Thursday, October 25, 2007

Always Late and Never Right... The World Series Preview

I know it’s late, but you probably weren’t expecting me to write anything anyway. Well here it is – CB’s World Series Preview/Review. Let’s skip ahead to the prediction. I say, with sorrow in my heart, the Red Sox win in six games. I used to like the Red Sox, they were harmless. No matter how well they were playing you could count on them blowing it at some point. No matter how cocky their fans would get all you would have to say is “Bucky Dent” or “Bill Buckner” and they would be brought back to reality. Unfortunately 2004 changed all that.

At first I was happy for them. A long suffering and loyal fan base had finally been rewarded for their years of suffering. That lasted for about 2 weeks. I was familiar with the term Masshole. In the small Florida college I attended I had encountered several of them. For some reason our school recruited heavily from that region and so for four years I listened and smirked at their harsh accent and rolled my eyes when they called mommy and daddy for more money.

Since the World Series victory in 2004 the so-called Red Sox Nation became infested with Massholes. No longer was the face of the typical Sox fan a middle aged bearded fellow with despair written across his face. Now it’s Dane Cook. They invade other stadiums with foul language still screaming NOOOOOOOMMMARRR for no particular reason. They bully and mock home town fans. It reminds me a lot of another group of fans that harassed fans in the late 90’s and early 00’s – Yankee fans.

On the field the transition was much the same. Back in ’04 the Boston club was charming. Kevin Millar was cowboying it up and Pedro was pulling one last year of magic out of his arm. Curt Schilling was the savior who decided to sign with the club after talking to fans on an internet message board. He was heralded as the Savior with a capital “S” when he pitched with blood leaking out of his ankle.

Now J.D. Drew patrols right field. Julio Lugo plays average short stop – at $9 million a year. Schilling makes the news more for running his mouth then his actions on the mound. David Ortiz hobbles around the field like a 90 year old man. Trot Nixon is gone, Johnny Damon is gone, Millar and Derrick Lowe are gone.

Manny Ramirez is still around, but there is a 75% chance he thinks he’s still playing for Cleveland. The talking heads like to glorify GM Theo Epstein’s decision not to trade Ramirez. It’s not like he didn’t try. He just couldn’t work a deal.

A team that couldn’t “afford” Damon paid $101 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka who is at best their number three starter. An argument could be made that despite their overpaid talent if it wasn’t for the emergence of some of their young players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroria then they might not be playing tonight.

If you just read that and thought it sounded like 7 paragraphs of sour grapes, well it was. I don’t really care. I’m sick of the Red Sox. The day after they vanquished the Indians to advance to the World Series headline story referred to them as “Destiny’s Darlings”. A few days before that plopped a Red Sox fan’s plaintive comment of “haven’t we suffered enough?” on it’s front page.

Really? You’ve suffered so much in the 3 seasons since you won a title? Go talk to some Seattle or Texas or Cubs fans about suffering. Heck even Rays fans are suffering more than Sox fans these days.

So far the media coverage has been decidedly pro Boston. The Rockies have been cast aside as a neat little story that will be crushed under the tidal wave of Red Sox love. Aren’t Tim McCarver and Joe Buck supposed to be impartial announcers. The amount of man love that they’ve spewed over the Sox so far has been indecent. Thank you Fox for the cheesy Chariots of Fire music as Schilling walked off the mound and into the dugout. Maybe you can petition Cooperstown to wave the five year waiting period and have him inducted into the Hall of Fame following this game.

People can’t seem to get used to the fact that they are in the playoffs and they won 21 of 22 because they are a good fundamental team. They keep it simple, hit the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball. Down the stretch they did it better than any other team.

Of course the long lay off between series hurt them in game one. Anyone arguing that it wouldn’t wasn’t thinking straight. Timing played an important role in their streak. Timely hitting, timely pitching and even timely roster moves were all integral in their success. Nothing disrupts timing like a long delay. It showed Wednesday night in Boston. The bats cooled off and the pitchers looked rusty. They will catch back up.

The series will change once it reaches the mile high air of Denver. While I don’t think it will be enough to overcome the Red Sox I don’t see them getting swept. The Boston fans were unbearable after winning their first title in 86 years I fear living in a world where they win two in four seasons.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

If you lose...will they still come?

Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend I was lucky enough to attend the USF vs. West Virginia game in September. Along with Link and Big Mike we watched as a young program burst onto the national scene with a rousing 21-13 victory over the Mountaineers.

One of things that stood out to me was a fan sitting in front of me. It was a gentleman in his mid 40’s who was sporting a brand new USF visor to go along with his brand new USF T-Shirt and always classic camouflage shorts. As he and his drunken fans leered at the college girls walking by I noticed that he sported a cell phone holder on his belt. What kind of cell phone holder? Why a Florida Gator one of course.

That is the crux of the problem that now faces Bulls. What becomes of the fans that made their way to the front of the bandwagon while USF was crashing the party at the top of the BCS polls? Do they stay or do they go back to their Gators or ‘Noles or, God forbid, their ‘Canes? For the better part of two months even the Buccaneers and their decent start to the NFL season took a back seat to the wunderkinds of the Big East.

A reported 67,012 fans showed up for that match-up against West Virginia on September 28. It was a Friday night, but for once the fans were actually in their seats at kickoff. Maybe the fact that many of them had been tailgating since 10.00AM helped them show up on time, but still for a town that rivals Los Angeles for its game time tardiness it was an impressive feat.

However, now that the buzz around town has worn off what will become of the crowds? Thursday’s uninspired 30-27 loss to Rutgers destroyed any chance the Bulls had at winning the national title. It allows the smug commentators the satisfaction of knowing that the upstarts from Tampa won’t ruin their prestigious end of the season party. Will it affect the crowds?

The Bulls have the honor of playing in a large stadium. Whereas it doesn’t rival the seating capacity of Penn State or Michigan (both of whom can boost attendance over 100,000) it is still a fairly large stadium. More importantly when the stadium is full it is a very loud arena.

However, when it’s not full it has a dreary feeling to it. All of the empty red seats clash with the scattered green shirts in the near empty stadium. The student section is rowdy as always, but in other sections the atmosphere resembles a Saturday afternoon youth soccer game more than a major college football match. That is why fans outside of the TBA ridicule USF on message boards and leading analysts decry their tradition, or lack thereof.

In the future questions should be focused on how the team is playing, not where the school is located. More wins on the field and more support from the town will render the question of “Why is the University of South Florida located in the middle of the state?” moot. Win on the field and the taunts about geography will seem childish coming from fans of other teams.

USF, whose football team is only 11 seasons old, has to earn respect. Jim Leavitt’s leadership is slowly allowing them to do it on the field where early season upsets of Auburn and West Virginia shot the team up the BCS rankings. To earn respect off the field the fans need to continue to show up even if the ESPN cameras aren’t going to be there.

The Bulls are still in the hunt for the Big East championship and with that a bid to a major bowl. They need the fans to shrug off the loss to Rutgers and move on. The big test comes on November 3rd when the team plays at Raymond James once again. Will there be over 60,000 screaming fans there or 25,000 semi-inspired, glad to be outside on a Saturday afternoon quasi fans?

The answer to that question will show how far along this program has truly come along over the last few years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crappy Lightning Post

Three games into the season and the Lightning are one of the 5 teams that still have a big fat shiny “0” in the loss column. Even more impressive is the way they’ve been winning, with solid defense. Wednesday nights 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers marked the first time in 31 games that the Bolts won a game while scoring less than 3 goals. Last season they were 0-30-1 when not hitting the 3 goal mark. While that might not rank up there in impressive streaks like Cal Ripken or Brett Farrve’s consecutive game streak it is still impressive in a “hmmm I didn’t know that way” kind of like the Bucs never returning a touchdown or the Mets never throwing a no-hitter.

The key to the solid defense starts in net. Johan Holmqvist, who broke camp as the unspoken number one goaltender, has performed up to the potential that Coach Tortorella and the Lightning faithful had been hoping would come to fruition since he first donned the mask. After a strong camp he has posted 3 wins and a sparkling .945 save percentage in those 3 wins. With games scattered out over the next two weeks and Tort’s perchance for riding the hot hand it could be a while before Marc Denis finds some playing time.

Goaltending isn’t the only strength of the defense so far this season. Much like during the cup run of 2004 the entire time is buying into the program. Tuesday night’s effort saw 13 blocked shots by Bolt players. Those types of numbers are usually reserved for playoff match ups not weekday games in October.

The offense is on track with Vincent Lecavalier (who Martin Brodeur called “the best player in the league”) has 3 goals and Marty St Louis has 5 assists. It’s still two early to see how balanced the team will be, but it was nice to see Chris Gratton chip in a couple of goals.

It’s a long season and there are many games left to play, but one week in it looks like this years version of the Tampa Bay Lightning is exceedingly more well rounded than the last two seasons.