Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some Notes on a Friday

I haven't had a chance to post for a while, but I've been pretty busy. I'll keep trying to post when I can. Without further ado...

-- I'm not sure if anyone saw this story a couple days ago about the leaking of information about the admissions by Calvin Johnson, Amobi Okoye, and Gaines Adams to smoking marijuana before. Really, this is a big issue? I'm pretty sure there are lots of NFL hopefuls, not to mention players already in the NFL, who have not only smoked pot before, but have done worse things than that. I wish more players would stand up and admit what they've done like these three guys have. And besides, after the hefty suspensions of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, it's good to get the overall topic out in the open. Athletes are not perfect; they're only human too. To act shocked about serious topics similar to this one is just stupid. Let's be serious for once.

-- On a similar note, I'm glad to see the Chiefs' Jared Allen, suspended four games for his second DUI of the year, has really been paying attention to some of the problems the NFL has had over the past several years. He must slept through the league finally standing up and punishing repeat offenders like Henry for driving drunk. I've said this before, and I'll say it again -- why can't athletes simply get someone to drive them around or even just get a taxi if they want to go drink? Is that too much to ask for? It just seems like a solution to a surprisingly difficult question. I'm sure Tony La Russa knows what I'm talking about.

-- I don't mean to be picking on the NFL or its players, but here's another odd situation from the past week. Apparently after a raid, police found many neglected dogs in a Virginia home owned by Michael Vick. Now, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions here. Vick has already answered some questions and stated that he never stays in that house and that some of his friends and family take care of it. So, basically, he's placing the blame on them, which is fine if he's never there. However, this is the second major story of Vick in the news for a negative issue, the other being with his strange water bottle with a secret compartment confiscated by police at an airport a few months ago. Sometimes accidents happen and that's fine. But sometimes patterns develop as well, and then someone needs to be held accountable. Is that person Vick? He's certainly been involved in some coincidences, and time will tell what happens with him.

-- To get away from the NFL, I would just like to thank Chris Ray for his special contributions to Orioles fans so early in the season. It takes a tremendous effort from someone with so much talent to give up two game-winning grand slams to the opposition in less than 25 games played. It's one thing to give up a home run to Alex Rodriguez since apparently the whole league has been doing that, but it's another to give up a grand slam to Wily Mo Pena. Keep up the good, I mean bad, work, Mr. Ray. And to think, I had so much hope after that sweep of the Royals. Nice.

-- I'd also like to comment on what I think will happen during the NFL Draft, but I actually have no clue what will happen. Big surprise, right? Take a look for yourself. Go to google and type in 2007 NFL Draft and see how many mock drafts you can find. Just about every sports personality or ego has his or her own opinion on what's going to happen. And you know what? None of them will be right. None will be even close. Putting together mock drafts for the NFL is one of the most useless wastes of time, and after a while, I get tired of reading them. Some people get mad about seeing what amazing analysts, like Mel Kiper Jr., think their team will do. And while he undoubtedly knows more about college prospects and players than any other human ever will, even he misses many of his projections for the first round about every year. My advice? Don't get caught up in the hype. Just try and know some players and try rooting for your team to get a solid player. Enjoy the draft -- people don't need to guess the outcome for it to have meaning. They're wasting their time anyway. But special thanks to ESPN for running their 1,543 part series on the NFL Draft this year. Could we get some more coverage next year? Good.

-- I was going to write more, but I just saw that the Orioles just gave up an inside the park home run. Bring back Sid Fernandez.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's More Than Just Winning and Losing

I hate losing.

Just about whenever I play something, I expect to win. It doesn't matter what it is- baseball, basketball, football, poker, board games, whatever. Unless it's something that's naturally non-competitive or just for fun, I give everything I have to do one thing: win.

Today, at my intramural basketball game, this was no different. And today, we lost a tough, close game. Normally, people would say what? Something like "boo-hoo" or "big deal, besides, it's just intramurals anyway." That may be true, but I'm tired of playing that card, and I'm sick of coming up short with things like this.

I'm sure a lot of people feel this way. Everyone is different, and certainly there are tons of people who aren't nearly as competitive as I am and differ in countless other ways. But at some point, everybody comes to realize or wish they could be better at something or even reach a level in anything that they've never been to before.

It's only intramurals. That's fine. But no matter what, and I know I may be in the minority here, but I worry and care just as much about the little and insignificant things just as much as larger things out on the surface. Sometimes when your best just isn't good enough, even for only one day, it's hard to swallow. I realize, now, that is a main reason why I love sports so much and that I need to have competition and give effort, always.

Here was the situation today:

The first round of playoffs started today for basketball, and my team came out pretty much playing terribly. I blame no one for anything; we all looked bad for at least 3/4 of the game.

Down only four points at halftime, our team never got into any sort of rhythms with anything on the court. We missed open shots and layups. We didn't hustle or play good defense. Rebounding was pretty weak too, and for some reason, I had problems even grabbing and holding onto the ball in the first half.

Down about 15 points with around five minutes to go, we finally started to hit shots. But no matter what we did, it seemed like our opponent would hit some crazy fade-away shot or get fouled on an out-of-control shot and hit some free throws. For anyone who has ever played basketball before, even just pick-up games, you know that one guy who looks like he'll never hit any shots. And he usually doesn't. Then one game, he'll hit everything for no reason at all. That's the type of feel this game had.

Still down 13 points with around 3:30 to go, Joe made a good play to hit a quick layup and get fouled. He hit the free throw, and we called timeout. We agreed it was time to press- we went with a man-to-man full-court press instead of a zone. It turned out to be a good idea. The other team was caught completely off guard, for some reason. They still hit some shots, but we forced the tempo and caused them to commit a few turnovers.

For at least the next five or six possessions, it seemed like we scored every single time. Mark had hit some 3s earlier in the game, and Brandon hit one here. I hit a few 3s too, and got a quick layup after a steal.

With 45 seconds left, we got the ball back and needed a 3. I forgot how exactly, but I got a good look and nailed a 3. I felt bad by how poorly I played for most of the game, but the momentum had totally shifted to our side, and we knew we had a real chance to complete the comeback attempt and win. We had the chance to overcome our horrible early play.

The other team immediately threw in a wild pass, but they managed to grab it, so we quickly fouled. Then something completely changed in the game. Apparently citing some rule I had never heard of in ANY LEVEL of organized basketball, our opponent was allowed to CHOOSE whether they wanted to shoot two free throws or simply keep the ball and throw the ball back in. Huh?

It seemed odd at first, but we went with it, trying desperately to get a steal.

After six inbounds passes, I started to feel sick to my stomach. How could the game be going like this? It simply made no sense. Everytime they threw the ball in, we went for a steal. And everytime a foul was called. What exactly was this rule designed to do, turn the game into football for a few passes inbounds?

I won't place all of the blame on the referees here. The team we played took, quite blunty, the sissy way out to win the game. They knew it wasn't fair to win like that, but instead of taking the high road, they took the low, easy one. Gutless.

However, on the last play of the game with 10 seconds left to go, the team got lazy and threw in a weak pass. We had a chance! Anthony raced down the court and managed to get off a contested driving layup as time expired. He was fouled- no question about it.

Do you think there was a call? If you've been reading this whole thing, not only did you see how this would turn out, but you kind of figured it would be a strange ending too. Needless to say, I knew they wouldn't call a foul either, even though during the game, we had been outshot in free throws by no less than 15 shots.

Anyone who knows me knows that I very rarely complain about matters such as these, but I do like to understand the thought process behind them or break them down and just ask questions. How else can you learn? But, obviously angry after the game, and rightly so, I managed to ask one of the coaches reffing the game why that rule was in effect. I asked, "I'm just wondering, but is there a certain reason why that rule is in effect? What's it supposed to do?"

"Not really, it's just been a rule for 12 years since I've been here," she responded.

Wow, what an explanation. That's like saying the cafeteria food at this school has sucked here for 12 years, but hey, that's just the way things are. No reasoning, no nothing.

Hey, it's just for fun. Let it go. Again, things come to this point- it's only intramurals. Well, then why does anyone play at all?

Because they're trying to compete against other people, and they're trying to win. That's why, and thousands of students nationwide play intramurals and assuredly get as angry as I was today.

If people want to be involved with rules in sports that are confusing and make no sense, they should just work real hard to become an NFL ref so they can explain instant replay reviews to fans watching who are instantly puzzled. Just because something is a rule doesn't mean it makes sense.

But what I'm trying to explain isn't really about the rule. It's more than that. Amid this glorified, heightened controversy I've explained here, I really don't have an ending. I won't stop playing intramurals because of one bad experience. Would you quit school because you got one bad test grade?

Just like anything else, you do your best and hope for better next time. Let the chips fall where they may, if you will. No matter how stupid today was, it was a good experience and a very motivating one. It's tough to even win, but it's tougher to lose or keep losing when all you want to do is win.

I just hope next time when someone gets the shaft in intramurals, I'm finally on the winning side.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Exactly What the Wizards Needed

Caron Butler breaks his hand. Arenas tears his meniscus and has season ending knee surgery.

Wizards fans everywhere throw in the towel.

Are their actions wrong? Probably not. I, too, happen to think it would be very unlikely for the Wizards to even win a game let alone get out of the 1st round of the NBA playoffs set to start in a few weeks. No team in the NBA relies on its top 3 scoring threats more than the Wizards.

It won't really matter who they play. Bulls, Cavaliers, Heat, Pistons, Raptors, whatever. Either one of those teams will present a huge mismatch in talent without Arenas and Butler, 2 of the top 3 Wizards players, on the floor.

But let's look at this from another perspective. Were the Wizards going to make it that far in the playoffs this year? Would they have even won a series with everyone healthy? It's possible, but it's not like they've been playing their best basketball for most of the season. There may not be a more inconsistent team in the league that frequently plays down to its competition. Injuries have contributed a lot to that, sure. But it's more than that.

With Arenas and Butler now out, the rotation that Eddie Jordan has to work with is significantly smaller. Jordan has a knack for employing his "small ball" approach when he would play Arenas, Daniels, Butler, Jamison, and Songalia/Ruffin, etc. on the floor together or some type of combination like that. Without his 2 best players to lean on, the lineup Jordan uses will have to be significantly bigger, and possibly, he may be forced to play 2 power forwards or 2 centers together. It will be interesting to see how that works, even though it may not.

This season has been a very strange one. Arenas's blog on, the feud between Haywood and Thomas, the injuries to all of the big 3, the competition between Stevenson and Arenas, and the numerous close games and crazy finishes have contributed a very different feel to this season. The team just never seemed to get comfortable at any point.

It would seem like the pressure is off. Everyone thinks the Wizards will lose. Every NBA analyst has more than written them off. Maybe they can take some pride and develop a chip on their shoulder.

Because I am a realist, the Wizards probably will lose, but there are things to learn and knowledge to gain about this team before the season is over.

When they get to the playoffs, Jordan will have to rely on guys on the team who he hasn't before. Daniels and Hayes will more than likely start. Songalia has also earned a starting spot with his recent strong play. Daniels is usually a solid guy for this team, but Hayes hasn't and a lot of fans are frustrated with his poor and inconsistent play. Now he gets his time to prove he either deserves minutes on this team or not. He gets to show what he's really got to offer this team.

Will he seize the opportunity? Only time will tell. Will Haywood stop being a baby and realize that he should try playing up to his potential instead of whining whenever he gets taken out of the game? Who knows.

I also hope to see Andray Blatche healthy enough to play during the playoffs as well. He has the chance to be an important piece to this team's future with his versatility and rebounding skills.

More importantly, though, Jordan and GM Ernie Grunfeld get to preview these pieces that they will either choose to keep or get rid of for next season. Can some of these guys really step up when they're needed, or will they just hide behind the shadows of Arenas, Butler, and Jamison while those 3 provide leadership and winning talent next season?

Undoubtedly, there are more questions than answers. Maybe over these next couple of weeks as the season shifts to the playoffs, some important questions will be answered. They need to be.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Orioles Fever, Catch It?

At least at some point before the season started, I planned to write a preview for the Orioles before the opening series against the Twins, but I got a little side-tracked with some work. Anyway, here it is now:

There probably isn't very much you haven't heard about the Orioles if you either read their main site or any local newspapers, watch local TV or Comcast, or listen to local sports radio. The Orioles spent the offseason primarily overhauling an extremely overworked and overmatched bullpen from last season. I believe the front office of GM Mike Flanagan and Vice President Jim Duquette did a pretty good job of that, and it definitely had to be done.

Meanwhile, in addition to the bullpen, the Orioles added Aubrey Huff, Jaret Wright, Steve Trachsel, Paul Bako, Freddie Bynum, and eventual starting LF Jay Payton. Through 3 games, Huff has been the most formidable Orioles hitter, forming a tough combination in the 4-5 spots with Miguel Tejada. But the bench really stinks and Kevin Millar brings very little to the table no matter where he's hitting in the lineup. It'd be nice to see him stop talking so much and getting some hits when they count.

I think I'll really like the lineup when everyone on the team is healthy, but when will that happen? Hernandez may be placed on the DL soon with a strained left oblique muscle. Neither Paul Bako nor Alberto Castillo (WHO??) can replace his offense or defense. Hernandez can't return and get healthy soon enough. Also, Jay Payton is currently headed to the DL with a hamstring injury and may be out for a few more weeks.

I haven't been able to watch any of the first 3 games because Frostburg doesn't get MASN. Great! I don't know what to think about that, but all I know so far is either what my friends who can watch the games tell me or what I see on stat-tracker and box scores. However, when I see- E: Gibbons(1, dropped fly ball in four territory) or hear about Castillo trying to gun runners who fall down midway to 2nd base and they STILL beat the throw, obviously the Orioles don't appear to have changed very much.

Is it really possible to tell that much from just 3 games? Yes and no. Every team has flaws, and it's the job of the coaches to try and hide them while exploiting those flaws of other teams. But whenever the Orioles play, it always seems like they are the ones being exploited. Case and point- with Daniel Cabrera on the mound in the 2nd game against the Twins the other night, the Twins runners were stealing at will. I know that Cabrera is extremely slow to the plate and has a very slow delivery, but have the Orioles ever heard of a pitch out? I'm pretty sure that Castillo didn't even catch 1 runner stealing, and it seemed like every time the Twins got runners on first, they'd steal. Even Joe Mauer got a stolen base! Is the problem mostly Cabrera's fault for being slow to the plate? Sure, the catcher can only do so much. But there are things that can still be done to stop such problems from happening. Either way, getting caught like that is just unacceptable.

Still, though, I believe that the bullpen and lineup will both be improved. The bullpen added Walker, Baez, Bradford, Williamson, and Guthrie to decent lefty Parrish and Ray, a great young closer. The bullpen has looked (or so I've heard) pretty good, and that may even be the strongest part of the team now. As far as the lineup goes, I think it can be decent to good if Hernandez and Payton come back 100% healthy. Here's that lineup:

2b-Brian Roberts
3b- Melvin Mora
RF- Nick Markakis
SS- Miguel Tejada
1b- Aubrey Huff
C- Ramon Hernandez
DH- Jay Gibbons
LF- Jay Payton
CF- Corey Patterson

I think this lineup could be pretty good because it mixes power, speed, and alternating LH and RH bats throughout the lineup. That would be pretty tough for opposing pitchers to face night in and night out. I hope Markakis plays well and improves some from the promise he showed last year, but that's a lot to ask out of a 23 year old player who has only one full year in the league. He has the talent, but the 3 spot holds a lot of responsibility and is demanding. As I said before, Tejada and Huff have been great, Roberts, Mora, and Markakis have not yet. The first 3 games, the Orioles lost to Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, and Ramon Ortiz. Santana I can understand, but they made Bonser and Ortiz look like Cy Young candidates. Anyway, it's very early, and the lineup should be fine.

The starting rotation though, might not be fine. After losing Benson for the year and seeing John Maine pitch well last night for the Mets, it seems like that trade really was a waste. Now, with a rotation of Bedard, Cabrera, Wright, Loewen, and Trachsel, the Orioles have a lot to worry about. The bullpen is very solid behind them, but just getting to the 5th inning may be difficult often. Bedard and Wright looked really bad in their 2007 debuts. The rotation should be decent, but I'd be shocked to see either Wright or Trachsel still in the rotation at the end of the season. Trachsel was a good fill-in for the 5th slot, but Wright looked really bad and didn't even pitch 3 full innings. Loewen is still young, and I think Cabrera can slowly get better and stop walking so many batters. No one knows for sure though.

Is it really that surprising that the O's got swept by the Twins? Losing Hernandez hurts a lot and the Twins took advantage of a lot of little things. I'm unsure of what to think, but I do know that usually the O's have been winning the first game of the season over the past bunch of years.

Does that mean they'll play well later in the season? Maybe. But I do know this: I'm tired of solely blaming Angelos and the front office for the Orioles being so bad. Obviously, they are partly to blame, but the game is played on the field. The Orioles have enough talent to compete with any team, seriously. They have good young pitching talent and a great lineup and bullpen. I'm tired of making excuses, and it would be nice for the team to get their first winning season in the past 10 years or so.

Even though the season may be another disappointment, I'd still be upset if they didn't at least get to .500 this year. That may be a stretch, but who knows. Crazier things have happened. It's time to start winning games, and yes, even in the AL East it can be done. Maybe things will finally click this year.

Or maybe the Orioles won't be one of the laughingstocks of the league this year. That's always something to shoot for too.