennial Pro Bowl lineman who played for Tampa Bay and Oakland. Dareus should make a difference in his first year in the league.
Another player garnering interest is Plaxico Burress. He has joined the New York Jets after missing a couple of seasons serving time in detention. In his last pre-season game, he indicated he has not lost too many steps. He is thrilled to be able to play. In an interview I picked up off the internet, he stated, “This is one of those days I have been dreaming of”, following his first game. He had three catches for 66 yards, and a major. He could be a key ingredient for the Jets title run this year.
Meanwhile, in the CFL, the Argos won last week to alleviate some of the pressure from a dismal season, thus far. They have a bit of a break at this time, and will need to put together several wins just to make the playoffs. Montreal and Calgary have emerged yet again as serious Grey Cup contenders. Als’ pivot Anthony Calvillo is in the process of surpassing all of the records established by Damon Allen. Simply the best.
Pass the nachos, please. It’s time for football.
August 23, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
Royal Copeland-Argo Great
Last week, the Toronto Argonauts mourned the loss of one of their former great players, Royal Copeland. Copeland played in 111 regular season games in the Canadian Football League, as well as fourteen playoff games. He won four Grey Cups with the Argos, including three consecutive Cups from 1945 to 1947. Vern “Jumbo” Goyer, a native Bellevillian, was a team-mate on the 1945 squad. Goyer is an inductee to the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame.
Copeland was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1988, and was named an “All Time Argo” in 1997. He is the only player to score a touchdown in three straight Grey Cup games. Copeland is tied with Red Storey for the most career touchdowns in Grey Cup games.
Copeland was often paired with Joe Krol, a fellow backfielder with the Argos. They both had blond hair, and were known for scoring electrifying touchdowns for the Argos. They were dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins”.
Team president Bob Nicholson paid homage to Copeland last week: “Few players have achieved the prominence that Royal Copeland did as an Argonaut. His mastery of the game transcends his era and he was one of the first true star athletes in the city of Toronto. His contributions and his memory will forever live in Toronto Argonauts history.”
At that time, champions were referred to as “Inter-Provincial and Dominion Champions”, as well as Grey Cup Champs. As his career wound down, Copeland was joined on the Argos by other greats---Ulysses Curtis, a halfback from Albion, Michigan, and by Norbert “Nobby” Wirkowski, a quarterback from Chicago. Alas, those were the days of great football monikers!
The Parkhurst Company printed a set of football cards in 1952. Included in that set was card # 32, Lorne Parkin of the Argos. “Parky” is described as an excellent downfield tackler. But he was also busy on his non-playing days as a member of the Toronto Police Force!
One of Copeland’s teammates at that time was Arnie Stacks. “In his day, he and Joe Krol were tops. Copeland was as fast a player as there was at that time, and he was just as dangerous running both inside and on outside”, he told the Post Media News. “He was one of those guys you couldn’t help but like. He was a big star back then and everyone looked up to him, but he remained humble and never really looked at himself as famous.”
Copeland also played two seasons with the Calgary Stampeders.
In 1949, he was awarded the Jeff Russel Memorial Trophy, presented to the Eastern Conference player possessing the highest qualities of courage, fair pplay, and sportsmanship.
Last weekend, the Argos dropped another game in CFL play to the Hamilton Tiger Cats. They have one victory and six defeats at this time, tied with the British Columbia Lions. They have played well, on occasion, and have lost several games in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter. With a little luck, they will turn things around. With the Ticats, Blue Bombers and Alouettes having fine seasons, it will not be easy for the Double Blue.
South of the border, they have kissed and made up, and are preparing for another NFL season. Are you ready for some football? Pass me the peanuts, and the remote!
August 15, 2011.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
The Supertest Story-2011
Fifty years ago, we lined the banks of the Long Reach in Prince Edward County to watch the Harmsworth Trophy Races. We had little idea what to expect.
We knew something about water speed, from boat races in the Bay of Quinte. We knew land speed from motorcycle and automobile races at the Fairgrounds. We knew air speed from the skies as we witnessed early jet flights in and out of Trenton. And we knew speed from the drag races on the old aircraft strip at Shannonville.
We were not prepared for what we about to experience. And it was truly a wonderful adventure.
After years of experimentation, the Thompson family was bringing their boat to the County to defend their previous year’s victory in the Harmsworth Trophy Race.
On the weekend of August 20, 1960, cranes lowered the huge crafts into the quiet waters of the Reach for the races.
“This was the best water we ever raced in,” Jim Thompson told me during the celebrations this past weekend. Now an octogenarian, Thompson was an integral part of the entire adventure. He had designed the boat. His family had been involved in the boat racing game for years. They had started the journey, on a more serious basis, when they purchased a couple of boats from the Wilson family in 1951. Included in the purchase were the two hulls and two engines.
Years later, Jim Thompson confessed to John Joseph Kelly, the author of Roostertail: The Miss Supertest Story: “We knew nothing” about the powerboat game. But learn they did, and quickly as well.
Last weekend, Kelly told me that he grew up in Windsor, about a stone’s throw from the Detroit River. “I knew the boats from the sounds I could hear on the river. As a child, I kept scrapbooks on Miss Supertest,” he told me as he signed copies of his book. He added that he remembered being devastated by the death of Bob Hayward, Miss Supertest’s driver. Hayward was killed a month after the Harmsworth Trophy victory while driving Miss Supertest II on the Detroit River.
Jim Thompson celebrated the weekend with great dignity. He answered question after question, and signed thousands of autographs. He took the stage at the Regent Theatre on Saturday afternoon, fielding countless enquiries about the boating world. Remember, he not only owned the boats, he drove them as well. I asked him whether or not there were any significant differences in the three Supertests. “Considering the speed, and the conditions,” he replied, “they all gave you a pretty good ride!”
He respectfully gave credit to those involved in the past weekend’s activities. “John Lyons and all the members of the committee deserve a great deal of credit. Kelly’s book is wonderful. Peter Lockyer’s documentary really tells the story.”
The trophy races did not go unnoticed by the rest of the country. Naturally, Mayor Harvey McFarland was the perfect host. He had upwards of eight hundred guests for tea on a couple of occasions during the weekend. Prime Minister Diefenbaker was at the water’s edge, as was Leslie Frost, the Premier of Ontario. Belleville’s Jack Devine covered the race on CJBQ Radio, and the coverage was carried by CBC across the country.
In essence, it was the pinnacle of unlimited power boat racing in the world. Miss Supertest III was retired after the race.
She looked stately at Loch Sloy above the town of Picton last weekend. She is immortalized on a couple of postage stamps released during the weekend. Pick them up at your local Canada Post office.
I cannot capture the essence of power boat racing with paper and pen. The tremendous roar of the aircraft engines, the wonderful aroma of mysterious fuels, the two hundred foot rooster tail, (to be avoided if you were not in first place!), and finally, the ecstasy of becoming a world champion. Truly a great moment in Canadian sporting history.
There is a movement to rename the Reach “Hayward Long Reach”. That cannot happen soon enough, for all concerned.
August 9, 2011