Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The power of a strikeout

Since the voting results of Major League Baseball's Cy Young Award winners were released today, it's only fitting to write a blog post about the power of a strikeout in baseball.

A strikeout is like no other out in America's favorite pastime. When a pitcher throws a sizzling 99-mph fastball or a nasty change-up that totally fools a hitter, it shows pure dominance of the pitcher over teh hitter. In many cases, a hitter will make a face, drop his bat, or even bark at the umpire about the location of the pitch. It's also a great feeling for a pitcher to strike out a batter. Sending a batter back to the dugout via a strikeout is so much different than doing so any other way. Think about it. Is a slow grounder to the shortshop who then tosses to the first baseman really that upsetting? Is a pop fly into centerfield that disappointing for a hitter? The answer is probably not. But when it comes to being "caught looking" or swinging through a pitch and missing it, there is an added feeling of being on the short end of the stick - a feeling of losing the one-on-one matchup with the guy on the mound. It's almost like a boxing match and getting knocked to the ground.

Another thing that shows the power of a strikeout is how much this statistic means to writers who vote for the best pitcher in each league. The Rays' David Price won the Cy Young for the 2012 season in the American League. Price collected 205 strikeouts. Although this didn't lead the league, it was a feat accomplished in just 211 innings, meaning he almost struck out one batter each inning in which he pitched. In the NL, R.A Dickey of the Mets took home the award and whiffed 230 batters in 233 innings. This "K" total was enough to lead his league, and many of these punch-outs came via his tricky knuckleball pitch.

The bottom line is that no hitter in baseball wants to step up to the plate and strike out. Hitters want to hit a home run, get on base, or at least get walked. The last thing they want to do is chase a nasty breaking ball or a dazzling fastball and have to face their teammates on the bench. I've never been in the cleats of a major leaguer, but from what I have observed, it's got to be like a punch to the gut. The best way to get over this feeling is probably to get up to bat again and make up for it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Elevator Etiquette: Observations of Riding an Elevator

One of the most fascinating social experiences is something many of us do every single day - riding in an elevator. I recently sailed on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. This ship contains several elevators, and you see just about everything when you ride on them.

When someone enters an elevator, they look to see who else is on it. They then make their way to an open space if there are others on-board. If the elevator is almost full, everyone on-board must move to make room for the newcomer. If there is not enough room, riders must wait for the next available elevator to arrive.

An interesting part of riding an elevator is that most people remain quiet while on-board. People who are having a conversation while waiting for one tend to put those discussions on-hold when they get on an elevator with strangers. But they'll start yakking away once they reach their desired floor and make their way out of the elevator. Riders also tend to stand so that they are facing the elevator doors. This is why eye contact is quite uncommon among riders who don't know each other.

Some people seem to consider an elevator to be just like their home. They leave trash on it, spill crumbs on it while grabbing a quick snack during a ride, and they even leave wine glasses on-board. I saw one on my cruise. I can't imagine what these individuals' homes look like if they feel the need to litter on an elevator. You never see trash cans on them, but people must think they are giant waste baskets that are also used - secondarily - to transport people from one floor to another.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fear that some people have of getting stuck in an elevator. I've never really had this fear myself, but after seeing the video from a few years ago of a New York man who was trapped in elevator for 41 hours, it definitely makes me wonder how awful it must be to be enclosed in a bubble for any unreasonable amount of time. My fingers are crossed that this won't ever happen (and that this blog post won't jinx me).

You might not think much of a 30- or 45-second ride in an elevator, but think about these things the next time you press the "up" button to go to your office or apartment. There is nothing like an elevator, and it's funny how these transporting systems change the behavior of every person who walks through those heavy doors for a vertical trip.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Women's sports deserve more respect

A few years ago, I wrote an article for the USF St. Petersburg student newspaper ("The Crow's Nest") about how women's sports deserve more respect and coverage than they currently receive.

After recently watching the USF Bulls women's softball team compete in the College World Series, I thought it only made sense to expound on this a bit. I had never watched more than a few seconds of a softball game on TV until watching the Bulls play Hofstra in their first of three Super Regional games. You have to give these girls a ton of credit for how they compete. Sure, it's "slow-pitch" softball. Sure, they aren't tackling each other like football players do. Sure, they aren't ramming each other into walls like NHL players do. But you cannot deny that these young ladies are putting forth tremendous effort in each and every game in which tye compete.

I remember how the University of Connecticut women's basketball team strung dozens of victories together and set a record for consecutive wins over the course of two seasons. From what I recall, women's college basketball got the most press out of this. Does it really take a women's team to set unprecedented records for female sports to get any decent coverage at all? Does a women's college basketball game mean nothing, while a men's college basketball game might get a great timeslot on a major broadcast network?

ESPN recently promoted what is apparently a new website - - during one of the softball game broadcasts I saw. It's great to see a website that is entirely devoted to covering women's sports. With the hundreds of TV channels out there on digital calbe these days, I would love to see just one channel that dedicates all of its programming to women's sports, much like WE (Women's Entertainment) airs shows geared toward a female audience. Unfortunately, I doubt that will ever happen any time soon. There is still a great deal of gender bias when it comes to media coverage. Until that changes, the status quo will remain in our society.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tom Petty rocked my night!

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando. Although I am by no means a huge Petty fan, I do enjoy listening to some of his songs – primarily his late ‘80s and early ‘90s hits. But my dad is a huge fan of the group and even went to school with a few of the band members in Gainesville where the group originated.

Before commenting on the actual performance, I must say that the new Amway Center is a fantastic facility. It opened last year and is one of the nicest venues I have ever visited. It was also an excellent place to hold this concert because of how well the sound system worked. At concerts in some other venues, the acoustics are just plain bad, so whoever runs the equipment in Orlando should give some tips to these other facilities.

In terms of the actual concert, it was probably the best musical performance I have ever seen. Even though many of the Heartbreakers are now in their 60s, it definitely did not show. Instead I realize just how talented and experienced these guys are. It is quite inspiring to watch people perform at the highest level in any kind of performance art, and I certainly did not expect anything less from these Rock and Rock Hall of Famers.

My favorite Petty song is “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” It took a while for them to get to it, but once they did, it rocked the arena. Perhaps I am a bit biased, but the crowd seemed more amped up than ever with its cheers after this song than any other song of the night. The group also did a cool rendition of a rock tune called “Travelin’ Light,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. Apparently this song was originally written by Grammy-winner J.J. Cale.

I believe that the best barometer to measure a concert with is whether or not you would want to see the same musicians play again. In my case, I would love to see Petty do his thing again some day. Hopefully he and the crew will continue to tour for many years to come. It was well worth the $85, and I probably would have been willing to pay even more had I known how special the show would be.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jamie Moyer: The Ageless Wonder

This week, Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in the 143-year history of Major League Baseball to record a victory in a game. At age 49 and currently a member of the Colorado Rockies, he beat the San Diego Padres, 5-3, by going seven innings and allowing just two runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out one. His fastball reached just 79 miles per hour.

Moyer is the No. 2 starting pitcher in the Colorado Rockies’ rotation. He made his major-league debut on June 16, 1986 when Ronald Reagan was president. Little did he know he would still be pitching some 26 years later.

There has been plenty of attention on Moyer for his historic feat and for his ability to still compete at the highest level of professional baseball. I know I’m not the only one who is fascinated by the man, but I just feel like I am someone who has always had that extra bit of admiration for individuals who defy the odds. There are so many norms in this world we live in. Isn’t it great to see someone do something that is so abnormal and unique once in a while? It makes you realize that humans can do certain things that people never thought were possible. It makes you smile.

USA Today’s Mike Lopresti wrote a terrific piece on Moyer and all of the interesting facts and statistics about how long he has been around. Perhaps the most striking thing is that Moyer had Tommy John surgery at age 48 – and was pitching when Tommy John was still an active player. This particular surgery is considered quite risky for baseball players in terms of how well they pitch after having it done and how long their careers will last. For Moyer to still be a starter at his age after having this surgery a year ago is incredible. He represents the smallest of fractions that you could possibly calculate.

You also have to think about how difficult it is for someone in his late 40s to be in good enough shape to be a major-league player. The majority of baseball players rarely extend their careers into their late 30s, yet Moyer is now a decade past that point. You have to give him so much credit for staying in shape and maintaining a lifestyle that has enabled him to  continue to compete. Yes, you could argue that he has good genes. Yes, you could argue that, as a starting pitcher, he only has to suit up for a game every five days. But what you can’t argue is that he has such a passion and love for baseball. That could be the biggest reason why he is still on the mound.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

College basketball makes up for football’s letdown in Florida

A few months ago, I wrote on this blog about how awful the 2011 college football season treated the Sunshine State. The regular powers like Florida, Florida State and Miami barely had a heartbeat. Even up-and-comers like USF, UCF and FAU failed in their efforts to beautify the football landscape in the state.

But all is not lost in Florida when it comes to college athletics. The state’s college basketball teams have made some big headlines during the 2011-12 season that have turned the usual football fanatics into basketball enthusiasts.

For the first time since 1991, the Florida State Seminoles won the ACC Tournament, defeating both North Carolina and Duke in the process. The ‘Noles also notched their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011-12, and the team actually finished a bit short of its expectations with a third-round loss to Cincinnati in the big dance.

USF made major strides this season and experienced an historic turnaround. Head coach Stan Heath was named Big East Coach of the Year as he turned the Bulls from a 10-win team in 2010-11 to a 22-win team this season. Heath’s club went 12-6 in Big East conference games and won two games in the NCAA Tournament. It was USF’s first trip to the big dance since 1992 and was the deepest run the school had ever made in the tournament. The Bulls came up just short in the third round against Ohio.

In Gainesville, the Gators had yet another successful run in the regular season under longtime coach Billy Donovan. The orange-and-blue of Florida made it to the Sweet Sixteen for the eighth time in school history and the fifth time since 2000. The Gators, who were seeking their third national championship under Donovan, suffered a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the surprising Louisville Cardinals.

Although the Miami Hurricanes failed to make the NCAA Tournament, the team did advance to the second round of the NIT and won 20 games overall. Even Florida Gulf Coast was one win away from a berth in the big dance. FGCU, which had a losing record but went on a run in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament, lost to Belmont in the championship game. North Florida, which also plays in the A-Sun, had a 10-8 conference mark and finished at 16-16.

Let’s not forget the ladies, either. Florida, Miami, USF, Florida Atlantic and Florida International all had winning seasons and made the postseason in either the Women’s NIT or the Women’s NCAA Tournament.

Even though the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat have been front and center with all kinds of hoopla – pun intended – surrounding those organizations recently, it is time to turn at least one eye to college basketball in the state of Florida. There will likely be more players from the Sunshine State on NBA rosters in the coming years based on the success of the current college teams. The same may not be able to be said about the state’s football players making NFL rosters as much, at least for now.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why it's not good to win "free food for a year"

Many restaurants and food services do promotions that award contest winners “free food for a year.” What this phrase really means can vary greatly. It could mean that you get a free meal every day. It could mean getting free food every other day, or perhaps once a week or even once a month. What this “food” is can also vary from one place to another.

But why would you want to eat food from any restaurant with any regularity, even if there is no charge for it? Most restaurants have limited menus, meaning your choices will eventually overlap and you will be eating the same thing again at some point. In addition, most restaurants do not serve the healthiest foods in the world, meaning it will be hard for you to consume these items frequently if you are on a diet – or if you are a level-headed individual who realizes how important it is to eat high-fat, salt-filled food in moderation.

Because of these factors, you will likely end up giving away meals to family and friends. Yes, it is nice to give back to others once in a while, but you might even run out of options on whom to give the food to, which could involve taking a chance by giving it to a homeless person.

So, I have come to this conclusion: it is not a good thing to win free food for a year. As much as I love McDonald’s, Carrabba’s, Outback Steakhouse, or any other quality fast-food or sit-down restaurant, there are too many disadvantages to winning this kind of prize. If you win a contest like this, you are actually losing more than winning. The only thing you might gain is some extra weight.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Bountygate" is outrageous

Last Friday, some disturbing news surfaced out of the NFL that the New Orleans Saints were involved in what the mainstream media has termed "Bountygate." According to an ongoing investigation, Saints defense coordinator Gregg Williams and fellow players have been paying the team's defensive players money for their performance on the field. However, the investigation revealed that players have received money - or "bounty" - for intentionally injuring opposing players. The words used to describe these vicious hits are "knockouts" and "cart-offs," which means the opposing player had to be carted off the field on a stretcher.

As a sports fan, I am absolutely disgusted by this news. I have heard a number of former NFL players say that this kind of thing has gone on for years but has always been kept private among players and coaches. I just find it hard to accept the fact that these athletes feel getting paid is a reason to hurt other players. How can any football fan feel good about wearing the jersey of a player involved in this outrageous scheme? How could a season ticket holder feel compelled to put hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars into an organization if they knew that the team was involved in these shenanigans? Granted, this news is so recent and hindsight is 20/20. But going forward, I have to believe that fans will change their tune about the NFL and how they view its players.

There has already been much debate about what kinds of penalties should be handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell. This may sound harsh, but I think any players who have directly been involved in severely injuring another player should be banned from playing the game. I also think Goodell should ban Gregg Williams from coaching, especially since he was warned about this in the past and kept allowing it to go on. I doubt the punishments will climb to this level of severity, but I believe they should.

Whether it's "Bountygate," steroids, or any other controversy in sports, I think it is an absolute shame how so much news about under-the-table dealings has broken in recent years. I hate to say it, but I think we are only a few more of these major bombshells away from the unraveling of American professional sports as we know them. It is quite disturbing as a sports aficionado. The most effective way to prevent this will have to be some major overhauls within each sport. I certainly hope it will not come to that someday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

USF Men's Basketball Team Making History in 2012

The last time the USF men’s basketball team was in the NCAA Tournament, many current players and students were not even born. The year was 1992. The Bulls played Georgetown in the first round and lost, 75-60. Two years earlier, they also had a first-round exit with a 79-67 defeat to Arizona.

Now, 20 years later, the Bulls could be headed back to the big dance. As of this writing, head coach Stan Heath’s club is 17-10 overall with a 10-4 Big East mark. As terrific as the team has played in conference games, its victories have come against teams it would be expected to beat if the team wants consideration for the tournament. On the other hand, the Bulls suffered some tough losses to inferior teams during their non-conference schedule. They have also struggled against tougher competition in the Big East, including a 30-point loss at Georgetown and a 20-point defeat at Marquette.

Most college basketball analysts believe USF must win at least 20 games to have a legitimate shot at earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. With four regular season games left, USF will need to pick up at least one or two signature wins. Their road test at Louisville could be their best chance to do so, and beating West Virginia and Cincinnati at home will also bolster their resume. The team will also play in the Big East Tournament in New York. Winning games in this 16-team competition will certainly help the team make a better case to play with the big boys and be a part of everyone’s brackets.

The Bulls’ success has come as a result of everyone chipping in each game, not just one star carrying the team on his back. If ESPN’s Dick Vitale hasn’t labeled freshman point guard Anthony Collins a “diaper dandy” yet, he should add him to his list. Collins has had a tremendous season as a freshman and will be a shining star for the Bulls throughout his career. Other notable players include seniors Ron Anderson Jr. and Hugh Robertson, both of whom have played exceptionally well defending the basket and getting defensive stops. Meanwhile, Shaun Noriega has been clutch with his three-point shooting. Jawanza Poland and Victor Rudd have had some great offensive performances, and senior Augustus Gilchrist has been a consistent force on both sides of the ball all year long.

No matter how USF’s season turns out, it has been one of the most successful campaigns on the court in school history. Since the football team went 5-7 in the fall, the basketball team is now giving Bulls fans a reason to be excited. They should also be looking forward to the newly renovated Sun Dome that is set to reopen next season. Although USF has won nearly every home game playing off-campus at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this year, the team has struggled to draw fans to the games. So it should be more convenient for students, alumni, and fans alike to attend games at the Sun Dome and cheer on what should be an even better Bulls basketball team next season.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Gatorade Bath

The Gatorade Bath

There are so many traditions in sports. When a team wins, it does something special to celebrate the victory. When a team loses, it goes back to the drawing board to determine why it came up short.

One non-athletic-related tradition in sports is to dump a huge container of icy Gatorade on a coach who wins a big game. Now known as a “Gatorade bath” or “Gatorade shower,” it is generally done after football games but has been used for baseball and basketball games in recent years. The practice apparently started on Oct. 20, 1985 when Jim Burt of the New York Giants dumped a cooler of Gatorade on head coach Bill Parcells following the team’s 17-3 win over the Washington Redskins. Although it was done after a victory, Burt claimed he was upset with Parcells because of how he treated him and used it as more of a revenge tactic than a way to celebrate the win.

Gatorade containers are typically used for the shower. However, the Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes drink Powerade and thus use it to bathe their coaches. This is because Gatorade was originally created at the University of Florida. Since it has always been associated with the school by having “Gator” in its name, student-athletes at other universities in the Sunshine State are prohibited from drinking Gatorade during games.

There have been some instances where the Gatorade bath was given prematurely – and wrongly – before a team was able to close out a big win. Kentucky Wildcats football coach Guy Morriss received the bath shortly before the end of a game against the LSU Tigers on Nov. 9, 2002. But LSU came back and won the game on a Hail Mary pass by quarterback Marcus Randall on the final play of the game. It has since been dubbed the “Bluegrass Miracle,” and I can’t imagine Morriss was very happy with both the bath and the loss.

In addition to football, Gatorade has been poured on NBA coach Doc Rivers and MLB pitcher Ervin Santana following Rivers’ victory in the 2008 NBA Finals and Santana’s no-hitter in 2011.

You really have to wonder how much coaches like this stunt – or if they like it at all. In cold weather games, it must be quite uncomfortable to be doused with liquid and water that is probably just above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The accomplishment of winning a football or baseball game in dramatic fashion when all the doubters picked against your team is one thing. But wouldn’t you think some of that emotion might be taken away after an unexpected Gatorade shower? Perhaps coaches know by now that this is not a new practice. That is probably why you occasionally see them run away from their well-known team jokesters in the closing seconds of a contest so they can celebrate wearing dry clothes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Conference games signal dramatic Super Bowl

Yesterday's dramatic NFL conference championship games made it clear that Super Bowl XLVI should be just as dramatic.

In the first game, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens went down to the wire, as expected. It was Baltimore placekicker Billy Cundiff, who had a very solid kicking record, who yanked a 32-yard field goal wide left with only a few seconds remaning on the clock. This sent the Patriots to their fourth big dance in the last decade. Quarterback Tom Brady did not have his best game, particuarly in the first half. But New England did just enough to score 23 points on the Ravens' vicious defense to secure the victory.

In Sunday's nightcap, the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants played well into the overtime period before the winner was determined. The rain-drenched Candlestick Park looked like a monsoon as the game progressed, but it didn't seem to have an effect on the outcome. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had his chances to finally prove himself to be an "elite" quarterback, but he was unable to do so down the stretch, taking numerous sacks and skipping balls to receivers who had no chance to catch them. Meantime, it was Eli Manning who had a better game than his QB counterpart, ultimately setting up his Giants for an easy game-winning field goal. But it was a muffed punt on the part of San Francisco that led to this point.

So we now have our Super Bowl matchup set. It is a rematch of Super Bowl XLII in which the Giants stunned the Pats in dramatic fashion, ending their perfect season. It was Eli Manning's hail-mary-esque pass to David Tyree that set up the winning score for New York. You have to believe that Bill Belichick and his crew are out to seek revenge and claim their fourth title under his watch. And for Manning, he has the chance to add a second ring to his hand, which would be one more than his older brother Peyton. There is a great deal on the line as always in a Super Bowl, and if the game is anythign like the conference championships were, it will be exciting. At least the brass at NBC hope so.