Monday, February 28, 2011

Willie, Mickey and The Duke

I can't imagine what my father is going through today. You see his boyhood idol Duke Snider, 84, passed away Sunday. For all of you now asking, "Who's Duke Snider?" I'm about to educate you.

The Duke of Flatbush, as he was known, was a major cog in the those great Brooklyn Dodger teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s. He came to the big leagues the same year as Jackie Robinson, 1947, and was a teammate of Jackie's as well as Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. From 1949-1957 Snider averaged 35 HR and 109 RBI while hitting .305. During that span the Dodgers won five National League pennants and the only World Series title the franchise ever captured in Brooklyn.

That magical year of 1955 when the Dodgers finally beat their hated rival Yankees in seven games, Duke had his best year, slugging 42 homers, knocking in 136 and hitting .309. For you sabermetric geeks, his OPS was 1.046.

Twice Snider hit four home runs in a World Series and was the first National Leaguer to hit 40 or more homers in five consecutive seasons. In other words, it's why he was in the title of the Terry Cashman song Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball); because Snider played in an era where the greatest center fielder's in the game resided in New York.

Duke finished his 18 year career with 407 home runs and a .295 career batting average. For some reason it still took eleven years for the baseball writers to elect him to the Hall of Fame.

Back to my dad. I was the one who had to tell him his idol had passed away. I almost couldn't find the words. You see I was afraid it was another reminder of his own mortality and it certainly served notice to me that I too will have to experience losing my hero... my dad. The one who taught me how play catch, showed me how to swing a bat and passed on the love for the game of baseball.

My dad took the news in stride. He said it was "fitting" I should be the one to tell him of Duke's passing. He had a senior softball game today. He had two hits and knocked in three runs. He wore his Brooklyn Dodger hat proudly. His first words to me? "Duke would be happy."

Jason Brown

Al Michaels once asked...

"Do you believe in miracles?"

That was the now unmistakable call of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team win over the Soviet Union.

Today, NFL fans are being asked the same thing, but the answer, this time, is no.

At 11:59 pm on Thursday, March 3, the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement will expire, and it is expected that a player lockout by the owners, will commence not long after. 7 straight days of mediation produced dialogue, but nothing in the way of results. Hence, all those warnings I sent out during the football season? You know, the ones where I told you to record your favorite team as often as you could? It is baseball season, though.

Big tip of the hat to Jeff Gordon for snapping that nasty 66-race winless drought by winning inn Phoenix on Sunday. He did it in vintage Gordon fashion. Passing Kyle Busch with just 8 laps left, and racing to the win. The win comes in race number 2 of the season, and also race number 2 for Gordon with a new sponsor. After spending virtually his entire career with Dupont as his primary sponsor, Gordon takes the Drive to End Hunger Chevy to victory lane. Is this a sign of things to come? After the massive shake-up at Hendrick Motorsports in the off-season, where 3 drivers rotated to new crew chiefs and teams, who knows. Know this, all four HMS cars finished inside the top 13 in the first "real" race of the season. No disrespect to Daytona, but the entire off-season leads up to that one race, and it's a restrictor plate track at that--too many abnormal variables, If the HMS stable is stout on the intermediate tracks, it will make for a long season for the rest of the teams. And yes, I know it's just one race. We'll see how these teams sit after the opening 5-7 races of the season. Long way to go.

Congrats to a pair of Charlotte residents, Johnson Wagner and Mattt Goggin for picking up separate victories on the golf course this past weekend. Wagner winning on the PGA Tour, Goggin on the Nationwide Tour. Both guys getting their games cranked in the early schedule, and being rewarded is a big boost. Well done, guys!

Busy week on tap, with the CIAA Hoops tourney beginning, and the Charlotte 49ers announcing their first football coach on Tuesday. Stay with News 14 for the latest.

Mike Solarte

Friday, February 25, 2011

OK, Bobcats fans, exhale.

Seemed fitting that the skies above were a little grey with rain on the day after the Charlotte Bobcats traded away their one and only All Star player, along with a valuable big man at the NBA trade deadline.

Gerald Wallace was sent to Portland for Joel Pryzbilla, Dante Cunningham, and Sean Marks, along with a pair of future first round draft picks. Then, the Bobcats sent center Nazr Mohammed to Oklahoma City for Mo Peterson and D.J. White.The moves have some folks angered, others confused, and others still wondering if the Bobcats have surrendered their season.

The answer is yes, but they did so with an eye to the future.

Look, I'm not a fan of breaking up team continuity, especially when that team appears to be moving in the right direction. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bobcats, pre-deadline, would have made the playoffs. After the events on Thursday, I think it's a reach. Not because of who they got back, but because of who they lost. They lost their identity when Wallace went to Portland. Wallace did so many things for this franchise, both on and off the court. I spoke with a member of the Bobcats staff on Thursday night. He was sad that Wallace was traded. Not just any sad, but sad. Wallace meant so much to so many members of that franchise, his loss will be felt like losing a family member.

Losing Mohammed stings as well, because now the Bobcats are pinning their center spot on Kwame Brown. A guy that once upon a time, was a punchline in the league. He has been a solid contributor this season, but there has to be a fear factor involved now. The :what-if" game is in effect. What if Kwame gets hurt? The guy they call the "Vanilla Gorilla," (Pryzbilla), isn't exactly Mohammed off the bench.

So yes, in my estimation, the Bobcats got worse. But they had to get worse before they could get better. There is now a future for this franchise. Before Thursday, they were tight to the salary cap, and close to the luxury tax. Now that Wallace and Mohammed's contracts are elsewhere, the Bobcats have some money to spend, and a couple of future first round picks. It sounds good in theory, but now the onus is on the front office,

The Bobcats drafting history isn't exactly stellar (see Adam Morrison, and Sean May, both no longer holding NBA jobs). They need to hit some home runs with the June draft, and they also need to lure a name into this organization. Whether it be by trade or free agency, this team will now need a bona fide superstar. A guy that people get excited about. A guy that makes fans say, "I need to get a ticket to tonight's game to watch (insert name here) play,"rather than saying "I need a ticket to see (insert opposition team name here) tonight."

I said this Thursday morning during my radio show on Fox Sports 730, that the Bobcats are so very close to being loved in this town. The Hornets hangover still lingers, but the Bobcats are making in-roads. The question now is, did they burn some of that good will by sending away arguably the team's most popular player for 3 players with no chance of being long term solutions, and 2 unknowns in 1st round picks?

The team also waived Sherron Collins, Derrick Brown, and Dominic McGuire on Thursday. Those moves were necessary to clear roster spots for the newly acquired players. I've been told that the Bobcats would like to bring back Brown and Collins if they clear waivers. It's a gamble, but one they had to make to look to tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bayne, Bobcats, 'Melo and more

Recapping things first...

What a weekend for Trevor Bayne. In fact, what a Speedweeks. When he got to Daytona, he was a 19 year old kid making his 2nd Cup series start for a race team that was perilously close to shutting its doors a few years ago.

When he left Daytona he was a 20 year old (by a day), that had just won his first Cup race, not to mention the biggest race of the year. In doing so, he became the feel-good story that NASCAR has desperately needed. Bayne's win for Wood Brothers Racing gave the series a new fresh face to market, put the historic team back in victory lane, and may have jump-started interest in NASCAR again.

Only a win by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Sunday would have been bigger, and he was in the mix until a flat tire late pushed him to the back of the field for a restart. He got hung up in a wreck in the green-white-checkered laps, finishing 24th.

After watching the "pairs" racing on Thursday, I was hoping the 500 would be different, but it wasn't. While different, it wasn't bad. It's just something we'll have to endure for a few races until a change is made to the cars, or the track loses some of its grip. In all, fairly entertaining start to finish.

Charlotte Bobcats have 26 games remaining on their schedule, and forward Stephen Jackson feels they need 17 wins in their final 26 to reach the playoffs. 17 wins gets them to 41 on the season, which wold give them a record of 41-41. In the Eastern conference, .500 is plenty. In the west, .500 (right now, anyway), is good for 10th place, 2.5 games out of the playoffs.

Can the Bobcats do it? It won't be easy. Next week, the Bobcats head back out west, as they are kicked out of Time Warner Cable Arena for the CIAA Tournament, but the good thing for them is that they have home games late in the year, unlike years' past. The Charlotte Jumper Classic would displace the team when they craved home games for a shot at the playoffs. Also on the schedule, trips to San Antonio and Oklahoma City, a home date with Chicago, Boston and others including Orlando. The challenge is there, it's up to the Bobcats to answer it.

Call me old fashioned, but I was just sick about the wheeling and dealing going on for Carmelo Anthony. Then I was just sick and tired of hearing the talk. It was akin to Brett Favre watch in the NFL. Now that it's over (Carmelo went to the Knicks in a blockbuster deal-pending league approval at this writing), we can go on with our NBA watching lives. The thing that sticks out to me in this deal is that both Denver and the Knicks are at the bottom of the playoff picture, and now, this multi-player deal basically blows up their rosters. We all watched and saw how slowly Miami got out of the gate. I can't imagine a change in midstream will bode well for either New York or Denver.

Lastly, the Carolina Panthers remain on the clock, and they are also contemplating using their franchise tag. Given the current labor climate, it makes sense to apply the tag, but unless a new CBA is in place by March 4, it makes me wonder if the tags will be valid after the current labor deal expires. If I had to guess who would get the tag, it would be center Ryan Kalil. DE Charles Johnson had a big year, but the jury is out on if he can maintain it. RB DeAngelo Williams would be another viable option, however, he may be a victim of the numbers game with Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton all in the stable of backs. Personally, I would hate to see Williams go, as he is a fun guy to talk to, and exciting to watch. I do realize, though, that business is business. If he goes elsewhere, I sincerely wish him well.

**EDIT 3:09 pm Several outlets reporting the Panthers are franchise tagging C Ryan Kalil, which would pay him $10M this coming season. A tough choice for the Panthers given the year Charles Johnson had last season, and the franchise leading RB that Williams is. More on this as it develops.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Silas, Daytona, and more

I waited until the first Duel 150 race in Daytona before offering up a thought about the quality of racing. I've come to this.

I miss the old racing.

I'm not hating on what I saw, but it just doesn't feel the same. It's different, not worse. I preferred the packs of cars, the white knuckle feeling of watching some of the best drivers in the world go door-to-door at 200 miles per hour. Seeing the drivers going around in pairs doesn't bring in the "wow" factor. Maybe with the full field on Sunday, it will be different. So far, though, meh.

The Charlotte Bobcats made Paul Silas their 4th Head Coach in franchise history on Wednesday, giving him an extension through next season. Solid reward for a guy that is getting results, but is also in love with coaching. It's a different love than Larry Brown's love of it. Brown loved the teaching aspect. Silas digs the competition. Silas is smiling (most of the time) on the bench during games, while still instructing. A big difference from Brown, who was often times grumpy, rarely ever happy. Seeing the players respond to the switch has been the most fun (from my seat). I like to see smiles, and there have been a ton of them since December 22nd. One other benefit of the extension, is the coaching staff as a whole will be around through next season, also.

Provided there is a next season. What's that? You didn't know? The NBA's current collective bargaining agrement expires after the current season. Just like the NFL.

It's NBA All Star weekend, Daytona 500 weekend, college hoops and more. I'll check back next week.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hail (cough), to the Packers

I mean no disrespect to the Packers...wait, yes I do, I'm from Chicago.

Seriously, well done to Mike McCarthy and company for turning takeaways into a Super Bowl title. Three Pittsburgh turnovers led to 21 Green Bay points, part of their 31-25 win in SB 45. Aaron Rodgers threw the last shovel of dirt on the fans still clinging to the memories of the good old days with Brett Favre under center. That era is over (and should also be remembered as the 1 SB title for Favre, not multiple like his legend would suggest).

The Packers didn't completely outplay Pittsburgh, but they took advantage of what the Steelers gave them. Remove the turnovers (two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions, and a Rashard Mendenhall fumble), and the Steelers win the game. I'm not sure Rodgers would have gotten as on track as he did, because momentum can be an awesome thing. Rodgers was good, don't get me wrong. Things look different with a short field as opposed to starting in the shadow of your own goalpost.

So, the defending champs are scheduled to play the Panthers next season in Charlotte. If there is a next season. Carolina is on the clock for the NFL draft, but the league is on the clock to get a new collective bargaining agreement done (from this point out, it's being called the CBA on this blog. I'm done typing it out). Nice that the NFL and NFLPA met the day before the Super Bowl, and have scheduled more meetings. The sands of the hourglass are slipping away, and the question is who do you believe? Owners who say they want a deal, or the union saying a lockout is coming, and could be a long one. I don't know. I just want the game.

To the NBA, Charlotte Bobcats get a losing-streak snapping win over Boston on Monday, and did so after Stephen Jackson was ejected in the 2nd quarter. Jackson got called for an off-the-ball foul while guarding Kevin Garnett. Jackson disputed the call, and picked up a technical foul for complaining. He continued the verbal exchange with the officials, and picked up a 2nd tech, bringing with it the instant heave-ho.

Memo to Jackson: shut up. Take the call, and walk away. Don't protest. Don't flail your arms. you know you were fouled, but the refs aren't going to give you that call. Refs are looking at you as the boy that cried wolf. They don't believe you, and now, they want to run you. They are looking for the chance to slap a technical foul on you, in the hopes you'll get another, and be ejected.

I like Jackson a lot, as both player and person. He is way too valuable to the Bobcats success to keep racking up technicals. Bobcats fans empathize when you don't get the call, but they would rather boo the official for a bad call, than watch you walk of the court after being tossed. Keep your head, man. Stay in the game.

NBA refs ARE targeting Jackson. Hard to tell me they're not. They know Jackson is a guy that plays hard, but also feels he doesn't get his share of the calls. There could be something to his argument, but here's the problem. The NBA has empowered its officials to the point the refs are above questioning. They rule the floor with an iron fist, and will gladly swing it at any player that dares question their authority. Unless it's Lebron James, of course (I'm not blind, Michael Jordan was afforded the same treatment when he played).

Jack needs to stop yapping, and keep playing. That will ultimately be the best revenge against the 3rd team on the floor.

Mike Solarte