Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ohio State Football Preview

The 2016 season was supposed to be the bridge between the powerhouse 2015 squad and the expected to be powerhouse 2017 team.
Instead,Urban Meyer's team lost one fluky game in the regular season to Penn State and made to the college football playoff,where they were exposed for the weak passing game that they possessed in a pasting at the hands of the Clemson Tigers...

The quarterback position features the return of J.T. Barrett for his final year.
Barrett is a polarizing figure among Buckeye fans with some loving his running ability and leadership ability with others groaning about the lack of accuracy in the passing game,especially the intermediate to long passing game.
J.T. Barrett might be the player that determines just how good this team can be and if new quarterback coach Ryan Day can do anything with Barrett through the air,this could be a long remembered year in Columbus.
Joe Burrow was looking like he was going to be the backup to Barrett before a broken hand sidelined him which will make redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins the backup.
If Burrow doesn't return,touted true freshman Tate Martell will be the third stringer.
Martell would have likely been redshirted before Burrow's injury...

The running backs are led by the returning Mike Weber.who ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman.
Weber still needs to show more breakaway ability,but he will be the starter over freshman J.K.Dobbins,who has turned a lot of heads in practice.
Demario McCall will see lots of time as he will try to replace Curtis Samuel as the jack of all trades back.
Sophomore Antonio Williams rounds up a promising running back group that could be the best all around group in a while at Ohio State.
Parris Campbell will start at H-Back,which is where Samuel spent much of his time.
Campbell has the speed to make an impact,but he does has some questions about his hands.

The receivers were a weak point last year and the Buckeyes are hoping that sophomores and freshmen can make improvements and impacts in order to improve the passing game.
Sophomore Austin Mack will start at one wideout with a surprising comeback from Johnnie Dixon,who was rumored to be on his way after 2016 starting on the other side.
Binjimen Victor is sitting on a breakout sophomore year and junior Terry McLaurin will see his share of action as well.
Three true freshman will be part of the revamp of the wideout position to make the receivers bigger and faster as 6'5 Jaylen Harris and 6'4 Elijah Gardiner and Trevon Grimes enter the season.
If one of the bunch breaks out,this could be a much improved bunch of pass catchers.

The tight ends return Mackey Award nominee Marcus Baugh and behind Baugh there are a whole bunch of questions with sophomore Rashod Berry holding off redshirt freshman Luke Farrell for the first spot off the bench.
Either way,Ohio State needs to keep Marcus Baugh healthy or things could get a little murky..

The offensive line features two seniors that might threaten to make All-America teams in left tackle Jamarco Jones and center Billy Price.
Price started at guard last season,but shifts to center to replace the graduated Pat Elflein.
Sophomore Michael Jordan impressed in a starting role last year,Branden Bowen is battling freshman Wyatt Davis and massive Malcolm Pridgen,who was impressing the staff last year before a injury ended his season.
The question mark is at right tackle where Isaiah Prince struggled last season.
Prince is being pushed by true freshman Thayer Munford and will need to pick up his play...

On defense,the defensive line is incredibly deep.
The defensive ends have three strong pass rushers in returning Big 10 defensive lineman of the year Tyquan Lewis,Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa.
The three will rotate among themselves and each are a threat to hit double digit sacks.
Senior Jaylen Holmes would start on most teams and freshman Chase Young will be a name that most know in 2018.
The tackles are strong with the starters with Tracy Sprinkle returning from injury and Dre'Mont Jones returning as a starter.
The depth behind them is talented,but unproven as none of the backups are more than a sophomore.

The linebackers lose Raekwon McMillan to the NFL,but Chris Worley shifts over from the outside to the middle in what should be a seamless transition.
Jerome Baker returns as a starter and in an interesting note has the person that beat him out for a starting role,starting on the other side in Dante Booker.
Baker replaced Booker after a season ending knee injury in the opener against Bowling Green and was one of 2016's pleasant surprises.
Malik Harrison will be the main backup,but look for sophomores Tuf Borland and Keandre Jones to see plenty of time and freshman Baron Browning will make his presence known as well...

The secondary at Ohio State usually reloads and they'll do so again after losing Malik Hooker,Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore as first round picks in the NFL draft.
Denzel Ward is the cornerback returning with the most experience and he might be the next OSU secondary player to be a first round pick.
Sophomore Damon Arnette slightly leads heralded Juco transfer Kendall Sheffield for the other corner spot,Sheffield and fellow freshmen Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade will see time as well.
Damon Webb starts at one safety and senior Erick Smith gets a chance to start at the other.
Webb is entrenched there,but Smith is being battled to the wire against sophomore Jordan Fuller in a competition that might not be decided until just before the opener.
Freshman Isaiah Pryor will play a lot as well..

Sean Nuernberger has a narrow lead over freshman Blake Haubeil as the placekicker while Drue Chrisman will be the punter as a freshman.
The Buckeyes will use many players as returners with Parris Campbell and K.J.Hill getting the most work...

This looks like a good year for Ohio State.
I think they have a chance to run the table with getting Oklahoma in Columbus in their biggest non-conference test.
They have four conference games that might be issues-of course there is michigan in Ann Arbor,where the pressure is on Jim Harbaugh to avoid losing his first three games to the Buckeyes and the huge rematch with Penn State,which I expect to see a sky high bunch give a healthy helping of payback to the Nittany Lions.
Dark horse games are at Nebraska,where the Huskers might be improved and at Iowa after the Penn State could be a trap game.
I'll be optimistic and say 12-0.
With two of the three toughest games at home and not having Big 10 West favorite Wisconsin on the schedule,I think that is doable,although far from a guarantee....

Road Trip :Harrisburg and Fred's Buddy Roy?

I'm interrupting my road trip to New York to talk about an interesting night in Harrisburg with the Senators with good company,namely my lovely wife for the evening.
Of course,it wouldn't be Harrisburg without the appearance of the irrepressible Fred Landucci and the must for the evening was seeing the Akron Rubber Ducks for the first time this season.

I needed to make the trip to Harrisburg for the first time since June because the Rubber Ducks team set was out and I needed to work on that.
I always make doing Akron,Altoona and Richmond the must have team sets in the Eastern League,so this was a drive that I needed to make.
As usual,Fred Landucci was waiting for Cherie and I at the gate and as we descended down the steps to reach field level to do some pre-game graphing,a gentleman hollered out to Fred some words that I couldn't make out.
Fred responded "AH I don't have time for you,Roy!".
I asked Fred,if Roy was a friend of his and did was he friends with Roy?
The crisp and quick retort was no and just then the theme of the evening was set-Fred and his pal Roy!

There were few graphers in town.mainly because the Ducks and their two top prospects had been in town earlier in the season in Francisco Mejia and Bobby Bradley.
Fred had gotten Mejia's top 100 finished for me in Akron's previous visit,so now it was just my and Mike Oravec's team set cards.
Francisco was the first player that I was able to write off as he signed both cards for me and Fred helped with the final card to finish Mejia.
Bobby Bradley signed just one of two,so we'll see how Fred might do on Thursday with a little mop up...

One great story was when I asked Cameron Hill to sign.
Cameron came right over and signed my two cards and Fred said that we still needed to get Bobby Bradley and wondered if he would walk right over to us.
Cameron said  (paraphrased) "Probably not,these big prospects usually don't sign".
I haven't heard honesty from a player about a player like that since Ron Davenport ripped Jordan Schaefer in 2007.

All the while as the pregame went and we were joined by Dan and Bobby (Great guys,Harrisburg locals and how could they be bad as Xavier fans?),I continued to ask Fred about his friend Roy.
Roy apparently is a Senators season ticket holder that Fred dislikes because he pays for general admission seats and yet sits in the first row right beside the Senator dugout in seats far better than he pays for.
Fred says the Senators allow this for some reason and even though Fred has great seats that he pays for (he usually climbs the steps to sit with me when I come to Harrisburg),this rightfully angers him and the fact that Roy revels in this makes it even worse for Fred.

As the game was played and after I missed the only Akron run of the night  (a Mejia homer) while I waited in line for a cheeseburger (Cherie was nice enough to come with me right after work,so I felt I should get her something to eat!),we climbed to the top of the stadium.
There isn't a bad seat in the place,so I like to sit away from people,but who was right in our line of vision to the field?
That meant more comments from me about Fred's new friend Roy and Fred offering his various complaints about Roy and his life!
Me: You sure know a lot about Roy,Is Roy coming to the GGG-Canelo party?
Fred:No,I wouldn't invite him-----------comments about Roy here....

Meanwhile on the field,the Senators and Rubber Ducks went into extra innings with Harrisburg blowing a chance to win it in the 9th.
As we looked at Roy in his seat as he cheered on the Senators with another grapher that Fred hates that is lovingly dubbed "Baseball Pants" in front of another fan that was quickly named Frank Howard since he was wearing a Nationals/Senators batting helmet and the guy had some resemblance to the 80 plus year old slugger.
Harrisburg had a chance to win in the 10th,but the runner was held at third with one out on a single and the next two "Favorites of Fred"-Khayan Norfork and Stephen Perez,long time Harrisburg journeymen each made outs to prolong the game.

Roy was having a good time,while I reminded Fred of Roy not paying for his seats.
Harrisburg again had a chance to win in the 12th as Dan Gamache led off the inning with a double.
Drew Ward then singled and as I gathered my belongings to prepare for postgame,left fielder Dorssys Paulino uncorked a throw for home.
It was long enough,but way high.
Gamache would have been safe easily,if he slides-but he doesn't and Paulino's throw hits the mitt of Francisco Mejia and right into the hip of Gamache for the out.
As the crowd groaned,Fred yelled at Roy to sit down.
Akron's Mitch Brown walked the next two batters (one intentionally,one not),up stepped Stephen Perez again to Fred's complaints and Roy's cheers.
This time,Perez singled to end the game and finally send Fred,Roy and the few remaining fans home with a rare Senators win (Harrisburg is racing to the finish with Richmond to avoid the cellar).

Fred helped me graph Akron postgame and got some more players for the team set (I was able to acquire most of the prospects I really needed except for Bobby Bradley for Mike and Greg Allen for both of us) and I was able to hang out with Dan and Bobby more as well.
I always have a good time in Harrisburg.
It's not the prettiest park to watch a game on the circuit and it's not the easiest to graph either,but it's close enough to the top on both lists to make it my favorite place to go on the local circuit.

Thanks to everyone and even Roy wherever you are for making my final trip of the year a fun night...

I still have two stops on the New York trip coming up soon,but I'll be working on football for the next few days!
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Steelers sign Joe Haden

On a day that the news keeps coming on and just a few hours after he was officially released,the Pittsburgh Steelers signed former Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden to a three year contract with seven million for 2017 guaranteed..

Here is what I know for now-the
Browns asked Haden to take a paycut from 11 million this season to seven million.
Haden refused to take the lesser amount after which the Browns shopped his contract around yesterday and decided to release him today.
It didn't take Haden long to accept the seven million paycheck (actually Haden still gets his 11,just that seven comes from the Steelers and four million from the Browns) from Pittsburgh.
I'm not going to be one of "those" fans that now hates Haden because he signed with the Steelers.
Haden didn't leave as a free agent,the Browns released him,knowing he could go anywhere and I have no issue with his decision to sign with a playoff contender that is as close as any team in the league to his home in Cleveland.

Here's the part that I am interested to see play out.
The Browns have a big armed young quarterback and what they hope is a fast young receiver in Corey Coleman-perfect to attack Joe Haden in ten days in Cleveland.
The question is how well does Haden play in that short period of time?
Haden has always struggled in man to man coverage on the deep ball,which is why Antonio Brown and A.J. Green have regularly toasted him and that is the one thing that Coleman has shown that he can do in his short pro career.
That might be one of the few things that I wonder about entering that game.

The other question is this:Do you believe the Browns front office or Joe Haden and the Steelers on this-Did Pittsburgh sign "THE" old Joe Haden or just sign an old Joe Haden?
If the answer is the latter-that will be a huge indictment on the talent evaluating skills of Sashi Browns and his front office and might be the first domino of dissent on this front office...

Still have so much more to come later tonight as all the Browns news has shoved things back a bit!

Browns trade Cameron Erving to Kansas City

The Cleveland Browns finally gave up on arguably their worst first round pick in years (that covers a lot of ground right there) and amazingly found someone willing to give up something for him as Cleveland sent offensive lineman Cameron Erving to the Kansas City Chiefs.

I was shocked to hear the Browns didn't release Erving and that anyone.let alone a playoff team like the Chiefs were willing to trade anything for Erving.
The 2015 first rounder (obtained from Buffalo in the worst trade ever for the Browns who in 2014 passed on the best wide receiver draft ever at the 4th pick to trade down to nine to take Justin Gilbert and a 2015 number one used to take Erving) was a massive disappointment as he failed in opportunities at tackle,guard and center).

Erving was simply not strong enough to be successful at the interior line or quick enough to play tackle and deal with pass rushers off the end and his missed blocks often made highlight reels across the nation-not just Cleveland.
I admit as Erving came out of Florida State,I liked him as a player,although not as much as then-GM Ray Farmer did.
I liked his athleticism,but thought he needed to get much stronger and it never seemed to happen.
Erving was touted as a lineman that could play all three line positions,but center was thought to be his best position and the need with Alex Mack soon to opt out of his contract made me think that Erving would be an acceptable replacement at pick 19.
It never seemed to happen as from day one at all positions,Erving was blown by from pass rushers,bullied over from power rushers and generally pushed all over-even on special teams where it was Erving that was pushed aside on a field goal attempt against the Ravens that would have won the game,but instead was blocked and returned for the winning score.

Considering the clips that I've seen from Erving's preseason play,I'm just astonished that someone thought he was worth trading a fifth round pick for.
Now to be fair,the Chiefs may have looked at Erving's athletic ability and thought that entering his third year,the chances of rehabilitating Erving's career are roughly equal to that of finding a productive player in round five.
There must be someone in the Kansas City organization that liked Erving entering the 2015 draft and thought that he was worth the attempt to salvage his career,it would be interesting to see if anyone with the Chiefs in their personnel department are a former Browns employee.
Maybe that played a role in the trade?

In any event,this closes the book on the Ray Farmer era as only Danny Shelton remains from Farmer's first round failures and Shelton is a good player that improved a lot last season.
What a disaster and if you are a Browns fan criticizing the Browns for getting nothing for Joe Haden earlier today,just pretend you grabbed a five for Joe Haden instead of Cameron Erving...

Still have more later!!!

Browns release Joe Haden

After what was a bit of a 24 hour windstorm,the Cleveland Browns surprisingly began to shop veteran cornerback Joe Haden to various teams and then released the veteran this morning.
Haden was the Browns first round draft pick in 2010 and in my opinion was the "new" Browns best first round selection not named Joe Thomas in making two Pro Bowl appearances and earning a new contract after the 2014 season.

Ironically,as happens so often in pro sports,but especially the NFL,it was that contract that likely sped Haden's retreat from Cleveland as his performance after that contract declined rapidly with concussion problems prominent in his dropoff  in play.
Haden's five year extension still has two years to go and during the extension was exactly when his injury issues began,which quickly meant that even with a team with the large cap space of the Browns,Haden's cash became a weight around the team's neck at eleven million dollars a year.
Haden was not a true "shut down" cornerback even at his peak-Antonio Brown and A.J.Green generally had huge games against him,true shutdown corners have a much easier time,even against elite receivers.

I don't have an issue with moving Joe Haden.but I do have one question.
If this was all about saving cap space and declining performance (both reasonable thoughts),why didn't the Browns save even more space by releasing Haden in the off-season?
They could have chopped even more space then.
Now,I return to Gregg Williams' introductory press conference where he mentioned Joe Haden by name as a player of note and it's not out of the question that the team might have already decided that unless Haden showed signs of a return to form,that he might be on his way out.
After all,the Browns are going to pay him anyway (Minus the likely minimum that a team signing Haden would pick up),so I don't have a problem taking a look (as long as the decision wasn't already decided,which would have made little sense).

The Browns will likely start Jason McCourty in Haden's position,although Briean Boddy-Calhoun will see his share of time increase as well.
Either McCourty will be a stopgap for a year or two or the younger Boddy-Calhoun could step up and be a building block for this rebuilding process.
In both possible cases,the Browns should have similar or improved production at a far cheaper price.

As for Haden's future.I've heard three particular names-New Orleans,Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
All three teams have secondary issues,so if Haden has anything left,any of those teams could use the help.
The question is what does he have left?
If a team such as the Browns with cap room to burn (and would pay him either way) didn't think he could help them,why would a playoff team (Steelers and Chiefs) or one with postseason hopes (Saints) rely on him to do so?
The answer might be that the Browns have botched so many talent evaluations through the years that just because the Browns say Haden can't play,doesn't mean that he can't.

I'll miss Joe Haden.
It's a cliche',but Haden understood the Cleveland fans and got elbow deep in the community and seemed like a very nice person.
However,the business is winning football game and not employing people because they are good people.
Joe Haden was a player in decline that had problems staying healthy and the Haden that signed that extension never showed up on the field for the Browns (Maybe it was the crappy uniform curse?),so it's understandable that the Browns wanted to see what they had from their young players rather than potentially struggling through another injury-plagued campaign.

I'll be working on the blog from the road office tonight as I hope to finish the post I was working on when Joe Haden's release news broke,I'll be working on the Ohio State preview since their season starts tomorrow and with that comes with the first PPM of the season and this year's face of the PPM's debut as well.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Road Trip:Scranton,Pain and the rain

My road trip through New York with Mike Oravec didn't begin well,but the fun always is around when Mike and I take trips and despite a slow start,it still was a great time...

We drove to Scranton Pa. for our first stop as the Railriders were hosting the Durham Bulls.
There wasn't anyone on either team that I really needed,but the Railriders have a legends series that they bring in a player a month (usually a former Yankee) to sign autographs and meet fans.

Neither of us had a burning desire to graph the team,but the chance to add Hall of Famer "Goose" Gossage to my 1988 and 1990 Score set was intriguing enough to start the trip in Scranton.
Sadly,we were both dismayed by the Railriders customer service.
We were in the door among the first few non season ticket holders,went straight to line up for the Goose and were as far up the line as we could be.
Yet,we never made it to the Goose.

The people in line in front of us said that this was the third time in a row that they wouldn't get the guest to sign.
That sounds like a rigged game to me-The team advertises the player using "Come See" and with letting the season ticket holders in first ( as they should),the line rarely gets to the fans that come to get the player.
Perhaps a better way would be to have a line of season ticket holders and a second line of non-holders that are told up front that they may not get one,but the chances are their's.
And of course,there's the always present rent a cop,who gave rudeness a new name.
This guy strutted up and down the line,shouting out time remaining and lied to everyone that spoke to him-"Gossage isn't taking any pictures" (Not true), "We have no control over how long he signs" (You are paying him,put more time in the contract),"Everyone is always mad at me during these things" (Ok,they weren't all lies)...
I'd go back to Scranton,but never for a legends evening.
They were rude,disrespectful to fans (I didn't have words with anyone) and I feel like they ran a con game-.

Mike and I's plans to go next to Binghamton for the second game of the doubleheader between the Rumble Ponies and Portland Sea Dogs.
However,we ran into a huge thunderstorm and pouring rain that we knew was unlikely to allow them to continue (they didn't) and going north meant getting colder in the rain too.
Since your author is an idiot and left his sweatshirt on the counter when he left-he was very cold.

Fortunately,we pulled over and called Jason Christensen,who we were supposed to meet up with the game and asked if he was at the stadium.
He wasn't,but he said we could come to his home to swap cards that I brought up for him and he graciously loaned me a shirt to wear (I wore it for the remainder of the evening as my "jacket').
Thank heavens that the rest of the weekend weather was good!
We spent a little time with Jason and his family,who had met on several of their visits to Hagerstown and then drove to our hotel between Batavia and Buffalo about two hours away.
The ride was fun and the rest of the evening was uneventful.

Not the greatest of stories for day one,but I promise the stories get better on the next two installments...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Devils sign Will Butcher

The badly lagging defensive corps of the New Jersey Devils needed a infusion of talent and youth for a questionable unit as training camp neared.
The Devils hope that they have found a player capable of providing both as they signed free agent college defenseman Will Butcher of the University of Denver to a two year contract.

Butcher declined to sign with the Colorado Avalanche after being picked in the fifth round in the 2013 draft and spent the last four years in the same town with the local university.
The 22 year old Butcher was the captain at Denver last season,won the Hobey Baker award as the player of the year in the NCAA and led the Pioneers to the NCAA championship on his way to being one of the more coveted young free agents available.
Ironically,one of the other free agents that was pursued by so many has parallels to Butcher-Alex Kerfoot was drafted by the Devils and signed with the Avalanche (as noted,Butcher was drafted by the Avalanche before signing with the Devils),finished second to Butcher for the Hobey Baker and both being captains for their schools that made the Frozen Four.

Butcher scored seven goals with thirty assists in forty three games and is noted as an offensive defenseman that moves the puck well,a role that the Devils are in desperate need of filling.
Those types of defensemen aren't usually available in free agency,so it goes to show why over half the league was linked to the pursuit of Butcher at various times after the season.
I don't think Butcher steps into one of the first two defensive pairings right away,but I think he gets plenty of ice time and maybe by the end of the season has a chance to earn playing time in important situations.

Not only is this is a big signing on the ice,it could eventually pay dividends off the ice as well.
A standard cliche' of new management teams in sports is about "Changing the Culture" and so often,it's lip service and a nice line to explain why you are getting rid of so many of the old management group's players and employees.
In the Devils case,I think it's legitimate.
Ray Shero is trying with every deal and with every draft pick to bring in fast skaters with an offensive mindset and it shows.
I love the Lou Lamoriello Devils and they'll always have a special place to me as a Devils fan,but the style of play handicapped them often in getting players to come to New Jersey and sometimes in being able to keep them there.
The culture change is real and so is the commitment to a more freewheeling style of play.

Which brings me to how this could be an even bigger deal than just signing a good prospect.
If the Devils can play fun hockey with skilled young players with Taylor Hall,Nico Hischler etc,players like Will Butcher will want to come to New Jersey and they'll want to stay.
But there has to be a first step-a step where someone looks at the situation,believes in what's being done and takes a leap of faith.
Will Butcher believes.
It'll still be some time away,but I believe the Devils are on the right track and tonight might be one of those nights that is a bigger deal later than it even is tonight....

Boxing Challenge:Mayweather stops McGregor

At the end of a big boxing weekend, I had earned 12 points with Ramon Malpica adding seven to put the boxing challenge at 116-102.

In the fight that excited many, but not me, Floyd Mayweather showed signs of age and rust from being 40 and out of the ring for two years before rallying to stop Conor McGregor in the tenth round.
I thought McGregor won the first three rounds, but none thereafter and I had Mayweather ahead 87-84 before the stoppage by referee Robert Byrd.
I'm going to give this a little more than I thought I would so here are a few thoughts.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are brilliant.
Mayweather wasn't going to be hurt by the supposed big bombing McGregor, who learned that being a big puncher in what he does in the UFC doesn't translate to boxing and McGregor wasn't going to be overwhelmed by Mayweather offensively, so neither were going to be hurt.
Mayweather looks to be a spent force at 40 and he needs to take his vow seriously of retiring for good.
Had this been an Errol Spence, Canelo Alvarez, or Gennady Golovkin in the ring last night, Mayweather likely would have hung his first L.
As for McGregor against the same bunch, the fight would have likely ended in half the rounds that this one did.
McGregor looked awkward but looked better than I figured and won a few rounds, which is more than many had done against Mayweather.
Give him credit for exceeding expectations, but keep in mind, the "big hitter" was walked down and stopped by Floyd Mayweather, who hadn't stopped anyone that hadn't dropped their hands to talk to the ref (Victor Ortiz 2011) since Ricky Hatton in 2007!
Better than expected, but still nothing I had to see...
Ramon and I both added two points for the Mayweather KO win.

The undercard was underwhelming as expected.
Mayweather Promotions supposed future superstar Gervonta Davis had a rough weekend as he failed to make weight so he forfeited his IBF junior lightweight title on the scales, got hurt in the seventh round of his bout with Francisco Fonseca before fouling Fonseca with a punch to the back of the head and referee Russell Mora counting Fonseca out rather than penalizing Davis and giving Fonseca a rest period in round eight.
I had Davis ahead 68-65 when the fight ended.
Davis is going to have to do better than this in the future if he is going to be the star that Mayweather hopes he will be.
Ramon and I earned two points each for this bout.

In the most impressive bout of the evening, Badou Jack was impressive in his light heavyweight title debut by taking a secondary light heavyweight title with a fifth-round demolition of Nathan Cleverly.
Jack won every round on my card and I would think that PBC would be pointing him towards WBC champ Adonis Stevenson, but first mandatory challenger Dimitry Bivol awaits.
I would favor the hard-punching Bivol in that bout, so don't be surprised if Jack vacates his minor title for a Stevenson bout, which could be a very entertaining fight.
Ramon and I each earned one point for the win by Jack.

In the PPV opener, Andrew Tabiti won a unanimous decision over former champion Steve Cunningham in a cruiserweight fight.
I haven't seen that fight, so no scoring there.
I added two points for the win by the undefeated Tabiti, while Ramon picked Cunningham.

In a Fox televised prelim affair, Yordanis Ugas won a unanimous decision over Thomas Dulorme in an entertaining scrap.
Ugas knocked down Dulorme twice in the second with Dulorme returning the favor with a seventh-round knockdown.
Dulorme had points deducted for illegalities twice and those cost him the fight as he lost by one point on two cards.
I scored Ugas a 94-92 winner in a fight that would have been five-five on my card if using the rounds system.
I gained two points for the win by the former Olympic bronze medalist with Ramon picking Dulorme.

Over on HBO, two world titles were on the line from Carson, California.
Miguel Cotto won every round from the constantly attacking Yoshihiro Kamegai and won a unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO junior middleweight title.
Kamegai took some huge shots and kept coming, but as good as Cotto looked, he never hurt Kamegai and I told Fred Landucci as I watched that I saw some slowing from Cotto, who was getting hit more than he should from the crude Kamegai.
Cotto says he'll fight one more time before he retires and wants the Golovkin-Alvarez winner, which I'm sure he prefers Alvarez to turn out to be the winner.
Ramon and I each won one point for the Cotto decision...

I only saw the last two rounds of the HBO opener as Rey Vargas won a unanimous decision over Ronny Rios to keep his WBC junior featherweight title.
I added two points for the Vargas win with Ramon adding one.

Now that boxing is finished for the weekend, I hope to start on my New York trip soon.
Keep in mind that Fightheads will be returning in eight days and I've missed it more than I thought.
Can't wait to return to the air... 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Boxing Challenge:Derevychenko runs through Johnson

In what I thought would be an action fight and proved to be so,Sergiy Derevyanchenko wore down an extremely game Tureano Johnson and stopped him seconds into the final round in a middleweight clash in Miami,Oklahoma.

Derevyanchenko was unable to knock down Johnson until the finish of the fight,but he repeatedly pounded Johnson throughout the fight and despite some bright spots from Johnson,won most of the rounds.
Give plenty of credit to Johnson,who never stopped trying and landed his share of big punches,he was simply facing a fighter that fought his fight,but was simply stronger and more powerful.
Aside from being a fun fight to watch as expected,the bigger news was Derevyanchenko earning the mandatory contender slot in the IBF for the winner of the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez fight in September.

For as good of a fighter Derevyanchenko could eventually be,he still is just 11-0,has just one win over a top 20 contender (this one over Johnson) and he couldn't have asked for a better style for his first top opponent to have.
I think Derevyanchenko still needs some seasoning and since he now holds a mandatory contender slot,it's unlikely to happen as it's more likely that his management team will either wait for the title shot or fight soft touches to stay active,yet not endanger the title shot down the road.

Derevyanchenko might create a better fight for Golovkin or Alvarez than some of the contenders that they have faced,but his lack of preparation will likely teach him and his management team what happens when you face top competition without the proper amount of experience.

I earned two points in the boxing challenge to Ramon Malpica's one to boost my lead to 104-95.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Devils sign Drew Stafford

The New Jersey Devils attempted to fill the one major hole among their forwards entering training camp-right wing as the Devils announced the signing of veteran Drew Stafford to a one year deal worth $800,000.

The soon to be 32 year old Stafford scored eight goals with thirteen assists last season in a year split between Winnipeg and Boston.
Stafford spent most of his career in Buffalo with the Sabres where he never scored less than 14 goals in anything close to a full season.
Stafford's career year came in 2010-11 with 31 goals and 21 assists in Buffalo and although I don't expect anywhere near those type of numbers,Stafford did score 21 goals just two years ago in his only full season in Winnipeg.

Stafford clearly slots into the second line at right wing and allowed the Devils to keep Marcus Johannson on the left side where the former Capital has said he is more comfortable.
With only Kyle Palmieri as the only veteran right wing with proven point production,Stafford will give the Devils a chance allow younger players such as Stefan Noesen and former first rounder Michael McLeod to be used on lines that allow them to broken in slowly.

Stafford brings a big and physical around the net presence and with the recent loss of Travis Zajac to a torn pectoral musecle for four to six months,some extra help in the locker room.
One more factor could be the severe cut in pay as this could motivate Stafford since he was paid over four million a year for the last two years and the lack of interest of any team to pay him anywhere near his past standard could result in a highly motivated player for his next and maybe final contract if it would be a long term deal...

I love this for the Devils.
I always liked Stafford (the aging announcer for the Sabres used to go nuts whenever Stafford would score) and his game.
I think at just 800K,Stafford will prove to be a steal and might even be a valuable trading chip,if the Devils are out of the playoff race.
Nice signing by Ray Shero and company...

Boxing Challenge

There are lots of important fights this weekend in the boxing challenge over many networks,including an important one tonight along with the one that is all over the news.

In that vein,why is Nathan Cleverly,of all people,pictured as the face of the boxing challenge?
Well,it's because of all of these fights,Cleverly's bout vs Badou Jack and tonight's IBF middleweight eliminator between Sergey Derevyanchenko and Tureano Johnson are about the only ones that I don't rate as squash matches,so why not Cleverly,who is facing Jack on the road,on a Floyd Mayweather promoted card and in the town that his opponent operates in?
Good enough for me to pick Cleverly...
I lead the challenge 102-94.

Let's start with tonight's eliminator on FS1 with Sergey Derevyanchenko against Tureano Johnson.
This fight not only will be fun to watch with two straight forward action fighters and could very likely end in a thrilling knockout,but it's important too as the winner will eventually get a shot at the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez as the IBF number one contender.
This looms as my pick for most exciting fight of the weekend before we even get to the weekend.

And then we move to the exhibition between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
I wasn't even going to put this in the challenge at all,but I wanted to put the undercard in,so I felt it was fair to add that one as well.
But first,Saturday night on Fox,there is a pre-fight special from the scene of the fight with welterweight Yordanis Ugas,who is on a recent roll towards contention, replacing top five contender Shawn Porter against Thomas Dulorme.
Porter dropped out due to an undisclosed family issue,but I think Ugas-Dulorme is a more competitive fight.
This will be interesting because both fighters have failed in fights that attempted to raise them a level,so someone will be exposed as a gatekeeper in the division..

Now,onto the card itself- You all know about the main event,which I perceive as a joke and I'd almost think was a pro wrestling style work ( If McGregor wins,I'd feel pretty strong in thinking that),if I didn't think Mayweather would lose his mind over losing his legacy and beloved undefeated (in his mind) record.
Other than being possibly being pre-determined and the almost impossible long shot of McGregor landing a miracle shot,I see this ending one of two ways-Mayweather takes no chances,wins every round and a lopsided decision or Mayweather evades McGregor for the first three or four rounds,gasses him out and stops him more from exhaustion than from power.
Either way,save your money folks for September 16th.

The undercard isn't all that wonderful either.
Mayweather protege' Gervonta Davis defends his IBF 130 pound title against undefeated Francisco Fonseca of Costa Rica.
This looks like a good bout based on record,but Fonseca has not beaten one recognizable opponent and this is more along the lines of a squash match.

In the best fight on the card,Nathan Cleverly defends his minor light heavyweight title against former WBC super middleweight champ Badou Jack in what should be interesting.
Both Cleverly (vs Andrezj Fonfara) and Jack (vs James DeGale) have had fight of the year level fights,so I think this one steals the evening for action.
Cleverly generally beats good fighters,but loses to the elite of the division,so this will be a nice gauge of Badou Jack at 175 pounds.

The curtain jerker sees former cruiserweight champ Steve Cunningham against undefeated Andrew Tabiti.
Both have questions with the talented Tabiti stopping his first 12 opponents before facing a little higher competition and being forced to go the distance.
Cunningham looked a little faded in his loss to Krzzyztof Glowacki and has only had a six round decision bout in the 16 months since,so this could be interesting to see if Cunningham has enough to hold off a talented Tabiti....

HBO counter programs the PPV card with a two fight card from Carson,California.
The feature bout has Miguel Cotto returning to the ring in an attempt to win the WBO junior middleweight title vacated by Canelo Alvarez against Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai.
This too has its dark side as Kamegai has never defeated a top 20 contender at 154 and is thoroughly undeserving of a title fight at this weight.
However,Kamegai always fights hard,likes to come forward and will give Cotto plenty of chances to look good in a fight meant to showcase Cotto for one more big money fight-likely against Alvarez in a rematch next year...

The co-feature shows WBC junior featherweight champ Rey Vargas making his first defense against Ronny Rios.
Vargas went on the road to England to win a decision over Gavin McDonnell in his last fight and Rios has been a fighter that Golden Boy has been building for years,so this should be very competitive and will be a test for both fighters.

Middleweights. 12 rds
Sergey Derevyanchenko vs Tureano Johnson
R.L: Derevyanchenko unanimous decision
TRS: Derevyanchenko KO 6

Junior Middleweights.12 rds
Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor
R.L:Mayweather KO 5
TRS:Mayweather KO 8

IBF Junior Lightweight Title,12 rds
Gervonta Davis vs Francisco Fonseca
R.L:Davis KO 7
TRS:Davis KO 5

Light heavyweights.12 rds
Nathan Cleverly vs Badou Jack
R.L:Jack unanimous decision
TRS;Jack split decision

Cruiserweights.10 rds
Steve Cunningham vs Andrew Tabiti
R.L:Cunningham unanimous decision
TRS;Tabiti unanimous decision

Welterweights.10 rds
Yordanis Ugas vs Thomas Dulorme
R.L:Dulorme unanimous decision
TRS:Ugas unanimous decision

Vacant WBO Junior Middleweight Title.12 rds
Miguel Cotto vs Yoshihiro Kamegai
R.L: Cotto KO 9
TRS:Cotto KO 8

WBC Junior Featherweight Title.12 rds
Rey Vargas vs Ronny Rios
R.L:Vargas KO 10
TRS: Vargas unanimous decision

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cleaning out the inbox

Time for a long overdue cleaning of the inbox!

We start with ESPN's Uni Watch brought to you by Paul Lukas.
Uni Watch is one of my favorite columns on the ESPN site and whether or not I agree with Lukas and his opinions,it usually brings opinions and memories of my own to the forefront.
This one was a special article for me as the story told the history of the Houston Astros uniforms from the mid 1970's to the late 80's.
The "Tequila Sunrise" or the more commonly used "rainbow" togs have quite the history and to my knowledge,this brings the designers of these uniforms together in an oral history to tell their story for the first time....

ESPN returns to discuss just what remains of the facilities used in the last summer Olympics in Rio.
The Brazilian nation has learned what so many Olympic hosts have learned going back to Montreal in 1976-It just isn't as valuable as the money that you put into hosting it.
In just one year after the games,Rio has rampant debt and corruption along with crumbling venues that are not being maintained.
A sad,but easily foreseeable end....

The Cleveland Mustard battle that so often finds its way into the inbox has done so again,this time from
Eater looks at the history of Bertman's and Stadium,the rivalry and how chef Michael Symon has chosen a side in the battle!

I really like Bruce Markusen's Card Corner on the Baseball Hall of Fame site and he most often writes about players from the 60's-80's era,the era in which I grew up watching and collecting cards of.
In this edition,Markusen writes of one-dimensional slugger Cliff Johnson,a catcher in name,but truly a man without a position during his career.
The well-traveled Johnson was remembered by me most as a member of the 1979 Cleveland Indians,which were special to me as I've written before as the first year I was an Indians fan.
The Indians traded for Johnson in June as the Yankees were looking to dump Johnson after a wrestling match with Goose Gossage resulted in a broken thumb for the Yankee closer.
The cost of journeyman reliever Don Hood shows how badly the Yankees wanted rid of Johnson,but Johnson for the rest of that season in Cleveland was pretty close to a powerhitting star as he hit 18 homers as an Indian in just 72 games.
Johnson couldn't sustain that in 1980 though and was traded midway through that season for the immortal Karl Pagel.
I have one vivid memory of Karl Pagel that I really should write about one day...

I've been a Boise State football fan for longer than I realized now.
The west coast location,fun teams to watch and being a Mountain West team that plays lots of non-Saturday games have all contributed to my Bronco fandom.
SB Nation writes a fascinating story with lots of people close to the Boise State program that explains the past and present of how the Boise program was built and makes the argument that Boise State is the true "Moneyball" of college football.
It's comprehensive and you might want to read it two or three times to truly digest it.

We wrap up with this article on Paul Finebaum.the unlikely breakout star of ESPN over the last few years.
Finebaum,who might be a bit too SEC centric for my tastes,but still is my standard football show during the season,has come from a regional radio star to being ESPN's everyday college star on SEC Network and now his show will play some on ESPN2.
Sports Business Journal writes of the rise of Finebaum,how it happened,the relationship with his often zany callers and even his own mistakes.
It's an honest look at Finebaum as well as Finebaum admitting to a few mistakes in the past.

That finishes the inbox dustoff.
The plan is to start the final road trip of the year posts over the next few days.
I also will have boxing challenge,weekend boxing coverage and maybe even something else too...

Talkin' Browns

Time for some notes on the Cleveland Browns with some thoughts and opinions after two weeks of preseason football.

I have to admit-I don't watch preseason football other than the Browns and I only watch one of the four games even close to how I watch a regular season Browns game-complete with multiple viewings and breaking down the game.
That game is the third game,which is the game that most resembles a regular season matchup and that is coming up Saturday night against Tampa Bay.
I'm not saying I'll have coverage because of all the boxing Saturday,but when NFL Network replays it-I'll be there...

The Browns look to be reasonably deep on the defensive line,even with the recent injury to Danny Shelton.
Still,I was mildly surprised when the Browns waived Desmond Bryant and added former Bengal Brandon Thompson in his place.
Hue Jackson knows Thompson,that part I get,but Bryant (when he was in the lineup) was able to generate a pass rush up the middle,which is something that isn't always easy to acquire.
Perhaps Bryant isn't 100 percent and maybe there is more to this story than I know,but on the surface-I'm dubious at best.

I'm not sure how I feel about DeShone Kizer seemingly being on his way to starting the opener in Pittsburgh.
I am in favor of Kizer receiving plenty of playing time and I would like to see him play against both good and bad teams,but I'm not sure opening him against the Steelers is a wonderful idea.
I do want to see him play a lot because I want to know entering next years draft,if the Browns need a quarterback or not,but seeing him in the lineup this soon seems to be setting yet another quarterback up to fail.
That said,it's not like the Browns have lots of options,so if they decide to toss Kizer in there,I won't cry too much,I'll just keep my fingers crossed that things work out as well as possible.

With rumors flying that the Browns may be shopping Brock Osweiler and Osweiler not playing in Saturday's game,the question becomes do the Browns enter a season with two second year quarterbacks (Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan) and a rookie (DeShone Kizer) or do you pass on possibly gaining another asset for Brock Osweiler and keep him around for experience at the position?
My take is this-if someone offers you a 4th rounder or higher,you take it.
That would mean you have added a 2 and 4 for a player that really didn't factor into your future or present.
Otherwise,I take Osweiler into the season and maybe even start him for a few games to break Kizer in right,not that way will result in lots of wins....

My opinion on the Browns that kneeled during the anthem?
I wish that they hadn't done it.
I prefer that players (or anyone else) would choose another way to show their feelings,but the country that we live allows these things like it or not,so I wouldn't do it,but my bigger issue for the team is this-Anything that causes a distraction for a perennial loser is not a good thing-football wise...

I'll be working on more over the next few days with the New York trip,cleaning of the inbox,boxing and more..

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

He's Gone! Kyrie Irving traded to Boston

The clouds have finally lifted in Cleveland as the Kyrie Irving era has ended as the mercurial point guard was traded to the Boston Celtics,of all teams for an interesting collection that might see those teams and players slug it out for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Cleveland's return for Irving looks to be as strong as could have been expected when you consider the wall that the franchise had been put up against by the demand of Irving to be moved.

Isaiah Thomas brings an stat line that is comparable to Irving's,although his circumstances were far different than they will be in Cleveland and it'll be interesting to see how the hip injury that ended his season in the playoffs last year has healed.
I'm not saying this has a chance of happening,but I wonder how the deal potentially could be affected,should Thomas's injury be in an issue in the physical that traded players go through.
Thomas uses his quickness and speed to make plays instead of his size (5'9) as physically he doesn't always match well with larger guards,especially on the defensive end.
For these purposes,let's assume Thomas is at 100 percent and brings a motivated (free agent at the end of the season) point guard that will instantly replace Irving at that position.
Thomas excels at the pick and roll and I think his game will mesh pretty well with that of LeBron James.

Jae Crowder brings an excellent defender that can hit a three pointer (39.8 from three point land last year) and averaged 13.8 points per game.
Crowder started for Boston,but likely will be a key part of the second unit as a Cavalier and I think Crowder's arrival will save at least a few minutes a game on average on the wheels of LeBron James-minutes that will be vital in the playoffs as far as fatigue goes.
Crowder's game is rough and physical and he doesn't mind doing the dirty work under the boards and into the lane.
Crowder is signed through 2020 and I think he will be a perfect match for a Cleveland need...

Ante Zizic is another one of those Euro lottery tickets that so many teams take flyers on in the draft.
Much like the Cavaliers did with Cedi Osman a few years back,Boston took Zizic in round one (23rd overall) in the 2016 draft and signed him last month,so Zizic will be a Cavalier this season.
The seven footer from Croatia averaged just under ten points per game in 20 Euroleague (Highest level of play in Europe) games last season.
Zizic appears to be a project,but he's younger (20) than most Euro big men that come over,so there may be an upside to him as the third player in the trade.

Alas the most important player in the long term is not even a player yet-the unprotected 2018 first rounder of the Brooklyn Nets,the worst team in the league last season.
The Nets have added a few players (DeAngelo Russell from the Lakers,Allen Crabbe from the Trail Blazers,DeMarre Carroll from the Raptors) that should improve them and I wouldn't think Brooklyn is a slam dunk to be the worst team this season,but that pick is a slam dunk to be in the top 10 and I think it might even be one to be in the top five.
That pick sets up the Cavaliers in one of two ways (as long as Brooklyn doesn't improve more than expected).
The first would be in drafting a building block for the future in the event that LeBron James left for other courts after this season.
I believe with Kevin Love,Jae Crowder,a top five pick etc would be a playoff team in the weaker Eastern Conference,although not a title contender and this pick positions the Cavaliers for a LeBron less future.
The second would be that depending on the pick and on the player selected,LeBron James might be more amenable to staying in Cleveland.
Adding a young wingman that could ease the long term transition that comes with aging for James could be just the ticket for James to consider re-signing.

As for Kyrie Irving.
I'll miss his ability and his talent,but I think he'll be easier to replace than one thinks and that's not sour grapes.
I've said and written for quite a while that I've thought that Kyrie Irving is more of a true 2 guard than a point guard and his shots per game (Irving shot more last season per game than LeBron James) bear that out.
The game has changed,so one doesn't have to be a pass first point guard to succeed in today's league,but I remember the Irving Cavaliers before the return of LeBron James and he may not be the type of player that raises other players level.
Kyrie Irving sure is exciting and fun to watch,but also has never been an iron man in being able to stay on the floor and I'm interested to see how he deals with adversity in the Boston press,a corps never noted for soft shoeing in the past.
I'll always be grateful for Kyrie Irving's performance in bringing the Cavaliers their championship and I'll always remember him fondly for the championship deciding shot.
I'll also always remember that he demanded this trade because he thought he was better than having to share the floor with the greatest player of his time.
Memories do work both ways...

In closing,give new general manager Koby Altman a hand.
Altman's first major move saw the Cavaliers receive far more than almost anyone could have thought when news of the trade demand of Kyrie Irving leaked.
A top level guard (assuming the hip is fine),a gritty role player that championship teams always need,a potential usable big man and a potential impact player from the 2018 draft is far more than I would have thought the Cavaliers would have gotten,so give credit to Koby Altman for that.
Still,I would have rather not had this been needed-I'm still stunned that Kyrie Irving's need to be number one outweighed winning.
That might just be the eventual epitaph for one young man's career....

Back later with a cleaning of the inbox that will include some Browns talk....

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Road Trip:Charlotte

My final day of my trip with Fred Landucci finished off in Charlotte before I went home for two days of somewhat rest before my final trip of the season.

Before that trip (I just arrived home from that one-look for trip stories as the week goes by) though,lets finish up this one with my good buddy Fred.

I liked our hotel in Kernersville,but we had lots of time to kill and not a lot of ways to kill it.
So,the solution?
We drove and talked a lot and it's always good time to talk on the road.
I've always thought (and heard before,it's not original thinking) that you really get to know a person on the road and on the rare occasion that you are on the road with someone that you dislike that you can either grow to like them a little or worse-a minute can seem interminable.

So,we drove,looking for things to do.
Stop number one-The world's hottest ballpark in Kannapolis NC.
I wrote about the heat on the seat in Kannapolis when Mike Oravec and I visited the area and Mike and I have tried to get across to people just how hot that place is.
You never are quite able to get the point across,so I walked Fred down to where we were and explained before he sat down-Now this is 11 AM,not 2 PM,so we had three more hours of sun on the seat,look where the sun is now and imagine where it is over the three hours to come and the temperature is 85 right now-add about 10 more degrees.
Now sit down and tell me.
Fred sat down and in about five seconds hollered "MY ASS IS ON FIRE"!!!
I couldn't stop laughing!
We walked around the stadium as Fred's ass tried to cool itself before he went to the team shop to buy a hat from the team.
I'm glad someone now knows a small fraction of what we dealt with that day!

We had considered the NASCAR Hall of Fame,but Fred thought that it would likely be expensive and with neither of us being huge NASCAR fans,it would likely be more money (not to mention the always present parking fees) than it would be worth.
We started driving with good conversation,stopped at Cabela's that ended with this classic conversation.
Me: Hi,I'm looking to take my friend someplace inside and cool so the heat doesn't get to him.
Any place close like that?
Jeremy: Well,there's Carowinds next door.
Me:The amusement park?
Me:That's outside and I'll pay through the nose to do it.
Jeremy: Uh huh.
Me:Walking away,shaking my head..

The resulting nothing of that conversation meant that we just kept on driving,enjoying the weather and finally arriving in Blythewood South Carolina at the Lizard's Thicket.
The Thicket is a local chain with most of them located in the Columbia South Carolina area and features homestyle cooking and Fred decided on it off this exit over the other entry-Groucho's Deli.
I thought the food was good with lots of southern style options.
I chose the meat loaf and it was very good with southern slaw (a cole slaw variation) and fries.
It might not be for everyone,but if you like hearty comfort food,The Lizard's Thicket might be for you...

We drove back to Charlotte to wait for the Charlotte Knights and found a great spot in a parking deck across from the ball park.
Fred and I waited as long as we could before waiting in the line.
The noted Southern humidity was going to be a factor and I didn't want Fred to be worn out with such a long drive home.

The game wasn't as important as the guest of the day-former Tiger and Twin ace Jack Morris.
Fred would make a mistake,but his mistake would turn out to be a blessing in disguise as I'll say shortly.
There are signs all around the Charlotte stadium,take all metal items out of pockets and listed a bunch of those kinds of things to remove-including pocket change.
Fred didn't do that and left change in his pockets,setting the alarm off  and taking about five minutes to complete.

That was frustrating a half hour later when Morris went to the field for a pre-game interview and for the 1st pitch-the line was cut off right in front of me!
That meant that I could either graph the Charlotte Knights or remain in the line for Morris.
I needed Morris on his 1988 and 1990 Score's and my hope was that I could get Morris to sign one and get back in the line to get the second.
The cut off spoiled that plan and would have meant our Charlotte departure would be far longer.
As I talked to the lady in charge about our drive home etc,she offered this "tell him that and see what happens,he did sign two for someone early over the protests of the handlers".
By the way,the handlers in Charlotte were great for this-they aren't all great,as you'll see in a future post.
When Morris came up and I stepped up,I put two cards in front of him and asked "Mr,Morris,could you please sign two? We have close to a seven hour drive after this"
His response: "Guess you better start going then" and added a smile.
I said "As soon as you sign,we are gone!"
Things happen for a reason sometimes-had Fred prepared better in the security portion,we would have been closer in line,gotten one item early and maybe not gotten our second.
Funny,how things bounce sometimes.

That wasn't quite true even as Morris signed both,but it was close as after a few pictures of the field and a run to the gift shop (Rachel had selected Charlotte as her trip shirt) before leaving.
Charlotte did a great job in making their stadium (the NFL Panthers play down the street) safe,easy to find and with easy access to the freeways to move people away,Charlotte might be the easiest big city stadium that I have seen yet to get in and out of.

That was about as exciting as it got on the way home.
Fred and I stopped at another Cookout for dinner before leaving the area.
As I noted earlier,Cookout is good,cheap and filling,so you can't beat it for road eats!

Thanks to my good friend Fred Landucci for a great trip and great time!
Fred has been a great friend to me and my family and I hope to take trips with him next year as well!
The plan was to work on more posts and start the final trip of the year with Mike Oravec next,but a little thing called Kyrie Irving getting traded has gotten in the way.
My take on the massive deal sending Irving to the Boston Celtics on the next post....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Road Trip:Burlington

Day three moved us on to Burlington, North Carolina for a visit that would move Burlington Athletic Park from the "been to" list onto the game list for the Burlington Royals and the visiting Danville Braves.

But that comes later, we begin in Johnson City as we planned to lunch in town before hitting the road.
Once again, Trip Advisor allowed me to check some stops out, send Fred a list of a few options, and have Fred pick where to go for lunch.
This once again would prove very fruitful when Fred listened to me and later not so much when he didn't!
Just kidding, Fred, but seriously Cootie Brown's was tremendous!!

I had seen a Cootie Brown's from our road trip to Bristol, so I was familiar with the name, if not the menu.
I ordered a Reuben (on Wheat, not the listed Pumpernickel) and added some extra meat.
I almost never do this, but it's a road trip, one does things like this!

I added a side of their "famous" homemade potato chips, which were OK, but nothing tremendously special, but our server Andee (yes, I asked about the spelling) told us all about the Key Lime Pie being famous.
Now, after the potato chips, I did wonder a little, but the Reuben was great, so I was open, especially when Andee talked about her baseball fandom and she knew her stuff.
I'm not always a massive dessert person, but the picture did look good and I usually like to try what a place is famous for, so when Fred accepted my offer to split a piece, I was all in.
Well, in a word-Wow!
First of all, that piece IS a half piece, so the serving is large and the taste has to be tasted to be believed!
If you ever are in either Bristol or Johnson City, you owe it to yourself to try Key Lime Pie at Cootie Brown's and ask for Andee-especially if you are a baseball fan!

I wish I could say the drive to Burlington was enjoyable.
I wish, but I can't mainly because the GPS kicked us far off the beaten path that we were driving through forests (although we did see a really cool lake) and a pouring thunderstorm during much of the drive. 

Instead of going on highways, we were going through places like Boone, North Carolina.
If you ever truly want to know just how much of an upset Appalachian State over Michigan was-drive through Boone!
It was far too long of a trip, but it was a good chance to talk to Fred (although I fell asleep) with a trip through Wilkesboro, where North Wilkesboro Speedway, the former home of two NASCAR races, we saw the track and the still existing, but badly faded Winston Cup sign from the interstate and had I thought about it, I might have asked Fred to stop and look around, but this trip and Wilkesboro brought the quote of the trip.
Entering Wilkesboro's limits, the sign greeting us said "Wilkesboro-Where the Mountains begin".
Me: "where the mountains begin? Then where the hell were we for the last two hours? the beach?"

We finally arrived in Burlington after riding by our hotel by accident and deciding to take advantage by checking in, so we were treated to seeing a parking accident right in front of us.
Considering there were so few cars in the lot, the offending party should have felt like an idiot for even considering squeezing in beside another car.
I wrote before about my trip with Mike to Burlington to see the park, but this was my first trip for a game there.
Burlington's Royals come from a clubhouse area so they have to walk through the crowd to reach the field.

I got most of a team set finished and was the only one graphing the Royals.

On the other side, Fred was trying to get some Kevin Maitan's for my friends since I had failed so badly on Maitan in Bristol.
Alas, Maitan was still just one per and the lucky winner was Mike Oravec of Maitan's lovely "KM".
We watched some of the game and watch Maitan make two errors at shortstop (considering he's 17 when I look at his build if he makes it'll be as a third baseman) and hit off for dinner.
This time, we went with Fred's recommendation at the Village Grill.
Our server was nice, but the food was slow and pedestrian for the price, although I did enjoy the "Chesapeake Slaw", which was quite good.

Back to the hotel, where I did have a television with something called "Spectrum".
Spectrum offered on demand for free and did something that cable/satellite companies never do and I've screamed about for a long time-they put their channels in alphabetical order!
Easy to find, easy to flip through-makes so much sense, and next to no one does it that way...

I'll be back soon with the final day of my trip with Fred which features lots of driving, a thicket with Lizards, Jack Morris, and the Charlotte Knights...

Crawford stops Indongo in Three-Boxing Challenge

Ramon Malpica and I each scored four points on Saturday night's Top Rank card from Lincoln,Nebraska with correct selections on both fights.
The Challenge now stands at 102-94.

In the main event,Terence Crawford looked terrific in stopping Julius Indongo in the third round with a vicious body shot,
Crawford had knocked Indongo down in the second round,but Indongo did land his share of shots on Crawford and Indongo was trying to win rather than survive,so credit him for that.
The victory gives Crawford all four junior welterweight titles and he said he might consider making one defense of the four titles before a move to 147 pounds,although I'd be surprised if that happened.
Crawford fights against PBC champions Keith Thurman and Errol Spence would be must see television (although Crawford's activity goes against the often idle fighters in the PBC) and would help establish any winner of those bouts as pound for pound top contenders.

Oleksander Gvozdyk stopped Craig Baker in round six of their light heavyweight bout.
Gvozdyk looked impressive in finishing Baker in the final round,but looked a little listless in the first five rounds of the fight.
Gvozdyk called out Andre Ward after the fight,a fight that could happen with Ward seemingly on his way to Top Rank after doing the bout as a color commentator.
Gvozdyk is talented and has a bright future,but might not have enough seasoning for Ward at this time.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Road Trip:Greenville SC & GreenEville Tennessee!

Day two continues with a stay in Greenville before we moved on to Johnson City and Greeneville.

Well,there two cities in minor league baseball named Greenville or Greeneville,if you please and we would be leaving one and entering another before the end of the night!
The day would start in South Carolina,where Fred had booked a private tour of us of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum across the street from Flour Field.

The museum (and the house Jackson lived in) is on a side street,located directly across from where we had parked the previous day,so it was easy to find.
The home is only open for a few hours on Saturday,so you have to book things through them,if the need is on other than those days.

Our host Bill was both gracious and knowledgeable about Jackson and after his talk,we were given the run of the place for as long as we wanted.
It was interesting to see all the Jackson items and hear about Greenville's favorite son from such a nice gentleman.
It's a nice place and enough to keep the attention of an average baseball fan,but I think you could (if you had the place to yourself) comfortably see everything in a hour.
Thanks to Bill for opening the place up for us and to Fred for the legwork in hooking us up along with the twenty dollar donation for doing so!

After our time at the Jackson Museum,we decided on lunch in Greenville before leaving town and I gave Fred a list of four or five places that looked interesting on Trip Advisor for him to choose from.
I do the same with Mike Oravec sometimes and it usually seems to work out well.
Fred selected Chicken Salad Chick,a specialty place that almost all of the main menu is featuring various Chicken Salads.
I loved it as you received a scoop or a sandwich as your main course and can select one of many sides to go with it or another scoop on the side if you wish.
I selected a scoop as the side choices didn't seem to be my style.
I had a sandwich on wheat with "kickin Kay Lynne" (you can click here for exactly what is in each one) with a side scoop of "Jalapeno Holly".
It was delicious and for lunch,Chicken Salad Chick was rockin with customers,so others must be fans as well.
If you see one of these-make sure you stop as it hits the spot for a light lunch!

Next stop was scheduled to be Greeneville,Tennessee,but Fred and I called an audible as we were going to go to Greeneville that night and Johnson City on the next day for an 11 AM game,but we decided to try to finish Johnson City and then hit Greeneville.
If this worked out well,we could clear out the next morning and have more open time on our way to Burlington,North Carolina,which was over three hours away,

The main target was former Cardinal first round pick Delvin Perez,who Fred wanted on a baseball and who had a top 100 for me,but we would be be quickly foiled as Perez had been injured two nights before and was no longer in Johnson City.
Fred waited outside for the visiting Elizabethton Twins,who appeared in uniform since they only traveled 15 minutes to get to Johnson City and was able to get Wander Javier,a player that the Twins signed to a four million bonus and coach Jeff Reed,who was a long time journeyman catcher in the big leagues.
As the rain began to fall in Johnson City,I was able to get a card signed that had been in my box for years as Cardinals hitting coach Brandon Allen signed his 2008 Carolina League top prospect card along with three more.

The rain was dropping harder and harder as we jumped into the car drove the 40 minutes or so to Greeneville Tennessee for the Astros against the visiting Kingsport Mets.
Kingsport never makes a team set and Greeneville skipped 2016 and 2017 sets,so I had just a few cards for coach and former Astro Cesar Cedeno and one for the manager Danny Ortega along with a Tri-City card for outfielder Reid Russell.
It was just as important to knock Greeneville off the stadium list as to get cards signed.
It was easy to find the stadium,but students were back in school at Tusculum College,where the Astros share the field with Tusculum and parking was in short supply.
We wasted several minutes riding around trying to find parking until a team employee told us to park in a certain area.
The game was in a rain delay and I was stunned to find such high prices for an Appy League team.
Food was quite high and four dollars for a program?
Give the Astros credit for a nice gift shop though that sold hats for all the teams in the league.

As we finally neared the field,warmups had begun with the rain stopping,but Cedeno and Ortega parked themselves in the dugout and never moved,but I did get Reid Russell as he walked to the dugout,so it wasn't a total loss.
We watched for a while,but with the late start,we realized dinner might be hard to come by in Greeneville,which turned out to be correct.
There was next to nothing open and we had to settle for a Mexican place,which is never my preferred meal.
Those of you that know me know that I love hot and spicy foods,but the soft bread that seems to be part of so many Mexican style dishes leaves me less than thrilled.
I ordered nachos that weren't bad,if they had more nachos.
They were the opposite of so many dishes-lots of toppings,few nacho chips.

A drive back to the hotel in Johnson City concluded the day with an evening with no television as some genius (not me) had disconnected it.
Combining that with the fridge being unplugged when I checked in and I wasn't thrilled with the hotel on this night.
The odd thing was of the three nights,I liked this room the best,it was just the other things that ruined it.

I'll be working on day three in Burlington and day four in Charlotte soon!!

Boxing Challenge!

The Boxing Challenge continues Saturday night on ESPN as for the first time in years (going back to the Bernard Hopkins middleweight reign) that all four titles in a division will be unified as Terence Crawford (WBC and WBO) will face fellow champion Julius Indongo (WBA and IBF) in Lincoln,Nebraska.
Crawford is one of the top fighters in the game,while Indongo has come out of nowhere to win his titles in his last two bouts on the road,where he will have to win again in order to hold all four belts.
It'll interesting to see how Crawford handles being the shorter fighter with the lesser reach for a change,so this fight does have some intrigue.

In the co-feature,power hitting light heavyweight Oleksander Gvozdyk takes on Craig Baker in what looks to be a squash match.,,
I lead Ramon Malpica in the challenge 98-90.

Unification WBA & IBF vs WBC & WBO Junior Welterweight Titles.12 rds
Julius Indongo vs Terence Crawford
R.L:Crawford KO 10
TRS: Crawford KO 12

Light Heavyweights,10 rds
Oleksander Gvozdyk vs Craig Baker
R.L: Gvozdyk KO 4
TRS:Gvodyk KO 2

Friday, August 18, 2017

Road Trip:Greenville SC

I have had a bunch of trips this month and more to come so these road trip recaps will be dribbling out over the next week or two,but I wanted to get started as quickly as I could.

We moved from Hagerstown to our first stop in Greenville South Carolina at 5;30.Greenville is about seven and a half hours away from home,so we left in plenty of time for a 4;00 start for the Greenville Drive (Boston) and the visiting Rome Braves (Atlanta) game in the final game of their series.

We stopped for lunch in North Carolina at a fast food place called "Cookout".
I had never stopped there before,but Ryan and Battlin' Bob had both recommended Cookout as having good food,lots of it and at a great price,so Fred and I decided to try it.
It was excellent and a large burger,two sides and a drink for 4.99 is a great deal.
The exploding price at fast food places is a major issue for me and why I don't eat a lot of it anymore-which isn't a bad thing,I suppose!
There is just one Cookout in Maryland (Salisbury),so you have to go deep into Virginia to start to see them,but if you do-give them a shot.

Rolling into Greenville a bit early,we managed to nab a good parking space and walked around Fluor Field for a while.
We got our tickets at the front of the stadium and took the above picture of the Shoeless Joe Jackson statue at the front of the field.
I'll have more on Joe Jackson in my next post,but Greenville has done a terrific job of remembering the legacy of Jackson.
I didn't spend very much money at any of the souvenir stands at any game I attended on this trip,so I didn't buy anything at the Drive's shop,although Fred continued his hat buying!
Actually,I didn't spend any money on myself at any of the team shops-I'm quite proud!

Greenville's Fluor Field is designed by field dimensions to echo the parent Red Sox' Fenway Park and it does so well.
The only real difference that struck me was the "little green monster" looked so bare and I couldn't figure out why.
I figured out later why that was-the Fenway board also has out of town scores from around the league and the Greenville board only has the Drive game.

I found something else that I had never been asked to do before-I was metal wanded.
Fortunately for me,my card total was smaller than usual and even though I worked out of the briefcase for the trip,I didn't bring it inside to any of the stadiums that we visited-I missed it though.
I like having everything in front of me and visual,so I feel a little bit lost without it...
We would later be wanded again in Charlotte,which makes me wonder why some do this and others do not.
I don't have a problem being wanded,it's just that it slows everything up-As I will discuss more in a future post.

When you enter Fluor Field from either side,you have a straight look at the field and the field quickly fills the field of vision.
Everything is in front of you and well laid out and it's easy to see where you need to go.
Fred and I needed to autograph more in this series than any of the others really and needed a fast start.
The Greenville Drive does not come to Hagerstown this season and the Rome Braves came in May before the release of their team set,so I had plenty to do with the main targets being Rome's Ian Anderson and Greenville's Jason Groome.
Anderson had been a great signer earlier in the season,but his Top 100 card had not been released yet and Groome,as noted,had not been around at all.

Fluor Field's layout for autographs was very reminiscent of State College,but even better.
Where at State College,the visiting team comes out of a third base chute and the Spikes have a dugout tunnel,but warm up near the chute,in Greenville-both teams come out of the chute!
Makes player access easy and for both teams.
I was able to get many of the Greenville players and some of the Rome players (I had team set stuff for Mike Oravec) with the surprising hardest player being Rome outfielder Christian Pache,who I was only able to get one of his SAL prospect and All-Star cards done.
Ian Anderson came out very late and Fred was by the chute as opposed to my being closer to the field.
I quickly got my top 100 to Fred and held the rest of my cards in case Anderson had time to sign by my spot.
Fred got the most important one knocked out and when Anderson came to me,he signed four of five,so I consider that successful!
Jason Groome came out even later and I thought he might even be charting,but he signed my top 100,SAL prospect and Mike's SAL prospect and asked how many more I had.
I said 4 and he said "I'm really late,I'll get the rest after the game".
I had little doubt that he would have,but we would not be around....

The heat in the South is different than that here in the North and I could tell in was quickly taking its toll on Fred.
He looked a bit out of his comfort zone,so after we sat in our seats (shaded) and he still didn't look great,we decided to go back to the hotel to let Fred get back into the swing of things.
After a rest and an average dinner at a place called Italian Gardens,we were finished for the day.

I would definitely return to the Drive for a future visit.
The ballpark is great,the staff was very friendly and you can do well autographing there.
I'll have more on day two on the town of Greenville in the next road trip post,hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning!!!