Archive for June, 2008

Phelps Does it Again
Monday, June 30, 2008

Michael Phelps currently holds only one world record that was set in the United States.

And he did it in Omaha, Nebraska.

The six-time Olympic gold-medalist beat his previous world record by nearly a second Sunday night, winning the 400-meter individual medley at Qwest Center. His nearest competitor, Ryan Lochte, also broke the world record, although his name won’t go in the books.

“I definitely would not have been able to do it without Lochte beside me,” said Phelps, who finished in 4:05:25. “He’s a great friend and a great competitor. I love racing him.”

Another Baltimorian set a world record Sunday. Katie Hoff regained her spot at the top of the 400 IM charts, in a time of 4:31:12.

The talk leading up to the Trials surrounded the new Speedo LZR suit. Both Phelps and Hoff sported the look Sunday night (as will most of the competitors this week). Said Phelps, “It definitely gave me a few tenths… At the end, when I was getting a little tired, the suit gave me a little extra edge.”

If I wore one of those LZR suits, I could probably finish one of my Sunday night sportscasts in record time.

In a related story, Rob McCartney and Brandi Petersen have encouraged me to purchase an LZR suit.


Top Dog
Thursday, June 26, 2008

It might not be as monumental as the miracle at Lake Placid. It may not be Jets/Colts. But this is pretty dang close.

Fresno State pulled off what will go down as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of sports. At the outset of the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs winning it all was about as likely as Bill Randby winning the award for “Most Uninterested Meteorologist.”

I’m still sitting here wondering how it all happened. How did a number four regional seed win a national championship? It’s the kind of result that makes you want to double-check the tournament format.

The only shame is that America only got to see these Bulldogs for about ten days. March Madness rolls through three weeks, allowing even the casual fan to fall in love with the underdogs. Unfortunately, the shelf-life for these Wunderdogs wasn’t long enough. If this were a college basketball team, it would put George Mason and his university to shame.

The Slipper Still Fits

After Fresno State beat Rice in its first game, I decided to do a story on the Bulldogs being this year’s Cinderella. Sunday night (6/15), I asked a fellow KETV employee (his name rhymes with Glowin’ Ray) to look for anything resembling a “Cinderella Slipper” at Wal-Mart. Five bucks later, we had a clear plastic slipper, size 10-women’s. I picked it up from him Monday morning, then headed to Millard West for Fresno State’s practice.

I asked a couple of players about being tabbed “Cinderella”, even inquiring about who the team’s Fairy Godmother would be (answers: Steve Susdorf, Mike Batesole). Then I found Danny Muno, the smallest player on the team. I pulled out the slipper and asked him to try it on. Wouldn’t you know it, he jammed his foot right in there. It may not have been the kind of footwear he would want to wear for an extended period of time, let alone in the light of day, but it fit. He was a great sport and it made for a fun story.

Following the championship win on Wednesday night, I tracked down Muno in the media room. I presented him with the same slipper that he tried on, along with a DVD copy of the story that we ran on KETV. I’ve never seen a guy more grateful to receive women’s footwear. He gave me a big hug and thanked me for the items. It was a neat moment to say the least.

Unlike the Disney version, I didn’t ask him to try it on again.

There was no need.

The proof was on the field.

CWS Attendance Down
Monday, June 23, 2008

Even North Carolina coach Mike Fox admitted that he noticed a difference in the atmosphere at Rosenblatt Stadium. Sunday night’s game drew just 15,125, one of the smallest crowds we’ve seen in quite some time.

College World Series officials are confirming that it’s not all in Fox’s head. According to the higher-ups, attendance is down roughly 10,000 to 15,000 from last year.

Some people are casting blame on the weather. While rain has forced a suspension, it actually bumped up the UNC/LSU attendance figures to more than 30,000 for Game 10 (much to the chagrin of the fire marshall). BTW, any chance we can get a retractable roof on the new stadium?

Is the low attendance because of the schedule? Last year the series started on a Friday and would end on either a Sunday or Monday. This year it began on a Saturday and will end on a Tuesday or Wednesday. I agree that it’s a couple of days too long. The breaks from games (Georgia was scheduled three full days off after winning its first two games) seem to break up the rhythm of the College World Series. Also, this year each game is its own separate session, requiring fans to purchase tickets for every game.

As I mentioned on the Sunday night sportscast, let’s not forget about the times we live in. Every media outlet has run stories about the troubled economy, people pinching pennies, rising prices at the pump and Americans cutting down on summer travel. So why are we so surprised that it would have a trickle down effect at the College World Series? I’m willing to guess that a week-long summer trip to Omaha isn’t in the cards for a lot of people. And who wants to pay an extra $50 to check in a couple of bags at the airport? Cable television is expensive enough, you might as well sit at home and watch it in HD (unless, of course, the game is on ESPN Classic).

That being said, it’s all about ratings. While the attendance may be down and the yellow chairs might be a little too obvious on television, the total sports network is banking on increased ratings for the championship series. And as long as ESPN is happy, everyone’s happy. Right?


Smart Money on the Bulldogs
Monday, June 23, 2008

For the first time in the history of the College World Series, two teams with the same nickname will be playing for the national championship.

Fresno State has done the unthinkable, advancing to the championship series. At one point this season, Fresno State held a 31-27 record. Now, with a 45-30 mark, the Bulldogs have a chance to finish it off with a national title.

Imagine, a 30-loss team winning a national championship… at any level in any sport.

We have a number eight national seed facing a number four regional seed. A two-dollar boxed exacta would pay around $800.

Who are you taking?

I’ll take Georgia in two.

Familiar Field
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sometimes you lose touch with friends and family. Eventually, you only see them at weddings and funerals…. and the College World Series.

The 2008 version of the CWS is like a family reunion of sorts. Some people you’ve seen recently, others you haven’t seen since before their voices changed. Miami, LSU, Stanford, Florida State… the Big Boys are coming back to the Big O.

Seven of the eight teams have been here this decade. Including this year, the Super Seven have a combined 85 CWS appearances.

LSU is like the favorite aunt who always brings your favorite dish. The pregame tailgating parties just got a lot more delicious.

Fresno State is like the old, drunk uncle that you only see on very special occasions, when family members feel guilty enough to invite him. We haven’t seen the Bulldogs since 1991. As a four-seed, this team provides us with the darkhorse that can make every national championship tournament exciting (see: Irvine ’08, Oregon State ’07).

It’s going to be challenging for any team to come out of either bracket. That being said, how fun would it be to see a winners’ bracket game between Miami and Florida State? Is there a such thing as “wide right” in baseball? Perhaps a potential game-winning home run ball that squeaks outside the right-field foul pole in the bottom of the ninth.

My championship series:

Miami vs North Carolina

The Hurricanes hold the most talented lineup, while the Tarheels have the nation’s best overall pitching staff.

Pitching wins championships, and Mike Fox is a good man.

My pick:

UNC finally gets over the hump, and avoids becoming the Buffalo Bills of the College World Series.

Who’s your pick?

Chilling Poolside
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I had a chance to check out the pool at Qwest Center on Wednesday. It was the first time I’d been in the building since the NCAA basketball tournament left town. For those who haven’t seen it in person (99.999% of you), it’s absolutely incredible.

I’m the kind of guy who wants to eat sausage without hearing how it’s made. On the same note, I don’t even want to begin to think about how the pool was built and installed. I’m so glad there are so many people much smarter than me (insert joke here).

The thing is, the workers put so much effort into making this incredible pool, we need to use it for something else once the swim trials are over. I know there are plenty of summer concerts and events that are being held at Qwest, but there’s got to be some extra time to enjoy this pool.

After the swimming is over, the folks at Qwest Center should place a call to Orlando and have Shamu hauled to the Big O. I’m sure a depth of nine feet is perfect for a killer whale. Even the club seats would be in the splash zone.  “The Orca of Omaha.”  Don’t tell Warren.

Word has it that they’re going to keep the pool somewhere in Omaha.

But before it leaves Qwest Center, make sure you get down there for the swim trials. It’ll be a splash.

That was lame.

Oh, and as I was telling someone at the pool: the day I can pull off wearing a tiny swimsuit like those male competitors were practicing in without appearing out of shape, I’ll know I’ve made it.

Joba the Hyped
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tuesday night I showed highlights of Joba Chamberlain’s first career MLB start. I then made the comment off the air, “What if this guy’s name were Mike Smith? Would he get this much national pub?” Julie Cornell said, “No… no way.”

It’s interesting when you think about it. What’s in a name? Apparently a lot. Seriously, could you imagine Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debating the Yankees’ use of Mike Smith?

TK: Wilbon, what should be done with Mike?

MW: Tony, I am sick of all this Mike coverage. I turn on Baseball Tonight, and every thirty-seconds it’s Mike-this, Mike-that. Can we please stop with all of this Mike talk?

Or Baseball Tonight, with Buck Showalter:

BS: The Mike experiment is a wait-and-see deal. Mike did well, but he’ll get better. I expect good things from Mike.

TK: I am annoying and bald.

You know the name has a lot to do with it when the media calls a player by his first name. You might hear a “Chamberlain” every once and a while, but usually Joba rules.

And how about those catch-phrases. If his name were Mike Smith, and the Yankees were putting him on a strict pitch-count, would it be termed “The Smith Rules” ?

“I wanted to get my team a lot deeper into the game,” said Joba following his first start. “It wasn’t very good… I gotta be better, that’s for sure. It’s one of many hopefully to come, and it’s something to build on.”

And thank goodness your name is Joba.

Otherwise, I would not have wasted my time writing about you.

The NHL Needed This
Monday, June 2, 2008

For the first time all season, I sat down and watched two consecutive hours of NHL hockey Monday night. And for the first time in years, I found myself caring about the outcome.

Pittsburgh and Detroit squared off in a triple-overtime instant classic. The Red Wings had a chance to win the Cup on their home ice, even leading 3-2 with 35 seconds left in regulation before Pittsburgh scored the equalizer.

While speaking to an on-ice analyst, Petr Sykora predicted he would score the game-winner in overtime, showcasing his ESP on NBC. He put the champagne on ice midway through the third overtime, in the fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history.

Ever since the NHL lockout of 2004-05, the league has struggled to find its footing. The league was struggling to begin with, but adding a work stoppage created an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality for the casual fan. Three years later, the games are still out of sight for many and out of mind for most. Unless you have Versus, you don’t get much ice time.

That’s why Monday night was so important for the National Hockey League. A game on national television, a small-market underdog tying the game late and staving off elimination deep into the night, three overtimes of incredible hockey with the heroics of a virtually unknown goaltender on full display… Gary Bettman couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. And now, the casual fan who happened to catch a game for the ages has at least one more chance to get another taste.

While Detroit may not have hoisted the cup Monday night, the NHL should be popping some champagne of its own.

Go Pittsburgh.

Over or Under?
Sunday, June 1, 2008

For the third consecutive year, the Huskers’ season ends in the regional round.  In my regional-prediction post “I See UC”, I said I felt similar about this Nebraska team as I did heading into the 2006 regional, saying that a late-season slide would once again carry over into the post-season.  On Sunday, I felt like I was watching the same team.  Only the names had changed.Lincoln Journal Star

Including the last six innings of Saturday night’s loss to Irvine, the Huskers went 12 consecutive innings without a hit.  That amounted to forty-one straight batters.  How in the world does that happen to any team, let alone one that finished third in the Big 12?

You can talk all you want about how this team overachieved this season.  That does not excuse what happened down the stretch.  Nebraska lost seven of its last nine games at the most important time of the season.

For the first time this season, the Huskers lost back-to-back games at home.  Not coincidentally, both games came against left-handed pitchers.  Nebraska sports information will not release the team’s batting averages against right-handed and left-handed pitching, saying that Anderson doesn’t want other teams to have that information.  Too late.  The word is out.  It doesn’t take a stat-sheet full of numbers to tell you that the Huskers cannot hit left-handed pitchers consistently.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen right-handed batters have such a hard time hitting southpaws.  Which makes you wonder if Nebraska even has a left-handed pitcher throwing batting practice.

Kudos to this team for performing above and beyond pre-season expectations.  But as Mike Anderson said after the loss to Oral Roberts, “Those pre-season predictions don’t mean much.”

If that’s the case, then the “overachieved” alibi doesn’t cut it here.

Unfortunately, Nebraska is left to wonder why it can’t get over the hump despite having one of the greatest home-field advantages in all of college baseball.

Three home losses in the regular season.  Two in the post-season.

What gives?

So tell me, Husker fans:  Did this team underachieve?


* photo courtesy:  Lincoln Journal Star