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John Rooke - Thinking Out Loud

Saturday, April 19, 2014

 

Thinking out loud…and wondering how old I need to be to officially qualify as “grumpy…”

• Tiny Union College – the same Union College that eliminated the Providence Friars from the NCAA Ice Hockey tournament – won its first national championship by beating mighty Minnesota from the Big 10. 2200 undergraduate students. No scholarships. Powerhouse hockey. And seemingly as in all things in life, a huge Providence connection – with current Friar coach Nate Leaman coming from Union just three years ago, and current Dutchman head coach Rick Bennett a former Friar all-Hockey East player and assistant coach. Can’t make this stuff up…

• If you ask me, the “Hub of the Universe” isn’t Boston…it’s a bit further south on I-95…

• I’m so confused. Catchers can block the plate, make a tag on a runner/slider, and still be called out? Or safe? Allegedly, catchers who don’t have the ball cannot block the plate, and even if they apply a tag the runner can be called safe…so says Major League Baseball’s new rules. The problem, it seems, is in the interpretation of the rule. It’s all over the place, and the rule might protect the catcher somewhat, but does it protect the runner?

• But the rule change over potential plate collisions isn’t even the half of it. Baseball has a big problem on its hands, and the early returns on utilizing instant replay are not positive. Ask Red Sox manager John Farrell what his thoughts are…after having a replay call ruled incorrectly last weekend against the Yankees (a tag placed on NY’s Dean Anna was missed by the umpire, even though TV replays showed it correctly, the umpire still blew the call), and then being ejected for arguing a play Sunday night over a play that was inconclusive, at best…when Francisco Cervelli was awarded 1st base on a bang-bang play…

• Calls are always missed – that’s actually part of the beauty of the game. It’s the human element. But when you have the technology to make a correct call, and either the technology isn’t available to the umpires (WE can see it at home, why can’t THEY see what WE see?)…or the rules get interpreted differently and calls are STILL blown even when replay shows otherwise, you’re asking for trouble. You’re asking fans to forget baseball and turn to other things over the summer…because it’s just too confusing to follow. It shouldn’t be this hard…

• Do you think Jon Lester wishes he hadn’t used the phrase “hometown discount” when speaking about his contract negotiations with the Red Sox? Do you think his agent wishes the same thing?

Not for nuthin’…but why does everyone assume that athletes will stick around for the “hometown discount,” whatever that may be? That may be one of the all-time dumbest things I’ve heard, that a pro athlete will “stick around” for the hometown discount. Would you? Players know the money is out there, and they know you’ll pay it. They know they are a marketable commodity, and they know the window of opportunity is short – thanks to age, injury and attrition. Get what you can, while you can. Sounds terrible, I know…but it’s reality. This is what our sports have done to us. Greed has won out. There is no more loyalty to laundry…to the uniforms the athletes wear. Loyalty belongs to the color green, and a whole bunch of Benjamin’s…

• Or, as Tom Cruise so poignantly yelled portraying a sports agent in the movie Jerry Maguire, “show me the money!” Yes, show us ALL the money…

• Now, if the Red Sox’ alleged offer of 4-years and $70 million to Lester is an insult to you – personally – then I would ask you to perform a self-check on your system of priorities. However, in the grand scheme of things, considering what the market is likely to bear, the offer falls well short of “reasonable.” Expecting Lester to stick around for less than what another team is likely to fork over is just plain silly. Maybe he surprises us? And maybe pigs will fly. Two things come to mind here: 1) Perhaps the Sox are finally showing some fiscal sanity in this current madhouse marketplace; 2) If the Sox DO have a monetary conscience, then we had best buy up all of the 2013 World Series gear we can find…’cuz it’ll be awhile before it happens again…

• Two words on these current Red Sox – Can’t. Hit. That is all

(prosportstalk.com)

• Forget Lester’s contract negotiations. Let’s worry about the team that surrounds him. Victorino, Middlebrooks, Uehara, Pedroia, Napoli…they’re dropping like flies. Who’s next? Good grief. Ok, so they're on the mend a bit...but last year’s team didn’t spend a day under .500. This year? They can’t get over .500, thanks to injuries and mucho underachievement thus far. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency either, even though it’s still (relatively) early…

• If Clay Buchholz turns sideways, he disappears. For all of his apparent talent, doesn’t he seem skinny? Underfed, even? Or is it just that he wears a baggy uniform? I know this – he still tires in the middle innings of his starts, and that’s not good news…

Edward Mujica? Nope…

C’mon. These are/were the World Champs. Turn the page? Fine, but let’s not burn the whole book. The saving grace for the Sox might be the entire AL East fighting some mediocrity…

• Did you see NBC’s Saturday Night Live jump into the Big Papi-President Obama selfie story? Actor Keenan Thompson did a pretty good job with his portrayal of David Ortiz last week…now, wonder if they have anyone on the acting staff who could portray a big bat in the middle of this Sox lineup? Just sayin’

• FYI, the Big East Conference finally has a new home…655 3rd Avenue in midtown Manhattan, on 3rd and 42nd Street. Move-in should officially occur sometime in late summer…

• Gotta wonder what’s going on at St. John’s, where the Red Storm basketball program lost three players to graduation, JaKarr Sampson to an early pro entry, and Max Hooper (to Oakland) and Chris Obekpa to transfers. Now, Obekpa has reconsidered moving on and will return for his junior season…

• It’ll be tough for Creighton to recover quickly from Dougie McBuckets and his legacy as one of the all-time great four-year college basketball players. Head coach Greg McDermott needs all the help he can get at this stage of rebuilding, and former Boston University guard Maurice Watson will join the program. Watson led the Terriers in scoring (13.1), assists (7.1) and steals (2.1) per game last year, and will sit out 2014-15 with two years of eligibility remaining…

• The biggest off-season move for the Big East may be one that actually didn’t take place. Xavier coach Chris Mack turned down two would-be suitors for his services (Wake Forest and Cal-Berkeley) to remain head coach of the Musketeers…

• Early, early Big East projections for next year: Villanova, with four starters returning, goes right to the top of the list. And the loss of James Bell can be overcome with either Josh Hart or Dylan Ennis stepping into the lineup. After that, it’s a toss-up…although I’ll give a slight edge right now to Georgetown, if 6-10 center Josh Smith makes a full return from his academia waltz. The Hoyas also have one of the best Big East recruiting classes coming in, as does Xavier, Seton Hall and Providence…

• Spots three through eight will be a crap-shoot again in the conference race…which should make things exciting. PC, Xavier, St. John’s, Marquette, Butler and Seton Hall could very well beat up on each other…which will make non-conference scheduling (and winning) not just important, but crucial, to the Big East placing half of its’ teams in next year’s big dance…which as a so-called power conference, they should do…

• It might qualify as a bigger deal than turning pro…Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, who manhandled the Friars last December but missed out on the Final Four with an injured ankle, has announced he’s returning to Lexington next season for his junior year – despite being a projected first-round NBA draft pick. Kentucky will be, once again, L-O-A-D-E-D…

• Speaking of Kentucky, coach John Calipari had his new book published this week – “Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out” and he has some pointed thoughts about the NCAA. I can’t help but feel like this is the proverbial “fox-in-the-henhouse.” After all, Coach Cal has run afoul of the NCAA rules and regulations before, at his stops in Amherst, MA and Memphis, TN…

• But let’s play along for a moment here. In one chapter entitled “At War – Common Sense Versus the NCAA,” Coach Cal outlines a 13-point plan for improving the athletes’ experience. He’s right when he says the NCAA selectively enforces its own rules, and adds “the NCAA will soon have to reform itself or it will not remain the dominant force in college athletics.” No problems here that I can see…

• Among his suggestions for enhancing the life of college athletes? A $3000 to $5000 stipend for players to cover the full cost of attending a university; the NCAA covering eligible players’ insurance premiums; allowing athletes to accept loans against future earnings, up to $50K. Nice enhancements. None of this, of course, is legal right now. Calipari also advocates for immediate transfers for players if their coach decides to take a new job elsewhere, money for one round-trip flight home every year, and funds for formal attire for athletes when representing the school at outside functions. The flight home has some merit, perhaps…the rest of it sounds like it could come from his personal services contract with Kentucky…

Charging the media to attend games? A free society without a free media? That’s apparently another Coach Cal idea…that schools should charge media to cover games with funds potentially going to the athletes, since media members are given tickets to games. Given tickets to games? Really? They’re called credentials. Since when does anyone have to PAY to go to work? What about the free publicity for your team, or your sport? This idea alone would help kill the sport in many cities if media budgets were forced to choose what to cover, and irreparably damage schools and programs not at Kentucky’s popularity/monetary level…

• Hey coach, here’s a thought. Why not take a slice from your own $5 mil contract to give to your players if you really want to help them out, rather than pick on a vastly underpaid media that has helped turn you into a rich man in the first place? Oh, that’s illegal? Hasn’t stopped you at UMass or Memphis, has it? Stupid is as stupid does

• The Providence-based American Athletic Conference, still operating out of the former offices of the old Big East – and home to both men’s and women’s defending national basketball champs at UConn – is moving its men’s basketball tournament to Hartford’s XL Center next March. The initial post-season tourney was held last month in Memphis and received good reviews. But with UConn’s success this year, and with intercollegiate Armageddon still shaking out, making nice with the Huskies is the smart, prudent thing to do. The XL Center also had the highest bid for the event. They’re no dummies. Gotta keep the cash cows happy in farm country…

• The American is doing all it can to put itself out there, branding or “re-branding” itself even though realignment has left the league a mere shell of its former Big East incarnation. New bowl games (Cure Bowl, Orlando), new basketball tournament sites (Orlando again, for 2016-17), new media relationships…I’ll say this, for UConn, Cincinnati and USF the American is doing all it can to make things palatable. And yet, those schools would seemingly still jump at the chance to join the Big 12 or ACC. For newcomers Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU, Temple, East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane…they’re just happy to be a part of the party. But when do the cops come in to break it up?

URI’s loss of assistant coach Preston Murphy to Boston College – when it becomes official – shouldn’t really be a surprise. Disappointing, yes. I know he was recently promoted to “Associate Head Coach,” but that’s just a title. BC can offer more in the way of…wait for it…money. And prestige, with the ACC. Let’s not forget that. The Atlantic-10 is a good league, but this is also about building a resume. Loyalty will only take you so far…

• Who says the NCAA never listens? Remember two weeks ago when Shabazz Napier complained there were nights that he went to bed hungry as a basketball player at UConn? Win a national title, gain a bully pulpit

Tweet of the Week – from Lana Berry (@Lana): “Jim Nantz is the vocal equivalent of a sleeper hold…”

• Another national champ on the horizon? Brown’s women’s crew is the top-ranked team in the nation, according to this week’s US Rowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association poll. The last time they were ranked #1 was in 2007, just before they won their 5th national title…

• And as other college athletic departments find themselves slicing and dicing teams from their docket like so much deli meat…Brown is actually adding sports. Women’s rugby is being elevated from a club team to full varsity status for next year. Women’s rugby has won six Ivy titles in a row and will be Brown’s 21st women’s varsity team, making the school a national leader in varsity sport options for female athletes. Brown, as you might recall, is where Title IX (the law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding) got much of its bite, thanks to a 1992 lawsuit filed by members of the gymnastics team…

• I have a hard time keeping up with all of the technology available to me…but this is something I’ll be on the lookout for – NFL Now. The National Football League will launch this app sometime this summer – probably in August as the pre-season gets going – that will allow fans the ability to customize how you consume your favorite team...your fantasy team(s)…and all of the NFL Films stuff you’ve loved over the years. I’m told it will be like having your own personal NFL Network on your smartphone…

The Donald wants to buy the Buffalo Bills? This would be akin to welcoming in another Rex Ryan to the AFC East for his “lampoonability.” Yes, please…

• The Patriots have announced finalists for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame this year – two cornerbacks, Raymond Clayborn and Ty Law, plus former head coach Bill Parcells. Fans can vote for their selection on patriots.com until May 15th…

• When’s the schedule coming out?!? That’s a question I’ve heard a lot, lately. Originally thought to be sometime this past week, little birdies have chirped the schedule could come out next Tuesday…

• You’ll read, watch and hear a lot about the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings this week, and perhaps rightfully so. The only way to help prevent a horrible tragedy like this from happening again…is to remember it happened in the first place. I’ve tried to make sense of the senselessness, and I just can’t. Instead, seeing as we all pick up every day from our own personal tragedies in life, I’ve been interested in the stories now being told by the victims. For many, the memories and scars are still too painful to recall. But for those stories you see this week, those you watch and listen to, just know that some are re-living that awful day so we can all understand, and benefit from some very real life lessons…

• And then there’s the very, very disturbed young man who set the backpack down on the finish line last Tuesday, with a rice cooker and confetti contained inside. I prefer to believe he’s got some real problems going on in that head of his, rather than just stupidity or idiocy. Nevertheless, this is what we all have to deal with today, people. People…

• And the winner is…for a 30th straight year…the National Football League. A Harris Poll released this week shows the NFL is the country’s most popular sport, with 35% of fans putting pro football at the top of their personal lists. Major League Baseball is a distant second at 14%, followed by college football (11%), auto racing (7%), the NBA (6%), the NHL (5%) and college basketball (3%). The month-long survey of adults aged 18+ has been an annual event staged since 1985, and each year, baseball’s popularity has decreased. In ’85, the NFL outpolled baseball by just one percent (24 to 23)…

• Three takes from this poll: 1) Baseball’s popularity has dropped nine percent in 30 years. Get a clue, MLB…2) Golf has dropped off the chart, completely. In 1996, when Tiger Woods began his career, 4% of adults called golf their favorite sport. In 2010, after Tiger’s scandalous affairs, less than 2% considered golf #1…

• The third take? Regionalization rules. For instance, those with a high school education – or less – tend to gravitate toward racing. Rural areas on the east coast like pro football more than the general population overall. Households with more than $100K in income tend to like baseball more, African Americans less so. And southerners love college football…

• And all you really need to know about baseball’s slide in unpopularity…is that Commissioner Bud Selig thinks the current replay system is “remarkable.” Actually, he’s spot on. Remarkable in its sheer lunacy…

• Golf without Tiger? TV ratings for the Masters last week were down 24% from a year ago, registering its lowest rating since 2004…although Bubba Watson’s relative stroll through the back nine with a comfortable lead over Jordan Speith probably had something to do with the lack of interest…

• A special shout out to the kids at Garvin Elementary School in Cumberland, RI for inviting me into the 2nd grade during Reading Week. Man, do those kids have some imaginations. Kudos to their parents and teachers for clearly being involved, and stimulating those bright, young minds. With so much negativity in the real world, it makes me feel better about the future after sitting with those kids for an hour…

• I remember my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Brookman, at J.P. Moore Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She was the first person to encourage my, um, penchant for loudness…by asking me to emcee the Christmas play and pageant that year. Over the big kids, and instead of an adult. A puny, little 2nd grader. With a loud voice. Thanks, Miss Brookman…

• At some point as a parent, we’ve all been here before. The ending of this commercial that ran in Europe, however, will surprise you. It was rated one of the best spots to hit the airwaves…

• My buddy Statbeast sez having a child is like getting a tattoo on your face. You had better be committed to it…’cuz it ain’t goin’ nowhere…

• I am seriously bumming. Just when I’ve begun to fire up the grill, I stumbled across this little gem. Backyard bar-be-que’s more expensive? Now, them’s fightin’ words. Call your congressman, and support your local farmers…this just won’t do…

• Will the NBA playoffs be held this year? No Celtics, no Lakers. Hard to imagine that, really…

• As for the Bruins, their first round match up with Detroit is scary…especially with the Red Wings having won the regular season series with Boston. I know the playoffs are a different beast, but what makes anyone think this opening series – even if it is the “1 vs. 4” – will be automatic for the B’s? That’s the fan-boy in you talking, methinks…

• As the World Cup nears, it seems that the world’s sport is beginning to actually “catch on” a bit. That may be an affront to local fans, but hey, better late than never. In New York social circles, if you’re under the age of 45 and don’t know who leads the EPL (that’s English Premier League, for you), then you don’t know jack. Part of the increased popularity on this side of the pond for Euro soccer is the TV coverage of EPL matches from the NBC Sports Network. The world’s big leagues are all televised somewhere on cable or satellite…with much of the sport seen effortlessly through the internet. And, MLS in this country continues to grow – ever so slowly – in popularity as well, with Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and a 2nd NY team poised for kickoff in the next few years…

• But soccer as the “new baseball?” Well, sometimes, I suppose both are barely better than watching grass grow. Especially when the Red Sox are at bat…cue the crickets

• I’ve always been a Liverpool man, myself. Yup, a regular scouser. Look that one up. And it has nothing to do with John Henry’s ownership of the club…it just happens to be that’s the homeland for the family name…

• The definitive word on being “grumpy:” National Public Radio reported this week that men’s happiness begins to diminish around age 70…therefore, that can be considered the time period when men officially become grumpy. The original story came from Psychology and Aging, which recently reported following a 15-year study that men between the ages of 53 and 85 experienced an improvement at first, then a downturn around 70. Why? Well, older adults, on average, have fewer hassles and respond to those hassles better than younger adults. But as age progresses, health issues, the death of family and friends, and mental decline all play a part in developing “grumpiness.” Well, I’m not old enough to qualify as grumpy…so I’ll just settle for cantankerous, or maybe grouchy. Yeah, a grouchy scouser

• From the mailbag this week – Chris from Brooklyn, NY via Facebook: “I have two questions; one, what are the chances the Friars end up with 2 of the recruits out of the Jalen Adams, Devonte Graham & Donavan Mitchell bunch & the chances of them landing Tyus Battle?” Chris: Recruiting is an imperfect science, as I’m sure you know. PC is in on Graham and they’re in solidly with Mitchell, who is a 2015 prospect. The Friars are one of five finalists for Graham’s services at last count, and they are in the process of setting up a visit with arguably the top recruit left available for next season – 2014. As for Battle, I believe he’s been offered, but the 6-5 shooter is a 2016 recruit, and has the college blueblood programs all over him. Providence wants to sign two more players for next season, and that’s priority one…

• Interested in having your questions on local RI sports (including the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions and comments to jrooke@golocalprov.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

• Don’t forget to join us for GoLocal Sports on 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am! Call in (401) 737-1287(401) 737-1287, or text us at 37937…and send email to the show - golocal@weei.com .

 

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