Saturday, April 23, 2016


2016-The Year of the Cubs?

2016-The Year of the Cubs?

The Chicago Cubs have indicated that they mean business this year. No more fooling around. No more Mister Nice Guys. This is the year.

Last Thursday, one of their pitchers, Jake Arrieta, sent a signal to the rest of the teams in the National League. He threw his second no-hitter, with some run support. The Cubs squeaked by the Cincinnati Reds 16-0. His first no-hitter was against the Dodgers last year. The Reds had not been held hitless in a regular season game for 45 years. They were held off the hit list in a playoff game in 2010, by Roy Halladay, when he was with the Phillies.

Two of the 18 hits that the Cubbies had came off Arietta's bat. In his post game interview, he chatted more about the preparation to get those two hits. The National League pitchers take pride in their at bats, when successful. There is no “Designated Hitter” in the NL, and that is the most significant difference between the two leagues.

Arrieta was not at his best in the game. He walked three batters, and relied on some fine fielding plays to help his cause. “It felt sloppy from the get go. I was a little off my command, but I was able to keep them off balance,” he reported to Joe Kay of the Associated Press.

There were only 16 497 fans on hand in Cincinnati to appreciate the feat. Arrieta got run support off the bat of Kris Bryant. Bryant had two home runs, including a Grand Slam in the 7th inning. Ben Zobrist, David Ross and Anthony Rizzo also homered.

The Cubs are now 12-4 for the season, their best start since 1970. They have a great manager in Joe Maddon, and their GM is Theo Epstein. They spend a good deal of time preparing for games, behind the scene. That's where analysis and scouting become important.

                                                Tommy Hottovy

That's where the expertise of Tommy Hottovy comes into play. Hottovy, now 34 years old, chased the dream of playing in the Major Leagues for several years. He made relief appearances for the Red Sox and the Royals. In 2014, he was in Spring Training with the Cubs, and blew out his shoulder. A graduate of Wichita State University, he majored in finance and had an economics minor. He knew a little about crunching numbers. He had also studied Sabermetrics, a course about statistics and baseball. Last December, he was hired by the Cubs as the Co-ordinator of Advance Scouting, with an emphasis on run prevention.

He travels with the team, analyzing data. His main focuses involve breaking down hitters, planning and sequencing game strategy, defensive positioning, and defending the running game.

I have always marveled at defensive positioning. At a critical time in a game, with runners on base, a batter smacks a line drive over the head of the shortstop into left field, but not terribly deep. Fortunately, the left fielder is playing shallow, and catches the ball easily. Most of the time, there is no luck involved. There is hitter analysis, there is thought given to the type of pitch to be thrown, and the location of the pitch. Occasionally, that might mean the kind of shift that “Big Papi” sees every time he comes to the plate. To his credit, he still manages to get on base.

Hottovy prepares for each individual hitter, analyzing tendencies and preferences. Some hitters always swing at the first pitch. The pitcher needs to make it good, but not too good. Occasionally, batters get on base by hitting bad pitches. Think Vladimir Guerrero. “Sometimes, you make a good pitch, and it's the pitch you want to throw, and the guy hits it. That's baseball. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the hitter,” he stated in an interview with David Laurila with Daily Graphings.

The players trust the workings of the team behind the scenes. It certainly worked for Arrieta. For the rest of the Cubs and the season? We shall see.

James Hurst

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Augusta James-Golfer

                               Augusta James, with her Dad, Geoff

The official title of the golf tournament I attended last week is: “Chico's Patty Berg Memorial Tournament”. It is a combination tournament that includes golfers from the Symetra Tour, and others from the Legends Tour. The ladies from the Symetra Tour played a four day, 72 hole tournament whereas the Legends group played a 36 hole, Saturday and Sunday event.

The Legends Tour ladies played alongside the Symetra golfers, a really nice touch.

Patty Berg grew up in northern climes, but refined her game in the south, eventually settling in Fort Myers. She was a major player in the golf game. She was a founding member of the LPGA, and its first president. She won 63 professional tournaments, including 15 majors. A member of the Hall of Fame, she passed away in 2004.

The tournament was played at the Cypress Lake Country Club, less than five miles from my front door. The weather was perfect, except for some very stiff afternoon breezes which reached almost 40 miles per hour.

                            Alan, Jean, Augusta, and Geoff James

I walked much of the course during the first round with a delightful couple from north of Toronto. Alan and Jean James emigrated to Canada in 1974, and the Canadian golf world is grateful for that. Their son Geoff spends most of his summer looking after things at the Loyalist Golf Club in Bath; however, last week, he had more important things to do: he carried the bag for his daughter, Augusta.

Augusta was born on the first day of a certain golf tournament played in Georgia, in 1993. She attended North Carolina State on a golf scholarship. Her brother is currently enrolled at Charleston Southern Baptist, also a Division One school.

I spoke briefly with Augusta after her round. “It was really an 'up and down' day for me. When it's not your best day, but you end up at even par, it's not bad.”

The following day, she also ended up at par, qualifying for the final two days of the tournament. And that's when she turned it up a notch. She finished under par both rounds, ended up at -4, and tied for fourth. That moved her from eleventh place to sixth on the all-important money list. The top ten players at the end of the year graduate to the LPGA.

She is right behind another Canadian golfer, Jessica Wallace, from Langley, British Columbia. I met Jessica on the course. Stolling behind her threesome, I picked up a putter cover adorned with a Canadian flag. I ran it up to her caddy. Jessica thanked me, profusely. "Thank goodness," she remarked. "I bought that on ebay this week!'

                                                Jessica Wallace

I asked her if she planned to attend the Patty Berg next year. She replied, humbly, yet confidently, “Only if there is an opening on the LPGA Tour that week”. She knows the course well. In fact she won this tournament last year. She skipped a couple of Symetra events last year to play LPGA events. She finished out of the top ten by $ 800. She has other plans this year.

                                            At the scorer's tent

                           With Lorie Kane, Legends Tour Winner

Lorie Kane finished her Legends Tour round just ahead of Augusta. “I am really impressed with Augusta's game,” she told me, after holing out on the 18th green. “She has a lot of talent, and she is moving in the right direction. It is really exciting for me to see her progress!”

Golf can be a very humbling game, as we witnessed at the Masters with Jordan Spieth. During her round at this Legends Tour, Nancy Lopez watched her chip roll off the green, and down a slope, near a cart path. She chipped the ball back on the green, but only after a couple of chunks. She carded an 89 for the round. We are all human.

                    Nancy Lopez, offering encouragement to her ball.

                                   Pat Hurst, on the Legends Tour

Kane won the Legends Tour. She outlasted other golf luminaries including: Nancy Lopez, Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Pat Hurst, Lisa Grimes, and Val Skinner.

A fine showing by two great Canadian golfers!!

James Hurst
April 19, 2016.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Beginnings and Endings, Spring 2016

                         Topps 2016 Opening Dy card, "Bat Flip"

In the early days of April, seasons close, seasons open. Seasons of sport, naturally.

The doors closed last night on the Boston Bruins. The Flyers and the Wings crept into the playoff hunt. The Wings kept their magnificent streak alive, with their 25th playoffs on the horizon. The Ottawa Senators played the spoilers role, netting four goals in eight minutes in the second period to sink the Bostonians.

The Florida Panthers have just completed their most successful season. They have great goaltending with Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. I have always maintained that a team must have two fine goalies. Check that with any avid Habs fan. The rats poured onto the ice Saturday night after the Panthers beat the Hurricanes 5-2. Aaron Ekblad scored his 15th goal, and Huberdeau added his 20th. They are geared up for the playoffs.

I hear a fair amount of weeping, and gnashing of teeth from northern areas. There is this feeling that something is not right because there are no Canadian cities in the playoffs. Hogwash. Predictions are made that television ratings will lower. Could be true. There are many factors that have contributed to this: drafting, coaching, management, team chemistry, fan support, injuries....I would like to see more Canadian teams in the hunt. As you know, there are several American teams with more Canadians on their rosters than Canadian teams. Thus, I have little concern about this aspect. Follow the players, not the cities. In most cases, that would be Andrew Shaw, and the Hawks, and Nick Cousins and the Philadelphia Flyers.

The basketball season comes to a close on Wednesday night, as does the career of Kobe Bryant. He has just completed his farewell tour, so we can now concentrate on David Ortiz and his tour. The Toronto Raptors have played well all season, and are rewarded with home court advantage to begin the playoffs. Eventually, they will have to get by the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James to play the western teams. Not an easy chore.

The Golden State Warriors are posed to win the west, especially after their dramatic victory over the Spurs in San Antonio. It was the sole loss at home for the Spurs this year. The NBA playoffs will be exciting this year.

The Forida Everblades open their playoff season against the Wheeling (West Virginia) Nailers this coming weekend. The Blades passed out their team hardware last weekend. Former Duke Anthony Peters received the trophy as their most valuable player.

And the baseball season has officially begun, with the Blue Jays playing .500 ball thus far. We attended their last game in Tampa Bay. It followed the game that was decided by replay, when Bautista was ruled to have interfered while sliding into second base. The right call, in my opinion.

Tampa Bay is a great place to watch baseball, and you will not have any trouble getting a great seat at a decent price. The Rays have a decent team, as are all of the other teams in the American League East. Currently, the Orioles lead the pack. No one expected that. Most pundits have chosen the Jays to repeat. It certainly won't be easy.

The golf season's first major tournament wrapped up last weekend. Jordan Spieth appeared headed for victory when he faltered on the twelfth hole. He rushed a couple of shots, lost his edge, and ended the hole with a quadruple bogey. England's Daniel Willett won the tourney, and received the green jacket from Spieth. Great to watch, not the upset, but the drama.

Thursday, April 07, 2016


Game Promotions Gone Bad

Kerry Fraser put quite a few miles on his blades on National Hockey League rinks. He began his career as a referee in 1973, and broke into the NHL in 1980. He blew the whistle until 2010. At that time, he had adjudicated more regular season games, and more playoff games than any other official in the game, at the NHL level.

He does admit that he was not the most popular official in history, and he did take a lot of abuse for his impeccable hair. No matter. He also worked several international games, including the Olympics.

When I spotted him hovering above the ice at the BT&T Centre in Sunrise, Florida, I knew I was in luck.

The Panthers had recently suffered nearly disastrous results from a promotion at their games. The first 10 000 fans entering the arena were given a rubber rat. Not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill rats. Special rats. The words, “Year of the Rat” were written on the rat's side, as was the date: 1995-96. For twenty years, the team has capitalized on the poor rodent.

Back in their old barn in Miami, Scott Mellanby had fired a dazed rat against the wall with a decent slapshot before a game. He also potted two goals that evening. As a consequence, Panthers' goalie John Vanbiesbrouck stated the Mellanby had scored a “rat trick”. That was the only year that the Cats played in a Stanley Cup final.

Since that time, fans have showered the ice surface with rats after victories. Recent events regarding the long-tailed creature have not gone so well for the Panthers.

On the rat promotion night, fans tossed their rodents onto the ice after their first goal. They were warned over the public address system not to throw things on the ice. More rats, naturally. Then they were assessed a two minute delay of game penalty.

Then another goal, and more rats! And another two minute penalty. The veins were quite prevalent on Coach Gerard Gallant's neck. He was more unhappy with the fans, than with the call: “We've got to be smarter than that,” he told the press after the game.

Fraser recalled a similar occurrence one night in St. Louis. Fans were given “coozies”, those silly rubber things you place over cans to keep them cool. When the fans objected to some of Fraser's calls, they showered the ice. “They filled a dozen wheelbarrows! They used them again at another promotional night.” Look for Fraser on his popular TSN show, “C'mon, Ref!”

I chatted with other hockey guys about stuff being tossed on the ice. Naturally, the octopus in Detroit comes to mind. For those of us with slightly receding hairlines, we remember programs covering ice surfaces. Eddie Johnson, the veteran NHL netminder laughed when I told him I remembered toe rubbers littering the ice at the old Memorial in Belleville.

Toe rubbers, you ask? Check with your grandfather.

The Ontario Hockey League has instituted a wonderful program to benefit kids. It is dubbed a “Teddy Bear Toss”, and takes place in many arenas. Fans come to the game with stuffed animals, in a plastic bag. When the home team scores a goal, they shower the ice with the bears. The rink rats pick then up and donate them to a cause.

That is, of course, unless the home team does not score. Robert Gherson, the affable netminder who was placed in our billet home as a kid, shut out a team on “Teddy Bear Toss Night”. “They pelted me with those bears after the game. They were not happy!”

Another stuff-on-the-ice event that Gherson remembered took place in Erie, the Pennsylvania home of the OHL Otters. They had a chap named Corey Pecker in their lineup. And yes, as I am sure you have surmised, when Corey scored, fans would throw stuff on the ice. And yes, they looked like...And yes, they were dildos!

Gherson also played with another player who happened to be playing in Sweden when another rink was covered. Have a look.

Supporters of the Stockholm-based AIK ice hockey team scored an unusual hat trick of heckling on Tuesday night featuring dildos, profane banners, and a giant inflatable penis.

On occasion, public relations folk don't think these things through as carefully as they should. My pal Rick Meagher played several years in the NHL. On one occasion in St. Louis, fans were given beautiful ceramic mugs entering the arena. When the officiating took a turn for the worse, in their opinion, they showered the ice with the mugs.

Toronto Blue Jays players are positioned far enough away from the fans that they are rarely affected by items thrown on the field. I was at a game when magnetic fridge schedules were handed out to fans entering the park. One fan sandwiched several magnets together, and was able to fling it near second base. That would leave a nasty mark.

After the fans spent a Sunday pelting players with beer bottles at a Browns' game in Cleveland, authorities decided to sell beer in plastic bottles. Good thinking. Come to think of it, alcohol likely has something to do with all this stuff and nonsense.

And then there was the loonie a certain individual placed at centre ice during the Olympics. But that's another story.

Got any other good ones? Email

James Hurst

April 5, 2016

Friday, April 01, 2016


Spring Training Notes

Either you have booked a flight, or you are busy packing the car to take the kids south for a few rays of sunshine. For those of us who spend more than two weeks a year in the south, we hope you won't be disappointed. When you arrive south, I hope you will get a chance to see some activity at a spring training facility.

Baseball players begin to assemble in two main locations in February, Florida and Arizona. The general rule is that pitchers and catchers show up a little earlier than the rest of the players. That is not necessarily the case, as a lot of teams have facilities to host dozens of their prospects. The Minnesota Twins have schooling, residences, fine food, and plenty of coaching to give their younger prospects a head start.

                       At the fabulous fountain, Hammond Stadium.

Spring training facilities are really spectacular places to see baseball. There are usually at least half a dozen ball fields, all in superb condition. Clubhouses are enormous, as you can well imagine. There are usually 50 or so players on the Major League list, to be cut to 25 when the season opens. Then there is a group at the AAA level-the Rochester Red Wings for the Twins. They also have a Double A team in Chattanooga, and Single A teams in Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Rookie league team plays in the Appalachian League in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Finally, there is a Gulf Coast League team based out of Fort Myers.

There are a lot of steps to climb to secure a spot on the bench of a big league team. Such is the nature of professional sports, no different for any of the other sports.

Many teams come into Spring Training with their rosters virtually set for the coming year. There will be a few places to be filled on the roster, but not many. I would venture to say that Alex Rodriguez could go hitless in the spring and still be on the Yankees roster when they break camp.

Part of the fun of spring training for the fan is to try to predict which players might crack the lineup for the opening roster when the games count. Newspapers keep track of wins and losses, and they publish the results of all the games. They are completely meaningless.

Standings” are displayed daily in the newspapers for the teams playing in Florida-”The Grapefruit League”, and those in Arizona-”The Cactus League”. Occasionally, there are ties in spring games: end of nine innings, all tied up? Start the bus. Teams will also play “Split squad” games. The Yankees would be playing in Dunedin and Clearwater at the same time.

On such occasions, you might not see all of your favourite team's stars at a particular venue. Such is the case at all Spring training games. In fact, several teams this spring have been fined by Major League Baseball for not using their regular players often enough. Fans flock to the southern stadiums to see their favourite players, and leave disappointed because the team uses lesser-known talent on a particular day. It may be because of injuries, or because the managers and coaches want to have a closer look at potential players. This occurs most often when a team is on the road. The tried and true superstars will not make the trip, much to the disappointment of their fans.

On March 30th, the Blue Jays came to Fort Myers to play the Twins. Before the game, the Jays took their swats from the cage. When they took the field, this is how they lined up: Humberto Quintero, catcher; Casey Kotchman, 1b; David Adams, 2b; Andy Burns, 3b; Jio Mier, ss; Melky Mesa, lf; Roeman Fields, cf; Domonic Brown, rf; Ryan Tepera on the mound. The Jays # 72 hit some deep balls before the game, but not in the game when he was inserted in the lineup.

Major league teams will occasionally leave one facility and head to another. There are rumblings that the Toronto Blue Jays might leave Dunedin. Their spring facility holds less that 6 000 fans, and the teams like to make a little money while they prepare for the season. They have averaged 70 000 fans over the last five years for games played in Dunedin.

In contrast, Arizona has averaged 180 000 fans over that same time span. The Red Sox are in the 150 000 range, as are most of the other teams. You can do the math; the Jays are hurting slightly in this regard.

Teams draw fans to certain areas in Florida and Arizona. There are two MLB teams in Fort Myers. The Red Sox played at a fine old ball park in downtown Fort Myers for many years. Management deemed the facilities unacceptable. Local politicians got together and used a carrot to keep the Bostonians in Fort Myers-more than $ 50 000 000. The city of Fort Myers and Lee County have upgraded the Twins' ball parks to the tune of more that $ 40 000 000. It is big business.

The Toronto Blue Jays lead the standings as they head north to play the Boston Red Sox at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. They are still testing the waters to see if there is enough interest to place a Major League team, or, more likely, to move one to the city. The Jays have 17 wins and 6 losses. The Twins have played 29 games with 19 wins. If a game is rained out, it's history. If games are tied after nine innings, leave it at that. A bit of a sister kisser. These are proving grounds, and the wins and losses mean nothing.

All of the experts have decided that the Jays are going to win the American League East Division. A tough chore to say the least: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and the Rays have other notions.

See you at the ball park.

James Hurst

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