Tag Archives: sports

Berroa and the Blue October

I’ve been a Royals fan for all 27 years of my life and until Friday sometimes it felt like all I had to show for it was this lousy t-shirt.

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OK, it’s actually a jersey. I have a few other Royals t-shirts, too, ones of Mark Teahen, David DeJesus and Jeremy Affeldt that I got for free back during the “T-Shirt Tuesday” giveaways of 2006 and 2007. This jersey, however, didn’t come for free. I received it as a birthday gift in 2003. My parents got it personalized on Eastbay for me so I could walk around displaying my love of the Royals through my favorite player at the time: (gulp) Angel Berroa. Continue reading

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Forward in Boston

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I went to Boston last weekend because I wanted to see the marathon the year after.

Marathons have environments that defy logic. I’ve seen them in St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas and now Boston. To think: An event that considers its origin the death of a Greek messenger sharing the good news of a battle is equated with a party. But it’s true. Marathons have evolved from the necessity of Pheidippides, to the straight-business approach of most of the twentieth century, to block parties full of behavior that would be considered odd in about every other circumstance. Continue reading

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The last match of James Blake

Source: AOL

I bought so many headbands in the fall of 2005. Not the 90s fashionable kind for women, mind you, the athletic kind. I bought a black headband and a Carolina blue headband with the white Nike swoosh, a red headband with the black Jordan jump-man logo and, knowing my taste in tropical colors, probably something neon yellow.

I bought all of these headbands because of James Blake. He had become my favorite athlete. Continue reading

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So exactly which KU football game is Clark Kent watching in Man of Steel?

I saw “Man of Steel” last night. It was an OK movie by regular standards. By “holy shit they mention Kansas like 13 times” standards, it was spectacular. As many people have noted since Friday, Clark Kent watches a Kansas football game  on TV during the movie, and it no doubt has taken super powers beyond those endowed to regular mortals to watch KU football the last three years.

But what game was Clark actually watching? Continue reading

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DeShawn Stevenson was (sort of) KU’s first Andrew Wiggins

I wonder if Andrew Wiggins will be as good for KU as I hoped DeShawn Stevenson would be. That sentence should not make any sense to sane individuals, even sane individuals who followed Kansas basketball with ritualistic intensity in the late 90s,  which, I guess, might actually make them insane, thus placing me squarely into that camp. Oh well.

But back in the late 90s, DeShawn Stevenson was the shit, which also makes little sense. Stevenson these days conjures up two distinct, incredibly awesome images.

 1. His tattoo of Abraham Lincoln

Continue reading

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A Mile Away From Ordinary

I felt kinda scared when I arrived at the track that night, dressed suavely in the guise of darkness, a plain white t-shirt, and a scrummy pair of shorts Clorox can’t save. Because I have paranoia levels befitting a mother of suburban teenagers, I feared the cops could arrive, administer punishment via nightstick and then haul us to county jail. I feared I might faint or die.

OK, I really didn’t think that. That would be overdramatic. But I did anticipate excruciating pain, excruciating but voluntary pain for choosing to participate in an endurance test of sanity better known as the Beer Mile. Continue reading

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Unsolicited Endorsements XXXV

Because sometimes you just want friends to tell you about cool things… the Brew House team offers up its weekly mix of author-supported goodness.

Remembering: Joe Posnanski on Andy Roddick

We know why both of these guys are in the news right now. Continue reading

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Lavin is perfect for the Storm

Imagine Alumni Hall for just a minute. It’s a Friday afternoon, shortly after lunch time, and the place, situated on the aptly named Utopia Parkway, is packed. A smattering of students mill about the court, bricking three-pointers and lazily checking the man they’re supposed to guard.

This is the rec center, and it is also the same cramped gymnasium where guys like Ron Artest, Eric Barkley and Lavor Postell not only practiced but played a few Big East basketball games.

I love this about St. John’s. It’s small time, only it’s big time. The names – Lou Carnesecca, Chris Mullin, Artest – and the numbers – only six schools have more all-time victories – prove that. Really, St. John’s is Big East basketball, more so than Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Connecticut, any of those schools. There’s more history at St. John’s, more pride.

I started watching the Red Storm when Artest and Barkley played. Later, Postell took over, then Marcus Hatten. He would lead them to the NIT Championship one year and the NCAA Tournament the next. That was 2002, and the Red Storm hasn’t been back since.

After Hatten, Elijah Ingram, a McDonald’s All-American took over as the lead guard. Losses piled, Ingram was charged with a crime and then dismissed from the team, coach Mike Jarvis would lose his job, more losses piled, Norm Roberts was hired, New York ties were supposedly reintroduced, more losses piled; and now when the Red Storm gets brought up in conversation, it’s more likely to get mentioned with South Florida than Georgetown.

***
Who has the hardest job in America?

I began the first journalism assignment of high school with that question. Keep in mind, we didn’t actually learn anything about journalism – i.e. reporting or structure or writing or anything of that nature. So this first assignment was basically a column. It was a column about UCLA coach Steve Lavin.

At first I couldn’t stand Lavin. His slick hair and scratchy weasel voice made John Calipari seem wholesome. He only got the UCLA job because it fell to him after Jim Harrick was charged with NCAA violations and other top assistants like Lorenzo Romar had already found head coaching jobs elsewhere.

Then players from Kansas City started going out west. Lavin recruited JaRon Rush, and one of my all-time favorites, Earl Watson, and I began watching UCLA.

Every year followed the same structure. Lavin’s teams would begin the year with high expectations, a top 25 ranking and a tough schedule. They would slump in the middle before gaining ground at the end and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, even if it was because they got the Pac-10s automatic berth.

Anyone who watched this season after season could form one of two opinions, the first being that Lavin disappointed. He twice brought the consensus No. 1 recruiting classes to Westwood and never put together a complete season.

The second opinion differs greatly from the first, penciling Lavin as a good coach who couldn’t meet wild expectations. I agreed with this one.

After all, Lavin did his best in the NCAA tourney. His teams advanced to the Sweet 16 five times in six seasons, most of the time upsetting higher seeds along the way. Only Mike Kryszewski and Duke made the same number of Sweet 16s in that stretch.

Of course, this wasn’t enough. John Wooden coached the Bruins, and we all know how he did. Nothing short of Final Fours and national championships wins goodwill from UCLA fans.

So no matter what Lavin did, UCLA wouldn’t accept it. Everyone called him a great recruiter and a terrible coach. He could bring in the talent and then let it lay dormant until it moved on to the NBA.

The placing of his name onto the so-called hot seat became a midseason tradition, a tradition that always ended with those Sweet 16 runs and thus the inability to fire him. I admired how he dealt with the unfairness, persevered, struggled a while again, and then still found some way to bring it all together.

Then came his final year – 2003. The Bruins never had that middle of the year run, and his firing was inevitable. Lavin spoke in the past tense about his time in Westwood. He knew he was finished, and he had no problem admitting it, even embracing it.

But then something strange happened, although with Lavin nothing was entirely strange. UCLA defeated Arizona, the top seed, in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Would the Bruins mount another tournament run? It sure looked that way.

In the second round, UCLA held a big lead against Oregon. It was happening again, all the late season theatrics and victories that certainly incensed athletic officials and boosters. Somehow Lavin would save his job.

But that’s not how it worked. UCLA coughed up that lead, and Oregon won 75-74. The Bruins finished the year 10-19. Finally Steve Lavin could be fired.

***
Nobody can win at St. John’s. That’s the sentiment circling around right now; it has been since Mike Jarvis left, a cloud of controversy staying there behind him. Yep, no one can win there. No one can win at Rutgers or Seton Hall either. Schools like them, schools like St. John’s, they’re urban schools.

On the surface, coaching St. John’s would seem like an easy job. You’re based in New York. You’re based in the Mecca of college basketball.

About 20 million people live in that Mecca. Plenty of them grow up playing rec ball in cramped CYO gyms in the winter before bringing the game outside to the famous playgrounds in the summer. The smaller ones become pass-first point guards, and the taller ones develop mean streaks; they become the type of player no one wants to drive against in a game. Yes, the talent is there, but mining it is the hard part.

All the best players from the NYC area generally want to get out of the five boroughs. They don’t want to live in Jamaica, Queens. And outside of the NYC metro, no one has heard of St. John’s or cares about St. John’s. They don’t want to live in Jamaica, Queens, either.

The Red Storm’s last coach, Norm Roberts, knew New York as well as anyone. He was the man who first convinced Russell Robinson to leave the City and come to Kansas. He had connections. He could recruit the public and private schools of New York.
Roberts lasted for six seasons. He never made the NCAA Tournament.

And now here comes Lavin. He probably doesn’t have enough connections to reserve a table at a restaurant in New York City, let alone enough to gain favor among the area high schools.

Most people say this is a problem. How can the coach of a basketball team in New York City survive without any connections? How can a laid-back San Francisco guy inspire the gritty players of the Northeast to come play for him?

Here’s how. Lavin won’t. He won’t get the best players from New York City. He won’t establish deep connections with the city’s high schools. He won’t have to. And he shouldn’t try to.

St. John’s has been milking the New York City route for too long, and it’s a pointless endeavor. All the great connections of Jarvis and Roberts have gotten the Red Storm nowhere except the bottom of the Big East for the last several years.

New York City boys don’t respect St. John’s like they used to. They’ve moved on. St. John’s needs to do the same, and finally did so by hiring Lavin.

Like he did at UCLA, Lavin will recruit from all over the country and probably still largely on the West Coast. There’s no question it will be tougher. This will be a challenge.

But, remember, Lavin once held the hardest job in America. His new job fits into that same category, and there are few others more prepared for such a challenge.

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Ode to the Aussie Open

A quick thank you to Rustin, for keeping this blog afloat as I slacked for about two weeks. Maybe I’ve just been too busy watching the Australian Open…

If you stare long enough, the rubberized blue surface begins to morph from mere tennis court to bottomless ocean.

This happens after hours of watching the men and women who are standing on top of it as they hit the golden ball back and forth, lulling you with repetition and pulling you under.

And I greatly enjoy sinking into this sea.

The above happens every year; it, in fact, is happening right now. The best tennis players in the world are playing in the world’s most tennis-mad country, Australia, in the Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal thrashed his first two opponents then needed a little extra effort against Philipp Kohlschreiber. Roger Federer had a little trouble in round one. America’s sweetheart Melanie Oudin lost, so too did Motherhood’s sweetheart, Kim Clijsters. Serena Williams didn’t threaten anyone yet. Justine Henin upset a top-10 player. And James Blake came heartbreakingly close to beating Juan Martin del Potro in five sets.

There’s the hot news from Australia. The short summary tells everything that’s apparent on the surface.

But the Australian open has never really been about what’s on the surface. Indeed, the literal surface has changed several times throughout the years. As recently as 1987, the major was played on grass courts. Since then, it’s moved to the greenish Rebound Ace to what it is now: the deep blue Plexicushion.

Anyways, like I said, the Australian Open is about so much more than surface characteristics. The tennis played there once a year is the kind that makes you think.

In a way, tennis has always been like that. It’s only natural. Games of tennis begin with the score at Love-Love, and the back and forth patter of the ball from each person’s racket creates a steady rhythm incomparable to any other sport.

All kinds of writers have captured this sort of phenomena. A book called “Tennis and the Meaning of Life” features brilliant authors all telling their tennis stories.

With that book containing only pieces of fiction, the Australian Open gets no mention. In real life, though, the event is mesmerizing, boasting a setting, a time and place, no work of tennis fiction can match.

That time is, of course, right now, in January. I suspect many people would consider January the worst month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the only month that doesn’t include a real holiday (no offense to MLK, but that doesn’t count). It’s the only month that doesn’t include warm weather. It’s a month that follows Chrismukah and New Year’s Eve and the college football season.

And it’s a month of transition. A new year has begun and with it comes all the hopes and challenges of something different.
For college students, the second semester begins. For businesses, the new fiscal year starts. The classes might get easier, or they might not. Investors might become bullish or they might not.

In short, January is a month of harsh uncertainty. There are no breaks from the routine and no breaks from the conditions.

You’re in Dallas. You’re in Kansas City. You’re in New York. You’re in the best place in the world. You’re in the worst place in the world.

You are where you are and transition doesn’t come quick or easy. You push through January knowing the weather will get warmer and that the new problems you encounter will go away when you discover solutions.

But when I watch the Australian Open, it feels like I’m cheating. It feels like the solutions are here, and I’m moving to some place else entirely.

The month is January, yet the women tennis players wear tank tops. The time on your cell phone says 8 p.m., yet Marin Cilic is pounding serves in 99-degree heat and sunlight.

On Sunday, I watched Yanina Wickmayer win her first round match while writing a small piece for the Dallas Morning News. Three years ago, I watched Andy Roddick defeat a young J.W. Tsonga the night before Daily Kansan orientation. Five years ago, I listened to my high school locker partner discuss how he stayed up until 2:30 a.m. so he could watch Marat Safin defeat Roger Federer.

Time, place and circumstances change. The Australian Open doesn’t.

Some may argue this same point about other sporting events. The World Series happens every fall, the NCAA Tournament every spring and so on.

But they don’t carry the same magic as the Australian Open. They don’t take place during one of the strangest times of the year, and they don’t provide such a drastic change to that setting.

And every year, the Australian Open does.

It begins in January and brings with it the comfortable certainty of men and women slapping a ball back and forth over a blue expanse.

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Perspective and Agassi

Before the post, some housekeeping: It’s been a while. Wow, looks like almost three weeks since either of us wrote a blog. Yikes. Well, here’s one, a genuine rambler about Andre Agassi that might or might not make sense. Anyways, let’s hope this starts a hot streak for more posts…

I finished reading the Andre Agassi autobiography a week or so ago.

Everyone knows about this book. We know because of the crystal meth. The passage has been repeated so many times.

Agassi does the drug more than once. He gives it up but not before he tests positive, lies to the ATP and gets released because the ATP believes his painfully bogus excuse.

And for about two weeks everyone cared. Katie Couric interviewed him on “60 Minutes.” Jim Rome talked about it on his TV show. People wrote columns. Sports Illustrated featured that segment in an issue. Ryan Seacrest* even had him on his radio show.

*I’ve now mentioned Ryan Seacrest in consecutive posts. Feel free to make fun of me as much as you please.

Once the meth passage broke, others weighed in. Andy Roddick stood up for Agassi, as did a few other players. Most didn’t. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal expressed dismay, mainly because they said it tainted tennis.*

*This is completely ridiculous, especially for Nadal. Hard-core tennis fans will know that earlier this summer, he stood up for his friend, French tennis player Richard Gasquet, who tested positive for cocaine, another recreational drug. Yet, when Agassi, who did it 10 years earlier and confessed when he really had no need to do so, reveals himself to have done a recreational drug, Nadal expresses anger.

It’s unfortunate that his drug use has caused such a stir because that news has shrouded the importance of his biography. In it, he does what few public figures have done. He gives a clear image of one of the more complex athletes in recent history.

We finally meet the real Andre Agassi.
***
There’s a book, a wonderful book, called “Hard Courts.” John Feinstein wrote it, and in it, he details the 1990 season on the professional tennis tour. No one has written this complete of a book about tennis since.

He writes about a young kid with Greek ancestry named Pete Sampras who surprises everyone at that year’s U.S. Open.

He writes about John McEnroe, who threw maybe his most infamous temper tantrum at the 1990 Australian Open and had to forfeit his match.

He writes about Aaron Krickstein, a young Monica Seles, Peter Graf, the Davis Cup, a very young Jennifer Capriati, and of course, Andre Agassi.

At this point, Agassi was already the villain. He had refused to play at Wimbledon for a couple of years. Clothes, the media would say. Agassi wouldn’t play there because he didn’t want to trade his raggedy jean shorts and tropical t-shirts for Wimbledon white.

Feinstein also mentions his entourage. He talks about Phil Agassi, Gil Reyes and Nick Bolletieri and how they let Agassi get away with everything, how they coddled Agassi.

Feinstein’s view is clear. Other writers at the time were too. Mike Lupica, who Agassi singles out in his book, wrote several negative columns about him.

Agassi was a punk, they all said. He hurt the game because he didn’t care about tennis. He cared about winning fans with publicity stunts, strange fashion and long hair. He threw a Davis Cup match. And don’t even get them started on that “Image Is Everything” commercial.

In his book, Agassi explains. His brother was one of his best friends. They lived off three baked potatoes a day when he started his tennis career. Reyes transformed his body and mentored him in his personal life.
They were familiar. That’s why Agassi wanted them to stick close.

He didn’t throw Davis Cup matches. He tried harder in them.

He chose those strange looking jean shorts for Nike because John McEnroe turned them down, and he thought they looked cool. He didn’t think they would cause a stir.

His hair was long, because he didn’t know who he was yet. The hair was a coping mechanism.

Agassi notes he never told the media any of this because, well, he was immature and didn’t expect anyone to believe it.

But what if he did tell the truth?

If Agassi told us back then that he surrounded himself with his brother, his best friend and Gil Reyes because he was scared and immature; if he told us that he didn’t play Wimbledon because he hadn’t figured out the grass court game yet and wanted to save himself for the other majors; if he told us yeah, he did once throw a match but never would have done that at the Davis Cup; if he told us he shot the “Image” commercial in one quick take because he wanted to spend time with his girlfriend and didn’t think about the message, how would everything have changed?

We already had him penciled in as the rebel, the racket-carrying prima donna.

That was what we knew.
***
The 2006 U.S. Open rolled around, and this was the last go-round for Andre Agassi.

NBC aired a montage of his early, rebel years. The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland” played in the background. Then the background music changed and Agassi was bald and winning Grand Slams and earning admiration from crowds.

Yes, Agassi had transformed.

Writers, maybe the same ones who accused him of throwing matches, adored him for his apparent love for the game and the gentleman way he now carried himself off of it.

I recall watching the entire five sets of his second-round night match against Marcos Baghdatis. He easily won the first two sets, then lost the next two. By the end, both men could barely walk. And Agassi won.

He would play one more match, a loss against Benjamin Becker, and afterwards, Agassi blew kisses to the crowd and gave a speech. That had never been done before.

The loser, especially a loser in the U.S. Open’s third round, didn’t speak to the crowd. But we all loved Agassi.

Everyone loved Agassi. James Blake wore a retro, pink and black shirt with a bandana in his first round match out of respect for Agassi. Baghdatis admitted to emulating Agassi’s game when he grew up.

After that match against Becker, after the ovation and speech, all the men in the locker room, except for Jimmy Connors, stopped what they were doing and congratulated him.

In his book, Agassi details this. He also details how on the morning before his match against Baghdatis he thought about how he wanted everything to end and how he hated tennis.

No one knew any of that though. The 2006 U.S. Open was about Agassi because he had said all the right things.

But what if he told the truth?

If Agassi told us he hated tennis, that he couldn’t wait for it to end, that he lied about his love for the sport and how he wanted his son to love it as much as he did, how would everything have changed?

We loved Andre Agassi and thought of him as a hero, a legend, a person who had really changed.

That was what we knew.

***

It’s all out there, now. Everything. That’s why he called the book “Open.”

Who is Andre Agassi?

We finally know.

He hated tennis, hated how his father forced him to play it. He did throw a match once.

And yes, he tried meth when his career and personal life teetered toward disaster and lied about it. But he also donated lots of time and money to save a prematurely born child of one of his friends.

He wasn’t the devil wearing Nike of the early 90s or the saint of 2006.

In reality, he’s always been human.

And we finally figured that out.

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