Friday, August 03, 2007

The Morning After on TSE - 8.3.2007

After today, I will be going on vacation to the simple recesses of Edisto Beach, South Carolina. It is a quiet beach island an hour away from Charleston and is just a stones throw from some great golf, including:

The Ocean Course at Kiawah, site of the 2012 PGA Championship (mark it down)

Carolina National Golf Club, a Freddy Cuplando design

Daufuskie Island Golf Resort

Wild Dunes, the classic Tom Fazio design

Why do I mention this? Because I get to play one of these courses and you don't. Good money's on Carolina National or Wild Dunes, but I'm holding out for Daufuskie near Hilton Head. One of the courses is named "Bloody Point". And I can't stop giggling.

Anyway, the crux of this entire thing is that I will likely be away from any form of communications whatsoever and it is with that that I leave TSE in the able (if sometimes invisible) hands of JTBI and Seaward, maybe a guest here and there. Between now and the end of August, we'll be doing some Best of TSE posts that not only cleared the bar, but set it at a new height this summer. Look for one later today. more...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Morning After on TSE - 8.2.2007

From time to time there are events that happen and these events draw us away from the world of sports. Something like that happened in Minneapolis last night when a busy bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River during rush hour. Wow. And I mean 'Wow' in the worst way.

The stories coming out of Minnesota are unbelievable. People saying that they were driving one minute and dropping, head-first, into the river the next. A busload of kids barely missed a similar fate, thankfully. There are some incredible stories of heroism by emergency workers and passersby alike, as well as the sad stories of injuries, deaths and people still missing. Sadly, the efforts have shifted from rescue to recovery. CNN has the best coverage of short of being in Minneapolis. You can follow the story here.

TSE thoughts and prayers are in Minnesota today. more...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Huge National Practical Joke?

I swear to all things good and pure: I just don't see it. I don't get it. I don't understand.

How, how, HOW are the Boston Celtics going from literally the worst team in the Eastern Conference to a consensus conference favorite amongst national media analysts? I know, I know, "Seaward, they traded for KG!"

Overrated acquisition? No. Overrated team? Yes.

Everyone has taken great glee in ripping the Eastern Conference from pillar to post after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the East with LeBron +4 and were summarily dumped by a vastly superior Spurs team. "Hey, if all you have to do is be better than Cleveland, anyone can win this conference," has been the mantra of every NBA analyst, GM, player and fan this offseason. Easy enough to say, but does this trade accomplish this end? No.

For starters (no pun intended, just wait), let's look at the Celtics' projected lineup:
  • PG - Rajon Rondo
  • SG - Ray Allen
  • SF - Paul Pierce
  • PF - Kevin Garnett
  • C - Brian Scalabrine
  • Bench - Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, Leon Powe, Gabe Pruitt, Brandon Wallace
Yes, the middle of that starting lineup is frightening. It truly is. The rest of the lineup, though? Are you freaking kidding me? This roster doesn't even have the depth to field a full starting five, much less a reasonable 8-man rotation. And yet... this team is all of the sudden the team to beat in the East in the eyes of all these NBA pundits?

I think someone is pulling a prank on me.

Has everyone forgotten who is steering this ship? How severe is this case of national situational amnesia that everyone failed to notice that Doc Rivers is still the head coach of this team? The same Doc Rivers with a career 273-312 record (8-14 in the Eastern Conference playoffs)? Coaching is very important in this league and say what you want about Mike Brown, he installed a defensive system involving his role players on the Cavs that worked perfectly in the East. Do you think Doc Rivers can do that? Can Doc Rivers out-coach anyone in playoff contention in the East? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Even taking a giant leap and granting that Doc won't screw this up, will a big three with an average age of 31 be able to succeed in a conference that is getting rapidly younger? Can the 31 year olds run with superstars in their early and mid-20s like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard? Well, let's ask the New Jersey Nets... nope. (FWIW- I'm not convinced that Boston's big 3 is better than New Jersey's big 3.)

The way I see it, the Celtics are now a playoff team... but are they a conference contender? No. No, no, no, a thousand times NO. As I see it right now they are anywhere between a 6 and 8 seed in the east. Take a look:
  • 1- Cleveland -- Give the defending conference champs their due with a 1 seed
  • 2- Miami -- Fully healthy Wade + breathing Shaq = Southeast title
  • 3- New Jersey -- The original Big 3 adds Jamal Magloire at the 5
  • 4- Chicago -- Talented young core keeps getting better
  • 5- Detroit -- Getting older but are still a major player thanks to depth
  • 6- Orlando -- Dwight Howard welcomes Rashard Lewis
  • 7- Boston -- Lots of star power with no depth still gets you in the playoffs
  • 8- Toronto -- Talented young team took a big step in 06-07
Coaching, depth and age... can the Celtics overcome all of these shortcomings and win the weak Eastern Conference?

No. more...

The Morning After on TSE - 8.1.2007

August brings with it many things. School, for some, begins in this month. I used to be out the requisite $50+ on dinner and a gift for a money-grubbing whore very nice and respectful young lady I used to date back in High School. But in sports, it primarily means that the grind that is summer is coming to a close. Yes, August is still hotter than an Ana Ivanovic/Natalie Gulbis/GoCM Three-way, and no, football hasn't started yet.

(GoCM Note: There was a great MS Paintjob here originally but blogger eats pan-seared asshole and it got screwed up on import. I am supremely depressed by this.)

But still.

The first of August also marks the passing of the Major League Baseball's trade deadline. It wasn't a star-rich trade period this time around but 16+ hours after the deadline came and went, there are certainly some big winners and some sore losers. We'll start in the National League.

NL Winner
The Atlanta Braves
Talk about a big-time win. You get Mark Teixeira from Texas and only have to give up Jarrod Saltalamacchia for him. I'll concede that SalTal is probably the next Joe Mauer-type young catcher, but the Braves already have Brian McCann as a backstop and he is an all-star this year. Teixeira is an automatic upgrade at first, as the former Ranger is the two-year reigning Gold Glover at 1B. Offensively, there's not a lot going on for him this year...yet. Playing for a team in the thick of a playoff run can only help boost Teixeira and will likely elevate him above .300 on the year. His as yet mediocre RBI numbers (49) will also come up with a good lineup around him, most notably Andruw/Chipper Jones, Edgar Renteria and the aforementioned McCann will play big roles. Big win for Atlanta, who as of now are just three games back of the struggling Mets.

NL Loser

The Milwaukee Brewers
If there's a team that is sweating more than the BrewCrew right now, I can't name it. The big lead that seemed safe in the lackluster NL Central is down to just one game. Let's face it: Sweet Lou knows what he's doing and it was only a matter of time before the Cubbies got hot. Well, they are now and the Brewers need to make a move to make sure they weren't a problem. And they didn't. The rumor is that they were second in the running to get Gagne (more later), and he would have been an excellent get for the Brewers. But instead, they're left with question marks on the hill in the late innings, as well as with a lineup that has been up and down more than a jackhammer (and you thought I was going to make a sex joke there, didn't you?)

AL Winner

The Boston Red Sox
What a day it was in Beantown yesterday. First the Celtics get Kevin Garnett (for 7 players, the Prudential Building, the Bruins, a few cases of Sam Adams, Curt Schilling's bloody sock, a box of those naked lady tees, etc)* and then the Red Sox bullpen, currently baseball's best, gets a very good shot in the arm in the person of former NL Cy Younger Eric Gagne. He joins All-Star reliever Fukijama and lights out closer Jonathan Papelbon as the most untouchable 8th and 9th inning in baseball. Gagne fills two rolls immediately: most importantly he's insurance if either of Boston's principle set-up man or closer go down. Gagne has proven that he can handle the closer roll this year (16 saves in 17 tries this year) and he could work set-up no problem. But more importantly, he's one of the league's best against lefties and hasn't given up a run to one of them crazy southpaws all year. With Schilling on the way up (another scoreless 7 innings in rehab last night), Beckett and [Andrew] Dice-K looking good, losing Kason Gabbard won't hurt too much for now. Regardless, the rich just hit the jackpot.

*stole that joke from Mike and Mike.

AL Loser(s)
The AL Central, the LA Angels of Anaheim or Greater Los Angeles or California of the USA

The Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Angels all needed relief pitching or a bat. The only active team was Minnesota...who sent three-time Gold Glover Luis Castillo to the Mets for a few minor leaguers. Are you kidding? Detroit's starters will be lights out but the bullpen is shaky at best. Cleveland can score runs on par with anyone in the league but Joe Borrowski couldn't stop Minnesota a few nights ago and has been made Tribe fans sit with their bellies in their throats since save #1. And Johann Santana can't pitch every game for 9 innings (though he hasn't turned it up to 11 like he usually does post-break yet). The Angels, meanwhile, can beat you a few different ways but they needed a Gagne-type pitcher and they really need another bat to take the pressure off of Vlad Guerrero, the HR Derby champ, who hasn't hit an HR since that derby.

In the Central, nothing is going to change much and the Angels have held their lead to this point. But for the Red Sox, Yankees (who dumped Scott Proctor for Wilson Betimet, another 3B/SS type player...your best guess) and Mariners, things must be looking much better now, knowing that their principle competition in the wild card and AL West didn't do anything.


Monday, July 30, 2007

The New Second City Part 2: The Gathering Storm

This is the second in a three-part series by GoCM about the city of Columbus and it's most successful and heartbreaking year in sports.

Once bowl season had all but finished, the national picture became much more clear. Big 10 #2 Michigan suffered its second loss of the season, this time at the hands of the USC Trojans, who won in convincing fashion. The win did not mean much in the grand scheme of things but did quiet the Wolverine faithful crying foul over their exclusion from the BCS Title Game. Meanwhile, Louisiana State trampled Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl by a score of 41-14, showcasing the kind of talent present in Baton Rouge - talent that had been beaten by the Florida Gators during the regular season. But these were just two other games. The only game that actually mattered was scheduled for January 8th and in Columbus, the likes of Michigan, USC, LSU and Notre Dame weren't even blips on the radar. The BCS Title game was all that mattered and the Buckeyes expected victory.

The opening kick of the National Title game featured Ted Ginn, Jr., Ohio State's premier wideout, dashing for the endzone and a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game. Ginn, memorably, put a finger to his mouth, asking for quiet for the Gator faithful. Ironically, he should have asked for the same from his teammates; after the dogpile that followed the touchdown, Ginn limped out of the endzone and off the field of play for the duration, injured celebrating his score. From there, the game was Florida's to lose. Methodically with surgeon-like precision, Florida dissected the Buckeye offense that had been untouchable for 12 games. Similarly, Florida's offensive attack, led by oft-maligned Chris Leak, picked apart the Ohio State defense like it was a ju-co squad. Ohio State was in the game for 16 seconds and the rest belonged to Florida, plain and simple. The 41-14 final score was more than indicative of how lop-sided the contest had actually been.

To say the city was in awe after the game was putting it way to easily: shock was a much more appropriate term. Did Troy Smith, who all but disappeared in the BCS game deserve his Heisman? What if USC had beaten UCLA and gone to the title game? Should LSU replace the Buckeyes at #2 in the final pole? It was miserable in its simplicity in Columbus: the best team to perhaps ever take the field at Ohio Stadium had been beaten hard and good in the one game that truly mattered. The Michigan game lost it's luster, as had the road win at Texas earlier in the year. In Columbus, the team returned with a heroes welcome but everyone, Buckeye fan or otherwise, had come to regard the season as a lost cause.

The night after the championship added insult to injury in Columbus. After road losses to UNC and Florida, the Ohio State Men's Basketball team went up against Alando Tucker and the Wisconsin Badgers, then #4 in the country. Once again, in hostile confines, the Buckeyes couldn't bring home a win, losing 72-69 and genuflecting to Tucker throughout the second half. It was Tucker who would run away with Big 10 player of the year and take Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed. Ohio State would gain vengeance later, beating Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament final to secure a #1 seed for themselves in the South Region. This was the second Big 10 championship in as many seasons for Ohio State's major athletic programs.

Before that, however, the Columbus Destroyers would open their season with a road win followed by consecutive losses separated by a bye week. A March 30th win over the Georgia Force at home evened the Destroyers record at 2-2. Matt Nagy had so far been working for Columbus and the 62-61 win over the team he played for just one year prior was sweet. Things were looking good for the Destroyers early in the year. They were toward the top of a mediocre Eastern Division of the National Conference. By May 11th, the Destroyers were 6-4 and smelling the playoffs. Little did they know, the wheels would fall off soon after that.

Ohio State's road to the Final Four was anything but easy. Their opening game against Central Connecticut State was the cakewalk that all #1/#16 games usually are but the next to games would test the Buckeye's mettle. A missed free throw by Xavier gave way to Ron Lewis's game-tying three-pointer and Ohio State outlasting the Musketeers in OT. In the Sweet 16, Ohio State would face Tennessee, a rematch of a January home game that the Buckeye's barely won. Before halftime, however, the game was all Vols. Ohio State was down as many as 22 in the game, settling for an 18-point deficit by the break. Again, Ohio State came back to close the gap against Tennessee and won the game when the would-be winning bucket was swatted away by Greg Oden as time expired. Ohio State was now one win from their first Final Four since 1999.

Ohio State showed it's muscle against #2 seeded Memphis in the regional final, blowing the game open at the beginning of the second half and not looking back. Ohio State had earned a spot in the Final Four with three other highly regarded teams: The UCLA Bruins and Florida Gators, both national finalists the year before and the Georgetown Hoyas, winners of both Big East regular season and tournament. Ohio State would play the surprising Hoyas in a re-match of a tournament game the previous year that was won by the Georgetown. The game was tight all the way but eventually the superb play of freshmen Mike Conely and Greg Oden would trump Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. The win put OSU in their second consecutive national championship game in different major sports, a feat that would have been more remarkable if the other national finalist hadn't accomplish the same feat with a win in the second Final Four game. The Ohio State Buckeyes would once again meet the Florida Gators with a national championship, this time in basketball, on the line.

* * *

The New Second City Part 1: The Build Up

This is the first in a three-part series by GoCM about the city of Columbus and it's most successful and heartbreaking year in sports.

The Columbus Destroyers were certain underdogs heading into Sunday's ArenaBowl XXI in New Orleans. They faced a confident and efficient San Jose SaberCat team that was in almost perfect form. The Destroyers put forth their worst effort since the regular season's penultimate contest are were easily beaten 55-33. Matt Nagy was 24/43 for 203 yards along with two INTs. His counterpart at QB for San Jose, Mark Grieb, was a model of efficiency and grace under pressure: 24/29, 218 yards, 0 INTs and 4 TDs. The Destroyers left New Orleans with their pride intact but feeling an all too familiar sense of disappointment. Needless to say, on Sunday, the Destroyers weren't the first Columbus team to feel that pain.

* * *

This story truly began on November 18th, 2006 around 10pm EST. By that time, and on that date, the #1 Ohio State University Football team was in the midst of celebrating a dramatic and entertaining 42-39 win over arch rival and then #2 University of Michigan. Troy Smith had put the finishing touches on a Heisman-worthy season and the Buckeyes were undefeated at 12-0. The national and local media clamoured over the Buckeyes, most calling for the national championship trophy to come back to the Buckeye state for the first time since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. And why not? Ohio State was going to play in Tempe, Arizona, where they were 3-0 in their last three trips. They were number one in the country, had beaten two different #2 teams and were led by an unstoppable offense and a stalwart and stingy defense. They would have to wait six weeks, true, but it was a moot point; by the early hours of January 9th, they would be champions again.

On November 17th, 2006, one mile from the site of "The Game of the Century", The Ohio State Men's Basketball team whipped Eastern Kentucky 74-45 at home to improve their record to 4-0, but perhaps more importantly, 4-0 without stud freshman center Gerg Oden. Oden, along with four other top recruits, dubbed locally the "Thad Five", a less-than-clever play on Michigan's famed "Fab Five" in the early 1990's, was supposed to be the great hope for Ohio State Basketball program, one that had been mired in the wake of a scandal allegedly involving boosters, former players and former coach Jim O'Brien. Their first real test as a basketball team would not come for another 12 days when they would face North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a game that had the Oden-less Buckeyes either up or within striking distance for the game's majority before OSU's youth was eventually trumped by UNC's talent. Still, the better-than-expected performance had Columbus thinking about a deep run in March, presumably after the football celebrations would be over.

In November of 2006, The Columbus Destroyers were in the midst of deciding what the future would hold for the franchise. Coming off their best year in Columbus or Buffalo, the city from which the Destroyers moved in 2004, the team's ownership, including former Ohio State Buckeye Joey Galloway, decided to build the team from the QB position and eventually settled on Matt Nagy from the Georgia Force. He was experienced, sure enough, with an ArenaBowl appearance just a year before. There were flaws in his game but teaming him up with talented wideout Damien Groce would only benefit the University of Delaware alum. The Destroyers traded for Nagy and set their sights on the upcoming season.

Three teams. Three championship games. One city.

On December 23rd, 2006 when the Ohio State Men's basketball team played an out-of conference game against the Florida Gators in Gainsville. Originally, the game was just another on either school's schedule, designed to increase RPI. Everything changed on December 3rd, when the Gators, after pummeling Arkansas in the SEC Title Game, were given the #2 spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Though the young basketball Buckeyes stayed with the basketball Gators for the majority of the first half, even the presence of Greg Oden couldn't help Ohio State, who was run out of the building by the defending national basketball champions. "WE WANT FOOTBALL" Echoed throughout the O'Connell Center as Ohio State's hope of putting an early Christmas present, a victory over Florida, in Columbus stockings would have to wait for the BCS National Championship Game two weeks later.

* * *

The Morning After on TSE / TSE Birthday Bash - 7.30.2007

We'll go ahead and keep things rather easy this morning (it was a long weekend and my head is barely on straight two days after my last adult beverage) for two rather special birthdays today, one of which is only slightly belated.

July 29, 2007
Happy birthday and Happy Arrival to JTBI's newest family member, John DeMuesy Okuma, who was born to JTBI's sister and brother in law sometime yesterday. Having spoken to the family, I learned last night that the family was strongly considering the name "Christopher" (and what a name it would have been, strong and masculine, yet sensitive and caring...) but decide on John instead. TSE wishes the family strong helpings of both Mazel Tov as well as a glass-raising l'chaim.

July 30, 2007
And now I get to say a Happy Birthday to my old man, David Kopech. Though he'll never read this blog except to criticize it (I'm guessing) I think it's only fair to be able to tell the masses about this man's birthday. Born to Al and Nancy Kopech in 1952, he's come a long way from Cranston East High School in Rhode Island to Columbus, Ohio, a distance of 728 miles. In college, he was sports editor for The Hoya, Georgetown University's "Newspaper of Record Since 1920". Currently, he's trying to stick it to the man in Columbus by promoting "games of skill" (not "games of chance"..enjoy the picture at the right) to the powers that be in Ohio. Hopefully that will be successful so that he will keep paying for me to golf with him. Anyway, happy birthday to the old man. I think we're seeing the Simpsons tonight. Should be a blast.

More later on the unbearable cruelty that is rooting for teams in the city of Columbus. more...