Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fort Myers to Japan to LA to Oakland to Toronto...

Well, this certainly goes down as the most bizarre start to a baseball season, eh? The Sox played two games that count in Japan, then flew to LA to play three games this weekend that don't count, and then they start up again for real this week in Oakland. For a sport where the players are known to be highly superstitious about their routines, this has to be killing them.

The Sox ended up splitting against the A's in Tokyo, as Rich Harden showed he's back to form with a strong performance in Game 2. This weekend, they play the Dodgers - who are celebrating their 50-year anniversary of the move from Brooklyn to LA - and the second game is being played in the LA Memorial Coliseum, a venue that is more linked with famous football games. Think USC Trojans, O.J. Simpson, circa 1968 or so.

The game in the Coliseum could have a circus-like atmosphere. The Dodgers are hoping to attract more than 100,000 fans to the game and there will be a 60-foot high wall in left field only 200 feet from home plate. Can you imagine Manny playing the caroms?

Let's see - what else is going on...

Oh yeah, remember how I said the two teams I'd be following during the sports dead zone were the Celtics and the UNH Wildcat men's hockey team? Well, one of those teams is flying high, and the other is flying home. The Celtics have been on an amazing run lately, pretty much having their way with any good team in the league. Their magic number for clinching first in the East is now at 4 games. UNH, meanwhile, not so good. They lost a heartbreaker to BC in the Hockey East playoffs, got sent to Denver as the No. 1 see in that region for the NCAA tournament, and promptly went out and laid a gigantic egg, losing in embarrassing fashion to Notre Dame, 7-3.

As for March Madness - the surprise team so far has been Davidson and their star shooter Stephen Curry, who's averaging more than 30 a game. They've taken down Georgetown and Wisconsin in their last two games. The #1 seeds - North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis, and UCLA - are all still breathing. Of those four, I think UCLA's got the best chance to be in the championship game. Two other teams that flew under the radar but have impressed thus far are Louisville and Texas. The Longhorns may actually be better in the post-Kevin Durant era.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Land of the Rising Sun, Indeed

Merry Christmas, Sox fans. The boys opened up the 2008 campaign in Tokyo this morning with a rousing 6-5 victory in extra innings over the A's. Brandon Moss of all people hit a huge game-tying homer in the top of the 9th and then Manny broke a 4-4 tie in the 10th with a 2-run double. Some nervousness in the bottom of the 10th but Papelbon squeezed out his first save.

All in all, a pretty interesting event, this Opening Day in Tokyo stuff. The Sox - for all their jet-lag kvetching and the threatened boycott over coaches' pay - seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves in Japan, at least from the TV footage I've seen. The fans go nuts of course whenever Dice-K or Hideki Okajima are involved. The Tokyo Dome has beer girls who walk around the park with little kegs strapped to their backs, and the PA inexplicably plays the theme song to The Jetsons on every foul ball. "His boy Elroy..."

Dice-K turned in his usual inconsistent performance, struggling early but then finding his groove in his last three innings. He left with a 3-2 lead after five, giving up 5 walks and striking out 6. Maybe he got a case of the homeland jitters.

In any event, the Sox are perfect on the young season and we'll do this crazy Japan thing all over again tomorrow morning. After that, it's off to Los Angeles (weirdly) for three exhibition games this weekend before the real games come back for good on April 1 against these same A's.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Country for Poor Men

Lots of things kicking around today. The Sox made news over the last 24 hours with their "boycott" on the Japan trip to start the season. Evidently, each player is getting a $40,000 stipend for the trip, and the coaches, trainers, equipment guys, etc., were supposed to get the same. At the last minute, though, MLB - that cash-starved organization - took the extra stipends off the table. This prompted the Sox to issue a public threat that unless MLB paid up, they weren't going to Japan. They even delayed their last Florida game today with Toronto until the issue was resolved. Of course, Bud Selig, not wanting to anger bazillions of Japanese baseball fans, caved in. As he should have. Has to make the Sox coaches feel good that the players have their backs.

Switching over to hoops, how about those Celtics?!? They're down 22 Monday night to San Antonio and they come back to win. Then last night they're in Houston, playing against a team that has won 22 straight games, and they hand out a thorough beatdown. Final score, Boston 94, Houston 74.

I'm trying not to get too excited about the prospects for banner 17, but when you see performances like this against the iron of the league, it's hard not to have confidence. The defense this team is playing - led by KG - is just stifling. We've reached the point where if the C's aren't in the Eastern Conference finals, it'll be a major letdown. Celtics-Lakers, anyone? How friggin' fun would that be?

Monday, March 17, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

Happy St. Pat's Day. Haven't posted for a while, so thought I'd do a little around the horn update on the four pro teams in town.

RED SOX: Josh Beckett and his ailing back are getting better, but the ace (wisely, it says here) will not be making the trek to Japan with his teammates. Instead, the Opening Day starter on March 25 against the A's will be Daisuke Matsuzaka (whose wife delivered their second child early) and Jon Lester will throw Game 2. It's a week from tomorrow, kids.

In other Sox news, the team cut the cord with Doug Mirabelli last week, opting to keep Kevin Cash around instead for less money and a similar pathetic batting average. Jason Varitek was none too pleased, but something tells me he'll get over it. The lasting memory of Dougie will always be his celebrated police escort to Fenway in May 2006 right before a Tim Wakefield start against the Yankees. That was also the night, incidentally, that Johnny Damon returned to Boston in pinstripes. Don't cry for Dougie, though - the man should kiss the ground every day for how long he's lasted with so little.

It's been pretty tranquil in Fort Myers otherwise. Something tells me the Dynamic Duo is going to be in full force this year - with Big Papi feeling healthy after knee surgery and Manny playing for another four-year contract.

CELTICS: Lucky the Leprechaun's team encounters its toughest four-game stretch of the season beginning tonight, with road games against the iron of the West: San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and that team from the Old Wild West, New Orleans. The Rockets have incredibly won 22 straight ballgames, including 10 since Yao Ming's season-ending injury. These games should be fun - and they're a good measuring stick to see what the C's postseason chances might be. Ray Allen (ankle) will be a game-time decision tonight.

PATRIOTS: All's quiet on the Foxborough front. Every other couple days, a Spygate story pops up, they're getting closer to a deal, blah, blah, blah. This thing's going to die a slow, painful (for ESPN) death, and I can't wait to see how the mainstream sports media handles it. Been thinking some about Coach Bill, and how a guy is defined by the types of friends he has. Bill's got some pretty slimy pals - starting with Nick Saban and Tony La Russa, who's currently hosting BB at Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida.

BRUINS: As expected, the UCLA Bruins will be the first seed in the West Region of the NCAA men's tournament, which begins in all its glory this week. No update available on the Brown University (RI) Bruins.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hump Day

It's a bit of a quiet time on the sports front right now, what with March Madness starting to percolate and spring training baseball underway. We don't typically veer much off the sports map here at HH, but I've just got to add my two cents on this stunning Eliot Spitzer saga.

I mean, how stupid can you be? For a guy who went to Princeton and Harvard, his idiocy (Belichickian arrogance?) is absolutely breathtaking. Evidently, Spitzer hasn't seen the best show on TV, which is all about using wiretaps to put criminals behind bars. Don't know if he's headed there, but he is all done politically for the rest of his living years. Will be interesting to see what his wife's next steps are too. She's a pretty good looking lady, who looked awfully friggin' pissed off at today's news conference. I mean, can you imagine the embarassment - on a national and world level?!? There's no way she stays with him.

Getting back to sports, the big, beat-it-thoroughly-into-the-ground non-story of the week has been the status of Josh Beckett's back. Supposedly, it's not a major thing but it may be enough to keep Beckett stateside when the team travels to Japan in a couple of weeks to open up the season against the A's. Long flights are not good for sore bones, and most would agree that it's best to leave the ace home. Daisuke Matsuzaka is also iffy for the trip (which would no doubt disappoint his legion of Japanese fans) because his wife is due to deliver a child around that time. What are the odds Manny gets on the plane to Japan?

After much deliberation, I've decided to hold onto Tulowitzki ($1), Hart ($1) and Bedard ($10 in my auction draft. I knew you'd want to know. The decision to keep Tulo was made a little easier by the fact that he's the best available SS after others that are being kept on other teams (Reyes, Rollins, Hanley). Still, I hear that Magglio's on fire this spring and I'm tempted. (By the way, is Boston-Detroit in the ALCS too easy a prediction? How about my yearly wish for a rematch of the '86 World Series?

And finally, how about a little CZJ? Can't believe she's married to that old wrinkle-bag Michael Douglas. Viva la Catherine!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday Odds & Ends

Didn't want to let too much more time pass before I posted this awesome shot of Big Papi riding in a police sidecar during the team's visit to DC a couple weeks ago. Classic.

Incredible story of the golfer who hit an endangered hawk. Guy was annoyed with the constant chirping, took a swing, and got (un)lucky. Reminds me of a story from way back, when Bobby Jam saw a plump little gopher crossing the fairway, took out a low iron, and whoommmmmmmppp. Will never forget that sound. I think the gopher lived to laugh about it.

As usual, Bob Ryan is dead on with his column today about the over-the-top reaction to Brett Favre's retirement. Favre's Hall-bound, but he's never been a candidate for the Mount Rushmore of QB's.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Tom Verducci explores whether a certain sidecar-riding DH will be Cooperstown material some day.

Roger Goodell's announced intention to crack down on league-wide cheating/spying will add fuel to the fire of those of us who've been saying all along that a lot of teams are involved in this activity. Not saying it's right, but it is what it is. If 'Spygate' goes nowhere - and it's been pretty quiet for a while, much to the irritation of ESPN the Tabloid - I hope Bob Kraft files a massive defamation/libel lawsuit.

I need your help. I'm in a three-keeper fantasy baseball league and my candidates for keeping are Ichiro ($29), Corey Hart ($1), Magglio Ordonez ($8), Troy Tulowitzki ($1), and Erik Bedard ($10).. Which three would you hold on to? Right now, I'm thinking Maggs, Bedard and Hart, but I'm waffling...

Oh, and one more thing. I love me some Scarlett, but I've always been partial to Cherize. Look at those teeth.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Where's Johnny Most When You Need Him?

They're not exactly the bad boy Pistons of Chuck Daly, Rick Mahorn, and Bill Laimbeer (otherwise known as McFilthy and McNasty to Johnny), but last night's much-anticipated game between the Celtics and Detroit brought those sweet memories flooding back. If you listened to the games on the radio back then, good ol' Johnny had you convinced that Mahorn and Laimbeer should be locked up for first-degree murder.

But onto the current state of affairs. In case you hadn't noticed, our Boston Celtics are very much for real, and look like the odds-on favorite to be top dog in the East as they continue to battle it out with the Pistons.

Last night's game at the Garden was a close one throughout, with the C's pulling away in the fourth quarter thanks to some tenacious D and Mr. Garnett simply taking over. Final score was 90-78, and believe it or not the Celts are the first team to clinch a playoff spot. My, how things have changed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Moss Back in the Fold - Can He Play Corner?

Well, I'll be damned. A professional athlete - one with a somewhat checkered past no less - actually kept his word. After a record-breaking year, after all the praise for the Patriots organization and especially Tom Brady, after repeatedly saying that he wants to retire a Patriot - Randy Moss had an open window where he was free to leave for bigger bucks. And he chose to stay.

This despite the breathless reports on ESPN the Tabloid that Moss had talked with former teammate Daunte Culpepper about offering themselves as a dual package for some team. Or that Moss might be headed to Dallas. Once again, ESPN was wrong. Moss and the Pats finally reached a deal on Monday that will pay the receiver $27 million over three years. In the end, not only did Moss stay in Foxborough, he solidified himself as a Team First guy by taking less dough than he could have gotten in these crazy days of free agency. I also like how the first thing he said about re-signing was 'We've got some unfinished business to take care of." His most prominent suitor was the Philadelphia Eagles...

... who also just happened to pluck Asante Samuel away from New England for a tidy 6-year, $57 million deal. I knew Asante was gone the day I read a story that said he had a tattoo that said 'Get Paid.' Really, isn't that all you need to know? I don't begrudge the man one iota for getting paid, but I'm also not heartbroken over the loss. Maybe it's the blind faith that I have in the Belichick/Pioli machine, but I think they'll be fine. Moss was the guy they absolutely, positively had to re-sign and they got it done, albeit with a little nail-biting.

The question now is who the hell is going to play cornerback. Not only did the Pats lose Samuel, they also parted ways with Randall Gay, who signed a rich deal with New Orleans. They'll probably sign a few serviceable veterans over the next month or so, and then the NFL Draft will be here in April. Some pundits like this kid Talib from Kansas, but I'm hoping they grab Vernon Gholston, the linebacker from Ohio State. They need to get younger at that position, and fellow Buckeye alum Mike Vrabel would no doubt be a great mentor.

Come to think of it, this is why the NFL has so much money to pay these guys. We're talking football when spring training is going on.

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