Friday, November 17, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Seattle U Redhawks Volleyball 11-4-17

 (Couldn't they have taken a picture with all five seniors?)
Maybe it was some personal and work-related issues.  Maybe it was the end of baseball season.  Maybe it was the end of Aggie Soccer season.  Maybe it was because it was the last Aggie Volleyball home game.  I was depressed heading off to the Pan-Am Center for the volleyball girls’ last home game.  Certainly not seeing the Aggie seniors playing in-person after today was weighing on me.  I didn’t actually think about any of this until afterward, but I was in a malaise going to the game that I normally don’t have.

There was plenty of activity in the Pan-Am parking lot.  However, as I didn’t know at the time, there was high school band competition at the football stadium going on at the same time.  After the match, a stream of school buses drove past me as I was leaving.  Still, there was a good crowd for the volleyball.  There was an unprecedented line in the ticket office.  I held the door open for a group of Seattle U Redhawks family members.  I always try to be nice to opposing fans, so they don’t think we’re a bunch of jerks in Las Cruces.  There was a knot of Redhawk fans behind their bench during the game.  You wouldn’t pick a Seattle team to travel well.

This was a TV game, so there wasn’t any radio.  I thought about bringing my radio to listen to Aggie Football, but that didn’t start for an hour, and I didn’t want the distraction for the last home volleyball game.  I did pick up a Tyler Rogers poster at the courtesy table.  About time they poster-ized the quarterback.   

The Seattle girls looked pretty tall and well-built in practice.  The Aggies girls had four girls laid up and injured on the bench.  I also noticed Savannah Davison wasn’t with the team.  No idea where she went.  Jordan Abalos was back on crutches with her left leg in a cast.  I guess she finally had the surgery she needed.  It just hurts me to write that.  Poor thing.  At least she looked gorgeous today for Senior Day.  Fellow injured players, Brielle Sterns and Hannah Combs, also looked good.  I wonder if they all went to the salon together?  Jordan and the other senior players were out on court for the starters’ introductions.  (Now I’m getting choked up writing this.)  I noticed during the team intro video montage, the players on both teams were watching it.

Set 1
It was all about Tatyana Battle to start the match.  The first point was a kill by her and her first two serves also scored, 3-0 Aggies.  I’m still not what the technical definition of an ace is.  In any case, Taty’s serves weren’t returned.  She even got great one-handed emergency dig, though the Aggies lost that point.  Unfortunately, the rest of the team looked a bit disorganized to start.  Lia Mosher made an uncharacteristic whiff on a swing.  Bridgette Lowe, who started, came out and got a long talk from Coach Jordan

The match was kept tight by the errors.  7-6 KC Tohm buried her first kill.  7-7 there were two great Aggie saves on the point, but Sasha-Lee Thomas shockingly dropped the ball.  8-8 Ari Sierra made an out-of-bounds save, which led to Megan Hart getting a kill.  9-9 Lia got a long kill, hitting the back line on the shot.  11-10 Lia was feeling it and pounded one straight down into the court.  13-10 Tatyana took flight from the back row for a kill. 

13-13 a little moment of comedy.  The Redhawks’ serve went short and dropped on the top edge of the net and fell over on the Aggie side.  Briana Ainsworth was right underneath it.  She ducked and put her hands over her head.  14-13 Lia broke up the Redhawks’ run with a kill.  16-14 Bridgette was back in and got a confident kill.  17-14 off an extremely out-of-system set, Tatyana again went airborne for the kill.  18-16 Megan Hart used her height to jam one right into the court. 

18-18 still a tight set.  The coach exploded on this point on an out call.  He sent Taty over to talk to the up official.  I’m embarrassed to admit that it hadn’t entirely sunk in until that moment that Tatyana Battle has on been out on the court for every point for several matches now and is the team captain.  She’s not a senior and not built to the same heroic proportions as Jordan, KC, or Sasha.  Her kills don’t have the same crowd-pleasing heat on them that KC or Sasha’s has, but Tatyana still gets points in bunches every match.  Last year, her defense was considered suspect and teams are still hitting at her on that assumption, but she’s really improved.  I said somewhere, this would be her team next year.  Injuries just moved things up a bit.  It’s a bit belated, but congratulations.

19-19 the coach was still in a bad mood as Megan Hart came over to the bench and got a lashing for serving a ball out.  I have to mention Megan’s height again.  Even with her simple standing serving motion, she can get a lot of power and angle on her serves.  She’s pretty good at it usually.  21-19 Tatyana and Lia teamed up on a block and were fired up.  22-20 the Redhawks whiffed on a swing at the net.  I wondered if the Aggies managed to intimidate them with their blocking.  23-20 Lia may have had the shot of the match on an overpass which she tipped with a soft touch. 

The Redhawks came out of a timeout chanting, though there was another stoppage to mop up sweat on the court.  They took the next couple of the points to 23-22.  Timeout Aggies.  The Aggies came back to take it to set point.  Julianna Salanoa on the sidelines was all smiles and high-fived the reserves and the staff women who hand out the towels.  25-22 KC finished it with a kill.        

Set 2: Aggies 1, Redhawks 0
The cheerleaders and Aggie Kids Club members tossed little balls into the stands.  A fan below me intercepted one heading my way.  I think the group of Seattle fans got about three or four of them.  The teams exchanged sides and I got a good look at the Redhawks.  They have a lovely red-head on their staff with great hair.  Their libero, Tijana Milojevic, is pretty cute.  The PA was having trouble with her name.  These teams with a bunch of Slavic players are killing the announcers. 

This set started well for the Aggies as Briana dropped an untouched ace right on to court, 1-0 Aggies.  4-4 this was sneaky.  Megan jumped up and reared back and then just tipped the ball for a point.  5-4 the treachery continued as Briana made a great dump shot for the point.  9-7 Lia crammed one on a short set.  12-8 KC and Lia on a block.  Timeout Seattle U.  Pistol Pete grooved on the sidelines to the music. 

14-9 Bridgette got a solo block and rev’ed up the crowd.  15-9 Bridgette got a kill that painted the sideline.  The Seattle coach got good and angry with the officials after that.  He’d been upset for much of the match.  Honestly, he may have had a point here.  It looked out.  19-12 there was more mopping on the court as Ari and Kaylee Neal both went sliding across the court for a dig.  20-12 a kill by Megan Hart, and then an ace at 21-12.  Sweet Analyssa Acosta came into to serve at 22-12 to a big round of applause.  23-12 Julianna came in, which paid off on the next point with a big kill.  25-13 for the Aggies.  Seattle was in complete disarray by the end of the set.

Set 3: Aggies 2, Redhawks 0    
Halftime was uneventful.  Jordan looked loose and happy on the sidelines.  The first point of the set was absolutely epic.  It felt like it went on for 30 seconds.  The Aggies took it for 1-0 start to the set.  3-1 Lia smashed a kill.  5-2 KC muscled one in.  8-6 Tatyana put down a great kill on the back line.  Timeout Seattle after the Aggies took the next point.  Some middle school girls were working it in unison to get on camera for Dance Cam.  11-7 Lia and Taty combined on a block. 

12-8 this may have been the best play of the year.  I think a bug somehow got on to the middle of the court.  Don’t ask me how.  The girls on both teams recoiled from it and backed away, stopping play before the next point.  I’ve recounted how fearless I think these girls are, but apparently they have their limits.  The down official, a guy, walked over and stepped on and picked it up with a Kleenex to a round of applause.  This was baseball-level in-game weirdness.   

12-9 the girls returned to play and had another epic point with several great shots, including one that hit the tape on the net.  Seattle would take the point.  13-9 Lia seemed to defy gravity for a moment as she took flight for a kill.  14-9 Megan and Bridgette combined on a block.  The Aggies have been a wall today.  16-10 Bridgette got a hard kill.  18-12 there wasn’t a lot of disguise here as everyone could hear as Seattle called out to serve it at Tatyana.  She braced herself for it, but muffed the return.  Taty managed to get it high enough in the air for Ari to save it.  Tatyana would finish the point for a kill.  It was that kind of day for the Aggies and for the Redhawks.

18-15 Sasha fired one into the net for the second time in the set.  She might not have been jumping well today.  Timeout Aggies.  I worry about Associate Coach Ben Wallis.  While Coach Jordan feels that the team should win every match, Coach Wallis was getting upset on every lost point.  Coach, pace yourself.  Don’t burn out.  During the break, the cheerleaders tossed hats into the crowd along with more little balls.  Hey, I got one this time.  Sweet.  23-18 KC smacked one.  24-19 KC again.  Megan Hart finished the match on an overpass kill.  Aggies win 25-19 and 3-0 in the match.   

As I mentioned, there was no radio call for the match.  Also, there weren’t any stats on the scoreboard for this match, other than the score.  Thus, I don’t have any final stats in my notes.  The paper had Tatyana Battle leading with 14 kills and 10 digs.  Briana Ainsworth also had a double-double in assists and digs.  KC Tohm and Lia Mosher had good games, along with Megan Hart and Bridgette Lowe.  I felt bad for Seattle U.  They had their moments and had a good first set, but this one never really felt in doubt.  They were just overpowered. 

Senior Day Ceremony
Maybe it didn’t feel like a good victory, since I knew this was going to be how it would end.  I was feeling genuinely sad as the Senior Day preparations were made.  I was also confused by the music they were playing, an instrumental version of Sympathy for the Devil.  The Seattle girls hung out on the other side of the court, stretching.  The Aggie team sat down in front of the scorer’s table.  Coach Jordan walked by and fist bumped all of them. 

Off to the side, the seniors and their families assembled.  Jordan Abalos was first up.  While she’d been in a good mood before, as the PA read off her mile-long list of player accomplishments, she started wiping away tears.  Darn it.  Now I’m getting choked up again.  It was just heartbreaking watching her go across the court on crutches with her leg in a cast.  She’d given everything she’d had to the program.  Jordan had her final battle at the Pan-Am Center trying to get through her speech while crying.  Her disappointment was so keen at not being able to play through her senior season, you could tangibly feel it. 



Ever emotional Ariadnne Sierra came out with her family.  She had thanked her family in Spanish, since none of them spoke English.  Ari thanked the Coach for his instruction, “It only took me two years to listen to what you were saying.”  The Coach gave her a hug and a big smile.  He must like her.  He even liked her Halloween costume.  There was a short video congratulations from the libero from the US Men’s Volleyball team to her.  Ari’s got connections.    

Kassandra “KC” Tohm may have gotten the biggest applause for her academic achievements (you could see her playing ability for yourself during the match).  She was beaming and all smiles in her speech for a moment and then she lost it.  She thanked the fans for helping her not feel so homesick for her native Canada.  Then she almost forgot to thank her parents, who were standing right next to her.  Sasha-Lee Thomas was a wreck before she started talking.  She had been living here with a host family.  “You made me feel like I was your own daughter.”  It was the most beautiful moment in the ceremony.        

Kaylee Neal came up last.  Kaylee was announced to have a 4.0 in Accounting and was working on a masters degree.  She came out with her family and her husband.  For her speech, she was perky and happy.  It was a jarring contrast, but that was fine.  She thanked her husband for his support, which was cool.  I’d wondered why she was the last one.  It was because Coach Jordan announced a new award, the Kaylee Neal Award.  He wanted to start recognizing the player who was the best teammate every year.  There’s an MVP award for good playing, but this was for good actions for the team done between games.  Kaylee was first at practice, last to leave, and helped set up the court every time.  Between a husband, studies, and playing, her schedule must be a tight ship.    

Coach Jordan spoke last.  He praised the players individually.  I wonder if this was the first time he’d ever said something nice to them.  Lastly, he told Jordan that this wasn’t the “fairy tale” ending to her Aggie career that they’d hoped for, but they were going to try to win a championship for her.  A large number of friends and family went on to the court afterward.  Analyssa Acosta came up into the stands to her family nearby me.  I smiled and waved at her and congratulated her for getting into the game.  Part of me wanted to go down and congratulate the seniors, but I didn’t want to intrude.  Also, this was sad enough without a more personal experience to go with it.     

Outside, it was cold and overcast, the first real fall day in Las Cruces this year.  Even a good sandwich and ice cream at Schlotzsky’s didn’t help my depression (but it also didn’t hurt).  Last year, there wasn’t a Senior Day to get depressed over.  Now that I’ve been here for one with the volleyball girls, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to sit through another without blubbering.  This was hard.   The other Senior Days in other sports I’ve been to were nowhere near this emotional.  My only interaction with the team has just watching from the stands for a couple of years and getting autographs.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for people more invested in the team.  Of course the players’ reaction was crying in front of a crowd.  It’s a warning not to get too attached to these girls.  Good luck for the rest of this season ladies.  I’ll follow along as best I can.    
    

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sports Journal November 2-4, 2017

11-2-17
I’m so backed up on writing recaps, I almost forgot about this.  The Aggies took on the Utah Valley Wolverines Thursday night in volleyball at the Pan-Am Center.  I was at work, but was able to watch via the WAC Digital Network.  I was actually really busy.  My notes on the match are so scattered and scant as to be nearly useless. 

The Wolverines featured Madison Dennison, top blocker in the country.  Adam Young, doing the commentary, had fun with another visiting player, Seren Merrill, whom he kept calling, “Merrill the Libero.”  The younger PA guy, who does the soccer, was working the game.  Bridgette Lowe started for the Aggies tonight.  

Again, I was pretty busy.  Set 1 was very close at 25-23 Aggies.  The two teams stayed within a point of each other for almost the entire set.  UV only got 1 block for the set.  In Set 2, the Aggies had a five-point run.  Ari Sierra served up two aces in a row to add to it.  Lia Mosher had a good set.  Late in the set, the Wolverines went on a four-point run to fight off several set points.  The Aggies took it, 25-20, coming out of a time out.  Set point featured the Aggies making an emergency save and a kill off a bad set.
  
Set 3 was a bit of a wipeout.  The Aggies went up by 10 and held that lead, winning 25-15 and 3-0 in sets for the match.  Kiley Tonge came in to serve for match point and got a dig.  KC Tohm led the Aggies with 13 kills.  Tatyana Battle and Sasha-Lee Thomas had 10 a piece.  Megan Hart had 7 kills.  My notes say that the Aggies had 17 team blocks in three sets.  I’m kind of questioning that number, but they certainly voided a really good blocking Utah Valley team. 

Before the Aggie match and during halftime, I caught a bit of the UTRGV Vaqueros versus the Seattle U Redhawks, which was going on at the same time.  The Vaqueros play in a large gym, like a high school arena.  This is where the WAC Championship will be held.  A pair of student announcers were really into calling the match.  They had nicknamed their star player, Mitrovic Bojana, the “Bionic Woman.”  They seemed to be having fun pronouncing all of the Slavic names on the team.  I appreciated the camera work as they got in some close-ups of my favorite hot Brazilian player, Barbara Silva.  The Vaqueros dropped the first two sets and came back to win in the fifth.  The announcers, the team, and the crowd went crazy with the win.  The announcers gave an update from the Las Cruces game, so they were following the standings closely.  


11-4-17
After an emotional Aggie Volleyball game (which I’ll be posting tomorrow), I came home after lunch and listened to the last quarter and a half of Aggie Football versus Texas State.  I could have been listening to the game the whole time, since there wasn’t any radio call for the volleyball, but I figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort and would be a distraction.  I remembered last years’ meeting here (11-19-16) against the Bobcats football team.  Their team bus was in an accident on the way to the game, and they played like they’d been wreck.  In their house, this was a chance for some revenge.

This is going to be a very cursory summary of what I heard.  (I may have been watching something on TV at the same time, but I can’t remember what.)  I came in about halfway through the third quarter with the Aggies up 24-21.  At that point, I was regretting not listening to the whole thing, since it appeared to be a pretty good game.  The Aggies fumbled, but Dalton Herrington came up with a big interception.  This guy really does it on defense.  Driving downfield in the Texas State red zone, Quarterback Tyler Rogers was briefly knocked out of the game on a hard hit.  No problem.  Nick Jeanty came right in and tossed a touchdown, 31-21. 

The Bobcats came back in short order on a good drive and made it 31-28 after a touchdown.  The Aggies’ next possession was mostly on the legs of All-American running back, Larry Rose III.  He rattled off a monster run and then finished it on a short drive, 38-28.  The Bobcats had some tricks up their sleeve.  They got a big play on a gadget play to make it 38-35 late in the fourth quarter. 

Time to end this.  Rogers, back in the game, hit OJ Clark for another touchdown, 45-35.  With two minutes left, the Aggie defense forced a fumble on the Bobcats’ first play.  Larry Rose almost scored another touchdown right before the end of the game, but it was waved off on a penalty.  The Aggies were content to just run out the clock after that for a 45-35 win.  That’s #4.  They just need two more in the next three games, two of which are at home, to end the program’s 50+ year bowl drought.        

Let’s do another Women’s college soccer entry.  Tonight, the Stadium Network was broadcasting the Mountain West Championship game between the UNM Lobos and the SDSU Aztecs.  They were in Las Vegas with the Strip in the background.  They never showed the grandstand on camera, but the small bleachers on the other side of the field did have a decent crowd, especially since UNLV wasn’t playing.  This was a surprise match up for conference experts.  While the Aztecs were picked first in the pre-season poll, the Lobos were picked for last.  Their championship run makes the Aggies win over them early in the season even more impressive.    

The main play-by-play guy may have been the Aztecs’ announcer that I’d enjoyed before, but he had some low energy tonight.  He sounded like he had a cold.  There was a former female player that did the color commentary and an on-field reporter.  I liked the camera work in general, since there were some close-ups of the girls playing (sometimes real close as the action came by the sidelines suddenly).  It was emphasized in the commentary that the Lobos had played a lot more minutes in the tournament than the Aztecs.  The players typically run four to five miles during a match, so those minutes are significant.  It was also cold there.  The fans were bundled up and the players on the sidelines were clearly cold. 

It was the match of the flip throw-ins.  Really, this became something of an obsession in the commentary.  Jessica Nelson on the Lobos would flip in the ball on most of the throw-ins, so it came up a lot.  Late in the first half, one of the Aztec girls Aliyah Utush did one with a throw-in close to the Lobo box.  She seemed to hesitate on it for a moment before doing it as it was her first attempt of the year.  It was a good throw, but their only attempt at it during the match.    

The flip throw-in can be effective, especially when close enough to catapult the ball into the opponent’s box, though it leaves the player in a bad position to follow up.  Earlier in the tournament, Jessica got an assist on a goal doing it.  During the halftime interview, the SDSU coach, who must have called for that one in the first half, said he didn’t like them.  “It’s not soccer,” he said.  There was even a halftime feature on Jessica and doing flip throw-ins.  She mentioned her coach doesn’t watch when she does it (even though the coach is the one who calls for it).  Jessica said she started doing it as a kid, almost implying it wouldn’t be a good skill to try to learn to use in college for the first time. 

The Lobos came out attacking in the first half, but later in the half, the Aztecs took over attacking.  Each team had some good chances, including a crossbar shot for both, neither scored.  Action picked up in the second half.  Early on, after a flip throw-in by Jessica, Jenna Killman (great name) attempted a bicycle kick in the box on goal.  The announcers were loving the showmanship, “Are we watching a Premier League match?”

Finally in the 56’, Aliyah Utush got out on a breakaway.  She was one-on-one with the goalie, who came out, but Aliyah went around her.  A trailing Lobo player tried to kick it out, but the shot rolled in.  Let’s do it again in the 76’.  It was virtually the same play, as Aliyah got behind the defenders and out ran them to the goal.  She was really quick and must have a lot of stamina.  2-0 Aztecs.

Aliyah must be living right.  In the 82’, she completed the hat trick with a low, hard kick from outside the box.  The Lobo goalie laid flat out for it.  3-0 Aztecs.  By this point, the announcer was actually rooting for the Lobos to get a goal and not get shutout.  Poor Jessica.  By the end of the match, I completely lost count of the number of flip throw-ins she’d done, many of them in the closing minutes.  She must have been a little dizzy. 


The SDSU Aztecs won the match and championship.  Aliyah Utush was the unsurprising tournament MVP with her three-goal performance.  The announcers mentioned that the Aztecs had a hat trick in last years’ championship, but actually lost that match.  In the interview afterward, Aliyah was very happy and excited.  She’s also cute and well-spoken.  The Aztecs’ play here reminded me of the Aggies: stay back defensively and counter by putting the ball over the top to a speedy attacker (Aileen Galicia) for a breakaway chance.  So, this style can work.  At the end, after announcing all the awards, the stadium PA finished by thanking the fans, telling them to drive safely, and reminding everyone to set their clocks back an hour for Daylight Savings Time.  That got a chuckle out of the announcers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Baseball 2017 Rewind Part 3

October
10-1-17--The core of the championship-winning Royals come off the field together for their last game of the season.

10-4-17--The Rockies and the Diamondbacks had an epic Wild Card game.  Even the disappointed Rockies thought it was a great game afterward.  This was just an appetizer for what was coming in the World Series.

10-9-17--The Astros squeaked out a win on a rainy afternoon in Boston to advance to the ALCS.

10-11-17--The Yankees eliminated my World Series pick, the IndiansJoe Girardi’s job is saved.

10-12-17--The Nationals were eliminated by the Cubs and take over the mantle of “Baseball’s lovable losers.”

10-13-17--The Astros took Game 1 of the ALCS over the Yankees behind some stellar defense.  I took several potshots at the Fox Sports coverage.

10-14-17--The Astros took Game 2 as Jose Altuve went first to home in the ninth with the winning run.

10-20-17--Kate Upton pitched the Astros into a decisive Game 7 with the Yankees

10-21-17--The Astros advanced to the World Series by beating the YankeesGary Sanchez and Joe Girardi’s jobs are on thin ice.  (Joe would actually get fired a couple days later.)

10-25-17--Game 2 of the World Series between the Astros and Dodgers became an instant classic.  Both teams had ample chances to win the game late, but dramatic, clutch hitting kept it going in extras.  This game may never be topped.

10-26-17--Yu Darvish had a nightmare-ish start for the Dodgers in Game 3.  If this series goes the distance, I’m sure he’ll redeem himself.  [I wasn’t trying to be ironic there.  I was honestly sure he would at the time.]

10-29-17--With the series tied, a probable pitchers’ duel between Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw was on tap for Game 5.  Nearly five and half hours later, the final score would be 13-12 Astros.  You really can’t predict baseball.  Game 2 of this series just got bumped to the second greatest World Series game.

November

11-1-17--Much of the drama of Game 7 was spent by the second inning as George Springer homered in the fifth run against Yu Darvish.  With what had happened in the previous six games, nobody was really sure there wouldn’t be a Dodger comeback, but the Astros held it and won.  If you’re a baseball fan, you can scarcely believe your luck in watching these great post-season games over the last few years.  I certainly can’t.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Baseball 2017 Rewind Part 2

August
8-1-17--Ray’s pitcher, Chris Archer, and Astros’ mascot, Orbit, began hostilities with a declaration.  Tim Hagerty was looking forward to the team’s first meeting with the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

8-3-17--War broke out between Archer and Orbit with water balloons.  People get wet.  Meanwhile, Joey Gallo on the Rangers put a couple of batted balls in orbit.  Our first meeting between the Chihuahuas and the Baby Cakes was canceled for rain.  The question of which team with the worst name would win had to wait.  On the blog, I took a shot at Colin Kaepernick and did not receive a +1 on a blog entry for the first time in years.  

8-4-17--Yesterday’s rainout caused a late double-header to be played tonight between the Chihuahuas and the Baby Cakes.  Very late.  1:35 am CST to be precise.  Even with a pair of seven-inning games, the second one went into extras, increasing the agony. 

8-6-17--Another rainout forced another double-header between the Chihuahuas and the Baby Cakes.  The pups ended up losing both games to the worst team in the PCL.  This was where they hit bottom.

8-7-17--Former Chihuahuas’ teammates faced each other in the majors.  Patrick Kivelhan took Phil Maton deep for a grand slam.  The Chihuahuas themselves got a great win over the Grizzlies.  This was where they started their comeback.

8-8-17--The Fresno Tacos ran out an unknown pinch hitter in the ninth.  Who was this mysterious identified player?

8-11-17--“Folk hero” Cody Decker made his return to El Paso with the Las Vegas 51’s.  Even better, he brought his fiancée, Jenn Sterger, who acted as co-host on local sports talk that afternoon.

8-12-17--So much for weather forecasting in Arlington.  Unexpected rain delayed today’s Rangers game, but after honoring Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez on field.  The Chihuahuas had a great comeback win in the ninth.

8-14-17--Cody Decker was still the talk of the town, and I posted a link to the video where Jenn Sterger was on El Paso Sports Talk.  Tim Hagerty had a great conversation with a Chihuahuas’ super-fan during the game.

8-15-17--I took another shot at Kaepernick and the sports media and ceased to receive any more +1’s on my blog entries (or at least ones that registered on my end because I keep seeing where people have done it, but it doesn’t show on the blog stats).     
  
8-16-17—Here, I made the prediction that the Chihuahuas’ alternate identity next year will be the Chimichangas.  It was another big series with the Isotopes, this time for second place.

8-18-17--Tim Hagerty made a rare opinioned take on El Paso Sports Talk, saying he didn’t like a Tom Petty song.  With Petty’s death a couple months later, no doubt Tim, being such a nice person, feels terrible now.  The Chihuahuas took second place from the Isotopes.

8- 19-17--The Padres sent down Hunter Renfroe to the Chihuahuas today.  He would proceed to go crazy on Triple-A pitching for the rest of the season.  This was the Padres’ best move of the year.

8-21-17--Eclipse Day!  Tim Hagerty was in the path of totality, but missed it.

8-27-17--The Rangers were swept by the A’s, the worst team in the AL West.  They were now done for the season.

8-29-17—A 13-10 Chihuahuas win.  They were closing in on first, but after a second half freefall, the Bees were matching the pups, win-for-win.

8-30-17--Tim Hagerty was joined by a sponsor in the booth and a huge Chihuahuas fan.  After 14 hard innings, the Chihuahuas refused to lose.


8-31-17--The Chihuahuas finally took first place.

September
9-2-17--The Stadium Network debuted locally here.

9-3-17--The Chihuahuas clinched the division.  Tim Hagerty had the day off before the day before, so they had to wait for him to get back.  They were 8 games out halfway through the season with no more games scheduled against the leader.

9-4-17--The Chihuahuas lost the last game of the season in completely horrific fashion.  I’m still not over the shock.  Thankfully, it didn’t matter and didn’t carry over into the playoffs.

9-8-17--The Chihuahuas moved on to the PCL Championship series.

9-14-17--Delayed by weather, Game 2 of the PCL Championship series was a day game.  It was an improbable 0-0 in the eleventh, before the Memphis Redbirds won it on a solo home run.

9-15-17--The Cleveland Indians 22-game winning streak came to an end.  The Dodgers, whom SI jinxed by calling “The best team ever,” also had an incredible losing streak during this time.  Not baseball-related, but I loved the Boise State/Minnesota volleyball game that night.

9-17-17--The PCL Championship came down to a decisive Game 5.  The Chihuahuas lost, but it was an awesome season.

9-26-17--I’m done with the NFL.  Long live baseball!

9-30-17--Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants pitched his last game and retired.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Baseball 2017 Rewind Part 1

With the season done and endless days of winter ahead, let’s take a look back at the season.  I already recapped Aggie baseball and softball (5-30-17).  This will focus mostly on the El Paso Chihuahuas and their great run this year, along with some MLB (and some random sports stories).

April
4-20-17--The Chihuahuas lost a game where they got 17 strikeouts and led 5-0.

4-27-17--Link to a great article about the Rockies’ walk-up music.

4-30-17--A Salt Lake City Bees pitcher was ejected before the game started over where he was sitting the bullpen.

May
5-4-17--I got to listen to the radio call of a Padres game.  The guys were great.  I need to make sure to listen to them every time I can.

5-5-17--The Rangers played an absurdly long game against the Mariners.

5-16-17--Hard loss in a long game for the Chihuahuas.

5-29-17--Joey Gallo for the Rangers hit some great home runs this year, but tonight he had a truly awesome foul ball.

June
6-1-17--The Chihuahuas didn’t win tonight, but had a heck of a comeback.

6-2-17--Sam Dyson was released from the Rangers.  Shin-Soo Choo posted a poignant message about it.

6-5-17--This may have been the first in a season-long series of epic games between the Chihuahuas and the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The pups almost lost after getting a huge lead.

6-7-17--A ninth inning comeback for the Chihuahuas.

6-8-17--And they do it again to the Isotopes in the ninth.  Up until the late season playoff drive, these were the best Chihuahuas’ games of the season.

6-9-17--Here, the Rangers started a three-game sweep of the first place Nationals on the road.  They had a 10-game winning streak in May, and the Nationals were in the middle of a difficult part of their schedule, but this felt like the Rangers’ best performance of the season.

6-13-17--Tim Hagerty and Steve Kaplowitz had fun calling a Chihuahuas’ game.

6-18-17--This night was the Mexican League Baseball Home Run Derby.

6-19-17--And then the Mexican League All-Star Game.

6-20-17--Seldom does the PA get mentioned in a baseball post, but this time the Fresno Grizzlies’ guy went overboard with the sound effects.

6-24-17--El Paso Chihuahuas versus Albuquerque Isotopes for five and a half hours in one epic throwdown.

6-25-17--Carter Capps was ejected for “illegal” pitches in a Chihuahuas’ game.  Still talking about yesterday’s game too.

6-26-17--And more about that epic game.  It was that unbelievable.  

July
7-2-17--New Ranger, Pete Kozma, had quite an adventure on the base pads one inning.

7-8-17--Tim Hagerty had a long, interesting chat with a Chihuahuas’ staff member.

7-9-17--The Chihuahuas finished a three-game sweep of the Salt Lake City Bees in this 10:00 am start game, right before the All-Star break.  This ended up being a huge series victory as it brought the pups within five of the division-leading Bees.  It was the last time they played each other this season, and the Chihuahuas made it count.

7-11-17--MLB All-Star Game.  It was a fun event this year.  I was e-mailing my Aunt Judy during the game.  She was excited about her favorite player, Yadier Molina, hitting a homer.

7-13-17--This Chihuahuas’ game was noteworthy for the bizarre walk-up music promotion by the home team.  Tim Hagerty was fascinated by a Single-A game, however.  It went 20 innings before being suspended for rain.

7-14-17--We lost Tim Hagerty for two days with laryngitis.  No offense to the replacements, but it was awful.

7-23-17--“The Rangers turn a double play, and the Rays score the tying run.  Everybody’s happy.”  I still can’t get over Eric Nadel’s commentary of this Rangers/Rays game.  I remember this being a fun game.

7-24-17--There were an odd series of events that led up to this, but the Omaha Storm Chasers ran out of pitchers in tonight’s game against the ChihuahuasTim Hagerty was aghast.

7-25-17--It was the “Christmas in July” promotion in Philadelphia.  In a tremendous production, a scene from A Christmas Story was re-enacted with the Philly Phanatic putting his tongue on a light pole.

7-29-17--The Yankees scored a run on a triple-play.  You read that right.  (Technically, that happened the night before.)

7-30-17--Adrian Beltre hit career #3,000.  The Rangers’ season was not a complete waste.

7-31-17--The Rangers traded Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, functionally ending their season.  The team actually played fairly well after this for a while.  It makes you wonder.  Twins management did the same in dumping players and ended up in the playoffs anyway.  I love my comment at the end.  Me and Tim Hagerty were about ready to give up on the Chihuahuas’ season as well.

Friday, November 10, 2017

2017 World Series Recap

Let’s face the music.  It’s time to review my pre-season preview (3-30-17).  The Red Sox did win their division, but were as “soft” predicted.  I was all wrong about the Blue Jays, and the Yankees weren’t on my radar.  I did have the Indians and Astros winning their divisions.  Those were easy picks.  Oopsie.  The Mets sucked, but the Nationals did turn out to be post-season losers again.  The Cubs and Dodgers were also easy divisional picks.  Though a completely off-handed comment, I do give myself credit for calling it with the Dodgers ending up with the best record in the baseball.  The only thing I got right in my post-season predictions was calling the Astros “my backup pick,” but I was really convinced this going to be the Indians’ year.  The Astros had burned me last year (3-25-16), so I was going to be reluctant to pick them outright again.

This World Series was the battle between two Sports Illustrated cover jinxes.  Let’s start with talking about them.   


I finally read the Dodgers article in this issue the day after the season ended.  My reading pile has been huge this summer.  I just never got to it and didn’t care about the Dodgers, regardless of how good they were.  (This was also the last issue of my free SI subscription.)  The story inside was actually mostly about Justin Turner.  It was about his relationship to the team, and theirs to him.  This article was mostly remembered for its bad timing.  The Dodgers were experiencing an abysmal losing streak when it came out and asked if they were the greatest team ever.     
  
I re-read this now famous, 2014 Astros article right after reading the Dodger article.  I remember seeing this issue on the newsstand and now regret not buying it (since it’s worth serious money), but I did download an online copy of the article at the time instead.  This article was more in-depth about team, as it was trying to explain why the Astros were so bad (three 100+ loss seasons in a row).  The players did not “tank” for those seasons; management did, by putting a Triple-A level team on the field.  There was a plan, characterized as an Astros’ version of Moneyball, and it detailed how it could potentially result in a championship.  I think the cover and the hypothetical 2017 season in review were mostly to get attention, if not tongue-in-cheek.  They were close on calling the Astros’ record for the year, but had them beating the Cubs in the 2017 World Series (which also came close to happing). 

George Springer and Carlos Correa were prominently mentioned, but it was striking how many other prospect names were highlighted, who did not make the team or stay with them.  Jose Altuve was a “diminutive second baseman” with a good batting average, and Dallas Keuchel was a “maturing” pitcher.  They were just nice little pieces in the puzzle, not potential stars.  (Alex Bregman wasn’t even on the radar.)  The Astros’ plan was by no means foolproof.  Their plethora high draft picks were not guarantees of future big league stars.  It was a good strategy in retrospect, but could have been a compounding disaster if they’d had any bad luck or poor attitude with their core guys.             

I’d like to think that that audacious SI cover actually inspired the team into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That was nearly the only media prediction about the series that came true.  It seemed like the Dodgers should have rolled right over the Astros, even with their close records.  The Dodgers had just stomped on the World Champion Cubs, while the Astros had barely beaten the upstart Yankees

In team composition, the Dodgers had the edge in the relief pitching, but starting pitching, hitting, and fielding were actually a toss-up.  Still, the Dodgers had the celebrities, the bigger media market, and a much bigger payroll.  These are critical elements in building a championship-winning team, so they would be the favorites.  (I don’t know what the sarcasm emojj is.)  It’s worth noting that the Astros beat the three highest payroll teams in the majors (the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox) in the playoffs.  We can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the championship this year wasn’t outright purchased.   

Looking back on the Series, I really can’t quite find a pattern to discern the path to victory for the Astros.  I don’t see the instrument of the Dodgers’ downfall either.  (No, don’t say “Darvish” or “Dave Roberts,” unless you’re a bitter Dodgers fan grasping for straws.)  Two of the seven games (2 and 5) were absolutely back-breaking for both teams’ pitching, while being totally clutch for their hitting.  The other games were fairly normal by comparison. 

The day after Game 7, I listened to ESPN Radio to see what they had to say.  (Why do I keep listening if I hate these guys?  Mostly because they provide me with endless fodder for this blog.)  The two dummies I heard started off their show expressing disappointment.  The wrong team had won and Game 7 wasn’t epic like the earlier games.  Pshaw.  The hosts then went so far out of their way to take a shot at Papa John’s Pizza, they had to take a bus to get there.  As a major sponsor, Papa John’s isn’t happy with the NFL taking a knee and driving down ratings, so the company and pizza in general must now be targeted.  (Really, they thought all pizza itself was now tainted.)  It was a “great” 10-whole-minutes of World Series analysis before they went back to their endless loop programming of talking about LeBron James and the NFL

Somewhere in the middle of their bored tirade, they took a shot at Dodger manager, Dave Roberts, for starting Yu Darvish instead of Clayton Kershaw.  No matter how well one team plays than the other, there has to be a scapegoat for the losing team.  A team can’t just be beaten, that’s not controversial enough.  There was no doubt in my mind, Darvish should have started.  What was more likely: Darvish having another career-worst outing or Kershaw flaming out on short rest in the playoffs again?  Clayton Kershaw had two great outings in the Series, sandwiching one really bad outing.  Even in one of the good outings, he basically had no pressure on him pitching those four scoreless innings in Game 7. 
 
Yu Darvish did have two of the worst starts of his career.  There’s little sugar-coating that.  I didn’t hear anybody mention this, but he was the only Dodger pitcher that the Astros were well-acquainted with from his time with the Rangers.  Also, the coaching staff did extensively tinker with his throwing motion when he got to LA.  Add some World Series pressure to that and maybe that’s why Darvish started coming apart. 

Astros’ star starting pitching wasn’t that great either.  Dallas Keuchel lost his first game to Kershaw and didn’t last in his second outing (but it wasn’t like anybody else did in Game 5 either).  Justin Verlander got a loss and a no decision.  Verlander also complained that the balls this season were juiced.  It’s hard to argue against that possibility.  I saw him throw back several balls in his last game to the umpire.  Manager AJ Hinch didn’t want to use either of these guys in Game 7 on short rest out of the bullpen. 

Relief pitching was a notable difference.  Kenley Jansen seemed so automatic this season for the Dodgers, but overwork may have done him in as the Astros found him quite hittable.  Houston went into the series having already basically lost their closer, Ken Giles.  Hinch had to go away from inning-by-inning specialists and two-inning closers.  He went long with Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton going several innings to finish games.  I don’t think this will start a trend, but it worked here in a pinch.

On the hitting side, I’ve seldom seen better hitting and less effective hitting out of the same two teams playing each other.  The Dodgers seemed like the better hitting team overall in the series, while the Astros lost games going nearly stone-cold (but never shut out).  Had Games 2 and 5 played out in a less epic fashion, surely the Dodgers would have won the Series.  Los Angeles wanted those two games really bad, but Houston wanted them more.  Who can really explain the motivation of players in such events?   

The MLB lucked out with another great post-season.  Hopefully, this will be the norm and fans will keep watching in October, even if their favorite team has been eliminated.  Maybe someday, the league championships will be back on over-the-air TV, instead of a three-digit cable network.  We can forget pace-of-play improvement in baseball.  Fox was monetizing dead time with micro-commercials.  When do we start getting the epilepsy-inducing Max Headroom Blip-verts? 

Lastly, we can at least all feel good for the city of Houston.  After the hurricane and the flooding, thankfully the Astros gave them something to rally around.  It’s just a game, but the people there needed something to cheer about while rebuilding.  It’s great to see a sport that brings communities together (unlike some other sports).  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sports Journal November 1, 2017

11-1-17
I feel like I’m about to summarize WWII by starting with a short discussion of the Spanish Civil War.  The tyranny of linear time, however, forces my hand.  You’ll see what I mean.  Days like today, I really question the format of this blog.  I started my evening at work with an unexpected upgrade (at least on my part), so my important viewing plans were disrupted badly in the early evening, which accounts for some spotty coverage. 

Aggie Soccer finished their season with a .500 record overall and in conference after they’d lost their last game on Saturday.  Their first game in the WAC Tournament was a rematch with Seattle U, whom they’d beaten in Seattle earlier in the month.  I was able to watch via the WAC Digital network, but other obligations kept me from watching most of it.  That was okay, as it turned out to be a 3-0 revenge-fest for the Redhawks.  I saw their last goal.  Aggie goalie Dmitri Fong was on the ground, getting kicked, while still trying to recover the ball in the box.  She made a really heroic effort.  Audrey Chavez was back and playing on what was described as an “80% hamstring.”  These girls are tough.  The hosts highlighted Aileen Galicia in the pre-game show and singled her out during the match for her good play. 

That’s all for Aggie Soccer this season.  I think the program has really improved, and I enjoyed watching them (a major admission for a non-soccer fan).  The girls are very easy to root for, especially after meeting some of them.  I’m looking forward to seeing them again next year (hopefully).  [Late update: Coach Freddy Delgado’s contract was not renewed after the season.  This is shocking given the team’s good showing this year and beating their rivals, the UNM Lobos (who were a good team) and the UTEP Miners for the first time.  Maybe he asked for a larger raise than the school could afford.  I hope the girls aren’t too upset and that a good, new coach can be found.  Good luck to Coach Delgado, unless he goes to one of our rivals.]   

 At the same time this was going on, the raison d'etat of my existence, Game 7 of the World Series between the Astros and the Dodgers, was being unwatched by myself because of work-related obligations.  The hardware upgrade was disrupting my schedule, but at least I got pizza out of it.  I got in bits and pieces at the beginning of the game.  The Astros started off well, as George Springer doubled in the first at bat of the game.  An error drove him in.  Jose Altuve drove in Alex Bregman on a fielder’s choice.  2-0 Astros.  I missed all of that. 

I did see Yuli Guriel’s at bat against Yu Darvish, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher.  Guriel’s mockery of Darvish hadn’t endeared him to the LA fans.  You could tell every time he was coming to bat just by the boo’s.  In the last game, the camera men were zooming in on angry Asian fans in the crowd.  Congrats to the MLB for not affecting World Series play with a PC suspension.  Darvish, you’re a class act.  Yuli, buy an atlas.  Japan isn’t in China.  For his part, Guriel tipped his helmet to Darvish before the at bat by way of an apology and a “thank you” for not asking for an immediate suspension.  What could have tainted this World Series, instead reinforced sportsmanship.  A 13-pitch battle ensued, which ended in a fly out.  Clayton Kershaw was already warming up in the Dodger bullpen. 

Darvish didn’t settle in after that in the second inning.  A walk, a double, and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Astros’ pitcher, Lance McCullers, added another run, but a two-run homer in Springer’s second at bat chased Darvish from the game.  5-0 Astros.  Given what had happened in the previous six games, nobody took this as a comfortable lead.  Kershaw came out to start the third.  Some ESPN Radio hosts insisted before the game that he needed to be used tonight to “save his legacy.”  Obviously this was media code for “not make us look so bad for hyping him up before the series.” 

It wasn’t exactly a great starting pitching performance on the other side.  After McCullers had hit his fourth batter of the game, he had to come out, leaving two on.  Later, he said was completely spent and was pitching with nothing working.  Brad Peacock came in and closed the inning.  The Dodgers were getting their chances, but weren’t cashing them in.  Kershaw would go four scoreless innings, thus deflecting criticism away from Darvish and on to manager Dave Roberts.  The sports media could now second guess who the Dodger starter should have been and make themselves look good for backing Kershaw all along. 

Andre Ethier came off the bench for a pinch hit single to score a run in the sixth, but that was all the damage, 5-1.  Strangely, Kenley Jansen started the seventh.  I think the rationale for bringing in the Dodger closer so early was to face the heart of the Astros’ order.  Charlie Morton came in for the Astros in the sixth.  He did a good enough job that when his spot came up in the ninth, he batted for himself.  The bottom of the ninth featured three listless at bats by the Dodgers.  No more heroics for this series.  The Dodgers were spent.  The Astros won the game 5-1 and the series 3-2

And . . . exhale. 

I had actually been on pins and needles since the end of last night’s game, wondering what was going to happen tonight.  After winning two of the best of World Series games ever, it would have been a shame if the Astros hadn’t won the series.  It would have been like that “Shot heard ‘round the world” footnote that the “Giants win the pennant!” but didn’t win the series.  After Game 5, I don’t know if me or anyone else could have taken another heart-stopper.  Being a fan is stressful.  It could certainly be worse.  I heard that a lot of money was bet on the Dodgers winning Game 7, including somebody making a $14 million bet.  Part of me hopes that didn’t really happen, that it was just a gag story.  Speaking of stress, my co-worker Mike somehow got blamed and yelled at by his girlfriend for the Dodger loss.  He wasn’t even watching.

There were remote shots of 17,000 people in Houston at Minute Maid Park for a viewing party, cheering their heads off.  Charlie Morton got awarded the win for the game.  He was choked up and emotional afterward.  With five home runs in the Series, George Springer was the MVP.  Carlos Beltran finally got a ring, along with fellow veterans Justin Verlander, Brian McCann, and Evan Gattis.  They can retire happy now whenever they decide they’re done.  The future still looks bright for the youngsters on the Astros.      

Then the crowning moment.  I was watching a serious Carlos Correa being interviewed on the field by Ken Rosenthal, still marveling how bad his beard looks.  Carlos said, “I want to take the next big step in my life,” and suddenly he turned to his shocked girlfriend and went down on one knee to propose.  Look at the women in the background.  That was me.  It was so romantic.  Ahhh.  The perfect ending to this World Series.


(Yeah, this is why baseball is great.  NFL players just go down on one knee on camera to protest America, and they only propose to girlfriends who can take getting slapped around.)