Carter Woodiel on whether the NFL is truly committed to the safety of its players. Produced in association with Young Broadcasters of America.
Carter Woodiel on the lack of American stars in the World Baseball Classic — and what this says about America’s baseball culture. Produced in association with Young Broadcasters of America.
Carter Woodiel on the hideous new uniforms six teams will wear during the NCAA tournament. Produced in association with Young Broadcasters of America.
(Photo by Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News)
In 2007, when 11-year-old me opened up an issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine, eagerly turning to the middle to see who was on that week’s pullout poster, and was greeted by Alex Rodriguez, holding his bat, gazing at the path of a home run. I put the poster on my wall, below Derek Jeter, above Mike Mussina. It stayed there for five years.
Yesterday I tore it down and threw it in the trash. After years of admiring, then merely observing, then barely tolerating A-Rod, I was finally done.
Of course, many people would have taken down the poster a long time ago. But when A-Rod’s postseason troubles became a citywide punching bag, I kept my cool. It was a small sample size. Just bad luck. What’re you gonna do? When A-Rod began struggling the past few years, I didn’t overreact. You can’t be the best in the game forever. Have to take the bad with the good. Even when A-rod admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs during his years with the Texas Rangers, I didn’t go nuts. We had seen steroids before, and he hadn’t taken anything in a Yankee uniform. To me, A-Rod was like the dorky kid at school who everyone bullied. It seemed like he was just a scapegoat for the issues of a while team. And regardless, he’s one of the best ballplayers in history. Sure, he was annoying, but he couldn’t be that bad, right?
According to a report by the Miami New Times that followed a three-month investigation, Alex Rodriguez had purchased PED’s since 2009 from a sketchy Miami clinic called Biogenesis, meaning a Rangers uniform was not the only one he cheated in. His name is listed alongside the already-busted former Yankee Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, and Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals in the personal files of Anthony Bosch, the man in charge of the operation. The evidence makes his 2009 admission of steroid use shocking. From his apologetic press conference:
“I’m finally beginning to grow up. I’m pretty tired of being stupid and selfish, you know, about myself. The truth needed to come out a long time ago. I’m glad it’s coming out today.”
The Miami New Times didn’t just report that A-Rod cheated on the ball field. They reported that he lied to me and every baseball fan. He said he had cleaned himself up. He said he was done. He wasn’t. And after years of avoiding it, I’m finally jumping on the “I hate A-Rod” bandwagon.
I hate his smug, arrogant personality. I hate how he smacks his bat into the ground when he pops out. And most of all (I’m cringing just thinking about it), I vehemently despise the face he puts on when he strikes out, pursing his lips together, yanking his chin up, putting his bat under his shoulder as he coolly unstraps his batting gloves on his way back to the dugout. It’s like he’s saying, “I don’t even care. I know I’ll be breaking the bank whether I strike out or not.” Watching A-Rod strike out is the most gut-wrenching thing a Yankee fan can suffer through.
And the worst part is, it’s true. Though the Yankees got the undisputed best player in baseball when they traded for and subsequently signed A-Rod, there’s no doubt that he is worth far, far less than the money he is currently earning. The Yankees are trying to void his contract, but their chances are slim. With Scott Boras as your agent, the language is usually pretty tight.
Tearing down my A-Rod poster in my room means the end of an era. It means that I finally have given up on my favorite team’s biggest investment ever. But, at least from what I’ve heard, hating A-Rod can be pretty fun.
When I watch Seton Hall basketball games on my TV (now becoming quite a torturous experience) I’m often greeted by a commercial heralding the Big East Conference. This is typical when watching basketball in conference play, as nearly every league tries to tell fans that their conference does it right, does it better, than anyone else. The Big East spot has the same ambitions, but does things a little differently than, say, the Big Ten would. It depicts a group of young boys, who are “unified by the game, and a dream, to one day play at the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.”
As the camera tilts down to reveal the sold-out Garden in its Big East glory, I start to reminisce about tournaments of old. I think back to five games in five days, to monumental upsets, to a game that never ended. The Big East tournament was, besides the big tourney a week later, the biggest and best basketball event of the year.
We still see the Big East today, of course, as the commercial proudly proclaims. A player can be hit hard under the rim and thrown to the ground, but no whistle will sound, and the announcer will point out, as he does innumerably, that it’s simply “Big East basketball.” The giant of the game still lives.
But not for long.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are headed for the ACC next season. Notre Dame and Louisville are headed there as well. Rutgers is bouncing for the Big Ten in 2014. And seven Catholic schools, Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, St. John’s, Marquette, Providence, and my lackluster, infuriating Pirates, none of whom boast big-time football programs, are leaving the league in 2015 and reportedly plan to start their own conference. Don’t get me wrong, the new league will be great. Incredible, in fact. These seven Catholic schools decided that they were tired of being pushed around by big football programs, so they decided to start their own league, for [basketball]! I’m already counting the days until it becomes a reality.
But the new league struck a dagger into the heart of the Big East. Only Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida will remain in the league by the time the Catholic schools leave, and that’s provided they don’t get a call from a conference looking to pad its resumé. The Garden will be honoring programs like Central Florida and Tulane, who have as much basketball pedigree as Lance Armstrong has credibility. The Big East as we know it will cease to exist. And that makes me sad.
It also makes me wonder what more basketball traditions could fall by the wayside. We’ve already seen conference reshuffling claim such storied rivalries as Missouri-Kansas and Syracuse-Georgetown, could the best of them all, Duke-UNC, be threatened sometime in the far, or not so far, future? Probably not, though we can’t be sure.
When I attend Seton Hall games, I now savor every moment, even when they look worse than my high school’s JV squad. Because I know Big East ball won’t last forever. In fact, it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Because that, for better or worse, is college basketball. We’d better get used to the idea.
Kobe Bryant, explaining to the Orange County Register why the Knicks are 15-16 this season.
Bryant, who is facing a particularly trying year that already has claimed a head coach, was fed up with his team’s age following the Lakers’ loss to the 76ers last night, saying, “You just saw an old damn team.”
I’m sure Kobe just said this because he was frustrated. Losing to the Sixers to go below .500 is never fun, and he didn’t use his best judgement. Because if he really meant it, it would have been a really dumb excuse.
The Lakers are certainly an aging team. Pau Gasol, once Kobe’s reliable number 2, has seen his production fall off a cliff, and Steve Nash, considered a major acquisition by LA this offseason, is clearly not the player he once was. But the Lakers aren’t losing because they are old and slow. They’re losing because they aren’t playing well. They rank 25th in the league in defense, and only 19th in assists per game. If your team has some old players on the court, it should be able to feed them the ball.
But to really rebuff Kobe’s point, one just needs to look at the New York Knicks. They aren’t just the oldest team in the league, they’re the oldest team in NBA history, and yet they stand 11 games above .500, in second place in the Eastern Conference. Why? Because they make the extra pass and smart decisions on both sides of the ball. Kobe’s comments will do nothing to help the Lakers in this cause. Really, he should just stop talking and get to work.
Kevin Youkilis could play for the Yankees.
The fact still boggles my mind. I’ve been ruminating over it the past few days, wondering why a player who made his living hating the Yankees for years, who I have so despised through season after season, could suddenly suit up in pinstripes and call the Bronx home. It’s a thoroughly unthinkable scenario.
And yet it has become possible, even probable. The Yankees, according to reports, have offered Youkilis a one-year, $12 million deal that would put him at the hot corner in place of Alex Rodriguez, who will be sidelined possibly until the All-Star Game and beyond as he recovers from hip surgery.
The possible signing, which may not happen if Youkilis choses to play for the Cleveland Indians and Terry Francona, his former manager in Boston, is another reminder of the truth of a classic cliché. Baseball’s not a game, it’s a business.
I hate hearing that phrase, and not just because a friend of mine said it as an excuse for trashing my fantasy team a few years back. I hate it because it reminds me of the cruel reality that Jerry Seinfeld so expertly pointed out. When you cheer on sports, you’re cheering for laundry. Players come and players go. If a player moves to a new city, his old fans abandon him. As Seinfeld said, “This is the same human being in a different shirt. They hate him now!” Kevin Youkilis was once so beloved in Boston that fans would utter a personalized tribal “Youk” yell when he stepped to the plate, as Yankee fans dubbed him Kevin Useless. But now Youkilis is changing his shirt, and the roles may well be reversed.
The worst part is that I, and millions of others, will go right along with it. It might take some time, but if Youkilis signs with the Yankees, I’ll begin to ignore his questionable bald-headed goatee, his annoying batting stance, where he raises his bat above his head with both hands only to retreat to a traditional stance when the ball is pitched, his alleged skirmishes with others in the Red Sox clubhouse before subsequently being traded to Chicago. I’ll root for him, because I like his shirt. Because that’s the way baseball is.
Game one of the 2011 Maui Invitational [Photo by Alex Prosperi]
It’s like nothing else in college basketball.
Every thanksgiving weekend, eight college basketball programs, many used to the national spotlight, legions of fans, and large arenas, take a working vacation. The players try on leis. The coaches and staff trade suits and ties for Tommy Bahama and polo shirts. And they all agree to play three games each over three days on the wonderful island of Maui. But the EA Sports Maui Invitational isn’t just a pretty setting. It’s college basketball at its best.
Why it is so enthralling, at least to me, is hard to describe. Maybe it’s the history. The Maui Invitational, unlike many of the other events in the preseason universe, was not the idea of a large TV network or corporation, but of Chaminade University in Honolulu, which as a tiny NAIA school upset top-ranked Virginia, led by Ralph Sampson, in 1982. The game, considered by many to be the biggest upset in the history of college basketball, inspired the school to begin the first Maui Invitational two years later. Chaminade now competes in NCAA Division II, and has hosted the Maui Invitational ever since, their spot on the bracket a reminder of the history that Maui has which other early-season tournaments long for.
Maybe it’s the venue. The Lahaina Civic Center, where Illinois defeated Butler 78-61 for the tournament title, is not much more than a high school gym. 2,400 fans can fit in the building, with most seated on retractible bleachers. A large painting covers one wall. Yet it seems to be bursting with energy, a haven of basketball where no one seems to care that their gym has only two restrooms, only about the game on the floor.
But the true beauty of the Maui Invitational is found in the people sitting, or standing up, as they do often, on those bleachers. Everything about the tournament bursts with passion. As the championship game unfolded, a glance at the bleachers showed half of the fans in Butler blue, and half in Illini orange. Every time down the floor, whether it’s a rebound, blocked shot or drained three-pointer, elicits enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. In a sport where a neutral-site contest usually means a listless crowd planted firmly in their seats, the Maui Invitational offers the rare chance to see two fan bases square off, cheer for cheer.
The passion extends to the players on the court. Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like every player and coach works and plays a little harder in Maui. Maui games become simply more passionate. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Mike Krzyzewski jump up and down like he did in Maui last year after Duke sealed the tournament with a three-pointer by Tyler Thornton. It’s also hard to remember when I’ve seen Butler coach Brad Stevens more energized than two days ago in the semifinals, following a play where his players dove onto the floor for a loose ball, eventually forcing a tie-up. Gum pushed to the back of his teeth, mouth wide open, and fists pumping, it looked as if he too wished to lay out on the floor for the ball.
The passion found in Maui is like almost nothing else in sports. Next to March Madness, it’s the best college basketball has to offer. I’m already counting the days until next year.