Archive for April, 2008

Voices from a box

April 29, 2008

Heard a great interview this morning on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio with Dodger braodcasting legend Vin Scully.

Scully is a masterful storyteller and quite possibly the finest baseball play-by-play man that’s ever walked the earth.

The discussion led to how baseball announcers hold special places in the hearts of listeners. Just hearing the familiar voice takes you back to a simpler time – a time when it was just you, the radio and a game.

For me, it’s Jon Miller.

The current play-by-play voice of the San Francisco Giants and ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week used to be the voice of my beloved Orioles on WBAL in Baltimore.

As a child, I used to use my boom box (remember those?) to try to tune in WTOP 1500 AM in Washington, then an Oriole affiliate. I remember my dad wrapping aluminum foil around the base of the antenna one night, and suddenly the crackling stopped and the voice of Miller came through like a summer breeze.

West coast trips were the best, because then I could listen to Cal Ripken and the Birds play California, Oakland or Seattle while I fell asleep.

“Swing and a miss,” Miller would say when Jeff Ballard would confound an opposing hitter. I can still hear it in my head.

Baseball is an old-fashioned game. But its broadcasters help make it great.

 

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Welcome to the world of HDTV

April 28, 2008

My dad’s a cool guy.

I bring the family to his house in South Carolina to belatedly celebrate his birthday, and what does he do? He drops my birthday present on me a couple of weeks early.

What was it?

How about a 26-inch Sanyo high-definition TV set. Not bad, considering I got him a shirt.

So, now that my living room in Four Oaks has a recliner, two end tables I haven’t put together yet and an HDTV, I was wondering how to start watching TV – and by TV I mean sports – in high definition.

I called the folks at Dish Network, and considering the usually terrible customer service, found someone fairly helpful. I need some equipment worth about $150 and an HD converter box that will add about $10 to my monthly bill.

So, in the spirit of doing my part to fight the recession, I’ll use my tax rebate check to help fund my journey into the crystal-clear world of HD.

Thanks, dad.

Caught up in a draft

April 25, 2008

Set your clocks, the NFL Draft kicks off at 3 p.m. tomorrow on the four-letter. Want a head start? I hear there’s a pre-draft show at high noon.

I thought that’s what we’ve been doing for the past six weeks or so.

I did a mock draft last year, and the results were sort of mixed. So instead of learning the error of my ways and leaving the prognostication to Mel Kiper and his world famous hair, I’m going to try again to correctly peg the top 10 picks.

No, it probably won’t be right. But that’s part of the fun.

1. Miami: Jake Long, OL, Michigan – The Dolphins sucked all the suspense out of this pick, having already signed the former Wolverine to a five-year contract earlier this week. The Fins will try him at left tackle, but scouts say he’s more likely to end up on the right. With John Beck taking the snaps this fall, will it matter much?

2. St. Louis: Chris Long, DE, Virginia – Here’s where it gets tricky. Most experts agree that the Rams will take a defensive lineman. Nobody’s quite sure if it will be Long, the son of Hall of Fame Raider and Fox analyst Howie Long, or LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. The Rams drafted a couple of interior linemen last year, so I’m thinking they’ll try to upgrade at end.

3. Atlanta: Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU – The Falcons have a number of need positions, and I’m sure some fans will be clamoring for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan in this slot. Dorsey is a better fit. With his ability to clog the middle and get after the passer, he’s the kind of guy you can build a defense around.

4. Oakland: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas – The Raiders would be much better off taking an offensive lineman or trading down for some more pickage. Instead, Al Davis will take a running back in the first round in more than a decade (Napoleon Kaufman, 1995).

5. Kansas City: Vernon Gohlston, DE, Ohio State – Here’s where it gets tricky. The Chiefs could take an offensive lineman. They could trade the pick to New Orleans or Baltimore. Or they could try to start healing a self-inflicted wound (they traded all-pro defensive end Jared Allen this week) by drafting Gohlston. Some say the former Buckeye will be the steal of the draft. Others suggest he’s the next Mike Mamula. I’m leaning towards the latter.

6. New York Jets: Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC – The Jets are hoping that McFadden or Gholston falls this far, but Ellis isn’t a bad fit in the Meadowlands. Like Dorsey, he can shore up a run defense right away and he could later develop into a solid pro.

7. New England: Keith Rivers, LB, USC – It must be nice to go 18-1 last year and still have a top-10 pick after fleecing San Francisco in a deal last year. The Patriots are getting a little long in the tooth on defense, and Rivers will be a shot in the arm for an already-good linebacking corps.

8. Baltimore: Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College – ESPN’s Todd McShay loves him, giving him the second highest rating he’s handed out to a quarterback in the last five years behind only Ben Roethlisberger. I’m a little hung up on his 19 interceptions last season. He was also ranked 61st in passer rating during his senior campaign. The Ravens need a quarterback after the recent retirement of Steve McNair, but I’m not sold on Ryan.

9. Cincinnati: Ryan Clady, OL, Boise State – I doubt the Bengals went in thinking about a lineman, but if Clady slips down this far, they’ll nab him. Some scouts like him better than Long as a potential left tackle.

10. New Orleans: Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida – Jenkins is neck-and-neck with Troy’s Leodis McKelvin as the best cornerback on the board, but the former Golden Bull made the most of his senior season and had a strong workout at the NFL Combine. The Saints could use some help in the secondary, and Jenkins offers that assistance.

Other players that could go early: McKelvin, Phillip Merling (DL, Clemson), Derrick Harvey (DE, Florida), Branden Albert (G, Virginia) and Chris Williams (OL, Vanderbilt) 

New age journalism

April 24, 2008

I’ve been thinking about my foray into the world of “big newspapers” and I’ve reached a conclusion.

It ain’t half bad.

I’m still getting used to the idea of not being involved with every possible step of the newspaper process – the writing, editing, design, et all – and it’s tough to get to know everyone’s name when there are 100 other people in the newsroom. But I’m proud of what I’m doing. And, in this business, that’s a rarity.

http://blogs.fayobserver.com/youthsports

That’s the address of the youth sports Web site I’m helping to run. It’s designed to better serve our readers, devoting time, energy and resources to a segment of the readership that has been under served every place I’ve ever worked.

Sure, we like the good PR. Yeah, we wouldn’t mind selling a picture or two. But the primary focus here isn’t about making a buck. And I’ve worked too many places where the bottom line was the reason 75 percent of the building got out of bed in the morning.

Newspapers are facing a challenging time. We are forced to change time-honored ways of thinking and doing business in the name of keeping pace with the ever-changing world. We blog, we shoot video and we use the Internet as a tool to keep up. And in the spirit of doing these new things, the Fayetteville Observer pays me to go to Little League and Dixie Youth games.

I sent an e-mail to a buddy of mine in Henderson the other day that read, in part, “T-ball pays my bills.”

I joked that it might make a good bumper sticker. And indeed it might.

But it’s also true. And it’s not a bad thing.

Around the horn

April 21, 2008

Because I’m spending so much time in my car these days, I’m afforded ample opportunity to catch up on the world of sports through my XM radio.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Here are a few things on my mind this rainy Spring afternoon:

I love hating the Yankees – How cool is it that Hank Steinbrenner is running the Yankees these days? The Bronx Bombers, fresh off losing two of three to my Orioles this past weekend, are off to a 10-10 start. That’s not sitting well with the new Yankee boss. ESPN has a cool story, here.

My take: Keep stirring the pot, baby Boss. Couldn’t happen to a better team. Apparently, a $220 million payroll can’t buy happiness.

The NBA? Fantastic? – I enjoy the NBA Playoffs. I typically prefer the college product, but postseason NBA basketball is solid stuff. Whatever your opinion is on pro basketball players – and really, are they any different than their NFL counterparts? – when supreme talent (which they always have) gets mixed with desire (which rolls around in the playoffs), the result is awesome theatre.

Now, if I could just get my dish hooked up in Four Oaks…

Danica finds victory lane – It took 50 career starts and it happened a world away in Japan, but the much-hyped Danica Patrick finally got her first IRL win over the weekend.

I’ve never been too hung up on her efforts in the Indy Racing League. That’s mainly because my interest in open-wheel racing is limited to a three-hour window once a year when the Indy 500 is on TV. But I’m glad people won’t be able to call her the Anna Kournikova of racing anymore.

After all, there’s only one Anna… 

Live from Hope Mills…

April 21, 2008

This one was in last week’s Sandspur, which is the weekly paper the Observer publishes for southern Cumberland County:

One of the most valuable lessons in life is the value of teamwork. At Opening Day in Hope Mills on Saturday, even the reporters got in on the act.

After spending the morning tagging along with Maxey Dove, Parks and Recreation athletics supervisor, we encountered a problem.

After he had successfully dealt with late referees, training scorekeepers, moving video cameras off the playing field and a dozen other issues, I was pretty sure he could handle anything.

Fixing a generator was a different story.

Big T’s had a concession stand set up in Municipal Park, and the funnel cakes were flying. That is, until the little Honda generator that was being used decided to call it a day about seven hours too early.

In the interest of shortening a long, boring story, I used my dad’s truck to help Maxey borrow a generator and haul it over to the Big T’s stand.

It ran about 25 minutes before stopping in protest, and only a few taps from a closed knife to what in my uneducated opinion looked like a fuel filter got it roaring again.

So, if you’re keeping score, it took five people, two generators and one borrowed truck to keep Big T’s mobile operation rolling for the lunchtime crowd.

It was the perfect way to sum up a day that was a little surprising.

I had read and heard all about the recent discussions between the town and the Hope Mills Youth Association concerning the distribution of funds. So, I sort of expected there to be some hard feelings about the whole thing.

If there were any, they were well hidden.

Everyone I talked to had the same overall opinion of Saturday’s ceremony, which featured 66 teams, complete with players and coaches, lined up out on the field at Brower Park.

It’s all about the kids.

The HYMA organized the festivities, which included the national anthem, introduction of dignitaries and first pitches. Those were thrown out by Jennifer Bonilla, a Hope Mills native and member of the Puerto Rican national softball team, and Adam Todd, son of longtime Hope Mills coach Allan Todd, who is battling cancer.

“(The HMYA members) volunteer their time. They are the ones that actually set up, manage and run the ceremonies,” Dove said of the HMYA. “We do the schedules, we pay the umpires, we do everything in an administrative support role. They volunteer as coaches. They’ve got a board that sets policies and procedures. They help recruit coaches and do background checks and stuff like that.

“But as far as what we do, it’s months of planning, field prep, grass cutting and weed eating getting ready for opening day.”

Mayor Eddie Dees, sporting his Rattlesnakes T-ball coaching shirt, was one of the original founders of the HYMA in the late ’70s and estimates that he’s been a part of “25 or 30” opening days.

He credits the current passion the community has for baseball to Calvin Koonce, a former Major Leaguer for the Cubs, the 1969 World Series champion New York Mets and Red Sox who grew up in Hope Mills.

“He played at Hope Mills High School and then went on to Campbell and was an All-American there,” Dees said. “He was our first major leaguer, and he gave us a lot to be proud of around here.

“He was later a town commissioner, mayor pro-tem and town manager. I just always felt that a lot of people wanted to grow up and be like Calvin.”

Everyone, it seems, played a role.

It remains to be seen if the next Chipper Jones was toiling away on any of the eight fields in Hope Mills on Saturday. But one thing is certain.

The kids were the stars of the show.

Catching up…

April 21, 2008

It occurs to me that I should be putting my columns here.

Brilliant, right?

Anyway, here’s my column from Sunday’s Observer:

The last bullet point on the top of every schedule for Dixie Youth Baseball, Dixie Softball and T-ball for the 2008 season contains a simple message: “Please don’t forget … have fun.”
Judging by the looks of things around town during Saturday’s Opening-Day festivities, I’m not the only one who read that.
T-ball is the best. Really, you could just call it “Happy Time” and be done with it.
It was the last at-bat of an inning of a game in Gray’s Creek between the Braves and Wolfpack, and a Braves’ player  —  hardly taller than the bat in his hand  —  smacked the ball through the infield.
The Wolfpack treated the rolling object like a plate of cauliflower, which is to say they ignored it completely.
It was, after all, their turn to bat.
But the two runners on base kept running and both eventually crossed the plate.
While the Wolfpack was getting ready to hit, the batter came around third and  —  despite being the only player within 20 yards of the plate  —  slid in safely with what has to be scored as an inside-the-park home run.
You see, there’s no such thing as errors or defensive indifference in T-ball.
Gray’s Creek and the Gray’s Creek Youth Association certainly had the fun market cornered.
FaithWalk Fellowship was giving away free hamburgers, the concession stand was slinging nachos like there was no tomorrow,  and there was a giant slide and bouncing area off Field No. 3’s first base line.
What’s better than free food, chips, processed cheese and a place to jumble it all up after you eat it?
After a quick trip back to the office for some directions (I’ve yet to unlock the mystery of driving in Fayetteville), there was plenty to eat and lots to see at Honeycutt Elementary as well.
Stoney Point Recreation Center had several leagues in action over there, and with chamber of commerce weather to enjoy, smiles were in abundant supply.
It’s fun to watch the players in between games.
You almost never see them worried or stressed out about the game they’re about to play.
No, they’ll be dangling from the top of a sliding board or just using it as it was intended.
How fun was it Saturday?
There were children playing while they were waiting to play.
What could be better?

Gray’s Creek, the movie version

April 21, 2008

My column in this week’s Sandspur:

I promise that, before Saturday, I had never set foot in Gray’s Creek or been anywhere near Hall Park.
I had to get that out, because there’s a reason I started smiling when I got to the sign that stands watch over the concession stand.
First thing Saturday morning, a familiar theme popped up.
I was lost.
That proves that a shiny new TomTom navigation system is completely useless without the $10 car charger it comes with.
Anyway, after following a nice fellow in a Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation vehicle from the rec center, I arrived at Hall Park Road.
I’m sure most of you have seen it, but it looks like a normal country road, or at least would have if there weren’t cars lined up a quarter-mile toward the main highway.
Seems Opening Day at Gray’s Creek is a must-see event.
I parked the car and began my hike to what I assumed was Hall Park. I was working on faith because I wasn’t parked close enough to see it.
As I walked, I looked to the left and saw fields that stretched as far as I could see.
I actually had the thought, “this is just like the movie ‘Field of Dreams.’” A ball field carved out of some farmland  —  or a place where some magic just might happen.
So, as I hustled up to catch the festivities, imagine my amusement when I got to the sign.
It reads: “Hall Park, Founded 1978” and then proudly across the middle declares, “Field of Dreams.”
And it really kind of was on Saturday.
I didn’t see Ray Kinsella or Shoeless Joe Jackson anywhere, but the “if you build it, they will come” thing was definitely going on.
Apparently, 28 teams’ worth of players, coaches, family members and assorted media types creates quite a crowd.
Of course, WKML radio personality Don Chase and the fact that FaithWalk Fellowship was giving away free burgers only added to the fun.
And as the three T-ball games that officially began the 2008 season for Gray’s Creek were in full swing, an inflatable slide and a jumping area popped up over next to Field No. 3.
You’ve got to hand it to the Gray’s Creek Youth Association. They sure know how to throw a party.
The baseball purist went home happy as well, as there was enough high-quality diamond action to fill up an evening of “Baseball Tonight.”
“Field of Dreams” is one of my favorite movies. One of the best lines in it was this exchange:
“Is this heaven,” Shoeless Joe asked Kevin Costner’s character, Kinsella.
“No, it’s Iowa,” he replied.
Change that last part to Gray’s Creek, and you’d have Saturday just about pegged.

Randy Capps can be reached at cappsr@fayobserver.com or at 323-4848, ext. 354.

Draft day approaches

April 18, 2008

Is there any doubt that the NFL is far and away the most dominant sport on the landscape? Sure, some folks still cling to the outdated notion that baseball is the nation’s pastime. But most rational people agree that the National Football League is the sport that draws the most interest nationwide.

Need proof?

The NFL schedule was released this week. It generated dozens of news stories and a two-hour special on the four-letter. That doesn’t happen when the Cincinnati Reds’ schedule comes out.

The media hype surrounding the NFL Draft gets bigger every year. As if Mel Kiper’s pontifications on the annual meat market weren’t enough, ESPN is now spoon-feeding me Todd McShay’s insights as well.

And it tastes good, too.

I’m a draft nerd. I like sitting in front of the tube watching hour after hour of scrolling information on the best available players, most recently taken players and who’s still sitting in the green room waiting for his cell phone to ring.

For the record, I really like Virginia’s Chris Long and Michigan’s Jake Long as solid pros while I’m not sold on Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. And the receiver class is brutally bad.

But I’ll be watching anyway…

XM vs. Sirius

April 15, 2008

Hopefully, the long-debated merger between the two satellite radio companies will finally happen and we won’t have to choose between them.

But since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s take a look.

As a sports fan, you have to have satellite radio. You just have to. The days of driving along through some unknown area, fumbling around the AM dial looking for a ball game are over. Get a satellite radio. You’ll never give it back.

Now, there are plenty of other things to check out on either XM or Sirius besides sports that might sway your opinion one way or the other. But for now, let’s just look at it from the sporting angle.

For disclosure purposes, I own a XM radio. But, for the past few days, I’ve been in my dad’s truck. He has Sirius. So, I’ve at least dabbled there.

The case for XM

If you like Major League Baseball, XM is for you. Every game, every day is on the air between channels 176-189. They have the playoffs and even an all-baseball channel, 175, that is your MLB fix even in the dead of the winter.

If you’re one of the 29 people that still follow hockey, XM is the home of the National Hockey League. Again, every game, every day on dedicated channels. XM is also home to the Indy Racing League, PGA, ACC, Big 10 and Pac 10 athletics (though, not so much for baseball). They also sprinkle in some Big East and Big 12 games.

The case for Sirius

Hello, they have the NFL. That would be awesome. Don’t really need to go on about that.

Sirius also has rights to the NBA, which is cool this time of year, and NASCAR. In addition, they air games from the SEC, Big East and other assorted teams and leagues – including Notre Dame. They also have games from the Barclays Premier League (English soccer), which no soccer fan should be without. (I’m still waiting on that merger.)

For me, the baseball and ACC games tip the scales in favor of XM.

But ask me again during football season, and the answer may change.

Seriously, when is that merger?