Detroit, MI. Cleveland, OH. These two midwestern towns are not at the top of many Americans' lists for places to immigrate to. Their respective NFL franchises have been sitting at the bottom of the league totem pole for decades.
However, on this Memorial Day weekend, Cleveland and Detroit were hosts to some of the best TV sporting drama this side of the soaked Indy 500.
The evening started off for me with ESPN's Baseball Tonight and coverage of the Indians/Tigers series. I believe that these two baseball teams will be facing each other again in the ALCS in October. Their combination of explosive hitting, purpose pitching that bends without breaking, and speedy defense (by AL standards) will quietly carry these teams far into the playoffs.
Flipping over to TNT, I caught the beginning of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between Detroit and Cleveland. Of course, this series has all been about Lebron, Lebron, Lebron.
Cleveland got off to quick starts in both games as Ryan Garko hit a three-run home run to put the Indians up in the first inning. Over on TNT, Lebron looked like a man on fire as he put down several slam dunks to lead the Cavs to a quick double digit lead.
Back at baseball, I watched as ground ball after ground ball went to the left side of the infield. In their attempt to bring viewers into a completely immersive baseball experience, ESPN made sure that Joe Morgan repeatedly told us how effective Cleveland's Fausto Carmona is at forcing ground balls. Somehow Detroit still managed 9 hits, but as Morgan reiterated, those were good pitches but great batters just know how to find the holes in the defense. Really? Magglio Ordonez knows how to hit the ball three inches to the right in order to barely miss the third baseman's glove? I guess I underestimated him.
I also loved how much Morgan obsessed over Ordonez's proclamation that city hall's flag was the real indicator of wind direction as compared to the stadium flags. There was an awkward silence when the camera continually showed both sets of flags flying in the same direction.
Back over on TNT, the Pistons pulled the game close, but could never extend their lead to any significant margin. Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber each contributed double digit points from the paint, but the Cavaliers refused to go down 3-0. With the game still in the balance in the first part of the fourth quarter, Lebron drove into the lane and slammed home a monster dunk while being fouled by Chris Webber. Detroit never seemed to recover as the Cavaliers continued to rain down three-pointers, invigorating the home-town crowd clad in maroon "Beat Detroit" t-shirts.
The Pistons scored six unanswered points in the final minute and a half, but Lebron James came through in the clutch, and yet another shot of an exasperated Flip Saunders flashed on the screen. He and his curly short mullet did not have a very fun night in the rock and roll city.
The night ended well for the folks from Cleveland. My Detroit-loving roommate, on the other hand, had to suffer through both losses. I just enjoyed another summer sports night.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Detroit, MI. Cleveland, OH. These two midwestern towns are not at the top of many Americans' lists for places to immigrate to. Their respective NFL franchises have been sitting at the bottom of the league totem pole for decades.
Friday, May 25, 2007
There has been a lot of talk around the internet sports world recently about things like overratedness/underratedness, best ever/worst ever, Top 10 guys you want hitting clean up in the third inning of a July doubleheader, etc. As Scott Fowler said in a recent response to his online Q&A, "in the summer you really need to be enterprising and create your own ideas, because there are very few events that are worth a general sports column during those months." For most sports writers with a deadline...it's time to whip out that overrated column again.
I, however, want to take this moment to talk about a sports story that has made headlines today, but will most likely be pushed aside by Memorial Day. The final member of the most dominating pitching triumvirate of baseball's modern era now has 200 wins.
John Smoltz pitched an impressive seven innings of shutout baseball to pull out a 2-1 victory over the division rival Mets last night. The victory was a milestone achievement for the longest-tenured Atlanta Brave still on the roster. It was fitting that the win came against the Mets, the team that Smoltz earned his first victory against nearly 19 years ago. It was also fitting that Smoltz' rival pitcher was none other than Tom Glavine, longtime Braves teammate and friend.
In the modern era of free agency and hired hands (see Roger Clemens) John Smoltz has stuck it out with the Braves, even when injuries and surgery forced Bobby Cox to move him into the bullpen for several years. Smoltz never complained about the Braves' low payroll...he was always willing to do whatever it took to lead the club to victory.
For Smoltz, that often meant sharing the spotlight. In some cases, it meant giving it up all together. Between 1991 and 2005, the Atlanta Braves were a fixture at the top of their division. Although they only won one World Series during that stretch, the Atlanta Braves was one of MLB's most successful franchises at developing young talent, winning close games, and showcasing Hall of Fame starting pitching.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are three of the most dominating pitchers over the last 20 years. Yet, despite my homer perspective, I believe that they won't ever get the immortal name status that they deserve. None of them possessed the strikeout power of a pitcher like Roger Clemens. None of them had the fiery personality of a pitcher like Pedro Martinez. They didn't rack up no-hitters like Nolan Ryan.
For most consumers of modern-day sports media, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz are flat out boring. These guys spent all of their years perfecting pitch placement, strategic planning and letting batters hit balls right to their fielders. These guys are the Tim Duncan of major league baseball. The most remarkable part, however, is how they all ended up on the same team.
In the ten years when they were together with the Braves, Atlanta went 952-600, an average of 35 games over .500 each year. The trio had a combined 15 seasons where they finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young voting and they combined for seven out of the 10 Cy Youngs of the 1990s.
The greatest thing about these three men is that they are perfectly willing to let their pitches speak for themselves. Although they never bragged about their accomplishments, these men were competitors in the truest form. They always pushed themselves to be excellent hitters. Whenever one of them would not make the sacrifice bunt or extend the inning, the other ones would always get on his case. They were excellent fielders who never saw their role as a baseball player as only consisting of pitching off the mound. Maddux won every Gold Glove award between 1990 and 2001, while Smoltz and Glavine combined for five silver slugger awards.
The Atlanta Braves might always be derided by baseball fans around the country because of their softness. They could never win the big ones, their city didn't really show up to games, their players weren't fiery. While there is certainly truth to these criticisms, I believe that the Braves are still one of the best organizations in professional sports. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and especially John Smoltz all have had a major hand in making that happen.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Every year, our Davidson sports teams have Senior Day celebrations where the hard work and accomplishments of a graduating class are honored and cheered. For the athletes, it attempts to provide fitting closure to a college athletic life that will remain in them for the rest of their lives.
Last week, Davidson College, like so many schools around the nation, provided that same closure to the entire senior class as they walked across the stage at graduation and took final pictures with family and friends. The school especially made a point to honor and celebrate the tenure of outgoing president Bobby Vagt. All of these persons were able to end their time at Davidson with a bang that will echo into the rest of their lives.
Some individuals, however, are not afforded that same closure. They arrived at Davidson in the quiet, hot months of the summer some years ago. After serving the institution in their roles and jobs to the utmost of their ability, these persons will quietly pack up their things and move on this summer. Every year, this cycle happens at every company, school and institution around the country, but I want to quickly reflect on two individuals who have impacted my experience at Davidson thus far.
Rick Bender graduated from Davidson in 1993. A baseball standout, Bender collected 237 hits, 401 total bases, 131 RBIs and 175 runs in his Wildcat career. After a brief stint in professional baseball, Bender found himself working for his alma mater in the athletic department. He has served as Davidson's Sports Information Director for as long as I have been able to adequately read and write.
Bender has been closely involved with several new innovations that have helped bring Davidson up to par with its rival institutions in terms of sports information and media marketing. Last year, he worked with SoCon.tv to put Davidson games on streaming internet video for a worldwide audience to see. He has also helped push for a more expansive athletics website and broadcasting capabilities that will come to fruition in the 2007-2008 athletics season.
I first met Rick back at the beginning of my sophomore year. I needed some help finding photos and information for the upcoming issue of the Wildcat Report. Far from being suspicious of a pimply sophomore digging through the SID office, Rick quickly made me feel comfortable as a media producer despite the fact that I really didn't have the first clue as to what I was doing. Rick was never insulted by my initially pretentious attitude that the Sports Info staff had nothing more important than helping me and my little projects. I quickly found that many people still address Rick and his staff in that way.
Armed with an everlasting sense of humor and an endless vault in his memory, Bender has become a staff favorite for many college athletes over the years, especially the baseball players. With a staff of hard-working, yet personable assistants, Bender has turned the SID office into the athletic department's social gathering spot. Staff come there to hang out, shoot the breeze and ask questions about sports. No matter the material, Rick always had an answer. Bender might be best known for his love of 80's music and booming announcing voice at Davidson baseball games.
Rick Bender will be leaving his post of Sports Information Director this summer and will be headed to Birmingham, AL. The athletic department has not yet decided on a replacement.
In 1970, America was in the midst of the cultural revolution, the country had voted in one of the most corrupt Presidents in national history, Davidson had one of the biggest college basketball names in the country, and Earl Edmondson was telling incredibly interesting history stories to intrigued undergrads. Some things never change.
Thirty seven years ago, Edmondson joined the Davidson history faculty as a specialist in eastern Europe. His discussions on the Soviet bloc, modern European history and the political ramifications of the World Wars have captured the minds of students ever since.
Armed with an insatiable love for the thoughts and experiences of students, Edmondson fit right in to a college environment that has always encouraged its students to seek out professors about anything and everything.
During my freshman year, I had Edmondson in a European history class. Like most Davidson professors, Edmondson had scheduled the semester's papers and midterms long before the class actually started. When I looked at the syllabus and saw that we had a huge midterm on March 24, I didn't really think anything of it. However, it just so happened that the Davidson basketball team made it to the NIT and advanced to a second round matchup against Maryland...on March 23...in College Park, MD.
Needless to say, I road-tripped that game and did not return to campus until the morning of the 24th, only 30 minutes before our test was scheduled. When I ran to Edmondson's office and hastily asked for an extension, he said that he was really disappointed in me. He had been planning to let me have the entire weekend to study, but decided to make me take the test later that afternoon. Why?
"You clearly didn't cheer loud enough. How do you let a team overcome a 16-point first-half deficit? That's pathetic."
Edmondson was always devoted to his academic pursuits. For some years he was the faculty head of Phi Beta Kappa, the head of the history department and advisor to the Dean Rusk International Studies program. He has been instrumental in bringing Russian exchange students to campus and is a national voice in 20th century European historiography.
Yet, Edmondson never let the importance of the historical subjects overwhelm the realities of the present. Students were in college to learn and grow, and Edmondson realized, more than most professors, that a majority of that growing takes place outside of the classroom.
Edmondson was committed to the lives and thoughts of every student that he advised and taught. In fact, Edmondson and his wife had decided that he should have retired last year. However, because of the pleas of several students that Edmondson stay one more year to advise them, the professor did just that.
As an academic advisor, history professor and personal friend, Earl Edmondson taught me many things about myself and about life. He showed me the importance of perspective and the ways in which history helps to create that perspective. He also taught me the value of compassion. It is one thing to criticize and critique historical figures and contemporary peers, it is a whole other thing to practice a compassionate patience that allows for goodness and productivity to come out of that critique.
I know that these two men are not the only individuals leaving communities this year. There are many who have served Davidson well that will walk away unnoticed. However, I thought it was important to briefly recognize the impact and the personalities of specifically these leaders. EE...Rick. We will miss you.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
It's been a pretty dramatic week of sports and all of the PTIers of the office coolers have been doing overtime to keep up. Here are some of my thoughts on the week's big issues:
Chipper wants equity, ESPN asks if Interleague Play is "worth it"
The Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones made headlines this week for his rather brazen criticism of major league baseball's scheduling. The Braves will play one of the hardest interleague slates this season with games against Boston, Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit. Jones argues that this is unfair to the Braves when other division leaders like Milwaukee get to play some of the AL's patsy teams.
While Chipper certainly stated the obvious, the Braves have a harder schedule than other teams, he doesn't really have any grounds for criticism. Every year, teams like Toronto, Florida and Minnesota have to play in some of the best divisions in baseball. Those teams have to face the league leaders day in and day out. Why? Just because they happen to be so geographically close to some of the nation's best franchises like Atlanta, New York, Boston and, now, Detroit and Cleveland.
There's a reason that Atlanta will play Boston multiple teams this year and it has nothing to do with an arch-conspiracy. Everyone and their mother wants to see those teams play! Turner Field gets its best attendance when Boston comes to town. I'm sorry if that isn't fair to you Chipper. You should just make up for those games by making sure that you stop losing series to the Washington Nationals. That's what will cost you a division title, not the AL.
Roger Clemens is GOD!
Sometimes I have the bad habit of being a media source talking about the media. That gets old after a while. But let me first say this: ESPN should never show a minor league baseball game with the pitch count of one of MLB's greatest crooks of all time! The "saga" of Roger Clemens' return to the majors has had news sources bending over backwards to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of Clemens' breakfast routine.
The man has held baseball hostage in a way that approximates what would happen if Bonds is actually proven guilty. Clemens is guilty and yet no one is talking about it. He is using the industry's lack of a salary cap and obsession with super-stardom to make oogles of dollars and make himself feel like a franchise savior. The worst part is that no one is talking about it.
No one has even publicly hinted that Clemens has probably taken steroids when the circumstantial evidence is just as strong in his case as it is for Bonds. The guy is huge, and old and still has power. Wait a minute, I have heard that one before. I find this really fishy and kind of pathetic. I just hope that ESPN doesn't start airing his bullpen sessions live as well.
Spurs advance with asterisk
I feel really bad for Tim Duncan right now. Yeah I know that he does that eye-bulge thing whenever he gets touched and he already has several NBA titles, but he doesn't deserve this public hate. While people certainly aren't mad at him persay, any accomplishment that he and his team achieve this postseason will be forever tarnished by the public opinion regarding the "dirty Spurs" and the "fascist Stern."
The Spurs played hard. Really hard. The Suns played hard too. I'm disappointed that events transpired that didn't allow the Spurs to advance peaceably. Let's face it, Horry's foul on Nash was hard...but it wasn't two-game suspension hard. In fact, I could go on Google and find 15 harder fouls in key NBA playoff moments within 10 minutes.
But all because of the heatedness of the series and the controversy over Bowen's groin-kneeing, we were made to feel like the foul was really really dirty. If no one had come off the bench (necessitating the one-game suspensions), I really don't think that Horry would have been suspended, much less for two games.
But, thanks to the role of the popular opinion (it's pretty powerful if I haven't already said that. I did? Several times? OK) the Spurs are all dirty, cheap cheaters and nothing that they do from here on out will be legit. Well, there's always next year.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
In less than a day's time after its posting on ESPN.com, a news story highlighting Bobby Bonds Jr.'s disapproval of MLB had nearly 640 comments. Bonds' imminent capture of 755 has put many Americans on edge, even those who don't know the first thing about baseball.
There are so many issues that have been integrated into the public discourse that it is nearly impossible to talk to another person about Bonds and actually be talking about the same thing.
He admitted it in court. He's never tested positive. Hank Aaron doesn't deserve this. It's all because Barry Bonds is black. It really doesn't matter whether he cheated because he's an a-hole. Steroids aren't really cheating because Babe Ruth never played against black players. The NFL is much worse. This is only happening because of the 24-hour SportsCenter generation.
Reading through several pages of comments from that Barry Jr. article, I have decided that people are really missing the silver bullet of this whole situation: there is no silver bullet.
For those concerned with race, they are right and wrong. Americans have cultivated a very tenuous culture in this generation that has responded to the civil rights movement delicately. Majority populations feel like minorities, especially blacks, cannot use the race card anymore. Liberation happened, now it's every man for himself and white people should not be made to feel guilty anymore.
You contrast this growing sentiment with another population of people that are constantly trying to demonstrate that racial discrimination still occurs, albeit in different terms. They argue that subtle racism occurs everywhere and that the most racist ones are those who can't even see their bias. All of a sudden you have an incredibly circular argument that doesn't have any traction because the ones who it applies to (the "racists") are racist because they don't understand how racist they are. That's helpful.
When these perspectives clash when Imus talks about hair and Barry gets hated on, the national voices get split. It's about race vs. stop being a race-hawk. Unfortunately, these situations are much more complicated than the available mediums for discourse can handle. In the 1940's newspapers would print a half-page editorial from their best writer who would elucidate the ambiguity and yet provide detailed insight from his own opinion.
Now we have PTI, bloggers and comment threads. We use buzz words that already have tons of meaning in them like a .zip file. All of a sudden, Bonds can't really be examined in any meaningful way. People see "race" and know what they think immediately. We know the facts about these players' changing body types and we pass our verdicts. For so many of us, it is easy enough to simply say that we don't like the guy and we therefore don't have to wrestle with the all of the bizarre intricacies of steroids in sports.
However, comment threads, buzzwords and 20-second arguments will not prepare any of us for what will happen during a baseball game in the coming months. I remember growing up thinking that I would have loved to have seen Hank Aaron beat the record live. I felt like that was something so crucial to that generation. My generation, however, has to decide whether to cheer or not. We get to watch fans around the immediate stadium and around country boo and cheer one of the most dramatic sports moments of last 25 years. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole place went silent as he trotted around the bags.
This is going to be much harder than all of us expect; and despite all of the most well-intentioned voices in the sports media today, none of us have been adequately prepared for 756.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The big news of the week was that the Davidson basketball office announced that Coach Bob McKillop's youngest son, Brendan, would be attending Davidson College. The youngest McKillop had been contemplating prep school, but decided to head to college immediately after his high school graduation after his stellar senior year. Several ACC schools expressed interest, but in the end, Brendan knew that his home really was right across the street.
With McKillop's signing, the Wildcats have filled next year's freshman class with two scholarship guards, McKillop and Aaron Bond. Both players will be able to advance at their own pace as they back up all-conference starters Jason Richards and Stephen Curry.
It's a great day to be a Wildcat.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
In the 2006-2007 NCAA Tournament, college basketball saw several significant things: the sputterings of mid-majors after year-long talk about how college basketball had changed forever after George Mason, the affect of NBA-talent freshmen boosting major programs, and the return of the big man.
The big man had supposedly disappeared a long time ago and a 1998 SI feature claimed that dominant centers and power forwards would not play a significant role in college basketball anymore. Oden and Hibbert showed us that there is still market value for a 7-0 behemoth in the paint.
This week, the NCAA voted to increase that market value many times over. A new rule change has dictated that the college three-point line will be moved back a foot starting with the 2008-2009 season. This change was accompanied by the high-profile absence of any rule change in the size of the lane.
Effectively, this will mean that sharpshooters and their defenders will be spotting up even farther from the basket and creating more space between the post-up guy and the help-side defense.
In a situation like last year's NCAA opening round game of Davidson and Maryland, Davidson defenders will be even more out of position when trying to double team the post. Not only did the behemoth post players just get a new shot in the arm, but mid-major teams with fairly accurate 3-point shooting forwards might have just been knocked down a notch.
It has been well-documented that the 3-point shot has helped give college basketball the relative parity that it enjoys today and most analysts have claimed that moving the line back will not hinder guards who can already shoot the three-pointer from that distance anyway.
However, this change will affect players like mid-major forwards Thomas Sander and Ian Johnson before him who have made their living from being a three-point threat at the top of the key. The three-point threat of the big man has been one of the main points of distinction within the small conferences and in the NCAA tournament.
Did this move have to happen eventually? Yes. I will concede that the jump from the college game to the professional game needs to be lessened and this is a good step in that direction. But in the short-term, it might prevent a first-round upset or two and it will put a premium on big men who demand double-teams in the paint.
Posted by Will Bryan at 3:30 PM
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
It's May again and time for these sports editors to wrap this thing up, turn off the lights and move into our summer housing. Every year the Davidsonian's sports editorialists wrap up the school year with a pithy recap of our athletic teams' accomplishments, a brief reminder of fun moments in fandom and an optimistic look toward the future.
Often, however, I feel like academics, life, and sports at Davidson don't ever really change much. We win a lot of games, we lose a lot of games. We all take these finals and move on. Great athletes graduate and younger athletes take their place.
This summer, however, I believe that we have something very unique to look forward to. The coming year will be one of those incredible transition years after which nothing will ever be the same again.
This new era begins and ends with the men's basketball team. The Wildcats return all of their scholarship players in a quest to make the postseason for the fourth season in a row, a new high-water mark for Davidson. Rising sophomore Stephen Curry '10 has already attracted national attention after his 30-point outing against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
Many national experts include Davidson in their projections for next year's Top 25 poll. With nationally televised games against UNC on Nov. 14 and Duke on Dec. 1 already scheduled, next year's team will have many chances to gain a signature victory while the whole country is watching.
The men's basketball team's success is important for the entire school, including the other athletic teams. Throughout the last month, prospective students and athletic recruits have heard about the electricity that now accompanies the men's basketball team.
Notable athletic teams around campus have also seen their share of success during 2006-07. Our football team recorded its first winning season since 2002 in front of record crowds in the relatively new Richardson Stadium. Our women's basketball team advanced to the postseason for the first time in team history after posting a record 23 regular season wins.
Our track teams have continued to bust up record after record as the men posted their best finish ever in the SoCon Championships.
Whether it's a former Davidson quarterback as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Super Bowl Champion Colts, or an All-American Davidson kicker heading to USC for his last year of eligibility, Davidson athletics really mean something America's often oversaturated sports culture.
Next season, Davidson athletes and fans will largely dictate what type of athletic institution Davidson is going to be. All around the country, there are talented high school athletes and scholars that look at Davidson and see something special. They see affordability proclaimed by the administration's move to eliminate loans from all financial aid packages. They see all of these incredibly smart student-athletes competing at high levels in their sports. Hopefully, they will also see a student body that supports athletics unlike any other college institution of its size.
Next season, Davidson sports will be covered at a level never before seen next season when all of the Wildcat home games are broadcast on SoCon.tv all over the world. The ticket office also has a waiting list around the block for fans trying to get season tickets for men's basketball home games. Even the Charlotte Observer is making tentative plans to create a Davidson sports home page as part of its online sports news coverage.
So what does all this mean for yours truly and the rest of us here at The Davidsonian? Firstly, like all campus organizations, leadership will be a little different in the fall. Suzie Eckl '09 will be abroad and Patrick McArdle '09 will join me as co-editor. The Davidsonian will no longer be privy to the ramblings of Wilson McCrory '07 who has been a fixture around here for the last four years.
The Davidsonian will be cutting back its paper size which means that sports will only take up three pages on a normal week. As a result, we will be spending less time publishing game summaries and more time presenting features, editorials and graphics that bear importance to the College community. On a given week, our goal will not be to cover every single athletic event but, rather, to provide interesting and dynamic content that our readers can't find anywhere else.
So when you are lounging around this summer thinking about next year, allow yourself to get a little excited. It promises to be a doozy.
Posted by Will Bryan at 10:55 PM