16th At Scottsdale.

The PGA Tour hits the TPC Scottsdale this week, which features the year’s largest galleries, and the most unique hole in golf, the par three sixteenth. If you’re unfamiliar with the tournament you can watch the video above. It starts with Tiger’s hole in one, and goes downhill from there, but you can get a general idea of the atmosphere we’re talking about here. They’ve essentially built a temporary stadium around one golf hole, and the resulting vibe is about as far away from stereotypical golf as you can get.

It is the only place in golf where the players get booed. Quite loudly actually if they miss the green, or a putt the massive crowd decides they should have made. Of course, the roars are the loudest on Tour as well, and depending on who you are, what time of day it is, and a couple other factors, the fans can be pretty generous with their cheers. ASU alum Phil Mickelson, for example, doesn’t have to do much to please the rowdies at the 16th. He just slaps on that odd grin, and the rest is history. If you’re a no name fresh out of Q-School, though, I’d suggest hitting the green, or bringing gifts for the fans.

There seems to be a split amongst the players regarding what they think of this hole. I’m sure some view it as a necessary evil. Something they put up with 4 times a year, and then happily move on. Other players skip the event entirely, maybe not solely for the 16th, but I’m sure it factors into a greater perception of the tournament. It’s just considered a little too extreme, a little too frat party for some of the straight-laced guys. Tiger took the event off his schedule long ago, and that probably has to do more with its prestige than the fans at 16. After all, before this year, Tiger could have done no wrong in their eyes. I would have paid good money to see him show up this week, though. That would have been far more interesting than his press event.

What do I think about sixteen? I think it’s great for this event. It’s a defining characteristic at a tournament that otherwise doesn’t have much to distinguish itself with. I don’t, however, think it’s the future of golf. First of all not many venues have the room to accommodate that volume of people, but aside from the logistics, I think the novelty would wear off pretty quickly. A lot of people think golf needs more excitement. They say fans should be yelling during back swings, and all this. I mostly disagree. I think golfers are a little pampered and sensitive, but if you don’t like golf, you aren’t going to start liking it because the fans get more rowdy. The excitement in golf has to come from the players themselves. The sport could use some more interesting personalities, but one 16th at Scottsdale is enough.

Changed My Mind.

I'm a Waffler.

Before I start this, I just wanted to throw out there:  Can you imagine if Kevin Durant was a senior in college this year?  What would he be doing to the NCCA right now? 45 per?  He’s scored 25+ in 29 straight games.  I’d write a whole post about this, but I don’t know anything about basketball.

What I have to say is that I’ve gone back slightly on my harsh criticism of NBC’s tape-delayed Olympic coverage.  What I’ve found out is, that the majority of this stuff I do not want to see live.  Call it my complete lack of familiarity with all winter sports except hockey, but these events take forever, are made up of fields where 90% of the people can’t win, and there’s only so many hours of coverage available.  So, do I want to watch seventy people do the downhill live?  No, I suppose I don’t.  I actually managed to avoid finding out the results a couple times in the last week, and it was a pretty enjoyable experience.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be to stay off ESPN.com either.  Though, one time I did slip up, and was rightfully furious with myself.

I still think there is room for improvement.  I think they could bump a day of mid-week curling coverage to show the downhill and some other ski events live, and then present their neat little 15 minute replay package later that night.  I want all hockey games to be live obviously, and I hear the West Coast is getting a little tape-delay love for the Americans quarterfinal match-up.  That’s not cool.  I was a little disappointed that they didn’t show the final of the Men’s Nordic combined live this afternoon.  Yes, I didn’t think I was going to write that sentence in my lifetime either, but the whole week NBC has had live cross-country skiing, which produces good finishes.  We got a severely butchered edit tonight that didn’t show much drama.

So, in the end, I guess it is one of those things that sound like a good idea, but doesn’t work so well in practical terms.  I mean Augustus Gloop jumped in the chocolate river, and look how that turned out.  I’m going to lay off NBC, they have enough problems, and the Olympics have been mostly enjoyable.

Somewhat related to this, I was thinking of what the best way to watch television is these days.  I have to say, except for a few shows, I’d really rather just sit down and watch the whole season after it comes out on DVD.  Unless you want to talk about the show with others who watch, or really couldn’t imagine missing one, I think this is the play.  You lose the commercials, you can watch at your own pace, and once you get going, there’s no waiting week to week, fighting the random reruns, or whatever.  You know, I watch House occasionally, but basically have given up, because the show is incredibly redundant first of all, but also, I have no idea when a new episode is going to be on, where they are in the season, any of that.

The problem is, you can get in a bad rhythm, or maybe I should say too good of a rhythm.  You get addicted, can’t stop watching, view the show in 6-episode chunks.  This happened with The Wire.  I think I watched the entire series in about 2 weeks.  It’s intense while you do it, but then you kind of feel badly about yourself, and a lot of the details run together.  It’s a tricky balance.  Don’t get too greedy.

Rough Week for 2006 Fantasy Ponies

Good Old Chesty Westy.

I guess it shouldn’t really come as a surprise.  Earlier today, I was wondering why everyone was making such a big deal about LaDanian Tomlinson being released.  The release of Westbrook hits closer to home, but when a guy is owed 7.5 million in this league, is 30 and coming off a couple of concussions, he’s at the end of the road.  I think some fans thought the Eagles might renegotiate Westbrook, bring him back at a much more reasonable salary so he could play a complimentary role to LeSean McCoy, but listening to Andy Reid and Joe Banner it sounds like this is really the end.  I don’t think we’re looking at a Jeremiah Trotter story here.

I’m sure Westbrook will catch on somewhere else.  He’ll likely end up on a contender, a team that can use him in specific situations, tailor some plays to the skills he still possesses.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in New England for example.  I’m just throwing that out there, but it seems like there is always room in the Patriots backfield.  The Eagles backfield now officially belongs to McCoy, who will go from upstart rookie to someone who is expected to produce on a consistent basis.  The role of Leonard Weaver could continue to increase and the Eagles will need to add someone else in the backfield either through the draft or free agency.

Driving home I heard people debating Westbrook’s place in Eagles history.  For me, he’s not a Hall of Fame back, but a guy who was extremely dangerous and in the perfect system for about a five-year stretch.  His numbers compare well to other Eagles, but he played in an era with some really good running backs, and some of his measurable numbers don’t look so good compared to these guys that were rattling off 25 Tds a year.  Westbrook scored 66 TDs as an Eagle, and his value, aside from the 2007 season probably isn’t properly represented in the numbers.

He was a guy who did a lot of things well, and for a few years was the only guy opposing defenses had to worry about, and yet he still was effective.  Westbrook will certainly go down as one of the best Eagles draft pick of all-time, a steal out of Villanova, and it’s unfortunate that his last season in Philadelphia finished the way it did, marred with injuries.  I’m not one of these guys that remembers every play from football games years ago, and I think someone else could do a lot better job of recounting Westy’s greatness, but I do remember the punt return against New York.  It’s probably his defining play, and almost the defining play of an era of Eagles football, turning around a season that if it had gone differently…who knows.

So, the fans in Philly will miss Westbrook, but it’s time to move on.  Appreciate what they had, hope to find a comparable replacement in the future.

Things I’d Get Rid of In Sports.

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick-Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick-Tick.

There’s certain things that bother me in sports.  Traditions, practices that have spiraled out of control, blatantly pointless activities.  Time to share a few, off the top of my head.  Feel free to add your own at the end.

1.  Visiting the Mound.  It’s baseball’s version of the time-out, and yet the restrictions on it are a little loose for my taste.  Baseball needs to speed up, and trips to the mound are a constant drag.  I think it might be more that we all know the guy isn’t saying anything, someone starts warming up furiously, the ump has to meander out to break it up.  I’m tired of the routine.  One non-pitching change trip to the mound a game for the coaching staff.  These guys are pros, brief them before the inning.

2. Preseason Polls.  The most idiotic of sports practices.  Let’s rank teams based on absolutely nothing, artificially inflate the chances of random teams for having a good season, and kill other teams chances before they get started.  Sounds amazing.  I understand that people constantly need rankings and lists to bicker about, but we can’t wait a couple weeks?  Really?

3.  Freezing the Kicker.  As far as I’m concerned, it never works.  Is this the hidden ball trick of the NFL?  Now there’s like the double secret super last second freeze, and the guy ends up kicking it before they blow it dead.  How often does this happen now?  Then we have to watch a whole other field goal attempt.  Enough with the stupid gimmicks, it doesn’t work.

4.  NBA Time-outs.  How many time-outs do these teams get?  Seriously, I’m asking.  24?  Has an NBA team ever ran out of time-outs?  Every tie up, every time someone’s going out-of-bounds, every time they can’t inbound the ball…time-out.  Full, thirty-second, whatever.  When you have to invent 30 second time-outs because the time-out is being called for a pointless reason, that’s too many time-outs.  I also hate when a team goes on like a six point run, and the announcers say, “Oh man, they need to get a time-out.”  Or, they could just score or get a stop.

5. Extra Points.  Yawn.  Are you sensing a prejudice against kickers?

6. About Six NHL Teams.  I mean, come on.  The Florida Panthers?  Name a player.  Scott Mellanby?  Find me a fan.  Do we even know what city they play in?  Are the Coyotes bankrupt yet?  At the very least move some of these teams back to Canada.  10 million Canadians watched the US/Canada hockey game Sunday.  How many Americans?  8+ million.  (we have a SLIGHT population advantage by the way).

7. The NFL dressing its Coaches.  Sure, there are some guys like Fat Andy that probably appreciate the shipment of 4-XL black golf shirts every year and the hats with the awful graphics, but this remains the only league where coaches dress like gym teachers.  Hooded sweatshirts?  Ok, we get it, you spend 21 hours a day at the facility, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hop in a shower and make yourself presentable before the game.

8.  The Gatorade Bath.

9.  The Pants rule in Golf.  At least wave it when the temps hit 90 degrees or something.  What are they trying to prove?  I’m not offended watching guys play in shorts.  The caddies wear shorts, everyone at the tournament is in shorts.  Give the guys an option.  You could argue that looking at a guy sweat through his pants is equally offensive.  Fight sw-ass.

10.  The $8 beer.  I mean, come on!  We’re in a god damn recession.  Economic stimulus?  How about the government puts a salary cap on beer.  I’m not saying dollar beer night, but a twenty spot should cover a round of four beers.  It’s Miller Lite.  Honestly, I’d rather pay $5 more the ticket than feel like I’m getting gouged every time I buy a beer.

10.

Maybe The Yankees Have Something Right.

A Little Too Much "Look at Me" for My Taste.

We’ll just continue to meander through the Phillies roster, looking at guys who should have a big impact on the 2010 season.  Tonight, I am drawn by the power of the playoff beard to Jayson Werth.  This is what Werth looks like these days, and as someone with an aversion to daily shaving and a tendency to let their hair get a tad long I don’t want to come across like a miserable old curmudgeon here, but the whole look scares me a bit.  I’m thinking, Jayson Werth might be having a little too much fun being Jayson Werth.  Did he come out of his shell, or did he fall in love with his reflection sometime in the last two years?  Let’s take a look at a young Werth in an Orioles uniform for comparison.

Kent Tekulve Jr?

Yes, that is the same guy.  I’m mostly joking here, and kind of hoping Werth cuts his hair, but I do wonder if he did anything this off-season besides fiddle with Norelco attachments.   Much of comfort level with Werth, despite his new style, comes from that this is a contract year for him, and considering he’s never signed a huge deal, this contract is likely going to be the only truly significant one of his career.  He will turn 31 this season, and the deal he’s looking to sign will likely take him through the remainder of his prime.  It is, of course, important to realize that last season was also Werth’s first as an everyday player.  Before he came to Philadelphia he’d never had more than 400 at-bats in a season, and because of injury and circumstance, he truly was a late bloomer.

Werth’s numbers from 2009 don’t leap off the page at you.  He hit a streaky .268 and perhaps most significant was the emergence of his power.  He hit 36 home runs, and by the time the post-season came around it seemed like home runs were about the only hits he got.  His 99 RBIs are low for that kind of power, but the Phillies have a lot of run producers, and last year was an odd season for RBI totals.  Ryan Howard seems to monopolize the RBIs in the middle of the order racking up 141 to Werth’s 2nd best 99.  Four other starters knocked in over 75.  It doesn’t add up to a normal distribution, but the way the Phillies shuffle the order and hit in streaks, odd things are bound to happen.

There isn’t a lot that Werth does wrong.  The .268 shows you can get him out, but he drew almost 100 walks and stole 20 bases.  He plays a decent right field, and his skill set isn’t a common one, all of which points to his finally getting paid at the end of 2010 if he continues to produce.  All signs point to a similar 2010 for Werth.  He may not hit 36 homers, but 30 seems likely and some people think he’s developing 40 home run power.  He doesn’t hit wall scrapers, that’s for sure.  Plus, he’ll be extremely well protected in this line up.  There’s a good chance he’ll be sandwiched between Howard and Ibanez.  There’s worse places to be, and plenty of other shoulders for the pressure to land on.  I think if Werth suffers a drop in production, it’s more likely to come in 2011, after the contract, and when he’s asked to hit 4th for someone.

So, is there any chance the Phillies sign the suddenly hirsute Werth?  I doubt it.  Werth made a few comments about his contract status today, but didn’t really say anything.  And, I’d expect that to the case for most of the season.  Will the Phillies nibble about an extension?  I’m sure, but the talks will go something like this:

PHILLIES:  “How’s 2 years and 18 million sound?”

WERTH:  “No chance in Hell.”

PHILLIES:  “Ok, thanks for the Memories.”

Just way too much committed money already to sign Werth to an extension if he’s productive, so enjoy the hair, and enjoy what’s likely to be his last season in Philadelphia.

To Fight, Or Not to Fight.

Fighting too Ingrained in the NHL?

All it takes is a good International game or two to start the debate.  Is it time for the NHL to get rid of fighting?  It be difficult to argue that a fight would have added anything to the US/Canada game last night.  It had great flow, intensity, and pace even without dropping the gloves.  It was a fast paced game, the type of entertaining action that brings in new fans.  Perhaps true die-hards would have liked to see the gloves drop last night, but if the NHL wants to grow it should probably look into adopting a more International style.  If the NHL wants to hold onto its roots, keep its loyal fan base, and remain a niche sport, well fight away.

I’ll go on record as saying I enjoy a good hockey fight.  They are exciting, they can turn the momentum of the game, and in an 82 game regular season sometimes the fans need a little jump.  That’s the main problem with the comparison to these International games.  First, they’re All-Star teams.  The skill level is going to be higher than a typical NHL game.  Flyers captain Mike Richards is well down the Canadian depth chart, for example.  It’s an exciting style of play when you can roll four All-Star lines.  That wouldn’t happen in the NHL.

Also, this is a short tournament.  The intensity is built in.  If the US played Canada ten times during an 80 game season would each game produce this level of play?  The answer is that it likely would not.  The stakes are incredibly high, you have built-in rivalries between countries, you don’t have to manufacture drama or intensity.  The NHL could surely replicate the International style of play, but I don’t know that they could match the skill level or intensity of these major tournaments.

On the other hand, what is fighting other than a sideshow, really?  I don’t believe the “players policing themselves” argument holds water anymore.  If they outlaw fighting I really don’t think you would have guys running amok out on the ice.  In fact, I think the instigators, the pests, the cheap-shot artists would eventually get weeded out of the league.  I’ve never played hockey, but I think it would be hard to argue at this point that fighting is an integral part of the game.  It seems the effort is being made to weed fighting out of the lower and developmental levels of hockey, and of course the easiest way to accomplish that would be to ban fighting in the NHL.

I guess for fans of fighting, the only question I would have is, why do you see so much less fighting in the playoffs?  And, isn’t is widely known that “playoff hockey” is the best there is.  If we acknowledge that playoff hockey, that intensity level, is the best incarnation of the sport, I don’t understand how you can ignore the lack of a role fighting plays in that.  The NHL is like the NBA, the season is too long to maintain 100% effort for 82 games, and fighting is a nice attraction for your run of the mill regular season game, but I have to wonder if it is really worth it.

Wave of Optimism Crashes over Kendrick.

5th Starter, Douchey Model, You know...Whatever Works Out.

If you sense a little anger in the tone of my caption, it’s likely the result of Chan Ho Park signing with the Yankees.   We certainly will miss Chan’s wild peaks and valleys here.  He got 1.2 million.  Not too extravagant a deal, but I guess he didn’t fit the Phillies plans, and why would he when you have Danys Baez?  The money remains tight, though Johnny Damon squeezed 8 million out of the Tigers, a pretty good haul all things considered.  I suppose he created at least a two-team market for himself, and that probably got him an extra million or two.  Anyway, there is a point to the picture, a point other than showing Kendrick in this regrettable shot with his Survivor fiancée.  I’m not sure why Phillies pitchers gravitate toward reality show contestants, or why any clothing company felt compelled to use Kendrick, but we are here to talk about actual baseball.  Eventually.

It is the time of year to be optimistic.  Everyone’s tied for first as the cliché goes.  Players generally arrive in camp in good shape, we hear of lost weight, injury rehab, and renewed motivation.  The Philadelphia media has been uncharacteristically sunny.  I mentioned a few weeks back that it sounded like everyone was on board with this team, and the trend continues.  So far, the stories we’ve heard have been of Roy Halladay’s work ethic, Cole Hamels off-season rebirth, and now the rose-colored glasses have been pointed at Kyle Kendrick.  For what it’s worth, I did hear from someone who actually saw Hamels throw last week that he does look much better than last year at this point, but I’m going to have to take more of a wait and see approach on Kendrick, before we hand over that 5th spot in the rotation.  And believe me, I want to hand it over.

Kendrick shot to the big leagues in 2007.  He finished that season in promising fashion, but 2008 was highlighted by tremendous run support and diminishing returns.  By Spring Training of last year guys were hanging ropes all over the field off of him, and he looked like a little bit like a one-hit wonder.  Kendrick, not unlike Cole Hamels, was mostly a one-trick pony.  He threw a lot of sinkers, some change-ups, and that’s about it.  He was sent to the Minors last season to build on that repertoire, and by late in the season he was showing an improved variety of pitches and more confidence.

He arrives in camp this season with what Charlie Manuel has called, “A Big-League slider.”  Rich Dubee has been quick to offer praise as well, and throw in the fact that Kendrick is showing up at 5:45 in the morning to work out with Halladay, and he’s become a media darling.  It’s nice to hear that Kendrick is doing all the right things.  He should be a better pitcher than he was last season, but that’s not saying a whole lot.  He can be in as good of shape as he wants, throw as many different pitches as he wants, but he still has to get people out.  That’s what bothers me with Kendrick still, at least until I see otherwise.

I’d prefer Kendrick to Moyer in the rotation, but I’m going to try to rein in the excitement a little bit.  It’s early.  He hasn’t faced a hitter yet.  Let’s wait and see.