SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is Cam Newtown the Next Akili Smith?

Just wondering.

And it's amazing how the talking heads fall in love with a flavor of the month each year. The kid has tremendous gifts, but he had 14 starts.

Yes, some expert on ESPN Radio this morning said "it's a quarterback's league." Fine, but this still seems to be a risky first pick.

It's all up to Cam Newton, of course, and the coaching staff of the Carolina Panthers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thank You, 76ers!

Thank you, Doug Collins, for your masterful coaching.

Thank you, Elton Brand, for showing the heart of a lion.

Thank you, Andre Iguodala, for ignoring all of the comments that you're not a primary option on a good team and playing great.

Thanks, Jrue Holiday, for showing the poise of a veteran at the age of 20.

Thanks, Jodie Meeks, for your precision shooting.

Thanks, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, for being so good off the bench.

And thanks, Evan Turner, for trying (and sometimes succeeding) to show the doubters that you are a bona fide player.

You guys were so much fun to watch -- you looked like you liked playing with each other, respected each other, and responded well to your coach.

You reminded us what a fun game this is. You honored some rich traditions. You showed us (again) how much fun the game can be when it's played the way you play it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Former Penn Star and Temple Assistant Matt Langel Named Head Coach at Colgate

You can read about the appointment here.

Several observations:

1. Had Penn not hired Jerome Allen as a first-year assistant during what proved to be Glen Miller's last year in University City, I thought that Langel would have been the obvious choice to replace Miller (having played and served as an assistant coach at Penn before following his mentor Fran Dunphy to Temple). Once Allen was in the interim role, it would have been hard for Penn AD Steve Bilsky to forsake the Penn legend for anyone else.

2. Langel's brother Casey played for Colgate.

3. Don't be surprised if Langel hires one of the Earl brothers as an assistant coach. Dan (an assistant at Penn State) and Brian (an assistant at Princeton under Sydney Johnson) are good friends of his. With Johnson leaving Princeton for Fairfield and Earl not getting the Princeton job, the time might be ripe for Earl to leave Tigertown for Hamilton, New York.

4. Langel was a finalist for the Cornell job last year.

5. Langel's learned from a great teacher in Fran Dunphy, the one-time Penn and current Temple coach. He's been a head coach in waiting for a while and should be an excellent fit for Colgate.

6. It's funny how worlds collide. As you know, the Penn-Princeton men's b-ball rivalry is about as intense as it gets. One of Langel's players at Colgate will be Texan (by way of Princeton, NJ's Hun School) Sterling Melville, son of former Princeton captain and first-team all-Ivy player Randy, who starred for the Tigers in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Phillies' Injury Report: Jose Contreras to DL

The Phillies should be worried, because this is what can happen when you have baseball's oldest roster.

At the season's outset, closer Brad Lidge, age 34, goes on the DL with shoulder problems and we learn he's out until about the All-Star break. This is the last year of Lidge's contract, one that was earned in the midst of his spectacular 2008 season but that's been a roller-coaster ride ever since. Many fans believe that they won't see him in a Phillies' uniform again (and the wags think that the home for former Phillies, the Houston Astros, might be chomping at the bit for a Dollar Store-type of deal come this off-season).

Today, the back-up closer, the 39 year-old Jose Contreras, went on the DL with a strained shoulder. Michael Stutes, who pitched well last year and in spring training this year, was called up from AAA Lehigh Valley to replace him on the roster. Outstanding set-up man Ryan Madson will take Contreras' spot as closer, and here's to hoping that if Madson gets frustrated this year he pounds his glove as opposed to kicking a water cooler and ending up on the DL for two months (which is what happened last year).

About to be 34 year-old lefty set-up man J.C. Romero went on the DL about a week ago, and, again, fortunately the Phils could call up Mike Zagurski from AAA (Zagurski had a great year at Lehigh Valley last season). And 32 year-old second baseman Chase Utley has been on the DL since the season's outset with patellar tendinitis that resulted from his working out too much (ironically, in trying to be the most fit in order to fight Father Time's gravity pull, Utley showed even more of his age).

Phew! Last year, the Phillies were the walking wounded, and I recall one mid-summer lineup where the numbers 6 through 9 hitters were career minor-leaguer Dane Sardinha at catcher, Wilson Valdez at 2B, Juan Castro at SS and the pitcher. I think that the Phillies won some of those games, keeping them (miraculously) in the race. But that was last year, and that was somewhat fortunate, and you have to wonder if the Phillies can do the same thing again this year.

Because the way the season is trending, every player over 30 might spend some time on the DL.

Last year, some of them spent a lot of time on the DL, and some made repeat trips. It was a tribute to the team that they played so hard and so well, and that the back-ups showed an esprit de corps that was downright heroic. It's a gritty organization that uses all 27 outs, and the starting pitchers will keep them in many ball games.

But if you're a realist, all these early injuries have to bug you if not scare you.

So far, with the exception of Domonic Brown (who's very young), they're all to relievers. And, yes, teams do use about 16-20 pitchers each season. But most don't see three go to the DL before the end of April.

And those who do are usually not the ones who expect to go to the World Series.

And win it.

When Should Your Kid Specialize in One Sport?

There's a good article in today's Bucks County Courier Times on this question, and it's worth a read if you have a kid in middle school, or, heck, even in elementary school. Sure, Bucks County is the land of covered bridges, preserved farms, a place with great cupcakes, a canal to ride your bike on and a whole bunch of wonderful things, and this paper has writers that match up well, in my humble opinion, with those in big cities. You can read the article here.

Now, if you're about my age, don't have kids, pulled a Rip Van Winkle or have lived as a recluse in a remote cave in Borneo for the past 20 years, you might think that this suggestion is crazy. You would figure that the best boy athletes would play football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. I'm sure that as you're thinking that you're using you're typewriter, your rotary dial phone and an abacus to balance your checkbook. That's how out of touch you'd be.

I see it already in middle school, where kids play travel soccer and nothing but and girls play travel softball and nothing but. It's almost as though they and their parents have joined a cult that worships a big time commitment, lots of driving, and a messiah in the form of a scholarship, a lot of aid, or at least a preferred admission to an excellent college as a result of the commitment. The last time I checked, though, none of the teams is named the Golden Calves.

But still, I wonder about these commitments, and I can share a story. My daughter plays two sports and will go to a high school that should enable her to play three. She's a pretty good athlete (this comment coming from other parents, as I'm usually the one to push her to do better, inspired by a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I read in a book on the Indiana Hoosiers and Bobby Knight that suggest that we all crave someone who inspires us to be the best we can be, but I digress), and she enjoys the change in sports as much as those who live in the Northeast enjoy the change of seasons. She has a friend who is one of the best softball players in her grade in the school district, and they were talking about the middle school team. My daughter commented that the season should be fun. To which the response was, "Softball. Fun?" The girl was serious, and it appeared from her tone that softball seemed to be a chore. This at the age of 14.

The travel softball commitment is 11 months a year, pretty much, 3 days a week in the off-season and then about 5 days a week during the good-weather months, at least in the Middle Atlantic region. Weekends pretty much are dedicated to tournaments, where on the first day a team plays three games to get seeded for the elimination round the next day, and the next day you can play as many as four games (depending on how many teams are in the tournament) if you keep winning. Everyone gets Easter weekend off, and some get Mother's Day weekend off, but pretty much from late March to early August there is a tournament every weekend, and there are two practices per week and perhaps a game during the week too.

You had better like your coaches, your teammates and their parents, as there is a lot of togetherness.

And you had better like [okay, Mad Lib time, list a sport to fill in the blank]. Because, if you don't, well, you might turn around in your late teens or later wishing that you had been more of a kid and less of a semi-professional and had tried different sports and had different kids as teammates. It's a lot to ask of pre-teens and young teenagers to make such an extensive commitment to a single sport.

And, of course, you must ask the question: who is this for? The kid? The parents? The coaches (many of whom are parents). What purpose is this type of commitment serving? What voids are the parents filling in their lives? Do the kids really enjoy the team (outside of feeling elite because they made a travel team and other kids did not)? Are the coaches committed to putting the best team on the field (translated, are they willing to bench their own kids if they are not part of the best 9 if it's softball, best 11 if it's soccer and best 5 if it's basketball)? How much of a meritocracy are we talking about?

And, the fact that someone has to use the word meritocracy makes the whole conversation seem somewhat ludicrous, doesn't it? These are kids we are talking about, and they should be given the opportunity to be kids. My daughter elected not to play travel this year (quite frankly, as parents we couldn't make the commitment to getting her to practices at teams that are about 1/2 hour away), and one of her reasons was that all her friends who played travel could talk about was softball and that they didn't have lives beyond it. That soured her on the sport, as did the acting out of some parents last year and some aspects of one of the worst words in all of travel softball, "daddyball," (something from which, thankfully, she did not suffer directly). That has put her at a disadvantage in getting playing time for the school team, but so be it. The other night in a rec league game, wearing shorts on a 40+-degree night with a 15 mile an hour wind, I saw her out there laughing with a few of her teammates, one of whom was a travel teammate last year.

I didn't see her do much of that on her travel team last year (then again, they lost a bunch more than they won, so admittedly there was a "cause and effect" correlation).

And she's a happy kid, too (this not only from our observations, but from teachers and coaches).

So, should your kid specialize? My advice would be only if that's what the child wants to do. If you have a kid who just loves basketball, then that love of the sport will be a guide. But, even then, it might be fun for her or him to play in the rec league in soccer in the fall, just to get some running in, just to be with different kids, and just to get a sense of what it's like to being part of a team where perhaps she/he is not the absolute star. There are lessons to be learned -- on playgrounds, in working out with mom or dad, in rec leagues, and, yes, on travel teams.

But one of the lessons for parents everywhere to remember is that kids are kids, so let's not waste youth on the young by compelling them to grow up too fast.

Going to Boston This Summer and Have a Question

Anyone have a way to get actual seats atop the Green Monster (as opposed to the standing-room only tickets)? E-mail me at sportsprof@comcast.net with any ingenious solutions, as the StubHub offerings pretty much are for the SRO seats.

The San Diego Padres

So as to protect the innocent, I won't link to the lineup that they put out there against the Phillies today, but if that's the type of lineup that they're going to trot out there, they will lose 100 games.

Shopping List for Philadelphia Teams

Here goes:

1. Phillies. A player with a "live" bat.
2. Flyers. A goalie.
3. 76ers. A few more players about 6'8" who can play.
4. Eagles. Someone to protect Michael Vick's blindside. A cover corner. A defensive lineman or two. A few playmaking linebackers.

On Mitch Henderson's Hiring at Princeton

William of Ockham would have been proud of the university.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Winckler's Ribs: Great Any Time (and Particularly on a Rainy Day!)

Living in Bucks County, I'm always looking for neat places to eat, and I had read about Mike Winckler a bunch of times in the past but somehow never got down to Morrisville to sample his cuisine -- southern-style cooking, and, yes, at its finest. It was a terrible weather day yesterday in Southeastern Pennsylvania, thunderstorms and about 2 inches of rain, and we were marooned inside. We weren't climbing the walls. We did some chores, watched some of the Derrick Rose show, saw the 76ers launch themselves like a rocket, only to fizzle and have a rally come up short. But lethargy was in the air, and I decided to brave the elements for the short hop to 46 Washington Street in Morrisville to pick up some barbecue -- racks of ribs, rice and beans, potato salad, collard greens with turkey, cornbread and Buffalo wings. Awesome stuff. Quiet dinner table, because everyone was into everything. The meat fell off the ribs, and it had a nice sweet taste to it. The cornbread was excellent, freshly made and moist, and the collard greens were terrific. Ditto for the rice and beans and the potato salad. It's not a sit-down place, but it was great food on a terrible weather day. So check out Winckler's -- you'll be glad that you did.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nails Further Nailed?

It only gets worse for Lenny Dykstra.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Halladay and Lee and the Road to Victory

Do you remember "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain," the mantra regarding the Milwaukee Braves teams of the 50's where you had two aces named Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain and then a bunch of guys who weren't all that good? Well, Roy Halladay pitched a complete game against the Nats last night and Cliff Lee pitched another one, a 3-hit gem in which he walked 1 and struck out 12. And that reminds me of a story I once read about Dizzy and Paul Dean, who pitched for the Cardinals' "Gas House Gang" of the 1930's. In game 1 of a double header, Dizzy pitched a two-hit shutout. Paul pitched a no-hitter in the second game. That prompted Dizzy to remark, "Well, if I knew 'ol Paul was going to go out and throw a no-hitter, I would have too." It's been said that you play better when you play with better players. The 2011 Phillies thus far are an example of that, 9-3, having won each of the four series in which they've played. It's easy to get up and go to the ball park then there's an 80% chance that one of your pitchers will be any of Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. It's Oswalt's turn tomorrow in what's quickly becoming baseball's version of "Can You Top This?" Lee's line tonight was 9 innings pitched, 3 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts. Which means that Oswalt would need to go 9 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks and 14 strikeouts to one-up Lee. It's to a degree unlikely, but this rotation is that good. The team won 97 games last year -- most in the regular season of any team -- with a battered lineup and a pitching staff that added Oswalt in August and didn't have Lee for the whole season. Sure, they're laboring with Joe Blanton now, but my recollection is that Blanton hasn't gotten off to fast starts in the past. But with the "Phour Aces" as they're called, repeating that number of wins is a distinct possibility. Roy and Cliff and Watch the Opponents Whiff. Hallelujah! Amen.

Why Your Team Shouldn't Invest In Relief Pitchers with Many Seasons of Excellent Work

Sounds counterintuitive, right?

But it's not. The Yankees signed lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano in the off-season to improve their bullpen. Feliciano had pitched in 266 games over the past three seasons for the Mets, and that doesn't include spring training or the times he warmed up and then wasn't used. He was terrific (killed the Phillies), but now he's done for the year. And it's only April 14.

Brian Cashman probably should have known better. As a diehard Phillies' fan, I always wondered why the team, when in need of a lefty reliever several years ago, didn't pursue Will Ohman, Joe Beimel or more recently John Grabow as free agents. The reason was that they were concerned both about overuse and about the price tag these pitchers would command after being used heavily (such as $3-$4 million a year for 3 years). I had even read one GM offer that his team was more interested in an underused reliever with a live arm coming off an injury-prone year (I know that sounds like an oxymoron) than someone with three years of good work in a row because of overuse.

So now the Yankees have a hole in their bullpen, which I'm sure that the energetic and well-bankrolled Cashman will fill. But all GMs need to be careful with signing veteran relievers with too much tread on their tires, even if they excelled last season at torturing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Sometimes the obvious choice isn't the best solution (sorry, William of Occam, but in baseball the simplest solution isn't always the best one).

Caveat emptor!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mets' Chris Young Has Elbow Tendinitis

Click here to read more.

Some people are free spaces on the bingo card. Others could be answers to Mad Libs. Unfortunately for Chris Young, he's probably the answer to the question, "Name a major league pitcher who is frequently injured."

Now, he's not on the DL, he's just having a start pushed back. This, of course, after he got off to a good start and has been hailed as a great signing by Sandy Alderson's front office.

That still may be the case, but the Mets need some good news. Young provided that at the season's outset. Now he's fighting a history of injuries, and the Mets are battling a bunch of demons, both real and imagined.

They -- and Young -- need some good news.

Larry Brown to Coach the Princeton Tigers

Ah, so I got your attention because you have search engines that pick up this type of stuff. But he's available, and it gets you thinking. . .

I had read somewhere that when Butch van Breda Kolff left Princeton to coach the Lakers that Larry Brown and Bob Knight were interested in the Princeton job. I also had read that Brown had expressed interest when Joe Scott left for the University of Denver and the school hired Sydney Johnson. And, of course, as recently as within the past week we read that Brown had contacted UNLV about their job, only to have the school hire a long-time assistant.

He's a Hall of Famer, he's won everywhere, and imagine what he could do with players who will listen to everything he says (which hasn't always been the case in the NBA, as this guy had the (mis)fortune of coaching Allen Iverson. He likes challenges, and Princeton would be a unique one for him. You figure that you partner him with some good recruiters and potential successors, and the Tigers could be onto something special for a few years while grooming a successor who might want to stay on for a while. Brown has made tons of money (thanks, among others, to an aborted stay with the fickle Knicks), so he doesn't need a big payday. But he might just be interested in a unique hoops laboratory and elite institution.

Sure, he'd be reminded that he isn't in Kansas any more, that he cannot hire a star recruits dad to assist him (probably not needed at Princeton), that this isn't Carolina, that recruiting is hard and that he'll have to do it. He gets all that. Sure, he doesn't have a Princeton degree like Brian Earl, Mike Brennan and Mitch Henderson, among others, and perhaps he's as old as all three of those guys combined, but the default drive keeps on coming back -- the guy can really coach.

And he's available, and perhaps Princeton has to think outside its box and its family and try another great coaching family -- North Carolina's. (Duke's would be a bit odd given that the Duke family once tried to give enough money to rename Princeton "Duke" and because Coach K's coaching tree isn't necessarily as compelling as Dean Smith's). Okay, so I just showed a preference for Carolina, but so what?

Larry Brown certainly would take the spotlight off Harvard and coach Tommy Amaker. Larry Brown would be a recruiting magnet. He even could join the Anthropology Dept. and teach a course in the origins of basketball, given that he helped invent the game along with Dr. James Naismith (okay, so just kidding about that one, as the Anthro Dept. does require a PhD and tons of publications that were well-reviewed in peer-reviewed journals before making an offer of employment).

Enough joking. Larry Brown is available. He's a basketball institution. Princeton is an institution with a great basketball tradition, a tradition of winning. Larry Brown is his own tradition of winning. Do the math, see the synergies -- Larry Brown could be a very good fit in Tigertown.

Bonds Convicted of 1 Count

Hard to know what to make of this except that we used to celebrate retired baseball greats. Now we wonder what they were on when they played and whether they had an unfair advantage as a result.

We used to speak reverently of the accomplishments of guys like Jackie Robinson (an all-time hero), Ted Williams (a war hero), Willie Mays (in certain ways, a super hero), Hank Aaron (a great player and ambassador for the game), Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and many, many others.

Fast forward a couple of generations, and what do we talk about now? What are we supposed to say about Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, among many others?

It's an empty feeling, isn't it?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Sky is Falling in Tampa Bay

So says David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com. And he's got a point. I'm not sure that the Rays' situation is along the lines of Jerry and George saying to one another, "you ain't got nothin'," but it's getting close for the Rays. Their lineup looks weak, their bullpen is untested or worse than last year (take your pick) and the starters can't pitch shutouts every time. And now they have to face the Twins and Red Sox. Not a fun way to proceed after a hellacious start.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Princeton Head Coaching Job: Who's the Crazy One?

I'm talking institutions, not people. Some Princeton alums are lamenting that now-former head coach Sydney Johnson left for Fairfield because of bigger bucks and that the Tigers should pay their head coach more, especially when you can compare the relatively paltry size of the head coach's salary (in the mid-200's, from what some have said) to the size of the school's endowment (around $15 billion, I believe, but who's counting?). Perhaps Johnson doubled his salary, perhaps he wants a (slightly) bigger stage, perhaps Princeton's admissions office was telling him that there is no way on God's green earth (and God went to Princeton by the way, we think at the time James Madison did) that they'll admit some of the kids that Harvard has admitted, which means that it might get harder for the Tigers to compete (even if they always seem to find a way; if 40 is the new 30, then perhaps -- ouch -- Harvard is the new Penn). But let's suppose it was about the bucks, the coin of the realm, the fact that if you were to peruse the Blue Ribbon Guide closely you'll realize that there aren't many Division I coaches in their 50's, which means that you had better earn your money while you can because most guys don't last that long. If you are cashing in, then you'll double down if you can, which is what Johnson probably did. Accompanying this chatter was a report that John Thompson III makes $1.8 million a year at Georgetown, that Shaka Smart just signed a long-term deal at VCU for $1.2 million a year and that Butler couldn't come up with the coin so they gave Brad Stevens the Indianapolis Speedway (just kidding on the last one). And in this post -- by former Princeton player Matt Henshon, you realize that about half of the coaches in the NCAA tournament made over $1 million a year last season (ah, finally, a league where the coaches make more than the players). That's a lot of money, but does it mean that an Ivy League school, which fields more varsity teams than almost any other college in the country, and whose best hope in the post-season is to make it there and perhaps win one game (two games perhaps once every two generations), should pay the huge bucks for a basketball coach? After all, I don't really care who coaches the Ivy team, they aren't getting to the Final Four unless a MRSA outbreak paralyzes the college hoops world in a given season. So, if that's the case, why pay huge bucks for a coach? Just because "everyone else does it" doesn't make it right, and, typically, that type of herd mentality signifies that there is a point (or money) to be made by doing just the opposite. Pay reasonably, get a good coach, but remember that hoops really isn't a revenue sport for you the way it is for Kansas. And then, if you're a Princeton fan, you won't get so upset that the school wouldn't pony up to keep Sydney Johnson. Sure, they love him and he loved them, but if making top dollar is his motivator, he did the right thing by leaving. But I'm not so sure that Princeton is wrong in its approach, and I'm more certain that VCU is nuts for paying Shaka Smart $1.2 million a year for eight years. Yes, he seems to be a good coach and yes his team was good this year, but so what? Does VCU really need to pay a coach -- even one with a high ceiling -- such a king's ransom? No, it doesn't. And if that were to mean that Smart were to bolt for the ACC, so be it. And if that were to mean that Johnson were to bolt for, gulp, Fairfield, then that's his prerogative. But that doesn't mean that they schools they left should pony up the big bucks. Not in the least.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Princeton's Sydney Johnson Headed to Fairfield; Let the Speculation as to Succession Run Rampant

Note to my readers: something's up with blogspot.com in terms of eliminating my paragraphing. I'm looking into it, it's annoying, but please bear with me. Thanks. After a four-year run in which he helped rebuild the Princeton men's basketball program, head coach Sydney Johnson is headed to what has to be a greener pasture, Fairfield. Click here for the brief report from The Daily Princetonian that announces Johnson's move. It's hard at first blush to see the logic in the move. Fairfield has a decent hoops tradition with a Princeton alum as its president, but it's not exactly as though he is making a move to Georgetown, a la John Thompson III, who did well at Princeton as a coach. It's more like a move to Denver, where Johnson's predecessor Joe Scott went, and Scott did not fare well at Princeton. In fact, you could make a convincing argument that Scott took the best job out there at a time when his future at Princeton looked to be in jeopardy. Johnson was beloved on the Princeton campus as an undergrad, was a three-time captain (unheard of), was the Ivy Player of the Year in a season when he averaged less than 10 points a game and once was stopped by Bob Knight after Princeton played valiantly against Indiana and Knight complimented him at length that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. After Princeton, he played pro ball in Italy before returning to the U.S. to assist Thompson III at Georgetown. He then came to Princeton when the brand was damaged, as Scott failed to conjure up the magic in central New Jersey the way he did when he won national coach of the year awards while at Air Force. More than that, he not only repaired the brand, but he got the team to its first NCAA tournament in 7 years. And now, it would appear, that he's cashed in, as it has to be the case that Fairfield offered him a lot more money than Princeton could. Cynics would argue that he also jumped as Harvard loaded itself up so much that it looks primed to make a Cornell-like run over the next three years. Put differently, the times are akin to the early 2000's, when Bill Carmody left Princeton after Ugonna Onyekwe's freshman year at Penn, when Penn looked very loaded (only to have Thompson III display what had to be one of the all-time Ivy coaching jobs in taking a depleted Princeton team to the Ivy title over Penn the year after Carmody left). That said, Carmody left for a step up at Northwestern, where he was primed for the challenge of trying to take the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament ever. He still has failed to accomplish that goal. Johnson, on the other hand, has determined to go to the Fairfield Stags in a conference that only the most diehard hoops fans could quickly name, perhaps determined to use that post as a stepping stone to a Top 6 conference. I'm sure we'll find out the reasoning soon enough. I'm sure that Princeton fans will be all over this one, with many down on Johnson. I will not be one of them. I'm grateful for all his contributions and wish him well in Connecticut. Now, let the speculation begin as to who will succeed Johnson. Princeton prefers to keep it within the family, which would seem to knock out assistant Tony Newsome, who isn't an alum. It could be that assistant Brian Earl would get a look, as would Mike Brennan, Class of '94, an assistant for Thompson at Georgetown and a former Princeton assistant (with a stop in between at American), as would Mitch Henderson, who played on those great teams at the end of the 90's and who has assisted Bill Carmody for about the past 10 years. You might also think of adding Craig Robinson, the Oregon State coach, to the list. Robinson had success at Brown but has struggled in Corvallis, even if it's hard to figure that once you've gotten a taste of the Pac-10 you'd want to return to the small arenas and bus rides of the Ivies. Going beyond that, there's Howard Levy, a former long-time Princeton assistant who's now the head coach at Mercer County CC near Princeton (a longshot, but a good basketball mind). Outside the Princeton family, you might think of the Bucknell coach, Dave Paulsen, who once coached DIII Williams to a national title, and Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon, who made it to the round of eight when Johnson was hired four years ago. More speculation will ensue, particularly among the Princeton faithful, once they recover from the shock that Johnson would have thought to leave Princeton after only four years. Perhaps there are candidates outside the box, so to speak, so it will be interesting to see who else's name will surface. Let the speculation begin!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Inspiration from Your Local Baseball Team: The Phillies

I was off today, and, no, I didn't go AWOL to watch the Phillies, although about 45,000 people did, watching a game in a mist, wind and temperatures below 40 degrees, only to see Phillies' alum and all-time goofball Brett Myers of the Astros outpitch Roy Halladay, get two hits and lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance an Astros' rally. Going into the bottom of the ninth, it was 4-2 Astros, and I was ready to chalk the day up to just yet another bad opener for a franchise that has had more than its fair share. Fair enough, I thought. They're not going to win them all, and I then reasoned that after going 0-1 they'd rattle off 13 in a row to take a comfortable lead in the NL East. Why I thought that I had no idea, but my original thought -- that the game was over -- was flat out wrong. Because someone forgot to tell the hometown nine that after playing most of the afternoon half-frozen, it was time to thaw out, time to hit the gas pedal a little harder, and, yes, win the game on a walk-off hit by John Mayberry, Jr., because that's precisely what happened. The scriptwriter also forgot to tell underestimated catcher Carlos Ruiz and superutility second baseman Wilson Valdez that they were supposed to ground out weakly, head to the dugout and then watch the end of the game. Both got key hits, with Valdez's scoring the tying run. Mayberry then drove in the game-winnner. And that's the thing about the Phillies during the Charlie Manuel/Jimmy Rollins years. A game has 27 outs, and, doggone it, the team will play through all 27, just like the sprinter who runs as hard through the tape as he did out of the blocks. Sure, the statisticians would have posted that the Astros would have had an 88% or so chance to win the game after eight full, but those numbers guys would have forgotten the one thing that we Phillies fans have come to cherish -- this team just doesn't have "quit" in its dictionary. What made the day extra special was that my son was just arriving home from school when the ninth inning was unfolding. He rushed into our family room wearing his Phillies' jacket and Phillies' hat, with a Ryan Howard jersey underneath. (It was "celebrate the Phillies on Opening Day" at school today). And then we watched all of the hits happen, and the day just got a lot brighter. Sure, they did their math, writing and reading today, but the kids who watched also learned a good lesson about trying your best no matter what the circumstances. That's the mantra of this team, and it's inspiring to watch. Finish hard, no matter what. Keep coming, no matter what. Rise to the occasion when the chips are down. It was a crappy day out there, and Brett Myers pitched well, and, well, you're not going to win them all. That said, you'll win even less if you take the "not going to win them all" attitude to an extreme. Someone forgot to tell this team today that they're not going to win them all. Because they believe -- in every single game -- that's precisely what they can do.