Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Memorial Day Weekend 2023 Part 2

This is normally my big sports viewing day of the year.  The Indy 500 is usually the highlight, though there have been a few years that I haven’t been able to watch.  Those have been some upsetting Memorial Days.  This time there was no problem watching.  I did get up late, which messed up my schedule a bit.  I was set to watch the race with dad.  He seemed completely ambivalent about it.  He also said he didn’t want to eat out today.  Fine.  I brought my own hot dog for lunch.  I was planning on eating on eating a hot dog at some point this weekend anyway.


I was making a sacrifice.  There were three ball games on at the same time as the race.  If I’d stayed at home, I would have listened to the Rangers on the radio, had the Tigers game on the computer, and watched Indy on TV, occasionally flipping over to the Minor League game that was on.  I would have also gone out to get something to eat afterward, obviously exhausted from over stimulation.


Just to get it out of the way, the Rangers lost to the Orioles in a tight 3-2 game.  I like both teams, so I’m conflicted.  The Tigers beat the White Sox, 6-5, with a walk off in the tenth.  So, I was missing out.  Elsewhere of note, my Aunt Judy texted dad during the race.  She was excited about a Cardinal home run, but they lost 4-3 to Cleveland.  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to watch the Rays beat the Dodgers, 11-10.  That must have been a heck of a game.  Likewise, the Rockies beat the Mets by the same score. 

I did get to peek in on the Minor League showcase game on Stadium between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders and the Worcester Red Sox (the Woo Sox).  I have to admit I was super impressed with the Railriders’ stadium, PNC Field.  It’s set against a forested, rocky Pennsylvania hill in a picturesque fashion.  I hate to give more love to a Yankees’ affiliate, but I liked their announcers, too.  The guy had a great voice and worked well with the woman he was paired with.  He sounded professional, but conversational in tone.  The team had Josh Donaldson and Oswald Peraza with them on rehab and won 11-4.  The fans there also got to see a nearby air show going on with the Blue Angels.       


Was just basically watching the race worth missing the games?  Read on. 


Like I said, I woke up a bit late.  I did turn on the TV and watched some of the prerace before going over to dad’s.  I caught an interview with Tony Kanaan.  This was going to be his last Indy.  About his race strategy, he said, “I’ve got nothing to lose.  What are they going to do?  Fire me?”


As always, the spectacle of the pageantry and the crowd was awesome.  Over 300,000 were present and were especially giddy, as reported by all the drivers and others there.  The drivers fed off that and seemed jazzed, too.  The flyover for the Anthem and Back Home in Indiana was a New Mexico fighter unit pleasing myself and dad.


Graham Rahal was nearly the race’s first casualty.  His car wouldn’t start.  Eventually, he made it out on track, but two laps down.  Scott Dixon made an early pit with a tire vibration.  The in-car camera view was hellish.  There were a couple more early pits with the same problem. 


NBC was mostly running side-by-side commercials, which I appreciated.  The commercials were mostly classy, which I appreciated even more.  My favorite was definitely the one for Perdue University featuring the band playing at the race.  Kyle Larson was there in the pits.  He’s planning on doing the “Double” next year.  I doubt he was worried about getting back to Charlotte for his race.  (More on that later.) 


On-track action for most of the early race was Rinus Veekay and Alex Palou trading the lead to save fuel.  Katherine Legge slid leaving her pit stall and nearly had an accident.  She had to return to the pits and ended up being the race’s first retirement.  After another mechanical retirement, the first on track accident was Sting Ray Robb hitting the wall.  (I don’t make up names.)  During the mass pit stop afterward, Veekay and Palou hit each other coming out.  That pretty much took them out of the running for the victory.


The race restarted on Lap 101.  The “gentlemanly” racing from the first half of the race was over, as cars started going three and four-wide jockeying for position.  TK got one more career Indy highlight.  He made a pass through the grass for position.  The race pace slowed by 20mph as the teams tried to save fuel. 


Another pit lane incident.  Teammates Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean collided.  Grosjean and his groomer pride DHL car later crashed out on Lap 151.  Lap 160, the iconic-looking Santino Ferrucci took the lead in the Red, White, and Blue AJ Foyt car.  The rear of the field was involved in a continuous dogfight.  With 31 to go, there was a near disaster for Ferrucci as a tire got loose during a pit stop.  He didn’t have to make a penalty drive through, but lost the lead anyway.


What happened next was a phone call that my dad insisted on taking from the state of New Mexico Health department polling him about drug abuse in the Land of Enchantment.  They’d called him yesterday and he’d told them to call back the next day.  It was a loud call that went on for over 10 minutes.  There were no questions about the drugs coming over the open border with illegals or about the numerous legal weed dispensaries in the state.  (I think there are six in my reasonably nice neighborhood.) 


This of course happened during the most interesting 10 minutes of the race, when I’d turned down the sound.  With 18 to go, Pato O’Ward also touched grass on a pass on Felix Rosenqvist.  Pato was pretty likeable guy in the prerace.  Two laps later was The Big One.  Rosenqvist hit the wall a couple of times before spinning in the middle of the track.  Kyle Kirkwood’s left rear tire was clipped going by.  The tire flew off.  The tether must have been cut.  It just missed going into the stands and went into the parking lot.  Kirkwood went airborne, hit the wall, got flipped over, and skidded down the track in a shower of sparks.   

Kirkwood was okay.  When he was interviewed coming out of the care center, his hair wasn’t even messed up.  There was a car hit in the parking lot by the tire.  It belonged to Robin Matthews, pictured here in the center.  Her car had to be towed off.  IMS officials gave her a ride in the pace car after the race and let her kiss the bricks.  They also gave her a ride home.


The race was red flagged.  The fans in the massive stands did the Wave.  The F1 race replay from Monaco was starting on ABC around this time.  Gone are the days when I was going to wake up before the sunrise to watch this race anyway.  I missed the start, which is always functionally the entire race.  Max Verstappen started on the pole and won.  It did rain later in the race.  Usually that makes F1 races more interesting, but not here.  Even the nominally histrionic Sky News race announcers were obviously bored.


Indy restarted with 8 to go.  Pato was leading briefly, but crashed out as Josef Newgarden took the lead.  Another damaged car ran into Pato after he’d stopped.  Agustin Canapino’s steering was gone and he couldn’t help it.  This brought out another red flag.


The restart happened with 4 to go.  The resulting wreck happened in the rear of the field before the cars had even crossed the line.  Last years’ winner, Marcus Ericsson had taken the lead on the restart.  His newlywed wife was crying at the prospect of him winning.  At this point, Race Control had about a half lap to decide whether the race would finish under caution.


While the crowd had already gotten a great race, it just didn’t seem right to end it under yellow.  The fans there deserved a green flag winner.  The race was red flagged for a third time with 2 laps left.  This left an unprecedented 1 lap shootout.  The cars left pit lane, drove around to the line, and took green and white flags from the stand.


What happened next was what everyone wanted for the end: clean, hard racing.  Newgarden made a great pass for the lead and successfully defended it coming to the checkered flag for the win.  Josef became an instant hero, as he then got out of his car, went under the fence, and waded into the crowd.  In the interview afterward, yes, he’d always meant to do that if he won. 


That was worth waiting for.  This was also Penske’s first win since buying the track.  There he was on the pagoda jumping up and down as his car won.  Ericsson was bitter afterward in an interview about the decision to red flag the race.  He’s not wrong.  Danica Patrick in the closing commentary was also against it.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was for it and was glad for the great finish, but felt lucky that nothing bad had happened.  I’m sure Race Control felt the same way.


Forget anything topping this race today.  I went back home and indifferently watched the rest of the F1 race.  The Coca-Cola 600 coverage started with images of rain coming down.  So much for that.  They’ll try it again tomorrow.  I didn’t bother watching the rain delay theater.  It was raining bad enough that they didn’t even try to fake the viewers out.   


There were two more ball games left for me tonight.  The Braves and Phillies started first on ESPN Radio.  The Braves scored 5 runs in the first and did not look back.  I switched to the Chihuahuas game when it came on.  They had a live band there for the Anthem.  They didn’t say who they were though.  The Reno Aces also scored 5 runs on the pups in the first. 


The game had 7 straight half-innings of scoring, but Chihuahuas gave out first.  As the Braves won their game, 11-4, the Aces won in El Paso, 15-6.  The crowd was still loud and cheering in the bottom of the ninth.  They also wanted their postgame fireworks.


Lastly, on TV I was flipping around and ran into a Mexican League soccer championship game.  This usually comes up around this date.  I decided to watch the Chivas versus the Tigres for all of the enchiladas.  About the first 5 minutes in, the Goats had already scored twice.  Well, this one is over, I thought and flipped channels.  Over two hours later, I was flipping back around and they were still playing!  And the Tigers were up 3-2 in extra time!  Holy cow!  Did I miss one!  While the victorious players were humping each other on the ground, their trophy was being engraved on the field.  (Certainly, I was getting uncomfortable watching these guys.) 


On to ***Monday.**

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day Weekend 2023 Part 1

I definitely needed a three-day weekend.  Seven weeks of work had piled up on a new hire’s desk before he was dismissed.  Six people in the department were working on the backlog this week and it all came to me for the finishing.  I’ve been busy.


While I’d sort of been looking forward to writing about Memorial Day sports last week, by the time it had gotten here, I was busy writing a fiction story and didn’t want the interruption.  I’d even stopped doing daily drawings to focus on it.  I’d been doing that every day for over two years. 


Saturday started off with a productive trip to the mall.  I got a new pair of shoes that I’d needed and on sale.  I picked up a magazine about the Le Mans race, which happens next month.  I’ll hopefully be able to watch and report on it.  I also got dad another Graham Hancock book.  After getting him two of his large books which he’d recently read, I wasn’t sure how he’d react to it.  When I gave it to him the next day, he poured over it in obvious interest.  Cool.


Most importantly, I bought a large slice of pizza from a local place.  Before I could eat it, I got a call from Ron.  He was somewhere in Arizona at a truck stop for his new driving job.  He’s enjoying the new career, but he’s busy.  Too bad.  I was hoping we’d be able to get together over this weekend.


The first sporting event of the weekend for me was College SoftballABC had on a super regional of the NCAA tournament between Texas and Tennessee.  I found myself mentally tuning out almost immediately.  The broadcast crew consisted of four women.  The woman doing the play-by-play sounded like she was barking orders at the viewers.  The commercials were also all Girl-power and irritating.  I was especially galled seeing my ex, Taylor Swift.  (I’m still waiting for your song about our breakup, Tay!  You write about all your others.) 


It was an elimination game for Texas, but Tennessee had all the energy.  The game was close early.  The Lady Vols scored a run in the first using pure hustle and taking advantage of some tight play on the Longhorn’s part.  TN didn’t score again until they put up 2 more in the sixth.  Then TN opened the floodgates in the seventh to win 9-0.  The girls’ singing and dancing routines and celebrations in the dugout were very impressive.  (That is part of the show in College Softball.)


Meanwhile on the radio, the Rangers and the Orioles were playing.  I’ve been pleased that I’ve been able to get Ranger games on the radio out of El Paso this season.  They’re carrying the whole broadcast finally, including the pregame.  Ron had also given me a radio last year that picks up signal better.  I’ve also finally acknowledged that the best spot for reception in my apartment is putting the radio on the floor in the hallway between my living room and the bedroom.  It makes no sense, but it’s true. 


I say all of this and then the signal completely dropped right before the game.  I decided to check out KROD, and ESPN Radio was just starting a game between the Braves and the Phillies.  I have no idea what their Saturday baseball schedule is.  I was just guessing.  However, I checked back and the Rangers were back on and I decided to mostly listen to that game.


At least I think I did.  I didn’t take more than a couple of notes.  Matt Hicks on the broadcast was amazed by a couple of fan catches in the outfield during one inning.  The top of the eighth had a couple of confusing plays on the bases.  I think one runner was called out on an appeal.  Matt tried to explain all the scoring decisions in the bottom, but the inning went so quickly he got cutoff.  The Rangers won 5-3.  The O’s did make a 2-out, ninth inning comeback attempt.  I flipped over to the other game and it just finished with the Phils winning 2-1.


In the evening, the D-Backs played the Red Sox on Fox, which Boston won, 2-1.  I admit I wasn’t entirely into it.  The Chihuahuas came on later on Stadium for their Minor League Showcase game.  Tim Hagerty, voice of the Chihuahuas, was well aware of the national audience and went out of his way to explain some of the newer rules in baseball.  He was also selling Southwest University Park in El Paso, which is a showplace.

The pups went down 7-2 in the fifth to the Reno Aces, but scored 4 runs in the bottom and 3 runs in the next inning to take the lead.  They won it 14-8 in front of a great crowd.   They were waiting for fireworks and to see the debut the inflatable mascot, Air Chico.  Preston Tucker went 5 for 5 with 2 home runs in the game.

I was also able to pickup the Rockies playing on the radio against the Mets.  I don’t get a great signal out of KOA Denver, but it was okay tonight.  One of the regular guys announcing was out and a woman replaced him.  The Rox were up 6-1 in the fifth versus Justin Verlander.  The Mets came back and tied it at 6 in the sixth, but the Rockies weren’t done hitting and won it 10-7.


I forgot there was hockey on.  The Dallas Stars were trying to stave off elimination by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.  I caught most of the third period at least.  The Stars won it 4-2.  I admit, I haven’t cared much about hockey this season.  A lot of the games I could have watched conflicted with going to Aggie Sports.  Then every other sport that I watch or listen has conflicted with watching.  I figured out that in order to enjoy a hockey game, you have to give it your undivided attention, which I haven’t been able to do.


Day 1 of the weekend and I’m already overdoing it with sports.  It was a bit lackluster, except for that Chihuahuas game.  That was fun.  On to ***Sunday.***   

Friday, May 26, 2023

Pre-Memorial Day Baseball Blog

I usually wait until the All-Star Game to say something about the baseball season in general, but how can you not comment on this current season?  Let’s look at the standings real quick.


Didn’t I call the Rays a bunch of frauds?  They have the best record in baseball.  They refused to lose in April.  The entire AL East is playing above .500 ball.  The Orioles are in second and have the second best record in baseball.  The AL Central is led by the Twins.  The rest of the division is sub .500 (and the Twins are just a couple games over). 


The Rays have the best differential in runs allowed versus runs scored.  Second in that category is the Texas Rangers, who are leading the AL West, in spite of predicted injuries occurring to their star players.  The rest of their division has a winning record, except for the A’s.  Their threatened move next year, which they’ve already bungled multiple times since announcing it, has destroyed the franchise and their attendance.


In the NL, the Braves are awesome.  The Mets, who’ve been hobbled by injuries too, are still looking good.  The Pirates were leading the NL Central through April.  How?  No really, how?  It may have more to do with the division they’re play in than how they’re playing.  They lost the lead to the Brewers, but are still within a couple of games. 


The Dodgers are great and leading the West, but are in a dogfight with the . . . Arizona Diamondbacks?  They’re legit.  Wait.  Where are the Padres and the Cardinals?  They suck!  Neither team seems to want to win.  They were just expecting their divisions to be handed to them.  (Myself and every other baseball commentator are to blame for that.)  With all that talent, how is this possible? 


I feel like some of the screwy-ness of the standings has to do with the more balanced schedule with everyone playing everyone else (which obviously hasn’t completely happened yet).  Most of the teams have only played one series against their divisional rivals to this point.  Later in the season, it will be mostly all divisional.  I’m not expecting my preseason picks to get any better, though. 


I’ve taken a few random notes during the season up to this point from games I’ve seen or heard or heard about.   


4-4-23 El Paso Chihuahuas’, Taylor Kohlwey, hit a two-run homer, but Sacramento right fielder, Heliot Ramos, made like he caught the ball at the wall.  Taylor nearly jogged back to the dugout, before Ramos had to admit he didn’t have it.  If Taylor had stepped over the baseline, he would have been an out.


4-8-23 The Rocket City Trash Pandas lost a 7-inning no-hitter that was part of a double header, 7-5, to the Chattanooga Lookouts.  So, the Trash Pandas got a no-hitter, but gave up 7 runs and lost.  All 7 runs came in the last inning.  Explanation: It’s Baseball.  The Trash Pandas did come back and win the second game.


4-9-23 During a Chihuahuas game, Manager of the year, Dave Brundage of the Sacramento Rivercats, came out a couple of times to argue with the ump.  But accidentally made second mound visit in the process, which forced him to relieve his pitcher with no one warming up.  He had to bring in an outfielder, Clint Coulter.  Coulter made one pitch and got a fly out.  He doffed his hat to the crowd.  It was his first pitching appearance. 

4-13-23 Fernando Tatis Jr. gave El Paso fans a thrill against the Isotopes.  He went 5 for 6 with 8 RBI’s and 3 home runs.  All the homers went right into the Green Seats in the outfield.  Voice of the Chihuahuas, Tim Hagerty, was nearly out of words in disbelief.  Awesome new Margaritas jerseys were debuted in the game.


4-26-23 Drew Maggi takes an MLB at bat after 13 years in the minors.  He was called up because Bryan Reynolds was on bereavement leave.  Reynolds had demanded a trade in the offseason, but then signed an 8-year contract as the Pirates, who were leading their division and the NL in wins.


4-27-23 Former Aggie, Joey Ortiz, was called up with Orioles for a series.  He had 3 RBI’s in his first game.  Unfortunately, he was sent back down after a couple days, just missing playing with his old Aggie teammate, Kyle Bradish.


4-28-23 The Chihuahuas get their second walkoff win in a row over Salt Lake.


5-3-23 Jay Groome pitched 6 hitless innings against the OKC Dodgers and left with a 2-0 Chihuahuas lead.  The first Dodgers’ hit happened in the seventh.  Then in the ninth, they batted around to take 5-2 win.  There are still no no-no’s in Chihuahuas history for or against.


5-12-23 Free Weekend on MLB.TV.  I had a good time watching a bunch of games for three days.  Friday, the Orioles were playing the Pirates with Kyle Bradish pitching.  He had 1 unearned run.  He didn’t get a decision, but had a good outing.  The O’s are a fun team to watch and their TV coverage reflects it.  They showed the debut of the “Birdbath section,” where Mr. Splash sprays the crowd with a hose when the O’s get an extra base hit.  Their dugout does a spit take.  Guys hitting homers take a shot from a beer bong.  Cedric Mullins hit for the cycle in the O’s win.


5-14-23 The Rays won and beat Yankees, splitting their 4-game series.  The Rays should have won all four, but Yankees came back from being down big twice.  Rays’ reliever, Jason Adam, thought he’d given up a tying home run to Aaron Judge in the ninth.  He had a classic reaction to it. 


5-15-23 I watched the Dodgers playing the Twins and enjoyed it.  I’m not a fan of either team and came in late in the game.  The Twins came back from down 5-1 and tied it in the ninth.  The teams traded runs in the 10-th.  Finally in the bottom of the 12-th, the Dodgers won after two intentional walks and then an unintentional walk with the bases loaded to bring in the winning run.  That was a fun game.  The LA fans were into it.  Dieter Ruehle was excellent on the organ, as always.


5-17-23 It was a banner day for Aggie BaseballJoey Ortiz and Kyle Bradish started today for the Baltimore Orioles in their 3-1 win over the Angels.  Joey had a tough day at the plate, but was defensively solid at short.  Kyle went into the seventh inning, walked no one, and only gave up one run.  That run was a homer by Mike Trout.  Someday, he’ll tell his kids about it.

5-24-23 I finally got to see the Springfield Cardinals, where my Aunt Judy lives.  It was a beautiful night at lovely and homey, Hammons Field.  During the pregame, two little girls came out to say, “Play Ball,” but littlest one got stage fright and hid behind her daddy.    


Though the Cardinals got crushed, their announcer was having fun calling the action in the crowd and there were lots of happy shots of kids having fun in the stands.  After the game, the announcer did say, "The Wind Surge blows back and wins tonight 13-1.”


I finally figured out why Minor League teams don’t usually use the parent team names.  Most everyone in the stands wearing was St. Louis Cardinals gear.  On that note, I had to check out their team twitter the next day for their debut of their new alternative identity: the Cashew Chickens.  I made a joke a couple of years ago about the San Antonio Chicken Strips (not a real team name).  Reality has outdone me. 

5-25-23 El Paso Chihuahuas fans got creative tonight.  In the ninth, they started chanting “0 for 4” at a Reno Aces player.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

2,000-th Post Edition Part 3

Part 2



1-7-22 I finally obtain a copy of Starstruck #6.  My life is complete.


1-12-22 I start posting the Pony Book sketchbook.  I still suck at drawing.


2-15-22 Probably the most shameful incident of the lockdown/masking nonsense with Aggie Sports.  The police were handing out tickets.  This was a Softball post.  I didn’t buy a season pass this year.  The team was not good, so I mostly went to Baseball games in the spring and they weren’t good either.


3-10-22 A large James Dean poster and a Pink Panther painting my mom had.


5-31-22, 6-1-22, 6-6-22 And then this happened.  Aggie Baseball won the WAC Championship.  I still can’t wrap my head around this.  I watched them lose over and over again in the regular season.  They were terrible.  This set up Ian Mejia’s heroics in the NCAA Tournament.  Even the opposing fans applauded him when he came off the field.


8-30-22 It was an inauspicious start to the Football season with a loss and a failed evacuation of the stands for a weather delay.  With the late start and the weather delay, the game lasted to about midnight.  I also missed saying, “Hello,” to Jordan Abalos, one of my favorite Volleyball players. 


9-5-22, 9-13-22 Aggie Soccer looked like they were going to have a good season as they beat UTEP here.  This was after playing at College Station against the A&M Aggies in front of 6,000 people.  They lost 2-1, but showed they were legit.  Their next game, they whipped up on Nevada, 4-0.


9-21-22 Oh, this stupid two-day soccer match that ended in a draw on a questionable call by the ref.  It was another weather delay game.


9-23-22 A straight-set conference loss on their home court?  Unthinkable!  This wasn’t even the low-point of Aggie Volleyball this season.


9-27-22 I was talked into seeing Aggie Football the same day as a Volleyball match and was rewarded with seeing their first win of the season.


10-3-22 The setter situation with Aggie Volleyball finally comes to a head.  Down two setters (one injured, one quit right before game time), local freshman girl Rilen Garcia helps the team to a win. 


10-4-22 And then the wheels came off for Volleyball for the season.  It’s a bad sign when your star player is crying on the bench. 


10-5-22 And probably the worst Football game I’ve ever seen and I blame both teams for that.  And then after the game, I found out the Aggies had been two touchdown favorites in the game and lost to a team that had been beaten 73-0 the previous week.


10-10-22 A win for Aggie Soccer in their final home game.  They were undefeated at home this season (with a couple of draws). 


10-13-22 A fun game for Volleyball against a bad team.  Coach Jordan emptied the bench for the game and we got to see everyone in action. 


10-17-22 I wasn’t there for it, but the Aggie/Lobo Football game turned out to be pivotal for the team’s later success and, strangely, the future downfall of the Aggie Men’s Basketball team.


11-2-22 Dad took a trip around New Mexico and here are the pictures.

11-8-22 Aggie Soccer wins their first conference championship!


11-21-22 It wasn’t easy, but Aggie Women’s Basketball finally beat the UNM Lobos.  What a game!  At the end of the game recap there’s a note about the Men’s Basketball game being cancelled over a shooting. 


12-29-22, 12-30-22 Aggie Football gets one of their best wins ever over a team that had been in the Top 25 earlier in the season.  Listening to the game on the radio, this may have been one of my happiest moments with Aggie Football.  After an 0-4 start, Aggie Football was somehow playing in a bowl game and won.  It was the best surprise of the Aggie Sports this year.



1-16-23 I begin posting the infamous “Baby” series of material my mom collected while she was pregnant.


1-26-23, 1-30-23 Ah, the WOTC/OGL scandal finally gets me to post about RPG’s again.


1-27-23 Aggie Football held a Downtown rally.


 2-2-23 I start posting from another sketchbook called Ilya 2.  Same crappy drawings, though.


2-16-23 Aggie Men’s Basketball cancels their season.  There’d been a shooting involving a player.  (Curiously Alabama had this same problem, though it didn’t affect their season and they were a #1 seed at the NCCA Tournament.)  Then there was a player hazing scandal that finally came out and shut everything down.  The team was also terrible, so it was just as well. 


2-22-23 This was a bad sign.  Aggie Baseball was swept by a school I’d never heard that was transitioning to D1.  If they’d been swept by a team transitioning genders, they would have cancelled the season.


2-28-23, 3-6-23 Two great games at the Troy Cox Softball Classic.


3-7-23 My Softball season highlight, meeting Volleyball player, Ryleigh Whitekettle.


4-12-23 I finally post my Diecast collection.  I’d meant to do this for years. 


4-24-23 A fun morning with Aggie Volleyball at an exhibition tournament.


4-27-23 Ron and I took in an Aggie Baseball game with 500 kids.


5-24-23 It’s the state of Aggie Sports post.  It’s unusually spicy. 


I’m close to finishing another sketchbook, but apart from that I have no more collections that I intend on posting.  I’m going to lapse on daily posting for the foreseeable future.  I still intend on making more sports posts, such as for Memorial Day. 


I haven’t quite figured out what my commitment to Aggie Sports will be next season.  I’ll go to games, but I might not be getting a Season Pass.  Going to games alone and writing a bunch of recaps afterward is more of a grind than I want.  I’d like to have time to write some fiction, and I’m sort of wanting to see if I can follow some Internet lessons and learn how to actually draw.  These are two things I haven’t been able to do with my daily posting and daily drawing. 


This isn’t a stopping point, but a point where I’m reconsidering my priorities.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

NM State Sports Wrap up Report 2022-23


This wasn’t a good school year in NM State Sports, but the bright spots were really bright.  I’ll start with the good stuff.


People didn’t have a lot of expectations for Aggie Football even with a new coach, who was known for turning around programs.  Even Coach Kill didn’t expect this much success in Year 1.  He beat one of the Aggies’ rivals (UNM) and beat Liberty, who’d been in the Top 25 earlier in the season.  With a waiver, the Aggies were bowl eligible.  Granted, there wasn’t much of an Aggie fan showing at the game (NM ticket sales were terrible), but the team showed up and won.  This also broke Coach Kill’s personal winless streak in bowl games.


There were expectations for Aggie Soccer.  Coach Baarts had been steadily building the program.  They had a very tough, but competitive road tour to start the season.  At home, they went undefeated.  It was fun to be able to go to the pitch every game and feel that your team has a decent chance of winning.  They won a tight conference tournament and suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament.


And now the bad.  Basically everything else.


Aggie Volleyball lacked firepower last season.  For this season, Coach Jordan recruited a bunch of hitters.  What was unanticipated was losing their setters and having to essentially use their emergency setter for much of the season.  Even before then, the coach had trouble finding playing time for his arsenal of hitters.  The players never coalesced into a team.  Transfer grad Molly Johnson eventually took over leadership of the team, but it was too late and they didn’t have the cohesion or setters to win. 


It was sort of the same situation with Aggie Softball.  Last season, the team was short on the arms.  This season, Coach Rodolph recruited several new pitchers.  Unfortunately, they didn’t really pan out.  Aydenne Brown was the best of the bunch, but overuse probably shortened her effectiveness later in the season.  Kayla Brown was the team’s star thumper.  Newcomer Jillian Taylor was exciting to watch.  There were other good players, but the team’s offense never seemed to live up to its potential.  It was a bit of a shock to me that they didn’t make the conference tournament.    


Coach Kirby had taken over a very competitive Aggie Baseball program from Coach Green last season.  It was a quick slide into non-competitiveness.  The life and the good recruits were sucked out of the team.  Somehow, they straggled into the conference tournament and won.  They nearly even won their first game in the NCCA Tournament. 


That was last year.  This year, they got worse.  Their two best pitchers were drafted and there was nothing to replace them.  They lost players to the portal before the season and steadily lost key players to injury during the season.  After going 0-7 to start the season, including a loss an NAIA school, Coach Kirby was released.  He’d never gotten a contract extension after winning the WAC Tournament.  Apparently, AD Mario Moccia wasn’t convinced Kirby was going to improve the program, even with the tournament win, and gave him a quick hook.  The team didn’t do any better afterward.  They’ve got the heart, but not the talent to compete.                


Coach Adams took over a Women’s Basketball program in shambles.  She managed to beat the UNM Lobos, who had owned the Aggies for several years, and that was a titanic struggle.  The team was a bunch of mismatched parts, but the coach got them to play hard.  They lost heartbreakers all season long, but kept fighting back.  They just needed one more good piece to really succeed. 


Then there’s the Aggie Men’s Basketball team.  I hashed most of this out in an earlier post.  Since then, two players have come forward with a lawsuit, Shakiru Odunewu and Deuce Benjamin.  Another player and a staff member, both unnamed, were also part of the suit.  They confirmed the rumors of their assault and named three players as the perpetrators.  Coach Heiar, Associate Coach Dominique Taylor, and the NMSU Board of Regents were also named in the suit. 


The assault details were . . . uncomfortable . . . to say the least.  They were of a sexual nature.  Apparently everyone on the team got the treatment from these three guys, but some got it worse.  (Interestingly, Shak and Deuce were the biggest and smallest guys on the team respectively.)  Finally, they reported the treatment to the coaches, who didn’t care.  Dominique even reportedly laughed and said, “What do you want me to do about it?”  Wrong answer.  Deuce’s dad, an alumni ex-player, said he tried to get a hold of AD Moccia, but never got a response.          


I was shocked.  A co-worker, who knew Deuce, who’s a local kid, was downright angry.  He questioned why neither of these guys fought back.  Perhaps it because everyone was getting the treatment and some hazing is normal.  Later though, listening to a comic book podcast with some veterans, they were talking about their military experience with a form of hazing called, “Gay chicken.”  I was made . . . uncomfortable . . .  listening to these stories.  (“The Navy guys were the worst, because they meant it.”)    


From a brief chat with Director of Player Development, Darian Graham, while getting pizza for the Superbowl, he didn’t seem disturbed by the hazing.  “It’s overblown,” he said.  I’m somewhat inclined to believe that the staff really didn’t know how bad it had gotten.  When they were told, they might have thought the players were whining over normal hijinks.  I can see where the players were reluctant to talk about it for so long because of the sexual nature of the harassment. 


Whatever the nature of what was going on, it went way too far.  Judging from the team’s poor performance, the hazing obviously didn’t help them bond.  Coach Heiar was even mixing and matching groups of players on court trying to find a combination of guys were willing to play together.  Alternately, Heiar and Taylor knew how bad the hazing had gotten, but by the point they knew there were hard feelings by everyone on the team.  There would have been no fixing it without dismissing the offenders, leaving the team shorthanded, and exposing what had happened. 


The one real question a lot of people, including myself, have concerns Athletic Director, Mario Moccia.  After the shooting, he was seriously questioned by the Media about the allowing the team to continue playing.  I can answer that.  Alabama’s star player was involved in a shooting during the season.  They ended up with a number seed going into the NCAA Tournament as punishment.  Then again, that’s Alabama, not NMSU. 


The staff had done their due diligence in keeping track of the players and Mike Peake had willfully circumvented them.  Peake got three other players involved and a couple of coaches were questioned, but nobody on the Aggie side was charged.  (Whew! was probably their reaction.) There wasn’t an obvious staffer to fire.  Peake was taken off the team, but the other players only received a one-game suspension.  (One of them had violated his parole by getting involved and couldn’t leave the state for games for a month.)  After all this, the team was not playing well on court, as you’d expect, but the bad play continued well into the conference schedule. 


Mario’s apologetic attitude towards the team changed into irritation over the course of the season.  I’m sure Heiar was going to be let go at the end of the season, even if the buyout hurt.  Did Mario know about the hazing before it came out?  Was he just trying to ride it out to the end of the season and cover up the hazing?  Somehow, he missed getting fired when Heiar was let go and wasn’t named in the lawsuit.  If Mario knew, nobody could prove it. 


Mario got a five-year contract extension right before the outgoing chancellor left.  I’ve heard from multiple sources, the contracts of all the NM State coaches are tied to his.  If Mario is fired, all the coaches are released from their contracts.  I almost have to believe this because Mario is still there.  He’s generally done a good job and gotten the Aggies back into a conference and seems to know everyone in college sports.  The university likely doesn’t want to lose him.  Still, any more scandals, he’s out.


Speaking of the new conference affiliation, what are NM State’s prospects in Conference-USA next school year?  The good news is that the best basketball team, FAU, and the best football team, UTSA, will not be there.  The bad news is that, even with a raft of defections, it’s still probably a better conference than the WAC.  Also, a lot of the schools in C-USA are in the east.  UTEP has had virtually no success in any sport since moving to the conference.  I keep wondering if the time zone difference is one of the problems.


I think Football and Soccer are the best equipped to do well in the new conference.  With their coaching and recent success, I think they’ll be competitive out of the box.  Volleyball and Softball, however, I just don’t know.  The coaches should be able to recruit better for the new conference, but both programs fell well behind in the expanded WAC, which they used to dominate.  C-USA had two Top 25 Volleyball teams last year.  The Aggies had trouble beating UTEP, who wasn’t one of those two.


Baseball is a disaster and will need a new coach.  He’ll have to turn it around against a conference that is known for good baseball.  (I’m not sure if those good teams are leaving though.)  I like the direction of the Women’s Basketball program.  Give Coach Adams a couple of years, I could see her building a very good program, but I don’t guarantee it. 


Men’s Basketball is a real wildcard.  The entire Heiar team and staff are all gone.  It’s going to be a complete rebuild for NMSU.  They’ve hired Sam Houston State’s Coach Jason Hooten.  His main qualification was that he’d beaten the Aggies the last two seasons.  Sam Houston is also moving into C-USA, so that’s going to be another rivalry.  I’m sure Coach Hooten will be recruiting high character players, but apart from that, there’s no telling what will show up on court.  In this transfer portal era, don’t count out the possibility of putting together a good team on the fly.  There will be players wanting to come.  Since the team is wide open, they’ll all have a good chance of playing. 


I suspect it’s going to be a difficult year upcoming.  The lawsuit is going to court at some point.  It should include charges against the offending players, but if it’s just a big money suit and settlement by the university, then only the lawyers will be made whole.  There’s a possibility of some athletic success in C-USA, but just being competitive in most of the sports would likely be the best outcome.