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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Craw’s Sports Biz 59 Seconds

By Gregory Crawford @wchoops
Today was 103rd edition of Indy 500. Always a big event, big as well for the greater Indianapolis economy. It is conservatively estimated the race this year will bring in $325 million to local economy. As compared to another huge event, the Super Bowl in last five years has averaged just under $200 million for local economy.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Back When They Were Beautiful...


Who's On Your List?


by Harry Cummins


     If you have been so blessed as to freeze-frame certain athletes of your generation thru a lens of heightened sensitivity, you will be recompensed with the lingering gift of fond remembrance.

     Memories of beauty in any of its forms are gifts that can transform us.  Gifts that unveil the singular grace (or gracefulness) of those given moments that can change the way in which we SEE.

     In pensive recollection this morning, here are 10 athletes that immediately step from the mist of my own fragmented memory.  Ten names that beckon...'do you ever remember me'?  Ten names that actually altered the way I came to view sport as an art form.

Lance Alworth
Sugar Ray Robinson
Connie Hawkins
John Curry
George Gervin
Paul Blair
R.C. Owens
John Walker
Wilma Rudolph
Nolan Ryan

       The next time you watch a sporting contest, look longer and deeper and wider.  In the way we  should all survey this sententious life that surrounds us.  Start with the NBA Finals or the French Open this week.  Find those moments the commentators and next day headline hunters will miss.  These are your chance encounters with beauty....  to one day remember again.


      "Sensitivity isn't about being wimpy, it's about
        being so painfully aware that a flea landing
        on a dog, is like a sonic boom"

                 -Jeff Buckley
                       

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Stanley Cup Final preview

The St Louis Blues will play the Boston Bruins for the 2019 Stanley Cup.  This is the rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup final with the Bruins sweeping the Blues 4-0 and giving us one of the most iconic moments in Stanley Cup history with Bobby Orr scoring the game winning goal and jumping in the air to celebrate in the "Leap of Faith".  This is the first appearance in the finals for Boston since 2011 when the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games.  This is the first appearance in the finals for the Blues since 1970 and they have never won a Stanley Cup.

The Bruins had a solid regular season tying for the 2nd most points in the league with the Calgary Flames with 107 points but only finished 2nd in the Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It appeared the road to the final for the Bruins would be a difficult trek as they had to play a very good Toronto Maple Leafs team in the 1st round and had to go 7 games to win that series.  They got a huge break not having to play the Lightning in the 2nd round as they were upset by the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Bruins disposed of the Blue Jackets in 6 games.  The Bruins then dominated the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference finals sweeping them in 4 games.

The Blues at one time during the NHL regular season had the least overall points.  They fired head coach Mike Yeo on November 20th and hired Craig Berube as interim coach.  Everything eventually came together for the Blues at the start of the new year once Jordan Binnington took over as the starting goaltender and starting on January 23rd they went on an almost month long 11 game winning streak and finished the regular season winning their last 8 of 10.  They finished tied for 2nd in the Central Division with the Winnipeg Jets with 99 points but had to play the Jets on the road in the 1st round of the playoffs per losing the tiebreaker on regular season wins.  The Blues eventually beat the Jets in 6 games, beat the Dallas Stars in the 2nd round in dramatic fashion winning the decisive 7th game in double overtime, and in the Western Conference finals beat the San Jose Sharks in 6 games winning the last 3 in the series.

The Bruins will go into this series as the favorite and will have home ice per having more points during the regular season.  Game 1 is Monday night, May 28th in Boston at the TD Garden.

Here is an analysis of the head to head match-ups in the series

Goaltenders

Boston Tuukka Rask:  He has been spectacular in the playoffs and is the current favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player.  In the playoffs he has a 1.84 GAA and a save percentage of .942.  He gave up 4 goals in game 1 of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs but has not given up more than 3 goals in any of his other playoff games and in the series against Carolina in four games only gave up 5 goals in the entire series.  The veteran was the starting goaltender when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, has played every minute of every game during the playoffs,  and is in A+ form right now.

St Louis Jordan Binnington:  Almost came from nowhere as he was not part of the Blues goalie rotation at the start of the regular season but once he became the starter he was arguably the MVP in the 2nd half of the regular season posting a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage with 5 shutouts.  In the playoffs Binnington has been rock solid posting a 2.36 GAA and .914 save percentage.  In games decided by a single goal in the playoffs Binnington is 8-3. After getting roughed up in games 1 & 3 in the Western Conference finals Binnington gave up only 2 goals in the next 3 games to close it out.  Like Rask, Binnington has played every minute of every game during the playoffs and has proved he can handle the playoff pressure and has come up with some huge 3rd period and OT saves.

Forward Lines

Boston:  It has been no surprise that the big scorers for the Bruins during the regular season Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron have produced during the playoffs.  They have combined for 26 goals and 34 assists in the playoffs with Marchand 2nd overall in scoring.  Also those 4 players are a combined +30 for their +/- during the playoffs.  The big surprise for the Bruins has been the contributions from their 3rd and 4th lines.  Charlie Coyle has 6 goals in the playoffs after only scoring 12 goals during the regular season and they have also gotten huge contributions from Marcus Johansson, Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner.

St Louis:  The big story for the Blues in the playoffs has been the emergence of Jaden Schwartz who has scored 12 goals in the playoffs after only scoring 11 goals during the regular season in 69 games.  If the Blues win the Stanley Cup and Schwartz delivers in the finals he in all likelihood would win the Conn Smythe.  Vladimir Tarasenko who struggled during the 2nd round against the Dallas Stars came alive against San Jose with 3 goals and 5 assists.  Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, David Perron, and Oscar Sundqvist have combined for 18 goals and 20 assists during the playoffs while being +13.  And even though he only has 1 goal and 5 assists during the playoffs watch out for 19 year old Robert Thomas. Very skilled with the puck and a natural goal scorer he could emerge as a major threat in the finals. 

Defense

Boston:  Future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara at age 42 has showed no signs of slowing down and has been his usual huge physical presence during the playoffs.  He is leading all defensemen in +/- at +11.  After struggling with injuries during the regular Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have also been part of a solid blue line during the playoffs.  Krug and McAvoy have combined for 17 assists with a combined +/- of +15.  They have also got a surprise contribution from Matt Grzelcyk with 3 goals and 4 assists for the playoffs after only scoring 3 goals with 15 assists during the regular season in 66 games.

St Louis:  Even though they don't have a huge scoring presence at the blue line they are an underrated unit who play a very physical style.  Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko are the leaders on the defensive side and have combined for 21 assists and have averaged close to 25 minutes per game on ice. At age 35 Jay Bouwmeester has been a nice veteran presence and the Blues defenders with their defensive style have a chance to frustrate the big scoring line for the Bruins.

Special Teams

Boston:  The Bruins power play has been scorching in the playoffs scoring at a 34% clip while killing 86.3 % of their opponents power plays. 

St Louis:  The Blues power play is converting on 19.4% in the playoffs while killing 78% of their opponents power plays. 

Pick:  I will be pulling for St Louis and if Binnington can outplay Rask and Schwartz can continue his incredible run the Blues can win this series.  But I will go with Boston since Rask is playing at his peak right now, the Bruins have the more dangerous scoring lines with a hot power play, and have been more mistake free during these playoffs

Bruins in 6 games










The Confounding Persona of Caster Semenya - Regulate or Celebrate?






by Harry Cummins

     It should be said straight off that there are imponderable questions in this life that yield no right resolution. In such cases, it is simply best to move on without a satisfying answer.

     Caught in a modern-day legal and media maelstrom, Caster Semenya, the two-time 800 meter Olympic champion from South Africa, is moving on.

     Semenya has openly stated that she will not submit to the mandated I.A.A.F. ruling that requires inter-sex athletes to undergo hormone therapy to lower their naturally elevated testosterone levels.  Earlier in May, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the ruling set forth by track and field's governing body in an effort to preserve a level playing field in women's track events ranging from 400 meters to one mile.

     In response, the 28 year-old Semenya has entered a loaded 3,000 meter field for the upcoming Prefontaine Classic to be held June 30 at Stanford University.  She will be competing at a mostly unfamiliar distance against three of the greatest female distance runners of all time; Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, Genzebe Diababa of Ethiopia and Hellen Obiri of Kenya.

     The controversial ruling has left impassioned proponents on each side.  It has also left Semenya and other similar athletes with no good options if they refuse to take hormone suppressing drugs for six months and then maintain levels far below what they were naturally given at birth.

      They must either compete against men, participate in events limited to inter-sex athletes, if even available, or elect to compete around the edges of the ruling. (100/200m or  5,000m or longer.)  Semenya has elected to go up to the 3,000m (1.86 miles)  tho it is not an event currently contested in the Olympic Games.

       I am not wise enough to offer a solution to this incredibly complex issue that reaches far beyond athletics.   I don't fully understand words like hyperandrogenic.  I do not know nearly enough about 46, XY chromosomal makeup or testosterone levels measured in nanomoles per liter.  Or what adverse consequences could result from a human body dramatically altered from its natural state. Maybe most importantly, do any ruling entities really know enough about the exact effect of gender and testosterone on performance at different distance events.

     What I DO know is this.  I have followed the 28 year-old Semenya's career with great interest.  I have witnessed her dominating races in person many times.  I have listened to her words in interviews.  I have seen how she has handled decades of ridicule and scrutiny in front of a watching world.

     I believe Caster Semenya is a caring person of deep intellectual and emotional substance.  Her view of the world should be admired.  In a recent interview following her final 800 meter race (her staggering 30th consecutive win at the distance!) before the ruling took effect, she said:

          "We are all on this earth together.  None of us really know what we are doing.  If there is a hurdle in my path, I try to jump it" 

     An oversimplified explanation of life? 

      Maybe not.

      Already schooled in hurdles and hassles, maybe the perfect future event for Caster Semenya just might be  ...the steeplechase.

   

   

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Texas Size Skill Set of Joey Gallo



"I hear the train a comin', it's rollin' 'round the bend"


by Harry Cummins


     When 25 year-old Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo's 100th career home run splashed into Pittsburgh's Allegheny River recently, Gallo landed in the record books as the fastest ever to reach 100 home runs in baseball history.

    He also gained notoriety as the first MLB player ever to hit 100 home runs before hitting 100 singles. (major reason: Gallo sees a shift on 96 percent of his plate appearances, more than any other hitter in baseball)

    Unfortunately, this bit of double-edged news distorts the player that Joey Gallo is fast becoming in 2019. At this writing, ( May 24), he is hitting .293 with 15 home runs and 35 RBI's as the season nears the 1/3rd mark..  It is getting much harder to recognize the classic whiff or whack, three true outcomes Joey Gallo of yesteryear, replaced instead by a player possessing a tantalizing twist of true  all-around greatness.

     Last season, Gallo chased 26.7% of fastballs outside the strike zone. This season, that number is just 11.9%, the 4th lowest in baseball, right behind Mike Trout at 11.4%. His walk rate is up from 12.8% to 19.1% this year, the largest jump in baseball.  When measuring fastballs inside the zone, Gallo is slugging (OPS) 1,02l%, the best in all of major league baseball.

    Suddenly, in just his 4th season, Joey Gallo's name is popping up in unexpected places on the statistical charts along with positions on the playing field.  At present, the 6'5, 250 pound Gallo, a converted infielder,  is patrolling center-field for the Rangers.

     Once groomed as the heir to Adrian Beltre at 3rd base, he now resembles a new Josh Hamilton in the outer pastures of Arlington.  STATCAST shows Gallo with the 2nd best OF arm in baseball. In the Rangers last game, Gallo gunned down Kolten Wong of the Cardinals at third base with a 97 mph throw from CF.  It was his 6th outfield assist of the young season.  Gallo was once clocked as a high school pitcher in Nevada at nearly 100 mph.

     You are right to wonder what a player of Gallo's girth is doing in center field.  Make no mistake, Joey Gallo can run.  On the present Rangers roster, perhaps only the speedy Delino DeShields may be faster going from 1st to 3rd. Gallo is a perfect 3 for 3 in stolen bases this season. Check out the picture accompanying this story to witness the running form of Gallo in full flight as he circles the bases in 2017 on an inside-the-park home run against Toronto.

     With a walk rate second in baseball only to Mike Trout, it is fascinating to conceive of the time to come when Gallo begins to steal more bases.  When that happens, it will surely mark the day  Gallo will be universally recognized for what he is now becoming, the best player in the game!

     Til then, we are left with that majestic upper-cut swing that approaches a profound religious experience. Left,also,with watching baseballs vanish with the height and hang-time of a rocket-ride while being disfigured by an average exit velocity of 99.1 mph!

     If you play fantasy baseball, approach Gallo's owner in your league right now and cough up whatever you can to acquire him while there is yet time.

     I hear the train a comin'...can you?

   
Bye-bye baseball. Gallo has the top exit velocity and hard hit rate in baseball

     

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Portland's Not Getting Baseball

By Steven Weldon


I have never wanted to be wrong more.

I love baseball, I love the MLB, and I love the city of Portland. It's time to get real though.

We're not going to get a baseball team, let alone a new stadium for one.

In the past few years, there's been a slight fever pitch created by the Portland Diamond Project, pushing to bring Major League Baseball to Portland. There are significant backers to the project, getting a team to Portland and building their cathedral. But is it enough?

We've seen the big names, Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara, Portland broadcasting legend Mike Barrett, former Nike executive Craig Cheek. What we haven't seen is a solidified ownership group. Yes, it takes millions upon billions to even undertake the possibility to own a sports franchise. It takes a lot of time to gather that much money for what is reasonably considered a net-loss in the bank account.

Without someone putting real pressure on a league with their opportunity, re: money, they can't capitalize on a new market.

I first became worried about the MLB 2 PDX movement going awry when I read that the Portland Diamond Project set their goal for 2023 as opening day.


That's four years away. Both a lot and not a lot can happen in four years; as there have been multiple franchises who have up and left cities in the middle of the night, as well as franchises taking three years to move. Both those franchises, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Brooklyn Nets had stadiums already pre-built or billionaires looking to expand in the largest market in America.

The last baseball team to up and move cities was the Washington Nationals in 2005, moving from Montreal, where attendance was dismal, the stadium dilapidated and the interest waning. Portland was in the running then, mentioned many times as the largest media market in America without a major league baseball team. The main problem in that time period was similar to our current problem, a lack of big money backers and no stadium ready to go.

If a team is going to relocate, they need answers fast. They don't want to move if they don't have a shiny new park ready to go, in fact, they can't move unless they have a stadium ready to go, and the city of Portland no longer has a 30,000 seat baseball facility.

This leads me to the most recent issue I have seen related to the Portland Diamond Project.

https://ballparkdigest.com/2019/05/06/questions-surround-proposed-portland-ballpark-site-as-deadline-looms/

They've gotta pay up some money for the negotiating rights for the property they want.

Terminal 2 is located in an industrial area of northwest Portland, and in order to get the land, they've gotta make sure they can pay money so that they can talk about even having the land. The first payment of $375,000 is due by the end of May. After that, it will be $125,000 every three months until the end of the year, and then the payment jumps to $187,000 for the subsequent three months after, continuing on.

You think Russell, Ciara, Mike and Craig, as well as their friends, have that kind of money laying around? If they did, they would have likely taken care of it a lot faster.

Closely related to this, in the situation the Diamond Project does pay up, the Port of Portland will look to create a new area for a terminal. In this day and age of pushback, this could also be a large hurdle. In addition, the area they're looking for development is not a heavy traffic area at this time and does not have a MAX service along with consistent bus service. That can always change; but is light rail still what we want to pursue in moving people?

Speaking of terminals, I am going to bring up my final point.

Oakland is making moves.

https://ballparkdigest.com/2019/05/14/as-tentative-howard-terminal-agreement-approved/

On May 14th, the Oakland Athletics and Port of Oakland officials agreed on a term sheet in which the A's would build a stadium in Jack London Square on Howard Terminal in the bay, with a 66-year lease, and $3.8 million due every year for the first 20 years.

In addition to this, the A's opened their plans to repurpose the Oakland Coliseum site, which is also losing its other main tenant; the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are moving to the Chase Center in downtown San Francisco starting in 2019-2020 season, leaving their 53-year-old stadium behind.

It's a huge step, as the Oakland Athletics brass has pushed the 'Rooted In Oakland' campaign, attempting many ideas across the east bay for the last five years. The A's have recently done much better about getting fans in the seats and increasing interest with a special general admission season ticket plan, making sweeping changes to their stadium experience by adding new areas to the old Oakland Coliseum, and winning games.

They have to, soon they'll be the only professional team left in Oakland.

The goal for the ballpark opening?

2023.

I've left one team out, and that is only because there's VERY little information on their plans. The Tampa Bay Rays are a talented team that's been to a World Series within the last 15 years; but also draws awful attendance to an awful domed stadium.

Could the Rays move? Yes. Will they move across the country and redraw new boundaries? Not likely.

Is expansion still on the table? Not without an owner or a stadium.

I want to be wrong. I want to be there, opening day, cheering on the Portland baseball team.

Sadly, it will end up like the last effort - falling apart because a billionaire isn't ready to commit to a one-horse town.

Monday, May 13, 2019

'Jackets Pile On In Portland-Head To NCAA D-II Championships



by Harry Cummins


    Riding the crest of a school record 11 game winning streak, including a convincing 3 game sweep of the GNAC Championships in Portland, Oregon this past weekend, the Montana State Billings Yellowjackets will now face the Point Loma Nazarene Sea Lions in the opening round of the NCAA D-2 West Region Baseball Championships this Thursday in La Jolla, California.

     Montana State Billings (33-18) is one of 6 teams competing in the West regional, which is divided into a pair of 3 team double-elimination tournaments.  The winners of  West Regional No. 1 and West Regional No. 2 will then play in a best of three series the following week at the Super Regionals hoping to garner a spot in the NCAA D-II College World Series in Cary, North Carolina.

     Along with Montana State Billings and Pt Loma Nazarene (30-19), the 3rd team in the West Regional No 2 is the host school UC San Diego (35-12).  Azusa Pacific (36-13) earned hosting rights for the West No 1 bracket, which will include Cal St. Monterey Bay(35-21) and Cal Poly Pomona(29-26)

     Despite dropping their first 11 games to open the 2019 season, The Yellowjackets regrouped and defeated Saint Martin's University 8-5 this past weekend on the campus of Concordia University to capture the double-elimination GNAC tournament, along their first ever NCAA DII West Region Championship berth.  At 33-18, MSUB ties the school record for most wins in a single season. By winning their last 11 consecutive games, they are on a current 33-7 tear.

    The 'Jackets are paced by GNAC Player-of-the-Year Daniel Cipriano, who is hitting .400 with 17 HR's and 51 RBI's.  On the pitching side, Steen Fredrickson (7-1) and Jarrod Molnaa (8-2) lead the way, with a combined 164 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched.  Also heating up at the right time is second baseman Conner Linebarger, who went 6 for 10 in the GNAC tournament in Portland, with 2 home runs, two triples, and 7 RBI's.  He was named the tourney MVP as a reward for his heroics.

     MSUB enters the West Regional as the 4th best home run hitting team in NCAA D-2.  They have connected on 82 long balls in 51 games this season, led by the 17 of Cipriano.   Although Cipriano did not hit a home run in the 3 games played in Portland, he saved the exciting 8-5 Championship win with his defensive work at first base.

     Saint Martin's scored 4 runs in the last of the 8th inning to cut a 7-1 deficit to 7-5 and had a runner on first with no outs.  Cipriano leaped high to glove a line drive headed for the right field corner that would likely have scored the runner from first and put the tying run at second with no outs.  A batter later, Cipriano raced into short right field to make an over the shoulder catch to end the inning. For good measure, he drove in an insurance run in the 9th with a one-hop smash double off the face of Saints RF Austin Feist, who was forced to leave the game after the attempted diving catch.

     Just an inning earlier, Feist had belted a long 3-run home run over the left field fence, his second 3 run blast in two days for St Martin's.  It was a great 3 days of baseball, played under ideal weather conditions.  Sadly,outside of family and friends, attendance was sparse as lack of event publicity by a local media understandably consumed by "Blazer-mania" likely short-changed more fans from witnessing high quality NCAA D-2 baseball in Portland.

     Montana State Billings has the essential components for a strong post-season run.  The quest continues in beautiful La Jolla, California starting Thursday night.


*** Augustana (South Dakota) is the defending NCAA D-2 champion and the current No 1 seed in the Central Region entering post-season play.  Colorado Mesa (45-9) is the nation's No 1 ranked team in the newest NCAA D-2 poll released by Collegiate Baseball.