Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's new in the world of sports

Since the last update, the Los Angeles Lakers won yet another NBA title, the Chicago Blackhawks broke a 49-year drought by winning the Stanley Cup, World Cup soccer has turned the world into a frenzy and history was made at Wimbledon with the longest tennis match ever played.

As for the local Minnesota angle, the Twins haven't exactly dominated interleague play as in year's past, the Wild are preparing for the draft (after signing James Sheppard, much to this blogger's disapproval) and the first-ever Prep Championship Series was played at Target Field, crowning three baseball champions.

Let's break it down.

Sheppard signing is a waste
I don't think it's any secret that I am not James Sheppard's biggest fan. In fact, I think the 22-year-old is a waste of time for the Wild to keep pumping money and energy into in hopes of trying to make him the superstar-player former general manager Doug Risebrough promised everyone.

GM Chuck Fletcher signed the forward to a one-year, $803,250 deal. I'm sure glad we retained this guy who put up these kind of under-achieving numbers last season: Two goals and six points in 64 games.

From what I read of the GM's comments, he doesn't want to give up on Shep just yet since he is still a young player. The problem is, I see nothing from this hockey player, if you can even call him that. And what about when they gave up on Benoit Pouliot and Petr Sykora last season before they really gave them a chance?

It's not like Sheppard's going to be rolling in dough, but he needs to start producing something, anything, on the ice. Two goals for a forward is pathetic.

Prep Championship Series
This year, the Minnesota State High School League held its championship baseball games for the three classes at Target Field last Saturday. Tickets for the entire day in the lower level were a steal at $10 apiece. And the weather cooperated as well.

I took in the Class 3A game between Eden Prairie and Burnsville with my friend Chris. High school games are seven innings, but for this one it was the beginning and the end that were the parts to watch. Home-team Burnsville looked like it had a few nerves on the big stage as it committed three errors in the first inning (and four total for the game).

Eden Prairie jumped out to an early lead, and it looked like the men in red would have no trouble winning the title. Things got interesting in the sixth inning though when Burnsville's bats came alive. Two home-run bombs were hit in the inning, one to the left-field bleachers, and the other a blast to the bullpen. Those were certainly the biggest highlights of the game.

The Eagles eventually prevailed with a 7-5 win.

Huh? What?
I'm not much of a basketball fan, so I didn't really follow the NBA playoffs, or the storied Championship Series between the Lakers and Boston Celtics. It went seven games before the Lakers won in their star-studded arena.

If you asked me to make a pick, I'd pull for Boston because 1) It's always nice to root against the "top-dog" of Los Angeles, and 2) Kevin Garnett left the Timberwolves and has achieved greatness. Go figure.

I also am not a soccer fan. Sorry, but I'd rather just watch hockey. So you can imagine I'm not glued to my TV set to watch all the world-wide action. Soccer may be the world's most popular sport, but folks, it's not the most popular in America. We're a football (yes, American football) country.

(Not great) history at Wimbledon
Wimbledon just started this week, and already it's been full of excitement. The first round matches are set up so highly-ranked players should (theoretically) have an easy time of it. In other words, we shouldn't be seeing the long five-setters that have taken place so far.

But the biggest moment of the tournament (I don't know how you top it) was the longest match in tennis history between American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. It took 11 hours and five minutes over three days for the ranked Isner to finally prevail: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68. No, that's not a typo.

At Wimbledon, the deciding set cannot end in a tiebreak, and the winner must win by two games. This match broke records, but it certainly wasn't the championship thriller between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick fans were treated to last year.

For a match to go on that long means no player could muster winning two games in a row. They held serve and couldn't break the opponent. Isner had the edge of serving first, putting him ahead in the game count, but he couldn't finish it off until the fifth match point on Thursday.

It may be the longest tennis match in history, but it definitely wasn't the greatest.

As for the Twins...
They boys of summer are doing OK. In one of the weakest divisions in baseball, they should be able to hold a bigger, more comfortable first-place lead over their opponent (mainly, the Detroit Tigers). Interleague play used to mean a string of wins for the club, but this year they've been dealt the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies to give them some stiff competition.

The Twins have also run into their fair share of aces, making them work for their wins. They were able to pull out a series win in Philly with an amazing comeback victory last Saturday. But then they dropped the first two at border-rival Milwaukee Brewers.

On the injury line, Orlando Hudson is back, J.J. Hardy still is not. And in the bad-move department, call-up Danny Valencia and Brendan Harris are left riding the bench as Michael Cuddyer has made a (temporary?) move back to third base. His strong arm belongs in the outfield.

Friday, June 4, 2010

94th running of the Indianapolis 500

The 94th Indianapolis 500 was this past Sunday. I'm a little late with a blog entry, mostly because I've been writing so much about the race for my Marco Andretti Examiner page. So if you want more extensive coverage, take a gander at my articles.

Being at the race last year was amazing, and trust me, you want to go back every year after you've been there in person. But this year we stayed home, which was alright too. In fact, with my good buddy Twitter, watching the race on television wasn't so bad. I'll say it again, being able to converse with Twitter peeps who are watching the same sporting event as you makes it so much better.

One complaint: ABC
The race coverage on ABC wasn't the greatest, however. Viewers missed seeing the first two lead changes, one time so that we could listen in on Danica Patrick's pit radio. Of course there was also the side-by-side commercial break coverage, versus just straight commercials that were, coincidentally or not, poorly timed out between yellow and green flags.

But my biggest beef with the coverage was at the end of the race. It finished under caution, so we saw the winner Dario Franchitti followed closely by Dan Wheldon cross the bricks. Those were the only two cars viewers saw cross the line, and then the race results didn't scroll across the top of the screen under a few minutes later.

Part of this may have been for good reason, there was a horrific crash with Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay on the last lap. Showing that scene instead of the finishers is understandable; cutting to shots of Franchitti's wife Ashley Judd is not. Plus, the race ended with a little controversy involving Andretti, but we didn't see the finish.

All the while, I needed to write an article about Marco, and I still had no idea where he finished because ABC couldn't even give us the results right away. There were more than a few complaints on Twitter. ABC rant: over.

Watching, writing, Tweeting
Marco was eventually awarded third place after video data showed he was passed by three cars that didn't slow down for the crash. This gave me a lot to write about, and it was nice to see Marco run a good race and do well at Indy.

Watching the race and then writing about it took up most of my Sunday, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It only comes once a year, and for race fans, the Indy 500 is our Christmas. I still wish Paul Tracy would have been in there vying for the win, but I guess we'll have to wait until next year.

One of the other feel-good stories of the race was Tony Kanaan, who made a strong run through the field all the way from the back. He was trying to be the first driver to make it from the 33rd spot and come back to win the race. It would have been an instant classic he had succeeded. But Franchitti was too good with a strong race car. Kanaan ended up 11th after making a late pit stop.

No history for Helio
I was also glad that the much-hyped story of the day didn't pan out: Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves did not get his fourth victory at Indy, which would have put him in elite company. He stalled in the pits, on a day where pit lane was a flurry of activity and mistakes. Will Power and Scott Dixon also had issues in the pits, proving how costly mistakes are.

It was another great race at the Brickyard, and I really hope I can make it back there next year. Of course, this year's race was one of the warmest on record, so Murphy's Law would suggest that next year might be unseasonably chilly, but we'll see. I'd love to go back to the greatest race track and see the greatest spectacle in racing.

MLB instant replay: Time to take a closer look

It is the great debate in sports at the moment, whether or not to expand the use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. For every person who supports instant replay in America's pastime, there is someone else who is against it.

For those who are in favor, they have wondered what, if anything, it would take for MLB to expand the replay system beyond the home run calls. The answer has finally come this week: A botched call cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game on Wednesday.

The call, which didn't appear to be that close, came with two outs in the ninth inning. Umpire Jim Joyce quickly became a recognizable name, a trending topic on Twitter - and not in a good way.

Sidenote: As fate would have it, the Twins suffered a loss to the Mariners later that night after a controversial call was made at second base, which allowed the winning run to score in extra innings. And speaking of blown calls, who could forget Phil Cuzzi's call in the playoffs last season?

In the aftermath: Class
While baseball fans everywhere seemed to be ticked at the perfect-game-that-wasn't, what followed that evening and the next day certainly changed a few attitudes. With the exception of a few Detroit players arguing the call with Joyce on the field after the game, everyone involved handled the situation with class, dignity and respect from there on out.

All reports said that Joyce was extremely upset for missing the call, after seeing the video replay. He apologized to Galarraga. I respect Joyce so much more for how he responded afterward. Instead of sticking to his guns, acting arrogantly and not admitting his error, he realized the mistake and felt horrible about costing the young man a place in MLB history.

One of the great moments
The Tigers and Indians finished up their series the next day with an afternoon game. Galarraga met the umpiring crew at home plate, and he presented Joyce with the lineup card. Joyce was given the option to sit the game out, but he stood up and took his place behind the plate.

It was a truly touching scene as Joyce had trouble keeping his emotions in check. As far as Galarraga, he handled the situation with nothing but class. The same goes for his manager Jim Leyland.

Crackin' open the can o' worms
This incident obviously reopened the instant-replay can of worms, which would be expected. I think the thing that surprised a lot of people, or at least me, was the debate Thursday as to whether Commissioner Bud Selig would reverse the call at the first base, therefore awarding Galarraga with a perfect game.

In the continued classiness, Leyland and Galarraga were both humble when faced with questions related to the decision to overturn the call. They conveyed that they were fine with what happened, and that they knew how bad Joyce was feeling. They made sure to say that they did not want to demand the call be reversed.

The good word from Selig was that he would not be overturning the call. I agree with this. It's one thing to change a call right after the fact on the field, but to overturn a call in a game that has already taken place would be disastrous. It's a very slippery slope with undefined standards.

What the commish did say was that he would look into expanding instant replay beyond determining home runs. I am in favor of this decision.

Instant replay. Yes? No?
There's always a heated debate with the topic of instant replay. Some of the arguments? Baseball is too long already, replay takes away the human element, etc. On the other hand, the rare bad calls cost teams games, if we have the technology, why not use it?, etc.

I would like to see instant replay in baseball. I think this particular situation is finally the "ah-ha" factor that will make that happen. The NHL, NFL and tennis all have the use of video replays, and it seems to have worked just fine. When calls are overturned, they are usually correct. That's what's important: getting it right.

Now, of course baseball is a different game which has already been criticized for its slow pace. But there must be a way to try and factor some replay into the game.

Up for a challenge?
I still maintain going with the challenge system used by the NFL and in tennis tournaments. Whenever you have human officials making subjective calls, there will always be human error, so why not try to correct it? I like the challenge system because there's a limit, so you won't have to sit through a challenge every other play.

Video doesn't lie. I think it should be in place for those tough calls, or close calls that might be hard to make in real time. And hey, who wouldn't love to see Gardy all fired up and red in the face, throw a red flag onto the diamond to ask for a challenge?

No matter what MLB decides to do as far as the instant replay expansion, I'm just glad it is getting a closer look. It doesn't need to be taken to an extreme, but it's time to use it in moderation.

I've given you my opinion on instant replay in MLB, now feel free to share your thoughts and opinions with me on the subject.