Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ireland v USA - Round two - playing for your country

The vast majority of my readers are Irish-American and a question that often pops up over email is 'So what's it like living in Ireland?'. Well, I am here to serve you, and having spent time in both Ireland and the States I feel qualified to play the two off each other in a series of pieces on exactly where is it better to live, Ireland or the States.

Round two, who plays harder for their country? Let's chop it up.

The breaking news reported over the last 24 hours, that LeBron James actually will play for Team USA in the basketball really shows the ugly side of professional sports in the United States. Ugly? Yes, ugly.

My point is, good for LeBron, however, if things were right, it would be him begging the powers that be to include him in the squad.

In the rest of the world, to represent your country is the single greatest honour that can be bestowed upon you in sports. International sporting events are the great leveller. It doesn't matter who's wage packet is the biggest, once you step between the lines, it's whoever wants the win most for their country.

It's ironic really, considering the enormous value placed on paper-thin patriotism in the States right now. The fact of the matter is, if LeBron had said he wasn't going to play, most of the media persona's in the US would have been happy with that.

It would appear, in these circumstances, appearing to be patriotic is actually more important than being patriotic. Supporting the troops, making fun of French people and booing the Dixie Chicks appears to be more important than representing your country on the field of play.

The downward spiral that teams representing the US are going through right now is a case of greed mixed in with the US sporting media's general lack of a decent 'world view' when it comes to sports. Selfish players know they don't have to represent their country because the media is not going to slate them for making such wallet-based decisions. International sporting events, which have the power to bring countries together, to stop warring factions and to galvanise entire nations, are vastly more important to the rest of the world than general professional sports. Why is that not the case in the States? Simple, money and greed.

You can paint it any way you want, reason it in any shape or form, but those players who choose not to represent their country at whatever discipline are turning their backs on the States as they just don't give a damn - it doesn't pay to play for the USA!

So how does Ireland fare when put up against the States in terms of pride for playing for your country? There is absolutely no comparison. Ireland by a long distance. The passion with which the Irish soccer and rugby teams, in particular, take the field is matched by few on the international circuit.

Robbie Keane - head over heels

A good example is Irish soccer star Robbie Keane. Keane earns big money playing in the flashy English Premiership for Tottenham Hotspur. He is, in fact, their highest paid player. When he is picked for the Irish team, Keane throws 100% of his heart and soul into the game. It is basically a given in the rest of the world, when your country picks you, you play. Not only do you play, you leave your body and soul on the field.

When someone decides to turn their back on their nation, that's headline news. That happens less often than a David Ortiz inside-the-park home run.

Wrap it up any way you want, package it in any way you see fit, but US professional sports and US national teams have a terrible co-existence that is getting worse year by year. Look at the US results in recent world events. They flunked the World Baseball Classic horribly. They flunked the basketball even worse. They tried hard in the last soccer world cup but clearly lacked match practice against top class opposition.

Here's the thing. In all those, no one in the US sports media really cared. While Ireland stops and stands still for the duration of any world cup or similar event that Ireland manages to qualify for, you barely even had coverage of the WBC that wasn't buried under headlines of so and so's contract or who just got arrested most recently off the Cincinnati Bengals.

So, which is better when it comes to representing your country, Ireland or the USA? Ireland, in a terrific land slide. After the USA taking the first event, 'the weather', we have a 1-1 tie on our hands. Sounds like a World Cup scoreline eh?

Running scoreline; Ireland 1 USA 1

Previous head-to-heads
Round one: The Weather

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dodgers move Garciaparra to third

Old friend Nomar Garciaparra is on the move again. The Dodgers, or, 'Red Sox West' as I like to call them, have decided to push Nomar over to the left side of the infield for a variety of reasons. Primarily the fact that young stud first baseman James Loney, who gave them a spark at the end of 2006 when he came up during the September call-ups, is batting .429 since June 10th. In short, they need to find a place for the kid.

To Nomar's credit, he has welcomed the move, no veteran whining or complaining from his corner at all. Isn't it crazy that Garciaparra is now an eleven year veteran? It seems like only yesterday he was knocking in 10 runs against Seattle or making those amazing plays deep in the hole at short.


The move makes the Dodgers a pretty interesting proposition. It upgrades them dramatically in the infield whilst their pitching is second to none in the National League. Imagine a World Series between these guys and the Red Sox? Talk about a boatload of side stories. Dan Shaughnessy's head would simply explode. Good luck to Nomar in his new role.

Congratulations, Steve and Elaine

Many congratulations to Steve and Elaine Divito. Baby Hannah was born at 16:32 and weighed in at 7lbs 4oz, Mother, baby and Steve 'doing great'!

Steve is the captain of the Dublin Hurricanes baseball club and has led the team to two Irish league titles since 2003. Steve won the The 'Andy Leonard ' league MVP award in 2005 and last summer trained with the Irish National team in lieu of receiving an Irish passport and citizenship.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ireland v USA - Round one - the weather

The vast majority of my readers are Irish-American and a question that often pops up over email is 'So what's it like living in Ireland?'. Well, I am here to serve you, and having spent time in both Ireland and the States I feel qualified to play the two off each other in a series of pieces on exactly where is it better to live, Ireland or the States.

First stop, the weather.

Just another rainy day in Ireland

So let's explode a few myths right off the bat. Irish weather not only blows, it also sucks. It both sucks and blows at the same time. It is horrendous. It's not quaint, it's not 'soft' and the weather in Ireland is not 'romantic'. It blows. Period.

Irish people are eternal optimists, and continue to console themselves with 'well, it is only June, it's bound to get better' - it's never getting better! Ever! It has sucked since I was five, it still sucks thirty years later!

Actually, you know what, it's not that bad. It's worse. It has been raining now for about ten days straight. It rained this morning, it rained all afternoon and it is raining right now. This is not good weather, unless you are either a fish, masochistic or some kind of aqua man type superhero. This weather is worse than Julio Lugo's batting average.

There really is not redeeming factor when it comes to Irish weather. It is particularly bad for the purposes of playing baseball games. Rain and baseball do not mix well.

The thing about the States is, the weather is largely predictable. In Boston, the winter will be ice cold, the summer will have beautiful sunny spells with occasional summer showers. I loved the climate in San Francisco. The cool sea breeze and the sunshine, lovely mix. Ireland? Rain, rain and more damn rain. Seriously. It is June 22nd and the weather is disgusting!!

I welcome the ice caps melting, at least then the rain will seem like nothing but a minor irritant! Round one of USA v Ireland goes unanimously to the States, by a whopping first round knockout too.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Roger Clemens - in 2052

So this is what the Yankees season has come to

Ever dream you could be a fly on the wall in 2057 when Roger Clemens, George Steinbrenner's brain and Brian Cashman Jnr discuss the Rocket coming on board for another year? Well, now you can!

Roger Clemens 2057


The old fella who plays the Rocket deserves an Oscar. I wonder can he actually pitch? Maybe Cash should give him a call.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Things that make you go, ouch!

The Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins
gets hit by a pitch from the Cleveland Indians' Cliff Lee.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Red Sox v Yankees - Grading by position

At the start of the 2007 MLB season and after about a months worth of games, I went through the Sox and Yanks position by position, and tried to pick out who had the advantage at each spot. Just as a disclaimer, remember, I am picking who is playing the best right now, not overall in their career or anything like that, right here, right now.

Let's chop it up.

The catchers
Jason Varitek v Jorge Posada
Edge: The New York Yankees
You can't ignore Posada's numbers. He is having a superb 2007 season. Batting .342 with 9 home runs and 43 batted in, Posada has been on a tear since day one. Varitek, however, is also having a decent offensive season, with 7 home runs of his own and 31 runs batter in. He is batting .265 which, frankly, the Red Sox will take. Why is that? Because Varitek does such a superb job with his pitching staff. You have to ask, does Posada have the same effect on the Yankee stable of pitchers as 'Tek? Doesn't seem that way, as both staffs are going in opposite directions right now. For our purposes here though Jorge's numbers are superior right now, so advantage Yanks.

The shortstops
Julio Lugo v Derek Jeter
Edge: The New York Yankees
Check out the rbis, runs and stolen bases and it looks like Julio Lugo is having a great opening season for the Sox (34/32/19). Check out the batting average (.201) and it looks like Lugo is having his one and only season in Boston. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter has knocked in 34 runs, scored a whopping 50 and is batting a robust .343. So what if he is the most over rated defensive short stop in baseball? He will still be given a Gold Glove, he is Derek Jeter! Acerbic bitterness aside, this one is no contest. Jeter over Lugo in a messy landslide.

Second base
Dustin Pedroia v Robinson Cano
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
At the start of the season the big mouthed pundits of the baseball world had a bunch of clichés the liked to throw out there every few minutes. One of those was 'you know, one of these days Robinson Cano is going to win a batting title.' Well, when exactly, Rick Suttcliffe, and associates? When? How long do I have to wait? Will I be drawing a pension? He is batting .270 with 3 home runs. Should I be waiting with breath held? You guys let me know, thanks.

Or, hang on, did you fellas mean Dustin Pedroia? He's batting a whopping .323 and has an adult-rated swing for a little guy. Pedroia gets to absolutely everything at second, turns the double play well and is now batting second in front of Boston's big bats. I'll go with the little guy with the upppercut swing and the big, fat, juicy batting average.

Third base
Mike Lowell v Alex Rodriguez
Edge: The New York Yankees
While looking forward to Mr April's choke job as the Yanks lose ground in the wild card hunt in late September, you certainly have to tip your hat to the chap right now. The stats he has logged thus far would probably get most players a meaty, multi year contract. 73 runs batted in, in June? Holy mackrel, what's the projection for a year? 200 rbis? Ironically Mike Lowell is having a superb year too, with 50 rbis of his own at this early stage, however there is no hiding from Mr April's almost unbelievable numbers.

Thank Jeebus we have his late season swoon to look forward to.

First base
Kevin Youkilis v several Yankees
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
So, where is Jason Giambi? What's up with that? Is he actually in a holding cell or is he just at home playing playstation counting stacks of cash and reading copies of 'Which steroid' monthly? Youkilis is doing everything Boston wanted and so, so much more. He is batting .332 and has scored 45 runs, while blasting 8 bombs with 35 rbis. Andy Phillips? Minty? No competition.

Left field
Manny Ramirez v Hideki Matsui
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
Quick tip of the cap to Matsui. He has delivered when many of the Yankee stars have either disappeared or are struggling. Plus, he is hard-as-nails. I still cringe remembering his broken hand incident in left field. Ouch.

Meanwhile, have you actually seen Manny's stats lately? He is now batting .300, with 11 long balls and 41 rbis. That was sneaky eh? The old cliché is true. When the weather gets hot, so does Manny.

Centre field
Coco Crisp v Johnny Damon
Edge: The Boston Red Sox (just)
One's going up, one's going down. While Damon struggles with injuries, perhaps as a result of playing pretty-tough centre field for so many years, Coco is starting to hit, and hit hard. Added to this, Coco's defence has been nothing short of spectacular. He has made several absolutely incredible catches this season, and has saved Boston many runs in the process. Josh Beckett says Coco is the best defensive centre fielder he has ever played with. Plus, he still has the coolest name in baseball.

Right field
JD Drew v Bobby Abreu
Edge: Tie
So, which underachieving right fielder would you pick? It is almost impossible to separate these guys. Both started out pitifully and both have started to hit lately. Drew has 2 more bombs (6-4) and, at a year younger, certainly has a slightly higher-upside. However, it is impossible to decide which player has disappointed more.

Designated hitter
David Ortiz v several Yankees
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
Anything to even discuss here? No, I didn't think so.

Starting pitchers
Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Tavarez
Mussina, Pettite, Wang, Clemens and question mark
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
On paper this should be closer than it is. Games are, however, not played on paper. Mussina looks old. Pettite started out well but has been hit hard lately. Clemens is a pathetic joke, a 'six-innings and that's it pitcher' who will probably break even at maybe 9-9 or say 11-8 for just 22 million dollars. Seeing as he only goes six innings the Yankee bullpen, which is uglier than the elephant man, will blow enough of his leads to make his 2007 season a joke, an expensive one at that. Wang is the only guy on that list who you could trust with a big game on the line. And even he is prone to horrific headlines, like, 'Texas pounds Wang'.

Meanwhile Boston's rotation could arguably be the best in the American league. The guys in the 4 and 5 spots, Wake and Tavarez, are pitching great. Tavarez, at 8-5, could be the best number 5 pitcher in all of baseball. The number six option? Jon Lester, who Baseball America called one of the greatest left handed prospects in baseball. The top three aren't doing too shabby either. Schilling will rest his shoulder and come back to give Boston Clemens like stats at half the price. Beckett looks like he wants the Cy Young. Matsuzaka continues to improve as he adjusts to Major League Baseball. His starts are entertaining, his stuff is downright nasty.

This one isn't close at all. The Red Sox starting five is vastly superior to the Yankee rotation.

The bullpen
Edge: The Boston Red Sox
What it all comes down to here is this, say you are a GM and your team is up 3-1 after six innings, who do you want going in the 7-9th inning for you?

Your choice? Glad you asked.

Either..

Bruney/Farnsworth/Vizcaino followed by Scott Proctor followed by Mariano Rivera
Or...
Timlin/Donnelly/Lopez followed by Okajima followed by Papelbon

The second option is, in 2007, much superior to the first option. Okajima is Japanese for 'Does not give up runs, ever, basically' whilst Papelbon was firing darts at 98mph in his last few outings. The Red Sox rarely give away late inning leads. Big edge, Boston.

The managers
Tito v Joe
Edge: Boston
Simply put, right now Boston are the best team in MLB. They have the best record of all teams. The Yankees are half way down the list. Go ahead, go to espn and click on MLB and standings, then click to view all teams and you can see all 32 MLB teams listed in order of record. The Yankees are half way down the last. Nowhere near the top. With a lineup that cost $50 Mil more to create, Joe Torre has not delivered.

Add to that the fact that everything Tito touches right now turns to gold. Move JD Drew to the leadoff spot? Bombs away, Drew starts whacking the long ball. Lean on Lopez more heavily? Hey presto, the lefty becomes invaluable as a second lefty out of the pen. Tito Francona is doing a better job in 2007, as mirrored by his sides continued success. Edge, Boston.

So there it is. 8-3 Boston with one tie in there too. As always, the real test comes down to money. If some Joe Punter walked up to you in the street today and said, 'I will give you $1 million dollars but you have to place it on the team you think will go further in the '07 MLB playoffs, Boston or NY', well, who would you pick?

The more thoughtful Yankee fans out there are nodding right now, their faces going slightly pale with the dull realisation that they would be idiots not to put that cash on Boston.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The future is...now?

So, word on the street is that big Schill may not make his next start. Well, hopefully he manages to shake whatever is bugging him and come back stronger. In the meantime...

From the glass half full side of life...how about a peek at this fella?

Come on, your telling me you didn't think about the possibility?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Weekend Irish League roundup 16th/17th June


First of all, the Greystones v Northstars 'A' league game was postponed due to injuries suffered by some of the Northstars players in their car accident a couple of weeks ago. Best wishes to John Want and the other players involved, hopefully they get well soon.

'A' division results
Spartans 11 Hurricanes 1
Blacksox 17 Twins 1

'B' division results
Spartans 13 Hurricanes 26

Match report
Spartans 11 Hurricanes 1
The Hurricanes and Spartans met in wet, cold conditions on Saturday 16th with both teams looking to carry on recent good form. It was the Spartans who emerged with their impressive unbeaten record intact, and the 'Canes who go back to the drawing board. The Spartans are now 8-0 and have pole position in the race for one of the top two places and a place in the 'A' league final. The Hurricanes drop to 3-4 and need to reel off a few wins to stay in contention.

The game could have been so different, if the 'Canes could have managed a couple of hits with runners in scoring position. They loaded the bases an amazing four times, once with no outs, and were unable to score on any of those occasions. Their lone run came with the game already out of reach at 9-0. Four times the sacks were full of 'Canes but the Spartans pitcher played the role of Houdini for the afternoon and managed to wiggle out of every jam.

Andrei, the Spartans Romanian ace, mixed a hard curve with a good fastball to keep the 'Canes from scoring in those key situations. What makes the loss even more painful is the 'Canes, in particular Tommy Hernandez, Chris Foy and Andy Martin, worked some really tough at bats to get on base through the walk. The 'Canes saw some of their best, most intelligent at bats of the season in working hard to get on base. Sadly when they did they either failed to hit, or just ran into bad luck. If you have 18 base runners and score once something is against you on the day!

The key moment of the game came with the score at 2-0 to the Spartans but the bases full of 'Canes and no outs. Alex Bettancourt blasted what looked like a single up the middle but Andrei managed to get a glove to the ball, knock it down, and throw the runner out at the plate.

In comparison, the Hurricanes pitching struggled. Starter Cormac Eklof went 3 2/3rds innings giving up 5 runs, 2 earned, striking out 5. He was relieved with 2 outs in the fourth. Woody Woodburne came in and didn't have any luck with his tricky knuckle ball, a pitch that's probably very hard to throw in damp, cold weather.

Some positives for the Hurricanes included the stellar play of Lorcan Sherlock behind the dish, replacing injured star Tom Kelley, who has a fracture in his ankle and is out at least six weeks. Lorcan worked extremely hard and called a good game too. Another positive was the line drive single that new player Dara Beirne hit in the sixth inning. He looks like a good pickup.

Several big games on the horizon for the 'Canes. The only consolation they can take from Saturday's loss is they are unlikely to see a pitcher like Andrei until they play the Spartans again later in the summer. You just have to tip your hat to him and move on.

Match report
'B' division results - Spartans 13 Hurricanes 26
Another American football score for the 'Baby Canes' who are scoring runs like crazy. Feisty Japanese star 'Utah' did much of the damage on the basepaths with his up-tempo style of baseball. Meanwhile, starter Garret Pearse and relievers Alex Bettancourt and Eric Valkys did enough on the mound to lead the 'Baby Canes' to another victory in their reinvigorated quest for the 'B' league title.

Links:

If you would like to get involved with Baseball Ireland at any level, Adult or Youth, or would like to support the game in Ireland, please refer to this link

Friday, June 15, 2007

The good amongst the ugly

Whatever about that guy, there is another reason to watch tonight's Boston v San Francisco showdown. It's another player on the Giants, a guy who the Fenway crowd took to their heart at the ring ceremony in '05 after the amazing '04 playoff run. Actually, has there ever been a game with two so-totally opposite reactions in store for two players on the opposing team?

Anyway, you know the guy. This guy.



The most famous stolen base in Major League history - Dave Roberts v New York, 2004 ALCS

Welcome back Dave Roberts!

Guess who's coming to town?

I'll give you a clue...


Only the biggest cheat in Major League history, that's who! I have said it before and I'll say it again, I hope the Fenway crowd doesn't hold back when Bonds comes to the plate. He brought this all on himself, he deserves every single 'boo' and derogatory comment that is thrown his way.

The weekend series in full;
  • Friday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 3-4, 5.25) vs. Giants (Barry Zito, 6-6, 4.02), 7:05 p.m ET
  • Saturday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 7-5, 4.52) vs. Giants (Matt Cain, 2-6, 3.31), 3:55 pm ET
  • Sunday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 6-7, 3.92) vs. Giants (Matt Morris, 7-3, 2.56), 2:05 p.m ET
Saturday night's (8:55 pm Irish time!) matchup is a potential cracker. Cain is a very promising young pitcher with great stuff. Matsuzaka pitched well in Arizona with no run support. Here's sincerely hoping Bonds goes 0-for-Fenway.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Understated Dodger legends

Up to recently my excuses for calling the LA Dodgers my 'second team' (behind Boston) were bordering on the pathetic. In my defence, at least it was an eclectic collection of reasonings. Brad Penny is my second ace (behind the marvelous Josh Beckett) on the Tusken Raiders, my fantasy 'keeper league' baseball team. I also grabbed James Loney who I saw play last summer and who has gazillions of potential. Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra are on the Dodgers, both former Red Sox superstars, I always loved watching Lowe play. Just a very likeable guy.

That was it though, really. Up until I got into communication with Brent Shyer, the webmaster for Walter O'Malley's website. Through a friendly back and forth with Brent I have started to learn more about the history of the Dodgers and the involvement of the O'Malley family with same.

Walter Francis O'Malley (October 9, 1903 – August 9, 1979) was basically an American sports executive who owned the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers team in Major League Baseball from 1950 to 1979. Calling him a baseball executive, however, is not paying him anything close to his full due, he is a Dodgers legend. The Dodgers were initially successful under O'Malley's leadership, winning National League pennants in 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. In 1958 he brought major league baseball to the West Coast, moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to LosAngeles. They remained successful on the field, winning the World Series in 1959, 1963, and 1965.

On March 17, 1970, Walter turned over the presidency of the team to his son Peter. Peter O'Malley held the position until 1998 when the team was sold on. In that time he became friendly with Anne Murphy, Mike Kindle and Mick Manning of Baseball Ireland. Peter generously funded the construction of the O'Malley baseball Fields at Corcaigh Park in Clondalkin, West Dublin in 1998 and those fields have been the home of Irish Baseball ever since. The majority of league games are held at the fields along with Ireland National Team games and practice sessions.

This morning I was delighted to find a really interesting looking book on the history of the Dodgers in my mail, sent on by Peter O'Malley via Brent Shyer of the Walter O'Malley website. No longer do I have to use Brad Penny or Nomar as my excuse for enjoying watching the Dodgers play. I am going to delve into the book and get up to speed on the rich history of the Dodgers.

Inside was a short, friendly letter from Peter himself. Just an amiable hello, which ended with a typically modest, understated line that reads as such;

'I am glad the fields are being used'.

I actually laughed to myself a little, and I thought, 'Really, Peter, if only you knew.' The fields have certainly been in use. They have been the scene of the majority of Irish league baseball games since their opening in 1998. Merely saying 'the fields are in use' though is like saying 'The Red Sox winning the World series in 2004 was a reasonably big deal to the people of Boston'.

Take this coming weekend for example. Amongst the Irish league games is an important clash between the Dublin Spartans and my club side, the Dublin Hurricanes. I can say, assuredly, it will be a quality encounter played by some of the best players in Irish league history. Here's the thing. I know Darran O'Connor, the Spartans and Ireland veteran, is already thinking about this game. I know Spartans and Irish centre fielder John Dillon is thinking about this game, as he works away in his 9-5 job. I know my Hurricanes team mates and superb infielders Steve Divito and Andy Martin are thinking about this coming weekends game.

I definitely know my long term friends and Hurricanes and Irish team teammates Chris Foy and Tom Kelley are thinking about this big game. I know that because I am. I can't wait for Saturday morning and the chance to play baseball at Corcaigh Park. I can't wait to travel there amongst friends. I can't wait for the good natured banter before the first pitch. I can't wait to kick the dust on the mound and look up at the blue Irish sky before the start of the game. And yet none of this would be possible without the marvelous backdrop of the O'Malley fields, born of the O'Malley family's generosity.

You know, too often in life we move on and forget the simple things. Simple things like how in 1998 Peter O'Malley saw fit to give Ireland two beautiful baseball fields, side by side. Since then, simply put, thousands of moments and memories have been born at that field, quite literally hundreds of great games of baseball have been played there. Peoples lives have been elevated by those fields.

Peter the fields aren't just in use. Every weekend they are part of the dreams and hopes of dozens of peoples lives here in Ireland. Play ball.





Links:

If you would like to get involved with Baseball Ireland at any level, Adult or Youth, or would like to support the game in Ireland, please refer to this link.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Helton, Youkilis and Lowell

The trade talks involving Boston and Colorado are resurfacing slowly but surely, like that nagging headache that just won't go away even after your sixth Advil. Perhaps it is because the Rockies are actually in town, perhaps it's because the Sox have spluttered a little offensively lately, but there's no doubt about it, people who talk about this kind of thing are talking about it again.

Whatever about the various pros and cons to Helton coming to Boston and Mike Lowell and others going to Colorado, I want to bring up a related topic that no one seems ready to talk about. In almost all the trade suggestions. particularly the one involving the Rockies, it is assumed Kevin Youkilis would move back to third and Helton or whoever (Mark Teixeira is another example) came in would move to first.

Here's the thing, Youkilis is clearly a superb first baseman, with great hands and superior range around the first base bag. Most people would agree, he is an average third baseman. Whatever it is about the position, Youkilis clearly is in charge at first base. He has frequently been lauded for his play at first base, and has saved the team many runs with his excellent glove work. Whilst he sometimes looked a little 'clunky' at third, it is very obvious he has found a defensive home at the first base bag.

Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis

It is just another aspect to any trade the Sox feel like making involving Lowell. Moving Youkilis back to third would potentially mean a downgrade defensively at first and third base.

Personally I am completely against trading Mike Lowell. He is a class act, a superb bat and a hall of fame third baseman. Even with a couple of weird hops and unusual errors this season he is still the all time leading third baseman in terms of fielding percentage. First and third base simply aren't an issue right now. The Sox should be more worried about other positions or the bullpen.

Helton seems like a nice guy, but frankly I hope he goes 0 for Fenway this week, while Lowell continues to do what he has been doing, smacking in runs and driving the Red Sox forward.

The Dublin Hurricanes team photo

The 'Canes (and friends) after their 14-9 win over Greystones on 10th June 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Interleague play and the Arizona commentators

There is allot of debate about the virtues or otherwise of interleague play. Some people think it is a great idea and adds to the entertainment level of Major League Baseball, others think it is the single greatest evil since the birth of Lindsay Lohan.

Taking a step back, interleague play is the term used to describe regular season Major League Baseball games played between teams in the American League and the National League. Prior to 1997, when interleague play was introduced, AL and NL teams only met in the World Series or in exhibition games.

As with everything in life, there are those who support the interleague games, and those who don't. Those against it are generally traditionalists who are against big changes to the way the game of baseball is played and they one of their biggest arguments against it is that The World Series and All-Star game are robbed of some of their mystique that used to result from the two leagues playing completely exclusive schedules during the regular season. Other arguments are few and far between, bar 'It just shouldn't be that way!'

While watching the Arizona Diamondbacks coverage of last night's Boston v Arizona game, the D-Backs colour analyst, the great Mark Grace, professed to not liking the idea. I found just watching the game with their commentary to be one of the many arguments for interleague play. I have to say I haven't enjoyed commentary like that in some time. I found Grace and the main analyst, Daron Sutton, to be interesting, informative and entertaining.

They were rooting for the Diamondbacks, but very respectful of the Red Sox. They had plenty of insightful, interesting comments to make and were also pretty funny. They clearly cared for the D-Backs. For me, as a baseball fan, what is great about interleague play is finding out about these teams and players that you normally would not be exposed to.

Okay, last night's game was a bit of a let down in that Boston lost, but it was a real spectacle, with an energized, full-house-crowd cheering their talented young team on. It was a spectacle baseball fans would be denied without interleague play, and at the end of the day MLB is an entertainment industry.

On a week in which I caught games on the irritably bad YES network (the Yankee commentators are absolutely brutal) and the laughably comical White Sox station (the White Sox commentators are absolutely horrendous), Daron Sutton and Mark Grace were a refreshing and entertaining change. Next time I am looking for a good game to watch and spot an interesting pitching matchup in Arizona, I won't hesitate to tune in.

Check Sutton and Grace out some time, thoroughly enjoyable commentary team.

Irish Baseball League roundup 9th/10th June

This weekend saw only two games played in the Irish baseball league, an 'A' and 'B' level 'double header' between the Dublin City Hurricanes and the Greystones Mariners played at the O'Malley field in Corcaigh Park, Clondalkin.

Hurricanes 14 Greystones Mariners 9
The Hurricanes hosted the Mariners in the Sunday morning game at Corcaigh Park and the 'Canes were able to field their strongest batting lineup of the season with all players available for the first time this year. However, the game started with a defensive slant. Jim Gorman led the game off with a walk off Hurricanes pitcher Cormac Eklof but was promptly gunned down attempting to steal, catcher Tom Kelley's bullet throw beating him to the bag by a couple of feet.

This seemed to settle the 'Canes down defensively and they put up a few zeroes in the first three innings whilst building on a little 2-0 lead built up with some good old fashioned 'small ball'. The Hurricanes would break through with authority in the bottom of the fourth. Rafael Diaz was a constant thorn in the Mariners side from the nine spot in the order, and he got the inning started with a hard line drive single to right. The Hurricanes loaded the bases after scoring a couple with captain Steve Divito taking a pitch in the ribs. Up stepped 'Canes veteran Chris Foy, taking a break from his jet setting ways, and Foy wasted no time in jumping on the first pitch he saw to drive the ball for a two run single.

Jim Gorman had been pitching well to that point but seemed to lose his confidence after Foy abused that first pitch offering. The Hurricanes sped out to a 9-0 lead. Pitcher Cormac Eklof suffered a bout of wildness in the top of the fifth letting the Mariners back into it at 9-4 but the 'Canes came roaring back with hits from Rafael, Alex, Tommy and Tk amongst others pushing the lead out to 14-4.

The 'Canes offence was paced by a remarkable 5 for 5 outburst off the bat of Woody Woodburne. Woody also came on to pitch taking the ball in the 7th to finish the Mariners off and seal the 14-9 Hurricanes victory.

Now sitting at 3-3 the Hurricanes season is back on track. Next Saturday they have a stern test in the form of the Spartans who are off to a roaring start. For now, the 'Canes can sit back and enjoy their offensive outburst from yesterday, and find out what Woody '5 for 5' Woodburne is on.

Hurricanes 'B' 25 v Greystones 'B' 10
The Hurricanes 'B', or 'baby Canes' as manager for the day Eric 'Vegas' Valkys, was calling them, overcame a very slow start to lead 16-9 after only four innings. Veteran Hurricane starter Garret Pearse had only given up three hits to that stage and had battled to control some early wildness. The 'baby Canes' struck for seven runs in the bottom of the fifth giving them a whopping 23-10 lead which they then stretched to 25-10 meaning the game ended on the 15 run 'mercy rule'. Congratulations to the Hurricanes 'B' squad for putting up such incredible numbers and for winning their second in a row.

Links:

If you would like to get involved with Baseball Ireland at any level, Adult or Youth, or would like to support the game in Ireland, please refer to this link.

Friday, June 08, 2007

How is your summer going?

Currently there is a funny little youtube clip doing the rounds in what Dan Shaughnessy calls 'the breathless fan boys of Red Sox Nation' (I am so calling my 2008 fantasy baseball team exactly that!)blogs and even in Eric Wilbur's latest piece in the Globe.

In it Matt Damon appears on the David Letterman show wearing a Red Sox jersey and making (Yankee fan) Letterman burst out laughing by opening with, 'So, how is your summer going?'. Don't worry, I'll include the clip below, what I want to do though, is refute what I am reading in some areas, that this is just another case of a celebrity 'fan' attaching themselves to a team in bandwagon fashion.

well..he has all the gear anyway..

Not that Damon's loyalties to the Sox really need to be defended, however, his support for the Red Stockings is actually kind of interesting.


In the wikipedia entry for Matt Damon there is a sentence that reads, simply;
''Matt Damon and his best friend Ben Affleck are die-hard Boston Red Sox fans.''

Short, accurate and to the point. However, what seperates Damon from the average celebrity fan? What makes him different to say, Jimmy Fallon, who basically 'courted' the Red Sox before and after the release of 'The Perfect Catch'. What are, in effect, his Red Sox Nation credentials?

What, apart from being born in Cambridge, Massachusetts?

One of the first times I put one and one together and got that Damon was a Red Sox fan was while watching the All-Star Celebrity Hitting Challenge in the summer of '99. It was a goofy little game with various all stars like Kevin Costner hitting batting practice pitching with where the ball landing deciding how many points they were rewarded, for each hit.


Interviewed shortly after the event, Damon was simply ecstatic. He was clearly overjoyed to be even allowed walk on the Fenway grass, let alone take his cuts in the batter box. I have had the honour, the luck, heck the sheer good fortune to have played at Fenway park (with the Irish team in 2001) and I can relate that it plays with your mind. It turns you into a wobbling-mess of mental goo, something like a hyperactive kid being let loose late at night in a locked up toy store. You wander around trying deperately to remember every single second with a constant, childish, goofy grin plastered to your face.

I suppose I didn't fully appreciate it until two years later but after his stint at Fenway that's the exact grin Damon was wearing on his mug.

Taking a step back, Affleck and Damon's intense love for the Red Sox comes to the fore in their co-written, Oscar winning movie, 'Goodwill Hunting'. There is a wonderful scene where Robin Williams character tells Damon's character how he gave up his ticket to see the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series (thus missing Carlton Fisk's famous home run in Game 6) to meet and spend time with a stranger in a bar who would later become his wife. It is a fun, touching moment of film history, and is obviously written (and preformed) by someone who not only knows plenty about the Red Sox, but someone who cares.

'It's not your fault..'

So, don't worry about Eric Wilbur telling you to berate Damon for tempting fate by appearing on a talk show in a Sox jersey. Don't even bother listening to anyone that says this is just another case of a movie star hopping on a teams bandwagon. Take this funny clip for what it's worth, a Red Sox fan enjoying his summer.

How's your summer goin'?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Schilling no-no? No.

So close so very very close. In the 425th start of his amazing career Schilling almost put together a no hitter except for Shannon Stewart's line drive single with two out in the ninth inning. Schilling pitched masterfully and when required the Boston defence backed him up. Coco Crisp made a superb catch in the 6th and Mike Lowell never panicked and got the out on a tough grounder in the 7th.

So close, so damn close. However, hey, I guess the win will do.

Brendan Bergerson and the 2007 MLB draft

The Major League Baseball draft starts today. Normally I would only pay a passing interest to this, I would take note of whoever the Red Sox drafted with their highest pick, guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Murphy and Jon Lester. However, this year I might end up watching every single round.

Irish Baseball has been building itself up for a decade now, the team was formed in 1996 and it has grown quickly into one of the better squads in European Baseball in that time. We have had exciting games and pivotal moments in that decade however they all could take a back seat to what could happen with this 2007 MLB draft.

Irish pitcher and star Brendan Bergerson is eligible for this draft and has a chance of being selected. His father, Michael, alerted me to the possibility of Brendan being drafted this weekend past. He wrote saying;

''Hey Cormac, Stay tuned for the MLB Draft next week as Brendan may be a "sleeper" pick for a team looking for some solid left handed pitching.....which one isn't ? Hoping for some Irish luck and history in the making.''


While starring for his college, West Virginia, Brendan has also played on two Irish Teams to date. He played in the 2004 European Championships in Regensberg, Germany, and also in the 2006 version in Belgium. Ireland won the bronze in 2004 and the silver in 2006 and Brendan was a major part of this on both occasions. In 2004 he set the tone for Ireland for the entire tournament when he absolutely dominated Finland in Ireland's 25-5 opening day win.


Brendan set his place in Irish baseball history with a magnificent display against hosts and favoured Belgium in the 2006 tournament. Ireland won the semi final 4-1 behind Brendan's inspirational complete game effort against one of the best European baseball sides, on their own turf too!

Brendan's college stats are excellent, and his record with the Irish team is also superb. However, his real value doesn't appear in statistics or box scores. He has several other factors going for him that combine to make him what he is, an excellent pitcher.

First of all, obviously, he is an imposing, hard throwing lefty. That sentence alone should have scouts drooling over the prospect of nabbing Bren under the noses of other teams. He also has a tremendous grasp of the game of baseball. On top of those factors, Brendan is an extremely competitive player. A winner. He battles hard on the mound. Against Belgium in that excellent start he gave 100% to his team and was simply not going to be beaten. On top of all of the above, he is an excellent team-mate.

When Brendan first came to train with the Irish team before the 2004 European Championships in Germany, he came to his first training session one evening at the O'Malley baseball field in Corcaigh Park. It was a midweek session and people were late, held back by work and the nightmare that is Dublin traffic. I don't know what he must have though initially of what could have seemed like a pretty rag tag set up at the time.

The session started and the pitchers were sent to run sprints. Brendan immediately led the way. He didn't boss anyone around or anything, he led by example. He may run like Chewbacca but he still ran, and hard too. The rest of us pitchers definitely took note, here was a D1 College pitcher who had just arrived in Ireland and he was willing to run, sweat and run some more with the rest of us scrubs.

The 2007 MLB draft is scheduled to be held on June 7 and June 8, 2007. The first day session of the draft, including the first 25 rounds, is scheduled to be broadcast "live" from Orlando, Florida, on television for the first time in the United States, on ESPN2 from 2:00pm to 6:00pm Eastern Daylight Time (1800 - 2200 UTC). This will be 7pm Irish time and to follow the draft over here or elsewhere in Europe you will have to do so online, I would suggest mlb.com.

Good luck Brendan.

Links

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #33 Curt Schilling

The continuing story of the..
Top 100 Red Sox of All Time: A Sox Blogs Project

Basically, the Top 100 'does what it says on the tin', several Sox bloggers got together and spent a while selecting their top 100 of all time to wear a Boston uniform.

Starting February 6th contributing authors will be posting biographies of the Top 100 Red Sox of all time at their own blogs and here at Top 100 Red Sox of all time

The countdown began with #100 and will build all the way to the best player to ever put on a Red Sox uniform. It is currently at number 33!

Curt Schilling, SP, #38 (2004-current)

With the exception of Barry Bonds there really isn't a baseball player active today with a more polarising effect on the public and indeed the sports media than Curt Schilling.

He is an unusual entity, a professional athlete who is more than happy to talk with the media, so much so that he runs his own blog. This 'ease' with which he approaches his media encounters leads some fans and professional writers to find fault in how Schilling runs his life, both on and off the field.

Strip all that away though, and what do you have? Schilling is a potential hall of fame candidate who has shone particularly bright in the postseason. After the regular season Schilling is 8-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 109.1 Innings. Whatever about the scintillating statistics, Schillling is a two-time World Series winner and furthermore does incredible things in terms of his charity works outside the game.

All the childish barbs the Dan Shaughnessy's of this world throw at Schilling can't take his brilliant career away from him.

Born November 14, 1966, Curt Schilling is just the ninth Major League player to have hailed from Alaska. Curt spent his youth in Phoenix, Arizona and attended Shadow Mountain High School before attending Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. He was a winner at an early age, helping lead Yavapai College to the 1985 Junior College World Series. Amazingly, Schilling began his professional career in the Boston Red Sox farm system but was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1988 for Mike Boddicker. His major league debut was with the Orioles (1988-1990), he spent one year with the Houston Astros (1991), and then spent more than eight exciting seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies (1992-2000).

Schilling was one of the major factors in the Phillies' great pennant run in 1993. In that year, Schilling went 16-7 with a 4.02 ERA and 186 strikeouts. Schilling then led the Phillies to an upset against the two-time defending National League champion Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Schilling's 1.69 ERA and 19 strikeouts earned him the 1993 NLCS Most Valuable Player Award. The Phillies went on to lose to the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. They slipped into relative mediocrity in the years after that, despite Schilling being the ace of the staff. Disappointed that the Phillies front office was not doing enough to field a competitive team Schilling eventually asked for a trade, and got his wish in 2000 when he was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Curt Schilling's amazing career took on greater impetus when he moved to Arizona. With the D-Backs, he went a spectacular 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 2001 and went 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA in the playoffs. In the 2001 World Series the Diamondbacks won one of the most famous World Series finalés ever beating the New York Yankees in 7 games. Many say that game was the beginning of the end for that particular Yankee team. Schilling shared the 2001 World Series MVP Award star with teammate Randy Johnson. In 2002 Schilling went an excellent 23-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Both years he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Johnson.

2003 was a rough year for the Boston Red Sox. Although the team made the playoffs, the traumatic loss to the Yankees in the ALCS combined with public displeasure with the bullpen led to Theo Epstein and the Sox front office determinedly attacking the free agent market in advance of the 2004 season. They signed Keith Foulke to be the teams closer and then made an even bigger splash in November 2003 by trading for Curt Schilling. Curt would join Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield to form on of the more eclectic and talented pitching rotations ever assembled.

Straight off the bat Schilling endeared himself to the Sox faithful by appearing in interviews wearing a 'Yankee hater' baseball cap and promising to lead his new team past their rivals from the Bronx. This was no idle promise coming from a man who had already vanquished the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.

Schilling backed his promises up on the field, in style. For 2004, his first season with the Red Sox, Curt posted a sparkling 21-6 record, becoming the first Boston pitcher to win 20 or more games in his first season with the club since Dennis Eckersley in 1978.

The Sox super season looked in serious jeopardy during the ALCS against the Yankees. The Bronx bombers were 3-0 up and no Major League team had ever come back from such a deficit. That's when Kevin Millar made his infamous quote “Don’t Let Us Win Tonight”, referring to how the Red Sox had excellent starting pitching lined up for the next few nights. Sure enough, Boston started to crawl back into the ALCS on the back of great pitching and clutch hitting. On October 19, 2004 Schilling won Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. Amazingly he won this game playing on an injured ankle, an injury so bad that by the end of his performance that day his white sock was soaked with blood.

This bloody sock would go on to become one of the most vivid symbols in recent baseball history.

That dramatic victory forced a Game 7, meaning the Red Sox were the first team in post-season Major League Baseball history to come back from a three-games-to-none deficit. The Red Sox would go on to win Game 7 of the ALCS and make their first World Series appearance since 1986. They had done it, they had come all the way back against their legendary rivals and now stood on the verge of their first World Series win since 1918.

Schilling pitched (and won) Game 2 of the 2004 World Series for the Red Sox against the St. Louis Cardinals. He actually had to have the tendon in his right ankle stabilized but the tendon sheath was torn and, as in Game 6 of the ALCS, Schilling's sock was soaked with blood from the sutures used in this medical procedure. Schilling amazingly still managed to pitch seven strong innings, giving up one run on four hits, whilst striking out four. That was all Boston needed from him and they swept the hapless Cardinals in four games, bringing home the championship to Boston for the first time since 1918.

Schilling's place in baseball history was secured and his second bloody sock was placed in the Baseball Hall of Fame after the World Series. Schilling was once again runner-up in Cy Young voting in 2004, this time his Randy Johnson was Minnesota Twins hurler Johan Santana, who received all 28 first-place votes. Schilling received 27 of the 28 second-place votes.

The drama of 2004 came at a steep price. Schilling's ankle injury had an immense effect on his pitching performance in 2005. He began the year on the disabled list, and when he finally returned he did so to log an up and down season with constant questions being asked of his ability to overcome the injury. 2006 brought a welcome return to the Schilling of old, and Curt managed a tidy 15-7 record with 198 K's and a very respectable 3.97 era.

Schilling opened 2007 with the announcement that he will pitch in 2008. and he has managed to start the season in such a fashion that no one is accusing him of being distracted by contract talks. He has pitched, at times, as the Red Sox ace and figures to lead a potentially fantastic staff into the 2007 playoffs with the Sox currently holding a double digit lead over all rivals in the AL East.

Schilling is a fascinating character. A thoughtful, often eloquent man who is not afraid to speak his mind he draws a host of emotions from a wide variety of people. Two things though, stand out. Schilling's tireless work with the various charities he strives to improve has been a constant in his career. He clearly cares, deeply, about those charities.

Secondly, the man delivers on his promises. He promised Boston a return to former glory, and he has been a major part in delivering on said promise. He will always be a major part of the greatest Old Town team of all, the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

This Top 100 Red Sox of all time profile was written by Cormac Eklof @ ''I didn't know there was baseball in Ireland?!''


The two top 100 entries I enjoyed writing the most


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Irish Baseball League roundup
Weekend of June 2nd and 3rd

First of all - our thoughts turn to Ann Murphy, she who has done so much to get Irish Baseball on the map, including helping forging a great relationship with the O'Malley family in the States. Ann Murphy's father passed away at 11:00 Friday night, 1st June. He was 95. Ann was with him when he died in hospital.

Secondly, get well soon to those Belfast Northstars who were hurt in a car crash Sunday night on their way home from a postponed game in Dublin. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt as they were all wearing their seatbelts. Thank whoever you believe in for that.

Finally, on to the league news from the weekend just past. It was, to say the least, a messy weekend in Irish baseball.

The proposed fixtures were;
  • 'A' League - Spartans v Twins
  • Friendly - Blacksox v Limerick
  • 'A' League - Greystones v Belfast Northstars

Neither A League game happened. The Twins could not field a team and the Spartans were given a walk-over and the Greystones v Belfast game was a victim of the poor weather on Sunday. The friendly did go ahead. Apparently the Limerick team were enthusiastic and showed some skills, hopefully they can put them to use next season in the league itself as an 'expansion' team of sorts!

Links:

If you would like to get involved with Baseball Ireland at any level, Adult or Youth, or would like to support the game in Ireland, please refer to this link.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Cuckoo?
Atlanta Braves AA manager goes a little Loco.

This has a chance to be one of the all time great youtube sports clips. Definitely top 10 anyway, at least. Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman had a night to remember Friday June 1st. In the final game of a five game series against Chattanooga, on a hot, muggy night, Wellman, well, he lost the plot a little. Check it out.



David Uchiyama of the Chattanooga Free Press describes my favourite part of the outburst as such;

''Wellman crawled up the mound on his elbows and knees and flung the rosin bag toward the plate as if it were a grenade. He went back to second base, pulled it from the ground, grabbed third base and headed toward the clubhouse.''

The whole outburst was brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed, kudos Mr Wellman!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Here come the Yankees!


Mr April self destructing faster than a speeding bullet, prized pitching prospect Phillip Hughes on the shelf potentially until August, Jason Giambi out for weeks with a foot injury (foot injury? really? You take steroids with your foot now?) and their million dollar saviour isn't even pitching this weekend. Not exactly what you call 'good times' in the Bronx.

Having said that, should be a great weekend series.

Just in case you are worried the Re Sox aren't taking this scintillating series seriously, check out what the Captain, Jason Varitek had to say about it;

"Take the lead and throw it out the window. It's another series for us and it is the Yankees, and the hype will never change."

Buckle up and here we go...altogether now..
'Where is Roger?' *clap clap, clap clap clap*
'Where is Roger?' *clap clap, clap clap clap*
'In Chicago!' *clap clap, clap clap clap*
'In Chicago!' *clap clap, clap clap clap*

God I love this game.

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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