Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

I know it's pretty late to be sending you a letter, and I've been kind of a prick this year, but this is a very special request. On Christmas Eve, when you're making your rounds, it would mean oh so much to me if you could please find it in your heart to run Glen Sather over with your sled.

Please do us all a favor in Rangerland, or as you may refer to it, the Island of Misfit Toys, and make sure you backup over him a few times as well. Make sure he's good and dead. Well, maybe "dead" is a bit harsh of a word, what with it being the Christmas season and all.
Let's make it easier for you, just make sure he's in a vegetative state and will be deemed unfit to continue as general manager of the New York Rangers. I'll even act really surprised and excited when I hear about it on the news Christmas morning!

I haven't been doing so well lately, Santa. Let me tell you why. You see, the Rangers and I have fallen out of love. Yes, the team I used to cherish with all my heart that's three sizes too small, has gone from perennial Stanley Cup contender to a mediocre collection of overpaid underproducers. I hate them. Of course I still love them deep down, but I'm ashamed of it, Santa. I'm ashamed! I tell my friends that I like the Blackhawks, because it's easy to make fun of a Rangers fan these days. And I hate getting picked on!

Mr. Sather is solely to blame for this transformation. He took a good team and made them unwatchable. He signed players like Wade Redden, Michael Rozsival and Chris Drury to long-term contracts that have killed his ability to surround them with a good supporting cast, sort of like Jonathan Taylor Thomas in I'll Be Home for Christmas.

I have a feeling that maybe without Mr. Sather in charge of things, in a year or two my Rangers can return to the form that made me fall in love with them after the lockout. I'm not going to get picky and ask you to let them win the Stanley Cup. I mean, if I was that desperate I would've went straight to Hell and just made a deal with the Devil. I just want them to be fun to watch again.

I'm sure you're a big hockey fan. It's pretty cold in the North Pole. Don't you see what he's done to this team? Don't give me that line about the Oilers in the '80s. He had Gretzky! And Messier!

Wait a minute, that reminds me. He's got Messier now too! Santa, if you take him out, the Captain will be back in charge! He'll never fail us!

If you can't come through on my one only wish this year, then at the very least could you please put me in touch with Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge? Maybe I'll try and scare Glen with the ol' Ghost of Rangers Future routine to get him to change his ways.

Also, could you please, for his sake, certainly not mine, bring John Tortorella a pacemaker this year? I don't think he asked for one, but he's going to need one pretty soon.

Thanks a lot Santa, I know it's last minute, but you've never let me down before. I'm sure you'll make this year the best Christmas ever!



P.S. - Merry Christmas!

P.P.S. - Um, Brashear may have eaten your cookies. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Peter Gammons To Leave ESPN Following Winter Meetings

Peter Gammons, 64, has reportedly released a statement that says he will be moving on from ESPN at the conclusion of the 2009 MLB Winter Meetings later this week to pursue new endeavors.

Gammons, who has been with ESPN since 1989, said that the decision to leave was "conflicted."

"I owe a great deal of my professional life to ESPN, having spent more than half of my 40 years in journalism working for the network, and the choice to move on was made with nothing but the strongest feelings for the people with whom I worked," said Gammons. "ESPN gave me a great deal more than I gave it, and will always be a huge part of who I am."

In 2004, Gammons was honored by the Baseball Writers Association of America as the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing during the 2005 Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 31 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The established writer began his career with The Boston Globe in 1969 where he wrote a popular Sunday baseball column. From there, he moved on to Sports Illustrated where he covered a number of sports, including the NHL and college basketball in addition to Major League Baseball.

Gammons joined ESPN in 1989, as part of Baseball Tonight, where he worked through the 2009 season. Gammons provided years of analysis that helped the show win numerous Sports Emmys.

From 2006-08, Gammons also worked as a field reporter for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball telecasts and provided "Diamond Notes" for Sportscenter in-game highlights.

"As a print journalist moving to television, Peter was a pioneer who became a Hall of Famer," said Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president of production. "His contributions to ESPN will never be forgotten. We're sad to see Peter go, but understand his desire for new challenges and a less demanding schedule."

Click here to read ESPN's full statement regarding Peter Gammons.

Yankees Get Granderson, D-Backs get Jackson in Three-Team Deal

According to Jon Heyman of, the Yankees have added all-star center fielder Curtis Granderson in a three-team trade involving the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks receive starting pitcher Edwin Jackson from Detroit and former first-round pick Ian Kennedy from the Yankees, while the Tigers claim left-handed reliever Phil Coke and outfield prospect Austin Jackson from New York and starter Max Scherzer and set-up man Daniel Schlereth from Arizona.

Granderson had 30 HR and 71 RBI near the top of the order last season for Detroit, despite hitting just .249.

The Tigers, who had the fifth highest payroll in the league in 2009, were the talk of the Winter Meetings thus far, as they looked to cut excess salaries by dealing some key players. Granderson is due just $5.5 million in 2010, but his salary could rise to up to $15 million in 2013 if he hits potential performance bonuses.

The Yankees gave up prospect Austin Jackson, who was expected to crack the team heading into 2010. Many people inside the Yankees' organization compared Jackson potentially to Granderson, so dealing a player who may become as good as the one you're getting back makes fiscal sense.

Granderson figures to start in center field for the Yankees in 2010, which may mark the end of Hideki Matsui's time in pinstripes. The Japanese-born free agent had been relegated to just DH duties in 2009, and Granderson's speed and versatility makes Matsui all the more expendable.

Phil Coke will join Jackson in Detroit. The lefty reliever had an up-and-down 2009 season with New York, finishing with a 4.50 ERA and 49 K in 60 innings pitched. The Yankees also dealt Ian Kennedy to Arizona. Kennedy has a career ERA of 6.03 in three disappointing seasons with New York after coming up as a highly regarded prospect.

The Diamondbacks will also add starting pitcher Edwin Jackson from Detroit, while sending Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers in return.

Jackson is arbitration-eligible this winter, and his salary could increase to up to $5 million from the $2.2 million he made this season. He went 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA, good for seventh in the American League. Jackson also had 162 strikeouts in 214 innings pitched.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Breaking News: Hofstra Eliminates Football Program

The Hofstra Pride football team's 52-38 victory over Massachusetts on Nov. 21 will be its last as the university chose Thursday to cut the program from its athletic department.

Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz announced at a press conference this morning that after 69 years of competition in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Hofstra will cut funding to the football team.

"This has been a two-year process, and has nothing to do with the win-loss record," said Rabinowitz. "It is a decision made by the Board of Trustees to better use in the long run those resources for academics."

According to Rabinowitz and Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes, the amount of money that went into the football team, or any team in the Football Championship Subdivision for that matter, far surpassed the revenue it generated for the university.

The decision was announced just 11 days after Northeastern University, also a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, decided to shut down its' football program after 74 years. According to Rabinowitz and Hayes, though, Northeastern's actions did not play any role in their decision.

The resources saved will be put towards making the university more affordable to students in need. There is $2.8 million in scholarships awarded annually that will now be available to offer to other students as academic awards and grants.

Despite the rich tradition of Hofstra football, and a handful of alumni in the NFL, Rabinowitz says the board examined every part of the budget, including athletics, which they hadn't looked at in some time.

"We want to play at the highest level of every sport we are playing in," Rabinowitz said. "We even looked into making the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision, but we would have to renovate the stadium, and nobody was inviting us to join a conference, so to be a 1-A independent was not feasible."

"The branding we want is 'Hofstra University: Highest quality in everything, but academics first,' " said Rabinowitz.

Athletic director Hayes met with both head coach Dave Cohen and the members of the 2009 team, who finished 5-6 to discuss the board's decision.

"We know it's hurtful to players and coaches," said Hayes. "But we are doing everything we can to make this as appropriate a situation as we can for those involved."

Hofstra players that choose to stay at the school will still be granted the scholarships they were promised when they enrolled. Hayes also said that he will aid any players that will look to transfer to other schools to continue their football career.

Read Rabinowitz's full statement.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adelphi Men's Soccer Left Out of NCAAs

The Adelphi men's soccer team, despite its' 13-2-4 record, was left out of the the NCAA Division-I tournament when the 48-team field was revealed Monday night.

The Panthers, led by freshman sensation Issa Tall, breezed through the Atlantic Soccer Conference. On Sunday, they defeated Longwood, 2-1, to capture the school's second conference tournament championship. Tall, who led the team in scoring with 16 goals, found the back of the net in the second half to extend the lead to 2-0.

But winning both the ASC regular season title and the conference tournament proved to be too little to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, and a chance to play for the College Cup.
"We were hoping to get in, since we tied Princeton early on," said head coach Carlo Acquista. "But the NCAA is very meticulous in the way they grant at-large bids."

Despite good showings against tournament-bound teams like Princeton and Stony Brook, a key early-season loss to Brown University was one of the deciding factors that kept the Panthers on the outside looking in, as Brown secured one of the final at-large bids.

The Atlantic Soccer Conference is not one of the 21 conferences across the country who's tournament champion is granted an automatic bid.

Stony Brook University, who will face Brown in a first round game in Providence, Rhode Island, was granted a spot as the representative of the America East Conference despite finishing the season with a 6-9-4 record.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Bronx Tale for the Ages: The Night the Yankees Won No. 27

Pandemonium. Euphoria. Ecstasy.

All words that could be used to try and describe the scene outside Yankee Stadium Wednesday night immediately following Robinson Cano's flip to Mark Teixeira to end the 2009 World Series. The proud people of New York, including yours truly, danced, laughed, and cried the night away in the area surrounding the stadium, celebrating their team's 27th World Championship.

There hasn't been a truly perfect night in the World Series since 1956, but if you were in the Bronx, you would've been convinced otherwise.

For spoiled-rotten Yankee fans, (let's face it, we all are) this night was the perfect ending to a season packed with special moments. It had been nine years since the Yankees last danced around the Shea Stadium infield as the kings of the baseball world, an eternity for most of us. But for a younger generation of fans, it is the first time many of us will truly savor the flavor all winter long.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to obtain tickets to be inside "The House that Jeter Built" for what I was sure would be the final game of the year. So instead, I gathered a cavalry of friends and headed to The Dugout, a bar conveniently located directly across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe in the right field corner of the stadium. Besides, I was quite aware that ESPN Radio was giving away tickets to the game during a commercial break of the Michael Kay show, which was being broadcasted from the bar.

Before heading into the bar, and continuing the drinking that had ceased at the 161st street subway station, we headed to the McDonalds for a pit stop. There, waiting in line to order like any other schmo, was Scott Caan. Yes, Tweeder from Varsity Blues, the guy from the Ocean's movies and who's a total prick to Eric on Entourage.
While grabbing a photo with him, my friend offered up the biggest slam-dunk stupid question he could've at the time.

"Hey Scott," he said. "So you uh, going to the game?"

"No, I'm just going to McDonalds in the fucking Bronx," he replied as I laughed out loud at my friend.

Sure, pal. Pretend like you're not a B-lister on your best hair days. Hell, I bet my buddy Fox wouldn't even show him on t.v. when they did their celebrity fly-bys at some point during a lull in the game. I was right.

So into the bar we went, seeking out Michael Kay and his free tickets. I was dead set on giving myself the best chance I could to be inside the Stadium. I refused to give up hope.
We each filled out a raffle form and made our way to the front of the roped off area where their stage was set up. He was flanked by the ever-opinionated Don LaGreca, who I can't get enough of even if he's a Mets and Devils fan, and the lovely (yet slightly past her prime) Bonnie Bernstein. All I kept thinking was "Holy living Christ, Michelle Beadle used to be on this show. Why couldn't she wait to take that big promotion, knowing I'd come find her?!" I questioned my faith for a moment, then focused back to the issue at hand: Getting those tickets.

The show hosted a guest speaker, Mike Missanelli, with a bit of a Philadelphia bias. Safe to say the Yankee faithful in attendance didn't take too kindly to his prediction that the Phillies would force a game 7. The ensuing chants of "ASS-HOLE!" and "DOUCHE-BAG!" were enough to make ESPN Radio go to a commercial break not once, but twice. Michael Kay, who was loving every second of it, couldn't keep a straight face when he asked us to tone the chants down a bit, at least while they were on the air. That's the sort of thing you could only find in the Bronx. From then on, you could feel it. There was no way it wasn't going to happen tonight. The stars had been aligned.

The show went to a commercial again around 7:30, the time when they would announce the winner of the tickets. At this point, I was having too much fun to care that I had a better chance of being struck by lightning indoors than I did of being at the game. The raffle came and went, the winner, a pair of gentlemen who had been conversing with a few ESPN personalities just a few minutes prior, but I didn't care. I was up for the next round of drinks, so I began to head back to the bar when I heard one of the ESPN interns call out to the crowd.

"Okay, Yankees fans, now it's time for ESPN Radio 1050 Trivia. The first person to yell out the answer to the following question will win..."

I stopped dead in my tracks. Another chance at winning those ever-coveted tickets? I started shoving (tossing, really) people out of my way and back to our prime spot 10 feet in front of their set. On the way back up, I heard the question:

"Derek Jeter is second all-time in Yankees' regular season stolen bases. Who is first?"

I knew the answer instantly. It was only a matter of getting to the front before someone beat me to the punch. En route to our spot along the velvet rope, I heard other people's audacious attempts to answer the question.

"Willie Randolph!" "Mickey Mantle!" "Mickey Rivers!" Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

"Alfonso Soriano!"

That was my favorite response. I stopped dead and gave him a look as if to say, "Really, man? So Soriano, in his whopping three full seasons as a Yankee, had the most stolen bases in franchise history? Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to that. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

I shoved him out of my way, and yelled the only answer that made sense, the right one.

"Rickey Henderson!"

The intern looked and pointed at me. "Correct!"

Did I do it? Did I win tickets to game 6 of the World Series? Was I going to see the team that means as much to me as my family reach the pinnacle of the sports universe in person? My wildest hopes and dreams had finally come true!

...Or so I thought. The intern walked over to me and offered me a signed copy of Mike Lupica's newest novel "Million-Dollar Throw."

As he and my friends congratulated me, I let out a profanity-laden cry, the likes of which haven't been seen since Rocco's outburst in The Boondock Saints.

No disrespect to the most accomplished columnist in the New York media, but what the hell man? Not only did I not win tickets, but I had to carry a damn book around all night too? Bogus start to the night if you ask me. But hey, at least my friends got a good laugh at my expense. Make that a few good laughs if you count my number of conversations with Michael Kay, and the glares from Bonnie.

The game finally started and we moved to the front portion of the bar, and posted up right under a flat-screen tv. Pettitte looked sharp early on, but so did Pedro.

But in The Dugout that night, doubt did not exist. As far as we were concerned, it was only a matter of time before the Yankees' bats would come alive.

Matsui's two-run home run in the bottom of the third set off the first of many celebrations in the Bronx that night. The Bombers had come to the ballpark ready to dethrone the previous World Champs.

When the Phillies cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth, I wondered if this game would go down as one of the greatest games in postseason history. I wondered if we'd see something to the effect of a tight game ended by a dramatic walk-off home run, followed by a wild dance.

Okay sorry Philadelphia. Kinda. But I promise that'll be the last cheap shot I'll take at you until the flag is raised at Opening Day next year. That would be your National League champions flag, not the World Series champions one. We open up 2010 on the road. But seriously, I sincerely apologize.

But anyway, I began to get excited about the idea of a game for the ages. My dad talks often about the famous "Reg-gie!" game of 1977, and it seemed like Hideki Matsui was determined to make this the Godzilla game of 2009. In the words of the oft-spoken Nick Swisher, "And Matsui, six RBI? ....Whaaaaat!"

The Yanks opened up a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the 5th, and the countdown was on. When Pettitte came out of the game after surrendering a two-run dinger to Ryan "The friendly World Series ghost" Howard I swore I could feel the bar shaking. I felt the ovation he was given from the Stadium crowd in the building next door like I was standing on first base.

Damaso Marte, who has gotten the Bleacher Creatures and the rest of the Yankee faithful back on his side, followed Joba Chamberlain in relief and promptly mowed down Utley and Casper Howard. Then with one out in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi made his last walk to the hill in 2009. The stadium, the bar, and Yankees fans everywhere rejoiced, just as the Phillies' supporters cringed. Every baseball fan knew what was coming next.

Enter Sandman. The right-center bullpen door opened, and out walked a man who had already closed out four World Series-clinching games. Five more outs. With a lack of champagne in the bar, (what were they thinking?) my friends and I switched from beer to Red Bull. For reasons still unknown, we found ourselves grasping these 12-oz cans counting down the final seconds of the 2009 baseball season.

In stepped Shane Victorino. One out to go before these Yankees were finally immortalized. To his credit, the Flyin' Hawaiian did everything in his power to prolong the game. He fouled off what seemed like 100 two-strike pitches from Mo. Each time the roar in the bar got a little higher. And then finally...

Pandemonium, euphoria and ecstasy simultaneously rolled into one as the streets of the Bronx instantly filled with Yanks fans going wild. In the time it took our camp to open our Red Bulls and spray them amongst the hundreds hosing each other down with assorted alcohol and exit the bar, there was already a pit forming in the street that rivaled the eye of a hurricane.

Five minutes later, you couldn't move from the back wall of the stadium to under the awnings of the bar and stores across the way. The crowd seemed to go on for miles, and we all wished this moment would go on forever. Television cameras did their best to capture the rapture of reaching a twenty-seventh heaven.

Amidst the madness, I was separated from my party for a little while. But it didn't matter. On this night, everyone wearing pinstripes was the best of friends.

As fans began to exit the Stadium after the trophy ceremony, the crowd grew. Police fought their way through the crowd to keep the peace, but they weren't needed.

Perhaps the most exceptional part of the night wasn't Matsui's six RBI, or Pettitte's 18th playoff victory, or the fact that a team led by Derek Jeter won a World Series 13 years after they did it for the first time. It was the way New York handled themselves.

Boston damn-near tore down Fenway in 2004. Los Angeles fans were arrested by the handful in June after the Lakers beat the Magic to win the NBA Championship.

But New Yorkers? We sang and danced until we couldn't stand anymore. We did it right, both on the field and off.

Hm, maybe that night was pretty perfect after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 Eastern Conference preview

The final week of September is arguably the most intriguing week in North American sports. College football begins it's conference schedule, the NFL standings begin to take shape, the pennant races in baseball couldn't be hotter, and the start of the NHL season is mere hours away.
The Penguins return to the ice this season looking to make it out of the Eastern Conference for a third straight year, the Bruins begin with a gaping hole on their first line where Phil Kessel used to be, and the Capitals, maybe the most talented group of skaters in the East, still don't know who their starting goaltender is.
With that said, the Eastern Conference looks wide open heading into the 2009-10 season. Let's look at how it could shape up:
*Denotes division winner

*1. Pittsburgh Penguins - The easy pick. Despite losing defensemen Rob Scuderi, the hero of game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, and veteran Hal Gill, the Penguins are top to bottom the most well-rounded team in the East, and maybe the league. Crosby, Malkin & co. will avoid the dreaded Cup hangover, at least long enough to have a strong regular season. Look for the power play to make drastic improvements from the unit that was 20th in the league last season, assuming power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar stays healthy. Young defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski will make tremendous strides to make the Pens' blueline corps as effective as their marquee centers.

*2. Washington Capitals - Does the world's most dynamic player finally have enough help to take the Caps to the finals? The additions of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison, as well as the quiet resurgence of Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom would lead one to believe so. Throw in Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green, who showed up to Canadian Olympic Camp in great shape after a terrible postseason showing against the Rangers and Penguins, and you've got a group of budding stars that will make divisional opponents cringe in warmups.
Despite having a dominant group of skaters, there are many questions between the pipes. Coach Bruce Boudreau hasn't tipped his hand as to who will be the starting goaltender, but has hinted that last season's playoff savior, Seymon Varlamov, may start the season in Hershey with the team's AHL affiliate.

*3. Boston Bruins - Last year's regular season conference champions made the last big splash of the offseason, trading Phil Kessel to Toronto. The cap-strapped Bruins were forced to trade the restricted free-agent forward to the Maple Leafs, leaving them with a gaping hole among their top six forwards. Though the trade will most likely benefit the Bruins over the long haul, their window of opportunity may be closing before the draft picks they received blossom into impact players.
Marco Sturm will be called on to alleviate some of the scoring woes they'll surely face without Kessel's 36 goals from a season ago. If Patrice Bergeron can manage to keep himself in the lineup, the trade won't hurt them too badly, but that's a big if. Also, keep in mind that Marc Savard, who wasn't invited to the Canadian Olympic Camp over the summer will most likely be playing with something to prove as well. Don't count them out of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, which could drastically change the landscape of the conference.
Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas returns between the pipes for the Bs, but will face a more strenuous workload over the Olympic break as the probable starter for the Americans.

4. Philadelphia Flyers - With the addition of veteran defenseman Chris Pronger, it seems as though the Flyers are attempting to return to the days of the Broad Street Bullies. Pronger, who has led teams on long playoff runs in Edmonton and Anaheim brings the bite to go along with Scott Hartnell's bark. Jeff Carter will try to build on a breakout season where he found the net 46 times, good for second in the NHL, while at the same time forgetting about a dismal playoff effort in which he missed several open net opportunities. Young forwards Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, could both have strong rookie seasons, which would give the Flyers a ton of secondary scoring.
GM Paul Holmgren has taken a great risk in net by signing Ray Emery. If he regains the form he had in Ottawa in 2006-07, when he took them to the Cup finals, Holmgren will look like a genius. But if Emery becomes the cancer that got him exiled from the NHL in 2008, it may cost Holmgren his job.
Assuming Emery can keep it together in what seems to be his last shot in the NHL, look for the Flyers to go places in 2009-10.

5. Montreal Canadiens - GM Bob Gainey has completely overhauled Les Habitants heading into 2009. While dealing with the departures of Mike Komisarek, Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Chris Higgins, Gainey and the Habs welcome in Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen, Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek. It remains to be seen if Gionta and Gomez can jell again like they did in New Jersey a few years ago, because neither was very good without the other after Gomez left for New York. The Kostitsyn brothers, who are almost the only remaining players from last season's squad, will also need to take on leadership roles. Regardless, this team looks like a first-round exit waiting to happen.

6. Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes enter the 2009-10 season with as few changes as one could imagine to a core of players only three years removed from the Stanley Cup. Cam Ward, perhaps the best playoff goaltender in the NHL, returns after a strong campaign besting Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas in consecutive playoff rounds. GM Jim Rutherford has done an outstanding job of managing a team at a mid-level market on its' best day, making sure it survives and stays in the hunt. He's done it by surrounding his stars with tough, gritty players that will do anything to outwork the opponent such as Matt Cullen, Scott Walker and Ray Whitney, who at 37, refuses to show his age on the ice.

7. New York Rangers - Wow, speaking of first-round exits. The Rangers enter the season with nearly as many new faces as returning ones to a starting lineup that blew a 3-1 series lead in the first round against Washington last season. Gone are the likes of Zherdev, Gomez, Betts, Naslund, Sjostrom, Mara and Korpikopski. Fans are buzzing about the addition of Marian Gaborik, who if healthy could challenge for the scoring title. But chances are he will be watching at least a few games from a Madison Square Garden suite by December.
Head coach John Tortorella will have a full year to implement his run-and-gun style of play that will expose Henrik Lundqvist to a significant amount of odd-man rushes, making him even more important to the team's success than he has been in the past. However, with the Olympics looming, and Lundqvist's eagerness to defend Sweden's gold-medal run from 2006, one wonders if he will have a better time handling the extended workload than he did four years ago, when the Rangers were swept in the first round by New Jersey.
Either way, it seems as though this squad is a top-six forward away from being a serious contender.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs - Bold prediction alert: The Maple Leafs will make the playoffs. Brian Burke doesn't know the meaning of the word "rebuild." He'd prefer "retool." Rather than blow up one Canada's national treasures and continue to bottom-dwell for the better part of the next decade, Burke is going for it now. The addition of Phil Kessel gives this team the added scoring touch they needed to sneak up on teams, when he comes back in November from offseason shoulder surgery. Burke has already left his signature mark on the penalty box, with the additions of Colton Orr, Garnet Exelby, Wayne Primeau and Mike Komisarek. A staple of his teams going back to his Anaheim days, Burke's Leafs will contest the Flyers for the title of the "Beast of the East." With the signing of Francois Beachemin and last year's fifth-overall selection Luke Schenn coming into his own, the Leafs have a very formidable blue line that should make an average netminder, Vesa Toskala, have a career year.
They'll be in the hunt, but look for Burke to go out at the deadline and get some more scoring help to push this team into the playoffs and get Canada crazy about the Leafs for the first time in years.

9. New Jersey Devils - The Devils, who at the start of each of the past two to three seasons didn't look all that impressive on paper, found ways to win games. Surely, it's easier than it seems when you've got one of the best goaltenders in history manning the pipes. But this year, the Devils parted ways with two key components from their previous playoff-bound squads: John Madden and Brian Gionta. Patrik Elias will also miss time beginning the season, trying to finally correct a groin problem that has plagued him since the lockout. For this team to crack the top eight, Zach Parise needs to find scoring help from the likes of Travis Zajac, Brian Rolston and even rookie Patrice Cormier. It just doesn't seem feasable. The Devils' consecutive playoff berth streak will end at 12.

10. Ottawa Senators - Poor Bryan Murray. The Senators' general manager was abused all summer by diva winger Dany Heatley, who demanded a trade to a select few teams. With a trade in place that would send Heatley to Edmonton and make the Senators a better team in the mean time, Heatley declined to waive his no-trade clause to be sent to what's become the NHL's Siberia. He regrouped, and finally sent his star player to San Jose, getting Jonathan Cheechoo, who's coming off a pretty significant sophomore slump, and Milan Michalek. Murray also managed to sign Alexei Kovalev, after he was shown the door by Montreal, and Pascal LeClaire to sure up the team's question marks in net. LeClaire is the key to this team, who's been without a true number one goaltender since Ray Emery in 2007. If he can regain the form he found in Columbus, the Senators will be in the playoff hunt until the very end, but will finish on the outside looking in.

11. Buffalo Sabres - Another year, another pair of Sabres' mainstays leaving Buffalo. This time, it was Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik. Granted, GM Darcy Regier brought back Mike Grier for a second tour of duty in Buffalo, but it seems as though the clock is ticking for the core group of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford. This is a team headed in the wrong direction, and just three years removed from being the class of the Eastern Conference.
Come February, it'll be interesting to see if Ryan Miller can wrestle the starting job away from Tim Thomas for the US Olympic team. Sadly, that's the most intriguing storyline surrounding this team heading into the season.

12. New York Islanders - The savior has arrived on Long Island. John Tavares fever will be in full swing on Opening Night. Islanders' fans are eager to find out if he will have a Crosby-like impact immediately, or a lackluster begin to a career that Steven Stamkos had in Tampa Bay last season. Scott Gordon begins his second year as the Isles' bench boss as their youth movement will finally start to materialize into a formidable opponent. It seems as though Kyle Okposo will only miss a minimal amount of time despite leaving a preseason game on a stretcher after feeling the wrath of Flames' defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Snow made some interesting moves to ensure he will have a decent contingency plan should Rick DiPietro's health fail him again. Martin Biron and Dwayne Rolosson give the Islanders three legitimate number one keepers. Assuming the Isles are out of it in March, look for one, if not two, of them to be on the move, for even more draft picks in the upcoming 2010 Entry Draft.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning - Now that it seems as though captain Vincent Lecavalier will finish his career in Tampa, the Bolts can look forward to climbing back into contention for a playoff spot, but not just yet. Second-overall pick Victor Hedman and free-agent acquisiton Mattias Ohlund headline a sub-par defensive group that will be playing in front of streaky Mike Smith in goal, who's one of the team's fiercest competitors. The forwards, in addition to Lecavalier, are led by an aging Martin St. Louis, and Stamkos, who will be looking for a breakout season in his sophomore campaign. Coach Rick Tocchet is excited about his squad for 2009, but there's a good chance he's the only one.

14. Florida Panthers - The Panthers went all-in last year, deciding not to trade puck-moving defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and got burned. They finished with the best seat in the house for watching the playoffs, at ninth in the East. You can't blame them for trying to rejuvenate a fan base that has been dead since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck. The Sunrise Express, comprised of Nathan Horton, budding star David Booth and Stephen Weiss give the Panthers one of the top scoring units in the league, but other than that trio, there's nothing to get excited about. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun seems lost at times, and previous Devils' backup Scott Clemmensen will challenge for starts for the Cats.

15. Atlanta Thrashers - What to do with Ilya Kovalchuk? Don't ask general manager Don Waddell, he has no idea. Though he's been trying to sign Kovalchuk to a long-term extension since last season, he holds the key to the 2009 playoff race. If dealt to a team in the bottom half of the playoff standings, look for them to upset one of the top four teams in the first round, and even make a deep playoff run. But the future of the Thrashers is certainly looking up, if Kovalchuk decides to stay. His supporting cast of Bryan Little, who scored the quietest 30 goals in the NHL last season, and Evander Kane, this year's fourth-overall pick could become the top line in the Eastern Conference in two years. Defenseman Zach Bogosian will be looking to build off a solid rookie campaign. Waddell also just signed speedy forward Maxim Afinogenov, Kovalchuk's fellow countryman, to a one-year contract. This team has promise to climb out of the cellar, but they'll certainly spend at least one more year there before they make any progress.

Playoffs: Philadelphia defeats Pittsburgh in Eastern Conference Finals, 4-2.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weis Planting Himself Back in Hot Seat After Loss to Michigan

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Let's play a game I like to call hypotheticals, just for a second. You've got a three-point lead with 2:29 to play in the fourth quarter. You've got the ball. It's 2nd and 10 on your own 29-yard line. You'd really love to force your opponents to use both of their remaining timeouts, if not move the chains once to essentially end the game.

You've got a running back who has been tearing up the opponent's front seven all day, and a one play-making reciever who suddenly couldn't catch a cold (unless he was really, really open I suppose). With your top wideout forced out of the game with an injury, you call a pass play to that speedy wideout with Clifford Franklin-like hands against a cornerback who has been shutting you down all day long.

The pass falls incomplete, and so does the next one on a pivotal 3rd and 10. You punt the ball away and watch the other team's outstanding true freshman quarterback lead a drive down the field to take the lead with just 11 seconds remaining, leaving you powerless and suddenly sweating profusely on a breezy day in Ann Arbor.

Yep, you guessed it. You're Charlie Weis.

In the midst of the best game on a slate of great finishes across the country Saturday, Weis' shotty play-calling was immediately overlooked by the play of Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.

Forcier, who nearly cost his team the game himself with an interception in the 4th quarter that ultimately gave the Irish the lead back, exceeded even the highest expectations leading his team back from two fourth-quarter deficits.

In only his second collegiate start, he completed nearly 70% of his passes, throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to his yards through the air, Forcier also ran for 70 yards, including a dramatic 31-yard scamper on 4th & 3 to give the Wolverines an 11-point fourth quarter lead. But even the Michigan freshman was confused by Weis' play selection late in the game.

"I think it was a mistake that they were throwing the ball because they let us save our timeouts," said Forcier. "Those timeouts definitely came in handy."

Weis defended his call to air it out, rather than hand off to Armando Allen Jr., who had accumulated 139 yards on the day already, and who ripped off a 13 yard gain just two plays earlier.

"They loaded up the box and made it clear that they weren't going to let us do that, so we had to throw the ball," said the frustrated Irish coach. "On third down, we could've run and made them use a timeout, but we were trying to win the game."

Now, as if the decision to throw the ball wasn't bad enough, he had quarterback Jimmy Clausen air it out to Golden Tate, who had already dropped two huge passes in the fourth quarter, as he was being covered by All-Big Ten cornerback Donovan Warren. Charlie, if you're going to throw the ball, hit the tight end over the middle for five yards.

You can't blame Clausen, though, even if you wanted to for overthrowing an open target on that pivotal third down play. He carved up the Wolverine defense all day throwing for 336 yards and three touchdowns. No, this time the blame all goes to the head coach.

This was a game Charlie Weis had to win. After a 35-0 drubbing of Nevada last week, the Irish strolled into Ann Arbor with a sense of confidence they hadn't seen since Brady Quinn & co. led the Golden Domers to back-to-back BCS Bowl games in 2005 and 2006. Ironically, it was like the previous two seasons, where Weis compiled a 10-15 record, never happened. In fact, many believed that a victory over Michigan would springboard the Irish into a run that could end with another BCS bowl berth.

But in a matchup of two head coaches that both desperately needed a W, Weis was simply outdone by Michigan's Rich Rodriguez who, two weeks removed from all kinds of controversy and after a historically bad first year, has come up smelling like roses in Ann Arbor.

Now, the Irish are on the outside looking in at the AP Top 25, and without a win against another rival with an impressive true freshman in USC's Matt Barkley in a month's time, we may look back on yesterday's game and call it the beginning of the end for ol' Charlie.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Party Like It's 1998

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

I remember watching games during that magical summer 11 years ago, when the Yankees were a force that couldn't be stopped, not even by their own second baseman.

The greatest team of my generation was fueled by outstanding starting pitching from the likes of Andy Pettitte, David Wells and David Cone, along with the timely hitting of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, and Tino Martinez.

During one weekend day game, Jeter lined a single up the middle to score a runner from second base. As he returned to first base, the late Bobby Murcer, the game's color commentator, made a profound comment that was lost on my spoiled 10-year old mind at the time.

He said, "You know, these are the days we'll look back on years from now and say 'Those were the good ol' days.'"

As the current Yankees continue to surge ahead of both the Red Sox and Rays in the A.L. East division race, I am beginning to think Murcer's statement holds true about the '09 Bronx Bombers, too.

I'm not suggesting the Yankees will win 114 games this year. Hell, I only gave them credit for 94 in my Spring Training prediction. But after witnessing the way in which the Yankees trounced the Red Sox in four games last weekend, you can't help but feel this team is going to do some special things.

The flight back to Massachusetts must have been a tough one for the Sox, knowing they all but lost the division race to their hated rivals after four excruciatingly tough games. They threw their best at the Yankees, and it just wasn't good enough. That's a hard pill to swallow for any team, I'd imagine, especially one with such a lineage of losing like Boston's.

The Yankees have returned to a form that gave the Nation nightmares for 86 years. A 23-6 record since the All-Star break has teams on their upcoming schedule running scared, and their arch nemesis hiding in the bushes.

Robinson Cano's game-winning single on Wednesday gave the Yankees their 11th pie-in-the-sky, walk-off win, which has accounted for more than one-fourth of their home victories this season. Dominant starting pitching from the top of their rotation and timely hitting throughout a circular lineup has this team is running away in the standings, and having a blast doing it.

So let me be the first to welcome you back to the good ol' days, Yankees fans. Now sit back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Youkilis Just the Latest Red Sox' Clown

Stop acting surprised. We are talking about the Red Sox, aren't we?

Yes, we are. Acts of aggression and stupidity are nothing new to Beantown. So refrain from seeming shocked that one of the stars from the most classless organization in Major League Baseball would make a fool of himself, on his home field, no less.

I don't mean that Ortiz guy, either.

It seems as though since the day the Splendid Splinter bit the dust, Boston has become a city ruled not by democracy, but rather idiocracy. Kevin Youkilis is just the latest in a long-standing line of buffoons that continue to question the moral fiber of the once-omniscient Red Sox.

In case you've yet to see it, (in which case, here) during the second inning of a pivotal game between the Sox and A.L. Central division-leading Detroit Tigers, Kevin Youkilis was hit by a pitch from 20-year old phenom Rick Porcello. Granted, after seeing Miguel Cabrera leave the game after being hit on the hands by a pitch in the first inning, the second time in consecutive days, it's not so farfetched to expect some kind of retaliation from the Tigers.

But upon getting beaned, Youkilis quickly turned and sprinted toward Porcello. The rookie pitcher immediately began to backpedal, wanting no part of the charging slugger. With a swift dodge to the right, Porcello simply used Youkilis' own momentum against him and tossed him to the turf as the benches cleared and all hell broke loose at Fenway Park.

Some may argue that Youkilis' act of aggression can be seen as a good thing in Bostonian circles. They will defend Youkilis, saying he sparked the team to victory, much like captain Varitek's attack on Alex Rodriguez in July of 2004 automatically made them World Series champions. (Right, because it was the midseason brawl, not extra help Ortiz and Ramirez were allegedly receiving.) Boston writers caught lightning in a bottle once, why can't they do it again? After all, this would be the same team who found themselves waking up as self-conscious as they have since October of 2003, thanks to a swift four-game shallacking at the hands of their arch-rivals over the weekend, or "The Boston Massacre, Part III," as I prefer to call it. And sure, for a night that theory almost makes some sense, given the fact that Mike Lowell came off the bench and supplied the power for not one, but two, home runs to pace the Sox to a 7-5 victory. But anyone with any relative knowledge of what a baseball is knows that the commissioner will come down hard and fast on Youkilis, and probably before tomorrow's first pitch, scheduled at 1:35 p.m.

Boston could be without their glorified utilityman for a week, in the heat of a pennant race in which they continue to attempt to fend off the Rangers and Rays, all the while telling themselves they've got a shot at catching the Yankees for the A.L. East division crown. Yeah, way to fire up the troops, Youk. Here's to hoping you can do the same from the bench.

But why does everyone feel the need to act surprised at anything the Red Sox make news for nowadays? This is the same franchise who has celebrated the actions of Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek as leaders and champions.

Up until the New York Times' steroid allegations surrounded David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez a few weeks ago, it seemed as though Boston felt they had a moral high ground on the rest of the country, especially New York. But they don't. They never have. In fact, they had more class as an organization when they were losing all the time. Whether it be Manny Ramirez's constant disrespect for the game and his opponents, or Pedro Martinez's all-too-abrupt way of dealing with the elderly, or Youkilis' charge to the mound (or should I say Porcello's takedown), a consistent pattern of behavior has been established in Beantown.

Perhaps it comes from the heads of the organization? After all, you'd be hard-pressed to find seven consecutive seconds where either punk general manager Theo Epstein or owner John Henry aren't shooting their mouths off about the Yankees. Maybe they go out and get players who, well frankly, will embarrass the hell out of them en route to a sustained level of success.

You take the good with the bad, I suppose. I mean, playing the game the right way for 86 years wasn't going so well, so it makes a bit of sense to dirty up one of sports' most respected franchises. The Red Sox sold their soul to the devil. And in return, they were given two tainted championships and a slew of embarrassing moments, like tonight's brawl at Fenway.

Was it worth it? That might just depend on how many games they lose with Youkilis looking on from the top step of the dugout in the coming week.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Labatt Blues (6-1) vs. Fightin' Irish (2-5)

Hauppauge, N.Y. - The Labatt Blues, in only their second season of existence, have a chance to clinch first place in the Suffolk County Hockey League's B division. Standing in their way, a Fightin' Irish squad, playing for pride having already been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Blues (6-1) have been led by star rookie Anthony Salerno, who is tied for the team lead in goals with 7 and leads in assists with 13. He is currently third in all divisions in scoring. Other new additions have made a lasting impact on this summer's team, such as Tommy McAleer, who trails his linemate Salerno by only one assist. Defenseman Nick Cahill, who signed the day before the team's first regular season game, has 11 points-- 2 goals, 9 assists-- in 7 games as well.

Goaltender Steve Pace has exceeded expectations this summer as well. The soft-spoken netminder leads all Suffolk County Hockey divisions in wins, with 6, and is second in shots faced and saves. Pace made a Luongo-esque save on Vinny Granice in the Blues' previous game against Nuckin' Futs in the second period that proved to be a pivotal moment in the game. With the Blues holding a 5-1 advantage, Granice got loose behind the tired Labatt defense. With Pace already out of position, Granice slid the puck along the ice into what seemed to be an open net. The goalie reached back at the last possible second to glove the puck on the goal line, drawin the ire of the entire Lightning team, who looked on in disbelief.

"That save was insane, probably one of the best I've ever seen," said Lightning forward and oft-criticized loser Mike Perillo. "Granice got Paced."

Co-general managers Mike Salerno and Jimmy Sutton devoted themselves in the offseason to building a team that would greatly improve scoring for a team that missed the playoffs last summer due to a three-way tiebreaker.

"We went out and were competing on the market for some top guys, especially with the Lightning," said Salerno. "We managed to get to [Tyler] Kevorkian and [Billy] Bowerman before [Lightning general manager Rob] Derosa. And when Jimmy went out and got McAleer, I said 'We're going to go places this summer.'"

One offseason signing that hasn't panned out as well as management had hoped is forward Billy Bowerman. Bowerman has managed only one goal in three games played. A mild back injury has forced Bowerman out of the lineup for the rest of the summer.

Earlier this morning, the Blues put Bowerman on waivers, according to ESPN, to make room for late-season call up Matt Bobko. With Bowerman only signed through the end of this season and the Blues publicly announcing they are not interested in re-signing him, one wonders where he will end up next season. The injury-prone forward will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With a win, the Blues will clinch first place, thus locking in the four playoff spots. If they defeat the lowly Fightin' Irish, they will see the fourth-place Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, while the Cobras will face off with the Lightning in the B division's other semi-final.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Look Back at the Second Annual ESPNzone Sports Spelling Bee

Thursday night, in conjunction with ESPN’s televising of the 82nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier that day in Washington, D.C., ESPNzones across America hosted the second annual ESPNzone Sports Spelling Bee. Fans were given the chance to sign up and attempt to spell the names of their favorite athletes, coaches and ESPN personalities. I was one of the 35 contestants on hand at the Times Square store, and did some reporting via Twitter in between turns, where I spent most of my time studying how to spell Krzyzewski. Now, I invite you to relive the event through my running diary, along with some commentary to better explain it. After all, Twitter’s 140 character limit doesn’t give you much to work with.

4:48 p.m. – En route to the ESPNzone in NYC to take part in the Sports Spelling Bee! Wish me luck!

6:12 p.m. – Going to participate in my first spelling bee since I was in seventh grade, when I misspelled “melancholy” and stormed off the stage. This should be interesting…
As of yesterday, I still couldn’t spell melancholy. I had to look it up.

7:06 p.m. – Mingling with the rest of the field in the Skybox, the VIP room at the ESPNzone, overlooking the dining room, and the microphone. Pretty cool.
I had a few friends in my “cheering section” to the right side of the Screening Room, relaxing in reclining chairs near the front. I had a considerably smaller amount of fans than most of my competition, but hey, it was pretty short notice so I was happy to have anyone there rooting for me.

7:08 p.m. – Rest of the field, not so cool. A lot of goofy lookin’ people in this room.
Now you’re probably saying, “Mike, what did you expect? It’s a spelling bee.” But I got such a kick out of looking around that room, though. There I stood among 34 other “contestants,” five of which were females. Which means there was me, five decent looking women and surely 29 virgins. My first impression of the room was the gathering in the middle of a few gentlemen, two of which would later face off in the competition’s final round, and one less-than-stellar looking girl, who was absolutely getting more attention from these guys than she’d ever gotten in her life. I was doing everything in my power not to laugh, too hard, that is.
Now, I’m no Brad Pitt. But looking around that room, I would’ve looked an awful lot like Joe Black, with slightly darker hair, to you if you saw what I was up against.

7:12 p.m. – They gave us a free $20 game card for the arcade upstairs. I can’t wait to beat my friends in air hockey later.
For the record, I beat my friend Kristina once in air hockey and once in basketball. She put me to shame in Daytona USA though. I was pretty embarrassed.

7:15 p.m. – 35 contestants, not 50 like I originally thought. Really liking my chances tonight.
First prize was awarded an official ESPNzone private party, $250 Amex Gift Card, and the “coveted” ESPNzone Sports Spelling Bee trophy, which stood roughly six inches, in all its’ glory.

7:17 p.m. – 2nd place prize: Autographed stick by New Jersey Devils’ Zach Parise. Gross.
This was funny, and showed how far hockey really has fallen. The store manager was going over the prizes and she said “second place will receive an autographed hockey stick by number nine, on the New Jersey Devils, who’s name I don’t know, I’ll have to look up.” “Parise,” I chimed in, “Zach Parise.” You know, the Devils’ star forward who had over 40 goals this season? Ugh, I blame you, Gary Bettman.

7:20 p.m. – We’re going to be asked to spell either the first or last name of the athlete, whichever is harder. That answers that question.
I had been studying for most of the day, and had a list of over 100 names, both first and last names, not knowing which they’d ask. ESPN 1050 Radio personality Robin Lundberg was the host for the event, saying the names and choosing whether you’d spell the first or last name. You may know him from Around the Herd with Colin Cowherd, a show I always listen to when I can. Cowherd really got my attention with his mockery of Orioles’ fans following this year’s Opening Day. Either scroll down, or click here, and read about how right I think he was.
Anyways, Lundberg did a pretty solid job navigating through the competition, throwing out tiny jokes every once in a while that few of us would appreciate. My favorite was when a gentleman wearing a Florida Panthers’ jersey under a blue blazer stepped up to spell. “Oh wow I should give you a hockey name, shouldn’t I,” he proclaimed. “Okay, here you go. Spell Joakim Noah.” That got a rise out of the remaining contestants, including myself, catching their breath in the Skybox.

7:23 p.m. – Numbers 1-10 getting ready to begin. I hope nine of them get hockey players.
They gave us cards to pin to our shirts, much like the National Spelling Bee does with their contestants. We were to line up 10 at a time, where we would walk down to the dining room level and sit near the microphone. I was number 26, so I got the advantage of watching 1-20 from the Skybox. I overheard a few different groups of people saying how they had a lot of trouble with hockey players’ names. I was expecting to see quite a few of them such as Zherdev, Sjostrom, Lundqvist, etc., but was sadly disappointed in the lack of NHL names that would surely trip up my competitors. Once again, thanks Gary Bettman.

7:31 p.m. – Girl spells “Arroyo” wrong for the first eliminated of the night.
The second person to go, she couldn’t spell Bronson Arroyo. At this point, I was convinced that I had a very, very good shot at winning this.

7:36 p.m. – BRUNEY was just spelled wrong! Are you kidding me?
That’s right, at the Times Square store, someone spelled the name of Yankees’ reliever Brian Bruney wrong. I was so embarrassed for him. This was the funniest moment of the night by far. I was sitting in the middle of the Skybox, and as soon as the host asked the contestant to spell Bruney, my friends immediately looked up at me. I stopped studying my cheat sheet of over 100 names, and directed all my attention to watching this guy squirm for 30 seconds. He stumbled to his only life line, “Uhm… what team does he play for?”
Lundberg hesitated, as if almost to say, “Really man?” before answering, “the New York Yankees.” Upon spelling it B-R-O-O-N-E-Y. I threw my papers up in disgust and had to walk around for a minute to stop from giggling like a schoolgirl. Why couldn’t you ask me how to spell Bruney?

7:38 p.m. – Four of the first ten contestants go down.
These words were pretty easy. I was shocked. At this point, it got a little hard to continue twitting and getting ready to spell my word. So the timeline got a bit skewed as the night went on.

7:51 p.m. – A guy from numbers 11-20 was just given Chris Drury. Really?

7:54 p.m. – Getting ready to go…
I was getting pretty nervous right about now. You could’ve asked me how to spell anything and it would’ve made me a little nervous. Part of me really wanted to get Tim Couch, the Browns’ former quarterback, so I could recite the line from Billy Madison. “C-O-R……ARE you going to the mall later, that’s what I was asking.” Then, after checking myself and spelling it correctly, I’d proclaim “I am the smartest man alive!”

8:02 p.m. – G-R-I-E-S-E! On to round 2!
Oh what a relief that was. I remember the guy before me got Zach Greinke. As I sat there, I realized that in a rush I would’ve spelled it Grienke. Oddly enough, I got the opposite of the E-I/I-E spectrum. Lucky for me I used to be a Denver Broncos’ fan as a kid. They really tried to pick up the pace shortly, especially with nearly half the field on their way home already. After all, they were trying to get this over with as soon as possible so everyone could enjoy the Cavs-Magic playoff game.

8:18 p.m. – Getting ready to go again…
One of the gentlemen in my second group of ten was given Kosuke Fukudome, the outfield for the Chicago Cubs. A daunting name, because of it’s foreign nature, but all in all, not that hard to spell. Regardless, the man, who went two places in front of me, was flabbergasted by this name. “You’re kidding me,” he said angrily into the microphone. He spelled it F-U-K-O-D-O-M-E, and was dismissed.

8:21 p.m. – Apparently Iannetta has 2 Ns. That does it for me. Damn guy before me got Eric Hinske. That sucks.
Yup, Chris Iannetta, the catcher for the Colorado Rockies, was the name that bounced me. His name wasn’t even on my radar. I rushed a little bit when I was spelling it, but thought I got it right. That was a bummer.

8:23 p.m. – Made it about halfway through the field. Not bad. I need a beer.
My friends and I stuck around to watch the end of the competition. My money was on the reigning champion, Jeffrey Feldman, who had nearly half the Screening Room pulling for him. It was pretty funny, every time he stepped to the mic it was like Derek Jeter walking to the plate in the Bronx.

8:28 p.m. – Last year’s champ, Jeffrey Feldman, bites the dust, failing to reach the final ten.
I was one of many on hand that was shocked, and slightly disappointed to see Feldman lose. He was one of the few people in the room at the beginning of the night that looked close to normal. So this year’s competition was totally up for grabs.

8:42 p.m. – Teixeira spelled wrong. Awful. Just awful. Not many Yankee fans here I guess.
Oh boy was I mad. I told anyone that would listen all day when I was studying that someone would trip on Teix. Just based on the amount of "die-hard” Yankee fans I’m friends with that can’t spell his name, I was kind of hoping someone would. Sadly, seeing someone get it wrong offered me no consolation.

8:49 p.m. – No apostrophe in D’Antoni! See ya! Wow, this is harsh!
The rules were made clear to us in the Skybox that though we were not responsible for capitalization of letters in the name, all apostrophes had to be accounted for. So when a contestant in the final ten got Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni, he didn’t spell it incorrectly, technically. But he didn’t include the apostrophe. This was an interesting minute in the competition, because it was clear that neither the store manager nor Lundberg was paying much attention to a detail like that, despite it being in the rules. In fact, the crowd in the dining room recognized it, and began to let out a displeased groan, which ultimately forced the manager’s hand. She disqualified him from the competition, as a roar went up from the overzealous and mostly inebriated crowd. That’s tough.

8:56 p.m. – Down to the final two…words are getting intense. Samardzija, Saltalamacchia, Krzyzewski, this should be over quickly.
As far as spelling bees go, the final round was extremely entertaining. It featured a middle aged man named Kenny Eisenman, from Bellmore, NY, who was overly cocky, motioning to tap the bell after every answer he knew was correct like some kind of trademark celebration, and a slightly younger, much more reserved Dan Sulzer from Long Beach, NY. I had overheard Eisenman talking about hockey players before we had gotten started in the Skybox.
“All you need to know is the Russians,” he said, as if to dismiss the sport I have an undying passion for. “Yeah, they’re tough,” I chimed in. “Don’t forget the Swedes, pal. One of those will probably trip you up.” **cough FORESHADOWING cough**

Watching this was very much like watching last year’s epic UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. You know, John Terry misses the winning kick in the rain, blah blah Cristiano Ronaldo blah blah, United wins. God, I hate Manchester United. But I digress. These two went back and forth for about ten minutes spelling pretty difficult names ranging from Yastremski to Umenyiora to Szczerbiak. Eisenman missed his word, and all Sulzer had to do was spell Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics’ assistant coach, correctly to win. But he missed it too! The crowd was shocked, I was shocked, the store manager was pissed because she was losing NBA playoff business, but we had more spelling to do!
See, I told you. Pretty damn exciting for a spelling bee.

9:12 p.m. – Dan Sulzer from Long Beach is the winner after his competitor misspells Khabibulin! Shoulda watched more hockey!
I was so excited that Eisenman missed Nikolai Khabibulin, after him saying how he’s not that worried about hockey players’ names. Like thrilled. Then, for all the marbles, Sulzer stepped to the mic and correctly spelled the name of Bills’ linebacker Paul Posluszny for the win. Good for him, though. I was so happy that Eisenman didn’t win. He was entirely too cocky. I’m such a bitter person. Oh well, score one for hockey.
I went up to Sulzer after he received his trophy and shook his hand, congratulating him on a trophy he certainly earned. “Nice job buddy. I’ll be back for that next year,” I said as I let him go on his merry way and enjoy the moment.
I headed upstairs to the arcade floor, where I would go on to drink and enjoy playing games with my friends until the double consonants in Iannetta no longer bothered me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Expose on the New Yankee Stadium

Mike Salerno takes you on a brief tour of the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and gets some fan feedback on the new home of the Yankees.

Bronx, N.Y. - The Yankees' $1.3 billion new home, located conveniently next door to the old Stadium, has all the bells and whistles you'd expect in a modern-day ballpark, and then some. One of the criticisms of the Stadium, just over a month after it first opened its' doors to the public for a pair of exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs on April 3rd and 4th was that there's so much going on, it was easy to forget there was a game being played.

Despite the Yankees' lack of recent success in recent years, the minute you enter the Stadium, you're bombarded with a nostalgic feeling of winning. Whether it be the enormous banners in the Great Hall, the New York Yankees' Museumor any of the countless massive team stores showcasing memorabilia and apparel of players from throughout history, the Stadium doesn't allow you to forget the 26 world championships the Yankees have amassed over time.

Upon reaching the field, the first thing you can't help but notice is the 5,925 square foot high definintion Mitsubishi scoreboard in center field, nearly six times bigger than its' counterpart at the old Stadium. Sight lines have been drastically improved from nearly every seat, with the exception of those with an obstructed view in the bleachers, a casualty of the Yankees' Mohegan Sun Sports Bar located under the scoreboard.

Fans that have been able to afford tickets, for the most part, have been pleasantly surprised with their first experiences with the new Yankee Stadium, like Bob Chinery, 42, of Syosset, New York.

"The rotunda you walk around on, there's plenty of room. It's fantastic."

The openness and ability to see the field from anywhere is a hit for fans of any team. It caught the eye of Mike Kaneris, 27, of White Plains, New York. "If you're getting a beer, you can see the game. It's the whole atmosphere. It's just awesome."

Despite a lower number of total fan capacity, an large increase in luxury boxes and suites located near the press box is expected to generate even more revenue than the old Stadium did in previous years. These tickets, which were recently reduced in face value, come with free food and drink throughout the game. Also, on Yankees' off days, the Stadium plays host to many business meetings in a number of conference rooms located on the suite level.

The new Yankee Stadium has a long way to go before players and fans alike begin to call it home, but given all the amenities it shouldn't take too long.

To see more about this piece:

To view a slideshow on the new Stadium, click here.

To see a "How I Did This" production memo, click here.

To see a social media plan, click here.

To see interview transcripts for this story, click here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where Do Orioles Fans Get Off?

There was a storyline at play in the Yankees' season-opening loss in Baltimore Monday afternoon that was greatly overshadowed by the immediate failures of big-ticket free agents CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Orioles fans came out in full force for the 2009 season opener, but for the wrong reasons.

Though there were a fair amount of pinstriped supporters that made up the 48,607 on hand, it was impossible to ignore the droves of O's fans booing, hissing and yelling obscenities at Teixeira, which started in warm-ups.

According to the Lower Hudson Journal News, a fan from Teixeira's Maryland hometown held a sign behind the visitors' dugout that read "Severna Park hates you Tex," during an on-field interview with YES Network's Kim Jones.

I mean, realistically speaking, I doubt his family that still lives there hates him. I actually am positive that they're enjoying his new contract quite a bit.

These fans showed up to the first game of the year rooting more against the away team than for their hometown heroes, the true mark of a fan that has hit rock bottom.

How do I know this? Well, it's a pretty good indicator when the boos Teixeira received were twice as loud as the cheers star outfielder Nick Markakis got when he was introduced.

These people don't care about this Orioles' team. Granted, there's not a whole lot to root for, especially in the A.L. East. But to come out and put on a display like that—jeering Teixeira like it's a pivotal game between two bitter rivals on Opening Day—only made a mockery of themselves.

It seems as though Teixeira's "betrayal" of the team that grew up playing in his own backyard for the hated Yankees has rejuvenated a fan base that has been left-for-dead since the team last played a meaningful game, way back in 1997.

See, I didn't even have to bring up that Jeffrey kid to get your blood boiling, eh Baltimore?
The thing that is most hysterical about the whole situation, though, is that these poor little Orioles fans actually think their team had a shot at the gold glove first baseman. Oh boy, that is rich.

Teixeira's free agency, coupled with his union with agent Scott Boras meant he was about to take the next step into baseball's elite by signing a contract with a team from a large market. Teams in bigger markets don't just have bigger payrolls. They have a relentless demand, and the highest of expectations. Failure is not an option in places like the Bronx, Queens and Boston, but it's become second nature at Camden Yards.

That's why Teixeira was never going to end up in Baltimore, or Washington for that matter. He's done his fair share of losing in his career.

And as if starting in miserable Texas wasn't bad enough, he was given a small taste of what a pennant race feels like after being dealt first to Atlanta and then to Los Angeles. He wants to win, now.

Yeah sure, he was raised in Maryland. Big deal. He grew up a Yankees fan. Do you think he wore 23 in college and the beginning of his pro career as an homage to Tippy Martinez? What could've possibly sold Teixeira on Baltimore? A solid NFL franchise to watch? The crab cakes? Don't forget the astronomical crime rate!

"Oriole fans are a symbol of what's wrong with America," said ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd on his show yesterday. "Jealously, anger and resentment toward the successful people."

"Oriole fans, you think you won last night," he said. "But you came across as small, petty, clueless and phony. Because you would've taken that contract, too."

The plain truth is that Orioles fans are downright jealous of the Yankees for landing Teixeira. After this week's series, the Yankees will leave the city for a few months and there will be no more crying over spilled millions. Sadly, so will the majority of these so-called "fans."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ten-Year Old Raises Awareness for Lighthouse Project

Meet Matthew Pemberton, a fourth grade student at Connolly Elementary School in Glen Cove.
Over the past few weeks, Matthew and his parents, Brian and Tina, along with many Long Islanders, have had growing concerns over the progress of the Lighthouse project’s approval process. But what makes the Pembertons are a bit different than a growing majority.

In the days leading up to the 180th information session held by the heads of the Lighthouse project, Matthew took it upon himself to do his part for both his community and his favorite hockey team. Over the course of seven lunch periods, Matthew walked around the school cafeteria collecting the signatures of his friends and teachers to help raise community awareness for the Lighthouse project.

After returning from school, Brian Pemberton, Matthew’s father helped him type the names to better organize the list.
“It had, I would say, 130 names on it,” said Brian. “But we weren’t really sure how to get this list to the Islanders, until I got an e-mail from the Lighthouse project telling me about the meeting at the Mariott,” he said. “So I said to Matthew, 'do you want to go?' ”
Matthew’s answer was an emphatic yes. The family attended the meeting that drew over 1,000 people, according to Newsday.

As Charles Wang, the Islanders' owner and financier of the Lighthouse, walked to the podium start the meeting, he made the audience aware of Pembertons’ efforts. The family then presented Wang with the list of names in favor of the Lighthouse project, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

The Pembertons, who had been attending Islanders’ games casually for a few years, began following the team more closely after Matthew came home from school one December day with two free tickets to an Islanders’ home game.

As part of the “Islanders in the Community” project, the team sent a staff that included former player Steve Webb and team mascot Sparky the Dragon to a number of elementary schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and Queens. Each student was given two free tickets to an upcoming home game, in addition to an assembly about how teamwork is important in every facet of life.

Since the Islanders’ school assembly, Matthew and his family have attended roughly 10 games this year. His parents also threw a birthday party for him and some friends at the March 8 game against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Islanders won 3-2 that night, with Kyle Okposo, Matthew’s favorite player, notching the game-winning goal.

The Islanders have reached out to thousands of children all over Long Island to increase interest in both the Islanders and hockey in general. The Pembertons have even gone ice skating a few times recently, and Matthew has a growing interest in playing hockey.

But with the help of 130 of his friends, it was Matthew who was giving back to the Islanders, and possibly, all of Long Island.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sheridan Out, Forcier In for Michigan?

According to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Michigan QB Nick Sheridan will miss 4-6 weeks with a "small fracture in his lower right leg" suffered at Tuesday's practice. This news seems have just affirmed the notion that four-star recruit Tate Forcier will be the starter under center next fall for the Wolverines. Though Sheridan won't need surgery, the feeling coming out of Ann Arbor is that he will be lightyears behind Forcier when preseason camp begins in August in a battle he was expected to eventually lose, anyway.

Forcier, a dual-threat player who's a perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread offense, would be the third true freshman to start for Michigan in the past five years.

Before Tuesday, it was expected that Sheridan, who started four games last year, would be in competition with Forcier through the spring and into the start of the season. But with Sheridan out of commission until the middle of May, the Wolverines are left without a quarterback with any starting experience for the remainder of their spring practices.

Forcier, an early enrollee from San Diego, will take over the first-team duties through the rest of the Spring.

The Wolverines are coming off a season in which they lost nine games and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in 34 years, ending the longest current streak in the country. If Forcier is given the starting job, look for the Wolverines to bounce back and contend for the Big Ten title.

Michigan fans are hopeful that a year after missing out on Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Forcier can be the catalyst that can take the Wolverines' anemic 2008 offense (109th in the nation, 108th in passing) and turn it into the high-flying show that Rich Rodriguez previously put on at West Virginia.

Monday, March 23, 2009

2009 AL Preview, without the bias.

Okay, now that we've all read Wes' belligerent predictions for how the American League will shape up in 2009, let's explore what might really happen. Finally, thanks in large part to a terrible performance by their starting pitching, the American players that took part in the World Baseball Classic will return to their respective spring camps, except for those that decided to take the rest of the tournament off. I'm looking at you, Pedroia.

Tampa's improbable last-to-first turnaround and subsequent run to the World Series last year took America away from the Yankees and Red Sox of the world for the first time in years. And despite all this discussion about PEDs, it renewed some faith in the game, as well as solidifying that the game's five best teams come from the east coast.

Speaking of the east coast, there have been enough storylines to fill the gap between November and March better than the NFL could've ever tried to. Between big ticket free agents landing in New York and Boston, the construction of two new glorious stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, the Torre book, and of course A-Roid*, the media circus never went away.

But as teams play out their final spring training games, and start naming Opening Day starters, that familiar sense of spring optimism takes hold in anticipation of the start of the regular season. So now, here's a more realistic take on how the American League will shape up this season.

A.L. East-
1. Tampa Bay Rays - Prediction: 98-64, A.L. East champion
Three words: Pat the Bat. You can't say enough about how much he will influence the way pitchers go after Longoria and Pena. Look for Pena to be near the top of the American League in home runs, like he was in 2007. Burrell takes a good lineup and makes it scary, but the strength of this team is on the bump. Top prospect David Price is expected to start the season in AAA Durham to make room for Jeff Niemann, another former first round pick who's out of options, but it won't be long before the big lefty will be giving major league hitters fits. Regardless, a rotation that includes Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, "Big Game James" Shields and Andy Sonnanstine will be playoff bound for years to come.
Name to remember: SP David Price, SP Wade Davis - the crown jewels of the Rays farm system. Both will start the season in the minors, but expect to hear their names called every fifth day by August.

2. New York Yankees - Prediction: 94-68, A.L. Wild Card
You were expecting.... the Red Sox? Yeah, good joke. In the inaugural season at the new Yankee Stadium, the Bombers will pull out all the stops to ensure there is October baseball being played in the Bronx. The Yankees will be in contention with the Rays for the division until late September. The question will be how they will hold up without A-Rod until May. However, the common theme with the Rays and Yanks will be depth on the mound. The Yankees will also start their top prospect, Phil Hughes, in AAA with Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The worst case scenario for Yankee haters everywhere is that C.C.'s big frame will finally break down and A.J. Burnett will inevitably get hurt like he does every year (except last year, I guess, when he won 18 games and led the A.L. in strikeouts). But the emergence of Hughes and Alfredo Aceves in addition to a very underrated bullpen will spell relief for the Bombers. Wait what? They signed Mark Teixeira too? Oh yeah, Boston have a chance.
Name to remember: RF Xavier Nady - X has been the subject of constant trade rumors already since the Teixeira signing, and is playing out the last year of his contract. Will he justify a big payday heading into 2010?

3. Boston Red Sox - Prediction: 89-73
The Red Sox also made some noise this winter, albeit considerably smaller noise. After losing Mark Teixeira to the Yankees over $10 million, president John Henry claimed they simply could not compete with New York's ability to sign players. $10 million, John. Not a deal-breaker. The Sox instead went out and made a number of low-risk, high-reward signings in Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Rocco Baldelli and Takashi Saito. While Epstein, Henry & co. deserve praise for this, there is very little guarantee that Penny and Smoltz will have a definitive impact after missing significant time in 2008 with injuries. The Yankees considered trading for Penny early last season before they discovered he had a severe shoulder problem. That should say enough. The American League East's walking wounded should concern themselves a little less with New York's injury risks and worry about their own, i.e. Drew, Pedroia, Youkilis, Penny and Smoltz. They will also need David Ortiz to hold up for the entire season, which he failed to do a year ago.
Name to remember: SP Jon Lester - I'm convinced the Cy Young winner will come out of this division this year, what with at least seven legitimate candidates (Sabathia, Halladay, Chamberlain, Beckett, Kazmir, Shields, Lester), and the Red Sox' lefty ace could be the one to prove me right. After recently signing a contract extension, Lester seems poised to expand on his breakout campaign last year and become one of baseball's elite starters.

4. Toronto Blue Jays
- Prediction: 80-62
Well Wes, I'm pretty sure Roy Halladay pitches in Canada. And yes, he's very good. This Blue Jays lineup has some firepower, but not nearly enough to hang in this division. As the Hamstring Turns, starring Vernon Wells, will make its rounds and give fantasy owners fits by July, and one can't help but wonder if Alex Rios will ever live up to his 30-30 potential.
Name to remember: OF Travis Snider - Baseball America's fourth best prospect for 2009 will be a star, the only question is how soon. He will start the season as a corner outfielder for Toronto, and has potential to be the best left-handed batter they've had since Carlos Delgado.
5. Baltimore Orioles - Prediction: 70-92
Had they signed Mark Teixeira, they may have been able to make some noise this year. But after an offseason filled mostly with disappointment (apart from picking up Felix Pie from the Cubs), the O's find themselves as the prey in a divison full of predators. Nick Markakis will have another productive fantasy season, but that's really the only bright spot on this team.
Name to remember: C Matt Wieters - The top prospect in the nation has been tearing up spring training, but will start the season in the minor leagues. Scouts can't stop salivating over Wieters' trememdous hitting prowess, though. It won't be long before he's a big leaguer.

A.L. Central -
1. Cleveland Indians - Prediction: 93-69
Last year's hottest second-half team will turn a lot of heads this year in the Central. The addition of Mark DeRosa will bolster an already deadly lineup, with Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner fully healthy again. Grady Sizemore, coming off an outstanding 30-30 campaign, will challenge for MVP as well. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee will come back down to earth, but will still be the ace on a staff that's good enough to win a less-than-stellar division.
Name to remember: 2B Mark DeRosa - Coming off a career year with the Cubs, it will be interesting to see how DeRosa handles the switch to the American League.

2. Minnesota Twins - Prediction: 85-77
Good pitching and sound baseball has been the Twins' formula since 2002 under Ron Gardenhire, and they've failed to reach 80 wins once. They'll get past that again this year, but with lingering concerns about Joe Mauer's health, the lineup doesn't look so daunting all of a sudden. On the other hand, Francisco Liriano will be 100% healthy after fully recovering from Tommy John surgery, but buyer beware. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn round out a slightly above average pitching staff, but it doesn't look like this team will go very far.
Name to remember: RF Denard Span - The speedy outfielder is starting his first full season in the bigs, and had a relatively productive rookie season, hitting .294. Expect an increase in steals from 18 into the 30-40 range.

3. Chicago White Sox - Prediction: 81-81
This team is one that's stuck in a transitional state, with players like Carlos Quentin, Chris Getz and Alexei Ramirez on the rise pulling deadweight like Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski. The rotation is no different as veterans Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras are surrounded by two of the most productive young pitchers of 2008, Gavin Floyd and John Danks. This team has some of the pieces together, but is still a good year or two away from contention.
Name to remember: SS Alexei Ramirez - Last year's A.L. Rookie of the Year runner-up is a versatile player that plays a lot like B.J. Upton. He and rookie second baseman Chris Getz make up one of the best young middle-infield tandems in baseball.

4. Detroit Tigers - Prediction: 79-83
Don't think that last year's nosedive was a fluke. This team fields one of the toughest lineups in the league, but trots out very few starters that give them a chance to win every fifth day. Justin Verlander will need to have a stellar bounceback season in order for this team to float near .500.
Name to remember: SP Rick Porcello - The Tigers' first round pick in 2007 has been tearing through Spring Training, even though he's never pitched professionally above advanced A ball. It's rumored that the 20-year old will break camp with the team, but even if he doesn't expect him to get the call when Detroit is searching for pitching in May.

5. Kansas City Royals - Prediction: 66-96
The Royals have been trying for years to build a strong team through the draft, along with a couple of free agent signings that haven't exactly panned out. Juan Cruz will join Joakim Soria to make for quite a devastating 1-2 punch in the latter part of games. The question is, how will they get a lead so they can put it into action?
Name to remember: SS Mike Aviles - Aviles broke into the league last year at age 26 and had a very productive year, hitting .325 with 10 HR and 51 RBI in just 102 games. With one major league season under his belt, and more at-bats to come this season, look for those numbers to improve.

A.L. West-

1. Los Angeles Angels - Prediction: 89-73
Even though they're a shadow of their 2008 selves, the Angels will win this division going away. Bobby Abreu won't be able to make up for the two huge voids in the lineup left by Mark Teixeira and Garrett Anderson. The starting rotation may not look as good without Francisco Rodriguez saving all those one-run games, but Brian Fuentes will do a fine job closing most of them. Lucky for them, they play the Mariners, A's and Rangers nearly 60 times.
Name to remember: SP Joe Saunders - Saunders won 17 games in 2008 with a 3.41 ERA. He also surrendered less than a hit per inning. It will be interesting to see if he can follow it up with another successful year.

2. Oakland Athletics - Prediction: 80-81
Billy Beane's deal with Colorado for Matt Holliday nearly reshaped the landscape of the division in one fell swoop. However, even with a vastly improved lineup with the additions of Holliday and Jason Giambi, the rotation still seems too weak to contend with the Angels.
Name to remember: OF Matt Holliday - Billy Beane holds the key to this year's trade deadline with Holliday's expiring contract at season's end. Chances are he'll be traded, even if the A's are reasonably within striking distance at the deadline.

3. Texas Rangers - Prediction: 75-87
Talk about a good lineup and poor rotation! This lineup trots out two of last year's top five fantasy players in Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. However, they've got worse pitching than the A's. Kevin Millwood is their ace, enough said.
Name to remember:
SP Neftali Feliz - He is the reason the Braves regret trading for Mark Teixeira in 2007. Feliz is the Rangers' best pitching prospect, after trading Edinson Volquez to Cincinatti for Josh Hamilton last year. He won't start the year with the big team but expect him to make his debut in July or August.

4. Seattle Mariners - Prediction: 69-93
Ken Griffey Jr.'s swan song is going to be a rough one in Seattle. The Mariners don't boast a particularly strong lineup, outside of Ichiro and an aged Griffey. Their rotation includes Felix Hernandez and oft-injured Erik Bedard, who is a sleeper to many fantasy gurus after missing significant time in 2008 with a bad throwing shoulder.
Name to remember: OF Endy Chavez - It will be interesting to see what Chavez can do starting every day for Seattle. He was never given a fair chance in Queens, and with his speed, he can really make things happen.

Most Valuable Player: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit - .293 avg, 41 HR, 131 RBI
Cy Young Award: Jon Lester, Boston - 18-6, 3.15 ERA, 210 IP, 160 K
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Baltimore - .314 avg, 22 HR, 76 RBI

Playoff results:
Tampa Bay defeats Los Angeles, 3-1
New York defeats Cleveland, 3-0

Tampa Bay defeats New York, 4-2