Count Down to Opening Day

My obsession with Mariners Baseball started on April 6th, 1993. At the ripe old age of four months I attended my first Mariners’ Home Opener. Every year since then, my family and I would hop in the car and head on down to South Downtown (SoDo) District to watch the Mariners in their first home game of the New Year. Thanks to this post from Sports Minds author Brett Gleason, I fell into a nostalgic mood. For the lead up to MLB’s Opening Day I will do a “Top Five Favorite Memories from Mariner Home Openers”, and it start after the jump with Number Five. 

5) Ken Griffey Jr. Returns and the Mariners win in “dramatic” fashion on April 14th, 2009.
The team had lost 101 games the season before (2008) and it was pretty clear that fans weren’t going to show up. And then, the resigning of “The Kid”. The City of Seattle went ballistic, thousands of Griffey jerseys were sold in the days following his resigning. For me, the home opener was a chance to actually have something awesome to happen in the world of sports. 
“The Kid” returns
The crappy sports season that 2008 turned out to be and a recently fractured tibia and knee (making me miss the entire 2009 track season) soured my opinion of sports. I despereately needed something good to happen in sports. The solid start the Mariners had had to the 2009 season looked like it was going to be exactly what I needed. 
How you doing buddy?
Ken Griffey’s return to Safeco Field as a Mariner was beyond epic. The ovation he received during his introduction was one of the most powerful sports moments I have ever seen in person. The Mariners brought in Ken Griffey Jr.’s former teammate (and current MLB Network Analyst) Harold Reynolds to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Outside of that, the Home Opener was the same formula the Mariners have been using since moving into Safeco; a red carpet, balloons and individual introductions.
As for the game itself it was a tense low scoring affair. With the game all knotted up at 2-2 going into the bottom of the tenth. After a Franklin Gutierreze doubled, there were no outs. I can remember thinking that the Mariners were still going to find a way to blow the game. I was wrong. I was wrong, because Yuniesky Betancourt would drop a perfect sacrifice bunt. And Safeco field went ballistic when Angles pitcher Scott Shields air-mailed the throw to first base allowing Franklin Gutierreze to score giving the Mariners a 3-2 victory. 
Look Ma’ no hands!

Weekend Review: Boxing

On Friday night, it was a good night of boxing for the Friday Night Fights program on ESPN and for those who gathered at Airway Heights, Washington. The first fight televised was a lightweight (135 Ibs.) rumble as contenders Ji-Hoon Kim (23-7 18 KO) and Yakubu Amidu (20-3-1 18 KO) battled it out for 10 rounds. Ultimately, Kim’s higher work rate and accuracy was able to prevail over Amidu. Kim won the fight by scores of 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94. Amidu gave Kim some trouble as he hurt Kim during the second round and outslugged him in rounds five and six. However, Kim was able to respond to these challenges and hurt Amidu badly in rounds three and four.
            For the main event of the evening, junior welterweight (140 Ibs.) prospect Ruslan Provodnikov (21-1 14 KO) moved forward with his career by knocking out gatekeeper David Torres (21-3-2 13 KO).  Provodnikov showed slight improvements in overall technique but for the most part, he looked like the same pressure fighter as before. Provodnikov knocked down Torres in the first and was a sign of things to come, Provodnikov’s steady pressure and hard right hands. Eventually, the pressure was too much for Torres and Provodnikov stopped him with straight right hands in the sixth round. Trained by Freddie Roach, Provodnikov hopes to further improve his technique and skill.
            On Saturday night, the former undisputed welterweight (147 Ibs.) champion Cory Spinks  (39-6, 11 knockouts) won his second consecutive bout since losing the IBF super welterweight (154 Ibs.) by outpointing Sechew Powell (26-4, 15 KOs). The bout was an elimination bout for current IBF 154 Ibs. titlist Cornelius Bundrage (31-4 18 KO). Both fighters looked past their prime and it is in this writers opinion that if Spinks and Bundrage were to meet again, Bundrage would score another knockout. 

One Bid League!

Oh your basketball team is frightful, 
And the conference is not delightful,
And since we’ve no hope for the season,
One bid league! One bid league! One bid league!

               
It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some brown bags for wearing,
The lights are turned way down low,
One bid league! One bid league! One bid league !
When the season finally ends,
How I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh!
Because the league is so awful,
That they might only get one team in the tourney.
The league is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we’re still crying,
But as long as you love it so,
One Bid League! One Bid League! One Bid League!  
Based off of lyrics for “Let It Snow!”, which can be found here
California Golden Blogs has a fantastic article about why Pac-12 Basketball is so bad 

Pineda wearing Pinstrips and Montero wearing Mariner blue

Meet the newest Marinres
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it became infinitely clear that I was angry with the idea of trading Pineda. If the Mariners were so hot for Montero, why didn’t they trade him for veteran Cliff Lee two years ago? Instead they give up a young, All Star caliber pitcher in Michael Pineda.  It looked like another classical Mariner management screw-up. Now that I have had some time to think about it, I have come to the realization that my gut reaction was an overreaction. I’ll explain why after the jump. 

For those of you who have followed the Mariners, you have watched them trade away a lot of young talent for “proven veterans”. Only they get burned every single time (the Asdrubel Cabrera and Shin-Shoo Choo trades for example).  The constant inability of Mariners management to get satisfactory returns from trading away their young prospects is agitating to the fan base. This troubling history is the main reason for the negative reaction you saw, on multiple social media outlets, to the Mariners trading Rookie All Star Pitcher Michael Pineda.
Michael Pineda is a fire baller. His strength is his lack of fear when facing down a hitter. His lack of fear was clear from the get go, against the Texas Rangers at the Ball Park in Arlington. The powerful Rangers offense only managed three runs off of the Rookie in his Major League debut. Pineda continued to mow hitters down, completing the first half of the season with an 8-6 record and a 3.03 Earned Run Average (ERA). That was good enough for him to earn a spot on the American League All-Star Team Pitching staff. As he faced teams for the third and fourth times his numbers worsened. He went 1-4 with an ERA of 5.12. The Yankees got a young fire baller.
And the Mariners got “the best power hitting prospect inbaseball”. The New York Yankees have been shopping Jesus Montero around for a couple of years. They offered him to the Mariners for veteran pitcher Cliff Lee, and almost had a deal in place. However, that deal fell apart and the Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers (the M’s got Justin Smoak, more on that later). Montero’s name has popped up in multiple trade rumors during the last couple of seasons (including rumors surrounding Mariners super star Felix Hernandez). The Yankees finally managed to trade him and they got their much need pitcher in return. And the Mariners got a much needed bat. 
To put it sucintly, the Mariners offense in 2011 was atrocious. They needed any help they could get and it looks like they did. With the Mariners trading Pineda for Montero, they now have a young and talented core of hitters (Ackley, Smoak and Montero) to complement their pitching (Hernadez, Vargas and possibly Hultzen). The Mariners now have a very talented young group of players, and an All Star in Felix Hernandez to develop and build into a winning team.

Hello

Hello everyone, my name is Victor and I am a new contributor to Sports with Neil. For the most part, I’ll be covering boxing and baseball. It’s cool to disagree with my posts, just be civil and whatnot.

Leaving it to the Sun Devils; Sun Devils Stadium

#3 good sir
The second youngest stadium in the Pac-12 is Sun Devils Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. At one point during the stadium’s rich history it was the host of the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona State Sun Devils (NCAAF) and the Arizona Cardinals (NFL). Some of the historic events to occur in Sun Devils Stadium are the 1996 Super Bowl and five Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Championship Games. Currently the building is home to the Insight Bowl and the Arizona State Sun Devils. 

For years the Bulldogs (ASU’s original mascot) played at Irish Field. In 1927 the University decided enough was enough and the built wooden bleachers. In 1936 the number of bleachers increased to 4,000 and Irish Field changed names to Goodwin Stadium. Over the next few years the University expanded Goodwin’s capacity to 15,000. When the Devils’ started winning in the 1950’s it became clear to ASU that a new stadium needed to be built, and in an area where a larger footprint could be utilized. It was. Sun Devil Stadium (at a capacity of 30,000 people) opened its doors on October 4th, 1958 versus West Texas State. The Devils won 16-13.
After winning their first game in Sun Devils Stadium the Sun Devils would go on to finish the 1958 season at 7-5(including a bowl victory over Marquette). In their first five seasons at their new home, the Sun Devils went 46-15-1 (that is a lot of winning). The Sun Devils dominance in the WAC, and the increased capacity of the stadium, helped make them attractive to the other major conference on the west coast. The Pac-8 expanded to the Pac-10 after the 1978 season, adding Arizona State and the University of Arizona.  
The Stadium before the sky boxes were added
The stadium underwent a massive renovation in 1976 that added 22,722 seats, increasing the capacity to 52,722. 19,000 more seats were added a year later bringing the capacity to 70,500. In 1986 a new press box and skybox were added bringing Sun Devils Stadium’s capacity up to its current number of 72,300. The size of Sun Devil Stadium, made it attractive to a NFL team who happened to be looking for a new home. 
The Cardinals have done quite a bit of moving in their history. From their founding in 1898 (as the Morgan AthleticClub) the Cardinals bounced around the Chicago Metropolitan area. They moved from their long time home, Chicago, to St. Louis before the 1960 season. The St. Louis Cardinals played at the old Busch Stadium, splitting the stadium with the MLB’s Cardinals. By the 1980’s the Cards wanted a football only stadium built. They ran into trouble with the City of St. Louis and before anyone really had a grasp of what was going on, the Cards were pulling up stakes and moving into the recently expanded Sun Devil Stadium, that happened in 1987. So Sun Devil Stadium now was the permanent home to two football teams, the Cards and the Sun Devils. The stadium was also home to the BCS Fiesta Bowl Game.
The Fiesta Bowl’s history traces back to when the Western Athletic Conference struggles in obtaining a bowl bid for its winners in the late 60’s and early 70’s (this is where I point out that the WAC Champ in 69’ and 70’ was ASU). The Fiesta Bowl was born, and it slowly grew into one of the nation’s biggest games, becoming part of the Bowl Alliance in 1992. When the BCS formed in 1998, the Fiesta Bowls was chosen as one of four bowl games to be named a BCS Bowl Game. The first BCS National Title was on January 4th, 1999 the First BCS National Title was hosted at Sun Devils Stadium.  The Fiesta Bowl and the Cardinals moved out in 2005 with the opening of The University of Phoenix Stadium, having caused major damage to Sun Devils Stadium during their tenures there.
Tempe, Arizona (home of the Sun Devils) is in the middle of the desert. The designers/engineers/contractors all knew this; they decided that they did not need to water-proof Sun DevilsStadium. Makes since right? Well…not exactly. The maintenance and cleaning crews would hose down Sun Devils Stadium after every game……..woops. After 40+ years of high pressure water cleanings, the metal supports of the stadium began to rust, over stressing the stadium and causing buckling along the foundation. ASU spent $10 million on a temporary Band-Aid, and is now looking at either renovating Sun Devil Stadium or demolishing it and building an entirely new facility. 
What’s next for the aging, buckling, facility?

Major League Baseball’s playoff expansion is a win-win-win

You will be seeing a lot more of this symbol

                Major League Baseball managed to accomplish something that the National Basketball Association and National Football League could not. A new Contract Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before the previous one expired. This new CBA includes major additions to the game of baseball. Some of these changes include Human GrowthHormone (HGH) testing, moves the Houston Astros from the National LeagueCentral to the American League West, and expands the playoff format. Both (in my opinion) are huge pluses for the game of baseball. The HGH testing is a direct result of the “Steroid Era” in baseball and is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game. The expanded playoff format provides more excitement for the League’s fan base and will increase the chances of the 30 MLB teams to make it to the World Series. I’ll explain after the jump. 

                The Seattle Mariners (M’s) are the most frustrating team to watch and follow in the MLB. Their first .500 season was in 1991, this was shortly followed by theirfirst playoff appearance in 1995 (18 years after the club was founded).  After 1995 the Mariners would appear in the playoffs in 1997, 2000 and 2001 (they also had a shot at the Playoffs in 2003and 2007 but were out of the Wild Card[1]race).  I vividly remember a four game series against the Angles in early August, 2007, the M’s were four games out behind the Angles in the American League West. Mariner’s advertising had run an aggressive advertising campaign the entire week leading up to the series.
                Safeco Field was packed. The crowd was electric and ready for the Mariners first playoff appearance in 6 years, which with a series win would have been ridiculously close. Every pitch, every swing of the bat, every play, the crowd was on the edge of their seats. The Mariners got stomped that game. The Angles would go on to sweep (win all the games) the Mariners in that four game set; the M’s season was for all intents and purposes over. It was clear by that point in the season that whoever finished second in the A.L East was going to win the Wild Card again. Safeco Field has been the baseball equivalent of a black hole ever since. 
                I use the story of the 2007 Mariners season to illustrate my point about more excitement in the fan base because I remember it is the season (the series) that I remember most vividly. The 2003 squad suffered a similar fate, shoved out of the Wild Card picture by the A.L East; unlike the 2007 Mariners, the 2003 Mariners have finished second in the A.L Wild Card and would have qualified for the playoffs under the new MLB Playoff Format[2].
The Astros will be flying, a lot, next year
                The expanded playoff format (which will start no later than 2013) adds a Wild Card round to the post season, pitching the top two Wild Card teams, in each league, against each other in a one game (win and in) playoff game. To balance out the leagues and to make the new format a little fairer, the Huston Astros will be moving from the National League Central to the American League West (both divisions were previously at six and four teams respectively, now both will have five). This move is fantastic; it will keep teams in for contention longer, which (should) increase fan interest AND attendance across the league, which means more revenue for the owners in the league. The best part about this is that by adding an extra playoff team you are giving 25 more Major League Baseball Players a chance to make it to the World Series. A win-win-win for all involved.
Those involved and how they benefit:
1)      The fans: Where all pro-sports leagues earn their revenue (whether they earn their revenue through butts in seats or through eye balls watching TV’s). Ever since that August in 2007 the Mariners have always quickly fall out of contention (they tease their fans in May and June but it’s just that, a tease). The fans benefit from the expanded playoff format because it will increase their pride in their team. Their pride in their city. The playoffs will be a moment fans remember for the rest of their lives, a moment of nostalgia. Or if their team barely misses out on the playoffs, a moment of “what if…..”, a moment of second guessing. It will give fans new things to talk about during the off season.
2)      The Owners: The fans renewed interest in their team benefits the owners because the fans will buy tickets, they will watch TV (making the ridiculously large TV Deals worth it). And if they get into the playoffs? They earn revenue off of the fans who buy the playoff gear and who buy tickets.
3)      The Players: All of the sudden you are adding 50 new players to the mix; that is 25 players per playoff roster times 20 teams (10 in each league now) in the playoffs equals and you end up with a grand total of 500 Major League Baseball players who are in the hunt for a World Championship. All the team has to do is get into the playoffs, once in the playoffs? Anyone (any team) has a chance.
4)      The City: How a cities sports team does can affect the morale of its citizens. If the team is doing well and contending for the playoffs the morale of its citizens and add a good buzz to the city. If the team is doing badly….it does not bare much contemplation. When the post season hits, the fans of the opposing team generally travel in good numbers. You also see fans of the home team who live way out in the boonies, therefore they almost never come to games, coming into the city to watch their team play. That means extra revenue for the businesses, which in turn means extra tax revenue for the city. The city also gets promoted positively during the playoffs, which means it may end up on more people’s “places to visit” list.

 Editors Note: Shortly after this post was published it was announced that the extra Wild Card spots would kick in for the 2012 post season and that the Astro’s move over to the AL West will happen before the 2013

Bud Selig (Center) and Co. announce the knew CBA


[1]The Wild Card team is a team who has the best record other then the division champs, they earn a playoff berth
[2]The 2007 Mariners went 88-75, they finished half a game behind the Detroit Tigers in the A.L Wild Card (the Tigers finished second in the Wild Card)