Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tiger Optimism

I think I've mentioned this before, but I have a general rule about the Detroit Tigers. On January 1 of each year I attempt to let last year go and focus in on reasons to look forward to the upcoming baseball season. (Beyond better weather, hot dogs, sausages and my life long love of the game, of course.) I try to find reasons, no matter how difficult they may be to uncover, to be optimistic about our local baseball club. This attempt to rejuvenate my Tiger interest almost never fails. Somehow, though, this year the positive vibes took much longer to arrive.

Truth be told, I became optimistic about the 2006 Tigers sometime in the middle of this past week. I can't say there was a specific moment when my '05 negativity relinquished it's control, but I have unquestionable made the transition from the disappointing end of last year to being upbeat about the '06 season. Four months tardy, I admit. But, hey, I made it, right?

Now, I could continue to opt for the traditional sky is falling routine. You know the bit. It goes like this: Dave Dombrowski is a moron, the Tigers farm system still stinks, the big league club is filled with overpaid, injury prone veterans and Jim Leyland isn't going to help. That's an easy and, perhaps, accurate assessment. However, from now through Opening Day, I'm going to take the opposite approach.

Even if Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Dmitri Young don't produce up to their full potential, couldn't they still contribute significant numbers? If Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco produce close to their potential, wouldn't the Tigers offense be rather formidable? What of Chris Shelton and Curtis Granderson? Couldn't full seasons from them be better than what the Tigers got out of their firstbase and centerfield spots a year ago? The potential for a strong offense is there and I'm not even tossing in Craig Monroe who had his best season ever in '05. (I honestly just take any offense Brandon Inge provides as a bonus. I like the guy, but an offensive force, he's not.)

Then comes the wildcard in all of this--pitching. No, I'm not crazy about Kenny Rogers. However, he does seem to win games. Sometimes lots of them. No, Jeremy Bonderman hasn't lived up to the hype yet, but how many other big leaguers have his stuff at his age? It's a very short list. Mike Maroth is steady, if unspectacular and Nate Robertson isn't horrible, either. In fact, I'm not quite sure what Robertson's upside is. Let's just assume that Rogers gives Detroit 15 or more wins and the younger arms make normal progress, is it that hard to figure the staff could be very much improved?

Then toss in the just promoted Justin Verlander. You've read the articles. You've heard the Tigers' brass fawn all over him. You know the guy's got (if I may borrow Sam's terminology) wicked stuff. Sure, Verlander could have a typical up and down rookie season. Or he could be in the running for Rookie of the Year. If it's the latter, just how much improved would the staff seem then?

This rotation has three lefties. Two of them--Maroth and Rogers--are the soft tossing variety. Robertson has more velocity and then there's the righties. Bonderman and Verlander just throw nasty hard stuff. Come on, admit it. They might not end up as terrible as we think.

The bullpen is a tad scary. Todd Jones is your basic "Smoke three packs of cigarettes per batter" type of reliever. Calling Jones a reliever is a misnomer. He doesn't provide much relief at all. In fact, Jones creates far more anxiety than relief. He also saves quite a few games, which is his job.

The bullpen guys we know for sure are coming north are Fernando Rodney, Jamie Walker and the other pitching phenom, Joel Zumaya. While all three are question marks in my mind--Rodney still recovering his surgery of two years ago, Walker because he make me as nervous Jones, and Zumaya because he's a rook--they have all shown enough to make me believe they can, if properly used, be an effective lot.

The primary reason for my optimism on the bullpen is Zumaya. Again, here's another youngster we've heard tons about. The organization and scouts rave about just how hard he throws. If Zumaya's electric stuff can stun batters for an inning or two prior to Jones' arrival, then maybe Jones stuff will look that much more confounding to the opposing batters.

Even with all of my bubbling optimism, I'm not calling for a World Series, division title or even a wild card run. Nope, I just have the hope that the 2006 Detroit Tigers can be a fun baseball team. Maybe even a winning one. Crazy talk? Yep, but what's wrong with some high hopes a week before the opener? We'll have the rest of the season to think otherwise.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fantasy Baseball And A Request For Advice

I run two fantasy baseball leagues--the Harry Heilmann League and the Gehringer-Greenberg League. This year, I've had some difficulties filling both leagues. Honestly, I'm having some off the blog field issues. My life for the last month or so probably qualifies as a country music song. The hot water tank leaked, the furnace broke, the last wind storm we had pulled a storm door almost complete off my house and, finally, my pick-up truck wouldn't start. Now, if that ain't sounding like country music hit, I don't know what is.

In addition to these messes, my employer sent about 200 people home for good about a month ago, I've been visiting my doctor semi-regularly, I'm apparently attempting to hold up the entire economy on my mediocre salary and I've got the usual assortment of adult responsibilities that are keeping me from important things like blogging and organizing my fantasy baseball leagues.

However, I would like to get both leagues off the ground. (Things are so backwards right now, that even the email I composed to about every blogger I know making this offer disappeared. Thought I had it in my drafts. However, it's nowhere to be found.) Now, as the season begins a week from Monday, time is an issue. I would post the specific details here, however, I want to know that you are truly interested in participating in one of these leagues. So I ask that you please email me if you are interested.

The Heilmann League is pretty straight forward and is a Yahoo! online draft. The G-Men League Draft has always been old school--we get as many participants as we can together in one room to hold the draft. Antiquated notion, I admit, but there's still something unique about a face-to-face draft. That may not be an option this season, but some traditions die hard with me.

In the end, neither league may take flight in 2006, but I had to attempt to get one of them kick started. I thank you for considering it.

Finally, I have a request for help. I received an email asking me if I would be interested in writing a weekly college baseball column. The question I pose to you is "Would that be a good idea?". You are probably thinking, "Why shouldn't you, Brian?". Have you seen my posting around here as of late? Not exactly consistent. It's even worse at my college baseball blog. I missed all of this past week.

Can I really take on two blogs, plus a weekly column? Seems like I might be biting off a bit more than I can chew. Sure, I like the idea, but there are clearly obstacles. And, no, I do not believe compensation is being offered. So, what do I do? Bill? Greg? Ian? Anyone?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Run. Run, Now. It's A Soccer Post.

If there is one thing you've come to expect around here it's me providing insights on things you just don't care about. This post will live up to all your expectations--I'm going to talk soccer. Originally, I was just going to mention a topic or two, but the soccer theme just kept repeating, so it gets its own post.

As a courtesy to all, I've combined all my soccer thoughts into a single post so the majority of you can skip reading this altogether. (You are welcome.) For my soccer brethren, here is a post all to yourselves. (Yourself?) Anyway, it's all soccer and you've been warned.

* Did you know Detroit was granted an expansion franchise in the Major Indoor Soccer League? Now, if someone was going to know this piece of information, wouldn't you bet it would be me? Which other Detroit sports blogger would even bother to mention it? Yet, somehow this snuck past me until just this past week. No name for Detroit's latest entry into indoor soccer, but I guess it's going to be announced next month.

* In other expansion news, I contacted the local group attempting to bring an MLS franchise to Metro Detroit. Seems they are stuck in neutral attempting to find an ownership group. Not terribly surprising in light of the area's dreadful economy. However, I am disappointed to hear that more progress isn't being made.

In theory, I truly believe Detroit could and would support a MLS franchise. I also think it makes Detroit look like a big time city to the world if it has a legit first division soccer team regardless of what level of play Major League Soccer is perceived to be at.

* MLS has a couple of newly named franchises. First, is the Houston Dynamo. I'm not crazy about this new moniker. I'm with MLS FanGirl (who is getting added to the blogroll) on this one, it just doesn't sound right. Eric hits the nail on the head when he suggests it sounds too much like a Cold War Eastern European name.

The team's original name was Houston 1836. However, as Houston was "acquired" from Mexico in a less than friendly fashion, many in the local community frowned on naming the club after the year of the city's birth. A tad too PC for me, but fair enough. MLS and Houston ownership group doesn't want to offend what might be the largest portion of their fanbase and I can understand that.

However, as Eric astutely points out that, perhaps, some should research Sam Houston, for whom the town was named, before complaining about the 1836 tag. However, if that occurred, it would only start up a political correctness parade which would lead to no name whatsoever. Maybe Dynamo isn't so bad, after all.

Houston wasn't alone in the name change game. Red Bull, yes, those behind the energy drink, bought the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. Right on cue, the parent company changed the team's name to New York Red Bulls. I've also heard it referred to as Red Bull New York. Obviously, this name changed has gotten some folks more wound up then they would be after a six pack of Red Bull.

First, the N.J. supporters feels left out in the cold. After all, the team does play in N.J. Then there are the Metrostars fans, many of whom own Metrostars (now retro) apparel, who just aren't embracing the new title. There are those who frown upon the corporate tackiness of the name, as well. Honestly, I kind of like Red Bull New York, but I also thought the team should have been named Cosmos after the NASL powerhouse right from the beginning, so what do I know?

* Let's see, any other football related topics I'd like to address? Everton have been redhot since January 1. Hmmm. Who thought they would struggle until after the holidays? Blind squirrel theory in action there. Nonetheless, I am quite pleased with the turnaround.

I'm still rooting for the Toffees and Nottingham Forest. I still support Reading, as well, but that's mostly because of Bobby Convey. For some unknown reason, I just like Everton and Forest. I know, I'm nuts for caring about English football.

* Finally, yes, I debated joining a MLS fantasy league. I haven't done so as of yet mostly because I am a casual fan and feel my knowledge of the league overall is woefully inadequate for the task. Of course, I'm in way over my head with the English Premier League fantasy league team I've got, so maybe I should give the domestic league a try.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Edwards? Drummond? Kitna?

I wish I could clearly articulate just how perplexed I am with the Detroit Lions foray into free agency as of this moment. Yet, as a lowly, simple minded blogger, I am unable to find the words to suffice. I do take some solace in knowing that there are still some productive free agents remaining and the draft cometh. However, right this moment, I am left utterly amazed at the futility that is our football club.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

That Can't Be Right

I see where the Detroit Free Press sports section was named one of the ten best in the country. Is anyone else wondering just how bad the other nine have to be? The Freep sports section has been on a steady decline for years. I regularly find it laughably underwhelming. There are days I pick up the entire section and can see through it. Not just light, but actually objects on the other side. How is that one of the top sports sections in the land?

Tommy Amaker's Reign

In the interest of complete disclosure, I should preface my post with the following: I'm a Tommy Amaker fan. I remember him from his playing days at Duke. He was a tough defensive player on a winning team. As such, I wanted Amaker as Michigan's coach. Even when Brian Ellerbe got the gig, I thought Amaker should have. I want Amaker to stay as Michigan coach. However, I cannot come up with a single reason that he should.

Yes, Amaker's stabilized the program. With all due respect to Amaker, couldn't Michigan have found about 100 guys to do that? I mean they were a step above the old UNLV program when Amaker arrived. Michigan's administration almost could have chosen anyone with an ounce of credibility and stopped the bleeding. However, wouldn't some of them posted better records? The problem for Amaker is that his record is only part of the dilemma.

I don't believe that very many of his upper classmen are much better basketball players then when they arrived. His recruiting has been good, not great. His team's play appears unorganized and his decision making can be questioned. Finally, and this may be my biggest issue with the guy I wanted, Amaker refuses to sell his program. He just won't get in front of cameras and microphones and promote the university's program--his program.

This closed door approach might work for coaches with Final Fours under their belt. Coach K, Roy Williams, Bobby Knight, Jim Calhoun can basically do whatever they want. Closed practices, open practices, talk to everyone, talk to no one. It's their choice. Their record, their program's history speaks for itself. Michigan and Coach Amaker cannot afford that. Michigan is not a basketball school and it's head basketball coach needs to sell the program to the alumni and fans here as much as he needs to promote it to potential recruits. Yet, Coach Amaker is oddly absent from the public's eye (and ear).

Michigan needs to get itself onto the college basketball map. There are two ways to accomplish that- sell the program relentlessly to all that will hear and win games. I don't think Amaker has done either. While I don't think that Michigan's administration has any idea about firing him, I'm his fan and even I find myself asking why he should stay.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Team, Less Dream

The invitees to USA Basketball's Olympic team tryouts have been leaked out. Thankfully, it seems that the powers-that-be have opted for a more balanced approach to roster building than just tossing whichever All-Star Game participants are willing to show up together and assuming victory will follow. (Just ask Larry Brown how well that went.) No, the team that dons the red, white and blue in Beijing in 2008 may actually be a team.

Sure, the usual assortment of highlight reel members are going to be in USA Basketball's Olympic camp. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and Dwayne Wade are present and accounted for. However, role players like Bruce Bowen, Brad Miller and Shane Battier are vying for roster spots, too. It appears that USA Basketball has finally learned a lesson--a team is more than just guys all wearing the same jersey. It's something their hockey brethren to the north have understood for quite a while.

As long as I can recall, when Hockey Canada assembled a national team, they have always included role players. Yes, the big scorers get the media attention, but the Canada squad has always had defensive defensemen, shorthanded specialists and a checking line. A darn impressive checking line, mind you, but a checking line nonetheless.

This more "team" centered approach, while leaving some stars at home, is how guys like the Red Wings Kris Draper gets to wear the maple leaf in the Olympics. Wayne Gretzky knows hockey is about scoring, but it's also about killing penalties, winning faceoffs and beating your opponent to lose pucks. It's the reason that Canada generally does rather well even when suiting up NHL players. They don't forget to take guys along to do the dirty work and who aren't going to whine about sitting too much.

(A side note: I discount this year's Olympic result for Canada. They are in transition. Guys like Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and others are dynamic players, but have never had the pressure of being "The Man" in a big situation. Few situations are bigger for Canadian players than putting on that sweater and some of them just weren't ready. They will be next time. Sorry, for the unrelated tangent, but I had to get that in.)

Ironically, this is the same approach to assembling a team that USA Basketball used of years when the college kids represented the country. They gathered a wide group of players, held real tryouts and selected the best unit. That sometimes meant some big names didn't make it. More often than not, you had some lesser known players on the roster selected to play specific roles. This method yielded decades of success. Perhaps, now that the rest of the world has caught up to the US in basketball success, the NBA driven squad will follow the old formula of putting together a team.

Now, picking which 12 players go to China will be a challenge. To see for yourself, go to this poll and pick your twelve. While we don't agree on every single slot, Bill Simmons has chosen a team that basically I would have. We also agree on a number of very specific items in regards to the roster.

We both think Kobe Bryant will make the team even if it's not the best thing for the team. We both think Chauncey Billups should start. We both believe Chris Paul needs to be on this team. Neither one of us, nor any reasonable person, can figure how Luke Ridnour got the nod over Kirk Hinrich? It makes no sense. (No offense, Luke, Kirk's just better. That doesn't mean you aren't good, though.)

In addition to the points Mr. Simmons and I concurred on, I also thought that Tayshaun Prince could have been a valuable guy for the USA (he can play D, multiple positions and hit a three), but I realize there are only so many invitations going out. I also am a bit disappointed that Alan Iverson didn't get a call. I'm not an Iverson guy, per se, but whenever USA Basketball went looking for volunteers, A.I. was the first to raise his hand. That's more than I can say for Shaq, Kobe and a number of other NBA stars. For that, I thought The Answer earned an invitation at minimum.

Now, all this said, Jerry Colangelo and the honchos over at USA Basketball, in cooperation with the NBA, of course, could still opt to make this Dream Team XVIIXL or whatever number we are on now. (Note: There was only one Dream Team regardless of what anyone, anywhere tells you.) They could take the traveling circus that would be Kobe vs. Shaq to China. They could opt for Amare Stoudemire's unproven, as of yet, knee over a healthier Chris Bosh. They could opt to leave the role players at training camp. However, I am hopeful with the announcement (ok, leak) of this list of players that USA Basketball has it's priorities in order. Build a team first, worry about marketing opportunities later.