Sunday, April 29, 2012

Avery Bradley the Key to the Celtics' Playoff Hopes?

At the beginning of the 2011-12 NBA season, if you told me that Avery Bradley would be the most important Boston Celtic in the playoffs, we would have laughed pretty hard.  At the beginning of the season, he was seeing the same amount of time as Keyon Dooling and JaJuan Johnson.  That is, he was not really seeing that much time.  As the season wore on, and Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce were all battling injuries, Bradley was relied on more and more.  Eventually, Allen came back as the sixth man since Bradley was playing so well.

Now, Bradley will be relied upon as the stopper.  In the first series, he will be responsible for stopping Joe Johnson or Jeff Teague.  Ray Allen is only a 50-50 possibility to even play in this series, much less play significant time.  Bradley will be required to continue his 16.3 PPG that he has been demonstrating over the last six weeks.

"I think the Celtics are going to win 3 games and the Hawks are going to win 4." C tells me before the game starts.  When I tell him that Bradley could be the key to the Celtics' series, he asks me point blank "What does Avery Bradley have to do with it?"  Maybe he has a perception problem.  Meaning the average fan perceives Bradley to suck.

G doesn't even know Bradley's name.  "Why do you like "what's his name," Dad?"  Yes, definitely a perception problem.  Let's watch the game and find out.

Well the First Quarter did not go very well. The Hawks fly off the handle in rushing out to a quick 20-6 lead.  Even Tommy Heinsohn is predicting the Hawks to 200 points in this game.  The Celtics come back toward the end of the Quarter and are only down 31-18.  The boys are both calling for Ray Allen to come back for the Celtics.  

The Second Quarter sees the Hawks extend their lead over the Celtics.  Bradley's hustle does lead to a flagrant foul call against Jason Collins, but other than that, the Celtics look a little old and slow.  They make a little run toward the end of the half, but go to the locker room trailing by 14.  Rondo leads the Celtics with 12, while Paul Pierce has 9.  You know things are bad when Donny Marshall is calling you out. 

The Third Quarter is more of the same.  No one can shoot!  Right now they are shooting 35% for the game, including 0-8 from the three point stripe as they fall behind by 19 points.  They aren't blocking out, they aren't playing ferocious defense.  Pierce continues to take ill-advised shots.  AHHHHH!  They do cut the lead to 12 to start the Fourth Quarter. 

"Johnson treated Garnett like he was a burglar in his kitchen."  That about sums up the Fourth Quarter.  The Celtics were generally mugged out there, but nonetheless made it a close game at the end.  Well at least until Rajon Rondo gets thrown out of the game for bumping the referee.  I don't think he will be playing Game 2, either.  Bradley was generally absent from Game 1.

Well, we're down 1-0.  Onto Game 2.  Let's get them.  We need to take Game 2 and swing homecourt in our favor.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fanfare for Fenway and 100 Years of the Red Sox

It's funny that people are piling on John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino now about squeezing every dime out of Fenway and the Boston Red Sox.  They have been doing this ever since they got here.  By adding seats on the Green Monster, by purchasing sports teams like that NASCAR team and the Liverpool Football Club and by making us buy $250 bricks and creating content on NESN, the Red Sox ownership has been squeezing every last nickel for years.  Why the outrage now? 

Anyone know who the other guy is?
With that as a backdrop, Henry and company look for some more generation by introducing us to the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Fenway Park.  This is sure to be a great ceremony as Red Sox great from 1940's through the present will be on hand to celebrate the old girl's 100th birthday.  Ugly throwback uniforms and all.

I taped it so the boys could watch the pregame ceremony too.  They don't appreciate history as much as I do (yet), but I was interested to see their reaction to the players that I grew up with.  Here are some of the comments that they made.

"Who's Dwight Evans? I never heard of him before.  Is he good?"  This last question is a common occurrence during this feature

"Why did they nickname him Oil Can Boyd and why is he the only one with a nickname?  Is he any good, Dad?"

"A lot of old people, so many people"  My nine year old sprinkled this in intermittently during the whole ceremony, too.  I think he's aggravated at how long this is going and these guys are not moving very quickly.

"Why are the Yankees clapping? Don't they hate the Red Sox?"  They don't really look like they are clapping, but that is ok.

"Why are you clapping for Dave Henderson, Dad?  Is he good?"  Yes, he hit the most famous home run in Red Sox history  "I thought that was Carlton Fisk?"  Close enough, little man!

"Yeah, Pedro!!" (That was me and the boys looked at me like I had two heads)

"Who's that? Cee Lo Green?" No, it was Luis Tiant; my seven year old REALLY likes to watch The Voice. 

"Does Pedro Martinez take steroids?"  Still sticking with my reaction to Pedro, my nine year old looks confused.  When I asked him why he thinks he took steroid he said because he's crazy.  I also told him, yes he took steroids.

"Is that Wilt Chamberlain and Steve Nash?"  My seven year old was reminding me that I was taking precious time away from his viewing the Celtics game.  We take a side trip to ESPN to see that the Celtics don't have Pierce, Garnett, Rondo or Ray Allen suited up.  Is this what the team is going to look like next year?

"Why are they booing him?"  No it's Lou that they are chanting for Lou Merloni.  "Is he good?"  When I tell him no he matter of factly states that they were booing him.

"Jose Canseco?  Is he good?"  Yes, and he's looking for a job if you have one.  I think we're going to see him in Worcester this Summer.

Terry Francona did show up.  That's good.

"John Lackey is still playing Dad?  He stinks."  Agreed.

As the ceremony ends with the first pitches being thrown, I'm glad to have seen Nomar, Tito Francona, David Henderson, Mo Vaughn and Bruce Hurst.  A pretty cool event.  All in all, I'm glad the Red Sox tried to take more of my money if this what they are going to be doing.

photo courtesy of

Monday, April 16, 2012

How Great I Am - Maybe Muhammad Ali Was Right

I'll show YOU how great I am.  Leave it to Muhammad Ali to tell us how to be inspired - how to believe in ourselves.  The king of self promotion was a great motivator.  In retrospect, we believe he is talking to us when he talks about being as great as you can be, when at the time, he was trying to motivate himself.  He is the greatest.

Even Tony Robbins has sampled Ali's famous pre-match speech against George Foreman in 1974, which was based on the poem he wrote about the upcoming fight with Foreman.  Essentially, we are told to keep moving forward.  That we are powerful.  It goes something like this:

Rumble in the Jungle
I've done something new for this fight.
I have wrestled with an alligator.
That's right. I have wrestled with an alligator.
I tussled with a whale.
I've handcuffed lightning;
Thrown thunder in jail.
Only last week, I murdered a rock;
injured a stone;
hospitalized a brick;
I'm so mean I made medicine sick.
Last night, I cut the light of in my bedroom hit the switch and was in bed before the room went dark.
Fast...You, George Foreman, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him.
All of you, I know you've gotten...I know you've gotten picked.
But the man's in trouble.
I'll show you how Great I am.

I tried explaining this to the kids the other day when they gathered around me to watch the youtube video of Ali's speech.  I explained to them that if they believe in themselves and they continually reinforce that belief, nothing can stop them.  I'm not a self-help guru, that's for sure.  And I'm not sure I want them to look in the mirror and chant how great they are every morning before school.  But it's important to me to make sure that my children believe in themselves and their abilities.  And it's growing tougher every year to instill this self-belief - this self esteem - in the kids.  School is difficult, after school sports and activities are difficult, constant pressures from the parents are difficult.  They're making movies about the bully for Christ's sake.  It's really difficult to learn self-esteem, but it can be learned.

So now what?

I'm going to keep building them up.  I'm going to keep telling them that they are important and that they are strong.  If my son asks me if he pitched well, the answer is yes.  If my daughter asks me if her picture was well-drawn, I'm going to say yes.  If my other son asks me about his touchdown in flag football, I'm going to say it was one of the best catches I have ever seen.  They need to be inspired to do great things, and it all begins with little things like this.

And maybe then they won't need me to tell them to chant "I'll show you how great I am."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Wakefield! Varitek! Nothing Beats Red Sox Opening Day!

2012 is going to be a special year. It's the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and what better way to celebrate this momentous occasion but to celebrate Red Sox Opening Day? Fenway Park looks much different than it did 100 years ago, but on opening day the team remains the same as it did back in 1912 - talented and somewhat flawed.

And that's the point. Because 2012 is also the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Maybe you've seen the movie? And no coincidentally, the Mayans think the world is going to end in December of this year. So the sinking of the Titanic and the end of the World are also in the news this year? What better way to celebrate another Red Sox season. The symmetry of it all isn't lost on me.

But it's a beautiful, sunny day, and the Red Sox and Rays are going to be playing in Kenmore Square to start another season. Who cares that the Red Sox are 1-5 this year? They started 0-6 last year and look at what happened! Well, until September that is.

2pm. Boston, MA.  It was a nice touch that Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield threw out the first pitches.  They both looked somewhat uncomfortable out there, but who cares?  Let's get to the game though.  Josh Beckett, after a horrid start against the Tigers in the second game of the season, looks to improve against a formidable Tampa Bay Rays starting lineup that has started the season 4-2.

First Inning.  The only highlight is Brignac and Longoria bumping into each other on foul pop fly.  I guess no news is good news.  0-0 after 1.

Second Inning.  How uncomfortable were the Wakefield and Varitek interviews with Don and Jerry.  "How do you like retirement?"  They both answer that they are ready to come back if needed.  Sounds like voluntary retirements if I ever heard them.  And this is the highlight of the inning.  Oh man.  1-0 Rays after 2.

Third Inning.  Just when I thought that the highlight of this inning would be Kelly Shoppach literally sticking his elbow out to get hit by a pitch (Coach Buttermaker would be proud), the Red Sox score three runs on bleeders by Ellsbury, Gonzalez and Big Papi.  Red Sox take the lead 3-1!

Fourth Inning.  Ellsbury drives in another run and doubles his hit count on the season and then immediately gets hurt trying to break up a double play.  Seriously?  So now our vaunted outfield consists of Darnell McDonald, Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross.  I'm now shaking my head.  And Carl Crawford show us his wrist to let us know that he's still hurt too, OK thanks, Carl.  Hopefully it was a just little dislocation and he'll shake it off, unlike his "broken ribs" from a couple of years ago.  It's a contract year after all.  Red Sox lead 4-1.

Sixth Inning.  Kelly Shoppach is a menace on the basepaths.

Seventh Inning.  Oh, that's where Luke Scott went.

Eighth Inning.  Josh Beckett pitches a great game, reminiscent of 2007 or even early in 2011.  He holds The Rays to one run on five hits.  His battery mate, Kelly Shoppach, has three hits and drives in two runs with a double and continues his hairy baserunning when he his driven home by a Ryan Sweeney double and awkwardly slides into home.  Nevertheless, the Red Sox pour it on and take the lead 12-1.  This game is as good as over.  Unless they bring Mark Melancon in.  Oh crap.

Just kidding.  He gives up a meaningless run and the Red Sox win 12-2.  A lot of bloops and bleeders, but a win is a win.

Now about Jacoby Ellsbury...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is Alfredo Aceves Going to Save the Red Sox?

Forget about my laughable Boof  Bonser prediction in 2010 and my unfortunate Tim  Wakefield prediction from 2011, this year, after hours of calculations and crunching numbers, I have finally determined that Alfredo Aceves is the key to the Red Sox 2012 season.  Quite a stretch, I know.  But forget about Ellsbury, Pedroia or the Bucket Boys, Alfredo Aceves is the most important player to the Boston Red Sox 2012 season. 

Yes, you throw it over there, Alfredo
How did we get to this point, where a journeyman making under a million dollars a year is the focal point of a $170 million roster?  Forget about that question for a moment.  More importantly, is he a starter?  Is he a reliever?  The season hasn't even begun yet, and Aceves has gone from competing with Bard for a spot in the rotation, to being ordained the 4th starter to being relegated back to set up man.  Honestly, I'm not sure of the thinking here. Aceves was an effective starter last year and Bard was a very effective set up man, so why change?  In the infinite wisdom of Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby V., Bard for some reason does not have the mental make up to be a reliever and Aceves is versatile enough to start or relieve, without the diva requirements of his more successful pitching colleagues (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Daisuke and John.)  So Bard is installed as the fifth starter and Aceves is put into the set up role.  Who cares if it really doesn't make sense, it's Ben Cherington getting his way!  No matter how they use him, he is now the most important pitcher on the Red Sox roster and maybe the most important player on the team.

And you know he will be starting on May 1.  You know either Bard or Felix Dubront are going to falter at some point.  Or Buchholz or Beckett (or both) are going to go down with injuries.  This is in an even year for Josh Beckett, so we might as well throw a broken mirror at him (it does have the ability to thin one out, after all), and hope he does not either 1) stink this year or 2) get seriously injured.  But you know he's going to miss some starts due to ineffectiveness or due to a stint on the DL.  Aceves is the 6th starter right now, but he will likely end up with more starts than everyone but Jon Lester this year.

His statistics bear out his importance to the team.  Unbelievably let go by the Yankees after the 2010 season, Aceves, in four years, has a 24-3 overall record.  He had a staggering (for a set up/middle relief pitcher) 2.9 WAR last year for the Red Sox, behind only Beckett and Lester (and ahead of Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard).  His WHIP is barely above 1 for his career, and he has put up a 2.83 ERA in 240 innings pitching in one of the toughest divisions in baseball for 4 years.  I cannot stress this enough - Alfredo Aceves needs to have a GREAT year, or the Red Sox hopes of making it into the playoffs will be dashed.

But back to the first question I posed.  How did we get here?  Aceves was drafted 10 years ago by the Blue Jays, but ended up pitching in the Mexican League for 6 years before having his contract bought out by the Yankees in 2007. After putting up some decent numbers for the Yankees in 2008-09, Aceves went down for the year with a shoulder injury and subsequently broke his collarbone riding his bike.  Those kinds of antics don't sit well in New York and was released before the 2011 season.  The Red Sox picked him up and became one of the team's most (or only) reliable pitchers down the stretch.  Coming in to the 2012 season, I certainly thought he was going to be the fourth starter.  But what do I know? 

Now we are faced with the dilemma of a 30 year old (we think) journey man pitcher being jerked around while at the same time deciding the Red Sox's fate in this the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park.  I try to put aside the comparisons to Ramiro Mendoza, but they are there.


photo courtesy of Zimbio