Sully on steriods

Candid cell phone shot of Simers. Living by the mantra "right is right," Simers often pushes the limits of what is acceptable for media members. He certainly gets judged for it, but it's hard to argue with success.

If there could ever be a badass of the print media industry, it would be LA Times columnist T.J. Simers.

Simers was the first of four speakers I heard yesterday at the convention in LA. The best way I can explain this guy is saying he’s like [Buffalo News columnist] Jerry Sullivan on steroids.

Let’s get one thing clear: Simers is a jerk. His advice, “Don’t be a jerk, [just] be right,” is a good tip and I’m tempted to say maybe he should follow it a little more, but if he didn’t go through his antics, I’m sure he wouldn’t get all of the stories he does.

And he does get stories. Lots of them. Stories that no one else gets, and that is because Simers does things differently than other reporters. He swears at people. He blatantly calls them out in harsh terms, anyone from players to coaches to general managers and owners. (Anyone, that is, except for college athletes and rookies, who don’t have the “life experience” to be worth his time.)

Simers doesn’t follow the rules that clubs/schools impose on reporters. Limiting his access only drives him to push harder. Restricted stairways or hallways? Nothing is off-limits to T.J. At Lakers’ press conferences, he intentionally stands off to the side of Phil Jackson, apart from the media. That way, Jackson has to turn to face him directly, which Simers claims gets him more specified answers. After the conference, he walks with Jackson down the hallway to the locker room while the other media members file out.

Simers bragged about calling out Lane Kiffin in the first 15 seconds of his first press conference with USC and is proud that he once told Kobe Bryant to go f— himself.

He gives people nicknames in his columns and refers to them as such on the first reference in subsequent pieces. No one is safe from his names, not even his family. One of his daughters became “The daughter who can’t get a date,” and he finds her dates through his column on occasion.

Sometimes Simers writes pieces through the perspective of his son-in-law, who he nicknamed “The grocery bagger.” I’m not sure how his daughter feels about that, but it is one of the many interesting things he does that works for him in his writing.

Simers believes that people enjoy reading about the human element of things (and rightfully so). So when he covers events he openly admits to not caring about, he may write his piece through the eyes of the average person.

When he crafts his columns, Simers has a few (of his own) rules that he follows. He won’t talk to collegiate players or rookies, but also doesn’t go near the proverbial last man off the bench, or even the opposing team. People only want to read about “their” guys, he said. They want to know about Kobe Bryant and Manny Ramirez, the stars and coaches.

Simers had other good points for writers. All the way up, these guys who made it to the pros (or college) have been the best players around. When they get to this level and fail, it may be for the first time. “We’re the first ones who tell athletes they are no good,” he said.

And when you are around athletes frequently, you are going to develop some kind of relationship with them. They are often interesting relationships.

“It’s weird dynamics,” Simers said, clearly speaking from experience, “but those are weird people sometimes.”

Athletes often refuse to talk to him. But the next day, he makes sure to go right back to those athletes. (I feel like fewer people would refuse to talk to him if he phrased his initial questions differently, such as telling new players, “So I hear you suck.” But that’s T.J. for you.)

Simers always asks SIDs for assistance with interviews, but when they fail him, he takes matters into his own hands. When he doesn’t get the answers he wants/needs, he has no problem waiting outside a coach’s car in the parking lot or arriving on campus at 6 a.m. to wait for him. Once, when Jim McMahon lost his first game with the Chargers in 1989 and hid in the training room, Simers went out back and pushed a golf cart in front of the back door so McMahon would have to come out the front, where Simers vowed to wait him out.

I think I’ve shared enough for you to draw your own conclusions about Simers. But when it comes down to it, Simers is after the human aspect of sports. Athletes, coaches and front-office personnel have cool jobs and plenty of money, but they are still human. People are always going to read if there are personalities in sports.

All of the robot “stenographers” at press conferences who write down every word drive him crazy. Especially the ones who write their articles that way.

“Don’t be a reporter,” Simers said. “Be human.”

We interrupt this broadcast

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament is this weekend in Bridgeport, Conn. and the Atlantic Hockey playoffs open on numerous college campuses.

I have a lot of interest in both of these events, and I have lots to say about all three Canisius teams competing this weekend. However, that’s going to have to wait.

This weekend, instead of being in Bridgeport or Lewiston (where Canisius hockey plays Niagara), I’ll be in Los Angeles for the Associated Collegiate Press’ National College Journalism Convention.

I’m totally bummed about having to miss all the playoff games of teams I’ve followed all season, but this should be awesome. If you’re looking for clarification of how awesome, that picture on the right is the hotel. Let’s just say I packed my swim trunks.

They say I’ll learn a lot here, which isn’t something I doubt. I’m set up for all kinds of seminars and lectures. If you have seen the show “Around the Horn” on ESPN, you’ll be familiar with LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who is one of the keynote speakers at the event. Take ATH with a grain of salt when you watch it, but regardless this should be pretty cool.

Other awesome things I have lined up include a tour of the Staples Center, a Los Angeles Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes hockey game and a Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets basketball game. My “sport adventures” tag is going to get a workout this weekend, which is always exciting.

I am going to catch as many Canisius games as possible, and the offer stands to the players that if either the men’s or women’s basketball teams make it to the championship, I will reroute my flight to be at the game.

This week’s Griffin newspaper is entirely online (something we’ve never done before), so check it out. If you have any tips on LA or the Staples Center, pass them along… they’d be much appreciated. Best of luck to all three Canisius teams competing this weekend.

Sports bar fun

I got funny looks from my girlfriend and I definitely creeped out the waitress, but the kid inside of me teamed up with the sports nut and took over. I was at their mercy.    

It was getting late Saturday night after the U.S. had been eliminated from the World Cup, and my girlfriend insisted I begin to cheer up (women, huh?). We decided to go out to eat. I made my way towards Red Lobster on Maple by the Boulevard, and somewhere between the indecisiveness of women, heavy traffic and my lack of patience…we ended up at Tully’s on Main and Transit.      

Clearly, I was aggravated by the time we got to our seats, and to make matters worse, the soccer game was being replayed on every other television. It was too hard to watch, and I ended up putting my head down on the table to get away from it all.      

And there they were, baseball cards in the table. How cool was that? It’s not that hard to do, but I liked what I saw and it took my mind off the game. I read off the names in front of me, and, making small talk, I asked my girlfriend who she had on her side. This table has some good players, I thought. I read off more names. This table has some great players.      

And just like that, I was gone. I was moving ketchup bottles and napkin holders to read off every card on that table. By the time I finished I was certain this table had to be the best table ever in the history of a restaurant.      

I took a Powerball card and pencil and wrote down my roster (side note– trying to find pictures… could Tully’s have a lamer website?):      

My starting rotation was solid.      

1. Nolan Ryan. No explanation needed. All-time MLB strikeout leader. Absolute flamethrower.  An video exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame the last time I went said that when Ryan was on his game, “hitters” would come back to the dugout (from striking out) and tell the on-deck batter, “Don’t go up there.”    

To the couple behind us, I’m sorry I interrupted your meal when I raised my voice, but my girlfriend told me she didn’t know who Nolan Ryan was. You can see where I’m coming from.      

2. Roger Clemens. Another pitcher who needs no introduction. I think he’s innocent on the steroids, but that’s another story. Seven Cy Youngs, third place all-time in strikeouts and ninth all-time in wins. Big game pitcher.      

3. Orel Hershiser. Baseball Tonight host, a career batting average above the Mendoza line, and he was born in Buffalo. In 1988 he won 23 games, the Cy Young award, a Gold Glove, and was named World Series MVP. What’s not to love?      

These cards were great. Not Honus Wagner T206 great, but pretty darn good. Note the age of the card; Pittsburgh didn't have an "h" at the end.

4. Dave Stewart. AL All-Star in 1989 who led the league in games started four consecutive seasons (’88-’91) and owns a post-season ERA of 2.77.      

5. Mike Moore. Number one overall draft pick in 1981 and was another member of the AL All-Star team in ’89.      

In relief, I can call on either Tug McGraw or Jesse Orosco. Orosco is the all-time games leader for pitchers, while McGraw owns a 3.14 lifetime ERA and was one of the best character people in the game.    

After my pitchers put goose eggs on the scoreboard, I’m going to need some run support. My lineup is just as deadly as my rotation.   

1. Leading off is Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs (3B). Led the league in on-base percentage six times and hit .328 for his career. Won two Gold Gloves and was a 12-time All-Star.   

2. Batting second is HOFer Tony Gwynn (OF). Led the league in batting average eight times and was a career .338 hitter. Not known for his power (135 HRs in 20 seasons), but struck out only 434 times in over 10,000 plate appearances.   

3. Third is HOFer and 10-time All-Star Ryne Sandberg (2B). Has over 1,000 career RBIs to go along with a .285 career batting average, and slugged over .500 four times. Also owns nine Gold Glove awards.   

4. Cleaning up is none other than Hank Aaron (OF). Don’t know what his card was doing in a table (must be a reprint), but he can hit cleanup for me any day. Still the all-time home run leader in my eyes with 755, Hammerin’ Hank was named to the All-Star team 21 times and is the MLB career leader in RBIs with 2,297.   

5. Batting fifth is Juan Gonzalez (OF), who led the league in homers twice and has over 1,400 career RBIs. If anybody is left on base after Henry bats, Juan will hit them in.  (Bonus points with me because my Sega Genesis game used to say “Juan Gon is long gone.” Sorta rhymes.)  

6. Catcher was the only position I didn’t have on the table, but Kevin Mitchell will have to do. We’re hoping to get him in 1989 form, the year he won the MVP after hitting 47 homers, slugging .635 and knocking in 125 runs.   

Hot Chili

7. No easy out in the order. Seventh is Wally Joyner (1B), who hit .280 or better 11 times in his 16-year career.   

8. Miguel Tejada (SS). Gives power and speed to the bottom of the order, and can get on base for when the top hitters come back up. Twice led the league in doubles and once reached 150 RBIs. Is a six-time All-Star and owner of a .289 career average.   

9. Pitcher.   

My bench players (or DHs) are Jose Offerman and Chili Davis. Offerman is a two-time All-Star who twice led the league in triples. He once stole 45 bases, so he could pinch run late in games too. Davis was a three-time All-Star… and who doesn’t love Chili Davis?     

So that’s my roster. No rhyme or reason for doing this, but it was fun and it killed time before my meal. Definitely took my mind off U.S. soccer losing, which I am very thankful for. I wonder if other tables have good players like this too. In the rare event that you read this and are going to Tully’s later, make your roster and comment it below. I mean, my team would kick your team’s behind with blindfolds on… but it would still be fun.   

Other thoughts on recent sports:   

One of Big Z's many outbursts

Stephen Strasburg is due for a Carlos Zambrano-sized fit if he doesn’t start getting more run support. One of these days he’s going to shut the other team out on the mound, then get on base and help himself out like he did against the Bisons. In his two wins, the Nationals have scored a combined 14 runs, but in his two losses? Zilch.   

Speaking of the Carlos Zambrano situation, I think the Cubbies need to take five and chill out. I’m fine with him going out to dinner with White Sox’s manager Ozzie Guillen hours after it happened. If anybody has experience with losing their temper, it’s Ozzie. I’m sure he had a pointer or two for Big Z about the course of action to take to make things better between him and his ball club. And what’s the worst that could happen? Ozzie woos Zambrano and he signs with the Sox? That would do the Cubs a huge favor, getting rid of a mediocre pitcher with a big salary.   

I’m slightly confused on the AP style for all time versus all-time, so I just kept it consistent. It reads “An all-time high, but the greatest runner of all time,” with no further explanation.    

Off in the Stras-osphere

My saga to see a pitcher who’s out of this world. Click here to view the scorebook.

Without even throwing a pitch in the major leagues, Stephen Strasburg is already a sensation. The rookie phenom attracts a crowd where ever he goes, and for good reason: through 11 minor league starts, he is 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 65/13, and opposing hitters are batting just .158 against him. When I had a chance to see this guy, I took it.  

The first shot I took was when Syracuse was playing in Rochester on May 18, which was a Tuesday. I had just started a job on Monday that I need to be up at 5 a.m. for, so I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of being up that late when my body wasn’t used to being up early… but it was Strasburg. We weren’t sure if he’d make it to Buffalo, and it seemed like the last shot to see him for under $10.  

A friend of mine was also very interested in going, and slowly but surely the trip came together. It ended up being four of us guys making the trek, overcast skies and all. The forecast called for rain, but you’re going to need more than a little precipitation to derail four young sports enthusiasts. Besides, the last time Don Paul got one right he had a full head of hair.  

So off we went, eastward for Rochester. I didn’t know two of the guys personally (I had read their blogs before but they were friends of the friend), but fortunately it didn’t take long for the car talk to center on sports. Unfortunately though, it rained almost the entire way there. Did I say rained? I meant down poured. The second I go on the 90 and set the cruise control…at whichever speed you would not be appalled at me driving at…the rain came down and I had to use to gas pedal all the way there.  

We parked next to the stadium at about 5:30, and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The sun peaked out from time to time, and it looked as if the game would go on. As we made our way around the park to Will Call, there were players from both teams throwing and warming up on the field. The gates, however, didn’t open until 6, one hour before the start of the game.  

Our excursion for dinner went awry when a sad excuse for a rent-a-cop gave us directions to the middle of nowhere. By the time we walked back over the highway to the stadium, it was almost time for the gates to open. There was already a sizeable line when word came down that the game was postponed until the next day.  

Our party was righty upset, as were others who made their way back home. But, being college kids, we decided to make a night out of it and sample Rochester’s finest export, Dinosaur BBQ. (Genny Light, who?)  

Anyway, that trip was a failure. None of us could make it the next day for the make-up game (aka couldn’t get a night out from the ladies two days in a row…), so in order to avoid having some of our own making-up to do, we all sat at home and hope Strasburg stayed in the minors until the Chiefs paid a visit to Buffalo.  

We got good news on May 29—Strasburg lost. He gave up three earned over 5+ innings to Scranton, including his first professional home run allowed. Leave it to the Yankees to rough up a pitcher. After that loss, it seemed Strasburg would get one more start in before getting called up, which would come during Buffalo’s home stand.  

I was pumped. I took the subway down to Coca-Cola Field earlier during the week to get my tickets for the game. As I was crossing Washington Street, a fire truck stopped at a red light on Swan. When the car behind it honked its horn to “Lets-go-Buff-a-lo,” the engine sounded its siren right back to the beat. How can you not love this city?  

Check the grip: Strasburg's third pitch, a changeup (click to enlarge)

I digress… It was Tuesday if I recall, and the closest I could get was section 117 (row G, 5 rows up), in front of the visitors’ bullpen. I took the tickets, thinking I could probably walk down and watch Strasburg warm up.  

Finally, it was game day. Thursday, June 3, at 1:05 p.m. Gates opened at 11:30 a.m., and that’s I intended to be there. My brother was coming with me, and I told him to be ready to go at 11. So we left the house at about 11:35… That doesn’t seem like a huge deal to some people. So we get there a little later, it’s still an hour before the game, right?  

Wrong. That affected a series of unfortunate events. We got on the subway at UB and sat with someone I knew who happened to also be going to the game. At the next stop an NFTA cop came on and asked for tickets. Apparently our Metro passes expired three days before, so we got kicked off the train and had to go buy a ticket. I guess it could have been worse if she would have given us a ticket, but it delayed our trip even more. Then when the next train finally came, we found our seats at the end of the car, where there was a guy holding a bike. Were sitting there… and the guy sneezes across the car and it lands on us and the people next to us. Now I’ve heard of projectile vomit, but never a projectile sneeze. Half the car looked on in disgust while my brother and I sat and looked at each other and didn’t know what to do. After we wiped ourselves off, it happened again! I usually hate exclamation points, but this situation needs it. Not once, but twice, a black guy carrying a bike shot sneeze/spit/grossness combo at us from across the subway, without as much as an “excuse me.” In hindsight, I should have given him an angry, condescending, Dane Cook “God bless you.” Thankfully, people a few seats over got off at the next stop, and we slid on down.  

Strasburg gets loose along the outfield wall

Finally—FINALLY—we made it to the stadium. We went right to our seats and waited for Strasburg to come out. People lined the left field wall all the way down in hopes of getting a glimpse of the legend-in-the-making. I’ve never seen anything like it. I felt bad for people with front row tickets who couldn’t even see because people were standing in front of them. About 35 minutes before the game, there was a Strasburg sighting at last. People cheered for ever stretch and jog this man did.  

When he finally a glove on and threw, I was very impressed with what I saw. Just the effortlessness of his throwing motion amazed me; the ball exploded out of his hand and it didn’t even look like he was trying. This man throws long toss harder than I throw anything, and I’m no slouch. His fastball leaves nothing more than a vapor trail and his curveball bites like a starved piranha. His own teammates looked onto his warm-up session in amazement.  

There are five-tool players, but this guy is a five senses players. You see a blur of white as the ball leaves his hand. You hear the ball traveling through the air, reminiscent of a Sidd Finch four seamer. You can smell the crackling of the air as the ball travels through it, like lightning on a hot summer night. You can feel the pop of the catcher’s mitt from the stands, like fireworks after a fridaynightbash! And for the players, they can taste his dust. Stephen Strasburg made it clear before the game even started that he is not like anything we’ve ever seen.  

Fans crowded along the third base line for a look at the prodigy before the game. Bisons' security (yellow polos) look on.

When the game started, he was overpowering. I hesitate to say fans got their money’s worth because tickets were only $10, but they were certainly pleased with their purchase. Here’s the final stat line for his win: 5 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 walk, no runs, 4 strikeouts and 89 pitches. At the plate, he went 1-for-2 with a strikeout and a run scored. If memory serves me correctly, he is now batting 3-for-6 on the year, a .500 average. Is there anything this guy can’t do?  

Bisons’ third basemen Mike Hessman had the only swinging strikeout (a weak swing at that); the other four were looking. Strasburg had one K in every inning, and four batters hit the ball out of the infield. His perfect game was broken in the bottom of the third after an eight pitch walk to Dillon Gee, the Bisons’ pitcher; and the no-no was erased three pitches later when Jesus Feliciano ripped a single. The credibility of the radar gun at Bisons games is shaky, but they say he topped out at 99 mph (first inning), and leveled out around 95. His top velocities were hit only in the first inning.  

While Strasburg handled the Bisons with relative ease, the Herd did not lie down and allow themselves to be out muscled. No one went down on a three pitch strikeout, not even Gee. By my count, Buffalo hitters took Strasburg to full count seven times, or 37 percent of at-bats. That’s a number the rookie will need to bring down if he is to give the major league club a quality start.  

Strasburg was pinch hit for in the top of the 6th with two outs and nobody on, with Syracuse leading, 4-0.  

Overall, it was an awesome experience. Tickets for his major league debut have been sold out for almost a week, so it was cool getting to see him up close and personal for the final time before he got called up. Should Washington select Bryce Harper with the first pick in the June draft, the NL East better look out–that’s a lethal combination.