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20 April, 2012

A Memory Amended


   The first time I saw Jim Abbott pitch was after a game in March of 1986.
   I had just done the radio play-by-play for a Rollins College vs Michigan game as part of Baseball Week, the oldest college baseball tournament in the country, held every year at  Alfond Stadium in Winter Park, Fla. When the game was over, I was packing up my gear and noticed a Michigan pitcher out on to the mound. He started to throw a side-session of sorts. It didn't take long for me to notice the pitcher only had one hand. I stopped what I was doing and just watched. The park was dim as some of the stadium lights had been turned off, but Abbott fired pitch after pitch. It was a typically pleasant, breezy Florida evening as the slight pop of the glove echoed a bit off the bleachers. One of the Michigan coaches stood near by, offering pointers and praise to the young lefty. Abbott went at it for a while before shutting it down, seemingly pleased with effort. There was nothing remarkable about what I had just witnessed, but it certainly was captivating.

   The first time I met Jim Abbott was this past Wednesday.
   Abbott came to ESPN to make some appearances and promote his book, "Imperfect: An Improbable Life". I was looking forward to meeting him, in part, because I wanted to tell him the story of me watching him at Rollins all those years ago. Little did I know, Abbott had a story about that week much better than mine.
   
   Around three in the afternoon I was told Abbott was in the ESPN lobby, so I hustled down to find him and introduce myself. I relayed my story to Abbott, who seemed interested in what I had to say, but was quick to put an embellishment on my story that makes it much better.
   "You know," he said, "two days later I got my first college win right there at Alfond Stadium against North Carolina."
   "Really?" I said.
   "Yup. I came in the game in the 9th inning with two outs, a tie game and a man on third. After I threw my first pitch, when the catcher threw the ball back to me, the runner on third broke for home because (the North Carolina coaches) didn't think I could transfer the ball out of my glove to my hand and throw it home in time. I threw the guy out at the plate to end the inning, we scored in the next inning and I got my first college win by throwing only one pitch."

   Memories are possessions. We all have them, and tuck them away in the nooks and crannies of our mind for safe keeping. Thanks to Jim Abbott, I need a little more room for the storage of my memory of him. 

04 April, 2012

Raising a glass to the 2012 Mets

"This Mets team is not going to be historically bad." Tim Kurkjian on Baseball Tonight, 4/1/12

I consider myself an optimistic person, even when it comes to the Mets. The majority of my Mets fans friends tend to paint a darker picture than me. In fact, you can break Mets fans down into three perspectives,

1) Glass half full.
2) Glass half empty.
3) There's a glass?

So using that as our barometer, let's take a look at the 2012 New York Mets.

JOHAN SANTANA - GLASS HALF FULL
   Everything we've seen from Johan this spring has been encouraging. Despite my glass half empty proclamation in February that "If Johan is ready to go on opening day, I'll eat a bug," he's the player I am most looking forward to watching this season. I still think Johan is capable of being the guy who dialed up that 3-hit shutout against the Marlins in his last start of 2008. The biggest issue is going to be pitch count/inning limitations. The Mets brass is going to be more protective of Santana than Mike Lowrey was of his daughter in Bad Boys 2. 12-7, 3.20 ERA sounds about right.

R.A. DICKEY - GLASS HALF FULL 
   Given the revelations Dickey made in his new book about the abuse he suffered as a child, given the fact he climbed mount Kilimanjaro, and given the fact he's had a 3.08 era as a Met, I'm not betting against this guy. I won't look past the fact he's 19-22 as a Met, but if there comes a day this season when the Mets need a big start, say like April 25th, I hope R.A. is on the mound.

MIKE PELFREY - THERE'S A GLASS? 
   Big Pelf is a Big Mess. I almost trust Rob Lowe more as a NFL insider than I do Pelf as a major league starter. Many a Mets fan were ready for Pelf to take the next step after his 15-9, 3.66 era season of 2010. Instead, one step forward two (or three) steps back. It's a little disturbing when a 6'7", 250 dude isn't a strikeout pitcher, right? Pelfrey has a k/9 ratio of 5.1 for his career. He may have found something when he altered his windup this spring and started throwing his fastball in the mid-90's, but I'm not biting.

JON NIESE - GLASS HALF FULL
   From the first time I saw him pitch, Niese had Matlack-like potential in my eyes. He may end up suffering a Matlack-like fate, as well. Matlack pitched well on mostly bad Mets teams, going 82-81 with a 3.03 era. So far Niese is 22-23 with a 4.39 era. The encouraging signs for Niese include a nice k/9 rate of 7.6 and a solid bb/9 rate of 3.0. By the way, Niese is only 21 nose jobs behind Cher on the all-time list.

DILLON GEE - GLASS HALF EMPTY 
   I enjoyed his effort in 2011, but I'm not ready to buy any Gee stock. His 1st half/2nd half splits and his home/road splits were a little disarming.
1st half- 8-3, 3.76 era, 1.19 whip, .222 baa
2nd half- 5-3, 5.25 era, 1.59 whip, .277 baa

home (pitcher friendly park) - 7-3, 3.17, 1.22 whip, .227 baa
road - 6-3, 5.74 era, 1.53 whip, .268 baa

   When you don't have overpowering stuff, you have to throw strikes. Gee is averaging 4 bb/9 so far in his career. He needs to clean that up almost as bad as he needs to clean that hairy welcome mat off his chin.

JOSH THOLE/MIKE NICKEAS - THERE'S A GLASS?
   Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox were a better platoon than these two. This smacks of a John Stearns/Alex Trevino 1979-1980ish production. Thole went into the spring needing to work on his defense. The Mets hoped Nickeas would "hit a little." Not terribly inspiring. At some point this year Mets broadcasters will talk about how Nickeas "calls a good game." That's the equivalent of the car that handles well, the guy or girl who have a good personality or the restaurant that has nice ambiance. Give me a catcher who throws out 40% of the runners or rakes.

IKE DAVIS - GLASS HALF FULL 
   I've been on Ike bandwagon from day one. Legit raw power, a nice glove and seems unfazed by just about everything. I bet he ends up their most productive offensive player and he and Duda could threaten to combine for 60 homers.

DANIEL MURPHY - GLASS HALF FULL 
   Murph hits and hits and hits some more. Defense is the obvious concern. I actually think he has decent hands, but nothing on defensive side of the ball seems to come easy. No position is easy to play in the majors, but becoming a good defensive second baseman from scratch is virtually impossible. Murph is a DH waiting to happen. In the mean time, the Mets will enjoy his .300+ batting average and pray he doesn't get killed.

RUBEN TEJADA - GLASS HALF EMPTY 
   It's tough enough to replace Jose Reyes, but with Reyes in the division it'll be even harder to escape his shadow. Ruben strikes me as a guy who will make the plays, get some timely hits, but ends up being a journey man whose glove is valued by teams. I don't see him as the long term answer at shortstop for the Mets.

DAVID WRIGHT - GLASS HALF EMPTY 
   I'm a huge fan of David's. I support him almost blindly. Did you know his career 162 game averages are .300/27/106 with 102 runs, 22 SB and an .882 OPS? So why does it feel like he is regressing? Maybe in part because the team hasn't come out and inked him to a new deal. Maybe because last year he hit just .254 with 14 homers. I want Wright to succeed. I want him to continue to be the face of the franchise. I just don't believe it's going to happen.

JASON BAY - THERE'S A GLASS? 
   .336/20/100 113 runs, 30 sb
   .266/11/53    73 runs, 11 sb

Those are Robbie Alomar's numbers the year before he came to the Mets and his first year with the Mets. For me, easily the biggest disappointment in Mets acquisition history. Jayson Bay is at least at Mo Vaughn territory and inching closer to Alomar by the day. It's like the aliens from Space Jam took all of Jason's talent and gave him Shwan Bradley's.

  In Bay's 200 games with Boston his numbers were .274/45/156 with a .534 slugging percentage.
  In Bay's 218 games with the Mets his numbers are  .251/18/104 with a .386 slugging percentage.

And not for nothing, but Bay had 0 RBI this spring.

ANDRES TORRES - THERE'S A GLASS?
   Career .318 OBP. He's 34. That number isn't going to get better. His leg has been barking all spring.  I feel better about getting a colonoscopy than I do about Torres having a good season.

LUCAS DUDA - GLASS HALF FULL
   There was an old New York sportscaster named Jerry Girard who came on the air one night and reported (tongue firmly in cheek) that "Dave Kingman was attacked by three fly balls tonight. Thankfully, no one was hurt." Sadly, I suspect that's where we are with Lucas. Right field will be a major adventure. The good news is I think Lucas can flat out hit and 25-30 homers isn't out of the question.

THE BULLPEN - GLASS HALF EMPTY
   As I've noted before, bullpens are the old Forrest Gump box of chocolates analogy, you never know what you are going to get. So the Mets shuffled in some new arms and hope that it's a blend that works.
Hopefully with the fences at Citi Field closer to the plate, the relievers can get to the mound faster and the boos won't last as long. (See, always looking for something optimistic to say!)

THE SEASON - GLASS HALF EMPTY 
    Lots of people point to the fact that the Mets lead the NL in runs scored last year. Subtract Reyes and a very productive half-season from Beltran and the glass gets a little emptier. Johan is back and hopefully Davis, Murphy and Wright can stay healthy and the glass gets a little fuller.
   The biggest thing against the Mets is their division. I think they go 74-88, which, by the way, is not historically bad.

02 April, 2012

Total Recall vs Total Recall

There is a new version of Total Recall coming to theaters this summer.
Compare the trailers...

new
http://tinyurl.com/7n3lmxu

old
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFMLGEHdIjE

Wrestlemania 28


The end of an era? Reaction and a review of Wrestlemania 28.

Tip of the cap to Lillian Garcia who absolutely crushed America the Beautiful.
78 degrees and sunny (not the diva, but if she shows up, that's cool.) in Miami.
I've felt for a while that this has the potential to be a Top 3 All-Time Wrestlemania. Did it deliver?

Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan

The crowd is fired up for the Sheamus/Bryan match. Some funny pro-Bryan signs declaring "YES"in the crowd. Also, many in the crowd chant "Yes!" as well. Little did they know the real comedy was seconds away. Eighteen seconds, to be precise. After the bell rings, D-Bry waves over A.J. for their traditional "9th graders in a school" like kiss. But as D-Bry turns around from his smooch, he kisses the bottom of Sheamus's boot and the Celtic Warrior gets the fall :18 into the match, meaning the Celtics beat Miami and a Celtic won in Miami on the same day.
I thought it was a fantastic way to open.
I'm a big believer in the idea that a TV production needs to open with a home run of sorts. This worked for me.

If you like vignettes, this is the Wrestlemania for you.

Kane vs Randy Orton

The excitement meter was at about a 4 out of 10 for this one. Injury to Wade Barrett robbed us of what could have been a really good match and gave us this. I will say, it ended up being better than I expected.
The match featured the standard back and forth and six 2-counts on Orton.
The last few minutes of the match were pretty good as there was a nice array of counters.
Orton pulled off a cool reversal of sorts on a sidewalk slam attempt and turned it into a backbreaker across his back. Orton soon nailed the DDT and went to his special place, but Kane countered and delivered a boot to the head. Not to be outdone, Orton nailed Kane with a drop kick as Kane came off the top rope.
Orton had Kane set up for his running Charlie Brown kick to the head, but Kane played Lucy, if Lucy had ever stood up, grabbed Charlie Brown by the throat and choke slammed him.
A pretty good conclusion as Kane finished the Viper with a choke slam off the second rope.
It was our first sign of the night of something we already knew, old guys like South Florida.

Rhodes vs Big Show

My interest in this match was seeing what possible way they could embarrass the Big Show this year.
It's been a fun running gag. Why not run it a little longer?
Apparently that wasn't the plan. Not even an "embarrassing" moment of sorts in the match.
Big Show got in some big slaps that made Rhodes's chest look like he fell asleep on the beach earlier in the day. Then Show showed Rhodes his butt, up close and personal.
Rhodes nailed one Disaster Kick, but (not butt) Show speared him on the next one and set up the WMD. When he nailed Rhodes with it, it became the hardest hit in Miami's history not involving Nick Buoniconti, Zack Thomas or Michi Nogami-Marshall.
Big Show is your new Intercontinental champ.

Divas match.
Props to Kelly Kelly for executing two pretty cool moves.
When the match ends,  Michael Cole goes Jim Nantz on us, "For Maria and Kelly Kelly this was an 'Extra' special victory tonight!"
Any chance there will be an end of the Michael Cole Era event at WM 29?

They announce a crowd of 78,363, a new SunLifeJoeRobbieProPlayerParkProPlayerStadium
DolphinStadiumDolphinsStadiumLandSharkStadium record.
It also equals the Marlins 2011 season attendance.

Speaking of End of an Era. It's time for Hell in a Cell.

Between HBK, HHH and 'Taker, we are treated to three of the greatest entrances in WWE history, topped by The Undertaker's, which is #1 in my book.
We are also treated to the presence of Jim Ross calling the match with Lawler and Cole.
When 'Taker gets to the ring, he finally removes his hood and allows me to fire off the tweet I've been sitting on for a month, "Good God, it's the UnderShaver!"
'Taker has given himself some kind of buzz cut, mohawk combo thing. It's awesome.
"Taker was taking it to HHH early on, as Shawn Michael's worked on his Emmy reel, reeling in horror with every devastating shot absorbed by The Game.
'Taker turned back the clock by walking on the top rope and dropping the hammer (not a sledgehammer...yet) as HBK cringes.
Then the Deadman from Death Valley delivered a huge leg drop to HHH, whose head was dangling off the edge of the apron.  J.R. declares it a "loathsome leg drop" and pays homage to Gorilla Monsoon by saying "Imagine the impact."
Around this time business picked up as the match went from entertaining to epic.
Undertaker countered a pedigree attempt off of part of the stairs (which had been tossed into the ring) and back body dropped HHH into the center of the ring. But moments later HHH reversed 'Taker into a spine buster on the stairs. When Undertaker quickly threw the Hell's Gate on HHH, The Game showed amazing strength by standing up and slamming 'Taker to the mat.
Then we moved to the portion of the match where it could be said Undertaker was having a bad chair day. HHH delivered thirteen chair shots before HBK grabbed the chair and yelled at HHH to cover him. HHH yelled back "you end it or I will!"
Then we got our Apollo/Drago moment as cameras caught the soon-to-be Dead Man telling Shawn, "Don't stop it, Shawn." All we needed was Mrs. Taker yelling, "Throw the damn towel!"
At this point we are up to nineteen chair shots (symmetry?) before HHH goes for the sledgehammer.
After drilling Undertaker in the head with the hammer, HHH again begs HBK to end it, but he can't bring himself to do it. Then a loopy 'Taker grabs HBK and puts the Hell's Gate on him, prompting HHH to deliver another sledgehammer to 'Taker.
What followed was a repeat of last year with 'Taker throwing the Gate on HHH one more time as HHH grabs for the sledgehammer, but this time there was no ref to end it. There were ensuing kick outs from choke slams, pedigrees and tombstones. The highlight coming when HBK nailed 'Taker with Sweet Chin Music, which catapulted Undertaker into another pedigree as Cole screamed "The streak's over! The Streak's over!" But when 'Taker escaped again,  J.R. bellowed "The streak lives!! The streak lives!!"
We were even treated to an exchange of blows with the crowd ooohing and aaaahing with every shot.
As the match slugged it's way toward the 30 minute mark, Undertaker delivered ten chair shots of his own to HHH.
With nothing left in the tank, HHH gave 'Taker one last DX chop and made a feeble attempt to deliver a hammer shot.  The 'Taker took the hammer, delivered a brutal shot to HHH and delivered one last tombstone as HBK turned his back, unable to watch the end of the era he helped create.
Undertaker made it to 20-0. HHH helped make it happen by delivering an epic 0-2 in episodes 19 and 20 (0-3 overall with his loss in 17 too.)
Fittingly, the three men who are known for their aforementioned entrances, delivered a stirring exit.
They walked up the ramp together, carrying their battered bodies and years of bruising punishment with them, not quite literally into the sunset, but close enough. They stopped to soak in the ovation and shared a three-way embrace. It reminded me of the old pictures of Willie, Micky and the Duke standing together in center field at an Old Timers game.
There was no crashing through the cage, or climbing to the top of it and falling off, so critics can say it wasn't much of a Hell in a Cell match. What it was, was pure Hell.
The effort put forth by both wrestlers was befitting men half their age.

These were two men who were flag bearers of an era that took the torch from the halcyon Hulkamaniac days and literally brought a new attitude to pro wrestling. They are true professionals who left every last ounce they had to give in the ring and they stole the show. 
My buddy Sean Grande appropriately tweeted, "Playing big on the big stage is greatness. Greatness, on the greatest stage, is immortality. HHH, Taker, HBK, J.R...they just did it again."

Stone Cold summed it up nicely when he tweeted after the match,  "Well that was damn sure worth $65 bucks. Great F'n story. Brutality personified. HBK tremendous addition to drama. Hats off to Taker/HHH." 

Team Johnny vs Team Teddy
This was the "everyone catch your breath" match of the night.
Johnny came to the ring looking like he invaded Rick Pitino's closet.
The match featured the rarely seen use of a little person as a diversion, an impressive triple flip out of the ring by Kofi, Truth and Ryder, and Eve delivering a kick to Ryder's forbidden turnbuckle, buckling Zach to his knees, proving that even friends with benefits find ways to screw up relationships.

Then we were treated to a cutaway of A-Rod and Torrie Wilson in the crowd. Apparently Torrie didn't get the "stuff popcorn in Alex's face during the cutaway at the big event" memo.

Jericho vs Punk
Before the match, Laurinitis adds a stipulation that if Punk gets dq'd, he will lose the belt.
As Jericho's entrance begins I can't help but think "You know, on South Beach, Jericho's jacket is actually understated."
When the match starts we get a heavy dose of the "Punk on the brink of disqualification" card.
This bothered me as I felt it took away from what should have been a great wrestling match and turned it into something else. Eventually the match took it's proper course, although it did seem like the crowd was pretty subdued throughout.
There were two scary moments for Punk, which I thought could have caused real injury. One came when Jericho suplexed Punk off the apron and onto the mats below the ring, with Punk's back (not his feet) striking the floor first. The second came when Jericho yanked Punk backwards off the rope and Punk's head whiplashed hard into the mat.
The rest of the match featured some cool counters to their staple moves, highlighted by Jericho taking Punk's attempted hurricanrana off the ropes and turning it into the Walls of Jericho.
As a nod to Steamboat and Savage, we even had back-to-back attempts at a small package.
In the end Punk forced Jericho to tap out of the anaconda vice and retained his belt.
I had gone into the night with the highest hopes for this match. It could have been on par with some of the best 'Mania has offered through the years. It ended up being a B+ match. The hope is that this is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of great matches yet to come.

Then it happened. Brodus Clay came out to his music and announced that he was actually going to call his mama. This lead to a bit where Mama Clay and her "bridge club" friends all come out and danced the Funkasaurus dance. While I agree that the song and dance are the best part of what Clay has to offer so far, I think we just jumped the Sharkasaurus.

Cena vs Rock

A few leftovers from The Walking Dead show up to sing a rap song and tell the world John Cena is an underdog. Then Cena comes out in a Heineken t-shirt that he's converted into a Cena shirt. Boos rain down from the crowd that feels about 80/20 pro Rock.
Flo Rida comes out shirtless, because it's hot and all, and sings his song for about 6 minutes, or roughly 23 times longer than the Sheamus match.
The crowd is all kinds of fired up.
The pace of the match was pretty deliberate, but it worked. As each guy made their assaults on the other, they let the moment breath. There were flurries followed by dramatic pauses. Like the HHH/Undertaker match, you could sense this match building toward a crescendo. Early on Rock was selling the pain he was receiving and Cena was selling a state of shock that the Rock was still able to bring the goods.
Each man delivered his signature move. Each man escaped said moves. By my count, Cena kicked out of four 2-counts, Rock did it eight times.
Cena threw a bear hug (breath catcher) on Rock that would have made Andre the Giant proud. The Rock pulled a Hulkster by having his arm dropped twice while in the clutches of the STF, but held his arm up on the 3rd drop, setting up a big rally.
I went into the match having no idea who was going to win, and there were more than a few times when I thought it might end. (admittedly, knowing the PPV would be over around 11pm ET ruined some of that.)
Finally, Cena was set for the kill and decided to steal Rock's finish, but Rock jumped up and caught Cena coming off the ropes and gave him the Rock Bottom for the W. I didn't think it was epic, but it certainly was very entertaining. The Rock proved that he could still deliver. Cena probably didn't prove anything but reminded us that he can carry whatever ball the WWE asks him to and put on a heck of a show.
It was a little surprising that The Rock won the match, in that similar matches in the past have resulted in losses for the star whose career is closing. But with the event in Miami, the brass did for Rock exactly what they did for Undertaker, they gave him his one (final) shining moment. Rock stood on the second rope, struck his iconic pose and breathed it all in. It was a better script than most of his films have produced.

Time will tell where Wrestlemania 28 ranks. History will say that The Undertaker, HHH and The Rock, three men in their forties, left us with indelible images and final memories of an era now gone.
Perhaps the biggest take away from Wrestlemania 28 will be the opportunity it provided the fans to express gratitude for the Attitude Era.