Monday, October 10, 2016

The Red Sox And Coming Back From Post Season Deficits

The Boston Red Sox are 0-2 down to the Cleveland Indians and you might be thinking to yourself 'Haven't we been here before?' Well, pat yourself on the back, you are correct. Recent Red Sox playoff history is littered with dramatic comebacks. Four in fact, three of which culminated in the World Series title.

The Red Sox don't really start their postseason title chase until they're in a hole

We might be stretching a little, but, you could reasonably conclude that the modern era Red Sox team has to be in a serious hole before it decides to start playing and go win the big one.

Here are the most recent examples of this.

2013 ALCS - down 1-0 to Detroit, won 4-3.
2007 ALCS - down 3-1 to Cleveland, won 4-3
2004 ALCS - down 3-0 to New York, won 4-3
2003 ALDS - down 2-0 to Oakland, won 3-2

The 2013 ALCS looked grim after game one. The big concern going into the series was the Tiger's excellent pitching. They shut us down in game one and had a big lead going into the eighth inning of game two.

Then this happened.

It's safe to say Boston's hopes were very low going into game five of the 2007 ALCS. Down 3-1 and looking dead and buried, the Red Sox turned it around completely and absolutely destroyed Cleveland 30 runs to 5 the next three games. Amazing turnaround, the size of which shouldn't diminish the scale of the comeback, from 1-3 down to 4-3 series winners.

What can you say about the 2004 ALCS, other than it was a great time to be alive. Not so much after game three, when things looked pretty gloomy, but the astonishing Red Sox comeback was a defining moment for the entire franchise, a beautiful gift to its lovelorn fan base. One we'll never forget.

The 2003 ALDS comeback over a good Oakland team is often overlooked as the Sox failed to finish the job and win the series. However, down 2-0 to a very talented, young, Oakland side, Boston dug in and came back with a 3-2 series win, catapulting them on to a historic showdown with the Yankees. New York took the '03 meeting, but perhaps Boston started to learn against Oakland that no deficit is insurmountable, and goodness did they put that to good use the following year.

Hey, things look bleak going into game three tonight, but as a great man once said..

''Don't let us win today''.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The NY Giants Are 'Comfortable' Hiring A Man Who Hits Women And Children.

The New York Giants are reinstating kicker Josh Brown after his one game NFL suspension. Normally this would not be big news to those of us who aren't Giants fans, however in this instance this is very interesting. Sadly it's interesting for all the wrong reasons.

Brown is in the news because he was arrested for being abusive towards his now ex-wife. She has accused him of violence against her, her daughter and her two sons from another marriage on no less than 20 occasions. He has violated a protective order placed by a court of law on him several times, including once where he was arrested for this act. Among the more harrowing details, documented diligently by this Deadspin article, are repeated emotional abuses, verbal and physical assault on her sons and, most chillingly of all, attacking her physically while she was pregnant with their daughter.

Josh Brown can stand in front of reporters and act brave and sum his abusive behavior up by calling it 'Just a moment' (literally how he has defined 20 plus assault allegations, restraining orders and his own admission that he was at fault), but all that does is show he is not repentant for his actions and should not be of gainful employ in the NFL, in a league that allegedly champions integrity above everything.

If you bother to read through the quotes and details Brown is clearly a broken idiot, a dangerous coward, and doesn't really deserve column inches. What's really saddening and disappointing is the actions, or lack of same, of the NFL and the New York Giants, and, to a lesser extent, some of the press.

First to the latter. Mostly the media are busy reporting this from a football perspective, with little or often no reference to Molly Brown, Josh's ex wife, the lady who he abused emotionally and physically over a number of years, by his own admission.

One article, on something called 'Giants Wire' goes as far to implicitly blame Molly Brown for the situation, saying;

''As more and more information on the Brown’s strained relationship came out, it was eventually revealed that Josh had been on the receiving end of domestic violence himself, with Molly having allegedly kicked him in the ribs during one particular dispute.''

Molly Brown defended herself on one occasion and the idiot who wrote the above deems that fit to print in the context that Brown himself has admitted to attacking, emotionally and physically, his smaller, more fragile wife on multiple occasions? Pretty pathetic stuff.

Thankfully some of the media, not just Deadspin, are taking this seriously. Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News writes;

''The NFL suspended Brown for one game, a pathetic slap on the wrist but nonetheless an acknowledgment of his wrongdoing.''

That's of key importance to note. The NFL wouldn't have suspended Brown had they not thought he was guilty. The suspension is a clear message that yes, he was an abusive coward who attacked his ex wife.

That's where the real issues start. If someone is guilty of physical abuse of their spouse, is the NFL really saying that all that is worth is a one game ban? This is a league that pontificates about integrity at every given opportunity, a league that famously bans players four games for being 'generally aware' of tampering with footballs.

Finally, the Giants.

The Giants claim they have conducted their own investigation and with that in mind they say they are comfortable with their decision to sign Brown to a two-year, $4 million contract this spring. They are comfortable with hiring a man who has beaten emotionally and physically his then-pregnant wife? That's an unusual thing to be 'comfortable' with.

I don't know why they think it's important to justify this ugly lack of judgement on their part with a glib throwaway comment about their 'own investigation', perhaps the Giants need to be reminded that the court of law and indeed even the NFL are superior to them in handing down judgements and in both of these situations Brown has been deemed guilty of his actions.

I suppose we shouldn't be shocked that Eli Manning has come steaming out, full speed, in defense of Brown, this is a Manning we're talking about here;

“I’m glad to have Josh back. Support him and support your teammates through everything that goes on. Good to have him back on the team and kicking for us this week,”

You're glad, are you Eli? You're glad to have a man back who kicked and punched his pregnant wife? You're glad to have a man back who intimidated a small family over the course of years with threats of violence? That's something you're glad about?

Overall, where are we on this one? Well, the Giants and the NFL have basically taken a look at the Josh Brown situation, where he has repeatedly, over a number of years, emotionally and physically abused his ex wife and her children, and said they are 'comfortable' with that. Eli Manning has gone on record saying he supports this abusive, cowardly thug. Some publications are looking to place the blame on a frail, tiny woman who suffered for years at the hands of this cretin.

Where are we? We're probably exactly where you would expect us to be, in a society that's okay with this abusive, cowardly Neanderthal being rolled out on a weekly basis to play football.

We're exactly where you would fully expect, in this World.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

On DeShon Elliot, Cheap Shots and Texas Football Fans

On Sunday Texas beat Notre Dame in what many are describing as an instant-classic type game, complete with several lead changes and dramatic incidents, perhaps none more so than in the third quarter when Notre Dame were threatening. Torri Hunter Jnr (yes, that Torii Hunter!) looked certain to score a crucial touchdown when he was hit by DeShon Elliot.

Here's the hit

Reviewing the social media and subsequent news reports, the hit was dirty. The general consensus is that the referees and the replay booth simply missed the fact that Elliot clearly made contact high, to Hunter's head, and the play should have been ruled 'Targeting'.

Naturally one group had a serious view the other way, a view they were not shy about sharing or defending. I shared the hit on Twitter shortly after the event, and commented that it looked very dirty, to me. I was instantly assaulted by a dozen or so Texas fans, who used various types of colorful language to disagree with me. They touched all the usual topics in their tweets, homophobia, racism and so forth. The usual. I dealt with Texas football fans before, when I had the audacity to suggest that Jonny Manziel was not going to work out in the NFL. Let's just say I know what to expect from Texan college football fans.

Out of morbid curiosity I browsed down through the acidic timelines of the knuckle dragging clowns that assaulted me on Twitter, just to see what level of cretin was behind the vitriol. Every single one of the dozen or so I reviewed had the following attributes. They were all white males and looked generally between 30-60 or so, although one kid looked like he was about 12. Our outlier! They were all unabashed Texas Longhorn fans, no shock there of course. Interestingly, and perhaps not wildly surprising given their pathetic usage of the English language, they were all clear Trump fans also, half of them belching this out for all to see on their Twitter biography.

What was most interesting of all, each and every one of them had a clearly stated view on the whole Colin Kaepernick mess. I will give you one guess which way they voted on that one. To a person, they rebuked the San Francisco QB for not showing respect with his actions. These angry individuals demanded respect to be shown to the American anthem.


Just not in football. Just not to me. Just not to Notre Dame. Just not to Tori Hunter Jnr, who has been mocked relentlessly by Texas fans and described as a 'woman' for not 'taking his hit' and shutting up.

Respect would seem to have certain caveats added to it, if this little cross section (and I do apologize to regular, normal, nice Texan college football fans, I know you're out there too!) is anything to go by.

To finish, this was not a clean hit, by the way. It was a filthy hit, and emblematic of all the problems being experienced in both college and pro football. Tackling is the act in sports of taking a player down using your arms and body, wrapping the player up and bringing him to the ground. What Elliot did was pure thuggery, and if that's the way they're teaching tackling these days, football is going to last a couple of decades and then be gone. That's too dangerous, and there's simply no excuse for it.

Football could learn a lot from Rugby Union on this point. Rugby teaches tackling very well, and manages to be a very rough, manly sport while also generally assuring the safety of its players. They do this proactively and quite progressively, largely by teaching kids to tackle the right way, but also penalizing any hit about the shoulders or to the head region. All this and meanwhile the fan-base manages to continue to enjoy their sport without a reactive, knee-jerk complaint that the sport is turning 'soft'.

Times change, people, as does body size and the power and speed of modern athletes. The 'In my day' crew are simply showing how redundant and old their thinking is, it shouldn't take science to point out that playersare considerably bigger and faster now than 10, 20 and indeed 30 years ago. A big hit in the 70s is nothing compared to a big hit in 2016.

So funny that so many of those complaining about the softening of sports are 40 and older, in other words, generally not actually playing sports of putting themselves on the line. Added to that, those demanding respect for the national anthem have no problem showing disrespect to anyone that dares disagree with their opinions on what is a sporting tackle and what is not.

I'm not getting too wound up about this, as, first of all, Torii Hunter Jnr is apparently OK. That's the great news. On top of that, I know what side of the fence I am on in this discussion, and, I'm happy with it. Change, in life as it is in sports, is progressive and inevitable. The reason those Texas fans were so angry is, they are afraid of change, changes to their sport, changes to their society.

That is of course true except presumably for the 12 year old. He is just a clown.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jason Bourne Review

Looking at the mediocre reviews for Jason Bourne, you have to think perhaps this entry into the series is handicapped somewhat by the success of its predecessors. Forgetting the Jeremy Renner 'project', the four Bourne movies Matt Damon starred in are scored as follows on Rotten Tomatoes; 83%, 81%, 93% and a clear drop to 56% for the most recent effort.

Personally, having seen it twice, I think this disparity is a little unfair. I'd grade Jason Bourne (2016) at around 75%, not too far off the three Bournes that came before it (again, dropping poor old Jerry R into the waste basket).

Sure, there are a few aspects that drop the score a little from the 80s-plus, but there is also a lot to be excited about within.

To duly note the drawbacks.

On pure look-and-feel it's immediately recognizable this isn't Identity, Supremacy or even Ultimatum. Identity and Supremacy reveled in small details, travel and even the details of human emotions, such as romance. Ultimatum had more of a Global feel about it and I suspect the most recent entry into the series is doubling down on this aspect further. Bourne has done extremely well on a Global scale, and I would imagine this has the producers grinning from ear to ear, and laughing all the way to the bank, too. Remember, it took some time for Identity to become popular, I think they took no chances here and stripped out some nuance in order to land a wider audience from the get-go.

The dialog is a little clunky also, it has to be admitted. This is not a Coen brothers movie, that much is sure. Again I think this suggests the producers wanted this Bourne to be as popular in say, Germany, as it is in Italy, Turkey and China. There were three or four moments where the characters deliberately repeated themselves to really nuke a point home to the audience. Depending on your level of frustration with Globalization and Hollywood movies, that point could prove a stickler for you.

One somewhat unusual complaint, if you've seen it, did you notice how Bourne has apparently drawn a line in the sands of style and reverted back to outfits that would have been at home in 70s adaptations of the series? The Bourne movies are all about progress, in technology, political thinking and spy-craft. They have also always been pretty slick and stylish. This Bourne, however, is very much your Dad's Bourne, a thick, heavy looking leather jacket, jeans any 57 year old would feel comfortable in and a haircut that would be at home in 1950s America. The jacket in particular is an odd choice. I would like to know the wardrobe team's reasoning there. A heavy leather jacket in Greece on a hot summer's night? That doesn't seem wildly functional to me.

Whatever happened to this Bourne, the stylish one?

Those relatively minor complaints out of the way, on to the good stuff.

First, the audacious set pieces, of which there are several. You won't find any spoilers here, suffice to say this Bourne is perhaps the most ambitious in terms of pure, raw action of all the entries to date. The opening, sprawling, set piece in Greece, during what presumably was meant to be an anti-austerity riot, is so good it could double as a news broadcast on the turmoil in Greece. The director, Paul Greengrass, is brilliant at these set piece action segments and he really shows of his skills in Bourne, be it Greece, Germany, England or, finally, in Las Vegas. Bourne is, above all else, an astonishingly raw action movie.

There is nuance to be found, among the action shots. The second time I saw it I caught sight of Bourne showing off his light fingers, quick hands, as he tooled up for a mission. Very gentle and yet super detailed stuff, something you might miss at first glance. There's plenty of detail like that, and the movie has a very contemporary feel, with references to Edward Snowden and Facebook (called 'Deep Dream' in this case).

The central performances are what sets Bourne apart from any recent action rival. Matt Damon delivers as always, even if he has less dialog than ever before. He probably utters about 37 words throughout the entire flick, but he pulls off the physical side of things in robust manner, almost as if someone dared him to make a Bourne movie in his later forties.

Tommy Lee Jones is very good, as you would expect. His semi defeated, worn down and World weary CIA director is very grounding among all the whizz bangs. His underling is played by Alicia Vikander and this is a typical Bourne franchise piece of casting. A good actress pulling off a stylish outing of a clever, balanced and well drawn out character. We just don't get that in movies these days, particularly not in action movies largely aimed at men. Think about it. They could quite easily have lined up one of the usual lipstick actresses for this role, and perhaps added a few dollars to the final take. Instead they went with craft, and, the movie is obviously better for it.

Finally, I really enjoyed British actor Riz Ahmed's turn as the creator and CEO of 'Deep Dream', clearly 'Facebook' in this story. He's perfect for the role and brings a nice energy to same.

I think it's clearly a good sign when you see a movie twice and it's better the second time. The little nuances and attention to detail really shine. Jason Bourne, the movie, manages to stay edgy, relevant and still throws around a few punches, easily keeping one or two more bullets in the chamber. If anything, I left this one thinking, we're setup nicely for a good final chapter. Here's hoping Damon and Greengrass keep their grasp on the franchise steering wheel, as long as they do, we're in good hands.

Monday, August 01, 2016

20th Anniversary Of Baseball Ireland's Trip To Hull

Almost exactly twenty years ago, the Irish baseball team travelled to Hull, England, for the Pool B European Championships, our first foray into European Competition, not really knowing what to expect. The team assembled were young, inexperienced and had never taken the field against another international side. The Irish Baseball League hadn't even started serious play as yet (that would come a year later in '97), effectively the team had only played a handful of pick-up games. Despite all of this, it proved to be a great adventure full of great experiences and learnings. What could have been a disaster and a quick end for the Baseball Ireland program was ground into a meaningful expedition that set the program up for years to come, from '96 through to the silver medal in Antwerp in 2006, the final year that Ireland meaningfully challenged for medals in Pool A or B in European competition (the team has been rebuilding since). 

With the 20th anniversary year in mind, I revisited my notes on the Hull tournament and added some 2016 comments, which you can see below (in resplendent navy blue). Special thanks to Darran O'Connor for the fantastic photos. It's hard to believe it has been 20 years, but, here we go...

The Irish team in Hull, 1996

European Seniors Championship
"B" Pool Great Britain - 1996

Preparation for Hull consisted of a few months with two of Major League Baseball International’s (MLBI) coaches, or ‘envoys’. Pat Doyle and ‘Gentleman’ Jim Reach. Both were and still are well respected in the MLBI organisation, indeed Coach Doyle is currently the head of MLBI.

Cormac 2016: I am unsure if this is still the case in regards the coaches, although I imagine MLBI has undergone a few face-lifts in the ensuing years. The MLBI website isn't exactly instructive.

It was our first experience with US coaching as a team. Mick and Mike had actually attended spring training for a few sessions with the LA Dodgers, Mike took some batting practice pitches, a few brushbacks and some colourful language from Tommy Losorda. Apart from the two Godfather’s of Irish baseball this was the teams first experience of high level US coaching. Both sides took a while to get used to the arrangement.

Boy does Mike love telling the above story. Mick Manning and Mike Kindle are basically the Godfathers of Irish baseball. There are a number of crucial folks who got the ball rolling, the Mitchells (there's about nine of them), Anne Murphy and people like Brian Connolly and Paul Peake, but without Mick and Mike, there's no Baseball Ireland, simple as that.
The coaching staff in '96. From the left, Coach Doyle, Anne Murphy, Mick Manning, Mike Kindle and Coach Reach. Coach Doyle's son in front. Cute shirt!
In America if your coach tells you to ‘jump’ you ask, ‘how high Coach?’ In Ireland, when a coach asks the same question the reply in those early days was ‘Hang on a second just finishing this cigarette.’
Team Ireland 1996.

Coach Reach actually had to stop a training session once to ask Fiachra to put his cigarette out. That’s the way it was. There certainly was never any disrespect, however there was definitely a culture clash. Coach Reach was the more approachable of the two and spent quite a lot of time with the players, often joining in animated conversations at the bar.  Coach Doyle had actually brought his wife and young child with him and was therefore a little more withdrawn from the day-to-day goings on of the team. It certainly never affected his work however Coach Reach definitely got a little closer to the team.

Twenty years on I think it's safe enough now to say, I for one did not enjoy the company of Coach's son. He, for some reason, thought it was funny to tell players that they weren't going to be a starter on that day's team. I am sure he's grown up to be a solid young man, but, back in '96, he wasn't hugely fantastic for team morale.

The Opening Ceremony for Hull '96. I think Coldplay played it. That's Darran O'Connor, Mick Manning and Brian 'Boomer' Connolly in the front row, I've got my arms folded behind them.
Our opening game against the Czech Republic was a real education. We batted first and Gus Hernandez led off with single. The lads went crazy in the dugout as I'm sure most of us thought ‘hey, this isn't so hard!’ I didn't see much of it because my view was blocked by Noel Mitchell literally climbing onto the chicken wire in front of the dugout clambering around like an excited chimpanzee and shouting his head off.  The Czech pitcher looked worryingly relaxed and sure enough, as the next batter stepped in, he caught Gus napping and picked him off first. Ireland’s first lesson in European baseball had been learnt. Don’t stray too far off the first base bag when you have a lefty on the mound.
A little pre-game pepper with Gus 'O' Hernandez. Ireland's first batter in International baseball, Ireland's first hit.
The Czech’s were patient, strong batters and ate Noel alive. Noel was the ace in those early days, Bill Beglane was something of an unknown quantity to most of us but his experience in the English league would prove invaluable through the next few years. Noel was and still is a control pitcher with a decent curveball and a little bit of quirkiness that as a pitcher you need to throw the timing of the batters off.
Actually he's a lead-footed, iron mitted first baseman for the Spartans now! I can't tease him too much, though, as he batted about .498 off of me in Irish league play over the years.

Noel Mitchell in the foreground, myself, John McCarthy, Bill Beglane and Paul Peake, with Jim Kilbride and Gus Hernandez standing.
His position as the catcher Sean Mitchell’s brother led to some hilarious in-game sibling arguments down the years over the location of pitches, the amount of pitches in the dirt or anything else Sean could think about to give out to his brother for. Noel probably threw too many strikes that day against the Czech’s leaving the ball over the plate for one grand slam and a few other monster hits that totally knocked the wind out of our sails. It was tough assignment for anyone making his international debut and the Czech’s had absolutely no mercy. To Noel’s credit he stuck with it and took it all on the chin never giving up.
I'm 30% sure Noel would not be concerned during a global catastrophe Alien invasion event.

I was given a two inning clean up assignment. With my father there I probably tried to do too much and most of my pitches were out of the strike zone, at chest height or worse still right at the batters. I hit four of the Czech’s in two innings. A couple of them were fairly pissed off at this upstart Irish guy plunking them in the back, ass and any other part I could hit. Their Coach though knew I just didn’t have the experience to hit the strike zone and I certainly wasn’t doing it on purpose.  The scariest moment came when I hit the Czech that hit the grand slam. He was wearing a pirate like bandana under his helmet and probably was about three times my weight and most of that was muscle. He flipped his bat and jogged down the first base line staring me down. I kept my eyes firmly glued to the ground.

My abiding memory of my first few pitches in International competition was our coaches shouting at me 'Make an adjustment!' I heard it in my sleep for the next few days. Make a damn adjustment!
The Ireland dugout, Noel Mitchell, John McCarthy, Gus Hernandez and John Dillon. Great snap.
The Czechs were gracious in victory (2-23) and their coach had kind words for us, he was impressed with our hustle, the way we kept playing even as much as twenty runs down, and how we never put our heads down. He told us to keep it up and things would change with experience.

Damn straight, Czech Coach. At that point, standing there shaking hands with the Czechs having taken a serious beating, you couldn't have predicted we would go on to travel the World, and beat great teams like Austria, Belgium, England (twice!) and many others. But, he predicted it. Kind of.

The Czech’s were damn good. Like nothing we had seen prior to that. They had slick defensive moves, everyone seemed to know what their job was. They had pitchers with strong arms and allot of pitches we hadn't even seen before. After a strike out Gus came back to the dugout shaking his head and Brian asked him “well, what was it?’ like a soldier asking a fellow soldier what kind of ammunition the opposition was using, curious as to what the pitch was. Gus just shook his head and shrugged ‘I don’t know!!’ We were definitely schooled that day, simple as that.

I remember Darran, playing left field I think, didn't move a muscle on the grand slam Noel gave up. Someone said something to him between innings, something innocent enough like 'Hey let's hustle on every play' and he replied, 'did you see how far that fucking ball went?'

The game against Norway was a much closer affair than the Czech game. Norway were ahead of us in terms of experience, training and had the usual bigger squad, but for a few innings we gave as good as we got. The highlight of the game was Brian Nolan scoring from second on a single. He bravely turned third with the throw coming in and steamed in to score, spiked his helmet and roared ‘this is what it’s all about, this is what it’s all about!’ Brian has always been an inspirational figure to me. I was a year behind him in secondary school and played basketball against him weekly, and a couple of sessions on the court against Brian would toughen you up in no time. He’s just a smart, down to earth guy and is always more interested in other people’s problems than telling you about his own. When he has advice he tells it to you straight.
Brian 'Knacker' Nolan (right) and some skinny dude (left).
Those are the qualities that made him a player everyone looked up to. Having played softball for so long with the Dodder Dynamo’s, Brian was also a slick fielder, very good with ground balls and with a good arm by Irish standards. His moment though was the highlight, and after that Norway wrestled control of the game and won comfortably enough, 15-5. The problems we faced were sloppy fielding, inability to catch up to fastballs and too many walks. We needed a fix and we needed it fast as there were some frustrations creeping in.

Understatement! We were all ready to kill each other at this stage. Sure, we were a rookie team, and in reality no one expected anything from us, but make no mistake we wanted to win badly. Hidden beneath the friendly exterior, there is a competitive spirit in Irish sports, and we wanted to win, badly. That was starting to get us annoyed, at this point.

The Lithuania game was the least enjoyable game of the tournament, a straight old fashioned pasting. They were clinical like the Czech’s and almost as talented. Our coaches decided to start Darran O’Connor, who was primarily an infielder but who had a cannon of an arm, possibly the best pure arm on the team at the time. This is probably what made Coach Doyle and Coach Reach decide to start him, hoping he could keep the Lithuanians in check with the one pitch, a solid fastball. As we found out in later years though that speed certainly isn’t everything. The low 70’s fastball and the 50 mph changeup is a dangerous weapon against batters who have spent the previous months facing guys throwing in the eighties. It totally messes timing up, and when you throw control into the equation you have some very frustrated batters.
O'Connor at the bat.
Darran was 19 at the time and had previously pitched in the Irish little league, years before. His outing against Lithuania was predictable, he never gave up but the Lithuanians were not overpowered by his fastball and he didn’t have another pitch so they just waited for something to hit and strung the runs together while we failed to get anything going offensively. Darran never complained or asked out and certainly left the opposition with some bruises, hitting six batters. Maybe hoping Darran would get a taste for it the Coaches left him in until the mercy rule was applied and the game ended early. They decided it was more worthwhile Darran getting innings than relievers getting a look in. Darran has been a major part of the heart of Irish baseball, a class act at shortstop, but as far as I know he never pitched one inning again in league or International baseball. The coaches also left several positional players on the bench when the game was way out of reach, Ireland losing 1-19.

Confirmed, that was his one-and-done on the mound. Thankfully the experience didn't scar him for life, and Darran went on to become the longest serving player in Irish baseball history.

Looking back at the preparation the single biggest gap in our readiness was the pitching. As Irish baseball has developed it has done so in tandem with the development of the pitching staff. In 1996 calling it a ‘pitching staff’ would have been a huge insult to the phrase. Between lack of experience, lack of actual pitching coaching and lack of practice we were lambs to the proverbial slaughter. There was no lack of effort on the part of Noel, Will, Darran, myself or any of the other guys but we just were not ready for the standard we were to encounter. Before the tournament the coaching and training was all about hitting and fielding, barely any time was spent on pitching. This just was not the specialty of the two MLBI coaches we were assigned.
We really had done nothing in terms of individual coaching until 4 weeks before we left for Hull. One Wednesday night the coaches took aside the guys most likely to pitch and had us throw about 50 pitches, offering a few suggestions and comments. We did the same two weeks later, and that was all she wrote. As we found out that simply was not enough preparation heading into a tournament like the European Championships.

That was literally the extent of our pitching training.
Mike Kindle and Bill Beglane. Gus Hernandez strolls off to the left.

The frustrations that had been building up one loss after another finally exploded the night of the Lithuanian game. The two coaches went out for dinner, which left the team to go to a local bar. The night went okay for a while, we were playing drinking games and generally relaxing. The conversation finally turned to the tournament and got heated. Several players were disgusted at putting in so much work and getting so little playing time. The two coaches were sticking with the best players even when we were getting battered. Personally I felt strongly that we should all be getting experience for the next tournament, since it was obvious we would not be winning this one. Opinions were shared and no one held back. As the argument went on I grew more and more frustrated and finally stood up and vented. I would say that my tirade was certainly youthful and I definitely meant well, I just wanted to see more equal playing time on a fledgling team still learning the ropes. I probably went overboard and Mike told me to ‘back off’. I was so wound up that I said I wouldn’t and in fact I was leaving, and I walked out the door to the amazement of Mike.
Looking back at that moment now I can smile at it, even if at the time I had tears welling in my eyes as I walked down some street in Hull on my own with no clue how to get back to the college dorms where we were staying. 

Reading this now it sounds like I got up on a soap box and ranted on about inequality and so forth, in actual fact there was a long discussion and subsequent argument between baseball the entire team, with a lot of players venting. My rant was however by far the most childish temper tantrum of the lot.

Team Ireland in the dugout.
Frankly I’m glad I was so passionate about it, as was everyone else involved in the debate, whichever side they were on. It didn’t really matter who was wrong or who was right, we all wanted the same thing, for Irish baseball to get on the map whatever it took. My lonely walk home was interrupted by Paul Peake cruising along in one of the team station wagons, he just gestured for me to get in. No one gave out to me or anything, we just went home, in silence The next day while shaving side by side Mike told me to always keep that hot headedness as I would need it on the mound. Positive affirmation like that stays with you. Typical Mike.

I should also ntoe Mike was fully naked while delivering this pep talk. Not a stitch. Yup.

Our game against Poland was a chance to put the Lithuanian game behind us, and it turned out to be very similar to the Norwegian game. The difference was our bats were starting to wake up and in retrospect it was the perfect warm-up for the Yugoslavian game. Although we were beaten again, 20-10, and the game only went seven innings thanks to the ten run mercy rule we scored ten runs and showed some real potential on the base paths. The pitching again was our weak spot, that coupled with some sloppy defending in the field meant the Poles won by ten runs but we were encouraged by our veritable offensive explosion. Everyone contributed. Mick came in to catch to give Sean a breather and crunched a huge double off the Polish pitcher scoring a few runs. A couple of the other ‘bench’ players finally got a game and contributed to the ten runs we scored. I got clean up duty again and got my first ever strike out in international competition. I would say everyone on the team has a memory from that day, we all chipped something into the pot.

I think the Polish guy that struck out against me was cut forever after the game. In fact I think he now lives in the Amazon as a missionary or something.

The Yugoslavians had also lost all their games coming into the bottom of the table clash with us, but had more experience, better equipment and were probably favourites for the game. As would become custom for the Irish team though we saved our best for last. Bill Beglane showed us what he could do, keeping the opposition off balance with a fastball and a huge sweeping curve. The defence played above expectations and we created runs on the base paths. We won. We beat them 8-6. After getting beaten up for a week we had beaten someone. We ran out of the dugouts on the final out and celebrated like we had just won the World Series. There were a couple of pints downed that night.

Best sentence of entire piece; ''As would become custom for the Irish team though we saved our best for last. ''
The Roscommon Rocket, Bill Beglane, in the blue jacket. John Dillon, Ken and John McCarthy, Brian Nolan and Jim Kilbride alongside.
European Seniors Championship
"B" Pool Great Britain - 1996

Final Standing
1.         Great Britain - Promoted
2.         Czech Republic - Promoted
3.         Lithuania
4.         Austria
5.         Slovakia
6.         Poland
7.         Croatia
8.         Norway
9.         Ireland
10.        Yugoslavia

The 'promoted' bit means they went up to play among the big boys, in Pool A. We got to play England in a three game series in London in '06. We beat them two out of three, on their own patch. One of the best weekends of baseball the Irish team has ever played.

That win probably set Irish baseball up for a few years. If we had come home with zero wins it might have been hard to generate or even keep enthusiasm going. However, we had gone away, we had picked up some invaluable experience against high-class opposition and we had come home with a priceless win. There are plenty of European sides that have left their first European tournament without a win. The fledgling Irish team of 1996 played with heart, great hustle and team spirit and came home with that priceless first victory. Straight off the bat we had respect in European Baseball. We had arrived. 

Today, in 2016, twenty years later, this statement still rings true; ''That win probably set Irish baseball up for a few years''

Had we come home without a win at all, who knows what would have happened. Instead, the Irish baseball league is booming, and the National team has some good quality younger players who can hopefully lead them back to Pool B sooner rather than later. Twenty years of baseball, it's hard to believe how much as happened in the meantime, but this trip to Hull was certainly a good start.

The 1996 Irish National Baseball team.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Worst Team Mate Ever: Baseball Ireland Edition.

Playing a sport in a country where that given sport is a minority exercise often brings up funny situations. Baseball and indeed softball in Ireland are great examples of that. You get this 'big fish, small pond' syndrome where certain individuals think they are really something, when, in actual fact, they are not.

This can manifest itself in all sorts of shapes and sizes and sometimes the results are hilarious. Sometimes it's as simple as someone making an absolute buffoon of themselves over email. The great sports website Deadspin occasionally posts funny emails from amateur teams and individuals, and I have a beauty to share with you.

A few years ago a guy I played baseball with for a little while left my club team in inglorious fashion, via the media of angry-rant email, in fact. A little bit about this chap, for context and so you get how funny this email is. A mediocre ball player, this fella thinks he is someone. His ego does not match his output, he has considerably out-punted his coverage. He used to send us extravagant stories as to how he led the Spanish baseball league in all sorts of stats, but when we looked into it, he hadn't played in the actual league, instead was splashing around in some Mickey Mouse, glorified pick-up games. He would constantly yack on about his skills and, if things didn't go his way, he would just change teams. He changed squads twice in Ireland before joining my team, and I believe has changed squads twice since sending this nuclear fart of an email below. If my math is correct, and I think it is, he's played for 5 Irish baseball teams.

Yeah, that guy.

This guy is actually relatively popular amongst his peers, however those that have read his hilarious emails down the years, and listened to his bizarrely narcissistic and exaggerated stories of self-success on the diamond, know that he's a simple blow-hard and a terrible team-mate who will stab you in the back quicker than you can say 'Douche Bag' if things aren't going his way.

What led to this hilariously inept email below?

This guy played every game when available over a couple of years, and was slotted in to various positions on the field, despite a an anemic batting average. An enjoyable side-note, when faced with his pathetic statistics, he actually accused one of the team co-captains, one of the most honorable and responsible men I have ever met, of 'cooking the books' to make him look bad.  That's the kind of deluded clown we're dealing with here. The team did all it could to make him happy, and he certainly wasn't lacking playing time. So why the anger? For one, he was behind me in the team's pitching rotation, and as you can see below he singles me out for a couple of choice stabs in the back. A couple of weeks prior to this email I had a back and forth with him about caring for his injury over email, and I always tried to support him as a team-mate. As you'll see, apparently that wasn't enough for this guy.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we.

The email in full, for your absolute entertainment. Unedited save for a couple of added, contextual comments and redacting names to protect the innocent and indeed the moronic. Spelling mistakes left as is, again, for your pure unadulterated enjoyment (bear in mind this was written by an adult male, not by some kind of exceptional chimpanzee that recently, with the help of scientists, 'mastered' the English language).

Enjoy, in all its glory.

Hey [Redacted team co-captain] and [Redacted team co-captain], 

Decided to boycott your team man,after long deliberation with my freinds,familly and colleagues about how things have been handled on the team,ive decided im not happy playin for you,being benched is just completetly embarrasing for one [Editors note - bear in mind he wasn't benched, he got to bat, he just wasn't pitching],put in in the 5th to let dry loosing big time cause mac is shit [Editors note - Love this bit! 'Mac is shit'. Whilst no Pedro Martinez, I think my 158 wins in the league, with a 10-1 season coming the year after this email, speaks for itself] is just not exeptable [Editors note - nothing should ever be 'exeptable', guy!], you should of benched his ass after the 2nd,dont care what you say anymore,you always make false promises,but at the end you will always have your guys play cause its your team, I have rested for 1 month after playing in barca to recuperate, i wouldnt come to the field if i wasnt fit to play,and you bench me ( I had work that day for money [Editors note - this as opposed to the days where he had to work for bananas] but cancelled to come play ) ? Plus your going to say its to keep me fit for the Spartans for the play offs, i dont beleive your lies anymore, i know for a fact Mac will pitch all the way even if the spartans are kiking his ass [Editors note - I love it when someone is 'Kiking' my ass] you will leave him in the hopes that we will get runs back, i havnt been happy playin for you at all,always bullshit and drama to deal wit [Editors note - this within the single biggest bullshit, dramatic email I have seen in club baseball]. So thats it for me, ive been part of the canes for 5 years now, I wont be playin for you anymore. Period. Ive had great times but more bad times.

I dont even beleive you wil play me against Spartans in the play offs, its all bullshit  [Editors note - he likes that word!] for Mac to get his award for best pitcher [Editors note - I did, thank you, and two more after that also.] but in my opignion [Editors note - everyone's got an 'opignion' these days!!] he is not the best pitcher in the league and should not be a starting pitcher,his time is up [Editors note - the guy was almost correct here, I only pitched another 4 years after this was sent] ,everybody in the league knows it,all the national team laugh about him and say it,its a joke. I guess being benched was the last straw for me, you handled me completely wrong.
I have told you many times, I take baseball very serisiouly [Editors note - if you're not taking things serisiouly, well, there's no hope for you!] . Good luck with your team and cant wait to see Mac do it all by himself next year like he wants, I will not clean up shit for anyone expect myself [Editors note - well, at least we know he has sanitary bathroom habits] 

Thanks again for the years playing with the canes [Editors note - worst thank you, ever?] 

Your a good guy [Redacted team co-captain] , i mean that but for me personally, thats it. Look forward facing you next year.

Monday, July 04, 2016

In Response To The Irish Times Article On American Sports

Dear Sir,

I was very disappointed to see column inches dedicated to the erroneous and indeed lazy article by Brian O’Connor on American sports. Normally in the journalistic World, ignorance of a subject precludes writers from tackling same, Mr. O’Connor seems to wear that same ignorance of American sports like a badge of honour.

His article is wildly inaccurate on a number of levels, and is actually quite offensive in parts.
He appears to be making an odd case that American sports are not popular in the rest of the World, and offers a few glib remarks to back this up, but very little of actual substance. Indeed, he takes a quick swipe at baseball and yet doesn’t actually tackle the game in the body of his content. It’s as if he awoke, saw news of Fourth of July celebrations and snidely thought, ‘Screw them, their sports are crap!’.

From an Irish perspective I have to wonder if Mr. O’Connor knows anything about sports in Ireland outside of a seemingly very narrow understanding on his part. Basketball is absolutely enormous across Ireland, and indeed Irish keeper Darren Randolph’s father, Ed, is a legend in Irish basketball circles. The game is played in schools and clubs all over the country and has enjoyed several years of huge success as it makes it mark as one of the bigger sports outside of the biggest players such as soccer, GAA and rugby.

Mr. O’Connor’s poorly argued article would fall down on the topic of basketball alone, however he is also hugely incorrect when it comes to American Football and indeed baseball too.

American Football has been growing steadily in Ireland since the 1980s and is home to a vibrant league, the IAFL, with thousands of registered members both North and South of the border. One of the joys of the sport in Ireland is that it is played by teams North and South, fostering sporting ties in broad communities. It is one of the biggest ‘minority’ sports in Ireland, and its thousands of members should be greatly offended by Mr. O’Connor’s lazy article (in which he actually goes out of his way to offend those very people in a bizarrely arrogant sentence).

Baseball is smaller in terms of membership and yet ironically better placed internationally than its footballing brothers. The Irish National baseball team has taken part in European Championship tournaments since 1996 and has achieved medals and notable scalps along the way. We’ve beaten several big European teams (Austria, Belgium, Finland and England, twice, on their home patch, to name but a few) and have achieved bronze and silver medals at European tournaments in ’04 and ’06. The team is growing as is the sport in Ireland. The Irish Baseball League contains teams from literally every corner of Ireland, again North and South, and is developing and growing annually.
Both football and baseball have huge followings all through Europe. As a member of the Irish baseball team from ’96 to ’06, I had the huge privilege to travel the World in an Irish jersey, and I can tell you, there are some beautiful baseball facilities all over Europe, in places as disparate as Karlovac Croatia, Prague, Hull, Vienna, Stockholm, Croydon, Regensburg Germany and Antwerp. Baseball is absolutely enormous in France, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands in particular.

Mr. O’Connor’s article is wrong on both sides of the Atlantic. In his shopping list of sporting clichés, he appears to copy and paste in the old refrain that soccer, football, isn’t big in America. I would openly wonder has Mr. O’Connor bothered studying the game in the USA lately, as it’s absolutely huge at this point. Huge at all levels. Soccer is pushing the established sports at school, college and professional level all across the States. Seattle, where I am now and for example, has some of the most incredible soccer facilities I have ever seen, with literally thousands of players playing in hundreds of games in tens of leagues on a weekly basis. There is soccer everywhere you look here, and for Mr. O’Connor to write the Beautiful Game’s place in America off so lazily is nothing short of pathetic.

One last glaring part of Mr. O’Connor’s article was his misguided and also hypocritical analysis of American sports as ‘static’. First, to call basketball static would suggest the writer has never watched a second of sports in his or her life. That’s just awful. Second, if that gentleman had ever tried understanding either baseball and or football, he would understand the physical demands, skill and commitment required to play those sports well. He might then also understand the passages of play in those sports. Further to this, if he wasn’t just having a bitter, disinterested pop at Americana, he might have realized he was being super hypocritical in labelling any sport static considering he appears to be a fan of Rugby Union. Much as I love that particular sport, have you been watching the deterioration of the scrum in the last decade? Yeah, static? Really?

I find it very worrying that your paper prints and article by a writer who clearly hasn’t researched his piece at all, and is instead left to jot down a few lazy personal opinions about American Sports.
Everyone in entitled to their opinions, of course. However, a paid journalist shouldn’t take so much glee in being so wildly inaccurate in his clearly personal ramblings. One would think that the title ‘Sports Journalist’ would come with a basic understanding of a wide variety of sports, not just breathless fan-boy drooling over rugby, framed by a lazy, arrogant dismissiveness of sports one doesn’t understand.

Yours in sports,
The Irish National Baseball team in historic Fenway Park, August 2001

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The NBA Finals, Fixed? Kind Of.

Look, I know, there’s nothing worse than a bad conspiracy theory. For example, I know of actual real human beings who think that the United States Federal Government actually want to ‘take away’ all the guns, and their 2nd amendment rights with them. Think about that for a second, what would President Obama do, start driving around in a pickup and collect them all? It’s beyond asinine. Anyway, you probably know a few sloppy conspiracy theories yourself. You definitely have a friend or two that are into them, I know I do.

However! These NBA Finals, am I right?  I’m not saying they are fixed to a particular outcome, but I think it is perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that the league is trying to extend to a six or seven game series.

Why? That should be blatantly obvious, money. Imagine the difference in overall dollar revenue for the NBA between a four game sweep and a dramatic seven game series. A game seven alone must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue alone to the NBA. It is absolutely in their interest to ensure this series doesn’t slink off into the off-season off the back of a four to five game affair.

Imagine how easy it would be for the NBA to quietly instruct its referees to achieve this? So easy. Just over-officiate the home games in favor of the home teams, and very few will notice. The vocal home crowds will be baying for the calls anyway, and the TV audience doesn’t really get a say, apart from some fart like noises on the social networks.

We’re seeing exactly that in these finals, the zebras officiating heavily in favor of the home teams, and, I write this as someone who’s rooting for the Warriors and Curry.

Games one and two, LeBron and the Cavs were not only beaten to a pulp by Golden State, they were smothered heavily by the men in charge. Watching Twitter react to LeBron repeatedly being called for travelling was a treat. Watching LeBron react to being continuously called for travelling was the cherry on top. LeBron doesn’t get called for travelling, be it 5 steps or the 7 steps he was taking in games one and two. It wasn’t just that, everything even close to a 50/50 went Golden State’s way.
Then last night, in Cleveland, the mirror opposite happened. Curry, Thompson and crew couldn’t buy a call. The horrific moving pick that Mosgov set on Thompson should have been investigated by Cleveland Homicide, it was that bad, yet amazingly the zebras kept their whistles quiet. The entire game they called anything close in Cleveland’s favor.

Keep an eye on this on Friday during game four. If a lot of calls seem to go Cleveland’s way, well, don’t say I didn’t tell ya!

Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports


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