Archive for May, 2006

‘Tis the Season
May 31, 2006

e-mail Pete

In California they call their weather this time of year “June Gloom”. In Maryland, the phrase applies for sports fans. Collegiate sports are done. The Ravens still have nearly two months till training camp. The Orioles really begin in earnest their meaningless battle for 4th place. We have no NBA or NHL.

The landscape is bleak, but not completely barren. We do have golf. In fact, really good golf.

Next week in Harford County, the LPGA comes to town and not for just a regular tournament. They battle for a Major Title. The LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock runs June 8-11. Annika Sorenastam tries to defend her title against the brat pack of teen phenoms like Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer. If you haven’t made the trip up I-95 to this public course gem, go. The layout is gorgeous. The quality of play will surprise you (many of the ladies routinely hitting 290-300 yard drives). And it’s not that crowded. You can walk side by side with the best women golfers in the world.

Two weeks later in Montgomery County the PGA Tour makes its annual stop with the Booz Allen Classic. Now last year, we were really treated to something special. The event moved down the street from the TPC Avenel to its former home of Congressional Country Club, one of the top ten golf courses in the country. The prestigious one year hiatus from Avenel for course improvements brought together one of the best fields of the non major season. Sergio Garcia torched the vaunted course besting eight of the top ten players in the world along the way.

The event loses some juice this year with its return to Avenel, a course even with improvements, remains a pedestrian stop on tour. I played the course today as part of a media event. Pedestrian sounds harsh, just like the six inch rough and unreadable greens, but the slogan is true. These guys are good. Garcia said during a satellite Q&A today that after playing in the U.S. Open the course will seem easy.

That’s one of the big problems with this event. Its history typically has it slated the week before, or week after the U.S. Open. Most top players skip the event prior to a major, same story for the event after. Not to mention, mid June outside of D.C. is just brutal. Under Armour can’t make a shirt to absorb all that sweat.

The Booz Allen Classic’s spot in the calendar though will change. And many in the area cry foul. They say by moving the event to October makes it irrelevant. They like the spot in the heart of the PGA Tour season. But for the reasons mentioned prior, the move has to be good. The weather’s great in autumn and they don’t get the best players anyway. Instead they might attract better battles as players fight to retain Tour Cards with a top 125 finish in money.

Of course a move to October also leaves us with just one significant, major league, sporting event, statewide, for the month of June. Wait a second. Nevermind. Fight to keep the tourney in June. I need the material.

e-mail Pete

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Learning from Duke
May 26, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend has arrived, and while for many that means sitting on the Bay Bridge for three days, another large portion of Marylanders heads north to Philadelphia for the Men’s Lacrosse Final Four. The 2nd seeded Terps face unseeded UMass Saturday, the winner to face either top seed Virginia or number four Syracuse on Monday for the National Championship.

This marks the 3rd time in four years that Maryland has reached the Final Four. They desperately hope for better results. Each of the last two times on the big stage, they’ve played very small. A 14-4 loss to Virginia in 2003, then an 18-9 drubbing at the hands of Duke in 2005.

Speaking of Duke, what a difference a year makes. The Blue Devils were one goal shy of a National Championship last season. 12 months later they sit at home, their season canceled, their coach resigned, and three of their players indicted on charges of rape.

Rehashing what may or may not have happened in Durham won’t happen here. Even the most informed on this story don’t know for sure, so we won’t go there.

What the lacrosse community, for that matter the entire organized sports community, needs to do now though is to find something positive from the situation and move forward. Recognize that whether anything criminal took place or not, a stripper party for the team can’t possibly lead to anything good. And players from the team should have put a stop to it themselves. Leadership needs to take over in this situation.

Maryland head coach Dave Cottle was emphatic on that point in a conversation Thursday. He told me that the seminars he conducts on drinking, drugs, and sexual harassment for his team, while still important, are not enough.

“They’re kids. And as parents you teach your kids to do the right things. As coaches you teach your kids to do the right things. Sometimes they don’t do it.”

And rather than wait for some calamitous incident in College Park, Cottle already has in mind a proactive plan. He wants to bring in active Marines for leadership seminars. He wants the players to learn to police themselves. Hey, teach a man to fish.

When Mike Pressler resigned as head coach his coaching brethren was stunned. If it could happen to a good guy like Pressler, they knew it could happen to anyone. The alarm continues to sound. Cottle hears it.

“We all understand that we’re one event away from being caught in something that you don’t have any business or want to be caught in anytime.”

Self preservation is a wonderful motivator. And we all benefit from a more informed and disciplined sports society.

e-mail Pete

A weekend with Barbaro
May 25, 2006

This TV stuff gets in the way. Haven’t had a chance to write anything for the web since Barbaro grotesquely broke down just seconds into the Preakness Stakes.

Spent all day Sunday and most of Monday at the Widener Hospital for Large Animals, which is part of the New Bolton Center, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, in Kennett Square, PA.

Getting all that straight was hard enough, then the doctors started talking about things like sesamoid fractures and proximal phalanx bones. Watching the Chief of Surgery, Dr. Dean Richardson, spell out every technical term for the legion of reporters offered a rare moment of levity on Sunday afternoon. I could see the wheels grinding in his head, “I go through all those years of school, become the best horse surgeon in the country, so that I can explain how to spell?”

Clearly, putting this story together was to require a little more thought than say a Maryland Lacrosse Final Four Preview (which by the way is spectacular and airs Friday night on 11 News at 11).

Dr. Richardson kicked things off Sunday around 12:30 PM with a press conference explaining just how brutal the injuries were for the Kentucky Derby Champion. “It’s just about as bad as it can be.” Dr. Richardson though would not speculate on the possibilities for a successful surgery.

However, made abundantly clear, if this horse were not worth millions in stud fees, he would not have been brought to the New Bolton Center. He already would have been put down at the track. Dr. Richardson seemed somewhat humbled by that reality, but stated it clearly.

That’s not a slam on the industry, no indictment of Barbaro’s owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson. Would you spend six figures to save your dog? Destroying a horse with a broken leg is a terribly sad but hard fact of horse racing.

Turns out, Dr. Richardson and his team performed so brilliantly, Barbaro has a good chance for survival. Possible complications may still arrive including infection and reduced blood supply, but as any doctor will tell you, if you’re in good shape your chance for healing grows. Winning the Derby by six and a half lengths leads me to believe he can do some cardio.

Waiting though to find out how surgery went proved tough. Sports photographer Jim Forner and I put together a story from the press conference, figuring it would never make air, but just in case we didn’t yet know the outcome. Surely by say 5:00 we’d know Barbaro’s fate. Instead, we learned a lovely lesson on readiness without suffering any consequences. Did the story for the 6:00 News on his current status, only knowing that Barbaro was soon out of surgery.

The wait continued until 7:45 PM, nearly seven hours after surgery began, and then it ended. Not for the rest of the media, just for me and Jim. We had to leave the Widener Animal Hospital for Large Animals at the New Bolton Center University of Pennsylvania (just to prove I could still spit it out). Anchor duties called and we had an hour and a half drive back to WBAL. I’ve never had to leave before a story was finished like that. It’s a miserable feeling. Sometime then around the Chesapeake House exit on I-95 we learned Barbaro had survived the surgery. At least there was that.

The story of Barbaro has opened debate about what some are calling the impending doom of horse racing. The possible destruction of such a magnificent animal shows the horror of the sport. Now they say, people will stay away.

I’m not buying it. If nobody cared that Barbaro suffered horribly, but miraculously survived, then I’d say you have a problem. And trust me, there were more well wishers delivering presents and notes of hope to the horse than for any other patient ever at the New Bolton Center. Barbaro had people care about horse racing for more than just a couple of Saturdays in May. And as long as apathy stays away, horse racing will survive.

e-mail Pete

Alibi Breakfast
May 18, 2006

Today marked only my 3rd attendance of the Preakness Alibi Breakfast. But this one moves to the class of unforgettable.

Some background first, the Alibi Breakfast is a nearly 70 year old Preakness tradition. Originally, to quote the program guide, “a group of trainers, owners, and greater and lesser dignitaries would gather in the mornings to expound on the merits of their horses.”

It has evolved into (pick your favorite health expert here, I’m going with) the Surgeon General’s worst nightmare. Exorbitant sums of food (including fried chicken and chipped beef on toast) washed down with Black Eyed Susans (1 – 1/4 cup vodka, 4 cups orange juice, 1 – 1/4 cup light rum, ice ring, 3/4 cup triple sec, 1 tbsp fresh lime juice, 4 cups pineapple juice). The old saying, it’s 5:00 P.M. somewhere, never seemed more appropriate.

Fare aside though the event is a celebration of all things Preakness, of all things Maryland. Maryland Jockey Club President Joe DeFrancis offers a state of the sport speech. Other dignitaries like Maryland’s First Lady Kendal Ehrlich and Cardinal William Keeler offer praise of the Preakness and racing in Maryland. The Preakness horse trainers take turns praising each others horses, and explaining how well their horse looks in warm ups.

That last part, when the trainers get the microphone, in years past that’s when things got interesting. You give D. Wayne Lukas a microphone after a couple of Black Eye Susans and let the party begin. Bob Baffert absolutely loves the stage. However, neither has a horse running this year. Brother Derek’s trainer Dan Hendricks, while a compelling story, doesn’t exactly light up the room as a public speaker. Same for Perry Hall native Mike Trombetta, the trainer for Sweetnorthernsaint. Great guy, but not compelling at the mike.

So at this point, my 2nd sentence has made little sense. Unforgettable? How about unremarkable.

Ah hah. Enter Kenny Mayne. The ESPN, well off the beaten path, sportscaster earned the broadcast side of the Old Hilltop Award given to those that cover thoroughbred racing “with excellence and distinction.” Mayne knows how to hold court.

From the opening line of his acceptance speech, “Obviously there’s been a terrible mistake”, to his view on slots, “thank you to the Maryland Jockey Club, of which George Washington was a member. You don’t think George Washington would have installed slot machines? He just didn’t have the technology.”

Mayne speaks with irreverence that comes straight from the heart. His sense of humor so dry camels are jealous. A true maverick in the world of broadcasting, he is a main reason I wanted to talk sports for a living. We chatted for a while after his award presentation. He is very happy with the glass bowl trophy but isn’t sure what yet will fill it (he promises though the bowl will hold a prominent place.)

Mayne not only entertains and informs, he’s a good guy. One of the bright spots in our profession. And certainly one of the reasons people other than die hard horse fans tune in to thoroughbred coverage. His presence this morning gave the event a huge boost of energy and left people talking. And until we have the return of the celebrity trainers, let’s hope Kenny Mayne wins an award every year at Alibi Breakfast.

Alotta Ngata
May 14, 2006

The Ravens opened rookie mini camp today with all ten draftees in attendance, plus a dozen newly signed undrafted free agents. I didn’t get a chance to watch, but the new voice of the Ravens Gerry Sandusky took it all in and shared some thoughts.

He was amazed at seeing Haloti Ngata on the field. Said it reminded him of the first time he saw Jonathon Ogden in uniform. Your jaw just kind of drops as you can’t believe someone that big can also move that quickly. Said he had never seen calves like Ngata’s. They’re just enormous.

As for Gerry Sandusky, getting ready for his first season as play by play announcer for the Ravens, he’s like my seven month old son when I let him play with the remote. Pure and complete joy. I can’t imagine anyone being more prepared. Here we are three months away from the first preseason game and he already has depth charts ready for print. I’ll come in the office and find him studying game film like a coach. And for those that don’t know, Gerry knows football. Not like a fan. Not like a regular sportscaster. He grew up in the game, on the NFL sidelines. His father John coached for decades with Don Shula. This is no slam against Scott Garceau who is the consummate professional. Just know that Gerry brings to the broadcast a complete understanding of the game, the ability to make sure you understand it. I can’t wait for the first broadcast.

PLEASANT SURPRISE

I took in the Orioles game last night without any broadcast. Sat in the stands with my wife and another couple. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. My General Manager was kind enough to share the company seats. The good ones. Three rows back and just left of homeplate. Granted, it was KC in town, but still. So close that I now know Matt Stairs needs dental work and that Kerry Robinson does not like to be told he doesn’t fill out a jersey with the number 44.

Anyway, the point of this is actually about the other couple. New to the area, this was their first trip to Camden Yards. It was kind of depressing to explain how it used to be impossible to get a ticket without knowing someone. And that Baltimore is actually a very good baseball town. They gave the park a nice review. Who doesn’t? And actually the organization and team followed through with a great product. A good game, dramatic till the end, no errors, the Orioles won, and the fireworks display that followed equaled the one on New Years Eve at the Inner Harbor. Now if we could just update the jukebox to include anything from the past, say even ten years, that would be nice.

e-mail Pete

Same Memories, Different Perspectives
May 11, 2006

Enjoyed a trip down the memory of memory lane the other night. The Leslie Moore Scholarship Foundation dinner brought together most of the old Baltimore Colts to help and honor their teammate Lenny Moore. His son Leslie succumbed to a rare disease about five years ago. In the name of his son, The Hall of Fame tailback now puts disadvantaged kids through college.

“I had to do something. I had to do something to keep my man going,” Moore told me on Monday.

Catching up with the likes Moore, fellow Hall of Famers Raymond Berry and Gino Marchetti, plus Milt Davis brings back great memories, but not of games, rather of talking about the games with my dad.

These players were his heroes. I know them through his tales of triumph. Yet in some ways, I feel closer to them, and remember them more fondly. I never knew their failures, never watched them disappoint. And their stories brought my father and I closer. Through games of catch he shared the stories of the ’58 & ’59 Championships, Don Chandler’s 1965 field goal that led to the extension of the uprights, of the greatest quarterback to ever live.

Enough reminiscing, back to work, where it turns out, I didn’t stray too far.

In our conversations I asked all them about their relationship with the Ravens. We’ve seen Lenny get involved in public ways, like taking part in some 10th anniversary festivities with the team. He also loves to attend practice. But most of the Old Colts have little to do with Baltimore’s current team.

“I don’t have any feel or connection with the Baltimore Ravens”, Raymond Berry told me. “Since I was in New England with the Patriots I keep up with them. I really like the way they run their operation.”

Marchetti can’t say enough great things about Baltimore, the city.

“The most amazing thing, here I am, I haven’t played since ’66 and I come to this city and people still know ya.”

But as for the Ravens, he feels like Berry.

“I have nothing against the Ravens. I know my relationship with the Cleveland Browns wasn’t too good so maybe it’s carried over to the Ravens.”

So while Marchetti holds ambivalence about the Ravens, there’s none about the Colts. The Indianapolis Colts.

“What I’m trying to get over is trying to root for the Indianapolis Colts. That’s hard for me to do. It’s hard to root against them, but what that organization did to the fans of the city, even us, they took away our history.”

Then I met Milt Davis. The NFL’s season leader in interceptions in 1957 and 1959, he holds back nothing regarding his relationship with the Ravens.

(watch Milt Davis here)

“I don’t have that association or relationship because they’ve made no effort to contact me. Not that I’m anything special, but if you belong to the original family they should extend themselves to do that. That’s a courtesy. And like they say about gratitude, I’m grateful, but it is like a virtue that’s most deified and yet most deserted.”

Pretty powerful words from Davis, elegant too. And while he certainly deserves his opinion, it’s hard to blame the Ravens.

They acknowledge the Colts history. Touching Johnny U’s foot before heading into M&T Bank Stadium has become a right of passage. But what do they really owe?

When the Browns came to town, while most in Cleveland won’t say anything nice about Art Modell, they did the decent thing leaving the history behind. Therefore, the Ravens must create their own.

They aren’t the Baltimore Colts. This is a franchise it its eleventh year already loaded with a lifetime of memories. Baltimore football fans remember both. They love both. Separately.

Unfortunately that leaves the old Colts without an old home. But don’t blame the Ravens. All that finger pointing belongs in the most boring big city our country has to offer.

This entry should end there, but I have another clip to share. Gino Marchetti’s take on today’s NFL offers a reality check for some of today’s players. Very, very old school.

(watch Gino Marchetti here)

Weekend Review
May 8, 2006

NCAA LACROSSE

In an effort to make the NCAA lacrosse tourney smarter, or maybe just help the image of the sport since the Duke Scandal, the selection committee gave Harvard an at-large bid. (look at the bracket here). Trying to figure out if it was the 6-6 record (the bare minimum for an at-large bid), or the Crimson’s limping home in the regular season by losing three of four that swayed the committee.

And with Harvard in, that leaves Towson out. The Tigers had a better record at 8-6, plus the same number of wins against tourney teams (2). The Tigers also had the heartbreak of four losses coming by one goal. Towson clearly owns a better resume. Maybe there’s an unwritten limit of four teams from Maryland. 2nd seeded Maryland, 4th seeded Johns Hopkins, Navy, and UMBC all made the field.

THE SURE THING

Any doubts on Barbaro at Pimlico? The Preakness favorite has won the last five years, and Barbaro reminds us of Smarty Jones in 2004. Both went undefeated through the Derby and smoked the field at Churchill Downs. Smarty Jones of course went on to dominate at Pimlico, but fall short at Belmont.

But before we anoint Barbaro as a sure thing for the Triple Crown, I remember a conversation with NY Times columnist William Rhoden in 2004 during Preakness week. I asked him for some historical perspective on Smarty Jones, was this one of the all time great horses? He looked at me, laughed, and said “You young people and your hype. Let the horse win first, then talk history.” Now I just wonder at what point will I no longer be a young person. Nobody has called me that since. Sad.

Anyway, keep the e-mails coming on favorite Preakness memories. e-mail Pete. A grand sharing to take place on Friday.

SOMETHING MAGIC HAPPENS

A thick, penetrating depression has kidnapped the Orioles season. Watching them lose an 11th straight to Boston, a 5th straight overall, and their 12th in 15 games is tough. But the way in which they lose, without passion, and usually blown out by the 5th inning, to quote Ron Burgundy in Anchorman “it stings the nostrils”.

No doubt, injuries have played a role. With Brian Roberts on the DL the Orioles have just one win. But losing David Newhan and Javy Lopez to the disabled list, should that really cripple a team?

And what about the pitching? Todd Williams returned to the bullpen giving the O’s basically what they planned on having this season on staff. Yet the team E.R.A is ranked 29th out of 30 teams. I wholeheartedly believe Leo Mazzone will build a good staff in Baltimore, but exactly why the staff has to get worse before it gets better escapes me.

Ultimately, there is one huge problem with this team. No, a rant on Peter Angelos is not on the way (although that is the most common e-mail I get from fans). This team has the depth of a Hollywood agent. When they put their best lineup forth, it’s not bad. But every single piece must be in place for success, and over 162 games that rarely happens.

Is there a bright light at the end of the tunnel? Probably not, but the optimist can take a gander north up I-95 and see that things can turn around quickly. A week ago they were ready to string up Charlie Manuel in the City of Brotherly Love then the Phillies reeled of seven straight wins and now sit three games over .500. It’s not much, but it’s something.

No Brainer
May 7, 2006

They call it the most thrilling two minutes in sports, but I like to go with most unpredictable. That was my theory anyway and that’s how I made my bet. (Actually had intern Steve go on a field trip to Pimlico an hour before post time and make the bet. Kind of thought he’d get lost and miss post time. Wish he had.) And this year Barbaro really screwed up the Kentucky Derby betting. Just when you thought it was easy; pick one of the longshots like Giacomo in 2005, then count your loot.

I never even seriously looked at Barbaro to win. And I wonder why I haven’t picked a winner since Affirmed at Belmont. Sold my soul for Cause to Believe. He was supposed to be a finisher like Giacomo. Not sure he ever started.

Great story though in Barbaro with his trainer Michael Matz. A former hero, LITERALLY! Matz saved three children from a burning plane after it crashed while taking off 17 years ago. Even cooler, those three kids (now grown) joined Matz in the stands at Churchill Downs to cheer on Barbaro. And we thought Smarty Jones was a feel good story. If ever there was a horse for which to root on to the Triple Crown, it’s Barbaro. Plus if you add in just two letters, you get Barbarino. And then we have a host of Welcome Back Kotter jokes. Nevermind.

Looking ahead to Preakness, where the favorites tend to fare far better, Barbaro will be a huge early favorite. Ridden by Edgar Prado, a jockey very familiar with Pimlico, Matz has the setup for another big win.

History though also likes horses that failed in Kentucky because of things out of their control. A bad draw sent Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron almost out of contention from the beginning. There are no draws that wide at Preakness.

And please, all week long send me your favorite Preakness memories. e-mail Pete

I’ll share the most interesting, let me rephrase, I’ll share some of the most interesting that won’t get me fired. Keep the debauchery to PG-13.

Derby Dreams
May 5, 2006

Spent the afternoon at Pimlico getting thoughts from race fans on the Kentucky Derby. I absolutely love going to the track when it’s not crowded. The characters are in full force while the smells are not. And to Joe who hoped his boss wouldn’t watch the news tonight and see that he was playing hooky, I too am picking the 10-13 on Saturday.

Track handicapper Frank Carulli was mild when picking the favorites for the Derby but seemed excited about long shot Cause to Believe. He was pretty insistent on including him in any trifecta.

They also let me talk on camera today. Found a story from Gerry Sandusky from a couple of years ago that made me laugh while I learned. A rare double header.

e-mail Pete

French Army vs. Washington Generals
May 5, 2006

First off, have to say I love Bruce Chen as an interview and decent guy. He’s smarter than most baseball players combined and has a sense of humor. But what he has in common with seemingly every other baseball player. When he gets a huge jump in salary, his game stinks.

Watching him tonight put together another bad outing. He’s only gone more than five and a third innings once, and his E.R.A. sits above seven. Wait, that was before tonight’s misery against Texas. As I write this he’s gone three innings, given up six runs, and his E.R.A. has jumped to 8.27.

Aside from trying to figure out who kidnapped the 13 game winner from last season. Chen’s struggles got me thinking. What would happen if he faced the Orioles right now?

The O’s can’t hit a lefty to save their lives. Against southpaws this year (btw, Chen just gave up a 2 run homer to former Mt. St. Joe’s star Mark Teixeira making it 8-0. His E.R.A. soars to 8.80. I’ve never felt more right about writing a story. By the end of this piece he might have pitched his way to Delmarva) Baltimore has just one victory and hits a Bob Uecker like .208 against them.

Now having already discussed Chens failings, and knowing that good pitching beats good hitting, what happens when bad pitching faces bad hitting? I’m sure we’ll find out when Kansas City comes to town on May 12th but seriously, absolute failure (Chen) vs. catastrophic disaster (Orioles vs. lefties). Who would win?

It’s possible that up would be down, cats would love dogs, Barry Bonds would gracefully retire, and Daniel Snyder would finally realize ‘you know what? It’s not all about me.’

I honestly can’t come up with an answer. Cases can be made for both sides. But mostly I think that, barring a rain out, everyone would lose.