Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Drew Brees

Today, Sports Illustrated named Drew Brees it's "Sportsman of the Year" for 2010. Brees had quite a year, quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints to a win in Super Bowl XLIV, the city's first championship.

New Orleans has hosted plenty of championship events - Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls and Final Fours to name a few. But the city had never had a championship of their own.

Drew Brees was an undersized quarteback who was let go by the San Diego Chargers after the 2005 season. He was only shown interest from the Miami Dolphins and the Saints. He signed with the Saints, who were unsure where they would play for the 2006 season or if they would stay long-term in New Orleans. New Orleans had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and much of the city was still in disarray.

I remember the hair stand up on my arms and getting goosebumps when the Saints ran onto the field for the home opener in 2006. The Saints weren't supposed to be very good and they soundly won over the Atlanta Falcons.

Fast forward five years, the Gulf Coast has just dealt with the largest oil spill in U.S. history and it crippled the livelihood of many, not only in New Orleans or Louisiana, but the entire Gulf region that cheers for the Saints.

If you are a sports fan, part of the allure is forgetting your reality and living vicariously through your favorite teams. Drew Brees leads the sports face of New Orleans. The happiness that Drew Brees has brought to the fans of New Orleans, the escape from reality - even for three hours a week on Sunday - is invaluable.

I'm not suggesting that real life doesn't go away. Bills still need to be paid. Lives still need to be rebuilt. But our sports figures do provide a sense of satisfaction and one can only imagine the amount of satisfaction life-long, hurricane wrecked, oil spill covered New Orleans Saints fans feel when they watch Drew Brees and the Saints play football.

Drew Brees won the 2010 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, but it's been five years in the making.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

...Mark Herzlich

If you aren't an avid college football fan, you have probably never heard of Mark Herzlich. Mark is a senior linebacker for Boston College and started all 12 games in the Eagles' seven win, five loss season. He is the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Mark Herzlich missed the 2009 season as he battled cancer and won.

In 2008, he made 110 tackles and six interceptions while leading Boston College to a 9-5 record.

I must admit, I never heard of Mark Herzlich, even as an avid college football fan, during the 2008 season. It wasn't until his story started getting out in the 2009 season that I took note. I remember Notre Dame honoring him among countless interviews and short television stories that aired on pregame shows and halftime breaks.

And while it seemed in all of those clips that Mark would fight and win, there seemed to be doubt about whether he would be able to regain the strength he would need to continue to play. All along, Mark planned on working as hard as he could to rejoin the Eagles. But the question was, is it possible.

Mark came back this year. For some, it may have been rewarding enough just to return to his team. It apparently wasn't for him. Mark recorded 60 tackles this year, which was good enough for third on the team, and four interceptions, which was good enough to tie for the second most.

And while Mark Herzlich isn't going to repeat and win the 2010 ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, he's already won something much more valuable.

A second chance and a new outlook on life.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

...Vince Young

After another meltdown, and injury, Vince Young was put on injured reserve, ending his 2010 season. But it seems like, at least as far as Titans' coach Jeff Fisher is concerned, Young was going to spend this coming Sunday on the bench regardless.

Vince Young at one time was a hot prospect out of the University of Texas. Fresh off of leading Texas to the National Championship over USC, the Tennessee Titans drafted Young to be their franchise quarterback. Many questioned how his skill set would transfer to the NFL.

Sunday, Vince Young was booed at home and then proceeded to wave his arms as if he was telling the crowd "bring it on." It seemed as though on the same play, Young was hurt and Fisher had had enough.

On his way to the locker room, Young threw his jersey and shoulder pads into the stands (though Young claims he was giving the jersey to a fan).

After the game, Young apparently said that he was upset that people are critical of him and his play.

Vince Young has been an NFL quarterback for five years. Players that reach that level were tremendous in high school and college. They have constantly heard how good they were, were hardly ever criticized and faced little adversity.

When you reach the NFL, and you are paid a lot of money to do so, you are expected to perform. You are expected to play well. There aren't a lot of people who are going to feel sorry for you because the fans didn't appreciate his play. 

True character shines through when a person faces adversity. When things aren't going your way, how do you react? Do you get nervous? Do you run away? Or do you stare your problems in the face and fix them before they get bigger?

Most problems do not simply go away without resolution. In fact, many will snowball and grow larger the longer they are around. And if they involve another person, that relationship will many times sour deeper - sometimes beyond repair.

Learn a lesson from Vince. When you face a problem, address it immediately. Doing so will stop it before it grows out of control.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Friday, November 19, 2010

...Felix Hernandez

Felix Hernandez won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award for the league's best pitcher yesterday. And every talk show is debating whether or not he deserved it. Felix led Major League Baseball in both ERA and innings pitched. But the argument is that his record was 13-12.

The Cy Young is supposed to go the best pitcher in the league (there is one for both the American and National Leagues). It is different from the Most Valuable Player. The MVP should be awarded to the player who is most valuable to his team. If you took the winner off his team, they would not have performed nearly as well. And it always helps being in a playoff race and playing meaningful games. The MVP shouldn't necessarily play for a playoff team, but his team should be in the race until September.

I may sound like a hypocrite, but again, the Cy Young is for the best pitcher.

The difference is that a pitcher can only affect his team one out of every five games. And when you have the lowest ERA, which is one of, if not the best indicator of a pitching performance, it is difficult to argue. But people will and are.

Felix Hernandez's Seattle Mariners scored zero or one run in 10 of his starts. So if Felix Hernandez would throw a shutout or allow one run, in 10 games he would not have had a chance to win.

Another argument is that runner up David Price and third place finisher CC Sabathia played meaningful baseball games as their respective teams, Tampa Bay and the Yankees, were in a playoff race. To reach the Major League Baseball, you have to be extremely competitive. I would argue that whether your team is or isn't in a race, you are taking the mound with the same focus and competitiveness every start.

When writers vote for awards, especially the old-school, traditional guys, wins and losses tend to overshadow everything else. It is refreshing to see that they finally got this vote right.

www.tothetopperformance.com

...Greg Oden

Greg Oden was the first overall draft pick for the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA draft out of Ohio State. He was a much hyped high school player out of Indianapolis and led the Buckeyes to the 2007 NCAA Championship games, where they lost to Florida, as a freshman.

He left after one year and entered the NBA draft, where the first pick was between he and current Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. The Blazers selected Oden - they already had several players similar to Durant's model.

Yesterday, the Blazers announced that Oden will need knee surgery and will be out for the season.

He missed the entire 2007-08 season, played 61 games in 2008-09, played in 21 games in 2009-10 and hasn't played a game this year. So in four season, Greg Oden has played 82 total games.

The word "Bust" has already been thrown around and it isn't fair. A bust is someone who wasn't as talented as thought, who was lazy and didn't work hard or who didn't live up to the hype. And you can argue that Oden hasn't lived up to the hype.

But give Oden a few more years before we label him as a bust. Has Oden lived up to the number one pick? Absolutely not. Should he have been a top ten draft pick? Probably not. But that is easy to say three years after the fact when we see how things play out.

Greg Oden is 22 years old. And while he will more than likely never attain the superstar status that was once attached to him, he will come back next season and be 23 years old. Last time I checked, especially in professional sports, 23 is still young.

Is it Greg Oden's fault that his knees have broken down? No. It seems like this is all too common with players over 7 feet. Bill Walton and Yao Ming are two players that come to mind.

Before we label Greg Oden as a bust, let's see how the next four or five years play out. Hopefully, one day he will be healthy enough to play a full NBA season. He hasn't live up to the potential of three years ago, but he still has a long way to go.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

...Our Veterans

I know this is two days late, but nonetheless, I would still like to give a big thanks to all of our active and retired military personnel.

Like all of us, my life has been personally touched by the military.

My grandfather enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor. He didn't wait to be drafted. He saw the need to fight for freedom and stand up the the enemy to protect the United States. He ended up being captured and spent 22 months as a prisoner of war. I don't remember the stories he used to tell. I just remember sitting on the swing on his back porch, wide eyed and listening.

My other grandfather was in the Navy during the second World War. He was a little bit younger and celebrated his graduation of basic training with the news that the war was over. Though he never saw any combat, he is extremely proud of his service, as he should be.

I had an uncle who was in Vietnam. Like many of his generation, the war changed his life and gave him lifelong friends.

My wife has an uncle that re-enlisted after September 11, 2001 and saw a tour of active duty in Afghanistan. He was injured when his humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device. Thankfully, he was able to walk away, but not without scars.

My mom and dad away-from-home during college's son joined the Army after his junior year of high school. He is gearing up for combat duty in Afghanistan also.

It may sound like a cliche, but courage, commitment, sacrifice and honor are the first words that come to my mind when I think of our brave men and women who do and have served our country.

So to all the veterans out there. Thanks. Sorry I'm two days late. But I think we should show our appreciation everyday, not just on Veterans' Day.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Saturday, November 6, 2010

...Randy Moss and Allen Iverson

What a couple of weeks it has been for Randy Moss. He was a couple of games into the NFL season when he was abrubtly traded from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings.

This was going to be Randy's fresh start - a second chance with the team that originally drafted him out of Marshall. He was going to be united with Vikings' legendary quarterback Brett Favre and help turn the Vikings' disappointing season around.

This past week, just four games into the experiment, Randy Moss was waived by Minnesota and claimed by the Tennessee Titans.

I'm sure you know the details so I'm not going to go into the entire story. I simply want to ask this question.

Will Randy Moss end up like Allen Iverson?

Allen Iverson is one of the NBA's best players over the last 14 seasons. But a career and a lasting legacy have been tarnished over the last couple of seasons.

After playing his first 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and once leading the 76ers to the NBA finals, a dispute led to the Sixers trading him in the middle of the 2006-07 season to the Denver Nuggets. He played the entire  2007-08 season in Denver, before making waves again which resulted in the Nuggets trading him to the Detroit Pistons.

His contract was up after a fairly solid season in Detroit. And it seemed like to no one's surprise but his, there wasn't a whole lot of interest in him on the free agent market. He had played the previous three seasons with three different teams and seemed to wear out his welcome in each city rather quickly. Questions always seemed to arise about his commitment to winning and accepting his role.

At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, Allen decided to sign a one year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies made it clear - at least in the media - that they were signing Allen as a role player to come off the bench. And Allen said he was fine with that. Until three games into the season.

After the first three games, the Grizzlies released the NBA veteran, saying Allen was unwilling to accept his role.

After several weeks off, he signed for the rest of the season with his first team, the 76ers.

In the summer of 2010, Allen was again looking for someone to give him an opportunity to play. He found one. In Turkey.

It seemed as though most NBA teams finally realized that no matter what Allen said, once the season started, if he was unhappy with his role, the direction of the team, or whatever was on his mind, Allen wasn't worth having around.

And while no longer in the prime of his career, the 35-year old Iverson isn't old by professional athletics standards. He still averaged almost 14 points per game for the 76ers last season. But that is a far cry from the 25+ points per game he averaged in ten of his career seasons.

Allen Iverson isn't the player he was five years ago. And because he didn't want to accept a role an NBA team offered, he finds himself playing professional basketball in Istanbul.

When the news of his signing broke a couple of weeks ago, there was talk that Iverson was disappointed and he would accept any role given to him. He said that in Memphis and that didn't work out too well.

What's the old saying? Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice and shame on me.

I don't think any NBA executives are going to be fooled a second time. Sorry Allen. You should have been more accepting of your role.

This brings me to my comparison of Iverson and Moss.

There were questions about Randy Moss coming out of college. He was in an incident in high school that led to Notre Dame rescinding a scholarship offer.

After he made it to the NFL - and a bunch of teams stayed away from him on draft day - he famously said that he only plays when he wants to.

After seven great years with Minnesota, he wore out his welcome and was traded to the Raiders.

After two seasons in Oakland, he wore out his welcome and found himself playing with Tom Brady and the Patriots.

After three 1,000 yard seasons in New England, he started his fourth off by complaining about his contract situation after the opening game of the 2010 season. After four games into the 2010 season, he wore out his welcome and was traded to the Vikings.

After four games with the Vikings in his return, he was waived and claimed by the Titans.

Is there a pattern developing?

In the off-season, Randy Moss will be looking for a new contract. Randy Moss better hope that the final half of the 2010 season goes well in Tennessee.

He should learn a lesson from Allen Iverson and realize that you don't have to be extended an offer to play. You are not entitled to an NFL contract. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that no team will want you.

It already happened to Allen Iverson and, if Randy Moss isn't careful, it just may happen to him.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

... the 2010 San Francisco Giants

Is this the new blueprint for building a World Series champion? The San Francisco Giants compiled a bunch of position players from other teams and brought the first World Series championship to San Francisco.

Now don't confuse this with not having to spend money. Plenty of teams spend money and you have to in order to be competitive in baseball. Every once in a while a small market team - like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays - will put together a good season, but their run is usually short lived.

And other small market teams, mainly Minnesota, have been able to put an above average team on the field, but how many championships have they won?

If you want to WIN, you have to spend money and put together a team.

The Yankees typically spend a lot of money on every position every year, so we are leaving them out of this discussion. Other teams like the Pirates, Royals, Indians, Diamondbacks, Padres and Marlins don't have the kind of money - or at least don't want to spend it - you need to put together several quality pieces. They can add a piece or two or maybe even three, but not six or seven that are needed.

San Francisco's payroll was $97.8 million in 2010, which was the tenth highest (out of 30 teams).

The blueprint that I think may have been laid out is simple. Grow your own pitchers and a few position players. But assemble the majority of your lineup with second tier free agents over several seasons.

All four pitchers that started a game in the postseason were drafted by San Francisco - Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner - as was their closer, Brian Wilson. And out of the 14 position players on their postseason roster, only Buster Posey, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz are home grown talent - with only Posey being a regular starter.

The other players that comprised their roster were infielders Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe and Mike Fontenot. None of those five players played for the Giants in 2008.

Outfielder Aaron Rowan signed with San Francisco before the 2008 season. Center fielder Andres Torres signed before the 2009 season. Outfielders Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were brought in during the course of the 2010 season.

The tenth player is backup catcher Eli Whiteside, who played with the Giants in the 2009 season.

Among those ten players are some pretty solid veterans. Freddy Sanchez won a batting title. Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowan and Edgar Renteria have won World Series championships with other teams. But none of these players were the high prized free agents. No C.C. Sabathia or Mark Texieria among this group.

There are several ways for teams to win a championship. I wonder if the Giants' run will change the mind of any teams out there. Instead of throwing $100 million at one player, why not split it up among several. These 10 Giants combine to make just over $51 million of the Giants' payroll. But in today's game, I'd rather spend the money on 10 above average players than on three or four starts.

Winning takes money. But you still must be smart. Ask the Mets and the Cubs.


www.tothetopperformance.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

...the 2010 World Series

Once again, the old saying that good pitching will beat good hitting held up as the San Francisco Giants won the 2010 World Series, beating the Texas Rangers four games to one.

The quality of the Giants' pitching hasn't been discussed because of their anonymity. Other than Tim Lincecum - and Barry Zito, who didn't make the Giants' World Series roster - the Giants' pitchers are a bunch of unknowns. Matt Cain has won a combined 27 games in the last two seasons, Jonathan Sanchez won 13 games this year and Brian Wilson led the National League in saves in 2010 and has 127 saves over the last three seasons. And among those three and Lincecum, the oldest is Wilson, who is 28. And add to those four, 21 year-old Madison Bumgarner, who I wrote about a couple of days ago after he threw eight shutout innings in game four.

The Giants' should be set up for the long run as far as their pitching is concerned.

After the Rangers scored 38 runs and had a batting average of .304 against the Yankees, that seemed to be the topic of conversation. But if you look at some of the Giants' postseason and regular season numbers, it is easy to see why they won.

In the postseason, the Giants had a 2.47 ERA. The only walked 43 guys while striking out 133. And opponents batted .196 off of them. In the regular season, they had a team ERA of 3.36. They combined to throw 17 shutouts and opponents hit .236 against them. 

In the postseason, a team's roster gets shorter, meaning teams tend to not use the tenth or eleventh guy in their bullpen. During the regular season, a team may use 12 pitchers on a regular basis - five starters and seven guys in the bullpen. But in the postseason, they tend to use 9 pitchers - four starters and five guys out of the pen. For this reason, an improvement in the Giants' statistics is reasonable.

The Rangers led the Majors in hitting as a team with a .276 average. They hit .253 against Tampa in the Divisional Series and the aforementioned .304 against the Yankees in the League Championship Series. And while a team average of .190 in the World Series is surprising, it isn't unbelievable.

And while it won't hold up all the time, the 2010 World Series shows another example of good pitching beating good hitting. And great pitching will dominate.

www.tothetopperformance.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

...Madison Bumgarner

When I was a 21 year old kid, I had just graduated from Davis and Elkins College and was looking forward to (more hopeful of) an opportunity in professional baseball.

San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner won game four of the 2010 World Series to put the Giants one game away from their first World Series title as a San Francisco based team. Madison Bumgarner is 21 years old.

I don't know much about Madison Bumgarner's background. But from watching him pitch last night, I think it is pretty safe to assume he is confident. And he is blessed. You don't make it to Major League Baseball as a 21 year old if you aren't blessed. You have to be gifted to have the physical tools he does at that age.

But you don't have success in the Major Leagues at 21 if you aren't confident.

He pitched a great game last night, allowing three hits in eight innings and not allowing a run. He was in complete control of the entire game. The only time the Rangers really threatened to score was in the eighth inning, when they had runners on first and second base, but there were two outs.

He only walked two guys and he threw a first pitch strike to 21 of the 27 batters he faced - another sign of the confidence he has in himself and the pitches he throws.

I've said it before and I'm sure I will repeat it. The best way to be a successful pitcher is to pitch with confidence, throw strikes and attack the strike zone. Madison Bumgarner laid out the blueprint last night. Even as a 21 year-old pitching in the World Series.


www.tothetopperformance.com