Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Extra Butter On That Popcorn Please!

I love a good baseball movie and I'm totally stoked about this one!  

The film is "Trouble With The Curve" and it stars the coolest guy ever, Clint Eastwood.  I know for certain that I, as well as audiences everywhere, will not be disappointed because Clint Eastwood does not make a bad movie.  He doesn't know how to.  It's just not in him.  Ok, once again I'm being a total homer and as you can tell, Clint is my absolute fave.

In "Trouble With The Curve" Clint portrays an aging and ailing baseball scout.  He's at the end of his career and he takes his daughter along on one last recruiting trip.  The film also features Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and Robert Patrick.  Atlantans may see some familiar sites on the screen as the movie was filmed in and around Atlanta, Athens, Macon, Dawsonville and Young Harris. 

The film opens on September 21st.  Here's a preview!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Power Shift?

It's being called the biggest trade in the history of the game.  Over the weekend the Boston Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  In return, the Dodgers sent James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands to Boston.

This is an intriguing trade and it shows two very different schools of thought.

The Dodgers immediately strengthened their team but they also took on $260 million in salary debt. That is absolutely massive!  The new ownership team is making a bold statement to both their fan base and all of baseball.  They want to win, they want to win now and money is no object.  Ownership wanted to assemble a better team and they were aggressive.  They're certainly taking some chances but as Braves fans know, Dodgers team President Stan Kasten knows a thing or two about building a winning franchise.  And don't forget, in addition to the players listed above, the Dodgers also recently picked up Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino.  How will the Dodgers absorb all of this debt?  A good chunk of it will be taken care of when they re-up their television contracts.  I've heard the team referred to as "Yankees West" and I don't think that moniker is too far off. 

On the other coast, the Red Sox have totally blown up their team.  They are, in essence, starting with an almost clean slate.  The changes began in the off season, from the top on down.  A new GM and manager weren't enough to create a better atmosphere or a winning team.  Boston fans have to be shell-shocked.  I don't think the city will see the glory of the 2000's for quite some time and I'm certain that that won't sit well with them.  All this said, in everything I've watched, heard and read, GMs from both leagues almost unanimously agree that the Red Sox got the better end of this deal.  They freed up hundreds of million of dollars and have now gained the ability to be very active on the free agent market in the upcoming off season.  Maybe Boston won't have to wait as long as I thought for their turn around.

In digesting all of this, I was struck by one incredible comparison.  During the last month of the 2011 season, both the Red Sox and Braves had massive, unimaginable meltdowns.  It's truly fascinating to compare how each organization responded to their catastrophe.  With the steady and calm resolve that the Atlanta front office is known for, there didn't seem to be any signs of panic or knee-jerk reactions.  I'm not staying that it was all rainbows, fluffy clouds and unicorns.  In fact, I'm fairly certain that behind closed doors there was a lot of anger and yelling going on.  But then I also know that the Braves are right back in the playoff hunt again this year.  And that's how I know that the Braves reacted in the right way.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Go Blue!

Baseball umpires are a nameless group.  That's how it's suppose to be.  They're an impartial group of men who enforce the rules of the game while blending into the background.  Most folks, even those who love baseball, can rarely call an ump by name.  If they can, it's usually because of something negative, a blown call, an odd strike zone or the memory of a favorite player or manager being tossed. 

Jim Joyce has been a major league umpire for 24 years.  In a 2010 poll, the MLB players named him the best umpire in the game.  He's umpired in two World Series, three League Championship Series and six Division Series.  Yet, what he's most famous for, or perhaps infamous for, is a blown call.  A call that cost Tiger's pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in the 2010 season.  After watching a post-game replay, Joyce knew he blew the call and the enormity of what he had cost the player.  Joyce immediately went to the Tigers locker room and apologized to Galarraga.  Galarraga said he had no ill feelings toward Joyce after he acknowledged missing the call and apologizing. 

Now, perhaps Jim Joyce will be remembered for something so much better. 

Last Monday night, Jim Joyce was credited with saving the life of a game-day food service employee at Chase Field in Phoenix.  Joyce and his crew had just arrived at the ballpark and were headed to their dressing room when they saw Jayne Powers on the ground having a seizure.  Joyce rushed over to help, protecting Powers' head.  Suddenly the seizure stopped and Joyce could tell that Powers had stopped breathing.  He began administering CPR, a skill he learned in high school.  Jeff Urgelles, the Marlins bullpen catcher and a former firefighter and paramedic was called and assisted Joyce.  Paramedics arrived moments later, twice using a defibrillator while Joyce continued CPR.  Powers was rushed to the hospital.  Doctor's have installed pacemaker and she is already recovering at home.

Joyce and his wife had a very emotional visit with Powers in the hospital on Tuesday.  Although Powers memories of the incident are hazy, she did remember the sound of Joyce's voice.  As for his actions, Joyce said instinct took over.  "I knew something was wrong," he said. "And I knew if something wasn't done, this lady could actually die in front of me.  It was more instinct than anything else."

That was one head's up play Jim Joyce.  For certain, you are one true, blue angel.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Matt York

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Frustrated Incorporated

I'm a half-full person.  I like to stay on the sunny side of things.  I'm a realist but I always try to look for the positive in each and every situation.  I always think that something better is just around the corner.  Tonight, I hope to God that it's a Braves win over the Nationals.  Or even just some hits.  Ok, I know that didn't sound very positive.

The Braves have frustrated the bejeezus out of me for the past two nights.  This is the proverbial crunch time.  These are games that need to be won.  Games that must be won.  So much ground can be made up by beating the Nats.  Yet, as it's been since their inception, the Nationals have the Braves number.  The Braves can't seem to win against them.  And now these losses matter more than ever.

What do I really want to see?  I want to see Dan Uggla and Brian McCann hit the freakin' ball. 

Last night, in the top of the ninth, the Braves had Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman on the corners with no outs.   Dan Uggla was due up, then Brian McCann.  Half-full me, sitting on the couch, knew that the game would be on the line with Juan Francisco at the plate and two outs on the board.  Yep, I was right.  And I'm certainly not bragging about being right.  More than anything, I wanted be totally wrong.  I wasn't.

Dan Uggla is hitting .208 and he's been slumping at the plate since before the All-Star break.  I haven't called him out because he's been consistent in the field.  He's made some absolutely stellar plays and he hasn't made excuses for himself during his slump.  That said, let's remember, Dan Uggla is paid to play both defense and offense.  Mr. Uggla, we want some offense.  Now.

Brian McCann is hitting .229.  His offensive slump has been going on since last August.  I appreciate everything about Brian McCann but his lack of production is wearing on me.  The rest of my comments?  Just read what I wrote for Dan Uggla.

When the wheels came off last September, every player except one seemed to slump.  Chipper Jones was that one player who brought it every night.  He did his best to carry the team but one player can only do so much.  This year, there are other players, along with Chipper, who are contributing.  Mr. Uggla?  Mr. McCann?  Care to join in?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Can It Be Any More Storybook?

It's just a bobblehead.  A knick-knack.  A dust collector.  Something for the kids.  Last night it was different.  It was a Chipper Jones bobblehead, given away during his final season.  How could you not go to the game?  And how could you not expect more magic?  I was there.  I expected magic.

I know I sound like a total homer.  I know I write about Chipper a lot.  Here's the deal.  I know what I'm seeing and I'm appreciating it in the moment.  I'm not going to be one of those people looking back and then, after the fact, realize how fortunate I was.  I totally get it now and I want everyone else to do the same.

Thursday afternoon had fans arriving early, not a common occurrence at Turner Field.  The boxes of bobbleheads were stacked high and people were lined up at the gates before they opened.  There was extra excitement in the air and a whole lot of energy everywhere.

So when the man of the hour stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the first inning, there were hopes that he'd give fans something special that night.  He did.  On a 3-2 count, Chipper hit a Jason Marquis slider over the right field wall.  Atlanta fans are pretty laid back but this home run made the ball park erupt.  It even rattled Chipper.  It rattled him to the point that once back in the dugout, his hands were shaking and he spilled a cup of water all over the front of his jersey.  Then a curtain call.

In his third at bat, Chipper took Jason Marquis deep once again.  That hit was hit number 2,700 of his career, placing him at number 32 on the all-time hit list, just ahead of Dave Winfield.  A milestone hit and it was, of course, a home run.  It just had to be. 

The Braves do it right.  The music from "The Natural" played as Chipper rounded the bases.  The milestone was marked on the massive BravesVision screen.  And after high-fives and hugs from his teammates, the man of the hour was pressed into a second curtain call. 

Is there a Hollywood script writer hiding somewhere deep in the bowels of Turner Field, cranking out magical storyline after magical storyline for Chipper Jones?   I swear there has to be.  This can't be real.  But it is.

Chipper's first HR of the game.  Photo courtesty of me!

The Braves won 6-0 over the Padres with stellar performances all the way around.  Kris Medlen's pitching was nothing short of brilliant!  He's 4-1 and there is absolutely no way that he can be put back into the bullpen.  We'll see what happens with this six man rotation but I think it will be Mike Minor who's pushed out of a starting role.

Great glove work in the field came from Paul Janish, Chipper, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman.  Paul Janish's sliding fielding play to throw out Carlos Quentin's in the top of the ninth was amazing!  What a smooth move by Frank Wren to bring him in.

Jason Heyward's home run in the bottom of the third was his 20th of the season.  He hit 18 homers in his first season and 14 last year.  Jason has definitely left 2011 far behind him. 

This was Chipper's 40th multi-home run game and his first since 2009.  He has the second most multi-home run games for a switch hitter in baseball history, just behind Mickey Mantle's 46.  Chipper now has 466 career home runs.  He is the fifth Braves player to a have a multi-home run game at the age of 40 or older.  He's certainly in fine company!  Babe Ruth (1935, 3 HRs), Hank Aaron (1974), Darrell Evans (twice in 1989) and Julio Franco (at age 46 in 2005).

High-Five Brenda!

One of Atlanta's local television stations aired an interview with Braves third baseman Chipper Jones yesterday morning.  Truthfully, I don't always enjoy interviews with superstar athletes when they're done at the local level.  The interview sometimes gets a bit cheesy.  Not this one. 

WXIA's Brenda Wood asked some great questions, nothing earth shattering but good questions nonetheless.  From his baseball heroes, to sacrifice and personal failings, to his tattoos, life after baseball and what he'll miss most, Chipper was extremely honest and open.  He seemed very at ease.  I hope all of you enjoy this as much as I did.

Video courtesy of WXIA TV / 11 Alive

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Highs & Lows

The High:

Congratulations to the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez for throwing a perfect game yesterday.  King Felix pitched masterfully, showcasing his exquisite command of each pitch in his vast and lethal arsenal, reminding us once again why he's one of the elite pitchers in today's game.  He threw 113 pitches, 77 for strikes, and he struck out 12 batters.  In a season that's already been dubbed the year of the pitcher, this is the third perfect game we've seen.  That's in addition to six no-hitters.  With six weeks left in the season I wonder what else is on tap? 

As for the Tampa Bay Rays, they were on the losing end of this one.  The Rays have been in existence for 15 seasons.  In that short time, they've had three perfect games thrown against them and been no-hit five times.  Sorry Jenna.
Photo courtesy of Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Low:

Melky Cabrera.  Suspended 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance.  In essence, he's out for the rest of the season.  Melky had seemingly turned his game around this year.  Now we may know how.  He was having an MVP calibre season, batting .346 with only Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates hitting better.  He was also named MVP of the All Star Game.  The Giants are in the midst of a firey division race, only one game back of their bitter rival, the Dodgers.  Cabrera's selfishness has not only dealt his team a major blow but he has, no doubt, cost himself financially on the open market as he is a free agent at the end of the season.  In hindsight, maybe this explains Melky's bush league antics when the Giants were in Atlanta.  'Roid rage perhaps?  Either way, what a dope.

Melky doesn't deserve a photo.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

High Sock Huddy

Tim Hudson hasn't worn his socks high since his days at Auburn and early on in the minors.  Last night, he said he was trying to tap into the fountain of youth by wearing them high once again.  Those socks certainly worked their mojo as Huddy pitched a stellar game and led the Braves to a 6-0 win over the Padres.  Add that to a Nats loss and the Braves are 4 1/2 back in the east.

At 37 years old and pitching in his 14th season, Tim Hudson looks anything but old.  He may have a cranky ankle (not a cankle!) that barks at him every so often but if you look at the numbers Tim Hudson is, without a doubt, the most underrated pitcher in baseball.  Braves fans know it.  A's fans know it.  My friend Julian knows it.  What about everyone else?

Huddy came back strong after his 2008 Tommy John surgery and he's had just as strong a comeback from back surgery this past off-season.  His stats so far?  In 2012 Tim Hudson is 12-4 with a 3.59 ERA, opposing batters are hitting just .241 against him.  He's pitched 128 innings in which he's struck out 79 batters and walked only 35.  He's pitched one complete game and has three shutouts.  Huddy got his 100th win as a Brave versus Houston earlier this month, a team he's never lost to.

Career numbers? 

Tim Hudson is 193-101 with a lifetime 3.41 ERA.  Opposing batters have hit .248 against him.  He's pitched 2,631.1 innings and struck out 1,778 batters.  He's walked 797 batters, 75 of which were intentional.  He's tossed 25 complete games and 13 shutouts. 

How do these numbers compare with his contemporaries?  Let's see.  And since Tim takes such pride in his hitting, I tossed batting averages in there too.

                                      W-L          ERA         # Seasons       BA / At Bats
Tim Hudson         193-101      3.41              14             .169 / 467
CC Sabathia         188-99       3.52              12             .238 / 105
Roy Halladay        194-98       3.25              15             .130 / 238
Roy Oswalt          163-95        3.27             12             .152 / 651
Andy Pettitte       243-141       3.87             17             .139 / 194
Kevin Brown        211-144      3.28              19             .129 /  495
Kurt Schilling        216-146      3.46              20             .151 / 773
Chris Carpenter    144-92        3.76             14             .118 / 433

After comparing the numbers, you have to agree.  Whether the socks are high or low, Tim Hudson is the most underrated pitcher in baseball today. 

Photo courtesy of AP Photos/John Bazemore


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Olympic Games, My Highs And Lows

Hat's off and a huge hip hip huzzah to London and all of Great Britain for hosting a truly spectacular Olympic Games.  I always enjoy watching the games, though often I end up feeling like a big underachiever!  I'm sad that the games are winding down but it will be nice to catch up on some sleep.  Here are some of my thoughts and musings.

My number one highlight is Oscar Pistorius, the amazing track athlete from South Africa.  He represents the courage, strength and determination of the Olympic spirit.  What an inspiration!

On the heals of Oscar is Grenadian sprinter Kirani James.  Not only did he win Grenada's first Olympic medal, a gold in the men's 400 meters, but he too showed true Olympic character.  Just after winning his semifinal heat, James approached Oscar Pistorius, hugged him and asked him to exchange bib numbers in a wonderful sign of admiration and respect.   

Photo courtesy of NBC

Manteo Mitchell showed amazing strength and courage as he completed his leg of the men's 1600 meter relay semi-final with a broken leg.  I can't even imagine the pain.  He was replaced in the finals by Bryshon Nellum, an athlete who's career almost ended three years ago when he was shot in both legs in a random act of violence.  He will carry the American flag in the closing ceremony.  Usain Bolt showed tremendous respect for a nation unknown to me.  He stopped a reporter's interview when he realized a medal ceremony was in progress.  He stood silently and then resumed the interview when the nation's anthem had ended.

Michael Phelps.  Can I say anything that hasn't already been said?  He became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time at these games.  Eighteen gold medals, two silver and two bronze in a career that spanned four Olympic games.  His name will always be included with our greatest Olympic heroes.  Owens, Didrikson and Thorpe to name a few.  We also saw the depth of talent in the pool (pun intended) with amazing performances from Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, Allison Schmitt, Nathan Adrian, Dana Vollmer, Cullen Jones and 15 year old newcomer Katie Ledecky. 

We saw the final match of a powerhouse duo that was truly unbeatable.  Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won gold medals in women's beach volleyball in three consecutive Olympic games.  What a way to close the book on their career together.  It's so hard to envision Kerri playing with anyone other than Misty.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

The women's gymnastics team provided the United States with emotional highs and lows.  The team achieved something none of its predecessors were ever able to accomplish, the team gold medal as well as gold in the women's all around.  In doing so, Jordan Wieber broke our hearts, Gabby Douglas stole our hearts and McKayla Maroney embarrassed us with her display of poor sportsmanship. 

We met athletes from non-marquee sports.  Terrence Jennings won a gold medal in tae kwon do.  What inspired him to try the sport when he was a child?  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  We met women's diver Brittany Viola, the daughter of former MLB player and World Series MVP Frank Viola.  We witnessed the agony of Morgan Uceny, who fell during the women's 1500 meters.  Our hearts hurt for her as she sobbed and pounded her fists on the track.  Her dreams shattered in a second.  Georgia's own Reece Hoffa, given up for adoption when he was four years old, always speaks lovingly of both his moms.  His "B-Mom" the biological mother who gave him up so that he could have a better life and his "A-Mom" his adoptive mother who was sitting in the stands, cheering him on.  Reece won a bronze medal in the shot put, his first medal in his third Olympic games. 

Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee/USA Today

Team GB has had a brilliant showing in these games, keeping so many medals in the British Isles.  The Brits haven't done this well since 1908.  Their low point, winning only one gold medal and just 15 overall in Atlanta.  In these games, the Brits first gold came in an equestrian event.  Since then they've won 21 medals on and in the water, 12 in cycling and five on horseback, leaving them with 60 overall...and the games aren't over yet.  There have been so many stellar performances but my personal favorite came from a Scot, Andy Murray!  After losing the men's singles final at Wimbledon to Roger Federer only a month ago and feeling that he let a nation down, Andy roared back to beat Roger in straight sets on the very same court.  It was a poetic victory.

I loved seeing the Royal family showing their support for the games and the British athletes.  From Queen Elizabeth's surprise "performance" at the Opening Ceremonies, to Princess Anne being a fixture at the equestrian events, to Prince Charles and Camilla cheering the athletes on to victory, to Harry, Wills and Kate seemingly attending every other event on the schedule, the royals reminded us they are people, sports fans and they enjoy a good party too. 

Photo courtesy of  Gf/Bauer Griffin

In the same year that Title IX celebrated its 40th anniversary, the 30th Olympiad featured some amazing female athletes. The London games mark the first time that every participating nation's team has included at least one female athlete.  In addition, this is the first time that the U.S. team has included more female athletes than male athletes and the majority of U.S. medals have been won by the ladies.  Seven of every ten posts on social media sites are about female athletes.

Women's boxing made it's Olympic debut and 17 year old Clarissa Shields brings home a gold medal to Flint Michigan.  Irish boxer Katie Taylor won Ireland first gold medal since the 1996 games.  16 year old American Ariel Hsing is making waves and turning heads in the world of table tennis and the U.S. ladies water polo team won it's first gold medal ever. 

We've been transfixed by the story of Caster Semenya, the South African runner who not only had to prove herself on the track to make it to London, she also had to fight to prove her gender, multiple times.  She withstood the accusations, the speculation and the humiliation in order to run for her country in the Olympic games.  She runs for gold tonight. 

Athletes from Cypress, Botswana, Guatemala and Grenada all medaled for the first time in their nation's history. 

Lest I forget the weird.  We saw a scandal in women's badminton and two Belgian athletes sent home early for partying too hard.  And yes, I'm still looking for an explanation as to why trampoline is an Olympic event and baseball and softball are not.  Anyone?

Friday, August 10, 2012


Are you worried about me?  Did you think that had I vanished?  Nah, I've been in London.  But only in spirit.

There are two major sporting events that are consistently watched more by women than men.  One of those events is the Olympic Games.  That's where I've been.  Not that I haven't been watching the Braves for the past two weeks.  In fact, I went to one of the games when the Marlins were in town.  But when I've been home, I've been multi-tasking.  I'm going to be honest with you (as I always am)  I've been focusing more on the Olympics and flipping to the Braves games during the commercials.  Don't give me too hard of a time.  After all, it only happens once every four years.

Wednesday night's Braves game had me befuddled.  I watched the first hour (before the Olympics came on) and I felt comfortable flipping over as the Braves were up 6-1 on the Phillies.  Then it was 6-2.  I was still ok with that.  But then it was 6-6!?!  What the hay?  I wasn't sure what had happened but I knew it had to be ugly.  I felt better when it was 8-6, then 10-6 and finally 12-6.  Needless to say, when the game was replayed at 11pm, I watched.  It's much easier to watch the carnage when you know everything turns out ok. 

It was good to see signs of life from Dan Uggla's bat with his three hits.  Fingers crossed that this is the start of his turnaround.  It was great to see Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman both go from 1st to home on doubles.  They're both great base runners and in my opinion, this is the best base-running team that the Braves have fielded in years.  Mikey Bourn had three hits and he and Dan combined for 6 of the 12 RBIs.  And, in the 636rd game of his career, David Ross stole his first base.  It was a very late night but well worth the watch.

If you have an inquiring mind, yes, I do have an Olympic wrap up on the way.  It shouldn't be too long, just my favorite highlights and one lowlight.

Drumroll please!  Here is my first trivia question.  Can any one name the other major sporting event that is watched more by women than men?