Saturday, May 31, 2008

General Ramblings

I don't have much to say today as I am quite busy getting ready to head down to Coral Gables for Miami-Missouri. It should be a great game, but I wish Mizzou ace Aaron Crow was on the hill today. Oh well, more will be said about Crow and other 2008 prospects in the 1st edition of my MLB Mock Draft on Thursday morning. Here are my rapid thoughts on sports and more.

1. I am really happy Sameer Mishra took home the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He was the kind of kid that actually flashed a little personality during the bee and how could you root against a kid who actually thought he was given the work numbnut to spell.

2. I think this weekend series with the Phillies could be the end of the Marlins great run. It feels to me with the Fish already knocked out of first last night the only way is down. The Rays however just continue to deflect possible slumps and obstacles and after last night it looks like Cliff Floyd may have found his stroke.

3. Lakers-Celtics Wow this matchup gives all you NBA conspiracy theorists plenty of amo, so fire away. Personally, my interest has waned in and out of hoops this year, but these finals are a league and network dream and I will be captivated. Kobe Bryant is at another level right now and I don't think anyone can argue that, at this time, he is the best basketballer on the planet.

4. I am really getting tired of all the talk on whether we should count the Michigan and Florida democratic primary delegates, and I am a Florida voter. In the end, the difference it will make is push things a little closer and increase party devisiveness with six months to a general election.That is all for today.

I will be back with thoughts on the Coral Gables regional, EliteXC, and Stanley Cup Game 4 tommorow. For now, I leave my UCF freinds with a poll on a question I have been pondering. Who would you like to see as the next head baseball coach of the Knights.

Who would you like to see as UCF's new head baseball coach

Craig Cozart
Jeff Johnson
Rod Delmonico
Pat McMahon
Frank Viola
Raymond Laval

(View Results)

Create a Poll

Friday, May 30, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Sports Weekend

Lets just say I hope there isn't a curse on the blog, as I watched the Rays fall to the White Sox 5-1 last night. On tap today my thoughts on the sports action due up this weekend.

1. NCAA Baseball Regionals
I know this may not be the most popular thing going this weekend, but I am quite exited to watch the #1 national seed Miami in action on Saturday. It will be my first trip down to Mark Light Stadium and I know a couple of the Hurricane starters. The NCAA didn't do the #1 team any favors as they stacked the Coral Gables regional with preseason top ten Missouri and Ole Miss along with the team that boasts the national ERA leader in Bethune Cookman's Hiram Burgos. Anyways, for those of you with ESPN U you get the privilege of keeping tabs on this and the Cal State Fullerton regional so enjoy some great college baseball this weekend.

2. NHL Finals, Game 4, Red Wings at Penguins, Saturday 8:00 PM, NBC
The first two games dominating blow out Detroit victories. I don't have anything against Detroit but there was no intrigue. Game 3 was tailor made for NBC, as the Penguins and Sidney Crosby (2 goals) fought to a 3-2 victory at home to get back in the series. If I had to guess, I think we will see more of this in game 4. Sidney can't do it by himself though. Hossa is starting to come alive, but they haven't gotten anything out of Malkin so far during the Cup. Ah it is great to actually have hockey back on a network I can find.

3. College Softball World Series-ESPN all weekend
Has softball always been this interesting? I guess it has been all my good friends over at UCF that have got me into it this year, but I have never really found it that interesting in the past. I have been hooked to ESPN coverage so far and by the end of the weekend the pairing for the World Series will be decided. Oklahoma City is one of those unique corners of the world this weekend where you can find the reasons you like sports in the first place. It's all about hard work, determination, teamwork, and the purity of the sport with these girls. Side note on Softball: Congratulations to Allison Kime, the UCF ace, for inking a deal with Rockford in the NPF. She starts her first game for the Thunder this weekend.

4. MMA
No this will not be another Kimbo Slice bashing routine. Kimbo Slice is pretty irrelevant to the sport of MMA right now. How can a guy be part of the feature fight on the first network broadcast of his sport be irrelevant? The reason is a secondary MMA organization, EliteXC, decided to buy their way on to CBS. What the mass public aren't realizing is that their is an organization called the UFC that is leaps and bounds over EliteXC. Unfortunately, it does more harm to this sport then good. Kimbo becomes the poster child and people's ideas of MMA skew more towards the line of John Mccain's famous "human cockfighting" reference to early MMA instead of seeing the great controlled sport that it has become. The rest of the card is truly sad as well and just looks to please the mass audience with setup stand-up brawls. Actually even though it is not a UFC event, the WEC's featherweight championship between Jens Pulver and Urijah Faber is the bout of the weekend. With Faber being the current titleholder in the WEC and Pulver being the one time lightweight champion of the UFC, this has the potential to be one of the biggest fights in the smaller weight classes of all-time. My MMA experts tell me the rest of the card has some quality bouts as well. Both events start at 9 on different days with EliteXC being on CBS this Saturday and the WEC being on Versus this Sunday. While I admit that even I will probably watch Kimbo's fight, it has to be watched from the right perspective. Watch it for entertainment but not to critique the sport.

An Extra Note: While the Scripps Spelling Bee isn't exactly a sporting event, I will be watching. The kids always make it interesting and with Erin Andrews on the "sidelines" this year, it should only enhance the broadcast.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Those notoriously hapless Rays

Change is upon us emanating out of St. Petersburg Bay. Some of you reading this may not have a clue about this "change", but if you have only a mediocre pulse following baseball, this story is etched into your corneas. Much like Barack Obama's politics of "change", this is a movement of a new, fresh player to the scene who is ready to take over the National Pastime. Yes, at 32-21 the Tampa Bay Rays have woken up to the 16th morning of the season that sees them in first place. At 1.5 games ahead of the mighty Boston Red Sox in the AL East and with baseball's best record so far, the Rays have smashed as many team records as Dan Uggla is smashing balls over the Teal Monster to the South. THIS TEAM HAS NEVER BEEN IN FIRST PLACE. They have already swept the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and took 3 out of 4 from the Yankees this year. Who are the Rays you ask? It is not a crazy question. They have been a hard team to spot throughout their 10 seasons of dismal bottom feeder performance. Names like Kevin Stocker, John Flaherty, and Damian Rolls don't exactly jump out at even some hardcore baseball fans. Now the Rays stand as undeniably the most exiting team in baseball and the best part is they haven't even hit their stride yet. Here are the things both good and things yet to arrive in 2008 for the Rays.

The Good

1. Pitching
The Rays currently boast the 9th best ERA in baseball. Throughout the years, the Rays have had to send out to the mound every fifth day the likes of Ryan Rupe and Jae Wong Seo but this year is different. Even with loosing ace Scott Kazmir for the first month of the season, The Rays work was among the best in Baseball. James Shields (4-3, 3.38) played ace in the beginning of the year throwing both a two hitter and one hitter along the way. Now Kazmir is back with a 4-1 record and an ERA of 1.50. The best thing about this stacked rotation? It is perhaps the greatest collection of young pitching baseball has ever seen. Kazmir (24), Shields (26), Matt Garza (24, 4-1, 3.78), Edwin Jackson (24, 3-3, 3.47), and Andy Sonnastine (25, 6-3, 4.98) form an unprecedented group. Even the notoriously weak bullpen has been solidified by veterans in closer Troy Percival and setup man Dan Wheeler. Al Reyes has returned off the DL to aid successful stop-gap relievers J.P. Howell and Trever Miller.

2. Evan Longoria
The phenom finally arrived on April 12th and quickly made everyone forget his controversial demotion to AAA Durham during Spring Training. Since his arrival, Longoria (.252, 7 HR, 28 RBI) has had the flair for the dramatic with game winning hits and big-time home runs. What goes overlooked is his Gold Glove caliber defense so far, he just committed his first error the other day. The Rays were smart to lock Longoria up to a long term deal his first week in the majors. With his future guaranteed, the heavy favorite for A.L. Rookie of the Year just has to go out, produce, and continue to lead the culture change for the Rays.

3. Andrew Friedman's Personnel Moves
The wizard GM behind all the complimentary pieces has softened some of the blow left by Chuck Lamar. He traded away negative clubhouse influences in Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes and brought in positive veteran leaders in Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival. Signing Eric Hinske to a low risk contract before the year has paid off as the corner outfielder is on his way to 30+ HR. Furthermore, Friedman has added to the stability of the franchise and clubhouse cohesiveness by locking up Carlos Pena, James Shields, Evan Longoria, and Scott Kazmir all to long term deals. Friedman's job is never done, but get a long term agreement done with B.J. Upton, and this GM will be able to sit back and watch a well tuned machine he built in action.

Things yet to arrive

1. The pitching prospects

The number one overall pick from last year's draft, David Price has finally arrived to the Rays Minor Leagues. So far the 6-6 lefthander is 2-0 and in two starts he has struck out 13 in 11 innings and has yet to allow a run. Some think he could arrive to St. Pete in the late summer. Wade Davis, Jake Mcgee, and James Houser are three others on the horizon and among the top prospects in all of baseball. Not to mention the Rays have the first pick in the 2008 draft next week.

2. The hitting

How can a team have the best record in baseball and not yet even have the offense that was predicted for the team? I really can't answer this question and it amazes me every day. The only players exceeding their expectations at the plate so far for the Rays are Dioner Navarro and Eric Hinske. The main offensive cogs Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Carl Crawford have not even come close to their ceilings yet.

3. The fans

Much has been made of the attendance issue at Tropicana Field. While the Rays contend the sparse crowds at the "Trop" do nothing to aid their proposal for a new waterfront stadium. There is even a great article in today's St. Pete Times about this issue written by Gary Shelton that I have linked below. My only advice on the fan issue is give it time. Wait till the dawn of summer and if the Rays prove they are competitive the fans will start to arrive. It takes time for a city to warm up to a franchise that has been nothing but a disappointment for 10 years. Fortunately they have never done any franchise killing trade-offs such as their Citrus Series mates, the Marlins. The fans will clamor for success they just need to see it sustained into the summer, and they will make the 20 minute drive from Tampa to St. Pete. Tropicana Field is actually a very good place and fan friendly environment to watch a game in, contrary to popular belief.

So the moral of the story kids is if you are in the Tampa area be sure to catch the tides of change rolling through the St. Petersburg Bay and take yourself out to a Rays game.

Link to the Shelton article