What Pain? Put me in Coach!

January 26, 2016

 Every team in the NFL posts an injury report, which Las Vegas uses as a tool in setting odds for the weekly games. Injuries in competitive sports are obviously unavoidable but how they are managed from a team and personal perspective is the difference between winning and losing games.   Owners fret and worry when their investments cannot perform and the fans pay big dollars to attend games to see their beloved players. The pressure to be on the court or field is tremendous along being able to play through pain. How players react to pain and how they manage is the ongoing nature of their profession.

All professional sporting franchises have a training staff which helps keep players performing along with using proactive measures to ward off certain types of injuries. The most often occurring injury is muscles pulls and strains. They are not always avoidable, but it is also the injury that players will try to work around. I am not sure how much pain-relieving medicine is used to help players perform on game day and what is the protocol for administrating such meds. I remember taking an 800mg ibuprofen before a baseball game to help with discomfort from a groin pull.  I took all of the pain away and I was ready to go. I also got this cloudy feeling in my mind and an upset stomach in the second inning of the game. If this was a professional sport, I am sure ibuprofen would not be used for a groin pull. I was lucky I didn’t do more damage and put a damper on things for a long time.

I am sure you can talk to any professional sports performer and they will tell you crazy stories of what they had to do to get on the field. When it comes to the nitty gritty, it becomes a question how much pain you can endure and where does it affect performance. The two big factors when dealing with pain is “pain tolerance” and “threshold of pain”.

The threshold of pain is the lowest levels where you feel pain and tolerance is the maximum level of pain that a person can tolerate. These factors often are muddled because pain and performance ability are so subjective. How much pain can one athlete endure and how it affects performance cannot always be measured until the athlete actually is in a real game time situation.  The medical staff needs to determine the risk of further injury and the owners want to know if their property is going to perform.

We have all heard about how some players have a high pain tolerance. It has been explained to me in the following way; Pain tolerance is way we cope with pain, some of it may be learned from prior experiences that condition the mind. This reaction is only a single individual effect and changes from person to another. In addition, it has been tested that repeated pain exposure to some subjects’ manifests into boosted responses to pain even with minor pain stimuli. In summary, pain management is very not measurable from person to person which is based on prior experiences with pain stimuli.

The New Torture…Ultra, Ultra, Ultra Marathons

January 19, 2016

 I caught a little news blurb recently about an American woman attempting to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. Wow…. now that is some accomplishment, the first time to be done by an American woman. Her name is Sarah Ames, an attorney from Chicago.  The journey begins in Antarctica where she will run in frigid weather while the penguins look in wonder. I don’t know where it goes after that, possibly South Africa. I am defiantly impressed with anybody who trains for a marathon and can finish the race. One percent of one percent of the population can’t even run 5 miles or kilometers without wanting to take a break. Run seven of these races in seven days and you’re talking about some type of super freak running machine.

Running twenty-six miles a day for a week is something the ultra-marathoners thrive on and has become a feat that many have pulled off, but only a handful have attempted the seven-continent aspect. I can’t see her going through customs, security and baggage claim and airport parking without some kind of special sponsorship. Is Red Bull promoting this thing?  She must be on some of kind private jet and she doesn’t have to run through an airport waiting to get through bag checks.  So not only is this a feat in running but how to bypass logistical nightmares call international flying. Not sure if this qualifies as the ultimate endurance test but it can be surely is up there on the list of navigating through pain in the butt air travel.

I am not sure, but she must end in Russia then jaunt on over Alaska to meet Sarah Palin who can see her coming.   In all seriousness, this is a pretty impressive on all fronts and will check off another item on the list of human endeavors. This is part of some kind of challenge put out there by a group masochist with a suitcase of money that want to see how many takers are available.  It is appearing the list is long and growing because the vast need for more types of personal physical challenge.

The sporting landscape has exploded with endurance based and strength training events. In our world of Tough Mudder and countless copycat type activities, the challenge is to be your own super athlete. The ability to train yourself or find likeminded athletes has become more and more easier. The landscape is changing in America as far as personal training is concerned. It is not enough just to become fit, people want to compete and challenge their fortitude and give their life some meaning.  It is our nature as Americans to explore and find the next mountain and running an ultra-marathon fulfills that desire. I better get back in the gym.

The Cold War, Seahawks and the Vikings

January 16, 2016

After going to see the film “The Revenant”, which takes places in harsh weather and where all you had was your animal hid to keep warm, I thought these football players could handle the conditions in Minneapolis. Even though the early pioneers didn’t have heaters on the sidelines, on the other hand they were not constantly getting in pile ups with 300-pound men.  Maybe a bear, but not defensive linemen. The temperature at the University of Minnesota football field on Sunday dipped below 0 degrees. That’s 0 degrees Fahrenheit, where nobody should be outside.  This supposedly was the third coldest game in NFL history, another case of global warming gone cuckoo, or maybe just another typical day in Minnesota.

There is plenty of statistical data that points out that the home team has an advantage in such conditions especially since Seattle doesn’t see this kind of weather. Whatever the advantage is, it can’t be by much when it comes to this low of temperature. Both of these teams in this game were wrapped in the latest but greatest high-tech clothing that is made for these conditions and the coaches looked like Stay Puff Marshmallow Men draped in coats and beanies.   

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll looks at the scoreboard during the first half of an NFL wild-card football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With the clothing advantage rated at even, the advantages had to be found somewhere else.   The advantage to me would be the Vikings running back Adrian Peterson whom would keep the ball secure and punish the defense with his powerful running. As it turned out, he impacted the game the most with his 4th quarter fumble that allowed Seattle to make a field goal. Both teams attempted to throw the ball because even though it was frigid, there was no snow or blustery wind to strongly affect the passing games.

There were many times when the quarterbacks throws looked like non-spiral hand grenades and the high percentage short passes looked like shot puts.  Overall it looked like both squads were able to adapt about as best you could and it didn’t appear as cold on television as they say.  From my recliner it looked like only, lets say 30 degrees. I wouldn’t say that to the poor Seattle punter who took a face plant in the 1st quarter which must have felt like he was hitting concrete.   Just kicking the football must have been a challenge. Unless the footballs were warmed up before they were place kicked, it must have felt you where kicking a rock. The Minnesota kicker who missed the game winner with 27-yard field goal realistically makes that kick in all other games.

So, it must be stated that no one has the advantage in these types of games unless you are just a flat-out better team. Playing in the extreme cold weather affects muscle reaction, thinking ability and the ball.  Most fans love to watch this game even when it is not your favorite team.  It reminds us of the days of our youth when you went to play football in the mud and you got filthy and yelled at by your mom.   It is also fun to watch the weather impacted games because part of our masochistic inner feelings that want the high paid athletes to earn their salary. I like to see who can adapt and overcome nature like the main character in the Revenant film. The last thing a player wants to hear is the reason they lost was because of the conditions.

The Cubs, Mets and Astro not Stinking?

August 26, 2015

Okay, as harsh as that sounds, but that’s what the fan bases in those towns are thinking. They have been beat like a gong for the last ten to fifteen years and slipped into the baseball black hole. It appears that they have come out of their deep sleep when the old management was sent packing and the new blood came in and finally figured out the way to wake up the slumbering hound dogs. Now the dog days of summer are fun again and ol Yeller is frolicking around like a crazed Labrador in a mud puddle.

What, why and how did the mad scientists turn around these wastelands of baseball? Step one was to unload all of the high-priced malcontents and gather up as many draft picks as possible.  Then ownership must allow for the anger to manifest with the fan base and explain to them this is a rebuilding plan, not a fire sale.  They will be mad and the talk show airwaves will spew out venom and the fans will demand lower beer and hot dog prices. You may have to weather this storm for three to five years, may be longer.

If you survive the fan backlash, media uproar and public shaming then you must field a team that has some semblance of hope. That hope will usually arrive in the form of some peach fuzzed kids that have some pop and swagger. Soon, the fans will like these young pups and hopefully the management won’t give up on them and send them to back and forth to boot camp and exciting bus rides in the minors.

Next step is the most important, the secret ingredient, pitching, pitching and pitching, then more pitching, followed by more pitching. If you don’t believe me look at the Mets and the prime example, the Giants. They have had the same bullpen for the last five years and mish mash of starters that get it done in October. Again, important for managers and coaches not to ride their young pitchers like donkeys, or you are looking at Tommy John and his surgery.

The last two things are the intangibles and the glue that keeps the train from derailing and house of cards from falling down. Get some veterans that are battle tested and hungry for a big ring on their finger. The final and most esoteric piece to the winning formula, chemistry…there I said it.  Twenty-five guys don’t have to all like each other, but it sure helps when the team isn’t squabbling about their playing time and who cheats at cards.

Can it be the year of the Cubbies?  holy smokes, if that happens, Donald Trump might become president…. Okay that was weird but so is the Cubs or Astros winning the whole enchilada.  Enjoy the ride and fans might just be watching baseball again in October.

Is Serena Williams the Best Woman Athlete of All Time?

August 24, 2015

I don’t know why this needs an answer, but it raises the discussion for what is the criteria for such a title?  I pondered this question and racked my memory to find the candidates, and I believe that Serena Williams should be considered. She certainly has won enough hardware and awards to fill up a museum wing, but what else?

With the upcoming US Open at the end of August, Williams enters as the Number one player in the world and looking to win her fourth Grand Slam Event this year and fifth in a row. This is unchartered ground for women’s tennis, not even Steffi Graff pulled this off.

What makes this run of dominance incredible, is the fact that she is 33 years old. No other woman tennis player has won as much as she has after the age of thirty, make that any man as well. She is closing in on the record for most Grand Slam victories, she currently has 21, and Graff has 24. She probably has that goal in site before she calls it quits.

So, does this warrant her as the best women’s athlete of all time? Let’s break this down a little.  Williams is currently dominating at the age of 33 in a large international field of great women players. She is the best in her sport. Her playing style is a power game, which is exemplified in her serve where she dominates her opponents. She is incredibly agile and quick for a woman of her size, she is 5’ 9”, and adorning an incredible muscular physique. Williams has battled through countless injuries and plays impaired with unknown ailments and still perseveres, and wins.

You might be able to find a more complete athlete, like an Olympian decathlete or a WNBA player but have they dominated for such a long time? The only other woman athletes I can think of are; Kerri Walsh, the volleyball star, Babe Dickerson, the multi-sport star of the thirties, or Jackie Joyner Kersey, the great track star. When people try to break down athletic qualities, the argument is convoluted with criteria, but I still come back to skill level, overall physical dominance, resiliency and accomplishments. Serena fills the bill for me, right here, right now in the world of women’s sports.

 

Deflatgate, The Final Word…Yeah Right

August 22, 2015

 Deflated balls, deflated Roger Goodell, deflated Tom Brady, deflated story, I will say my last word on this sad story of the football that didn’t have enough air in it. Unfortunately, the National Football League has created one of the most pathetic news stories centered around one of the most useless and under blown circumstances I have seen in my lifetime. I had to think long and hard to find such a sad little affair that caused such a quagmire of tom foolery and buffoonery.  Hmm, maybe in baseball, the George Steinbrenner era when he held court for embarrassing behavior or perhaps the Terrell Owens incident of the 49ers when he signed footballs in the end zone and there are of course the juiced baseballs of Coors field that explained the home run totals.

The NFL is having a bad couple of years due to off the field circumstances and misadventures of the players and coaches. Unfortunately, the league office is also looking bad because they don’t know whether they should do nothing, make a mountain out of a mole hill or hand down a harsh whooping. In these days when the is NFL is making more money than 9/10 of the countries in the world, they are having some bad growing pains.

Giving Tom Brady a four-game suspension for the fact that he may have known about deflated balls is one of those harsh whooping’s. Here you have your Super Bowl MVP, icon of the league, poster boy for good sportsmanship and you deflate him. Maybe Tom shouldn’t have destroyed his phone, but then again maybe he had some pictures on there that he couldn’t explain.  I wouldn’t want anybody to see some of the jib jab on my phone and I’m just an average everyday Joe Smoe.

So, the season is just a few weeks away and I can also assure, that something else will happen like another domestic dispute, drug suspension, concussions, cheerleader misconduct, referee mayhem, National Anthem inappropriateness, etc., etc. But the kick offs will be kicked and beer will flow and the yelling will begin and the NFL again will be king again while no one watches the World Series and the Rugby World Cup is broadcasted on an obscure channel in an Irish pub.

Jarryd Hayne…Rugby Star to the NFL?

August 19, 2015

 

Few people took notice, but I was intrigued when the San Francisco 49ers invited rugby star Jarryd Hayne to training camp. Hayne, prior coming to the Niners was playing in the NRL (National Rugby League) for the Parramatta Eels. He had earned multiple All-Star honors and was named MVP of the league in 2009 and 2014. In 2009, he was named the best player in the world by Rugby League International. Hayne has done all of this before the age of 27.

There will be plenty of doubters that he can make the transition, but I am not one of them.  Most of the doubting Thomas’s don’t know diddly squat about rugby.  To play rugby at the international level, you have to be a gritty, tough and a good athlete. You don’t see many three hundred pounders on a rugby field for one thing, the rigors would make them faint. These guys are high tailing down the field bumping and bruising through grabbing arms and colliding bodies without padding.

So, let’s eliminate the toughness factor and look at the skill differences.  Hayne is fast and runs 4.53 forty with a 6’2”, 226-pound frame which is very sufficient in the NFL.  One of the big differences in rugby versus playing running back in the NFL is the running style.  Successful NFL running backs have to take on tacklers head on with a low center of gravity with ability shed off arm tacklers.  Rugby players don’t have pads, so they run straight up and utilize speed and strength to break off runs.  Maybe Hayne won’t make it as a running back, but he could fit in a returner, flanker and wide receiver.

In his first exhibition game against the Houston Texans, he had 33-yard kickoff return, 13-yard punt return and five carries for 63 yards. Not a bad debut for some one that has never played American football before. He definitely gained some notoriety and respect from some of those doubters.  He features some good qualities that I really like such as stiff arming.  When you see a 6’ 2’ runner who stiff arms it only makes sense from a leverage point of view. His rugby style will benefit him when he sees open field. He is appearing to have a strong base and legs which again is good for breaking off arm tacklers.

It is a good start for Hayne and if he makes the transition, this may open the doors for other rugby players. This argument has been going on for decades about this transition and comparison. I think it is only valid for certain types of athletes that have the strength, speed and stamina not so much a skill argument.  Jarryd Hayne fits that criteria. He is a flat-out great athlete and could have played many of sport if he was interested. Salute Jarryd Hayne!!

Jason Day Battles to Win the PGA Championship

August 17, 2015

It was 100 degrees outside, the ballgame and the PGA Championship was on TV, the couch was inviting, and the AC was turned down, heaven. The PGA Championship was one of the better golf tournaments I have seen broadcasted on TV. First you have the incredible rounds that Jason Day and Jordan Spieth put together, but the stories behind the two golfers was also compelling.  In addition, the coverage of the event was superb with technology that follows ball trajectory, the close up of putts and super slow motion of the club face hitting the ball was very captivating.

Jason Day, Australian, as you know won this event in record fashion with an amazing minus twenty under to hold off Jordan Spieth who was breathing down his neck all day.  They started the day with Day having a two-stroke lead and ended with Day holding a three-stroke advantage.  All eyes were on Day to see if he could withstand the pressure of Spieth and play a great final round of golf.  Day did just that by blasting incredibly long drives that gave him good fair way looks. Jordan Spieth couldn’t match Day on the driving portion, but he has proven to be an accurate shot maker and very good putter. This combination of skills has made him the number one player in the world, overtaking Rory McIlroy with an amazing run this year.

The story within the story is Jason Day’s path to glory. His father passed away when he was young, his mom struggled to raise him, so she sells her home to put him into a boarding school. While there, Day discovers golf and meets his mentor, father figure and lifelong caddie, Colin Swatton. For fifteen years the two have been a team and they hugged with the tears of joys flowing when Day sank the final putt. Those who were rooting for Spieth couldn’t help seeing how this victory was life changing for Jason Day.

Jason Day didn’t crumble under the pressure, in fact it appeared to make him stronger. When you have the number one golfer chasing you, Day’s performance was rock solid. Only once did I see him hit an awkward shot, and he was able rein it in and keep the shot mastery moving forward.  It was a good day for the golf world, the tournament scoring was record setting, the competition was fierce and the young guns are making everybody forget about Tiger Woods.  Salute Jason Day and Jordan Spieth!



Jerome Bettis, The Bus Enters the Hall of Fame

August 14, 2015

The Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio induction ceremonies came and went the other day and I wanted to put my two cents in about inductee, running back Jerome Bettis. Jerome Bettis is also affectionately known as “The Bus”.  His is a poster child for Inner Might Sports because he exemplifies toughness, team leadership, humility and athleticism.

Bettis played 13 bruising years in the NFL for two different teams. He retired in 2006 after playing for the Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. That was an amazing season because Bettis really wanted to retire the year before, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger promised him they would win the championship the next year. The decision to return wasn’t that simple but he did come back and ran hard and tough that year.

Bettis finished his career with a total of 13,662 yards, placing him 6th on the all-time list. Those yards were tough and bruising because he specialized in running between the tackles. He scored ninety-four touchdowns, caught 200 passes and had a 3.9 average per carry. His gathered an abundance of awards, such as Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Walter Payton Man of Year, six Pro Bowls and the list goes on.

Jerome Bettis came from poor and humble beginnings on the tough streets of Detroit.  He preserved to get himself a scholarship to Notre Dame and eventually became the 10th overall pick in the 1993 draft. There is no doubt his entry into the Hall of Fame is justified statistically but most football fans think of him in a different light.

He played with a lot of heart and determination which sometimes sounds clichéd but Bettis is epitome of those words. He carried the load in a lot of close games, a he also had another nickname, “The Closer”. He was the guy you wanted to carry the ball in the final moments of a game.  His teammates loved him, and he was leader and well respected by coaches and most of all, the fans.   Every football team, every fan wished they had a guy like him on their team.  Salute Jerome Bettis!!

 

Hisashi Iwakuma Tosses a No-Hitter

August 13, 2015

 

No-hitters in the Major Leagues are not the rarest thing to happen, but every so often, someone throws one that takes notice. Hasashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners hurled a no no against the Baltimore Orioles, in a 3-0 victory on Wednesday, August 12th. Iwakuma became only the second Japanese born pitcher to throw a no-hitter in MLB history, the first Japanese pitcher to throw one was Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Iwakuma, a 34-year-old right hander, in his fourth season with the Mariners, also threw his first complete game. If you get a chance to see him pitch, you can’t help noticing the unorthodox wind up that is unique in itself. His 6-foot t 3-inch frame stalls at the top of his delivery, then unhinges his knee a couple of times before he completes the wind up. Iwakuma, like Nomo showcases his split fingered fastball that is his strike out pitch. The key to his success, like most no hitters was the ability to get first pitch strikes. He then was able to mix his array pitches with consistent velocity and location.

Iwakuma’s no hitter was the 291st in MLB history and first this season in the American League.  In fact, the last twelve no hitter s have been thrown in the National League. Just think, if the Designated Hitter was in the National league, we may never see another no-hitter. There have been five thrown this year in total which is above normal.  

Iwakuma is part of a growing trend of pitchers coming over from the Far East. There are more position players from the Far East but like Latin America, the pitchers are coming over more and more.  Teams are able to land seasoned veterans from other countries which can be financially risky, but the reward is high as well. There is often a bidding war for some of these players, which inflates the cost for all the foreign players. Owners are always looking from the next Nomo, Yaseil Puig or the Ichiro Suzuki with the hope they are ready play at the MLB level. 

Frank Gifford, A Football Icon Dies

August 11, 2015

 Frank Gifford passed away on August 9th at the age of 84. Frank Gifford is a football legend, Hall of Famer, acclaimed broadcaster and family man. Football fans under thirty might not remember him as a broadcaster.  I never saw him play but was around to hear him deliver his astute analysis to the ground-breaking Monday Night Football broadcasts. I read about his legendary career him in my football books growing up.

Gifford grew up as son of an oil driller and traveled and moved around the country to wherever his father could find work. He was born in Southern California and returned to attend high school and junior college in Bakersfield then onto college at USC. He became an All-American at USC and was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants as a running back.

In 1952, his first year as a Giant, he played both offense and defense. He ended by playing thirteen seasons with the Giants in which eight of them he made All Pro. He also made five trips the NFL Championship Game and was named MVP in the 1956 season.

Gifford’s career was almost ended in 1960 when he received a massive concussion from a helmet to helmet collision. This injury caused him to retire in 1961. He decided to come back in 1960 but switched to flanker to avoid the head on type collisions. He called it career after the 1964 season.

Gifford went into broadcasting for CBS but eventually was recruited to join the staff at ABC for Monday Night Football. Gifford spent the next twenty-six years on the broadcast team for the Monday night game. Gifford also announced other sports such as Olympic basketball, skiing and golf.  He even announced for jumps made by daredevil Evel Knievel. Gifford won awards for his broadcast work by both the NFL and the Emmys.

Gifford leaves behind his famous wife Kathie Lee Gifford, his son Cody and daughter Cassidy.  He also had three children with his previous wife and a total of five grandchildren.

Frank Gifford played in National Football League when there was little pampering and less amenities. The padding was as insufficient, the training, the travel, the salaries and were all of lesser quality. Who knows how many concussions players endured and there certainly wasn’t any arthroscopic surgery techniques. I can’t believe that a lot of players back then played both sides of the ball, which tight fisted owners probably loved. Frank Gifford probably laughed at some of the shenanigans that modern players get away. He also made more money away from football than the thirteen seasons he played.

Salute Frank Gifford!

Katie Ledecky Becoming Legendary at 18

August 9, 2015

 Every so often you catch a rising before it has reached its full potential and right now American swimmer Katie Ledecky is that star. She is currently swimming in the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia. As of Sunday August 9th, she has won five gold medals and completing a sweep of the 200, 400, 800, 1500 freestyles and anchoring the 4x200m freestyle. She also broke her own world record in the 800m freestyle by 3.61 seconds. She is only 18 years old, amazing!

When I say she is a rising star, in fact, she already is a star in the swimming world, but just wait until she competes in the 2016 Olympics next year in Rio. If she can continue to pull off amazing feats like this next year, she will become Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz famous. If you don’t remember the last Olympics in London, at the ripe old age of 15, Katie swam for the US team and won the only event she was entered in, the 800m freestyle.

Ledecky has been on such an upward trend, that it is jaw dropping to see this kind of accession. She improved her results since the last championships in Barcelona, where she won four golds and set two world records. In Kazan, she beat the field in the 400 by 3.89 seconds, the 800 by 10.26 seconds and the 1500 by 14.66 seconds, which eclipsed her own world record in preliminaries and the final. Her closest race was the 200 freestyle when she came from behind to win by .16 seconds.

Ledecky is pulling off incredible times and at this point in time she is creating comparisons to men.  In April of this year she matched Michael Phelps’s time in the 400-meter preliminary and her latest time in the 1500-meter record time has only been beat by 80 men in the world this year. “It’s really neat to say that you’ve done something nobody has done before,” Ledecky said.  I’ll enjoy this for a few days and I’ll get back to work and hopefully there’s more to come.

These kinds of performances do not come along too often and elite athletes like Ledecky even rarer.  It is very inspiring to see her compete and watch the potential of the human body.  Keep an eye out for her and when the next Olympics come around, she will be shining so bright the world will be hers.

Football is Everywhere

August 6, 2015

The NFL training camps are in full swing and the season only a month away. Just to let you know that football is played in various forms in other parts of the world. In Ireland its Gaelic football and in Australia they play Australian Rules Football (Footy) and not to mention rugby that is played worldwide.  In fact, the Rugby World Cup is coming up in September in England. If you are not that familiar with the way football is played everywhere else in the world except America and Canada, then you owe to yourself to check it out.  The games are faster with less wasted time for beer commercials and instant replay. The all have contact and tackling which appeals to the US fan and there is great athleticism on display throughout the games.  The biggest difference is the size of the players, no three-hundred-and-fifty-pound lineman are running down the field passing and kicking the ball. The Australia Rule Football League is serious stuff, with the most high-speed body contact of the three. I did forget to mention that the players on these squads are using minimal padding and protection. Even though I wouldn’t want a three-hundred-pound lineman pounding me down into the turf, I also couldn’t take a fierce Aussie crashing into me in midair. The crowds are just as boisterous and go bonkers on scores like the NFL fans.  If I ever make it over to Ireland it would be a tossup for which sport, I would want to see first, Gaelic football or Hurling. Treat yourself and go down to an Irish pub and check out some of this action.

 

2015 Special Olympics Go Mainstream

August 3, 2015

The Special Olympics went mainstream this year by being broadcasted on ESPN. The event held in Los Angeles ran from July 25th to the closing ceremonies held on August 2nd. Since its inception in 1968, this event has been growing in size and popularity and the fruits of hard work are now coming into the nation’s living room. Most of us don’t know what the Special Olympics encompasses is but by tuning in allows the viewers to get a better understanding. There are multiple types of Olympics that are held throughout the world, but this event is held for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

There is a lot that can be said about the impact of the Special Olympics and the lives that are changed through this event. After seeing some of the events and doing my research, the most prevalent idea to take away from this gathering, is the heartwarming sense of community. Not only do the athletes gain with their performances but the scores of people that put this together, the coaches, the families and the fans.  It is also the one event where everybody is pulling for everybody. Some say that the Special Olympics are the leading voice of awareness for all those with intellectual disabilities.

These Olympics are amazing in the number of categories and events they are able to pull off in one week. Over 6500 athletes arrived from over 165 countries to compete in twenty-five individual and team events. There are traditional events such as basketball and gymnastics but also unique competitions such as Bocce and sailing.

I was able to catch a portion of the weightlifting competition and I was enthralled at some of these men. I have to single out one lifter by the name of Jackie Barret. What I didn’t realize that Jackie is quite the popular athlete. He has his own fan club not just because of his ability, gold medal winner and record setter, but also is that he so much fun to watch.He has a nickname of the Moose, The Newfoundland Moose in full.  After his competition lift, he gives his own moose signal above his head in celebration. 

His story is one of many to see and I am so glad I watched. The Special Olympics offers everybody on this planet a chance to be involved which makes it a true global event. The stigma of “special needs” people is erased every year by the efforts of the supporting parties and athletes. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder would be extremely proud of the movement this event has become and where it is going.

 

Pantini: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist

July 30, 2015

 

After writing about the Tour de France, I still wanted to complete my research about the event.  My research led me to a good documentary now on Netflix called, “Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist.” It’s documentary on the life and timesed by his Italian countrymen as he was king of the cycling world for a few years.

Not only does the film capture the life of Pantani, the viewer gets to see incredible footage of European cycling events. You get to see the beautiful landscapes of the French countryside as the racers come pedaling through. Next moment you are seeing amazing crowd shots as the riders are racing through the narrow streets to adoring fans. A lot of the footage seems to be taken by individuals on bikes or cars and looks amazingly like “Go Pro” footage. I really enjoyed the perspective of the hill climbs and the strategy employed by the riders.

The life of Marco Pantani is one of that reaches tremendous highs and lows. The pinnacle taking place in 1998 when he won both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, never done in the world of professional cycling. The lowest is the brutal crash with a car in 1995 that left him with multiple fractures in his legs. Another high was his inspiring comeback to win two stages of the Tour de France in 1997.

The most troubling aspect of Pantani’s career is the doping allegations that plagued him from 1999 on. Pantani passed away in 2004 believably from the result of a cocaine overdose.  He will always be remembered as one of the best hill climbers of his era in professional road bicycle racing. In addition, he was a fan favorite known for his colorful and endearing personality. Lastly, the film will give you a voyeuristic look into the life of a cyclist and the world class events they compete in.

 

La Grande Boucle, The Tour de France Rolls On

July 28, 2015

Every July, the Tour de France comes around, so we get to see some tidbits of it happening in the news. Back in the heyday of Lance Armstrong, it was broadcasted and Americans took notice. Even Armstrong’s exploits took years to develop before there was a viewing audience.  Over in Europe, the Tour de France riders are treated like celebrities and fans are heavily engaged.

Most sport fans, like myself know of the Tour de France and think of it as an endurance race through the countryside of France. What we see on television is masses of riders, all riding together with a few strays leading the pack. After a little research, you will find out that this is a race that is very involved and has a long-storied past. I don’t want to bore you with the chronological history of this race, but what I will tell you is that it started in 1903. I don’t know of any other race that has been going on this long.

Can you imagine what kind of bikes they were riding back then? They probably weighed twice of what they do now.  What you will find out that it was originally a race for Frenchmen and now is an international race for the best of the best the world has to offer. It is also not just an individual pursuit but also a team sport with nine-member per.

The race has one overall winner, but that same rider might not be the one finishing first on the last race of the tour. The race takes three weeks to complete covering approximately 2200 miles and each day is a new race. The race is broken into stages with portions dedicated to time trials and hill climbing. One thing you will hear on every broadcast on your local sports station is who is wearing the yellow jersey. This is the overall leader with the lowest overall time. The tour also awards those with the best hill climbing times, the best youngest rider under 26, and time trials for sprinters and teams.  There is a lot for fans to cheer for, not just the guy on the news broadcast.

The more I delved into this event, the more fascinating I found the history more than the race itself. As most every person knows of Lance Armstrong, he certainly is not the only controversial rider ever to get on the saddle. The history is long and storied with a cast of characters that Hollywood could never dream up. In fact, there could be a great movie waiting to make involving just one year at the Tour.

This year,  the winner was Chris Froome from Great Britain, who defended his title successfully.  Froome’s family immigrated from England to Kenya where he was born. He since migrated back to England and rides for team, UCI Pro Team Sky. Froome began racing when he was a young teen and has reached the pinnacle of his career with two Tour victories and slew of other prestigious races as well.

If you like history, especially sporting history, this race is a good one to look up. Like the sport of baseball in the USA, cycling in France is and was engrained in the culture. The only time the race hasn’t taken place was because of the two World Wars. What was once an event that was started to promote newspaper sales has become a celebration in France and a worldwide showcase for the best of the sport. Le Tour de France est la meilleure course sur deux roues, Salute.

Jason deGrom, Lightening in a Bottle

July 26, 2015

 

I heard about Jason deGrom last year and his rising star status.   He is a right-handed pitcher for the New York Mets, age 27, former Rookie of the Year (2014) and National League All Star. I think he gained nationwide notoriety in this years All Star game when he struck out the side with 10 pitches with pure smoke. He was throwing fastballs with movement that made the hitters look like non-All Stars.

After watching the All-star performance, I wanted to know more about this guy. If he is twenty-seven years and has only played two years in the pros, then he must spend years in college or the minors developing his craft. The amazing part of his story he didn’t start pitching until the fall of 2009 and that was as a relief pitcher. Up until then he was shortstop playing for Stetson College with a .263 batting average.

He was developing so fast that he soon became the closer for Stetson. He was moved into the starting rotation where he picked up a curve and change up to add to his barn burner fastball.  It didn’t take long for the major league talent scouts to see his upside when they saw him pitch against the great Chris Sale of the White Sox in a game against Florida Gulf Coast University. He pitched twelve games as a starter for Stetson that year and recorded a 4-5 win-loss record and a 4.48 ERA.

The Mets drafted him in the 9th round of 2010 draft and signed him with a bonus of $95,000.   He pitched for the Kingston Mets in the Rookie-Level Appalachian League, making six starts.  It was then it was discovered he had partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. After an unsuccessful attempt at rehabilitation, he had to proceed with a Tommy John surgery.  This put him on the shelf for the entire 2011 season. During the down time, he was able to work with Johan Santana on his changeup.

In 2012, he started out with the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Class A league and later moved to the Class A advanced league and pitched for San Lucie. He was able to start 19 games and record an impressive 2.43 ERA. 2013 was a busy year for deGrom with rapid movement through the Met farm system. He started with San Lucie, then was promoted to the Birmingham Mets of Class AA, and finally ended up in the Class AAA with the Las Vegas 51’s. Some of these promotions where due to injuries to others and movement of other pitchers to the New York Mets.

The Mets were confident in deGrom and his rising status, so he was placed on the 40-man roster for the 2014 season.  deGrom started the 2014 system in Las Vegas but got called up in May because of two injuries to the pitching staff. He made his first start on May 15 but didn’t record his first win until July 8th when he pitched seven scoreless inning and struck out eleven. He went on to become the National League pitcher of the month for July. He finished the year with a 9-6 record and 2.69 era which earned him the National League Rookie of the Year honors. On September 15th, he struck out the first eight batters in a game against the Miami Marlins, tying the MLB record.

This year has been a year where deGrom is considered in the top tier of pitchers to watch.  His pitches never come in straight or flat and have a tailing movement. In addition, the arm speed of deGrom creates so much deception that he is a hitter’s nightmare. I just find it so rare that player begins pitching in his twenties and within three years is Rookie of the Year. He is a great athlete that has had the ability to learn and absorb faster than the majority of baseball players. He appears to be a humble young man that will be joy to watch for years to come.

 

Women Coaches Slowly Making Progress

July 24, 2015

Becky Hammon is an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs which was a historical hiring for the NBA. This summer she coached the Spurs summer league team in Las Vegas to a championship. Of course, this generates much discussion on the issue of women coaching men’s professional sports. Let’s admit that much of us self-proclaimed enlightened and progressive mindful people of the world think this will not bring a rush to hire more women coaches. This is a process that will take years to happen, one baby step at a time.

The most viable reason to look for women coaches for men’s sports is the leadership and tactical abilities. Basketball is a logical choice for women to coach because of the commonality along with, soccer, hockey, volleyball and semi team sports of track, swimming and water polo, etc.  Women coaches in football and baseball is something that I don’t see happening for a very long time. To manage a locker room of sixty men and a coaching staff is tough for any individual.  There are instances where women were raised in football and baseball environments and they get a chance to coach up through the ranks.

The process of hiring more professional women coaches for men’s sports will gain more steam when we see more at the lower levels, even coaching the kids as young as six years old. A cross gender coaching movement will push the cream to the top and then we will see more results.  Along the way, attitudes and stereotypes will be abused but slow progress will happen. Becky Hammon is the first NBA coach but will she be the first head coach?  Remains to be seen when Gregg Popovich retires if she is considered.

The numbers of women coaching men sports at the collegiate level is miniscule, somewhere under three percent.  The high school level has some female coaches, with the most heralded head coach, being Natalie Randolph who coached football in Washington DC. Increasingly, colleges do offer sports management degrees so there are more avenues being opened.  This will address one of the problems, that being that the candidate pool is small for women. Surprisingly, women only make up less than 45 percent of the coaches in collegiate women sporting teams.  Sports management will increasingly add more women in due time because of the available resources, there are mentors are in place and world is becoming more accepting.

 



The British Open, the Young Guns Show Up

July 22, 2015

 

The British Open played at St. Andrews, introduced a handful of potential stars, some older champions and of course Jordan Spieth. This was a unique Open for various reasons, two of three amateurs landed in the top twelve and the third, Paul Dunne was contending until the final round on Sunday. Nothing to take away from Zach Johnson’s victory but it seems like the biggest stories were about the amateurs and the elephant in the room, Spieth.

The three amateurs where Oliver Schniederjens, top college player from Georgia Tech, Jordan Niebrugge a senior from Oklahoma State and Paul Dunne from Ireland. Schniederjens finished at nine under par with a solid round of 67 on the final day which put him at twelfth place.  His fellow country man, Jordan Niebrugge finished at eleven under par and earned him the Silver Medal for the top amateur and an exemption into next year’s tournament.  Lastly, Paul Dunne began the fourth round tied for first place, only to shoot a disappointing 78 on the last day.  An amateur hasn’t won the British Open since Bobby Jones did 85 years ago.

Schiederjens will become a pro shortly after a stay as the number one ranked amateur in the world.  He had an amazing run the last year at Georgia Tech and now will be heading to the pro ranks with momentum. Niebrugge a senior to be at Oklahoma State will continue on as an amateur while finishing his degree. At the Open, not only was an amateur, he became the first amateur since Chris Woods at Royal Birkdale in 2008 to finish in the top ten.  Dunne of Ireland was the first amateur to be leading the final round in 88 years. Who knows if it was nerves that plagued him on the final day, but it was unfortunate and would have been a great story.

Seems odd that amateurs were putting the pressure on the older pros and then you have Jordan Spieth breathing down their necks as well. This is exactly what you want to see in a major tournament because it brings out the best in a lot of the established players. The golfing world is looking for the next young phenom so they can be compared to Tiger Woods and after the Open, you might have new blood.

 

The Midsummer Classic, Yeah, I Still Watch it July 14, 2015

July 14, 2015

The Major League All-star game lands in Cincinnati on July 14th with a couple of day of festivities.  I guess I am sucker for this game.  Since my days of collecting baseball cards starting in 1968, I have been hooked on baseball.   All it took was a 5-cent pack of Topps baseball cards and small wafer-like piece of gum (that was harder than your young teeth should have endured) and I was obsessed with the All Stars.  When the All-Star game rolled around, I would lay out my cards to see how many of the All Stars I had in my collection.

I appreciate the fact that Major League baseball still tries to market this game as a big too do, but I must say, I think they are trying may be, too hard.  Now the game has play-off ramifications which was never the intent of the game. This is supposed to be a game for the fans to see their favorite stars, not a game that every managerial decision could have an effect on the World Series. I hope this ridiculous rule is abolished very soon and the winner of the game is rewarded with only lovely parting gifts.

I am not blind to the fact that baseball is dropping in viewership and MLB was trying to put some zing into the All-Star contest. I also realize that less kids are watching and playing less baseball and I have my theories behind that. If you want to incentivize the game for players, don’t make it about the winner getting home field advantage in the World Series, make it something more personal for every player. I say let each player, represent a charity and their choice or their team’s choice. They have monies pledged and the team, the player and the league gain some goodwill and good publicity.

Oddly, one of my favorite parts of the game is not the game itself but the player introductions.  This is part of the original fascination with the game and my card collection. When a representative from your favorite team played in the game then you felt fulfilled as a fan, it didn’t matter who won the game.

Lastly, Major League big shots need to reconsider the voting process. On line voting is ruining the game by allowing internet savvy fans to load up on their teams’ players.  Somehow the fan involvement is being taken over by computers. If you want the players and managers to vote their peers in, then I couldn’t object. You could also go Old School (I used this dreaded term but will promise never again) and only use stadium voting hard copy. I have a feeling that computers are not going away soon, so may be Google can step in find a solution to box stuffing.

Cheers