Wednesday, May 30, 2012

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

Age. It is one thing athletes fear. They peak at a young age...usually. It is when they are their fastest, healthiest, and strongest. Or, is it? Some of the best athletes to ever pick up a ball, swing a bat, or compete were (I hate to say it)... old. You have Brett Favre, born in 1969. Need I say more? Went into retirement, came out of retirement, started games, won games, retired. He holds the record of most consecutive starts by any NFL player with 297 and one of six quarterbacks to start over 100 consecutive games. Next you have Dara Torres, born in 1967. She competed in five Summer Olympics, earning 12 medals and at least one at each game. She plans on competing this summer in London for her 6th appearance in the Olympics. The last legend I am going to talk about is one who I got to experience first hand, Hideki Matsui. He took Durham, North Carolina or better yet, the Durham Bulls Ballpark Corner Store by typhoon. Matsui is a Japanese God. I am trying to think of an American analogy and can't. Matsui is to Japan as teenage girls are to Justin Bieber? Not even close.

Hideki Matsui was born in 1974. Almost twice the age of some Major Leaguers today. But age doesn't phase him, and doesn't phase his fans. His time spent in Durham was short, but chaotic. Over 200 members of the Japanese media were at the tiny stadium in Durham just to see Matsui play, and witness his "comeback." They were stalking his every move. Almost like paparazzi.  I am pretty sure my coworkers and I were on Japanese television. So many cameras. 

Things around the ballpark got hectic when Dice-K was scheduled to make a rehab start in Durham. Matsui was in the line-up. The two best baseball players to come out of Japan were meeting on a stage in downtown Durham. Nights like that don't come around too often. And boy, its nights like that you love the game of baseball.

I had the pleasure of meeting Japanese families who came to the ballpark just to see Matsui. One man I met was the principal of a Japanese school in Raleigh. I had no idea we had Japanese schools in America. He was telling me how excited the school was to all come together to a game this Saturday. I said, "This Saturday?" and he responded, "Yes. In Japan, we have school on Saturdays so we are taking the whole school, 250 students, to the game." I was amazed. Even though Matsui is a respected veteran in the game of baseball, young adults are avid fans. I personalized two Matsui jerseys for the principal, and those were only two of countless t-shirts and jersey's during Matsui Mania. 

Matsui got called up to the Rays yesterday and was scheduled to make his debut tonight versus the Chicago White Sox. In story book fashion, Matsui hit a two-run homer at his second at bat. Even though the Rays lost the game, 7-2, Matsui received a standing ovation. His time in Japan, with the Yankees and even in Durham is just the beginning. Much like Favre and Torres. Their books haven't closed.

Trends fade. Teams have rebuilding years. Athletes retire. Devoted fans are forever, and age is just a number.

Be sure to check out the Durham Bulls Ballpark Corner store for everything Durham Bulls! Follow us on Twitter @dbullsteamstore or check out the shop: http://durhambulls.milbstore.com/store.cfm?store_id=133 

*personalized Matsui jersey by yours truely


Friday, May 18, 2012

Cam Newton

I need to preface this before I begin.  First, I am a die-hard Panthers fan.  I have been a fan all of my life (except for the 3 years between my birth and the first game).  My family was a part of the charter PSL owners and their names will be forever engraved on the panther statues outside our stadium.  Second, I want nothing more than for the Panthers to succeed.   I hate sitting through 1-15, 2-14, and even 6-10 seasons.  I am ready for a playoff run which will result in bringing a Super Bowl championship to Charlotte.  Now that we have that settled, please do not question my fan-hood because I disagree with the team and have concerns about the direction of the organization.  I will be a Panthers fan until I die.

Now we get to the fun part.  My biggest concern right now is our starting quarterback, Cam Newton.  Newton  has only played in the NFL for one season but he has had a huge impact.  He has set numerous records including: most passing yards for a rookie, most total touchdowns for a rookie, most passing yards in one game for a rookie, most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season, along with many other records.  So was the rookie season a success for Mr. Newton? Yes.  Was the rookie season a success for the Panthers? Not quite.  The team went 6-10 and looked bad for most of the season.  The team won 4 of the last 6 games but none of the games were competitive.  The best win of the season was in week 15 when the Panthers beat the Texans (a team who had already clinched a playoff spot and rested most of their starters).  The other 3 wins came against the Colts (1-15) and the Buccaneers (4-12).  At the end of the season I was not satisfied with the results.  My team had a "strong" finish to a mediocre season.

It seems that the 4 wins at the end of last season has everyone excited for the 2012 season.  Somehow, having your team beat crap teams and watching your quarterback embarrass himself at the Pro Bowl breeds confidence.  The thing that bothers me with Cam Newton is that he is perceived as "Superman" where apparently he can do no wrong.  When he throws an interception he walks off the field and covers his head with a towel but when he scores he celebrates it like he's never scored before.  In the Pro Bowl I think Cam Newton embarrassed himself.  In a game where the corners can't press the receivers, blitzes can't be called, and there is no intentional grounding, Cam Newton managed to throw 3 interceptions and get sacked twice.  Now I know the Pro Bowl is meant to be fun but his performance was dreadful.  As a rookie, you need to pay your dues to the league.  You need to work hard to show your peers that you are serious about being a Pro Bowl player.  Andy Dalton, also a rookie, took his role seriously.  He went 7-9 with 2 touchdowns.  Eric Weddle, another first-time Pro Bowler,  played his heart out.  He didn't go out and treat the Pro Bowl as a joke; he went out to prove himself to his peers.  Newton, on the other hand, seemed content to play for fun and take this experience for granted.  Newton should have made the most out of this experience especially under the circumstances.  He was a replacement for Eli Manning who couldn't participate since his team was playing in the Superbowl.  Cam Newton was lucky to escape with only 3 interceptions.  Many of his passes were not accurate and the defense had their hands on the ball before the receivers did.  Newton was not prepared for the Pro Bowl.  He was hoping to use this as a platform to prove how great he was but instead he made a fool of himself.  If Newton makes it to the Pro Bowl again, I certainly hope he takes it seriously (and tucks in his shirt).    I have come to two conclusions based off his Pro Bowl play.  Either Cam Newton thinks he has already "made it" in the NFL and has nothing to prove or Cam Newton isn't good enough to play with the best players in the NFL. (I find this unacceptable.  Where is the intensity or your competitive side?)

Newton has received an unprecedented amount of hype through his rookie season.  In my opinion,  it is not warranted.  Let's do a blind test.  Quarterback #1 threw for 3,398 yards, completed 58% of their passes, threw 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, was sacked 24 times, led their team to a 9-7 record and made the playoffs.  Quarterback #2 threw for 4,051 yards, completed 60% of their passes, threw 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, was sacked 35 times, led their team to a 6-10 record and did not make the playoffs.  Which quarterback would you rather have on your team?  Quarterback #1 is rookie Andy Dalton and quarterback #2 is Cam Newton.  Based on last years results, if I needed to choose 1 rookie quarterback to lead my team to a victory then I would probably choose Dalton because, as the numbers show, he proved himself to be a winner.  While Dalton has more wins than Newton, Newton puts on a better show.  He is more exciting to watch but the excitement probably won't result in a victory.  Dalton is not flashy but he gets the job done while Newton is flashy and looks good but doesn't always get the job done.  Granted, Newton did have 14 rushing touchdowns but the numbers show that the Panthers run offense didn't improve greatly with him at quarterback.  In 2009 when the Panthers had a healthy Deangelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart our run offense actually produced more yards than it did in the 2011 season.  Maybe Newton's talents are better suited for a different position.  I think this guy is most effective when he has the ball in his hands and is in open space.  Based on his performance last year I do not think his decision making is good enough for him to be an all-pro quarterback.  The Panthers offense was adapted to fit Newton's skill set.  Short throws to the tight-end were used to work the ball down the field.  The majority of Newton's "big" games came early in the season when teams did not have time to game-plan for our new offense.  While Newton threw for a lot of yards during the season, not all of the yardage was picked up in tight games.  The majority of Newton's yards were picked up while the Panther's were losing (source).  I don't think it is fair to pad your stats when your team is down 15 points with 3 minutes to go in the 4th quarter (GB game).  While his stats were impressive, the manner that he picked up the stats were not as impressive. (This is impressive).

Cam Newton has greatly benefited from the media hyping him up.  All his great plays are shown all over ESPN while he is forgiven for his poor plays.  There are articles written about how great he has played and I'm afraid that this will only feed his ego.  Newton is a good looking guy who looks like he is having fun when playing which people like to see.  I hope he doesn't let stardom get to his head.  Television announcers only talk about how great Newton is.  It is way too early for anyone to be predicting Newton as "the next big thing".  Newton needs to take a lesson from fellow NFC South quarterback Josh Freeman.  Freeman had comparable rookie season and at the end of the season there was talk about him being a star.  In his sophomore season he did not produce.  His numbers dropped off greatly and he was a part of a team that lost its last 10 games.  Newton needs to be aware that teams in the NFL will notice his weaknesses and look to exploit them.  He did not respond well to "boos" at the Pro Bowl and the fans in Carolina can turn on their quarterback when they don't play up to standards (ask Jake Delhomme).

Right now, I am not sold that Cam Newton is a great quarterback.  His passing yardage and rushing numbers were good during his rookie season so maybe he should be used as a running back who can throw or even a tight-end.  I am concerned that the fans in Carolina are willing to sit through 6-10 seasons as long as they have an exciting quarterback to watch.  I am concerned that Newton will not respond well if things do not go his way.  I am concerned about the future of my team.  I know this is not the popular opinion right now but there is an argument to be made.  You can't only look at the good in a player and refuse to see their faults.  Good stats aren't the only thing that matter (Look at Lebron James. ZING!).  I think there is a spot for Cam Newton on this team but I do not think it is at quarterback.

I hope you prove me wrong, Mr. Newton...



Thursday, May 10, 2012

Relevance in Raleigh

Rod Brind'Amour hoists the cup.
In 2006 the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers met in the Stanley Cup Finals. Hardly a match up that the NHL drooled over but this series gave the City of Raleigh franchise its first Stanley Cup Championship. Since that fateful playoff series the Hurricanes have struggled to be relevant in the NHL and have only returned to the playoffs once. The common thread I have seen in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been goaltending. Looking at the teams left in the playoffs, you have the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, and the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, whose series endures a Game 7 Saturday night. All of these teams have been led by outstanding goaltending throughout the playoffs so far. The LA Kings have been led by Veinza finalist Jonathan Quick who is 8-1 and boasts a 1.55 GAA through two playoffs series. The Coyotes have been led by Mike Smith. Smith has flown under the radar and showed his true worth in a showdown opposite the ice of the Predators Pekka Rinne. Smith's 8-3 playoff record and 1.77 GAA have shown that he too deserves mention beside the Rinne and Quick's of the world. In the Eastern Conference there are 3 goaltenders left. The Devils Martin Brodeur, Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, and Capitals Braden Holtby. Brodeur, who turned 40 on Sunday, has not displayed the prettiest stats but has accomplished what every veteran goaltender is expected to do, win. Brodeur has the Devils into the conference finals for the first time since 2003 and awaits the winner of New York and Washington. The Rangers have arguably the best goaltender in the league in Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist boasted a 1.97 GAA during the regular season and led them to a #1 seed in this years playoffs. However, Lundqvist will participate in his 2nd game seven this postseason and looks to stave off elimination for the second straight series. The major reason for King Henrik's headache this series, Braden Holtby. Holtby, the 22 year old goalie, appeared out of nowhere at the end of the Capitals regular season. He only appeared in 7 games, 6 starts, but quickly grabbed the confidence of the coaching staff, teammates, and fans. His 1.95 GAA is not as impressive as the previously mention keepers but like Brodeur, he is winning.

So, you might be wondering where I am going with this. Well it all boils down to this, the key to this year's playoffs, like many other years, is goaltending. The goalkeepers have kept their teams competitive and won them many games. So, if the hometown Hurricanes hope to be relevant goaltending is where a change in needed. I know everyone loves Cam Ward because he won us a cup. But that was 6 years ago and we've only appeared in the playoffs once since! Raleigh is a town full of Caniacs and sport adoring fans. But it is simple, the Canes need to make moves. The hurricanes have a great crop of young players and will be led by veteran talents such as Eric Staal and Tim Gleason. You might be asking, "Well where do you suggest we get a better goalie?" Hmm, how about Vancouver! Yeah, I said Vancouver. The Canucks currently have goalies Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider. Luongo on their team with Schneider becoming a Restricted Free Agent following the completion of the playoffs. With a cap hit of around $5 million for Luongo, keeping both netminders seems a little farfetched there in the northwest. So you have to think that the Canucks will look to move one of the goalies. That is why I believe it is the perfect time for the Hurricanes to shake things up a bit and look to acquire a new man between the posts. Like I said earlier, Raleigh is a city that loves their sports and their teams. The Hurricanes are loved here and all fans only hope for relevance in the near future.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 2nd, 2012

May 2nd, 2012 was just one of those incredible days in sports.  This would have to go down as one of the most memorable days for me in a while.  The odd thing was that May 2nd fell on a Wednesday.  This seemingly random Wednesday held host to amazing accomplishments, exciting finishes, and tragedy.

First we will start off with the tragedy.  Junior Seau took his own life on Wednesday morning.  Seau was an all-pro linebacker who played in the NFL for 17 years and was named to 12 pro-bowls.  The majority of those years were spent with the San Diego Chargers where he grew into arguably the best linebacker in the league.  Seau was always a factor on the field and he always portrayed himself well while playing.  I was shocked to hear the news of his death and I wish his family the best.  He seemed like a good guy.

Later that day Jared Weaver threw a no-hitter.  This was the 2nd no-hitter of the season and the first at Angels Stadium since 1975.  What made the no-hitter even more sweet was that it was in front of the home crowd that Weaver chose to return to prior to the season.  Weaver re-signed with the Angles in the off-season instead of "Taking his talents" elsewhere.  I'm sure Weaver does not regret his decision and I am sure Weaver will remember that moment for the rest of his life.

Also in baseball that day, the Braves and the Phillies played an absolutely crazy game.  The game didn't lack offense or story lines.  Down by 4 runs in the 5th inning, Bryan McCann hit a grandslam off Roy Halladay to tie the game.  The scoring continued and the Braves again came back from a 4 run deficit in the 8th.  The Phillies scored a run in the 9th which tied the game and sent it into overtime (yay free baseball!!).  In the bottom of the 11th inning with a man on first base, the old Chipper Jones (bad knees and all) hit a walk-off 2 run homer to end the game.  The 40 year old Jones has played sparringly this season after more issues with his knees but saved the day for the Braves.  Making the day even more special for Jones, his homerun was the 500th of his Hall of Fame career.  You can get a better recap of the game here.

My buddy Roger Goodell also made his presence felt on this date.  A decision was made to suspend a few players from the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.  The most severe of the suspensions came when Jonathon Vilma was suspended for all 16 games of the season.  Fair or not, a penalty this harsh will be remembered for a long time.

The most incredible play of the day goes to Papiss Cisse.  In a game where Newcastle is fighting for the 4th and final Champions League spot from the BPL, Cisse produces this gem to help fight off a Chelsea squad who also covets the final spot.  Here is the Wonder Goal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sD7FqrVhvw&feature=related
     -Earlier in the game, Cisse scored an amazing goal. I recommend you watch the match highlights.
     - Honorable mention goes Freddy Montero for this Absolute Firecracker
     - Honorable Mention also for this Gola├žo

May 2nd, 2012 was just one of those days where there was always something going on in the sports world. I'm sure there were other events that happened this day but these are the event that I wanted to share.  Days like this do not come along very often but it is great when they do. (I apologize if any of the links do not work. Youtube likes to take down all the good videos... except this one) (But seriously, this one is good)