Friday, August 31, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

For some reason, the Jabbawockeez did their dance thing at Citizens Bank Park recently with the Phillie Phanatic. I have no idea why. Enjoy the holiday weekend as I still try to recover from sickness, take a stripper bus to Atlantic City tonight for a bachelor party and then turn right around and depart for New York City at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow for a fantasy football draft. This weekend may finally kill me. If so, it's been real.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Andrew Bynum: Already Feeling The Brothery Love

Andrew Bynum: Already Feeling The Brothery Love

It's Friday, Time to Dance

OK, so I know this has nothing to do with sports or really anything relevant that's going on these days, but I love the show "Community" and I love Alison Brie so here is Alison Brie rapping.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eagles Fans Need to Chill

Let me preface this by saying I love my fellow Philadelphia fans. I love their passion. I love their commitment.  And I love their knowledge of the games they follow (most of the time). With that being said, I've been frustrated by some of my fellow Eagles fans' reactions to the sensation of the preseason, Nick Foles.

Look, Nick Foles has played great this preseason. He's completed 24 of 38 passes for 361 yards. He has thrown 4 touchdowns to 1 interception. He's made some really nice throws, both from the pocket and on the move while keeping a play alive. He's shown some ability to scramble and salvage a few yards out of a broken play. He's shown poise. He's looked pretty damn impressive.

Unfortunately, this has led to a swell of Eagles fans spouting off at the mouth and saying some, well, pretty dumb things. There is a strong contingent of my fellow Eagles fans clamoring to make Nick Foles the starter. Even more disturbing and frustrating, I've read comments where people have outright said they hope Mike Vick gets hurt so Foles can step in. Really?

Let's take a step back here people. Let's use some of that "knowledge of the game" that we always like to tell fans from other cities that we have. Yes, Nick Foles has looked great this preseason. I'll repeat that. Nick Foles has looked great this PRESEASON.

Before we crown him the next great thing, let's realize that the kid has yet to play a single snap in a real, meaningful NFL game. Let's remember that he has for the most part been lighting up 2nd- and 3rd-team defenses. Let's take into account that opposing defenses have been pretty vanilla in what they're doing out there, that Foles hasn't seen a lot of the deception and intricacies that show up on Sundays in September. And let's also remember that during none of these games has the opposing defense spent the entire previous week game-planning to stop Foles.

This is in no way a knock on Nick Foles. He has played great thus far. And yes, it's OK to be excited and encouraged by that. I am. I certainly hope that Foles can build on what he's shown thus far and become a great quarterback for the Eagles in the future. In the future.

Right now this is Mike Vick's team. And that's the way it should be. If this team has any hopes of making noise this season, it is with Mike Vick playing quarterback. So let's just calm down. Sure, be excited about what Foles has shown so far. But also stand behind your starting quarterback. Mike's not perfect, but one thing you gotta give the guy is he's a competitor and he's trying to make things happen out there. I thought we loved that kind of stuff in Philly. I understand your concerns with Vick; he gets hurt, he doesn't make the best decisions, etc. But if you need some hope that he can get the job done, think back to that Madden-esqe show he put on down in Washington. The dude has some talent.

All I'm asking for is some perspective. Mix in a little common sense and that football knowledge you are supposed to have with your excitement. And please, please, please stop wishing injury on your starting quarterback. You are making us all look bad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MLB Races to Watch Down the Stretch

As we come out of the dog days and baseball heads into the stretch run, I'd like to highlight some of the more interesting races/storylines to pay attention to over the final six weeks of the season. With a few hotly contested division races and the addition of the second wild-card spot creating some extra intrigue, there is plenty of interesting baseball to watch, even as we wait for the Phillies' season to mercifully end around these parts.

AL Central
Currently the White Sox lead the Tigers by 2 games. It's somewhat of a surprise that Chicago has maintained a lead this late into the season, as the Tigers made themselves the favorite with the offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Tigers are loaded with talent, having an MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander.

The White Sox have stayed right with the Tigers with the resurgence of Adam Dunn and his 36 homers, the consistency of Paul Konerko, and the steady play from Alex Rios and Alejandro De Aza, as well as the surprise pitching of Chris Sale. The two teams have seven games left against each other, a three-game set in Detroit and a four-game set in Chicago in mid-September. The Sox are 4-7 against the Tigers this season.

NL West
The Giants currently own a half-game lead over the Dodgers. San Francisco has thrived despite the struggles of Tim Lincecum because Tim's fellow pitchers have picked up the slack. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong have been quite impressive, all posting sub-3.00 ERAs. The offense has been supported by a juiced-up Melky Cabrera, who is now serving a 50-game suspension, but Buster Posey has returned to form and Pablo Sandoval has been steady as well.

The Dodgers made a splash at the trade deadline by adding Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez. Matt Kemp is a stud if he can stay healthy, and Andre Ethier is solid. The pitching has been steady but not spectacular, anchored by Clayton Kershaw. The two teams play the second of a three-game series tonight, with the Giants winning last night, then play six more times this season, including a three-game series in L.A. to end the season that could be real interesting.

Wild Cards
The NL Central and AL West races were looking real interesting just a few weeks ago. The Pirates were right on the tail of the Reds, as they look to end a 20-year playoff drought, but the Reds have opened up a 6.5 game lead. Not insurmountable, but not particularly tight either.

In the AL West, the Angels were threatening the Rangers while also trying to hold off the surging A's. Well Texas's lead stands at 6 over Oakland, who's managed to overtake the Angels, while the Angels sit at 9.5 back. All this brings us to the wild card races, which have added intrigue this season with the addition of a second spot in each league.

First the American League. The AL race sees five teams within four games of the two wild card spots. Tampa Bay and Baltimore are tied for the lead and currently hold the wild cards. The A's are a half-game back, the Tigers 1.5 game, and the Angels 4. That should make for some interesting baseball down the stretch as the Orioles and Rays see each other six more times, as do the A's and Angels. It's nice to see some different teams in the mix too, namely the Orioles and A's.

In the National League, one of the major storylines the whole second half of the season has been whether or not the Pirates can keep up the pace and finally make a postseason appearance after 20 unproductive seasons. Well, they currently hold one of the two spots, tied with Atlanta. The Dodgers are a half-game back, the Cardinals are 1.5 and the Diamondbacks are 5 back. All of these teams face at least two of the other teams in the remaining schedule. Perhaps the most interesting of these series will be the Pirates and the Braves to close out the season. I'm kind of hoping the Pirates pull it off, not because I particularly care about them ending their drought, but because I want to see Andrew McCutchen play under the bright lights of October. [Editor's note: Also, screw the Braves.]

Enjoy the rest of the season, tune in to some games you normally wouldn't, check out the talents of some players you normally wouldn't and see how this shakes out. Oh, and for you eternal optimists out there (which I am not), the Cardinals were 10 or 10.5 games out of a playoff spot last season on August 27th. They obviously went on to win the World Series. The Phillies currently sit 10 games out of a playoff spot. Just saying.

Can We Talk About Erik Kratz?

This 2012 season has been abysmal for the Philadelphia Phillies. We all know that. We've all seen it. But one of the bright spots in a season full of disappointment has been the play of the masked men, the catchers.

We've already talked about Carlos Ruiz and his spectacular season, morphing into arguably the best all-around catcher in the National League at the ripe old age of 33. When Chooch went down with plantar fasciitis, it became another dark cloud over the Phils.

Enter Erik Kratz, the 32-year-old rookie catcher who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and is now shining for his hometown major league franchise.

Prior to this season, Kratz had a grand total of 11 major-league appearances and 40 at-bats. The career minor-leaguer had a nine-game cup of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, then saw action in two games last season for the Phillies. That was the extent of his major-league résumé, going 6-for-40 with a double and one RBI in those two abbreviated stints. Basically, Erik Kratz wasn't even an afterthought to the Phillies with Ruiz firmly entrenched as the starting catcher and veteran Brian Schneider as the backup — he wasn't a thought at all.

But a funny thing happened to the team that last won a record number of games and finished with the best regular-season record in baseball. The Phillies stumbled out of the gate, suffered untimely injuries and saw their season spiral out of control. And when Schneider and Ruiz joined the list of banged-up veterans, Kratz got his number called. The Telford native and Christopher Dock High School graduate was finally going to get a shot to play more than a handful of games, and he wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers.

All Kratz has done since is impress, batting .295 with a .375 on-base percentage, 1.113 OPS, 7 home runs, 16 RBI and 6 doubles in just 61 at-bats. Last night, he blasted yet another home run to give the Phillies a momentary 3-2 lead in the fourth inning before the Reds came back, though the Phillies ultimately defeated the Reds 12-5 behind John Mayberry's big 3-for-5 night with a homer and three RBI.

Just as impressive as his work in batter's box has been the way Kratz has handled the pitching staff behind the plate. For the majority of the season, the highly touted Philadelphia rotation has underachieved with the exception of Cole Hamels. Lately, however, those high-profile starters have regained their form, largely with Kratz on the receiving end. Since the all-star break, the Phils have lowered their team ERA and are starting to resemble the staff that made them the favorites for the past few seasons.

Last night, he did yeoman's work yet again, even though Roy Halladay was roughed up a bit. Kratz kept working with Doc and helped him through 7 innings despite the five runs and 10 hits he surrendered. And in the process, he gunned down Jay Bruce and Xavier Paul on the base paths, including a rocket from his crouch without even standing up, a la Benito Santiago.

You can't help but feel good for a guy like Erik Kratz. Of course, we are all familiar with the career minor-league catcher makes good in the bigs story, seeing as we've seen this before with Chris Coste. But what makes it that much more magnetic is that Kratz is a local boy, a guy who truly grew up in the heart of Phillies country. Now, at 32, he's finally made it and giving the Phillies something to think about for 2013.

If he keeps it up, he very well may find himself as the official backup catcher to Ruiz as the Phillies look to rebound next season, with the chance to catch some of the game's best pitchers once or twice a week. Right now, he gets to do it even more, and he's not letting it intimidate or overwhelm him. He' relishing it, and he's doing as good a job as anyone can at temporarily filling the shoes of Carlos Ruiz.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reminder: Andrew Bynum Is A Philadelphia 76er

For the first time in a long time, I cannot wait for the Sixers' season to start.

Thank you, Kobe.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Since Domonic Brown is now the guy I'm most interested in watching on the Phillies the remainder of the year, and since he's impressed me so far both at the plate and in the field, we might as well dedicate this Friday to him.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown Provide Reasons to Watch the Phillies

Personally, the past year has been one of the most trying in my entire life, both as a sports fan and a person.

I changed jobs and then changed jobs again, dealt with the deaths of family members and friends, had an odd health scare that threatened my hearing, and went through the emotional roller-coasters that come with relationships with other individuals, all of which cut into my sports enjoyment more than I ever imagined anything could.

At the same time, I watched the Flyers flame out to Devils, miss their big fish in free agency and have injuries threaten to derail a season that hasn't even started yet. The Sixers had a fun run but were ultimately the same team as always before last week's promising shakeup. The Eagles had a disappointing season, lost their best offensive lineman for the upcoming year and had tragedy befall their head coach. A scandal of unfathomable horror encompassed my alma mater, eating me up inside as a human being much more so than a college football fan. And the Phillies, after a franchise record for victories in a season, were bounced in the first round, made worse by Ryan Howard's achilles exploding on the final at-bat, only to follow that up with a 2012 season to forget.

Don't get me wrong, things haven't been all bad — quite the contrary in some regards — but sports just haven't been the same for me the past 12 months or so. That's why I've found it so strange that I've been getting a lot of enjoyment watching the dreadful Phillies lately.

Maybe it's the nostalgia of sticking by your team even when they were perennial losers, but for whatever reason, I'm more invested in the Phillies now than I was just a few months ago for two main reasons: Domonic Brown and Cole Hamels.

Cole, as we all know, has been fantastic virtually all season long, the one Phillies starter who has lived up to his reputation minus a few shaky starts here and there, which happens to literally every pitcher alive.

Last night, he was as dominant as ever, effortlessly blanking the Marlins for his second straight complete-game shutout to improve to 13-6 on the season and continue his ascent up the ranks of the game's best. He's among the league leaders in virtually every pitching category, including leading the NL in innings pitched to complement his 2.91 ERA and 158 strikeouts. At 28 years old and squarely in the prime of his career, Hamels is the type of building block every team would love to have. That's why he was such a hot topic of discussion at the trade deadline, and that's ultimately why he was given a huge contract to remain in Philadelphia for the next six years at least.

Every time he takes the mound, you actually think even this Phillies team has a chance to win. He's vaulted past his former Cy Young winning teammates as the guy you want to see pitch more than anyone else here in 2012. It's incredibly gratifying to see him develop since day one, first struggling with emotion in his early days, then turning into an NLCS and World Series MVP, following that up with a miserable season only to bounce back, learn from it all and become one of the best in the business.

Over the years, Hamels has been given a hard time for his California attitude and perceived lack of mental toughness, but not anymore. He's not only a fan favorite, but a true star across baseball. In a season of underachievement by the pitching staff, Hamels has not disappointed, which is more than the majority of Phillies can say, Carlos Ruiz and a few others excluded.

On the other hand, one Phillie that has been synonymous with disappointment the past few years is Domonic Brown.

Personally, I never thought it was quite fair the amount of criticism Brown has gotten since his star faded through little fault of his own. With a team that was in the midst of contention for the past five seasons, the Phillies didn't have the patience or roster space to dedicate to developing Brown at the Major League level. Thus, he wasn't really utilized during his stints on the big club with the exception of last year, when he got a chance to play fairly often after Ben Francisco failed to fill the void left by the departed Jayson Werth.

It's true that Brown didn't set the world on fire during his time manning right, highlighted by his defensive struggles, but his struggles were vastly overblown. In fact, Brown wasn't altogether terrible at the dish, batting .245 with five home runs and 19 RBI in just 184 at-bats. While that's nothing to write home about, it was on par with the way Chase Utley started his career, fielding questions and all.

The difference is the Phillies weren't this recent version of the Phillies yet, meaning they could ride with Utley and Ryan Howard since the ball club had no expectations, let them develop and become the players they turned into. Last year, with a World Series or bust mentality, the team couldn't afford to ride out the ups and downs of developing a young outfielder like Brown, so they traded for Hunter Pence and sent him back down. That's when injuries took hold and stunted his development even further, prompting people to label him a bust.

The fact of the matter is, for the first time in his career, Brown is truly getting the chance to play every day at the big league level and learn on the fly. And right now, he's beginning to show that promise that once made him one of the hottest prospects in all of baseball, putting together quality at-bats and gaining confidence every day.

Before Sunday's exciting 8-7 victory against St. Louis, in which Dom went 0-for-4, he had an eight-game hitting streak going. And last night, he rebounded from that 0-fer by going 2-for-4 with a walk and run scored, elevating his average to .279 and upping his on-base percentage to .380. While it's still a very small sample size with just 43 plate appearances, that .279 average puts him among the team leaders, and his .380 OBP is third behind catchers Ruiz and pleasant surprise Erik Kratz.

Further, he seems to be putting together as many quality at-bats as any other Phillie right now, seeing a good number of pitches, working counts and looking like a guy who's starting to figure it out. Yes, we all want to see his power emerge, as he's had very few extra-base hits, but he no longer looks confused and overmatched. In fact, he's struck out just four times in those 43 ABs this season, a far cry from last year's alarming strikeout rate.

Then you factor in his improved play in the outfield and there's plenty to still like about Domonic Brown. His cannon of an arm has been on full display, gunning down a few runners and holding many more. Even more importantly, he hasn't looked completely lost like he did last season, taking terrible routes to the ball and playing a lot like Hunter Pence and Raul Ibanez in the outfield, which is to say not good. Sure, he has work to do still, but he's looked better thus far, whether in left or right, signs that we shouldn't give up on this guy just yet.

Frankly, tuning in to see the development of Brown has brought back a little bit of the joy in watching sports that has been sapped out of me the past year.

So if you've given up on watching the Phillies, maybe you should give them another chance. No, they won't make the playoffs and yes, this season cannot be considered anything but a complete and utter failure, but Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown — not mention great stories like Erik Kratz and Juan Pierre — provide good reasons to still watch the Phillies until October rolls around.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Sixers?

Ever since the Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets in 2006, the team has been treading water, hovering slightly below or around .500 and squarely in the no-man's land of 6-8 seed status in the East.

Year in and year out, with bad contract after bad contract proving too much to make any significant roster moves, the Sixers were stuck in neutral. The one time they went ahead and did splurge, they landed damage goods in Elton Brand and paid their de facto best player, the other A.I., superstar money despite evidence he was and never would be a true superstar.

Mediocrity left them in basketball hell. There looked to be no imminent relief in sight, not with the Sixers year and after year failing to pull the trigger on an Andre Iguodala trade. And after last season's admittedly fun run to the Eastern Conference semifinals that was assisted in no small part by Derrick Rose's injury, I thought we were doomed to the same fate. A surprising 8 seed upsetting the 1 seed, advancing further than the year before, made me worry that the decision-makers would conclude this team, as constructed, was heading in the right direction, overlooking the fact that the Sixers were extremely lucky that a former MVP had gone down and that even with the victory, this team was no closer to a championship than any recent year prior.

So I was prepared to enjoy the ride and appreciate the Andre Iguodala era while at the same time lamenting the short-sighted view of the franchise. Only this time, the Sixers pulled the rug out from under me and every other fan who expected them to miss an opportunity to reshape the team yet again. And I mean that in the best way possible.

It all started when the Sixers wisely allowed leading scorer and sixth-man specialist Lou Williams go get his in free agency and continued when they used the amnesty clause on Elton Brand. That freed up a lot of cash and simultaneously helped give the team a minor facelift. Williams and Brand were cornerstones of the team, Lou Will the high school development project turned into lethal bench scorer, Brand the prize free agent that couldn't live up to the billing but played hard and set a good example for a young team.

The thing is, the Sixers then quickly turned that money into re-signing Spencer Hawes — a player who proved his early-season breakout was a fluke with injuries and subpar play the remainder of the year — and Nick Young, who is essentially a taller version of Lou Williams. Add to that the team drafting yet another tweener to join the log-jam of 6'6"-6'9" guys already on the roster, the addition of one of the most infamous No. 1 overall draft pick busts in Kwame Brown and a no-risk trade for Dorell Wright, another swing guy, and it was hard to get a take on the roster. The plus side was the short length of the deals, giving the team financial flexibility in the coming years, but as for the impending 2012-13 season, this team was going to look essentially like the same confusing bunch, with Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Nick Young, Thaddeus Young, first-round pick Maurice Harkless and Dorell Wright overlapping each other in chaotic fashion.

As a roster on paper, there may not have been a more perplexing group in the NBA, truth be told.

And then, it finally, shockingly, stunningly happened. Yes, we all knew the Sixers were aggressively shopping Andre Iguodala and for the first time seemed truly serious about it, but no deal seemed especially imminent. And certainly no deal that would net the Sixers the most talented young big man in the game and perhaps the second best center in the NBA.

Yet that's exactly what happened late last week, with word spreading that a four-team deal between the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets was going down. The biggest news is without a doubt that the Lakers got Dwight Howard without giving up Pau Gasol, giving L.A. one of the most talented starting fives in history: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That's truly frightening and doesn't seem fair, yet I don't really care because it benefitted the Sixers incredibly.

As we know, the Sixers shipped off Andre Iguodala to Denver while sending Nik Vucevic and first-round pick Maurice Harkless to Orlando along with a conditional first-round pick. In return, they got Andrew Bynum, who automatically becomes the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers also got veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson, who if he can rebound from a difficult 2011-12 season could provide a veteran scorer the team has lacked since the first A.I. left town.

Overnight, the entire face of the franchise has been altered. This is no longer Andre Iguodala's perennially mediocre team. It's no longer the team that gives free reign to Lou Williams or relies too heavily on Elton Brand's increasingly betraying body. It's a team that now has completely changed course, a true youth movement and a brand-new era. In truth, the team is hard to recognize.

The reason is simple. Only five players remain from last season's team that lost to the Celtics in the second round: Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen. The newcomers, meanwhile, give the Sixers an entirely new look. Andrew Bynum will most assuredly start at center, while Kwame Brown provides a veteran backup banger to join Allen and Hawes as the bigs, not to mention rookie Arnett Moultrie. Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell Wright give Philadelphia three guys who can put the ball in the hoop, three true two guards with length who are all decent shooters. And veteran point guard Royal Ivey and rookie Maalik Wayns provide some depth behind Jrue, who will be running the show all season long.

Now the Sixers will be firmly in the hands of Holiday, Bynum and Evan Turner. It is their team now, not Iguodala's, Lou Williams' or Elton Brand's, and that is an exciting proposition for Sixers fans because of the unknowns. For the first time in forever, we don't know exactly what this team is capable of, whereas in season's past mediocrity was a given. Chances are, this season, the team won't be quite as good on the court. After all, the Sixers lost their best player, a gold-medal winning Olympian who also happened to be an all-star this past season and one of the league's truly elite perimeter defenders; their leading scorer; and their toughest post defender — all that plus the veteran leadership Iguodala, Williams and Brand provided. While Bynum is undoubtedly a better talent than all three of the departing big names, he alone will not make up for their absence.

When you add in Bynum's own maturity issues and the risk that he could leave as an unrestricted free agent following the season, you have yourself the chance for a mini disaster. But you also have the chance to build a truly promising foundation. If Bynum can act like an adult and have some fun, if Jrue can continue to develop and Evan can get his NBA career on track, Bynum may just enjoy playing with this young, up-and-coming team. If he does sign an extension in Philadelphia, suddenly the Sixers become an attractive option for impending free agents. Bynum and Holiday, or Bynum and Turner, or all three could help spearhead a professional basketball revival in Philadelphia.

And if none of it works, the Sixers can start over. They will have mountains of cap space in the coming years and the flexibility to make the best basketball decisions possible for the first time in forever. They can determine which guys truly are worth building around, if anyone, and then either start building that foundation with extensions or blow things up and join the ranks of the lottery. In an ideal world, Bynum will remain healthy, dominate the Eastern Conference and become the franchise player in Philadelphia, giving the Sixers an elite center they've lacked since Mose Malone left the City of Brotherly Love. And if that doesn't happen, at least the team can finally go out and have options to remake itself, something the cap-crippling deals of Billy King and Ed Stefanski never allowed.

It's been a long time since the Sixers have been truly unrecognizable, and believe me, that's an exciting prospect for a lot of 76ers fans. It's a new day, for better or worse in the short term … and definitely for better in the long run.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Way-Back Machine: Jason Richardson Wins 2002 Dunk Contest in Philadelphia

By now, everyone on the planet knows that a four-team deal between the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers is going down as we speak. Of course the headlines are that Dwight Howard will be a Laker, joining Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, while Andrew Bynum comes to Philadelphia and Andre Iguodala heads to Denver.

But this post isn't about all the moving parts and the impact it will have for the Sixers. That will come at some point next week.

No, this post is a walk down memory lane, way back to 2002 when Philadelphia hosted the NBA All-Star Weekend. I, along with silver fox and Arkansas Fred, attended the night of the Dunk Contest, Three-point Contest and three-on-three tournament. And wouldn't you know it, the other newest Sixers, Jason Richardson, won the dunk contest on that night.

So here is Jason Richardson's performance at the 2002 Dunk Contest in Philadelphia.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Tonight, I am flying out to Chicago and heading to Wrigley Field for the first time in my life tomorrow afternoon to watch the Chicago Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds. So in honor of my first game at historic Wrigley, here's Sarge singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" a few years ago when the Phillies were in the Windy City.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mike Trout Is Becoming My New Favorite Player

With the Phillies floundering, I've been left to look in other places for my baseball fix. Justin Verlander's 14-strikeout performance last night against the Yankees was pretty cool. Andrew McCutchen's absolute beast of a season and the Pirates attempt to end a 20-year postseason drought is a great story. But the storyline that has most grabbed my attention is that of Mike Trout.

Mike Trout is 21 years old. He was drafted 25th overall in 2009. And he just may be the American League MVP this year. Trout's numbers thus far: .348 AVG, .411 OBP, .598 SLG. He has 21 doubles, 5 triples, and 19 home runs. He has 59 RBI. And he has stolen 36 bases in 39 attempts. He hits for average, he hits for power and he's got speed.

Trout's debut in late April was somewhat overshadowed by the debut of another highly touted prospect, Bryce Harper. Granted Harper has just as much opportunity to fulfill his potential and become a great major league player, and has done well considering he is playing Major League Baseball at the absurdly young age of 19. But Trout has far outpaced his fellow phenom. (Harper is hitting .257/.332/.420 with 16 doubles, 5 triples, 10 home runs, 30 RBI, and 13/17 steal attempts.)

While Harper may struggle to even win the NL Rookie of the Year award with Wade Miley of Arizona and Kirk Nieuwenhuis of the Mets having strong rookie seasons themselves, Trout finds himself squarely in the middle of AL MVP consideration. There are still two months left, but at the moment it's pretty much a two horse-race between Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Trout ranks 1st in the AL in average, runs and stolen bases, and second in slugging and OBPS.

It's been incredible to watch this kid burst onto the scene, put up the numbers he has, and outpace his fellow phenom Bryce Harper. It's worth staying up late to give the kid a look, plus his Angels are in a pretty interesting race out West, as they try to catch the first-place Rangers and hold off the red-hot A's.

Oh, and he plays a pretty mean centerfield too.

(scores from second on a sac fly at 2:05)

Falling Like Dominoes

After a week in which a slew of current Penn State players decided to move on, now a prominent member of the talented 2013 recruiting class has de-committed. His name is William Fuller. I'm hoping against hope that he is not the first domino in a chain reaction.

For those of you unfamiliar with William Fuller, he is a three-star WR recruit out of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia. On Sunday, he switched his commitment to Notre Dame.

I have to be honest and vent just a little bit here. This de-commit has me irked a bit more than the others. The reason for that is this: A week before his decision to switch to Notre Dame, Fuller visited Penn State and following said visit he tweeted, "Great time at Penn State! Coach O'Brien made me remember why I committed in the 1st place. I'm 100% committed to the greatest college." (Italics added by me.)

I'm sure this was a difficult decision for him, and I know that he has to think about what is best for him and his future here, but don't sit there and tell me you are "100% committed" and then less than a week later switch to a different school. Again, I understand you feel like this is the best thing for you, and I can respect that. What I can't respect is lying to everyone. If you had doubts and were still considering transferring, you could have simply said something to the effect of, "Great time at Penn State. Love coach O'Brien. Got some thinking to do."

Perhaps part of this can be blamed on youth — 17- and 18-year-olds do and say things without thinking too much about the future or the effect of their actions. And part of it can be blamed on social media, where everyone has the opportunity to put all their thoughts on the internet for everyone to see, again without considering the effect. I mean people post dumb shit on Facebook and Twitter all the time.

Yes, as someone who loves Penn State and Penn State football, every de-commit stings. But as I mentioned in my brief thoughts on Silas Redd leaving, I can look at the situation rationally and understand that these kids have to make the decision they feel is best for them, and I can put my fandom to the side and respect and accept that. But if you're gonna leave, or if you're thinking about, just be straight about it.

A few other PSU notes: Another 2013 recruit, LB Zach Bradshaw, has reportedly de-committed; 2013 recruits Adam Breneman (TE) and Brandon Bell (LB) will reportedly be on campus over the next few days. Why? Nobody knows, but it doesn't sound good. They are dropping like flies. And to end on a somewhat positive note, #1 QB recruit Christian Hackenberg reiterated his commitment to Penn State last night on the school philly's radio show.

Pulling for Andy Reid

Today over at my second online home, The Sports Fan Journal, my colleague Mark Trible wrote an excellent piece on why it's time to rally around Andy Reid following the sad death of his son, Garrett Reid.

I was actually contemplating writing a story about Reid for TSFJ myself, but Mark's powerful words and strong message certainly did the job and then some. I agree with him on all fronts, and I hope the majority of Eagles fans out there do as well.

Believe me, Andy Reid the football coach has frustrated me the same way he has frustrated every Eagles fan alive. For years, I've been saying that from Monday-Saturday, Reid is as good as any coach in the NFL. Then on Sunday, he's like a dear caught in headlights. He goes in with his game plan, a game plan that works many more times than it fails, but if that game plan isn't working, he cannot and will not adjust. Add on top of that 13 years of terrible clock management and questionable challenges, and it's easy to see why Philadelphia gets tired of a guy who the majority of NFL fans regard highly.

But we should all be so lucky to have a coach of Andy Reid's ilk. Sure, he's never brought a Lombardi Trophy, and sure, he really does do some mind-numbing things, but at the end of the day, the Eagles almost always go into the season with a shot to win the whole damn thing, and many years they are right in the mix come winter. That's because of Andy Reid.

For years, we've taken that for granted. I get it. It's the nature of the beast, the nature of the sport, the nature of life. Relationships that last as long as this one grow tired, and all the successes and past happiness get forgotten as the strains of time and disappointment take hold.

Then something life-altering takes place, and it provides an opportunity for us all to reflect. The personal tragedy that surrounds Reid and the Eagles really should be a catalyst for us all to take a step back from our reactionary emotions and realize just how lucky we are. We're lucky to be alive and breathing, lucky to have our loved ones and our health. Lucky to have a passionate fan base that can make players fall in love with us and realize that that same passion can drive others away.

And yes, we're lucky to have Andy Reid. Really, we are. As many issues as I've had with the man in the past, at the end of the day he's the best football coach this city has seen. He took a dormant, lifeless franchise and turned it into a perennial contender. He elevated expectations and reached unparalleled success. Yes, he had his missteps and has never reached the summit, but he keeps fighting, keeps battling, keeps putting his all into a team that draws headlines like no other in Philadelphia.

Andy Reid has been here now for more than 13 years. He's no longer the unknown coach from Green Bay. He's a bona fide Philadelphian. He's one of us, whether you like it or not. And one of our own just lost a loved one at far too young of an age. Now more than ever, Andy Reid deserves our support. Now is the time to root for the man we have so often wished would just go away.

Andy Reid is no longer an outsider. He's part of the community, part of the city, synonymous with the Philadelphia Eagles. Chances are, he'll frustrate us and confuse us and more than likely come up short. People will call for his job, like they have every year before. It's what happens in this city and every other when disappointment takes root.

But our disappointment is nothing like the hurt Andy Reid must be feeling right now. So yeah, no matter what your feelings are about Andy Reid the coach, Trible is right, it's time to rally around Andy Reid the man, because some things, as hard as it is to believe, are bigger than the Super Bowl.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Hall of Phillies Ghosts

Yesterday afternoon, I headed down to Citizens Bank Park to take in a sparsely attended August outing between the no-longer-in-last-place Phillies and middle-of-the-pack Diamondbacks. I'm sure the Phillies once again announced another sellout, but the ballpark was emptier than I have ever seen since it became the Phillies' new home in 2004.

There were plenty of empty blue seats. Ashburn Alley was nearly vacant. Practically no concession stands hand any considerable lines. Hell, there was no wait for hoagies or cheesesteaks any time we walked past. While it wasn't quite as bad as the old days of routine last-place finishes, it did bring back a few memories of Veterans Stadium.

It was really odd to see Citizens Bank Park in that state. For the first time in a half decade, there is literally no real excitement around the Phillies. The season is over for all intents and purposes, with focus shifting on the offseason and figuring out a way to rebound for 2013.

Even in an exciting game in and of itself, a game in which Cliff Lee struggled with the long ball and fell behind 3-0 only to see the Phillies battle back behind John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the atmosphere was subdued. It's not 2008 anymore, that's for damn sure.

For the first few innings, we baked in the left field stands. Then we decided to take a stroll around the park and find some more choice seats in the unoccupied sections. On the way, on the first base side between right field and first, we came to this hall of ghosts, with Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino hanging above the corridor, only to be followed immediately by Joe Blanton.

Three former Phillies all shipped off to the West Coast, Blanton and Victorino as Dodgers, Pence as a Giant, to remind us of a season lost. It was comical and a little bit sad all at the same time.

Speaking of the Dodgers, Cliff Lee toed the rubber for the first time since those L.A. jerks claimed him off of waivers in their attempt to poach from the team that repeatedly tormented them in the playoffs. I'm not sure if Cliff was distracted by that or just continued his subpar season, but he surrendered three runs in the second inning on two homers, then gave up a third home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the sixth right after Chase Utley had tied the game with a solo home run of his own in the 5th. Not an impressive outing for Lee, but then again he hasn't exactly had the most impressive 2012. No Phillie has, with the exception of Carlos Ruiz, and now that guy is on the disabled list.

However, the Phillies wouldn't quit, led by their two lanky outfielders who are auditioning for roster spots in 2013. John Mayberry, who scored on a wild pitch in the second after walking, and Domonic Brown, who doubled in that same inning and then scored on an Erik Kratz double, were at it again.

After Utley flied out and Ryan Howard struck out for the third time in the game to lead off the bottom of the 8th, Mayberry singled, then got to second on a wild pitch. Brown followed that up with a single off the pitcher, putting runners on second and third, and then Mayberry scored the tying run on a throwing error by the pitcher.

As we settled in to seats down low near third base, Jonathan Papelbon got through a scoreless top of the 9th, and the Phillies went into small ball mode.

Juan Pierre led things off as a pinch hitter, another guy we were surprised hasn't been moved yet. You'd think some team would be interested in Pierre for his base-running, leadership and the fact that the man can still hit a little, evident by his .314 average here in 2012. Thankfully on this day Juan was still a Phillie, as he led off with single, then was advanced to second on a bunt by Nate Schierholtz.

Up came Laynce Nix to with a single to put runners on first and third. Then Arizona decided to intentionally walk Utley to get to Ryan Howard. That seemed like a good idea, seeing as Howard looked absolutely awful yesterday, heading to the dish 0-for-4 on the day with three horrendous strikeouts.

So naturally, Ryan ripped a walk-off single to right and sent us all home packing. And by us all, I mean the 20,000 or so Phillies fans there as Pierre crossed home plate.

In an exciting come-from-behind victory, the real story was the ghost town that CBP had become, one haunted by the hall of former Phillies ghost, reminding us all just how dismal 2012 has been.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Tomorrow night, I will head to the Union Transfer for the first time since it was the Spaghetti Warehouse. If you aren't from Philadelphia and familiar with Spring Garden Street, that probably means absolutely nothing to you, but I digress.

I'll be heading there to see my third live music event in four days, a string of events that has rendered me pretty useless here today, but also a ton of fun.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll be seeing Aesop Rock, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great way to wrap up a week's worth of music.

So for your Friday enjoyment, here is Aesop Rock with another one of my favorites, MF Doom.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Comedy of Third Base Errors

It's no secret that growing up as a Phillies fan through the mid-'80s, entire '90s (save 1993) up until 2007, I got used to pretty putrid baseball from the first sports franchise I truly loved. The Phillies were a bad team much more than they were a good one, so bad that they eventually eclipsed the 10,000 loss mark.

Watching weak hitters, horrid pitchers and suspect play in the field became the norm. However, one thing I got accustomed to was excellent defensive play at third base. No matter how bad the team seemed to be, the Phillies for the most part had a guy manning the hot corner who could flat out field the position.

I got spoiled right from the start, being born into watching 10-time Gold Glover winner Mike Schmidt make playing third look effortless, and then somehow was lucky enough to witness nearly every remarkable play Scott Rolen — an eight-time Gold Glove winner himself — made in the same vein as Schmidt. Those two are second and third all time in Gold Gloves for third basemen, trailing only Brooks Robinson's 16.

But it wasn't just the defensive greats like Schmidt and Rolen that did a hell of job manning third for the Phils. Schmidt's replacement Charlie Hayes was a fine fielder in his own right. Abraham Nunez, for all his faults at the plate, could flat out pick it at third. World Series hero Pedro Feliz was a vacuum at the hot corner. And of course, Placido Polanco won a Gold Glove last season and arguably deserved one in 2010.

Honestly, the Phillies have only really had three regular third basemen who weren't at least above average in the field at third in my lifetime. Dave Hollins wasn't anything to write home about in the field, but he wasn't a butcher either. The one season of Todd Zeile, a man never known for his defense, wasn't ideal. And David Bell just completely sucked at everything baseball-related in his three and a half painful seasons at third. Oh, and if you want to toss in Greg Dobbs for the few times he started, he was also atrocious at third, but he was a pinch-hitter much more than a fielder.

This is all to say that for the majority of my life, the Phillies were in good hands at third. Maybe not always at the dish, but always in the field.

Then this year happened. With Placido Polanco spending a good portion of the season on the bench or the disabled list nursing his old, injured body, the Phillies have put a revolving door of terrible players at third, and it's been a disaster. How much of a disaster, you ask? Well last night, the newest man to take the hot corner, Kevin Frandsen, made an error in the first inning on a dead double-play ball, an error that directly led to Washington's two first-inning runs. After the play, Tom McCarthy passed along this stat: Phillies third basemen not named Placido Polanco have made an error one out of every eight plays. One out of every eight. Read that again. An error every eight plays. That is beyond horrid. I mean, honestly, little leaguers don't make that many errors in that few chances. For real.

To put that into perspective, Polanco made an error one out of every 70-something plays for his career, according to McCarthy, and has an absurd .990 fielding percent this season. Yeah, talk about a major, major drop-off, and that's putting it lightly.

Frandsen's error was just another in a long line at third. Ty Wigginton was as bad as anyone I've ever seen over there, committing eight errors in just 48 chances for christ's sake.

Mike Fontenot, who played the majority of his career as a middle infielder, wasn't a whole lot better, committing a couple errors in just 25 chances. Only Hector Luna and Michael Martinez, who each only started one game apiece at third, came away unscathed in the error department. It's been beyond embarrassing.

In a season full of disappointment, underachievement and now key cogs being shipped off, nothing has been more comical than the play at third base. For all the terrible seasons and laughable play I've seen by the Phillies in my 28-plus years, that's the one thing I haven't been accustomed to.

I'm used to Schmidt and Rolen and Polanco, even Nunez and Feliz, not bumblers who make little leaguers look like Gold Glovers. Seriously, 2012 cannot end soon enough.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Does Football Use A Coin Toss To Decide Possession?

Why Does Football Use A Coin Toss To Decide Possession?

Pennsylvania's Loss is California's Gain

Yesterday saw an exodus of Pennsylvania athletes to California. Shane Victorino was traded to Los Angeles, Hunter Pence to San Francisco, and Penn State running back Silas Redd transferred to USC. None of the moves came as a particular surprise, but it feels strange nonetheless, especially Shane not donning the red pinstripes anymore.

The trade of Victorino could be seen coming from a mile away. He is getting older, he is not having a particularly great season, and he is a free agent at the end of the season. As the Phils season continued its downward spiral, it became clear that the best thing the club could do at the moment would be to shed salary, try to restock the farm system, and try to get younger. Shane was one of the most obvious pieces with which to attempt to achieve those goals.

I've always liked Shaner, and it's sad to see him go. He's been one of the main cogs of the Phillies' amazing run since 2007. I loved his fiery attitude, even when I was occasionally frustrated with him not making the smartest baseball plays from time to time. He played an integral role in the best era of Phillies baseball in their long history, and he was also extremely active in the community. Thanks for everything Shaner, on and off the field.

Hunter Pence was another obvious trade candidate, and honestly I'm glad that the Phillies moved him. He won me over when he arrived with his attitude and his hustle. But overall his short time in Philly was a disaster, because he was brought in to be the right-handed bat that would balance the lineup and propel the Phils to another championship. As we all know, that didn't materialize, and now the Phillies are in last place. This season Hunter has struck out too many times for my taste, and has had too many misadventures in right field. With the team going nowhere this season, it's definitely the right move to ship him out and rid yourself of his salary.

And finally Silas Redd, Penn State's leading rusher last season, announced he was transferring to USC. Again, no real surprise here. I have to admit I'm conflicted on this. The emotional fan side of me wants to be bitter and call him a coward and a turncoat for bailing on his team and his school when times got bad. But for once in my life I will go with my logical, rational side. Silas had to do what he felt was best for him and for his career. He gets to go to USC and compete for a national championship. He felt this was the best thing for him right now. Silas, I'm disappointed and I would have loved to see you finish your college career in blue and white, but good luck out in Cali.

While the Phillies' moves where underwhelming, while it's hard to accept them being sellers when for so many years they've been buyers, and while it's hard to watch Shaner go and it would have been nice to see Pence get a little more time to make things work out here, Ruben Amaro Jr. did the right thing. He cut salary where he could, giving the Phillies at least a little bit of flexibility in that department heading into next season. He got a relief arm, Josh Lindblom, who although I don't know much about him, has decent numbers this season (2-2, 3.02 ERA, 15 holds). And he got a few prospects, the most promising of which is Tommy Joseph, the #2 ranked prospect in the Giants' system.

You would assume that John Mayberry Jr. will get the majority of starts in CF the remainder of the season giving the Phillies a perhaps final chance to see what he can offer as an everyday player. And I hope that they give Dom Brown the majority of the starts in RF, again to gauge if he can be the type of player that we all hope he can, or if it's time to cut ties with him. They still have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, still have Chooch, and hopefully will start next season with a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Amaro Jr. did what he could to put the Phils in a position to treat this season as a hiccup, and to get back to being the Phillies we've had the pleasure of watching for the past five years.