Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Canada Tops US for Lacrosse Crown, Nationals Knock Australia from Podium

Team Canada's Wesley Berg works against Hopkins' grad Kyle Harrison (Photo / FIL)
by Boxer Journal, July 23, 2014
Commerce City, CO - Canada continued to belie the notion that beating the US deserves an "upset" label when it won the 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championships for the second time in the past three tournaments on Saturday. The Canadians beat Team USA, 8-5, before nearly 12,000 fans at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Canada held the US to one goal through the first half and benefited from the standout play of goalie Dillon Ward, a Bellarmine graduate and current Colorado Mammoth team member. In the final he stopped ten shots, and was later awarded All-World goalie and tournament MVP honors.

Canadian midfielder Kevin Crowley, who scored three goals in the tournament prior to the championship, netted five in the final.

Earlier in the day, the Iroquois Nationals handily defeated perennial medalist Australia, 16-5, to earn the tournament's bronze. It was the first medal for the Nationals since their inaugural play in 1990 and also the first-time in tournament history Australia failed to medal. The US, Canada, and Australia had won every medal since the tournament formally began in 1974, and also controlled the podium in the event's precursor in 1967.

The Thompsons, including Lyle and cousin Jeremy, powered the Nationals and were both named to the All-World team.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lacrosse: US v. Iroquois Nationals in World Championships Tonight

The Thompsons will have a large role in tonight's game against Team USA (photo / T. Flynn)
by Boxer Journal, July 15, 2014
Denver, CO - In a match anticipated well east of the Rockies, the Iroquois Nationals will face Team USA at the FIL Lacrosse World Championships tonight at 7 pm EST. The United States is 4-0 in the Blue Division, while the Nationals are 3-1. Iroquois lost a closely-contested game to Canada (3-1) on Sunday, 9-8, and then beat Australia (2-2), 12-10, on Monday. It will be their third game in as many days.

The 'Thompson Trio' (brothers Lyle, Miles, and cousin Ty)  that led the University of Albany Great Danes to a convincing win in the first-round of the NCAA playoffs this spring will be a key part of the Iroquois' offensive attack. They are augmented by two additional Thompson brothers, Jeremy and Jerome. Lyle and Miles shared the Tewaaraton Award this year as college lacrosse's best players.

The field for the championships is comprised of nine divisions with six teams in the Blue Division and four teams per division in the remaining eight. The Nationals, US, and Canada all compete in the Blue Division along with Australia, Japan (0-4), and England (0-4).

The best team outside that group at present is Israel (5-0), which has rattled off five straight impressive wins, including a sweep of their Orange Division foes and a victory over Ireland (3-1) and Germany (3-1). The Irish squad features 12 players with American heritage or connections, while Israel also has a high US presence, including 26 players with American ties. Scotland (5-0) is another undefeated, five-win club.

Ireland Lacrosse  shown here against Bermuda (photo / Irish Lax

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Century Ago, Babe Ruth & the Baltimore Orioles


Manager Jack Dunn stands above Ruth's right shoulder (photo / public domain)
Orioles' owner Jack Dunn knew that it would be a tough season. The Baltimore Sun was running articles all winter about the upstart Federal League, a so-called third major league that would have a local entry, the Terrapins, beginning play in April, 1914.

By the time February arrived, Dunn didn't need to read The Sun. Across the street from his own park "the Feds" ballpark was being thrown up quickly for Opening Day. The echo of a dozen hammers could be heard at all hours as the team raced against the clock to get the park built.

The new Terrapin Park was a colossus compared to Dunn's Oriole Park, which had years before served as the home to a brief-lived major league entry of its own. The park had a grandstand from first base around home to third, but the new park going up had a towering seating area that would extend all the way down the left field and right field lines. Terrapin Park shouted majors and Dunn's park minors, loud and clear.

It was Ned Hanlon who was behind this mess. Hanlon, the manager of the great 1890s National League Orioles, was one of the Terrapins' owners. He had started the minor league Orioles that Dunn now owned. It was Hanlon who managed Dunn in 1899 when both were briefly in Brooklyn. It was Hanlon who had cost the Orioles their American League franchise in 1902 by stripping it of talent. Now it was Hanlon who was part of the operation that was running him out of business.

Dunn wasn't idle in light of the new threat to his ballclub. He'd fought through hard times before. As a child growing up in New Jersey, his left arm was so damaged in an accident that a doctor told his mother that the nine-year-old's limb would have to be amputated or he would die.

"If it makes no difference to you, I'd just as soon die with my arm on," he reportedly told the two. The arm stayed, and Dunn lived.

He couldn't raise the arm above his head for the rest of this life, yet he made it to the major leagues. He played for John McGraw and Hanlon both, two of the greatest managers in the game. Dunn developed their same eye for talent and had a special knack for spotting ballplayers around Baltimore, guys that other people missed. Fritz Maisel turned up in nearby Catonsville and now was playing third base for the Yankees. He had stolen 44 bases for the Orioles in 1913 to lead the league, and then left before the season was through for the big leagues, where he stole another 25. Nobody could throw him out.

Now word was making it up from the same area, down near Wilkens Avenue, that St. Mary's Industrial School had a boy that Dunn should see. He wanted another player, a pitcher at Mount St. Joseph's College, but Brother Gilbert Cairnes at St. Joe's had a national powerhouse on his hands and wasn't going to part with a star pitcher so easily.

He suggested a boy over at St. Mary's, a left-hander named George Herman Ruth. Dunn respected the brother's opinion and with the Terrapins breathing down his neck, it was worth a look. If Hanlon got news of him he'd be gone soon enough.

Accounts vary on Ruth's signing. A fellow student at St. Mary's described a game involving the Babe staged for Dunn's viewing. Babe Ruth's autobiography mentions throwing for a half-hour for Dunn before he was signed. Brother Gilbert's later printed version, written along with longtime Baltimore sportswriter Rodger Pippen, varies from both accounts.

According to Gilbert, there was no game because of the cold February weather. Brother Gilbert, Dunn and Maisel traveled in Fritz's car to visit Brother Matthias, the St. Mary's prefect who, along with the school's other Xaverian Brothers, oversaw the boy in class and on the diamond.

The trio spoke with Matthias, and received a concise assessment of this talents.

"Ruth can hit," said the scouting report on the teenager.

"Can he pitch?" the Orioles' manager asked.

"Sure, he can do anything," Matthias responded.

Dunn looked the boy over. He was big enough, certainly, and signing him would at least ensure the Terrapins didn't sign him right away, even if he didn't work out. So on February 22, 1914, the just-turned-19-year-old became a Baltimore Oriole.

The manager wasted no time in getting him out of town. Despite the worst snowstorm in Baltimore since 1888, he safely got Ruth on a train out of the city's old Union Station to spring training in Fayetteville, N.C. It was best to get the prodigy out of town before the Feds had a chance at him, contract or not. All winter the Federal League had convinced major and minor league players to "jump" contracts over to the upstart league. Dunn sent an advance group under club house hand Scout Steinman and stayed behind to get a second group of Orioles out of town through the lingering snow.

Upon arrival, the Babe marveled at the elevator at the Hotel Lafayette in Fayetteville, riding it incessantly, and taking special pleasure in pulling his head in right before the automatic doors closed. Soon, Fayetteville was marveling at him. On March 7, Ruth hit a home run in practice so far that 38 years later, in 1952, 10,000 of the town's residents attended a ceremony in the rain to place a plaque where the ball landed.

In mid-March, George Herman Ruth became "Babe" Ruth. Pippen overheard Steinman allude to the kid as one of "Dunnie's babes" and found the perfect nickname for the teen-aged wonder. Later that same month Ruth shut down the major league Phillies and then the world champion Philadelphia A's in exhibitions. Just weeks removed from St. Mary's schoolyard and Ruth was shutting down the powerhouse A's. Baseball had never seen his like.

Dunn knew as much. In a letter to Brother Gilbert, he stated simply, "Brother, this fellow Ruth is the greatest young ballplayer who ever reported to a training camp."

Unfortunately for the manager/owner, time was running out on Ruth's stay with the Orioles before it ever began. The Terrapins opened to 30,000 fans and towering front-page headlines on April 13. The Orioles battled the New York Giants in an exhibition the same day before fewer than 1,000. Ruth won his first start later in April before perhaps 200 fans. Another win, a shutout over Rochester, had a paid crowd of 11.

Ironically Dunn undoubtedly had the better team but Hanlon's Terrapins had the better label, merited or not. On July 4, the Orioles were 47-22, firmly in first place, and Ruth had 14 wins. It didn't matter.

The Orioles were bleeding money every day; estimates were that the team was losing $1,000 a game. Dunn faced a simple but painful solution: sell players or lose his franchise, quickly. On July 10, 1914, 100 years ago today, pitcher Ernie Shore and catcher and captain Ben Egan were on a train north to Boston, sold to the Red Sox for an announced price of $25,000, although the true sum was probably less.

The House Ruth Helped Inspire, Oriole Park at Camden Yards (photo / T. Flynn/instagram)
Had Dunn and his Baltimore Orioles not been in such dire straits, it's likely he would have held onto Ruth for at least four years. In 1914 there was no affiliated minor league system, thus no promotion-on-demand directive coming from a parent to its farm team. Only a series of relationships between owners at the major and minor league levels existed, some closer than others. The Orioles would sell players at their market peak, often to Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. Dunn later held onto Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove for five years (including 25, 27, and 28 win seasons) and 111 wins before dealing him to Mack.

In the end the greatest Oriole ever to don the uniform, and the greatest find of Jack's Dunn career, was lost just three months into the season to a mid-summer fire sale. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Running: Louie Zamperini, War Hero and Olympian, 97

Louie Zamperini (photo / public domain)
Los Angeles - Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II hero, died this week at the age of 97. He succumbed to a battle with pneumonia fought over the last month of his life.

"Unbroken," the 2010 bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand, brought Zamperini's name and nearly unfathomable story of physical and mental perseverance to a modern audience. A movie of the same name is scheduled to be released later this year.

The Torrance, California native ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, best remembered in the States for the performance of Jesse Owens in discrediting Hitler's racial and national propaganda agendas. Zamperini competed in the 5k at the Olympics despite only several weeks of training at that distance. Although not medaling, his blistering last lap of 56 seconds caught the personal attention of Hitler and Zamperini reluctantly complied with the dictator's request for a congratulatory word with him.

At the same games, the talented but wild teen was nearly arrested for ripping down a Nazi flag on a drunken lark. He fooled his would be captors into thinking he was taking it down for a souvenir.

The 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to World War II, and Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps well prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the U.S. entry into combat in late 1941. There is speculation that had the War not so dramatically altered the course of his life, Zamperini might have been the first runner to break the four-minute mile. It's more than wishful contemplation; his mile mark of 4:08.3 while at USC in 1938-1939 held for fifteen years as the college standard (he had an even faster time, 4:07.6, indoors), and the 4:00 mile wasn't eclipsed until 1954.

In the Air Corps, Louie became a bombardier on the infamously difficult to navigate B-24 Liberator. Its nickname was the "Flying Brick." Ultimately the shortcomings of the B-24, and one especially flawed plane in particular, caught up with Zamperini and in May, 1943 his plane crashed into the Pacific while on a search mission for a downed pilot.

Only Zamperini and two fellow crew members survived the crash, and began a 47-day journey on a life raft, lacking ample food, water, and protection from the elements above and below them. Sharks were a constant threat and as the raft deflated and listed close to the water line, the predators became only more emboldened in their attempts to attack the men. Only two of the three survived the trip, Louie and pilot Russell "Phil" Phillips.

They finally approached land on a Pacific Island after drifting 2,000 miles, only to be captured by a Japanese patrol boat.

Their treatment in prison camp was brutal, and Zamperini was singled out for excruciating punishment from a sadistic prison guard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed "the Bird." The prisoners who survived the conditions increasingly grew concerned that, as the tide began to turn in the Allies' favor, they would be killed if the Japanese lost. Their fears were well-founded, the camp was located on what became known as Execution Island. Miraculously they were spared.

Understandably Zamperini struggled after the horrors he experienced during the war. Sleep came only with difficulty, he drank often and heavily, and he frequently fantasized about revenge upon the Bird. It was during the dire years of the late 1940's that he found his direction through visits to Billy Graham's 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. It proved a pivotal turn from disaster, and Zamperini in the ensuing years became an inspirational speaker and founded a camp for troubled youths, among many accomplishments. He also wed the former Cynthia Applewhite and they were married for more than 50 years, until her death in 2001. They had two children, Luke and Cynthia.

Ultimately, Zamperini forgave his wartime tormentors, some in person during a 1950 Tokyo visit to a prison where they were serving sentences for war crimes. He was even willing to forgive the Bird. Watanable refused to meet with Zamperini when he had the opportunity, in 1998 when Louie returned to Japan to carry the torch at the Nagano Winter Games.

Hillenbrand, who struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and spent 1,000's of hours in compiling his story despite being largely confined to bed, said upon his passing, "Farewell to the grandest most buoyant, most generous soul I ever knew. Thank you, Louie, for all you gave to me, to our country, and to the world..."

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...