Archives for August 2008

Oprah’s Olympians & Saving Softball

Fantasy Football on the Sportsbank Returns!

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By the Soxman

It may have taken a while sports fans, but thanks to the Belichickian Banks secretly videotaping my game appearances, we saw your signal in the sky. 

As a result, the Sportsbank.net’s weekly fantasy football column returns this season!
 

Even with the Sox and Cubs likely headed for the post-season, this two-sport savant will share his scores, breakdowns, and player moves with you each week.
 

In my fourth year playing fantasy football, I’m hoping to build upon my 2 championship and 2 runner-up titles by taking the Gridiron Grinders all the way to the top.  More so, I hope to offer you valuable advice to give you the edge in your fantasy league.
 
So strap on your helmets and hunker down for the ride.  Are you “Ready for Some Football?”
 
As many drafts are likely occurring this week, I’ll start by offering some basic advice for beginners playing fantasy football:
 
1.  Know Your Scoring System.
 
This is perhaps the biggest rookie mistake.  There are at least half a dozen scoring systems out there.  In general, most scoring systems favor running backs, which is why you see so many backs selected with the top picks. However, many leagues (especially the free ones) are now heavily weighted towards QB performance.  While many then race to take a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning with the first pick, I believe it increases the value of high point accumulators at other positions.  For example, on one QB Weighted scoring system, Brian Westbrook is forecasted to score 281 points (as the number three best back in the league).  There are eight QBs predicted to put up the same numbers and no WRs anywhere close!

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In my opinion, this places the value of high producers in thinner positions through the roof and lessens the value of a Tom Brady.  Supply and demand if you please. Likewise, most point per reception leagues heavily favor strong running backs that also catch a number of passes. So remember, your first step is to know the rules of engagement and to plan your draft strategy around it.
 

2.  Know Your Line-Up Rules
 
With the exception of complicated leagues that also draft individual defensive players, most fantasy line-ups are the same with the exception of one slot. Some leagues mandate use of a tight end, while others allow a WR/RB for the third slot.
Leagues that mandate a tight end ensure that players like Antonio Gates and Jason Witten will be drafted early.  In leagues where there is a WR/RB slot most tight ends are no better than a fourth receiver and are not even drafted.
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3.  Know the Transaction Rules
 
Rookie fantasy football owners often show their indecision or lack of confidence by frequently adding and dropping players early only to learn there is an add/drop limit and their team is out of moves by week 8!  As injuries mount, these owners are often left starting injured players and thus lose their league early. Likewise, knowing a league allows unlimited transactions could be a great way to practice the AJ Pierzynski Rules of Fantasy Football Conduct.  What does Soxman mean?

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Most leagues with unlimited transactions put at least a 24-48 hour hold on a waived player before another team can pick them up.  Some leagues even have a weeklong holding period.  If your competitor needs a TE for the upcoming week, you can go simply add/drop all good tight tends thus blocking his ability to field a starter in that position. It’s not the way Soxman plays the game, but if the championship was on the line, what do you think AJ would do?  Warning: this trick usually ignites the rest of the league. Practice your response early: “Don’t hate the playa.  Hate the game.”
  
 
4.  Know the NFL Match-ups, Stadiums and Weather on Game Day.
 
This is without a doubt the “X” factor in most leagues.  It can make the difference whether or not you make the play-offs.  Simply, you might want to start a RB3 going against the worst run defense in the NFL over of RB2 going against the best. Even if you have the best kicker in the league, you might want to sit him when he plays at Soldiers Field in January on a snowy day with shifting 50 MPH wind gusts. That’s it for now football fans.  Tune in next time, when I reveal Soxman’s 2008 Gridiron Grinders Roster and draft breakdown.
 
Hut, hut, hike!
 

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Talking Sports Media and CFB with Teddy

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Paul M. Banks interviews Chicago Tribune college football and sports media expert Teddy Greenstein 

Teddy Greenstein is a college football reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a regular panelist on Comcast Sports Net’s “Chicago Tribune Live.” The Medill graduate used to be the Trib’s sports media columnist for half of the year. Note this excerpt from his final media column:
 
“This time of year, I usually hand the sports-media baton to Ed Sherman. Unfortunately, “the Shermanator” opted to take the Tribune’s buyout and is leaving the paper, along with esteemed colleagues Skip Myslenski, Mark Shapiro, Alan Sutton and Barry Temkin.

Ed is teaming with WMVP-AM 1000’s Dan McNeil on a book that lists the best and worst of Chicago sports.

My vote for best: Wrigley Field. Worst: the Wrigley Field trough.”

In this interview, we discuss college football, the past, present, and future of the sports media industry and much more.

TSB: Tell us more about your column and the annual shift in duties from sports media to college football….

TG: Well, this year I’m handing off to no one, kind of like our Olympic relay teams. Ed Sherman took a voluntary buyout, and I’ve left sports media in favor of golf and some hoops. But the Trib plans to keep the sports media column alive and our editors are weighing who’s the right person to take it over.
 

TSB: Any memorable stories from the interviews that you’ve done? Or favorite/least favorite interview subjects?
 
TG: Oh, yes. I could go sport-by-sport on that one. My favorite college football guys have been Troy Smith and Braylon Edwards. Many of the coaches either spew cliches or are guarded, like Lloyd Carr. Charlie Weis embraces the whole tough-guy aura, but many of his answers are actually in-depth and informative.
 
All the media guys I’ve interviewed are great because they’re promoting something — and they talk for a living. A couple of recent ones: A gumbo-and-po’ boy lunch with James Carville during which he laid out his plan for a college football playoff. And an interview with Bob Costas that lasted just five questions. He could not have been nicer, but his answers were long and his handlers whisked him away after 15 minutes.
 

TSB: I’ve noticed the exact same thing. Media personalities are MUCH more interesting. What trends do you see emerging in the sports media world? Print, internet etc. in what mediums are we going to see more/less coverage and how will that change it?

TG: One of our top editors recently described the Tribune as a “24/7 online business that also publishes in print once a day.” The focus obviously will go online. What’s weird about the demise of newspapers is that people have never been hungrier for news. If only we didn’t give away our online content for free.
 

TSB: It’s true, I’m certainly hungrier for information. I’ve heard you say some less than flattering things about Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and Patriots coach Bill Belichick in other interviews…are they really that bad?

TG: Yeah, Belichick is the world’s biggest grump. He’s also the worst thing to happen to sportswriters since Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. He gives terrible answers and keeps his assistants off limits to the media. Weis learned from him and has adopted similar strategies for keeping the media away from his team. He has created a culture where players are worried about speaking out and showing too much of their personality.
 

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TSB: They certainly are polarizing. If ND keeps losing, could they lose their status as Chicago’s “Home College Football Team?” What would it take for Illinois or Northwestern to take that position away from them?

TG: I doubt it. Notre Dame is Notre Dame. No program is anywhere close in terms of the love-’em/hate-’em factor. But if the Irish play like they did last year, their TV ratings will plummet again. In terms of local interest, Illinois kicked Notre Dame off the front page toward the end of last season after its upset of Ohio State.
 
 
TSB: Yep. What a sweet moment that was! What’s your season forecast for ILL and NU?
 
TG: I’m looking for Illinois to go 8-4, 5-3 in the league and NU to go 8-4, 4-4 in the league. The Cats have an easy non-conference slate and should score a ton of points. Illinois receiver Rejus Benn could be the league’s best player by his junior season in 2009.
 

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TSB: I agree with both predictions exactly. Back to some media questions, there seems to be a big internet backlash against one of your former classmates at Medill, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. Internet commenters criticize her for being Diane Sawyer’s daughter-in-law, never blinking on camera and everything else under the sun…is her criticism vastly unwarranted? What makes her so polarizing?
TG: Well, I’m completely biased on this one because Rachel and I are good friends. I don’t think she’s polarizing, unless there’s a group out there that doesn’t like TV reporters who deliver the goods.
 

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TSB: Moving on to her employer, everyone knows that ESPN is the 400 LB Gorilla in the room, but do they have some legitimate competition in any of their enterprises? Sure, they have better access than everyone else does now, but could we see a day when that changes?

TG: Not really. We just received our Football Writers Association of America directory, and ESPN.com/ESPN the Mag have a combined 13 writers and reporters. And ESPN hires terrific people, like Gene Wojciechowski, Bruce Feldman, Ivan Maisel and Adam Rittenberg. Now they all owe me a beer.
 

TSB: Indeed they do. Finally, does Mark Cuban have a chance of buying the Tribune co.? (The Cubs?)

TG: Whoever pays the most should get the team. This is America. And our company needs the money.
 
TSB: The very definition of a “free market”

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Twins Talk

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Questions by Paul M. Banks and Answers by Andy Weise

Yes, this website has a heavy White Sox presence and it’s clearly the team in charge here at TSB. However, we should give increasing time to our mortal enemy, the Minnesota Twins if we are to properly discuss are chances in this pennant race.

 After all what would our government do without Al Qaeda or the Taliban? How many seasons of “Lost” would we have if it was just the Flight 815 survivors and no “Others?” We live for rivalries…let’s get it started!

Are you worried about the massive road trip the Twins are on?

Definitely. Considering how good the Twins have been at home and how close the race is right now, it’s tough to see them gone for four series in a row. The nice thing is three of the teams are definitely beatable (Seattle, Oakland and Toronto) — but the Twins can’t take a game off. They need every game right now.
 
 
Do you think Liriano is the X factor to now put the Twins over the top?

Not necessarily. Is he a big piece? Of course. You need all five starters pitching as well as they can and none of them are very experienced when it comes to competing for a playoff spot down the stretch. I think Liriano needs to be compared to what Livan Hernandez was doing in that spot in the rotation. Don’t compare Liriano with the 2006 version, they aren’t the same pitcher. Liriano’s velocity will likely go up next year, but right now they have to be patient and take what they get. That slider, while down some MPH’s, is still extremely hard to hit.
 
 
Blackburn, Slowey, etc. who are these guys? The young pitchers really seem to be carrying you guys down the stretch. And missing Livan Hernandez seems to be addition by subtraction.
 
Nick Blackburn has been a surprise even to the Twins organization. I don’t think they expected him to be a mainstay, at least not yet. Personally, I think he’s a dime-a-dozen. Kevin Slowey has been one of the top pitching prospects for awhile though. He’s been often compared to Brad Radke, a guy many Twins fans fell in love with. While not overpowering, both are consistent. Slowey recently fanned 12 batters in a game against Oakland. I don’t remember Radke ever having that many Ks in one game and Slowey just turned 24 in May, not a bad sign for the Twins.

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Who is Denard Span and where did he come from? He wasn’t a really high rated prospect…or was he?
 

Span was actually a first round pick (20th overall) in 2002. So yes, how well he’s playing shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a way, it’s a surprise because for a long time he was considered a bust. Torii Hunter actually took Span under his wing, the two are very good friends and when Hunter left in the offseason, it looked like it was Span’s job to lose. Then came the Johan Santana trade that brought in Carlos Gomez, a guy two years younger than Span. When Gomez became the starter after spring training, I think something in Span’s head finally clicked and his batting around .360 in the minors got him a promotion and he hasn’t let up yet. Gomez was even moved to 9th in the order in favor of Span leading off.
 
 
Other than Morneau of course, who’s starting in your infield these days and how do they keep winning with these supposed “no-names?”

Nick Punto might be one of the best utility infielders in the game because his defense is great when you consider he can play any position in the field. Alexi Casilla has been hurt but finally returned. Aside from Span, Casilla has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Twins both offensively and defensively. Outside of those two, Brian Buscher has a steady bat at third, Adam Everett a defensive replacement at shortstop and Brendan Harris has been solid as another utility  guy who can play second, short or third. Oh, how could I forget the first baseman? Justin Morneau, 2006 MVP having another very good season and the anchor of the lineup.
 
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Finally, everyone predicted the AL Central to be a two-team race: Cleveland and Detroit. And here we are bearing down on September with a two team race…our two teams! We may be bitter rivals, but we can agree on a wonderfully exciting pennant race between the best two teams and like Lou Brown said in Major League “every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. And I’m one for wasting sportswriters’ time, so I’m hoping we can all give them one big shitburger to eat” 

I picked Detroit to win it! I thought this was their year with Bonderman and Verlander heading the rotation. Getting Miguel Cabrera, unbelievable. I figured Cleveland would not do as well, but with Hafner and Martinez hurt, Sabathia gone, the only good things left in Cleveland are Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee.

I think this will be a close race to the finish for the White Sox and Twins. Both have shaky bullpens but can produce good runs (White Sox lead league in homeruns, Twins lead league in batting average with runners in scoring position). It will come down to pitching: whose starters can make the biggest impact. I wouldn’t mind seeing a match-up in the ALCS with these two, but I know that is a bit off. Personally, I’m hoping the Twins win the division instead of the Wild Card so their chances of playing the Angels decreases. The Wild Card will go to whatever second place team in the East or Central has a better record and that team will face the Angels.
 

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Moe-mentous Sox Exchange II

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By Paul M. Banks, Soxman and Jason Moe

(PMB)  There are two things in our favor that make me very optimistic about the stretch run. Yes, this week’s visit to Boston looks very formidable for us, but once we hit September, we’ll only have one series against a contender the entire month: the HUGE Minnesota series in the final week) Look at it this way, the Yankees are fading and could very well be mathematically dead by the time we play them and the Angels clinched their division back in….early 2006. (I exaggerate for effect sometimes) So they will likely be resting their “varsity squad” for the playoffs and most of the teams we face in September will be playing their “J.V.”

(SM) All good points once again.  However, you can’t discount the fact that bad teams love to be “spoilers” AND the White Sox seem to have more trouble against unknown players than with established ones.  I think the last month of the season will be like a Rocky movie between the Sox and Twins.  We will keep trading blows until one of us goes down for the count.  Oddly enough, we’re both on the road for ten games now.  I want to see the Red Sox continue their skid so we can develop a nice Wild Card lead…just in case.  Finally, the heck with J.V., how about J.D.?  Quentin and Dye are first and second in the AL in homers.  How about a Bash Brothers poster?  LOL. 

(Moe) Quentin and Dye are AWESOME! We need to come up with a name for the Sox Bash Brothers poster. Any Ideas?  I’m also very optimistic going into this week. We need to win the series against Baltimore and Boston, Too much to ask for? I have been saying all year that the Twins will die down, but they obviously will not and are in this Race until the end.   Swisher had a great four game stretch going, and I hope he can keep it up. Paulie came up with a big hit in yesterday’s game, so I hope that turns his season around.

“Dye With The Catch, Swisher With The Worm, I can’t Stand It”  I love Hawk…

(PMB) I like the enthusiasm here. Secondly, every time the Sox have lost first place this season, they seem to get it back right away. We’ve seen nine AL central lead changes this season. That is a good sign and measure of the White Sox resolve…Do “share this passion” and “show this swagger?”
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(SM) I just YouTubed a Rocky fight montage.  LOL.  Seriously, it shows they are taking the race seriously and not going down without a fight. Aside from some consistency, that’s all you can hope for.  Perhaps some more controversy from AJ would help as well.

Another manufactured and melodramatic run was produced by the King of Controversy on Sunday afternoon.  It appears AJ’s pro wrestling career helped as he totally faked a fall to get a player interference call…and score the winning run.  Strangely, Paul Eddings was the same umpire who made the infamous “dropped third strike” call in favor of AJ in the 2005 ALCS.

With AJ’s new platinum hairstyle, perhaps he should start using Eminem’s “Without Me” as his walk up music.  
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(Moe) AJ looks like a Chunky Nick Carter. With the blond/platinum hair even more so. I love AJ, he is always thinking of something to keep the Dennis the Menace thing alive and well. The Sox always find ways to win, it is not always pretty, but a win is a win. Right now the Sox are a game up and by the end of the week, I think they will be up 2 1/2 games. You heard it hear first. MOE DIDDY is always right!…..(sometimes)

Soxman, love the “Without Me” walk up music. I think his second at bat…They should play “Bad Boy For Life” by Diddy.

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(Moe) AJ looks like a Chunky Nick Carter. With the blond/platinum hair even more so. I love AJ, he is always thinking of something to keep the Dennis the Menace thing alive and well. The Sox always find ways to win, it is not always pretty, but a win is a win. Right now the Sox are a game up and by the end of the week, I think they will be up 2 1/2 games. You heard it hear first. MOE DIDDY is always right!…..(sometimes)

Soxman, love the “Without Me” walk up music. I think his second at bat…They should play “Bad Boy For Life” by Diddy.
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(PMB) And what a Gutsy call by Coxy to send Anderson when he would have been out by a mile had the catcher not flubbed the ball. (Almost as bad as the time Thome was not even half way down the line when get nailed in a throw to the plate in a game last month) Sunday had a big time play that we’ll remember a key point in the season. For this week’s non-baseball discussion we’ll describe the SICA for people who don’t know. (Ya’ll better ask somebody!) It certainly is Sox Country and I feel more Sox fans better recognize. When Moe and I were out at the Mokena sports bar 191 South, I saw a scene that could be the SICA post card: playing bean bags on ramps with Sox logos on them…in a big parking lot next to a vast open field. And some chicks with big hair hanging around!

(SM) Sounds like pre-game tailgating at the Cell to me.  Go ahead Moe Diddy, bring us home.  Soxman out! 

(Moe) OH, The SICA life is great. Only in the SICA are big-haired girls playing bags. Let me tell you, those SICA girls know their Sox trivia. I once asked a SICA chick who is the ugliest Sox player in history? She replied “Ron Karkovice.” She was darn right!!!!!!  MoeMan Out!!!!
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Upcoming Sox Exchange Schedule

Sept 2nd- TSB commenter “Ghost in the Machine” will join us

9th-TSB contest winner. The contest quiz will be posted on Labor Day Sept. 1st!

16th-  Pennant Race Exchange I with TSB Twins writers. Peter Christian vs. Soxman, Andy Weise vs. Paul M. Banks

23rd- Pennant Race Exchange II Christian vs. Banks, Weise vs. Soxman

30th The two original Soxiest men alive Paul M. Banks and Soxman return to the orginal format

October 6- Not gonna say anything that might jinx anything

Anna Kournikova of Javelin

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One of my favorite sites this past Olympics was Paraguayan Javeliner Leryn Franco. During the 2008 Summer Games she finished next-to-last at 51st.

But she got a lot of media attention anyway because of her off-the-charts good looks, especially during the opening ceremonies.

According to her Wikipedia, her favorite warm-up music is Dem Dam Keyids. Which is another turn on for me, because I love Dem Dam Keyids too. Of course, whenever I’ve seen Dem Dam Keyids live they’re never as good as in the studio. And their new album isnt as good as the Dem Dam Keyids classics we all know and love.

For calendar shots of this model/javelin thrower check out….

http://www.pbase.com/crespoide/personal_2007_calendar

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Moe-momentus Sox Exchange I

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By Paul M. Banks, Soxman and Jason Moe

For this week’s Sox Exchange, Jason “Moe Diddy” Moe, The Sports Bank.net President of SICA Operations and grinder Sox fan will join us from the suburban corporate headquarters in Lockport, IL.

(SM) Moe Diddy?  I don’t know if this week’s Sox Exchange should start with the music to the Three Stooges or  “Get Buck in Here” by Diddy.  Hmm, perhaps I can wear Sean John socks on my head.  Hey Moe, what do you think? 

(Moe) Soxman, you know we have to keep it Gangster up in here. We Fo Scho have to play “Get Buck in Here.” You wear the Sean John Sox and ‘’ll rock Sean John wristbands with a bandana kicking like Tupac. Gangsters Need Love 2…..

(PMB) SHORTY!!!! Scott Linebrink can get healthy and returns to the bullpen…NOW…PLEASE! That eighth inning implosion on national television Saturday was just….Yikes!  It would have been the perfect situation for him to come in and shut the Rays hitters down. 

(SM) Wise guy eh?  In key situations it seems Dotel is gets hit harder than Moe cracking Curly with a wrench.  His meltdown at the Cell on Friday was a little unorthodox as he’s usually a money pitcher at home, sporting a 2.73 home ERA vs. a 5.19 on the road.  More alarming is that his ERA, while still respectable, has risen from 3.17 to 3.88 this month.

Despite being on the DL for well over a month, Linebrink still leads the Sox in holds (19).  Hmm, seems like Diddy’s “ I’ll Be Missing You” would work best here…this is for you Mr. Linebrink.  Help me out “Moe Diddy.”

“Seems like yesterday, you used to rock the show, leading the league in holds ya know. Top of the game as far as relievers goes, until you developed some shoulder woes.  Since you’ve been gone Thornton’s been trying, but Dotel gets the ball, and Paul Banks starts crying, about how our pivot guy really stinks, as he can’t hand a lead over to Bobby Jenks.  My boy Moe Diddy is feeling lower than Cubby blue, hurry back Scott…we’re missin you.” 

(Moe) Is there even a time table for when Mr. Linebrinck comes back? I’ve been hearing he throws 15-30 pitches a day for the last two weeks!  Will he even be 100% when he comes back?  Dotel and Thornton need to step their games up!!!  Bobby Jenks is not striking people out, but in the ninth he is shutting teams out like I do to ugly SICA girls on the weekend.

Verse Two

It’s kinda hard to close a game when you’re not around
Know you’re on the DL your pitching arm is down
Blowing leads as we pray for you
Every eighth inning we long for you
Till the day you pitch again
In Soxman’s heart is where will keep you friend..
we’re missin you…

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(PMB) Yeah…uhh…Bad Boy…And you don’t stop. And you don’t quit…Harlem World! Recognize…As in Harlem Avenue, 7200 West in the Chi. Any time Ken Griffey Jr. wants to start living up to the hype and earning his keep is fine by me! 

(SM) Griffey’s been more like Shemp Howard than the Curly we all hoped he would be.  Want proof?  In 150 ABs, Brian Anderson has 7 homers and 20 RBI.  If you take Griffey’s numbers during his 55 Abs and project them to the same amount of ABs as Anderson, Griffey has only three homers and 21 RBI.  Anderson is a part-time player who barely made the roster; not much more to say there. 

(Moe) When the Sox traded for Griffey, I thought it was going to be lighting in a bottle because he’s one of my all-time favorite players. Banks you know I always bust the Griffey Seattle jersey during bundles baseball. He is not even playing every day, and struggles against left handed pitchers.  I know we did not give much up for him, but if you’re not playing him, what was the point of bringing him in?
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(PMB) Yes, I’ve seen that phat jersey. I really to get back to SICA for another Bundles game before summer ends. Seven White Sox pitchers have taken no-hitters past the sixth inning this season…It’s a damn shame that a few of those (Like Javier Vazquez’s otherwise gem of an outing Saturday) have not only resulted in a loss of the no-hitter and shutout, but also the game. 

(SM) It’s really a tough call for a manager to decide to make a move to the pen when your starter has a no-hitter going.  In Javy’s case on Saturday, his pitch count was low. He just had a typical Javy outing: one bad inning haunts him.  Hey Moe, care to throw a pie at this one?  

(Moe) I will take that pie and raise you an apple pie…I agree with Soxman, I think as a manager you let the pitcher battle all the way to the end. In High School, I was pitching a NO-NO against Argo my sophomore year going into the 7th. I had a high pitch count, but I had skills so coach left me in. The first batter that inning cranked one over the left fielder’s head. We won 12 to 1. There really is no moral to my story, but I wanted my story out there!!!


(PMB) Yes, that story did indeed have absolutely no relevance to what we’re talking about but I will say this: I hate Argo. Almost as much as Andrew or Reavis. Nothing wrong with re-living the glory days, don’t get me started on Stagg Charger swimming and my gridiron exploits. That’s why this site’s colors are blue and orange.

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Baltimore Orioles Holiday Road Trip

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By Paul M. Banks

Whoever believes America is truly a classless society has never bought tickets to a baseball game. The press box and suites are located next to each other for literal and metaphorical reasons. The best views of the game are on the stadium’s middle level, so it’s also where the people deemed “most important” reside. Also, most journalists are born with upper middle/lower upper class backgrounds and usually spend their adult lives within that tier. Press row isn’t inside the sky suites, but right next door. Knowing these truths to be self-evident, I felt pretty good when I saw the Orioles take on the Boston Red Sox in a section right next to the Governor of Maryland private’s box.

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A bad day at the ballpark truly beats a good day anywhere else. Given that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is my favorite park that I’ve visited. (I’m currently halfway through all major league franchises.) It is safe to say that a bad day at Camden Yards beats a good day at any other ballpark. Only in person can one understand why this was “the standard” when it opened in 1992. It’s the first modernized retro park; an architectural revolution of charm in “Charm city,” a new beginning of baseball building after the horrific era of banal, cookie-cutter, overly symmetrical eyesore stadium dominance. The competing Washington Nationals have major attendance issues, despite having a great new ballpark. One internet author described Oriole Park at Camden Yards being a “transcendent experience.”  This is one of my favorites, but I think Henry David Thoreau would agree that calling it “transcendent” is a bit much…

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Birds on “The Wire”

Across the way from Baltimore’s Oriole Park is the home of the Baltimore Ravens–a stadium that hasn’t been around very long, but has changed its name about as many times as Nick Saban changed jobs this decade. You’ll notice I didn’t refer to it by its current name…because I figure that by the time I post this, the naming rights to “Ravens Stadium” will probably have changed again. The football venue recently hosted a pep rally and watch party for Olympian Michael Phelps. He’s one of B more’s very own.

The outfield concourse is Eutaw Street: an actual street not just a concourse or an alley. Just another example of what makes this park so alluring and compelling. The area surrounding the park is comprised of narrow cobblestone streets. Its close proximity to the bay and Colonial era nuance makes it a neighborhood where this old city shines its very brightest. The park embraces these concepts, eventually manifesting itself as a structure with unique features and subtle quirkiness, but also the sheer size and excessive amenities of the major leagues. At the Club Level lounge, I started writing some notes about my experience on my notepad. This caught the attention of a group of women at another table and they approached me. They asked me if I was a journalist, and I had a good conversation with them, noting how back home, the HBO series “The Wire” is the only thing people know about Baltimore.   
 

Charm City Survey

Here are the quotes they wrote in my notebook. Because all these women are anonymous, it might explain the candid nature. This experience was a good time for me to invoke the advice of Chicagoan Kanye West in a song off his latest album, “Don’t go through too much bullshit just to mess with these drunk and hot girls.” They started talking about the Red Sox and asked me why I was wearing a White Sox jersey to the game; my response, “Listen, I keep my Sox clean and pure, that’s why they’re white.”

Her response “Do you bleach them…how can I dirty them up sometime?”
 

Taking us to the rest of the “Charm City” quotations

-“The O’s have the best asses.”

-“When it comes down to “the wire,” the Orioles always come through.

(Hhmmm, what about this last decade with no winning seasons and playoff appearances? Again, their place in the AL East is “way down in the hole!”)
 
-“The Baltimore fans were in the muthafuckin hizzouse.”

(I know what you’re thinking; yes the girl who wrote this was white!)

-“Damn it’s a ball to be back at the ballpark.”

(Agreed.)

Later I saw two hotties, one wearing a Nick Markakis jersey shirt, the other wearing Kevin Youkilis. Despite the rival teams, they were reppin’ the AL East coast Greek-American connection. When I heard Markakis’s walk-up music was Shania Twain’s “Any man of mine,” I laughed out lout at how pansy and fruity that sounded. I truly hope his teammates haze his him harshly for his horribly unbelievable song choice. I was surrounded by people wearing “Pedroia the Destroya,” tees in my all Boston section. This is just like my family trip to Disney World. There I took in the Orlando Magic versus the Boston Celtics, and once again found myself surrounded by unruly Boston sports fans who got drunk, started fights and got arrested. Although I’m not into any of those three activities, I still felt quite at home.

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The Oriole Way

The slogan “The Oriole Way” is kind of a joke now while the team is finishing its 11th straight losing season as Peter Angelos (widely regarded to be one of the worst owners in all of sports)  continues to run this franchise into the ground. However, the team did have some glory days. From 1966 to 1983, the Orioles won three World Series (1966, 1970, and 1983), six American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983), and five of the first six American League Eastern Division titles. They played baseball the Oriole Way, an organizational ethic best described by longtime farm hand and coach Cal Ripken, Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect!” The Oriole Way was a belief that hard work, professionalism, and a strong understanding of fundamentals were the keys to success at the major league level. It was based on the belief that if every coach, at every level, taught the game the same way, the organization could produce “replacement parts” that could be substituted seamlessly into the big league club with little or no adjustment. This is why the Orioles became the envy of the league and winningest team during this period. This philosophy sounds a lot like what the White Sox sell to the public while marketing the team (Ozzie Ball seems to produce mostly solo and two-run homers instead) and what the Minnesota Twins actually put into practice.

During their peak period, three different Orioles were named Most Valuable Player (Frank Robinson in 1966; Boog Powell in 1970; and Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1983). The pitching staff was phenomenal, with four pitchers winning six Cy Young Awards (Mike Cuellar in 1969; Jim Palmer in 1973, 1975, and 1976; Mike Flanagan in 1979; and Steve Stone in 1980). In 1971, the team’s four starting pitchers, McNally, Cuellar, Palmer, and Pat Dobson, all won 20 games, a feat that has not been replicated since. In that year, the Birds went on to post a 101-61 record for their third straight AL East title.Also during this stretch three players were named rookies of the year (Al Bumbry-1973, Eddie Murray-1977, Cal Ripken Jr.-1982).

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The Earl of the 3-run Homer

When you enter the Bacardi O lounge (perfect marketing tie-in) you see a portrait of Earl Weaver, the fiery manager who’s inspired a whole new breed of hot-headed hard line baseball leaders. Both of the Chicago skippers Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen embody this. During this rise to prominence, Weaver Ball came into vogue. It was defined by the Oriole trifecta of “Pitching, Defense, and the Three-Run Home Run.”

Next to Earl Weaver is where you can get THE BEST BALLPARK FOOD ON THE PLANET! Specifically, Boog Powell’s BBQ. I avoid red meat and pork pretty much all the time, but the smoked BBQ turkey here was off the charts.  Same with the crab cake sandwich and the crab and brie bisque. These meals were so good that I think any woman who could prepare these meals for me all the time should instantly be my wife. If she can do that, all other points are moot.  If she could make crab stick sushi, that would be nice too. Wash all this fantastic food down with a Clipper City or Backfin Brewery micro brew. The tap has the Maryland state flag on it, one of the most recognizable state flags out there partially thanks to the Terrapins basketball jerseys. And I love it because it looks like the emblem of an old Spanish monarchy and dynasty.

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Baltimore: the East Coast St. Louis.

B More isn’t what it used to be. In the 1890s it was 6th largest city in the U.S. and was called the “gateway to the south,” for some odd reason. (I guess if you consider Virginia the South, the nickname works.) However, only West Baltimore (where “The Wire” is set), North Baltimore and South Baltimore are bad neighborhoods. The downtown and Harbor front are beautiful. It is to D.C. what Oakland is to San Francisco or what St. Louis is to the rest of the Midwest. Funny how this franchise resided in both places. When you visit Baltimore’s and Washington D.C.’s main rail depots, you can see the vast difference instantaneously. 

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I am very jealous of the Eastern Seaboard for having ultra-fast bullet trains that the rest of the country lacks. We badly need to invest in high speed rail (and better public transportation within our cities) to catch up with the rest of the world. Taking this initiative would do wonders to solve three of our biggest health problems (the national obesity epidemic…getting out and walking helps!, the addictive dependence on foreign oil…because its not usually good foreign policy to base your energy needs on people who want to KILL you, and global climate change…because reversing the course of C02 emissions would do wonders in stopping all the new viruses and diseases popping up as the globe warms. Of course, this probably won’t happen anytime soon, (even though it makes a world of sense) because our Federal government is still owned by the petroleum industry; and the car companies truly did a bang-up up dismantling public train and bus systems in the 1950s. Still, if the Acela Express can run between D.C. and Baltimore, then we can have it everywhere else too.

On my way out of Baltimore’s Penn Station, I thought about one of Chris Rock’s best jokes ever. He brings up the foreign policy disaster that is the Iraq war and says, “They said they were such a huge threat. If they were such a huge threat how come they took over the country in two weeks? You couldn’t take over Cabrini Green in two weeks!” I saw him tell the same joke in Detroit, switching the punch-line to “You couldn’t take over 8 Mile in two weeks.” I saw his HBO special in D.C. and it was not a street, not a neighborhood, but a whole city this time: “You couldn’t take over Baltimore in two weeks.”

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Meet Brandon Lloyd

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By Rikki Greenberg

“What’s your name?”

A question not typically asked by a professional athlete to a member of the media, but that and the “athletes love, but mostly hate the media” paradigm didn’t stop wide receiver Brandon Lloyd when he posed this simple question.
Fortunately, I already knew his name as he prepared for his first season with the Bears, reuniting him with former University of Illinois head coach Ron Turner, now in his fourth consecutive (offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.

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“Being able to play again for Ron Turner, as well as head coach Lovie Smith, is like a gust of fresh air,” said Lloyd. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

This is Lloyd’s first season with the Bears, but he has been in the league for six. During his time with the 49ers, the team who drafted him, Lloyd averaged 15.1 yards per catch. Lloyd spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Redskins, where he pulled in 23 receptions for 365 yards and set a career high of 15.9-yards-per-catch average. During the 2007 season, Lloyd was placed on injured-reserve with a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of the season. In 2008, Lloyd was released by the Redskins and then picked up by the Bears, where he signed a 1-year contract.

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When I had my exclusive interview with Lloyd after Wednesday night’s final Bourbonnais practice, I asked him how the crazed Bears fans screaming from the stands motivate him during training camp. “You want to make a good play so they have something to look forward to during the season,” said Lloyd.

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Lloyd definitely gave Bears fans a sneak peak at what to look forward to in the regular season when he made a series of outstanding catches in the preseason game against Seattle towards the end of the second quarter, the last one ending in a first down with the Bears in good scoring position. With three preseason games under his belt, Lloyd has a lot more to look forward to during his time with Chicago. According to Lloyd, the best part about playing for Chicago so far is the coaching staff. “When I had my first meeting with Lovie Smith, he was everything people made him out to be. Just being with somebody who is as straight-forward and honest as he is has brought nothing but positive experiences.”
When a head coach is named Lovie, how could you go wrong?

“You can’t hate a guy named Lovie,” Lloyd said.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

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The formidable TSB-TLT Alliance

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By Paul M. Banks & Theresa Carter

World War I pitted the “Triple Alliance” versus the “Triple Entente.” In the world of Chicago entertainment blogs, there is a powerful alliance between The Sports Bank.net and The Local Tourist.com.

Here’s a story by my newest content partner, Theresa Carter who runs the Windy City’s premier where-to-go and what-to-do website, The Local Tourist.com. It’s kind of like Time Out Chicago, but much more fun to read. Or like Metromix, but with much better usability, information and access. Theresa, my “work wife” founded the site and has been running it for 6 years. Theresa also works with me on the NBC5.com Street Team and the other big-name secret project that I am not supposed to plug yet. (But I will plug it soon and trust me it’s exciting!) I will now be posting descriptions of and links to many Chicago related TSB articles on her homepage during the week.

 

Read this link below for more on that:

http://www.thelocaltourist.com/blog-categories/sports/sports-bank-opens-account-tlt/

 

 

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Bears Season Preview- Offense

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By Paul M. Banks

Without a doubt, the third NFL preseason game is always the most important and most telling. It’s the game where the starters will log the most minutes. Losing to a prospectively horrible team like the San Francisco 49ers at home isn’t the end of the world, (hey, its still preseason) but it’s not a good sign. On the offensive side of the ball the Bears have plenty of question marks, starting with…

The Offensive Line

The fact that first round draft pick Chris Williams will miss at least half of the season is very damaging, because it’s actually a loss of two projected starters. John Tait has to remain at left tackle (where Williams was penciled in) instead of shifting over to right tackle which would have provided an upgrade from last year at both positions. Terrence Metcalf is also recovering from surgery, meaning that John St. Clair and Josh Beekman, neither of which is a true NFL caliber starting lineman, are now going to see a majority of time on the field. What can they really do to fix this offensive line problem? Re-sign Fred Miller? 4-12 or worse might be inevitable if they can’t find someone to block up front.
 
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Quarterback

Starting signal caller Kyle “Capt. Neckbeard” Orton had a 126.7 QB rating in the third preseason game. Canton is calling! Ok, not really, but it’s a start. We all know that he’s put up some ugly numbers during his time in the NFL so far, but his career numbers are still trending upward, unlike Rex Grossman. And his career winning percentage as a starter is higher than Grossman’s as well.

Running Back

According to the Bears media guide Matt Forte accomplished quite a bit at Tulane. Whats most interesting He even technically started a game at quarterback (he took a direct snap on the first play of one game) so Bears fans who are currently unaware of him, should take heed in knowing he has tremendous potential…Maybe be even to play quarterback (just kidding) He’s still making a lot of rookie mistakes, but has shown a lot of acceleration and toughness in practice. He has plenty of potential and Kevin Jones being removed from the PUP (awwww, isn’t that a cute name for a Physically Unable to Perform list?) list and actually contributing this season will help. You really have to have TWO starting caliber tailbacks over the grind of the NFL season and Garret Wolfe and Adrian Peterson are not first team quality.

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Wide Receiver

 With two 1 and 1a guys (Devin Hester/Rashied Davis on one side, Brandon Lloyd/Marty Booker on the other) “starting” at WR on the depth chart, someone in the mix could be the odd man out eventually. Do you keep the rookie draft pick Earl Bennett or 2005 second rounder Mark Bradley?
The former has made some noise in preseason on the return team, the latter had a some big plays Thursday. Perhaps they will keep six after all. You’ve heard the old adage “never fall in love with a stock.” No NFL team makes this specific mistake in regards to their draft picks like the Bears. So which stock do you hold? The one you purchased recently or the equity from three years ago?  
 

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Lovin’ the Game: An Alex Brown Exclusive and Profile

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By Rikki Greenberg

When asked what his favorite part of preseason football is, veteran defensive end Alex Brown simply stated:
“Football.”

If only everything else in life could be summed up so nicely. When you’ve earned two NFC Defensive Player-of-the-week selections in 2004 and 2005, not to mention a vote for NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, it’s easy to see why Brown’s passion for the game is obvious even in the preseason.

Brown is still a valuable part of the Bears defense after seven years in the league, six with Chicago. The fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2002 has 405 career tackles, 31.5 sacks, 4 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries.  His football street cred also includes a top-10 ranking on the team in tackles in every season during the last five (Brian Urlacher is the only other Bear who can boast this) and playing in 95 consecutive games, a team-high.

Last season’s performance wasn’t so bad either. Brown was the only Bear to record an interception, forced fumble, sack and fumble recovery during the season and he finished with a season total of 58 tackles and 4.5 sacks. During my exclusive chat with Brown after Wednesday night’s final Bourbonnais practice, he expressed the desire to take it up a notch.
When asked what he looked forward to during the 2008 season, Brown said, “I want to play well and to play better than what I did last year.” Brown applied the same positive aspirations to his team. “The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl,” Brown said. “First we have to win the division and then the conference and then we can see if we can close the deal from a couple years ago.”

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Judging by the 0-2 record and less than impressive showing in the preseason so far, the goal might be harder to obtain than initially thought. The second preseason game against the Seahawks this past weekend showed improvement with the defense, thanks partially to a pass interrupted by Brown during the first quarter of the game. The third preseason opponent is the 49ers, whose starting quarterback former Bears reserve J.T. O’Sullivan, has moved around more than an army brat, and may be a chance for Brown and the Bears to end a game victoriously.

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Once preseason is over, Brown’s pure enjoyment and love “for anything that has to do with football” increases in seriousness as he thinks about what’s in store for the regular season. “First we have to think about Indianapolis, than we have to think about Carolina and so on and so forth.” Once the regular season is in full gear, the goals to clinch the division and a Super Bowl victory become more real. “The ultimate goal is to come back and win the Super Bowl,” Brown said.
For now, Brown sticks to playing football and getting in some playing time with Madden NFL ‘09 which he plans to purchase after Wednesday night’s practice, with former Packers quarterback Brett Favre gracing the cover (editions of Favre in a Jets jersey also available).
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“I’m going to get it tonight and probably play a little of it,” said Brown.