Roy Halladay Announces Retirement

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

One of the most dominant pitchers of the past decade has announced his retirement today. Roy Halladay, who pitched 16 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, will sign a one day contract with Toronto and end his career. Halladay is 36 years old, and struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Phillies.

Halladay was selected with the 17th pick in the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and became a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ rotation for more than a decade. He became a full-time starter in 1999, and grew into an ace by the early 2000s. In 2002, “Doc” went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA and was named to his first All-Star Game. 2003, however, was even better for Halladay. He earned 22 wins, struck out 204 batters, and earned the 2003 American League Cy Young Award. But despite being surrounded by decent pitchers and batters, Halladay never made the playoffs with the Blue Jays.

In December 2009, Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a number of prospect players, and quickly made an impact in Philadelphia. In a career season, Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and a career-high 219 strikeouts. He was named to his seventh All-Star Game and helped the Phillies win their fourth consecutive NL East division title. On May 29th, he pitched the 2nd perfect game in Phillies history against the Florida Marlins, and on October 6, made his dramatic postseason debut by pitching a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS.

Halladay was known for his tricky pitches, including 90+ MPH fastballs and cutters that fooled batters. Halladay worked efficiently on the mound, and followed the same strict mechanical movement throughout his career. He also displayed immense focus during games, often refusing to talk to anyone but his catcher during his starts.

In 2012, at the age of 34, Halladay began to regress, and was placed on the disabled list in May with a shoulder strain. 2013 proved to be more of the same for the Phillies ace. Halladay missed more than three months after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his shoulder. It seems that Halladay’s decision to retire is a wise move made to prevent any more injuries.

Overall, Halladay finished his 16 year career with a 203-105 record, a 3.38 ERA, 68 complete games (all-time record), and 2,117 strikeouts. He made 8 All-Star appearances (and started two games), won 2 Cy Young Awards, threw a perfect game, and pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history. The world of baseball is losing a great player and a great man in Roy Halladay, but he surely left a great legacy for many pitchers to aspire to.

Duke, UNC play Saturday for Victory Bell, Coastal Division Title

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. A VERY long time. With a win on Saturday, the Blue Devils will win the ACC Coastal Division championship and play in their first ACC Championship Game. Only one little problem: they have to go to Kenan Memorial Stadium and knock off a surging North Carolina Tar Heels team that has won 5 straight games. It could be the biggest game Duke has ever played.

They have already surpassed many expectations under head coach David Cutcliffe. Last season they won the Victory Bell Game against UNC for the first time since 2003 and made their first bowl game appearance in more than 20 years. This season has been nothing short of great for Duke: currently the Blue Devils are on a 7 game winning streak, are 9-2 overall, and #24 in the BCS rankings (their first ever BCS appearance).

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora wants to make sure they don’t celebrate a Coastal Division title, too. According to freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer, Fedora has played the footage of Duke players spray painting the Victory Bell trophy royal blue after last year’s game nonstop in the locker and weight training rooms at Kenan Stadium. Fedora knows the importance of this victory for his team. “They’re the no. 24 team in the country and they’re on a seven-game winning streak. We’re excited for our seniors playing their last home game in Kenan Stadium so it should be a heck of a football game,” Fedora said Wednesday.

After a disheartening loss to Miami on October 17th, North Carolina has turned its season around quite nicely. The Tar Heels have won five straight games to become bowl eligible at 6-5, and North Carolina’s defense has stepped up nicely. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin currently ranks fifth in the country with 11 sacks. But more impressive for North Carolina has been their improved offense, especially from underclassmen.

Fedora broke out the trick plays once again last Saturday, and Carolina scored on a 56 yard pass off a flea flicker. Throw in a double pass TD from a wide receiver against N.C. State, a reverse pass to a quarterback for a TD against Virginia, and four punt returns in the last three weeks (all by Switzer), and you can see that Carolina is playing with confidence. UNC’s last 23 touchdowns have been scored by freshmen or sophomores, with 11 of those touchdowns coming last week in an 80-20 drubbing of Old Dominion.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

Both teams will use a dual-quarterback system of sorts. For Duke, both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette are expected to play. “You definitely have to be aware (of who’s under center) because they don’t do the same things” Fedora said of both Blue Devil signal-callers. Meanwhile, UNC will feature sophomore Marquise Williams, a proven threat passing AND running. There will also be talented receivers on both sides: Duke WR Jamison Crowder has over 1,000 yards receiving this season, and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is expected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

So it’s five straight wins versus seven straight wins. If Duke wins, they win the Coastal Division. If UNC wins, they win a share of the Coastal Division (with Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech – who would win the tiebreaker). There are BCS standings and bowl implications on the line. And of course, the bell. As Dick Vitale would say, this game is going to be “AWESOME BABY!!!”

 

Top College Football Games: Week 14

It’s the unofficial final week of the regular season, as most conferences play their championship games next week. Only the Army-Navy Game on December 14th remains for Week 16. But there sure are some awesome games this week with BCS Bowl implications, and any decent college football fan has good reason to be excited.

#6 Clemson (10-1) @ #10 South Carolina (9-2) – 7:45 pm Saturday

The Battle of the Palmetto State has recently favored South Carolina, with the Gamecocks winning the last four matchups against Clemson. This year, Clemson comes into the matchup as the higher-ranked team, but the two teams are combined for their best ranking in this matchup’s history (the previous record came in 1987, when #12 USC defeated #8 Clemson). Tajh Boyd is the ACC’s all-time leading touchdown passer, but he faces a big challenge in South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney, one of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft. Clemson’s lone loss came to then #5 Florida State, while South Carolina has lost to #11 Georgia and Tennessee. Look for South Carolina to feed off an energetic crowd and continue their push towards a BCS bowl bid. The Gamecocks will win the SEC East if Missouri loses to Texas A&M.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Clemson 21

#3 Ohio State (11-0) @ Michigan (7-4) 12:00 pm Saturday

Ohio State has won 8 of the last 9 in “The Game” against their archrivals from Michigan. The Wolverines started the season ranked 17th, but have lost 4 of their last 6 matchups, three of them to unranked teams. Ohio State, on the other hand, has won every game it has played under head coach Urban Meyer and is trying to leapfrog Florida State to get into the BCS National Championship Game. The Buckeyes have a dynamic offense led by QBs Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton and RB Carlos Hyde, which should overpower the Michigan defense. The question is though, will this game be enough for Ohio State to inch closer to Florida State in the BCS standings? Or will Ohio State get some help (see below)?

Prediction: OSU 41, Michigan 21

#1 Alabama (11-0) @ #4 Auburn (10-1) 3:30 pm Saturday

The Iron Bowl. The SEC West Championship Game. The Biggest Game of the Year. Call it whatever you want, but this matchup of Alabama foes will determine a lot about the BCS Championship picture. The winner of this game will advance to the SEC Championship Game against either Missouri or South Carolins (if Mizzou loses this week). On one side, you have the two-time defending champs who have looked strong from day 1. On the other hand, you have an upstart Tigers team under first year head coach Gus Malzahn who have looked impressive. Auburn QB Nick Marshall is good, but Alabama beat a more dynamic Texas A&M offense earlier this year on the road, and I believe they can do it again. Nick Saban will have the Tide rolling on Saturday.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Auburn 24

Philadelphia Flyers Hanging Onto Playoff Hopes

We’re 20 games into the 2013-14 NHL season, the unofficial quarter mark of a long 82-game season. The Philadelphia Flyers have had a difficult and trying time. For those of you who missed it, they accomplished the following feats:

-Started 0-3 and fired Head Coach Peter Laviolette on October 7th

-Continued their dismal start to 1-7, falling to the bottom of the NHL standings

-Captain Claude Giroux failed to score a goal in his first 15 games

-Goalie Ray Emery nearly bashed Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby’s skull in during a line brawl in a November 1 loss

-Failed to score more than 2 goals in their first 9 games, and currently stand 28th in the league in offense

-Currently last in the Metropolitan Division standings

So there’s that. But, I contend that things are looking up for the Orange and Black and they can easily continue their quest for a playoff spot. In their last 5 games, the Flyers have 4 wins and one overtime loss, and they are scoring over 3.5 goals per game in that span. Their offense is waking up, with scorers like Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds slowly beginning to tally points. And Philadelphia’s much maligned power play has scored 5 goals in the last 4 games.

And then there’s the curious case of Steve Mason. After winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2009, Mason struggled in Columbus, failing to live up to his rookie hype. He was traded to the Flyers last April, and found the change of scenery to be inviting and motivating. He went 4-2 at the end of last season with an impressive 1.90 GAA. This season, Mason has been the Flyers’ best player. Although his record is a losing one (mostly because of atrocious goal scoring), he has a 2.12 GAA and 93.2% save percentage (both 10th in the NHL). It appears that Philadelphia’s years of goalie woes might be over. At just 25 years of age, Mason has plenty of room for growth.

The Flyers upcoming schedule also shows signs of hope. Tonight, Philadelphia hosts a Buffalo Sabres team that is sinking faster than the Titanic. After that, the Flyers host the Islanders on Friday and travel to Miami to play the Florida Panthers on Monday. And despite all the struggles, all the trials, and all the criticism and public scrutiny, the Flyers are only 3 points out of a playoff spot. That’s extremely easy to make up with 62 games left to play. “The team looks good right now,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen said yesterday. “A lot of things are going well for us now and we have to keep it going.” Indeed, things are going well, and if they continue, the Flyers could rise quickly in the Eastern Conference standings.

Top College Football Games: Week 13

We’re almost getting to the good rivalry games in the college football season, and conference titles and BCS implications are on the line for teams. Three of the top four teams in the country face inferior opponents and should win easily (Alabama vs. Chattanooga, Florida State vs. Idaho (Mashed Potatoes?), and Ohio State vs. Indiana). That can’t be said for the #4 team in America, and that brings us to the biggest game of the week.

#4 Baylor (9-0) vs. #10 Oklahoma State (9-1) 8:00 pm

This Big 12 matchup is BY FAR this week’s premier matchup. The nation’s number 1 offense (Baylor, 61.2 points per game) meets a top 15 defense and a hostile environment in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State features not one, but two 1,200 yard passers this season, but Baylor’s Brice Petty has 2,992 yards on his own. The Cowboys have two wins over top 25 teams this season (Texas Tech and Texas), and both were on the road, while Baylor has won only one such matchup (over then-#10 Oklahoma at home). This game will likely decide whether the Bears are for real, and I predict the Cowboys to give them a good run for their money.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 41

#8 Missouri (9-1) vs. #24 Ole Miss (7-3) 7:45 pm

This game is essentially an SEC semifinal game for the Missouri Tigers, one of college football’s most surprising teams this year. Starting the season unranked, the Tigers have dominated the SEC East, beating #7 Georgia on the road and #22 Florida at home. Quarterback James Franklin has been excellent for Mizzou, and backup Maty Mauk has filled in nicely as well. This is a huge game for the Tigers because, if they lose, they are eliminated from the SEC Championship Game. Their lone loss was to South Carolina, who would advance on a tiebreaker if Missouri loses either of their last two games.

Prediction: Missouri 37, Ole Miss 24

#18 Arizona State (8-2) @ #14 UCLA (8-2)  7:00 pm

This Pac-12 South matchup could determine the division champion in 2013. Arizona State has one conference loss, and a win in this game would send the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 Championship Game (likely against Oregon). A loss throws a monkey wrench into the equation. UCLA faces USC next week, and the winner of that game would likely win the division. Brett Hundley has been fantastic for the Bruins, who have looked perfect on the field except against Oregon and Stanford. This is a game UCLA can’t afford to lose, and they will not.

Prediction: UCLA 37, Arizona State 30

Virginia Tech, Tennessee Will “Go Racing” in 2016

With a capacity of 160,000, Bristol Motor Speedway will become the largest college football venue in 2016.

With a capacity of 160,000, Bristol Motor Speedway will become the largest college football venue in 2016.

College football regularly draws thousands of fans per game, with many schools averaging more than 80,000 fans. Virginia Tech is known for being a perennial power in the ACC, and Lane Stadium regularly draws crowds of 66,000 fans. Tennessee also has a strong fan base in the SEC, with 6 digit crowds of over 100,000 every game. Now imagine those two crowds put together to form a giant crowd and throw in a finish line, banked turns, and pit row for show, and that’s what you’ll get in 2016.

According to reports, the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers will play a nonconference game in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. The venue is most widely known for hosting NASCAR races twice per year, drawing crowds of 160,000 plus. Bristol will serve as a figurative AND geographic neutral site for the two teams (Virginia Tech will travel 124 miles; Tennessee will travel 113).

But perhaps the most staggering statistic is the sheer amount of people in attendance. 160,000 fans would BLOW the existing NCAA record of about 115,000 fans at the University of Michigan’s “Big House” out of the water. Considering that these two schools are steeped in tradition, history, and success (names like Peyton Manning and Michael Vick come to mind), this game has the potential to be HUGE. No pun intended.

While it is unsure how the stadium will be configured for the game, the likely assumption is that the field will be placed in the infield area between the two pit roads used by NASCAR. Engineers would likely have to construct a turf field to place over the existing asphalt. Perhaps the two teams will even bring in trailers as temporary locker rooms. The good news is that there are precedents for unique sports engineering.

In 2008, Michigan State hosted North Carolina in an NCAA basketball contest at Ford Field, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions using a specially-constructed court. In April 2009, the two teams met again at Ford Field in the national championship game (UNC won both games, thank you very much!). Several basketball games have also been played on aircraft carriers docked in harbor (again, UNC beat Michigan State in 2011). And the NHL has nearly perfected its outdoor ice rinks built on football and baseball fields in the annual Winter Classic.

Tennessee is a program in a rebuilding phase after losing star players Tyler Bray, Cordarelle Patterson, and Justin Hunter to the NFL. New coach Butch Jones (previously of Cincinnati fame) has the Vols at 3-3, and they nearly upset #6 Georgia last week. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, is 5-1 and ranked #24 in the AP Poll. Head coach Frank Beamer, who has led the Hokies since 1987, has won 10 games 11 of the past 14 seasons, and Virginia Tech has won 4 ACC Championships since 2004. So this mammoth game will feature two great programs three years from now. Wouldn’t it be appropriate if the winning team got a checkered flag?

Philadelphia Flyers Fire Head Coach Peter Laviolette

lavvyThe Philadelphia Flyers announced this morning that they have fired head coach Peter Laviolette. After starting 0-3, Flyers’ management needed to shake up an organization that has looked non-competitive for the second straight season in a row. After starting last season 0-3 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Flyers were outscored in their first three games of 2013 9 goals to 3.

Laviolette joined the Flyers midway through the 2010 season, where he led the Flyers to a dramatic shootout victory on the last day of the season to clinch a playoff spot. The rest is history: the 7th seeded Flyers became the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3 game deficit to win a playoff series against the Boston Bruins. The Flyers then won their first Eastern Conference title since 1997 and came within 2 games of winning the Stanley Cup.

Laviolette also led the Flyers to an Atlantic Division title in 2011 and a dramatic, emotional victory over the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. So what’s my point here? THE WRONG MAN LOST HIS JOB.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is responsible for most of the mistakes in the Flyers organization. Sure he was at the helm when the Flyers went to the Cup Finals in 2010, but most of the players weren’t his. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and Claude Giroux were all products of Bob Clarke’s GM days, not Holmgren’s. Moreover, Holmgren is known for blowing up the Flyers roster, trading captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter in 2011 so the Flyers could sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Yeah, that happened.

The result was that Richards, Carter, and Gagne won a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles, the Flyers were embarrassed in the second round of the playoffs, and the Flyers “humongous big” goaltending problems persisted. Bryzgalov will now get million dollar checks from the Flyers until 2017. Think that’s bad? How about the $21 million dollar deals Vincent Lecavlier and Mark Streit signed this past offseason. Both players are in their mid-thirties, an age that most players see their stats and production drop off, not improve.

Bottom line, Paul Holmgren is SCREWING the Flyers’ organization. His propensity for star players forces the Flyers to commit large chunks of their money to big name players who don’t necessarily win games. Goaltending issues STILL exist in Philadelphia after the Ilya Bryzgalov nightmare, a move that Holmgren himself dubbed “a huge mistake”. Now the good ship Flyer doesn’t have an experienced skipper to lead the way. New Flyers coach Craig Berube has been a head coach in the AHL, but has never led an NHL team before. Bottom line, things in Philadelphia are sort of messy.

As a dedicated fan, I am extremely saddened to see Peter Laviolette leave Philadelphia. He brought intensity and energy to a team that led Philadelphia fans on a wild ride in 2010. Now, the Flyers are a team in shambles with a very unsure future. Flyers owner Ed Snider needs to take responsibility and cut the cord between the Flyers and Paul Holmgren.