Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Salisbury Athletics - Winning the Right Way

Concussions and athlete safety are hot button issues right now in the sporting world.  As long as the effects of violent head trauma become more and more known the issue will continue to grow.  We've seen interviews with former NFL stars only a decade or two removed from the sport rapidly declining into early Alzheimer's and dementia.  The recent suicide of Junior Seau, only two years removed from retirement, shocked the world.  The long lasting effects of head trauma are undeniable, yet we still see evidence that suggests winning is placed in higher regard than player safety.  Recently the NFL fined the Washington Redskins $20,000 for not properly reporting their quarterback had a concussion, stating he was "shaken up" instead of concussed.  
At Salisbury University they don't have this issue.  From top to bottom, from administrators to medical staff to coaches, everybody involved in the sports program has made a full commitment to player safety.  Recently I spoke with the school's head athletic trainer on the issue. When questioned on players "getting their bell rung" Dr. Lamboni responded authoritatively by saying there is no such thing as a "bell ringing" or being "just shaken up".  According to him, a concussion is a serious injury, and whether it is mild or severe is inconsequential.  It is this kind of dedication to keeping players healthy that makes him such an important leader in Salisbury's Athletics Department.  But that commitment to doing "the right thing" must come from the top.  Those in positions of authority involved in the schools athletic program must set the example by not pressuring medical personnel to downgrade or not diagnose symptoms to get athletes back on the field.  It also comes from responsible coaches like Sherman Wood of the Varsity Football Squad.  He understands that football is a violent sport, and he is in constant communication with medical personnel regarding injuries, recovery, and timetables for returns.  In a recent interview he stated he would never consider sending a player back onto the field if the medical staff disagrees.  He also alluded to the idea that major Division 1 Football Programs are money-makers, with the priority on championships and raking in sponsorship and endorsements.  Being a Division III schools allows for more emphasis on player safety, upholding academic standards, and less pressure to win at all costs.  Maybe other programs can't win without skirting the rules, but SU football is finding a way to do both.  They are currently ranked 16th in the nation, and a win in their next game brings home a second consecutive conference title.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two Questions the Orioles will address this offseason.

 Will they pick up the 13 million dollar option on Mark Reynolds?
            Mark Reynolds had a dismal offensive season.  He was brought in to hit 35-40 home over the course of the season and be power threat in the 4th or 5th spot.  He ended the season with 23 home runs.  That is a good number when compared with the entire MLB, much above average.  But keep in mind that 9 of those long balls came in 9 game at the beginning of September.  Over the course of the rest of the 153 games he only hit 14 home runs.  That’s below average, and certainly unacceptable for someone getting paid 13 million dollars a year.  The only saving grace for him has been his gold glove caliber defense at 1st base.  Had he not been so stellar on the bag his exit from Baltimore would have been swift.  The Orioles have the option to extend his contract one more season at a cost again of 13 million.  His power potential is still there, and his strikeouts were down this year.  But is potential worth 13 million a year?  Will Baltimore pick up the 13 million dollar option on Mark Reynolds and hope his home run totals revert to previous seasons, or will they let him walk in free agency?

Who will play left field in 2013?
            Noland Reimold started 2012 strong but is now recovering from a severe neck surgery.  It will keep him out until the start of spring training and only then can coaches and medical staff evaluate his ability.  Nate McClouth was signed mid season as his replacement and performed well.  He gave the Orioles speed at the lead-off position and played great defense.  He was the only player to hit well in this postseason.   A free agent at the end of this season, he will definitely command interest on the market and the Orioles need to decide how much they are willing to pay to keep him around.  Additionally if the team doe decide to keep him where will McClouth play, and how much time will he get.  He has all the skills to be an every day left fielder and the Orioles will definitely have to pay him like one.  Are the Orioles willing to overpay Nate McClouth to keep him in Baltimore as a utility outfielder and insurance against Noland Reimold’s recovery?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Playing in Yankee Stadium should favor the Orioles.

In baseball the home team is supposed to always have a natural advantage.  They don't have to travel, they are more familiar with the ballpark, and they have the support of the fans.  However, in game 3 of the American League Division Series tonight, the advantage may be neutralized.  When the Orioles and Yankees face off in this pivotal matchup, it will feature the two best home run hitting clubs in baseball.  The Yankees have walloped an astounding 245 homers and the Orioles are a close second at 214.  It helps that both teams play in very small ballparks.  The game will be played at Yankees Stadium, where the right field line is only 314 feet and 8 foot high.  In Orioles Park at Camden Yards the wall is 25 feet high.  Having a short wall in right field that is easy for a power hitter to reach favors the Orioles.  They have a lineup that is stacked with power hitting lefties.  Matt Wieters has 23 home runs, Chris Davis has 33, Ryan Flaherty has 6 in limited at bats, and Jim Thome is number 7 on the all-time career home run list.  These are the four key players to watch for home runs to right field, as it is much easier for a lefty to hit a ball to right field (in baseball terms it's called pulling a ball) and vice versa, easier for a righty to hit the left field.  The Orioles do have power from the right side of the plate though that easily have enough muscle to hit opposite field and out.  Adam Jones (32), Mark Reynolds (23), and J.J. Hardy (22) can all lift it out of the ballpark on a consistent basis.
The Baltimore Orioles do not hit for average.  Their team batting average was .247 during the regular season, which ranked 20th out of 30 major league teams.  They win ball games through the home run and in fact just under 50% of all the Baltimore runs scored this season have come via the home run.  In 3 series at Yankee stadium this year the orioles won each of them 2 games to 1.  For a team that lives and dies by the home run, moving to one of the best home run ballparks will be very advantageous.  Just by virtue of being the away team the Orioles will be considered underdogs, but the smart money in Vegas will be on them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Orioles Doubleheader

On Monday September 25, 2012 the Baltimore Orioles played a doubleheader (two games back to back) against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Doubleheaders are rare in baseball and especially this season, as the only other time the Orioles participated in one, was on May 9th.  Doubleheaders present a unique challenge for the broadcast team in the booth during play-by-play and color commentary, especially for the 2nd game.  They have a lot more information that needs to be included in the broadcast as they have the task of reviewing the previous action while keeping the viewers focused on the current game.  I noticed a couple ways that the broadcast team chose to accomplish this feat. 
            For one, they clarified any changes that might have confused a fan who watched the first game.  The broadcast team tried to do this as early as they could.  Some examples would include the play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne addressing the Orioles uniform changes (they switched from white to orange) and giving the reasoning behind the switched.  His response: “just because they can.”  As well as the new umpire behind the plate and how he calls his strike zone. 
During the first inning most of the time was spent going over statistics of the batter’s last game and how he played.  This is unusual because that time is usually spent going over season statistics.  I noticed that information got pushed back to the player’s next at bat.  Additionally, the color commentator’s (Mike Bordick) role was diminished at the beginning of the game, because the play-by-play had to go over more review and spend less time on analysis of that current game.
Something else I noticed was the type of play the color announcer would talk about.  He didn’t attempt to analyze every second of the game.  Sometimes an ordinary first-pitch-fastball doesn’t need to be broken down.  He tried to pick out the significant developments and the more important plays, the ones that stick out in everyone’s mind.  This allows for more in-depth analysis of the game and also helps to make him look like even more of an authority.  His words are rarer, and therefore perceived as more valuable.  Something else important would be the descriptiveness of his analysis, where the more details the better.  One instance that stood out for me occurred after the Baltimore pitcher threw a strike.  Bordick said: “Great pitch by Wei Yin Chen to follow that fastball.  Down and away it looked like it was going to be in the same location as the last pitch, which gives the batter a huge advantage but it had great movement at the end and tailed off just in time.” 
These are two skills I am going to be working on while doing sports broadcasting for the university.  As a play-by-play announcer I will try to get background information and statistics done early so that the focus can be on the current game.  As a color commentator I will work on picking and choosing my analysis so that I can give better more relevant information.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The "Replacement" Refs

It’s Monday morning.   What are football fans talking about?  If their team won it’s who surprised and who’s next.  If they won and have a chance at the playoffs it’s “how many Super bowls can they win in a row?” If they lost it’s the cold silence of a deep frustration and six day depression until the next game.  And whether their favorite team came out on top or got toppled, everyone agrees the replacement refs simply stink!  It must be a great unifier if Steelers and Ravens fans can come together on the issue.  Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith can finally agree on something (though they’ll find a way to argue about how bad these refs actually are!) 
These great rivals have concurred on a few issues before.  Chiefly being the class action lawsuit filed by former players regarding concussions, and the payroll collusion suit filed by the NFLPA.   In the concussion lawsuit 3,236 former NFL players have filed class action lawsuits alleging the NFL knew the effect of concussions on the brain, but willfully ignored the evidence.  These players are suing for millions in damages.
The collusion lawsuit was filed in May 2012 and alleged that during the uncapped 2010 NFL season the team owners had a secret agreement to set a $123 million salary cap, in violation of labor laws and the NFL’s own collective bargaining agreement.  The ownership can’t even agree on whether they colluded or not.  According to Fox News (1), when asked about the accusations “NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded with: "There was no collusion. There was no agreement. These claims are totally unfounded."  However NBC Sports (2) writes:

In support of the claims, the NFLPA cites comments from Giants co-owner John Mara (who said the issue “came up several times in [ownership-level] meetings,” that the teams in question “attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks,” and that the teams knew “full well there would be consequences”)

The NFLPA wants $4 billion in damages from the NFL.  Over 3,000 former players have filed lawsuits alleged gross neglect of their health and safety.  That’s a lot of bad press for the owners.  The NFL ownership is using the replacement referees as a way to distract fans, players and the press from covering and talking about the lawsuits.   They have a found the perfect scapegoat, and a way to save money by not paying the old referees higher salaries.  The replacement officials aren’t bad for business either, as Sunday Night Football’s broadcast achieved their highest ratings in 14 years last week (3).   These replacements (maybe we should started calling them the permanents) are good for business, and they will be here for a long time.