Monday, June 24, 2013


Toronto Blue Jays-June, 2013

In a remarkable series of fortuitous events, the Toronto Blue Jays have climbed right back into the fight for a championship, and could emerge as World Series Champions.


Their recent winning streak has captured the hearts of Blue Jay fans, and has allowed the band wagon fans to hop back on, for a while, at least. They packed the Rogers Centre last weekend, for the sweep of the Orioles. Baltimore is expected to stay in the hunt for the rest of this season, along with all of the other teams in the Eastern Division: Yankees, Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays.


My crew got to the stadium just before the gates opened, and received fine Blue Jay towels. We are heading back for the Canada Day game on July First, and each will receive a Blue Jay cap as a gift. Not too shabby at all. Mind you, you must arrive early, as these items are limited, usually to the first 20 000 fans who arrive.


As I have said before, it is always critical to arrive at the ball park, arena, stadium, etc., as soon as the doors are open. If it is your first trip to a particular venue, you should spend a little time acquainting yourself with the place: find the best food, and the coldest beverages, at the very least.


I stood in on a little pre-game banter with Buck Showalter, the Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. I have always had great respect for Showalter. He is a very clever baseball guy, and is currently in his 15th season as a Manager at the Major League level. He began in the Majors at the helm of the Yankees in 1992, stayed for five years, then moved on to Arizona and Texas, before arriving in Baltimore in 2010.


                                                               Buck Showalter
When asked about playing in Toronto, he pointed out one real advantage: “First of all, you never have to play a double header, because you will never get rained out. You don’t have to readjust your schedule because of the weather.” He also chatted about other baseball information, concluded his chat, and introduced himself to me. I told him I was from Eastern Ontario. “I remember days when I was in the old New York-Penn League. There was a team from St. Catharines, and another in Three Rivers, Quebec. We played there in April.” He looked up and added, “We could have used the dome!”


                                                         Batting Coach Jim Presley
Coaches and players gather around the home plate area during batting practice. I had met Jim Presley in Spring Training, and we talked hitting at that time. “Hitting today is all about fitness and diet,” he told me. “All this business of working out and weight training just started when I was playing.”


Chris Davis completed his first full season last year in Baltimore. A power hitter, he had 33 home runs last year. He hit a pair of towering blasts into the Florida sun. “It’s a good thing there’s no wind today,” one of his teammates commented. “The ball is sure carrying well!” There is always plenty of chirping on the field, especially in the spring. And, after all there are 162 games in the regular season, leaving plenty of opportunity for idle chatter.


I asked Presley to compare hitters of yesteryear with today’s sluggers. “There were a few of the old guys who could hit the way the young guys hit today. One name that comes to mind is Jim Rice.”


Davis was excused from batting practice on Sunday. He had a couple of hits, arising his .336 average that he took into the game. He leads the American League with 27 home runs, and has 69 runs batted in. As a team, the Orioles have hit more home runs than any other; however, their pitching staff has allowed more home runs than any other team. Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus each had a round tripper to add to the Jays’ total. The Jays won 13-5.


There are still good seats for the series against the Tigers this weekend. See you there!


James Hurst

Friday, June 21, 2013


Kreviazuk Shines for the War Child Effort



They decided to dispense with formalities at the Chantal Kreviazuk concert last Friday night in Belleville. She was sitting in the crowd of fifty people, beside her good friend Sam Nutt, when she was introduced to perform. No drum rolls, no whistling and screaming. No fainting. Just a Winnipeg girl heading to the piano to share a few tunes for the local folk.


Truth be told, extensive technical work took place long before she placed her hands on the keyboard. Her sound man spent more than an hour tuning the fine Yamaha grand at the Belleville Club. Ken Harnden from Pinnacle Music assessed and tweaked the elaborate sound system, to the standards expected for the event. Chantal’s sound man stepped behind the sound board for a last fine tuning.


Sam Nutt is a Canadian doctor who works as a physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. She had invited her friend Chantal to help raise a buck or two for War Child. Essentially, it is a rescue mission to help people in desperate straits who unfortunately face the consequences of war in their lives. It is a vehicle to give hope. The good people of Belleville turned over a cheque for $ 55 000 to War Child following the concert.


                                           The Columnist, Chantal, and Dr. Sam Nutt
Sam Nutt has more letters after her name than Carter has pills. (That is a bit dated. She has more letters than Jose Bautista has home runs!) She has been appointed to every major award in Canada, and has several academic titles as well, including honorary degrees. Kreviazuk added the initials “BFF” to her other titles-Best Friend Forever. Dr. Nutt’s experiences over the past ten years are chronicled in the book, Damned Nations-Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid, recently published by McClelland and Stewart.


Dr. Nutt addressed the gathering briefly before Kreviazuk took the stage. She explained her relationship with War Child as a founder more than ten years ago, and emphasized its importance. “A woman’s economic development will determine whether or not her child will reach his or her fifth birthday. What we needed to know was: ‘How do you reach these women who are high risk?’’


Much of the work involves literacy and skills training, which comes with a significant cost: $ 4000 to $ 5 000 per year. The women who are chosen for the program must receive permission from their husbands to participate. Most are sceptical before they begin the program.


Dr. Nutt sited the example of Shima, a mother of seven children. She and her husband collected vegetables which were discarded by garden marketers, and sold them to the poor. Following a year of training in the program, she was able to start a tailoring business. Her first employee was her husband! She now has fifty employees, and their children are all in school.  Shima noted the biggest difference in their lives: “Before this program, in my family, my husband was the president. Now”, she added, “I am the president!”


                                                     James Hurst and Dr. Sam Nutt
Dr. Nutt noted that change may be incremental, but in time will be monumental. As indicated, the event was held to raise funds for the War Child effort. Donations can be made at:, or by calling toll free: 1-866-927-2445.


Chantal was accompanied by Karen Graves, from Caledon. She provided sweet waves on her violin, and enhanced Kreviazuk’ vocals with fine harmony.


Most of the attendees were impressed with the power and the splendour of Chantal’s voice. She mixed in Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” with “Before You”, dedicated to her husband, Raine Maida, a fine musician in his own right with “Our Lady Peace”. She borrowed an old John Denver classic, “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane”, with just enough personal panache to make it a huge hit for herself.


Her between song banter was perfect. Not conceited, most personal. Her tale about song selection, as required by her mother’s druggist, was hilarious, without being too critical. She gave us her mother’s favourite song, “All I can do”. She closed with a couple of encores, “I love you” for her husband, and “Invincible”.


Kudos to Dr, Jonathan Kerr and Christy Wagner for spearheading the effort to arrange such an evening. One can only hope for more to come.



James Hurst


Monday, June 17, 2013


NBA Finals 2013: Heat and Spurs

There are many factors that contribute to winning basketball. If the end result is that you score more points than your opposition, you are in pretty good shape.


For the San Antonio Spurs, the emphasis is on speed. And more speed. They realized from the outset that they had to come up with something to counter attack the most powerful offence in the National Basketball Association. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were expected to lead the Miami Heat to their second straight championship.


The Heat began well, cruising to victory in the first game at home. Then, I believe that nasty bugbear called overconfidence came into play. The Spurs dug deep, and took the second game in Miami. The Finals then swung over to San Antonio for the next three games.


Home court advantage is more important in basketball than in all of the other major sports. The crowd virtually sits on the court, and they can cause a ruckus equal to the furor experienced nightly in the Madhouse on Madison, home of the Black Hawks. The Spurs won the third game at home, then dropped the fourth, Series tied two-two.


The Spurs knew that the fifth game was important. Tim Duncan, the perennial all star on the Spurs termed the game critical to the success of his team. The final two games of the Series will be played in Miami, and winning two straight on South Beach was not an option.


So it was run and gun for the Spurs, with Duncan working the post, and Tony Parker knifing through to the basket. Manu Ginobli also stepped up his game---big time.


Starting for the first time this season, Ginobli potted 24 points, and added 10 rebounds. At 35 years of age, he may be nearing the end of his career. He plays year round, fulfilling a major role as the key person on Argentina’s national team. Only once before in his NBA career did Ginobli have such a great game.


Danny Green also added to the Spurs offense. He knocked down six three-point shots, to break the previous record of Ray Allen, who now plays for the Heat. It was the remarkable outside shooting that kept Miami off guard, and allowed the Spurs to win.


The Spurs also benefited from a few critical rolls at the rim. Both Ginobli and Parker drove near the basket, avoided a wall of defenders, and elected to throw up teardrop shots which found their way through the hoop. Somewhat unconventional, but effective.



At this juncture, I would not count out the Heat. LeBron knows what needs to be done: “Getting in the paint. (Under the basket.) I think, between the two of us, (LeBron and Wade), we probably missed 12 layups tonight. Transition layups that we usually convert.”


Wade also noted a reason for the loss: “They continue to have great starts. We continue to start slow. We used so much to get back, and they continued to keep coming to us.”


There will be fireworks in Miami this week. Worth a look!



James Hurst

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


And Now There Are Two Teams Remaining!

At long last, there are two teams remaining in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. We have been fortunate in the Quinte Region to have had two appearances of the Silver Beauty in the past few years: Matt Cooke toted the Cup when the Penguins won, and, last year, Brad Richardson hoisted the mug when the Kings won it all.


This year, it all rests on the shoulders of young Andrew Shaw. He skates for the Chicago Black Hawks, and has brought great excitement to the game for all hockey fans. Andrew is a little under six feet tall, and tips the scales at about 160 pounds. In the next few days, he will come face to face with the likes of Zdeno Chara, star defenceman for the Boston Bruins.


Chara is one of the tallest and largest players ever to lace up skates. He is about nine inches over six feet, and weighs at least a hundred pounds more than Shaw. So you think that Shaw will be intimidated by the towering Chara? Think again. Shaw relishes the opportunity to get in the face of all opponents, big and small.


“Shawzee” played all of his minor hockey in Belleville, and moved up to the junior ranks in Niagara Falls. He played a year in Owen Sound before becoming a professional hockey player. In a nutshell, he has captured the imagination of hockey fans in Chicago, and is now an important cog in the wheel of the Black Hawks.


In an article in the Chicago Sun Times from April, 2012, his mother is quoted briefly: “He’s fiery!” That was his rookie year, and he has come a long way since then. His father Doug, tried to rein him in. “I yelled at him for all the things they wanted him to do. You’re always in the penalty box for all the things he does. He was always yappy, just like his father.”


His struggle to get to the NHL was not an easy path. He was ignored in the draft process for two years, finally picked up in the fifth round in the third year by the Hawks. General Manager Stan Bowman commented: “We were fortunate that no one else took him. He came in without a lot of fanfare and without a lot of expectation, and he just proved that he could play.”


Teammate Patrick Kane assessed Shaw’s talent at that time, in good hockey vernacular: “One thing that’s underappreciated about him is his skill and hands. He’s got some nice silky hands, and can make different passes.” And he added: “He’s kind of reckless and very energetic and enthusiastic about life. He’s fun to be around.


 The following year, this past April, Shaw continued his impressive play. You will find him on the power play, jousting for position with gigantic defencemen. He takes a regular shift on what the announcers call the “fourth line”, a meaningless title to the coaches. Typically in early April, he had a goal and an assist, as well as an “unsportsman-like conduct” penalty. 


Another Hawks star also admires Shaw’s play. Jonathan Toews was mystified by Shaw’s early play. “When he first came up, we all asked ourselves, ‘Who is this guy? What the heck is he doing?’” All that is past history. Toews latest assessment: “He’s a physical player for his size; he’s very fearless. He can really get on guys’ nerves out there.”


On Wednesday night, he begins to live the dream of so many young Canadian boys: to play for the Stanley Cup, perhaps to hoist it above his head at centre ice. Not bad, for a twenty-two year old kid who was almost left behind.


James Hurst





Stanley Cup Playoffs-2013

Action in the Stanley Cup playoffs continues to heat up after every round. One of the most interesting facts pointed out to me recently is that the four semi finalists-Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, are the last four winners of the Stanley Cup. No matter who wins, it hasn’t taken long to become a repeat winner. Chicago Cubs fans have been waiting almost a century for a World Series title!

It appeared as if the Penguins were going to walk into the finals, as they began their series with the Bruins. That all changed quite dramatically. The Bostonians jumped on the Penguins last Saturday night, behind some fine goaltending from Tuukka Rask. In a bit of a nasty tilt, the Bruins blanked the Penguins 3-0.

Early in the second period, Matt Cooke was assessed a major penalty for checking from behind, and was also given a game misconduct. Many of you either saw the play, or have seen the replay. The main problem that I have with the call, and other similar calls, is that the Bruins player, Adam McQuaid, heard Cooke’s footsteps, looked over his shoulder to see what was coming, and turned his face toward the boards. He anticipated Cooke’s arrival, and his team was awarded the power play for his manoeuvre.

Cooke has gone through a series of changes in his play the past few seasons, simply to stay in the game. His reckless style jeopardized his career, and he served several suspensions. He knew what was at stake, and he reacted to the situation. As reported in Bruce Arthur’s column in The Ottawa Citizen, Cooke noted: “I had to change from the outset, change my outlook on how I approached the game; otherwise, there was no chance that I was going to have success. I think that before, you’re so focused on trying to find that line and where to be, and whether it’s on it, or before it, or across it, and there’s risk involved in that. I had to put myself in a position to get there, and now I don’t have to do that. Being a useful, honest player-that’s hopefully how I’m remembered.”

“Cookie” had 21 points in the regular 48 game season, with 8 goals. He spent 36 minutes in the penalty box. In only 12 playoff games, he has already been assessed with 33 minutes in penalties. Has his play changed? Not significantly. Is he being monitored a little more carefully? Likely. Has he been unlucky, as in the case with McQuaid? Definitely. Cooke did not receive a suspension on the play, and will skate for the remainder of the playoffs.

Andrew Shaw, another feisty type, continues to be a fan favourite in Chicago. The Hawks won both of their home games against the Kings, and are in the driver’s seat heading for the west coast. In the second game, Shaw snapped the first goal of the game past Jonathan Quick to give the Hawks a great start. It was his fourth goal in this year’s post season play, and he has added three helpers. But it is his devil-may-care attitude that excites the fans in the “Madhouse” in Chicago. By the way, he has accumulated 39 minutes in the “sin bin” thus far in the playoffs!

Brad Richardson has played in nine of the Kings’ post season games. He is used in all situations, and is most effective killing penalties, because of his outstanding skating ability. “Richie” would love to be able to show Lord Stanley’s mug to the folks in Belleville once again, as he did last summer. The Kings always play well at home, but are now 1-7 on the road in their last 8 games. A road win is a must to make it to the finals.

By this time next week, we will have the finalists. Hopefully, they will be able to wrap up the season before the first day of summer. Time for the beach.

James Hurst

June 3, 2013.





This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?