Crosby Hits Forsberg Status.

Ugly Mug Will Probably End Up on a Stamp.

Too much Canada in the end.  The talent advantage that Canada had on paper translated to a razor-thin advantage on the ice Sunday afternoon in Canada’s 3-2 OT win in the gold medal game.   Sidney Crosby scored the game winner.  I don’t know how much bigger a star he could be in Canada, but let’s just say if Canada ever hosts another winter Olympics, I have a pretty good idea who is going to light the torch.  The overtime goal was probably accompanied by a collective sigh of relief in Canada where anything less than a gold would have been a huge disappointment.  It’s a nice final piece of redemption for Canada who earlier in the Olympics were taking some heat for their poor start and “own the podium” program.  They close the Olympics with the most gold medals ever in a single Olympics.

For the Americans, they probably played a better game than they did in victory last Sunday.  Without the shaky Martin Brodeur in net, and without any breaks around the crease, the US had to fight back from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime.  There were still moments when Canada looked a little overwhelming.  A post or two early in the third kept the United States alive, but the shots and chances were far more equal this time around.  Ryan Miller was again tremendous for the Americans, and was named the tournament’s MVP in a silver medal effort.  Considering the limited expectations of the Americans coming in, it was a good tournament for them, despite the disappointing finish.

It was a captivating game to watch, there’s no question.  The intensity and skill level impossible to miss.  I came to the realization that these games are a lot like what would happen in an NBA All-Star game if everyone tried.  It’s hard to think of another major team sport scenario when the absolute best players are playing at this level.  It made for great television, but we still don’t know if the NHL will be back in the Olympics.  There’s been some mixed feelings about postponing the season again for Soshi in 2016.  After watching the game today, it’s hard to see why the NHL wouldn’t want to be involved, but you have to realize that what unfolded in Vancouver was a dream scenario.  At least for North America and the NHL.

Imagine if the final had featured Russia and Sweden?  Interest in North America would have been right around zero.  This is what happened in Torino.  The Americans and Canadians were eliminated early, Sweden played Finland in the final, and no one in the US even batted an eye.  It didn’t give the NHL any good publicity, they essentially stopped the season for nothing.  This year they look like geniuses, but who knows what will happen four years down the road.  Personally, I hope the NHL stays involved.  Simply the chance of having a game like this would be worth it for me.

(No sign of beer or cigars on the ice yet.  These guys would probably get drunk and partied under the table by the women’s team)


Been A While…

Free Mobil (AKA Free Tom's)

I tried to share an anecdote yesterday, and somehow lost the last 90 percent of the post.  Maybe it was a sign.  It might not have been a good story, I don’t know.  I amused myself telling it, but that’s isn’t very hard to do.  Thinking about recreating it right away, I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice.  It might have turned out like Major League 2.  So, I’ve decided to go a different route.  This is part anecdote, part tribute to the fundamental role that a convenience store can play in your college experience.

Nestled in god’s country, aka Lancaster County, F&M is really in a great location for convenience stores.  Wawa, Sheetz, Turkey Hill…you name it, and you can find it in central PA.  I like to think it’s the state’s dedication to processed foods that allows this nirvana to exist.  The closet store to campus, the one within walking distance was T-Hill.  Now, I’ve already shared some great T-Hill stories.  There was the ice container/urinal confusion, the chimmichanga night, T-Hill was a very important place, no doubt.  It was also right next to the beer distributor.  One stop shopping.

Now, originally, a little bit farther down the street, a distance at that time I would have considered not-walkable was a Mobil station.  It started as just a run of the mill gas station, I’m sure they sold jerky and dip, but not whole lot else.  It wasn’t a true convenient market.  Of course, this didn’t hurt its significance.  I went to college with a kid namedThe Swan, and he used his Mobil credit card as currency.  Could he buy beer at the Mobil?  No, but he could trade copious amounts of free gas for cash or goods.  And, since he didn’t ultimately pay for any of this gas, the term “Free Mobil” was born.   I don’t want to make The Swan seem like too much of a brat here, he was far from the only kid walking around with a Mobil card, but no one used it with his panache.

There’s something special about getting something for free when you are in college.  It feels better, I think.  Even if you are one of a bunch of bratty kids at a stuffy liberal arts school, its still a good time.  A friend of mine’s father was actually referred to as “Free Rick”, because he always took us to dinner when he was in town.  It was a nickname that carried the proper amount of revelry, and eventually the term spread to other generous parents.  What a glorious time it was.

I don’t think the concept of “free” really peaked, however, until Mobil complemented their gas station down the street from campus with a Tom’s convenience store.  It remains the only Tom’s I’ve ever seen before or since, but it was something like a 7-11.  It was a little more upscale than the T-Hill, and not only that, but you could use your Mobil card there.  T-Hill doesn’t have credit cards.  At least not to my knowledge, otherwise I’d be piling up half-gallons of ice cream on credit.  The evolution of “free Mobil” to “Free Tom’s” was really something else.

It increased the scope of the bartering system.  You could essentially low-budget grocery shop in Tom’s, and also they always stocked a wide variety of cheap and useless items that looked good to college students, especially those that may have had a beverage or two.  I remember a lot of bad sunglasses being bought at Tom’s.  That might have been their signature item, and I don’t think they would have caught on so swimmingly if the whole “Free Tom’s” culture didn’t exist.  I like to think that Tom’s was specifically marketing to us, stocking their shelves with the kind of crap that idiots like us would find attractive.  It was like they had the light-up yo-yos, and we were the mesmerized people walking by on the sidewalk.  This was only a suspicion of course, until they started selling bb guns.

I can’t think of a more enticing, or more irresponsible thing to stock on the shelves of Free Tom’s.  Really, what were they thinking?  Like a hardware store putting the shovels and sleds out front before a storm, they knew what they were doing.  It wasn’t long before a couple of my friends has secured one.  I think we briefly touched on the story here, but essentially what happened was, they fired the gun across the sidewalk at the building that was right next to ours.  We knew the girls that lived in the apartment that was targeted, and I believe the shot may have been because of a cat in the window.  I don’t remember exactly, but I do know the window unexpectedly cracked under the force of the bb, and the authorities were called.

This of course, led to the police at our front door, and the following legendary exchange:

Cop:  Give me the Gun.

Anonymous:  What gun?

Cop: Give me the Gun.

Anonymous:  Ok.

The bb gun is then retrieved from underneath a sofa.  I’m happy to report that no charges were filed, but unfortunately the bb gun was confiscated.  The real beauty of the situation, though?  A replacement bb gun was simply a quick trip Free Tom’s away.  Thus we arrive at the moral.  The best things in life?  Free.  And, there it is.

Big Day for USA Hockey.

What'd You Expect?

The Canadian women’s hockey team is getting a little heat for their gold medal celebration.  Apparently, long after all the fans had left the barn the Canadian women were still on the ice, taking in the win and downing a couple of beers.  As you can see the odd cigar might have made an appearance as well.  Nothing too alarming, except there are underage players on the Canadian team, and the IOC has gotten themselves in little bit of a twist over the whole incident.  I’m not sure how I condone the celebration without condoning underage drinking, but that’s what I would like to do if I could.  I appreciate the celebration, it shows what it means to the athletes, this is the biggest stage they have.  If the Canadian men win, the party will probably be bigger, but I don’t know if it will mean as much to the NHL stars who make up the team.  But, to even get a chance to celebrate inappropriately, the men’s teams will have to win today.  Canada faces Slovakia, and the Americans take on Finland.  That’s LIVE on NBC at 3 pm.

At first glance, it looks like we are headed toward a US/Canada rematch.  I fully expect the Canadians to hold up their end of the bargain.  I think they got a little spark by steamrolling Russia, and I have a feeling Slovakia will just be more fodder.  Probably important to reiterate that this is the best team in the tournament, despite losing to the Americans earlier in the week.  With Russia out of the way, and Sweden gone, it will either be the Americans or Finns standing in the way of a Canadian gold medal.

What are the Finns brining to the table?  Other than a propensity to double letters?  Well, they have their share of NHL players.  The most notable names, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, are a little past their prime, but a NHL fan will recognize several other names on the roster including goalie Mikka Kipprusoff.  The Finns always seem to come together well in international competition, and they are the defending silver medalists.  The United States gained a lot of notoriety by beating Canada, and they are undefeated in the tournament, but I don’t think there’s a huge advantage for the US on paper.  The United States is a (-190) favorite, but you have to take into account 1) who’s going to bet Finland in the US?  And, 2) The U.S. has all the momentum.  I wouldn’t touch that number…

It would be nice for the Americans win the game, and guarantee a medal.  Even a loss will allow them to play for bronze, but that would be a slight letdown after the way things started.  I think the world is ready for a Canada/US final, and it’d be a great stage for this group of young American players.  Either way, they’ve done fairly well for themselves.  I think most importantly you’re seeing a team effort, and in Ryan Miller they have an advantage in goal for the foreseeable future.  Miller will be needed this afternoon, but if they do end up in the gold medal game, he may have to take his game to yet another level.

So, the chances to watch this intense international hockey are dwindling.  In fact, the Olympics as a whole are winding down, and we’re left with only a couple major events left to be decided.  I guess if you are a bobsled fan, then the best is yet to come, but other than that, the focus is going to be on Men’s Hockey.  The U.S. tries to take one more step this afternoon at three.  Check it out.

Braves Are the Team To Worry About in the NL East.

Braves Farm System Starting to Pay Dividends.

The Big News out of Phillies camp today was the Dominic Brown fouled off a couple of Roy Halladay’s pitches in a live BP session.  So, assuming that doesn’t take long to digest, I thought I take a look at something else.

I get the feeling that some people think the Phillies are a lock to win the NL East again.  Just show up opening day, trip on the top step of the dugout, and wait for October.  It’s hard to be pessimistic.  Three straight division titles, and the competition, especially last year, wasn’t much to be worried about.  Two teams in the division, Washington and New York, are saddled with terrible pitching staffs.  By the end of the season we could be saying Florida has the best player and pitcher in the division with Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, but they don’t have much help down in Miami.  The team that I think can give the Phillies a run, that could see a vast improvement over 2009 if a couple things go right, is the Braves.

There are a couple of reasons for this.   The first being the depth of the starting rotation.  This is a team that traded away Javier Vazquez, but the Braves were sitting on a surplus of starters.  Moving Vazquez saved them some money, and they still have five competent guys to send out there every day.  Now, it’s not a Carpenter/Wainwright type 1-2 for Atlanta, at least not on paper, but Jurrgens/Hanson/Hudson/Lowe/Kawakami is the best rotation in the division in my mind.  With Jurrgens they have a guy that keeps you in every game (he gives the Phillies fits), Hanson has incredible potential, Hudson and Lowe are solid veterans and Kawakami is more than serviceable as a fifth starter, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t improve on his 2009.

Another thing the Braves have working in their favor is a collection of solid everyday players.  You aren’t going to hear the names in the MVP discussions, but players like Melky Cabrera, Brian McCann, Nate McClouth, Yunel Escobar, Matt Diaz, Martin Prado…these are good pieces for a team to have.  It gives them a very versatile line-up, one that will test opposition pitching from top to bottom.  It’s nice to have a guy like Ryan Howard hitting forth, but it’s not necessarily required to produce a lot of runs.

You’re probably thinking I’ve forgotten about Chipper Jones, but we’re getting to that.  I think the final key to the Braves success this season will the performance of a handful of veterans.  The Braves have really reaped the benefits of their farm system and players like Prado, Escobar, McCann and Hanson are the products of that.  The latest guy on the horizon is Jayson Heyward, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball.  A 6-5, 250 pound outfielder, Heyward has risen quickly through the Braves system.  After a couple days he’s been the talk of their camp, with veterans raving about his BP and raw potential.  Adding Heyward’s skill set into the Braves outfield would make them even more dangerous, but it will also make them a young team, one in need of leadership.

That’s where guys like Chipper Jones come in.  Jones is coming off one of his worst seasons, but he still produced a decent OPS, and if he can bounce back slightly from 2009 it should nicely stabilize the Braves’ line-up.  The Braves will be counting on some other veterans as well, most notably Billy Wagner at the back-end of the bullpen.  Wagner gives me some sense of pause, but I think he has one more productive year left in him.  Atlanta will also need a solid season out of one of their veteran starters.  Lowe and Hudson don’t have to be great, but rotations are a fragile thing.  Last June everyone was raving about the Dodgers’ staff and by the playoffs they couldn’t find a guy to start a game.  So, Hudson has to stay healthy and Lowe needs to offer similar production to 2009.

It probably seems like a lot of “ifs” to be touting a team as a division contender, but every team has holes, including the Phillies.  The Phillies are probably the most ill-equipped team in the division to deal with a serious injury.  Yes, the bench still stinks, and we can’t assume injuries, so I think a healthy Braves team could provide a little drama in 2010 thanks to a blossoming core of young players and some veterans trying for a last hurrah.

Mamula’s 15-Year Anniversary.

Wrong Kind of Combine.

Ah, it was a simpler time when Mike Mamula aced the combine and pulled the wool over Philadelphia’s eyes.  Mamula, the beloved and undersized defensive end from Boston College must have been a pretty bright guy.  He did, after all, score 49/50 on the Wonderlic test, but he also knew how to package himself.  Good forty time, check.  More bench-press reps than Tony Boselli, check.  The rest, is six years of undistinguished play and not coming close to living up to expectations as the seventh pick in the draft.  I’m not going to list who was taken after him (Warren Sapp), that’s not the point.  The point is that Mamula used the combine as a trampoline.  For all it may help, the combine can still artificially inflate a player, and send him flying up the draft board.  Vernon Gholston anyone?  Guys can slip as well.  It’s the beauty of combine week, and it’s upon us again.

What do I love about the combine?  Well, first, I love the videos of large offensive linemen running the 40.  They are absolutely hilarious.  I also love hearing about players and the Wonderlic Test.  The Test is kind of a big mystery, and you never know if you can trust the scores or not, but there’s always a wild rumor floating around along the lines of, “Vince Young got a 9 on the Wonderlic.”  I appreciate that kind of stuff.  The Wonderlic Test actually has a pretty interesting Wikipedia page.  Literacy is apparently represented by a score of 10.  NFL players average 20, but they list some other professions as well.  Journalists?  26.  So, nothing to get too excited about, maybe we should cut the NFL prospects some slack.  In my mind, though, I would get a 50.

I suppose the combine could have some impact on what the Eagles end up doing in the draft.  It seems like more and more projections have Taylor Mays slipping to the Eagles.  The safety from USC wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the 20s in last year’s draft, but this season raised questions about his abilities in coverage.  No one wants a safety that can’t cover anyone, and there is even some grumblings about Mays ending up at linebacker.  If he bounces back at the combine, runs a great 4o-time, he may again be out of the Eagles reach.  Of course, if he doesn’t, do you even want him?

Peter King wrote this week about some GMs putting less and less weight in the combine.  They don’t want to be fooled by a couple of numbers.  They’re going to trust the film.  It makes sense I guess, but if a guy can’t run, he can’t run.  With the Eagles in desperate need on defense, I feel like they could fall victim to a workout warrior.  These guys, the Aaron Maybin types pop up every year.  The good news is, the Birds might be far enough down the board that the workout warriors could leap-frog them.  Let other teams snap them up, and the Eagles could end up with a player who has a little more football, a little less bench press.

We’ll see.  Big week for Kiper and company.  Stock rising, stock falling.  Tim Tebow’s new throwing motion.  It’s all good.

Everyone’s Afraid.

No One Wants to Predict A Twenty-Spot.

Ah, the late hours of the inter-web.  Gives you time to do things like scan stat projections for just about every major league starter.  You know, you click a link to see what they think Ryan Howard is going to do this year, and the next thing you know you are voicing skepticism over Matt Weiters’ pr0jections to no one in particular.  It’s like getting lost on youtube.  For me, at least.  Baseball stat projections will be big business in a few weeks while people gear up for fantasy drafts.  I don’t play fantasy baseball, but I’m a huge fan of making projections, so the numbers interest me.  I think for the most part, we get conservative calls.  Thirty-two homers for Prince Fielder, for example.  If I think he’s going to hit 40 do I say 40?  Or, do I say 32?  If he hits 32, and I say 40…I look like a fool.  If it reverses, well, he’s just out-pacing expectations.

The whole business is be conservative across the board, pick 10 guys you think are going to have good years, 10 who are going to have bad years, and roll the dice.  That’s what I would do.  The projection number that has me most interested this season is Roy Halladay’s win total.  The benchmark for a starting pitcher, that number that has always stood out, is 20 wins.  Is he going to win twenty?  Is he a twenty game winner?  These are things people say.  He’s an ace, well then, we should expect 20 wins?  Not necessarily.  Twenty wins no longer that common of an occurrence.

Here’s a list of each team’s last 20-game winner.  It’s another fabulous way to waste a minute, but things pop-out when you look at the list.  The Phillies last 20-game winner was Steve Carlton in 1982.  That’s a long time ago.  The Phils have one of the longest droughts, but we’ve really only seen a sprinkling of 20-win guys in the last ten or fifteen years.  So, we have this standard, 20-games, but last year no pitcher even reached the mark.  Imagine if the Phillies hadn’t had a 100-RBI man since 1982.  The truth is, it’s probably a slightly flawed number.  Just like 25 homers and 100 RBI aren’t what they used to be, neither is 20 wins.  Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young with 15 W’s last season, but it took 141 RBI’s to lead the National League.

All this brings me to Roy Halladay.  You look at Halladay, and he’s certainly an ace, so you start thinking about 20 wins.  Dominate pitcher, coming to an easier league, great line-up around him, why not 20?  Hell, why not 25?  I know I was thinking an easy twenty, but listening to and reading projections, the consensus appears to be 16-18 wins.  Should we be happy with that?  Sure, but why not twenty?  Halladay is a two-time 20 game winner.  He did it as recently as 2008.  The last two years he had 31 and 29 decisions.  He should get about 33 starts.  His average season is 17 victories.  So that’s where the projections are coming from, but I think there’s a little hesitation about heaping too many expectations on old Leroy.  Eighteen will be fine.

Fine, but not what I’m looking for.  And, not what I’m expecting.  I’m not afraid of the 20-spot.  I think Halladay gets there this season, and I’m expecting him to.  All of this is contingent on him staying healthy, but if he does, I don’t see why he can’t go 21-8, 20-10, something like that.  In 2006 and 2007 he lost only 12 games combined, but hit just 16 wins both of those years because of 19 no-decisions.  Roy shouldn’t be looking at 10 no-decisions a year in Philly.  Score for the guy, he wins you twenty.  Not a doubt in my mind.  No need to play it safe with the projections, Roy’s one of a handful of Phils I’m actually not worried about.

Soft Toss: Not Just a Drill.

Why Talk About Cheating and Steroids When You Can Gush Love.

Who doesn’t like Tim Kurkjian?  I mean, who is the only guy who covered Tony Gwynn’s 3,000th hit and played intramural dodge ball with Wade Boggs’s uncle?  That’s right, Tim Kurkjian. But today at  ESPN he produced the following piece/video combo, that in all honesty I had trouble finishing.  It might be the most uncontroversial, love-filled article and interview I’ve ever seen.  McGwire and Pujols spend the entire complimenting each other, and Kurkjian plays the happy mediator, basically making sure they stay on topic, which is, “why are you guys so big and awesome.”  The title alone, “Baseball’s Power Couple”, is enough to turn the stomach.  I don’t expect hard-hitting pieces on McGwire.  He’s not going to say anything about his rampant cheating and law breaking, but I don’t understand why he deserves this treatment.  If McGwire was clean, this would be a great Spring story.  A little Olympic-style fluff, but no harm in celebrating the greatness of Pujols.  As is, I’m left with one reaction, we’re talking about Mark McGwire?

First, I don’t see any reason to believe McGwire will be a great hitting coach.  No, Tony LaRussa saying so doesn’t convince me, and honestly I’m not aware of any correlation between great hitters and great hitting coaches.  This of course gives McGwire the benefit of being called a great hitter, which he really was not.  He was great power hitter, and we now know that some of those power numbers were achieved in a dishonest manner.  I’m sure McGwire loves to talk hitting, misses the camaraderie of baseball, but none of that means he’s going to be a good instructor.  LaRussa brought him back as a favor, as a way to help repair his image.  You can tell me otherwise, but I won’t believe you.

The notion that McGwire is going improve Big Albert’s hitting is absurd.  Hitting coaches make their reputation off great hitters, but their real value is in helping the guys who don’t have so much natural talent.  You want to be the Cardinals hitting coach this year?  I’m sure Pujols will do just fine with you at the helm.  To McGwire’s credit he acknowledges the fact that there isn’t much work to do with Albert.  No kidding.  He even mentions that Pujols is helping him learn, and then they go back and forth complimenting each other.  Pujols is perhaps the nicest guy in baseball, so obviously he’s going to sit there no matter what and say he’s excited, and McGwire’s the perfect fit, and all this other nonsense.  We’ll see.  The hardcore hitting tips from Big Mac in the interview?  Something along the lines of, he believes in hitting down on the ball, but also through the ball.  Oh, wow.  Someone call the patent office, Big Mac just reinvented the wheel.  Down and through.  There goes the “Come up and out of It” school of hitting.

Probably the last straw for me was the tales of Big Mac getting back in the cage.  Not sure if they popped the “Glory Days” cassette into the boom box for this session, but apparently Big Mac can still hit plenty of batting practice homers.  That’s great, and Jack Nicklaus can still pipe a drive past 99.9% of the population and he’s seventy.  Here’s a tip Big Mac, save the BP swings for the guys that are on the team.  You had your day.  Remember the career you prolonged with years of PED use?  Just stand by the cage, flex your forearms, and keep spitting gems like, “hitting is 98% mental”.   Great.

I don’t know if Big Mac is going to do a decent job or not.  The point is, he’s a fraud, and I don’t care if he succeeds.  He doesn’t deserve praise, especially from a real baseball guy like Timmy K.