Friday, May 20, 2016

An interesting year

As my junior year at OHS winds down, so is my blog. It sure was a lot of fun, and I hope to do one more  post by the beginning of next week. So many big moments in sport have happened over the past 5 or so months, so I created a timeline to put it into perspective (including links to ALL of my blog posts, in case you missed any):

December 18th, 2015: Detroit Tigers were in the midst of making big offseason moves (They later went on to sign OF Justin Upton)
December 26: 18/38ths of the way through the Premier League season, Leicester City sits just two points clear of Arsenal at the top of the league (Everyone thinks Leicester is bound to falter)
New Year's Eve: Michigan State is embarrassed by Alabama in the college football semifinal
January 24, 2016: After a run of three straight losses, Denzel Valentine (19 pts, 14 reb) and Bryn Forbes (24pts) led #11 Michigan State to a victory over #7 Maryland.
February 7: Broncos defeat the Panthers 24-10 in the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning's last game.
February 14: Arsenal defeats Leicester City on a last-gasp Danny Welbeck goal, pulling 2 points behind first place.
February 16: The U.S. women's soccer team gets three wins to start off qualification for the Summer Olympics (and they will be playing in Rio this August)
February 29: The Tigers were playing their spring training opener, so I wrote a post about their legendary announcer Ernie Harwell.
March 13: MSU wins the Big Ten Basketball Tournament for the 5th time.
March 16: I did a preview of this year's March Madness basketball tournament, and picked Michigan State to win it all!
March 18 5pm: #15 seed Middle Tennessee State knocks of MSU in a historic first round upset.
April 8: "Detroit Tigers off to a Cracking Start" - The Tigers open the season with three wins, which is surely a sign of things to come?
Mid-April: Pistons are swept by Cleveland in the NBA first round and the Red Wings fall to the Tampa Bay Lighnting in the NHL first round.
May 2: Leicester City wins the Premier League defying the 5000-1 odds.
May 7: Nyquist wins the Kentucky Derby, claiming the first leg of the Triple Crown.
May 10: After attending my first Lansing United soccer match, I took a look at the flawed state of the American soccer system.
Currently: The Detroit Tigers are having a tough season with a 19-21 start, and need to turn around the pitching staff (other than Zimmermann, Verlander and the new Aussie they called up).

It has been disappointing times of late for my favorite teams. I hope the Detroit Tigers can right the ship and make a run at the playoffs, but I'm thinking that manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee should be fired. Ausmus may have a graduated with an A.B. in Government from Dartmouth, but his baseball smarts haven't proven up to snuff. It is time for a changing of the guard. Speaking of which, my beloved Arsenal fell well short of the title again, for the 12th straight season. Longtime manager Arsene Wenger's techniques once placed him among the best, but now he hasn't really caught up with the evolution of modern soccer. He is set to return for 2016-17, but current New York City FC manager Patrick Vieira, who formerly played at Arsenal, could be candidate to take over past next season. The Lions are, well, the same old Lions, and the Pistons should have another decent team next year. My best hope is for next season's MSU football and basketball teams with their talented young cores.

Lastly, I will leave you with some viewership statistics for my blog:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The (Continued) Growth Of Soccer In America

Soccer has rapidly grown in a popularity in America. In 2014, an ESPN poll showed that professional soccer ranked second to pro football in popularity among 12- to 17-year-olds. Major League Soccer (MLS), the top-level soccer league in the United States, was founded in 1996 off the success of the 1994 World Cup. Currently a twenty-team league, MLS teams' attendance are threatening baseball and hockey teams in their respective cities.

The successful platform of the big European soccer leagues stems from their rich history. The promotion and relegation system is how most of the world's domestic soccer leagues operate, but the American system is different. Teams only move to the MLS when there are more expansion teams added, but these are only to the old team linked by ownership and team name and barely resemble the prior roster and coaching staff. Prominent "pro/rel" activists such as Ted Westervelt have been leading the push for change to the American soccer league setup, but it seems unlikely the MLS owners would budge, due to a potential drop off in income. I believe the current system is hurting the popularity of Major League Soccer, as opposed to the more popular European leagues which capture over a million U.S. TV viewers each week. AFC Bournemouth, for example, was playing in the fourth-tier "League Two" in 2009, and worked their way up to the top level English Premier League starting this season. Now imagine if a team from Lansing, Michigan could do the same...

Lansing United (blue and white) takes on Ann Arbor FC in a season
opening exhibition [Personal Photo]
Lansing United is now in their third season and they look set to be playing in the NPSL, three levels below MLS, for many years to come. Lansing United plays against other teams from the NPSL Great Lakes West Conference, and in 2014 won the league and played in the NPSL national semifinals. Most of the roster consist of college players, with a few older players mixed in. I think it is important to support a local team  - that is why I root for the Detroit sports teams as well. This is opposed the type of fan that roots for Manchester United, the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Notre Dame football. It is easy to root for historically successful teams. As much as love my Arsenal (soccer team based in north London), I feel more of a connection to my local team. Lansing United had 556 fans at their season opener last Saturday, but had over 1,000 fans for their game against Detroit City FC last season. They are still a new team looking for more fans, so I'd suggest taking a look at the schedule, and thinking of going to a game.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Detroit Tigers off to a Cracking Start

Comerica Park in Detroit, USA.
Comerica Park in Detroit, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Although it sure didn't feel like baseball weather here, Tuesday was Tigers Opening Day in sunny Miami. Justin Verlander was on the bump against a Marlins side looking to improve on their 2015 season. Manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds were brought in to help change a team that had the 2nd worst offense and a respectable record last year. Who knows what means Bonds will use to help the Miami hitters. Verlander took a no-hitter into the sixth and only gave up three runs. Detroit seemed in good hands for the ninth inning with a 7-4 lead, and new closer Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez coming in from the bullpen. After the Marlins tied it up in the 9th, Ian Kinsler delivered a game-winning single in extra innings.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, formerly of the Marlins, had 4 RBIs to power the Tigers' 7-3 win on Wednesday. The Tigers then had an off-day to travel home for Friday's home opener against the Yankees. It was a chilly 38 degrees for Jordan Zimmermann's first pitch, and baseball had officially begun Detroit. Zimmerman went seven strong innings, and Miguel Cabrera's 7th inning homer was the dagger in a four to nothing win.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

March Madness 2016: Anything Could Happen

It is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting time on the sports calendar: March Madness. The culmination of the NCAA basketball season has arrived. My team, Michigan State received a favorable draw, having the weakest #1 seed, Virginia in their region, and not having a potential matchup against #1 overall Kansas. Controversy was raised by Spartans' fans over MSU remaining a #2 seed, even after winning the Big Ten Tournament, but I think it was for the better.

The Spartans would have been the fourth-choice team at #1, likely headed out to the West regional, with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in Anaheim, California. But, since they are the first-choice #2 seed, they get the first two rounds in St. Louis and the next two in Chicago. After a long season, and three games in three days last weekend, the reduced travel can only help out the team.

I would say that MSU and Kansas have the strongest teams this year led by seniors Denzel Valentine at MSU and Kansas' Perry Ellis. The lineup depth of both teams should be a key asset throughout the tournament. Of course, I picked a few upsets. #12 over #5 is fairly common, so I have Arkansas-Little Rock and Yale getting out of the first round. Yale has the benefit of extra rest since the Ivy League has no conference tournament, and is ranked #30 in the KenPom ratings. Duke is only #22 and seems to get overrated solely due to name recognition.

How to watch/listen:

------------Television: CBS, TBS, TNT, TruTV
------------Radio: SiriusXM Satellite Radio Ch. 84, Westwood One
------------Mobile app: NCAA March Madness app for Apple and Android devices has live TV and radio broadcasts of every tournament game

FIRST ROUND SCHEDULE AND COMMENTATORS

Thursday 3/17:
12:15 - (13)UNC Wilmington vs. (4)Duke, CBS - Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Evan Washburn
West - Providence, RI
12:40 - (9)Butler vs. (8)Texas Tech, truTV - Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson
Midwest - Raleigh, NC
1:30 - (9)Connecticut vs. (8)Colorado, TNT - Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
South - Des Moines, IA
2:00 - (13)Iona vs. (4)Iowa State, TBS - Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
Midwest - Denver
2:45 - (12)Yale vs. (5)Baylor, CBS - Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Evan Washburn
West - Providence, RI
3:10 - (16)Hampton vs. (1)Virginia, truTV - Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson
Midwest - Raleigh, NC
4:00 - (16)Austin Peay vs. (1)Kansas, TNT - Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
South - Des Moines, IA
4:30 - (12)Little Rock vs. (5)Purdue, TBS - Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
Midwest - Denver
6:50 - (14)Buffalo vs. (3)Miami, TNT - Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Evan Washburn
South - Providence, RI
7:10 - (12)Chattanooga vs. (5)Indiana, CBS - Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
East - Des Moines, IA
7:20 - (16)Florida Gulf Coast vs. (1)North Carolina, TBS - Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson
East - Raleigh, NC
7:27 - (14)Fresno State vs. (3)Utah, truTV - Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
Midwest - Denver
9:20 - (11)Wichita State vs. (6)Arizona, TNT - Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Evan Washburn
South - Providence, RI
9:40 - (13)Stony Brook vs. (4)Kentucky, CBS - Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
East - Des Moines, IA
9:50 - (9)Providence vs. (8)USC, TBS - Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson
East - Raleigh, NC
9:57 - (11)Gonzaga vs. (6)Seton Hall, truTV - Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
Midwest - Denver

Friday 3/18:
12:15 - (10)Syracuse vs. (7)Dayton, CBS - Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson
Midwest - St. Louis
12:40 - (15)UNC Asheville vs. (2)Villanova, truTV - Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
South - Brooklyn
1:30 - (10)VCU vs. (7)Oregon State, TNT - Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Jaime Maggio
West - Oklahoma City
2:00 - (13)Hawaii vs. (4)California, TBS - Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude
South - Spokane, WA
2:45 - (15)Middle Tennessee vs. (2)Michigan State, CBS - Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson
Midwest - St. Louis
3:10 - (10)Temple vs. (7)Iowa, truTV - Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
South - Brooklyn
4:00 - (15)CS Bakersfield vs. (2)Oklahoma, TNT - Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Jaime Maggio
West - Oklahoma City
4:30 - (12)South Dakota State vs. (5)Maryland, TBS - Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude
South - Spokane, WA
6:50 - (10)Pittsburgh vs. (7)Wisconsin, TNT - Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson
East - St. Louis
7:10 - (14)Stephen F. Austin vs. (3)West Virginia, CBS - Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
East - Brooklyn
7:20 - (14)Green Bay vs. (3)Texas A&M, TBS - Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Jaime Maggio
West - Oklahoma City
7:27 - (16)HC/SOU winner vs. (1)Oregon, truTV - Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude
West - Spokane, WA
9:20 - (15)Weber State vs. (2)Xavier, TNT - Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson
East - St. Louis
9:40 - (11)TUL/MICH winner vs. (6)Notre Dame, CBS - Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
East - Brooklyn
9:50 - (11)Northern Iowa vs. (6)Texas, TBS - Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Jaime Maggio
West - Oklahoma City
9:57 - (9)Cincinnati vs. (8)Saint Joseph's, truTV - Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude
West - Spokane, WA

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Voice Of The Turtle

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth,
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
-Song Of Solomon 2:11-12 
It is one of the best times of the year for a baseball fan, as today marked the start of Spring Training games. Longtime time radio announcer Ernie Harwell once uttered a bible excerpt that become synonymous with the start of Tigers baseball. You could say that Harwell was the "Voice of The Turtle" heard on the radio throughout Michigan for nearly 50 years. Ernie announced the last two World Series titles for the Detroit Tigers, and called numerous playoff games nationally for CBS Radio and ESPN Radio. Nowadays commentators mostly receive negative attention, but the great ones make the games even better than they are.

From Harwell's era, only Vin Scully of the Dodgers, at 88, is still calling games. Ernie was known for his homerun call, "That one is long gone," among other catchphrases. Tigers fans were outraged when he was removed from broadcasts in 1993, and due to popular demand, he was brought back in 1995. Harwell retired in 2002, and returned as a guest announcer through 2007. In September 2009, Ernie Harwell was diagnosed with incurable bile duct cancer, and passed away the following May, aged 92. Harwell showed his wherewithal, up until shortly before his death he was still exercising regularly. He may be before my time, but I think it is important to recognize the career of the great Mr. Ernie Harwell.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

U.S. Women's Soccer off to a Flaming Hot Start in 2016 on the Road to Rio


It was a magical summer of 2015 for the U.S. women's soccer team as they captured the World Cup, and the hearts of many Americans, in a 5-2 victory against Japan. This July, they are looking to defend their Olympic gold, but will face competition from Germany, Japan, England, and the host country Brazil. Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the women's Olympic qualifying tournament, where the top two teams advance to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. breezed through the group stage with a 5-0 win against Costa Rica, a late 1-0 victory against Mexico on a Carli Lloyd penalty kick, and a 10-0 throttling of Puerto Rico.

The roster has changed, with only 13 out of 20 players from the World  Cup team. Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx, and Lori Chalupny all hung up their cleats this past December, while Christine Rampone is sidelined after minor knee surgery. Megan Rapinoe, tore her ACL two months ago and is questionable for the Olympic roster. Rapinoe is an important midfielder, and hopefully will be recovered for Rio.

We love the American stars - Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, but some new young talents have been called up recently. Crystal Dunn, playing as a striker, scored five goals in the last match against Costa Rica. At only 17, Mallory Pugh is the youngest U.S. senior team player ever, and has already scored a goal in a January exhibition. Pugh is facing the challenge of being on the best women's soccer team in the world, as well as studying for Calculus. She currently has plans to attend college at UCLA, just a few miles from the U.S. Soccer training facility in Carson.

The U.S. still have more to prove in the semifinal against Canada this Friday. The Canadians are 11th ranked in the world and have won their first two matches of the qualifiers. Teams like Mexico and Canada are the quality that will be faced in the Olympics, so this match will be a true test of strength for the American ladies.

Upcoming Schedule:
February 19: Semifinals: USA v Canada (Olympic qualifying at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX). 8:30pm. NBCSN
February 21: Finals (Olympic qualifying at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX). 5:00pm. NBC Sports Live Extra (Replay on NBCSN at 11pm)
March 3: England (SheBelieves Cup at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL). 7:30pm. FS1.
March 6: France (SheBelieves Cup at Nissan Stadium, Nashville. TN). 3:00pm. ESPN3.
March 9: Germany (SheBelieves Cup at FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.) 7:30pm. ESPN3

August 3-19: Olympics. NBCUniversal networks.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

MSU Basketball Back On Winning Track

Credit: Matthew Mitchell / MSU Athletic Communications
Michigan State men's basketball team has been in a bit of a slump, where they went on a run of three straight losses. The first was to Iowa by 17 points, before back-to-back one point losses against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Bryn Forbes really underperformed during this stretch --- he only scored 2 points against Iowa. Matt Costello picked up an ankle injury against Nebraska and Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis. It wasn't about to get easier against #7 ranked Maryland, led by star point guard Melo Trimble. ESPN's College Gameday was at Breslin on Saturday morning and they sent their lead announcers there as well. Denzel Valentine had 19 points and 14 rebounds, and Bryn Forbes was the leading scorer with 25. Neither was MSU's player of the game. Michigan State center Matt Costello was expected to be limited with his ankle injury, but had 15 points and 12 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards. It was a statement win for the Spartans on the featured national broadcast. They currently sit as a #3 seed, according to the Bracket Matrix, and set #11 in the latest AP poll. The Spartans take on Northwestern next in a very winnable game --- Thursday at 9pm (too late!) on ESPN.

The MSU women's team has been having a strong season as well. They have a 14-4 record and are ranked 21st in the country by the AP writers. Their leading scorer is the senior Aerial Powers with 18.8 ppg. She is also the leading rebounder with 8.8 per game. The Spartan ladies have a big game coming up against #5 Maryland this Monday night at 6pm.