Behind the Mic: The Next Babe?

Sunday is, at least for me, a day of watching sports. I try not to interfere with family time, but I must admit, between the NFL, college basketball, and golf, there is often a magnetic pull towards the remote control anytime I am in the family room.

This past Sunday was no exception. The Travelers’ Championship was on CBS and Jordan Spieth was in the lead.  I enjoy rooting for Jordan, I had played the golf course, and Travelers is my insurance company, so I just had to tune in.  On a day when Spieth could not make a putt, he dramatically wins the tournament in a playoff by holing a sand shot from 60 feet away.  Another $1.2 million in his 24-year-old bank account.

I figured my sports’ viewing for the day was over. Then on comes 60 Minutes, a show my wife and I watch every week.  They did a very, very interesting piece on Artificial Intelligence.  The final story was on a Japanese baseball player named Shohei Ohtani who plays for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Ohtani is a 6’4, 215 pound, 22 year-old right-handed pitcher who has thrown the ball an amazing 102.5 miles per hour. To steal some facts from the show, he has a higher strikeout rate than Clayton Kershaw, has thrown the fastest pitch in league history, strikes out 11+ batters per game, and last year had an ERA of 1.86.  And, oh, by the way, that’s just on Sundays.

During the week, except for the two-day rest he gets before he pitches again, Ohtani is the designated hitter. That’s right – when he doesn’t pitch and hit, he just hits.  “Just” is a misplaced adjective here.  Last year, he had 22 home runs, hitting the long ball 6% of the time he came the plate.  That’s a better percentage than Bryce Harper and Mike Trout of Major League baseball.

And it looks like this is his final year of Japanese baseball. He is, most likely, headed here.  BUT, he will only play for a team that allows him to hit when he pitches and hit when he doesn’t.  The last player to do that and do it well was Babe Ruth!

He currently makes @ $2 million, lives in a team dorm, does not drink, and has no car. He would have garnered close to $20+ million had he signed an MLB contract last year, but the new bargaining agreement limits international players from earning over $10 million and they must play at least six years with the team that signs them.

Ohtani doesn’t care. He says he has enough money.  And he is anxious to bat against Kershaw and pitch to Harper.

The first piece on 60 Minutes was about robots doing amazing things that humans cannot do.  The Ohtani story seemed to be just a continuation, but this was an amazing thing that a human can do.  Much like Babe Ruth did.

Check out the segment:
http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/japans-babe-ruth-2/

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. ESPN is polling fans to choose the top quarterbacks on a given team. For instance, the Packers’ top three would have to be Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers. How would you rank them.  Ironically, ESPN has listed 19 teams and the Eagles are not one of them. Are they telling us something or did they just not get to the Birds yet?
  2. Speaking of “telling us something”, on the ESPN “This Week in Sports” search under MLB, there are 166 stories listed. The Phillies are the focus on one! That story is about their Saturday win (I guess the rare win warranted the story) over the Diamondbacks. Pathetic.
  3. It was announced this week that the Saucon Valley Country Club will host its eighth USGA championship in 2022 when the Senior Open comes to the Lehigh Valley. That is the year when Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, and many other famous names will be eligible to play. RCN has always been proud of their telecommunication assistance during the past tournaments. It should create a great deal of national excitement for our area.
  4. The Cedar Beach Basketball Showcase in Allentown is, often, an indicator of which local teams will be the best in the upcoming high school season. The early favorites are familiar – Emmaus, Allen, Central Catholic, and Bangor (of the Colonial League) all look solid again. Sleepers could be Nazareth, Northampton, Liberty, and Dieruff (yes, Dieruff). That’s plenty of teams creating plenty of competition. It looks like another good year.
  5. No Blue Mountain League Game of the Week this coming Tuesday night (it’s July 4). However, on Friday, July 7, you can watch the Senior Baseball League on RCN at 9:30 PM. It’s their first television game in history and features the Gabelsville Owls vs the Palmisano Rangers.

We’re taking a holiday break next week, so there will be no blog. Wishing you a happy and safe Independence Day!

The SportsTalk Shop: MLB Draft & Spring Sports Recap

One of the guests on our last “SportsTalk” program was MLBPipeline.com Senior Writer Jim Callis, who does an amazing job analyzing both high school and college baseball athletes all over the country.  Each year Jim and his colleagues preview hundreds of prospects—many stories accompanied by video highlights of the player—from all corners of the country—and beyond.

Previewing the MLB Draft is incredibly more complex than the NFL and NBA Drafts, with practically every potential football and basketball draftee having all their games now broadcast on television or internet outlets.  We’re fortunate to have someone like Jim on our program, with the depth of knowledge about potential baseball prospects for the professional baseball franchises in the RCN-TV viewing area and beyond.  Be sure to check out the entire interview on RCN On-Demand or on our weekly podcast for insights on all the top-tier prospects.

In the same way, on this Thursday’s show we’ll have Eric Longenhagen from “FanGraphs” to recap this year’s MLB Draft, with insights on the selections made by the Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Yankees and other teams in the RCN viewing area.   We’ll also have a discussion on the use of analytics in baseball—something that “FanGraphs” has excelled in providing to baseball players, coaches, front office personnel and fans alike.
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After a spring that saw some wild weather issues (the same season that included a record low and a record high temperature within two weeks), we will officially enter the summer season and, with it, conclude our spring sports coverage in the RCN-TV viewing area.

Additionally, there were equally wild games that we covered—both with our full-productions and on our weekly features on the “SportsTalk” programs.   Our spring sports broadcast coverage included the District XI 6A baseball championship game, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference baseball semifinals and final, the McDonald’s Football All-Star contest and Grandview Speedway auto racing.

Here are highlights of our spring sports productions:

Don’t forget, there are still a few weeks left to check out all of these productions in their  entirety for free by utilizing RCN’s On-Demand services!
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This week, I’m looking forward to my first look at Blue Mountain League Baseball game with the Orioles taking on the Royals.  The “BML Game of the Week” will be on RCN-TV every Tuesday evening at 9:30 featuring the top teams squaring off against each other in some of the best local amateur baseball action in the Lehigh Valley.

Finally, special thanks to NFL Network Football Analyst and Former Pro NFL Player Brian Baldinger for inviting me to a special event in Philadelphia this past week featuring area sportscasters, media members and special community leaders.  It was an honor to speak with and be included on a list of incredible broadcasters in the Delaware Valley.  Brian and fellow “Footballstories” Co-Creator Al Thompson do amazing work supporting the community—in addition to running a first-rate magazine, radio program and internet services—and I enjoyed my time with them and some truly great names in Philadelphia broadcasting.

Now, bring on the summer season…!

Behind the Mic: Golf Language

For most fathers, Father’s Day is a special weekend.  My family celebrated on Saturday and it was a wonderful day.  The celebration continued into Sunday like it does every year for me because that is when the US Open Golf Championship is decided.

Much of the time when I play these days, it is in a charity tournament. Ninety-percent of the time the format of the tournament is a “scramble”.  This means after everyone hits, your group takes the best shot and everyone plays from there.  That process continues until the ball is in the hole.  Because we are always playing the best shot, it is not unusual, unlike when one plays their own ball, to get pars and birdies.  This allows one’s team to get scores much like the pros.

So Sunday, I am camped in my recliner watching the golf and being amazed by the shots of eventual winner Brooks Koepka.  He is making birdie after birdie on the back nine and he even threw in an eagle.  My wife, supposedly reading the Sunday paper and playing games on her phone, seemed to become very interested in the leader.  “He certainly goes to the gym”, she offered up and I now realize she is suddenly interested in golf.  This is as rare as a snowstorm in July.

Then she opines, “Why do they call the scores pars, birdies, or eagles?”  No one ever asked me that before.  I know what they are; I do not know their origin.  So I decided to find out.  I’m not sure she really wanted to know, but now I did.

It turns out a man named Hugh Rotherham in 1890 standardized the number of shots a golfer should take at each hole.  This score eventually became a “bogey” named after the Bogey man, a goblin or devil.

Par was derived from the American stock exchange term which is a stock’s normal figure.  Par was actually used before bogey, but Americans did not like the British system and began referring to one over par as a bogey.

“Birdie” was an American slang term meaning excellent.  It originated at the Atlantic City Country Club in 1903 and meant one under par.  A stone on the course signifies the origin (I’ve played there and have seen the rock below):

birdie

“Eagle” just became an extension of the bird theme and came about shortly after “birdie” came into vogue.   It meant two under par.  The extremely rare three under par was named after a very rare bird – an “albatross”.

So now I know the origin of the terms and I will tell my wife to read this blog.  I just have a feeling that if the blog does not include a picture of Brooks Koepka, she might not be all that interested.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I’ve had it with the pace of Major League baseball. Pitchers take too much time; batters step out of the box too often; managers make too many trips to the mound and there are too many pitching changes.  Throw in a 17-inning game from time to time and baseball becomes excruciatingly slow.  I hope the rules “they are a-changin’”.
  1. It looks like the “76ers” are going to get a first-round draft pick. It appears that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the selection.  A great point guard could actually make them competitive.  Dare a Philadelphia fan get one’s hopes up?
  1. Ever since her UConn days, I always loved watching Diana Taurasi play basketball. Her talent and enthusiasm were what made her stand out.  She just seemed to love the game.  This past Sunday she became the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history.  After Sunday’s game, she had scored 7,504 points.  Amazing!
  1. Watching golf on FOX is still not the same as the Golf Channel, NBC, or CBS. Joe Buck had an awkward moment when Brooks Koepka kissed a girl after he won the US Open and Buck incorrectly identified her as Koepka’s former girlfriend.  The young lady was his new girlfriend.  It was later corrected.

P.S.  FOX is much better than they were the first two years.  However, there is still room for growth.

  1. Watch the Blue Mountain League Game of the Week every Tuesday night at 9:30 PM.  On Friday, June 23, you can watch the Senior Baseball League on RCN at 9:30 PM.  That game will be from Sam Balliet Stadium.  It’s always nice to go back there.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: “Simplifying” Sixers Draft Options

There has been lots of debate (partially because of the lack of any other positive sports news) in the Delaware Valley over the last few weeks about the 76ers’ upcoming NBA draft selections.  There have also been varying opinions and radical mock-draft shifts—some of which have no possible way of coming true.

In order to help cut through the misinformation and get Sixers’ fans ready for the June 22nd draft, here are a few “clear-cut” things to know in helping you figure out what Philadelphia will do.

1) Remember Your Needs 

  • a point guard (or point-forward) who can run the offense
  • a guard who can DEFEND the opposition’s point guard
  • a wing player who can shoot from the outside & stretch opposing team’s defense
  • a lock-down defensive player

After years of selecting the best available player in the draft, the time has clearly come when the Sixers must focus in on filling their biggest needs and not necessarily adding the most talented player available when making your pick(s).  You are probably looking at adding at least three players who can fill these needs, which is very important when looking at what the team must do over the next few weeks (and not just in the draft).

2) Careful Evaluation of Your Options
The conventional wisdom is that the Celtics select Markelle Fultz with the first pick and Lonzo Ball (and his controversial father) would head to the Lakers with the second pick.  That leaves four most probable players for the 76ers to decide on.

Here’s a scaled-down scouting report from CBS on the first three players most likely to be available:

  • Jayson Tatum – can play right away .. quality jump shooter potential .. a multi-positional defender
  • Josh Jackson – great defender .. physically ready to contribute … needs a consistent jumper in order to become a tremendous player
  • De’Aaron Fox – great speed … true PG .. a jump shot away from being frightening

Notice a pattern?  All three of these options are missing one of the biggest needs the Sixers have right now.

Of these three, Fox probably has the most upside and can be the biggest impact.  However, 76ers President of basketball operations and General Manager Bryan Colangelo made the rounds on many radio talk shows and podcasts clearly stating that he believes Ben Simmons is unquestionably going to be the point guard—on offense—for his team for the foreseeable future.  Unless he’s purely posturing (and he likely could be), selecting Fox would create a log-jam, pitting two of the team’s biggest names at the same position on the floor.  However, if you’re willing to NOT have your offense run through Simmons, Fox would add speed and a very strong point guard defender to your team.

Tatum and Jackson are similar players with minor differences and each could enhance your wing players—although not guaranteeing that you’d fill the much-needed role of an outside shooter, which brings us to option number four—Malik Monk.

Monk may be the best pure shooter of anyone in the draft and he would fill one of your biggest needs for a long time.  However, Monk doesn’t give you much size, he’s not a great defender and may only be a one-dimensional offensive weapon if he can’t find a way to score off his own dribble.  Selecting him with the 3rd pick in the draft would be a reach in a year in which the 76ers MUST take an impact player.

3) The Trade/Free Agent Factor

The 76ers have tried many times to add an established veteran, either through free agency or via trade over the last couple seasons, which virtually no success in adding an established presence.   Between not wanting to play in Philadelphia to outrageous financial demands to not finding a good dealing partner, Colangelo and Company have not been able to obtain a standout star to help fill in some of the gaps.  If they could add one or two pieces to solve SOME of the above needs, then that would make your first round selection much easier to figure out.

There are a few names out there who I think would vastly improve the team:

  • The Clippers’ JJ Riddick ($ 6.9-million AAV) is an unrestricted free agent, a great character guy, a great long-range shooter –not a star–but someone who wouldn’t be overly expensive to add. Would he want to come to a team that’s still a few years away from contending is the issue.
  • Denver’s Danilo Gallinari has great size (6’10), is a great-shooter and would be a great “stretch-four” (allowing Dario Saric to be a potent weapon off the bench) and would give you an established veteran presence, but his AAV last year was over $ 15-million and will command even more combined with a long-term deal that might prevent you from adding any other pieces.
  • Otto Porter is the youngest of the three names listed here and is an unselfish player who would fit in brilliantly with Simmons, Embiid and whichever star the Sixers would draft. His AAV was under $ 5-million but is a restricted free agent, and my contacts down in the Washington area all would be shocked if the Wizards don’t make a big push to resign him—meaning the Sixers would have to drastically overpay to add him.

The 76ers also could trade away their draft pick, to either move down and get a player like Monk, or package that to trade for another established player—if their front office is willing to go that route.

Only the Sixers front office knows to what lengths they’ll go to add a free agent or two, and what other teams would require in order to obtain that much-needed veteran.  If you could unlock that mystery, you would know exactly what Philadelphia is looking to for this year’s NBA Draft.

For more on the 76ers, the DMV’s Markelle Fultz and other NBA issues, check out the latest “SportsTalk” podcast featuring CBS Sports Radio Talk Show Host/Reporter Jon Johnson at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk

Behind the Mic: Hall of Fame

No matter how you look at it, it has been a good year for District XI.  Chairman Bob Hartman and his committee have managed 24 sports for 54 schools, but they have done that in the past.  This year, however, they managed many of those sports by adding two more classifications to the mix.  Where the maximum number of classifications before this year was four, they were forced to manage six this season.  That is a 33% gain in games and champions in those sports that were affected.  There were more playoffs, meaning more schools and more champions.

Last year at this time, when it seemed like it would be a nightmare for everyone to adjust, the District XI planned for the contingencies well in advance.  Therefore, for the most part (despite weather being a troubling factor), all was accomplished rather seamlessly.  One can argue the merits of adding more classes, but it would be hard to argue that District XI was not up to the challenge.

Another major accomplishment of the committee was the use of the PPL Center for the AAAAAA boys’ basketball semifinals.  With 7000+ fans in the stands, four outstanding teams, and some of the greatest Lehigh Valley high school players to play in the same place on the same night, it may very well have been the single most legendary night of District XI basketball.  Again, praise goes to Bob Hartman and his staff.

Instead of resting on their laurels after what had to be a trying year logistically, this past week it was unveiled that a District XI Hall of Fame will be organized “as a means of recognizing, preserving, and promoting the heritage of interscholastic sports in District XI”.  Those eligible for admittance will consist of athletes, contest officials, coaches, and contributors.

If you have been around District XI athletics for as long as, or even longer, than I have, you can imagine the monumental task of paring down the list of entrants to a manageable number each year.  The McDonald’s Lehigh Valley Hall of Fame has nearly 100 members and the VIA Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame is nearing the 200-member total.  That is just in two sports – basketball and football!  Now, consider the outstanding high school athletes who have passed through the Lehigh Valley in the past 30+ years in 21 other sports.  To use a pet phrase of mine – “Oh my!!!”

And, to their credit, this is not something that District XI needed to do.  They have placed this challenge upon themselves and, for that, they are to be commended.  And, if history is any proof of their ability to meet the challenge, it will get accomplished.

So when accolades are being tossed around at the end of this school term, all lists should include the work and accomplishments of District XI.  It bears repeating – District XI has had a very good year.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. “Familiarity breeds contempt” goes the adage. It is no more evident than in the NHL and NBA finals.  As any fan can see, play the same people day in and day out and things get particularly nasty and “chippy”.  Each additional match or game becomes that much more emotional.
  2. I’m sure at the time the New England Patriots were not very pleased to be trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter of the most recent Super Bowl. But because of that deficit their Super Bowl championship rings contain 283 diamonds, the biggest Super Bowl ring ever made.  This almost makes a team want to fall behind!
  3. How much would you pay for a new pair of sneakers? Up to $150?  More?  This past Sunday morning, the sneakers Michael Jordan wore in the 1984 gold-medal win over Spain sold for $190,373!  Another pair of Jordan sneakers had previously sold for $104,765.
  1. As I write this, Liberty and Whitehall are still alive in the PIAA state baseball playoffs. Each needs to win this Monday to get to the title game at Penn State which will be played on Thursday and Friday.  Go Canes!  Go Zephs!
  2. This week on RCN-TV, we will start our Blue Mountain League baseball coverage. The Game of the Week will be on Tuesday nights at 9:30.  This week’s game features the two-time defending champion Limeport Bulls taking on the Hellertown Royals.  The McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic will be on Thursday, June 15, at 10:00.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles & Phillies Prospects

This past week “SportsTalk” got to chat with some of the up-and-coming stars in both the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies organizations.

First, the Eagles and a preliminary look at some of our interviews:


You can see more interviews on the next live edition of “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call.”

The thing that was so impressive to me about the Eagles rookies we spoke with was their focus.  We interviewed them on a day in which nearly all the Philadelphia fans’ focus was on the issue of Fletcher Cox attending “voluntary” practices—which he did on this day (there was a incredible crowd of reporters/videographers around Cox in the locker room after practice).

The players we spoke with were very determined to acclimate themselves with the speed of the NFL game and learn from the veterans about all the nuances that come with playing on the pro level.  There were no big egos…only a quiet passion to try to improve their game and their skill-set and a desire to contribute in any way they can.

Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Mack Hollins and Donnel Pumphrey all will have opportunities to contribute for the Birds this season…and all seem like they have the mental drive to be standout players for the Eagles for the foreseeable future.
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Fans of the Phillies are a little less optimistic right now based on the team’s win/loss record. However, there are still lots of reasons for hope down on their farm—especially within its current core of young outfield prospects.

(More Phillies prospects interviews available through RCN On-Demand and here on the RCN-TV website).

All three Triple-A starting outfielders—Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn—have some outstanding talent.  Cozens has bashed tremendously long home runs over the last few weeks (and was last week’s International League Player of the Week) but still strikes out quite a bit.

Williams, who had issues last season with intensity and not running hard on the bases, now hustles every time I see him.  He’s still not taking many pitches and hasn’t been as hot as some of this teammates, but he is also primarily hitting sixth in Lehigh Valley’s lineup and has not had the benefit of any consistent hitter behind him.

Quinn is such an exciting player and I think might be the first of the three outfield prospects to get a call up to the Big Leagues.  His issue in the past was staying injury-free—something he has been able to do so far in 2017.  But I don’t believe he’s been able to drive the ball with authority on a consistent basis and that might hurt him in the Majors.   Still, he’s been working on bunting and finding ways to get on base—something that would be most welcome with a Phillies lineup that has struggled overall this year.

I don’t think either the Eagles or the Phillies will be bringing home a championship banner in the next year or two.  But with exciting young players in both franchises a year or two away from potentially blossoming into superstars, it is worth fans pushing their patience level a little further in the realistic/slightly optimistic chance that much better days are almost within sight.

Behind the Mic: Filling Out the Brackets

The 2016-17 school year is winding down and, therefore, so is the athletic season.  State titles still need to be decided in girls’ and boys’ lacrosse, tennis, track and field, and boys’ volleyball.  These championships are basically the same as in previous years with AA and AAA champions.

But this school year was a year of change for a number of sports in the PIAA due to the addition of two more classifications in many other sports.  In particular, the big three of football, basketball and baseball each added a AAAAA and AAAAAA class to the previous four.  District XI, our district, was no exception.  So, now that we have been through one year and with the knowledge that this format is already set in stone, allow me to give you some interesting facts, specifically concerning football, boys’ basketball, and baseball:

  • There were 19 teams in those three sports that got into the District XI tournament with losing records (in the past, you had to be at .500 or better to get in).
  • The justification for adding these teams is to “fill out the brackets” or allow the minimum number allowed for a district in the playoffs.
  • One team got into the football playoffs with a 1-9 record.
  • Nine teams got into the basketball playoffs with losing records and eight teams got into the baseball playoffs with losing records.

No team took more advantage of the “filling out the bracket” rule than the Whitehall baseball team.  They were placed in the AAAAA class to make a four-team bracket.  Blue Mountain was ranked first with a 15-4 record, Southern Lehigh was second with a 16-4 record, and Bangor was third with a 13-7 record.  No one would argue that they deserved to be in the playoff, but Whitehall got in with an 8-12 record.  This would not have been good enough in the past.

But, before you trash the system, Whitehall won the championship!  That’s right.  They upset the #1 seed in extra innings and went on to destroy the #2 seed in the championship.  So… there are questions:

  1. Should teams with losing records be allowed in?
  1. Is the goal to get as many athletes and teams involved in playoffs justifiable?
  1. Does a losing team winning the championship prove their right to admission?

And, the biggest question of all –

  1. Do we need six classifications?

I’m pretty sure they are here to stay, but you might have some fun debating their value.  We, in the media, do it all the time.  And you have all summer to discuss before the games begin again in September.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. No one was more skeptical than I was when the pundits were predicting that the Golden State Warriors would easily defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA playoffs. Some said they would sweep them in four straight.  Well, they have won the first two and are now 14-0 in the playoffs.  No team has ever gone undefeated throughout the entire playoffs.  Steph Curry and Kevin Durant more than balance out the talent of LeBron James.
  2. The NHL playoffs are just as entertaining as the NBA. When the Nashville Predators went down 2-0 in the series, and 1-0 in game three, it looked like a sweep might also happen in the NHL.  But Nashville went on to score the next five goals to win their first Stanley Cup game in history.  No sweep here and no heavy favorite either.
  3. As a kid, I remember reading “Fear Strikes Out” written by major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall. It was a very moving story.  The book dealt very realistically with Piersall’s mental illness which turned out to be a bipolar disorder.  It showed in Piersall’s furious arguments with umpires, a fistfight with Billy Martin, making pig noises in the outfield, etc.  This all culminated in a mental breakdown.  I honestly thought he had already passed away.  I was a bit shocked when I read he passed away this past week at the age of 87.  It is a book worth reading.
  4. Congratulations to Liberty, Parkland, Whitehall, and Wilson for making the PIAA state baseball championships. Each needs to win three games to get to the title game at Penn State.
  5. Next week on RCN-TV, we will start our Blue Mountain League baseball coverage. The Game of the Week will be on Tuesday nights at 9:30.  The McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic will be on Thursday, June 15, at 10:00.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies, Lacrosse & Special Events

As we have crossed the Memorial Day weekend and are roughly two months into the pro baseball season.  Players have now gotten enough experience that you can start analyzing and evaluating performances.  With that in mind, we caught up with Morning Call Senior Sports Writer Tom Housenick (who covers the Phillies minor league affiliates) to talk about the Phillies, their farm system and get his thoughts on how well the organizations top prospects are doing…

Tom will be on the June 22nd edition of “SportsTalk” to go into more details about MLB & MiLB baseball issues.
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There are also some special high school teams and organizations I want to give shout-outs for their recent efforts.

First, the Allentown Central Catholic state winning girls volleyball team.  The Vikettes not only captured district and PIAA gold this past year (coming out of perhaps the most competitive area for volleyball in the entire state) but did a great job on last week’s “SportsTalk Goes Wild” show, on location at the Whitehall “Buffalo Wild Wings.”

BWW1

BWW2

BWW4

BWW3

Head Coach Laurie Corcoran, her staff and her players had some great insights on their accomplishments, both this year, and in the program’s history (Central Catholic was the “original” girls volleyball champion in the Valley–winning the first one back in 2001).

This year’s squad shared some of their special memories and were very entertaining on our program.  We’d like to thank them for coming out on a rainy evening to be the stars of our show last Thursday.  If you missed it, RCN customers can watch the show for free (for up to two months) through RCN On-Demand!

Also, I want to single-out the teams who competed in the District XI girls lacrosse championships at Lehigh University this past week.  SportsTalk Videographer Alyssa Sheckler and I had the pleasure of taking in both title games last week, and both of us were very impressed with the competing teams.

Saucon Valley (winners of their first district lacrosse title ever, after not winning a single game five seasons ago) and Moravian Academy and then Parkland (the 3A winners) against a spirited Easton ball club made for two hard fought games.  The Panthers took the early lead in their title game but had to hold on as the Lions stormed back to make it close.  The Trojans and Red Rovers went back and forth all night before Parkland held the final possession for a one-goal victory.

Lacrosse doesn’t get the attention local baseball and softball receives (ironically, we tried to cover four different lacrosse matches this year–all of them got rained out or moved to different sites).   I, for one, was very impressed by all four representatives in the District XI championships (our features on those games are also available through RCN On-Demand).

Saucon, Parkland and Easton all move on and embark on the state tourney this week, and we wish all three local teams the best of luck in their state championship quest.

Thirdly, I wanted to mention an upcoming event held at William Allen high school. Canaries’ Senior Marcus Dileo Vereen was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia.  To help raise money to help with medical costs, the school is sponsoring #MarcusStrongDay on Saturday, June 3rd from 9am-2pm in the Allen cafeterias.  They are holding a blood drive, bone marrow registry drive, a bake sale, raffles, prizes, games and fun for all.  Support is desperately needed for this outstanding student (who is also dual-enrolled in college level classes).

For more information, you can call Susan Wood at 484-765-5197 or email her at Woods@qallentownsd.org.  You can also email the Allen Football Head Coach, George Clay, at claygf@allentownsd.org for details on this cause.

Last but certainly not least, June 3rd is also the date of this year’s Howard Deppe Memorial Baseball All-Star Event held at Fegley Field at Limeport Stadium.  There are multiple activities going on throughout the day to highlight local high school baseball all-star players, including a skills competition and home run hitting contest.  The event raises money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.

A representative will be on the next “SportsTalk” program to talk about this year’s festivities and let you know how you can help support and donate to this worthy cause.

Behind the Mic: Bucket List

Every sports fan dreams of one day attending a major sporting championship – the Super Bowl, an NCAA basketball championship, the Masters, college football’s national championship, etc.  You get the picture.

Every week, I receive “deals” that would allow someone to purchase access to major sporting events.  In fact, this week, I was offered tickets to the US Open, the Major League Baseball homerun derby and All-Star game, the Yankees VIP private luxury suite, and the NBA playoffs.

After you get done “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing”, allow me to give you the specifics and you can decide whether you have a large enough “bucket” (full of money) to attend these once-in-a-lifetime events.

I will start with the “cheapest” (and you will see I have used the wrong word here):

2017 US Open Golf Tournament – Erin Hill G. C., Hartford, WI
Four (4)Trophy Club Tickets for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Trophy Club is the Official On Site Hospitality Facility where Food and Beverage is available on a daily cash basis along with Flat Screen TVs for Live Tournament Coverage, Tables, Chairs, Service Staff, Private Restrooms in a Temperature-Controlled Environment.
All Inclusive Price:  $5,250

Only $5,250 but you must buy your own food and beverage and watch the tournament on TV in a room with tables, chairs and a bathroom – that sounds like my house.

2017 Major League Home Run Derby and All-Star Game – Marlins Park, Miami, FL
Four (4) Lower Level Infield* Tickets to Monday, July 10th-Home Run Derby
Four (4) Lower Level Infield* Tickets to Tuesday, July 11th-All Star Game
*(Tickets will be located between First Base and Third Base)
All Inclusive Price:  $10,950

Good seats, for sure.  Watch it all LIVE – nice.  Did you see the price? – Not nice!

NY Yankees VIP Private Luxury Suite
Sixteen (16) VIP Suite Tickets
$15,950
June 9th vs Baltimore Orioles (Reggie Jackson Bobblehead)
Aug 11th vs Boston Red Sox
Aug 14th vs NY Mets
Aug 15th vs NY Mets
*Additional Games Available 

Okay – these tickets are for a regular season game, so how special is that?  Well, you do get a Reggie Jackson Bobblehead doll.  If you have 16 friends, they must be willing to pony up $996.88 apiece.  You could tell them that the price is usually $1,000, but you got a special deal.  Or (and I would never do this), charge them $1064 and you get in free (now that’s a way to check one off of your bucket list).

NBA Finals – Home Game #1
Ten (10) Person VIP Private Luxury Suite
$34,950*
*Includes Food and Beverage Catering Package

You can’t beat this!  Food and beverage is included for just $3,495 per person.  How could anyone turn this down?

Just a note: If you could find 34 others to join you and for the mere price of $7,173.13 apiece, you could see them all.  Or imagine the food, beverages, and TV you could buy for that price and invite 34 friends over (and give each of them a really nice “bucket” as a souvenir)!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. ESPN has come out with the top 100 most famous athletes on the planet using a number of analytics. The top five are: 5. Phil Mickelson 4. Roger Federer  3. Lionel Messi  2. LeBron James and 1. Christiano Ronaldo – two soccer players, one golfer, one tennis player, and one NBA player.
  2. The Los Angeles Angels lost 2016 MVP Mike Trout for six to eight weeks due to surgery on his thumb. He injured it sliding into second base.  Trout was second in the American League in batting, second in home runs, and fourth in RBIs.
  3. There was a pretty good brawl on Memorial Day Monday between the Nationals and the Giants. It featured Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland.  Watch:

http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/19492344/bryce-harper-washington-nationals-hunter-strickland-san-francisco-giants-start-bench-clearing-brawl

  1. As well as the Iron Pigs are playing (21 wins in last 23 games), that’s how bad the Phillies are playing (four wins in last 26 games).  Is the glass half full or half empty?
  2. NBA playoffs start Thursday. The Golden State Warriors are 12-0 in the playoffs.  No team has ever finished the playoffs unbeaten.  Don’t expect the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers to lose four straight.  They could even win the whole thing again.  This one is worth watching!

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Pokemon Go Effect” on Sports

There is a charming game (that nearly everyone probably knows by now) that has been sweeping the world, that everyone can play for free (for the ‘basics’ anyway) on their cell phones and tablets, called “Pokémon Go.”

While my son is an expert (or he better be, with all the cards and accessories that I’ve paid for) and I know very little about the game itself, I do admit there are a number of benefits to participating in this activity.  It encourages people to get out, walk around and get some exercise and fresh air.  Also, it is a nice “unifying” event that helps bring people together, and it is something that people of many different ages, classes and demographics can participate in.

There are also times when I see parents so engaged in their cell phone activities that their little kids are getting into trouble or nearly get hurt themselves—being oblivious to things going on around them.  It’s also quite common now for couples to be holding hands while simultaneously frantically typing on their screens with the other hand while never exclaiming a word to each other.

But I am not here to pass judgment on social issues…and if that’s how love looks in 2017, then so be it.

The “disturbing” feeling that I sometimes get while watching people overly addicted to this activity at the expense of everything else around them, is the same emotion I have felt a few times during this school year when some (but certainly not all) teams seem to be trending down a similar path.

Let me explain.

I’ve noticed more than a handful of individual athletes—at different schools in different areas and in different sports—who seem largely focused on what is clearly most important to them—themselves.   Players who seem more interested in padding their stats, doing what’s in their best interest, and, in many cases, doing what their parents are telling them to do—even when in direct contradiction with his/her head coach.

The primary interest of these athletes’ parents appears to be to do what is best for them, for now and for their immediate future and, oh yeah, the coach better keep winning games so that my son/daughter can continue to get more and more exposure.

This year, I’ve noticed a slight spike in the already excessive amount of student-athletes (do people still use this term?) who coincidently/ironically/purposefully transfer out of schools at a time when their team’s win total is declining, and “moving” into school districts in which their new team’s win total is increasing.  More wins equal more media/internet coverage, which equals more exposure to college scouts which translates to scholarships and dollars in other areas.

Once the family makes this commitment, then the “new” coaches’ philosophies better change to accommodate their son/daughter or there’s going to be conflicts that quite frequently escalate to the school’s administration and school boards, which, as we’ve seen over time, frequently leads to the removal of coaches that parents don’t “approve” of—regardless of how successful or how many wins that coach has achieved in the past—or is currently achieving.

In one school district, speculation (in the absence of clear specified reasons) has left the very strong impression that the style in which a coach wins games is (now was) even more important than if the team succeeds.  This “theory” becomes more palpable when the new coach indicates operating in a style that will be more beneficial to the individual player(s).

Keeping your eye on your own game is key to having success in the world of Pokémon Go.  But encouraging an atmosphere where it’s acceptable for athletes to only care about their own self-interests at the risk of their school and community will undoubtedly continue to erode the waning interest in many high school sports programs that numerous districts are now facing.

*****

Don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape St. in Whitehall this Thursday for our special “SportsTalk” show, honoring the Allentown Central Catholic Girls Volleyball Team for capturing a state championship title.  We’ll talk with members of the Vikettes during the hour- long program and you can have the opportunity to ask a question or make a comment, supporting their tremendous achievement. Also check out ways here on the website how you can also support a local charity at the same time! This week’s charity is LLS.