Sunday, July 10, 2016

Men's Gymnastics has Gotten a Tough Shake

One of the showcase Olympic sports is gymnastics. Both the men and the women draw in viewers with a combination of athletic prowess, artistic beauty, and dramatic twists. You never want to look away during a routine of a contender because any single trick can wow and a single slip or fall can sink a competitors shot at a medal. The women's side of the sport is the pinnacle of a large and widely participated in amateur world. Girls start participating in gymnastics at a young age and the sport stays popular through high school. Yet for some reason on the men's side gymnastics can't match this. It doesn't managed to hold a place in American culture outside Olympic years. There isn't a large pool of participants practicing the sport. The male athletes aren't celebrated. This is a shame.

In Washington, my home state, there are few, if any, high school men's gymnastics teams. For a young man to compete in the sport he would have to seek out a club team, private coaching, or something similar. Most school based coaching drops off after elementary school and young boys are channeled into team sports, wrestling, or track and field. This makes it hard for young athletes to participate in the sport. It also prevents young men from becoming fans of the sport. None of their friends or brothers are gymnasts and probably their only exposure is a sisters practice. The lack of school sponsored men's teams and the prominence of the girls gymnastics teams, has led to a common belief that gymnastics is a girls sport and feminine. Male gymnasts get grouped with male cheerleaders as wimpy or soft. That is a wrong belief.

Male gymnasts should be sports heroes. The men have some of the most chiseled physiques in the sports world. The guys are ripped from head to toe. They perform athletic feats that very few of us could even dream of doing. The best of them should be plastered over Sports Center, SI, and anywhere fans watch or read about sports. Even if you don’t like gymnastics or understand it you should recognize the top competitors as some of the best athletes in the world like you would a tennis champion or great golfer. Male gymnastics has gotten a tough shake.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The 2016 NBA Draft Shows that Lorenzo Romar's Failure to Adapt

Two more Huskies were just drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. Forward Marquese Chriss went eighth to the Sacramento Kings. He is a freak athlete with a huge upside. However, after watching him play for a year at the University of Washington (UW) I can say from first hand observation that he is prone to unforced mistakes. It will probably be a few years before he can be a regular contributor to an NBA team. Developing in the D-League probably makes sense. The second Husky drafted was guard Dejounte Murray, who went twenty ninth to the San Antonio Spurs. This son of Seattle has a great ability to cut and get to the basket, but he really needs to work on finishing. He will also need to bulks up so he can bang with the big boys of the NBA. These two talented young players speak to the continued ability of the University of Washington to recruit top rated players and put them into the NBA. However, their stories also speak to the sad fact that head coach Lorenzo Romar is unable to turn rosters with young high potential high school players into winning college teams.

Despite having two first round draft picks on their team the 2015-16 UW Men's Basketball team failed to reach the NCAA tournament. The team started out with a hot record of 11-4 only to crash and burn in finishing the season 18-14. The team didn’t lack talent, but did lack experience.  Most of the roster was first year NCAA Division 1 players. Their lack of experience was obvious as they choked away leads and made mental mistakes that cost them games. This kind of team needs strong coaching to help it flourish. The players just don’t have it in them to win on their own. The failure of the team to improve over the course of the season or at the very least stay consistent falls squarely on the UW coaching staff and specifically Lorenzo Romar.

This isn't a new problem for Romar. In fact this is the second time Romar has had two young talented players get draft in the first round. The first time was in 2012 when sophomore Terrance Ross and Freshman Tony Wroten bounced to the NBA after their Husky team failed to make the NCAA tournament. As a coach Romar has failed to adapted to the changing NCAA Men's Basketball landscape. The best players rarely stay more than two years anymore. Coaches have less time to develop and mold their recruits. To succeed they need to be able to squeeze out talent quickly. In this new world of college basketball Romar's teams haven't made the tourney since 2011.

All of Romar's best teams have featured talented upper classmen that stayed multiple years. His 2005 and 2006 teams had Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Jamaal Williams, Bobby Jones, and Will Conroy. The 2009 team had Quincy Pondexter, and Justin Dentmon. The 2010 team had Justin Holliday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and Venoy Overton. Romar was able to work with these players for multiple years and develop them into talented and reliable starters. He no longer has that luxury to play the long game and build teams with an eye for future NCAA tournament runs. The players just don’t stay around long enough.

The problem appears to be Romar's ability to coach these players and turn them and their teammates into a successful and winning college basketball team in the short time alloted. The problems isn't a lack of talented players, he keeps attracting those guys to Washington. Highly regarded players arrive, they play, the team loses, and they bolt for the NBA. However, while these players are at UW I don’t see any progression or improvement to their games. Romar hasn't been able to adapt his style to the constraints placed on college basketball. The evidence keeps mounting that Lorenzo Romar is lacking the skills necessary for a head coach of a major division one program in the current era.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Great Teams that Couldn't Get the Job Done

The result of last night's NBA Finals game was a shocker. Like I posted previously I was expecting a Golden State blow out win. They were at home and the holders of the NBA's greatest regular season record ever, at 73-9. The Cavs are a good team, but they aren't a historically good team, or at least they didn't appear that way on paper. But things didn't work out like I expected. Instead of a blowout the game was the closest of the entire series, being decided by only four points, and the victor was the away team. Yes, the Cleveland Lebron Jameses defeated the greatest regular season team ever and won the first major professional sports championship for Cleveland since Lady Bird Johnson was in the White House.

Major congratulations are owed to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the teams fans. I visited the city last year and it was surprisingly fine. The three locals I know are all great people, so I have to assume everyone is like that. The city deserves to enjoy the excitement and joy that comes with a championship. They have had to wait long enough.

On the other side the Golden State Warriors now join an infamous club of regular season powerhouses that were unable to get the job done in the playoffs.  The NFL, MLB, MLS, and now the NBA have now all had their regular season best record holders fail to win the championship, which is pretty weird when you think about it. Of the major professional leagues only the NHL's 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens managed to win the championship during their record breaking regular season. Though, even the NHL has had regular season greatness fail to achieve post season success. The 1995-96 Detroit Redwings have the records for the most regular season wins ever, at 62, but they failed to win the cup.

To help Golden State Warriors fans deal with the emotional pain of coming so close only to lose, here is a rundown of the other three teams that failed to seal the deal.
  • The 2001 Seattle Mariners were the most depressing for me personally. The Mariners team feature the league MVP and Rookie of the Year in Japanese import Ichiro Suzuki. They almost had Bret Boone, John Olerud, and Mike Cameron. They were so fun to watch. The team was nver out of any game. You just knew they were going to put something together and get the win. Than they lost in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees. While the rest of the country was rooting for the Yankees because of 9/11 I was having my baseball heart broken. Watching a team this talented lose was rough. The team hasn't made the playoffs since.
  • The 2007 New England Patriots were the most fun team to watch blow it. Their team was full of smug and arrogant players and their coach, Bill Belechick, is one of the biggest assholes in pro sports. The team was easy to hate. To add to the fun, the Super Bowl had one of the most memorable moments ever when quarterback Eli Manning broke a tackle to avoid a sack and then threw a pass to wide receiver David Tyree who caught the ball on the side of his helmet to keep the Giants alive in the game. Watching the Patriots lose is always fun, but watching them lose on the biggest stage in dramatic fashion is the best.
  • I have no firsthand knowledge of the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy. It was well before I, or for that matter the rest of the country, had discovered my love of soccer. The team recorded 24 wins in a 32 games season, good for 68 points. Which when you convert to the imperial measurement system equates to really good. However, even with this sterling record, LA didn't even make it to the MLS cup. They lost in the conference championship to Chicago.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The 2016 NBA Finals: Not What I Expected

The 2016 NBA Finals have been surprising. Heading into the series it was a widely held belief that this could be one of the greatest and most memorable series ever. Both teams are the number one seed, have rosters loaded with stars, and have plenty of supporting evidence for their stellar regular season records.

The two teams had faced off the year before in the 2015 NBA Finals. The 2016 versions of both teams are super talented and play exciting styles of basketball. The Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors set the all-time regular season win record by recording 73 victories. Their star player, Stephen Curry, is a near unstoppable offensive weapon, who beat his own regular season made three pointer record. The Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers feature Lebron James, the best basketball player since Michael Jordan. The Cavs surrounded King James with his best supporting cast in years. Like I said the teams are loaded.

Coming into the series neither team lacked motivation. Both had plenty of reasons to put forth maximum effort and were pushed by motivators greater than just the regular glory that comes with a championship. Cleveland wants to make up for their loss to the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and gain respect for their team, which is often written off for playing in the Eastern conference. On a personal level Lebron James wants to bring the first professional sports championship to Cleveland since the dinosaurs ruled the Earth. He also wants to erase some of the stain that "The Decision" has left on his career. The other team, the Golden State Warriors, want to validate their historic regular season with an NBA title. Setting a regular season win record is nice, but it means a whole lot less if you don’t finish the deal by bringing home the trophy (you can ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners or 2007 New England Patriots about that dubious achievement).

Even with the highly talented and motivated team the Finals have been a series of blow outs followed by more blow outs, instead of an epic series filled with tightly contested games that leave fans aching for more basketball. The closest score differential has been 14. Most of the games have been essentially decided by halftime. Rather than nail bitters these have been snoozers for anyone without a strong rooting interest.

I don’t know why the games have been so lopsided, but it has sure been weird. It seems like both teams are just giving up once they get down by even a little. They appear to just shut down and worry about trying to win the next one. Hopefully, game seven will be a good one, but I am not going to hold my breath for it.

The Warriors will be playing at home in front of their fans where they went 39-2 during the regular season. The Cavaliers will , obviously, be playing on the road where they only went 24-17 during the regular season. According to Vegas Insider, NBA home teams win 81% of playoff game sevens. On paper it looks to be another blowout. Cleveland will have to overcome a lot to win this game. I bet we don't get a single close game in this Finals. Despite the hype and appearance of an all-time classic NBA Championship series we have ended up with a forgettable snoozer.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Seth Smith, Professional Hitter.

Watch any Mariners game that Seth Smith is playing in and you will surely hear the announcers talk about how he is a professional hitter. They will talk about how his batting average isn't great but he gives you a quality at bat and drives up the opposing pitchers pitch count by battling in every at bat. Listening to these baseball prattlers it is easy to think that they are using the professional hitter moniker as a way to apologize for his mediocre batting average. It is like they wants to fans to know that despite his middling traditional stats Mr. Smith isn't that bad without providing any quantitative examples. The things is instead of using subjective descriptors of Smitty's (What can I say? Mariners nicknames are boring) skills they could just as easily shower Seth Smith with commendatory remarks by just listing his nontraditional stats.

First and foremost is his On Base Percentage (OBP). This year as of 6/9/16 Seth Smith has a .378 OBP. That means he is getting on base by a hit, walk, or hit by pitch 37.8% of the time. That is tied for first, with Nelson Cruz, for all Mariners hitters. What I am trying to say is Seth Smith is good at getting on base.

Another stats that highlights Seth Smith's quality is his about Walk Percentage, which sits at 13.9% so far this year. That stat shows clearly that all those at bats he is battling for are actually turning into something more than pitch count uppers. They are turning into base on balls. Seth Smith gets walked at the highest rate of anyone on the team. In fact it is currently good enough for 15th in the whole major leagues, tied with Joey Votto. Like I said before Seth Smith is good at getting walked.

Smitty also has some power. He will never be Boom Stick, but he can get a respectable amount of extra base hits. He is currently slugging .412, which is .38 below his career slugging percentage. We have seen him hit homers this year and I expect we will see him start hitting more doubles. Even if he doesn't a .400 SLG coupled with a .380 OBP is a very respectable .780 OPS. There have been years that M's fans would have killed for a starter with a .780 OPS.

Basically what I am trying to say here is the Seattle Mariners outfielders Seth Smith is a good hitter. He treats his plate appearances with the singular purpose of trying to get on base and he succeeds at a high rate. You could even call him a professional hitter, but just make it clear that it is a compliment and provide some objective evidence.


Friday, June 3, 2016

We Need To Talk About June 2, 2016

Hello, earthlings/Kevin's friends! It is I, Natalie, the Mariners' prodigal daughter, who brings you great baseball news from San Diego, California.

That game last night was AWESOME. I'm not going to lie, the 1st inning was rough to sit through. At first, I felt some hope. Cano pulled a Cano. We got a home run. It was lovely. I was the lone Mariners fan in my nosebleed section in a sea of Padres gear. The Padres scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st, which was annoying, but not something that we couldn't come back from. After all, in the last few games, the M's scored 6 runs, 16 runs, 9 runs, and 5 runs. Being behind by 3 is no longer something to stress out about. This ball club can handle that kind of deficit. 

Then, in the second, Cruz hit a bomb. It was 2-4. Yesssss. Okay. We can do this. We're still in this game. Then, that feeling started to dissipate in the 4th and 5th innings. Miley and Montgomery's pitching was lackluster. Rosales-Solarte-Norris-Rosales-Rea-Jay-Myers-Kemp score. All I could think was "not again". I started to have flashbacks of Wednesday night's game, which Paxton and Peralta destroyed all my hopes and dreams. I had to slink out of Petco in shame after that game.

The top of the 6th is when things started to get interesting. Big Booty Seags (just go with it) hits a line drive out to right field, which allows Smith and Cano to get home, and advances himself to second, Cruz to 3rd. Have you heard the good news about our lord and savior, Dae-Ho Lee? Lee hits a big, fat, glorious homer to bring Cruz, Seager and himself home to Papa Servais. In the 7th, Big Booty Seags, Dae-Ho Lee Moley, Chis "I made super tasty wine" Iannetta, Stefen Romero, O'Malley, Aoki, and Guti literally made my head explode at Petco Park. Line drive after line drive and score after score left me SCREAMING LIKE A CRAZY PERSON in section 315 at Petco Park because HOLY SHIT, I'M HERE IN PERSON. I start doing the laugh-cry thing because I can't believe in two innings we just scored 14 runs. 

As we get to the 7th, the nervousness resets with Seager's error and Kemp scoring. Momentum can be great, but it is so fragile. One error can crush everything or set off a domino effect across any team. One wrong move and you can lose your mojo. Benoit manages to hold the Padres off in the 8th. Fernando Rodney makes an appearance at the top of the 9th. He holds off the M's from scoring again in the ninth, so all my concentration goes on sending Cishek good thoughts. "I believe in you!" I think over and over again to myself. I shout it from my seat. I tweet it out over and over again. I was determined to not let this team's past performance mar the game I was watching. You could feel the electricity radiating from the M's dugout. Solarte stuck out. Upton out at first. Norris strikes out swinging. And the Mariners, the beautifully flawed but ever hopeful Mariners, had their greatest comeback in franchise history. And I was there for it. I saw it with my own eyes. 

This is my first baseball blog post of my whole life, so be gentle while I try to figure out my voice. A lot of people (aka a lot of you) may be cynical about the 2016 Mariners. We've heard years and years promising we were going to be better, without ever getting better. 2015 was a hard year for all of us. But, I am forever an avid and hopeful Mariners fan, every year. You never know when you're going to witness greatness. It could happen. It did happen. I was happy to be there. Go M's!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

This Time Feels Different

If you are like you lost interest in the team over the last few years as they continually beat us down with predictably disappointing results. So, in case you haven't noticed, the Mariners are fun again. After years of boring and bad baseball the team has changed for the better this year. They are playing games with actual drama. Exciting baseball is fun to watch. The improvement is hard to nail down to just one thing. The team is better in so many ways.

The offense is producing consistently. They are able to score at any time and they are getting contributions throughout the lineup. In years past a late deficit was a guaranteed loss for the M's. They were incapable of generating base runners against teams with even half way decent relief pitchers. This year things feel different and the stats back it up. The M's have scored 78 runs in the 7th, 8th and 9th inning of games this year, which is 31% of their total runs. They already have three walk off wins. They don't get blown out. They only have 4 losses of more than 5 runs all year compared to 23 such losses in 2015 and 17 in 2014. The offenses ability to strike at any time makes the games worth watching, even if you can only catch a couple innings.

The players are much more consistent from top to bottom. The worst hitting starter was supposed to be Leonys Martin. However, the speedy CF already has a career high in HR, a .262 batting average, and has delivered several big key hits. Martin is far from the junk the Mariners teams of yore trotted out on a daily basis. In fact when coupled with his stellar defense he has been an important part of the team.

The other everyday player that people like to pick on is Nori Aoki. The outfielder hasn't hit for a high average or power. He has also been bad at stealing bases, where he has succeeded on only two out of seven tries. However, Aoki has managed to get on base and keep rallies alive. He has a .330 on base percentage showing he isn't an offensive black holes like so many ex-Mariners. It never feels hopeless when Aoki comes up to the plate.

The Mariners season may end up collapsing at some point. They may cough up the division and miss the playoffs yet again. But regardless, the season has already been a success for me. The team has brought back joy to watching baseball. They have created and sustained real buzz into June. They have made watching and talking about baseball, including Mariners baseball, fun again.