Mandatory Grilling Weekend.

Eh, I don't Love the Rims.

I think I am going to get a little bit of a head start of Memorial Day weekend.  No one is around today, anyway.  You have to love the 3 day weekend that gets pushed into a four-day weekend.  It’s the American way.  Anyway, I’m sure everyone is piled in the cars, headed for their favorite vacation spot.  Jersey Shore opening weekend!   See everyone down there (obscene hand gesture).  No, as much as I love a good holiday, and any excuse to char animal flesh on an open fire, Americana has to take a back seat this weekend.  It’s a crowded sports landscape, but above all else, we’ve got Stanley Cup fever.  After 13 years, we finally get to remember what a Stanley Cup Finals game feels like.  Hopefully, it goes a little better this time around.

I put the general, city-wide, sports hexola on Chicago earlier in the week.  When looking at the actual series, you have to get creative to find the Flyers an edge.  When you hear people talk about resiliency, unity, destiny, anything of that nature…it usually means you are on the short end of the talent stick.  When people analyze Chicago they just say they are good.  The Flyers is more like, they have something special going right now.  Which of those is better is a matter of preference, I suppose, but Chicago is probably a full rung or two above any of the competition Philly has faced so far.  They have great scoring, Duncan Keith is every bit as good a Chris Pronger, the team is legit.  Much like last year’s World Series, the Flyers are going to have to figure out how to win this in six games.  I can’t imagine game 7 on the road would end well.  First step, have to split those first two games in Chicago this weekend.  A must.

Speaking of teams trying to avoid game 7s on the road, the Boston Celtics have their biggest home game of the year on Friday night.  They’ve dropped two straight to Orlando, who has apparently changed their strategy to “just give people concussions.”   If you gave Boston this scenario at the beginning of the series, coming home with a chance to close it out, they’d have taken it every time, but you get the sense that some doubt is creeping in for the Celtics.  We’ll see just how good this veteran leadership is, because I think there might be a fan base on the precipice here.  A couple of weeks after the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead to the Flyers, you don’t want to think about it happening again.  What happened to Celts/Lakers?  I thought it was in the bag.

Other Notes:

El Cupo Worldo Preparation Saturday against Turkey.  No, I won’t be at the game, but I’ll be checking the score the next day, count on that.

Indy 500?  Why doesn’t anyone care about Indy racing anymore?  We’re over Danica?  I used to watch the Indy 500 every year.  I don’t know why.  I think it was because I had Al Unser Jr.’s awful racing game for Nintendo.  I’m just kidding, it was awesome.  Huge Unser fan. Michael Andretti can choke on one.

Will the Phillies ever score again?  A ridiculous thought, but then again one more shutout and you might want to get in on the ground floor on this one.  I told you they were never going to score again!  Bad news, we’re getting a lot of 1983 and 1979 comparisons.  Two good teams, one fizzled after a hot start and missed the playoffs completely, the other was prone to offensive droughts and suffered its biggest during the ’83 Series against the god forsaken Orioles.  Closed door meeting didn’t work, I don’t feel great about this team right now.

Hey, John Daly’s quasi in contention.  Be sure to check out his pants this weekend.  Or if you want to see a visually stunning golf course, check out the Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club.  Ben Crenshaw can’t play anymore, but he can sure draw some purdy golf course pictures.

I know the apathy about MMA here, but I’ll give my standard if you happen to be in a sports bar Saturday Night at midnight, look up at the TV.  Rashad Evans vs. Rampage Jackson could be pretty explosive.

I think that’s about it, Happy Memorial Day, all.  Maybe I’ll check in on Monday, but Tuesday for sure will be back to rehash all this.  I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about.

The Baseball Card Market Still Exists.

Who Knew?

Imagine my surprise when I heard a Stephen Strasburg card was going for 16 grand on ebay.  Actually, that’s a little misleading.  When I first heard of this I assumed some guy had listed the card at $16,000, but was going to reel in a grand total of zero bids.  Then I clicked on a link, and what did my eyes see?  Eighty-five bids and counting, and a price north of 16 dimes.  I’ve been out of the game for a while as they say, but I wasn’t aware that there was a new card printed these days that was worth 16 bucks, let alone 16 grand.  But it seems that Bowman’s grand idea, combined with Stephen Strasburg hype has sent the price of this card through the roof.  Strasburg, who has been compared to everyone from Mark Prior to Nuke LaLoosh can now claim a little bit of Honus Wagner territory.

I rode the wave of baseball cards straight into the ground.  Back in the day when my Canseco and Strawberry rookies could have brought me a pretty penny I was a pretty avid collector.  There is something about opening a pack of cards that is oddly satisfying.  It’s not unlike peeling the foil off a piece of candy.  I suppose it still has an appeal for some people, and the guy auctioning off this Strasburg card got it from a regular pack.  That’s good fortune, but then again, anyone still buying baseball cards probably deserves a bit a luck.  I think the majority of my cards have become landfill fodder, but I still have some complete sets, and a binder full of all the cards I thought had potential in 1992.  Apparently I was very high on Phil Plantier.

I suppose I keep them now mostly for nostalgic purposes.  I don’t have nightmares about reliving the whole, “I used to put Mickey Mantle rookies in my bike spokes,” scenario.  One of the reasons those cards are so valuable is because most of them were destroyed or beaten to death by kids who probably got a lot more entertainment out of them than I ever did.  I think I just mostly looked at mine, and checked my Beckett’s guide which was filled with prices you could never get for a card.  The pricing was similar to the Price is Right.  Actual retail price of the grill you just saw at Home Depot for $299….$1100!!!   I remember winning a raffle at a card show when I was a young kid, and I took the Dwight Evans rookie card, whose price I had just looked up, over to another dealer.  He offered me about 10 cents on the dollar. Pretty harsh reality check.

Anyway, this Strasburg card really blows my mind.  I suppose anything that is one of kind has value, but after this auction ends someone is going to join the Nationals as entities heavily invested in the arm of Stephen Strasburg.  I’m going to hold off making a bid, but I might start devising a plan to get that Bryce Harper Bowman Chrome Superfractor (that’s actually what the card is called) in 2011.  Too bad I don’t have the first clue where to buy a pack of baseball cards.

The Basketball Package Deal.

Picture Taken From Coach Cal's Facebook Wall.

A lot of decisions [will be based on] what other players are willing to do and what other guys want to do. So it’s not just a ‘me’ situation here. We all have to look and see what each other is thinking.

That’s a quote from Dwayne Wade in the Chicago Tribune.  It’s paired with a story I’m sure you’ve already seen today that describes how Wade has been in contact with other free agents (Notably LeBron James and Joe Johnson) about their own intentions.  This isn’t necessarily news to me.  Ever since this mega-free agent class materialized there was a thought a couple of the big names could get themselves together and make it a package deal.  Let’s go to (fill in the blank city) and win multiple championships together.  For guys like Chris Bosh and James, who might already be searching for a title, despite their young age, it makes some sense.  It’s also a great reminder of how much power the players have.  Owners, of course, aren’t permitted this type of collusion.

I know the package deal exists elsewhere in sports.  There’s the less talented sibling that gets the scholarship as long as their superstar brother or sister comes along.  High school athletes help recruit their friends, there was the famous story of the AAU team with Erick Barkley, Ron Artest and a couple other guys that were all going to go to St. John’s, but then Elton Brand stiffed them for Duke.  Baseball players call free agents to try to sell them on their city, all of this happens, and yet for some reason, the package deal in basketball just seems so flagrant.  And while I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with it, it bothers me.

I hate the notion of players being closely tied to coaches.  One of Kentucky’s recruits for the coming year said something along the lines that he had told Coach Cal in the 8th grade he’d come wherever he was coaching.  We all remember Dejuan Wagner, Cal’s first big recruit to Memphis, and his father that came along for the ride.  You hear outlandish rumors about a team hiring Coach K, who will then bring in free agents based on the relationships he built with the National Team.  The rumors swirling around the Nets, Bulls and Cavs head coaching positions all appear to have some type of chain reaction in mind.  We hire this coach so we can get this player, which will lead to the next player.  I almost feel like it is a learned mentality in basketball.

I was joking with someone the other day that the NBA should disband its current structure.  If the coaches and players have so much influence, go ahead and give them all the power.  Have them organize themselves into teams, and then they can just sell themselves to whatever city wins the bidding for their services.  So, it’s not the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s the Phil Jackson and Kobe Lakers, who happen to be playing this year in Los Angeles, but in a couple of years they might sell out for Brooklyn, who knows?  Obviously I am blowing things out of proportion, but this is kind of the feeling I get watching the basketball business from afar.

These guys have every right to go where they want, it’s the essence of free agency, and I suppose if they can bring a coach along for the ride, more power to them, I guess it is just a little too mercenary for my taste.  It’ll be interesting to see who ends up where, and if the packages stick together or if ego, greed and money get in the way.  I don’t actually think Wade and LeBron could co-exist, but I could be wrong.  It’s the NBA off-season, always more exciting than the actual games.

Flyers Taking the Heat Off.

Phils Aren't Shading in Many Diamonds Lately.

For the last few years any time the Phillies have been in season, they’ve been the lead story.  Perhaps a one day blip here or there, but Philadelphia has been firmly in the hands of the Phillies.  Or at least it was until the Flyers started the comeback against the Bruins.  Since then we’ve been reminded of a couple of things.  The first is that the core group of Flyers fans is incredibly passionate, and second that passion is very contagious.  You needn’t look any further than the impromptu parade down Broad Street on Monday night to realize how much fun the city is having with the guys in Orange and Black.  It’s a good thing too, because while the hockey team has reached a high water mark, the Phillies have slowly eased into a disconcerting slump.

I wanted to think about what these back to back shutouts meant for a little while before I jumped to any rash conclusions.  My first instinct was to brush it off, but then I hear a stat like they’ve scored in only one of the last 38 innings, and I realize it’s a little more serious than I thought.  The excuses are right at hand.  The Phillies are prone to these short slumps, it happens every year, they had to face back to back knuckleballers.  All of that is true, but it doesn’t make it comforting.  It’s more than the knuckleballers too, the offense hasn’t really done a thing since the first night Pittsburgh was in town.  Not only that, but the starting pitching has been average across the board, and injuries have turned the Phillies’ “American League” style lineup into something unremarkable.  Last night the bottom of the order was Francisco, Valdez and Schneider.  The problems…

Injuries:  We hope this is a short-term issue.  Rollins, Happ, Ruiz, Lidge.  Aside from Lidge, all these guys are key parts to this team, and everyone still hopes that Lidge can contribute in some way.  We’ve got the full gamut here.  Ruiz’s nagging shoulder, J-Roll’s recurring calf strain, and Happ’s lingering arm trouble.  This whole list is expected to be back, although there’s still no time-table on J.A. Happ, but in theory, the Phillies will be healthy again.  The first time Rollins went down, they survived.  So far this time, it’s been pretty ugly.

Hitting Left Handers:  This is a real problem, a problem that’s been around for a few years now.  This year has been particularly bad, and you don’t have to look any further than last night.  That clown the Mets trotted out there wasn’t exactly Sandy Koufax, but the Phils were hopeless.  From struggling against left-handed starters, to being especially vulnerable to situational relievers with the Utley/Howard block in the late innings, this is a real concern.  Does this team have enough right-handed hitters to get the job done?  Here’s another spot where a healthy Rollins helps, but it’s more than that.

The Offense in General:  Since the were almost no-hit by Daisuke, you’d think the Phillies have traveled back in time to the dead ball era.  Despite that, and despite real problems against lefties, the offense isn’t a problem that will hurt them during the regular season.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies turned it around today against Mike Pelfrey.  He’s a guy they’ve had plenty of success off of, and that may continue tonight.  If not, the Phils will have to turn it around against some decent pitching.  A trip to Florida will bring Josh Johnson, and then it’s on to Atlanta to face their staff.

The Starting Rotation:  A real problem.  We’ll give the bullpen a little reprieve, seeing as the Phils can’t even get a lead lately.  The starting pitching, even with no run support for a week, hasn’t been good enough.  From the top, where Roy Halladay is probably suffering from Ubaldo Jimenez envy, to the bottom where Joe Blanton can’t get successfully into the sixth inning, there has to be almost across the board improvement with these guys.  Halladay will be fine, and another good start out of Cole tonight would be a sign he’s possibly turned the corner, but the six innings/four runs club, captained or grandfathered by Jamie Moyer is maddening.  With no immediate signs of help on the horizon, I guess they’re just going to have to pitch better, but part of me hopes that they struggle enough to force a move.  The other day the Phillies pitching line read, Kendrick, Herndon, Baez.  Is that a post-season team?

Ok. Do You Care About the World Cup (That’s Soccer)

Be Honest.

The United States announced their roster for the 2010 World Cup today.  You can get bombarded with World Cup coverage over at ESPN.  I don’t have any comments to make about the roster aside from, 3 goalies?  Really?  If we get to the third string goalie I feel like things aren’t going that well, but what do I know?  It’s not about who is on the team.  It’s not even about who the US is playing really (England, Algeria and Slovenia), the real question is do you care?  And, do you care on a level deeper than looking at hot chicks dressed up as soccer fans?  It’s an interesting case for me, because it’s not like I don’t know anything about soccer (I can make Tab Ramos jokes all day), but I have absolutely no interest in the game on a professional level.  I don’t think the World Cup can change that.  No matter what happens.

The World Cup for me is a little bit like the Olympics.  Spend a month or however long caring about something that doesn’t interest you on a daily basis.  I don’t watch World Cup skiing, but I’m right there for the Olympic downhill every four years.  It’s a once every four years showcase, and then these athletes or teams go back to doing whatever it is they do.   I’d say my knowledge level is pretty similar as well.  I can tune into the Olympics pretty blind, but it helps when you know some of the players.  One thing I can say for soccer is that it has enough exposure that it’s relatively easy to become aware of the superstars.  Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi, these are names you can pick up with a moderate Sportscenter habit or in the case of Ronaldo, a moderate TMZ habit.   A little familiarity always helps.

What does it for me with the World Cup, what always pushes me just across the line of being interested is the patriotism.  It’s the Best of the Best scenario.  Anytime it is Us vs. Them, I can get behind something.  You want to set up log-rolling, Canada vs. The United States, I might have to check that out, no kidding.  The fact that it is soccer makes it a little tricky, because Americans like to master things, and we clearly have not mastered soccer, but we also love underdogs…so it all kind of cancels out.  Because of the patriotism factor, I consider the World Cup one of the acceptable forms of bandwagon jumping.  If the Americans make a run, go right ahead and get fired up.  It’s not really jumping on the soccer bandwagon, it’s more like allowing yourself a little national pride.

I’m going to ease myself into the whole thing.  I don’t know when the games are going to be televised, they are in South Africa after all, and the Americans are going to have to pull me into the fold.  If the United States can’t handle Algeria and Slovenia, well then honestly, I don’t think they are worth my time.  I don’t know anything about Algeria and Slovenia other than that they are Algeria and Slovenia.  I would venture that soccer would be on a short list of sports we’d have a chance of losing to these countries, and if we do lose, I’m out.  No patience.  It’d be just like Bode Miller skiing off into the snow fencing.  Time to change the channel.

Jack Playing Mind Games with Tiger?

Not Sure what the Reference is Here.

Jack Nicklaus has been in a tough position for the last decade.  He’s been constantly bombarded with questions about the inevitability of Tiger Woods besting his record for Major Championships.  Nicklaus is a gracious guy, has always been complimentary of Woods, if not overly effusive with his praise, and I imagine that has to be difficult for someone who is so clearly one of sport’s all-time great competitors.  No one likes to lose, and I would venture to say that Jack likes it less than most people, but if you boil it down, what all these questions are really asking is, what is it going to feel like to lose to Tiger Woods?  To Jack’s credit he hasn’t taken the standard, “records are meant to be broken,” approach.  He has acknowledged that the record will some day fall, but he’s admitted he wants to keep it as long as possible, and has even expressed some regret he didn’t push to make it a little more unattainable.

This year, 2010, has long looked like the year that Tiger was going to remove the last shred of doubt from these proceedings.  Majors at Pebble and St. Andrews looked like sure things, possibly throw in a Masters, and Jack is left in the dust.  Even last year, before Tiger’s struggles, Jack identified 2010 as a swing year in this chase to 19 professional major championships.  I don’t think Jack was projecting all this trouble for Woods, he simply knows from experience that winning tournaments gets a lot harder once you get into your mid and late thirties.  Tiger is coming back next week to play in Jack’s tournament at The Memorial, and Nicklaus has reiterated that if Tiger doesn’t find his form in time to take advantage of the rest of this year’s major tournaments, the record will be significantly more difficult to reach.

I think Jack takes some heat for not conceding, but put yourself in his position.  He’s basically been robbed of the last 6-8 years of enjoying his record, because everyone just looked at him a place holder.  He said time and time again that Tiger has to win them all first, but that got written off as the old guy being not quite ready to pass the torch.  Now it looks like Jack might have had a point.  Tiger is still the favorite to break the record, to reach nineteen and beyond, but it’s hardly a sure thing.  Pretend you’ve never heard of Tiger Woods? How difficult is it to win 5 Majors?  Well, it’s happened a grand total of 18 times in the history of golf.  Tiger at one time made winning majors appear easy, but you could hardly make that case now.  His current game is unworthy of a major, and to assume he’ll flip the switch right back on, may be an error in reasoning.

I guess I just think Jack deserves some credit for his insight.  I think he probably understands the task at hand and the mentality of Woods the golfer better than anyone.  This is why at the Masters after Tiger claimed winning wasn’t priority one, that Jack did everything but roll his eyes.  He said something along the lines of if the record wasn’t important to Tiger than what was he doing playing the Masters?  A simple observation that made a lot of sense.  An easy one for Jack to make, because in Tiger’s shoes he’d want that record, the same way that he wants to hold onto his own.

So while some people may view Jack’s comments as somewhat curmudgeonly, I just think they are honest.  When he says it is going to be difficult for Tiger, maybe we should listen.  And as Tiger struggles to put his game and life back together, I think it’s understandable that Jack might have a little of an, “I told you so,” attitude.  He’d never come out and say that, but for a guy who just wanted the record to actually be broken before Tiger was crowned, I think it makes perfect sense to feel that way.

Biggest No-Brainer in the History of Earth.

Best Thing to Happen to Jersey since they Opened the Claridge.

There’s this great mortgage commercial on the radio I hear every once in a while.  At the end of explaining the entire financial crisis in about 15 seconds, the guy tells you bringing your mortgage business to his company is, “The Biggest No-Brainer in the History of Earth.”  Great ad.  I hope the guy wrote it himself, but he might want to edit his copy, because I think putting the Super Bowl in the new Meadowlands stadium was an even bigger lay-up.  There’s plenty of theories on hosting Super Bowls.  Some think it should never stray from Miami, San Diego, and New Orleans.  Good solid towns, but barring such a short rotation, I honestly don’t see the problem of giving NY/Jersey a shot.  Someone tell me how this can be unsuccessful.

Weather:  We’re talking about weather for the game, right?  Because they already play in cold weather cities.  We’re obviously not worried about holding a Super Bowl Charity Scramble.  I’ll go as far to say that I think a cold weather game is a positive.  First, the whole idea of teams being tailor-made to play indoors, or in warm weather b0thers me.  I also like that a team such as Buffalo, or Green Bay, or Chicago could win home field throughout, and at the end of the line there wouldn’t be a 75-degree culture shock waiting for them in Miami.  What’s the doomsday scenario?  A blizzard?  Well, let’s roll the dice.  Blizzard Bowl has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Destination City:  The Super Bowl is treated like a week-long vacation.  It is my opinion that it should be held in places where people will want to spend some time, places they’d go if the game wasn’t even being played.  By this reasoning, I’d forever nix Indianapolis, Detroit and Jacksonville.  February might not be the best time to visit New York, but it’s still a major attraction as a destination.  So you won’t get a tan, you won’t be able to play golf, I think there are a couple of other ways to spend time in New York.  In terms of places people want to go, I think the New York area is probably long overdue.

Money:  Even if it’s sleeting and 32.5 degrees there’s no way this game could fail.  Not in the way that the league will ultimately measure it, which is dollars and cents.   The game will sell out in minutes, the sponsorships will be no problem, corporate tie-ins until you are blue in the face.  I think the whole New York area is probably going to adopt this game as well, and make it their personal mission for it to be a success.  Call it another way for New Yorkers to aggrandize themselves.

The Chain Reaction:  People might be worried that if you start handing Super Bowls to open-air, cold weather stadiums that every city in the league will eventually want to host the big game.  And, the problem is?  Personally, I’m not sure this would happen, and honestly I couldn’t care less if the Super Bowl ever comes to Philadelphia.  Like I said, the game is an event.  If I ever decide I want to experience it, it doesn’t have to be in my home town.  Now would a Super Bowl work in Green Bay?  Yes, I think it would, to a certain extent.  Much like the US Open will succeed at Merion with fewer ticket sales, and all of that.  It won’t be a cash cow, but one trip wouldn’t hurt.  And places like Boston, Chicago, Philly, Denver…I think they would make great places to host the game.

So, I think this is a good idea, an easy one.