Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Where to Find Me This Fall & Scattered Thoughts

This past Wednesday, I started an internship at Blackandbluereview.com, a Charlotte-based website that covers the Carolina Panthers. Every Wednesday going forward, I will be heading downtown to help conduct interviews and write articles. My first story came from a ridiculous interview with receiver Philly Brown. You can read that here. Look for at least one of those per week.

Even though I’ve done college basketball coverage for two years, I never really considered it real journalism. I was just a college student after all, even at the NCAA Tournament. But as I stood in the Panthers locker room Wednesday looking for somebody to interview, I realized that I was unabashedly doing real sports journalism. I can’t deny how cool it was standing there interviewing Michael Oher, him of The Blind Side fame, at his locker. I did my best not to be starstruck, but at the end of the day, I am now covering the NFL, and that is just awesome.

At the moment, I’m trying to learn a little about the Panthers each day with a full schedule at school. It’s hectic, but I wouldn’t prefer it another way. So while the content on this site might be sparse and irregular the rest of the fall, I’m still writing. About Davidson for my school newspaper (see my latest piece on our goalkeeper Matt Pacifici here) and about the Panthers.

Now to some scattered thoughts on the world of sports.

-The Patriots offense looked awfully good last night, especially considering that at times, they had three rookies in on the offensive line. Tom Brady just seems to get better each year. There’s no stopping that offense if he, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski stay healthy. However, the defense worries me. DeAngelo Williams should not be looking that good. Once the emotions die down, I think we’ll get a better sense of what kind of a team we really have. But while that wave of hatred is there to ride, I wouldn’t want to play the Patriots.

-Right now, it looks like Ben Cherington’s final success was not trading away Jackie Bradley Jr. “to give him a fresh start.” His presence in the lineup and in the field each day makes baseball worth following. Although I haven’t been able to watch as much as I’d like recently, it brings a smile to my face every time I see what Jackie has done that day. This dismal season has become worth it because of how it gave JBJ chance to resurrect his career in Boston. The next step is putting him in center field every day, but for now, I’ll take him in the lineup. This BBC outfield could be the real deal.

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the Red Sox success right now though. I’m inclined not to trust what Travis Shaw is doing, yet I”m confident that Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello have finally turned the corner in Boston. The way they are playing is going to open up a lot of options to explore in the offseason. Once the ace is mail-ordered, the Red Sox can begin to think about having a legitimately strong team. Plus with all the talent in Single A right now, we have the potential to get really creative with trades.

-Arkansas should have no problem with Toledo tomorrow. While it’s easy to see the blowout of week 1 and immediately discard it, it’s worth remembering that UTEP was no cupcake. And Arkansas tore them apart. I came away incredibly impressed with the state of the defense. The loss of the three core defenders was always going to be overblown, but I wasn’t ready for the defense to look that good already. If tackling improves this week, they should be good to go by the time we get to SEC play in a couple weeks.

Aside from the receivers, who were excellent, I wasn’t as impressed with the offense. Everyone is talking about the improved play of Brandon Allen, but he still has those glaring misses on easy throws that will cost the team points against better teams. And aside from the one long run on a meaningless play, Alex Collins didn’t do a whole lot. The offensive line has to do a better job of making roles at the line of scrimmage, because too often Collins is getting nothing. However, the balance is tremendous. With defenders guessing, Arkansas will be able to lean on play action passes to the real superstar of the team, Hunter Henry. He and Jeremy Sprinkle should tear defenses apart this season.

-Tomorrow should be a good test for Arsenal. But one that if they fail will send out alarm bells. Stoke City has morphed into a pleasing side, but their results show a side that is still coming together. Now is the time to beat them. This is no longer the Stoke team that will sit back and rough Arsenal up, so it’ll be up to the midfielders to create chances. A couple goals would restore confidence in the team. I’m glad to have the EPL back though, as the international break was as boring as a League 2 encounter. Tomorrow will be a good day

-Can it be basketball season already?

 

 

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Victorino’s Goodbye & Benzema Boards A Plane – Notes From the Sports World

There is one moment from the 2013 postseason that stands out to me above all others. And as the Red Sox slide further from relevancy with each day, my mind has wandered back to this memory a lot recently. It’s of a massively important grand slam against a Tigers reliever, one that sent Fenway into a frenzy. But it isn’t the one you’re thinking of. I think not of David Ortiz sending Torii Hunter into the bullpen, but instead of Shane Victorino bounding his chest and leaping into the air as he rounded first base, the ball landing in the monster. It was passion and triumph on full display.

Shane Victorino in many ways represented the essence of the 2013 Red Sox. He, like many others, had a chip on his shoulder, written off by nearly everyone after a severe decline in play. And he, like the city of Boston, wanted to believe that every little thing was going to be all right. Armed with a golden glove and a walk-up song that made Fenway Park a choir of songbirds, he embraced the city that came to love him as one of their own.

Since 2013, things haven’t gone as well for Victorino in Boston. Muscle injuries have kept him off the field for the majority of the last two seasons, and as a result he became an unreliable option in right field. It’s been sad watching him in the dugout night after night as the parade of right fielders have struggled to fill his void. For 3 years and $39 million, many will say the production the Red Sox got out of him wasn’t enough, given that he has only played a combined 63 times over the last two seasons.

But I’m confident in saying that without him, there would have been no World Series. And in my book, that makes him worth all the time spent hoping he might return to form these last two years. As evidenced by the tears in his press conference last night, Boston and its people clearly meant something to him. This was more than just about baseball. And to me, that is the mark of a player worth celebrating. So as we bid farewell to another stalwart of the 2013 Red Sox, let’s all give one last look at Shane’s grand slam (click here to watch). I will miss that passion.

Switching to soccer, transfer rumors have become increasingly ridiculous in recent days. From conflicting reports of Angel Di Maria’s whereabouts to Arsene Wenger’s supposed courting of Sergio Busquets, very little is credible when it comes to transfer season. But one item stood out this afternoon as it made the rounds. Karim Benzema tweeted a picture of himself on a private plane as his teammates were on their way elsewhere, with the cryptic message, “Leave the past in the past.” Is he on his way to London? Is he the world-class striker Wenger has been hinting at? We will soon know, though I’m inclined to believe this too is a transfer window farce.

Regardless, he would be a sensational signing, and one that would not only make Arsenal title contenders, but in my view, title favorites. It can be hard to judge a forward that gets to play with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, but the reality is that Benzema gets goals, and he does so in a variety of ways. Unlike Giroud, he is not a one-trick pony. He is physical enough to hold up play, but has the mobility and vision to make runs in behind. Plus, he’s clinical.

I still believe Olivier Giroud has tremendous value in a Premier League title contending side. People say he isn’t good enough, but he’s improved every year he’s been at Arsenal and proved last year he could score against the big clubs. Against certain teams, his physicality is needed. But in other games, he seems to clog the space that the midfielders need. Ideally, he’d be your second option, a player capable of starting at a moment’s notice, but also one who can come on off the bench late on. However, this is all speculation about Benzema, who could just be having some fun messing with Arsenal fans, so I’m expecting Giroud to be option number one for better or for worse.

Going back to baseball, the Troy Tulowitzki trade is an interesting one. The Blue Jays didn’t need a right-handed power bat, but when the opportunity came knocking for taking on arguably the best shortstop in the game, and one locked down for the foreseeable future, I admire them for doing so. Their lineup was scary before. Now, it’s just not fair. However, I’m worried about his knees. An injury-prone player doesn’t want to play on turf as he ages. That could prove disastrous in a few years. And then there’s the fact that Toronto needs pitching right now if they hope to make a late run up the standings.

And lastly, I just saw breaking news on Twitter that Tom Brady’s suspension was upheld. This is getting ridiculous. Although I must admit, if he did destroy his phone in early March, that doesn’t look so good. However, it’s worth fighting. Bring it on, NFL. We’ll see you in court.


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Time for Accountability at Fenway

I’ve never understood the fascination of media guys needing to declare a season dead as early as they can. Are people really going to look back at the end of the year and be impressed with your ability to say correctly that a 27-38 team isn’t going to make the playoffs? For me at least, I’d be more impressed with somebody who didn’t give up on a team this bad. That being said, I’m just about at the point where I’m ready to give up on this Red Sox team.

The simple fact of the matter is that this is not a good baseball team. And no matter how many team meetings the team has, nothing’s going to change until the players start playing fundamental baseball. This isn’t about hitting home runs or making diving catches. It’s about knocking down grounders to keep runners from taking extra bases and moving runners over when they’re on base. Last night, Mookie Betts led off an inning with a single, then got picked off on the fourth pickoff attempt of the at-bat. That can’t happen. But it’s not just one play every game. It’s inning after inning that seasoned veterans fail to make the necessary plays.

But what makes me believe this team is so unlikely to turn things around is the lack of accountability on display every night. Players are required to make themselves available to the media after the games. But far too often, everybody has cleared out after a bad loss. David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez have left without a whimper. They might be out of answers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to fulfill their contractual obligations and speak.

Before yesterday’s loss, Dustin Pedroia pulled the ‘blame the media’ card, saying the team is done listening to all the hate. But how can he blame the media for blasting the players when those players aren’t showing up and backing each other up off the field, let alone on it? I admire Pedroia for wanting everyone to ban together, but calling out the media is the wrong move. It is yet another failure to be accountable.

I’m not saying the team needs to apologize for playing poorly. Rather, they need to accept that the boos they are hearing at Fenway and the criticism they are receiving from the media are a very real reflection of the way they’ve been playing. When Pedroia got a mock cheer for catching a pop-up Sunday afternoon after losing two earlier, he was livid. He believes he deserves more respect from the fans. But what he and the rest of the team need to realize right now is that the fans are appropriately fed up. The post-World Series grace period was last year. We are tired of seeing last-place, underachieving teams full of players who appear to to be doing little more than just collecting paychecks. And by paying to see bad baseball, we have the right to boo.

I don’t want to rag on Pedroia too much, especially when he’s one of two or three players performing well this year. But his comments the last two days are worrying. With nothing else to go on because so many people are staying silent, we have to take his words as representative of the team. And to me, these words are a statement of complacency and a sign that they aren’t looking in the mirror.

I’m not set on getting rid of John Farrell or Ben Cherington at the moment, but I do think something needs to be done to shake up this roster. Bring up Jackie Bradley Jr. or Allen Craig and give them a real chance in the outfield. Take Mike Napoli out of the lineup for more than just a two-day mental break. Take Hanley Ramirez out of the game in the 6th inning for defensive reasons. Do something to make everybody less comfortable. Maybe then they’ll see themselves for what they really are right now.

But regardless, this is the team we’ve got this year. We’ve got to hope that they’re going to play better even if it’s hard to believe. But that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to booing Red Sox players simply because they are Red Sox. They aren’t entitled to my undying adulation even as Sweet Caroline plays in the background.


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The State of My Stateside Teams

I want to do today’s post a little differently. Instead of choosing one topic, I’m going to give each of my teams in the United States a paragraph. S0 here goes.

The Red Sox are a mess right now. It feels like I’m re-watching 2014, because like last year, every single time there’s the smallest bit of momentum, they drop the next two and three of the next four. I still think it’s worth holding course and seeing if David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval can break their season-long slumps, but I’m getting less optimistic with every successive setback. However, it is encouraging to see a few of the players turn things around, notably Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. If a couple more players can figure it out, maybe there is a run in this team. But no matter how bad it gets, as long as we have Eduardo Rodriguez going every five days, there will be something to look forward to. He is the real deal.

The Celtics are about to enter a really interesting part of the offseason. With large amounts of cap space for the first time in years, this summer will be a test of whether big free agents will be attracted to playing for Brad Stevens. My gut tells me no, but wouldn’t it be nice if LaMarcus Aldridge came for a visit? Regardless, a priority has to be re-signing Jae Crowder. I also want Danny Ainge to work as hard as he can to move up a few spots in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein. He could make a serious impact on the team defense, and is miles better than somebody like Kevin Looney, who is being looked at for #16. I’m opposed to giving up the Nets picks, but I think Cauley-Stein’s value above who we’d draft at #16 is worth surrendering an extra first round pick.

The Patriots continue to make news in all the wrong ways. Whether it’s appeal talk, Brandon Spikes’s hit and run or Malcolm Butler getting benched, it’s so negative that following the team this offseason has become unappealing. I think this could be an ugly year on the field too. It can’t be overstated that where all three AFC East teams improved, the Pats lost almost everything at running back and in the secondary. I’m legitimately worried about making the playoffs. This could be an bad year. It’s a really good thing the pressure is relatively off for a year after the Super Bowl win.

Arkansas baseball has been an inspiration. Zach Jackson’s three and two thirds inning save to close out the Super Regional was one of the most gutsy performances I’ve seen on a baseball field. These guys fight and these guys win. Getting to Omaha is the highest achievement this team could have imagined. Any success in the College World Series will just be icing on the cake. With the dire lack of arms in the bullpen due to James Teague and Dominic Taccolini’s injuries, making a run there will be extraordinarily difficult. But this is a truly special group – I wouldn’t bet against them. Nothing made me happier than the Red Sox drafting Andrew Benintendi in the first round and then Tyler Spoon in the 30th. I can’t wait to see Benintendi roaming the Fenway grass. But in the meantime, it’s time for the #OmaHogs to beat Virginia. Woo Pig Sooie.

After a successful year on the hardcourt, Arkansas basketball is looking at a rebuilding year. When Anthlon Bell is the leading returning scorer, that’s not a good sign. But for the next month, the focus of Hog basketball is on watching Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls in the NBA Draft. Portis is getting rave reviews across the league as one of the most NBA-ready players. And Qualls has managed to disappear from draft boards despite posting the lowest body fat percentage of anyone. I really wish Qualls had come back for his senior year, but alas, he made the same mistake B.J. Young did and gambled despite not being assured of being drafted. However, I think Qualls could be a success in the NBA, even if he isn’t drafted. I certainly want the Celtics to take a flier on him in the second round. He’s such a talented athlete that I think he has serious potential defensively with a year of good coaching. I think Portis will be solid, and could have himself a nice career, but his ceiling is low. With so many power forwards on the Celtics, he’d have a hard time getting going in Boston, and thus hope he gets drafted somewhere else.

Arkansas football is riding a ridiculous high right now. Suddenly Arkansas is mentioned as a national title threat. And despite a murderous schedule once again, I don’t disagree. For the Arkansas offense has the potential to be incredible. Two 1,000 yard rushers are returning behind the best offensive line in the country, which in Denver Kirland, John Skipper and Sebastian Tretola boasts three potential all-americans. Sure there are questions at receiver, but I liked what I saw from Keon Hatcher last year and as much flak as I give Brandon Allen, he now has two full years of experience. Plus, the new offensive coordinator Dan Enos is a coach who has had success with QB’s. The defense took three big losses through the middle, but largely remains the same group that held LSU, Ole Miss and Texas to a combined seven points. I realize I need to temper my expectations before the season starts, but the excitement is too real. September 5th can’t come soon enough.

The Davidson basketball non-conference schedule is slowly coming out and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Games at UNC and at Madison Square Garden vs. Pitt give Davidson big-time exposure and a real chance to earn RPI-boosting wins. But more importantly, it seems like the schedule will be a little stronger on the back-end too, which was almost an issue last year. It’s good to pile up wins, but the strength of schedule numbers needed to be higher. I’ve seen early predictors say this team won’t be the same without Tyler Kalinoski, but he’s just one player, albeit a really good one. Between Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham, there are many hands capable of filling his production. And with Jake Belford returning from injury and some size coming in with the recruiting class, I’m not convinced there will be even the slightest bit of drop-off from last year.

The last team I want to mention is the U.S. Men’s National team in soccer, who beat both Netherlands and the world champion Germans this week on European soil. I’ve heard many people say the wins don’t matter because they are friendlies without many of the sides’ top players, but that should not take anything away from the achievement. Taking many players without experience, the U.S. topped two of the best teams in the world. That’s a fact. And it can be a springboard for Jürgen Klinsmann and the program. You can’t tell me players like Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes aren’t better off in the career having this burst of confidence. This was a week to treasure for U.S. soccer fans.

 

 


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The Red Sox Could Do With Watching Some College Baseball

I was supposed to be going to tonight’s Red Sox-Twins game but it’s been rained out and rescheduled for Wednesday, which is just as well for the scuffling Sox who surely can use an extra day to figure things out after yesterday’s walkoff loss to the Rangers. Especially with the way the Twins are playing, this is a dangerous four game series. Should the Red Sox get swept, somebody might lose their job.

Blaming personnel is the easy way out. I want to blame Rusney Castillo for grounding into a double-play every time up. I want to throw the phone at Pablo Sandoval after every error. Yet this is a problem that’s well beyond the individual. And it’s all a bit perplexing at this point. When you could blame everyone, what can be done?

Across the board, the Red Sox have just been playing bad baseball. This  team is really making everybody appreciate what must go into a win. There must be decent pitching, decent, and especially timely, hitting, and solid defense. Add in that the manager must make the correct decisions and suddenly it feels like a lot that must go right. And that’s the issue for this team. They’ve somehow made the basics of baseball seem complicated.

I’m all for closed-door meetings to try and make players play harder and more aggressively. I agree that it would be nice if Hanley Ramirez appeared to run after a ball from time to time. But none of that matters if the infielders are botching ground balls. None of that matters if nobody can get the runner from second to third with a ground-ball to the right side.

I heard a radio host complaining about the Red Sox playing selfish baseball about two weeks ago. That everybody is trying too hard to hit the three-run home run instead of doing the little things to help move runners along. While I think saying it’s ‘selfish’ is overly dramatic and prefer the term ‘hero ball,’ I think it’s an appropriate observation.

Recent Red Sox wins have been rare. But they’ve had a theme. Generally, somebody’s had an individually great game; Eduardo Rodriguez’s gem the other night is an example, or some of the Mike Napoli-led wins against the Angels. Somebody’s been the hero. And that’s a good thing. But sometimes that’s not enough. Dustin Pedroia can have a two home run game and it doesn’t matter because nobody else does their job. Far too often, somebody is described as trying to single-handedly bring this team back. Those players are admirable. But that should not be necessary. Gone are the wins when many players chip in. Gone are the team wins.

I’ve watched a lot of college baseball in the last week, particularly my Razorbacks. They’re firing on nearly all fronts and cruised through a difficult Regional on their way to a Super Regional with Missouri State later this week. But the Hogs are not an especially talented team. They were under .500 well into March. What they do however is refreshingly unlike the 2015 Red Sox. They manage to manufacture runs with smart baseball, hustle plays and timely hits. And they pick each other up when somebody makes a mistake. Even when superstar Andrew Benintendi – a potential Red Sox selection at #7 in next week’s draft – doesn’t hit for a game or two, his teammates find ways to score with collections of singles, steals and sacrifices.

College baseball is definitely a team sport. The superstar can certainly help a team win games, but the rest of the roster decides the vast majority of games, either in a good way or bad way, especially in the postseason when bullpens are thinned. They must be a team to win. And you can see that even in ways that the players celebrate a run, with everybody out of the dugout to greet teammates. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Red Sox congregate at the front of the dugout when one of their players moves a runner over?

The Red Sox could do with tuning their TV to some good college baseball tonight. They need to forget their averages, forget the low home run totals and high earned run averages and play the game like the college kids many of them once were. I’m not saying they need to press – they’ve done a lot of late lately – but they need to see what the way the college kids play the game. They need to start playing more like a team and less like a band of individuals. If they don’t start doing that, some individuals might find themselves somewhere else sooner than later.