Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

My Sporting Heroes

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The title of this post is a contradiction really. Regular readers of my blog (if there are any) will know that the sporting teams I support include Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur on the football front, the Atlanta Falcons from the NFL, the Atlanta Braves from major league baseball and the Wales rugby team.

Why the contradiction? Well I have had more than my share of disappointments supporting these teams over the last few years. Swansea City were relegated from the Premiership about 18 months ago, but did survive seven seasons in the top flight whilst winning the League Cup (or whatever it was called) in 2013. Paying millions for over rated players, changing managers through a revolving  door eventually put paid to their elite status. Currently, they sit at the top of the Championship table after 10 games, but it’s a long season, so don’t hold your breath.

Where do I begin with Tottenham Hotspur? They overachieved last season by reaching the final of the Champions League, but played so flat that the late Donald Campbell could have broken the land speed record across their backs. The summer almost brought a wind of change through the management and squad. Manager Pochettino cast envious eyes towards Real Madrid, Christian Ericksen, Toby Alderwald, Danny Rose, and Jan vethongen wanted to leave. However, Real Madrid rehired Zidane as head coach, and Manchester United, another possible destination for Pocchetino, made Solksjaer their permanent manager. Meanwhile no suitable offers came in for the want away players, and they all remain members of the squad.

Rumors on the internet claimed that Vethongen had an affair with Eriksen’s girl friend, and several of the squad are not speaking to each other. I don’t know whether there’s any truth in the rumor, but Spurs suffered the worst home defeat in their history by losing 2-7 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League Group Stage last Tuesday. They looked like a team falling apart at the seams, and perhaps Pochettino has them as far as possible. Rumors are also rife that Real Madrid intend hiring him next season, and he will take Harry Kane and Eriksen with him. Speaking of Kane, he looks to have lost a yard or two in pace, and he wasn’t the fastest greyhound in the first place.

This is painful to recall, but the Falcons were leading the New England Patriots 28-3 entering the final quarter in the 2017 Super Bowl only to concede 31 unanswered points and lose the game in overtime. Following an unsinspiring 2018 season when they went 7-9 Dan Quinn decided to part with his defensive and offensive co-ordinators, and too over defensive duties. A quarter of the 2019 regular season has been played and we are currently 1-3. the not so mighty Quinn claims the team lacks consistency and they can find the solutions to a season  which is rapidly sinking like the Titanic. I put their malaise down to the three Ts: tackling, timing and turnovers. They are simply an ordinary team that has an over inflated opinion of themselves.

The Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995. They should have repeated in 1996, but shot themselves in the foot. In my opinion the franchise has never fully recovered from that damaging loss to the Yankees. Yes, they managed to return to the playoffs on a few occasions since, but couldn’t add another World Series. They won 97 games this season and comfortably made the playoffs. However they never learn from previous mistakes. They rested players during the last week and half of the season, and proceeded to be swept 0-3 by the New York Mets in the last series of the season.

Once again they are playing an opponent, St Louis Cardinals, who surged into the Playoffs while the Braves appeared to take their foot of the gas and have last their momentum. There are injury worries concerning Freeman and Acuna and they have two or three inexperienced pitchers in their rotation. Game 1 and 2 are being played tonight and tomorrow in Atlanta, so watch this space.

Wales are currently involved in the Rugby World Cup, and produced a superb display last Saturday to narrowly defeat Australia. If they can win their remaining matches in the group  against Fiji and Uruguay they will top their table and avoid New Zealand and England in the quarter finals. Wales have not done particularly well in the World Cup, apart from achieving 3rd place in the inaugural event in 1987. They have found the proverbial banana skin in previous World Cups having lost to Fiji once before, so I am not counting chickens just yet.

Unanswered Questions

Friday, April 14th, 2017
  • Why do some people smother their steaks with ketchup?
  • Why do some Atlanta drivers refuse to use headlights when the visibility is almost zero?
  • Why do some Atlanta drivers feel that using blinkers is an affront to their masculinity?
  • Can you define the  word “schism” and use it in a sentence?
  • Why does hair sprout from unusual places but ceases to grow on your head when you are older?
  • Why didn’t my parents warn me to take better care of my body to offset the wreckage of old age?
  • What is the difference between refugees, asylum seekers and migrants?
  • Do Germans and Greeks really dislike each other?
  • Why do I regard myself as Welsh first, British second, and European a distant third?
  • Who is John Ossoff and why has he been foisted on people living in the Sixth District of Georgia when he doesn’t even live here?
  • Why are spectators referred to as Patrons at the Masters?
  • Why does CBS’s Jim Nantz assume everyone is his friend?
  • Would I rather be ugly and rich, or poor and good-looking?
  • Would you rather always lose or never play?
  • Would you rather be forgotten or hatefully remembered?
  • Would you rather get even or get over it?
  • Would you rather kiss a horse or lick a cow?
  •  Why did it take a homeless person to do what transit planners, engineers, and consultant could not do…..get the attention of politicians to start looking at transportations options in Metro Atlanta.
  • Why aren’t Americans familiar with the phrase “curate’s egg?”
  • Why do Swansea City’s American owners remind me of Steptoe and Son?
  • Why did the Atlanta Braves win only one world series  when they had three Hall of Fame pitchers in Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux?
  • Does 14 successive Division (which only comprises 5 teams) Titles  achieved by the Atlanta Braves define success, mediocrity, or missed opportunities?
  • Why is Easter, the most important event in the Christian Calendar, no longer a public holiday in America?
  • What is more important to the average sports fan, a winning team or a “state of the art” ultra modern stadium?
  • Why don’t we have a colony on the moon bearing in mind Neil Armstrong landed there in 1969?
  • Why are my compatible with certain individuals, but not others?
  • What is the criteria for defining a good friend?
  • Which of these three songs has been covered the most by other artists: George Harrison’s “Something,” Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday,’ or John Lennon’s “Imagine?”
  • Which is most likely to happen in my twilight years: Swansea City returning to the Premiership, or the Atlanta Falcons winning the Super Bowl?
  • Why is my neighborhood in Atlanta beginning to resemble Puerto Rico?
  • In an attempt to avoid the dreaded drop, will the Swans go gently into the good night, or fight the good fight?
  • With apologies to “The Clash,” should I stay (in America) or should I go (to Wales?)

End of an Era

Friday, September 30th, 2016

I arrived in Atlanta in 1996, and was caught up with the Olympics held in and around the City. I attended a couple of events at the Olympic stadium which was subsequently and quickly converted into a baseball stadium to become home to the Atlanta Braves. I attended several games in their inaugural season of 1997, so I thought it was fitting that I  should attend one of the games in their final season at Turner Field. Nostalgia? Curiosity? Sentimentality? Call it what you will.

I went last night to see a game featuring the Philadelphia Phillies with my friend George. This was the penultimate series to be held at the Ted before the Detroit Tigers bring the curtain down on the weekend. George wrote a brilliant piece on Facebook capturing the essence of our experience last night, and it is posted below:

My friend David Alexander James and I attended the Braves-Phillies game tonight at Turner Field. We arrived early, had some good food and stayed until the 8th inning. I did a lot of looking around tonight at The Ted as we Atlantans have come to know the ballpark. Lots of baseball and Olympic events were held in this space.

Now that the Braves are moving to Sun Trust Park next year it was truly a pilgrimage of sorts for my friend and I to attend this game. I have to admit I haven’t followed the Braves much this year. And when the starting lineup was announced I found myself saying, “Who’s that guy?” A LOT. So the trip was not really about watching the game but to be in that space one last time before it’s no longer the Home of the Braves.

The field looked immaculate as always. And the Braves won tonight in grand fashion. But I couldn’t help but feel some sadness. I am glad that the ballpark will not be torn down but instead will be converted to a football/track and field stadium for my alma mater Georgia State University. And from what I understand, the parking lot that was Atlanta Fulton Co. Stadium will once again be a baseball field. That is certainly fitting in my eyes.

But the one thing that I said more than once was, “ I can’t believe that this will not be where the Braves play ball anymore. “ I understand the whole move…, business and so forth. But with the exception of several lights or panels out in the various displays around the stadium, the place is in fantastic shape. It’s a shame that the powers at be could not come to some sort of compromise. I’m sure I’m not alone in my feelings.

So ends the 2016 Braves season in a few days. I feel good that I did go back to that ballpark and “pay my respects” so to speak. I won’t ever forget this place. Lots of memories and fun times have taken place in the Ted for me as I am sure is the case for countless other people. And although maybe the place can’t hear me, this I verily say unto thee…..

Thanks for the memories. I’m glad you are sticking around.



Twenty Years Living in America

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

I emigrated to USA in 1996, and settled in Atlanta, Georgia. A couple of months later the Olympic Games descended upon the City, and I might have attended a few events, but the whole experience was  just a blur as I came to terms with my incongruous decision to move across the Atlantic. A little Frenchman told me it would take approximately two years to settle down, and he was spot on. Twenty years later, the adventure continues. Based on my time in Atlanta I’ve listed below things I like or liked about living in America and conversely things I dislike or disliked living there:

20 Things I like/liked about living in America

  • Blue skies with not a cloud to be seen.
  • Hot Wings and baby back ribs. My favorite places for those culinary delights are Taco Mac (the original location in Virginia Highlands,) Three Dollar Café and Wild West Wings, and Blue Ribbon which also does a mean martini.
  • A big house, bang for the buck which we couldn’t possibly afford if we were still living in the UK.
  • Health care, and I’m not referring to Obama Care.
  • NBC coverage of the Premiership. I can watch more Premiership games live than my son can living in London.
  • Air Conditioning
  • Variety of places to travel in one big country: mountains, desert, tropics, beaches where the water is actually warm. Alaska and Hawaii would have been difficult to reach if I still lived in the UK.
  • Visiting Monument Valley at sunrise was breathtaking.
  • Touring the national parks in Utah was a truly awesome experience.
  • Learning another language; American-English. I’ve battled for twenty years to master the dialect, but I’m afraid it’s a losing battle. Allow me to apologize to y’all. For example,  Atlanta is embracing the merits of the roundabout, but have labeled it the traffic circle.
  • Visiting Great American cities; Washington DC, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Savannah, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles to name but a few.
  • Our dog Tiger, was an unusual mix of chow and collie  who passed away in 2007, aged 17. He was probably my  best friend in America. He was  brave, strong, loyal, loveable with a sense of mischief.
  • Open air concerts at Chastain Park ranging from Harry Connick Jr., Tony “Bleeding” Bennett, Ringo Starr All Star Band, Huey Lewis and The News, BB King (God rest his Soul,) Chuck Berry and Ray Charles.
  • Grilling out on the Big Green Egg for nearly 10 months of the year.
  • The High Museum of Art. I had the  privilege of viewing an Impressionist exhibition, a Norman Rockwell collection of originals, and Elton John’s photography collection by several famous photographers.
  • The opportunity to attend four different professional sports in one city: basketball (Hawks) ice hockey (Thrashers now extinct,) baseball (Braves) and American football (Falcons.) a Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United, will be playing here next season.
  • Visiting Hawaii and Alaska both of which provide breathtaking scenery. Active volcanoes, bears catching salmon, a flight around Mt. McKinley were just a few of the highlights.
  • Chick_Fil_A, easily the best fast food restaurant chain in America.
  • Lightning bugs and humming birds in our backyard.
  • Close proximity to an international airport.

20 Things I don’t like about living in America.

  • Traffic where the increasing number of tractor-trailers intermingled with idiots make driving conditions extremely difficult not to mention driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • Dog days (excluding Tiger…) of summer when the humidity is at its highest and most unbearable.
  • Political correctness.
  • Lack of community spirit.
  • Sense of entitlement of certain racial ethnicities.
  • Deteoriation in customer service in stores, restaurants and bars.
  • Insularity. I’m afraid the “special relationship” that supposedly exists between the UK and USA is grossly exaggerated. Millennials don’t relate to  World War 2 or the British Pop invasion in the ’60s. As one local talking head put it so succinctly: “Britain is that little island off the west coast of Europe.”
  • Total bias of major TV and radion networks whether it be conservative or liberal. The media has become propaganda machines favoring one party over the other unwilling to give the public objective commentary on current affairs.
  • Eighteen months of personal mud slinging campaigning to earn the right to be the presidential candidate for your Party. And boy have we ended up with two humdingers in Clinton and Trump.
  • Sixty feet high trees falling on my house and in my yard.
  • The fallacy that I could reinvent myself in USA.
  • Noisy restaurants. I can’t understand why people need to shout and scream at each other across the table.
  • Roofs (shingles) which only have a shelf life of 15-20 years. Where is the good old Welsh slate when you need it?
  • The South’s obsession with college football. Alabama doesn’t have a professional sports team, but the Crimson Tide (University of Alabama) attracts 90,000 to home games. They enjoyed a similar attendance for a practice game last season. (14)
  • Sports radio stations in Atlanta, and the irrelevant pre-season NFL football games.

The Biggest Turkeys for Thanksgiving

Friday, November 28th, 2014

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and thanks to my Big Green Egg we enjoyed a succulent, juicy turkey for dinner. On the subject on turkeys listed below are some of the biggest ones for 2014:

  1. Barak Obama. I’m not going to validate this bozo by giving him his official title. How many other presidents would have sat back and allowed Americans to be beheaded by a terrorist organization? Answer; only one: HIM. This is the man who allowed Putin to bully him and Ukraine without any meaningful recourse.This is a man who should be impeached for overriding Congress and abusing his Executive Powers. This is the man who claimed that France are America’s greatest allies.
  2. Alex Salmond. The Scottish Independence vote had no chance with this used car salesman at the helm. He did not have an answer when UK Government informed him Scotland could not retain the Pound Sterling as a currency should they gain independence. The Bank of Scotland pulled the rug up from him when they announced they would move to London should Scotland win independence.
  3. Frank Wren. the general manager of the Atlanta Braves threw millions of dollars at mediocre players not fit enough to lace the cleats of former greats Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. Malcontent BJ Upton was given $75 million to behave like a clown in center field. Dan (Mr Magoo) Uggla was mercifully released but is still owed $19 million. Frank Wren was eventually shown the door, but not before he ensured  $65 million is tied up with the remaining years of Upton and Uggla’s contracts.
  4. Mayor of Atlanta and his Chief of Transportation. In January, heavy snow and frozen ice conditions were forecast well in advance of the anointed time. These two gentlemen chose to ignore the impending storm and the City of Atlanta was brought to its knees leaving thousands of motorists stranded.
  5. Head Coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons. Clearly Mr. Smith missed the seminar on time management. Two games were blown this season due to his  incompetence at controlling the clock when his team were minutes from victory. The game staged in London against the Detroit Lions was more embarrassing since it was played out on a global stage.
  6. Luis Suarez. The little man chose to audition for the new Dracula movie by biting a chunk out of an Italian defender in the middle of  a World Cup football match.
  7. Brendan Rodgers. Tasked with replacing Dracula wannabe, Luis Suarez, Liverpool spent $190 million on a bunch of “garden shed” players. After a winless November, Liverpool are languishing in 12th place in the Premiership and struggling to remain in the Champions League. Meanwhile Rodgers is adamant that he is the greatest manager in Europe.
  8. Tom Watson. Eight time major champion and former winning Ryder Cup captain was plucked from the knacker’s yard to right the floundering American ship. Unfortunately he was completely adrift from his players who could not relate to a “legend;” some young and immature enough to call him granddad.
  9. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. Hollywood’s animated movie has not fared very well; Box Office: $19 million, Budget: $70 million, Return: 27%. The only thing that will be “Frozen” on this movie will be its assets.
  10. The Welsh rugby team. Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 when Bleddyn Williams was captain and the late Cliff Morgan was fly half. It’s not a mental thing dummy. They are quite simply better than us.
  11. Everyone who left Southampton FC in the summer.

Speaking of New Zealand, bring on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Opening Day, Dark Horses and taking care of Canaries

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Today, March 31, 2014, represented the first day of the Major League Baseball season. Only 161 games remain after today’s opener and it could be long season for Atlanta Braves fans and players. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee and unsurprisingly lost 0-2. Much has been said about the loss of two of the starting rotation to season ending Tommy John surgery. Season ending…….the season had not begun when Medlen and Beachy went under the knife soon to be followed by Cory Gearin from the bullpen.

 But huge question marks hang over the offense when you consider it includes two players, BJ Upton and Uggla, who hit under the Mendoza line last season. For the uninitiated the Mendoza line is an undesirable label given to a hitter whose average is less than .200. Uggla and Upton are earning $28 million between them this season and they went for a combined 0 for 8 in the season opener. Okay, we can agree they are consistent in their ineptitude.

They paid out a lot of money in the winter to some of the younger players on the team. Freddie Freeman for example received $138 million for six years. He’s a good player but he doesn’t deserve super star status; not just yet anyway. General Manager Frank Wren’s reward for paying exorbitant salaries to the Mendoza twins was a contract extension. I don’t get it. Why should incompetency be rewarded?

The FIFA World Cup is a mere two months away and the favorites to win are the usual suspects: Spain, Germany, Brazil and possibly Argentina only for the fact it’s being staged in South America. Throw Uruguay into the mix for that matter. But if you want to place a bet on an outsider look no further than Belgium. The nucleus of the squad plies their trade in the Premiership.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany and Vertonghen from Spurs provide a solid defensive partnership, and they could play a back three if you include Arsenal’s Virmaelen. Mignolet of Liverpool has a safe pair hands between the sticks. A midfield comprising Hazard (Chelsea,) Dembele (Spurs,) Mirallas (Everton) and Fellaini (Man Utd,) offers various options in creativity and goal scoring possibilities. Lukaku (Everton) and Benteke (Aston Villa) are two strikers who could take any defense to task. Their Achilles heel could possibly be a lack of experience at the highest level, but nevertheless they will give you a run for your money.

Swansea City took the unprecedented step in firing manager Michael Laudrup with nearly a third season remaining. Equally surprising was the appointment club Captain Gary Monk as head coach for the foreseeable future. Monk is studying for his FIFA coaching badges but has no experience of managing a football club let alone in the cauldron of the Premiership.

His management began well with a win over arch rivals Cardiff City. However that represented his only win in 10 matches despite playing well against Man Utd, Everton, Liverpool and Napoli in the Europa League. A meager one point return from fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and WBA at home had left them precariously close to the relegation zone. However a point against Arsenal away in midweek revealed there was still fight left in the team, but Norwich’s visit last Saturday had a Cup Final feel to it. Norwich were one place above the Swans with two more points and a win was critical to take some pressure of the fans and the players.

The Swans duly delivered by winning 3-0 in the style that has drawn admirers from home and abroad. A 33 point haul looks far more attractive than the 29 points that the team had become becalmed on. Hull City away tomorrow is another important game against another team in the same zone of the table as the Swans. But they go there with confidence and hopefully keep the ball rolling towards safety.


The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (with apologies to Joan Baez)

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

A couple weeks ago (I should have written this post earlier, but I don’t have an editor breathing down my neck) the cities of Los Angeles and New York brought Atlanta professional sports teams to their knees. Divided by only a couple of hours the LA Dodgers defeated the Braves 4 games to 1 in the post season playoffs, and the New York Jets flew into town to defeat the Falcons 30-28.

Ironically the Atlanta teams led in their contests only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the last few minutes of the game. The Braves came from behind to lead the Dodgers 3-2, but gave up a two run homer in the 8th innings. Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in baseball, twiddled his thumbs while he watched journey man David Carpenter be put to the sword. Meanwhile The Falcons scored a touchdown to lead 28-27 with two minutes to go. Incredulously, they couldn’t prevent rookie quarter back Geno Smith from engineering a 60 yard march down the field to place his kicker in range for a field goal and win the game.

The Falcons began the season with high expectations. They finished the previous season with an impressive record 13-3 and were within one play of the Super Bowl only to come up short against a buoyant San Francisco team. Tony Gonzalez was persuaded to delay his retirement for one more season, and he did so gladly believing this was the team that would finally give him a well-deserved Super Bowl ring. To be honest,  the Falcons over achieved last season. They won several games by a field goal margin or less, and by the same token this season’s defeats (4 out of 6) have been by similar margins.

The team has been decimated by injuries. Ten starters are lost for the season or sidelined for several weeks. Bierman, Jackson, Jones, Ewing, Johnson, Weatherspoon, Roddy White need I go on? Well I’m going to anyway. There were weaknesses for all to see last season, but they were not adequately addressed. They have one of the worst pass rush records in the league, the offensive line doesn’t protect a $100 million quarter back, the corner backs can’t tackle, and they don’t have a dominant line- backer.

Meanwhile the Braves won 96 games in the regular season but have not won a post season series since 2001. Unfortunately it’s not surprising. Yes, six of the line-up hit 20 plus homers in the season, but most of the time it was against moderate pitching. Brian McCann went 0-13 in the series they lost to the Dodgers. Elliot Johnson who replaced the hapless Dan Uggla went 1-14, Justin Upton
2-14 and Heyward 3-18. B J Upton sitting on a $75 million contract hit for a .184 average in the regular season and was 25th on the roster for the post season.

There are several questions that need to be addressed by the two Atlanta teams:

  1. Should Frank Wren, the Braves general manager be fired? He gave Dan Uggla a 4 year contract at $13 million a year on the basis of being a Braves killer. B J Upton was awarded a $75 million contract which was an exorbitant amount of money for an average player. Who can forget $60 million wasted on pitcher Derek Lowe? Based on the fact that the Braves Organization is a middle income earner, money cannot be wasted on big contracts and therefore Wren should be shown the door.
  2. Should Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons general manager be fired? Quite simply, yes! His draft picks have proved to be mediocre at best and free agents have not set the house on fire. Matt Ryan was awarded a $100 million contract prior to this season, but little attempt was made to protect him by improving a porous offensive line.
  3. Should Dan Uggla be traded? Uggla has two years remaining on his contract and is owed $26 million. The man had the worst hitting average in baseball last season, .179. He was fitted with contact lenses in the summer and had Lasik surgery in August to improve his vision, but to no avail. The Braves would have to eat $20 million of his contract if they were to trade him, but it makes sense and he has to go.
  4. Should Tony Gonzalez be traded? He is arguably the Falcons’ best player right now, but deserves to fulfill his dream of winning a Super Bowl. If the Falcons lose another game before the trade deadline (October 26, 2013) which is likely, then Gonzalez should be offered the opportunity to move to a contending team.
  5. Should free agents Hudson and McCann be offered new contracts? Hudson is recovering from a broken ankle and is 38 years old. He is too old to be the ace on the staff and needs to be put out to pasture. McCann will command a $100 million contract and is simply not worth it. He is only 30 years old but plays like a middle aged man, and his performance in the post season was truly pathetic. So it’s farewell to Tim and Brian.

I am often accused of viewing my glass as half empty rather than half full, but I prefer to call myself a realist. I get irritated when Fredi Gonalez, manager of the Braves, claims his players were over excited when they lost the opening game to the Dodgers. I would have more respect for the man if he admitted they sucked!!! Say good night Joan…….good night Joan.



Doctor, Doctor, Give me Something to ease my Pain

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Two weeks ago the Atlanta Falcons were within 10 yards of reaching the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. That they fell tantalizingly close lies squarely at the feet of quarter back Matt Ryan. Yes, he threw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, but failed to deliver when it really mattered.

The Falcons led 17-0 after one quarter and 24-14 at halftime. They couldn’t score another point in the second half and, shades of the previous week, the defense appeared to run out of steam yielding two more touchdowns for a Niners 28-24 victory. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to lay the blame solely on Ryan’s shoulders, but he gave up two interceptions and a fumble in a pointless second half.

 There was more than a ray of hope when Harry Douglas’ catch was confirmed after review; allowing Ryan to attempt another comeback win with very little time on the clock. Alas some players are destined for greatness while others are confined to mediocrity.

Defeat was a tough pill to swallow, made sickenly worse by the buildup to Super Bowl Sunday. The two teams contesting for the Lombardi Trophy are the Baltimore Ravens and of course the San Francisco Forty Niners. Ironically brothers Jim and John Harbough are the respective head coaches which have afforded the talking heads a field day.

Niners’ quarter back Colin Kaepernick maybe a nice guy but I do not want another shot of him kissing his tattooed bicep. Neither do I want to witness “killer” Ray Lewis getting his hands on the trophy. The last time the Super Bowl was held in Atlanta was in 2000. In the early hours a man was found dead in Ray Lewis’ limousine and Lewis was covered in the man’s blood. One of Lewis’s gang friends is currently serving time for the team.

A few days later, 4000 miles away, the Swans helped to ease my pain by holding Chelsea to 0-0 draw and defeated the Pensioners 2-0 on aggregate to reach the League Cup Final for the first team in their 100 year history. Ironically, the Swans were forced to savor a bitter sweet moment because of the silly antics of a ball boy, Charlie Morgan.

Chelsea were pressing for a goal with a few minutes remaining and the ball had gone out of play. The proper Charlie refused to return the ball to Chelsea player Hazard, and the seventeen year old heir to a $60 million fortune promptly lay on the ball to prevent Hazard from retrieving it. Real time presented a picture of Hazard giving the ball boy a good kicking which he richly deserved. However replays confirmed that the player kicked the ball from under the spoilt little brat. Nevertheless Hazard was sent off and Charlie received his fifteen minutes of fame worldwide.

What can one make of this crazy world when a ball boy achieves more headlines than his club reaching a cup final in their Centenary year? Thankfully the sporting romantic side of me received a shot in the arm from the march of the giant killers in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Premiership teams Liverpool, Aston Villa, Norwich, Queens Park Rangers, and my beloved Spurs all fell to clubs from lower divisions. Americans don’t quite understand the concept of sharks swimming in the same pool as minnows and sometimes coming off second best.

Football’s January transfer deadline proved to be a whimper save for some panic buys by Harry “barrow boy” Redknapp in his quest to save QPR from relegation while Alan Pardew bought himself a French Connection at Newcastle. Surprisingly Swansea City agreed to sell Danny Graham without arranging a replacement. Graham was the club’s top scorer last season with 14 goals. Admittedly he hasn’t played regularly this season due to the emergence of Spanish midfielder Michu, but he managed to score 7 goals this term with limited playing opportunities.  I hope they don’t rue the day Graham returned home to his native North East because Spaniards don’t relish the cold weather.

Yesterday, Wales began their defense of the Six Nations Title only to be kicked into touch by a rampaging Irish team. No team, not even the All Blacks, can trail 3-30 at half time and expect to win at international level. It was commendable that Wales fought back to 22-30 in the second half, but can we stop deluding ourselves? Wales has now lost their last five home games with Rob Howley temporarily in charge in lieu of Warren Gatland’s leave of absence to coach the British Lions. Unfortunately foot soldiers rarely make good generals.

How many weeks are there to the beginning of the baseball season?

Another Braves Post Season Consigned to the Trash Can

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

There was a veil of inevitability hanging over the Braves Wild Card one-game playoff against the St Louis Cardinals. The Braves have not won a post season series since 2003. Last year the Cardinals took advantage of the Braves infamous September meltdown and pipped them to the wild card berth going on to win the World Series. For the first time ever there would be two wild card teams who would compete in a one game playoff for the right to join the three division winners in the next round.

This time was going to be different. After all, the Braves had all their ducks in a row. Medlen would be pitching. The Braves had won the previous 23 games in which Medlen started, breaking a major league record in the process. The Braves had won 93 regular season games compared to the Cardinals’ measly 85. They had home field advantage with Chipper making his swan song before 50,000 adoring fans. What could possibly go wrong?

The game began reasonably well. The Braves enjoyed a 2-0 lead following the completion of 3 innings and Medlen looked comfortable on the mound. He began the 4th inning in similar fashion to the previous innings with the Cardinal Player hitting a routine ground ball to Chipper at 3rd base who had a routine throw to second base for a double play. Inexplicably, Chipper threw the ball way above Uggla at second base and it went sailing into the outfield. The Cardinals proceeded to score three runs before the innings was completed, and Chipper’s error proved to be a game changer.

The Braves made a total of 3 throwing errors, left 12 men on base and went 1-7 with runners in scoring position (RISP.) Statistics confirmed that the Braves had the best defense in the National League. Toss in a running error by the rookie short stop and there is a case for retitling the post: “Comedy of Errors” with apologies to Will Shakespeare.

During the post mortem following the 3-6 demise to the pesky Cardinals, there were debates about one of the worst calls in baseball history: to be forever known as “The Shallow Left Field Fly Rule” which helped damper a potential Atlanta rally in the eighth.

The crowd was so incensed by the call that missiles rained down on the field from the upper decks in the shape of beer cans, coke cans, water bottles, and mustard and ketchup containers. The game was delayed for over twenty minutes while the crew chief conferred with major league officials and stadium staff picked up the trash strewn all over the field.  Braves manager Freddie Gonzalez lodged an official protest against the outrageous call, but to no avail. The officials upheld the call and play was restarted.

Chipper came up to bat in the ninth innings for what turned out to be his last at bat in the major leagues. Alas he was unable to weave his magic and had to be content with a base hit. Yet another Braves attempt at a run to The World Series ended in disappointment for a capacity crowd.

I am convinced that the Braves’ franchise has never recovered from Jim Leyritz’s three run homer hit off Mark Wohlers in the third game of the 1996 World Series against the New York Yankees. The Braves had won the first two games in New York and were leading 6-3 in the third game at home. They didn’t win another game and lost the World Series to the Yankees by 2-4. Do I detect the curse of the Leyritz?

A One Holer in Vinings

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Against all the odds Chelsea produced one of the best defensive performances in the modern era sharing the spoils with Barcelona 2-2 at the Noucamp Stadium. Their performance almost eclipses Nalgo AFC’s 4-0 victory against their stunned opponents Ynysforgan who monopolized the game but conceded four breakaway goals. Chelsea go through to the final on aggregate by a margin of 3-2.

Chelsea’s task of defending a one goal lead against arguably the best team in the world was a daunting one which later became nigh on impossible. Barcelona scored in the 35th minute to level the tie. A few minutes later, bovver boy and team captain John Terry commited a blatant foul off the ball by kneeing his opponent in the back. The referee was unsighted, but it was clearly spotted by his assistant, and Terry was immediately shown the red card.

To make matters worse, Barcelona scored a second goal in the 43rd to take the lead in the tie for the first time and even Chelsea supporters were singing “Good night Irene.” Miraculously Chelsea answered with a fabulous chip by Ramirez to register a goal back on the stroke of half time and level the tie.

Chelsea’s defense was up against it very early in the match when center back Gary Cahill hobbled off after 13 minutes with a pulled hamstring. They returned for the second half with 10 men and the objective was to survive Barcelona’s onslaught. Remember Chelsea’s two first choice center backs had been removed from the game, and they lined up with two full backs, Ivanovic and Boswinga, in central defense.

If the scored remained the same at full time they would go through to the final on the away goal so beautifully executed by Ramirez who provided sterling service in an unaccustomed position at right back.

Naturally, Chelsea emerged in the second half with an ultra-defensive formation: five men strung across the back with four midfield players just in front of them challenging Barcelona to break them down. Even Drogba popped up at left back from his customary central striker position, and it was he who conceded a penalty by tripping a marauding Barcelona attacker.

Lionel Messi, the little master from Argentina, scorer of 63 goals this season, and vying for the title of best player in the world, stepped up to take the penalty, and a goal  appeared to be a forgone conclusion. Remarkably the mercurial Messi slammed the ball against the bar which silenced the stunned partisan crowd.

 Wave after wave of Barcelona attacks descended on the Chelsea penalty area, but the British bulldog spirit would not permit them to breach the defensive wall. I was beginning to hear the first few bars of “Men of Harlech” eerily making its way from Rork’s Drift when Messi fastened onto a through ball from his midfield magicians and he majestically stroked the ball towards the corner of the net. However,  Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech managed to get his fingertips to the ball and diverted it onto the post where it rebounded to safety. That was only of many world class saves that Cech produced which made him man of the match for me.

Ten minutes from the end Drogba was replaced by the seemingly hapless Fernando Torres who has proved that a fifty million pound transfer fee does not necessarily buy you success. In any event he represented a fresh pair of legs and hopefully a nuisance value. Ninety minutes was almost up and Chelsea were clinging on by their finger nails.

 The fourth official signaled three minutes of additional time when one of Chelsea’s resolute defenders hacked the ball down the field to a waiting Torres who managed to control the ball for the first time. Barcelona had over committed themselves with every outfield member encamped in the Chelsea half.

Torres bore down on the Barcelona goal from the halfway line and who knows what thoughts were going through his head. Would he take the ball to the corner flag and use up the last few minutes, or would he elect to blast the ball high up into the bleachers? Neither. He continued towards the Barcelona goal, skillfully rounded a despairing dive by the goal keeper and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net. Game over and Torres had repaid the fifty million pounds and quite probably resurrected his career.

Barcelona play the beautiful game and made more than 650 passes during the match confirming their skill on the ball. It was obvious that they had a Plan A in their customary flowing style to defeat Chelsea which on this occasion could not overcome a strong and determined defense. Their failing was not having a Plan B. Sometimes sophisticated tactics and superior skills can be superseded by sheer guts and determination personified by Chelsea’s ten men.

Bayern Munich defeated favorites Real Madrid on penalties in the other semi-final, and they will start favorites as they have the enviable advantage of the final being held at their stadium which is just the luck of the draw. Nevertheless I would not discount Chelsea as the football gods appear to be fondly smiling on them right now.