Tuesday, January 14, 2020

NM State Aggies vs UMKC Roos Men’s Basketball 1-11-20

It was a theoretically simple plan.  Aggie Men’s Basketball was offering $10 tickets in the Student Section for three games while the university was on break.  The catch was that you had to get the tickets before gameday.  I’d called Ron on Thursday and asked if he wanted to go to Saturday’s game.  I offered to go buy the tickets.  He told me he was going to the Thursday night game and he could get the tickets.  Swell. 

Come Saturday, Ron had not bought the tickets.  However, he’d asked about the $5 ticket section.  They’re only sold on gameday.  He’d went by the ticket office earlier, but it’d been closed.  Of course they were sold out at game time.  This meant having to buy full price tickets.  Luckily, they were only $15.  That said, I ended up paying 50% more than I meant to. 

I really shouldn’t gripe.  I’d spent all morning with my dad, as he finally decided to buy a new vehicle.  It was time to retire the old ’58 Studebaker.  He got a real peach of a new(er) car.  (It was three years old with low mileage.)  However, his hands were shaking as he wrote out that $11,000 check, as just about anyone would.  I’d only gotten back home about a half hour before Ron and I were supposed to leave and I barely had time to clean up.

Note Ivan Aurrecoechea’s clean cut new hairstyle.  Well done young man.  Sweatbands and long hair were not the way to go for you.  He must have gotten a girlfriend.  I also picked up a new glossy scorecard.  This format would kind of prove kind of impractical for actual scorekeeping. 

Since we’d gotten to the Pan-Am Center early, Ron and I took a walk around.  (This might have also been because Ron thought our seats were on the other side of the arena.)  I noticed that the concessions were selling Chik-fil-a sandwiches, along with Little Caesars Pizza.  That’s a nice upgrade.  Once again, I didn’t try the Aggie burger, since I’d just had lunch.  Maybe next time.  (If only they’d sell this stuff during Volleyball games and Women’s Basketball.)  If I hadn’t spent extra on the tickets, I probably would have picked up some cinnamon roasted nuts or kettle corn.   

Our seats were right off the main concourse on the north end.  We were not behind the goal, as I was at a Men’s game a couple of years ago (1-21-17).  (I misidentified that as the student section.)  These seats were off to the side, so we had no trouble seeing all the court.  When Ron went on Thursday, he’d been able to move to a better seat.  There was no need for that.  Not to mention, there was a much bigger crowd, so we couldn’t have moved.  Ironically, that $10 Student section was the only one that wasn’t mostly filled. 

I saw a couple co-workers (officers) there.  They were sitting at the courtside seats.  I nudged Ron.  There was an incredible Pan-Am staff member taking care of them.  The young woman was sashaying down the row in a tight red miniskirt.  We were both enraptured.  Around the crowd, I saw the Thursday giveaway hat on several people.  It looked pretty good.  No wonder Ron went to the game.      

Hey!  There’s Chico, mascot of the El Paso Chihuahuas.  He was down on the court with his own squad of Cheerleaders.  I remembered that there was supposed to be a game of Mascot Basketball at halftime.  Chico posed at midcourt for some social media pictures before going to work the crowd.  His Cheerleaders handed out some coupons to fans.   

I found out over the radio that this game was almost canceled.  Bad weather in the Midwest had delayed UMKC’s flight.  They got the last plane out of Dallas and arrived in El Paso at 1:00am.  The Aggie Women’s game in Kansas City was delayed until Sunday for weather.  During warmups, it was hard not to notice one of the Roo players, Josiah Allick.  He was a tall white guy with a huge afro. 

For the Aggies, at least there were no new injuries to report.  However, when I glanced at the paper this morning, I saw that Assistant Coach Corey Barker had been implicated in a scandal from his previous job at TCU.  We’ll see what happens about this.  Even though NM State didn’t do anything, expect the NCAA to drop the hammer on them and for TCU to get off without any penalty.  On court, a Caliches Kids Captain and the ball kids were introduced on camera.  The Aggies’ intro video featured lots of three’s and dunks.  Johnny McCants’ halfcourt winner was the featured play.   

I messed this scorecard up but good.  It was printed on nice slick paper, which didn’t erase well.  (It was on the back of the flyer image at the top of the post.)  Yes, I’m blaming the scorecard.  Then I dropped my pencil at half time under the seats in front of me and had to use my pen.  Irrevocable mistakes were made.  I thought I was doing such a good job too.  I had the radio game call on.  I was paying attention.  They weren’t showing player stats until later in the game.  The Pan-Am staff really needs to get their act together.  I actually saw a Women’s game on Sunday where the home team got a technical foul called on them before tipoff because they couldn’t get their scoreboard right.     

First Half
The Aggies got it going with a Johnny McCants’ three and a Trevelin Queen dunk.  That’s how to get the crowd into it.  The Aggies were also rebounding well at the start.  The Roos hit a three and their coach immediately called a timeout.  He was furious at them for some reason.  Back in play, Jabari Rice made a steal and got it to Trev for a dunk.  UMKC hit another three to keep them in it.  12-8 Aggies at the next break. 

Evan Gilyard (whose number is wrong on the scorecard) got an assist to Johnny for a slam to make it 17-10.  The Aggies though were getting out-rebounded now.  At the next timeout, it was 19-12 Aggies (along with a bunch of indecipherable notes).  Members of the ’79 Aggie team were honored out on court.  A new banner for their NCAA appearance was unveiled.  The video screens showed footage of them playing Larry Bird and Indiana State here that year.  (I remember that as a kid.  The Aggies almost beat them.)  The guys got a standing ovation. 

The game got a bit physical back in play, as Terrell Brown was hammered driving the lane.  The Roos were fouling a lot early, though not as much as I was marking down.  It was 25-15 Aggies after ten minutes.  The Roos hit a couple of three’s to close in.  Terrell was on a mission and hit a three and then a layup.  30-22 Aggies at the next timeout. 

The halfcourt putting contest looked really tough.  It was a small cutout hole in a standee.  The shot wasn’t even close, which made the winning shot on Thursday even more impressive in retrospect.  The girl in the red skirt came out to assist with the $5k halfcourt basketball shot challenge.  It was another wide miss. 

Ivan got a jam to make it 32-24, but the Roos came back.  With another three, they got it to 32-30 with three minutes left.  In another break, PA Ed announced it was Tony Randazzo’s birthday.  He’s a Las Cruces native and an MLB umpire.  Trev came back with a steal and a jam on an Aggie run, 40-32.  This got the crowd up and cheering for the final minute.  42-33 Aggies at the half.

Mascot Basketball!  Over a dozen costumed mascots were introduced out on court.  The hawk costume was the most impressive, but I didn’t catch who it was.  Pistol Pete, the only one not wearing a large foam outfit, had a decided advantage.  Pete mostly passed the ball, because it was funnier watching the other characters shoot.  He did make a couple a baskets.  Chico ran off with the ball at one point.  The Caliches Scoop lost his head.  The Sonic Tot played possum and popped up on Chico.  It was all good fun, until I dropped my pencil under the seat in the row in front of us. 

Second Half
There were two things I noticed at the start.  Trevelin was wearing mismatched shoes.  One was red and one was black.  It was a bold fashion statement.  PA Ed made an announcement thanking the band in attendance.  They weren’t the Roadrunner Revue, though they were wearing their hockey sweaters.  It was an All-City high school band.  They did a good job.  Ron said there wasn’t a band at all on Thursday.

Johnny nearly brought down the house with a jam to start the second half.  The goal shook as he put it down.  Josiah Allick picked up two quick fouls trying to play against Ivan.  McCants got a steal to stop a Roo fast break.  It was all coming up Aggies.  Ivan then got a foul off the ball.  The crowd gave the refs a loud boo.  Then Gilyard picked up his third foul while taking a charge.  The crowd got downright angry.  William McNair and CJ Bobbitt came in.  CJ had some cool dark blue and orange shoes.  (Not sure why he’s wearing UTEP shoes.)  It was 48-40 Aggies.

I think over the air, the announcers called McNair “Baby Bear.”  He is big.  McNair got two blocks and showed some great hustle saving a ball going out.  The guys wanted to get him a basket, but caused a turnover trying to pass it to him.  McCants and Trev came back in.  The Aggies had another bad pass leading to a Roo score.  50-45 Aggies with 11 minutes left.  Timeout.  Right out of that, Jabari lobbed the inbounds to a jumping Terrell for an instant basket.  That was the second time the Aggies had run that play in this game, but with different players.  Jabari then got a steal and fed Johnny for an alley oop.  This set the crowd off cheering.

The Roos weren’t going away.  They hit a three and got a turnover and suddenly we were tied at 54.  Ivan came in and put in a couple of layups.  58-54 Aggies with five minutes left.  Gilyard dropped in two free throws and Terrell hit a three.  The crowd was on its feet with that 9-point run.  63-54 Aggies with four-and-a-half minutes left.  The Aggie Cheerleaders did a Pete pyramid with the icon on top during the timeout. 

The Roos had some foul issues with their two best players with four fouls each.  Trev and Terrell hit a pair of threes as the Roos hit a couple of threes as well.  69-60 Aggies with two minutes left.  Gilyard was called for this fourth foul.  The crowd was up in arms again.  Jabari popped in a three to make it 72-61.  He got a block as well afterward. 

Again, the Roos hit a three.  It was becoming a long distance shooting contest.  72-61 Aggies with one minute left.  The Aggies tried to dribble it out.  Gilyard fouled out.  Coach Jans let out an explicative near the microphone.  Jack Nixon quickly apologized.  Jordan Giles, high-scorer on the Roos, fouled out right after.  During the break, the camera showed a kid dancing with his shirt pulled over his head.  The crowd got a good laugh. 

Roo Rob Whitfield popped in a three to make it 73-69 with 17 seconds left.  The Aggies turned it right over on another bad pass.  During the review for possession, the mop boy danced on court.  Trev got a big block with 7 seconds left.  Shunn Buchanan made one of two free throws after a quick foul.  The Roos immediately got a layup.  An Aggie turnover gave the Roos one more shot, but it missed.  Whew!  Our frighteningly close score was 74-71 Aggies.

I was almost afraid to listen to the Coach on the postgame show, but he actually sounded quite depressed.  He blamed himself for the way the team finished the game.  If they’d lost this one, Coach Jans might have been more animated than depressed.  The team had been making mistakes during the game, but really didn’t seem to be paying attention at the end.             

Terrell Brown led all scorers with 18 points.  I’d say he’s feeling okay.  Trevelin Queen had 16, though most of that was in the first half.  Jabari Rice had 13 points and a double-double.  Ivan Aurrecoechea and Johnny McCants had some critical buckets.  I thought I saw Johnny limping a bit at the end of the game.  Hopefully I’m wrong.  Four Roos players were in double figures.  

The coach couldn’t believe the score was so close with the team shooting 62%.  He was happy with the rebounds as they were +7.  The Aggies also had 21 points off 18 turnovers.  The team just needs to play smarter.  Perhaps that’s one of the big things they’re missing with AJ Harris and Clayton Henry injured.

With the crowd clearing out, I went down to retrieve my pencil.  I found a half bag of kettle corn under the seat too, which I immediately grabbed.  Ron gave me a look.  Don’t judge me!  Hey, it’s kettle corn.  It’s not like they give that stuff away either.  I don’t know why on earth those people left it.  On the way out, we were handed Whataburger coupons, which Ron and I used immediately along with a bunch of other fans.  The manager there was super nice after a long wait to get to the register. 

For dessert, I used a coupon at PQ Treats.  I tried the Peanut Butter Bomb sundae that I’d seen someone else order.  It was great, until I got to the bottom where it was just peanut butter.  Even if I’d had something to drink with me, it was still too much.  I got grossed out and ended up spitting it out in the bathroom.  Ron was at least amused. 

I’m sure I didn’t feel quite as sick as the Las Cruces Sun-News “editors” when somebody pointed out to them the small misprint in their top of the fold headline about the game.  (If you can’t spot it yourself, I can’t help you.)  This reminds me of a previous headline where Brian Green was highlighted as the baseball coach of the Lobos (4-16-18).  That one required a full page reprint the next day.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Aggie Basketball Journal January 1 to 9, 2020

1-2-19 WBB Aggies vs CBU Lancers
Didn’t I say I’d stop doing this?  Not today apparently.  Well, in this case, I watched most of the game over the WAC Digital Network, so I at least could say something about it.  If I told you that Aaliyah Prince didn’t play because she was out sick and Gia Pack only had two field goals in the game would ask how much the Aggies lost by?  That didn’t happen.  Heck, the Aggies were up by 9 at halftime.  The Lancers did have a slim lead near the end.  Down by a point with 7 seconds left, Adrianna Henderson drove the lane and lost the ball.  Gia got it and laid it in for the winning shot, 57-56 Aggies. 

So how did they do it?  Great defense (kept the Lancers well below their 79-point average) and rebounding (Gia 14 and Nana Sule 13).  Amanda Soderqvist started and led with 11 points.  The rest of the lineup and bench all contributed.  It was a great team win.  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to go to this game.  One, it was a really good Aggie win.  Two, those Lancer girls are pretty attractive, especially that Georgia Dale. 

1-4-20 MBB Aggies at CBU Lancers
This game was bad news for the Aggie Men right off the bat.  Previously injured Clayton Henry had broken his hand in a practice and would be out for the rest of the season.  He was going to be able to redshirt at least.  Things when well anyway at the start of the first half.  The Aggies built up a good lead with an 11-0 run at one point.  AJ Harris got a basket on a ricochet.  Jack Nixon reported that, “He didn’t call glass.”  He then directly into a commercial read, “Do you want a better banking experience?”  Groan.

However, some Aggie foul issues allowed the Lancers back into it with a 9-0 run.  CBU took a 37-36 lead going into halftime on a last second three.  Even worse, AJ came back out after the break with a shoe off from a turned ankle.  He didn’t play for the rest of the game.  No problem tonight though.  The Aggies came back and got their biggest lead of the night late.  Some players had four fouls, but that didn’t come into play, as the Aggies won 86-71.

Ivan Aurrecoechea led the team with 20 points and even had a rare three-pointer.  Johnny McCants had 17, including a couple of threes.  Terrell Brown was healthy and was looking good with 11 points.  The team was +7 in rebounds and were particularly good offensively.  They caused 17 turnovers and got 21 points off them, while keeping their own turnovers low at 9.  All that said, the team is nearly back where they started at the beginning of the season with both point guards injured.  Coach Jans didn’t seem hopeful about AJ.  Thank goodness they got Evan Gilyard in the interim.   

1-9-20 WBB at Chicago State Cougars
The Aggie Women looked good in their last game.  This time though they were playing a 16-0 team and would face a real test.  Wait.  I’m sorry.  I meant a 0-16 team.  Okay, it’s on the WAC Digital Network.  Let’s just watch some basketball waiting for the Men’s game to come on in an hour. 

Actually, I was kind of enjoying this game.  I liked CS announcer, whose name I did not catch even though I heard him say it at least three times.  He was very professional, except in promoting himself by clearly saying his own name.  It was single-camera coverage.  The game score shown in the corner of the picture was a shot of the actual arena scoreboard.  Chicago State’s Jones Convocation Center looks really nice.  I’d seen pictures of it before and also for a Chicago area High School All-star game.  However, there were only 108 in attendance officially for this game.  (The High School game filled the house.)

The Aggies got the scoring going early with Gia Pack, Aaliyah Prince, and even Didi Echols getting in on it.  The announcer was right on it when Gia scored and took over eighth place all-time in Aggie scoring.  He did have a problem with Adenike Aderinto’s name.  I don’t think he pronounced it the same way twice.  Just call her, “Nike.”  The Aggies had an 18-point lead at the half.   

The Cougars had a comeback in the second half.  Bethany Carstens from Alaska hit two 3’s in a row as part of a 10-2 CS run.  They got within 9 points, but it was back to 18 by end of the quarter.   The announcer dropped in a couple good lines: “I felt the breeze from that air ball,” and, “That bad pass was a fastball when an offspeed would have worked fine.”

The Aggies won 73-60.  Chicago State played hard and didn’t go away.  The Cougars went to midcourt after the game and thanked the fans there, a bit like a softball team.  Gia Pack led with 20 points and 11 rebounds.  Aaliyah Prince had 12.  Much of the rest of the team chipped in well.  The Cougars had four players in double figures.  Bethany had 11 and three three-pointers.  The Aggies only had two 3’s total.  The teams were almost even in turnovers (17 to 20), but it was 15 to 5 in steals for the Aggies.

The Chicago State coach stiffed the broadcaster for a postgame interview.  Why wouldn’t she talk to him?  He seemed like such a nice guy.  The guy did mention that there’s a new chancellor and athletic director at the college and that their teams are working on a rebuild.  I guess this means the school is out of financial trouble.  A couple of years ago, it sounded like they were about to shut the doors.   

1-9-20 MBB vs Chicago State Cougars
I picked up this game at halftime on the WAC Digital Network, as it overlapped with the Women’s away game.  Yes, this seems like a questionable choice, but the CS Men were 31-point underdogs for this game.  I figured the Women might be more competitive.  I didn’t realize I was missing seeing the lovely Emerson at the press table for the whole game.  There was only one camera for the game, like the Women at Chicago State.  She was in the shot for the much of the game.  (Actually, it was a long shot.  It was hard to tell it was her there.) 

I’d already heard the big news for this game the day before on the Aggies Coach’s Show.  AJ Harris did break his ankle in the previous game and was out for the season.  I’d talked to Ron earlier in the day about the Saturday game.  He was planning on going to this game, since he wanted the giveaway hat. 

Anyway, it was 46-24 when I started watching at the half.  I was mostly finding the little break conversations between Jack Nixon and Justin Hawkins interesting, as they were accidently broadcasting them instead of the commercials.  A fan made a halfcourt putt for a prize.  The guys were jazzed and amazed watching the ball go in.  Later, Jack had gotten the trivia question wrong for the second game in a row.  He got down on himself for it.  They had a little chat near the end to decide which player to interview after the game. 

With about three minutes left, local favorites Bryce Rewalt and Tennessee Owens came into the game to a big cheer from the crowd.  This was the first time I’d actually seen them on court.  The guys did look a bit undersized compared to everyone else on court.  That didn’t hurt their shooting though.  “Tennessee for three!” Jack coined that one tonight (maybe?), as he casually hit a three.  He hit another one and Bryce dropped one in before the end.  93-54 Aggies was the final.  CS didn’t cover the spread.  Trevelin Queen had 17 points.  Jabari Rice and Ivan Aurrecoechea both had 14.  Ivan even had a three. 

Ron emailed me this missive after the game: “Got a hat, was on other end from cheerleaders, the two short white guys came into the game with three minutes left & made some 3 pt shots.”  Good summary.  I told a co-worker about the game.  He said, “Yeah, I know Tennessee Owens.  I have all his albums.”

Monday, January 6, 2020

Hot Stove Baseball 2019

This seems like as good a place as any to go ahead and comment on MLB’s off season.  Unlike last year, there was plenty of action this winter.  Thank goodness the Players’ Union won’t have to strike now because free agent contracts weren’t large enough and weren’t handed out quickly enough.  I almost couldn’t enjoy last season because of that.    

Annoyingly, I did miss all of the Winter Meetings coverage on the MLB Network.  I always like watching some of that.  Unfortunately, I was too wrapped up to tune in (because I watching Crisis on Infinite Earths).  After last season, the baseball media was talking about doing away with the owners’ meeting because nothing had happened there for a couple of years. 

I felt the biggest story and question mark in the offseason was actually involving the minor leagues.  The latest issue of Baseball America has two articles on it.  The MLB wants to contract the number of minor league teams in 2021.  Their agreement with the MiLB is in some jeopardy.  Honestly, I didn’t realize these were two totally separate organizations that only had an understanding between them to work with.     

The MLB wants to eliminate a bunch of lower-level clubs and a few Double-A ones.  They feel they don’t really need that many minor league players.  Perhaps everyone’s sabermetrics on prospects are good enough that they can tell who has a legit chance of making the big leagues without seeing them in a season of Short Season A-ball.  In any case, MiLB owns the clubs, but the MLB pays the players.  If they don’t want them, then that’s their prerogative.

That said, eliminating teams is going to ruin local support for baseball and degrade the sport in general.  MiLB owners thought they had affiliated clubs to promote.  If an outside entity can suddenly end them, it makes their investment nearly whimsical.  The value of everyone’s minor league franchise just went down.  The MLB thought some of these lower clubs didn’t have good facilities, little chance for improvement, and no nearby options for relocation.  The clubs listed for elimination now have no chance of improvement.  (BA listed the Lexington Legends as team on the chopping block.  They also listed them as one of their organizations of the year.)   

This is a difficult issue.  It’s likely good for the MLB, but bad for baseball in general.  The MLB offered a bone in terms of providing funds for unaffiliated ball for some of the eliminated teams, but that would just make them more unviable without a connection to the big leagues.  There is a possibility that there will not be a continuation of the MLB/MiLB contract.  Minor leaguers would then continue to play at the MLB spring training facilities.  (Nice for the fans living in those areas.) 

What happens to the El Paso Chihuahuas and the rest of minor league baseball?  Who knows?  This is a big issue, at least for me and any other minor league fan that roots for a local team.  They’ve got a year to work this out.  Frighteningly, MiLB has involved congress.  This could go very badly.

The other big question marks that haven’t been answered to this point are a couple of potential trades that have not happened and may not.  I’m referring to the rumors about the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor.  Both players are under contract for now, but the whispers have been loud.  The Indians probably won’t be able to keep Lindor when he becomes a free agent.  The Rockies had such a bad year that that huge extension they gave Arenado now looks like a boat anchor.

The baseball media’s purpose in enthusiastically reporting this (other than just generating news) is that they want the Dodgers to upgrade themselves with these players to get them to the World Series again.  Seriously, that’s it.  I’m not even sure the Dodgers even wanted to make a deal for either player as much as the media does.  I think Lindor will be with the Indians for now.  The question with the Rockies is: Do they have an actual good team that just had a bad year?  Or, are they a bad team with some good players? 

Just to connect the thread, I’ll “homer” out here and talk about the Rangers’ moves first.  They were rumored to want Nolan to fill that Adrian Beltre-sized hole at third base.  That’d be a great fit.  Now who do the Rangers trade for him?  That’s the question.  They could afford him and would want him for the new ballpark.  The only deal I could think of would involve Joey Gallo.  Ouch, but it’s an exchange that might help both teams. 

Gallo took some BP at the unfinished new park late in the year for some publicity.  I’d heard there was a fire there later, but didn’t get any details.  The Rangers have reworked their starting pitching rotation and now have Corey Kluber.  I think this will improve the team, but we don’t know how the park will play.  Outgoing, Nomar Mazara was traded for a minor leaguer.  I guess they gave up on him. 

The Rangers were also in on the bidding for Anthony Rendon for third base.  He ended up going to the Angels.  From this seven-year, $245M deal, we can surmise their ownership learned nothing from the Albert Pujols deal that they’re still cursed with.  Rendon was good in a contract year and in the playoffs, but those are exactly the kind of players you want to avoid overpaying for.  He can only go downhill from here. 

We kept hearing in the postseason how great Rendon was before this year, it’s just that nobody ever talked about him.  Maybe he was just living Bryce Harper’s shadow, or, more likely, he had a career year at just the right time.  Angels fans should be more excited about Shohei Ohtani being cleared to pitch this season.

Oh, alright!  The Yankees got Gerrit Cole and will win the next five World Series.  Are you all happy now!  For what they paid for him ($324M over nine years), they are expecting multiple championships.  Little wonder they beat out the Angels in the bidding.  (Maybe they learn something from the Pujols contract.) 

I think we can all figure out that the Yankees are not going to get nine years of good pitching from Cole.  To be honest, as happy as he was signing with New York, he was awfully petulant at the end of the 2019 World Series.  Not the best teammate material there.  The “best” pitcher did fail to deliver a championship for two years with the Astros, who are probably a better team than the Yankees.  I have no trouble seeing this either being a spectacular success, or the Yankees paying somebody to remove a cancer from the team.    

The Rays traded Tommy Pham to the Padres for Hunter Renfroe.  Pham was the heart of the Rays in 2019.  Teammates and fans in Tampa Bay were not happy.  Rays pitcher, Blake Snell, found out about the trade live while gaming on Twitch and had some choice words.  An MLB player is a streamer?  This is intriguing.  Who else does this? 

The Reds got Mike Moustakas from the Brewers.  Cincinnati has picked up some pitching too.  They may have a chance to win the NL Central as the other teams in the division haven’t made any winning offseason moves yet.  The Brewers have lost a bunch of players.  I wonder what their strategy is. 

Finally, a few deals that I found interesting.  Stephen Strassburg went back to the Nationals.  This makes sense.  Don’t count this team out of the playoffs in 2020.  Zack Wheeler went to the Phillies, Dellin Betances went to the Mets, but NL East is really waiting to see what the Braves do.  Dallas Keuchel went to the White Sox.  The AL Central is a very weak division and I think the Sox are making a move.  Hyun-Jin Ryu went to the Blue Jays.  Their all-legacy team featuring the sons of past Major Leaguers is still going to need some more pitching help. 

Lastly, the Giants’ big move was signing Gabe Kapler as their manager.  Two under-performing seasons in Philadelphia is more than enough experience to take over for future Hall-of-Famer, Bruce Bochy.  At least he’ll be getting some more minor league coaching experience that he didn’t get before taking the Philly job.  Look for Buster Posey to be actually managing the team.  On a related note, Madison Bumgarner went to the Diamondbacks as future mid-season trade bait to the Yankees.  Okay, we’re done here.  I’ll see you later in my preseason baseball special with any other baseball news in the meantime.

Friday, January 3, 2020

NHL Winter Classic Nashville Predators vs Dallas Stars 1-1-20

Ah, the stars aligned this year.  I was up and ready.  Reception was decent on an otherwise iffy station.  Weather conditions at the site of the game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas were good.  I was going to get to see some hockey to start the New Year. 

It was overcast in the Metroplex and about 50 degrees, but no precipitation.  Sun and rain had spoiled some previous Winter Classics for me.  It was reported that the whole hockey setup had been virtually destroyed by a massive rainstorm recently, but had been reconstructed.  From the pregame, Dallas was going all out.  They had a virtual state fair set up outside the stadium, including a large Ferris wheel.  Dallas also turned out for the game.  85,000 were there.  There was a large section wearing yellow in the stadium.  The Predator fans had travelled for the game. 

A horse troop led out the players out to the rink.  Members of the First Cavalry were the honor guard.  A country singer from a singing completion show did the Anthem with a distinctive twang.  Every time he sang the word, “Star,” the crowd would shout it out.  I’m guessing that’s tradition at Stars’ games.

Dad came over to watch.  He’s not a hockey fan, but was willing to come over to hangout and for lunch.  I hopped over to McAlisters next door for sandwiches.  I’m surprised by how many places are open on New Years.  (The sandwiches were great, but messy.  Toppings kept falling out on my floor.)  Dad had gotten me a hockey yearbook magazine for Christmas.  I’d read up on the teams last night.  They scouted as good teams with good centers and goalies.  In actual play this season, Dallas was okay, but Nashville was on a losing streak.   

First Period
Right out of the box, the game started with two massive hits on the same play.  The teams had some bad blood carrying over from last season’s playoffs and their previous meeting this season.  One of the hits was a cheap shot that leveled Predator, Ryan Ellis.  He had to come out of the game.  As tough as hockey players are (and as much as they probably love playing in this outdoor game), you know that he had to be really hurt.  The offending player, Corey Perry, was ejected from the game.  Only a couple of minutes had gone off on the clock and his day was over.  Worse, Perry had to make a long walk across the field by himself to go to the locker room.  He’d have to watch the game on TV like the rest of us.

Worse for the Stars, it was a five-minute major.  Broadcaster Mike Emrick explained that meant that the Predators were on a power play for five minutes and that a goal didn’t end it.  Yikes!  It got worse.  The Stars incurred another penalty for firing the puck out of play, so it was five-on-three.  According to the yearbook, the Predators were 31-st in the league in converting on power plays last year, out of 31 teams.  Today, they converted twice for a 2-0 lead before the penalties ended.  Matt Duchene and Dante Fabbro were the scoring players.

Stars player, Denis Gurianov was tripped on a breakaway in front of the Nashville goal.  This resulted in a penalty shot, instead of just a penalty.  We’re learning all sorts of hockey rules today.  However, the shot was blocked.  During the first break, there was a piglet race in a racetack/pen on field.  It was majestic.  There was another massive hit.  This one caused a fight that resulted in dual minors and a four-on-four.  Perhaps the pivotal play in the game came late.  Stars goalie, Ben Bishop, stopped a point blank shot and a couple more at the horn.  This kept the score at 2-0 Predators.

Second Period
Some band performed during the first intermission, but I flipped over to the Michigan/Alabama bowl game, which dad probably would have rather watched.  Here it is New Year’s Day and there’s only one bowl game on over-the-air TV.  In any case, I could have told dad who was going to win this game before it started, but Michigan did have a slim lead at halftime before inevitably losing.

The announcers laughed at a mini-commercial during a pause in play.  A US Women’s Hockey member trash-talked an NHL player.  There was a sequel to that commercial later on.  Predator goalie Pekka Rinne stopped a wraparound shot and then caught a popup on a stop.  Several players later got involved in an altercation that resulted in a Predator power play.  Upon expiration of the penalty, the offending player, Tyler Seguin, came right out of the box and took a shot.  The Stars got a follow up on it and that got the huge crowd roaring.

The announcers were loose and happy calling the game.  Coming out of a break, they showed three of the guys eating a giant corndog, a turkey leg, and a fried Snickers bar respectively.  With his co-workers otherwise engaged, Emrick attempted to read an ad copy, but didn’t have it in front of him and it didn’t match the TV graphic.  The guys all had a laugh and the food was delicious.

Dallas had a power play, but the Predators actually had the best chance at a goal in a short-handed opportunity.  But right after the teams went to full strength, the Stars got a beauty of an assist from Jason Dickinson for a goal by Blake Comeau.  2-1 Predators.  After that, a collision into the boards actually briefly knocked out both players.  The Stars had a power play late on an out-of-bounds shot.  They even pulled the goalie with two seconds left, but didn’t score at the time.

Third Period
Dad had to leave, but he’d actually enjoyed what he saw.  This was probably hockey at its best; rough, but skillful.  He jumped a bit seeing loose pucks around the net, which means you’re into it.  He thought the Stars probably weren’t going to come back because of the hole they’d dug in the first period.  I thought they still had a chance, since the Predators weren’t making a lot of chances for themselves after those goals.

The power play penalty from the last period carried over.  The Stars tied it on a deflection by Mattias Janmark from a shot by John Klingberg about a minute in.  Tied 2-2.  The crowd started going crazy.  The Stars got a one-on-one chance, but the shot hit the post.  The Stars began peppering Rinne with shots.  As the crowd got louder, the Predators’ coach called their timeout. 

The break music in the stadium was Friends in Low Places.  The crowd howled along with it.  Dallas got a power play.  On an open look, Alexander Radulov took a big wind up and fired one at lightspeed.  The goalie had no chance.  3-2 Stars.  A minute later during a scrum at the Predators’ net, Andrej Sekera put it in to put the Stars up 4-2. 

The Predators started pressing the attack.  There were some light fisticuffs.  The TV direction started going to an overhead camera shot, which was a different view on the game.  With 2:30 left, Nashville pulled their goalie.  Dallas ended up taking four empty net shots from across the ice and held the puck behind the net at one point, but all those shots missed.  With five seconds left, Bishop made a snow angel in front of the net to freeze a loose puck underneath him. 

The Stars finished it out, 4-2.  The teams lined up and shook hands.  The Stars then held up their sticks to salute the cheering crowd.  They then all got together and posed for a picture at center ice.  This was a lot of fun.  It was so fun, I missed a bunch of player names during the action and had to look them up online later.  No excuse.  I had the yearbook with all the player names in front of me.  I don’t know how much more hockey I’ll be able to see during the season, but I saw a good one here.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The 86-th Sun Bowl Florida State Seminoles vs Arizona State Sun Devils 12-31-19

Finally, I got to watch to a full Sun Bowl.  Usually, work interferes with me seeing the whole thing, but this time, even with a long halftime, it all fit in before I had to go.  I seem to remember, the only times I’ve gotten to see the game otherwise were when it fell on a weekend and that one time I was out sick (and fell asleep during the game). 

We have a new sponsor this year: Tony the Tiger.  He’s promoting fundraising for youth sports.  At first, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl was a bit awkward, but eventually it grew on people.  Tony did a commercial to intro the game.  They’re using a new voice for him and it was awkward in general.  There was another one later where he was talking to an athlete that was more polished.  We got a “Grrrreat!” and that made all the difference.  Tony was at the stadium.  They showed him leading on the crowd on the sidelines.

It was clear, but cold up in the Franklin Mountains.  We’ll call it good football weather.  (One of these days, I gotta go.)  There was officially a slight breeze, but the broadcasters assured the viewers that it was stronger than that.  The crowd was listed at 42,000.  Arizona State is relatively nearby and Florida State travels well.  The good matchup probably attracted a lot of locals. 

It looked like a full house . . . except for that large construction area under the pressbox.  They started a major remodeling job right after the regular season and lost several hundred seats that might have actually filled.  They would have been nice seats too.  It was like they’d forgotten about this whole bowl game thing.  From the architect’s pictures, the lounge area is going to look great when it’s done.  Oh wait, I meant, Grrrrreat!  

The pregame reported that, due to draft considerations, both teams were missing their leading rushers.  This might have accounted for some problematic play in the game.  They showed ASU Coach Herm Edwards greeting travelling Arizona State fans in the stands.  I could hear Jon Teicher, voice of the Miners, doing the PA duties.  (I didn’t find the game on the radio.)  Teicher was in Florida calling a Men’s Basketball game the next day.  What a busy guy.  The CBS announcers were pretty giddy and having a good time calling the game.  Retired, long-time announcer, Verne Lundquist, was reportedly watching the game at home.

First Quarter
It was a nervous start for both teams.  ASU fumbled on their first play from scrimmage. Florida State was then intercepted in the end zone.  ASU nearly ran it back.  The Sun Devil player was only pulled down by his t-shirt by the last defender.  FS got the ball back.  On one play, their quarterback, James Blackman, couldn’t find a receiver and scrambled into the open field.  As he was about to go into a slide, he was leveled.  The back of his head bounced off the field.  The ASU player, Khaylan Thomas, then taunted him while on the ground.  Amazingly, the player was not ejected.  ASU blocked the FS field goal attempt.

There was another fumble by Blackman, this time on a sack.  ASU was deep in FS territory.  A touchdown pass was called back on a questionable penalty.  After another penalty, the announcers told the officials to pick up their flags and let them play.  ASU settled for a field goal. 3-0 ASU.  FS fired a super deep bomb that was broken up downfield with a great hit by Kej Markham.

Second Quarter
The broadcasters interviewed the new incoming FS coach, Mike Norvell, in the booth.  He would be taking over after this game.  ASU fumbled again.  On an FS punt back to ASU, a blocker pushed into returner, which set their starting point near their own endzone.  No problem.  ASU’s Kyle Williams broke off a 77-yard run off a screen from scrimmage from their own 10.  However, this only lead to another field goal.  6-0 ASU.  ASU intercepted on the next series.  Another touchdown pass waved off on review for the ball not being under control.  The receiver, AJ Carter, high-fived the ref after his initial touchdown call.  They settled on yet another field goal.  9-0 ASU.  The CBS director seemed infatuated with one of the ASU cheerleaders.  He kept showing her on camera.  (Good taste.)

Unfortunately, they didn’t show any of the on-field activities, but just went back to the studio.  Like as last year though, one of the analysts got out a guitar and serenaded the season in college football.  That was pretty great actually.  Back to El Paso, there was a heartfelt broadcast team goodbye to a retiring camera operator on the field.  The gorgeous sideline reporter gave him a big hug afterward.

Third Quarter
FS made a long drive and scored a touchdown to make it, 9-7 ASU.  They had a two-pass trick play in the red zone to keep the drive going.  FS got the ball right back.  In a break, up on the big video screen, an FS fan proposed and it was accepted.  Blackman fired another deep bomb, this one from FS’s own 9, and it went for a touchdown by Tamorrion Terry.  Florida State took the lead 14-9.

Fourth Quarter
ASU came back with a field goal to make it 1, 4-12 FS.  A long QB run by Jayden Daniels and a pass interference penalty kept the drive going.  Blackman was intercepted again.  ASU’s Willie Harts ran it back for a TD.  They went for two.  It was broken up, but a penalty gave them a second try.  Daniels ran it in on a naked bootleg, surrounded by five defenders.  He managed to fake them out and just fall in. 

FS had the ball back.  They went for it on fourth down on their end of field and made it but didn’t make it on another fourth down on ASU end.  “The Butler did it,” the announcers said after Darien Butler broke up the play.  Let’s all groan at that prepared statement.  ASU punted, but then got another interception.  Kaylan Thomas made a very athletic pick.  James Blackman had four interceptions and a fumble to this point.  His teammates gathered around him on the sidelines to encourage him not to give up.

FS had the ball back with under two minutes left.  Blackman took a bad sack that put the team near their own goal line.  But next, he threw up a ball into double coverage.  The FS receiver, Keith Gavin, jumped up and got it for a big reception down field.  Unfortunately, Terry fumbled on next play to functionally end the game.  That was their sixth turnover.

20-14 ASU was the final.  Herm Edwards got a barrel of Frosted Flakes cereal dumped on him after the win.  The player of the game (as far I’m concerned) was the ASU kicker, Cristian Zendejas.  He wa nails.  This wasn’t a well-played game.  It might not have even been a good game, but it was certainly interesting and close.  One day, I’ll see one of these in person.  (It’ll be one of those snowstorm games with high winds.  It’ll be great . . . errr . . . Grrrrreat!)