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?)

The Soriano Rumors

I'm not sure if I want the Detroit Tigers to add Alfonso Soriano or not. One thing I am absolutely certain of, however, is that I do not want him on the Chicago White Sox. The rumor du jour is that Washington will gladly take Brandon McCarthy off the Sox hands in return for Soriano. I'm sure the White Sox will have to pony up more than the just the righthander to land the All-Star slugger, but they can probably afford to part with one of their prized arms in order to make another title run.

This rumor does make me wonder why so many are balking at the notion of sending Humberto Sanchez to the Nats as part of a Soriano deal. If the White Sox are willing to part with a top prospect for Soriano, why shouldn't the Tigs? Yes, the John Smoltz trade of 1987 still rubs folks the wrong way, but is anyone missing Justin Thompson? Francisco Cordero had a couple of solid years for Texas, but would he have made a big impact here?

Prospects are prospects until proven otherwise. Tigers fans, perhaps, more than anyone else, should be aware of this. Has anyone seen as many non-prospect prospects as we have?

Now, I'm not about to send Washington the entire Detroit farm system for Soriano, who most likely will end up a rental, but as the old saying goes "you have to give up something to get something". The Tigers do have a number of young quality arms in the system--Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Nate Robertson and, hopefully, Andrew Miller--so it's not like Sanchez is the be-all, end-all. Besides, whose to say that the Tigers couldn't make a play for Soriano beyond '06?

If the Tigers were to make some post-season noise, Soriano got to see this town at it's baseball crazy best, the Tigers clear some more salaries off the books (as more contracts expire) and Mr. Ilitch actually makes some money this year, whose to say the Tigers couldn't sway Soriano to stay in the Olde English D?

Even if Soriano jumped shipped on Detroit, wouldn't the Tigers be in line for some compensatory draft picks for losing a top tier free agent? Two more picks in the top 40 or so prospects is also a way to ensure another wave of strong arms fills the Tigers' system

Having said all this, do I want Soriano in Detroit? Maybe. For the right price. One thing I do know, is that no one in Tigertown can feel very good about the notion of Alfonso Soriano joining the already impressive lineup in Chicago.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Landis Is Back?!?!?!

A day after everyone in the cycling community wrote off Floyd Landis, he's back. Landis entered yesterday's daunting climb through the Alps as the favorite to win the Tour de France. He was already wearing the yellow jersey and had just finished strongly at L'Alpe d'Huez, the event's most storied mountain climb. Then came the Wednesday's stage.

By nearly all accounts, Landis hit the proverbial wall yesterday. That or the wall hit him. Either way, the result wasn't pretty. Landis found himself not only out of the yellow jersey, but a shocking eight minutes behind the race leader. That's a significant chunk of time late in the race. If Landis was out of gas after Wednesday's trek upward, it didn't seem likely he could gain back much time in today's final jaunt through the mountains.

So what did the Team Phonak rider do? Landis came back to win today's stage. The American cyclist is now in third place only thirty seconds behind the race leader. If Landis can stay on his bike tomorrow and can duplicate his earlier time trial performance Saturday, a discipline neither of his competitors is quite as good at, Landis could actually win this race.

Now, for my one reader who is still here after three paragraphs of Tour de France talk, let me add why this is noteworthy beyond the race's own prestige. Landis is scheduled for hip replacement. Not just ordinary hip surgery, as if that wouldn't be bad enough. No, Landis is looking at a new hip after the race. We talk about an athlete's courage, but Landis' performance today may have re-defined gut check.

I know what you are thinking. Brian, buddy, it's bicycling. Yeah, well, I get winded thinking about pedaling up the 7-11 to grab a Slurpee and this guy is win racing through the Alps? I doubt too many of us could even manage to climb up the Alps on a bike and a guy whose about to get a new hip wins a race through the mountains? Come on. That's plain embarrassing. Fine, it's embarrassing, for me. You, I'm sure, could navigate such terrain easily.

None of you are going to watch the Tour. And fewer even care. I realize that. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But, Floyd Landis exhibited all the things we admire about athletes and sports today--courage, determination and effort. He also won, something else we all prefer. His ride today deserves some attention. Mine, anyway.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Feeling Better?

Well, that sure feels better, doesn't it? Finally, the Tigers get a rather decisive win against the Chicago White Sox. Tonight's 5-2 victory should temporarily ease some of our collective paranoia about the defending World Champions. The Tigers can, indeed, prevail over Chicago's South Side ballclub.

I, for one, feel a bit better about the Tigers at this moment. Why? In large part, because Jeremy Bonderman, perhaps my answer to "Who's Your Tiger?", did what top flight starters are supposed to do--stop losing streaks and beat upper echelon teams. He had exactly the kind of performance--two runs in seven innings on four hits with six K's vs. the World Champs--that we've all hoped Bonderman would produce someday.

I'm also feeling better because, honestly, I just don't much care for the White Sox. I just don't. Oh, they were ok when Harold Baines was in rightfield and Chet Lemon manned center. Was that Claudell Washington in left or Ralph Garr? Can't remember. Anyway, I think I became turned off when as a Tigers season ticket holder (96-98), it seemed I saw the White Sox every week. Like eating the same thing everyday, I got real tired of Chicago's A.L. entry, real fast.

So, this current run of ChiSox dominance over the Tigers hasn't made me very happy. Conversely, beating the Sox makes me very pleased. Another reason for optimism this evening.

Finally, I'm hoping the Tigers are starting to believe they can hang around with the baseball big boys. Wins like tonight's can only help their confidence. I don't care how many times the Tigs thump Tampa or Kansas City, they will eventually need to beat baseball's elite. May as well start today.

Now, one game does not a season make, but we can all feel a bit better about tonight's triumph. Well, at least, I do.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tiger Fever...Catch It

Tiger Fever, once thought to be completely eliminated, has reappeared in Detroit. The last reported case was documented in the late 1980's. Although some claim their may have been a few infected as late as the early 1990's, but there is no solid evidence of that. However, I am here to report that the rumors are indeed true. Tiger Fever is back in Detroit and is spreading at an alarming, if not unprecedented, rate.

Ok, so it's not exactly breaking news that Detroit has rediscovered the Tigers, but I got a first hand glimpse of the revival Saturday. I was at the old yard new yard Saturday night. Sure, the 40,000 in attendance were a big stinkin' clue that the Tigers might not just be the summer punchline around the Motor City anymore. However, it wasn't just the sellout that was evidence of the latest Tigers craze. The thing that caught my attention was the amount of Tigers apparel both being worn and purchased during the 6-0 pasting of the poor Kansas City Royals.

I was caught off-guard by the amount of Tigers merchandise being adorned by the local and suddenly faithful. It wasn't just your traditional Olde English D stuff, either. Although, there was plenty of that, too. I saw jerseys and t-shirts with the names and numbers of Rodriguez, Ordonez, Granderson, Verlander, Zumaya, Shelton, Robertson and Inge, to name a few. Tigertown has not only warmed up to their baseball team's success, but have apparently embraced their marketing campaign, as well. A large number of fans made it quite obvious just "Who's Your Tiger?".

For a team that's success has been all of three and a half months, I was completely surprised to see so many plunk down so much money on an still relatively unknown product. Honestly, how many of these friends of ours really knew who Curtis Granderson or Joel Zumaya were 365 days ago? Can you name how many of your buddies were debating that Brandon Inge authentic jersey? Sure, after years of sustained success--including championships--Red Wings and now Pistons jerseys dot the Detroit landscape. Yet, with only a winning record in mid-July to their credit, the ballpark was filled with fans proudly wearing their Tiger's name and number.

If the quantity of baseball apparel on display Saturday night is any indication, Tigers merchandise has to be the hot item in The D. I couldn't have counted the bags filled with Tigers related products if I had tried. With the profit from merchandise, frozen daiquiri and eight dollar beer sales on Saturday night alone, the Tigers ought to be able to land Alfonso Soriano and sign him long term. It's fairly obvious that this city has bought into the Tigers--literally.

You know the Tigers must be moving product as both newspapers now promote their Tiger coverage. Local radio is pumping up the Motor City Kitties, too. The Tigers flagship station, WXYT 1270AM (I have no idea what their moniker du jour is), talks about how much they talk about the Tigers when the Tigers aren't playing. Having a total grasp of the obvious, the local media have jumped upon the Tigers bandwagon, as well. No reason to let this unexpected opportunity slide past. (Think TV20, who just happened to sign on for a few games this year, is happy about this?)

In my own place of work, I've seen people come down with Tiger Fever right in front of me. People who have never been to Comerica Park have just gone or are about to make their initial visit. Even those co-workers who could name every Red Wing and admit to not being baseball fans are talking about heading down to the CoPa. People who know I'm kind of a baseball geek are asking me semi-serious baseball questions. This thing is spreading fast.

More wins. More ticket sales. More sellouts. More merchandise sales. More media coverage. More Tiger talk around the old water cooler. Yes, friends, Tiger Fever is back and just about everyone has come down with it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Painting By Numbers

Yeah, I'm playing with the color scheme around here. Be patient. HTML color coding is like painting by the numbers, but with tons of alpha-numeric options. However, I feel the place needs a new coat of paint, so you may see some stranger than normal color patterns. Of course, I may just leave it as is for a while.

Feel free to criticize at will.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Today At The World Cup

You just kind of knew England was in trouble when Wayne Rooney got that red card. Down a man, with David Beckham already subbed out due to an injury, it just didn't look good. I'm just your basic casual footie fan, but, geez, that seemed like stupid move on Rooney's part.

As for France's latest triumph over Brazil, I thought the defending champs were almost too respectful of Zidane. Oh, the guy is an all-time great, but I haven't seen the French midfielder look quite that good in the year or so I've been watching his club team (technically his ex-club team due to retirement), Real Madrid.