Beyond the Stadium

What Plays Out Beyond the Game

What’s in a Medal?

I have always found the Olympics, whether winter or summer, to be immensely entertaining for one reason: It’s sense of unity. Countries from across the world forget the political nonsense hovering over them and join in a celebration of skill. For a few short weeks we remember how fun and rewarding something as simple as a game can be.

That is why the issue of medals is so distracting. Canada invested millions of dollars in an effort to “Own the Podium”. They burned resources that could have been used elsewhere and treated foreign athletes unfairly. Everything became about who had the better skis and most aerodynamic suits.

When it became clear Canada would not claim the most medals, the success of the United States  shifted from enjoyable to boastful. Suddenly, American athletes have begun mocking Canada and flaunting their own prowess. No performance matters for viewers unless a gold medal comes along with it. Americans have begun to miss the point of the Olympic Games.

In truth, medals should be far from the top of the list of concerns for competing countries. The sheer joy and excitement of participating in such a massive event is reward enough for most of the athletes there. It takes just as much courage to shrug off a crash and come back in another event as it does to win a gold and be expected to repeat.

So I say forget about the rampant patriotism. Start focusing on the amazing stories many of the foreign athletes have. Savor an American (or Canadian, or German, or whoever) victory,  but don’t lament when an underdog country digs out a victory. The Olympics is about loving the celebrations, the surprises, and the crazy performances that happen along the way.

So I say; Go World.

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February 27, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | , , | Leave a comment

Pitchers and Catchers: The True Sign of Spring

Forget about Punxsutawney Phil. Forget about the whole “six more weeks of winter” nonsense. Spring is here, heralded by the arrival of the first batch of pitchers and catchers.

With these players come the first wave of new baseball rumors, speculation, injury reports and unnecessary votes of confidence. Fantasy baseball roars back to life and friends/bitter rivals begin to ponder their keepers and tinker with draft lists. What more could a baseball fan want?

Personally, I look forward to this day just as much as the season opener. Players are eager to talk about the season, even those who ended theirs in a flaming-car-wreck fashion. It seems as though they, along with the general staff, are still loose and not yet in “season mode”.

The A.L. East alone provides its own cacophony of topics. Here is a mere smattering  of the stories that will unfold during Spring Training:

The saga that is the Red Sox rotation.

Boston already had the potential for the next Big Three (Beckett, Buchholz and Lester). The addition of John Lackey serves to make the rotation even more imposing and versatile. The issue is not with these aces, but with who is going to lock up the fifth spot.

One option is the ever-present Tim Wakefield, who is eternally underrated. Though he has stated he is happy with the Sox, he has also been clear about his animosity towards a backup role.

The other candidate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is a story unto himself. He recently revealed his battle with “upper back soreness” to the media, furthering his reputation as a less-than-forthcoming player.

The youth movement in the Tampa Bay camp.

Like the other teams in the A.L. East, the Rays rely on young, skilled players to succeed. Their average age of 27.6 may not be the lowest, but they have no players over the age of 35. Their young pitching staff needs to prove it can handle the rigors of a full season (especially David Price and James Shields, the latter of whom faltered slightly in his ’09 campaign).

Another issue is who to place at second base and right field. Locking down Ben Zobrist at second would help him focus on his batting but would also decrease his incredible contributions at other positions.

Life after Halladay for the Blue Jays.

Even with Roy Halladay, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season, the Jays had no chance of hanging with the heavy hitters in the A.L. East. Ricky Romero logged some impressive performances early in the year, but faltered later in the season with ERA’s over five in both August and September. Scott Richmond recently came down with a shoulder injury, setting him behind in his training. The bullpen is shaky as well, with Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg showing some inconsistency.

        Of course, many analysts have pegged the Yankees as the team to beat (surprise, surprise). Their success, though, depends on the ability of their superior offense to overcome some two tough pitching staffs in Boston and Tampa Bay.

        So much can change during the course of Spring Training, which is exactly why this time of year is so exciting. So let the (exhibition) games begin, and may we forget about Phil’s shadowy prediction.

        February 19, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        New Premium on Pitching

        There was a time when people believed Major League Baseball was immune to the ebb and flow of the economy. It was only a matter of time, though, before this Great Recession showed us that even America’s great institution was not invulnerable. After this off-season, a new truth has appeared to emerge: Only MLB pitchers are immune to the economy.

        Tim Lincecum is the latest in a long string of pitchers to sign a lucrative contract during the winter months. The lanky 25-year-old pocketed a two-year, $23 million dollar deal that is loaded with extra incentives.

        Twenty-something phenoms Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez recently earned contracts of $80 million and $78 million, respectively. Both deals are of the five year variety, locking them into their clubs throughout their prime.

        The Red Sox kicked off the sign-an-ace-to-a-huge-deal trend with the surprise inking of John Lackey in December. Lackey, 31, netted a 5-year, $82.5 million deal that set the tone for pitchers looking to sign.

        Deals like these are hinting at a new strategy in the baseball world of “pitch first, score runs later.” The days of one-dimensional sluggers grabbing bajillion dollar deals seem to be, if not ending, certainly slowing down.

        Players like Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, who several years ago would have had money thrown at them, are both ardently searching for employment. At this point it would be surprising if Damon got more than a one-year deal. Yes, both these players are 36 years old, but that never stopped desperate teams in the past.

        With teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees boasting strong rotations front-to-back, other teams have realized the importance of young, reliable pitching. Position players with a spark in their bat can be found all over baseball, but a pitcher who can lead their team for years is a rarity that cannot be passed up.

        February 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment