This week in sports

You miss a lot when your laptop is broken. Now that it’s finally back from the shop, here’s a rundown of things I wanted to hit but couldn’t get to.

  • U.S. soccer and the Gold Cup

It’s good to be watching U.S. soccer play competitively again in the Gold Cup. It is always good when the States beat Canada. But following it up with a 2-1 loss to Panama was yet another step backwards for the Yanks.

Gabriel Gómez beat Tim Howard on a penalty kick in the 37th minute.

The 2-0 win over Canada was nice, but far short of a convincing performance. The lineup for the States doesn’t get much stronger than it is right now. The Yanks are back on the pitch tonight against Guadeloupe (who?), and nothing short of domination will be acceptable.

It looks like the States will still advance from Group C based on the standings, but that shouldn’t even be a question. Mexico is the second-best team in the tournament by FIFA rankings — despite having the best player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — but it has taken care of business, winning all three games with a goal differential of plus-13.

There is no reason the Gold Cup final shouldn’t be USA vs. Mexico every time. It likely still will be, but this tournament should give us a time to perfect our game against weaker regional opponents, not squeak through on a few lucky bounces.

The USA lineup has started the same for the first two games, in a 4-4-2:

Altidore-Agudelo
Dempsey-Bradley-Jones-Donovan
Cherundolo-Goodson-Ream-Bocanegra
Howard

  • FIFA rankings

The States came into the tournament ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA and first in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football — we need a new name). Mexico is second in the zonal ranking and 28th in the world. Canada, USA’s first Group C opponent, is ranked 76th in the world (seventh zonal) and Panama is ranked 67th (sixth), though it will likely move up next month after beating the States.

Guadeloupe, if you notice, is not in the ranking. I wondered why, and got an answer.

  • Griffs drafted

Jamieson was drafted into the Oakland system.

Three Canisius baseball players were drafted in this year’s MLB draft: shortstop Sean Jamieson in the 17th round (526 overall) by the Oakland Athletics, relief pitcher Chris Cox in the 39th round (1,189 overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays, and starting pitcher Shane Davis in the 42nd round (1,279 overall) also by the Jays.

I talked to Sean before the draft, and basically asked him something I will never get to experience — how much fun is it knowing you’re going to get drafted:

“It’s pretty cool. Not too many people get the chance to go off and play in the minor league system. … [I hear from scouts in] emails, over the phone, after games. It’s always fun hearing from a big league scout. You try not to let it get to you and just take it one at bat at a time.”

  • The MLB draft

The Major League draft goes 50 rounds and had 1,530 players selected. Kolya Stephenson, right-handed pitcher from Ocean City High School (N.J.), was the last player selected, if you really want to know. With that many players you might think there’s more than just one “Mr. Irrelevant,” but not necessarily so. Fifty rounds sounds ridiculous, but there are a ton of minor league levels out there, and every organization needs to fill out the roster of every one of its affiliates.

A lot of the draftees are high school kids, many of whom will play college ball instead and re-enter the draft later. For some college draftees, “livin’ out the dream” may take a back seat to a job offer or a girl. Don’t forget about injuries. If you pitched for your high school team that played 25 games this spring, your arm might not be able to take the rest of the season in rookie ball. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Major League dream die every year due to injuries. Those players need to be replaced with healthy ones.

  • The NBA Finals

Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title on Sunday. I watched the second half, which is about the longest I’ve ever watched an NBA game on TV (I went to my first NBA game in Los Angeles earlier this year; Clippers beat the Nuggets, 100-94).

I follow the storylines in the NBA, but I have a hard time watching the games. They are slow and there are way too many whistles. I don’t even see half the fouls when they show the replay. Putting your head down and dribbling into a guy to try to draw a foul and then having putting up an off-balance shot that has no hope of going in because you didn’t get the call is not exactly entertaining.

Part of the reason we love watching sports is because we want to feel like we could be there, too. I’m not Derek Jeter, but there are some ground balls hit to him I’m sure I could field. In the NBA, I’d have to be an outside shooter. There’s no way I could ever go inside or get a rebound. You almost have to be a freak of nature to make it in the NBA, and that idea of “there’s no way I could have ever done that” takes a lot away from the experience.

I enjoy college basketball. I love covering it and I’ll watch even if the teams playing don’t mean anything to me. I don’t really know how to explain it, or maybe how to back it up, but it’s almost like the college kids try harder. There is a lot more hustle in the college game and they certainly go a lot harder on defense. I think the millions have something to do with it, but I don’t know how much I could really do with LeBron James or Dwight Howard coming at me full speed, either. Maybe it’s easier to defend in the college game because they guys aren’t so gargantuan, but that makes up part of the human element that is the reason NCAA round ball is so much easier to follow, and that much easier to love.

  • Playoff format

With the NBA and NHL finals going on at the same time, there is some debate going on about the playoff series format in a best-of-seven — the NHL’s 2-2-1-1-1 versus the NBA’s and MLB’s 2-3-2.

I prefer the 2-2-1-1-1, and not just because I’m biased towards hockey. To me, the 2-3-2 says we are more about the money than the game. It’s about the media travel and the television deals, not the outcome of the series, which the former takes into account.

If you really wanted it to be fair, they would alternate every home game, 1-1-1-1… until a winner was crowned. That’s a little ridiculous on the travel, which is why the 2-2 start is used, plus it rewards to higher seed with two home games at the start. The 2-3-2 really doesn’t reward the home team at all. If they split the first set, then the home team has to go play three times away. Who cares if you have six and seven at home, you might not even get back that far. If the lower seed takes the series in five games, then they would have had more home games than the higher seed. The higher seed should never be at a disadvantage.

Ask the players, they’d travel across the country if it meant getting a home game instead of a road game. The home team has won all six games so far in the Stanley Cup final. I think Roberto Luongo would rather travel across the country to sleep in his own bed and play in front of people who love him. The 2-3-2 makes travel easier, but for who? The players or the media?

  • Sedin twins

Speaking of the Stanley Cup finals, where have the Sedins been? Daniel has one goal and three assists, Henrik has one goal and no assists this series. Vancouver won’t win tomorrow without its best players. The Crimson Chins better give Harry Potter his invisibility cloak back, because this is the biggest game of their lives. If anybody in Vancouver has the Crimson Chin spotlight to shine on the night sky, now would be the time to bring it out.

  • Women’s soccer

I still haven’t seen Marta and the WNY Flash play in person yet, but I watched a few games on TV and I’m trying to figure out what level of competition they are on par with. I’ll hold judgement until I see them live, but from the comfort of my couch, it looks like a Division I men’s team would handle the WPS. I’m against coed sports because it’s hard to go all-out against women, but if there was a way it could happen, it’d be interesting to see FC Buffalo take on the Flash.

  • Chicharito

Chicharito has five of Mexico's 14 goals in the tournament.

Oh, and remember Chicharito from Mexico soccer? His nickname means “little pea” in Spanish. His dad was “Chícharo” — pea — because of his green eyes, so naturally, he became little pea. That’s a fun fact.

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The best junior varsity baseball game ever played

Fourteen consecutive scoreless innings are usually enough from a JV pitching staff to get the team on a roll. Usually.

But this game was not like any other game, not at all. Canisius High School’s JV Gold team — the school’s ‘B’ team, if you will — lost by a final of 3-1. The boys, all freshmen, allowed one run in the top of the first inning, played four and a half hours of shutout defense, and then let in two more in the top of the 16th.

The opponent? Canisius High School JV Blue, the ‘A’ team.

Normally, you might think an ‘A’ team would have its way with the ‘B.’ Blue gets first dibs after the varsity and is composed of all sophomores, save the school’s top four freshmen ballplayers. But the combination of wood bats and a large strike zone with the emotional wave of I’ll-show-you-for-cutting-me from the Gold was enough level the playing field.

Even the coach's wife had to leave at some point, and when she did, she pawned the book off on the closest spectator -- me. The coach doesn't use the stats section, and after 12 innings, we had to get creative.

Gold’s closer worked a scoreless seventh, and eighth, and ninth, before being replaced midway through the 10th. When Blue broke through with the occasional single or walk, Gold’s catcher took the momentum right back, shooting down what seemed like half a dozen runners trying to steal second.

It was Gold, the ‘B’ team, that threatened first in extras. A 60-foot swinging bunt down the high grass on Delaware 1’s third base line loaded the bases with one out. Blue coach Tom Coppola nervously arranged his defense. He brought the infield in and moved the left and center fielders up to have a shot throwing out the winning run and the plate. He made a gambit with his right fielder, having him stand over second base to cut off a single up the middle, giving up anything the right-handed batter might drop over the right side of the infield.

Five infielders got ready for the pitch, which was scorched right at Blue’s first baseman. The runner wasn’t being held on with the infield in, and even if he had frozen on the line drive, he didn’t stand a chance. Double play.

Gold’s first baseman wanted his shot to be the hero a few innings later. He wouldn’t get the chance. The 14-year-old came late to the game right from a wedding. By the time the 14th inning rolled around, his dad was back to pick him up for the reception, and it couldn’t wait… meaning the wife was not happy. He was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway — Gold went down 1-2-3.

In the 15th inning, Coppola remarked to Ray Bielanin, the Gold coach, that it was going to take two consecutive hits to win the game. Timely hitting was hard to come by, and both sides had played remarkably clean defense throughout (although it’s a good thing baserunning blunders don’t count as errors).

In the “visitor’s” half of the 16th, the Gold defense at last showed a glimpse of whatever margin it is that separates it from the ‘A’ team. A leadoff single and a walk put the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out and a sac bunt moved the runners over.

Bielanin, who had 13 appearances as a relief pitcher in advanced rookie ball in 1989, came over for a look at the score book. The batter was Blue’s 7-hitter, who was 1-for-5 on the day and hadn’t been on base in 10 innings. Instead of walking him to set up a force play at the plate, or a potential inning-ending double play, or both, Bielanin decided to pitch to him.

An underdog can’t always settle for conventional wisdom. Gold got the result it was looking for, just not the execution. The ball was popped up behind the shortstop, who was playing slightly up. Bielanin’s reaction led you to believe he thought the ball was catachable; it landed on the lip of the outfield grass.

The runners stayed put and the bases were loaded. It was like an intentional walk, just without the out.

But that out was one Gold couldn’t give away. The 8-hitter popped up to second which should have been the third out. Instead, it was an infield fly for the second out, and 9-hitter, of all people, made it hurt. A sharply hit grounder up the middle just got past a diving second baseman, scoring two runs Gold knew it wouldn’t get back.

There was hope when Blue’s center fielder made an error trying turn a shoestring catch into a flashy dive in the bottom of the 16th, but Blue, which rode a freshman pitcher for approximately innings 10 through 16, finally showed some reason for it to be the ‘A’ team, outlasting Gold by the slimmest of margins, 3-1.

It was a game no one deserved to lose, even though you might have thought one, the ‘B,’ probably should have.

Give credit to the umpire, who, although inconsistent, stuck around long after the seven innings he was paid for.

Barry juice and O.J.

Even if Bonds is acquitted of the charges, he will likely be lumped with O.J. Simpson in the "everyone-knows-he-did-it-we-just-couldn't-prove-it" category.

In December 2003, Barry Bonds spent nearly three hours in a federal court in San Francisco answering questions about drug and steroid use in sports. In November 2007, an indictment was filed against Bonds, charging him with four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice.

On Monday, Bonds returned to the same San Francisco court, as the perjury trail United States of America v. Barry Lamar Bonds began.

The most important date in the sequence is likely Aug. 7, 2007, when Bonds hit home run No. 756 to break Hank Aaron’s all-time record. With this feat, Bonds became one of the game’s most vaunted sluggers, as well as one of the most hated.

Fans love to see the long ball. But taking claim to one of sports’ most revered records is sure to make you some enemies in the process, even if you do it clean. Doing it amid swirling steroid allegations is sure to put you on the list of public enemies.

It could be argued that the prosecution wouldn’t have pushed this case so hard if Bonds hadn’t broken the record, and that point certainly has some merit. The legal system loves to make examples of people. If the Major League home run king (insert asterisk at your discretion) can’t get away with it, what would make Joe Average minor leaguer think he can? Even if Bonds was only No. 2 or 3 in the HR list, he’d still be a high-enough profile player to make people think twice.

That’s what this case has to be about, making an example of Bonds. It’s going to take a lot to convict Bonds against his all-star team of lawyers, especially if former trainer Greg Anderson won’t testify.  There are three possible outcomes we can learn from this case:

You've seen pictures of Barry Bonds circa 2003, looking thick and hefty. This is a card I have of thin Barry Bonds from 1987. Quite a difference.

– Barry Bonds did not take steroids.
– Bonds took steroids but didn’t know it.
– Bonds knowingly took steroids.

The way I understand the indictment, Bonds has to show that he either didn’t take steroids or didn’t know about it. Bullet points one and two would acquit him of the charges, since it wouldn’t be lying if that’s what he really thought. The prosecution must show that Bonds knew what he was taking back in 2003, which is not going to be easy to do. Also, they jury has to be certain enough to convict him. If they stop caring or think it’s too minor of an offense to vote guilty, it’s possible Bonds will get off.

But that’s the legal side. Most of America is more concerned with the baseball side of this story. All the judiciary element can do is decide if Bonds is a criminal. His reputation and legacy as a baseball player will be defined by the public. If bullet points two or three are proven to be true, even some of the loyal Giants supporters – the only fans Bonds has left – may turn against him.

The court of public opinion has been hearing this case for the better part of a decade. The four men and eight women on the jury just started following it intently this week. Bonds is on trial, but to steal a line from “The Longest Yard,” the public is the judge, the jury, and in this particular case, the executioner.

For all intensive purposes, the criminal case really doesn’t matter. In an era of “he probably did,” public opinion already has Barry Bonds on death row. He cheated the game more American than apple pie and then lied to our faces about it in light of some pretty damning evidence.

The jury may already be out on the court of public opinion.

I’ve always been interested in the steroid trials in sports. I suffered through read Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” and I blew my shot with a pretty girl because I wanted to go home and read the Mitchell Report instead. Will I follow this case? Absolutely. I want to know if Bonds used anabolic steroids or the clear or testosterone or human growth hormone. I’m sick of hearing the “flax seed oil, man” defense.

The outcome of this case may not change any of my opinions, but I at least want to hear what happened. The home run record is one of the greatest milestones in all of sports, and we deserve an explanation.

Other facts about the case:

Who to follow on Twitter:

– ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada. He’s your best bet.
George Dohrmann of SI.
Juliet Macur, New York Times.
Gwen Knapp, San Francisco Chronicle.
Ginny LaRoe, The Recorder (law.com).
NYDN Sports I-Team, the New York Daily News’ general sports page.
– I put them all in this Twitter list, which may be easier to follow. If I find any new people, I’ll add them to the list.

Judge: U.S. District Judge Susan Illston

– Female.
– Born in Tokyo, 1948.
– B.A. from Duke in 1970, J.D. from Stanford in 1973.
– Assumed office May 1995 after nomination from Bill Clinton.

Jury:

– Four men, eight women.
– Screened for number of factors, such as when the last Giants game you attended was.
– Were reminded not to read newspapers or use social media through duration of case.

I have a new team to root for

The Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A affiliate announced the results of its Name the Team promotion this week. And let me tell you, I’m excited with the results.  The name and logos are fantastic, but before I get into detail, we need to lay some background.

I don’t think running a blog technically makes you a “writer” in a professional sense, but it’s a fantastic building block along the way. I’m going to school for journalism, and I really like my field. However, it’s still good to have a few backup career options in mind.

At this point in my life, I think I can safely say being a professional athlete is all but out of the question (still holding on to hope). I don’t plan on failing in anything I do, especially something I love like journalism, but before I applied to college they told me I needed to have a few backup plans in mind.

I came up with two: a weatherman and math teacher. I was always good in math and I liked being able to work out difficult problems. Knowing where to factor and what formula to use were a lot like calling the right play and picking apart the zone in football.

When I got to college, my advisor couldn’t understand why a freshman communications major would sign up for advanced calculus in his first semester. I specifically remember the face she gave me in her office. But I never cared what anyone thought about me before, so why start now? I enjoyed the class, but after having a fantastic teacher all throughout high school, a professor from South Korea who learned English as a secondary language kind of turned me away.

My college doesn’t offer any weather or meteorology classes, but if they did I think I might take one. I was always fascinated with weather, and I loved Earth science in high school. Being a weatherman sounds like it would be an awesome job, especially with all the crazy weather we get in Buffalo.

Now if it were that simple, this wouldn’t be a blog post. But I always take things up a notch. What’s more than “just” a weatherman?

How about being a tornado chaser.

A cumulonimbus cloud, sometimes called an anvil cloud. Known for bringing severe weather.

Now there is an awesome job. I’m intrigued by the aura of cumulonimbus clouds and golf ball-sized hail. Tornadoes and tidal waves used to be the wallpaper on my phone. I love watching thunder storms as they roll in, and being a tornado chaser is the logical overachiever’s extension of that pastime.

I know I just said that looking to stick your nose in severe weather instead of running from it is “logical.” Just make like thunder and roll with it.

I’ve never seen a tornado in person, but I always wanted to. I’ve had dreams about tornadoes, actually. I’m not scared in the dreams. Everyone else is freaking out in my mind, and I’m there saying “this is so cool” and noting hail size and determining how much uplift must be occurring. (Again, I’m a dork, but I’m okay with it.)

Okay, now that you know the story behind the story, let’s get back to Kansas City–or rather Omaha, where the minor league team is.

Their contest started back in August, and the finalists were announced in October. There were some really good entries (Funnel Clouds, Sodbusters), and some not so good (The Pride? That name even sucks in the WNBA). I love the playfulness of minor league names–yes, I’m looking at you, Albuquerque Isotopes–but that’s another story.

The winning name for Ohama was the Storm Chasers. I love it. LOVE IT! That region of the country is known for tornado season and severe weather, and given my history, I think the name is fantastic.

The logos are also well-done. A bad logo can really ruin a good team name (ringing any bells?), but luckily, the Storm Chasers don’t fall into that category.

The home cap logo is at the top of the post. It’s a tornado made to look like a baseball, with a bat through it as a nose. I want a hat with that logo (somebody make it happen!). The road hat logo is an “O” for Omaha with a lightning bolt through it, and the alternate logo has the baseball tornado again, this time shaped to form an “S C” for Storm Chasers. The batting practice logo is a combination of the road and alternate. 

Road, Alternate, Batting Practice

These look awesome, in my humble opinion. They were done by Plan B Branding, which is based out of San Diego. I looked around on their site, and all of their stuff seems pretty well-done. All of the numbers they plan to use on the jerseys include some type of lightning bolt, which I think is another awesome addition.

I still love the Bisons and they won’t be dethroned as my favorite minor league team any time soon, but I think I have a new No. 2.

For more info, check out Benjamin Hill’s blog and Plan B Branding’s post about it. Cool stuff.

Some people might say this is a stupid blog post, but to me this is what it’s all about. Something in the sports world caught my interest (and I had some free time for a change), so I wrote about it. I’m the story assigner, editor and copy reader here, so what I say goes. And seriously, somebody get me a hat.

Something you never knew about Angels in the Outfield

Yesterday I came across a stat that blew my mind. It wasn’t a percentage or record or anything like that, just a fact I couldn’t believe. I checked it three times to make sure it was right.

Matthew McConaughey was in “Angels in the Outfield.”

That’s what I look like with my shirt off in the locker room, too.

It all started last night when I was getting ready for bed. I looked at the clock — 11:30 p.m. — and wondered if it was actually possible for a sports-rabid college student to be in bed before midnight. “It could happen,” I thought.

I don’t know why, but J.P. from “Angels in the Outfield” popped into my head. I wanted to find a video of him saying “It could happen,” and post it on Facebook.

I got caught up reliving some childhood glory days, and watched nearly the entire movie on YouTube.

I thought I saw a familiar face out there. It looked like a young Matthew McConaughey in that Angels uniform, but that couldn’t be. I scrolled down the page a little and saw the tags the person who uploaded the video had used. Lo(w) and behold, “McConaughey” was one of them.

I couldn’t believe it. A quick check on IMDb confirmed. Angels in the Outfield was one of McConaughey’s first ever movies. He played Ben Williams, an outfielder for the Angels. Williams didn’t appear much in the movie, but as shown above, he is recognizable as McConaughey– even with a hat on.

If you are still skeptical, see for yourself:

(Skip to 6:20. Appears to be the center fielder.)