Thursday, April 26, 2012

We're All Sooners Now

My daughter has made it official: she will attend, beginning in August, the University of Oklahoma at Norman.

She had hoped to go to Michigan State and we had hoped she'd go to Michigan State as it is only an hour away, but OU offered her a much better deal than did MSU and about that I must confess I am a bit bitter.  Here is exactly the kind of kid you want to keep in your state and we have to send her to Oklahoma because they have basically told her that she can attend for free.  If she went to State, she'd come out on the other end around 40 large in debt. Alabama also made her a great offer (I mean like, free, too) and I was hoping she'd go there because it's "only" a 12-hour drive from here to there while OU is more like 16-17 hours by car, but she visited the Oklahoma campus a month or so ago and she just loved it there.

And there is this.  You know the little covered wagon that comes out onto the field whenever the Sooners score a touchdown?  The "Sooner Schooner?"  It is pulled by two ponies named, of course, "Boomer" and "Sooner."  It is in her deal with the University of Oklahoma that as a National Merit Scholar she can go to the stable and pet them any time she wants to.  I am convinced that because of this, because of the ponies, that the University of Alabama, in spite of having the nicest campus I've ever seen (we went down for a visit, she and I, a couple of weeks ago) never had a chance.

While I am delighted because I know she will be happy at Oklahoma and will get a first-rate education and it not only makes fiscal sense it is in a very real sense a gift from God, this is at the same time the toughest thing I've ever had to go through.  Our daughter is leaving.  Our time together is measured now in days. She departs May 22 to go on a national tour this summer with a marching band and is due on the OU campus the day after that tour ends in August to try out for "The Pride of Oklahoma," which is what they call their marching band over there.  So, as I say, she leaves on May 22 and then she'll be gone.  How did this happen? She was just born!  And, what am I going to do now?

Norman, Oklahoma is 1,050 miles away.  I think of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"...

Sail on Silver Girl, 
Sail on by. 
Your time has come to shine, 
All of your dreams are on their way. 

See how they shine!
And, if you need a friend,
I'm sailing right behind 
Like a bridge over troubled water, 
I will ease your mind.
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind.

And then I cry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leyland Smiling About Smyly

The headline of this article is untrue.  Jim Leyland rarely smiles.  Not even when the subject is a 22-year old second year pro who by all rights should be pitching where every other second year pro pitches, which is to say, "A" ball.  Instead, the 22-year-old to whom we here refer, Drew Smyly, is impressing here in Detroit at the Major League level.

He's impressing me, at least.  Smyly held the Texas Rangers, only the best-hitting team in the American League, to a single run here the day before yesterday and he should have gotten the win but the Tigers gifted the Rangers the game-tying run in the 8th which meant Smyly was no longer the pitcher of record and he took a no decision and the Tigs wound up losing in 11 and that is why they enter player here tonight TIED for the AL Central lead with the Chicago White Sox who are really pitching well these days what with that guy Phil Humber tossing the perfect game Saturday (against the same Mariners who are town here tonight) and with Jake Peavy throwing a 107-pitch complete game shutout last night in Oakland and so on.  At any rate, after the off-day Monday, Smyly's impressive outing was one of the main topics of discussion at The Gaggle today.  (The Gaggle™, you may or may not know, is the daily gathering of the media in the office of Tigers Manager Jim Leyland).

I could tell you about it, but let's try something new, shall we?  How would you like to listen to Mr. Leyland yourself?  That would be great, wouldn't it?  I've been working on my (not-so) mad blogging skills, so let's see if this works.  The next thing you see should be an little media player, containing ACTUAL GAGGLE AUDIO!   And, when you hear the question being asked in the middle, that would be me.  Anyway, here's Jim Leyland on Drew Smyly...

(I was going to write more afterwards,  but it was so much of a hassle just getting the audio posted that I need a break...)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Slacker

I attended my first gaggle of the 2012 baseball season today.  The Gaggle as you may or may not know, is the group presser that Tigers Manager Jim Leyland holds in his office three-and-a-half hours before every game.  It's a pain getting to the ballpark that early, but if you are serious about covering the ballclub, you have to know what the manager is thinking and saying, and to know that, you have to be at The Gaggle.

I've been admittedly remiss in this regard.  The Red Wings had been keeping me busy (not a problem anymore, right?) and I've been travelling the country visiting college campuses with my daughter.  I missed the entire series against Tampa Bay last week for example because we were in Tuscaloosa seeing what the University of Alabama had to offer.

On top of it all, I was a few minutes late to today's gaggle, and I can thank God for that.  Not in the sense of the "thank God" you say when that three-footer you have for par drops, but "thank God" in the sense of, "Thanks, God, for having church run so long this morning that I was a little late in getting to Comerica Park.

I tried to sneak in, but it's a tough sneak when you have to get a tape recorder on the manager's desk when he's sitting right there with his feet resting upon that desk.  Sure enough, as soon as I got my recorder in position, Mr. Leyland (that's what I call him, Mr. Leyland) looks up and says, "Where the heck have you been?"  I was not prepared for this.  In spite of the fact that I am a Gaggle regular--or was last year at least when I hardly missed a one--not once ever has Mr. Leyland referred to me by name. I thought, although I ask plenty of questions, that I had sort of blended into the woodwork as far as he was concerned.  I sort of mumbled something about how I'd been busy with the Wings and my daughter and went back to trying to blend into the woodwork.  Leyland said, "I just want to know I missed you," which I know in my heart is not, strictly speaking, at all true, and I said, "I missed you, too."  Which I had.  I enjoy the give and take at The Gaggle.

Since I was there and all, I had to ask Mr. Leyland why Justin Verlander pitched the night half of yesterday's Day/Night two-game-on-the-same-day deal we had going on here at the stadium since his ERA during the day is about half-a-run lower than it is for night games.  (I can't call it a doubleheader because so to do would violate the Rules of Baseball which plainly state that a doubleheader is two games on the same day played in immediate succession of one another.)  It turns out that Leyland, who first had to say, "It worked out, didn't it?" which it had, of course, had asked Verlander who told him, "Whatever you want Skip." (That's what he calls him, "Skip".)  Leyland then asked Tigers Pitching Coach Jeff Jones who he wanted to pitch which game, and Jones said he preferred to have Verlander go at night.  Leyland declined to elaborate and say why Jones felf that way.  So, I didn't get the answer I wanted, the one which would have satisfied my statistical curiosity, but at least we got some background on what went into the decision and we got to hear from Leyland, and not for the first time, an outstanding example of "what makes [Verlander] such a good teammate."

We're about ready to start the game here.  I'll be busy.  I'm doing updates starting at 2 o'clock eastern from the ballpark.  If you want to turn in, here's where

I hope I don't suck, but it can't be ruled out.  It is live radio, after all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Motor City Fans Bid Wings Adieu

On the morning of February 21, the Detroit Red Wings sat atop the National Hockey League standings with 84 points.  Today, two months to the day later, they stand not at all, the first team eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How did they fall so hard, so far and so fast?  

There were nights last season, several of them in fact, when from my seat in the Press Box they looked so good, so dominant that it was actually hard to believe that they team they were playing against was a fellow member club in the NHL.

That seems so long ago now.  

Since that day only two months ago when the Wings were first overall—a date which perhaps not so incidentally coincides with the day Pavel Datsyuk underwent knee surgery—Detroit, including playoffs, went 8-16-3 (.352).  Up until that point, the Wings had been 41-17-2 (.700).

Datsuk missed 11 games after getting his knee scoped.  He would score, including the post-season when he had one, only 4 goals the rest of the way.
Not that he was alone, exactly. 

In the series against the Nashville Predators the Red Wings scored 9 goals in 5 games.  Their leading scorers, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, each had 3 points.  Three.  Five others had 2 points, which means that of the other 12 Wings who appeared in the series, none had more than a single (stinking) point.  And six of them had no points at all. (7 if you count Darren Helm, but you shouldn’t since he was injured in Game 1.)  Niklas Lidstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Justin Abdelkader were among those who failed to get their name on Detroit’s playoff scoresheet.  

No Red Wing not named Juri Hudler scored in the final two games of the Nashville series.  That’s how bad it was.

I’ll say this much.  It wasn’t from lack of trying.  Detroit outshot Nashville 160-116 in the series.  The problem was that Predators goalie Pekke Rinne stopped 94.4% of those Detroit shots.  At the other end, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard stopped 88.8% of the shots he faced. (His regular season save percentage had been 92%.)

But, you know how sports are.  Trying don’t much matter.  Winning does and only that. 

Fortunately, the solution for Detroit is simple: all the Wings’ players have to do —guys like Holmstom and Zetterberg and Franzen and Lidstrom—is to get younger and bigger.  If they work on that in the off-season, getting younger and bigger, they’ll be just fine.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Let's Watch Sports in Detroit Today!

Good afternoon and greetings from the Joe Louis Arena where this afternoon the hockey season ends two days after the baseball season began and it is from where the baseball season begain Thursday, Comerica Park, that we will head after the hockey game for game two of the series between the Tigers and Red Sox.  In any event, we speak, of course, of the end of the regular season as no matter what happens today here, the Wings will be in the playoffs when they begin next week.  The question is, against which team will Detroit match up in Round and where will it start?  The Wings, with just this one game here against Chicago to go, could meet anyone of 4 teams in the opening round, and could start the playoffs here in Detroit or in either Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles or San Jose.  So how's that for options?  If the Wings win today and Nashville loses tonight in Colorado, Detroit will finish ahead of the Preds by one point and will be the home team in a first round matchup against Nashville. If the Wings lose today either in regulation or otherwise, Chicago will finish 5th and the Wings will be the road team against the Pacific Division winner, be it the Coyotes, Kings or Sharks.

There are hundreds of fans here this afternoon wearing Quebec Nordiques jerseys.  Pat Verbeek says they have been showing up around the league lately because they want a team.  They announced a couple of weeks ago that they'll be building a new, (presumably) NHL-sized arena there with groundbreaking later this summer and now the Quebecers are going around the league in search of a team to put in it.  (They can't have this one.  Perhaps they could try Columbus.)  I, for one, will miss Le Colisee in Quebec City, the home to the Nordiques when they played in the National League (I once saw a Wings game there) and to the Rafales when they played in the IHL.  I did a dozen or so games from there when I was the announcer for Grand Rapids.  One one trip, we brought the wives, stayed at a famous and great hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac overlooking a the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the local papers were calling our team "The Honeymooners".  We beat Quebec both games on the trip and everybody had plenty of, well, you know.  Best. Road. Trip. Ever.   Great town for romance, Quebec City and I know having actually honeymooned there.

While I was having my sex (day) dream, Chicago's Victor Stalberg 5-holed Jimmy Howard on a rebound and his 4th of the season at 10:14 has given Chicago a 1-0 lead and has moved the Wings that much closer to road ice disadvantage in the playoffs.  Marion Hossa, stilled booed here every time he touches the puck, is off for hooking (will everything today have a sexual connotation?) and we will see if the Wings can tie it up.  First Period: Detroit 0, Chicago 1.

The period ends with no further scoring and with each team having had 9 shots.

I was speaking a moment ago about all those Quebec jerseys here today.  You should have seen the Big A in Anaheim last night.  Albert Pujols was making his Angels debut and I'll bet there were 5,000 fans wearing his jersey.  Pujols lined into a double play in his first AB with LA and went 0-3.

And do you know which team signed a big ticket free agent first baseman and moved the guy who had been playing first across the diamond to third?  That's right. The Los Angeles Angels did.  Mike Trumbo, the rookie who hit 29 homers last year playing first base for LA, got himself moved over to third when the Angels signed Pujols (sound familiar?) and he made two errors last night, which means that he got himself completely outplayed by Miguel Cabrera--the other slugger in the AL who lost his job at first when his team signed a new guy to play that position.  The thing is, I'll be Trumbo didn't get a call from his manager asking if it was okay with him they way Cabrera got a call from Jim Leyland asking if he minded.

Also in LA last night, Kendrys Morales returned to the lineup, his first game in almost two years since he broke his ankle in the most stupid play off all time.  Morales hit a game-ending homer a couple of days before Memorial Day in 2010 and in the home plate celebration that ensued, he broke his left ankle so badly that two surgeries were required and it's a bit of a medical miracle that he's still playing at all.

The Wings head down the tunnel and onto the ice for the second period....

We are halfway through and it is still 1-0, Chicago.  That is all... Second Period: Detroit 0, Chicago 1.

2-0,.Chicago as Andrew Shaw buries his 12th at 17:20, seconds after Wings goalie Jimmy Howard made one of his best saves of the season, and seconds after a Detroit penalty had expired.  Patrick Sharp and Hossa get the assists and the Wings--who have scored 7 goals in the 5 games and two periods they've played since scoring 7 in a romp over the Blue Jackets here a week ago Monday--are in trouble deep.  End of Two Periods: Detroit 0, Chicago 2.

If the Wings cannot come back (still trail CHI 0-2 in 3rd) and if Phoenix wins tonight in MIN (8pm EDT), Detroit will play the Coyotes in the first round with games one and two in PHX next week.  If, on the other hand, PHX loses tonight, Wings would likely get the winner of tonight's LA at San Jose game, although there are some scenarios regarding overtime/shootout wins and losses in both the PHX and Sharks games which would result in the first round foe still being the Coyotes.  Still 15 mins to go here, tho..

Johan Franzen (29) sneaks one through the pads of Corey Crawford and as we approach the final ten mins, Detroit's back in it, trailing 2-1.

If Wings lose in reg (down to a min left) will have finished season 7-12-3 in final 22 games and will be the #6 seed in West.  HOLD ON--DATSYUK TIES IT WITH 46.4 LEFT ON AMAZING BACKHAND, BACK-TO-THE-PLAY BETWEEN THE FEET CROSS-CREASE PASS BY HOLMSTROM. AND WE ARE HEADED TO OVERTIME HERE IN DETROIT!  END REG: DETROIT 2, CHICAGO 2.

The point the Wings get for getting the game to OT gives them 102 and means Chicago can't catch them in the West standings, so Detroit will play Nashville in the first round.  Both the Wings and Predators have 102 points as I write this.  If they end tied in points, Nashville will have home-ice because they have the tie-breaker.  Down to a minute left in OT.

In shootout now and Datsyuk opens with a move you can't believe and does everything but score then Patrick Kane goes down and makes a move I can't even describe and beats Howard.  Hudler shoots high and if Sharp scores, it's over.  Sharp's slapshot it wide.  Bertuzzi must score to extend the game.  He hits the post and Nashville has home ice in the first round.  FINAL (SO) DETROIT 3, CHICAGO 3.

Off to Comerica Park...