A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

In May 2013 a columnist by the name of Craig Wilson took his final bow after a buyout from his employer, USA Today. He wrote a Wednesday column called “The Final Word” for more than sixteen years. His weekly writing – regardless of subject matter – provided readers a unique, thoughtful take on even the most take-for-granted aspects of daily life.

One of his columns dealt with December decorations…specifically, displays that display a depth of feeling that make passers-by smile and project the spirit of the Holidays upon them.

As those who celebrate Christmas start to strip their gears over all sorts of “issues” that are anything but…I dust off this little reminder of how magical the Season can be.

A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

Every December, a neighbor of ours opens his dining room shutters and lets in the world.

A floor-to-ceiling tree, laden with ornaments and white lights, fills the bay window. Underneath it is spread an assortment of antique toys. Original Raggedy Ann books, a model train engine from the Pennsylvania Railroad, a fire truck and an assortment of old stuffed animals. An elephant. A bear. A well-loved floppy-eared rabbit sporting a winter sweater and seated in a wicker sleigh, ready to glide.

The window, which is right on the sidewalk and perfect for viewing, has become a holiday tradition in the neighborhood. Like many, I make a detour on my nightly dog walk just to pass by.

I know there will come a Christmas when the display won’t be there, but until then, I happily take in the annual offering, just as I used to take in the mesmerizing holiday windows years ago at Sibley’s department store in Rochester, N.Y.

The magic of our neighborhood window, however, is that there’s nothing commercial about it. My neighbor offers up the display every year purely for the joy it might give a passerby, not to make a sale or hype a product.

It’s perhaps the simplest of Christmas gifts, which also makes it the best.

When I was walking Maggie the other night, I watched as a young mother and father pointed out the various toys to their daughter. She was maybe 3 or 4 and in her father’s arms. From the look on her face, you’d have thought she was in another world. Maybe she was.

And then the trio strolled away, happy perhaps in the belief that they’d just had one of the most pleasant and innocent experiences of their hectic holiday. A serendipity of the season.

When I was growing up in the country, Christmas displays like my neighbor’s window were not abundant.

But I remember being impressed that someone would take the time and effort to hang, say, a single strand of multicolored lights around their barn door. Or wrap a lamp pole with lights, aglow at the end of the lane. A lonely beacon in the night.

My dad did the same.

Christmas after Christmas, he would run the world’s longest extension cord across the snow-covered front yard, down to a tiny fir tree that proudly stood sentinel by the side of the road.

He covered the tree with what seemed like thousands of lights, and every night at 5, he turned them on with all the flourish of lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center.

I’ve often wondered what people thought as they drove down this country road, in the middle of nowhere, and came upon a solitary tree glowing in the December darkness.

Maybe they thought it was the prettiest thing they ever saw. Maybe they saw it as a gift.

Maybe they realized someone was just sharing his joy. Nothing to sell. No agenda in mind. Something done just for the joy of it. Like my neighbor’s magical window.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Craig Wilson, Culture, Faith, Family, Holidays, Home, Life, Opinion, People, Personal, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Philadelphia Eagles On Round-Trip Flight To Uncertain Future

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association maintains seven years ago kids six-to-seventeen had a team sports participation rate of 54 percent.

They claim this year that rate resides somewhere south of 50 percent. Football allegedly has taken the biggest hit – down 10.5 percent.

The participation rate of Philadelphia Eagles during their game in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon was considerably lower.

In an age where controversial “Participation Awards” are given for just showing up…few Eagles did.

A caller into a Philadelphia sports talk show reported that on Sunday he was sitting in a bar, raising a toast to a friend he had just said a sad, tearful farewell to that morning.

After watching the first quarter of the Eagles-Bengals game he wished he was still at the funeral.

Since I haven’t written anything about the Eagles this season let me begin by saying I wasn’t a fan of the Carson Wentz acquisition. The team had (has) many issues to be addressed and sending away picks for a project wasn’t my way to fill all the holes the organization had (has). (If there had been a QB in the draft I felt was ready for prime-time from Day One I may have had a different opinion but that’s a pretty big “may.”)

Flash forward to days before the opener when the Eagles sent away incumbent QB Sam Bradford to Minnesota. The “Wentz Wagon” started to bulge at the seams as the team got off to a 3-0 start among hysterically high expectations. People conveniently forgot the team around him wasn’t any good to begin with…and with a rookie Head Coach at that. (Criticism after results…but in my defense I can document – elsewhere – I predicted a Bradford-led Eagles squad would not even win seven games)

After Sunday’s gruesome 32-14 loss to a Bengals team without A.J. Green, Gio Bernard…and with the added advantage of having Marvin Lewis as the opposing team’s sideline “guru”…the Eagles at 5-7 appear to be as unorganized, undisciplined and uninterested a group as we’ve seen in these parts in quite a while.

Head Coach Doug Pederson, after initially saying after the game he felt the Eagles played hard, admitted during yet another bizarre press conference the next day yeah, “not everybody” played hard. This is but the latest in a series of amazing admissions from Pederson who has been defending most all of his play-calling and decision-making processes in such a way even competing reporters compare notes to make sure they actually heard what they heard.

Most all of us gave Doug a pass at his hiring – most all of us would like to give him a pass straight out of town now. His honeymoon is the shortest given to an Eagles HC ever…and that’s saying an awful lot for a fan base who has endured a litany of lousy leaders. He is overwhelmed and was not ready for this gig.

When the “Q” word enters your locker room things have hit rock-bottom. Quitting is a word athletes don’t like associated with them. In Philadelphia when enough fans believe a player has quit on them they not only quit on that player but “brand” them for eternity. That’s where we’re at now – analysts trying to break down every milli-second of game film like it’s a Zapruder flick to determine whether each guy is balling out…or curling up in a ball.

Eagles TE Zach Ertz in particular has been cited for declining the opportunity to block the Bengals’ bad-boy linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the first – the first – quarter while Wentz was scrambling for a first down. Ertz maintains he could see Carson headed out of bounds to safety and there was no need to take down Burfict. Maybe the optics wouldn’t look so bad if Zach hadn’t spoken prior to the game about knowing of Vontaze’s chippy reputation first-hand from playing against each other in college. (Ertz was already working at the high end of the local criticism meter for a continuing habit of prematurely ending his catches)

There were many instances Sunday where the Eagles collectively looked like they wanted to be anywhere – ANYWHERE – but in the dark Cincinnati cold. Down 29-0 at one point to a team with a worse record supposedly reeling out of control faster than yours?

The passionless play is infinitely more troubling when you consider a week ago Pederson declared after the loss to Green Bay he was now looking to see who wants to be around next year.

Doug…not a lot of takers on that offer.

 

Posted in Football, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Dear NFL- Hit Delete On Thursday Night Football

On Fridays my mind is a bit jumbled as I ponder the weekend ahead. Places to be. Chores to do. And…games to keep up with in the meantime.

Admittedly it has become much easier to follow sports with this hand-held television I sport (they still call it a “phone” for some reason). I do not watch games while driving (frowned upon by our good friend common sense) but I will listen to game coverage while tooling about…or utilizing a tool.

There’s just SO many games accessible. I would say ALL of them but I do find the occasional kickball contest that doesn’t have an Internet carrier.

Much has been made of a downturn in National Football League television ratings. Blame has been broadcast about the Election of a new President, players electing to protest during the National Anthem, inconsistent league referees and the bizarre rules they attempt to enforce (What IS a catch? Roughing the passer anyone?), flat-out poor play, playing too many commercials, star injuries, fantasy football…even the league’s own Red Zone Network (which attempts to show every score on Sunday afternoon in as real time as possible) has come under scrutiny. I love Red Zone. If the NFL is willing to stream all the best bits from a dozen games without commercial interruption it’s a safe bet people are going to take advantage of that. And in the process…people will also get very, very spoiled since there is about a dozen minutes of actual play in any given NFL game.

In an age of immediacy and increasing pressure to consume as much as humanly possible…suddenly sitting through almost four hours to see those dozen minutes becomes a “return on investment” kinda thing.

And God forbid you have a life outside of sports…hello and welcome to the new Golden Age of Television. There are a ton of quality choices available to TV fans now. I suspect at some point I will put forth all the shows my wife and I follow. (Let’s put it this way. There’s a really good chance if you GPS us in the evenings on our mini-televisions…um…phones…the latitude and longitude will reveal us positioned in front of an actual television.)

Anywayyyyy…back to the NFL. My biggest issue with them outside of no rules consistency whatsoever (that’s a BIG problem) is playing on Thursday nights (No, it’s not because I have some shows to watch but that doesn’t help their cause with me.)

Players hate Thursday night football…likely a direct correlation to the fact after Sunday games they can’t get even out of bed until Tuesday. That lack of healing time often reveals itself in the lack of quality oft presented on Thursdays. And a close game – like last night’s Dallas-Minnesota contest – doesn’t mean a well-played game. That’s like saying a highly-organized head football coach knows what the hell he’s doing during games (yes…that’s a shot at our Eagles’ Doug Pederson…last seen using his last remaining challenge flag contesting a two-yard gain…honeymoon over on this site Doug…you have been warned).

The NFL is highly successful because many of us like watching gladiators beat the living daylights out of each other. It’s a battle royal with a limited time frame. There are only sixteen games guaranteed for each team each year (Note: Cleveland Browns fans…it WILL be over soon). Each contest is an event, a spectacle. No 162 game season here. No second chances in the post-season if you make it that far – each playoff game one-and-done.

I am old enough to remember when the NFL debuted Monday Night Football. It worked because it stayed “close enough” to the ebb and flow of the spectacle of having all these teams otherwise compete the same day each week. It worked because it took one game and elevated it even higher, giving the NFL fan dessert to go with the otherwise full meal of games served up Sundays. Players did have to adjust to the flow of recovering from Monday night to Sunday but it was do-able.  When Sunday Night Football came along…do-able as well. I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday night games but I’ll gladly live with them for eternity to dump Thursday off the NFL schedule immediately.

Thursdays are stupid from a player quality and safety standpoint. Coaches have less prep time. Fans? They are still watching in decent numbers but those numbers are slipping now and the networks can’t be pleased with their decreasing “return on investment.”

Drop Thursdays NFL. Play Sunday and Monday only. As you do with Sunday nights now…once the season gets underway start deciding a couple of weeks in advance which games will be promoted to go solo Monday nights.

I know ticket-holders are penalized when schedules are shuffled but we know pro sports now are all about eyeballs far from the field, court, ice, etc.

The league has a lot to work on to maintain their status as America’s premier sport.

This is an easy fix.

Which reminds me…

I wonder if the Wi-Fi will hold up tomorrow while installing those new gutter extensions?

Posted in Entertainment, Football, NFL, Opinion, Pro Football, Pro Sports, Sports, Television, Thoughts, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Time For A New Start

New StartMy (latest) sabbatical from blogging apparently has come to an end.

For readers within the sound of this post…if you have visited here before welcome back. If not…hello, nice to meet ya.

Let the record show an absence of over eight months from this site…nine from my other.

I can’t claim to have been overly obsessed with work. I’ve not been working for two years since resigning my Supply Chain position to – in part – better assist with family health issues. (Sidebar…the fellow who waits on me at Dunkin’ Donuts asked me the other day if I was retired. Didn’t know how to answer him. I may be but just haven’t been formally notified yet. I did have an interview a month ago. Of the five people I met the interaction with the initial person is the one worth noting. Question from him – “Our VP can be pretty rough on employees at times…how would you handle someone like that yelling at you?”)

I’ve kept busy however. Up at dawn daily to Uber the wife to and from her work. Shop. Wash. Clean. Fix. And…continue to try to figure out the next (final?) employment scenario. I know I’m not alone in the journey. And, so many others are far less fortunate than I.

Relocation is potentially on the horizon…but what clearly is in view is another wacky Northeast Winter. Sooooooo…I thought I would hunker down and fire up the blog (blogs?) once more.

I will say this. If I did this again I would have created one blog. The original intent was to have a secondary location for non-sports stuff. I am well aware a lot of folks simply don’t pay any attention to sports. I consider myself pretty well-rounded and that includes not taking sports too seriously. (Sidebar…just heard the Mets re-upped slugger Yoenis Cespedes to a contract guaranteeing him north of $100M…and some of the New York media immediately, openly wondered if he’ll give maximum effort now that he owns a max contract. Yoenis’ situation aside that’s the kind of story we usually see shortly after many athletes cash in…which is but one reason why none of us should ever take sports too seriously…especially their coverage.)

But more heartfelt posts about sports are surely forthcoming. Sports remain an over-sized part of my life even if I view them with ever-escalating arched eyebrows. They aren’t what they used to be but I still can’t call it a day…even if they were surely better back in the day.

That being said I am looking to bring over the non-sports side of myself. I will definitely reblog some prior, time-proof posts to shamelessly take full advantage of this site’s “wider audience.” (Sidebar…pretty easy math…a dozen readers are twice as many as a six-pack…)

Followers…thanks so much for sticking around.

New readers…thanks so much for sticking the landing.

Hope you’ll all stick around.

Time for a new start.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Life, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

Leicester City Foxes Punch Through Paper Ceilings

Foxes

(Image Credit Rocky Fox, Kat Morgan & SI.com)

Beating incredible odds. Doing something not thought remotely possible. Overcoming all the naysayers. Fans of college basketball’s March Madness certainly saw their fair share of that in the last four days. (Condolences to you…and your brackets…)

Yet, even Middle Tennessee State’s upset of highly-touted Michigan State (my pick to win it all) completely pales in comparison to what is happening across the pond in English soccer’s Premier League.

During CBS’s coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament studio analyst Kenny Smith shared a story from his childhood. His father was a believer in life providing “paper ceilings” to overcome. Turns out Dad’s philosophy was Kenny would periodically be faced with what on the surface would appear to be barriers he could not rise above. However, he had to be ready and willing to punch through them…and would even be surprised how easily those “paper ceilings” would just give way if Kenny just gave the requisite effort to push against them.

The Premier League’s Leicester City Foxes have punched through most all imagined and real obstacles in their campaign this season and currently sit atop the League’s table five points clear of their closest opposition as the season winds down. They are in excellent position to win the Premier Championship with seven matches to go.

The best comparison I’ve seen so far to the sports world in the US comes from an American fanatic of the Foxes (name of Rocky Fox – I swear – who also proposed to his girlfriend on a recent trip to England to see the squad with a pair of stuffed foxes, one sporting an engagement ring):

It’s like one of our minor-league baseball teams being called up to play in…and then win…the World Series.

It’s that incredible a season.

Entering this season the British sports book title odds were listed at 5,000-1 for Leicester City…the same payout they offer for anyone discovering Elvis Presley is alive.

Other Premier teams have spent millions upon millions more to stock their rosters. But at least for this magical, mystical season the gigantic disparity in salary between those clubs and Leicester City has not paid off in trying to catch these Foxes.

Perhaps the reason for the impossible becoming probable is indeed supernatural. Consider this. King Richard III’s remains – undiscovered for five centuries – were unearthed in 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester and he was eventually interred in the local cathedral there last March 26th, precisely when the team began an amazing stretch of success just to escape relegation and stay in the Premier League for this current season.

Since good ol’ Richard’s bones were reburied the Foxes’ winning percentage in the Premier League is over 77%.

In their previous 29 League games it was 26%.

If you choose not to believe properly laying to rest the deceased last ruler of the House of York explains how modestly-compensated Leicester City is on the verge of toppling all the ultra-rich clubs in English soccer …believe in the Foxes’ lively ability to properly sense when to counter their opposition’s attack and push forward quickly to put the ball in the back of their net. Even with one of the lowest possession time averages in the Premier League and the absolute lowest pass-completion percentage they know precisely when to counter, fast break on their opponent to score…and then proceed to lock down and protect their own net to…well…the death.

I likely haven’t posted on Premier League soccer lately because I – like many – was waiting for the big spending, traditional powers to unearth themselves and bring Leicester City back to earth.

We non-believers are all still waiting.

On paper at the start of the season Leicester City’s roster didn’t in any way display they could possibly be on the verge of the most unlikely Championship in Premier League history. Their ceiling for success – on paper – was quite substantial and very much out of reach.

But it appears if you play soccer with patience, intelligence and fearlessness…turns out “paper ceilings” don’t stand a chance.

Posted in Barclays Premier League, Premier League, Pro Sports, Soccer, Sports, The Premier League | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

How To Get To Second Base

Utley Slide

(Image Credit USAToday.com)

“The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people – and especially of government – always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.”Rob Norton, Econlib.org

According to most accounts the first, most thorough analysis of the concept of unintended consequences was conducted in 1936 by an American sociologist named Robert K. Merton. He identified five types best described off-the-top as true ignorance, flat-out error, willful ignorance, values and self-defeating predictions (self-fulfilling prophecies).

Last October I wrote a post warning Major League Baseball might be inclined to change the way all of baseball is played because of but one play – Chase Utley’s “slide” into second base to break up a double play in the MLB post-season that resulted in a broken leg for Ruben Tejada. I feared they would overreact and do something stupid…surely introducing unintended consequences.

I was wrong.

They did multiple things stupid…just as they did when they took away the ability of catchers to block the plate and runners trying to dislodge a baseball from said catchers a couple of years ago.

For some reason baseball – accused for a century of not changing anything – is now seemingly willing to change just about everything.

It might have been acceptable if TPTB (The Powers That Be) just left it at clarifying what a “bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base” is…which is in part what they did. But they also now have made the very attempt of breaking up a double play a play subject to video review.

I can’t wait for all the side-by-side shots of plays where interference is called in games…and when it is not.

But we’re just getting started here.

TPTB in MLB essentially eliminated the “neighborhood play,” a fancy way of saying a middle infielder didn’t have to have their foot on second base while in possession of the ball to get an out call before attempting a double play. Middle infielders now have to have the ball and their foot on second base to record an out. Umpires have always given the middle infielder “credit” when a runner is approaching and not enforced making a “true out.” Look, it wasn’t my idea this became OK but it is how the game has been played for…ever. The rule book was “called out” at second base a long time ago. That doesn’t make it right…but it has been deemed right for as long as everyone in the sport now has been in the sport.

Geez, try to find a majority of umpires still, in 2016, who have the same strike zone. That ambiguity has seemed to be OK with everyone for…ever. (I just thought I’d throw that in…)

Oh…and it’s just piling on that TPTB have also now made the elimination of the “neighborhood play” a play subject to video review.

So let’s review…

We had a dirty slide at second base during an attempt for a double play occur in a playoff game last season and as a result…the definition of a legitimate slide has been expanded…those slides are now subject to a stoppage of play and a video review…middle infielders who are supposedly now being protected from illegal slides now have to keep a foot planted on the base with the ball to be credited for an out before even attempting a double play…those outs are now subject to a stoppage of play and a video review.

“We’re making a slide rule that keeps you on the bag. You’ve got to be near the bag. And now we’re making a decision on the neighborhood play that you’ve got to stay on the bag. You know what that’s going to mean? Someone is going to get their clocks cleaned.”Terry Collins, New York Mets Manager

“It’s hard, man. Change is hard. We’ve been playing this game for a long time under a certain set of rules. And these changes just feel awkward. I kind of feel like I knew how to play the game. And now we have to change that.” – Chase Headley, New York Yankees Third Baseman

In the interest of fairness there certainly have been those in baseball quoted either taking a wait-and-see approach or have already come out in full support of the changes stating anything that enhances the safety of players can’t be a bad thing…safety comes first, etc. I’m all for safety too. Really I am.

But as I said when the play-at-the-plate changes were first made all baseball had to do was enforce the rules they already had in place. These changes are even more extraordinary and certainly were not vetted properly.

I should add at the same time these changes were announced TPTB at MLB laughingly created two ways to speed up games by limiting coaching visit times on the mound while also shortening break times between innings. Great ideas both…but those sliding/double play replays will negate that effort.

No, I suspect they were simply motivated to make a token effort to cover all their bases regarding the law of unintended consequences…when they simple-mindedly chose to rewrite the law…on how to get to second base.

 

Posted in Baseball, MLB, Pro Baseball, Pro Sports, Sports | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

March Madness Is Survive And Advance – Luck Doesn’t Hurt Either (Quote Me)

NCAA Floor

(Image Credit CBSSports.com)

People attribute quotes to the wrong individuals. It’s not a deliberate, malicious thing. History often plays with our memories. Individually. Collectively.

I believe the phenomenon is known as the generation of misattributions. (I don’t know who said that…)

It’s when Person A expounds upon, summarizes, condenses or restates an opinion from Person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to Person B.

My interest in such events came about innocently enough via watching an episode of the television series “Scorpion.” A famous quote was offered in relation to the show’s team of geniuses beginning to change as individuals…thereby leading to the group dynamic evolving. The words in question apparently have often been assigned to Charles Darwin but in fact while the notion may have been Darwin’s the more notable quotation to fully express the theory is attributed to one Leon Megginson, a professor at LSU back in 1963.

The condensed version as you may have heard it assigned to Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable.”

A broader, more expansive version assigned to Megginson:

“Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the change wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives. It is not the strongest that survives…but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

College basketball’s March Madness is often described in but three words…survive and advance. I happen to think the above quotation(s) apply to this Tournament nicely also. It isn’t the strongest team that always wins. It’s not even the smartest all the time. It is the team that successfully adapts and adjusts through each match-up and in each game best determines how to maximize its strengths and smarts…minimize its weaknesses…and simply find a way to keep winning.

You know of course March Madness doesn’t decide who the best team in the country is. Admirably, that’s what college football still tries to do albeit they have doubled down by watering down the process by now having a four team playoff instead of just two as when the BCS was around.

No, when you have a whopping 68 teams in a competition the survivor can’t be considered the best team. It’s only the best team at…well…surviving. Luck doesn’t hurt either.

Don’t get me wrong. March Madness is still pretty much my favorite sporting event. But it is a television show now as much as competition. Half the teams don’t even belong playing in what is billed as a championship event. As well, an arbitrary group of people assign the bracket positioning which often heavily favors those teams most highly-thought of, often affording them the chance in the first several rounds to stay as close to home as possible (and their fans).

As the bracket gets closer to its conclusion the facilities then morph from being basketball arenas to football stadiums. The Final Four is now most often played on temporary, raised-surface courts with about as bad a shooting background as could possibly be provided for the players.

Do I wish for the days when the field was half the size and all the games were played in actual, full-time basketball facilities? Sure.

But March Madness is still fun. You just have to keep it in perspective. You’re not crowning the best team. You’re crowning the team that best adapted. Luck doesn’t hurt either.

Predicting who will win? Luck be with us all in 2016. You can make a case for at least a dozen teams that, depending on their path and what happens along the way, might be cutting down the nets on April 4th in Houston.

This season alone three top-five ranked teams lost in one day. That was only the fourth time in the last two decades that happened. As I am typing this we still have a few days left in February and teams ranked in the top-five have collectively lost the second-most games ever at this point in a season.

Since I’m in Philly people have asked me about Villanova. With their recent history of coming up short once the Tournament begins do they have what it takes to go all the way this year?  Yes they do if statistics mean anything – which do and don’t depending on how strong you feel the competition is they’ve faced. The Wildcats have a top-five defense, are in the top-five in free throw shooting as well as shooting from inside the three-point line. I point out that line distinction only because one thing Villanova hasn’t done well is shoot 3’s…and we know how the 3-ball can quickly change the dynamics of a game. But they are talented…and can be considered a serious contender.

Yet…

In 2011 the Connecticut Huskies ended their regular season losing four of their last five games. They were ninth in the Big East at 9-9, It was madness to think they’d be invited to March Madness. Their only hope was to win five games in five days and win the Big East Tournament and that conference’s automatic bid. Only then would they be issued an invite – because then they had to receive one.

They amazingly did just that.

Connecticut then went on to inexplicably get to and win the Championship Game against Butler (in what was unfortunately one of the worst Finals ever played). They were far and away NOT the best team in college basketball that season. They did however adapt and adjust. They also got lucky. Luck plays into things when you have this big a field and so many games.

There’s simply no way to accurately predict how March Madness 2016 will play out, or any one of them for that matter. It won’t stop me or anyone else from trying however. It is perverse fun to fill out those brackets each year and see how quickly we make them into baskets…laying them up and in to our trash baskets.

Based on how this regular season in particular has gone in this year’s office competition that person who picks their March Madness bracket based on which mascot is allegedly tougher than the other or which color is their personal favorite has an excellent chance to pull off yet another victory this year. March Madness is always completely unpredictable. I think even more so in 2016.

Adapt and adjust. Survive and advance. Luck doesn’t hurt either. As for luck… perhaps we should remember a quote from Roman philosopher Seneca:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

(I suppose it’s possible someone else might have said that also…)

 

Posted in Basketball, College Basketball, College Sports, Entertainment, Life, Media, NCAA, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Patience Virtue For New (Veteran) Phillies Manager Pete Mackanin

Pete Mackanin

(Image Credit BleacherReport.com)

A brief timeline to help one understand the unique promotion of Pete Mackanin to the position as Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies:

2012 season – Pete was among three of Charlie Manuel’s aides fired after Philadelphia’s final regular-season game. He was serving as Manuel’s bench coach at the time, having just concluded his fourth season in that role.

2013 season – Pete served as a scout for the New York Yankees. (He was a scout for them in 2008 also before joining the Phillies a year later)

2014 season – Pete served as a third-base coach for newly-hired Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg.

Middle of 2015 season – Pete is promoted from third-base coach to serve as Interim Manager after Sandberg’s “resignation.” Shortly thereafter baseball front-office lifer Andy MacPhail becomes the team’s President. It is logically, widely assumed Pete is gone at season’s end since he has no prior connection to MacPhail.

Today – Pete Mackanin is the Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies…Interim detached. He served as an Interim Manager at two other locales in his career…but never as THE Manager.

He is 64 years young and attending his 48th Spring Training. The “book” on Pete is he is a master communicator with his players…he also communicates in Spanish.

He was obviously successful communicating to MacPhail he was (still) the man for the job.

Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently relayed a quote by bench coach Larry Bowa about Mackanin’s performance last season as Interim Manager:

“He let guys know that he played and he understands how hard the game can be. Here’s an example: Cesar (Hernandez) missed first base and was called out, and when he came back to the dugout Pete looks at him and says in Spanish, ‘Hey Cesar, that’s what the bags are there for.’”

The “book” on Pete also reads he believes the game should be played “properly” and has a laser-like focus for rooting out and repairing weaknesses.

That should come in handy fairly quickly in 2016.

Many expect the Phillies to lose 100 games with relative ease. They have talent but it is woefully young and needs time to develop both in the bigs and the minors. Baseball America recently rated Philadelphia as having one of the ten best farm systems in baseball right now. That’s something.

But it is only potential, not reality.

One bit of reality…based on Pete’s recent history with this organization you can’t count him out towards still being around (in some capacity) when (hopefully) things turn around.

And so it begins…not just (again) for Pete but for all who love baseball.

Spring Training is here.

For Pete’s sake…“Play Ball!”

 

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Warming Up With Baseball – A Little Relief From Relief

Driveway

Baseball is like several sports – a game of inches. Makes all the difference in the world on balls and strikes…the base paths. Often…little or no margin for error.

There was another game of inches a couple of weeks ago with little or no margin for error when the wife and I actually got the tape measure out and evaluated the family truck (our Civic) as to how much ice-packed snow absolutely, positively needed to be plowed to forge a way out of our driveway. We didn’t want to have to move any more of the 25-plus inches of what was now ice pack than necessary. It was a relief we could plow away what we did. Speaking of relief…

I am sure many old-school baseball fans like me favored a guy back in the day that could pitch a complete game or at least go deep into one, only turning the ball over to a reliever in the ninth when he was completely gassed and just couldn’t close the deal.

The World Champion Kansas City Royals, according to a recent column by ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, finished 24th in the major leagues last year in starting-pitcher ERA. They were 26th in innings pitched by starting pitchers.

Get this. The last time a team that won the World Series in the expansion era wound up that close to the bottom in those two pitching categories was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds – the “Big Red Machine.” That would make sense since Manager Sparky Anderson was known in his day as “Captain Hook” and had a true affinity for swapping pitchers out right(y) and left(y).

Baseball analytic folks are starting to pile up solid evidence by the third time your starters face a lineup it just might be time to send them to the showers. And the Managers in the majors are certainly responding to those statistics.

There were 15,095 pitching changes made last season. That is the most ever, over 600 more than in 2014.

About 2,000 more pitching changes than just a decade ago…and about 4,000 more pitching changes than just two decades ago.

This is way more than a trend folks.

It’s an absolute way of life.

So here’s my proposal for major league baseball. Expand the active roster size so Managers can better scheme how best to field a team day-to-day. It would be a fun new strategy for all of us second-guessers as to who suits up, gets called up, etc. for each game. It certainly would help teams if games get out of hand or run into OT when baseball squads almost always have to play…the very next day.

Maybe Managers would load up on relievers, maybe not. That would be part of the intrigue. Give these guys some roster flexibility since the game has absolutely shifted in the direction of “relievers gone wild.”

OK, I lied. I actually have a second proposal. Do not allow Managers to visit the mound to make pitching changes or at least put a very small number on visiting it over the course of a game. Reduce all these unnecessary, traditional huddles on the hill.

Even if you think these two proposals are off-base I just wanted to talk baseball today if only to generate warm thoughts. After all, everyone’s team is undefeated so far in 2016. There’s that.

It’s supposed to be zero this weekend. The air temperature mind you, not the wind chill. Warmer weather…where are you?

Hopefully…about to come in from Mother Nature’s bullpen and provide some much-needed relief.

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Super Bowl 50 – Coldplay Welcomes Special Guests Carolina, Denver

Super Bowl 50
(Image Credit NBCBayArea.com)

Sir Isaac Newton is, even after his death way back in 1727, still considered by some to be the greatest genius who ever lived. In fact among physicists it’s probably neck-and-neck between him and Albert Einstein who’s Smart #1.

Fig Newtons were invented in part because many physicians at the time felt eating biscuits and fruit helped fight off digestion problems, considered to cause most illnesses (…and a shout out to our local native, baker and fig lover Charles Roser who patented the cookie cutter to make ’em way back in 1891).

Yet until several years ago – even after all those years – had you said the word Newton I would have immediately thought of Sir Isaac or Fig.

But now there’s Cam.

If you saw him play at Auburn you were likely amazed he looked like the biggest, fastest and most determined man on the field…and a quarterback at that.

At that time most of his detractors said he would get his comeuppance once he became a pro.

The last time I checked he still looks like the biggest, fastest and most determined man on the field. And still a quarterback…one who should be the shoo-in NFL MVP this season.

Cam Newton has accounted for almost 80 percent of the Carolina Panthers offensive TD’s this season. His ten rushing touchdowns – yep, as a quarterback – were just one shy of the NFL’s leaders…running backs Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, Jeremy Hill and DeAngelo Williams. He’s a big reason why Carolina has run for at least 100 yards in 31 straight games including post-season play. He’s a big reason why Carolina led the NFL in scoring this season averaging just over 31 points per game. His teammates rally around their bigger-than-life leader, making sure he’s been hit only 61 times this year, the third-lowest total in the league.

I recall telling my wife while watching him in college I’ve never seen a guy like him.

I still haven’t.

I’ll admit Cam’s showboating on the field and the sideline has not been my idea of good sportsmanship or of having respect for the game. I’m a Barry Sanders guy (Google if necessary) – make first downs without creating a scene, score a TD and hand the ball to the nearest official…and show you’re doing your well-paid, highly-compensated job in a professional manner.

But when he’s just playing football…he’s doing his job about as good as it gets in 2015.

The Denver Broncos (14-4) are about to get a full-on view of Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers (17-1) in Super Bowl 50.

Some facts give Denver hope in trying to not wind up like Seattle and Arizona, Carolina’s post-season victims (their chalk lines are still visible on the Panthers’ field in Charlotte). Denver’s defense generated pressure on opposing quarterbacks more than any in the NFL this season. They have allowed opposing offenses to crack 30 points or more just once. Their defense ranks first in fewest total yards of offense allowed. Only seven times this year has a team rushed for over 100 yards against them. They are nasty. They are quick. I noticed some of their defenders looking to not just take down New England Patriots last week but take them out. And…be forewarned whistles tend to stay unused in the Super Bowl.

But alas, there are things that surely give Denver pause…like the not-so-unimportant fact their offense is just not very good. If you can hear this above the violins playing about this being QB Peyton Manning’s last game ever, a huge shout-out to that defense that has been winning games for the Broncos all season long. There is a reason Denver is 11-3 this season in games decided by seven points or less. Their offense simply doesn’t cut it – Manning has been inefficient courtesy in no small part to a confused offensive line and the subsequent lack of a running game – and the Broncos defense often has to ride to the rescue. The pressure on the Denver defense has been relentless this season. They know they’ve got to win games – close games – and they’ve been quite good at it.

Carolina’s defense? They have thrived off of turnover differential, leading the NFL and also factoring into the offense’s success as they’ve been rewarded with favorable field position. But consider this…the Panthers defense on average has given up only about the same number of points per game as Denver. That’s the thing. As good as we know Denver’s D is…Carolina’s at best just a hair behind. Everyone’s talking about the Broncos defense. I suspect the Panthers defenders are a bit annoyed and looking to prove they’re worth talking about too.

And Newton can’t wait to help them out…

So it shouldn’t take a smart cookie to figure out…

Carolina 23, Denver 16.

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