Archive for July, 2011

Camp Tree
July 29, 2011

Before heading to Ravens training camp and immersing myself in learning a roster with more new names than the baby ward at GBMC, I spent part of the morning at Lake Clifton /Heritage High in Baltimore.  On another record setting day of heat kids worked on their basketball and life skills with one of the best teachers Baltimore has to offer.

Herman “Tree” Harried, the Athletics Director at the Lake since the late 90’s ,runs the week long day camp every summer.  And thanks to the success of it he’s likely to add Christmas and spring break camps as well.  This is not a camp to make money as the fee is nominal.  It’s not about finding the next great player in the city (although watching 9 year old Davon Moses rain 3’s he just might be.)

Davon Moses makes jump shot

Coach Tree does the camp and opens the gyms year round to give kids a chance to go where trouble won’t find them.  And when there he makes sure the kids hear his message on how to behave.  Yes sir and no ma’am are musts and to always look the person in the eye when talking.  How to treat each other with respect and see how good it feels to have that feeling returned.  Along with a nice crossover it’s quite a day of camp.

Coach Tree has help from those that came before.  Old Lake Clifton stars keep coming back to help.  Darius Gilmore ran the point for the regional championship team in 2007.  Now on his way to play at the University of Wyoming, Gilmore offers the perfect example of what happens when a real role model takes hold in a troubled kid’s life.

Gilmore ran the streets of Baltimore in his early teens.  He saw his best friend killed. His life seemed inevitably headed to the same conclusion. When he arrived at Lake Clifton Coach Tree had to  kick him out of practice nearly every day.  Darius hated the discipline, but found he also craved it.  Within a year Gilmore was nearly running practice himself having become a true gym rat. When you talk to the polite, smiling young man now who dreams of making the NCAA tournament for the Cowboys, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that he nearly fell off the grid.  And watching him work with the young kids today with infectious enthusiasm makes even the  most cynical smile.

During lunch for the campers Coach Tree took me on a tour of Heritage High, wanting to introduce me to his boss Mrs. Karen Lawrence.  A mutual respect for the two was something he wanted to share. And to remind me that not all things we see and hear regarding Baltimore City schools has to involve the police.  Thanks Coach, reminder noted.

 

Pleasant Surprise at the Castle
July 27, 2011

On a quiet morning at the Ravens Castle, waiting for the hustle and bustle of football to return, a truly great way to pass the time arrived.  Hall of Fame RB Lenny Moore came looking for a little excitement too.  We found ourselves in the buzz free lobby, but soon the quiet gave way.  When Lenny gets to talking football, his understated voice builds into a mini roar (a team employee ventured out of an office and w/ the utmost respect asked he keep it down. just a little. sir.)

Mr. Moore was not so pleasantly surprised at the waiving of the four veterans on Wednesday.  But it wasn’t the offensive side of the ball he was first to lament.  Not Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, or Willis McGahee.  It was the loss of Kelly Gregg that got his dander in a rise.

“He’s so strong!  We need him in the middle!” 

Love the way he says we.  These may be the Ravens, but in his eyes it’s Baltimore’s team therefore his team.

But when talking football it never takes long for the stories of the old Colts to start flying.  They always revolve around J-U.  That’s what he calls John Unitas.

He began with a story from his 3rd year in the league when Raymond Berry approached him.  Berry said that they need more Lenny Moore in the offense.  Lenny was surprised and flattered, but it wasn’t just a compliment.  Berry said that Lenny had to stay after practice and work with J-U.  That Lenny wasn’t working hard enough and J-U didn’t trust him yet.  Message received.  Moore stayed after from that point forward (despite the fact that Art Donovan said “are you nuts!”).

Lenny also told a story of a Pro Bowl practice when Vince Lombardi was the coach.  Lombardi made a suggestion about positioning the tight end a step farther outside to free him up getting off the line.  Lombardi asked if anyone had any questions. J-U was the only one to raise his hand.  And it wasn’t with a question.  Unitas said why move him just a yard off the tackle, you have to move him five yards for it to make any impact. Lombardi paused, and said he was right.

More stories about J-U and how he defied Weeb Ewbank constantly and Ewbank just kind of shrugged it off.  But when Unitas ignored Don Shula’s play calls the coach went nuts.  It didn’t matter to Unitas, he still called his own plays.  However with Shula he had to walk away faster before the coach could get a hold of him.

Lenny Moore is a true Baltimore treasure, and it warms my heart to see him embrace the Ravens wholly and for the Ravens to reciprocate. It’s an honor to share just a couple of minutes of stories from today.

Where do we go from here?
July 20, 2011

As I sit in the press box for the series finale between the Orioles and Red Sox the temptation to write about how incredibly horrible it is to see so much red in the stands remains high.  But that’s been done to death.

(Still I just tasted a little bit of lunch for the second time thanks to a roar from the crowd as Boston turned two to end the 2nd)

The remedy of course easily identifies itself, but the execution remains a 14 year disaster.  If the Orioles become winners, orange drowns out red in the seats.  But how to do that?

The Andy MacPhail era, now mostly done with year four, seems to have changed little.  The minor league system he controls has grown some starting pitchers, but as young arms often do, the valleys last longer than the peaks.  Three of the core four sit in either Bowie or Norfolk as they work out “issues”.  While they battle through regression Buck Showalter has been given minor league pitchers, not minor league prospects, to battle the American League East with predictable results. And the bats that MacPhail professed to buy unfortunately come with no money back guarantee.

We have seen progress made with the creation of a truly competitive spring training facility.  I remember talking to former Oriole Steve Kline in 2005 at the Orioles old facility in Fort Lauderdale.  He was frankly aghast at the quality, or lack thereof, after coming to the Orioles from St. Louis.  Orioles fans were later aghast at Kline’s inability to get anybody out, but that doesn’t mean his outrage at the low class facility rang hollow.

But that’s not enough.  Talent evaluation and talent development are the key ingredients for change.  That’s where Buck Showalter and Andy MacPhail now seem to drift apart in philosopy.

I’ve heard from multiple sources that there’s a growing frustration from Showalter about who he has to work with, that he doesn’t believe what the scouts are selling him.  The scouts run by Andy MacPail.  Showalter and MacPhail  share the same desire to labor over every detail.  A pair of personalities that love to be in charge makes for a tough combination in any environment.  Throw in a .414 win percentage and the situation becomes untenable.

Publicly, Showalter said all the right things as part of an interview on MASN before Tuesday night’s game.  I believe whole heartedly the things Buck said about Andy as a person. Everybody likes Andy and everybody likes Buck.  But when it comes to figuring out the future of this rudderless franchise only one of them will have the reigns.

MacPhail’s contract is up at the end of this season and he has remained non commital about his future here. Showalter I’m told would at the least like more say in player evalutaion and development, and love a strong role in the hiring of a new general manager.

Peter Angelos though may have other ideas.  He said during spring training that MachPhail isn’t going anywhere.  If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if Buck does.