Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Quick Hit from the Q

The day's events are winding down, and it will be onto the tournament action on Thursday. I love the anticipation of the PGA Tour teeing it up in my backyard. It's going to be a great weekend, provided the weather holds.

-Tiger Woods looked very relaxed during his round, and very focused. Had a chance to follow him on his back nine as he played alongside Peyton manning (yes, THAT Peyton Manning). The two sports stars exchanged playful verbal jabs all the way around the course. While Manning was signing plenty of hats, pictures, and cards, Tiger was in his office. He didn't sign one item until his round was complete. Then he likely burned up 2 Sharpies signing the items placed into his hands. It was quite the sight. Glad some lucky fans got the ink from the Man.

-Pairings notes for the first two days....Want international players? Your group goes off at 12:40 on hole #1 on Thursday. The players: Camilo Villegas (Colombia), Vijay Singh (Fiji Islands), and Padraig Harrington (Ireland). You have a past champ, the 2008 Player of the Year, and one of the guys the ladies seem to fawn over. I think you can figure out who I am talking about.

The 12:50 Thursday group off the first includes Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, and Anthony Kim. You could do worse to follow that group.

The big name threesome goes off number 10 at 7:40. Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms. 3 past champions of this event, and Sergio Garcia goes in the group in front of them at 7:30. It's a star-studded field, and there will be plenty to see.

Enjoy your week!

Mike Solarte

Panthers don't need Vick, so shhhhhhhh!!!

While walking the course at Wednesday’s Quail Hollow pro-am event, I couldn’t help but overhear a number of conversations from the thousands of attendees on hand. And, though I tried to tell myself I was just imagining things, I heard lots of people talking about how they believe the Carolina Panthers should go after Michael Vick.

These people were displeased with the Panthers and their recent contract moves with current quarterback Jake Delhomme. They felt that Vick, fresh out of prison and no longer fighting dogs, would be the best bet to lead the team forward after their unceremonious departure from the NFC playoffs last year.

Let me tell you why that is a stupid idea.

First of all, despite one of the worst playoff performances I’ve ever seen, Jake isn’t a bad quarterback. He helped led the team to a great record last year before falling apart in that last game. And even then, how much of that was his fault? How much fault lies on the coaching staff from going away from the ground game that much of the year had been hammering teams? Despite their increased defensive abilities in the playoffs, Arizona could be ran on.

But Delhomme isn’t the questionable part of the (Carolina +Vick) – Delhomme = Super Bowl formula. The stupid part is the section of that formula where we bring in a quarterback that, at his best, was just a rich man’s Kordell Stewart. Vick is not a good quarterback. In fact, he’s a terrible quarterback, and that was before he spent time in the slammer. I doubt he learned how to throw accurately while lifting weights in prison.

Vick is a running back who for some reason likes to throw a lot. The Panthers don’t need another running back. And they don’t need a new quarterback. People need to chill. Peyton Manning had some bad playoff games, but you don’t hear people calling for his head. And, he got over those problems and won a Super Bowl.

The Panthers, despite the pain many people are still feeling from last year, still have Steve Smith and a dynamic running game. Hopefully we can still get something out of Peppers. Matt Ryan is due for his sophomore slump, New Orleans can’t play defense and Tampa Bay is rebuilding. The Panthers ought to still win this division and make another run at the Super Bowl with Jake leading the way.

Michael Parks

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quail Hollow quick hit

Running out the door to head to the Tuesday activities at the Quail Hollow Championship. Couple things:

PGA Tour player Webb Simpson will be stopping by the studio for a visit. Had the chance to chat with him on Monday, but looking forward to a few minutes with him. This is a guy IO covered when he was 9 years old. Now, to quote Vince Vaughn in Swingers, he's "all growns up." Great kid. You can see what I'm talking about at Check out the Monday Quail Hollow wrap up.

Got an e-mail from a viewer asking if I was blind or insane (or something to that effect), when I said during Monday's Sports Night, the catch fence at Talladega did it's job on Sunday. So how am I blind or insane? Carl Edwards car ended up back on the race track. The fence is designed to do that. The 7 fans that suffered injuries, didn't get hit with the car. They got hit by pieces of debris from the car and fence. If the fence had failed, we wouldn't have had 7 injuries. We likely would have had double digit deaths. The fence did it's job. Next subject.

Don't know if I will get NFL Draft post-mortem thoughts out this week, as I will be basically living at the golf course. Mini-camp is this weekend for the Panthers. Hopefully, we'll get to hear some of their thoughts, in between birdies and bunker shots.

Mike Solarte

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tiger coming to Charlotte

Tiger Woods is coming back to Charlotte, to play in the Quail Hollow Championship. His website posting that just after 10 a.m. on Friday, although no official word from the tournament directors (but we expect that to come sometime this afternoon).

The tournament is now in a unique position of having 2 current defending champions in their field. Tiger did not have a chance to defend his 2007 title, due to resting his knee after the Masters, and 2008 champ Anthony Kim will be back to defend his crown. Kinda cool.

Much more on this as the day goes on, but if there was any thought that this event would not be a sellout (and it's close to that now), this news should put them over the top. It's the first time the tournament hasn't been sold out this late in the month. Usually, it's a sellout before April begins (or at least it seems that way).

Tiger is coming off of a top 10 finish at the Masters, and a win at Bay Hill before that. The week just got more interesting.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Curry, Lawson & Ellington jump to NBA

Thursday went from being a seemingly serene and calm day, to being a wild and crazy one.

Davidson guard Stephen Curry bucked my opinion, as well as a Wednesday night AP report, and chose to enter the NBA Draft. That was at 11:30 in the morning. 3 hours later, as expected, UNC standouts Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington followed suit.


I wish all 3 good luck, and hope they find what they are looking for at the next level. Personally, I'm not sure Curry is physically ready for the next level, but his father Dell says that Steph's game is in better shape than his way when he came out of Virginia Tech. Steph is realizing his dream, and he'll be paid handsomely for it, if he is a first rounder, which I think he will be.

As for Lawson, this was a no-brainer. he was almost gone a year ago. Now that he has slipped a national championship ring on his finger, he can only repeat that performance. If he were to do that, he would go another year without NBA money. His stock rose (as if it needed to), during the NCAA tournament, when he basically played on one foot.

Ellington is a different story. I'm not sure there is one thing that sets him apart from other guard/forwards in this draft, other than his Final Four MVP award. He's not flashy, he's not overpowering, but he is consistent. That could lead to a long NBA career, although it could also be a journeyman type of career as well. In his case, time will tell, but he will be a viable pro.

Once upon a time, I had been against guys leaving school early to chase pro dreams, but I have seen the light. The window is so small for players to grab that brass ring, they have to strike when the iron is hot. Such is the case for all 3. Again, I wish them all well, and nothing but success.

The Carolina Panthers found themselves some salary cap room, by re-signing Jake Delhomme to a 5-year extension, worth $42.5 million dollars, and $20 of that is guaranteed. Anyone that didn't think this was coming was misguided. Anyone thinking this is a bad move is also misguided. Delhomme has been the best QB in franchise history, and his new deal rewards him for his entire body of work with the team, and certainly does not punish him for his abysmal performance in the playoff game with Arizona last year. Drink the hater-ade elsewhere, Delhomme is Carolina's guy for at least the next 2 seasons minimum.

Still no movement in the Julius Peppers saga. There's still a day and a half to go before the draft, though. We'll stay on top of it.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Still not into the NHL Playoffs?

It's getting too late for you to jump on the bandwagon.

True, it's only the first round, but already, the NHL has begun to reach back into the days of yore, and bring back that true essence of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There have been exciting finishes (like the Hurricanes win in game 4 on Tuesday-more on that in a minute), wonderful performances by individuals, and most of all, hatred.

I know hate is an ugly word, but it is appropriate and pure in the playoffs. It just is. There are those that don't like it, but it's part of the game. Best of all, the ugliness translates into bone-crushing hits, nose-t0-nose discussions after whistles, and remarkably, very few actual fights.

And that's ok.

People who do not understand the game should not try and change it. Fighting has always been, and likely always be, and accepted part of the game. Believe it or not, fighting is actually far safer than the alternative. If fighting is banished from the game, then players will find other ways of retaliation. The end result will be stick infractions--and that's more of a crime than a penalty in a game. I would prefer to guys who are in a "disagreement", to drop the gloves, and settle it with bare hands, than have those same two using their sticks like axes. My NHL has grit, toughness, and fights. It also has speed, agility, grace and skill. I hope it stays that way forever.

Davidson guard Stephen Curry will announce his decision to stay in school or turn professional on Thursday morning. I don't have any info on this, but my hunch is that he will return to school. My reasons: 1) He wants to earn his degree, something which his family does support. Doing so at Davidson will be impossible if he goes pro, because Davidson does not have summer classes. 2) He loves the college game right now. He has enjoyed taking that program to new heights, and there is still more room under that ceiling. 3) He doesn't need the money, as his father's NBA career has more than provided for him, and his brother Seth. And 4), he's not physically ready. Sure he can bulk up, and learn on the job if he goes pro, but Curry wants to play. His body is not NBA ready right now, and while his jumpshot may be, other NBA guards might be able to wear him down, even in limited minutes.

Selfishly, I want him to stay, and if he decides to go pro, I will certainly wish him the best. Stephen Curry is the kind of player any coach would want, and the kind of kid any parent would be proud to call their own. Personally, I like Steph, and hope he makes the decision that is best for him.

We'll have a one-on-one chat with Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson on Thursday night's show. I had the chance to sit down with him on Wednesday, and as always, he's engaging and fun to talk with. Be on the lookout for that on Sports Night!

Mike Solarte

Monday, April 20, 2009

Father Casts Long Shadow

Driving around Charlotte I noticed a few billboards that made me take pause. They were ads for next month's NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race featuring a picture of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It's smart advertising. Dale Jr., likely will be voted NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for the 7th consecutive year. And what better way to sell tickets in this economy than by featuring the sports most prominent driver. But I have to wonder if Rick Hendrick regrets booting Kyle Busch in favor of Dale Jr.?

In nearly half as many seasons, Kyle Busch has 14 cup victories to Dale Jr.'s 18. Coming off an 8-win season, Busch already has two wins and six top 10s this year and is 7th in the point standings. By comparison, Dale Jr. has two top 10s and no victories so far this season.

My point being, Dale Jr., hasn't yet lived up to the hype. After winning back-to-back Busch Series (now Nationwide) titles in 1998 & '99, he's won no championships in the Sprint Cup Series. Yes, he's won races at NASCAR's fabled tracks in Daytona and Talladega, but he's yet to take the checkered flag at Bristol, Indianapolis or here at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord (not counting the 2000 All-Star race).

When is father, Dale Sr., passed away on that fateful day in February at the Daytona 500 in 2001, the Earnhardt legacy was thrust upon Dale Jr., and I think unfairly so. The Intimidator's fans became his fans and being an Earnhardt, they --and even many us in the media-- expected him to take up the mantle by winning races and championships. His move last year to Hendrick Motor Sports was seen as the opportunity he needed to achieve those goals. But in a stable that includes 3-time champ Jimmie Johnson, 4-time champ Jeff Gordon, the competition is pretty steep.

Dale Jr., may still find glory at Hendrick Motor Sports, but for now, maybe NASCAR should do more to promote Johnson, Gordon, and; yes, even Kyle Busch. Drivers who frequent victory lane. Maybe if the spotlight became a little less intense for Dale Jr. will flourish. Unfortunately, unless he starts winning, Dale Jr. will be viewed no different than Kyle Petty. A capable driver who found it wasn't easy being a chip off the old block.

Jason Brown

Time to think Draft!

Happy Monday! NHL Playoffs have been (for the most part) fairly awesome. More on that later.

I'm not a mock draft kinda guy. I never saw the fun in trying to determine exactly which player an NFL team would try to select. I don't knock those that enjoy it, it's just not me. Makes me glad that I am that way, considering the Panthers don't have a selection (at the moment) until round 2 in Saturday's NFL draft. It would make me looney trying to figure out where the first 58 picks would be spent.

Last week Friday, Darin Gantt from the Rock Hill Herald was in studio to talk about the Panthers and how they sit, and I agree with him--Carolina likely won't be sitting on the sidelines waiting until their number comes up in round 2. At some point, SOMETHING has to break on the Julius Peppers front (whether he gets a an offer sheet, signs his contract tender, whatever), and that will break the Panthers free from their current shackles and move forward. Until then, they are just kinda waiting things out. I think there will be some activity leading up to Saturday. Stay tuned.

As for the Charlotte Observer's thoughts on the draft from Sunday's paper, it's nice fodder, but it's not on the radar. Pat White, QB from W. Virginia, would be a nice draft pick if the Panthers were desperate for a quarterback, but they aren't. They will, at some point, address the QB spot, but it won't happen during this draft. I would be shocked if it did happen this weekend. White is a dynamic athlete, but he doesn't seem to be a fit with the Fox/Hurney style of football. Couple that with Jake Delhomme being locked in as the starter for at least the coming season, and I suspect the Panthers like what they have at that position, and won't spend a high pick (higher than what they have now), to take White.

We'll have reaction to whatever the Panthers do this week leading up to the draft on Sports Night, and more thoughts on it here at the blog. Enjoy the week!

Mike Solarte

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Great Thing About Sports

One of the best things about sports (aside from rooting for your team) is seeing great performances. Already this week we've had two major leaguers hit for the cycle (single, double, triple, and home run), and they happened within days of each other.

First, the Dodgers Orlando Hudson turned the trick on Monday. It was the home opener for the Dodgers and for Hudson, who signed with LA in the offseason, his first game infront of the Dodger Blue faithful. What a way to make an impression! Not to mention three of the four hits came off future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. FYI, Hudson is the first Dodger to hit for the cycle since Wes Parker in 1970.

Then, a day later the Rangers Ian Kinsler hit for the cycle, going 6-for-6 in the process! You may never see someone hit for the cycle the whole season, let alone just days apart.

Finally, the opening games of the NHL playoffs have lacked drama, except for last night's Flames/Blackhawks overtime thriller. If you've never followed the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup, do yourself a favor and tune in. It's likely you'll see some of the most exciting games of any sport. Chicago's Martin Havlat tied the game late in the third and then netted the game-winner just 13 seconds into overtime. His teammates poured onto the ice as if they just one the cup. The reality is they need 15 more wins. The point is you see the passion and emotion these athletes display on a nightly basis during the playoffs, all to reach a common goal. And when that happens, you see some amazing performances. Who knows, you just might witness the next great moment in sports.

Jason Brown

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Baseball fans look forward to Opening Day. Football fans look forward to training camp. Me? I look forward to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The grind of the regular season is over. 16 teams battling. First team to win 16 games gets the chalice. It takes sacrifice, pain, sweat, blood, grit, toughness, patience, and most of all, desire. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. So here goes.

(1) Boston v. (8) Montreal
A storied rivalry, but that was when both teams played in their old buildings (Montreal in the Forum, the Bruins in the Boston Garden). The only things that remain the same are the team colors and logos. This new NHL has Boston as one of the elite teams in the league, and I don't foresee the Habs having the firepower to overtake Boston. In my opinion, the only way the Habs win the series is if goaltender Carey Price has his soul taken over by the likes of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, or even Jacques Plante--all at the same time. Pick: Bruins in 5

(2) Washington v. (7) NY Rangers
An interesting series when you factor the free-wheeling Capitals against the Rangers who aren't as skilled, but they have plenty of toughness. They also have Henrik Lundqvist in the nets, and he could be the difference maker in this. A hot goaltender can take a team all the way to the Cup, and Lundqvist will have to be superior, otherwise the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and the rest of the Caps firepower will light the Broadway Blues up. The flipside of this is Jose Theodore, Caps netminder. He has not been the playoff-caliber goaltender in the past. Pick: Rangers in 7

(3) New Jersey v. (6) Carolina
It must be the post-season if these two teams are battling. The Hurricanes played the most unbelievable stretch of hockey through March and into April, and went from fighting for the last spot, to nearly having home-ice in the first round. Throw out the season series between these clubs (a series Carolina won). Martin Brodeur was a non-factor due to injury. He's back now, and he's one of the games all-time greats. Carolina will have their hands full getting past the Devils, but I believe guys like Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and the venerable Rod Brind'Amour will find a way to get past these Devs. It won't be easy. Pick: Hurricanes in 6

(4) Pittsburgh v. (5) Philadelphia
The Keystone State comes alive once again, as these two rivals get it on when it matters most. The Pens went to the Cup final last summer, falling to Detroit. That experience has got to pay off for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Give credit to Philly, though. They went from nowhere 2 seasons ago to the conference finals last season, and nearly earned the #4 seed this year. Still, too much talent for the Pens, and that should be the difference. Flyers have a shot if they slow down Crosby and Malkin, but that isn't easy. Look for this series to be the most physical in the first round. Pick: Penguins in 6

(1) San Jose v. (8) Anaheim
The Sharks were also an elite team in 2008-2009, and they have everything: solid offense, stingy defense, and maybe the best goaltender this season. Evegeni Nabokov is the lynchpin for the Sharks, and he will have to continue to be solid for the Sharks to advance. Let's not forget, Anaheim won the Cup 2 years ago, and there are still some parts from that championship team that remember the feeling. Pick: Sharks in 6

(2) Detroit v. (7) Columbus
Detroit. Period. All due respect to the Blue Jackets, the Wings are made for this time of the season. Goaltending will be key. Chris Osgood got the nod as the starter, and Columbus will send Steve Mason--he has been dynamite this season. Still, the Wings are the Wings. They are Hockeytown. They are the team everyone wants to beat--and not many have succeeded in the past decade. Pick: Detroit in 5

(3) Vancouver v. (6) St. Louis
The Blues are back to relevance, but Vancouver is loaded with offensive firepower, and fantastic goaltending in Roberto Luongo. The Blues have gotten to this point on heart, grit and just better than average talent. They'll need great goaltending, but I don't see that happening. Vancouver has the edge, and they have my vote. Pick: Canucks in 5

(4) Chicago v. (5) Calgary
Much like the Eastern Conference 4-5 matchup, this one promises to be physical. The Blackhawks are, like St. Louis, back to relevance in the Windy City. Chicago is young, and very skilled, and they have two, number 1 goaltenders in Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks took flight after an early season coaching change, and broke through the 100 point barrier this season. Calgary is tough, and talented. This will be a difficult series, but I pick youth and inexperience to win out-Chicago won't know any better, and just win. Pick: Blackhawks in 6

We'll break down 2nd round matchups when we get there. Enjoy the games!

Mike Solarte

Kenny, Angel, Tiger & Phil

Some quick post-Masters thoughts:

Angel Cabrera proved that just hanging around can be good enough to win a major. As brilliant as he was over the first 3 days, he was simply average on Sunday. The thing he didn't do was allow the final round pressures to bog him down. He felt the heat, but didn't wilt in it. That might not be saying much, but it translated into a green jacket--and ultimately, that's the prize at Augusta.

Kenny Perry did just the opposite. He did fade when it mattered most. If he navigates 17 & 18 in a total of 9, he wins the jacket. Granted, going one over par in the final 2 holes at Augusta isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, but after the way he played the first 70 holes (he made 5 bogeys all week to that point), one would figure him going 4-5 or 5-4 and icing it. He was the one that froze up, and as a result, it cost him. I hated seeing his collapse--I was pulling hard for him Sunday afternoon. What a wonderful story he has been over the past couple years (dedicating himself to earn a Ryder Cup spot last year, winning as often as he did in 2008, etc). Would have been nice to see him slip that coat over his shoulders.

It sounded unlikely Sunday afternoon, but Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson had a legit shot at winning on Sunday. While Tiger seemed unimpressive in his opening 9 (a 3 under par 33), Phil was on the money with his -6, opening 30. Phil's biggest gaffe was a punched 9 iron at the 12th, a swing he didn't want to make (he told himself to hit through the shot). The ball ended up in Rae's Creek, he made a double, then followed that up with missed birdie chances at 15 and 17. Tiger got it close as well, but staggered to the finish at 17 & 18. In the end, it likely wouldn't have mattered as Perry, Cabrera and Chad Campbell all finished at -12, 1 better than Phil or Tiger would have gotten to. It does make you wonder, though. Had Tiger and/or Phil posted a score in double digits--a 10 or 11 under par--would that have backed up the trio that went to the playoff?

Quail Hollow Championship is inching closer and closer...this week the Tour is in Hilton head, then New Orleans, before arriving in Charlotte. Can't wait to see the best players in the world take on Quail Hollow Club again. Hope you are enjoying our hole-by-hole preview of Quail Hollow, as we have spiced things up by bringing Hollywood to the golf course. If you don't know what I mean, check out the previews on Sports Night at 10. We're having a good time with these.

It's been a tough week for baseball. First the tragic loss of Nick Adenhart last week in a car accident, then legendary voice Harry Kalas AND Mark "The Bird" Fidrych pass away on Monday. Broadcasters everywhere felt the sting of Kalas--a golden voice that called so many Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles games, as well as his work for NFL Films. He was a giant in the craft, and will be deeply missed.

Fidrych was one of the quirkiest pitchers baseball has ever known--you could compare him to Turk Wendell, but he might have been nuttier. Fidrych you to groom the mound, talk to the ball, etc, DURING THE GAME. Still, he got it done. In his far too short 5 year career, Fidrych earned the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1976, and went 29-19 overall. People may think that players that behaved like The Bird" did are bad for the game. I disagree. There's nothing wrong with a splash of color. Never has been.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who's playing in Tiger's sandbox?

The best golfers in the world are in Augusta, GA for the Masters this week, and they are about to be reminded that their time has expired.

The time they could run around the world, collecting trophies, oversized checks, and various sport coats in different patterns and colors.

Tiger is back.

Yeah, I know he's played 3 events this season, but THIS is the one he was aiming for. Tiger is after one for the thumb...or whatever the equivalent of five green jackets in.

Tiger Woods shoved it around in his first appearance of 2009, the match play championship. Lasted 2 matches, before being knocked out by Tim Clark. He then, as he put it, "back doored" a top 10 finish at Doral. Bay Hill...well, that was special. Woods is back to being himself, and that makes him the odds-on favorite to win this week.

Hate Nation says that's a bad thing--it's boring when Tiger wins. Well, TV ratings suggest otherwise. Tiger in contention means numbers. Tiger at the top of the leaderboard, or at least in the hunt, means exposure for the game.

Sure, I'm not going out on a limb with a "Tiger wins the Masters" prediction, but what kind of prognosticator would I be (and don't mention my NCAA bracket), if I didn't throw out a potential dark horse?

My dark horse coming into this Masters? Tim Clark. Yes, he won the Par 3 contest on Wednesday, which has been the kiss of death--no player has ever won the Par 3 contest AND the green jacket in the same week, but Clark has been close before. He's a solid player who has paid his dues, and now it's time for him to get that breakthrough victory.

Or it will be Tiger.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sifting through the wreckage

Carolina destroyed Michigan State to win the school's 5th national championship. Don't be fooled, the game wasn't as close as that 89-72 final might indicate. I said it on our post-game show, and I'll say it again. Michigan State looked good during the national anthem. After that, it was all downhill.

When you (MSU) are trying to beat your third #1 seed in the tournament, and run into a focused bunch that dropped a title game record 55 on you in the first half, and laid a 35 point beating at your feet in December, the anthem was about all you had.

How good were the Tar Heels? Well, they won all 6 of their tourney games by no fewer than 12 points. Start there.

The outgoing seniors are the winningest class in school history (124-22). The names to the books: Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and Mike Copeland. They replace Quentin Thomas who had 123 over his career.

I could go on, but in the end, the Heels were just too dominant for any band of mere mortals to contain.

Congratulations to "cadenjosie", winner of the Sports Night Blog Bracket Challenge. 12 of the 33 that played had UNC winning it all, but "cadenjosie"had enough correct picks in the previous rounds to earn the title of "Blognosticator Extraordinaire." Note to the winner: send me an e-mail so we can square you away on whatever we can dig up in the News 14 prize closet.

Thanks for playing, reading, and watching News 14 Carolina!

Mike Solarte

Monday, April 6, 2009

Halfway home

Quick hit:

Michigan State's carriage turned back into a pumpkin...and that was at the 7 minute mark.

UNC is too big, fast, strong, athletic (insert adjective here), for the Spartans to handle.

If this were a prize fight, it would have been stopped by now. As it stands, they have to play it out to the final horn of the 2nd half, and when it (mercifully for MSU) sounds, UNC will have it's 5th national title.

Be sure to check out our live post-game coverage on News 14 Carolina.

Carolina just scored again, by the way.....and again.....and again....and...

Mike Solarte


It’s a good time to be a sports fan. Tar Heel fans anxiously anticipate tonight’s NCAA National Championship game and a possible second championship in five years. Golf enthusiasts look forward to the pageantry of The Masters, which tees off Thursday, to see if anyone will challenge Tiger Woods for the fabled Green Jacket. But for me, today is the best day… it’s Opening Day!

Yes, I know for most of you, football has overtaken baseball as the most popular sport in this country, but I’m old school. To quote actor James Earl Jones from Field of Dreams, “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

So despite the cloud of performance enhancing drugs that continues to linger over the sport (and don’t fool yourself into thinking the problem is not just as rampant in the NFL and other sports), I will spend today reveling in watching game after game.

For me, the best opening day is in the other Queen City of Cincinnati. One of baseball’s oldest franchises, the Reds were the first professional team and for many years no other opening day game started before theirs. It’s no wonder today is treated like a holiday in Cincinnati. There’s a parade that runs through downtown and everyone wears red. It’s no wonder folks get out of work and kids skip school as people both young and old come down with a case of baseball fever. Too bad Mother Nature won’t cooperate with a rain and snow mix and temperatures in the 40s. While the franchise has endured eight straight losing seasons, fans will sell out Great American Ball Park as hope springs eternal.

As the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Mets and Phillies garner all the headlines, and rightly so, three of the Reds top 10 prospects will be playing right here in North Carolina. First baseman Yonder Alonso, infielder/outfielder Todd Frazier and third baseman Juan Francisco will start the year wearing a Carolina Mudcats uniform. So, if the economy is making traveling to see a Major League game impossible, consider a trip to Zebulon, North Carolina and watch the Mudcats. Who knows, perhaps it'll be as if you dipped yourself in magic waters, and the memories will be so thick you'll have to brush them away from your faces.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

He DIDN'T break the law?

Why is Ty Lawson playing craps a national story? Why is his walking into a casino in Detroit, at the age of 21 (which, last I checked, was legal age), considered such a bad thing?

I don't get it, and maybe that's from my upbringing in Chicago. You would think Lawson walked into a post office toting a shotgun and opened fire on some unsuspecting seniors.

It was a casino, licensed and regulated by the state of Michigan. There were other people, presumably all, over the age of 21 on the premises. Lawson was among other consenting adults. Those that consented to wager their money in the hopes of winning more.

Step back, people, and get a grip.

Head Coach Roy Williams told the media during his Friday open press conference that he knew Lawson and a teammate went to the casino. He was fine with it. The players violated no team rules by going. One of the team's assistants, their video coordinator, went with the players.


If you are going cast a negative light on 21 year old young men going into a casino to shoot dice, you better be willing to do the same to a coach who, according to some, "oughta know better than to go into a place like that."

Williams, also during his press conference on Friday, made mention of a pair of games this season where his team played in places where gambling was legal. The first was in Detroit, when the Heels played Michigan State. Roy said he went to the casino the night before, and lost, but his team won the game. His team played in Reno, NV. He gambled the night before and lost, but his team won the game. Williams is a superstitious coach, and said, "you would be nuts if you think I'm not going to shoot craps this week. I'm doing everything I can to help my team win this game."

There was a column written by a good friend of mine, Caulton Tudor, in Saturday's Raleigh News and Observer. In it, Tudor voices his displeasure with Lawson's trip to the casino, and points out a college basketball scandal that took place in the 1950's. A point-shaving scandal, where players took money from gamblers, etc. True, that was an ugly thing, but that was a different time, and a different era. Unscrupulous people have a harder time getting to the players now, simply because the NCAA, and the institutions make it very difficult for anything like that to happen. The safeguards are pretty good--certainly not perfect--but good. Then you should factor in the kind of person Lawson is. He's a good kid, who loves to play basketball, and wants to make a career out of it. Do you think he would jeopardize his name and reputation by getting mixed up in something illegal? Neither do I.

Lighten up, people. Lawson winning $250 dollars playing craps isn't going to cloud his court vision Saturday night against Villanova. Nor is it going to tarnish his reputation as the ACC Player of the Year. It might buy him a few extra pizzas back in Chapel Hill.

Mike Solarte

Friday, April 3, 2009

Quick thoughts on a Friday

Final Four media availabilities took place in Detroit today, and we'll have complete coverage of the Heels as they get ready for Villanova, on Sports Night at 10.

Want to weigh in on the Jay Cutler to the Bears thing.


The Bears, at least on the surface, got fleeced. Sending QB Kyle Orton as part of the trade is minor. It's the 1st round selections in 2009 AND 2010 that make me wonder what the Bears were thinking. They didn't land John Elway, they landed Jay Cutler. They didn't assure themselves anything, other than a 26 year old (to be) QB that will now have the weight of an entire city on his shoulders. Playing QB in Chicago is akin to playing center field for the NY Yankees, or being a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. It's the pressure cooker. Cutler may have gone to the Pro Bowl, but Chicago mortgaged an awful lot for an unproven commodity.

On the flipside of all that, the Broncos now have a ton of draft picks, including those 2 juicy first round selections over the next 2 years. The Broncos also say they will employ a 3-4 defense under first year Head Coach Josh McDaniels.

You can guess where I am going with this.

The Panthers have an unhappy defensive end who feels under-utilized, is currently wearing franchise tag, and wants to play in a 3-4 defense.

Sounds like a marriage, right?

As has been the case through much of this off-season, the Panthers aren't saying much, and when it comes to Peppers, they (basically) can't even talk about him until he signs the franchise tender. Fans are getting uptight about the lack of developments (understandable), but know this-the Panthers will make their move when they feel it's right for them to do so.

If it were me, though, I would be looking very closely at Denver as a route to move Peppers, and get those 1st round picks. In the end, the Broncos could feel pretty good about their off-season. They move an unhappy QB, get one back, and land a Pro Bowl defensive end for the price of 2 first round pick they didn't have when the regular season ended.

There is cost associated with all this (as in how much Peppers would command in a contract), but the Panthers could be the big winner in all of this, if it should unfold as described above.

Ponder that thought over the weekend, or leave a comment!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

GM, Dodge out of NASCAR?

At first blush that's what it looks like, especially when you see the headline at this link below:

President orders GM, Dodge out of NASCAR

Read the sub-headline, and you see that Car and Driver was having some fun on April 1st, a.k.a. April Fool's Day.

Thinking about the current economy, one has to wonder if such a statement could come down the road. The US automakers are in a world of hurt, and with so much in government aid being sent their way, could the day come that the manufacturers involvement in racing come to an end?

It's a frightening thought for race fans, especially NASCAR fans. NASCAR fans are loyal to a fault. How so? I have friends that stopped drinking a certain brand of beer once Kurt Busch took over the ride previously occupied by Rusty Wallace.

If you don't know what I mean, you aren't a race fan.

I have friends that would not shop at a certain home improvement store while Tony Stewart drove their car.

If you don't know what I mean, you aren't a race fan.

The fact remains, there are NASCAR fans (read consumers) who purchase goods and services from companies that sponsor race teams, especially the race teams they pull for. Same applies for the make of car those teams use, whether it is Toyota, Ford, Chevy or Dodge.

Those race teams that depend on the US automakers for tech support and such would be impacted in such a way that, if the manufacturers were, one day, told to leave the scene, NASCAR would truly be in a pickle. Let's hope (for all of us race fans out there), we never see that day come to pass.

Had the chance to catch up with Charlie Coley, III from the Charlotte 49ers men's hoop team on Tuesday. He is heading to Detroit to take part in the ESPN Slam Dunk Contest on Thursday night. Coley, III is a guy you pull for. He loves playing the game, plays hard, and plays to win, but remembers it's supposed to be fun. He is overcoming his shyness in front of the camera, which is good, because if he can dazzle the crowd the way he dazzled the cameras on Tuesday, he'll be doing plenty of interviews. What an athlete. Wow.

Check out to see the story we ran on him last night, for a sampling of his "practice" dunks.

Mike Solarte