It’s still a dream season for the Rays

October 30, 2008

Ok, first off, let’s hope the warped Philly fans are happy now. See it didn’t hurt to finish the actual full Game 5, now did it? I guess we can end the conspiracy talk now and I won’t have to compare the denizens of Pennsylvania to people like Al Davis and Richard Nixon.

As it turns out the bizarre suspension of Game 5 due to bad weather only delayed the beginning of a celebration that Philadelphians have been eager to have for more than two decades now.

But Rays fans shouldn’t hold their heads down about the ultimate outcome of the World Series. This team has been on a phenomenal ride this entire season and even if didn’t end up like the 1969 Mets, this was a remarkable accomplishment.

And even more importantly, this signals that the long nightmare for Tampa Bay baseball is over. A legacy of losing is now just a footnote in the Rays media guide.

Barring some amazing breakdown, the Rays will be back in full force next season and will right off the bat be a contender again in the American League East. And after coming this far, this assortment of young, gifted players should know that they have what it takes to make it to the playoffs. Players like Evan Longoria and David Price probably haven’t even begun to reach their awesome potential.

Now I know that some of the TV pundits were already questioning some of the coaching decisions of Joe Maddon – including his pitching decisions but I think there’s no question this team couldn’t have come this far without his steady hand. His managing during the pennant series with Boston was spectacular as Maddon’s helped keep a young team from dwelling too much on a comeback win by the Red Sox in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

The Rays lost this World Series the same way so many teams lose in the post season. Their hitters, the core of the lineup, just could not figure out the Phillies pitchers until the Series was nearly over. When the heart of your lineup goes hitless, it sucks the air out of the balloon. Yet still this team clawed and fought, as evidenced in the final game where they tied, not once, but twice before the Phillies finally pulled ahead with one run.

So while this dream season has finally come to an end, it’s not the end of the line for the Rays. It’s just the beginning of a new winning franchise. And there will be more cowbells, Mohawks, and maybe, just maybe a World Series title before it comes to an end.

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Rays save Major League Baseball from embarrassment

October 28, 2008

When Carlos Pena smacked a single into the outfield to force B.J. Upton home in the 6th inning on Monday night, he did more than just tie the game for the Tampa Bay Rays: He and his teammates probably helped Major League Baseball avoid yet another debacle.

As you know by now, Game 5 of the World Series between the Phillies and Rays has been indefinitely suspended by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who has vowed to keep the game from restarting until the weather clears up in Philadelphia. Selig has also emphatically stated that Game 5 would not be moved from that city even if they have to stay until Thanksgiving.

There are some who are already calling the Series tainted, but if the Rays had not scored that run, the backlash would have been even greater for Major League Baseball.

Blame part of the problem on the talking heads on Fox – including Joe Buck – who were telling audiences last night that if the Rays had not scored then the Phillies would have claimed their first World Series title in 28 years, citing MLB rules that allow a game to end as long as five innings have been played.

Selig after the game tried emphatically to point out that there was no way that a World Series title would have been awarded even if the Rays were trailing when the game was halted.

“It’s not a way to end a World Series,” said Selig, who added that he had enough authority to enforce his point of view.

No argument here, pal and if the idiots on talk radio think otherwise then they also must be the kind of people who think that stealing Halloween candy from kids is ok too. You don’t halt the Super Bowl in the third quarter and you shouldn’t end the final game of the World Series without going nine innings. It’s frankly un-American to argue otherwise.

Now did Selig purposely wait until the Rays tied the game? Who knows? I won’t disagree the rain was already coming down pretty hard by the end of the 5th. And I’m sure there would have been titanic howls of outrage from Philadelphia fans if their team was still ahead when the game was suspended. They of course would contend that they were being robbed in the name of TV ratings or God knows what else and denied their rightful championship.

Selig maintained that the coaches of both teams knew ahead of time that even if the game was halted after the 5th inning that it would be resumed from that point. Well, that may be true, but the wunderkinds at MLB didn’t bother to tell Fox ahead of time, adding to the confusion of the situation.

Of course, if the Rays come back and win Game 5 and then force the Series into the warm inviting confines of Tropicana Field then I’m sure that Philly fans will be convinced that there is a conspiracy aligned against them.

But I’m sure the Rays will take a World Series title even if someone contends it has been tainted. Just ask the Kansas City Royals – who incidentally came back from a 3-1 deficit – if they have any regrets about winning the 1985 World Series with the help of a blown call.

At the end of the day, however, the Royals still had to win 4 games – each with 9 innings – before claiming that championship. The winner of this year’s World Series should have to do the same.


Will the Florida Gators get ripped off by stupid poll system?

October 26, 2008

The Florida Gators, fresh off from a 63-5 drubbing of the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, have a much larger opponent to worry about in the remaining weeks of the college football season than either the Georgia Bulldogs or the Alabama Crimson Tide.

It’s the uncompetitive and completely nonsensical Bowl Championship Series that relies on a series of flawed, and in my opinion, rigged polls.

Right now the facts on the football field – which is were championships should be decided – show that the Gators are probably the best team in college football right now. Despite a one-point loss to Ole Miss earlier in the season, the Gators show that they have an all-around combination on defense, offense, and special teams that is jaw-dropping.

Against Kentucky, Tim Tebow was masterful through both the air and on the ground, Percy Harvin remained well, Percy Harvin and the team had not one, but two, TWO!, blocked punts that turned into touchdowns.

Next up for the Gators is the Bulldogs, and already the hype machine at places like ESPN is turning this into spectacular showdown. Sorry. It won’t be. Georgia may have looked good against LSU on Saturday, but overall the Bulldogs don’t have a defense that will be able to do anything to slow the Gators down. Write it down: The Bulldogs will be lucky if they don’t lose by more than 21 points.

If anything, the game the Gators have to worry about much down the stretch will be against Florida State in Tallahassee and then a championship game against a strong Bama’ team.

But that’s where it becomes maddening. Even if the Gators win out and take out an undefeated Alabama squad, they could get locked out of the BCS Championship Game that could feature the Texas Longhorns and Penn State Nittany Lions.

This to put it mildly would be a major travesty and once again show why a playoff system is badly needed to restore sanity to this sport. The Nittany Lions do not, I repeat, DO NOT, belong in the BCS Championship Game. The Big 10 conference does not play a championship game like the SEC and ACC – and just as important – that conference is a joke.

 You want just one example? The Ohio State Buckeyes played Penn State on Saturday night to a standstill until about four minutes are left in the game. That’s right, the Buckeyes. The same team that got routed by USC  a few weeks earlier.

The plain fact is that the current system doesn’t work and that’s because it relies primarily on a series of polls, including two polls that are conducted among people WHO DON’T EVEN WATCH most football games.

How can the 61 coaches that make up the USA Today poll even know what’s going on? All they see are the scores and then they vote based on what helps their own team, or helps their conference.

Then there’s the other poll that is used by the BCS, which is the “Harris Interactive College Football” poll. (The AP dropped out several years ago.) It’s a poll constructed of former players, coaches, administrators and media (read-a lot of people you have never heard of) and includes people like Roy Kramer, the person who helped construct this current whacked BCS system and former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason.

This current system is a fraud, plain and simple. The only chance that Gators have right now is if Michigan State or Iowa knocks off Penn State, or Texas loses to Texas Tech. And then maybe, the best team will gets it rightful shot to play for a national title.

P.S. Don’t forget–you have a chance to watch the BCS Championship game. Just go to www.FLSportsFan.com to enter today for your shot at two free tickets on the 50-yard line.


More cowbell! Rays ready to claim World Series title

October 20, 2008

Within minutes of claiming an amazing Game 7 victory against the Boston Red Sox, the baseball pundits were again sowing seeds of doubts about the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Philadelphia Phillies, they explained, have their lineup set and waiting. The Phillies, they stressed, had played lights out against the Dodgers and the Cubs to reach their first World Series in 15 years.

Yeah, you know I had doubts too, but not anymore. The young crazy Rays have that unmistakeable aura surrounding them right now: A team of destiny.

To correct some people, no, they are not the team to go from the worst record ever in the history of baseball to bounce the next season in the Fall Classic. That would be the Atlanta Braves. But that’s not why they appear like a team of destiny.

The Rays have a much bigger advantage. They are under no pressure to win this thing. And that means they get to keep playing happy-go-lucky, against the odds baseball that emphasizes youthful exuberance over carefully designed baseball that emphasizes statistics over living human beings.

But as evidenced on Sunday night, it doesn’t always work. There was every reason to believe that the Rays meltdown in Game 5 would come back to haunt them. It didn’t. They cruised through Game 7 as if it were just another game from mid-July. No sense of tension, no look of fear, Mr. Ortiz.

And even if the Rays lacked the pounding bats of just a few games ago, they did just enough to scratch out three runs. And in a performance that will soon become baseball legend manager Joe Maddon put the franchise season into the hands of Danny Price, a rookie reliever who earlier this season was playing in the minors. With bases loaded, Price shut down the Red Sox in the eighth inning and then returned to shut them down in the ninth as well.

So the team that better have the doubts right now is the Phillies. If the Red Sox had advanced to the World Series, all the talk would have been about whether the aging veterans had enough juice to pull out back-to-back victories. Now all the talk will be about how the Rays, with their relatively cheap payroll, their young, inexperienced team, may not be able to handle the backdrop of the World Series or the dominance of the Phillies team.

That will be just fine for this team. They will keep playing they way they have been playing, doing whatever it takes to win.  And in a few short games, everyone in Philadelphia will know the names of Evan Longoria and Matt Garza and B.J. Upton. And they will know about cowbells and Mohawks and all the other wonderful goofy things about the 2008 Rays season.

And you know what? They will also know it after watching “the improbable dream” claim a World Series title for the Rays.

Plain and simple: Rays in 6 games.

No doubt about it.


State and others say tailgating and drunken fans out of control

October 15, 2008

Has tailgating gotten out of control? Are some beer-swilling football fans so obnoxious that they are ruining the game for others around them. Apparently some think so, including the state of Florida.

Florida is among those who is partnering with a new effort called TURF – Tailgaters Urging Responsibility and Fun – which says that tailgating – read imbibing in serious amounts of alcohol – “is threatened by the unsportsmanlike conduct of a few who are ruining the game for everyone else.”

TURF, which has the backing of the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America and a leading Florida distributor, the Charmer Sunbelt Group, has hired former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann to help a campaign of “drinking responsibly.” Brown-Forman Corporation, the maker of Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort, put up $100,000 to help with the effort.

“Too many times I have seen unruly and disruptive fans ruin the game day experience for others,” said Theismann when the program was launched a month ago. “I encourage all tailgaters to drink responsibly, have fun and enjoy the game.”

The campaign plans to air public service announcements and do other outreach efforts using Theismann (who has made no secret over the years of stating what’s on his mind) in states such as Florida. The group’s website has such suggestions as “notifying security of rude and unsportsmanlike fans” and “keep families in mind when using language.”

So why Florida? Has it gotten really bad here? University of South Florida fans, for example, have been so ill-behaved that quarterback Matt Grothe at one game had to ask them to stop yelling obscenties at Kansas cheerleaders.

Brian Fischer, a spokesman for Charmer-Sunbelt, says that the choice of Florida was not some testament to the abrasiveness of Florida football fans. It was because this is one of the states that the companies promoting the effort do business in. But Fischer does maintain there is a problem, noting that he won’t even take his family to Washington Redskins games anymore because of ill-behaved fans.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation is cracking down on tailgating as well. The department this past weekend swept through four different college football games in the state – including LSU at Florida in Gainesville and the University of Miami-Central Florida game – and handed out 70 citations for underage drinking.

“I believe that a strong presence at college football games is a great way to help protect Florida’s underage youth from alcohol consumption,” said Secretary Charles Drago in a statement. “By enforcing our state’s laws on underage drinking, we hold individuals accountable for their behavior.”

Ok, football fans. Consider yourself warned.


Tim Tebow helps out the BCS (Beautiful Chaos System)

October 12, 2008

There were a lot of wonderful things that Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators did on Saturday night as they crushed LSU 51-21 in front of a packed house at the Swamp.

They reminded everyone that there were one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference which means one of the best teams in the country. They showed how that speed kills with a cadre of receivers and running backs that flat out burn the competition. And Tebow showed that he’s maturing as a quarterback, as he managed the game effectively, by both throwing the long ball or using his legs to sprint into the end zone.

But do you want to know the best thing about the Gators win?

It culminated a great day of chaos for the Bowl Championship Series and showed that the Gators still have a legitimate shot to be in the BCS Championship game next January (along with two lucky winners of the BCS ticket giveaway being held by www.FLSportsFan.com.)

The Gators sent undefeated LSU down to defeat. Earlier in the day Texas did the same to No. 1 ranked Oklahoma. Oklahoma State pulled out a victory over Big 12 rival Missouri, which was also undefeated. Undefeated Vanderbilt lost to Mississippi State. So just like that a handful of once unbeaten teams are left wondering if national championship dreams have faded to black.

I love it when the poll rankings get totally scrambled like this and the entire BCS turns into a maddening mess. Why? Because it exposes the fallacy that underlies the current system. There is no reason on earth why Florida fans should have to fret that their team has no shot at the national championship because they lost by one point to Ole Miss. As the New York Giants demonstrated last season in the NFL, the team with the best won-loss record isn’t always the best team on the field come championship time.

In front of a national television audience, the Gators showed that on the right day they can’t be beat. The team played good enough Saturday night to beat Alabama, Penn State, Texas or any of the current unbeatens.

Fans across America deserve a playoff, plain and simple. The game should be won on the field not in the electronic circuitry of a computer-generated poll that is part of the current BCS system.

There is right now a real possibility that the Penn State Nittany Lions could be in the BCS Championship Game despite playing in one of the weakest “major” conferences. (I mean, even if Penn State beats Ohio State, what does that prove? The Buckeyes were crushed by USC.) But unlike Florida – or the teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big 12 – the Nittany Lions don’t have to play a championship game at the end of the season.

Gimme a break. That’s wrong. The system needs to be revamped. And if the university presidents and bowl officials don’t want to do it, then Congress ought to step in and say, ‘Ok, you want to keep getting federal money? Then fix it now.’ (Yeah, I know have politicians intervene rubs people the wrong way, but let’s face it, Florida would have never agreed to play Florida State if the state Legislature had not started talking about it seriously.)

You could keep the bowls and current championship games to build the new playoff system. And whether it’s a final four, or final eight, there’s a way to make it happen.

So until the fans get what they want, I’ll keep rooting for chaos. Thanks Tim Tebow, thanks Gators.

P.S. If you want to get your shot to sit on the 50-yard line of the 2009 BCS Championship Game, all you have to do is go to www.FLSportsFan.com and click on BCS Championship Game Giveway.


Finally, a win that both FSU fans and Jimbo needed

October 5, 2008

 

It was ugly, sloppy, and probably for fans of both teams, incredibly maddening.

But Florida State’s narrow 41-39 win over Miami on Saturday at a soggy Dolphins Stadium finally gave something for long-suffering FSU fans to crow about. More importantly, however for the Noles faithful it gave them hope and a hint of optimism.

Yes, FSU was 3-1 coming into the annual clash with the Canes, but two of the wins came over cupcakes and proved nothing. The win against Colorado was a good start, yet even that victory left fans with enormous questions, especially about how far the team could go with quarterback Christian Ponder.

There are some FSU fans who suggest that all the signs of an upswing were there for this young team and that critics are spoiled fans with no appreciation of how hard it is stay on top in the cut-throat world of college football. I wasn’t one of those optimists. What I saw in the mind-numbing loss against Wake Forest was yet another FSU squad looking lethargic, and more importantly, playing with a game plan that was vanilla, safe and inadequate against an experienced Demon Deacons team.

Jimbo Fisher, the man with the keys to the kingdom, the heir waiting for Bobby Bowden to finally crawl off to retirement, made a calculated decision in that game to put his fate in the hands of two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks instead of relying on senior Drew Weatherford.

 It was a questionable decision because it made it appear as FSU was already writing off the season. Fisher during the game look flummoxed at what was happening, staring in disbelief as Wake man-handled the Noles. The fact that the game was not a bigger blowout was due directly to the Noles defense.

But Fisher redeemed himself against Miami and for now can tell the critics and the loud-mouth fans to stow it.

 The closeness of the game for the most part was not his fault, although I do wonder about that Ponder pass out of the end zone late in the game that led to a Canes touchdown. Fisher did the things he needed to do to help his young quarterback deal with an aggressive Canes team.

 Roll-outs, quarterback options, wide receiver screens all helped keep UM off-balance, especially in the first half. Ponder sliced through the Canes defense not with his arm, but with his legs, becoming the first FSU quarterback to rush for over 100 yards since Charlie Ward. The offensive array provided enough breathing space to help Antone Smith have a stellar game, where he rushed for four touchdowns and nearly 100 yards.

Am I sold on this experiment yet? Not by a long shot. Even Bowden noted on his ABC interview that the decision to name Fisher “head coach in waiting” was a decision of the president, not him. But for FSU fans long accustomed to losing tight games to Miami this victory give them an enormous boost of confidence in their team and Fisher.

 The Canes lived up to their heritage by roaring back into the game and flashing an array of offensive weapons. Freshman wide receiver Travis Benjamin — and his nearly 300 all-purpose yards – looks like the next great NFL bound receiver that will come out of the U. Even with the loss there’s no doubt in my mind that UM looks like a year away from being a truly ferocious, scary and national championship contending team.

Those Canes fans who spent the day getting wet probably went home cursing at how close they came to knocking off the Noles. (That’s of course an emotion FSU fans – thanks to Wide Right I, II, and III – are familiar with.) They should, however, take some solace in the fact that after trailing 24-3 at one point their team never gave up.

FSU fans meanwhile get a bit of reassurance that maybe Fisher knows what he’s doing, maybe Ponder is the next great Noles quarterback and that maybe, just maybe, the days of glory will soon return.