Tuesday, January 31, 2012

College Baseball: Spring is Sprung

Division I baseball officially opened up play on Friday, and the Mids with it in anticipation of a February 17 opener at North Carolina A&T. This winter to date has been especially mild in the Mid-Atlantic and this past weekend was no exception, allowing Navy unexpected time outdoors.

"It's always going to be a bonus early on when you can get outside and scrimmage and see live action. It was very good to get back out on the field and get started again," Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos told navysports.com.

Schedule starts in winter are great for long-suffering baseball fans, but elements in February and early March in Annapolis are seldom obliging. For outfielders, in particular, the combination of heavy winds and lack of repetitions can turn routine fly balls into clean hits in the scorer's book. Navy's earliest home game is slated for February 22 against UMES at Max Bishop.

Notes: Navy's junior righthander Joel Rinehart was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association's 2012 'Stopper of the Year Award' watch list. Rinehart merited the honor on the strength of a 2011 campaign that included a 1.81 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 49 innings of work, and six saves.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Movies: Moneyball


(Photo / Sony Pictures)
We're admittedly late to the show in reviewing Moneyball, but since the Oscars are approaching and it should rate a lot of mention there, a more generous take is that we're a month early.

Brad Pitt portrays the real-life Billy Beane, a former player and the Oakland A's GM since 1998. As a player Beane failed at the major league level (a lifetime .219 hitter over six seasons) despite being touted, per the movie, as a five-tool player. Throughout his tenure as GM with the A's, Beane has worked with a thin wallet, trying to assemble a club that could compete for the AL pennant with a team payroll often at the league's bottom.

Trying to play winning baseball without the money to pay for it is the premise for Moneyball, and it provides ample fodder. In the movie, Beane hires Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) to help find undervalued talent outside the conventional baseball wisdom that a good player looks the part. Sweet swing, easy stride, fluid motion - all can be indicators of baseball talent, but are as likely attractive masks of other flaws.

Brand is a composite character based largely on the real-life Paul DePodesta, who turned to overlooked statistics, rather than intuition, to rate the A's potential prospects. In 2002 the formula worked wonders for Oakland, as they finished the season with  103 wins, the same as the New York Yankees. The Bombers spent a hefty $126 Mn for those wins, while the A's parted with just $39 Mn.

Time has diminished the thrifty advantage that Beane once held over much of baseball, but for the 2002 season it was at its apex. The movie, and Michael Lewis's namesake book that provided its inspiration are perfectly placed in that year. Among the many accomplishments of the '02 A's was an AL record 20-game win streak. The movie smartly places it as a centerpiece.

There's little to fault anywhere in the film; Pitt is rightfully getting Oscar consideration for his portrayal of Beane. Philip Seymour Hoffman's depiction of Art Howe, while reportedly far less affable than the real life Art, is nonetheless a perfectly understated foil to Beane. And Hill is easy to envision as the guy next to you at the ball game completely immersed in his scorecard. Or perhaps, if you're like us, you're that guy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Books: SI on Hockey

Orr, Gretzky and Crosby are all covered in SI's Hockey Talk
Although not the catchiest of titles, the new hockey anthology from Sports Illustrated, Hockey Talk, outpaces its name on the interior.

Michael Farber's opening piece, Eight Seconds, recounts Sid Crosby's Golden Goal that gave Canada its 2010 Olympic hockey title. It's a second-by-second telling that Keith Hernandez used (sometimes to distraction) in his 1994 baseball book, Pure Baseball. It conveys an insider's view of that final goal, without carrying said view longer than 13 pages. For US and Canadian hockey fans alike, it's a thankful reminder of just how meaningful a game can be for professional athletes even without a paycheck in the offing.

From there there's a look at the ever-enigmatic Bobby Orr by S.L. Price. I had a Bobby Orr table hockey game in early 1970's NY Rangers-country as a kid, and anyone who saw it, even the grown-ups, let out a low whistle followed simply by "Bobby Orrrr," when they did. He transcended rooting interests in sports, and teams, as few of those low-whistlers cared much about hockey, and none at all cared about the Bruins. "Bobby" will always be a compelling topic, and Price has the good sense to both pick Orr as his and to handle it well.

As with all collections - watches, beer cans, or here, hockey stories - the pieces vary in quality. Kostya Kennedy's foreword can best be described as hockey-indifferent, not a great intro to an anthology on the topic. He takes what feels like a requisite swing at the sport's violent side and his subsequent praise for hockey feels like a well-worded necessity the SI editors pried from him.

True to the general Sports Illustrated standard of hockey writing, however, Hockey Talk is an exceptional rink side read.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sports History: Stadium Stirrings & News

90 years ago this January, Baltimore was on the verge of commencing construction on its first major football venue. The question was where to put it. One idea was at the bottom of the city's Mt. Royal Reservoir. City engineer H.G. Perring envisioned fitting a stadium comparable to the Roman Coliseum into the emptied confines of the reservoir.

The location later changed to Venable Park, but not before a strong pitch was made by Perring for his ingenious, if flawed, Mt. Royal concept. Tom Flynn wrote of the initial plans recently for patch.com.

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In the lacrosse equivalent of Hot Stove League news, Major League Lacrosse signed an agreement with CBS Sports Network to air 14 of their games in 2012. The league began play in 2001 and its current reigning champs are the Boston Cannons.

Another Western State Adds Varsity Lacrosse

For several years I've contributed lacrosse articles to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).  This week I w...