Saturday, October 30, 2010

...Cliff Lee

With games three and four of the 2010 World Series shifting to Texas, the Texas Rangers find themselves down two games to none against the San Francisco Giants. Colby Lewis is scheduled to start game three tonight for Texas.

Until getting hit around in the opening game of the series, Cliff Lee had a perfect 7-0 record in the postseason.

The Rangers need to win four of the next five games to win the World Series.

If the Rangers win game three, they will still be down two games to one. If they lose game three, they are one loss away from elimination. All indications point towards Rangers' pitcher Tommy Hunter pitching game four. Hunter had a good regular season - 13 win, 4 losses, 3.73 ERA - but has struggled in two postseason starts this year - 0-1, 6.14 ERA.

Apparently Cliff Lee doesn't feel comfortable pitching on three days rest.

Through the course of a 162 game regular season, I understand wanting your full four days rest. It is a long grind and you want to stay healthy.

But if you are arguably the best postseason pitcher of the last two seasons and one of the best pitchers in the game, I don't understand how if you are Cliff Lee, you don't want to pitch.

There is a competitive fire that has to burn deep within you to be successful in athletics. It is that fire that drives you to prepare in the off season. That competitiveness leads to success on the field and pain in defeat. But competitors take the pain of defeat and use it for motivation.

How does Cliff Lee not want the ball in game four?

He is in the World Series for the second straight year and is headed toward his second straight series defeat (last year he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies that lost to the New York Yankees). I'm not sure how the competitiveness that had undoubtedly made Cliff Lee great doesn't make him walk into Rangers' manager Ron Washington's office and ask to pitch game four.

Maybe Cliff Lee feels that pitching game five is the best thing for the team. Maybe he has more faith in Tommy Hunter than most. Maybe he doesn't want to hurt himself or his chances for his big contract in the off season.

Whatever the reason, depending on how game three goes, the Rangers may be relying on Tommy Hunter to save their season. At least they will have Cliff Lee ready to go in game five. They just better hope the series gets there.

Friday, October 29, 2010

...Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson

As a starting pitcher, when you take the mound, all you can do is try your best to give your team a chance to win. In game two of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, Matt Cain (Giants) and C.J. Wilson (Rangers) were the starting pitchers.

Game two is always a critical game. The Giants won game one. A win in game two would give them a commanding two games to none lead.

The Rangers needed a win in game two to pull the series even heading back to Texas.

Victories are the most over-rated statistic when it comes to pitching. A pitcher can give up one or two runs and lose. If a pitcher throws well enough to give his team a chance to win, he's done his job.

Both Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson did their job last night. Matt Cain through 7.2 shutout innings as the Giants won game two 9-0. The Giants take a 2-0 series lead with them to the Ballpark at Arlington for game three tomorrow.

And looking at the 9-0 score, you maybe thinking how do I claim that C.J. Wilson did his job?

C.J. Wilson pitched into the 7th inning and gave up two earned run. In baseball, especially with the Texas Rangers' offense, a 2-0 lead is easy to overcome. If you get a runner or two on base, you can tie the game or take the lead with one swing of the bat.

If you are a pitcher, don't get too caught up in wins and losses. Give you team a chance to win. If you do that, the wins will take care of themselves.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

...Jillian Michaels and The Biggest Loser

When we are not watching sports, one of our - my wife and I - favorite television shows is NBC's The Biggest Loser, which is on Tuesday nights.

The reality show's purpose is to pull obese people from across the United States and change their lives by teaching them to change their lifestyles by eating right and exercising. But the bigger change, whether most contestants know it or not when they sign up, is the mental change.

One of the trainers is Jillian Michaels. A small firecracker, she puts the contestants through their workouts. Sometimes she is nice about it. But most of the time she is not. And while it may seem like she is being mean or hateful, the reality is that most of the contestants have reached the point in their lives because they weren't mentally tough. They felt sorry for themselves, were depressed or suffered tragedies. And most turned to food for comfort.

I don't want to come across as I don't have any compassion for depressed people or those who have been touched by tragedy. I am simply saying that as a fact for the contestants.

In the latest episode, because of the game, Jillian made sure to take extra time with one of her team members, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has had her share of struggles.

In that moment, Jillian said something to Elizabeth that was extremely philosophical. When talking about her progress and Elizabeth's outlook to the future Jillian told her that she could either "survive or thrive."


And while it may sound good on the surface, if you think about those three words, it is a mindset that can change your life.

No matter which part or your life you are talking about - athletics, work, school, home - we all have a decision that we make. Nobody else makes it for us. We can either do what we can to barely get by or we can try to do whatever we can to make an outstanding life.

Maybe you just want to make the team. Why not be a starter? Or better yet, the star?

I just want to make Cs and Ds. Why not try for all As? If you fall short, you will still get Bs.

I want to pay my bills. Go back to school and get a specific skill you enjoy to better you situation.

No matter what our situation is - in any situation we encounter - we have two options. You can survive. Or you can thrive.

I hope you will choose to rise above everyone else. Stand out. THRIVE.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

...the Dallas Cowboys

I think it is funny if you watch any sports on television, especially over the last two days, most of the talk seems to be centered on the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys, who were many analysts pick to play in the Super Bowl, which is in their home stadium, fell again on Monday night to the New York Giants by a score of 41-35. The latest loss dropped their record to one win and five losses.

I chuckle when I hear analysts say that the Cowboys are going to win "because they have to win." Doesn't every team have to win every game. I'm sure every team is trying to win every game. But I'm not sure why anyone "has to win."

Now, I'm guessing that the intent of the comment was that the Cowboys, whose theoretical backs were against the wall, had to win to have any chance at salvaging their season. I'm assuming that there is an expectation that the Cowboys, or any team in this particular situation, would come out and play with more intensity, fire, passion or whatever word fits - some would say intelligence and discipline.

But what have the Dallas Cowboys displayed that would make anyone think that all of the sudden, because their season is on the line, they can change their mindset and play harder.

NFL players play 16 regular season games a year. If any player doesn't play with the aforementioned passion, desire and intensity, their team should replace them. Immediately.

There are a lot of cliches out there. Play each play like its your last is the one that comes to mind. Because of national media exposure, I think I have seen parts of every Cowboys game this season. And from what I see, most of their players DON'T play each play like it could be their last. But they should. They only have 10 more games in what is probably a lost season.

I don't know if there is any worse feeling in sports than playing a season out knowing that there is no hope of making the postseason. And while the Cowboys still are not mathematically eliminated, they are 1-5 for a reason. Because they aren't playing very good.

If I were a Cowboys fan, that would be the most disappointing. It is not as if they don't have a talented team. Many people picked them to win the Super Bowl because of their talent. But that talent isn't translating on the field.

Great teams are made up of great individuals that PLAY TOGETHER. The Cowboys seem to play as individuals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

...Chase Utley

In the bottom of the 1st inning, with runners on first base and third base, San Francisco Giants' catcher Buster Posey was at-bat with one out. He was looking to give the Giants an early lead against Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halliday.

In this situation, the one thing that Posey does not want to do is hit a ground ball. A ground ball at the Major League level in more than likely a double play. And with one out in the inning, the Phillies would be out of the inning with no runs allowed and no damage done.

Buster Posey hit a ground ball to Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley. It wasn't hit very hard, but hard enough that a Major League second baseman should be able to turn a double play.

No matter at what level or in which sport you are playing, coaches always preach the same thing - make sure you catch the ball first.

Because the ball wasn't hit all that hard, Giants' second baseman and base runner Freddy Sanchez did the correct thing by running back towards first base - you never want to run into an out, which would have happened.

So Utley, before the ball was secured in his glove, started to run at Sanchez. But the baseball continued to lay on the ground.

Utley would then retrieve the ball and throw it to second base for a force out. But the runner from third base had scored and given the Giants and 1-0 early lead.

Always put first things first, and in athletics, it usually means catch the ball before you make a move.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

...James Harrison

After a hard hitting past Sunday in the NFL, fines were dished out to several players who the NFL felt were head hunting. I'm not going to get into the debate about if the hits were legal or not, whether the nature of football includes violent collisions or not or any other issues that deal with preserving the "integrity" of the sport.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was one of the players who was fined. He had two separate incidents in the Sunday contest with the Cleveland Browns. The NFL issued a $75,000 fine for the hits.

Today, James Harrison threatened to retire.

Football is a violent game by nature. Injuries have happened since the inception of the game and will continue. As player get faster and stronger, more players will get injured.

The NFL will continue to adapt to make the games safer. While most fans enjoy the gladiator feel of the sport, they would all clamor if it were their team's quarterback or running back that was seriously hurt. And God forbid someone is paralyzed, which happened just this past weekend to Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand.

In the past three days, if you have been paying attention to sports discussions on television, radio and online, you have heard every opinion about the NFL, what the should do, the new policy and player safety.

But isn't that what the NFL is supposed to do? Doesn't it have a responsibility to try to protect its' players as much as possible?

If James Harrison feels that he can't play the game of football the way he needs to, then he should retire. The Steelers have a great track record of replacing linebackers like James. Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland and Joey Porter are just some of the outstanding defenders it seemed the Steelers would be foolish to cut ties with. But they were all let go at some point and replaced. And the Steelers' defense never missed a beat.

Is James Harrison trying to prove a point? Does he think that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will feel sorry for him and rescind his fine? Or is he just doing what most of today's athletes do - try to shine the spotlight on them when it shouldn't be.

Go ahead and retire James. Just remember, you are replaceable. Everyone is and the Steelers have proved it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

...Jimmy Rollins

After not getting a hit in four at-bats in Game One of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game Two with the bases loaded.

The 2007 National League Most Valuable Player struggled with injuries this year and only hit .243 in 88 games - the worst of his career. But Jimmy is still a dangerous professional, especially when he feels slighted.

Down 3-1, with base runners on second and third, San Fransisco manager Bruce Bochy decided to intentionally walk Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth to load the bases.

Now in some scenarios, if the Giants were trying to set up a double play, I would agree with the move. But the Giants already had recorded two outs, so they were more concerned with Jayson Werth than Jimmy Rollins.

Werth hit .296 with 27 home runs in the 2010 season, but is only hitting .222 in the postseason.

Jimmy Rollins hit .297 right handed this year versus .218 left handed. At the time, Giants left handed reliever Jeremy Affelt was on the mound and Bochy wanted Rollins to hit left handed.

Rollins hit a three run double that turned a 3-1 lead into a 6-1 advantage that basically put the game out of reach.

In athletics, and life, you have to take advantage of anything you can. Whenever you feel slighted, turn that into to motivation. People told me since I was 11 years old that I wasn't very good. And I turned it into a professional career.

Jimmy Rollins turned it into a Game Two victory.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

...the top of the 8th Inning of Game One of the ALCS

In the top of the eight inning of game one of the American League Championship Series (ALCS), New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner singled, shortstop Derek Jeter doubled allowing Gardner to scored. At that point, the Texas Rangers were winning by a score of 5-2.

If you watched the game, it was really evident that the Yankees were going to make a come back and the Rangers were in trouble.

Body language can say a lot about your confidence.

Many times in life, you get what you expect. In baseball, it is no different.

The body language of the defending World Series champion Yankees said that they were expecting to come back, expecting to win and were not going to simply roll over and die and start to think about game two. The confidence of the Rangers was gone. A 5-0 lead in the game was slowly evaporating.

Once Rangers' manager Ron Washington decided to pull starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, who left with the Rangers still leading 5-2 with no outs in the top of the eight inning, you could tell - at least on television - that the Rangers were also expecting the Yankees to rally. It was almost as if they knew their lead was in trouble.

And it wasn't just the relief pitchers, though they looked like they wanted no part of being on the mound. Ron Washington, in camera shots from the dugout and as he was walking to the mound to make pitching changes, seemed as he was just hoping to be able to withstand the storm. The Rangers infielders, on those same pitching changes, looked as if they were expecting their lead to disappear.

The Yankees, who were losing 5-1 at the start of the eight inning, ended up scoring five runs in the top part of the eight inning to give them a 6-5 lead, which was also the final score. The Rangers were never able to recover.

Expect bad things to happen and they usually will. Expect good things and good things will come.

...Brett Gardner

What to commonly becomes a lazy run to first base turned into the spark the New York Yankees needed in the top of the eight inning last night to shock the Texas Rangers.

Down five to one in the top of the eight, Yankees' left fielder - and the ninth batter in their lineup - hit a ground ball to the Rangers' first baseman Jorge Cantu. If you watch Major League Baseball frequently, all to often you see the batter concede the out and simply jog to first as if the out has already been recorded. But Brett Gardner didn't.

Brett Gardner sprinted down to first base and dove head first toward the bag as Cantu was throwing the ball to Rangers' pitcher C.J. Wilson, who was covering first base because the ball was hit to the first baseman.

The umpire correctly called Gardner safe and the play jump started the Yankees. A 5-1 deficit at the start of the inning turned into a 6-5 lead by the time the Rangers came to bat in the bottom of the eight inning.

A common saying - no matter in which sport - is that you don't need talent to hustle. You don't have to be the most talented player on your team, on the field or in the league to give 100% effort on every play.

It would have been easy for Brett Gardner to take the play off, go through the motion of running down the first base line and head back to the dugout. Because he didn't, the Yankees hold a 1-0 lead in the best of seven American League Championship Series.

Friday, October 15, 2010

...the Chilean Miners

If you want to talk about staying calm and having to keep things in perspective, it is hard to overlook the 33 rescued Chilean Miners. Stranded since August 5, they endured 69 days of being trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface in a collapsed mine.

I understand that all 33 Chilean miners will be evaluated - both physically and mentally - and some underlying problems may arise. But the fact that all were in relatively good health is remarkable. To survive the ordeal, several characteristics come to mind - characteristics that everyone needs in life to succeed.

The first is hope. Imagine sitting in your basement for 69 days without being able to see sunlight. The hope that the Chilean miners had - hope in themselves, in each other, in the rescuers - is unbelievable.

In sports, the need for mental toughness is often discussed. I would challenge anyone to tell me that what those Chilean miners are not some of the most mentally tough people in the world. Initially, the first reports said that it may be until Christmas time that they would be rescued. To have to prepare to spend five months trapped almost a half a mile below the surface is tremendous.

The final words are faith and belief. It is one thing to hope to be saved and another to prepare. But to have faith that those above the ground will do everything they can to free you, no matter what conditions are faced and at what length is awesome.

I obviously have no idea what the mental state of each miner may be. But I am certain the camaraderie that the Chilean miners have developed - along with the hope, faith, belief and toughness - will last a lifetime.

What do you think? Are there any other words that come to mind?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

...Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee was the star of the Texas - Tampa Bay American League Divisional Series. He won two games, pitched 16 innings and struck out 21. But more impressive that any of those statistics is the fact that he WALKED ZERO.

It should be pretty easy to figure out that when you work ahead in the count and do not allow free bases, good things will happen. A pitcher, no matter the level, is not going to throw a no hitter every time he takes the mound. The nature of the game is that the opponent will get base hits. But, by not allowing free base runners in front of those hits, you minimize the damage the hits can make.

When you get ahead in the count by throwing strikes on the first pitch and two of the first three pitches, you put the hitter in a defensive mode. He isn't as confident and is more likely to guess at what pitch is coming next. Many of the Rays' hitters on Tuesday night struck out on pitches where they looked totally clueless - a side effect of guessing.

...Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay pitched Game One of the National League Divisional Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. By now, everyone is aware that he pitched the second no-hitter in Major League Baseball playoff history. He set the tone for the series in which the Phillies swept the Reds in three games.

And it was his first career postseason start.

I've been around the game long enough to know that when the regular season ends and the postseason begins, there is usually a different feel to the game. Every pitch, play and at bat is magnified. It isn't "just another game." Depending on the scenario, if you lose, your season may be over. But the pitchers and players - no matter which sport or level - who can put the postseason pressure behind them, are those who are successful.

Transforming your situation into the "just another game" mentality is difficult, but when you can adjust your mindset and think of your postseason game as a regular season game, you will have a better chance of helping your team win.

Now, Roy didn't face a "win or go home" situation. If the Phillies had lost, they would only have been one game behind the Reds. But being up one game versus down one game can add additional pressure to a team and give you a feeling like you are backed into a corner, especially in a best of five series.

But Roy Halladay pitched the Phillies to a no-hit victory, just as he did earlier in the regular season, when he took the mound in "just another game" against the Florida Marlins.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

...the 2004 Boston Red Sox

A documentary on ESPN, titled "Four Nights in October" just aired. It focused on the 2004 Boston Red Sox and their improbable run to a World Series title and the breaking of the "Curse of the Bambino."

You often hear coaches and commentators say "play to the last out" or "play 60 minutes" or whatever the duration of the competition is. The 2004 Red Sox did that.

I remember it well as it was just after I finished my first full season of minor league baseball and I was in "baseball mode" to say the least.

To catch you up to speed, the Red Sox were down three games to none in a best of seven series in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against their biggest rival, the New York Yankees. In a must win game four, they were down by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning, with arguably the best closer in the history in the game on the mound for the Yankees, Mariano Rivera.

But the Red Sox fought back. Kevin Millar drew a walk and was replaced by Dave Roberts, who stole second. The next batter, Bill Mueller, hits a single up the middle to score Roberts and tie the game. David Ortiz eventually hit a two run home run to give the Red Sox the Game Four victory.

But it was still only one win. They were now down three games to one and the thought of coming all the way back was still considered impossible. No team in Major League Baseball history had ever won a series after being down three games to none.

I already spoiled the ending, as the Red Sox won Game Five in Boston before winning Games Six and Seven in New York. They went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and win their first World Series since they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in the early part of the 1900s.

Every commentator, writer, columnist and reporter gave Boston no chance to win the ALCS, even after they pulled out Game Four. It just goes to show you what can happen when a team doesn't listen to those on the outside and believes in themselves and their teammates.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

...Chan Ho Park

Korean born pitcher Chan Ho Park first appeared in the Majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994. Last night, pitching for the Pirates, the 16 year veteran recorded his 124th career victory against the Marlins. With the victory, he now has more career Major League wins than any other Asian-born pitcher.

I know I have already written about longevity and consistency, which are two big characteristics you must have to succeed in any endeavor in life. But Chan Ho Park also displays two other vital necessities - perseverance and passion.

In the free agent era of professional sports leagues, where the games truly are businesses, we have gotten used to teams receiving makeovers and players changing cities.

After a solid start to his career in L.A., he signed a big contract with the Texas Rangers, but struggled in his new home. He was later traded to San Diego in the fourth year of that contract and this is where the roller coaster began.

Chan Ho Park has played for seven different Major League teams - L.A., Texas, San Diego, the Mets, Philadelphia, the Yankees and Pittsburgh, with a second stop with the Dodgers mixed in.

So why does the word perseverance come to mind when I think of Chan Ho Park? Because it would have been easy to give up. Chan Ho Park undoubtedly has made a lot of money playing baseball. The five year contract he signed with the Rangers in 2002 was worth $65 million. Many players like him, rather than continuing to bounce around from team to team, bruising their ego and their legacy, decide to take the money they made, walk away and retire at a young age.

But that isn't the route Chan Ho Park followed. He has played for six teams in the last five years - including two this year, the Yankees and Pirates. He has been an average pitcher, with a record of 18 wins and 18 losses and an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.46.

I would bet that Chan Ho Park loves what he does and couldn't imagine doing anything else. If he did, he would of by now.