Gary Laubach

About Gary Laubach

Gary began his broadcasting career with Twin County in 1972. Twin County eventually became C-TEC and then RCN. Gary holds the dual role of Director of Media Services and Sports Director/Broadcaster. He currently broadcasts about 140 sports and entertainment broadcasts a year, and oversees the scheduling of all sporting events for RCN.

The US(D) Open

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I received an e-mail on Saturday morning offering me a ticket to the final round of the US Open. And I do love golf.  But I weighed my options:

  1. Take one of the worst drives I have ever experienced and go to Long Island (I covered a sports story on Long Island at Hofstra University a few years back and thought I would never see my family again) or take a pleasant drive to the Poconos in the morning with no traffic.
  2. Walk the course in what was forecast as sweltering heat and seeing very little of the actual competition or sit at home in air conditioning seeing every minute of the tournament.
  3. Spend the day being pushed around in crowds of people I do not know or see my whole family at my daughter’s house and celebrate Fathers’ Day (I even got in nine holes of golf in the morning with my grandson, daughter, and son-in-law).

As you might have guessed, I chose the latter of all of those choices – I played golf, ate a great meal, opened some Father’s Day gifts, and watched the US Open on a large screen TV.

And I had plenty of time to think about the Open itself:

It is no fun watching the best players in the world at the mercy of an unfair golf course. In this day and age when computers are able tell us everything, the USGA was not able to anticipate what the wind would do to Shinnecock Hills during play on Saturday.  I felt, even on Thursday, that the rough was pretty much unplayable and the greens because of the pin placements took away the pleasure of watching the best perform at the highest level.  A four-foot putt, if missed, became a twelve-foot putt.  Saturday was the epitome of bad decision-making by the USGA when only three players shot under par and none in the afternoon.

Saturday became SOOO painful that one could almost understand when Phil Mickelson “cracked” and did something only your friendly playing partners do at the height of frustration with their game – break a rule! Mickelson shot an 81 that day and has thrown himself into a rule interpretation fiasco among all golfers as a result.

Jordan Speith, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Tiger Woods never made it to Saturday, so many of the stars of the game were gone. I am one of those viewers who, when Speith or Woods are in a tournament, devote more time to TV.  Tiger tripled bogeyed his very first hole and, just when it looked like Spieth would make the cut, he bogeyed the last two holes.  Even local golfer Cole Miller of Northwestern High School and Penn State kept my interest on Thursday and Friday, but, he, too, was not around the weekend.

The FOX coverage was much better than the previous two years, but it just does not seem the same without the familiar voices we are used to hearing, particularly Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller, and especially David Feherty (imagine the fun he would have had with the conditions).

But instead, I watched from the comfort of my home for three days and in a mountain setting on the final day. I did not for one millisecond regret saying “No, thanks” to the offer of a free ticket to Sunday’s round.

Maybe one day they will play the US Open at Northampton County Country Club in Bethlehem Township and I will walk the three blocks from my house and watch.


ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Speaking of Father’s Day, Tom Housenick of The Morning Call wrote a really nice article on Saturday, June 17, about current Iron Pig, former Liberty High School and Lehigh standout, Matt McBride and his father, George. Both seem to have the perfect father-son relationship. Give it a read:
    http://www.mcall.com/sports/baseball/ironpigs/mc-spt-fathers-day-matt-mcbride-0616-story.html
  2. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the most interesting congratulatory text he received after sweeping Cleveland for the NBA championship came from Tiger Woods. Like Woods did, Kerr now suffers from excruciating back pain and the two formed a bond over it. Woods congratulated Kerr with a text. Kerr did not send a text to Woods after Tiger shot an opening round 78 at the US Open.
  3. Pre-season college football poll has Big Ten schools Ohio State ranked #3, Wisconsin #7, Michigan State #9, Michigan #10, and Penn State #13. Penn State hosts Ohio State on September 29. This is the start of the Big Ten conference games. The winner of this game has won the conference title the past two years.
  4. It was a beautiful night for football this past Thursday when the McDonald’s Lehigh Valley All-Star Football Classic was played. Despite the lopsided score, plenty of fans turned out so plenty of money was raised for the McDonald’s charities. RCN was proud, once again, to sponsor the All-Star banquet the night before. It was the 20th year of RCN’s sponsorship.
  • RCN-TV will travel to Curt Simmons Park in Egypt next Tuesday to bring you the BML match-up with the Steel taking on the Orioles. Watch at 9:30pm.

LeBron, KD, or Steph?

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I think it is always fun to dream a bit, especially if you are a sports fan. Every sports fan loves to second guess, loves to complain about decisions made during a game, and loves to be a “Monday morning quarterback”.

It seems like it’s innate in a sports fan to think they know more than the coach or the general manager when it comes to making decisions about trades, the roster, play-calling, substitutions, and strategy. It’s just who we are.

So, if you are so inclined, I invite you to have some fun. Imagine if you are the general manager of the newly formed RCN Roundballers of the NBA and money is no object.  You have the opportunity to take any two of the following NBA players:

  1. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
  3. Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors
  4. James Harden – Houston Rockets
  5. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Whom would you select? Let’s go in reverse order.

Antetokounmpo might be the least known to you, but the 23 year-old might just be your best investment. He is 6’11” and averaged 26.9 points during the regular season and 25.7 in the playoffs.  He averages 10 rebounds per game.  He has a huge learning curve and is pretty much a guarantee to be a dominant force for many years to come.

James Harden certainly could have led the Rockets to the NBA championship final if he had some help in games 6 and 7 in the semis against the Warriors. Chris Paul was out with a hamstring injury so he had to carry the team, unlike the support that Curry and Durant get every night.  He averaged 28.6 points in the playoffs.

Is there any fan (unless your team is playing the Warriors) who is not impressed with the play of Stephen Curry? He is the engine that runs the Warriors and his 3-point shooting borders on phenomenal (nine in game two of the Finals was a record), not to mention his ability to take it to the basket against much taller players.  And, if you are looking for someone to run your offense and who is a proven winner (three championships and two MVPs), Curry might be your man.

Kevin Durant WAS the MVP of the 2018 NBA championship. He shot 65%, led his team in scoring (28.8), rebounds, blocks, and was second in assists.  If you watched the playoffs, he made big shot after big shot throughout.  The Warriors were not better when he was on the bench (-26 points), but they were much better when he was on the floor (+86 points).  But remember with the likes of Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, no player had more support.

And then there is LeBron. Individually, in the NBA today, there is no better player.  His team lost, but his supporting cast did not come close to those the Warriors had.  He averaged 32.3 points (51 in one game) after suffering an injured hand after game one.  I’m not sure anyone would argue that he is the most dominant player in the NBA.  Bear in mind, however, that he is 33 years old.

So there you have it – dream a bit. Start your team with two picks.  You will need a large payroll, for sure.  Do it among others so you can defend and argue for your choices.  Who will it be?  And remember – no matter whom you choose, someone will second guess you, anyway.  Welcome to the front office.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Oh, no! Ohtani is on the disabled list for the Angels. Shohei Ohtani, the pitching and batting phenom for the LA Angels, has a grade two sprain of his UCL. He was trying to do what Babe Ruth was able to do – pitch and bat in the majors. He was 4-1 on the mound and was batting .289 with 6 HR and 20 RBI’s.
  2. It was nice to see the Washington Capitals win their first ever NHL Stanley Cup this past week. Alex Ovechkin was the MVP and the franchise won for the first time in 43 years. The Redskins won the last DC title when they won the NFL championship in 1992. The Bullets last won an NBA title in 1978 – 40 years ago. Are the MLB Nationals next?
  3. There is plenty of speculation about where LeBron James will play next year. Some notes on the situation: he can become an unrestricted free agent if he opts out of his contract by June 29. By July 1, other teams can bid for his services. He has played for Cleveland, Miami, and Cleveland again. Watch for a feeding frenzy on July 1, if no decision is made by James until then.
  4. The Golden State Warriors will not be invited to the White House following their NBA championship. Unlike the Eagles who were disinvited, President Trump said he will not invite the Warriors.
  5.  RCN-TV will travel to Dimmick Park next Tuesday to bring you the BML match-up with the Yankees taking on the Royals. Watch at 9:30pm.

 

Summer Softball

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I was somewhat amused when I read that Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, while playing in a charity softball game, took a line drive off his face and suffered a broken nose. He will require surgery.

Now, don’t think I took great pleasure in this event; it’s just because of all the ways NFL’er Clay Matthews might be injured in athletics, I would not have thought it would be playing softball in a charity game.

But I can certainly relate. Allow me to first offer a little background.  I grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball.  From the time I started Little League baseball, there was really no down time as one season merged right in with the next and after finishing up a high school baseball season, summer baseball and summer basketball followed.  It was sports all-year round.

I then went on to play college basketball for two years and college baseball for four years. I bring this up only to make the point that I was never injured.  Sure, I had sore muscles and some aches and pains along the way.  I injured my elbow once while pitching, but never missed a game.

After college, I continued to play summer basketball and Blue Mountain League baseball. Again, I never got injured.

Greater responsibilities (two daughters) finally caught up to me and my playing days, for the most part, were over – except, of course, for the one team sport that awaits all over-the-hill athletes – slow-pitch softball. I dug out the glove, joined my friends, and signed up for two nights a week.

The camaraderie was great; the juices flowed; and the love of competition came back. But so did physical vulnerability.  During my tenure as a shortstop, I pulled a groin muscle running to first base.  I suffered heat stroke during a softball tournament and was rushed to the hospital after suffering excruciating cramps.  An intravenous potassium drip helped me recuperate, but it took hours.

The last straw came when I was chasing a pop fly into the outfield during a fall tournament. Our left fielder weighed about 250 pounds and was coming in to catch the ball as I was going out to do the same.  He made the catch, but also wiped me out.  I knew I was hurt. The naked eye revealed a broken collar bone.  Off to the hospital again!

The bone was popped back into place and I was forced to wear a harness and sleep in a recliner for about two weeks. I missed five days of school as a teacher (the only sick days of my career, mind you) and was in quite a bit of pain.  I was also unable to perform my duties as a PA announcer for the one and only time.

So, to recap – I played around fifty football games, 200+ basketball and 200+ baseball games in my career and was never seriously injured. Slow-pitch softball led to three major injuries: a broken bone and two hospital visits.

So the moral to this story (if indeed there is one) is for all the “jocks” who want to continue the glory days, think more seriously about how to do it.

Because, when it comes to softball, let me offer up the same advice given by the police captain every week on the TV show Hill Street Blues before the officers were sent out into the streets – “Let’s be careful out there.”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. In my last blog, I made mention that the Phillies were in first place. I believe the day I wrote that was the last time they were in first place. Now they are three games out of first and have lost seven of their last 10 games. And, some disgruntlement is setting in among some of the players. This could be a critical time for the season as they finish up their road trip.
  2. The NBA playoffs are showcasing unbelievable basketball talent. LeBron, KD and Steph are just beyond description. I don’t think they need to be compared to anyone in the past (LeBron and Jordan, for instance). Just sit back and marvel at what they can do in today’s age.
  3. Congratulations to the Freedom Patriots baseball team who won only their second district baseball championship and their first in 20 years when they beat Parkland 2-1 last week. Both teams are in the state playoffs and we wish them great success.
  4. RCN was once again proud to be a Silver Sponsor for the Gala in the Garden benefitting Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Emily Howatt Pliskatt Pediatric Unit. Over $315,000 was raised in a record-setting year. It is gratifying to be around people who perform miracles every day.
  5. RCN-TV is happy to bring you Blue Mountain League baseball again this summer. It all starts on Tuesday, June 12, at 9:30pm when we bring you the Easton at Berlinsville game. Watch men who play because they love the game.

 

Announcing

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

After a week of preparing for a Tuesday doubleheader of baseball, postponed to re-preparing for a Wednesday doubleheader, postponed again to re-re-preparing (probably not a word) for a Thursday tripleheader, only to have all the preparation in the end mean nothing.

On Friday the baseball games were moved to the University of Scranton because they had a baseball field with an artificial surface, a necessary requirement after a week of downpours. Other commitments did not allow us to go north to bring the EPC baseball semifinals and finals. The crew had to go fetch all the wire they had laid and the scaffolding that they had constructed and I could tear up all the research done during the week.

And, the weekend continued the bad weather pattern so outdoor activities were non-existent. So what’s a person to do?  Well, luckily, my wife was attending a “sprinkle” (I guess that’s a “shower” for a second child) for our niece, so my TV viewing was unencumbered.  I could watch what I wanted without guilt.

Obviously, that meant watching sports. There was plenty to choose from – baseball, golf, NHL hockey, and NBA basketball.  I had no true rooting interest in any, so I decided, thanks to my 6-tuner TIVO, to simply hop around from sport to sport.  This led me to analyzing the announcing challenges of doing various sporting events at the professional level.

Baseball is a game with plenty of non-action. After a week of preparation for games that were never played, I appreciated the necessity of baseball announcers to fill in the long gaps between pitches, pitching changes, visits to the mound, etc.,  with somewhat interesting stuff.  Plus, there is no clock in baseball, so, at times; a game can seem like an eternity.  The challenge here is to have things to talk about.

Golf is full of completely new challenges – who will talk, what’s the distance to the hole, what club is being used, what analysis needs to be made, what human interest story can be recalled during a lull, how to make plenty of inaction interesting – the list is endless. The salvation is that you have plenty of announcers you can rely on during play.  The key here seems to be organizing what the viewer will see and choreographing the crew of people who want to describe the scene to you.

I noticed with NHL hockey, the challenges are so different from the previous two sports. Here the action is constant.  The puck is always moving at a very rapid speed and the ability to memorize every player on the ice is essential.  There is no hesitation in calling passes, defensive plays, penalties, rule violations, etc.  Everything happens instantaneously and the announcer must be completely focused and well-versed on rosters and tactics.  The color analyst gets in and out when he can, hoping to add a piece of interesting information.

My final sport on Saturday was watching the NBA playoff game between the Celtics and the Cavaliers. This turned out to be a rout.  The Cavs won by 30!  The game was over early with the Cavs leading by 15 after one period and 20 at the half.  So what do the announcers talk about?  There’s nothing worse than a game where the outcome is pretty much a foregone conclusion early on. The announcers talked about anything and everything, including a rather lengthy discussion of the royal wedding that morning. Their knowledge of the British monarchy was sketchy at best, but you need to talk about something. When the game doesn’t warrant much analysis and the scoreboard is your enemy, you better find a way to earn your money and that means keeping the viewer somewhat interested.

So, in a week, where my announcing duties were taken away by Mother Nature, I spent one afternoon and evening analyzing the craft. I learned what I already knew; every sport presents different challenges to the crew and to the announcers.  The one constant is preparation.  I have some unused baseball sheets for you if you are interested in unused preparation.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Believe it or not, there is a move afoot in western Pennsylvania to look into separating boundary (public) and non-boundary (private) schools for state athletic competitions. The New Castle superintendent is polling schools across the state to see if there is interest in changing the current playoff system that pits public and private schools together into a single competition. Early reports indicate that something needs to change and public schools want change. The PIAA says legislatures need to change the system; legislators hint that it is strictly a PIAA decision. Interesting.
  2. I usually watch one auto race a year – the Indy 500. I especially enjoy the race when I have a rooting interest and, once again, Marco Andretti and Sage Karam – both of the Lehigh Valley – will be racing. I’ll be watching.
  3. Another week, another school shooting. Ten people, nine students and a teacher, were killed this week at Santa Fe High School. Houston Texans’ defensive end J. J. Watt said he will pay for the funerals of those killed. He is the same J. J. Watt who has raised more than $37 million for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
  4. As I write this, the Phillies are in first place. In case you missed it, the Phillies are in first place.
  5. Lafayette had their yearly Pardees (a takeoff of the ESPYs) this week, thanking and honoring their senior athletes for four years of classroom and athletic dedication. Their achievements are quite impressive. It has become a really fun night for parents, coaches, and student-athletes. Congrats to all involved. 

Behind the Mic: MLB – Expected – Unexpected

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I ended last week’s blog with a “Go, Phillies!” sign-off. Well, they are indeed playing well. As teams approach the completion of the first quarter of the season, they are, unexpectedly, rising in both the standings and in admiration.

But, I digress. The team that was really expected to do very well was the Yankees and they have not disappointed. They are tied with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball. They have won 19 of their last 22 games; average six runs per game and are carrying a team ERA of 2.88 which happens to be the third best in baseball. With those stats, they win most games by three runs!

Everyone expected them to have one of the best, if not the best, offenses in baseball, but I do not think fans expected their pitching staff to be this good. If the pitching and the bats continue as they have, they can certainly claim to be one of the best teams in baseball history.

The Phillies, on the other hand, were not expected to be one game out of first place and winning 60% of their games at this point or at any point in the season. They still trail the Braves by a game, but have been winning 73% of their home games and have won seven of the last 10.

Odubel Herrera is batting .360 and leading the National League in hitting. And that is a shock! The last Phillie to lead the NL in hitting was Richie Ashburn 60 years ago! Manager Gabe Kapler seems to be pushing the right buttons (the three-run homer by pinch-hitter Nick Williams in the sixth inning on Sunday to beat the Mets is a good example).

Last year, they were 6-22 in May and ended up losing 96 games. With the additions of Rhys Hoskins for a full season, Scott Kingery from the minors, Carlos Santana, and Jake Arrieta via the trade route, they are greatly improved. Aaron Nola’s ERA is 1.99. It is a team with good starting pitching and an adequate offense. Their bullpen remains suspect with two saves blown last week.

Talent-wise, the Nationals and the Braves could stand in the way of the Phillies making the playoffs. The Nationals look like the best team in the division and are making their climb to the top. The Braves are obviously in first place as I write this. But the Phillies ARE sandwiched between the two.

The Yankees, on the other hand, appear to be, as expected, the best team in baseball. However, it is always exciting to look forward to the unexpected – Go, Phillies!

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. New York Giants QB Eli Manning will be in court this week defending himself against a lawsuit that says he sold fake helmets to collectors. The plaintiff wanted “game-used” helmets and claims the ones he received were “bogus” and Manning knew they were. Interesting case. Stay tuned.
  2. This might make Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but some sportswriters are claiming that the NFL Cleveland Browns may have improved the most through the draft. Of course, if the Browns win three games, the writers can claim that they were right. The bar is not set very high here.
  3. It was obvious the Yankees were probably going to have the best offensive team in baseball. They have not disappointed. For the first time in their exulted history, they had four players hit 10 or more home runs by the 40th game. They had never had that distinction in 50 games before! By the way, the Texas Rangers did it in 2003.
  4. The Celtics crushed the Cavs by 25 points in the first game of the NBA Eastern Finals and held LeBron James to just 15 points. Despite not receiving one Coach of the Year vote from his peers, Brad Stevens has shown in the playoffs that he is already one of the top coaches in the league. It was his formula that stopped Ben Simmons and the Sixers in the Eastern semifinals.
  5. Speaking of the NBA, I unexpectedly have really enjoyed the playoffs. There is plenty of defense, intensity, and some spectacular offense. I have become a fan!

Philly Karma – Gone?

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

My hope is that by next Monday you look back on this blog and happily point out what a pessimist I was. My hope is that everything you read here about the 76’ers is all wrong.  My hope is that by the time you read this, the Sixers have come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Celtics and have moved into the Eastern finals.  My hope is that the ecstasy every Philadelphia fan felt when the Eagles won the Super Bowl would reemerge as the Sixers fought for an NBA title.  My hope is that the amazing run by Villanova in winning the NCAA basketball championship would just continue to carry over.

But, alas (I like using this word), I believe the Philadelphia Karma may have quickly come to an end. I only have to look at the Philadelphia Flyers who took some of the luster off the city when they lost four of six to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.  To be honest, they just looked awful.

The Flyers gave up six goals per game in the four losses and an average of 4.7 goals in all of the games. The defense was bad and the goal tending just as bad.  During the regular season, the Flyers gave up just 2.9 goals per game.  They could not come close to matching the speed and offensive skills of the Penguins.  I am sure the fans thought this could be a charmed playoff for their beloved hockey team, but it was not to be.

But, all was not lost. The Sixers were coming off a terrific regular season. They did away with the Miami Heat in a very physical series and looked very strong doing it. The Celtics were coming in to the second round with a number of injuries to key personnel. Everything looked good for the home team.  But, after a long layoff after the first round, they looked like they were in a funk in game one and were beaten soundly.

Game Two was a winnable game, but Philly cannot win if Ben Simmons scores one point. Simmons was the goat in Game Three, also, when he made mistake after mistake down the stretch which cost the Sixers the game.  Poor passes and poor decision making (shooting when he should have pulled the ball out late in the game), along with missing an uncontested dunk have exposed weaknesses which were not apparent during the regular season.  All year, he played like a veteran, but, in the playoffs, he looks very much like a rookie.

I am convinced that the 76’ers are better than the Celtics. But, I am also convinced the Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens has figured out how to beat them.  A major part of their strategy is to let Ben Simmons shoot, but not let him pass.  Simmons is reluctant to do that and his passes have been defended.

I hope I am completely wrong and the next four games (if there are four) belong to the team from Philadelphia. Otherwise, go Phillies!!


ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. It’s good to be a quarterback in the NFL. Matt Ryan of the Falcons reportedly signed a contract that guarantees him $100 million and gets him $30 million a year. He joins Kirk Cousins ($28 million), Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million) and Matthew Stafford ($27 million) as the highest paid NFL quarterbacks.
  2. Speaking of making a good living, Saquon Barkley signed with the Giants for @ $31 million, the second best ever by an NFL running back (Adrian Peterson got $36 million). Barkley’s agent, by the way, was Roc Nation which was founded by Jay-Z.  Saquon will make the Giants offensive line much better and offer Eli Manning a great receiving option out of the backfield.
  3. The Yankees are as hot as everyone thought they would be. Their lineup is just awesome and they have won 15 of their last 16 games. But the Red Sox look like the second best team in baseball. The two teams play each other this week. The Phillies are 18-15 and faltering a bit. But, they are in a weak division unless the Nationals start putting it all together.
  4. No Celtic has caused more problems for the Sixers than Terry Rozier. When Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury that necessitated surgery, Rozier not only stepped into the vacated position, but he also stepped into Irving’s shoes (and not just figuratively). Irving gave him eight pairs of sneakers and Rozier is wearing them in the playoffs. Rozier is filling Irving’s shoes literally.
  5. I want to thank Scott Barr and John Leone for “blogging away” while I was on vacation. 

Summer School

 BEHIND THE MIKE: (With John Leone)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

The old Syracuse “Parochial League” of the late ‘60s and ‘70s has long since faded into nostalgic veneration. But once upon a time, ten vibrant high schools representing neighborhood enclaves separated by various Catholic parishes and sometimes ethnicity dotted the city. These schools – too small to field football teams – spawned basketball rivalries that became year-long affairs, extending well throughout the summer on the city’s playgrounds and across the demilitarized boundaries that separated them during the school year. Personal rivalries often became friendships, the former combatants ultimately bound by the shared experience of that unique time and the emotional investment they made in such a consequential part of their youth.

With all apologies to Robert Fulghum, I think everything I ever really needed to know I learned as a teenager growing up on those summer courts. Those fortunate enough to have grown up in a similar time and place know what I mean.  The summer months spent on the playground were as important as the long winter season itself. Every park had its regulars – a core group of maybe 15 guys who seemed to live there. Our parents would certainly agree, but never seemed to mind. From one night to the next, we found a way to construct teams among ourselves in a fashion that, as I recall, would make today’s professional GMs proud. “Next” needed no further clarification as the universal term for the random group of five waiting to take on the winners of the game in progress. The increasingly large group surrounding the court who watched the games also waited. There were nights when “next” went two and three games deep.

There were no coaches to choreograph plays and patterns or to distribute playing time. Being on time was mandatory if you wanted that first game, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. The six o’clock church bells would tell you if you were late. And you were late if you weren’t there early – especially if you were unsure of your skill level. If 11 guys showed up and you were the one left off of one of the two teams “choosing up” sides, you had two choices: work on your game or work on your personality. Your peers delivered the message in a way that seemed to be perfectly natural – so matter-of-fact and without malice or judgment. And it was understood and accepted by all. Besides, as the 11th man sitting out, you’d have the pick of the best of the new arrivals to join you for “next.”

There was a beautiful balance to that basketball community. The occasional “outsiders” were tested but given their chance. And if they happened to improve the quality of play, all the better – it could only help the reputation and regard for the “home” park. “Did you hear, so-and-so was at Sunnycrest last night. Let’s go there and play.” Some rules were universal, but like different languages, there was always nuance and you adapted to the rules of the home park for good order.

But for the most part, a typical evening brought back the regulars. Team compositions would change from night to night, and one night’s fiercest competitor would be the next night’s closest teammate. Not only were sport-specific skills developed, but more importantly, athletic instincts were honed. On a successful night, a team would learn to play to its strengths and compensate for its weaknesses. On the tougher nights, a loss could mean a wasted opportunity and an early walk home. It was almost too painful to stay and watch, knowing that your night was over.

I don’t remember – ever – asking about anyone’s politics or religion at the park. If a guy could shoot it, there had to be a spot for him; if he could rebound, all the better. We came to know who was selfish, who was smart, and who was steady. Some guys made their mark as dependable role players, though we never referred to them that way. Such terms were far too sophisticated and complex. We seemed to know things instinctively, even if we couldn’t define them – at least those of us who had a sense of what we were after.

And what we were after was pretty simple at the time – a win and a chance to hold the court and play on. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve gained perspective. Perhaps what we were really after was something altogether more important, more valuable, and more substantive, though we couldn’t have known it at the time.

As I look back now, I realize what an education that park provided. Leaders emerged. Rules were developed – sometimes on the fly – to create some level of equity, not in outcome, but in opportunity. The only prize from evening to evening was the honor of being part of a team that would hold the court after a win. But eventually, you lost. And those of us lucky enough to realize it began to discover something about ourselves in the way we reacted to losing. The very first vestiges of self-awareness may well have emerged on those courts. After all, the pain and frustration of having to wait three games – or worse – a whole day for another chance had to be dealt with, and how we did so was like holding a mirror to our faces. But tomorrow, we’d be there again. And the next night, and the next. The park gave you the test first and the lesson later.

I think that by and large, the evolution and growth of competitive youth sports has been a good thing. Today, there are better facilities, better equipment, and indoor spaces. Bleachers are full of parents, families, and friends – some, albeit, with less-than-healthy rooting interests. But the structure and organization afforded to kids today comes at a price beyond just the hit to mom and dad’s pocketbook. On some level, we seemed to have stripped the game of its ability to impart lessons that are best discovered and not necessarily taught. Tell a kid something, and he or she may forget it. Show them, and they may remember it. Get them involved, and they will learn it. But have them discover it, and they will own it. The park games were organic. They had an equilibrium that could only be understood and managed by us – the players.  And though we didn’t know it at the time, we were forging and shaping much more than our basketball skills.

Summer programs now are engineered to ensure structure and visibility. Referees are always present to adjudicate disputed calls, removing the need for the spontaneous and bristly negotiations we’d conduct on our own. There is no need to listen for church bells. Schedules and game clocks determine start times, and no one has to keep score; there are scoreboards to do that. Very little is missing or left to chance. Everything, that is, except for the experience of having young people create something of consequence completely on their own and outside of the constraints of teachers, parents, and coaches. On those summer courts of Syracuse, it was ours, and we owned it.

To this day, my 95-year-old mom recalls those days when I’d come home from the park. She knew immediately what kind of night it had been from my demeanor. “It’s only a game,” she would say. Now, in her later years and after all this time, we look back and laugh. And having raised three sons who attended “summer school” on those city courts, I think she’s finally coming around. Still, whenever I hear someone say “it’s only a game,” I think of those parks, those courts, and those kids who created and represented something so much more.

Cruise TV

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I just returned from vacation. I was on a cruise.  My wife and I love to cruise.  There’s plenty of great food whenever you want to eat, high-level entertainment, comedians, bumping cars, rock-climbing, surfing, simulated sky-diving, and beautiful weather.  You wake up when you want; a room steward cleans up your room and bathroom three times a day; and there is even a spot on the ship away from all children to relax by the pools and hot tubs.  So what’s NOT to like?

I’ll tell you what’s not to like – Cruise ship television!

There are @ 20 channels to watch – five or six are for children, 10 are basically cruise ship commercials selling jewelry, tours, and future cruises. One channel simply reminds you to constantly wash your hands by playing a consistently annoying song and one channel is a live shot of the front of the ship (I’m not sure why).  That leaves MSNBC and FOX as a way to get any news and ESPN for “sports”.  The problem is all sports are SOCCER!!  That’s right, soccer.  My room steward thought it was a nice gesture to leave soccer on our TV every time he finished up his work in our room.

But I do not like soccer (apologies to all the soccer fans). I have just had too many bad experiences over the years with the game.  As an example, allow me to relate to you my very first soccer broadcast:

In the summer of 1975, I received a phone call from the station manager of Twin-County TV asking me if I knew the game of soccer. I surmised, since this was the middle of summer, he was asking because we were going to do some local youth soccer.  Who else played in the summer?  So I said, “Yes”.  Truth be told, I had never actually watched a game of soccer – oh, I knew that the object of the game was to put the ball into the net and I knew that did not happen very often, but that was the extent of my “Futbol” knowledge.  I was told the game was the next day and it was at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

It turns out the station acquired the rights to do the Philadelphia Atoms games. The Atoms were part of the North American Soccer League, the highest professional level of soccer in America and I was going to do the play-by-play of a game I had never watched.  To add to that pressure, the opponent was the New York Cosmos and that night after the game they were going to sign Pele, the greatest soccer player of all time, to a contract.  He was there and interest in this game could not have been any greater.

Being a teacher, I decided to take the advice I gave to my students – before taking on a task, do your research. I went to our high school library and took out all the books they had on soccer (there were no computers yet).  There were three.  I was also teaching speed reading at the time so it was not hard for me to devour the three books, take notes, memorize position responsibilities, and do my best to understand the rules.  After a day and a half of study, I left for the Stadium confident I could get through this.

When I got to the Stadium, I was led to the press area where a nice full-course meal was served. I talked to some of the reporters about the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.  Twenty minutes before the LIVE broadcast I ventured up to the booth on the 50-yard line.  Leather reclining chairs were there for my comfort.

However, discomfort set in as soon as I was handed the starting lineups. When I left my house, I knew positions and their roles.  When I got the starting lineup, the names of the positions I had learned had changed.  Except for the goalie, every position had a different name.  Defenders became fullbacks, wing-backs and sweepers.  Forwards were now midfielders and forwards.  There were wingers and strikers.  What there actually was – was confusion.  I was lost.

I did the game; did the best I could. When I finished, the owner of Twin-County came on the headset and in his heavy Chinese accent said, “You do god job!  You do good job!”  I figured he didn’t know anything about soccer either.

I could tell you more career soccer horrors (15 overtimes that took 6 ½ hours to play and still ended in a tie; a 1 ½ hour pre-game due to a youth preliminary match that would not end; a high school game with green numbers on a green shirt that were impossible to distinguish, etc., etc.)

So no one was happier to return to the RCN TV lineup than I was on Saturday. Cruising IS wonderful; cruise TV is not!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Finally, after all the hype, predictions, and recommendations, the NFL draft is this week starting on April 26 at 8:00pm on FOX. We will finally find out where Saquan Barkley will play. The Eagles have the 32nd and last pick of the first round and not again until the 30th and 32nd pick of the fourth round.
  2. I will continue to remind you to keep your eyes on Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese sensation, who is now part of the LA Angels roster as both a pitcher and hitter. He is currently hitting .342 with three home runs and 11 RBIs and is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA. He’ll be fun to watch all season.
  3. With all the talk of speeding up baseball, someone needs to talk to San Francisco Giant first baseman Brandon Belt. He had a 21-pitch at bat on Sunday, fouling off 16 two-strike pitches. The time at the plate – 12 minutes and 45 seconds. It is believed to be a record. By the way, he lined out to right. He later homered in the game.
  4. The NBA playoffs are mean, nasty, and ugly. I thought hockey was vicious, but the NBA may be getting worse. The saying now should be, “I went to a mugging, and an NBA game broke out.”
  5. Next week’s blog will be guest-written by our basketball nut, John Leone. His blog will relate to anyone who grew up playing basketball on the summer playgrounds. It’s terrific reading.

 

High School Wrestling

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

By Scott Barr, guest blogger

High school wrestling, especially in District XI, isn’t “dying” or “broken”. And while it doesn’t have to be “saved” or “fixed”, that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak it a bit.   Frustrating to fans and competitors alike is that some of these are no-brainer changes that would yield huge improvements.  One or two may fall into my list of pet peeves, but since Laubach gave me his blog for the week, I might as well use the forum.

In no particular order:

Realign the EPC:  Last time I wrote this blog, I put my ideas out there.  Find it here:  https://rcn.com/rcntv/behind-mic-scotts-super-scheduler/  I have had only a handful of conversations about it, but absolutely everyone sees the need to make a change.  Maybe my plan, maybe somebody else’s, but can common sense please prevail?

Change the out of bounds rule:  Gee whiz already.  Nearly every school has a “big” mat now.  One supporting point inbounds for either wrestler, we keep going.  It’s the college rule, and it’s ridiculously simple.  Of course, if we change this rule, it means we must . . .

. . .Wrestle on “big” mats for districts: This is a tough one.  We wrestle districts, for the most part, on small mats that absolutely change the game at the most important time of the year.  Of course, our current venues don’t have room for six big mats, and arenas that do have the floor room are expensive.  Around we go.

Reduce the number of weight classes: 115, 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197, 265.  Eleven weight classes—NCAA plus one at 115.  Too many benefits to discuss them all here, but consider more competitive dual meets, less “bumping” to avoid matchups, fewer forfeits, better JV development, shorter duration of dual meets, and more.  The only argument presented, ever, is that 14 weight classes gives more opportunity for participation.  And then, of course, we hold dual meets with a bunch of forfeits anyway.

Multiple entrants, per school, in post season: If a wrestler has a season full of varsity experience, it’s heartbreaking when they are eliminated in their own wrestling room when another wrestler—usually a close friend—bumps them out of the lineup for districts.  Track, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, golf and others allow more than one participant.  This is a good change.

And final…..

Enough of the “national” stuff: I am philosophically opposed to “National High School” anything.  In many cases, we are pressuring 16, 15, or 14 year olds to a point that is unnecessary.  No more national rankings, “who’s number 1”, “Flo Nationals” and all the rest.  This year, I actually saw national youth rankings.  It’s officially gone too far.

Maybe I’ve crossed the line into “curmudgeon” as Gary and I have often joked happens to old sports guys.   That said, curmudgeons have good ideas once in a while.

 

Baseball?

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Dilly dogs, kale, sunflower seeds, and Rocky Mountain oysters (cattle testicles) are some of the newest additions to ballpark menus this season. If you think that is strange, how about the new stat – MV?  That stands for “mound visits”.  A team is allowed six this year.  Every one after that necessitates a pitching change.  In the minors, extra innings will start with a runner on second base.  So with all the shenanigans going on, there is still baseball and, therefore, the need (after all, I have to fill my blog) with prognostications.  Here is how I see the teams finishing in their divisions:

American League

 West

  1. Houston – They run the risk of not coming back from their World Series victory, but they have the same great lineup and play in the same weak division. They will be back.
  2. LA Angels – The most interesting new player is Japan’s Shohel Ohtani. He pitches AND he bats when he isn’t pitching. Mike Trout stays in this lineup. At the very least, this team will be fun to watch and could surprise.
  3. Oakland – Matt Olson had a terrific rookie season and their pitching rotation should improve as the year goes on.
  4. Seattle – Team’s everyday lineup is aging so productivity is suspect as is the starting pitching.
  5. Texas Rangers – Best pitcher (Darvish) gone and a weak lineup that strikes out too much puts them in the cellar in the West.

Central

  1. Cleveland – Won 102 games last year and in this division they should come close to that again. Plus, they are very, very talented in all aspects of the game.
  2. Minnesota – They won 85 games and were a Wild Card last season, but are they better than last year? I don’t think so.
  3. Kansas City – They lost two key players in Cain and Hosmer, but the nucleus of this team is pretty good. They certainly will compete.
  4. Chicago White Sox – This team has potential and could surprise. I’m not willing to move them higher. We’ll see.
  5. Detroit – This team is not good and getting too old.

East

  1. New York Yankees – Stanton AND Judge? Are you kidding? Some of you remember Maris AND Mantle. Only a rookie manager could screw this team up, but Aaron Boone should be just fine.
  2. Boston – They won the division last year and their manager still got fired. This is a talented team led by an energetic manager and they would love nothing more than to upset the Evil Empire (that’s the Yankees, by the way). This rivalry will still be fun to watch, especially with the expectations surrounding the Yankees.
  3. Toronto – There is a good pitching rotation here, but there’s a strange chemistry between players and staff. Could be better; could be worse (how’s that for going out on a limb?)
  4. Tampa Bay – They’re rebuilding again (No Longoria, etc.). They have little money to change their future.
  5. Baltimore – After relying the prior years on just hitting home runs to win, they did not score nearly enough last year. Their payroll does not match the teams that win, so they don’t.

    The Yankees will win the American League pennant.

National League

West

  1. LA DodgersThey had a great regular season in ’17 and took the Astros to the seventh game of the World Series, only to lose. With Clayton Kershaw for at least one more season, they are certainly in great shape to repeat that success again.
  2. Colorado – They garnered a Wild Card berth last year and bring back a strong lineup and a very strong bullpen. If it wasn’t for the Dodgers in their Division, they would be the favorite.
  3. Arizona – They had a good year in ’17 winning 93 games, but they did little to improve their chances to move up in the Division. Losing J. D. Martinez to the Red Sox has to hurt them.
  4. San Francisco – They were not good last year (98 losses), but they picked up Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Pitching staff needs to stay healthy to compete. The Giants will be better, but how much better?
  5. San Diego – They lost 91 games last year and did not get any better. No one comes to see them. They define the word “hapless”.

Central

  1. Chicago Cubs – Joe Madden! Joe Madden! Yu Darvish! Yu Darvish! And they were good before the trade. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is picking the Cubs – why should I be different?
  2. St. Louis – This is a very solid baseball team with no major weaknesses. It’s time for them to get back into the playoffs and I think they will.
  3. Milwaukee – Started off very well in ’17 and scared the Cubs much of the season, but pitcher Jimmy Nelson is out for the first few months, so that will hurt their chances of a similar start to this year. This team, however, has a bright future.
  4. Cincinnati – It still looks very bleak for this franchise. Joey Votta cannot make this team a winner without a great deal of help and it’s just not there.
  5. Pittsburgh – There is no way to go but down after their offseason trades. The major rebuilding starts this season.

East

  1. Washington – New manager Dave Martinez is a Joe Madden protégé and takes over one of the best teams in baseball. Winning the Division should be easy; getting past the first-round of playoffs has been the problem. This team has everything and should be in the World Series hunt.
  2. NY Mets – I don’t know – Don’t the Mets have high expectations every year, only to falter? I see that possibly happening again, but this year might be different – I don’t know (am I repeating myself?).
  3. Philadelphia – Early indications are that new manager Gabe Kapler is in over his head with this young talented team. This team NEEDS a wise leader at the helm to improve as the year progresses. Let’s hope that improvement includes the manager and happens quicker than later. Analytics will be tested; so might the Phillies’ fans.
  4. Atlanta – This team is in turmoil and expectations are exceptionally low. The only bright spot for them is that the Marlins are worse.
  5. Miami – Derek Jeter has cleaned out the garage and will start “The Process” (isn’t that the new catchphrase for “expect a lot of losses”?) to make the Marlins better. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2003, so this will be their 15th straight year of being idle in the postseason.

    The Cubs will win the N L pennant.  Yankees win it all (Although I hope the Cubs win).


ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Allentown Central Catholic’s Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman finished his career at Michigan last Monday night in the National Championship game. He finished with 23 points leading the Wolverines in scoring. He scored 1313 career points, played in 144 games and started 116 of them. He had a great career and my guess is he will continue to play more basketball at the professional level somewhere. Ironically, his high school career ended when he scored 30 points, but lost to another Philadelphia team.
  2. Let’s see, the Eagles win the Super Bowl; Villanova wins the NCAA National Championship and now the Flyers and the ‘76ers are in the NHL and NBA playoffs. Could the Karma continue? And the Phillies? Who knows?
  3. My wife cannot understand how I can spend five hours in front of the TV watching golf, but even she got caught up in the final round of the Masters. The suspense lasted right up to the very last shot of the tournament when Patrick Reed dropped a putt to win it all by one stroke. There was great drama for all five hours. Ask my wife.
  4. In my MLB preview, I mentioned Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese sensation, who is now part of the LA Angels roster as both a pitcher and hitter. On Sunday, he retired the first 19 batters he faced, struck out 12, and gave up just one hit in seven innings. He won his second game in two starts. Oh, and, by the way, in the four games he has played in the batting lineup, he is hitting .389 (best on the team), has three home runs, and seven RBIs. To say he is “as advertised” is a huge understatement so far.
  5. Next week’s blog will be guest-written by our wrestling guru, Scott Barr. I guarantee he will have some very interesting things to say about the state of high school wrestling. I will be on a well-deserved (according to me) vacation.