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Brief chronicles of our sporting times.

Andy Murray’s Game



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At Wimbledon yesterday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s five-set upset of Roger Federer was undoubtedly the most exciting and talked-about match — especially since Federer had initially won the first two sets.

In comparison, Andy Murray’s three-set victory over Feliciano Lopez seemed effortless. In fact, Murray was the only player yesterday to win his quarterfinal match in straight sets (even No. 1 Nadal lost a tie-break to Mardy Fish in his third set). Murray has yet to win a Grand Slam, but he’s nevertheless garnered a huge fan base over the last few years, especially in his native Great Britain (he’s a Scotsman). He has by and large filled the void left by Tim Henman in the psyche of British tennis fans. That being said, all comparisons to Henman should end there. Murray is a much better player than Henman ever was. For starters, he’s been runner up in the U.S. Open once and the Australian twice, while poor Tim never made it past the semis in any Grand Slam. Moreover, what makes Murray so fun to follow is not merely the land from which he hails, but the way he plays the game. To put it bluntly, Andy Murray is today’s John McEnroe.

No, I don’t mean that he mouths off at the chair umpire after a call he doesn’t like. I mean that he puts his heart into the game. I’m happy to stipulate that, objectively speaking, Roger Federer is probably the greatest tennis player of all time, but I never found him particularly exciting to watch. During his peak years (back when Nadal only won French Opens), Federer played like a machine — he was perfectly fit, and had perfect execution. This began to change a bit as he got older and Nadal’s non-clay game improved, but you still rarely see him looking anything other than calm and focused.

Murray, on the other hand, is much more interesting to watch precisely because he is not as powerful as a Federer, much less a Nadal. Like McEnore in his time, he’s not as physical as most of the top players, but he has an intuitive feel for court layout and has the ability to come back with amazing shots just when you think he’s about to lose a given rally. Though he’s naturally a defensive player, he’s been able to step up his offense in the past few tournaments. He’s also been able to make improvements to his mental game, improvements which were badly needed.


If Murray has demonstrated one major weakness over the years, it’s been his mindset and attitude: He’s very prone to choking and beating himself up when it counts. Though you wouldn’t know it from their Grand Slam matches together, Murray actually has a winning record against Federer, it’s just that all of his wins are in smaller tournaments that obviously lack the prestige and attention the public gives to something like Wimbledon. This is not to say that the problem is solely his own making — he’s under the same pressure that Henman was to bring a title home to Britain, probably more pressure since he’s a better player. But so far, it’s eluded him. Murray’s attitude problem reached its nadir at last year’s U.S. Open, when he was knocked out in just the third round by Stanislas Wawrinka, a player whom he had consistently beaten up until that point.

All that said, he’s improved since that low point last summer, making it to the finals in the Australian and the semis in the French. He’s also in the best physical shape of his career, which makes this year’s Wimbledon his best shot yet to win the title. It won’t be easy — he’s up against Nadal tomorrow. But one can still hope. As is always heard in the crowd during one of his matches, “Come on, Murray!”

Tags: Misc.

Players at Gay Softball World Series Accused of Being Straight



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As David Harsanyi notes in The Blaze, being heterosexual is considered cheating by the league, and the players’ team suffered the consequences:

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the league. We have leagues for kids, women‘s leagues and men’s leagues. People should be allowed to assemble and play games with anyone they choose (as long as they don’t smoke!) and devise the rules of membership. Obviously there is no inherent difference between the athletic ability of gay, straight or bisexual men, so the strict rules governing sexual preference in this case make this a social event as well as competitive tournament.

In the end, the committee ruled that three of the five players were “nongay” and the team was stripped of its second-place finish. The piece goes into some length on the legality of this kind of exclusion, and explores some thorny questions about how to define who is gay.

But I dare to dream. And one day perhaps all Americans will play softball together.

Tags: Misc.

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Josh Hamilton Dives and Survives!



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Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas points out that Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton has resumed headfirst diving, albeit this time in the outfield, not (yet?) while trying to score on a pop-up near the dugout. Hamilton, who suffered a broken bone near the shoulder on the April 12th play at home plate, initially blamed third-base coach Dave Anderson for yelling at him to run, but later apologized. He was out of action for six weeks.

 

Tags: MLB

Thank you, MLBAM; Bankruptcy Comparisons; First Pitch Fright



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Via Tom Tango at the Inside the Book blog, we learn that MLB Advance Media now offers embedded video.

Maury Brown of the Business of Baseball contrasts the Dodgers bankruptcy situation with previous ones: the Cubs, Rangers, and Coyotes.

Via Big League Stew’s ‘Duk, was that an Al Hrabosky lookalike throwing out the first pitch at Petco Park last night?

Tags: MLB

The Sublime and the Terrible



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June 22nd marked the 25th anniversary of two contradictory events that happened in one game — Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal and what is considered to be the goal of the 20th century (for a slower version, see this).

It was the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico. Only four years after hostilities between the two nations in the Falklands War had ended, with England emerging victorious, the match was weighted with still fresh memories of the conflict. Although the first half remained scoreless, it was events in the second half that catapulted the match into soccer lore.

Only six minutes into the second half, Maradona, the ball at his feet, cut inside and played it to teammate Jorge Valdano and ran on into the penalty area where he jumped to challenge England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton for the ball flicked on by Valdano. However, instead of heading the ball, he punched it into the net. What was a clear handball was missed by the officials, but protested by the English players. Maradona himself admitted years later that he did in fact intend to hit the ball with his hand and that he had to convince his teammates, who also knew what happened, to come hug him so that the officials will be deceived into thinking it was an actual goal. He still has not apologized.

Four minutes later, El Pibe d’Oro — the golden boy, as Maradona was called — still in his own half, received the ball from teammate Hector Enrique and turned 180 degrees and started toward the English goal, the ball seemingly glued to his feet. On his way to goal, Maradona dribbled past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (whom he evaded twice), and Terence Fenwick, before finally dribbling past Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper, and tipping the ball into goal.

Understandably, many English players from that game still consider him a cheat, as well as many a fan and player in England itself. Gary Lineker, who scored for England later in the game has said that the second goal was the greatest he had ever witnessed, even to Maradona himself in this YouTube video. For Argentinians, their team’s victory was just revenge for the Falklands War defeat (indeed, a friend of mine from Argentina still revels in this, and she is not even a soccer fan).

Tags: Misc.

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Run, Ref, Run



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More pitch invasion: In China, a match was halted after a young chubby fan, in his early teens, ran on the pitch during play, presumably unhappy at the referee. On this occasion, no one was hurt — save for the invader, who slipped chasing the ref and was soon caught by stewards and police, who gave him a face-plant. 

Tags: Misc.

Very Sore Losers



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Following a recent post about River Plate’s fans invading the pitch, this time, after the team’s loss in the second leg playoff to Belgrano, violence erupted among its fans. One devastated supporter cried, “Traitors! They kill your soul. It’s crazy. They kill your soul.” 

Prior to the chaos outside, Belgrano’s players fled the pitch after their victory, unable to celebrate promotion to the Argentine’s top division, as River’s home supporters pelted them with objects. Even River Plate’s players, as shown in the video, were escorted off the pitch under heavy security.

Tags: Misc.

Bicycle Kick for the Hat Trick



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Cote d’Ivoire’s Souleymane Coulibaly goes rump over teakettle for his third goal of the match versus Brazil in the under-17 World Cup.

 

Tags: Misc.

The Dodgers Declare Bankruptcy



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Frank McCourt just let everyone know. The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Reuters, and others have the details.

Tags: MLB

Baseball Reveille 6/27/11



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Good morning, campers!

Here are recent links that will keep those dreaded TPS reports from being sent in on time:

Umpire Bob Davidson gave Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke the boot following this unusual play.

Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

Left Field, Right Field



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From National Journal (h/t: Ace of Spades), a graph showing which sports have the most Democratic and the most Republican fan bases.  The most Republican:  PGA Tour, edging out college football and NASCAR.  The most Democratic, by far:  WNBA.

Tags: Misc.

Cue the Theme from Rocky



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Watch as Michelle Obama and Desmond Tutu do push-ups:

Tags: Misc.

Boston Fan Catches Foul Ball with His Beer



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A Yankee fan wouldn’t have spilled as much beer making the catch.

Tags: MLB

My Night at the NBA Draft



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I showed up at the NBA Draft, held this year at Newark’s still-new Prudential Center, thanks to an invitation and ride from Simonas Satunas, the Lithuanian Embassy’s intrepid deputy chief of mission. Satnuas and I were joined by New York Consulate General Counsel Valdemaras Sarapinas and their friends, most of whom were decked out in the horizontal tricolor of yellow, green, and red to cheer on countrymen Jonas Valanciunas (picked at No. 5, by the Raptors) and Donatas Motiejunas (No. 20 to the Timberwolves, subsequently traded to the Rockets).

Although admittedly I find today’s pro game boring, last night’s spectacle was a quite enjoyable experience. Among my observations:

  • The arena was not sold out; even a fair number of available lower level seats went unclaimed. On the other hand, half of Glens Falls, New York turned out to back native son Jimmer Fredette (No. 10 to the Bucks, subsequently dealt to the Kings).
  • Wearing a suit and tie at the draft will earn you quizzical looks from teenagers, wondering whether you are an agent, general manager, or in one (admittedly flattering) exchange, waiting to get selected in the latter half of the first round! A little later, after the Pistons had taken Brandon Knight with the eighth pick, a young man donning a Texas Longhorns cap approached me as I was ordering a tasty beverage and said approvingly, “Congratulations on taking that pick.” Although curious in retrospect as to whom he thought I was, at the time all I could muster was a tentative smile and, “Thank you for the kind words.”
  • Kerem Kanter just finished his sophomore year at a Jacksonville-area high school, but the younger brother of Enes Kanter (No. 3, Jazz) is already a beast. One wonders whether he will be shaking hands with Commissioner Stern three or four years from now.
  • More players ought to give passionate kisses to their girlfriends upon being selected, even if it is the Wizards who call their names.
  • If you are a portly high school student dying for attention, pay at least a modicum of attention to your wardrobe before pleading for an ESPN camera to track your histrionics. Registering your displeasure at the Celtics’ mere existence while wearing a way-too-small, green(!) Knicks jersey, topped off with an undersized yarmulke, is no way to go through life, son.
  • Speaking of Knish fans, more than ever no one cares what Spike Lee thinks.
  • There is something odd about making those eligible for the draft, but not expected to go until later in the first round, sit in the stands with us ordinary people. My humble suggestion: Either have all of the players sit at the “green room” tables adorned with drinks and HP laptops, or none of them.
  • In retrospect, post-draft parties in Midtown Manhattan are best left for the young and those who do not have to trek 225 miles back to Washington afterward in order to submit an at least halfway-coherent blog post by mid-afternoon. Moreover, remember to factor in the long-term, night-time construction work on the Turnpike south of Exit 8.

(Photo: Rita Stankeviciute)

Tags: NBA

Love or Hate Mark Cuban



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. . . but this is a hilarious response to the lawsuit claiming he hasn’t been a good owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Tags: NBA

Great-Grandmother Banned for Pitch Invasion



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English Championship soccer club Leeds United has just banned a 63-year-old great-grandmother for walking onto the pitch in the final game of the season in May. She only wanted to shout, “Lads, I love you.” The club’s president, Ken Bates, has defended the decision to suspend her, saying that fans were warned to stay off the pitch. However, others are campaigning to reverse this decision.

First thought: a 63-year-old great-grandmother?

Second: It may seem harsh, given that she did not engage in hooliganism, but she broke the club’s rules against entering the pitch during a game. If her ban is reversed, what is the use of the rule?

Tags: Misc.

NBA Draft Review: Irving and Williams Go 1 and 2



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As expected, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams went one and two to Cleveland and Minnesota, respectively. After that, a parade of foreigners fell upon the NBA, with five in a row going from picks three to seven. [I'm counting Tristan Thompson, now the highest-drafted Canadian, as a foreigner, even though he's got a standard player profile and big-conference collegiate experience.]

Kyrie Irving is essentially a preps-to-pros player, a high-upside teen who played only eleven games at the college level and was always considered a one-and-done type. His ceiling, according to scouts, could be as high as Chris Paul’s. If he does develop into a franchise-changing talent, Cleveland will have scored again with the No. 1 overall pick.

Derrick Williams, the only other potential franchise-changer, went No. 2. Due to the increased exposure, a few NBA pundits thought him to be the better pick than Irving. Nonetheless, he was a safe pick, though he goes to a Timberwolves team with a glut at forward. It might be tough for him to see a lot of minutes. But he’s certainly got the cocky attitude to believe he’ll always be the best player on the floor.

Even taking out my cheap trick of counting Thompson as a foreigner, having four of the top seven picks as unproven foreign players is a record and could herald a young-Euro fad similar to the high-schooler fad that peaked in 2004 before the age limit was put into place. These players are all potential-filled young big men. Despite the failure of highly touted Euros in the past like Andrea Bargnani, the GMs this year either found the risk to be worth the reward or considered it a very lackluster college class.

Tristan Thompson was actually the biggest surprise, going 4th overall to Cleveland. Brandon Knight, largely expected to go third or fourth, fell to eighth with Detroit. And it was unfortunate to see Jordan Hamilton of “my” Texas Longhorns, who many projected as a lottery pick, fall nearly out of the first round.

As happens many years, the New York faithful erupted with groans once their hometown team’s pick rolled around. While there were a few known commodities still on the board, the Knicks passed on the likes of Chris Singleton and Nolan Smith to pick up Iman Shumpert, a defense-first guard out of Georgia Tech. Interesting, if anything, but other unheralded Knicks picks have actually turned out as solid choices recently.

Tags: NBA

O Canada!



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Canadian goalkeeper Quillan Roberts scored certainly the most memorable goal for Canada’s U17 side, and probably in all of Canadian soccer, when he equalized in a match against England. Taking the ball unchallenged into the midfield, he may have intended to pass it to a forward, but scored.

Tags: Misc.

Pitch Invasions



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For the first time in its history, Argentine soccer club River Plate is facing relegation to the second division. River Plate is one of Argentina’s most successful clubs and contests a very fierce rivalry with Boca Juniors. The derby, known as the Superclasico, is one of the most famous in world soccer. 

Losing 2-0 to Belgrano infuriated River’s fans who stormed the pitch, stopping the game for 20 minutes, before being scattered by police. This is not the first time that River’s fans have halted a game out of anger at their team.

In 2002, River Plate was behind 5-0 to Banfield, a club that had not beaten River for 28 years, when only ten minutes into the second half, fans overran and occupied the pitch. 

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Brazilian club Santos’ victory over Uruguayan club Penarol to claim the 2011 Copa Libertadores, fans stormed the field and a brawl exploded between the two teams. Supposedly, fans of Santos couldn’t help themselves from being idiotic in the Penarol’s players’ faces. 

   

Tags: Misc.

Remember Hot Wheels?



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I bet everyone of us who owned them dreamed of doing this.

Tags: Misc.

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