Thursday, July 30, 2015

Two Former Navy Pitchers Make Good in the Pros

Former Navy ace and current St. Louis Cardinal, Mitch Harris (Photo / USNA)
Danville, VA - The American Sports Network this week featured an article I wrote about two Navy pitchers, Stephen Moore and Mitch Harris. Harris completed his service obligation with the Navy and worked his way up to the St. Louis Cardinals after spending two years in their farm system. Moore's story is just the opposite. He worked a brief stint with the Danville Braves this summer following graduation and before heading into his service tour.

One man has completed a nearly impossible journey to the bigs and the latter is poised to attempt it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Books: The Classic Mantle

The Classic Mantle (Photo  / Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
New York - The worst baseball decision I ever made, I made early. It was the summer of 1972, I was six, and I thought it a fine idea to take some of my older brother's best baseball cards and tape or glue them into my self-styled "scrapbook."

I didn't quite understand the premise of scrapbooks, but I knew mine was going to include some great baseball cards. Among the victims was a 1966 Mickey Mantle. 1966 was late in the career of Mantle  he retired after the 1968 season  but with the baseball card hyperinflation of the 1990's all things Mantle later took on significant value.

One of my better baseball decisions in recent years thankfully also involved the Mick. I picked up a copy of The Classic Mantle by Buzz Bissinger & Marvin E. Newman. Bissinger contributes the text and Newman's adds a collection of his nearly-perfect vintage photographs of Mantle from his playing days.

The photographs are stunning and describing that at length would do little to convey the notion. Newman, now 87, contributed to many publications during his career, including Sports Illustrated, Life, Newsweek, Look and Smithsonian. He attended Brooklyn College at the age of 16 to study photography and took his lessons well.

Bissinger's words are compelling. He writes concisely - The Classic Mantle is a 144-page affair with 50 of Newman's photos - and somehow manages to be sentimentally detached. There are no efforts to smooth over Mantle's dual vices of alcoholism and infidelity, but there is a conveyance of Mantle's often pervading self-disdain that clearly contributed to them.

A great strength of the book is Bissinger's access to the considerable time that sportscaster Bob Costas spent with Mick in the last years of Mantle's life. Costas conveys, via Bissinger, Mantle's feelings about himself in a passage in the latter part of the book.

          One night Mantle went to Costas's house in St. Louis for dinner. Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial was there. Mickey had not entered the Betty Ford Clinic yet, and out of deference to Musial, he had maybe one drink. It was one of those wonderful evenings of baseball storytelling between two baseball immortals. After Musial left, Mantle remarked on what a great person Musial was, but Mantle believed he was the one with more natural ability. "Stan had a better career than me because he's a better man than me," he told Costas that night. The shivering acknowledgement of that couldn't help but permeate the toughest bones of the most suspicious and cynical, except for the few who would always propagate Mantle's lost potential.

The Friday Night Lights author handles the topic at an appropriate depth to accompany the pictures without rehashing game-by-game accounts that are the undoing of many a baseball book. This is not a definitive history of the slugger's life nor is it intended to be.

A disproportionate number of Newman's stellar photos are from the earliest years of Mantle's 18-season career. While Bissinger describes Mick's potential as realized, yet blunted by injury and personal behavior, we see a constant series of photos of Mantle in the bloom of youth to poignantly suggest that which was lost.

With each spring, a flood tide of new baseball books rolls in and I typically let it roll back out and stick to those I already own. Although I found it three years after publication, it was worth wading in to pluck this gem out of the wash. - T. Flynn

Thursday, July 23, 2015

UAB Back on the Gridiron in 2017


UAB Head Coach Bill Clark will return to the sideline in 2017 (Photo / Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)
Birmingham - The American Sports Network ran an article yesterday I wrote on the UAB Blazers cutting their football program in December 2014 and announcing its planned return in a June statement this year. 

Just earlier this week, the University said the team would be back on the field in 2017. - Tom Flynn

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Maryland's Stewart on Recruiting Trail for NAIA's Asbury Eagles

The Asbury University Eagles were 6-4 in their inaugural season (Photo / Asbury Athletics)
Wilmore, KY - Josh Stewart is a Maryland native and the current head lacrosse coach of Kentucky's Asbury University, located roughly 15 miles to the southwest of Lexington.

As an undergrad, Stewart was a goalie for Pennsylvania's perennially strong Messiah College lacrosse team. His Eagles compete in the NAIA and Asbury's top man is currently busy on the recruiting trail for the 2016 season and beyond. We caught up with him briefly for some thoughts on his program, and the NAIA's early efforts to gain a presence in the collegiate lacrosse world.

TF: Where did you grow up in Maryland? 

Stewart: I grew up in Carroll County and played for Francis Scott Key High School (2A) and then for the Central Maryland Lacrosse Club in the summer. I played in the first two CMD summer seasons.

TF: At what age did you first start playing? What was your position?

Stewart: I started playing lacrosse very early on – maybe first or second grade – and I was always a bigger kid so they looked at me and said "You're going to be a goalie." I just took it and ran with it, playing up in age and getting to see better action earlier than most kids my age.

We had so many kids playing in my age group that we had two rec teams at each level that fed our high school which is maybe why we were so successful when I was there. We all knew each other and had played together for six years before high school started.

TF: How did you hear about Asbury or Asbury hear about you? 

Stewart: I was the assistant coach at Messiah College at the time and one of the guys that was helping with the team, Rob Pepper, sent me the job posting for the Asbury position. He said he knew some people at Asbury and would be a reference and they were starting a program.

I looked at him in all seriousness and told him that no one played lacrosse in Kentucky. But I sent my resume in and fell in love with the town, the school and wanted to be a part of it.

TF: You're on the road recruiting a lot right now, how's that going? 

Stewart: Recruiting is going well, but very tasking at times when I'm on the road for three straight weeks and my family is back in Kentucky. We Skype often and I get a lot of phone calls from my daughters but they understand that I'm doing my job and they love the end result of watching my boys play.

With the NAIA so new to lacrosse, and Asbury a small private school in Kentucky, my job is to educate the players I see week in and week out about both.

I believe that both the NAIA and Asbury are great institutions and I want the players I come into contact with to know that. Whether they choose Asbury or not is not my decision and I hope they find the right fit in the end. I think it helps when I can provide these future college student-athletes with knowledge about other opportunities than the ones they have in front of them everyday.

The Eagles on attack (Photo / Asbury Athletics)
TF: What would you describe Asbury like as far as the location, field and general environment?

Stewart: Asbury is a great place not only to go to school but just to be around. It's a small Christian school that can be a little unusual from the outside looking in to most of the players I come into contact with but once I get players on campus to meet me and the team they normally feel right at home and get along with my players great.

They're a great group. The town of Wilmore sits just south of Lexington and right in the heart of the bluegrass. It's beautiful here and the people are awesome. Our athletic facilities sit alone at the back of campus and the Luce Center acts as the hub for all the athletic programs. It seems like each year we add something to the athletic facilities or upgrade existing ones so it's an exciting time for Asbury Athletics.

TF: I think you're looking for an assistant coach, how is that going?

Stewart: I am looking for one. I want a guy that wants to come in and continue to help build this program and facilitate the growth of the young men on my team. We're not all about winning  – while we definitely want to win – and it takes a special person to know and see both sides of what we are doing.

We want to win on and off the field and produce successful men who will become great people in the workplace, husbands, dads, and so on.

It definitely helps if the guy we bring in can recruit and develop the players on the field, too. [laughing]

TF: What do you think about the new NAIA invitational?

Stewart: I believe wholeheartedly in the NAIA and you don't hear much about it growing up in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic like I did, especially since there was no lacrosse to speak of from the NAIA really before this year as an entity.

The amount of money that the NAIA gives nationally for athletic scholarships is unreal and it's great for those student-athletes needing some help to attend school and want to play lacrosse. It's a great step for the game as a whole in my opinion. The NAIA Invitational is the first step in helping grow the game even more at the college level. It's a tremendous step for the game as a whole.

Lacrosse will become an invitational sport in 2016 (Photo / NAIA)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Photos: Myrtle Beach Tops Salem, 8-7

Myrtle Beach Pelicans vs. Salem Red Sox, 06.30.2015 (Photo / T. Flynn)
June 30, 2015 (Canada Day)
Myrtle Beach - It's a story that plays out every night, all summer long, in hundreds of American towns. On the last day of June, some of our family made it to a nine-inning chapter in one  Myrtle Beach.

A hodge-podge mix of our baseball-enamored relatives all gathered in the leftfield bleachers under the lengthening shade of a weathered green metal roof dented with the drop and roll of a thousand foul balls.

(Photo / T Flynn)
A breeze that never found its way to the centerfield flagpole paid us regular visits, and we spat Old Bay-doused sunflower seeds onto the concrete. If the gust came along at the right time, the seeds went off toward home plate of their own accord.

There were no nearby fans, so we spread out and got up when we wanted. We drifted into banter, ignored the game, cheered the game, stood, stretched, and drifted back to banter again.

(Photo / T Flynn)
To remember the night, an 8-7 Pelicans victory over the visiting Salem Red Sox, I took some shots. Rather than have them gather dust on my computer, I wanted to get some out here. The Pelicans put on a great show and obliged us with a victory. Gathered here are a few moments captured from the game. - Tom 


(Photo / T.Flynn)

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...