Monday, June 30, 2008

Remember the Good Times

The Buccos blew the game tonight in Cincinnati, losing 4-3 on Junior Griffey's two-run walkoff homer at Great American Smallpark. In case you need a morale boost, because of the terrible loss or otherwise, watch the video below of the phee-nomenal intro played before every Pirates home game. Even though this has been played since the beginning of last season, somehow this is the only available version on Al Gore's Internet. Despite the poor quality, it's still enjoyable.



Talk to yinz tomorrow.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night's Alright for a Potpourri Post

Thoughts while taking in Rays-Pirates from the Polish Prodigy futon at 4012 Venable Ave…

• The rule book says as much, and every player/coach/media member refers to it as that traditional shape, but the strike zone at the major league level is definitely not a rectangle. Pitches on the outside edges of the plate that are called strikes if at knee level are shrugged off by umpires if belt high. Therefore I argue that the strike zone is in fact a triangle that comes to its apex in the center of the plate at the “letters.”

• I shouldn’t be ashamed to bring my new workout book, Making the Cut by “The Biggest Loser” badass trainer Jillian Michaels, to the gym. After all, she could probably outperform me and most guys in most any athletic endeavor I could choose. Then why do I try my best to make sure no one sees the cover?

• I don’t mind the Rays eliminating (exorcising?) the “Devil” from their team name, but did they have to change what was one of the better looking uniform combos in the majors? The deep green-based kits had a clean, classy look and were definitely a drastic improvement over the franchise’s original ridiculous tie-dye color scheme. The Devil Rays looked distinctive from the first glance over the last couple of years, but the new-look Rays resemble the Mariners, Blue Jays or even the Dodgers upon first look. If the point of tinkering with the uniform is to develop a brand, then why make the team’s appearance less unique?

• Last night I played pick-up ice hockey for the first time since I got back from North Carolina. It was even more of a rigorous workout that usual because only eight skaters showed up, which meant four-on-four action for two full hours with no one on the bench to spell you. Let’s just say even the muscles in my feet are sore today. I’ve played a wide range of aerobically-taxing sports at a competitive level, from tennis to basketball to soccer. None of those, however, can compare with ice hockey for sheer cardiovascular workload, not to mention the anaerobic (strength) aspects of stickhandling and shooting.
If you want to get in shape, pick up a hockey stick!

• Summer is a great time for individual sports, especially tennis and golf. Aside from the obvious advantages of the warmer, more pleasant weather for participation purposes, each of the “country club” sports has three of its four major pro tournaments occur in the summer months. As far as major distribution goes, though, golf has the decided edge over tennis. To wit: after the Masters in the first week of April, golf’s men’s majors occur in the middle portions of June (U.S. Open), July (British Open) and August (PGA Championship). Contrast that semi-regular temporal separation with the helter-skelter tennis schedule: Australian Open in January, French Open in June, Wimbledon two weeks later in late June/early July, then the U.S. Open on the cusp of August and September. The top players only get 14 days between the notoriously exhausting clay court season, capped by the French at Roland Garros, and the slick grass courts of Queens Club and Wimbledon. In a sport in which the idea is to have your game peak for the big ones, a fortnight is hardly enough to recover from the beating administered by the red clay and then prepare for the most idiosyncratic surface in tennis.

• Prior to this evening’s game, a half-hour special on the Pirates’ great teams of the 1970s was broadcast on FSN Pittsburgh. The program, entitled “The Lumber Company,” focused primarily on the outstanding hitting prowess of those Bucco squads; it was particularly enlightening for a Pirates fan like myself that missed out on experiencing the most successful decade in the history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club. Like previous recent Pirates specials on the 1960 Bucs and the ballclubs of the early ‘90s, this show was narrated by the rock-solid Rob King. I certainly hope FSN has been sending his stellar documentary work to whoever nominates TV programs for Emmy consideration. King is a true pro as an anchor/reporter, but his biggest strength is the storytelling displayed in his pieces on Our Buccos.

• While I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Marshall University’s journalism school, a phrase that I often heard around the campus radio station was that a given person “would do anything” to get into the sports broadcasting business. I was even one of those neophytes who uttered those swell-sounding, but lacking-in-substance words. I’ve only been out of school for six months, and I already can say that no matter how much one wishes to succeed in a given field, only someone with no morals, standards or personal pride would truly “do anything” for a certain kind of employment. Respect yourself, always seek personal improvement and then let the chips fall where they may. (At least that’s what I’m trying to do right now!)

Until next time, dzien dobry from Charleston. Next week I’ll be back in the Northern Panhandle…expect at least one podcast.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wimble-Done



If you listened to the first podcast, you know that my favorite tennis player is Andy Roddick and that my brother's boy is James Blake.

As of today, Wimbledon 2008 is over for both of the poor saps. This year's tournament is now officially the worst showing for American men at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in the Open Era (since 1968).

Blake was the first Red, White and Blue domino to fall when he dropped a back-and-forth five-setter to Germany's Rainer Schuettler on a grandstand court. James had the aging German down two sets to one and was up 3-1 in the fourth when he lost five out of the next six games to force a deciding fifth set.

Blake had won three of his last four five-set affairs after being 0-for-career until last year. The recent run of success didn't seem to matter as the final set arrived on-serve at 4-5. Schuettler broke Blake to win the match in front of a lively, late-arriving bleacher crowd on Court 3, a congregation that included Blake's high-school classmate John Mayer.

So the No. 9 seed was out, and now American tennis fans looked to Roddick's Center Court showdown with bespectacled Serb Janko Tipsarevic. We should have seen the letdown coming, as Tipsarevic took Roger Federer to an extended fifth set at the Australian Open in January and Andy has gotten into a bad habit of playing too defensively on his return, allowing his opponents to build confidence on their service games.

Roddick took the first set in a 7-5 tiebreak, then was on serve at 5-all in the second before a couple of loose forehands gave the Serb the break he was looking for. Soon enough, we were at 5-6 in the fourth with Tipsy serving for what he hoped would be a clinching tiebreak. The spectre of what he was about to do got the best of the 40th-ranked player in world, and it was quickly 15-40, with Roddick holding two set points.

A good body serve from the Serb and it was 30-40. On the next point, a missed first serve set up what should have been a huge return from Andy, a winner to hastily arrange a fifth set. Instead, Roddick tried some sort of slice forehand off of Tipsy's bloop second serve. Predictably for a long-time Roddick follower like me, the ball tepidly splashed into the net. Deuce, with the lower-seeded player subsequently holding serve.

The ensuing tiebreak played out in similarly frustrating fashion. Roddick was finally attacking more often, but by now his nerves got the better of him and he couldn't execute his shots well enough. Game, set and match, as they say.

A loss at Wimbledon is always doubly depressing, because now you realize there is only one more major left in the year to make your mark. Or at least that's how I'd feel if I were on the ATP Tour. After coming so close at Wimbledon (or, excuse me, "the Championships, Wimbledon") in the middle part of this decade, Roddick has been bashing his head against the ivy-covered walls at the All-England Club, relying too much on his serve to get the job done. I mentioned in last week's podcast that watching him play, at Wimbledon especially, is exhausting because it seems like he's counting on the tiebreak nine sets out of 10. That simply puts too much pressure on the serve.

Against a player with a middling serve like Tipsarevic, Andy doesn't take advantage of his chances to dictate the point. He has the power off the groundstrokes to scare some people if he just took some more big cuts and stopped succumbing to the kind of long rallies that neutralize his strengths. When he was playing his best in recent Grand Slams, he was limiting the number of shots per point and going for big winners more often.

Time is running out for Andy; he's 25 in a sport that rarely sees major contenders last to the brink of 30. He still has the ability and the firepower to get that elusive second Grand Slam title, but his window will close soon if he doesn't get an effective strategy put together for the grind of championship-level matches against top players.

Oh, and as far as Blake goes, he's got to get more consistent and not allow the mental lapses we saw today to continue to occur in big spots.

Another Series Win Upcoming?
The 37-41 Pirates will shoot for their second consecutive series victory against a member of the American League East tonight at PNC Park. The Yankees will throw Mike Mussina against Our Buccos and reliable lefty Paul Maholm.

After blowouts in the first two games of this series, I would expect a much tighter contest decided in the late innings this evening. I feel this way mostly because you can expect a quality start from both of the starting pitchers scheduled to go.

Since Phil Dumatrait (skipping a start) and Ian Snell (15-day DL) are on the shelf this weekend, we can look forward to two AAA starters being called up to fill holes this weekend against the Rays. For now, though, let's see if Our Buccos can come up big and move into Friday on a pretty decent roll. That's right: four wins in six games counts as a "decent roll."

Goodbye and GO BUCS.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yankees-Pirates Liveblog

Courtesy of Suddenlink digital cable (complete ripoff at $60 a month), the Polish Prodigy presents Yankees-Pirates Liveblog! Your on-air talent for tonight’s game broadcast on FSN Pittsburgh is Greg Brown (play-by-play) and former Bucco Bob Walk. The future Mrs. Polish Prodigy Jillian is alongside as we sit on the futon and eat Tombstone Garlic Toast pizza.

7:05 p.m. – We start on time as Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny fires a strike to Yanks’ leadoff batter Melky Cabrera. The good vibrations cease, however, when the next four pitches are balls and the Melk Man gets a walk to start the game.

7:08 – Alright, Gorzo! The baby-faced lefty induces a soft ground ball from Average Shortstop Derek Jeter to Bucco SS Jack Wilson. A 6-4-3 double play ensues and the bases are empty. Huge, attentive crowd responds to that twin killing. Visible behind home plate are ‘Burgh celebs Dave Wannstedt (Pitt football coach), Kevin McClatchy (former Bucs CEO) and Franco Harris (the Immaculate Receiver).

7:11 – As usual this season, Gorzo is wild as he walks Bobby Abreu. Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate to a mix of cheers and mostly jeers. Gorzo gets him swinging on 93-mph 1-2 fastball. Hello, sir! Where has that been all year?

7:15 – On the first pitch of the bottom of the first, Nate McClouth ropes his 25th double of the year into the right-centerfield gap. Yanks’ righty starter Darrell Rasner is officially on the ropes.

7:19 – Freddy Sanchez, having a horrible offensive season, fights off a 3-2 pitch into shallow left for an RBI single. Some dude named Justin Christian kicks it around out there, and Freddy takes the extra base on the ugly-looking error. 1-0 Buccaneers and the sellout congregation is into it.

7:21 – A Jason Bay flyout and a Ryan Doumit (welcome back!) tapper later, Freddy’s at third for Adam LaRoche. The crowd buzzes in anticipation of a big strikeout…wait, that’s not right…

7:23 – I’m shocked, stunned! LaROACH rips a shot through the middle for a 2-0 Pirates advantage! With two outs, nonetheless! Exclamation points aside, that was an unexpected hit. Lot of chatter between pitches from the stands, feels like a bigger game than it is. Doug Mientkiewicz grounds out to second – inning over but the good guys are on top.

7:30 – After Jack Flash demonstrates how to play a hard grounder (puts his chest in front of it to knock it down), Jose Bautista ole’s a hot shot to third, allowing the ball to deflect into shallow left. Official scoring decision: single. Doesn’t tell the whole story. Meanwhile, Christian gets his first major league at-bat and flies out to end the inning. Brown called him Christiansen first and all I could think of was a hard wrist shot missing the net. Non-bandwagon Penguins fans will get that joke.

7:32 – This broadcast brought to you in high definition by A&L Motors. R.I.P Colby Armstrong.

I couldn’t resist.

7:38 – As Rasner finds his stride, I ponder how weird it is to see Jeter, A-Rod, Jason Giambi’s absurd moustache and the Yankee uniforms on the same field as my Pirates. Sometimes it’s almost like they play in different leagues and they haven’t played in Pittsburgh in nearly a half century. God, baseball is so backward.

7:42 – Gorzelanny is back to his old rhythm. And by that I mean a lack of it. He walks American League pitcher Rasner after getting ahead 0-2, then builds a 2-0 count to Cabrera. Time for a talk with Doumit, pitching coach Jeff Andrews and Andrews’ awesome space-age eyeglass frames. Doesn’t help. The Melk man walks.

7:47 – Jeter has another bad at-bat and hits a one-hopper back to Gorzo on a 3-1 pitch. Inexplicably, Tom looks to third instead of shooting for an easy 1-6-3 DP, then throws wildly to second. Jack Flash saves his butt by stretching to grab it and force Cabrera there. Bob Walk is incredulous, as he should be.

7:48 – “How about this?!” says my man Greg Brown as Abreu smacks a two-hopper to second baseman Sanchez. Double play and Gorzo is out of it again! He’d better lock it down soon or the Yanks are going to start making him pay. Whatever may be, it’s 2-0 Bucs after 2 ½.

7:54 – The JBay Rejuvenation continues! The Man from Trail pummels one into the North Side Notch; Sanchez, who singled after one out, chugs all the way around with no hesitation. Great hit, great baserunning, 3-zip Buccos. Winning is easy, isn’t it? Uh, get back to me on that one in two hours. The Polish Prodigy-endorsed Ryan Doumit comes up.

7:57 – The PP-endorsed Doumit strikes out on a full count pitch up in the zone. LaRoche taps out to the ‘Stache at first and that’s that. Three innings in the books and it looks good so far.

8:01 – The AFLAC Trivia Question: Which team has more Gold Gloves at second base? A) Pirates or B) Yankees. Bob says Pirates because Maz is in the house. Can’t argue with that logic, and I’m not being sarcastic in the least.

8:03 – As a dugout interview with Pirates manager John Russell from between innings plays, Jorge Posada doubles to left, the first legit hit given up by Gorzo. As Russell said, when Tom’s been in the zone, he’s been tremendous. From the angle behind the pitcher, I think his stuff looks as good as ever. On the radio side, Lanny Frattare and Steve Blass say A) on the trivia question, as does Greg in the TV booth.

8:05 – The struggling Robinson Cano’ pokes a single to left, scoring Posada and making it 3-1 Pirates in the fourth. Gorzelanny left the fastball up and Cano pulled his hands in to handle it. Balls-strikes ratio is 38-27. That’s 65 total and an Ouch Factor of 9.1. Christian lines a single on another letter-high delivery to bring up Rasner. Should be an escape hatch, but we’ll find out.

8:10 – I would say unbelievable, but I believe it. Five-pitch walk to Rasner. Fifth BB of the game. Cabrera with already his third AB. He drives a curveball deep to left. GET FOUL. It does. Ground ball to Jack on a 1-2 pitch for the force out. The PNC Park faithful don’t know whether to cheer or faint.

8:14 – The AFLAC Trivia answer is A) Pirates. Maz had an unreal eight Gold Gloves and Jose Lind had one. Lind must have had it on when he booted the ninth-inning grounder in Game Seven of the ’92 ALCS. Thank you, thank you. It’s easy for me to joke because I was seven at the time and hated sports.

8:20 – Joey Bats tees off on a Rasner cookie for a two-run bomb into the Leftfield Loonies! 5-1 Pirates just a half-inning after it was nearly 5-3 New York. That’s called a quick turnaround, boys and girls. That was a truly vicious swing from Bautista and just the kind of production the Bucs need from third base.

8:25 – Tommy Boy comes out for the fifth inning. Not that wins tell you anything much, but it’s still better than a no-decision or a loss, so I’m rooting for Gorzo to at least get through this frame. It’ll be good for his morale to see a W next to his name in the box score after all his early struggles in this game.

8:29 – One-two-three go the Yankees as Rodriguez pops out with a barrage of curse words. Turn that field mic down, stat! Perfect timing for a quick inning and maybe now we can get greedy: 6 IP for a Bucco starter not named Paul Maholm!

8:32 – The Yanks are sporting twin jersey patches: left sleeve is the All-Star Game patch, right sleeve is the “final season” Yankee Stadium commemoration.

8:35 – Ryan Doumit is not impressed by your pieces of flair! He takes an outside fastball and turns it around in a hurry, driving it over the right-centerfield fence just to the left of the Clemente Wall. Yep, he’s the real deal; that’s his 10th trot of the season and first since his recent concussion. 6-1 Buccos…then LaRoche jumps all over one! Off the top of the centerfield wall! Trip-trip-triple for Adam, his first as a Pirate.

8:36 – Wild pitch to Mientkiewicz goes to the backstop! 7-1 Pirates and I’m loving it. The New York bullpen is stirring, but the horse may already be out of the barn. Where have you gone, Big Brown?

8:41 – Greg Brown: “Come get a taste of the All-You-Can-Eat Seats at PNC Park!” I’m bypassing the “free angioplasty” joke for all of our sakes.

8:43 – Yanks at second and third with one out in the sixth after a Giambi hit by pitch and a Cano’ double to the Heinz sign in right center. Christian then promptly bounds one over the third base bag for two RBI; he is 2-for-3 in his big league debut. It’s a 7-3 ballgame and Tyler Yates is throwing in the Pirates ‘pen.

8:48 – Gorzo escapes for what should be the last time by getting two flyouts to end the sixth, stranding Sister Christian at second. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a reliever for the top of the seventh, but then again, it is a four-run lead…

8:51 – LaTroy Hawkins into the game for New York. The Bucs have had good success against him, especially when he was the Cubs’ closer. Jack Flash fists a single to right to start things. The great and powerful Luis Rivas then pinch-hits for Gorzelanny. Good patchwork start for him, all aspects taken into account. 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 2 K and in line for the win.

8:56 – After a double play, Nate McGreat slices a double into the Notch; that’s his NL-leading 26th and the Pirates’ 12th safety of the contest. Freddy then works a 2-1 count against Hawkins but flies out to semi-deep right, five steps from the 21-foot wall for Abreu. Two-thirds of the way home and it’s 7-3 Pirates.

9:00 – Yates enters the game with a 3-point-something ERA to face Jeter, Abreu and Rodriguez. Greg and Bob comment on how the Yankees don’t have any names on the backs of their jerseys. Tradition, tradtion, blah, blah, blah. If I’m a Pirates fan, it’d be nice to know that No. 53 is Abreu without having to buy a scorecard. No. 2 doubles to bring up No. 53, who pops up for the first out. See how much that sucks?

9:05 – No. 13 grounds out on the first pitch and that’s it for Yates as Giambi steps up. If only the mustache could just play by itself. Yates is headed for the showers as I wonder how Giambi has gone from tattooed, long-haired, surfer-dude Oakland Athletic to your friend’s creepy Italian uncle in seven years.

9:10 – It’s the Dominator’s turn to play. No, not Dominik Hasek. It’s Damaso Marte! He sits down Jason “I Have Mob Ties” Giambi on a swinging third strike and the inning is over. Lefties must perish at the swift hand of the Dominator.

9:17 – JBay doubles on a hard grounder down the leftfield line, then Doumit reaches out and lines a single to right. First and third with no one out. NYY manager Joe Girardi (only man to be fired after a Manager of the Year award) calls for the infield to come in.

9:19 – La-La-LaRoche makes them pay for their futile defensive alignment by dribbling one into right. 8-3 Pirates and it’s first and third again for Mientkiewicz, who pops one to the warning track in right field for a long sacrifice fly and a six-run lead! Doug M. is in a froth upon returning to the bench. You’ve got to love his determination to squeeze every run out of a promising situation. He never makes a lazy play.

9:24 – Question for you from Jillian: If we are invited to her college friend’s wedding, do we have to in turn invite her and her new husband to our nuptials? Leave your answer in the comments so we can figure this out. Lord knows I’m clueless on this one. Two gone in the top of the eighth now as defensive replacement Nyjer Morgan gets a putout wearing his fantastic stirrup socks in leftfield. (This is now the gayest post in the history of live game diaries.) Nonetheless, the inning is over as Marte waltzes through a perfect 1 1/3 innings of relief.

9:32 – Greg brings up a report that the home plate umpire in Kansas City tonight left the game after Miguel Olivo’s bat shattered and hit him in the head. Didn’t catch the umpire’s name, but that’s about the weirdest in-game injury I’ve heard of. Chris Gomez hits for Marte and rolls one through the right side for the 16th Pirates hit of the game.

9:35 – Greg and Bob comment on how the Pirates were left for dead by many in the fan base after last week’s shellacking in Chicago at the hands of the White Sox. Yep, that’s pretty accurate. No argument from me on that one. Hard to be resilient as a fan when all you’ve seen is losing for a decade and a half. Not to make excuses, but you’ve got to state the facts.

9:43 – Hawkins couldn’t finish the eighth, so a new hurler by the name of Edwar Ramirez enters and hangs one to Morgan that the Stylish One ropes into the rightfield corner past a lead-footed Abreu. Two more runs will score! 11-3 Bucs on Morgan’s first two MLB ribbies of the season. Polish Prodigy-endorsed Ryan Doumit then jams one in the Heinz gap to plate Morgan! Greg calls the black and gold the “Bucco Bombers” and he’s right on with that assessment: five doubles and two homers tonight for Pittsburgh. LaRoche pops up, keeping the hits column at 19 for the home team. Three outs to get.

9:51 – The “rubber-armed” Franquelis Osoria will pitch the ninth as the DH debate begins in full in the FSN booth. A comment from Hank Steinbrenner is displayed in which he calls the pitcher hitting in the National League “a rule from the 1800s.” Apparently this is why Greg and Bob were telling the Yankees to “join the 21st Century” by putting names on the backs of their uniforms. Great back and forth there. That’s why I love the Pirates’ broadcasters: they know when to be irreverent and have some fun.

9:56 – Lucky deflection off of Osoria’s glove leads Jack Flash right to the second base bag for an elementary 1-6-3 double play. Jeter walks to extend New York’s misery. A pathetic Yankee fan is shown still cheering loudly for her boys. Go home and cry already.

9:58 – Abreu homers to right-center off Osoria as the Rubber-Armed One’s ERA continues to balloon. Osoria is just like Salomon Torres, except that he’s not effective in any way. Crowd getting antsy as A-Rod steps to the plate in a 12-5 game.

10:01 – RAISE THE JOLLY ROGER. Rodriguez grounds out to Bautista at third – score it 5-3 and that’s your ballgame. Gorzo gets the win and Rasner is your loser this glorious evening. The Pirates have now won two in a row against the Yankees in Pittsburgh over the last 48 years. Time for FSN Live: Pirates Edition and intrepid reporter Dan Potash, now talking live with the winning pitcher.

Thanks for hanging with me, folks, as Our Buccos are now 1-0 when I liveblog the game. Thoroughly enjoyable victory tonight as Zack Duke and Joba Chamberlain await for the second game of a three-game set. Should be fun.

Goodbye and GO BUCS.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

48 Years Later


Why has it taken 11 years of interleague play before we get the rematch of the most exciting World Series Game Seven ever? Sure, the 2001 edition of the Fall Classic (D-Backs over Yankees in seven) had its drama more evenly spread throughout the series than the 1960 Series, but has there ever been a more exhilarating single game in the history of baseball? I think not.

That debate aside, it should be great fun tonight as the third-place Bronx Bombers (behind Boston and Tampa Bay in the AL East) pay their first visit to Pittsburgh in nearly 48 trips around the sun. To put it in a different perspective, the Yanks and Pirates have never played on anything but real grass in a baseball-only venue. Maybe it's for the best that the most hated team in baseball never took the field at Three Rivers Stadium; considering the old-timey feel of this matchup, it just wouldn't seem right if this game had been played on Astroturf.

The Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic covers the ugly recent history between the two teams: three-game sets at Yankee Stadium in 2005 and last summer. If I recall correctly, Roger Clemens started what history will mericfully record as his last comeback against Our Buccos last year, leading to three months of an oft-replayed ESPN highlight of Ryan Doumit striking out against the now-grounded Rocket.

On such a momentus occasion as Yankees at Pirates, I will commemorate the moment with another liveblog. The Ohio Valley's own Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski (who else?) will toss the first pitch before two of the oldest franchises in baseball square off. Happily, both clubs will be wearing uniforms essentially identical to the kits they sported in 1960. Maybe someone besides Nyjer Morgan will wear stirrups to celebrate.

News from Penguinland...Good and Bad
It's a moment all Pens fans feared from the horn ending Game Six of the Cup Final.

No, not Marian Hossa skipping town. (Although that's looking more and more likely.) Not 'Burgh-native Ryan Malone testing the unrestricted waters of his pending free agency. Not even Brooks Orpik taking the Free Candy Van elsewhere.

Gary Roberts is done as a Penguin. If you're looking for more besides the usually dour recap from the scintillating Dave Molinari, check out Seth Rorabaugh from the PG's Empty Netters blog, the highly-esteemed James Mirtle or the always spot-on Pensblog.

All I have to say is I'm keeping my "WWGRD" bumper sticker for needed inspiration.

Also, Evgeni Malkin says (OK, his agent says) that he is willing to accept "less than market value" in order to help GM Ray Shero keep the current group as together as possible in a salary cap league. Of course, for a burgeoning luminary like Gino, "less than market value" will turn out to be juuust underneath the gracious ceiling set by Sir Sidney Crosby at $8.7 million per year.

Sid's willingness himself to limit his earnings somewhat is looking larger and larger as the months pass. Sure, Malkin will probably sign for $8.699 million/year, but when the captain sets the example first, it's going to awfully hard for any Penguin present or future to argue that he's worth more. Luckily for all of us, Gino values wearing the black and Vegas gold more than becoming the world's richest hockey player back in Mother Russia.

Eight days until the free agency fun begins. It should be interesting at the least.

See you tonight for Yanks-Bucs live from the Polish Prodigy mansion in Charleston! Until then, whet your appetite with (sadly) the best YouTube I could find of Maz's transcendant bottom-of-the-ninth blast.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Polish Prodigy Podcast #1

Give a listen as my brother Mark and I discuss the US Open, Penguins hockey, tennis, Pirates baseball and more.

To subscribe to the podcast, copy and paste this link (http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/UgrK) into your iTunes under the "Advanced" menu. Click on "Subscribe to Podcast" and paste the above URL there. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

And By "Tomorrow" I Meant Thursday

I have now learned that there should be no promises in unpaid blogging! Sorry if you were waiting with bated breath for my analysis on the Pirates' series in Baltimore last weekend. Let's just add the current series against the Chicago White Sox to the discussion, since it builds on the same theme - namely, my increasing levels of depression.

But first...
Sam Gets Her Wish
One of the most enduring images from Tiger Woods' thrilling victory in last weekend's US Open was his not-yet-one-year-old daughter Sam Alexis reaching out for more time with her father prior to Monday's trophy presentation.

Well, as it turns out, little Sam will be getting plenty of quality time with Daddy Tiger this summer/fall: here's the ESPN.com version of the story if you haven't heard it by now.

So Tiger has been playing on a left knee with no ACL for upwards of 10 months? And he's won five times since then? Sure, I'm impressed, but not particularly surprised. As I've enumerated before, I believe Tiger to be the most driven athlete of our generation. Also, he and Penguins winger Gary Roberts have never been seen in the same place together...I'm just sayin'.

But my slightly embarrassing man-crush aside, did Tiger's utter need to succeed actually damage his chances to hunt down the Golden Bear? He obviously pushed himself too hard too soon after his most recent arthroscopic surgery, hence the twin stress fractures in his left shin. What's to say he won't be so overeager to get back to the course that he rushes his rehab following what will be the most drastic surgery of his life?

Not to make this about me, but when I got mononucleosis four summers ago, it was a blessing in that it taught me to take it easy on myself once in a while. The body needs time to recover, no matter how tough you fancy yourself to be. After my bout with mono, I was humbled, but also able to tell when I needed to take a day or two to let my body repair itself. Maybe this ordeal will be Tiger's moment of epiphany. Despite what we may conclude from his recent performance at Torrey Pines, Eldrick Woods is not invincible and his body will break down if he doesn't take proper care of it.

End of lecture.

Storm Brewing for Buccos?
In the face of all my optimism of a week ago, the Pirates have now dropped four of their first five interleague games, with the matinee finale against the White Sox going on as I type this. (The Bucs had a 6-0 lead after 1 1/2, but the Sox have rallied in the bottom of the second for six of their own to tie the score. I should be shocked, but I'm not.)

After last weekend in Baltimore, I've lost a good amount of faith in the team's ability to finish a ballgame. Friday night, Pittsburgh led 6-1, only to lose 9-6 as starter Phil Dumatrait fell apart and couldn't last beyond the fifth (coincidentally, he started today's game as well). Saturday was a legitimate classic contest, as the Pirates rallied from 4-2 and 6-5 deficits via clutch homers from Jose Bautista and, yes, Adam LaRoche(!) to take a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Matt Capps then promptly gave up the tying home run on his first pitch, then surrendered the winning rally "Capped" off by Ramon Hernandez's RBI single.

Sunday provided some semblance of hope as LaRoche bailed out Capps (who blew his third save of the week) with a game-winning hit in the top of the 10th. Give the Bucs credit for sticking with it in the face of being swept by the comparatively-flawed Orioles, but in reality the Pirates should have been the ones gunning for the three-game tour de force.

It's all extremely discouraging just as it seemed the team was starting to get solid contributions from starting pitching, bullpen, offense and defense. Now the pitching is in shambles again as the ballclub has once again shrunk away from the .500 mark, currently standing at 34-38. (A Jermaine Dye homer has given Chicago an improbable 7-6 lead just one inning after they trailed 6-zip...so don't hold your breath on that 35th win. In fact, never hold your breath on anything related to Our Buccos.)

It doesn't get any easier. The respectable Blue Jays, the resurgent Yankees and the rising Rays are all on tap over the next 10 days at PNC Park. Interleague play has never been kind to the Pirates, but this year it could be downright grotesque if things don't change. Then again, momentum is a myth in baseball, so perhaps things can turn around. Hey, that's been my Buccos mantra for the past 10 years, so why should I abandon it now?

Invasion of the Pod People
Assuming all my hardware is functional, tonight will be the inaugural recording of the Polish Prodigy Podcast. This edition will co-star my brother Mark, who has thoughts of being the Mike Golic to my Mike Greenberg. Sure, Mark is maybe one third the size of Golic, but we'll let the listeners decide if the analogy is sound.

For now, it's time to listen to Pirates-Sox. Simply stunning that they'll have to come from behind in a game they led by six not more than 30 minutes ago. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates!

Please hold your applause.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Change of Heart

Pretty early in this blog's history to already have a complete reversal of opinion, don't you think? No matter, because after what I witnessed over the course of five days from Torrey Pines Golf Course reminded me why I was a Tiger Guy in the first place.

Let's start from where we should: the beginning. Thursday seemed like the start of a lackluster tournament for Tiger. Obviously still hurting from his recent arthroscopic knee surgery, I wondered if maybe he forced himself back into competition a bit too early. At certain points this week, it was tough to watch as he finished his swing over that tender left leg and quickly recoiled, grimacing from the pain.

Anyway, Thursday was very ho-hum. Sure, Eldrick was only a few back of the leaders and most certainly still in contention for his 14th major championship, but there was no evidence of that Tiger Magic that always seems to happen on a weekend when he is destined to take home the hardware.

Boy, did that change on Friday. Starting on the back nine and playing with hometown favorite Phil Mickelson, he once again had difficulty shaking off his early-Open malaise. He did manage to drop in an eagle at the par-5 13th though, a harbinger of the pyrotechnics to come. Moving to the front nine (his second nine of the day), he punched out from under a tree to 20 feet at No. 1 and drained the birdie putt. Suddenly, the show was commencing.

Tiger went on to shoot a lights-out 30 on his second nine Friday afternoon, putting him one back of 36-hole leader Stuart Appleby of Australia. The scene was set for a Saturday charge, and the best player in the world (and all time?) obliged the responsive galleries at Torrey Pines.

What followed was as spectacular a trio of golf shots as any of us will ever see, all in the last six holes, no less!



Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that the last thing I thought I'd be doing after this U.S. Open was detailing another exhilarating major victory for Mr. Woods. This was not because I doubted his ability to shrug off injury to defeat a world-class field yet again; rather, my doubt was born strictly of spite. I felt slighted that Tiger had dismissively and laughingly said in a TV interview that "no one watched hockey anymore."

Admittedly, I was sore at this offense because it's a refrain we hear too much in a sporting culture that has quickly become one of a "mainstream or bust" attitude. This weekend, though, I realized that you can't cast dispersions on someone if you don't like the environment in which they were brought up. My conclusion: Tiger wasn't raised in a household that enjoyed hockey, so he didn't become attached to it like I did. He cut his teeth in SoCal, not exactly a hotbed for the Canadian-born sport, even after Gretzky's arrival in Los Angeles in the late '80s. I'm sure if he met Sidney Crosby he would find a certain kinship of greatness, like he famously has found in Roger Federer.

Nonetheless, all thought of perceived slights was vaporized by the final round Sunday. I found my familiar comfort zone of pulling for Tiger no matter what, as I would love to see the most driven athlete of our time achieve his goal of surpassing Jack Nicklaus' total of 18 professional majors.

I don't have to tell you what happened next. (That's what the Internet is for, right?) Tiger and Western PA-raised journeyman duffer Rocco Mediate memorably squared off in a showdown sure to be among the best in the annals of sport. The staredown was friendly, to be sure, with the affable Rocco bringing some welcome levity to a multitude of tense moments, both in Sunday's supposedly "final" round, and in today's 18-hole mano a mano playoff tussle. Oh wait, that's right; it actually went 19 holes...or 91 if you're counting every ball struck from Thursday morning to Monday afternoon.

Under a partial blanket of seaside clouds, Tiger Woods captured what he would later call, all things considered, his greatest championship in an already legendary career. No hyperbole here, just the facts. I happen to agree with his assessment, when you weigh all the challenges, internal (balky knee) and external (Mediate's very best charge plus the typically-testing US Open layout).

The 2008 US Open was all golf, and sports, can be. If it happened to rob some Monday workday productivity in the process, even better. Not that Tiger will ever know, but his performance forced me to get past my selfish grudge over an offhand comment and simply appreciate another transcendant moment authored by the king of mental toughness and singular focus. Just listen to none other than Tiger's late father, Earl Woods, tell it in this new Nike commercial that serendipitously and appropriately debuted this weekend.



Coming Tomorrow

An overview on the Pirates strange, mysterious, frustrating and somewhat rewarding weekend in Baltimore.

Until then, hit 'em straight folks.

I Was Behind Him All The Way

Update coming tonight...until then, enjoy yesterday's heroics from Sir Eldrick.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Go Ahead, Call It a Comeback

So it turns out I liveblogged the wrong half last night…or did I? Sure, I didn’t get a chance to chronicle the most impressive comeback in NBA Finals history, but I did enjoy the opportunity to simply take it in as a pure fan of high-level athletics.

I have to say, I picked a heck of a game to watch all the way through for the first time in a couple years. The Lakers had it all going through the midpoint of the third quarter as they led by 20, but the Celtics had a run in them, and they unleashed it through a small/shooting lineup that forced L.A. to closely cover every man on the floor. Throw in some outside bombs from Posey, deft inside play by Kevin Garnett and two clutch drives to the rim from Ray Allen, and Boston was on the precipice of its first title in more than two decades.

Father’s Day could mark the end of the pro basketball season as the Celtics hope to make the all-time record of teams that go up 3-1 in the Finals a perfect 29-0. Talk about long odds for the Lakers. But in a league where home court means so much, I think we can expect a Game Six Tuesday night at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. In fact, that’s my official prediction at this point: Celts in six.

Thoughts on Interleague

Moving on to Major League Baseball as full-fledged interleague play begins its 13th season tonight. Of course, all of this is headlined in my mind by the Pirates paying their first visit to Baltimore since Kent Tekulve closed out the Orioles to clinch the Buccos’ fifth and most recent World Series championship.

Every baseball season around this time, we hear from various pundits and voices that interleague play has been a mistake and is certainly one of the signs of the impending apocalypse. And every year at this juncture I shake my head at this conventional “wisdom.” Personally, I love seeing different teams once in a while. It’s nice to know that the American League isn’t just a nasty rumor, especially as a fan of a team that has been as far from the World Series as possible the past decade and a half.

Now, I do hate the designated hitter as a matter of principle, so I don’t enjoy having to play by the Junior Circuit’s rules, as will be the case for the next week in the life of Our Buccos. But getting back to my original point, only in baseball would the idea of having every major league team eligible to play each other be treated like salmonella-laced tomatoes. (Oh wait, hockey had that issue the last two years…but it’s resolved now so just stay with me.)

It would be great if the Pirates could play a couple series a year against Cleveland and Detroit in a Rust Belt rivalry series, if you will. Also, while we’re tinkering with the scheduling formula, let’s get the Phreakin’ Phillies into PNC more than once a year. They’re in the same state for goodness sakes!

Pittsburgh baseball fans are getting screwed two ways by MLB’s schedule makers. To wit: 1) As a member of the NL Central for the past decade, the Pirates play 15-19 games a year against fierce divisional rivals like Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis and Houston. No matter how you try to slice the nation, Pittsburgh is not in the Midwest; it’s more like an Eastern city that happens to be on the west side of the Appalachians. Conversely, the Penguins, as part of the Atlantic Division, square off with Philly and the three New York metro teams – a family of cities that the ‘Burgh fits snugly into. 2) Since the Pirates have been deemed to have no “natural rival” in the AL, they sit out the first round of interleague play while we watch the Reds and Indians square off for Buckeye State supremacy.

One of the things that the new Bucco management has vowed to change is ensuring the Pirates’ interests get heard in the league office, something that did not happen under the Littlefield administration. COO Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington may not be able to get the Bucs out of the Central, but they may be able to get the Tribe or the Tigers in town more often, which would be better than nothing and definitely boost attendance.

Before I get back to the tube for more U.S. Open golf and eventually Bucs-Birds from Camden Yards, I leave you with one suggestion for MLB: Move Milwaukee back to the AL, evening the leagues at 15 teams apiece. This configuration would force at least one interleague series to be played at all times, which would shove baseball into the 21st Century, or at least the latter half of the 20th. Then, place Kansas City in the short-stack AL West, which as currently contains only four teams, absurdly. K.C. is approximately on the same longitude as West-resident Texas, so it wouldn’t create any competitive imbalance.

To sum up, this leaves the AL West with Seattle, the Los Angeles Angels, Texas, Oakland and Kansas City and the AL Central with the Chicago White Sox, Detroit, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Cleveland. Not perfect, but it is an improvement on the present situation. One of the main benefits of this setup is that all six divisions would hold five teams each, imposing the symmetry that the other three North American sports leagues rely on.

Bud Selig doesn’t have to thank me. Go Bucs; get to .500 and I’ll pop the champaign!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

NBA Finals Game Four First-Half Liveblog!

I don’t profess to know much about basketball. I played for a few years in grade school, but I quit after seventh grade and have just played pick-up games since.

Nonetheless, I do enjoy watching the best athletes in the world compete, so I am pinning myself to the futon here at 4012 Venable to watch Game Four of the NBA Finals. We just got cable again (Jillian, the future Mrs. Polish Prodigy, canceled service to save money when I took my little six-week vacation in Fayetteville), so I’m really just happy to be able to watch non-UHF channels.

(You’ll never truly appreciate living in the year 2008 until you try to watch TV with rabbit ears. Luckily, my family didn’t get cable until I was in sixth grade, so I have some latent knowledge regarding antenna manipulation.)

To paraphrase those old “NBA on NBC” promos: Kobe! Garnett! Gasol! Pierce! Vujacic! Scalabrine! Gajtka! It’s the NBA Finals Game Four Liveblog…and it’s coming up NEXT!
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8:00-8:30 p.m. – Well, I thought I was getting a pregame show, but I guess that comes at 8:30, which means tipoff on ABC will come sometime before nine…I hope. In the meantime, it’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” featuring Ed Norton, Liv Tyler and Chris Paul. Thank God the NHL doesn’t pull this crap.

8:30 – OK, so it wasn’t that bad. I actually enjoyed Kimmel’s brand of humor; it reminded me a bit of Letterman, which is never a bad thing. Maybe I’ll try to catch his usual show sometime. Also, I switched to ESPN for a bit to catch the end of the U.S. Open coverage for the day. I’m sure ABC didn’t mind since ESPN is one of its Disney brethren. U.S. Open in primetime…nice.

8:33 – Back to the basketball. Stuart Scott, Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry and former Laker great James Worthy come at us from a set on the second level of Staples Center. Worthy sounds poised; he must do TV work regularly.

By the way, I love how every TV personality on these live studio shows is now sporting “invisible” headset microphones like they’re pop stars. Somewhere, Madonna shakes her head disapprovingly.

8:41 – The distractingly cross-eyed Scott tells us that on this date six years ago, the Lakers clinched the NBA crown in a four-game sweep over the New Jersey Nets. Now if the West Final that year wasn’t fixed, it would have been the Kings accepting the title. Sorry, with the Donaghy stuff back in the news, I couldn’t resist.

8:44 – We see our broadcast team for the first time: Play-by-play man Mike Breen (solid as it gets) is flanked by analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com says Van Gundy is one of the best analysts out there, so I’ll believe him since he’s where I get pretty much all of my NBA knowledge. That’s what happens when I don’t live less than a mile from Cousin Jeff anymore.

Wilbon is sporting a Lakers gold tie. Don’t these guys know they should be wearing neutral gang colors??

8:48 – Terrible promo for this new ABC summer show called “Wipeout.” If they aren’t showing sports, the networks should just go off the air from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

8:49 – Time for the “GMC Keys to the Game,” a.k.a. predictions. Wilbon – Celtics, Barry – Celtics, Worthy – Lakers, after he admits his bias. Give him credit for being honest at least.

Commercial break No. 5 already.

8:53 – Jeffrey Obsourne (yeah, no idea who he is) tries his hand at the Hardest Song to Sing in the World, our National Anthem. “Oh Canada” would sound great here, especially if Jeff Jimerson sung it.

8:55 – Starting Lineup for Boston:
C Kendrick Perkins
G Rajon Rondo
G Ray Allen
F Kevin Garnett
F Paul Pierce
(No surprises here after Rondo declared himself in game shape about 30 mins ago.)

8:58 – Starters for Los Angeles:
F Lamar Odom
F Vladimir Radmanovic
C Pau Gasol
G Derek Fisher
G Kobe Bryant
(Sasha Vujacic, who scored 20 points off the bench in Game Three, will come off the pine again tonight.)

9:01 – So Kobe apparently scored 36 points on 60 percent shooting last game, which I’m hearing for the first time. Chalk my ignorance up to the Stanley Cup Final hangover.

9:03 – We listen to Celts coach Doc Rivers telling his players to focus, play and win. Wow, that was bland for a Finals pregame speech. ABC then gives us five seconds of Hall of Fame Lakers boss Phil Jackson. He said something about knowing your role. Cut to commercial AGAIN. Unbelievable.

9:07 – Woooo! Tipoff! Gasol wins it over Perkins and here we go.

9:08 – A graphic shows us that LAL is undefeated in the playoffs at home (9-0). That’s what the Pens were until they dropped Game Four of the Final to Detroit. Nice to reopen a wound, isn’t it? Lakers 4, Celtics 2, 10:45 1st.

9:12 – Rivers picks up a technical after he thought Garnett was fouled near the hoop on a loose ball. Fisher is chosen to shoot the single foul shot and misses it. Garnett gets the ball back inside and can’t finish two chances in tight. Odom slams one home for L.A. and the crowd is on fire. Lakers 11, Celtics 6, 8:00 1st.

9:16 – Showtime is back! Fast-break touch passes between Odom and Gasol leads to an Odom layup. Boston needs a timeout as they look tight, especially offensively. No team has ever come back from down 3-1 in the Finals, but if the Celts don’t loosen up a bit, they’ll have to worry about a 2-2 series by the end of the night. LAL 16, BOS 6, 6:30 1st.

9:21 – KG gets his second foul and checks out. He’s been a bright spot on defense…the only Boston positive so far. Radmanovic nails a three from the corner for a 14-point lead! P.J. Brown, in for KG, draws a foul on Kobe put can only hit one of two from the line. The boys in green continue to miss shots badly as it’s 24-7 with 3:40 to go in the first.

9:28 – It feels like I’ve watched more continuous action already than I have all season. I used to watch NBA all the time up until about five years ago, but I guess when you get older, you start to trim things out of your schedule. The NBA was a victim of that temporal pruning, if you will. And I know you will. Odom is knocking down jumpers from everywhere; he’s 6-for-6 and at the two minute mark, the Lakers are cruising 28-12.

9:35 – Eddie House of Boston clanks a couple of open threes as the subs get action late in the opening frame. Kobe then sets up Trevor Ariza for a triple that puts the Lakers up 20! Oh my. The Zen Master kicks back into the third row of stands, or at least it looks like it. After one quarter, L.A. is way ahead 35-14. It’s the largest lead after one in the history of the Finals.

9:41 – 6-22 from the field for Boston in the first quarter. It was even worse than it looked. Also, it might help to get some stops, says Rivers while talking to sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya prior to the start of the second. Tafoya called the Lakers onslaught an “avalanche.” Nice job painting the mental picture!

Gotta be tough to be a sideline reporter…personally I would feel pretty irrelevant at a basketball game. But I guess you have to have them in case there’s an injury or something like it.

Lots of running, not many buckets being made though. Score update coming soon.

9:47 – 40-19 Los Angeles as we head to the media timeout. For those of you unfamiliar, the media timeout was developed to give all the slovenly writers a chance to hit the press row spread a minimum of 10 times per game.

Man, it appears so far I may have picked the wrong game to liveblog. Tafoya is interviewing Will Smith, who is apparently a Lakers fan. He actually talks about his childhood hatred of the Celtics, since everyone knows he’s from West Philadelphia, born and raised. On the playground was where he spent most of his days.

9:54 – Midway through the second, the Lakers have extended the lead out to 45-21. Kobe discusses a foul call with one of the referees in front of none other than Larry David, who is among the luminaries courtside for this one. I think he just told Sasha Vujacic to curb his enthusiasm after the eastern European just splashed a long three through the hoop. Essentially, everything is humming along for L.A. while the opposite is true for the Celtics.

9:57 – I gotta admit, the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird split-screen NBA promo is pretty damn cool. Although it’s a little strange to see their aged faces ostensibly wearing their old uniforms. I suppose we should be happy the shot only goes down to their shoulders.

9:59 – ABC is using Three Doors Down music behind its highlight clips coming out of commercial. I don’t mind it, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what the average young urban basketball fan is listening to nowadays. Zen Master requests a timeout, and it is granted. 45-26 with under four to play in the half.

10:03 – Oh, man! A 12-0 run by the Celtics capped by a James Posey three-ball cuts the Lakers’ lead to 12 very suddenly. The partisan crowd tries to rally the home side, and Fisher responds with a driving layup, AND THE FOUL as Marv Albert would say.

Just thinking about this 2-3-2 format in the Finals…it’s gotta benefit the team that has the middle three at home, IF they can get one of the first two on the road. Otherwise, having to win either Game Six or Seven on the road to clinch is tough to ask

Anyway, Fisher completes his three-point play to get it to 48-33 at the two-minute mark. Wait, Gasol on the alley-oop to push L.A. to 50 points!

10:12 – Kobe commits his third foul on a Pierce drive, giving Boston two free points at the stripe. Last possession for the Lakers, pick-and-roll pass from Fisher to Gasol for the rough finish in the lane, plus one! The Spaniard gets the free throw. Radmanovic then absentmindedly runs over Rondo after the restart. Rondo makes one of two.

Lakers then get their last last chance of the half – inbounds pass goes to late substitution Jordan Farmar, who leaps forward from 25 feet and lets one go one-handed. It banks in! What a way to finish a mostly-brilliant opening 24 minutes for the home squad. Los Angeles 58, Boston 40.

Folks, that’s it for me from the liveblog standpoint. I’m actually intrigued by the action on the court and upset that I’ve been neglecting the NBA for so long. It’s not the NHL, but a man needs to do something to pass the time until the next Pirates game.

Seriously, though, I’m going to enjoy the second half and give you my subsequent thoughts in the morning. Until then, thanks for reading and I’ll talk to yinz later!

Day Games Rock

The Pirates just finished a stretch in which they played three day games in five days. Simply fantastic. Baseball is at its best when played under the sun, especially when you're lucky enough to be in attendance. Even if, like today at PNC Park, the temperature is in the upper 80s and the air is saturated with humidity, the best way to spend an afternoon outside of a round of golf (we'll get to that later) is at a ballgame.

Enough with the aesthetics, though. Let's get down to the business on the field today on the North Side.

Game #67: Pirates 7, Nationals 5
That's right, Our Buccos (as Voice of the Pirates Lanny Frattare charmingly calls them) have now won four of five to move to *gasp* one win away from the ever-so-elusive .500 mark. The 33-34 Pirates also managed to avoid the frequent pitfall of the last few seasons, the Day Game Letdown. It may just be me, but it seems like every time the Pirates have built some momentum in recent years, they lose an afternoon game at PNC, usually in tragic fashion.

In 2005, it was the 30-30 Bucs gunning for the sweep of Tampa Bay on a Sunday afternoon. I recall this vividly because I listened to the game from my smoothie stand at Post-Gazette Pavilion as I worked some God-forsaken country music festival. The Pirates wasted a Humberto Cota game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, despite a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the 11th. Jose Castillo came up with a chance to put the team over .500, only to ground into a double play that doubled me over at the smoothie stand. The Devil Rays, as they were then known, won the game soon after via a three-run homer from some dude that's probably no longer in baseball.

In 2006, the Pirates were surging in July and once again I was listening from a unique site: the golf course. Jason Bay hit a grand slam in the first against the D-Backs and we were supposedly off and running. Somehow it became tied in the ninth (I believe Salomon Torres blew a save), but Our Buccos loaded the bases with none out with a chance to walk off with a W. The year's eventual batting champion Freddy Sanchez then improbably struck out, followed by a predictable Castillo K and a groundout. Arizona predictably took the game in extras.

Other examples abound of close games blown at home by the Pirates during the day. This year's home opener comes to mind: Bucs come back from huge deficit to tie the Cubs in the late innings, only to commit an egregious blunder and squander what would've been an exhilarating victory.

Not to be negative.

But today was different, my friends! The Polish Prodigy-endorsed Ryan Doumit continued to pound the baseball, slugging his ninth homer of the season and his fourth in three games to put Pittsburgh on top 2-0 in the first. Doumit is the answer at catcher...mark it down.

The lead was 6-1 by the end of the sixth after RBI from Bay (sac fly), Nasty Nate McLouth (sac fly), starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny (bases-loaded walk) and Doumit (run-scoring single). However, the depleted Washington ballclub continued to fight, making it 6-5 in the eighth before Tyler Yates cleaned up Franquelis Osoria's mess with a swinging strikeout of former-Met Lastings Milledge to end the inning and strand two. Damaso Marte played Matt Capps for the afternoon and got his first National League save as he pitched a one-two-three ninth.

Enough with the recap minutiae. The Pirates now head to Baltimore for the first time since Game Seven of the 1979 World Series for a weekend series that kicks off interleague play. If you've followed the Bucs this decade, you know the American League has usually been a huge pitfall for the club. But, hey, they won two close home afternoon games this week (Monday against Arizona), so maybe things are truly different this season, as opposed to the last 15.

Let's be honest: .500 is an important milestone for this franchise to reach, even if some of the current players aren't there if/when the Pirates finally get back to the playoffs. It'd be nice if the Bucs can return home from this Orioles/Chicago White Sox trip as a winning team. DO IT.

Scholars Maintain the Translation Has Been Lost
Nothing like the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. Especially when it's in San DEE-AHH-GO, at the stunning Torres Pines public(!) golf course.

(Before we proceed, yes, I realize the Anchorman San Diego joke is getting a little worn out. But I still think it's funny, so I'm going to keep saying it until I choke the last breath out of it.)

Usually, this four-day golf extravaganza has me pumped for a couple of reasons. 1) The national championship is the most difficult to win, and I never get tired of seeing professionals make bogeys and worse while posting scores that I'm used to shooting, albeit on much, much easier courses. 2) Another Tiger Woods run at a major championship as he strives to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. Tiger has 13, don'tcha know.

How-EVAH, ever since Tiger said in a televised interview that he didn't think anyone watched hockey anymore, I have felt like a jilted lover, as pathetic as that sounds. Mr. Woods was asked to make a pick on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals, and he decided he couldn't be bothered with such a trivial question, even suggesting that they talk about the NBA's LA Lakers instead. I've been an avid Tiger fan since he started in 1996--heck, he's one of the main reasons I started playing as a youngster. But after his condescending and dismissive comments about my favorite sport to watch, play and discuss, I'm not sure I'm going to be on his side this weekend.

Outside of killing a member of my family, this is about the only thing that could transform Eldrick Woods into Evil Tiger in my mind. If he doesn't like/doesn't watch/doesn't care about hockey, he could've just picked between the Penguins and the Red Wings and moved on. But he had to belittle an entire sporting culture. It's out of character for a man who usually makes politicians envious with his ability to dance around any controversial issues and generally avoid offending any potential fans/Nike customers.

Evil Tiger shot a one-over par 72 today. If he's in contention for major No. 14 on Sunday afternoon, I suppose we'll find out how I really feel about it.

Coming Tonight!
I was planning on attending the West Virginia Power baseball game this evening, but instead I'll stay in and watch Game Four of the NBA Finals. In fact, I'll liveblog the thing, just to prove to myself that I can watch an NBA game in its entirety, something I haven't done in a couple of years.

It's not that I don't like basketball or the Association, it's just that I devote so much energy to hockey that I seldom feel like making the NBA appointment viewing. With my Pens in the Cup Final and my previous soul-sucking job, I definitely had no opportunity to catch a game this postseason. That all changes tonight: Celtics lead the Lakers two games to one as the traditional adversaries square off at the Staples Center. I'm already getting excited...seriously.

Talk to yinz later.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Blog Is Back In Town

Well, well, well. Much has occurred since the last time I contributed any new content to the blog universe. That'll happen when you don't update for around 100 days.

Here's an abridged list of events from the last 1/4 of the year 2008:
1. I left my internship with the WV Power baseball team.
2. I got a media relations/broadcasting job with the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League, a summer collegiate baseball league.
3. Moved to Fayetteville.
4. Found out working for my employers was an absolute living Hades, so I quit.
5. Moved back to 4012 Venable Ave., Apt. 302, Charleston, WV with my fiancee Jillian, who is still employed by the Power.
6. Lastly, and most importantly, the Penguins came two wins from the Stanley Cup, losing in six games to the impressive machine that is the Detroit Red Wings.

Anyway, and the Pensblog likes to put it, if you've come here for breaking news, you're an idiot. Or at least you were, because now that I'm unemployed, the bulk of my creative energies will begin to flow into this URL.

I have large plans for this humble blog, including the debut of the Polish Prodigy Podcast, coming very soon to an iPod or MP3 device near you. I went all the way to Fayetteville to get on the radio and get my voice heard, when all I had to do was start a podcast. Podcasting > most forms of broadcasting simply because you have no boss and can subsequently talk about whatever you want. I say "most forms of broadcasting" (did I just quote myself?) because Lord knows if a hockey play-by-play job was offered to me, I'd snap that baby up. Just sayin'.

Anyway, once I get the logistics of said podcast worked out, you can look forward to my voice available for subscription, an exciting thought if there ever was one. Wow, is the sarcasm ever dripping off that last sentence. In all seriousness though, I'd love to have your feedback once I get the podcast up and humming so I can make it as enjoyable as possible while still satisfying my ego, which on last check is still alive and hungry.

As far as podcast content is concerned, my guests (that's right, there will be other voices on this thing) and I will discuss sports of course, but I wouldn't rule out forays into the realm of "general interest" subjects and various forms of entertainment/pop culture.

Until the next time...this is Matt signing off. You stay classy, planet Earth.