Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Manny Being New Manny? Manny Ramirez and New Focus

I saw a tweet yesterday from Tim Ellsworth, author & news director at my alma mater, Union University.  It said the following:  "Manny Ramirez becomes a Christian? Hope this is genuine."  I was like "Huh?"

To give a little background for those who many not know.  Manny Ramirez is a baseball player.  In his time, a really good baseball player.  He played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox & Tampa Bay Rays.  He had most of his success in Cleveland & Boston, including helping the Red Sox win 2 World Series in 2004 & 2007 with a little in L.A.  He was also known as a kinda eccentric player.  There was a phrase that followed him.  That phrase was "Manny being Manny".  When there was an off the wall news story, most sportscasters would say "Well it's Manny being Manny."  In time, that phrase seemed to overshadow his talent.

Something else that seemed to overshadow his talent was being busted by MLB for violating the drug policy.  The first time happened in 2009 and he lost 50 games.  After jumping around to the White Sox & the Rays in consecutive seasons with bad performances, Ramirez was busted again by MLB for violating the drug policy in 2011 just 5 games into the season for the Rays.  He faced a 100 game suspension if and when he returned to the big leagues.  Instead, Ramirez abruptly retired.  At that point, it seemed like a sad ending to a career of a player who had a lot of talent but his antics seemed to get in the way.

However, last fall, Ramirez went to MLB officials and wanted to be reinstated.  This reinstatement would come with the provision that he would serve a reduced suspension of 50 games (instead of 100) with whatever team signed him.  The Oakland A's ended up being that team.  He became eligible to join the A's yesterday.  Right now, he's at their AAA affiliate the Sacramento River Cats.

So I knew that he was in AAA & that at some point he could be called up if the A's felt like it.  But when I saw that tweet I had to find out about that story.  So I googled to see and came across a couple of articles.  One that was really interesting was one from the A's website, (there's a link to the article here).  Initially the article talks about Manny and his minor league stint.  But further down in the article, it talks about how he's changed as a person.  He cites his wife and his newfound faith in Christ as huge parts of that.

Several quotes that Ramirez said that stood out included:
"It's hard to be a Christian, because when God comes inside your heart, you don't do things that you used to.  Nobody can walk the perfect path, because nobody's perfect."
"I know a lot of people talk about the Hall of Fame, blah, blah, blah.  But you know something? The Bible says that it's better to be in the Book of Life. And that's where I want to be. If it [getting in the Baseball Hall of Fame] happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it's not a big deal.
"I'm going to give 100 percent.  If it [getting in the Baseball Hall of Fame] doesn't happen, I've got God, and I've got my family. That's all I want."

Personally, I have liked Manny Ramirez, especially when he was in Boston.  And I do hope that he's a follower of Jesus now.   Sometimes, people can be skeptical of people that say they've changed.  But the cool thing is that God can definitely do the changing.  Maybe now on Manny being Manny can instead be Manny being more like Jesus.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day 2012 Baseball: Atlanta Braves Baseball Game....In Review

It has been a little over a year but I finally made it out to a MLB game again.  Everything came together for me to check out my first Atlanta Braves game and my first game at Turner Field.  Atlanta is about 2 1/2 to 3 hours drive from Spartanburg so if it's a night game it would make for a really long night back or a stay at a hotel.  But for a day game it's doable.  So yesterday was Memorial Day and it was a day baseball game.  So several friends of mine from church and I made the trip down to Atlanta to check the game out.

This was my first time at Turner Field.  It is the 4th MLB stadium & 3rd active stadium I've been to (I went to old Busch Stadium in St. Louis).  It was cool out in the parking lot they still have some remnants of old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium where the Braves played prior to Turner Field opening.  Walking into it, it was a nice facility.  They had some cool stuff like a big Coke bottle and a big Chick-Fil-A cow statue out in left field.  Was disappointed that it cost money to go to the Hall of Fame Museum (didn't do it this time, might some other time).  On the plus side, they had a free drawstring bag that they were giving out for the game so that was cool.

Our seats were in the upper deck near the front on the first base side near the foul pole.  The line of sight wasn't that great to see balls and strikes and such but it wasn't too bad.  The only other negative was the sun beating down on us.  It wasn't particularly hot yesterday but when the clouds weren't there, the sun was scorching.  I can't imagine what it's like in July or August in those seats.  Might be worth investing in a little more money to get some seats with cover next time but you can't beat Stubhub special on tickets.

The Braves were playing the St. Louis Cardinals, a familiar team for me.  It's funny watching a game where I really didn't have a rooting interest.  I was disappointed that I didn't get to see Chipper Jones for the Braves or David Freese for the Cards play as they were both out of the lineup.

There was some pretty cool pregame stuff for Memorial Day.  They had the military honored with solders standing around the basepaths along with the players from both teams.  There was also a huge American flag held out in center field along with reps from the branches of the armed forces.  They had a moment of silence along with the playing of taps by two trumpeters.  After the national anthem, there was a flyby by two jets.  Also in the middle of the game, there was a family honored as the "fans of the game" that had the husband and father stationed overseas.  There was a video message on the big screen from him and then as a surprise, he showed up on the field.  Really cool moment.

The game itself was one of those that wasn't so good for the home team.  The Braves starting pitcher, Tommy Hanson, didn't have a great outing.  It was so bad that fans were cheering when he eventually got pulled.  The Braves couldn't get anything going offensively either, only scraping together 2 runs.  The Cards on the other hand, had a great pitching performance by their starter Lance Lynn and had a good offensive performance (including a couple of home runs, 1 that I saw and 1 that I didn't see as I was up at the concession stand getting food, which leads to another negative to Turner Field, no TVs or radio broadcast being put out on the concourse to help keep up with the action while you wait in line, also the out of town scoreboard wasn't working so didn't know what the scores were of the other games going on).  The Cards ended up beating the Braves 8-2.

It was a fun time and I don't know when my next trip down there will be but I look forward to the next time to catch a MLB game.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Random Sports Reflections

Some Random Sports Reflections as the month of May winds down...

*The playoffs in both the NBA & NHL are kinda eh to me.  The NHL because the Predators got knocked out in the 2nd round by Phoenix (who subsequently lost to the L.A. Kings).  The NBA...well because I still haven't really got into it much since Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to OKC.  I was happy to hear that there is movement to build a new arena in Seattle down near Safeco & CenturyLink Fields.  If Stern wants to get on my good side again, he'll get a team back there & make sure the history is returned there as well.  It is really annoying when like ESPN and such state history that doesn't really belong to OKC.  That would've been like the Ravens claiming the Browns history still.  Anyway, I'm sure I'll watch some of the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals.  Then again, if it ends up Miami & OKC, I'll more than likely not watch.

*It's been about a quarter of the season into the MLB regular season and both the Royals & Mariners are under .500.  The Royals had high expectations (for them) going into the season and did well on the road to start (and still have a winning record on the road) but their record at the K is abysmal.  They might want to recruit me to come back to K.C. so they can win some more home games.  The Mariners got off to a fairly hot start but cooled down as well.  They have leveled off some.  If both teams can pick up the pace in June & July, it might make for an interesting stretch run.  Otherwise, it'll be looking forward to the start of football season.

*Speaking of football, one of the big stories this offseason for the NFL has been the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints.  This problem, which cost Saints coach Sean Payton the season along with several other coaches and players various suspensions.  It was sad to hear when it came out and disappointing.  I know that football is a tough sport and injuries happen because of it.  But there is a difference between players getting hurt unintentionally and trying to go out and injure players on purpose.  Where's the respect in that?  I'm sure there are players out there at other players don't like but at the very least they should respect the person not to intentionally try and take them out.  I hope that this type of program finds its way out of the sport.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If I Were in Charge Of.....the NFL

Welcome to the final installment of "If I Were in Charge Of.....", this installment we look at the NFL.  It is arguably the most popular sport in America today.  It also has it's share of on and off the field problems.  While it is is highly successful, there are some changes that could be made to improve the league.  So if I were in charge of the NFL.....

*Give players guaranteed contracts.  The NFL is the only league (to my knowledge) that doesn't have guaranteed contracts for players.  Given the nature of the sport & what is asked of the players, they deserve guaranteed contracts.  Job security is a good thing and I don't think it would hurt the business of the owners to give that to players.

*Expand the rosters, allow more players to suit up for games & have a modified injured reserve.  Right now there is a 53 man roster but only 45 can suit up each week (due to the idea of making it competitive for teams who may have more injuries than others).  Make it 55 players and everybody can be eligible to play.  Also right now if a player is placed on injured reserve he's done for the year & can't come back even if was physically able to.  There should be a modified injured reserve similar to the other leagues (like baseball) where a player could be placed on the injured list and a roster move could be made to take the roster spot.  If the player is deemed healthy enough to return that season, he should be able to.

*Bring back touchdown celebrations, with a few exceptions.  One of the disappointing trends is the taking away of touchdown celebrations which were a fun and entertaining aspect of the game.  Players should be allowed to celebrate when they score and not be penalized for it.  If they bring in outside props then yeah that should be a fine but other than that, fair game.  It is a game after all.

*Work on improving player safety.  Player's health, especially when it comes to concussions is at the forefront of the news.  Make it priority number one to improve the equipment (including helmets).  Regulate that players wear all protective gear (including all the various pads & mouthpiece).  Penalize and fine players who do not keep their helmets strapped onto their heads.  Teach players the proper way to tackle (wrapping up) rather than to launch themselves with their heads like a missile.

*Develop a minor league system.  With the demand of the sport so high, there can be a minor league system in place to put franchises in places that don't have pro teams but would love to have something like this.  It would be a good feeder system to the NFL in case of injuries and would give players an opportunity to continue playing football that might not be able to now.

That's the changes I would make.  What would you change?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Also feel free to go back and check other installments in this series.

Friday, May 11, 2012

If I Were in Charge Of.....College Football

It's time for another enjoyable installment of "If I Were in Charge Of".  This week we look at college football.  Growing up in the south, Saturdays in the fall was a given, watching college football.  As I've gotten older I've got to see games in person.  College football, like college basketball, has some good things but also have some things that would be beneficial to work on.  So if I were in charge of college football.....

*Have a playoff.  Out of all the changes in the various sports, this is one of the easiest calls to make.  It looks like the powers that be agree with me (finally) and are looking to implement some kind of playoff in a few years.  Their model would be 4 teams.  My model would be more in line with nearly every other system in college football (1-AA, D-2, D-3, NAIA).  I would have a 16 team playoff.  The conference champions from the power conferences would get an automatic bid and there would be at large bids as well.  The games would be played in early December until the "Championship Game which would then be played on New Years Day.  For those who don't make the playoff, there will still be bowl games around but the championship will be decided on the field not by computers and voters deciding who will be in the title game.

*Cut and cap power conferences.  One of the sad things that has come around in recent years is conference realignment.  If I were in charge, some of that would be rectified.  Missouri & Texas A&M (and also Nebraska) back to the Big 12.  West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, back to the Big East.  I would put a cap on power conferences having 12 teams.  That way each conference can still have a championship game but old rivalries can be kept.  Out of all the changes I would make, this is the biggest pipe dream of them all but it would be cool.  Tradition in some ways doesn't mean anything anymore in college football but it'd be cool to get back to it.

*For student athletes, half of all sales of their jerseys would go into a scholarship fund to help them pay for expenses outside of their athletic scholarship.  Schools are making money off them, it would be nice if they could get something in return to help out with expenses since they can't get a job otherwise (this could be applied to all college athletes).

*The championship game will be televised on broadcast television, period.  The last several years ESPN has shown the national title game on their network.  While I like ESPN, they're not broadcast TV.  All championship games (regardless of sport) should be on broadcast TV.  One should be able to watch it and not have to pay to watch it.

*Unless it's an instate school, teams from power conferences cannot play schools that aren't in the same division (i.e. 1-A school playing a 1-AA or D-2).  If there is going to be an emphasis on the regular season matters, can't have Alabama playing Georgia Southern.

Well that's this week's installment.  What do you think?  Leave your suggestions of what you'd change and be sure to check out all the other installments of this series.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

If I Were in Charge Of.....MLS

It's time for another installment of "If I Were in Charge Of....."  This week we take a look at Major League Soccer, a fairly young league in comparison to the others (first season was in 1996) but a sport that is loved around the world.  This league is starting to gain some traction but there is definite room for improvement.  So if I were in charge of MLS.....

*Have the schedule reflect that of other soccer leagues around the world.  MLS has a schedule that runs from March to October (spring to fall) while most other leagues run a schedule that's more August to May (late summer to late spring).  While the downside would be going along the same time as college football & the NFL, there would be the benefit of being able to keep players on their respective teams throughout the season & not losing them to such events as the World Cup & other FIFA sanctioned events in the summer months.  There would also be the opportunity to get more world class athletes since the schedules would be linked up better.

*Have expansion to have an even number of teams in the league and get into markets right for soccer.  Right now there are 19 teams and there is an unbalanced schedule.  I would at least get it to 20 teams and probably get it to 24 teams.  Right now there are 0 teams in the southeast (there used to be 2 in Florida but got contracted in the late 90s).  To expand to 5 teams, I would have 1 team in Miami again, add a 2nd to New York (name them the Cosmos like the team in the NASL league back in the 70s & 80s), 1 in Atlanta, 1 in Phoenix & 1 in Charlotte.  There would have to be some realignment with the Eastern & Western conference so here's how that would shape out:
Eastern:  Montreal, Toronto, NY Red Bulls, NY Cosmos, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, DC, Philadelphia, New England, Columbus, Chicago
Western: KC, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake, Colorado, Salt Lake, Phoenix, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, LA Galaxy, Chivas (LA)

*Change the playoff format to a best of 3 for each round.  This would differ greatly for soccer as it is done around the world which is by an aggregate goal format (the scores of the two games added and team with most goals in two games advances, if there is a tie, team with most away goals advance).  Rather it play out on the field than have that be the case.  Higher seed would host game 1 and if necessary game 3.  Each round would have this best of 3 format including the MLS Cup Finals.  Right now 10 teams (five teams from each conference) advance.  In the "new format", 12 teams would advance (six teams from each conference) based on points (tie breaker would be wins) and top 4 seeds would get a bye in the 1st round.

*Have the champion of MLS play the champ of the English Premier League in a home and home series.  They would play for a cup (for the sake of having a name the Beckham/Donovan Cup) and have bragging rights for the year.  It would bring the top team from the EPL to the states one time a year for more than just a friendly and also give more exposure to MLS players "across the pond".

*More network exposure.  I know that MLS recently signed a deal with NBC to cover games but most of them are on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Channel).  I would have a "game of the week" on NBC proper on Sunday nights running from January until the end of the season (basically picking up where the NFL leaves off) and the first part of the season have special "rival" games on certain Saturday & Sunday afternoons.  I would also have a deal with ESPN to air a certain number of games on the main network on Tuesday nights (and make sure that I won't conflict with NHL games that I discussed in an earlier post).  I would also keep games on the NBC Sports Network but that wouldn't be the main avenue for people to catch games.

So that's what I think.  What do you think?  Feel free to leave comments as to how you would change MLS.  And feel free to check on back the other posts in the series.