Sunday, April 28, 2013

Boom or bust, let them earn their way

The fatal flaw of the NFL draft is that we are all right.

The people in player personnel departments whose professional lives are devoted to knowing.

The media who cover the teams and whose observations on what it takes to make it in the NFL get them believing.

The fans who watch college football on television and whose first impression of a player makes them all-knowing.

When we finally get to the NFL draft and selections are made, opinions are never far behind.

Some prospects are labeled as sure-fire first-ballot choices for the Hall of Fame. Some are labeled as complete busts.

Here's a thought: How about we all let the players strap on shoulder pads and a helmet, get into the NFL and earn their reputation one way or another?

If they turn out to be a great player, and someone sees it beforehand, they deserve praise.

If they turn out to be a bust, those who saw those players otherwise deserve criticism.

If they're in between, so be it.

Regardless, is it really that difficult to allow the process to play out?

Just saying ...

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, April 26, 2013

Football season will be here before we know it

After three months with no football, NFL draft weekend gets the sport back on the mind, and it's hard not to start thinking ahead to the end of summer.

When the calendar gets to August, it means high school football season is near. It's one of the busiest times of year for the Sports Department because the season preview is a three-day extravaganza of prep pigskin. But there is a lot of preparation to be done before then.

I was more worried than usual about the upcoming season because state championship weekend for spring sports this year is June 7-8. It would mean one less week of summer and one less week to get ready for football.

But the calendar gave a reprieve in 2013. Week 1 of football season kicks off Aug. 30 (with a few games Aug. 29).

The number of the days between the end of the 2013 spring season and the beginning the 2013 fall campaign is probably similar to past summers. But it seems like an additional month compared with the Aug. 24 kickoff in 2012. I'll take it.

The News-Herald Senior Bowl is June 21, and two-a-days begin a little more than six weeks later. So it appears to be a long way away. I know better.

That means it's time to get going on the 2013 schedules and updating team histories and statistics. Late August will be here before we know it.

Howard Primer

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Meets need willing volunteers to succeed

On Saturday, I covered the Gene Kobus Perry Relays.
The meet started at 9:30 a.m. and didn't end until 6 p.m.
Final running events were scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m., but did not start until around 1:30 p.m. The first event - the shuttle hurdles - took about 45 minutes to run.
To Perry's credit, they were running two divisions - 'A' and 'B' - so instead of a regular invitational where you have two finals (boys and girls) there were actually four final races. A few of the races were combined, but not nearly enough.
The meet just took entirely too long.
I'm sure it's not easy to run a meet, and I'm sure there is a lot that goes into it. I'm also sure it takes a ton of willing volunteers to make things run smoothly and it didn't appear as if Perry had very many volunteers.
I will say meet manager Rob Renau did everything he possibly could to be in two places at once. If he wasn't in the press box, he was at the finish line or the starting line. He was always somewhere trying to move the meet along.
But he needed more help.
For a meet to last 8 1/2 hours is just not necessary. It's especially not good for the athletes who could be prone to injuries in the cold.
I'm sure Perry will reevaluate the meet for next year and hopefully, they will get more volunteers to help.
Without a solid core of volunteers, a meet can't be successful.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Summerall's play-by-play brilliance

It was sad this past week to hear of the passing of longtime CBS and Fox broadcaster Pat Summerall. While he did great work regardless of sport, including manning the booth at the Masters, for a generation of NFL fans my age, a little older and a little younger, Summerall on the call meant it was a big game.

The play-by-play aspect of sports broadcasting has always fascinated me, and every broadcaster has their own style. As many of his contemporaries and those influenced by him have stated this week, Summerall's play-by-play brilliance was in its simplicity.

You weren't going to get five facts about the left tackle's college career before the snap.

You weren't going to hear any over-the-top enthusiasm.

It would be something like this:

As simplistic as it might seem today, it worked very well.

Rest in peace, Pat, and thank you for a wonderful catalog of work.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Super Bowl week for the Browns

Forget about the 2013 schedule released on Thursday. This is Super Bowl week for the Browns.

The offseason is the postseason for the Browns, and they have been dominating NFL spring football since 1999. That includes the draft, introductory news conferences and minicamps. Can you feel the momentum building?

It wouldn't be Super Bowl week without a distraction, and there is that bugaboo of team owner Jimmy Haslam III potentially being a crook.

But this parade will not be rained upon. The draft board must be set and the war room needs to be stocked.

After the pomp and circumstance of the Browns' draft picks addressing the community, the newly acquired players will join their teammates and free agents under the bright sunshine of late April and early May. Voices will be loud, blocks will be fierce, and passes will fly crisply through the Berea air.

This is your time, Browns fans. See it. Live it. Believe it.

- Howard Primer

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fast, five-mile run is really a four-mile jog

Last year at this time, I could only run one mile without stopping.
This year, I thought I was up to five.
But I was wrong.
Let me explain.
For several months, I've been using my I-Pod to track my mileage. It seemed so easy, just clip my I-Pod on, hit my workout playlist and go.
Not only did I think I was doing five miles, but I thought I was running at a pace of under eight miles a mile which would be fabulous for me.
Then reality hit.
I downloaded the app "Runtracker" on my I-Phone. Run tracker actually uses a GPS to track your mileage. On my first run, I realized my five-mile run was actually a four-mile run. It hurt even more when I found out I was running 11-minute miles, not eight-minute miles.
So much for the progress I thought I was making.
What a rookie running mistake on my part.
Longtime Berkshire track and cross country coach Julie Cole has stepped in to help. She gave me a six-day a week running plan which should put me up to 30 miles a week. I'm not sure if I'll be able to run six days a week, but I'll do my best to run at least five.
So far, the first week has gone smooth.
I'm looking forward to the day I can actually run a full five miles. For now, I'll stick with my four miles straight. I have total confidence Julie's training schedule will help me get to where I need to be.
By this time next year, I'm hoping to run a half marathon.
I'll be sure to use my "Runtracker" app to correctly track my mileage from here on out.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Masters theme has lyrics?!?

One of my go-to daily visits online - and also to follow on Twitter - are the great people who run Awful Announcing. The broadcasting aspect of sports has always been fascinating to me, having done it at one time in my life (hopefully no Harvey people have old footage they'd like to share from my play-by-play days), and their work on sports broadcasting is very well done.

Awful Announcing had a great piece recently - one which seemed relevant as I write this on Masters Sunday - unearthing this little-known fact:

The iconic Masters theme has lyrics.

I'll let Awful Announcing tell the story at the above link, but they're spot on - the lyrics really drain the life from a great piece of sports music. Whoever thought it was better to let the instrumental stand alone is very bright.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, April 12, 2013

College basketball wish list

Coming off an awesome NCAA championship game, here's my wish list for college basketball going into next season:

-- More Dan Dakich, Seth Greenberg and Bruce Pearl on TV. Selfishly, I hope none of them goes back into coaching. They're good, personable analysts.

-- Fewer stoppages in play. Cutting timeouts, letting a team's called timeout stand as a media timeout, streamlining video reviews, whatever it takes.

-- More variety in styles of offense. Most experts call for a shorter shot clock and legislating more freedom of movement for offensive players. That's all cool. I just don't want to flip through the three or four games in the 7 p.m. window and feel like I'm watching the same game on each channel. Not every team has to play like Florida Gulf Coast's Dunk City, but it shouldn't take until March to see a team play like that, either.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vote of confidence for Weeden?

As owner of the Browns, it's difficult to blame Jimmy Haslam.

Still, it's interesting how the team's brass will not fully commit to quarterback Brandon Weeden, who, after all, was not handpicked by Haslam, team president Joe Banner or General Manager Mike Lombardi.

On Thursday, Haslam gave a tiny vote of confidence in a short interview with The News-Herald's Jeff Schudel. For Weeden fans, it's baby steps. A few months ago, Haslam told reporters there would be a full-blown QB competition in training camp for the 2013 season.

When Lombardi was hired, he was peppered with questions about less-than-flattering remarks about Weeden on the first day of the 2012 NFL draft. He dodged those questions, and hasn't been heard from in public since.

Then, last week the team signed NFL journeyman Jason Campbell as "competition" for Weeden.

The signs are mixed, to say the least, regarding Weeden's future, but at least Haslam had Weeden's back ... sort of.

For Weeden and his fans, they'll take it.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

One awful day

Thumped. Hammered. Shellacked.

Teams using players supplied by the Indians' front office experienced the same sensation Tuesday.

The Indians, Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and High-A Carolina lost by a combined 37-8, an aggregate total that might be difficult to exceed this season.

The problems in Cleveland -- primarily pathetic starting pitching -- filtered to Akron, where the Aeros fell to the Altoona Curve, 14-6. The Curve, by the way, use players provided by those baseball bullies known as the Pirates.

Aeros starter Danny Salazar wasn't ejected like the Indians' Carlos Carrasco, who somewhere in his development missed baseball etiquette classes. But  Salazar didn't make it through the third and his poorly-located pitches helped Altoona's Andrew Lambo hit for the cycle by the FIFTH inning.  For those wondering, Lambo's name isn't found on any list ranking Pirates' prospects, which means his likely ceiling isn't much higher than Double-A.  

Columbus's Joe Martinez (six innings) and Carolina's Jordan Cooper (five innings) at least had full workdays. Neither pitched received adequate run support. The Clippers lost, 4-0, at Louisville. Wilmington handled Carolina, 5-1.

The team with the highest payroll and expectations produced the biggest clunker. Using a lineup that would have been considered potent in 2006, the Yankees bludgeoned the Indians, 14-1.  The nicest thing manager Terry Francona could say about Brett Myers, who replaced Carrasco in the fourth, was that he "saved" the bullpen by lasting 5 1/3 innings. The ineffective outing inflated Myers' early-season ERA to 12.19.

The Captains escaped bloody Tuesday. Their game at Great Lakes was postponed because of poor weather.

The four teams above the Captains in the Indians' hierarchy would have been better off encountering the same fate.

- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A look back at recent "One Shining Moment" montages

Every year, I have a running joke in the office on the Monday night of the national championship game.

It doesn't matter what else is going on - everything stops so I can watch "One Shining Moment" for three minutes.

CBS' annual tribute to the NCAA tournament is a divisive topic - some people absolutely love it, some people absolutely despise it. I'm in the former category and have been for as long as I can remember.

First off, a couple ground rules if you don't mind, CBS: Keep the Luther Vandross version - it's the best one. Remember 2010 and the reaction to the Jennifer Hudson version - it did not go well because it became more about, "Hey, look, we got Jennifer Hudson to do this," than being a celebration of the tournament as it should be.

With that established, here is my gift to you, fellow "One Shining Moment" enthusiasts. Every Luther Vandross "One Shining Moment" montage since his version of the song took over in 2003.

Enjoy ...

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Midwest League starting pitching at its early-season finest

There's a logical reason for the Captains' slow offensive starts.

Quality pitching can stall any young lineup. Especially in football weather.

Whatever happened in Dunedin, Fla., the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training home, has prepared Lansing pitchers for Midwest League play. The Lugnuts defeated the Captains, 8-1, on Saturday at Classic Park to improve to 2-1.

Lansing's starters have allowed just six hits and one run through 17 innings. Alonzo Gonzalez, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, surrendered three hits in six innings Saturday. His start followed Taylor Cole's six-inning, one-hit, no-run outing on Friday.

Teenagers Daniel Norris and Roberto Osuna highlight the Lugnuts' staff. Norris, a 19-year-old left-hander selected in the second round of last year's draft, pitched out of Lansing's bullpen in Thursday's season opener. He makes his first Midwest League start Monday at Bowling Green.

"He has a great arm," Lansing manager John Tamargo Jr. said following Saturday's game. "He did really well in spring training. He's going to be just fine."

Osuna will start Sunday's series finale against the Captains. The 18-year-old right-hander enters the season ranked as the Blue Jays' second best prospect by Baseball America. The Blue Jays purchased Osuna's rights for $1.5 million from the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League in 2011. Osuna was 16 at the time.

"He's definitely a lot of fun to watch," Tamargo said. "He's experienced. He's been pitching down in Mexico beyond his years. His composure and the way he goes about his business. ...He's advanced past his age."

This might be the second straight year the Blue Jays stock Lansing's roster with solid starting pitching. Baseball America ranked three Lugnuts pitchers -- Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Niccolino -- among the Midwest League's top 15 prospects following the 2012 season. The Blue Jays sent Syndergaard to the New York Mets as part of a trade for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

Last year's talented trio helped Lansing produce a league-low 3.45 team ERA last season. The Lugnuts finished the regular season 82-55.

Tamargo is excited about this year's crop of pitching prospects.

"There's talent and youth and energy, and it's fun to come to the ballpark and watch them work," said Tamargo, the 2012 Midwest League manager of the year. "Watching them develop over the course of the year is going to be a lot of fun."

Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy

Friday, April 5, 2013

NCAA tournament pool tiebreakers: We could do better

Let's hope the majority of  NCAA tournament pools don't come down to the tiebreaker after the national championship game on Monday.

Most, if not all, of them will use total points in the championship game to settle it. Here's the problem: When you fill out your bracket, the only information you have to go on is the two teams you have in the final. But if you correctly picked the final two teams, you probably won't need the tiebreaker.

So it's basically a guess of a number between 130-170, give or take a few. Is that any way to settle a tie?

My suggestion: Total points by (team, conference, state, etc.). A couple examples:

-- We're in Ohio, so a tiebreaker could be total points scored by Ohio State in the tournament. There's some strategy involved because you have to tailor the number to how far you think the Buckeyes will advance, and your tiebreaker total will be tied to how well your bracket does.

-- Or total points scored by the Big Ten in the first round.

-- Or total points scored by teams from Ohio in the first round.

You could go plenty of ways with this depending on your affiliations and how into statistics your group is, but at least the tiebreaker would be based on something more substantial.

For the record, my first thought about a different tiebreaker was most correct picks in the first round or Sweet 16 teams, etc. But depending on the scoring system, it would be hard to arrive at a tie after the national championship game without having those numbers the same.

-- Howard Primer

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ten Midwest League players to watch

After shoveling through popcorn buckets, digesting whale-sized sandwiches and finding mantel space for those retro sports stars featured on bobbleheads, it's time to gaze at the field.

And when the Captains are playing this season, you might notice some of baseball's top prospects roaming the Classic Park turf and dirt.

The Captains open their 11th season Thursday against Lansing at Classic Park. This marks the franchise's fourth in the Midwest League, a 16-team circuit stretching from Eastlake to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Here are 10 Midwest League players worth following this season: 

Carlos Correa, Quad Cities - Any list involving Midwest League prospects must start with Correa. The shortstop, after all, was the first overall pick in last year's draft. The 19-year-old Correa is regarded as the Houston Astros' top prospect. He's the centerpieces of a massive rebuilding project.

Byron Buxton, Cedar Rapids - Buxton, an athletic center fielder, was selected No. 2 overall by the Minnesota Twins last year. The Twins have $6 million invested into Buxton, a 19-year-old many scouts view as possessing a higher ceiling than Correa. Cedar Rapids visits Classic Park for a three-game series July 17-19. Quad Cities visits the following three days. The six-day homestand might worth delaying a vacation to witness.

Taylor Guerrieri, Bowling Green - Guerrieri's name appeared in a recent Sports Illustrated story about the Tampa Bay Rays' successful pitching development methods. The Rays will likely demonstrate patience with Guerrieri, whose Bowling Green team visits Classic Park from May 28-30 and Aug. 10-12. There's no need to rush the 20-year-old Guerrieri, a 2011 first-round draft pick. Tampa Bay's big-league rotation is young and filled with electric arms.

Robert Stephenson, Dayton - What's with the Reds finding pitchers who can unleash 100 mph fastballs? Stephenson's reached triple digits last summer. Expect the 2011 first-round draft pick to lower the 4.19 ERA he produced in eight 2012 starts with the Dragons. Dayton visits Classic Park from April 16-18 and Aug. 21-23. It wouldn't be a surprise if Stephenson, 20, isn't around for Dayton's second trip to Lake County.

Dorssys Paulino, Lake County - Paulino, the youngest player in Captains history, cracked seven homers in 56 games last season. He will begin the season at shortstop, a loaded position in the Indians' farm system. The 18-year-old Paulino is the son of former major-league reliever Jesus Sanchez. He might be in Lake County the entire season.

Gabby Guerrero, Clinton - Another player with a big-league bloodline. Guerrero's uncle, Vladimir Guerrero, is headed to the Hall of Fame. Gabby, 19, is headed to his first season with a full-season team after hitting 15 homers between the Seattle Mariners' Dominican Summer League and Arizona League affiliates last season. Gabby, like his uncle, is a corner outfielder. The LumberKings visit Classic Park from April 25-27.

Michael Ynoa, Beloit - The 6-foot-7, 210-pound right-hander was part of an intense international bidding process in 2008. The Athletics landed him for a franchise-record $4.25 million signing bonus. His career has stalled because of injuries in 2009 and 2011. This marks his first full-season assignment. Age still works in Ynoa's favor. He's just 21 years old.

Lance McCullers Jr., Quad Cities - The Astros have $12.3 million in bonus money committed to five players beginning the season in Quad Cities. The total is astounding considering their big-league payroll is $27.3 million, according to the Associated Press. McCullers, a 6-foot-1 right-hander, is the son of former major-league pitcher Lance McCullers Sr. The Astros selected McCullers in the first round of last year's draft and signed him for $2.5 million.

Lendy Castillo, Kane County - The Midwest League's version of a ringer. The Chicago Cubs selected Castillo, a 23-year-old right-hander, in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. He spent the entire 2012 season in their organization and even worked 16 major-league innings. There's no way he signed an apartment lease last season. He also pitched in the Arizona, Florida State and Southern Leagues. He could be elsewhere when the Cougars visit Lake County for the first time later this month.

Corey Seager, Great Lakes - In one of the rare moments when the Los Angeles Dodgers pondered offense before pitching, they used their 2012 first-round pick on Seager, who dominated North Carolina high school competition last season. Seager doesn't turn 19 until later this month. He hit .309 with eight homers and 33 RBI in 46 games with rookie Ogden last season. He struck out just 33 times in 175 at-bats, demonstrating the discipline worthy of a $2.35 million signing bonus.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy