Monday, December 18, 2006

Harbaugh On The Farm

I just read that former Michigan star and ex-NFL QB Jim Harbaugh is going to be named Stanford's head coach tomorrow. I think selecting Harbaugh is an excellent move on the part of The Cardinal administration. Harbaugh is a younger coach with a solid background and ties to the program. I'm not a fan, in general, of hiring retreads and handing Harbaugh the keys is definitely a bold decision.

The former Wolverine will have his hands full on The Farm, though. Stanford football has been mediocre historically and below that since Ty Willingham took the Notre Dame job.

One does wonder if Harbaugh has success at Stanford, if his next head coaching gig might be in Ann Arbor?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Part Of My Detroit Lions Makeover Plan

Just in case someone from the Ford Family stops by, I want them to know that if I was named as Matt Millen's replacement with the Detroit Lions, I do have a plan heading into the 2007 season. For the sake of this discussion, I'll limit my thoughts to player acquistion via the draft. However, don't think for a moment that the coaching staff would automatically be safe. They wouldn't. (More on that later.)

However, as we all know the Lions need better players and more of them. To that end, here's what I would look to do heading into the 2007 NFL Draft.

Attempt to trade Shaun Rogers for a first round draft choice. Yes, Rogers is the Lions best defensive player. The problem is, of course, that's only on the days Mr. Rogers wishes to be a dominant interior lineman. Alas, that's not every Sunday. Rogers has also been around the losing for too long and a change of scenery would appear appropriate. If I can get a first rounder for him, even a low first rounder, he's bye-bye.

Then, I peddle Dre Bly. Again, a decent defensive player, but not as good as many think. Nor am I too impressed with his willingness to point fingers and toss teammates under busses. He's another guy I want gone just to clear the air in the lockeroom. If another NFL team wants to give me a second round pick, Bly would be an ex-Lion, as well. I might be willing to settle for a third rounder, too.

If the Lions land the first pick overall, as it appears they will, I'm looking to move down and trade the rights to Brady Quinn. I want a couple of first rounders, minimum. I'm not expecting a Herschel Walker deal, just one that gives me as many high draft picks as possible.

Let's assume, I'm able to pull all this off. Presuming Millen hasn't already traded away some early Lions picks in 2007, Detroit should have, at minimum, three first round picks in this draft. The Lions should also have two seconds. Or a second and two third round picks. That's the kind of immediate overhaul that needs to take place on this roster.

With those picks, and those that follow, I select only offensive lineman and defensive players. Nothing else. Not to the point of stupidity, of course. If there's a quality WR available in the third round and he grades out higher than any lineman, we take the WR. I just want to focus our attention on building the defense and a new offensive line. This strategy will hold true for the 2008 draft, as well.

If Artose Pinner's three TD, 100 yard afternoon revealed nothing else, it showed that nearly anyone can look good behind solid offensive line. The Lions OL has to improve significantly. Detroit almost needs five entirely new lineman, but one step at a time. Let's see how many we can get in the '07 draft.

You might say, "Brian, why trade away two of your better defensive guys and then draft all kinds of D?". Well, boys and girls, I still believe you win games on defense, even in this offensive-freindly league. Like everyone else, I'm underwhelmed with the Lions D. It's needs even more work than the less-than-impressive offense does. I also want players who haven't been around this debacle for years. The Lions need to bring in some desire and speed on the defensive side of the ball. I'm willing to trade off one or two good pieces for the opportunity to acquire several new faces and revamp the defense and the organziation in the process.

"What if you can't unload Rogers, Bly and trade down?" A good question, Mr. Ford. Then, after a long discussion with the football people I bring in, I defer to their opinion. However, I'm not opposed to going against my overall draft strategy for one pick and selecting young Mr. Quinn with the first overall choice. (Again, my focus is the D and OL, it's not a blind committment.)

At some point, the Lions need to stop this merry-go-round with their signal callers. I don't buy for one moment that Jon Kitna's the end-all, be-all. I don't care what Rod Marinelli or Mike Martz tell me about Kitna. Four turnovers a game from a thirty-something QB whose been mostly a back-up or temporary fill-in throughout his career, isn't going to be a consistent player. The mere fact both the head coach and the o-coordinator sing the praises of Kitna only makes me wonder about their collective sanity.

Yet, once Mr. Quinn is in the fold, it's back to nothing but O-lineman and defensive guys, even if Rogers and Bly stay put. Barring an injury, Quinn sits the bench in '07 and Kitna does what he has always done -- hold down the fort until the kid is ready to play. Then, we try to find young men who will block and tackle with passion. It's the essence of the game and we all know the Lions fail on the most basic aspects of this game routinely.

Mr. Ford, also be aware that I'm probably going to cut a few guys, as well. Josh McCown is one of them. If our back-up QB can't beat out our starter when the first team guy is coming off back-to-back four turnover games amidst a two win season, he's never going to play. With drafting Quinn a possibility and McCown seeing more time at wideout than QB, it's time to go.

This is only a brief glimpse into my plan to re-vitalize the team. I'd probably change any number of things, from the kind of hotdogs sold to the scheme on the ticket design. Mr. Ford, if you are still reading this, I'd probably dismiss some people who have been with the Lions for years. That probably won't sit well with you, but maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. This organization needs to act like a classic, professional football team even when the results on the field don't reflect that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tigers Need To Sign Bonderman Now

Don't the Detroit Tigers need to sign Jeremy Bonderman, pronto? After seeing the Texas Rangers shell out $33 million over three years to Vincente Padilla and amid rumors that Ted Lilly could command ten million a season, I believe the Tigers can't get Bonderman to sign an extension quickly enough.

I can't see allowing Bonderman to go either the arbitration or free agency route. Even with whatever perceived shortcomings he has, Bonderman has four big league seasons under his belt (45 career wins), a 1-0 record in the post-season, a ton of talent and hasn't reached his twenty-fifth birthday. If Padilla, who is 29 and has 66 career wins in eight years, can get $11 million on season on the open market, what is Bonderman worth? $12 million a season? $14 million? More?

Ask yourself these questions: Who would you rather have in 2007, Padilla or Bonderman? How about in 2010? Or 2012? I'd take Bonderman. If my guess is right, so would every single general manager in Major League Baseball. That would make Bonderman very, very popular on the open market. The Tigers shouldn't even contemplate that thought long. They should sign the Bonderman as soon as is possible.

Here's another way of looking at it. If Bonderman were on another team, wouldn't you want him on the Tigers? Wouldn't he be the kind of young, yet big league tested, power arm the Tigers and every other team are in constant search of?

Certainly, a big money, long term deal is a risk. Any number of things can derail a pitcher's career. However, in light of the market on pitchers, signing Bonderman long term is a risk well worth taking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Head(band) Case?

Let's see, Ben Wallace's minutes are declining, as is his performance, he and his coach can't agree on headwear and the Bulls, once thought to be one of the up-and-comers in the NBA, are heading straight downward. While Wallace's former employer, the Detroit Pistons, look utterly beatable every night and might not be able to stop me from driving the middle. Yeah, that decision seems to be working out well.

It's hard to view this one as anything but greed over intelligence. Wallace could have stayed here, playing primarily defense and rebounding, boosting his Hall of Fame status and keeping the Pistons closer to the NBA elite. Of course, he would have had to settle for millions of dollars over millions and millions of dollars. Instead, Wallace opted for Chicago's ridiculous cash offer and has been a complete disaster thus far. Combined with his last few seasons in Auburn Hills, where he feuded with Larry Brown and Flip Saunders, Wallace is quickly painting himself as a coach hating headcase whose career is in rapid decline. So much for that "Goin' To Work", team-first attitude Wallace became so closely attached with.

Do I think the entire headband-gate thing is stupid? Yeah, it is. I don't see what Skiles gains from such a policy. In a league where they worry about players showing up every night (and taking firearms on the road), should coaches really concern themselves over headbands? Probably not. However, is it asking Wallace, or anyone else, too much to give up the headband? Does it help him play better? (I thought we were told that it was the shoes?) In giving Wallace fourteen million this year, perhaps his employer has a right to enforce a dress code. It's not like it's breaking a constitutional amendment or anything. Just don't wear the thing. Consider it a professional courtesy.

In watching the Pistons this year, I keep thinking, "If Ben were here that guy would not be getting a lay-up right now". I also think "Maybe the Pistons wouldn't look so average, had Wallace stayed". Then, I see what is going on in Chicago and think that Joe Dumars made the right decision regardless of what happens down the road. Wallace's pouting appears to be more consistent than his play and that's just not worth the headache. Or the money.

Full Disclosure: DIBS Award

I'm going to come clean about my voting in the annual DIBS Tigers Awards. I know all of you were waiting for this revelation. My Tiger of the Year was Carlos Guillen. Second place went to Justin Verlander, third was Magglio Ordonez. Guillen won the DIBS Award.

My Tiger Pitcher of the Year went to Verlander. Kenny Rogers was second and third place went to Jeremy Bonderman (which I attributed to Bonderman being my current answer to the "Who's Your Tiger?" question) . I debated swapping Rogers and Verlander, as I could have for the Tiger of the Year. Both were terrific and if you feel Rogers was more deserving than Verlander, I wouldn't argue. Obviously, my DIBS-mates thought Rogers was the choice, as he claimed the most votes.

My breakout player? I'm thinking you've followed my train of logic here and guessed correctly that I picked Verlander. Joel Zumaya came in third and Marcus Thames was my third place choice. I never imagined Thames jacking out over 20 HRs. Verlander won the DIBS award.

Now, my Playoff Performers would have been, in order, Rogers, Sean Casey and Craig Monroe. Unfortunately, I failed to read the part of the email that said to vote for the Playoff Performer. Geez, I'm just clueless. Anyway, Rogers won the award, so my vote would not have swayed a thing.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It's Time

Fire Millen.

It's been a chant. A desperate plea. A rallying cry. It's even become a bit of a cultural phenomenon -- having arisen at sporting events not only in Detroit, but throughout the country.

Now, it's taken the next step. It's the only logical course of action.

I cannot give you a single reason to retain Matt Millen in the Detroit Lions front office. I don't think you can, either. My guess is that even Mr. Millen himself would struggle to find a solid reason for him to remain in his current position. Conversely, the list of reasons for the Lions and Millen to part ways is longer than the one Santa Claus finds himself faced with this time of the year.

You don't need me to rehash history here. You know what the Lions record is since Millen took charge. You all know about Millen's failings in personnel decisions -- both in terms of players and coaches. You are well versed in the off-field issues, ranging from players with substance abuse problems to coaches with DUIs. It's time the Ford Family stopped ignoring the obvious. It's impossible to categorize the Millen regime as anything other than a failure.

The Lions will head into 2007, the 50th anniversary of their last NFL Championship, with yet another high draft pick. Quite possibly, the first pick overall. With history as our guide, I can't expect Matt Millen to make the right decision with that choice. Of course, with history as our guide, I can't expect the Ford Family to make the right decision regarding Mr. Millen, either.

Update: The local media have joined the parade. Terry Foster is saying Millen has to go, but suggests the Lions GM might not be the only one shown the door. Long-time Detroit News scribe Jerry Green thinks the writing is on the wall, too.

If, as Foster suggests, the entire Lions front office is sacked, could anyone blame the Ford's for making such a radical move?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bring On Round Two

I understand that when presented with the possibility of an Ohio State versus Michigan rematch in the national championship game, Florida head coach Urban Meyer suggested that if such a game took place the NCAA should immediately institute a playoff format for this year. I hate to rain on Meyer's pity parade, but does he really think a playoff system is going to eliminate rematches? I've got some bad news Coach, a playoff format will only increase the odds of second encounters.

To provide an example, let's Meyer's idea into action. We will assemble the top ten teams in the land for a playoff. For the sake of this discussion, I'll use the Associated Press poll, but use any poll that makes you feel better. You've got OSU, Michigan, USC, Florida, Arkansas, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Louisville, LSU and Wisconsin. Now, we know the Buckeyes and Wolverines have seen each other once. Michigan has also played the Irish and Badgers. Notre Dame is about to face USC and the Trojans beat up Arkansas months ago. The Razorbacks are going to run into Meyer's Gators in two weeks. The Gators and LSU have already met and WVU and Louisville butted heads weeks ago.

Do you see a (very literal) repeating theme here? There are eight potential rematches in this proposed playoff system. It doesn't help if you include a few more teams, either. If you sneak down the polls a bit further, you also open the door for schools like Auburn (who has seen Florida, Arkansas and LSU in person), Oklahoma and Texas (who play in a pretty big game annually themselves). A playoff format doesn't diminish the odds of a Round Two. In fact, it would seem to increase the odds of second chance encounters all over the place -- including, by default, the title game.

In addition to Coach Meyer, I'm surprised so many in the media are against this possible rematch in the championship game. If this were college basketball's greatest rivalry going to a second meeting, would anyone really be complaining? Again, just for the sake of my post, let's say Duke/North Carolina is the hoops version of Ohio State/Michigan. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels collide twice a year in the regular season, right? That's no problem. They often meet in the ACC Tournament. If they were the top two ranked teams in the land and played Volume III in the conference tournament final, would anyone be lamenting it?

Then, just to finish the thought, if Duke and UNC advanced to the National Championship Game, having gone through the regular season ranked 1-2 and having faced each other three times, would anyone mind seeing a fourth encounter? Okay, the folks at NC State, maybe not so much, but wouldn't the mainstream media be cranking the hype machine up full blast for Round Four of Duke and UNC?

The media big boys love the Yankees and Red Sox match-ups, no matter how often they run into one another. Same with the NFL. Teams like the Patriots and Colts can run head long into one another two or three times a year, sometimes for several years in a row, and it's the story of the weekend, but Michigan and Ohio State twice in the same year? Oh, no, can't have that.

In the end, I suspect neither the wide spread complaining or my confusion over their objections will be worthy the energy. USC will probably drop Notre Dame and UCLA and surge past Michigan in the BCS standings giving them the opportunity to play the Buckeyes for the national championship. Hey, wait a minute. Hasn't USC played in the championship game the last three years in a row? Didn't they lose to Texas last year? Do we really want to see them, again? Why should they get four shots at the title?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Sheff Deal

It's hard not to like the Detroit Tigers acquisition of Gary Sheffield. While, Sheffield has never been one of my favorites, he's a great hitter. Not a good hitter. A great hitter. When your career average is .298 and you are only forty-five homers short of 500, you qualify as a Hall of Fame caliber slugger. Yes, the Tigers did relinquish three prospects. However, let's consider two things.

First, how often can you get a middle of the lineup hitter with Sheffield's numbers? Teams that have them are usually not willing to give them up. The second thing to remember is that the Tigers made this deal and their starting rotation hasn't been altered. Do you think the Tigers could have landed a Manny Ramirez or even Mark Teixeira without sending Jeremy Bonderman or Nate Robertson the other way? The first thing I thought when I heard Sheffield was a Tiger? "Who's gone? Bonderman or Robertson?" Much to my continuing happiness, the answer was neither.

Now, the Tigers new clean-up hitter does come with baggage. His ego will arrive in Lakeland a full week ahead of his body. We all have reasons to be wary of Sheffield's ongoing unhappiness. However, I often believe these things get blown out of proportion. Let me give you an in-house example.

Last year, Pudge Rodriguez and Dmitri Young tossed Alan Trammell and, in turn, their teammates under the bus. They were clubhouse problems all season long and it probably cost Tram his job. This year, Jim Leyland arrives and keeps Pudge happy. Young runs into problems off-the-field and the Tigers finally see enough and ship him out. The two problem children of 2005 are no longer an issue in '06.

Want another Detroit example? Need I point out our very own, Rasheed Wallace? Arguably the NBA's poster child for bad behavior prior to his Detroit trade, Wallace has become a fan favorite here and his image has improved during his tenure in Auburn Hills. While his technical fouls continue at an astronomical pace, he's hardly the league's most hated player anymore. He isn't loved around the league, but his once famous antics haven't really materialized here.

Now, this isn't to say that Sheffield won't whine. The odds are overwhelming that he will. It's just that some of Sheff's attitude could be minimized in the right situation. Perhaps, reuniting with Leyland and Dave Dombrowski will help that. Perhaps, getting out of the Big Apple will diminish the amount of time Sheffield spends talking to the media, thus decreasing the odds of him saying something publicly the Tigers will cringe at. Maybe, just maybe, Sheffield can pull a Rasheed Wallace and find Detroit to his liking.

Let's also keep in mind the great panacea for all clubhouse problems -- winning. If the Tigers can continue to contend, Pudge, Sheffield and everyone else will find a way to make nice. That or we will downplay Sheffield's tantrums (think of Boston's "Manny being Manny" mantra) as long as the wins keep piling up. If Sheff is hitting .295 with 35 homers and 110 RBI on a Tigers team that is in first place, it's going to be hard to criticize the trade even if the three prospects are doing well.

And what of those three prospects, you might ask? What if one of them is the next John Smoltz? Well, let me start with some advice. STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE NEXT JOHN SMOLTZ. Geez, must we dwell on that one move forever? Do you want to trade in the 1987 A.L. East title? It's not like Doyle Alexander came to town and stunk the place up.

Just remember that everyone was worried about the Juan Gonzalez trade, too. The Tigers gave up too much. Justin Thompson could be great. Oh, Francisco Cordero is a star in the making. Frank Catalanotto can really hit. Thompson's arm blew out, Cordero had a few nice seasons in Texas but didn't tear up the league and Cat can still hit, but he's not a difference maker. (A side note. I wouldn't be overly surprised if Cat returned here this winter. Sheff's arrival might diminish the odds of Cat's second tour of Detroit, but for the right money, his lefty bat could help.)

I remember when Jeff Weaver got shipped out, too. Oh, the cries from Tigertown. While Weaver got his revenge on Dombrowski and company in Game Five, his career hasn't exactly lived up to our expectations. He's on team number five, at least. The Cardinals grabbed him this summer after the Angels decided it was back to the minors for the former Tigers pitcher of the future. I'll take Jeremy Bonderman, thank you. (And this if from a guy who's Tiger was Weaver, back in the day.)

For every one John Smoltz prospect there are countless hundreds of prospects that don't amount to more than a line in the Baseball Encyclopedia. The honest to goodness truth about prospects, from the uber-variety to the bargain bin models, is that they rarely pan out. Most never even make The Show. Sure the really hyped ones, especially those making good coin, do usually appear, but success is far from assured. Any number of factors -- injuries, roster logjams, not learning another pitch or inability to hit off-speed stuff, reaching the ceiling of their potential before reaching the majors -- can deter a player's career permanently.

The Tigers sent the Yankees a pitcher with a spotty minor league record prior to 2006 with a history of injuries. They also sent two Class A pitchers. The distance between Class A and Major League Baseball is quite a bit longer than the drive from Lakeland to Detroit. While the three prospects the Tigers sent to NY all have potential, you do have to give up something to make a trade. Yet, the success of all three young players is far from guaranteed. Their big league careers are hope. Conversely, Sheffield's is fact.

Without harming a World Series roster or giving up your number one prospect (Andrew Miller) the Tigers obtained a player who instantly becomes their most dangerous offensive threat. I may not be a Sheffield fan, but even I can appreciate how fortunate the Tigers are to pull of such a deal -- attitudes, risks and all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rose Rises In Phoenix

Jalen Rose has spurned offers from Detroit and Miami to play in Phoenix. Per usual, I have questions. When did Phoenix get involved in the Rose Sweepstakes? I had only heard the Heat and Pistons mentioned. Why do the Suns need Rose? How long can the Rose hang with the run and gun and run some more Suns? Isn't he going to get worn down by the pace Phoenix plays its best basketball at?

Captain Azinger

Paul Azinger, one of my favorite all-time golfers, is going to be named captain of the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team. It's a great gig. It's also a no-win situation. Kind of like being manager of the New York Yankees or a goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. Win? Well, that's expected. Lose and your an idiot.

Azinger will have one thing in his favor, it's not like any of the other recent captains have fared very well. Lose and he will just be following suit. Oh, he will get hammered, but not as much if it was the first U.S. loss in years. If he wins, however, he will come off looking like a genius.

I should also mention that I think Larry Nelson was wronged by the PGA. Nelson, a Golf Hall of Fame member, three time major champion and the only American ever to go 5-0 in a Ryder Cup, deserved the captaincy (at some point) and it now appears his window for that chance has closed. I'm happy for 'Zinger, but disappointed Nelson may never get the opportunity.

Hockey: One Month In

I know this surprises the majority of inhabitants of Hockeytown, but the NHL season is underway. I kid you not. The NHL has been playing games for weeks. Who knew, right? Well, I have to admit that I have been paying a bit of attention.

I'm sure my interest in pucks is directly related to the fantasy hockey league I was asked to participate in. Although, we all know this isn't exactly my first fantasy hockey league team. I also suspect my NHL viewing habit is about to be overtaken by a basketball habit. (I'm more gym rat than rink rat.) In light of this expected transition, allow me to make a hockey related post. Who knows when the next one might occur?

It's difficult to have any NHL discussion right now without starting in Buffalo. The Sabres are smokin'. They are 11-0-1. Boston had them down last night, but the Sabres came from three behind in the third and beat the B's. According to all the experts I hear and read, this Buffalo team is perfectly suited for "The New NHL". They are the favorites to win the East and have certainly looked the part since opening night.

Speaking of how the Sabres look, the boys in Buffalo have a new uniform. I'm not sure I like it. I'm not sure I don't. I do like the nod back to the team's original color scheme, but that stylized Buffalo noggin? I've heard plenty of negativity about the new logo -- some have wondered aloud when Buffalo became the squirrels-- but, the new design is leading the league in sales. And wins. I do think it's better than its red-eyed predecessor.

I guess Brendan Shanahan was right about moving on. Shanny is third in the NHL in points with 18, twelve of which are goals. That mark leads the NHL.

I've seen the Detroit Red Wings a few times and I can definitely say these are not the Red Wings most fans have grown accustom to. Some of the usual suspects remain in place, but I think the average Wings fan is going to wonder who many of these guys are.

What on Earth has gotten into the New York Islanders? After the Isles front office follies and 15 year contract to keeper Rick DiPietro this off-season, most hockey fans (on Long Island and elsewhere) wrote off yet another season before it began. Surprisingly, the Islanders have winning record and are 6-2-2 in their last ten games.

Even more of a shock, Alexi Yashin is just piling on the points. Three assists in last night's 5-2 win over New Jersey. If Ted Nolan gets effort out of Yashin, he should be coach of the year regardless of where the Isles finish in the standings.

I think it's safe to say that the Sedin Twins have arrived. Vancouver's twins, Henrik and Daniel, are amongst the league's top 25 in points and are making Taylor Pyatt look like an all-star. This comes one season after making Anson Carter a thirty goal scorer and land him a big free agent contract. Yes, the Sedin boys are good.

Another line making waves is Toronto's top unit. Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood are off to a terrific start. Sundin and Tucker each have fifteen points and are amongst the league leaders in that category. It might be quality television to turn into Hockey Night in Canada tomorrow as the Leafs host the Sabres.

You cannot listen to any hockey related banter for more than about ten minutes without the speaker referring to "The New NHL". I'm not sure if I've actually heard a definition, but it has to do with eliminating obstruction and less fighting. Or, at least, that's what the talking heads have me believing.

There are plenty o' whistles under the new rules. I've seen a few games where even the thought of tripping lands you in the box. And actually using your stick to impede a player? Just tap the guy and head off, because that ain't allowed.

You remember Pittsburgh's championship years. The teams that featured a cast of stars including Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey and Jaromir Jagr. Well, here come the Penguins, again. The next wave of superstar talent has arrived in the Steel City. Sidney Crosby leads the charge, but he's getting plenty of help from Marc Andre Fluery, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal. I wonder if the franchise will stay in Pittsburgh or if another North American town is going to enjoy watching this team grow up and win? (Of course, they are winning now. They sit atop the Atlantic.)

That's all the hockey for now. Perhaps, a second hockey post might emerge before the holiday season concludes. Or not.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Note From The Desk Of Beyond Boxscores

To: Rod Marinelli, Head Coach
Detroit Lions

Mike Babock, Head Coach
Detroit Red Wings

Flip Saunders, Head Coach
Detroit Pistons

From: Brian, Beyond Boxcores


I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news. Now that the Detroit Tigers incredible season has concluded, the sports fans of Detroit will now focus their attention on your teams. The bad news? Now that the Detroit Tigers incredible season has concluded, the sports fans of Detroit will now focus their attention on your teams.

Good luck.


Closing The Book On The 2006 Tigers

Disappointing. That seems to be the best word to describe the feelings of those around Tigertown. It's disappointing to see the Tigers lose the World Series. It's disappointing to see them play so poorly on the sport's biggest stage. It's disappointing to see this incredible, wondrous season of Detroit baseball come to a close.

There is simply no denying what a great season the Detroit Tigers had. 95 wins. A playoff berth. The dismissal of the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. The American League Championship and their first World Series appearance since 1984.

For the first time in a forever, it seems, the Tigers had nearly everything go right in 2006. Their veteran leaders -- Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen -- all had good, if not great, years. Their two big free agent signings, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, both did exactly what was expected, if not a bit more. The Tigers young players, guys like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Curtis Granderson and Fernando Rodney, all made strides to reaching their potential. They also got huge contributions from rookies, specifically Justin Verlander and Joel Zuyama. It's the sort of combination we've seen other teams have for years and a recipe that eluded the Tigers since their last World Series.

We can't leave out Jim Leyland and his coaching staff. Many wondered if Leyland was really ready to get back into managing when he took the Tigers job almost one year ago. No one wonders now. Leyland (and his staff) did precisely what one would expect a veteran, winning manager to do -- he helped his players take the next step in their progress both individually and collectively.

The Tigers on-field success -- so sudden, so unimaginable, so dominant at times -- thrilled Detroit's long suffering baseball fandom, awakened emotion from those fans who had turned their backs on the Olde English D and, one hopes, built an entirely new generation of Tiger fans. Is it any wonder why this year will be so hard to let go of?

Certainly each of us will carry memories of this season. Four moments immediately spring to my mind. There will be Craig Monroe's homer at Yankee Stadium. I was on the phone with Ian. As the ball leaves Monroe's bat, both of us go into audible disbelief. It will be the day I got free tickets to watch the Tigers take on Cleveland only to see Pudge hit a walk-off homer before yet another sell-out crowd at Comerica Park. It will be the celebration after beating the Yankees. Over-the-top for a ALDS triumph? Probably, but it just seemed so spontaneous. It was like the players and fans had shared in a winning lottery ticket.

Finally, there is the one we probably will all share together -- Ordonez' shot to win the American League. As that ball soared into the night, it took the years of frustration with it. The jokes about the Tigers had finally ended. The guys and gals that sat in their empty corner of the ballpark game after game, year after year, with no one but their very own hotdog vendor to share the game with were rewarded for their patience. That 119 loss season finally had a counter balance. Ordonez' homer was a unique, emotional moment shared by anyone and everyone that cares about baseball in Detroit.

The baseball surprise party that began with Chris Shelton's redhot April and peaked with Ordonez' winning the American League pennant for the Tigers is unfortunately over. It's disappointing to have to let it go. We may not see another quite so remarkable again.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Before Game Four

When we saw Jeremy Bonderman display flashes of potential in his rookie year, isn't tonight's contest the kind of game we all envisioned him pitching in someday? We probably all dreamed about a day when the hard throwing Bonderman would take the hill with a World Series in the balance. I doubt any of us thought this day would arrive so suddenly.

In our silly dreams of just a few years ago, Bonderman would have been the Tigers number one starter in a World Series. However, Bonderman's role on this Tigers squad isn't what we would have guessed. A combination of Bonderman's second half struggles, the emergence of Justin Verlander and the arrival (and success) of veteran Kenny Rogers have pushed Bonderman further down the pecking order. Nate Robertson's bulldog approach and lefthanded slants allow him to take his turn on the bump in this post-season before Bonderman does, as well. Bonderman a number four starter? I don't think many of us dreamed that scenario.

Yet, that's where the still young righthander finds himself this evening -- a number four starter. Sure, some of that is match-up driven, but the Tigers had a week off before the World Series and Jim Leyland opted to leave Bonderman the fourth starter. There is a reason for that decision. Much of it comes from Bonderman's post-July fade. 2006 isn't exactly the first time August and September have been unkind to the Tigers hurler. While his overall numbers continue to improve each season -- a great trend -- his inability to find a consistent third pitch and trouble holding big leads in the closing months have raised a few questions about his ceiling. It's even led to what was unimaginable as recently as the beginning of this year -- trade rumors.

In just a few minutes, if the rain allows, Jeremy Bonderman will indeed pitch in the World Series for the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to over-hype or be terribly melodramatic about this thought, but this start could not only alter the direction of the World Series, but may decide Bonderman's future in the Olde English D.

If Bonderman comes out an dominates the Cardinals and ties the Series at 2-2, one could argue that Bonderman can indeed pitch in clutch situations and his previous issues were just part of the maturation process. His supporters will point to better numbers each season and a strong World Series performance as reasons to continue to have faith in him.

A Cardinals win, particularly a decisive one, might lead some to wonder if Bonderman has reached his limit and, with other prospects waiting in the wings, if he's an expendable piece of the puzzle. The critics will point to a series of second half disappointments and an uneven, at best, performance in big game situations as reasons to wonder if Bonderman will be any better than he is today.

Yeah, it's a big game. Both for the Detroit Tigers and for Jeremy Bonderman, as well. Here's hoping for a Bonderman win and a long, successful stay in Detroit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dirt

Yeah, I think it was pine tar. Do I think it was an accident? Of course, not. Do I think it was an attempt to cheat? Yep. Here's the rub, though, what can be done about it?

The umpires didn't catch Kenny Rogers in the act. Neither did the St. Louis Cardinals. By the time either party investigated, Rogers had removed the substance. In a technical sense, we have evidence, but we can't prove a crime was committed.

I have to believe this is the reason Tony LaRussa didn't complain. What can he complain about? He heard Rogers had something on his hand an inning ago? Why bother arguing a point when you can't prove anything? I feel LaRussa opted for common sense over an emotional response that wouldn't have yielded any better result.

To the St. Louis faithful, let me assure you of two things. First, this situation doesn't make anyone in Detroit feel good. We want our team to win fair and square and the last thing we need is to have even a single World Series victory tainted. It's been a long dry spell for baseball in Detroit and we would rather enjoy our first World Series since 1984 then spend our time defending Rogers or feeling cheated in victory.

Second, if Rogers is on the hill in Game Six (assuming it goes that far), you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that Rogers will be checked like a potential drug smuggler at a border crossing come Saturday night. No pine tar, mud or chocolate cake will be found. The perceived substance abuse stopped after the first inning last night.

Like his run-in with a cameraman a year ago, this is going to follow Rogers around the rest of his life. I just hope that the rest of the series can rise above one inning of perceived pine tar aided pitching.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

World Series Bound

Everybody's crying. Jim Leyland. Andy Van Slyke. Dave Dombrowski. Mike Ilitch. Billfer and his son. Me. Everybody. Why have we all gone off the emotional deep end? Because not a single one of us, no, not even you, thought that we would see the Detroit Tigers advance to the 2006 World Series.

For the Tigers to merely be in the post-season constitutes a surprise. After thirteen straight losing seasons, the worst spell in the 105 year history of the franchise, to suddenly appear in the playoffs is quite unexpected. To see them emerge from the depths of this despair to appear in their first World Series since 1984 -- after having spent more time, money, energy and emotion than any of us would care to consider -- is bound to make even the most hardened Tigers fan (or Tigers executive) shed a tear. Or two.

While none of us could have anticipated their regular season performance, their post-season ride as been nothing less than unbelievable. Leyland's gut decisions paying off: Alexis Gomez' homer and four RBI game. Jason Grilli and Wilfredo Ledezma in relief in the late innings of a pennant clinching game. Moving ALCS MVP Placido Polanco into the three hole after Sean Casey was injured. His handling of the starting rotation.

That's to take nothing away from Kenny Rogers' dominance. Polanco's redhot bat. Curtis Granderson's ability to ignite the offense and, of course, there's Magglio Ordonez' walk-off, pennant winning homer which will now live along side Kirk Gibson's homer in Tiger lore. Amazing, amazing stuff.

If the Tigers can win four more games and make the turnaround complete, I suspect that more than a few of us will be looking for Kleenex, again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

We Don't Care About No Stinkin' Rainout

By the time I joined the ALDS Game Two broadcast, Detroit Tigers radio broadcasters Dan Dickerson and Jim Price were explaining the many reasons why the playoff contest could not be rained out. Or trying to convince themselves it wouldn't. The players (and broadcasters) were packed -- ready to return to Detroit. They had no hotel reservations. They had no extra clothes for another night's stay in New York. They were scheduled to get on a plane that night. In short, they couldn't call the game because no one was prepared to spend another night in NYC. Of course, the game got called without a single pitch getting thrown.

I didn't hear much of the conspiracy theories on how the Yankees forced MLB to cancel the game this morning, either. As the story goes, NY didn't want to waste Mike Mussina by starting him in the game, only to have him sit through various rain delays. That would cut short is outing and force the Yankees perceived "only" weakness to get exposed -- their bullpen (sans Mariano Rivera). As the paranoid speculation suggests, the Yankees told MLB cancel the game and we'll force these young, inexperienced Tigers to spend an extra night awaiting their fate in the Big Apple while the Yanks get a full game out of their number two starter.

Interesting concept. Perhaps, even plausible, as screwed up as the world is. However, the thought I had was the opposite. Let the Tigers worry about where they are going to stay, what they are going to wear, what they are going to eat, when the plane is going to leave on Friday. I figured let them think about anything, but the big, bad Yankees.

I expect the media to fawn all over the Yankees. What I didn't expect was the absolute deference this team was given by everyone. When Jim Leyland tells the media prior to Game One that he's going to have to do some aggressive managing just to keep the Tigers in the game, I was a bit taken aback. When Leyland called for the hit and run with Pudge "I Swing And Miss A Lot" Rodriguez at the plate and Magglio "I Had To Go To Austria To Get Some Kind Of Experimental Surgery On My Knee" Ordonez heading for thirdbase, I was completely frustrated.

Look, Leyland knows more about baseball than I know about darn near anything, but since when can a 95 win team not compete with the Bronx Bombers? I'm sorry, but did Joe Torre's squad win all 162? Did the Tigers lose all 162? Did they even lose 100? I realize they have a dynamic lineup, but Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig are long since gone. These Yankees are good, but they ain't all that good.

I felt by his "aggressive" maneuvering, Leyland capitulated. He fed the notion the Yankees could not be beat by normal means -- like pitching and hitting better than they do. Nope, these meek Tigers were going to have to "steal" games, no chance they can just compete.

That's why I embraced the rain out and all the problems that ensued. I figured it might get the Tigers mind off the six hundred pound gorilla in the room. Give these playoff newbies a night to get over the Game One jitters and think about something other than the incredible, unbeatable opposition.

I'm not saying that my notion was proven correct nor am I saying that it even played a tiny part in today's 4-3 victory, but I do find it interesting (and a bit humorous) that the Tigers just played a bit better than the Yankees today. Somehow, in spite of the conspiracy, all the problems the rain out caused and the guys in the pinstripes, the Tigers did exactly what they had done all year long this afternoon. They got a balanced offensive attack, solid pitching and lo and behold, they got themselves a win. And, yes, the Yankees did show up. They just lost. Like the 65 times they did during the regular season.

I think the Tigers proved something to themselves today. They proved they can, indeed, hang with the big boys. Hopefully, this means the Tigers have gotten past their nervous, past their fears and realize they can beat the team in the other dugout. The Tigers might not have the Yankees mystique, tradition, experience or lineup, but they do have one thing the New Yorkers have -- one win.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Missing Posts

I'm a moron. I say this quite often, mostly because I prove that statement to be accurate. Here's the most recent exhibit of that. Yesterday, I added two new posts here. In the first, I suggested that Michigan State's loss to Illinois all but seals John "Lansing" Smith's fate. He's toast. Yes, he can beat Michigan Saturday and keep those who want him fired at bay, but it's only going to delay the inevitable.

The Illini loss on the heels of the collapse against Notre Dame would have been enough. To add gasoline to the fire by admitting he didn't have the kids ready to play gives the Fire Smith crowd more than just emotion to stake their claim on. Smith's tenure ends when the season does assuming a monumental rebound isn't in the offing.

In post number two, I went all Drew Sharp on the Detroit Tigers. I was plenty annoyed with our baseball club yesterday and said as much. I cranked out a handful of paragraphs detailing the Tigers disgusting weekend play and hit the old "publish" button. Only one thing wrong. I posted both at my college baseball blog. See, it's the latest example of why I'm a moron.

Anyway, today is a new today, and I'm ready for the Tigers vs. Yankees. Yes, I'm plenty sick of the NY hype already. Normally, it doesn't bother me much. It's the media capital of the world. Everything that happens there is inflated from housing costs to lunch to the coverage of their sports teams--good or bad. So, tons o' media? No problem.

Except, right now, I'm thinking the spanking the Tigers took against KC has me a little more sensitive. Look, the Tigers may have indeed choked away the American League Central crown the last five days of the regular season, but this ain't the regular season anymore. However, it should be noted that the Tigers did finish with a rather large number of wins during that regular season. Better than all but three teams in the A.L. They deserve to be in the post-season, with or without that depressing KC series.

I want so much for the Tigers to prove that to a nation ready for Subway Series II (or XXVIXLMK, if we include the Willie, Mickey and Duke era) that the guys from Detroit can play a bit of baseball, as well. A trip to the ALCS would really help take away the sting suffered by Tigertown last week.

Go get 'em, Tigers. (Hopefully, I'm posting at the right place this time.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Thank You Note

To Rich Aurilia and Adrian Beltre,

I want to take this time to thank the both of you for your dismissal of the Detroit Tigers when you were free agents. I know the Tigers offered you good money to play at Comerica Park, but you opted for greener fields elsewhere. Sure, many around town were disappointed that you turned up your nose at our baseball team, but clearly things have worked out fine.

Instead of burdening either of you with wearing the Olde English D, the Tigers were forced to acquire Carlos Guillen and ended up finding Brandon Inge a home at thirdbase. Neither move takes place if either of you signed here.

As we in Detroit enjoy this time leading up to our first baseball post-season in nineteen years, many kudos are being tossed about. I want to assure the both of you that your contribution to the 2006 Detroit Tigers has not gone unnoticed. Without your decision to play anywhere but Detroit, it's doubtful the Tigers would be in the playoffs.

Gentlemen, on behalf of a grateful baseball fandom, I thank you.


P.S.- If you run into Juan Gonzalez, thank him for us, too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Initial Thoughts On The Lions Opener

It wasn't as bad as I expected. That's probably the most accurate way to describe my feelings after the Detroit Lions 9-6 defeat to Seattle.

Did I hope for more? Well, more offense, yes. No, not vintage Greatest Show on Turf offense, but a touchdown, perhaps. Did I hope for more defense? I don't know about you, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Honolulu Blue D today. They kept Shaun Alexander in check and kept the defending NFC champs out of the end zone. Could I really expect more? No way.

Did I expect a win? No, of course not. But, I think we all have to admit the Lions let one get away here. I don't care who the opponent was, the Lions D gave them a chance to win this game and they missed a great opportunity. At home, to boot.

Here are some other random thoughts on today's Lions game remembering I did not watch every second. (I cut my grass at halftime and went to Wendy's to get my wife a Frosty and I had the Big Bacon Classic--no pickle, no onion--around the middle of the first quarter.)

* I liked that Kevin Jones got into the passing game as much as he did

* Why did Ernie "I've Taken More Blows To The Head Than The Three Stooges" Sims hit Matt Hasselbeck in the noggin with his own cranium? Not only was it stupid for him to hit a sliding QB (and draw a flag), but when you've taken that many shots to the brain yourself, you are endangering your career with such a move.

* I'm not a football genius by any stretch, but didn't Dre Bly helped set up the winning Seattle field goal by playing so far off the Seahawks wideout that the kid had about ten yards of open space to run his route in? For a supposed "shut down corner", Bly gave the Seahawks rookie wide receiver way too much respect. I can't even recall the young man's name, but Bly gives him a cushion that large when field position is so vital at that stage? It makes no sense.

That or the Lions defensive coaches went to a zone and basically handed Seattle about seven-to-ten yards as a gift. Which, as Seattle was looking to get into field goal range, seems equally perplexing. Why is this Pro Bowl corner so far removed from a first year wide receiver with the game on the line?

* I'm still not sold on Jon Kitna as a starting NFL QB.

* You have to love the Lions defensive line play today. If Shaun Rogers played close to that each week he would be a Hall of Fame player. Cory Redding played far better than I expected, as well.

* Black Jerseys? I'd prefer they go away.

* If I'm a Seahawks fan, I really miss Steve Hutchinson. If I'm Shaun Alexander, I miss him more than the fans do.

* Is it just me or did NFL defenses seem to be far ahead of the league's offenses this week?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bye-Bye, DY

Dmitri Young got the boot, huh? I'm sure there won't be any wild speculation about the timing of that move.

Soggy Bloggers, Fading Tigers

I realize there are any number of things you really don't want to see here. Slides of the family vacation would be one. The pictures of my last endoscopy are probabaly another. Tonight's WNBA Finals contest might make your list as well. A post about the Blogger Night at Comerica Park is most likely high on your list of "Please Don't", too. Lucky for you, I'm going to spare you of three of the four.

To prove that we all have a life, and to squash rumors of us living in our parent's basement, a handful of Detroit's sports bloggers got together at last night's Tigers-Mariners game. As is usually the case when the blogging gang assembles, it's was an entertaining evening. I can also say with complete sincerity that the folks I sat in the same row with last night are a talented lot.

Not only do each of them have multiple blogs, but honest-to-goodness jobs (or double majors in progress at Michigan, in Sam's case). Yes, shocking as it may be, it seems most bloggers are actually reasonably normal people with social skills. Yet, they each find time to crank out post after post after post. Their effort is laudable and darn difficult to keep up with, frankly. At least as the oldest, I can use age as an excuse. Really, I should be in bed at this hour.

Having mentioned all of these exceptional blogging efforts, let me shamelessly point out two new efforts. Rob, of Bleacher Guy fame, has begun posting Green and White observations at his latest creation, Obviously, I encourage you to visit his newly claimed piece of cyber-space even though he doesn't even link my Big Ten baseball blog at his site.

Motor City Sports Magazine helps the Metro Detroit area by keeping Greg and Ian off the streets. The mag has re-launched its website this week and, again, I would advise you to stop in and see what is going on.

I suspect Billfer might have added another to his cadre of blogs by now, but having to follow a baseball team that is in first place has cost him some free time this summer.

(Let's see, did anyone else slide me any cash in return for a mention? No? Then, the plugs are done.)

Another thing about the Detroit sports blogging contingent, they are a hearty lot. Umbrella? We don't need no stinkin' umbrella. Well, fine, an umbrella might have come in handy during an hour and a half rain delay. After allowing more than a tad of rain to fall on our collective noggins, we did finally seek shelter. Like there is actual shelter from the elements at Comerica Park.

Alas, while the soggy bloggers did manage to show up for a full nine innings, our ballclub went nighty-night a few innings earlier. As you probably know, after posting an uplifiting three run first inning, the Tiger bats fell silent and the M's caught and eventually passed the Tigers last night. Outside of Andrew Miller's first home appearance (nice call, Ian), it wasn't a terribly memorable game.

Now, combine last night's defeat with today's rain filled loss (three hour delay!?!?!) and allowing Anaheim/Los Angeles/California to take two of three and the Tigers have lost four of six to teams they were beating in July. Now, comes a four game set in Minnesota against a Twins team that may only be three games back before tomorrow morning. Yikes. This race is getting way too tight for my comfort.

Yeah, yeah, I know the stats still favor the Tigers making the post-season. I also know the Chicago isn't exactly tearing up the American League, either. However, would it be too much to ask to win the division by more than three or four games? Would a five game lead really be so bad?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Note To Fellow Blogger Users

Even if prompted, don't change to the new Beta Blogger. Let's just say they haven't quite worked out all the bugs yet. Trust me on this one. Take a pass on Beta Blogger, at least for now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

No Tigers Panic Here. Yet.

It's here somewhere.

Not in the desk. Not under the bed. Not in the kitchen.

Did I put it in the basement? No, it has to be up here somewhere.

Where did I put the stinkin' thing?

Oh, hello. Sorry, about that, but I didn't see you there. I've been spending that last several hours looking for my Detroit Tigers panic button. Now, Big Al, don't get upset, pal. I'm not pushing it yet.

No, even with the Chicago White Sox dispatching our hometown nine seemingly with great ease, Chicago's American League entry is still looking up at the Tigers. A sweep and the southsiders are still five and half games back of the Tigers. Now, I'm not happy about the Tigers performance and the World Champions looked like World Champions this weekend, which doesn't give me the warm fuzzies, either. Yet, digging out the panic button and actually using the thing are two entirely different propositions.

Sure, it's easy to push the ol' panic button right about now. Pitching--which as been the Tigers biggest asset in 2006--is starting to look a bit shaky. Justin Verlander's Windy City outing, coming off an injury rest, could lead one to worry. As could Kenny Rogers pre-programmed second half swoon. Jeremy Bonderman hasn't exactly been a great second half hurler, either. Todd Jones still scares us all to the point of smoking more than Jim Leyland. Then there's that terrible reliance on the homerun.

Combine all that with Chicago's experience, their record against the Tigers and their just completed sweep of Detroit and you've got, well, you've got what every single one of us would have wished for on Opening Day--an honest to goodness pennant race with the Tigers right smack in the heart of it.

Yes, there is reason for concern. The pitching, especially the starters, need to rebound if the Tigers playoff hopes are going to become something more than hopes. Yet, let's not get too carried away. Slumps in a season of 162 games are inevitable. The Tigers are in one. This is their longest of the season and where are they? In first place with the best record in baseball. That's right, boys and girls, in the midst of their worst skid of '06 and the Tigers are still atop all of MLB.

This race for the American League Central crown could get tighter. In fact, I suspect it will get much, much tighter. I'm confident that the White Sox are going to make us all even more uncomfortable between now and the end of the regular season. However, if at all possible, try to embrace the tension of actually having playoff dreams. Remember, if this were April 1st and I told you the Tigers were only five and half game behind the White Sox for first place and were in the thick of wild card chase come August, you would have been thrilled.

Don't push the panic button, yet, Tigertown. Things, in the big picture, are going well above our expectations. However, if you have some nervous energy to burn off, you can help me look for my panic button. Just in case.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tigers Do It, Again

At this pace, even the thesaurus is going to run out of new words to describe the 2006 Detroit Tigers. Remarkable. Incredible. Unbelievable. Fantastic. Amazing. Astounding. The list goes on, but let's be honest, we've just about used them all up.

I went to last night's affair and I'm still kind of in shock. By now, you all know the story. Kenny Rogers spots Cleveland three early runs, settles down, gets two innings of relief help from Joel Zumaya and the Tigers get within a run heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers then win the game with a two out, two run jack from Pudge Rodriguez. Pudge, his teammates and roughly 43,000 of Rodriguez' new best friends go bananas.

After the initial euphoria over Pudge's dinger faded, I sat back in my seat, basically, awestruck. I pondered at what point does this season make the transition from being very good to special? You could make the case that the last two games are a big step in that direction.

It's the next day and I'm still speechless. If you were not on the bandwagon prior to the Cleveland series, and by the amount of ticket sales and general buzz about this team most of you are clearly aboard, you have to be now, don't you? How much more do you need?

Thanks to Debbie and Paul for my free tickets to last night's game. Due to the Lions free practice, a concert downtown and commitments far north of Detroit during the day, I missed the first few innings--if you call watching Rogers scare the you-know-what out of Tigertown missing something. It also meant I got to park somewhere closer to Windsor than Comerica Park. However, Pudge and the boys made it an enjoyable night.

Friday, August 04, 2006

My Baseball Deja Vu

I was just outside the backdoor to the office, tossing an empty box into a dumpster, when it hit me. It was the smell of the freshly cut lawn combined with a subtle summer breeze against the backdrop of a picture perfect August morning--warm and clear with the exception of the occasional fluffy white cloud dotting the blue sky. For just a moment or two, all of these sensations transported me back in time.

In that oh-so-sweet fleeting pause from reality, I was a kid again. In that instant, it was a Saturday morning in the mid to late 1970's. It was summer and we were out of school. My father had just cut the grass and my brother and I passed him, either on our bikes or as we hopped over the backyard fence, as we headed off to the schoolyard to play baseball.

We would play baseball from morning until darkness fell. Usually three games a day. The one before lunch. The one between lunch and dinner and the nightcap of our daily triple header, the game between dinner and sunset. It was just about the game. No organized league. No umpires. No coaches. No parents. It was just the kids around the neighborhood getting together to play baseball. And we played all summer long for several years in a row.

In that brief moment this morning, I could feel every moment of those baseball filled summers of the past. It was more than just our daily triple-header, too. It was whiffle ball and strike-out. It was playing pick-off with our cousins. It was the memory of our first game at Tiger Stadium, our first trip to the Hall of Fame, NBC's Game of the Week, Mel Allen and This Week In Baseball and Ernie and Paul doing the Tigers radio broadcast on WJR.

It was a time when summer equaled baseball. It was the game. Oh, we played football and basketball, too. Street hockey came on board, as well. Yet, we all preferred our national pastime. In part, I'm sure, because summer meant no school. However, in those years before high school, baseball was a 365 day priority.

We attempted to play in the snow, ice and cold of spring, especially if a new glove or bat had arrived courtesy of Santa, but those efforts just didn't last long. We most certainly played when Autumn arrived, but as we were back in school and to complete dinner and homework, those midweek games were much harder to sneak in before nightfall. That's probably why those summer memories are so special and so strong. Nearly perpetual baseball for days on end left an impression.

When the breeze died down, and I found myself back in 2006 as an adult with all the responsibility that comes with, I was left with the usual bittersweet moment. One where I wish I could return to that time and place--where the only thing that mattered was playing the game--for a longer stay. Alas, I knew my visits there are limited to these passing moments where my senses return me to that time.

Yet, I was warmed by the notion that I have these kinds of memories to look back upon. The games played in sweltering Michigan humidity. That morning we played through the fog and drizzle. The games won in the dusk when few could even see the ball. I am blessed to have such fond memories and blessed to have parents that didn't discourage my passion.

I wonder if children today will have those kind of memories? Will their memories be of PS2 or GameCube MLB simulations? Will they remember the day they beat some kid in Tokyo online in the bottom of the ninth while with Big Papi at the plate? Thirty years from now will a summer breeze remind them of their days of baseball video games with friends? Or will their baseball memories be of organized leagues, overbearing coaches and the pressure to perform in front of their parents?

I feel sorry for the youth of today, as I believe they are missing out. They get to play, but do they get the joy of playing? Do they get the camaraderie? Maybe I'm the one missing out. Maybe it's better to bat for Magglio Ordonez in EA Sports latest game than it is to pretend to be your childhood hero and hit an actual baseball to win a game with your friends. Maybe it's better to be in an structured environment instead of unsupervised play. Maybe the tradition of playing in open fields, crowded streets and schoolyards is more romantic hogwash than fact. Perhaps, but I doubt that today's kids love this game or any game, more than we loved baseball.

Thankfully, I get these rekindled memories from time-to-time. They can come on summer mornings like today. The right temperature with just the right breeze and precisely the right moment and I'm overrun with emotions of days thirty years in my rearview mirror--the carefree summers spent playing baseball.

This feeling can come while I'm watching a game, as well. If the conditions are just right, I can watch a game and get the same feelings as I did when I watched a game when I was thirteen. It's hard to translate exactly how that feels, and it rarely lasts more than a minute or two, but it's magical.

Noted baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, may have best described my feelings when he said "it's deja vu, all over again". Each short trip back down memory lane is special, but so was living it out in the first place. I'm grateful for both.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Firestone 400 And Other Racing Thoughts

As the only person I know that actually watches the Indy Racing League, I figure I have some responsibility to share my views from time-to-time. There is no better time than now, as this past weekend Michigan International Speedway hosted its annual venture with open wheel racing, the Firestone 400.

I wouldn't call the Firestone 400 a complete disaster. It wasn't. From all accounts the race was very good. It featured cars traveling near 200mph going three and four wide at times. There was a little paint being exchanged--something even the good ol' boys can appreciate. Unfortunately, no one outside of MIS saw the race.

It was scheduled for ABC, but a late afternoon thunderstorm soaked MIS and forced the start of the race back to a time when the race should have been concluded. This meant the time window ABC set aside for the IRL event was over before the race even began. Not only did ABC not show the race, but neither did it's partners at ESPN. Or ESPN2. Or ESPN Classic. Nope, the Firestone 400 got a tape delay broadcast at midnight and another the next day at 2pm on ESPN2. Basically, that meant a majority of IRL's small fanbase didn't see one bit of racing.

I wouldn't call this the IRL's Heidi game, but the comparison did cross my mind. Of course, no one saw an ounce of racing, so that's a major difference. People care about football, too. That's kind of a big difference, as well. But folks at the network and the league have heard the uproar. A number of IRL fans are irate and have contacted ABC, their local affiliate and the IRL. This has been met with a collective shrug and the standard "We did all we could".

No, all you could do was put the stinking race on ESPN Classic. One thing I can almost guarantee--they were running a repeat of something. (Which begs the question "Can you really preempt something that's already been broadcast?") In all likelihood, it was a World Series of Poker event or college football. I'm 100% certain that both would get better ratings than a live IRL race, but don't you have some kind of commitment to show the race? Apparently, no.

Anyway, beyond Helio Castroneves' win and regaining the IRL points led by claiming his fourth win of the year, there was other news out of MIS in regards to open wheel racing. Alas, not all of it good. Jim Hawkins of The Oakland Press reported that at the practice/qualifying session on Saturday some counted the number of people in the stands. It was almost 100. Which, not coincidentally, was close to the temperature. (I encouarge you to read Hawkins column. He has solid views on the IRL and his piece also reveals, in part, why I like Castroneves--the two-time Indy 500 champ likes his sport and tries to promote it.)

I guess had I known that the IRL's Saturday show was going to be so poorly attended, I would have just headed out there. (I originally had a commitment elsewhere, but the heat canned my plan and my schedule was unexpectedly open. I'm kicking myself for not heading to the Irish Hills.) Of course, that would only bring the crowd up to 99, which is still an awful total. While the race itself, prior to the thunder and lightning, is still reasonably well attended, the future of the IRL at MIS, and the sport in general, gets called into question with such astronomically tiny numbers.

The IRL/Champ Car split is still ridiculous. How either side maintains its position is beyond common sense. Of course, it always was, so neither part may care. Even with the rumored re-unification, this sport needs some help and soon. Like yesterday. A circuit with the combined events, combined fields and combined fanbase would be a good start. A start that cannot happen quickly enough.

As for open wheel racing's future in Michigan, Roger Penske is kicking around the idea of bringing back the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. Mr. Penske appears to have a plan. One that includes the IRL and building an solid race track, with other necessary amenities and infrastructure. He's also thinking about getting on the 2007 racing schedule.

I'm going to defer to Mr. Penske here. The Super Bowl he just produced in Detroit was a success. If Penske can make Detroit's image, in mid-winter no less, better than it was before, I'm going to assume that he can build a solid race on Belle Isle. Of course, that's assuming he is given the same level of cooperation. That last part will be the biggest hurdle, but if Penske thinks it can be done, who am I to doubt him?

I would encourage Mr. Penske to jump into the IRL/Champ Car reunification process, as well. Combine a new Detroit Grand Prix, Danica Patrick's popularity and a reunified open wheel racing circuit and you've got something to market and build upon. If Penske plans on two Detroit area races in 2007, and hopes either or both can sustain long-term success, it would help if they had fields comprised of all of the sports biggest names.

Organizing a Super Bowl and lifting Detroit's image was a challenge, but unifying open wheel racing, re-igniting the Detroit Grand Prix and getting two open wheel races in Michigan in '07 might be a bigger mountain to climb. Here's hoping he finds a way.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Casey Arrives

I'm fine with the Detroit Tigers acquisition of Sean Casey. (I know Dave Dombrowski will sleep well knowing his trade deadline deal meets with my approval.) I think Casey, a guy who often hits close to .300, still has some hits left in him. He's the left handed stick some have been longing for. Casey's arrival didn't force the Tigers to sell off their farm system, either. Nor are they tied to him beyond this season. Besides, I've always liked Casey and it sounds like he's excited about getting into a pennant chase. What's not to embrace about this deal?

Well, there's the opposite side of the coin. I'm not as happy about seeing Chris Shelton get demoted. The book on Shelton was always "he can't run, can't field, can't throw, but he can hit". After years of pounding the baseball in the minors, to see Shelton's bat fail him after probably his greatest April ever is disappointing. It's must be difficult for Shelton to head back to AAA when his teammates are all in the middle of the best Tigers regular season in over twenty years.

In spite of feeling bad for Shelton, this trade does make me believe the Tigers are thinking about only one thing--winning. They decided to let Shelton work out of his funk at Toledo, figuring Casey's bat will return to it's usual pace, instead of letting Red Pop struggle with a team looking for a division title. You either perform or go. For now, Casey gets a chance to produce and Shelton has to earn his way back to Comerica Park. Hopefully, he makes it back for good next time.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Starting QB (For Now)

Naming a starting quarterback in July is a bit like being engaged--you've agreed to make a commitment at a later date. That's why we call it a proposal. It's an offer to make a commitment down the road, nothing more. Usually, there is a great deal of time between the proposal and the big day. That means there is a whole bunch of time for something to go horribly wrong. Or go just wrong enough that the commitment doesn't seem like such a good idea after all.

When Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli tabbed Jon Kitna as his starter this week, it meant that if everything goes the way it's going now, Kitna will be behind center on the Lions first drive on 2006. However, there is a full slate of pre-season tilts on the board. There is also the entire training camp ahead. I know Greg Eno wants Marinelli to stand firm and fend off the potential quarterback controversy, but Marinelli really hasn't committed to anything other than saying he really, really likes Kitna and hopes to stick with him forever. Unless, of course, he finds Kitna's performance incompatible with his long-term future.

The announcement was also done as a way to help placate Kitna's emotions. He's already gone on record saying he really doesn't like being in a battle for the top spot. Ok, Jon. If you prefer some sign of commitment, Coach Marinelli has offered up the ring, I mean, starter's job. If you don't let him down between now and September, you get the gig.

If, however, you start to play a bit irrationally, if your on-field performance becomes erratic or worse and you start to make Josh McNown look good, the commitment Coach Marinelli made to you in the summer will go bye-bye before autumn.

Greg brings up several legitimate points about sticking with Kitna. However, I just can't see what Kitna has done that guarantees him of anything more than exactly what Marinelli has really offered--the opportunity to lose the job. Sure, Kitna's done slightly more than McNown historically, so he gets the number one seed in the quarterback tournament. However, if he fails, there is simply no reason to stand by him.

We aren't talking Untias, Marino or Elway here. We're talking about a decent NFL signal caller with a history of getting beat out by the new kid on the block. That's not to say Kitna's pro career couldn't explode at Ford Field and he emerges as a Pro Bowl QB under the supervision of Marinelli and Mike Martz. Maybe he can, let's hope so, but history doesn't lead us to that conclusion.

Marinelli has handed him the ball first during the pre-season, but Kitna's got to keep the job on his own. (Well, I guess McNown could be so awful that Kitna could maintain the spot by default, but let's be optimistic. It's July, after all.) If Kitna had a pedigree of sustained success, I'd spot him a crummy pre-season. Unfortunately, I don't think Kitna's career warrants that kind of blank check. It's quite the contrary.

Kitna's got to be at least as good as his counter-parts between now and the first regular season game. If he's better, no problem. If he's a tad worse, well, it's a problem, but not necessarily a big one. If he's clearly the worst QB in the exhibition schedule, I suspect the courtship will end abruptly. After all, Marnelli only proposed the stater's job to Kitna, he isn't married to the idea.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Out Of Town And Country Stuff

* The New York Islanders pull their general manager for their back-up goalie? That has to be a first. What has happened to this once proud franchise borders on criminal. Come to think of it, isn't one of their past looney, cheap owners still in the pen?

* You've probably heard the Allen Iverson to Boston trade rumors. Some argue that if Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce worked, why couldn't Iverson and Pierce work? Well, I guess that depends on your version of "working". If a single 49 win season and a runner-up Eastern Conference run in five years is considered working, then, maybe, an AI and Pierce combo would work. If winning a championship is the goal, well.......

* I kind of smirked when reading Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy, discussing his search for a team in the English Premier League--Decision 2006. I went through the same thing a couple of years ago. (It was a topic here as early as July '04.) Simmons implies he will stick with the club of choice for a season and see how it goes. Two full EPL seasons later, I'd still call myself an Everton supporter. I suppose that could change, but when I saw how early Simmons dismissed the Toffees from his search, I was annoyed. That's got to mean you're a fan, doesn't it?

* I still like Nottingham Forest, as well. The lads, however, are two levels below the EPL and, thus, two years removed (at minimum) from rejoining England's top flight football clubs. I think I can safely root for both. Although, I'm sure the diehards of both sides would disagree--vehemently.

* Seems Simmons and I aren't the only one considering EPL teams. Browns owner Randy Lerner is rumored to be interested in Aston Villa. I wonder if Mr. Lerner would be anymore warmly embraced than Malcom Glazer was when he gobbled up Manchester United?

* Yes, I'm having Tour de France withdrawal. No, you still don't care.

* While I'm apparently on a Euro-centric theme, you know that Tiger Woods triumph at the British Open and Floyd Landis' win at Le Tour must have made a number of Euros just thrilled.

* In local news, ok, it's not news, I went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair Friday. Lots of fun. Lots of walking. Spent some money. Hey, artists need money, right? They are starving as I recall.

* I really do need to start getting some of my other sports photos on the wall. Next stop--frame shop.

* I still haven't purchased a NFL preview mag. I may not be able to say that after this coming weekend, but so far, so good. Of course, I'll be looking at an EPL preview publication, too. Their season begins in mid-August. The two will probably set me back $15-$20.

* There is a chance I might have to play host to a couple from Germany who are making their first trip State-side. The reason I get to play host for a day? They want to see their first baseball game and their father, now a U.S. resident, doesn't know or care about our grand old game. That's where I come in. Any advice on what to share? (Other than encouraging Tigertown to be a suburb of Bavaria?)