Saturday, July 31, 2021

Indians busy trade deadline

 The Cleveland Indians up until a week or so were thought to be a player for a big bat for a team trying to stay relevant in the playoff conversation.

How the team was going to afford this bat was a question to ask, but with the team sliding eight games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see the Indians trade some players and still add a player or two as well.

Cleveland did add a player to the roster and even another one for about an hour or two but with several deals over two days, the Indians managed to make many wonder just what the hell the team is thinking.

Let's start with the trade that brought the one player in these trades to Cleveland immediately as the Indians traded reliever Phil Maton and minor league catcher Yainer Diaz to Houston for outfielder Myles Straw.

Straw had started in centerfield for most of this season for the Astros, batting .262 with two homers, thirty-four RBI, and seventeen stolen bases.

The twenty-six-year-old Straw hits righthanded, is a plus outfielder defensively, lacks power, and has excellent speed.

In other words, Straw fits the Indians' top fetish in outfielders- fast guys without power and they can add to the several that they already have in that department in Bradley Zimmer, Oscar Mercado, Daniel Johnson, and seemingly most of their outfielders since Alex Cole.

Straw will likely be given a chance to own the centerfield job as he did in Houston, and hopefully, he'll know how to call a flyball as it seems needs to be worked on with the Indians, as Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson showed last night as the pair turned a deep flyball into a Yoan Moncada homer by running into each other, but I don't see him as an upgrade over the mediocre bunch that they have already on the roster and its a safe bet that one is going out the door to either Columbus or perhaps gone period.

Maton was an average reliever (2-0 4.57 ERA in 41 innings) by most numbers, but his 61 strikeouts in 41 innings this season suggest that he may be on the verge of stepping to a higher level of performance at the age of 28 and Diaz was hitting .314 with five homers for low A Lynchburg stamping him as a prospect of note.

I think Maton is on the verge of being an excellent bullpen piece and I hate the Indians losing him.

While I don't have a problem with the Indians trading for an outfielder, I would have liked to have seen someone that isn't so similar to what the team already possesses.

I don't think Straw looks any better or worse than what the team already has and if that's the case- why trade away a decent setup guy in Maton or what appears to be an interesting catching prospect in Diaz?

With the Straw trade raising a few red flags, the other trades set alarms of various noise.

The one trade that I really liked was with the Tampa Bay Rays as the soon-to-be former Tribe shipped another of their clump of outfielders in Jordan Luplow and minor league pitcher D.J. Johnson to the Rays for minor league pitcher Peyton Battenfield.

Battenfield was a combined 5-0 with an ERA of 2.14 in fourteen starts between High A Bowling Green and AA Montgomery with 95 strikeouts in 67 innings.

Battenfield was the Astros ninth-round pick in 2019 from Oklahoma State and his numbers make him a pitcher that I think could be very helpful in the long run.

Battenfield was assigned to AA Akron.

Jordan Luplow had been on a rehab assignment with AAA Columbus and will remain on assignment with Tampa's AAA affiliate in Durham.

Luplow hit only .173 in his 121 plate appearances this season before an ankle injury but did hit seven homers and with his reputation as a lefty murderer, it made sense for Tampa to take a chance at a bounceback off their bench.

Journeyman pitcher D.J. Johnson was included in the deal after spending most of the season at AAA Columbus in their bullpen (1-2 with six saves, 3.32 ERA) and will give Tampa Bay a veteran option in their bullpen, should they require it.

This one was my favorite of all the trades considering the potential of Battenfield and the value of journeymen Luplow and Johnson.

The day before the deadline was a bit of a head-scratcher but it was possible that the market was limited for veteran second baseman Cesar Hernandez despite a career season in power numbers.

Hernandez was traded to division rival Chicago for minor league pitcher Konnor Pilkington and while I don't think the Indians are legitimately a threat to catch the White Sox, it was a sign of surrender to send Hernandez there.

Hernandez was hitting only. 234, but his eighteen homers exceeded his career-high by three already which I would have thought would have made him more desirable to a contender.

Hernandez was a free agent at the end of the year, although there is a team option and the Indians have a group of young infielders ready to move up next season, so I understand moving him but it's a really bad look when you send him to a team that you are supposedly trying to catch, even it isn't realistic to do so.

Konnor Pilkington is a lefthanded starter, who pitched fairly well for AA Birmingham in fourteen starts (4-4 3.48 ERA with 71 strikeouts) this season.

Pilkington was the White Sox third-round selection in 2018 from Mississippi State and had struggled until this season as a pro but I like his 71 strikeouts in 62 innings.

My problem with this trade isn't Pilkington, who like Peyton Battenfield was assigned to AA  Akron, trading Hernandez, or even trading to the White Sox as a division rival.

It's more about another bad look for a franchise that seems to be piling bad looks up in a large photo album.

The final deal is one of those deals that are all about the money even though the team insists it's not about the money as the Indians sent their top free-agent signee in Eddie Rosario to the Atlanta Braves along with cash considerations for veteran Pablo Sandoval, who was immediately released by Cleveland.

Rosario was on the disabled list and I'm sure that hurt his marketability but he didn't play up to expectations hitting .254 with seven homers and forty-six RBI and the Indians shipped some cash to Atlanta to help with the remainder of his one year eight million contract.

Rosario wasn't going to be back next year and again I was Ok moving him but it looks like the team is being cheap as usual to trade him for a player that they immediately released.

Sure, the trade was a way to open a spot on the 40 man roster and it will allow a few outfielders to get some at-bats and that's all well and good but it just makes the organization look so awful.

Look, I know the Indians were tied up a bit trying to trade an injured Eddie Rosario and I thought they did very well in getting Peyton Battenfield from Tampa Bay.

But I'm far more pessimistic about the trade for Myles Straw than it seems that most are and the small payroll with promises of more next season with a new minority owner could be true but it's never going to be as much help as the franchise needs to compete consistently.

The news out of Progressive Field of late has been good on few occasions, it didn't get a lot better at the trade deadline. 


Friday, July 30, 2021

Giants add Kris Bryant and Tony Watson

    The San Francisco Giants had to have seen the moves that the Los Angeles Dodgers had made in acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner and felt they had to do something to level the playing field.

San Francisco's three-game lead didn't feel secure enough to stand pat and the Giants grabbed a huge bat for their lineup along with a familiar arm for their bullpen and will now hope that they have enough muscle to hold off the West Coast version of Steinbrenner U.

Kris Bryant's power bat will serve the Giants' needs perfectly into a lineup that has been productive even without names that would only be recognizable by the hardest of minor league followers, but where the intrigue with Bryant begins goes beyond the postseason run.

Bryant is a free agent at the end of the season, but Bryant is from Las Vegas (the Bay Area is the closest MLB market to Vegas) and the Giants may have more money to spend in next years free-agent market, so this not only helps the stretch run for the Giants, but it also gives Bryant and the Giants a chance to kick the tires and see if the player, organization, and ballpark are a good fit for one another.

Bryant was hitting .265 with 18 homers with 51 RBI for the rebuilding Cubs and had problems with the organization going back to his rookie season over the team manipulating his service time for arbitration eligibility, so he was almost certainly not going to return to Wrigley Field.

The righthanded hitting Bryant would seem to be a perfect fit for a Giants team that lost Evan Longoria to a shoulder sprain in early June and have been running out various options to third base since then, but the Giants could also use Bryant at first until Brandon Belt returns from his injury (Belt is on a rehab assignment as of this writing) or even the outfield in a possible scenario that includes Belt and Longoria.

The cost was not cheap as toolsy outfielder Alexander Canario was so highly prized by the Giants that the team placed him on the 40 man roster despite Canario only playing 49 games for the now-defunct short-season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in 2019, due to fear that a crummy team could take him and stash him away from the Rule V draft.

Canario was hitting .235 with nine homers for Low A San Jose this season with fifteen steals, but at 21 is highly thought of as a prospect.

San Francisco also included pitcher Caleb Killian as the second player in the trade and Killian has been the breakout pitching prospect for the Giants this season at two different levels.

Killian was drafted in the ninth round from Texas Tech in 2019 and has been excellent for High A Eugene (3-0 1.25 ERA 32 strikeouts in four starts) and AA Richmond (3-2 2.43 ERA 64 strikeouts in eleven starts).

Killian was considered as a possibility for the Giants rotation next season, so he is certainly a prospect that the Giants hate to lose.

One can never have too many arms for the bullpen and the Giants brought back an arm from the past as they obtained lefthander Tony Watson from the Anaheim Angels.

Watson was 3-3 and 4.64 ERA in 36 appearances for the Angels and could fill into the lefty specialist role in the late innings.

San Francisco sent three minor league pitchers to the Angels- Sam Selman, Jose Marte, and Ivan Armstrong.

The thirty-year-old Selman appeared in seven games for the Giants (0-0 4.50 ERA) but has spent most of the season with AAA Sacramento (1-0 1 save and 4.03 ERA)

Marte spent most of the season with AA Richmond ( 2-0 3.57 ERA 36 strikeouts in 22 innings) in their bullpen and has been reported to have been clocked near 100 MPH at times this season.

At twenty-five, Marte is a bit old for the level, but those types of arms from the bullpen will receive many opportunities to show a power arm.

Armstrong is the most interesting prospect to me at 21 with low A San Jose, the 6'5 righthander was 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA in twenty appearances.

The San Francisco Giants are a team that is exceeding expectations, but in a division with two free-spending teams in Los Angeles and San Diego, the Giants needed to do something to try to upgrade and at least make those teams deadline deals a wash in the overall picture.

Players like Kris Bryant come at a high price, even as a rental, but the Giants needed to do something to show that the effort is there to make a run in the homestretch.

Next writing will look at the various deals by the Cleveland IndiGuardians and whatever their deals brought in or rather what the hell is going on in Cleveland? 




Cavaliers select Evan Mobley

   Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman is a man that is attempting to keep his job beyond the upcoming season.

Altman will need to thread the needle and make few mistakes to do so but the Cavaliers were rumored to be considering offers for the third pick overall, most notably from Oklahoma City for their two first-rounders ( six and sixteen)  and losing out on one of several elite players in what seems to be a loaded draft.

Instead, Altman wisely held onto the pick and selected USC center Evan Mobley, who some teams thought was the best player available in the draft.

Mobley fits the role of the modern NBA big man, he can run the floor, play all five spots on defense, handle the ball well, and protect the rim with a unique ability to block shots.

Mobley's shot may not be solid from three yet, but it shows promise of developing and his midrange game looks strong, although he does need work in the post.

Not that many big men today use a lot of post moves, but it would be nice to have them in case of need.

Mobley could be stronger and his rebounding can use some help that could come as he gains strength.

Mobley has been compared to Chris Bosh and it's an apt comparison, but he reminds me of a shorter and modern version of Ralph Sampson with the ball skills and ability in the open floor.

Mobley can play center, but could also play power forward, and that versatility may factor into the decision that the Cavaliers will have to make shortly about matching any offers to restricted free agent Jarrett Allen.

I think the two could play together on the floor, but the Cavaliers could decide to allow Allen to leave should a team give him a contract that is beyond what Cleveland would willing to pay.

Mobley passes very well and I think he has the type of upside that may make him an elite player should he reach his potential.

I think Cleveland made the right selection of Mobley over Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes mainly due to the uniqueness of Mobley at a position that continues to evolve by the season.

I'd be very surprised if he turns out to be a bust and he has a chance to be an elite All-NBA level performer.

The selection of Evan Mobley was the best choice for the Cavaliers and has the potential to be the best player of a great draft. 



Thursday, July 29, 2021

Cavaliers acquire Ricky Rubio

   The Cleveland Cavaliers addresses a large need a few hours before the NBA Draft when they acquired veteran guard Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for guard Taurean Prince, a 2022 second-round pick acquired from Washington, and an undisclosed amount of cash.

The 31-year-old Rubio is expected to replace Matthew Dellavedova as the veteran backup to Darius Garland at point guard after Dellavedova decided to return to his native Australia to play next season.

Rubio spent the first six seasons of his career with Minnesota before moving to Utah for two and then Phoenix for one before returning to the Timberwolves for the 2020-21 season when he averaged a career-low 8.6 points with 6.4 assists per game, playing twenty-six minutes a game which was also a career-low.

Rubio is currently playing for Spain in the Tokyo Olympics as their point guard.

Rubio isn't a great shooter ( only 39 percent for his career and 32 percent from three-point range) but he is an excellent passer with great floor vision and seems to be a good fit with a Cavalier team that could have big men that will need to see the ball that includes Kevin Love, who played extremely well with Rubio in Minnesota, Larry Nance Jr, Jarrett Allen (should Cleveland keep him from restricted free agency) and possibly Evan Mobley, should the Cavaliers select him as rumored in the draft.

Rubio will make 17.8 million next season as the final year of a three-year deal that he signed with Phoenix in 2019, which is an overpay for the production that Rubio gave the Timberwolves last season, but the Cavaliers had some space to squeeze Rubio under the cap and the expiring deal could give Rubio some value at the trade deadline next season.

Taurean Prince averaged ten points a game for Cleveland and just under four rebounds in twenty-nine games after being obtained with Jarrett Allen from Brooklyn in a mid-season trade.

Prince looked to be an odd man among forwards in Cleveland for next season and his contract was needed to make the trade work under the cap to land Rubio.  

Ricky Rubio isn't going to turn the Cavaliers into winners, but he's a nice off the bench piece at this stage of his career, and considering the minimal cost to bring him into the fold, I'm OK with the trade.



Devils sign Dougie Hamilton

   The New Jersey Devils had tons of cap space entering the free agency period and were rumored to be players in free agency due to that space.

However, the Devils had that same space in recent years and didn't use it to try to jump-start a program that has seen the once-proud franchise miss the postseason in eight of the most recent nine seasons.

Add that Newark isn't exactly a high-end destination for free agents, the recent success of the Islanders dropping the  Devils to third place in a three-team market, owners that have said they are willing to spend to improve but really haven't done so often since buying the franchise and you have a recipe for a team that would be involved in rumors for the top players but unlikely to sign them.

Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils thumbed their nose at all of those factors when they landed the top player available in free agency and at a position that the Devils were desperate for a difference-maker when the Devils signed defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year contract worth sixty-three million dollars.

Hamilton was taken ninth overall by Boston in the 2011 draft, which was the same draft that the Devils selected Adam Larsson fourth overall at the same position.

While I really liked Larsson in that draft as the top defenseman and Larsson has developed into a fine player, it's clear that Dougie Hamilton is the superior player, especially in the offensive zone.

Hamilton scored 10 goals with 32 assists in 55 games last season for Carolina, is a power-play standout, and brings the type of offensive skills to the blueline that the Devils haven't seen since the departure of Scott Niedermayer.

Hamilton has scored 10 or more goals in each of the last seven seasons and at 6'6 has the type of size and vision that few in the game possess.

Hamilton finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting last season, Hamilton would be the best defenseman on almost every team in the league and very few players of his level make it to the free-agent market.

Hamilton only recently turned 28 and for most players that are signing a long free-agent contract, Hamilton is actually quite young.

Hamilton will be 35 when the deal is finished, and when you consider that many elite defensemen play into their late thirties, there may not be the drastic dropoff in performance that many veterans have on such long contracts.

Compared to the eight-year extension for seventy-six million for Seth Jones, the Blackhawks agreed to yesterday for a player that Hamilton is superior to, You'll see why I am excited about the contract for the player on the ice and its value the salary cap.

When you consider all of those factors, this appears to be an excellent contract for Hamilton and a relative bargain for the Devils.

At worst, this contract could be high for the last year or two and I think even that result is very unlikely considering Hamilton's age.

The New Jersey Devils went out and grabbed the best player available in free agency.

The team will be better for it and while I still don't think the Devils can count on a playoff spot quite yet as a few more additions may be needed for a postseason visit, but a cornerstone was added to the eventual playoff team with the signing of Dougie Hamilton and maybe the start of potential success for Tom Fitzgerald as team GM as well.  



Devils sign Jonathan Bernier, trade Will Butcher

  The New Jersey Devils were the big winner on day one of free agency with the signing of defenseman Dougie Hamilton, which I will write about either tomorrow or later this week.

But the day wasn't all about Dougie Hamilton as the Devils finally have appeared to have filled the veteran backup position behind Mackenzie Blackwood that they believed they had closed during the last offseason when they signed Corey Crawford only to have Crawford retire during training camp.

The void left by Crawford was a problem all season with the Devils being forced to use veteran Scott Wedgewood and waiver addition Aaron Dell behind Blackwood with New Jersey to less than strong returns, so Tom Fitzgerald's shopping list included a veteran goalie for that role on the roster.

Jonathan Bernier seems to be a perfect fit for the position after playing twenty-four games for the Red Wings that would have been the best on the Devils, above even Blackwood's season numbers.

Bernier's record finished at 9-11-1 with a save percentage of .914 and a goals allowed average of 2.99, With both of the latter stats that would have been tops for the Devils, Bernier would have been the top netminder on the team last year, which made him a natural target in free agency.

Bernier turns thirty-three next week, so he's not the long term answer, but he'll be perfect as the veteran number two that can not only play thirty games a year, but also handle a full load should Blackwood get injured, and be the mentor that Blackwood hasn't really been able to lean on since his arrival in Newark.

The contract is a little higher than I'd prefer at 8.25 million over two seasons but the Devils don't have issues with cap space, so I'm more than fine with the signing of Bernier.

New Jersey also made a few signings to bolster their new AHL team in Utica, but their other move of the day saw them jettison defenseman Will Butcher along with a fifth-rounder in the 2022 draft in exchange for future considerations.

Butcher played in only twenty-three games of a season spent in Lindy Ruff's doghouse, scoring one goal with ten assists but clearly didn't adjust to the system used by Ruff.

Butcher was scheduled to make four million this season so the Devils did save some cap space but considering the team's cap situation the trade to receive literally nothing for Butcher makes me think that Tom Fitzgerald may be planning another move shortly perhaps to land a forward.

Back later with the signing of Dougie Hamilton.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Indians to Guardians

     As I catch up from my weekend, another change occurred besides the Devils drafting of Luke Hughes as the Cleveland Indians announced their decision on what nickname would represent the baseball team by Lake Erie for the 2022 season and thereafter.

The decision to change the Indians nickname to the Cleveland Guardians was one that was destined to take place eventually and even though Rob Manfred had stated that the Indians name was safe when the team agreed to whack the logo of Chief Wahoo, Manfred's word wasn't enough to stop the momentum against the name change.

As a longtime traditionalist, it bothers me that the name Indians is no longer going to be used.

As a realist, while I had hoped that the elimination of Chief Wahoo would be enough to satisfy the wave against the name change, I thought the name would eventually have to be changed.

While I'll miss the name, I do understand why some were offended and there is a certain sense of relief that the constant drumbeat (pun intended) of protests and complaints can move south to Atlanta or west to Kansas City to complain about their team nicknames.

The Guardians name doesn't do much to move the needle for me as the new nickname.

Named after the "Art Deco" style statues that reside on the Hope Memorial Bridge, Guardians isn't a terrible name, it's just a boring one.

There wasn't exactly a barrel filled with names that would have been excellent choices ( I liked Spiders and Commodores as my favorites) and the choice of the Guardians isn't the worst option that could have been chosen, that I would give that honor to Rockers, which was a name that people outside the Cleveland area seemed to like but very few in the area thought of it as highly.

Guardians didn't rank very highly on my list for nicknames but what doesn't help with the name is the very small tweaks to the already boring "Block C", the logo that looks very minor league (A G gripping a baseball), and an all-around dull looking set of uniforms and font.

Plus Guardians doesn't work very well to the inevitable shortening by media and marketing (The Guard?) and comes up short in that department.

Look, I don't hate Guardians so much that I despise it, but it's average at best, I'm really not happy with basically the same crappy Block C, and the nickname sounds like an arena football league franchise more than a major league baseball team, but I'm glad that the situation is finally finished.

As much as I miss Chief Wahoo for the memories of childhood and I'll likely still call the team the Indians forever as I'm the same guy that still calls the Washington Wizards "Bullets" years after their name change but as blah, as Guardians are as a nickname, I'll get used to it and will survive! Ha Ha!

Back later with the beginning of NHL free agency and what appears to be a surprising addition for the New Jersey Devils.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Devils select Luke Hughes and Chase Stillman

   While I was away for the weekend dealing with a family event, the NHL Draft was held on Friday night with some fun afterward.

I pay far more attention to the NBA Draft coming up Thursday night because I know far more about the average prospect in that sport, but I always follow the first-round selection of the New Jersey Devils and this draft, New Jersey would have their own pick at number four and the New York Islanders selection at twenty-nine in the opening stage.

The Devils selection of Luke Hughes with their pick at number four was the pick that most Devils fans had hoped for and for more than the sentimental storyline of playing with his brother Jack, the Devils top pick in 2019.

While Luke Hughes isn't projected to be the same level of player as his oldest brother, Quinn of the Vancouver Canucks, Luke was a solid member of the top few prospects in this class and wasn't thought of to be a reach at all and was generally regarded as the second-best defenseman of the draft behind his possible future teammate at Michigan, Owen Power, whom Buffalo selected first overall.

Hughes is an excellent skater, knows how to move the puck well in the end to end game, and is expected to develop his shot to have a chance to be a strong offensive style defenseman, which of than Ty Smith, the Devils currently lack on the top squad and their farm system.

Hughes spent last season with the United States developmental team and has begun to skate again after injuring his foot in March.

Hughes is committed to Michigan and is likely to play at least one if not two seasons in Ann Arbor before entering the Devils system, if not the parent team.

Luke Hughes fits a glaring hole in the Devils organization and was drafted around the area that he was rated in and don't be distracted by the nice storyline of two brothers eventually playing for the same team- He was the right selection.

Most Devils observers were not so thrilled with the selection of right-wing Chase Stillman, who was rated by almost all to be a second or third-round-level prospect.

The son of NHL veteran Cory Stillman, Stillman has been listed as a rugged around the net type with good hands and aggressiveness, but from what I have read seems to have many holes in his game and there were many higher rated players on the board.

Tom Fitzgerald seems to like the rugged tough-guy types, and I can understand that to a degree- I like those types of players as well, but the game is changing rapidly from year to year and when any game begins to change, there are playing styles that become obsolete.

I'm not going to claim that I know much about Stillman or the prospects that he was selected over, but I do have to say that I have concerns about the selection after reading several opinions that I respect.

Thanks to John Fischer and the staff at All About The Jersey for their draft work that I used for much of the detail of this short recap.

While I used several sources before the draft on Luke Hughes as he was widely considered as a top possibility for the Devils, I knew next to nothing about Chase Stillman, and kudos to the staff there for the information.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Nathan Bastian lost in Seattle Expansion Draft

   The New Jersey Devils placed a few high-priced veterans on the list from the Seattle Kraken to choose from and hoped that the Kraken would oblige them with a selection that would save them some salary.

Instead. Seattle chose a low-cost young player, and while the Devils didn't lose a key player or a highly rated prospect Nathan Bastian was the type of player that expansion teams select and established teams hope not to lose.

Bastian is young (23),  physical, and is solid enough to play right win on a fourth line and play effectively as he did last season on the Devils fourth line with Myles Wood and Michael McLeod.

New Jersey selected Bastian in the second round in 2016 and scored three goals in seven games in 2019-20 in a cameo appearance before scoring the same three goals in forty-one games last season on the fourth line,

Players like Nathan Bastian aren't uncommon and they actually are fairly easy to find.

They play hard, are often fan favorites, are great teammates, can be productive on special teams, and sometimes in their career year can pop a number far beyond their normal number (remember David Clarkson's career year when he scored 30 goals and scored only 29 in the final five years of his career?).

Those players can eventually become far more expensive than their play justifies, which returns us to why Seattle took a Bastian rather than more expensive and formerly more productive players.

As for replacements for Bastian on the checking line, the Devils will likely sign an inexpensive veteran from free agency to compete with Nick Merkley off the roster and maybe Marian Studenic, who played for AHL Binghamton last season

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Boxing Challenge: Castano and Charlo Draw

     In San Antonio Texas Saturday night, the four titles in the junior middleweight division were expected to belong to one man at the end of the evening.

The judges had different ideas as WBA/WBC/IBF champion Jermell Charlo and WBO titlist Brian Castano battled to a draw in a very good fight that was only marred by one scorecard.

I had Castano winning 115-113 which was the same score as one judge, and if I wanted to give every close round to Charlo perhaps I could agree with the judge that scored it 114-114 as a draw.

And then (cue the Bea Arthur Maude theme) came to judge Nelson Vasquez, who not only had Charlo winning, which I didn't see unless you had your scorecard filled out early but 117-111!

As in nine-three in rounds!

That's an awful card, but Charlo did have the two biggest opportunities in the fight stinging Castano late in the second and during much of the early half of the tenth round and Castano did give Charlo the final three rounds on my card (although the twelfth could have been given to either fighter) to allow him to make the fight close and pull out the draw- unless you were Nelson Vasquez, who must have spent the evening watching Tim Duncan highlights.

Castano threw more punches, controlled the exchanges by brushing Charlo's countering attempts aside with his gloves and aside from the tenth round counter left hook that had Castano in serious trouble, managed to keep himself inside the heavier hitter's strike zone.

To have this fight close (and I did), you had to give Charlo every benefit of the doubt (which I also did give him my two toss-up rounds in rounds five and twelve), so while I don't have a real problem with a draw, I do think that it's a stretch to get there and even more so to give Charlo the duke.

I'd think that a rematch would be in order, but the sanctioning bodies could get in the way with mandatory contenders, which is more of a problem for Charlo than Castano.

Why?

Well, PBC seems to be the promotional organization that loves those minor titles most (WBA regular, interim, WBC silver, diamond, etc) and each sanctioning body has a rule that they do not rank another organization's champion.

Which would be OK- BUT the minor titles are considered titles as well, so if you hold one of these worthless trinkets you are not eligible to be rated by any of the other three.

That is why top contenders Erickson Lubin (1st in WBC and their Silver champion) and Erislandy Lara (WBA "regular" champion) aren't in the other three's rankings which weakens the mandatory contender pool and forces more time to drag mandatory defenses out, which is a major problem when champions often fight twice a year.

While the Charlo-Lubin rematch (Charlo stopped Lubin in one in 2017, but Lubin has worked his way back into contention) does have some intrigue and Charlo-Lara would be a solid fight, although the WBA has a way of rarely having their "super" and "regular" champions face each other, neither rank with the prestige of a Charlo-Castano rematch and resulting in a four titleholder.

Castano would have an interesting mandatory and a chance to make a large purse, should he decide to face Tim Tszyu, the son of former junior welterweight champion Kostya, in his native Australia in what based on styles could be a real barnburner.

It's ironic but the underdog that most feel won the fight has better options in front of him if a rematch cannot be agreed to than the more established star and that seldom is the case in boxing...

Lightweight Rolando Romero rolled late substitute Anthony Yigit in seven rounds, scoring less than ten points per round on my card and that was due to a point deduction.

Romero knocked Yigit down in the same round (the fifth) that he lost a point in for excessive rough tactics for a rare 9-8  on the scorecards.

Romero reminds me of a wide-open free swinger like a Ricardo Mayorga type that is crude but makes fun fights at times but can be made to look very ordinary against even an average boxer.

Romero likes to play the heel like Mayorga used to and called out Gervonta Davis after the fight.

Both fighters are with Mayweather Promotions and PBC, so that could be easy to make and could be fun for a while but Davis has superior hands and is likely to overpower Romero.

It would be interesting and Romero is naturally larger but I'd favor Davis pretty strongly in such a matchup.

In the boxing challenge, I earned two points for the Romero knockout to Ramon Malpica's one to move my lead to 100-90 on the season. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Boxing Challenge

  The boxing calendar isn't very deep over the next few weeks, but the main event from PBC on Showtime is as good as it gets as we should (unless the fight is a draw) result in a first-ever four title champion at 154 pounds.

WBA/WBC and IBF champion Jermell Charlo is a strong favorite over WBO king Brian Castano but while Charlo's favoritism is deserved on his resume', Castano is an underdog that may prove the old adage that styles make fights and also decide them.

Charlo holds wins over several of the best in the division with wins over Austin Trout, Tony Harrison (avenging his only loss to Harrison that I thought he won), Erickson Lubin, and took away the WBA and IBF titles in his last win over Jeison Rosario.

Castano won his title over Patrick Teixeira in his last fight, but his most impressive effort may have been a draw against Erislandy Lara that was very close.

Charlo has improved his power as his career progressed with stoppages in his last three wins and seven of his last nine. While Castano didn't stop Teixeira in his title victory, he did have him on the verge of a stoppage in each of the final two rounds.

Castano may have the best style to face a Charlo as he presses the attack, throws many punches, and makes his opponent fight off his back foot.

If Castano can approach his regular punch output (around seventy a round, I've been told), Charlo could be in a tougher fight than the betting public thinks.

However, Charlo is the bigger puncher and I could see him giving away a few rounds before hitting an incoming Castano with a right hand to end the fight.

Charlo's ability to work Castano's body may enter into the result, Castano is a fighter that keeps his gloves high, so bodywork early may pay later in the fight.

I'm very anxious to see this encounter and especially with a four-title champion emerging from the fray.

The co-feature is a minor lightweight title fight between Rolando Romero and Anthony Yigit.

The undefeated Romero overpowered Avery Sparrow in seven rounds but looked very ordinary in a controversial decision win over Jackson Marinez in his previous fight.

Yigit is a late replacement for the injured Austin Dulay, but despite only one loss in twenty-six fights, that loss was to the only top opponent in his career, being stopped in seven in the first round of the WBSS by Ivan Baranchyk.

Yigit is also dropping from junior welterweight for this fight, so that could be a factor to watch.

In the boxing challenge, I lead Ramon Malpica 98-89.

Unification WBA/WBC/IBF- WBO Junior Middleweight Titles. 12 Rds 
Jermell Charlo vs Brian Castano 
R.L: Charlo KO 7
TRS: Castano Split Decision

Lightweights. 12 Rds
Rolando Romero vs Anthony Yigit
R.L: Romero Unanimous Decision
TRS: Romero KO 8


Friday, July 16, 2021

Devils deal for Ryan Graves

    With next week looming for the NHL entry draft and the expansion draft for the newest member of the league, the Seattle Kraken, some teams are attempting to clean their roster a bit before those drafts start.

The New Jersey Devils attempted to take advantage of one team needing to make room on their roster and traded for defenseman Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche.

New Jersey traded the second-round pick that they have acquired from the New York Islanders in the upcoming draft (in the 2020 trade for Andy Greene) and left winger Mikhail Maltsev to Colorado in exchange for Graves, who will immediately slot into one of the allowed defensemen to protected from Seattle in their expansion draft.

Graves scored two goals with thirteen assists in fifty-four games last season in Colorado but scored a career-high nine in 2019-20 for the Avalanche.

The 6'5 defensemen was drafted in the first round by the Rangers in 2013 and made his NHL debut with Colorado in 2019 after being acquired from the Blueshirts at the trade deadline for defenseman Chris Bigras.

Graves is likely to be a top-four defenseman in New Jersey and as mentioned earlier is likely to be one of the Devils' three protected defensemen along with Damon Severson and earlier trade acquisition, Jonas Siegenthaler.

Graves is a big and physical defenseman that accumulates minutes on ice and in the penalty box, and at worst brings a big body that isn't afraid to knock someone around, which should make him a fan favorite in Newark.

Graves is signed for the next two seasons, earning three million for next season and four million for 2022-23, so the trade isn't a one-year stopgap for the defensive group.

With Graves addition to the roster, New Jersey will now expose all three of P.K. Subban, Will Butcher, and Ryan Murray and one of the three could very well be the selection of Seattle from the Devils.

Subban would bring a big name to Seattle and give the Devils more money off the ledger, although the Devils have plenty of cap space already, Murray would make sense as a solid, steady veteran, and Butcher is young enough at 26 to have a chance to rejuvenate his career in a new town and system.

Any of the three would be an easy-to-understand player for the Kraken to select.

The trade of the second-rounder (61) will take the Devils out of the second round in next weeks draft, but there isn't a lot of difference between that choice and the Devils third-rounder (69), so it's not catastrophic to the personnel department, especially when the team owns two first-rounders (theirs and the Islanders at 29).

The Devils also included Mikhail Maltsev in the trade, who scored six goals in thirty-three games last year, two of them in the final four games last season.

I actually liked Maltsev a bit, but I'm not sure that he was a better prospect than several of the players already in the system at left-wing including 2020 first-rounder Alexander Holtz.

New Jersey also re-signed Michael McLeod to a two-year contract worth just under two million total, which may or may not be a sign that McLeod is available for the Kraken in the expansion draft.

The former first-rounder in 2016 scored his first career goals last season and finished with nine goals and six assists in fifty-two games.





 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

53

   53 isn't only the number of Herbie the Love Bug, it's my age as of today.

As I've written before, I've been struggling to write as often of late and when I do, it takes longer to complete.

Much of that is due to my waning interest in sports.

While I feel that this is hopefully temporary, it's hard to say that I know for sure that my rabid interest would return.

The only sports that emerged from the pandemic at the same level of interest with me has been boxing and football but while basketball and hockey interest was because the Cavaliers and Devils aren't very good, I blame my flagging interest in baseball due to not having live baseball nearby, the ridiculous changes to the major league game, and Rob Manfred and all that comes with the worst commissioner in sports, which really does cover a wide amounf of ground.

While I can't really get into my changes at work, they are substantial and cause me a great deal of stress every day but I am working on doing better with it and I feel that things are improving.

I find that while I don't have a lot of interest in things, there isn't a lot that I'm doing but I don't miss going to games and autographing as much as I thought I would.

I do miss some of my friends there, but not the grind or the hot weather.

Now, to the salute to the people that care about me most-

I don't know what I'd do without my family around, Cherie, Ryan, and Rachel's support and tolerance means the world to me.

I have my share of friends in this life, but a special note to Fred Landucci and Mike Oravec.

I've never had friends like them before, that's not a knock on my older friends at all, but they check on me all the time and care about my well being and that's far before the last two months.

And special notes to Denise Nicarry, who allows me to play the bratty little brother that I've never been before. My favorite Aunt Becky and Uncle Terry and my favorite cousin Missy.

The relationship that I have with all of them are very important to me.

There are many others that I could name like Derreck Chupak or Corey Cunningham, or my nephew Jeff, of course come to think of it, I did just name them!

And the friends that I've never met but I've felt like I've known them forever like Ramon Malpica and Ian McArdle as well.

If I've forgotten anyone, please don't take it personally- I wrote early in the morning while at work and the mind does get foggy.

Thanks to all mentioned and even if not, I appreciate you all- Hope to see you next year here for 54.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Forgotten Superstars: Frank Bonner

 We have plenty of sad news as far as passings go, but I wanted to do something special for one of them and place them into the Forgotten Superstars universe here at TRS.

Frank Bonner's recent passing at the age of 79 may have been missed by most, but to Cherie and myself was a loss equal to many stars that were far better known to the general public.

Bonner was a character actor that would eventually transition to the director's chair but will be remembered by me as the actor that brought one of my favorite television characters to life.

Bonner's portrayal of the hopelessly inept salesman with the loud suit, Herb Tarlek, on WKRP in Cincinnati has to be one of the best acting jobs of the era. 

Bonner's Tarlek showed an everyman that desperately wanted to be shown as one person, yet underneath the outer shell, not only knew that he wasn't that person- he didn't really want to be.

For a character to be so remembered over forty years and a supporting character at that, takes an accomplished actor and while Bonner may have been stereotyped as Herb Tarlek a bit, I think his portrayal hit home with the average viewer.

If you are 45 and up and you see someone wearing loud clothing, the name "Herb Tarlek" not only is likely to be mentioned- most people of that age will get the reference.

Almost everyone knows a Herb Tarlek and that's where Bonner comes in.

Bonner managed to take a character that could have easily been a stereotype and not only used the obvious to make him hilarious, he occasionally made him human and relatable.

The best evidence of this came in an episode that saw Loni Anderson's "Jennifer Marlowe" finally give Herb Tarlek what he had begged for in every episode of the series- a date with her, despite Tarlek being married.

The show progressed with Herb bragging about his pulling off the thought to be an impossible feat, and the actual date itself, which in the end sees Herb admit that as attractive as he thought Jennifer was that he was going to be loyal to his wife, which was the point of the entire date to hopefully call Herb's bluff and eliminate the constant leering.

But Bonner managed to make Herb sympathetic when lesser actors would have played the final scene as the comeuppance of a buffoon, Bonner didn't play for easy laughs.

Bonner instead showed the pain of a guy who only wants to fit in and be liked, yet doesn't know how to accomplish that and wants to just once be looked at more than he is.

You don't see that often in television, let alone in a sitcom of the 80s and yet Frank Bonner pulled this off in a poignant yet not a typical reach for the heartstrings television moment.

Bonner's Tarlek didn't lack for comedic moments, such as his mixing up the photos for a store display or his commercial jingle (which to this day kills me), but I always admired his skill in making what could have been an unlikeable character and turning him into a beloved one.

Bonner only was part of two other shows after WKRP, one of them the attempted relaunch in the 90s, with the other as a priest in "Just the ten of us" a Growing Pains spinoff, but that could have been wanting to direct rather than act at certain stages of his career.

Frank Bonner bringing an iconic character to life won't be forgotten by me and we welcome him to the Forgotten Superstars universe.





Sunday, July 11, 2021

Cleaning out the Inbox-Sports Passings

   Due to my recent lack of writing, the inbox is stuffed, especially with recent passings.

Goodbye to Rene Robert at the age of  72.

While Robert is pictured with the defunct Colorado Rockies, Robert's career is most often thought of as a Buffalo Sabre as part of the French Connection line with Richard Martin and Gilbert Perreault.

That line led the Sabres to their first winning team and to the Stanley Cup finals in 1975, where they lost to Philadelphia and remain the most loved line in Sabres history.

Robert never scored fewer than 21 goals in his seven full seasons with the Sabres and scored 40 goals twice and finished with 284 goals for his career after spending two seasons each with Colorado and Toronto.

Goodbye to Mudcat Grant at the age of 85.

Grant pitched for seven teams but is remembered by most as a Cleveland Indian, where he spent the first seven seasons and made his first All-Star team.

Some may remember Grant more from his days with the Minnesota Twins where in his first season, 1965, after being traded from Cleveland, Grant won 21 games and two in the World Series with both wins via complete games.

Grant worked for the Indians radio and television networks in the seventies and would later write a book- "The Black Aces" which profiled the fifteen black pitchers that had won twenty games in a season up to that writing.

The book is how I was able to meet Mudcat with Rachel at the Ohio Book Fair in 2007, he was quite a gentleman and spent a few minutes talking about the book and his career.

Goodbye to Tom Kurvers at the age of 58.

Kurvers played for seven teams during his eleven-season career and was serving as the assistant general manager for the Minnesota Wild at the time of his passing.

Kurvers won a Stanley Cup with the 1986 Canadiens and at his peak was thought of as one of the league's better power play defensemen with excellent puck-moving skills.

The New Jersey Devils acquired Kurvers from Buffalo in 1987 and in his second season with the Devils, Kurvers looked to be moving into All-Star status after scoring 16 goals and 50 assists in 1988-89, but Devils GM Lou Lamoriello traded Kurvers when he believed his value was highest and traded him to Toronto for a future first-round draft choice which turned out to be third overall and the Devils would draft Scott Niedermayer with the selection.  

Goodbye to Terry Donohue at the age of 77.

One of the most underrated coaches of his era, Donohue was the head coach at UCLA from 1976 to 1995 and led the Bruins to their most sustained run of success in program history after replacing Dick Vermeil at only 32 after Vermeil left UCLA to take the head coaching position with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Donahue became the first coach ever to win seven bowl games in a row (in the era of more bowl games), and his 151 wins are the most ever at UCLA along with his 98 conference victories setting the standard in Pac-12 history including five league titles and three Rose Bowl victories.

Donahue left UCLA to broadcast college football games and would later serve as general manager for the 49ers from 2001-04, but almost returned to coaching with the Cowboys in 1998 as the replacement for Barry Switzer, but negotiations broke down with Dallas eventually hiring Chan Gailey.

Goodbye to Del Wilkes at the age of 59.

Wilkes was an All-American guard for South Carolina in 1984, but went undrafted in 1985 and failed in two training camp tries at the NFL before heading to the world of professional wrestling.

Wilkes would achieve his greatest success as the masked Patriot in the WWF in a brief stint against Bret Hart and with All Japan Pro Wrestling and held the WCW tag team titles twice with Marcus Bagwell in 1994.

The colorful mask and persona allowed the character to be better remembered than one would think for a wrestler with such a short body of work in American wrestling, but I think there is a reason for that.

When ESPN televised wrestling at four o'clock on weekday afternoons, Wilkes was a staple on both shows that the network programmed, first with the dying AWA and followed by Global wrestling based in Dallas.

With the AWA, Wilkes used a silly gimmick that saw him as "The Trooper" complete with hat, giving out plastic badges, and writing out tickets to defeated opponents as one of the top "babyfaces" of a territory that was alive only due to their meager contract with ESPN.

Silly as it was, the Trooper was memorable and might have been a bigger hit had the character been used as a "heel" similar to the WWF's use of the "Big Bossman".

Wilkes retired the Trooper gimmick when used as the top babyface with Global in favor of the Patriot where he spent much of his time feuding with the "Dark Patriot", who was Doug Gilbert in an all-black bodysuit.  

Boxing Challenge: Ramirez, Diaz win in Los Angeles

   The Golden Boy card from DAZN couldn't have turned out better for a company that is still fighting its way off the ropes from the loss of Canelo Alvarez and the recent mental health issues of Ryan Garcia.

The Oscar De La Hoya-led company not only received the spectacular win that they needed from their newest addition Gilberto Ramirez, but they won a fight that they weren't guaranteed to win with a unanimous decision from Joseph Diaz.

In the main event, Ramirez dominated an apparently close to the end of the line Sullivan Barrera and took the air out the 39 year old Cuban with body blows that Barrera was unable to take as Ramirez scored a fourth-round knockout.

The fight was essentially over the third when Ramirez realized that every time that he hit Barrera to the body, Barrera couldn't shrug them off and late in the third scored a knockdown on a body blow.

Ramirez, who hasn't always been a fabulous finisher in the past, showed signs of development as he continued to crack Barrera to the body in the fourth, scoring two more knockdowns before the fight was mercifully ended.

For Ramirez, it's the type of win that could set him up for a challenge of WBA champion Dmitry Bivol and to win against a well-known opponent in an exciting manner, which hasn't always been the case for Ramirez, is very encouraging for boxing fans that want to see that fight.

As for Barrera, this loss is now his third in four fights and he continues to slide down the light heavyweight food chain as this loss will likely move him from fringe contender to gatekeeper or perhaps even trialhorse status.

The co-feature was an entertaining lightweight bout for a WBC minor title, but more importantly, would position the winner for a shot at WBC champion Devin Haney or a big name and perhaps payday in Ryan Garcia.

Former IBF junior lightweight champion Joseph Diaz took the fight on somewhat short notice when Garcia claimed mental illness as a reason to drop out of his mandated fight against Javier Fortuna and claimed he would be stronger at the higher weight after dropping his IBF title on the scales for missing weight.

Diaz's claims turned out to be true for this fight as he survived a questionable point deduction and a headbutt that opened a slice along his left eye to dominate the second half of the fight to win a unanimous decision over Fortuna.

Diaz was far more efficient (landing more while throwing less) than Fortuna and after falling behind on my card early, his work took command, and Diaz, never known as more than average hitter at 126 and 130 pounds, appeared to have hurt Fortuna in the tenth although the veteran rode out the storm.

Diaz now is the mandated fight for Devin Haney's WBC belt, although an in-house Ryan Garcia fight could pay more and be a more valuable win should he emerge with the win.

As for Fortuna, he fought well enough to remain in the top ten picture, but with the championships residing with Teofimo Lopez and Top Rank, Fortuna may have seen his final title opportunity go by the wayside.

In the boxing challenge, Ramon Malpica and I each scored two points to move the total to 98-89 in my favor.

Back later, with some tributes to recent passing from the sports world. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Boxing Challenge

 The boxing challenge consists of two strong bouts on a Friday night in Los Angeles as Golden Boy brings two very intriguing pairings.

The main event will see the Golden Boy debut for former WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez against former title challenger Sullivan Barrera in a light heavyweight tilt.

Ramirez, who vacated his title at 168 pounds, severely overestimated his value, left promoter Top Rank, and allowed mandatory title shots at light heavyweight against then-WBO champions Elieder Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev to slide by, is saying all the right things after his career decisions backfired, but he'll have to prove it at the higher weight.

Ramirez, at his best, wasn't a big puncher and ground his opponents down in winning usually lopsided decisions or occasionally a late-round stoppage, so it'll be interesting to see how his punches carry against bigger men.

Barrera was at one time, a top ten contender in the division but at 39 seems to be a long way from the fighter that gave Andre Ward a few problems in 2016 and holds a win over WBO champion Joe Smith.

Barrera has lost two of his last three, being stopped by Dmitry Bivol with seconds remaining in a WBA title attempt, and was outhustled in his last outing by Jesse Hart, who Ramirez defeated twice in title defenses.

A Ramirez win could earn him a shot against WBA champion Bivol with both fighters working with DAZN, although with different promoters, while Barrera needs at least a good performance to remain as a top ten-fifteen fighter in the division.

While Ramirez-Barrera is interesting for several reasons, the best fight may be for a WBC minor title as Javier Fortuna faces Joseph Diaz in a lightweight battle.

Fortuna, who has held minor WBA titles at 126 and 130 pounds, has watched title eliminators/minor title chances against Luke Campbell, Jorge Linares (Covid-19) and Ryan Garcia (claim of mental distress) go by the boards in the last year.

Diaz won the IBF title at junior lightweight in an impressive win over Tevin Farmer in 2020 but lost his title on the scales in February before struggling to a majority draw in the actual fight against Shavkat Rakhimov.

This is a fight that could be a good one as neither fighter is a hard puncher, but both have enough power to hurt the other and aren't afraid to throw punches.

The difference could come down to the quality of the chin and Diaz has never stopped or even badly hurt, while Fortuna has been stopped by Jason Sosa and that might be enough to give Diaz the edge in a tough fight to call.

Both fighters are quality top ten fighters that can be world champions against a certain level of competition but seem to be a cut below the top of the division and both have plenty to fight for in this one.

In the boxing challenge, I lead Ramon Malpica 96-87.

Light Heavyweights.12 Rds 
Gilberto Ramirez vs Sullivan Barrera
Both: Ramirez Unanimous Decision

Lightweights. 12 Rds
Javier Fortuna vs Joseph Diaz
R.L: Diaz KO 8
TRS: Diaz Majority Decision 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Anniversary Present and Wheelhouse Art

    After leaving the toy store in Canal Fulton, I drove a little under two hours to actually pick up Cherie's present and to see an old friend.

I had come with an idea a year or so ago about something that I wanted to give Cherie, but I didn't have an idea on how to go about it.

I have often thought about artwork with a group picture style going back to my childhood in the 1970s when DC Comics would do wonderful special issues with their heroes around the Christmas tree enjoying the Christmas cheer.

Those covers always stuck with me and I always wanted to work on something that would comprise some of the people (real and fictional) together in one picture to represent my life and the people/characters that I always loved in one picture.

The cost of that means it might end as an unfinished work somewhere, but thinking of things like that caused a thought to jump into my mind- What if I was able to do a picture of all of the pets that had brought so much into Cherie's, the kids, and my own life?

That seemed possible, if not cheap but very possible.

I'm not skilled at art, a stick figure from me looks disjointed and I wondered who, where, and how to accomplish this task.

Then over the winter, it struck me who could do it and who I wanted to do it that the project could be done and that was an easy choice.

In my earliest coaching years (1993-96), I often had to umpire other team's games and for the first three seasons, I was struck by the competitiveness and attitude of a catcher on one of the league's consistent also-rans.

When you umpire home plate, you get to know the catchers better than any other players, and I knew Mike O'Brien with his competitive toughness didn't deserve to have to play on the perennial cellar-dweller managed by a fellow that would fit in well with today's why even keep score attitude and I tried many times to land him in a trade, but his manager despite his mismatch of styles didn't want to let him go.

Entering Mike's final season in the league, I was determined to land him for my team, defending the league championship, and after working it out to get him at the league meeting (they had a really dumb way of team allocating which was not a draft), I drove home to call my new players and his mom told me that he wasn't playing because he didn't make the upper league, but his younger brother was.

I started selling my team and what I'd do for Mike as a player and while I couldn't promise a championship, I could promise a chance at one, the most fun he will have with baseball, and for the only time in coaching- I guaranteed he would make the All-Star team.

Mike's mom agreed to pass it on to him and at my first practice, he came running onto the field, exchanging a high-five as he told me he was on board and yes, he did make the All-Star team, and we did win the league title complete with Mike hitting his only homer off his pitching nemesis in the final game.

So, Mike O'Brien ranks right at the top of my favorite players of ten years of coaching and fast forward from 1996 and Mike is now a professional artist.

And by professional, I mean he makes his living at it and has done commercial work for many companies that you have heard of in his career and his freelance work for his own Wheelhouse Art.

Of course, I wanted to have a work that Mike did for myself and I decided to start the process with the pets for the family.

I started with Posey, Big Ed, Chancellor, and of course the irrepressible Teddy. and as I rolled on I thought that I couldn't have such a project without Shiloh.

As Mike worked through various drafts of the picture involving me in the process of refining how the pets looked, about midway through I remembered that there was one missing animal.

Bramble was Cherie's and I's first pet and named after the former WBA lightweight champion Livingstone Bramble.

I told Bramble's story during the pandemic for Rachel's Day as part of the friends and family series.

I wanted to add Bramble, but I didn't have any pictures that I could remember until it hit me that there may be a small photo album from that time in my attic, which could have two pictures of Bramble in it.

Trooping up to the less than a seasonable attic, I dug the book out with the pictures in there, sent them to Mike, and added him to the picture.

I had several choices in what I wanted, ranging from 5x7 to 16x20, penciled, painted, color, black and white, and torn on what to choose.

Price did come into play to a certain degree but even though a color picture would have been really sharp, I would have had to have settled for a small picture in color compared to a sizable one in black and white and I thought a larger work would be far more detailed.

The project from start to finish was around three months in time and when it was ready for delivery, I didn't feel good about it.

The mail has slowed for everyone since the installation of Louis DeJoy as head of the USPS during the Trump administration and not only slowed but in many cases taking weeks and occasionally months to arrive after being sent.

So my concern with a one-of-a-kind item not only not getting there on time, but being potentially damaged made me think that I should go and pick it up myself.

I'm not sure I would have picked it up elsewhere, but it worked this time.

After arriving at Mike's home and seeing the picture in person for the first time, I really thought it was great and the above picture shows just how great Mike's work truly is.

I was able to spend a very enjoyable hour with Mike at his beautiful home and saw the studio that he does all of his work and talk sports and re-live plenty of old memories from days gone by.

I likely took up far too much of his time, but I had a great time visiting with him and perhaps I can do it again sometime down the road.

I quickly buzzed through the return trip, stopping in Triadelphia WV for a Quaker Steak wing stop and some gas before arriving home.

I'm really thrilled with the picture, I couldn't be happier with it, and everyone that has seen it has been extremely complimentary towards it.

It was an all-around great experience and I couldn't speak higher of Mike, his work, and should you be interested in a custom work of any type, Mike can be contacted at his website- Wheelhouse Art.

Tell him that his old coach sent you!

Sorry that my writing has slowed to a crawl, I'm still trying to get back what I need to roll things out as normal, but hang in there- I am working on it!