Behind the Mic: Age is Just a Number

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.
 

When you get to be my age (and, trust me, it takes a while), and you are still doing what you love to do, it doesn’t hurt to find some inspiration from time to time. You know, some examples of those who could have packed it in and moved on, but decided to continue to give it a try.  Three of those stories played out this weekend.

I will start with Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Washington Redskins. At Oklahoma, in three seasons, he ran for 4,245 yards, 73 yards short of the career rushing record.  He did not play his senior year, opting to turn pro.  That was twelve years ago.  Adrian Peterson is 33 years old.

He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He stayed with the Vikings through the 2016 season.  In that time, he set or tied five NFL rushing records, and five Vikings’ records.

In the 2016 season, he needed knee surgery and he was released by the Vikings in 2017. The New Orleans Saints took a chance on him and signed him in 2017.  He played only four games and was traded to the Arizona Cardinals.  He injured his neck and did not finish out the season.   Great career, but it was time to retire, right?

Nope. The Washington Redskins took a chance and signed him this year.  This past weekend against the Packers, he rushed for 120 yards and scored two touchdowns.  He now has 102 touchdowns and it was his 52nd 100-yard game.  Thirty-three is old for an NFL running back, but, in this case, it’s just a number.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has played quarterback in the NFL for seven different teams. After graduating from Harvard, he was drafted by the Rams.  He has played for the Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, and now the Tampa Bay Bucs.  For most of these teams, he was the backup given starting opportunities from time to time.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is 35 years old.

This season began with the Bucs’ starting QB, Jameis Winston, suspended for the first three games. Fitzpatrick got the start.  In week one, he threw for 417 yards and four TD’s.  His team upset the Saints 48-40.  He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.  In week two, he led the Bucs to an upset win over the Super Bowl champion Eagles 27-21.  He was again named the Player of the Week.

This Monday the Bucs lost to the Steelers, but Fitzpatrick led a second-half comeback. They lost 30-27.  Perhaps the game time was too late for this “old” QB.  Some would say he should be in bed!

And then there is Tiger. Tiger Woods is 42 years old.  He has won 14 major championships, 18 World Golf Championships, and has a total of 80 career wins, trailing only Sam Snead by two. Due to the wear and tear on his body AND his age, he went through four back surgeries and had not won a tournament in five years. Since his departure from the game, golf has become a young man’s sport with the real stars being in their early 20’s.  He was, more or less, written off as a future winner.

But this weekend, Tiger won again. At 42, he won the Tour Championship.  The five- year drought ended and golf had a resurgence of viewers.  The broadcast on Sunday drew three times the audience the same championship had last year.  And it was an NFL Sunday.  Since Tiger’s return, the size of the viewing audience has soared.  He was in contention for the PGA championship in August and the telecast drew the highest ratings in nine years.

And I just bet the audience was made up of all ages – young people who want to get to see Tiger’s greatness for themselves and the older viewers who can tell themselves, no matter what their age, that it is just a number! There is always more to accomplish.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
 

  1. When the Bills beat the Vikings 27-6 this past Sunday, it was the largest NFL upset in the past 23 seasons. The Vikings were favored by 17 points. According to reports out of Las Vegas, one gambler bet $18,000 on the Vikings with a payout of just $1,000 if he won. He didn’t. Another person bet $9,000 on the Vikings to win $450. He didn’t either. And after the Lions beat the Patriots, the bookies had a good day.
  2. Carson Wentz did not have a great day for the Eagles on Sunday, but they won, he scrambled like old times, took some hits, dove for a first down, and came away healthy. That checked off a number of boxes!
  3. I’m sure Eagles’ fans who have been around for awhile remember Tommy McDonald, the small, but fast, sure-handed receiver from the 1960’s. He was part of the 1960 NFL championship team led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. McDonald passed away this past week.
  4. It’s officially over for the Phillies this year in terms of post-season play. The way this season is coming to a close puts a real damper on any enthusiasm the start of the year might have had on next year’s success. Here’s hoping…
  5. With the Celtic Classic part of the weekend schedule, RCN-TV will present one high school this Friday night, but it is a good one – Palisades at Notre Dame live at 7:00pm. Chris Michael and John Leone will have the game. Saturday, Mike Joseph, John Leone and I will bring the LafayetteCentral Connecticut State game to you at 6:00pm. You’re invited join us.

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks (Last week: 8-8) (Overall: 26-20-2  57% )
 
Week FOUR
RAMS
NEW ENGLAND
INDIANAPOLIS
ATLANTA
GREEN BAY
DETROIT
JACKSONVILLE
CHICAGO
PHILADELPHIA
SEATTLE
CLEVELAND
CHARGERS
GIANTS
PITTSBURGH
KANSAS CITY

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!

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.
****
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: Activity Suspended

“Activity suspended” – believe it or not, that is one of the definitions of a vacation.  Well, I just returned from vacation and, trust me when I tell you, activity was not suspended.

Before I get into the details, I want to thank John Leone, Scott Barr, Jim Best, and Randy Kane for filling my blog space while I was away.  They did wonderful pieces on a variety of topics and you should take the time to go back and read them if you haven’t done so.

While they were helping me, my wife and I were sailing on a two-week cruise on the Harmony of the Seas for our “suspension of activities” after the football and basketball seasons.

The ship (do not call it a boat) is the largest sailing vessel on the seas.  6,000 passengers are on board each week.  There are seven different “neighborhoods” to be found throughout the five stories–

  • A royal promenade (think shopping mall)
  • Central Park (think New York with live trees, upscale New York restaurants, and expensive jewelry stores and a beautiful open-air walkway)
  • A boardwalk (complete with a merry-go-round, two dry nine-story slides, two restaurants, a hot-dog shop and an aquatic theater)
  • An entertainment area (think a major theater, an ice theater, a comedy club, a jazz club, and a karaoke bar)
  • The pool area and water park (think three water slides and three pools)
  • A sports zone (think zip line, miniature golf, surfboarding, a basketball court, and ping-pong)
  • A spa (think “suspension of activities”)

If you think that is enough to keep you busy, let me get to the entertainment:

  • Two full-scale production shows (Grease and Columbus, the Musical)
  • A headliner show (a ventriloquist in week one and an a cappella group in week two)
  • Two full production ice shows
  • Two aquatic shows featuring high diving from 10 stories above the theater pool at the back of a moving ship
  • A comedy club featuring two new comedians each week
  • Three game shows
  • A major casino
  • An art auction, etc.

And, of course, there is the food and drink.  There is always food – all the time, anytime.  In fact there are 25 different places to eat (at least that’s what I counted) and 37 bars (no, I did not try each one).

To attempt to see and do everything in a week, or even two, leads me to believe that Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and the Cambridge Dictionary need to re-think their vacation definition when it comes to cruising – please drop “suspension of activity”.

It is much more restful at my desk.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I will watch the NBA finals between Golden State and Cleveland. Now that should be great basketball.
  2. It is not easy to keep up with the sports scene on the ship. Upon returning, I realized the Phillies were 2-11 while I was gone.  I was glad I could not keep up while away.
  3. The 76’ers will get the #3 draft pick this year, so the franchise can continue to add good players. I just hope they add a player who can actually play and not be on the injury list for most of the season.  When will the Philadelphia fans finally see a competitive product?
  4. Parkland won the EPC baseball championship by beating Liberty. It was their 20th league championship, far more than any other school.  Congratulations!
  5. Once again, on Memorial Day, we will replay some of our most memorable football, basketball, and wrestling contests this past season (see schedule here). Everyone is a classic if you want to relive the memories.

Behind the Mic: Bryce Harper – Enough Already!

Easter Sunday was a really nice day.  The whole family was present with everyone making it to the house.  Once again, my wife put together an extensive dinner, maintaining the traditions of a Ukrainian Easter; paska (Ukrainian bread); one egg shared by all to start the dinner; and a Ukrainian hymn signifying that Christ had risen.  It was sunny and warm outside and inside.  Even sports took a respite for the day.

And then at 11:00pm, I watched the news which has become the most dramatic program on TV these days.  And I always check out the Phillies results.  The Phillies lost.  Bryce Harper hit his second home run of the day on a 3-2 count with the Phils leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two on to Washington.    Do the math – a 6-4 loss.  It was Harper’s 18th home run against the Phillies in his five years with the Nationals.

If you root for any team other than the Nationals, Bryce Harper is not your favorite player.  He just seems to have a way of ruining one’s day.

But, let’s face it – Bryce Harper is REALLY, REALLY good.  He is a baseball superstar who truly lives up to the description every day he steps on the field.  I knew a bit about his journey to the major leagues, but I decided to investigate a bit further.  Wikipedia is always a good place to start.

  • He received his GED after his sophomore year in high school so he could begin his path to professional baseball career at the age of 17.
  • He played one season for the College of Southern Nevada as a catcher with his older brother pitching on the team. Harper was the Player of the Year in the conference.  He topped that honor by being named the best amateur player in the country.  And he played only one collegiate season.
  • He was drafted #1 by the Nationals in 2010; signed a 5-year, $9.9 million contract with 26 seconds left before the signing deadline. His signing bonus was $6.25 million.
  • He struggled early in his minor league career because as an optometrist told him, “You have some of the worst eyes I’ve ever seen.” Once he received contact lenses, he hit an amazing .480.
  • His major league debut occurred on April 28, 2012; he was an All-Star that year; and he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
  • Including this season, he has hit a home run on opening day every year in the majors.
  • His longest career home run (461-feet) is, naturally, against the Phillies.
  • He is a Seventh Day Adventist and drinks no alcohol.

A 4-3 Phillies win at the end of a nice Easter Sunday would have been a perfect way to end the day, but now that I know more about Bryce Harper and his road to the majors, it’s very hard not to respect his talents and his work ethic.  I wish he just wouldn’t be so hard on the Phillies.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Eagles might want to consider hiring the “Easter Bunny” as a linebacker. Take a look.

https://twitter.com/Nationals/status/853686707555840000/photo/1

And it was a legal hit – the bunny did not lead with his EARS!!

  1. Image, either good or bad, is so important for professional athletes. It often determines their future once they decide to leave the game they play.  Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning always appeared to be one of those squeaky clean guys, much like his brother Peyton.  Now we hear he may be involved in a memorabilia scam to sell items advertised as game-used when they were not and is being sued.  I have never been enamored with sports mementos, but this should be an interesting story.
  2. Last week, I spoke of some potential rule changes to shorten baseball games. The first report is out for this season and the games are averaging over five minutes longer than last year.
  3. The Chicago Cubs passed out their championship rings this past week. 108 white diamonds, 33 custom-cut red rubies and 46 blue sapphires make up the face.  The inner band features the infamous goat.

Cubs Rings        5.  Our first look at Lafayette’s new head coach, John Garrett, will take place on Saturday, April 29, when we televise the Lafayette Maroon-White game. The action is LIVE at 1:00pm.

The SportsTalk Shop: “State” Basketball – Semifinals

We are heading down the home stretch of the scholastic basketball playoff action in Pennsylvania as we approach the semifinal round of the State PIAA Tournament.

A part of the statewide attention now focuses on the Bethlehem Catholic girls, who will now play Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the Class 4A semifinals this Tuesday at Spring-Ford High School in Royersford.  Click here for our broadcast schedule.

The Golden Hawks have looked dominant in all three of its previous state playoff contests.  The state’s second-ranked team has not trailed in any of its recent games over the last few weeks.  Becahi has won by rather significant margins in nearly every game played since the local EPC playoffs concluded, including jumping out to a 16-1 lead early in last Saturday’s game against a very young but talented Lower Moreland squad that was probably a year away from being a state championship contender.

We’ll be talking about the basketball playoffs and other local sports issues, but also include a unique twist as our in-studio guests will be those who are also very involved in their school’s spring play productions.  Both student-athletes and performance-students individually are working hard this time of year, but those who do both truly have a hectic schedule this month—and we’ll address that on Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call,” live at 7pm on RCN-TV.

Also, since last week’s show was postponed due to the weather altering our basketball productions schedule, Phillies Play-by-play Announcer Scott Franzke was kind enough to reschedule and will chat with us this week to talk about the National League East and Major League Baseball spring training news and issues.

To get you caught up on the recent sports action on RCN-TV and get you set for the final week of the high school basketball season, here are clips of our recent broadcasts of PIAA playoff action:

 

 

 

 

 

The SportsTalk Shop: 2016 Predictions: Mid-Year Update

Each December both here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show, “SportsTalk”, panelists and I make some sports-based predictions for the new year.  I don’t get caught up in the prediction business ordinarily, but it’s become a bit of a tradition around the holidays to make a couple bold statements to go along with resolutions (of which I don’t do nearly as well).

While some sports prognosticators love to boast about how accurate they are with their futuristic insights, I make it a habit of going back and making public my predictions, and owning up to any that don’t come true.  (I’d also like to take a miniscule amount of credit for the ones that work out—I’m owed at least as much, right?)

Since we’re over the halfway point through the calendar year, and before we start ramping up our fall football coverage (which will be bigger and better than ever before!), I think I should take a peek at how some of my predictions are holding up and make myself accountable for any gaffes on my part.

Philly pro sports teams will win LESS games in 2016
The 2015-16 76ers certainly lived up to their end of my prediction.  Aside from forcing out the team’s General Manager, Sam Hinkie, they were near perfect in their quest for futility, reaching new levels of bad play, even with pressure from Jerry Colangelo (and the league office?) to try to improve.

My prediction will take a hit with the idea that the Sixers will try to go after some more recognizable free agency in all probability this offseason.  They might also win a few more games than expected if they select Brandon Ingram with the first pick in this month’s NBA Draft.  Selecting Ingram would make the team better—short-term—than if they select Ben Simmons or even draft down a few spots, but I don’t see that much improvement in November and December and still believe they’ll ring up more losses in the 2016 calendar year than they lost in 2015 (but the future is very bright for 2017).

I knew the Flyers were going to be improved, but had no idea that they would be as exciting to watch this past season as they were, to say nothing about making the playoffs and having a few good moments against the Capitals before losing to Washington in the first round of the NHL playoffs.  This team ramped up the speed of its rebuild and, with a few tweaks, will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, in not better, for next season.

The Phillies also have surprised me with better than average starting pitching, and the bullpen overcame a woeful start to the season and has pitched better, helping the team to a slightly better record than I had anticipated.  This, despite a woeful offense that had seven position players on the roster hitting below .200 after the first month of the season.

However, the Phillies fell (like a plummeting cannon ball) back to Earth hard and fast during the month of May and show very little signs of making a push to get back above, or probably even near, .500 this summer.

With less than half of the Major League baseball season remaining—which will still probably have more losses than wins, and an Eagles team in, at the very least, a retooling stage following the car wreck of the Chip Kelly Era, I’d say I still have a good chance at nailing this prediction.

The Wizards, Nationals AND Redskins – will have even greater success in 2016
With over half of the MLB season and the entire NFL season yet to come (and I’m looking pretty good for both of these teams), we only have the Wizards to look at.  And on the prediction that they would have a better 2016…I admit I put up a major “airball.”

Off a second-round playoff appearance and loss to a high-quality team, I thought the Wizards could improve and—with the right match-up–the Wiz could actually advance a round further.  However, not only did they take took a major step back in win total, they also didn’t qualify for the post-season, ushering in a quick replacement at the helm by bringing in Scott Brooks (formerly of Oklahoma City) as a new head coach.

Rumors of discontent and players “trading barbs” (according to the Washington CBS sports radio station) spread wildly as they limped home to close out the regular season out of the playoffs.  There are different reports as far as remaining free agent possibilities and other speculation about what direction the team could go in.  Also, players are a little less secure than this time a year ago and the forecast is more ambiguous as far as how good this team will be for the upcoming season, even with one of the most exciting, yet underrated players, in John Wall back on board.  I’ll stick to my guns and say they make a jump for the 2016-17 campaign.

Notice, I did NOT include the Capitals in this mix.  Their back-to-back premature failings in the playoffs have me worried about their future, and I’ll also continue to say (as I did following their playoff exit) that they might actually take a step back in the upcoming year.

2016 will be a successful District XI Wrestling season
I have never claimed to be a wrestling expert, but the fact that we had so many talented underclassmen returning for the 2015-16 wrestling season made it easy for me to say that the Lehigh Valley would have tremendous success at the state tournament in Hershey.

Not only did Bethlehem Catholic come away with convincing (mostly dominating) performances in the team PIAA competitions, but they accomplished this goal against the best the state of Pennsylvania had to offer, by competing in the 3A classifications (as critics had ask for, for a number of seasons).

Individually, District XI featured eight gold medalists and 20 overall medal winners.  Special props go out to Palisades’ Tyler Marsh, the lone wrestler in the RCN viewing area to receive the top scholar athlete award.

For an area that has had a long tradition of great wrestling success, it was a tremendous season all the way around for many different schools and I can unequivocally chalk this one up as one I got correct.

Stay tuned for more sports conversations coming up and don’t forget to check back later in the year as I take a look at the rest of my predictions to see how I fared.

Behind the Mic: Brotherly Love?

Philadelphia was certainly in the limelight this past week with the Democratic National Convention taking center stage.  All of the media had a presence there.  However, there was no national sports media.

I bring this up because Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 24.

I watched the great Griffey, Jr. play with the Mariners and the Reds.  His numbers were awesome – 630 home runs, 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Glove Awards, and the statistical list goes on and on.  He received 99.32% of the votes, the highest ever in Hall of Fame history.

Mike Piazza’s story was even more amazing.  As a favor to Dodgers manager, Tommy LaSorda, he was drafted in the 62nd round.  He went on to hit the most home runs by a catcher, bat .308 lifetime, and spent 16 years in the majors.  He was an All-Star 10 consecutive seasons.  He certainly repaid the favor – but mostly as a New York Met.

So what does this have to do with Philadelphia?  The ceremony in Cooperstown made me wonder who the last Philadelphia Phillie was to be inducted into the Hall.  I discovered it has been a while – 21 years to be exact.  On July 30, 1995, Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn entered that day.  And Philadelphia celebrated with an estimated 25,000+ fans showing up for the induction ceremony.

Twenty-one years is a long time.  And it will only get longer, it appears.  As you look at the list of “potential” Phillies to get a consideration, you come up empty.  Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Bobby Abreu will all probably come up short.  Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Curt Schilling could possibly get in.  Just not as Phillies.

And it’s not just the Phillies casting a pall over the Philadelphia sports scene.  The Eagles’ last Hall-of-Famer was Reggie White – 24 years ago.  The 76ers’ last was Charles Barkley in 2006.  And neither of these teams appears to be going to get someone in their respective Halls very soon.  Flyers’ fans certainly remember their Hall of Famers Bill Barber (1990), Bobby Clarke (1987), and Bernie Parent (1984), but their inductions were a long time ago.  Mark Howe was the last Philadelphia professional inducted in 2011 in The National Hockey League Hall of Fame.

So as much as we admire the Piazzas and the Griffey, Jr.s of the sporting world, Philadelphia fans would much prefer seeing one of their professional athletes in the limelight.  National politicians?  Not so much.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Phillies are batting .218 in their home games this year and are scoring 2.92 runs per game at Citizens Bank Park. That’s the lowest run production in any home park in the major leagues.  Buy your ticket and see no offense at all.
  2. Because July 31 was a Sunday, the Major League Baseball trade deadline was extended to 4:00pm on Monday, August 1. As I write this, phone lines around the MLB offices must be buzzing with activity.  Someone might want to trade for the LA Dodgers’ ball girl.  On Sunday, she caught a foul ball traveling at 108.7 miles per hour.
  3. If you need a Lehigh Valley reason to watch the Olympics, then let Joe Kovacs be that reason. Joe, a Bethlehem Catholic graduate, is a medal favorite in the shotput in Rio.  He won the world championships last year.  The final for shot put is August 18 @ 8:00pm.
  4. Sunday produced another great “Major” finish in golf. The PGA Championship came down to the final putt of the final match.  Jimmy Walker (no, not of “Dyn-o-mite” fame) won his first major.  Every major golf tournament this year was won by a first-timer.
  5. The Patriot League Football Media Day was this week, so the pads will be thumping between now and opening day or night. RCNTV has Central Catholic at Freedom on opening night, August 26.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Ryan Howard Saga

I have some very fond memories of Philadelphia Phillies’ First Baseman Ryan Howard.

I had the good fortune of seeing Ryan play when he was a hot prospect with the Reading Fightin’ Phillies (then called the “R-Phillies”), the long-time Double-A affiliate for its parent club.  While I was a big Jim Thome fan at the time, I could tell the first time I saw Howard that he was going to be a player for the ages (it wasn’t hard—he hit two monstrous home runs that day).

When the time came to move Thome, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that it was the right move.  I had seen Howard carrying teams with his bat and be a major force in a lineup that was already belted with legendary names like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and company, and his power bat (and at that time, a productive .300 hitter) would be the perfect fit for the middle of that order.  The Phillies would go on and win a club-record five consecutive NL East Division titles and put together the greatest, successful run in the 100-plus year history of the franchise.

That time when Howard was just coming up through the organization is the first thing that comes to mind when people bring up the issue becoming the biggest elephant in the entire Delaware Valley region right now…what to do with this aging superstar?

I have to admit…I have been cringing at some of the comments that people have been bringing up to me recently regarding Howard:

    • He can’t hit his weight
    • His strikeout total might be higher than his batting average
    • Two Phillies pitchers have higher batting averages than Howard

(All of these are either true or could be a reality!)

This whole season has not gone the way I had expected…as I had hoped.  While the Phillies win total heading into June is impressive, this team is still not going to win anything in October.  Ideally, the young prospects would play well and show that the future is bright, and guys like Charlie Morton (lost for the year because of injury) would pitch well enough to force a contending team to overpay for his services enabling the Phillies to pick up a few more pieces to help them for 2017 and beyond.

And…for purely selfish reasons, the “Big Piece” would pair with Darin Ruf for a presentable tandem in the heart of the batting order.  Not a return to glory.  Not a cry for a push for Howard to play every day.  Just hit well enough (and field decently enough) to not be embarrassed.

When the cries for Howard to be benched/traded/released started, my defense was that it was a rebuilding year and Howard wasn’t blocking the way for anyone currently pushing him for the first base job (especially with a mediocre spring training and even weaker early season performance by Ruf).

But the team’s overall success, mixed with its offensive struggles and Tommy Joseph’s hot Triple-A start, has exacerbated the Howard issue.  Howard’s struggles have glaringly revealed him as a massive liability on a team that might just actually have a shot at the final wild card berth.

This was not the way it was suppose to be…and it’s not fair.  For Howard, for Phillies followers, or for a life-long baseball fan who is becoming more and more removed from America’s Pastime due to its continuing lack of tradition, passion and interesting story lines.

Considering…

  • I have to go to a Double-A game to see a manager have a genuine argument with an umpire—something replaced at the Major League level with six minutes of standing around waiting for replays, only to have a 70% chance of getting the call correct in the first place.
  • I have to look at Bartolo Colon alerting the opposing team’s catcher to throw strikes because his back hurts too much to swing the bat or run the bases.
  • I have to dismiss Bryce Harper’s blatant disregard for protocol and tradition by cursing at umpires well after his ejection simply because, without him, the game would be virtually void of personalities and big time stars we can root for.

Ryan Howard use to be one of those people.  He’d literally carry teams for weeks.  He was a great interview with interesting and sometimes abrasive view points.  He brought thousands and thousands of fans to the ball park, and gave millions of fans thrill after thrill for many years.  He was fun to watch and someone everyone wanted to see hit.  And man, in his heyday, could he ever hit.

Unfortunately, Howard’s legacy is going to be tainted, at least in the short-term, by his Babe Ruthian-like demise.  It gets harder to listen to the truth about the current situation, and remembering the good times becomes more of a strain on the old noggin.

If only there were other things in pro baseball to complain about…
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On a more positive note, be sure to check out the District XI high school baseball championships games broadcast live this week on RCN-TV.  Check out our broadcast schedule here on the RCN-TV website for the latest details on teams and airtimes.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies & Nationals Prospect Updates

Both the Phillies and Nationals have built strong minor league foundations and MLB fans of these two organizations will start to see the fruits of their respective front-offices’ labors over the coming weeks and months.

Here are some notes and video interviews with a few of the top Triple-A performers in each of the franchises.

Nationals’ Austin Voth
This right-handed starting pitcher has not just posted incredible numbers this spring, but he seems to be on a fast track to the Major Leagues.  Voth has cruised through Washington’s farm system.

He mixes his pitches extremely well and has great command of them.  He’s always been a pitcher who’s right around the plate, but he’s been even more accurate so far this season (just six walks in almost 40-innings pitched and seven starts).  Once more, in his worst start of the season against Lehigh Valley, when he didn’t have his best stuff, he’s a competitor and battles giving his team a chance to win.  While he’s not a dominating pitcher, he’s averaging over one strikeout per inning.

With Max Scherzer and Steve Strasberg anchoring the front of the rotation for years to come, Voth should be a nice middle-of-the-rotation hurler for many future summers—and his composure and ability to throw strikes should make him the first viable option should one of the Nats’ current starting pitchers fall to injury this year, even during a pennant drive.

Phillies’ Nick Williams

Many Philadelphia sports fans are calling for his call-up, but it’s a little premature at this point.  After raking it in the Eastern League last year in the postseason for Reading, he’s taking more time getting used to Triple-A pitching (he had just one home run up until two weeks ago).  However, as the weather has warmed up, so has Williams’ bat.  He’s also been playing more center field of late and has looked “OK” (he probably does not have the arm to be a regular right fielder).

What you don’t want to have happen is that the Phillies get involved in a pennant race and are forced to bring up Williams early (see previous outfield sensation Dominic Brown—no longer with the team).  Williams is, at best, a September call-up for a cup of tea this year, and perhaps, some time in winter ball.

He’s a great talent who could fill a couple different spots in the Phillies near-future batting order, but hold off on the screaming pleas for the Phillies to call Williams up for now.

Nationals’ Trea Turner
We featured the Nationals’ number-one rated position prospect a few weeks ago both here at “The Shop” and on our “RCN SportsTalk” program.  This is a guy who Washington fans will love.

He’s a great leadoff hitter with more power than Nationals’ current lead-off man, Ben Revere.  He has an awesome slash line (.320/.384/.471) with three home runs, is third on the team with 17 RBIs and a team leading 15 steals (all as of 5/20/16).  He’s aggressive at the plate but will still try to bunt every once in a while if a third basemen is playing back or to try to reach base in a key spot.

Also, he has great range defensively and is a nice spark on the field for his current Syracuse Chiefs’ team.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington fans see Turner sooner rather than later—especially if the team’s offensive struggles continue into the summer.

Nationals’ Brian Goodwin & Pedro Severino

Because of Turner’s and Voth’s successes, the better-than-normal batting averages of Goodwin and Severino have gone unnoticed by many Nats fans.  Goodwin gives Washington versatility in that he can play all three outfield positions well, has great speed (might be used as a pinch runner by the Big Club) and could be a fourth outfielder on this year’s team.  Goodwin has been hitting over .300 consistently and is tied for the team lead in homers (his Grand Slam gave his Chiefs last Thursday a 7-4 win over Toledo).

Severino has always been an outstanding defensive catcher and calls a great game.  He’s seen as the Nationals catcher of the future because of what he does behind the plate, but his near-.300 batting average this year—if he can sustain it at the Major League level—would be a nice plus.

More importantly, he understands how important it is to know his pitching staff, inside and out, and constantly monitors the Nats staff and the scouting reports so that when (not if) he gets called back up to the parent club, he’s up-to-speed on what every pitcher needs to do to have success.

Every Phillies Triple-A Starting Pitcher
Ben Lively is pitching “lights out” at Double-A Reading, but up until recently (and only then because of injury) there actually hasn’t been room on the Triple-A roster for even a chance for a promotion for Lively.

Adam Morgan was already called up to the Majors a few weeks back, but the current starting fives’ ERA (as of 5/21/16) looks like:
Mark Appel                        3.58
Jake Thompson                3.32
David Buchanan               3.92
Zach Eflin                           2.36
Alec Asher                          1.53 (just placed on the DL)

The Phillies front office made a clear decision to improve pitching this offseason, and the team is seeing the rewards of this initiative both in terms of individual and, so far, team success for both the Phillies and their upper-level affiliates.

There are a few more players within both the Phillies’ and Nationals’ farm systems who deserve some attention.  Keep watching “SportsTalk” and checking back here at “The Shop” as we continue to have more interviews and insights on players within both franchises.

Also, be sure to come out and watch “RCN SportsTalk” broadcasting  live from Buffalo Wild Wings in Whitehall, PA this Thursday and help out a great cause.  This week’s remote show will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, with 10% of your total bill going to support this great organization.  Our guests will be legendary (and Pennsylvania’s all-time winningest) Head Coach Sue Butz-Stavin and members of her State Champion Field Hockey team.