Friday, March 29, 2013



Boston is the greatest sports city in the country, bar none. They have teams steeped  in tradition
and over the past decade, the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins have combined to win
seven world championships. The city is electric and the fans are fiercely loyal, passionate, and

But they are like Bobby Valentine in one way. Somewhere along the way, somebody tagged
them as really intelligent, and then all of a sudden, became know-it-alls. They think they can
coach better than Belichick, manage better than Francona, and put a team together better than
the late Red Auerbach. They wear most of their emotions on their sleeve. The rest comes out
of their mouths.

A lot of venom has been spewing out of their pie holes over the last 36 hours or so. The
Bruins thought they had a deal for Jarome Iginla, the franchise player for the Calgary Flames.
This was a move that many fans in the city felt would put the B's over the top in their quest
for Lord Stanley. Iginla is a leader, a scorer, and one of those players that just has the "it" factor.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was told by his counterpart with the Flames
they had a deal and Iginla was theirs. A lot of Bruins fans went to bed that night thinking Iginla
would be like the big present waiting under the Christmas tree the next morning. Unfortunately,
they woke up to find out that Santa delivered that present to somebody else's house. And you
know what happens to the little kid that doesn't get the present they thought they were getting?
That's right, they have a major hissy fit.

Iginla chose to go to Pittsburgh instead of Boston, and the fans in Beantown are going nuts,
because after all, who turns down going to the best sports town in the country? Boston always
has to have a scapegoat for when things don't go their way. They tagged the goat horns on Bill
Buckner for costing them the 1986 World Series and didn't take them off, albeit reluctantly until
the Red Sox had won two championships.

At first, they pinned the goat horns on Chiarelli, the GM and architect who has turned the B's
into a consistent juggernaut. He must have screwed things up because after all, he was told Iginla
was his. What the hell happened, they asked. The people in New England should know by now
a deal really isn't a deal until the player is signed, sealed, and in the teams uniform.

The city of Hartford thought they had a deal for the Patriots in 1998, enticing them with a brand
new stadium. They even had a big celebration in the electric city of Hartford with big balloons,
streamers, and the likes of Robert Kraft, Drew Bledsoe, and several other players in
attendance. How'd that "deal" turn out? Man, those Hartford Patriots are crushing it!

Like Robert Kraft, Iginla went to the place he thought would be a better situation for him. He
didn't get any kind of "sweetener" like the Patriots owner did to stay in Foxborough, but he
felt playing with Sydney Crosby in a great hockey town for a great ownership group that includes
Mario Lemeieux, in a great arena, was a great deal for him. Iginla, per his contract, had a say
in where he wanted to go. He chose Pittsburgh over Boston.

The fans in Boston never let anything go, and this rejection by Iginla will stay with them for
a while. Man, the people in that great city are still simmering the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth
to the Yankees. They are still upset that Ray Allen stiffed the Celtics and went to play with
LeBron and the Heat. The whole Wes Welker situation still has them in a funk. The fans in
Boston don't think there is any other city worth talking about in the country except Boston and
for a player to jilt them is blasphemous.

Boston is a world-class city that has it all. I lived there and covered sports for several years. It's
a sports lovers dream. But they don't get over things easily and often spend a lot of time living in
the past, even though the present and future is so great.

It's time to move on Boston, you never really had Iginla, so don't cry over what wasn't yours.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


On Thursday afternoon, Thomas Menino announced  he will not seek an unprecedented sixth
term as mayor of Boston. The 70-year old political giant is the only Italian-American to head up
the  city and the first non Irish-American to hold that office since 1930. It's been a great run for a
man who has provided enough comedy for the city to last the next 100 years.

Menino, known as "mumbles" because he often stammers over his words, which makes it
difficult for everyone to understand what the heck he's saying. An interpreter at the United
Nations would be driven crazy trying to figure out the words coming out of Menino's mouth
with that thick Boston  accent hindered by a significant lisp. He screwed up more names than anybody in the history of politics and became synonymous with malapropisms.

He once referred to the shortage of parking in Boston as "an Alcatraz around my neck." Um,
Mayor Menino, that would be an "albatross" around your neck. He called former mayor John
Collins a "man of great statue", instead of stature. Oh, yes, Menino was a piece of work, if
not a thing of beauty.

As bad as he screwed things up, nobody found a way to really dislike the guy. He is Baby
Huey all grown up. Menino's approval ratings stand at 74 percent, which is pretty amazing in
this day and age of hardcore politics, especially in Boston.

Boston loves its politics and is obsessed with sports. Menino has been the mayor of this world-
class city and the best sports one in the country, bar none, for 20 years. Sports fans in Boston
know everything. They can tell you not only everything about Dustin Pedroia, but the names
of the parents of the back-up second baseman in Pawtucket, as well. Menino has trouble remembering the names of the best players who star in his city, much less the minor-league
ones in small towns in places you've never heard of.

He botched names so badly, Boston fans couldn't wait for the next parade just to hear which
names he'd butcher even more. When talking about the Celtics, he once called Kevin Garnett,
"KJ", instead of KG. He called Rajon Rondo, "Hondo", perhaps, mixing up the Celtics guard
with the former great, John Havlichek, who went by that nickname.

Oh, players around the city were called much worse, and it was comical. Former Patriots
receiver Wes Welker was called Wes "Weckler" by the mayor. Vince Wilfork became Vince
"Wilcock" (Ooops) and "The Gronk" got shortened to "Gonk" by Menino. The more he screwed
up, the more popular he seemed to become.

During the unveiling of the Bobby Orr statue, which showed him scoring his famous goal
that clinched the 1970 Stanley Cup, Menino recounted some of the greatest moments in Boston
sports history including "Varitek splitting the uprights" to win the Super Bowl. Sorry, mayor,
that was Vinatieri, not Jason Varitek, the former Red Sox catcher. It didn't matter, we all knew
what he meant.

Why "SNL" didn't lampoon Menino every week is beyond me. They could've created must-see
segments that would've brought down the house. Menino was just that funny, or fun to make
fun of for the people in Boston.

I was in Boston for three of Menino's 20-years in office and I enjoyed what he brought to the
city. Oh, he might not go down as the best mayor in the history of Boston, but Menino will
certainly be one of the most memorable ones.

Good luck, Mayor Menino, we are going to miss you, and miss you screwing up the names
of all those Boston athletes.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


On Monday, Tiger Woods won his third tournament of the season, eighth at Bay Hill, and
the 77th of his career. As soon as he tapped in on 18 for his two-shot victory, just about
everybody said, "Tiger's Back!" as if he really went anywhere. After all, Tiger has won
six times in his last 18 starts which is close to mind-boggling, considering some players
never win that many times in their entire careers.

With his victory, Tiger also reclaimed the number one ranking in the world, which every
player on tour has known for quite some time, despite what the computers spit out. But just
where does Tiger rank in the court of public opinion now? Can he now be forgiven for being
a serial cheater, smashing his made-for-the world, squeaky-clean image that he and his posse
of super agents carefully cultivated? Does it even matter?

There is a little question that Tiger Woods is great for the game of golf. He is a rating PED for
the television networks. We can only watch Phil, Bubba, Rory, and Sergio for so long before
flipping over to Bravo, Spike, or TNT because yes, they do know drama and provide a helluva
lot more of it than the aforementioned crew. Every player on tour should thank Tiger for
supersizing the purses and making them that much richer.

Tiger is one of the few real athletes on tour, superbly conditioned and dressed to the nine's.
There are some people, men included, who just turn on the television just to see what he is
wearing.He is a magnet that most viewers can't take their eyes off of. But there is always going
to be that but. Yeah, he's a great player, but he is a dirtbag and fill in the blank with any other adjective to describe what he did to his wife, Elin, and two children for the entire world to see.

Is there a shelf life on holding that against him? Should he ever be forgiven? In a world where
a lot of people are given second chances, should Tiger get a mulligan, too? To many people,
the answer is an emphatic no. People are going to hate just to hate. Many enjoyed seeing a guy
who had it all, come crashing down like Humpty Dumpty. It doesn't matter who you are or
what you do, there are always going to be haters and detractors just because.

After Tiger won the Masters for the first time, I was getting reaction from the African-American
community in Fort Myers where I was working there at the time. I asked one kid, who was about
15-years old what he thought about Tiger Woods and his victory in the Masters, and without hesitation, he looked into the camera and said, "F&*k Tiger Woods." OK, then. Moving right along.

When Tiger cheated on his wife with the pin-ups, porn stars, and playmates, a lot of people pretty
much had the same reaction as that kid in Fort Myers. Tiger's popularity plummeted a lot further
than his game. His sponsors fled like ants who just had their hill doused with gasoline. It became
open season on Tiger Woods, with fellow golfers criticizing him, comedians mocking him, and
"SNL" using his scandal incessantly to lampoon him. His game self-destructed before our very
eyes and many thought his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record for majors end after he barreled
down his driveway in an ambien-fueled haze and hit the fire hydrant, causing the tsunami of
sordid details of his infidelity to come gushing out.

Seriously, though, why were some people so obsessed with Tiger's private life? Shouldn't we
have separated his personal life and professional life? Are we so perfect in our lives, that we
must judge the immoral behavior of others? Mickey Mantle was a womanizer. So was Joe Namath.
So were/are many other athletes. I'm not saying it's right, but nobody has ever suffered the
criticism, scorn, and ridicule that Tiger did.

Tiger has picked up the pieces and is now close to whole again. He has a new girlfriend
in Lindsey Vonn and the number one world ranking. There are many who feel that Tiger won't
be all the way back until he wins a major for the first time in five years. Everybody is entitled
to their opinion.

However, there is something admirable about Tiger's comeback. He was a broken man after
his scandal. There was self-doubt, self-evaluation, and I'm sure, some self-loathing. Tiger had
to be wondering just how stupid he was to have thrown everything away, and for what? I'm sorry,
but there is nothing in the world worth blowing up for your marriage, your image, and your
legacy for. Nothing. Certainly not a one-nighter with a porn-actress nobody even knows.

To some, Tiger might not be all the way back. To others, he will always be the philandering
husband who felt "entitled" to do what he did to Elin. Others, will see his comeback and
new pursuit of history as spectacular. There will be a lot of different opinions about Tiger
Woods, that's for sure.

This much is certain, though, what he's doing on the golf course, is pretty spectacular
and you can't deny that fact whether you like him or not.

Monday, March 25, 2013


In a college sports world that has turned into one giant cess pool, FGCU is a great cleanser.
In just three days, this basketball team in southwest Florida has managed to rinse away the
slime and grime left over from the Sandusky, Fine, and Te'o scandals.

Playing with unbridled joy and enthusiasm, FGCU has been a breath of fresh air in a sport
that has long been dirty with illegal recruiting practices, agents, and power-hungry coaches
who chase the almighty dollar.

As a program with no tradition or television contract, FGCU is the deodorant that covers up
the stench coming from the schools who have bucked tradition for superconferences and the
pot of gold at the end of the television network rainbow.

In the blink of an eye, coach Andy Enfield and a bunch of players that few other programs
wanted, have managed to do what the NCAA hasn't been able to do in the last decade. They
have brought a smidgen of innocence back to college sports, cleansing it, while making the
games fun again.

Man, has it ever been fun to watch them beat heavy favorites and bust NCAA brackets. The
basketball team has been an aerial circus, with jaw-dropping dunks punctuated with mile-wide
grins as they announce their presence with authority. They are part, "Flying Wilenda's" and
part, "Phi Slamma Jamma", the 1983 Houston Cougars basketball team that intimidated teams
with their high-flying, dunking act. FGCU calls themselves, "Dunk City" and that name will

They don't celebrate by going  "Gangnam style" or with the "Harlem Shake". FGCU is an
original and whatever dance they are doing, it sure it entertaining. Everything FGCU does,
seems to capture our imagination. They are not scared of the big stage, in fact, they are reveling
in it, and it's fun to watch. It seems all so pure, so clean, and so innocent.

The first two wins by FGCU in the NCAA tournament were far more fascinating than the
last  26 strung together by the Miami Heat. The two consecutive wins have somehow become
far more sweeter than the two consecutive national championships captured by the Florida
Gators in the last decade. Their rags-to-riches story is far more compelling than the rags-to-riches
story of the Miami Hurricanes, who have a better than good shot at winning it all.

On the national scene, nobody cares much about the Canes, Gators, or Heat. That's because
FGCU has become America's Team. We are consumed with this story. We are fascinated by
it. We are enamored with the players. We love the coach. And we even love the coaches' wife.

FGCU is David in the land of Goliath and we love underdogs. That's what FGCU will be when
they take on Florida, but to everybody outside of  Gainseville and those who wear the orange
and blue, the Eagles will be our favorites. The bandwagon is now open and it's standing room

The ride is too good not to hop on. I hope it never ends.

Friday, March 22, 2013


The first day of March Madness had been like a bottle of Coca-Cola that went without its
cap for a weekend: completely flat. There were no dramatic buzzer beaters or real bracket-
busting upsets. Oh, sure, there was Oregon and California, a pair of number 12 seeds knocking
off number five seeds, but that seems to happen every year and has become no big deal.

However, that all changed around midnight, when Cinderella, wearing crimson to the big dance,
announced their presence with authority. Harvard, a school that has produced far more presidents,
doctors, and one big Zuckerberg, than wins in the NCAA tournament, stunned New Mexico, a
three seed, to put some juice into this survive and advance free-for-all.

Harvard, really? Yes, its basketball program gave the NBA an outrageous case of "Linsanity",
as alum Jeremy Lin took the league by storm with two of the greatest weeks the league has ever
seen from an Ivy Leaguer But really, outside of Lin, Harvard basketball has virtually nothing
to show for its existence. I mean, come on. Before last night, they had never won a game in the NCAA tournament and were making just its second appearance in it since 1946.

The Crimson weren't even supposed to get a ticket to the ball. Before the season started, Kyle
Casey and Brandy Curry, both senior co-captains, were caught in a cheating scandal. (Yes, they
even cheat at Harvard.) Casey and Curry withdrew from school to try to save their final year
of eligibility. (Yes, finding ways to keep talented players eligible happens at Harvard, too.)

Not many people, the ones who actually cared about Ivy League basketball, gave Harvard a shot
of doing much of anything to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. And let's face it, outside of
the players. coaches, and family members, nobody around the country cares about Ivy League
basketball. The sports networks don't. Have you ever seen them play on ESPN in the last decade?
Um, maybe once, but I was probably out getting a pedi and mani that day. Forget about the
starting five, if you could name one player on the Harvard basketball team before last night,
you are a true basketball jones.

The Ivy League schools play in spruced up high school gyms and are lucky if they get a box
score in USA Today. You get the point. Ivy League basketball, in the landscape of major college
sports, is an after thought, at best. 99 percent of the athletes playing in the NCAA tournament
wouldn't even have a chance to get into Harvard. The academic requirements are off their charts
and no admission officer looks the other way or past an SAT score if it doesn't have four digits.

So, Thursday night, you had Harvard, a number 14 seed, playing New Mexico, a three-seed. It's
safe to say that hardly any of you had the Crimson beating the Steve Alford-coached Lobos. I
mean, be real. That would be a total bracket-buster on the very first day. But it happened. The
game had the feel of "Hoosiers", where a small town team beat  Goliath. Ok, so New Mexico is
not Goliath, but Harvard sure is David. No scholarships, no training table, no state-of-the art
facility. Just bright kids who make their studies, not basketball, a priority.

Harvard does have one major thing going for them: Tommy Amaker. The former Duke All-
American point guard has great pedigree and experience. He had a bad one at Michigan as
their head coach, but he has learned from his trials and tribulations in Ann Arbor to take the
Crimson to where they have never gone before. They beat New Mexico for its first NCAA
tournament win EVER. How sweet is that? I left out the score because nobody will remember
it anyway and it's not important. The victory is.

They have claimed first dibs on Cinderella's slipper. Over the next 48 hours, you'll be hearing
more about Harvard basketball than you've ever heard before. Mark Zuckerberg might show
up to see Harvard take on Arizona in the next round. The Winklevoss twins might be there, too.
A lot of famous alums are sure to come out of the woodwork to bask in the glow of their Harvard

And it'll be refreshing. After all the scandals in college sports over the last two years,
(See Sandusky and Manti' Te'o) this story is a feel-good one. I just hope it gets sweeter and
Harvard makes it to the round of 16.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Finding a $20 bill in a pair of jeans you haven't worn in two months is pretty cool, receiving
a picture from a memorable night in New Orleans that happened more than 20 years ago is
flat-out awesome. It's like unwrapping a Christmas gift that you stare at forever in both
astonishment and amazement, the ear-to-ear grin a dead giveaway to others that you had just
gone back to a special time in your life.

Three years ago at the baseball winter meetings in Orlando, I ran into a former teammate from
UNC whom I had not seen in more than 15 years. His once jet-black hair changed so much, he
was barely recognizable. At UNC, he was tagged with the nickname, "Mr. Make Believe", now
he was simply the silver fox to me, his always neatly-coiffed hair, now reduced to a gleaming
white buzz cut.

Doug Torborg was a left-handed pitcher who arrived in the same year I did. We graduated
together and were rivals in the Carolina League. We reminisced about our days at UNC and he
mentioned a picture he had, which I was pretty anxious to see. As we departed, I gave him
my e-mail address so he could send me the picture, which I didn't hold my breath for,
because knowing Torborg as I did, I didn't think there was much of a chance of it ever finding
its way to my message box.

Boy, was I wrong. Very wrong. A few days later, there was a message in my AOL account
with the subject line that read: UNC-New Orleans trip. I quickly opened it up and nearly fell
on the floor with  laughter. The memories came back to me like it was yesterday instead of
1984. The picture was nearly perfect, capturing the unbridled joy of college kids enjoying a
baseball trip to Pat O'Brien's and the French Quarter. Nobody knows who took the picture
and Torborg wasn't sure how it fell into his possession, but it didn't matter. It was classic.
A pure classic.

Let's face it, in our lifetime, we take and appear in thousands and thousands of pictures. But
there are only a few from our college days that we ever keep, much less treasure. After all the
moves I've made from state-to-state, I can honestly say that I only have a handful from my
collegiate days at UNC. The one that Torborg sent me, is one that I'll cherish forever.

I was just a freshman at UNC and this was the very first weekend of the season. We traveled
by air to New Orleans and stayed just a few blocks from the French Quarter. We thought we
were rock stars instead of baseball players,  and tried to fulfill the role to the best of our abilities.

On the night before the season-opener which was scheduled for 7pm on Friday night, our
coach, Mike Roberts, said  we were free to enjoy the night, but set an 11pm curfew. Most of
us made a bee-line for Pat O'Brien's,  which is one of the most popular bars in town.  Nearly
20 members of the Carolina baseball team blew into O'Brien's like the hurricanes they were
famous for.

Drinking age? Is there one in New Orleans? I think you just had to prove you had a pulse at
the door and you were good to go. And we went, and went, and went back for more and more
hurricanes. We didn't know what was in them, nor did we care. We were young and invincible,
plus we had nearly the entire day to recover before our 7pm game. This was good. Life was
good and this picture was proof of that.

It sure was good for Alvin Taylor, pictured in the lower right-hand corner. Taylor was known
as "The Grinch" and he looks like he just got caught not stealing Christmas, but having too
much fun (and a little too much to drink).  He's sucking down one hurricane, while holding
an empty one in his right hand. The look on his face is worth a 1,000 words alone.

I'm not sure Bill Robinson (center of picture, eyes closed) knew exactly where he was, but
you can just tell he was having the time of his life and didn't care if he had to pay the price for
it the next morning.

Scott Johnson, in the black leather jacket in the upper right-hand corner next to me, was a
seasoned pro at this, but he was clearly enjoying the moment. He was known for three things
at Carolina: hitting mammoth home runs, burning the candle at both ends, and chasing women.
And oh, yeah, that black leather jacket, which I'm sure he's wearing today even as winter
turns to spring.

Standing next to Johnson, is Jim Stone, and after four years of being educated at a prep school,
I think this was truly his first night out in a big city and he let it rip. He didn't drink much, if at
all before he arrived at UNC, but that clearly changed on this night in New Orleans. The
expression on his face says, "I'm finally free and I'm loving it."

Nearly everyone in the picture is frozen forever with the look of incredible happiness on their
faces. The smiles are genuine, the bond  we all shared, was very real. We didn't have a care
in the world. We were young, adventurous, and didn't have everything figure out, except how
to break the 11pm curfew, which was shattered well before this picture was taken. The UNC
baseball team didn't close the place down, but everybody knew damn well we were there.

What is better than a team photo without the uniforms? Hurricanes in hand, smiles plastered
across our faces. Man, those were the days, those were most definitely the days of our lives.
UNC takes the French Quarter. Baseball fan or not, you just gotta love it.

We sure did.

Monday, March 18, 2013


If every college coach whose team is in the NCAA tournament doesn't use ESPN's "Survive
and Advance" as a motivational tool for their players, they should. They most definitely should.
Besides being one of the most well-produced programs in the land of a million stupid reality
shows, the story of North Carolina State's journey to the 1983 national championship was simply incredible.

The documentary was more about life than it was about basketball, though It showed us the
journey to accomplishing a goal or your dream, is far more important than getting the trophy.
It demonstrated that victory doesn't always go to the most talented,  but rather to those who believe
in themselves when others don't. It showed us how a resilient, close-knit group of men, can stare down adversity and triumph when the odds are stacked against them.

Most importantly, "Survive and Advance" showed us the mind, heartbeat, and soul of Jim Valvano
that only those who played for him had experienced. The leader of the Wolfpack was a brilliant
combination of salesman, showman, strategist, and stand-up comic. When he wasn't inspiring his
team, Valvano was captivating big audiences. He delivered some great lines during the two-hour program including one about the team curfew at the Final Four:

For the first time in 16 years we had a bed check," Valvano said. "and I want everyone to know, all the beds were there." On the eve of the national championship game against Houston, he said, "My
mother took Houston and gave me eight points."

Valvano had the great lines and his team had the great moxie. A season with a lot of potential
seemed to crumble when Dereck Whittenburg went down with a mid-season injury. He returned in
time for the ACC Tournament, which the Wolfpack needed to win just to get into the 'Big Dance'.
They did it by slaying the big dragons, (Michael Jordan-UNC and Ralph Sampson-UVA) on their
way to the title.

That was just the start of Cinderella's wild ride in which they won seven of their last nine games
when trailing with one minute to go. In the first-round of the tournament, they trailed Pepperdine
by six points with a minute left, and miraculously came back. Everything about their run to the
championship was simply amazing. In the regional final, they beat number one seed Virgina and
Ralph Sampson AGAIN. First in the ACC Championship and then to get to the Final Four.

Every step of the way, Valvano had his team believing they could win the national championship.
He instilled this in his players long before the madness even began. The documentary showed a clip
of Valvano explaining how the team actually practiced cutting down the nets prior to the season.
No basketball, no drills, just cutting down the nets! How great is that?! If you can see it and believe
it, you can achieve it.

Valvano was Tony Robbins long before Tony Robbins came along. He could've made a fortune
with self-help books and audio tapes. He was simply the master at getting ordinary people to do
extraordinary things. I'm sure, at times, he even had trouble believing in himself, but he was such
a great salesman, he got his team to believe they could accomplish anything and everything--and
they did.

Nobody in the country believed North Carolina State could beat Houston. Phi Slamma Jamma
was just too good. They had tw future Hall of Famers on their team in Hakeem Olajuwon and
Clyde Drexler. State had nothing but heart and a belief they could beat Goliath. And they did
to win an improbable national championship.

When the program was over, I felt empowered and inspired. This was two-hours of phenomenal
television that had an impact not just on me, but a lot of people. The characters in this rags-to-riches
story were all inspiring, but none more than Valvano. He didn't care what people thought or how
they thought of him. He had a dream and he believed it and lived it. The Cinderella story ended,
unfortunately,when Valvano was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.

But just as he did in rallying his team to the national championship, Valvano believed that he
could beat cancer and would not let him change who he was. But it did. He became even more
of an inspiration. He gave others hope. He made people believe in themselves and encouraged
them to "never give up. Don't ever give up."

And he made people realize that it's not always about winning that counts, but the journey in
trying to get there.

Friday, March 15, 2013


March 15, 1988. 27 years ago, I experienced one of the most incredible days of
my life. It was like a wedding or the birth of a child for most people, where everything is
so vivid, so easy to recall, and filled with moments that stay with you forever.

I was in my first full week of spring training with the Boston Red Sox organization in
Winter Haven, Florida. I was that kid in the candy store, the one with the huge smile on my
face and not a care in the world. I was playing baseball while wearing a Red Sox uniform and
loving every second of it. Heaven, I thought, couldn't be much better than this.

But things on this sun-splashed morning in a baseball facility lined with palm trees, were
about to get even more special and even somewhat surreal. It was something that has stayed
with me til this day and an incredible experience that nobody can ever take away from me.

I had just finished up catching what seemed like a hundred pitchers in the bullpen. In spring
training, there are 10 pitchers to every catcher and you spend most of your time squatting and blocking  88-mile an hour sliders in the dirt. I had made the position switch to catcher during
my junior year at UNC, and have long regretted that I didn't don the tools of ignorance sooner.
I loved everything about the job, which is the most physically demanding one in the game.

After catching a long litany of pitchers for close to two hours, the camp coordinator told us to
go get in some swings in the cages, which were located smack-dab in between the major and
minor league clubhouses. I had taken a fastball in the dirt off my wrist so I stopped off at the
trainer's room to get some ice before I went to hit.

There was already a long line in there as the pitcher's who had thrown earlier, were icing down
their arms. Catching and blocking baseball's in 85 degree heat for almost two hours is like running
a half-marathon, so I wasn't in any hurry to go hit. The ice pack the trainer had given me,
and the 20 minute wait seemed to rejuvenate me before I had to make the trek over to the cages.

Once I got there, there were only few people around. The other position players didn't have to
catch in the bullpen all morning and most of them had already gotten their hitting in before
calling it a day. I stepped into the cages and took some swings off a coach who was positioned
about 45 feet away, the shorter distance forces you to react quicker and develop some at speed.

As I was taking my swings, I noticed a large figure walking down the alley between the cages,
out of the corner of my eye. He was coming from the major league camp where he had been
offering instruction to players like Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and Dewey Evans. I kept swinging
and he kept walking toward the cage where I was. An adrenaline rush washed over my entire
body and I became more focused on the pitches that were traveling my way.

The footsteps of this large figure got louder and louder as I went through my hitting drills.
My heart started racing faster and faster and I was swinging harder and harder, drilling balls
into the nets of the cage. All of sudden, those footsteps stopped. This imposing figure, which
stood about 6'4" had stopped to watch me hit. There were only three people in this area of the
cage, the coach, who was throwing me batting practice, me, and one of the greatest hitters in
the history of the game.

He shouted out to me with this booming voice, "Now, open those hips and drive through the
ball".  His voice was so unique, but very strong. It sounded a lot like John Wayne. But I knew
damn well  who it was. After my follow through, I turned around to see Ted Williams staring
back at me. It was a moment that was so surreal, yet so powerful. I had seen Williams on tape
and books, but I had never seen  him in person, and here he was, about to talk to me about hitting.
Just me and him.

Having Ted Williams talk to you about hitting, is like a musician getting tips from The Beatles
or Elvis. This was unbelievable. I'm not star struck and never got intoxicated by celebrity. Three months earlier, I was standing in a batter's box with Kevin Costner filming a scene for "Bull Durham", and I didn't consider it any big deal. This was a big deal. This was like Moses telling
me about the Ten Commandments. This was Ted Williams, a true American hero, talking to
me about hitting. I said to myself, "Oh my @*#$ God". Is this really happening?"

I stared at Williams as he was telling me about swinging with a slight uppercut, which I had
read and memorized from his book, "The Science of Hitting", and amazingly, I didn't see him
as a baseball icon. I saw him as a real, live American legend. He was telling me about finishing
high with my hands, but I wasn't really listening. Thoughts of him going through, not one, but
two tours of duty in the military during his baseball career, rushed through my head. That would
be like Albert Pujols taking a break from baseball to fight for his country. Twice That would
never happen in today's world.

Williams was a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War. He had the opportunity to
take a position that kept him out of battle, but Williams pretty much said, "screw that". He flew
39 combat missions in the Korean Ward. 39! The great General Douglas MacArthur was a big
fan of Williams and for his 40th MacArthur sent the Splendid Splinter a painting of himself with
a note that said,:

"To Ted Williams — not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who
served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.


I continued to take swings in the cage with Williams shouting out instructions to me. I said to
myself, "This is unreal. Nobody is going to believe this." After a few more swings, Williams
entered the cage, took the bat from my hands, and started to talk more about hitting. I looked
around to see a row of nothing but empty cages. If was still just Ted Williams, the coach
throwing batting practice, and me. I said to myself, "Wow. Here I am with the last man to hit over .400 in a season. Please, don't anybody wake me up."

Williams told me to keep working on my hitting. He said I should think about hitting "even when
you sleep. To be a great hitter, you have to hit all the time. Morning, noon, and night." I didn't
say anything, just nodded. He said he had to go and I didn't want the moment to end, so I said
"I'll walk out with you." As we left the dark cages, the world seemed so much brighter, the
sun proudly bursting as spring time approached. I was walking on sunshine, just having the
greatest baseball experience of my life.

There were a lot of fans who had lined the fence along the facility, and when they saw Ted
Williams appear, their eyes lit-up like bulbs on a Christmas trees. One of those fans was my
grandfather, who had made the journey from Sarasota to see me in spring training. My
grandfather had been a pitcher in the minor-league system of the New York Yankees and this
was a big thrill for him. I asked Williams if he could say hello to my grandfather and he did.
I left to go back to the training facility, thanked Williams for the time, and told my grandfather
I'd meet him after.

Years later, in 2004 , just before he died, my grandfather sent me a letter via mail. I opened
it, and out came a picture of me from my college days at UNC. On the back of the picture,
in the neat lettering of my grandfather, were the words and numbers: 3-15-88 Winter Haven,
FL. Training camp. And under it was the autograph of Ted Williams.

I did not know my grandfather had gotten Williams' autograph that day. He just told me what
a thrill it was for him to meet him. I have kept the picture and autograph in my wallet ever
since that day 9 years ago. It's a reminder of the special moment that both my grandfather and
I shared with Ted Williams.

That was 27 years ago today. I remember it like it just happened yesterday.  A lot has happened
since that moment, but talking with Ted Williams about hitting is something that I'll never forget

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Bill Belichick has long been the most ruthless coach in the NFL. He shows the emotion of
an overworked mortician trying to get by on 20 minutes of sleep. In 2006, his father died just
hours before the team took on the New Orleans Saints. Belichick acted as if nothing happened,
coaching the game no differently than any other one during his career with the Patriots, with
nothing on his sleeve. It was straight business. He'd take care of the funeral preparations later.

If there was a Wizard who could give him a heart, Belichick wouldn't even bother taking the trip down the yellow-brick road to get one.

Belichick just doesn't care what you, me, or any of the so-called experts think. He gets paid to
make tough decisions and does it with a faint pulse. And why should anybody argue with his decision to let Wes Welker go sniff the Mile High air with Peyton Manning and the Broncos for the next two years? Oh, sure, the former Patriots receiver just put together one of the most spectacular six-year runs in NFL history. And he was Tom Brady's favorite receiver and Belichick mustn't ruffle the feathers of the franchise quarterback, right? Wrong.

Have we not learned anything about Belichick over the years? Don't we know that he's as cold,
methodical, and focused as a sniper in a war zone? In 1993 when he was coaching the Browns,
he unceremoniously dumped Bernie Kosar, who was the most beloved player in franchise history outside of Jim Brown. Kosar had roots in Ohio and actually wanted to play in Cleveland when every
other player would much rather go through waterboarding torture than play for the Browns.

But Belichick didn't see a fan favorite, but rather a quarterback in steady decline and he cut him.
You think he cared about the the fans, who already despised him, and what they thought? Hardly.

In 2000, Drew Bledsoe, an established franchise quarterback well on his way to Canton, got
tattooed in the chest by Mo Lewis of the New York Jets and could've died from internal bleeding. When he was healthy enough to return, Belichick pretty much said, "Here's the clipboard and
headset. Now, go stand on the sidelines." He knew  Brady was the better quarterback even
with only about a half-dozen games under his belt. How'd that decision turn out?

In 2003, Belichick cut safety Lawyer Milloy just before the season-opener for salary cap purposes. Milloy was a  four-time Pro Bowler, a team captain, and inspirational leader. EVERYBODY in New England was ticked off  with Belichick over that move. Players, coaches, and fans went nuts. Belichick didn't care because he did what he thought was best for the franchise, which is one of his favorite mantras. Tom Jackson of ESPN stated on live television that "the players hated Belichick." First time Belichick saw Jackson, he gave him the Foxborough  University salute." After losing their first two games that season, the Patriots ran the table, winning 17 in a row, including the Super

And people really want to doubt Belichick after he said good-bye to Welker? I understand fans
in New England are emotional with a capital E. They can't let go of anything. Heck, they're still
pissed off because the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1912.

People in the region were incredulous that the Patriots didn't match the 2-year, $12 million
offer the Broncos gave Welker. Sports talk radio in Beantown was going nuts that the Hoodie
and Robert Kraft didn't pony up a measly $6 million a year for number 83. And then they wound
up giving Danny Amendola a reported 5-year deal worth $31 million, only $10 million of which
is guaranteed.

Perhaps, Belichick has an idea of what the hell he's doing. The guy has a record of 151-57
with the Patriots for a winning percentage of .726. That's winning almost 3 of 4 games every
year, plus they've won three Super Bowls and gone to two others. When Rex Ryan arrived
in New York nearly five years ago, he said he didn't come to "kiss Belichick's rings." The
only thing Ryan has smooched since then are his wife's feet and he probably has rubbed them
quite often, as well.

Maybe he saw Welker start to fall out of line with the "Patriots Way". Remember it was
Welker who made those not so thinly-veiled comments about Ryan being a good "foot"
soldier" and having "good feet" before their playoff meeting several years ago. Belichick
had warned the team not to make any comments about Ryan and his foot fetish scandal.
Belichick benched Welker for part of the first quarter and embarrassed him. The Hoodie
doesn't care how good you are, if you pulled that kind of stunt, you're going to sit, or much
worse. He'll trade you, as Randy Moss found out after he started to get sour about a contract.

Welker has taken a lot of hits over the last few years and it's always been Belichick's philosophy
that's it's better to get rid of a guy a year too early, than a year too late. Welker is 31, Amendola, 27. They are very much the same type of player who even played at the same college. (Texas Tech)

And just who was Welker before he came to the Patriots? He wasn't that great a player with
the Dolphins. In the year before he arrived in New England, Welker had 67 catches and a 10.3
average yards per catch. In St. Louis last season, Amendola had 63 receptions for an average
of 10.6 per catch. Pretty much the same stats.

Amendola played for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for a season in St.Louis and shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to the Patriots sophisticated offense. Plus,  Brady has
 a way of making good receivers even better. He demands that everybody is prepared and plays
with the same type of passion that he does. Sam Bradford is hardly Tom Brady.

Some say that Amendola is injury-prone. Sure, he busted his elbow making a great catch
on the turf a few years ago. Anybody who bounces on the fake stuff like a super-8 ball probably
would've gotten hurt on a play like that, too. It's the NFL. Injuries happen, and happen a lot. Plus,
things are a lot different when you're playing for a franchise like the Patriots as opposed to the
St. Louis Rams. That's no secret. Don't be surprised to see Amendola's productivity match that
of Welker in the very first season with Brady and Belichick.

The Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl with Welker, they can certainly lose another one without

It'd be foolish to doubt Bill Belichick. He's proven that he knows what he's doing and doesn't care if
he doesn't have a heart to put on his organ donor card.


In honor of the 266th Pope, the SportsRip presents the Top 5 athletes with the name Francis.
Not included are Francis Ford Coppola, Francis Scott Key, or the dude from the movie, "Stripes"
who didn't want to be called, "Francis", or he'd kill you. Francis means "free man".

5. STEVE FRANCIS An All-American guard out of Maryland, Francis was taken second overall
in the 1999 draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies. He had no interest playing there and cried his way out
and eventually got traded to the Houston Rockies just before the 1999-2000 season. He was the
NBA's Rookie of the Year and a three-time All-Star. Made more than $100 million in an NBA
career that saw him average just over 18 points a game.

4. RUSS FRANCIS Former All-Pro tight end who played most of his 13 seasons in the NFL with
the New England Patriots. A native Hawaiian, Francis was a first-round pick out of Oregon in
1975. He caught 393 passes, 40 of them going for touchdowns. One of the true great athletes at
his position.

3. RON FRANCIS Played 23 seasons in the NHL for the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes,
Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the most respected players in league history,
Francis won the Lady Byng trophy three times, which is awarded to the most gentlemanly player.
His 1,249 assists rank second all-time behind Wayne Gretzky, and Francis is fourth all-time in
points with 1,795.

2. JIM FRANCIS THORPE. Thorpe is unquestionably the greatest athlete on this list, but
because his middle name is Francis, he was moved down a notch. Few athletes matched the
all-around ability of Thorpe. He won gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in the pentathlon and
decathlon. Thorpe also played professionally in basketball and baseball. He was stripped of his
medals because it was discovered he had taken money in semi-pro leagues. However, 30 years
after his death, his medals were re-awarded by the Olympic committee.

1. FRAN TARKENTON. Born Francis Asbury Tarkenton, this diminutive quarterback (5'10")
played 23 seasons in the NFL with Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants. A Hall of Famer,
Tarkenton's 342 touchdown passes rank fourth on the all-time list and his 47,003 passing yards placed him sixth on the all-time list. Sir Francis, as the late Howard Cosell loved to call him, also rushed for 3,673 yards, which is good enough for fourth on the all-time rushing list among quarterbacks.