Chico State seniors will be missed

 

I am trying not to think about it. The Chico State men and women’s basketball teams will say good-bye to nine players this weekend who are graduating from the school and will move on to the next phase of their lives. This does not make me happy. Selfishly I want to keep watching these players for as long as I can because they have been a joy to watch and cover.

For the last four years the four seniors on the women’s basketball team have helped lead Chico State  to sustained greatness. The Wildcats have captured a conference title and are on the verge of their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Chico women seniors
Chico State seniors

PHOTO COURTESY of Chico State Athletics ChicoWildcats.com

I will miss Courtney Hamilton’s leadership and toughness, will miss Jazmine Miller’s sharp-shooting prowess, Anelise Riezebos’ will and McKenzie Dalthorp’s consistency. They are great Wildcats that have left their mark on the program.

For the Chico State men it has been the greatest run the program has had since the early 1990’s. Head coach Greg Clink has built a program that constantly feeds game-ready players into the defensive minded system. The Wildcats won their first CCAA title in 2012 and are on the verge of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

The five players that are leaving the program simply can’t be replaced. They have been vital to the Wildcats resurgence in the Division II hoops arena. At 19-5 the Cats are poised for not only a deep run in the CCAA Tourney, but have given themselves a chance at a West Region title as well.

New-comer Giordano Estrada has been the perfect complement to this 2014 edition of Cats. His 54 made three-pointers leads the squad and he has shown a penchant for making clutch shots. Over the last month his defense has really stepped up and Clink has put Estrada on some of the best scorers in the CCAA, and Gio has risen to the challenge.

Nate Appel will leave the program after playing three years in the program. Nate has been a consistent performer off the bench, and I believe sets the best screens in the program. Being able to execute the pick and roll or the pick and pop is a key to the Clink system and Appel has shined. His hoops IQ is high and the Wildcats could lean on Appel in the post-season when smart play is at a premium.

The remaining three seniors have been the back-bone of the program during their stay here. Amir Carraway, Sean Park and Rashad Parker combine to average 42 points a game for Chico State. They have been consistent performers in this recent run of success.

Carraway just joined the 1000 point club. He is one of the most versatile players the Cats have ever had in the program. He can play small-forward and shine, and he can play the center position and hold his own. His inside-outside game makes him a tough cover and his ability to shoot the three means defenses must play him honestly, which opens things up for his mates.

Park is one of the toughest players to ever wear the Cardinal and White. Whether its hoisting a tough corner three with a hand in the face or a Sarunas Marciulionis-like drive with reckless abandon to the bucket, Park is as steady and dependable as you get. He has been known to throw his 6’4 frame at bigger players and win the battle. Park’s consistency over the years hasn’t been over-looked by the Wildcat faithful. He plays with passion and energy and the consummate team guy.

Parker has emerged as sharp-shooting scorer. Whether he is spotting up from deep or his driving to the bucket with that quick first step, Parker has been key to the Cats success. Rashad can carry a team, which he has done numerous times this season when his mates’ have struggled to score. He gets in that zone and he is very tough to stop. Defensively Clink knows he can put Parker on other quick guards and he can get a shut-down effort from Rashad. Parker has made big shots in his career and some of his biggest makes may be yet to come.

I am so lucky to have seen these 9 seniors play. All of these players will be replaced, but they will never be forgotten. Their effort, performance and dedication on the court and in the classroom will set a standard by which future Wildcats are judged

Hoping Bortles is the Browns’ Man

Cleveland Browns fans are clamoring for Johnny Manziel, I believe they should be hoping Blake Bortles falls into their laps.

Bortles is a specimen with the tools to make a very good NFL quarterback. While we all fall in love with Manziel’s unique skill-set to turn a game around with his electrifying play, I just don’t think it will play for the duration of an NFL career. The Banner-Lombardi regime loved Manziel and made no secret he was their choice. Ray Farmer is playing this closer to the vest and hasn’t said much about which direction the Browns want to go.

With 10 picks in this NFL Draft, and 7 of those in the first four rounds, this should be the draft that turns the Browns fortunes. Sometimes the flashy pick isn’t always the best pick. Manziel would be flashy. He would be fun. But, I don’t think he is a long-term solution, with emphasis on “long-term.” As good as he is, he gambles too much for my liking. I don’t want a gambling gunslinger to be my QB, I want solid and consistent, and that is Bortles.

The argument against Bortles is he didn’t play against the best competition. Yes, we have heard that before and it falls hollow. Bortles is 6’4 and 220 pounds and has that prototypical NFL body. He has a cannon for an arm and is surprisingly mobile for his size. He can clearly take a hit, but wouldn’t be that hybrid type of quarterback that is now in vogue. Personally I prefer a pocket passer, with mobility when he needs it.

I am under no illusions that it will take some time for the Browns to become competitive, but I am patient, hell I’m a Browns fan. Bortles will take time to develop and that is fine. I am willing to live with the growing pains of a quarterback that clearly shows signs of turning this Cleveland situation around. In Manziel’s case, it is hard to progress if you were laid out from a hard hit as you were trying to take on a 240 pound line-backer. I don’t see Manziel staying healthy with his style of play. I think Bortles is the choice for Cleveland. The question is, does Farmer believe Bortles is the fit for them.

Once a Cat Always a Cat

 

The news was shocking, stunning and Chico State head baseball coach Dave Taylor was left speechless. The  passing two weeks ago of former Wildcat outfielder Christian Franco sent the Wildcat baseball program reeling, just as they were about to open up conference play in San Diego.

As I approached Taylor in the dugout for our customary pregame interview I could see the lightness in his step, the sorrow in his shoulders. “It’s a tough day Bac, tough day.”  His voice cracking as he told me how he heard the devastating news. Franco, who was a successful business man in San Diego, had died overnight after hitting a guard-rail on a highway. The accident scene was violent with car parts strewn all over the road. Franco was thrown from the car. Other vehicles were involved in the accident scene, but it was Franco who perished.

Franco

As I finished my pregame chat with Taylor I asked him about Franco, his voice trailed off, it cracked, for Coach T the words just weren’t there. He told me how much the program would miss the guy who was affectionately called “Nutz.” It was the toughest of interviews as we prepared for this child’s game.

As the Chico State Wildcats were packing up their gear after a 9-1 loss to San Diego on that Friday night a wonderful scene was taking place near the Wildcats dugout. Former Wildcats Jesus Moreno, David Arroyo, Carlos Fletes, Steve Gotawala, and former trainer Ernesto Vega were in conversation with Taylor. I approached the group. I was greeted with hugs all around. The sadness was palpable. Taylor and the boys were talking about Franco and the plans his former mates’ were putting in motion for Franco and his loved ones.

At that moment, I realized ONCE AGAIN, how special it is to be part of this Wildcat family. A good friend, a teammate was gone and now his buddies, his mates, his comrades were going to be there for Franco. There would be time to reminisce, instead this was time to comfort and console. These former teammates of Franco’s would spend the next several weeks organizing taco feeds in his memory, raising money for his loved ones and lending a shoulder to cry on for Christian’s family. The Chico State Way was on full display. During these very moments, Franco’s former teammates were “taking the dose” for their fallen friend.

Taylor said it best the day after the accident, “once you enter the Chico State program you are in it for life.”  The Chico State baseball brotherhood is a life-long deal. This tightest of fraternities considers themselves brothers. They never deviate from this theme. Whether you played in the 60’s, were stand-out player in the late 80’s, a red-shirt in 1991 (me), a National Champion in 97, a back-up infielder in 2008, you are part of the family. Once a Cat Always a Cat.

There is a core group of players and friends that really leads this Chico State brotherhood and its the core group of the 1999 national championship team. To this day they remain the closest of friends. I am not just talking about 4-to-5 guys being close. We are talking about 20 former players from the same team being best of friends 15 years after the fact. The bonds that were forged by this group has grown throughout the years. In fact Wildcat baseball alums from different generations are  now welcomed into the circle making it one of the closest knit groups I have ever experienced.

Whenever the Wildcats travel to southern California there is ALWAYS a former Wildcat in the stands. Most of the time there is more than one, they come to the games together. They wear their Chico State gear, hanging behind the back-stop cheering on their brethren. These alums know, every single season the Wildcat baseball team represents them. That script on the front of the uniforms “Cats” is cherished. Sometimes new players in the program don’t understand the responsibility that comes with being a Chico State Wildcat baseball player. They are not only playing for themselves and their current mates, they are playing for every guy who has worn that uniform, tugged on that cap and been part of this program.  Being a Chico State Wildcat baseball player has always been bigger than the individual, this is best exemplified by the always supportive alums.

Personally I have never played ball with any of these guys. I was a simple red-shirt in the program in 1991. But, with every trip to southern California, every dinner, every meet and greet, every outing I am made to feel part of the group. THIS is the Chico State way.   I enter my 17th year of broadcasting Chico State baseball. I have seen almost every game that most of these guys have played in the Wildcat uniform. When they experienced joy, I translated this to the Wildcat listeners. When they suffered disappointment and loss I felt that as well. My descriptions allowing the fan base a small peek into the emotional pull of each win or loss. I am totally appreciative for being part of this Wildcat family. Whether I considered myself part of it or not didn’t matter to the group. THEY consider me part of it and for that I am honored.

This week the Chico State Wildcat family buried their teammate, Christian Franco. He was an outfielder on the 1999-2000 teams.  But, to this close-knit group he wasn’t just a teammate. He was a friend, a brother, and part of the greatest fraternity of them all.

Once a Cat Always a Cat

Final home weekend for Chico State basketball

 

The Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team is riding a five-game win streak as they head into their final two games of the regular season. In today’s edition of Clink’s Corner, Chico State men’s head basketball coach Greg Clink talks about the impacts of his seniors Amir Carraway, Rashad Parker, Sean Park, Giordano Estrada and Nate Appel. All five hope to wrap up their Wildcat careers with a trip to NCAA Tournament.

CLINK’S CORNER

Highlights from Chico State’s Saturday night against the Cal State East Bay Pioneers…

 

New collision rules help baseball

 

Major League baseball is making some meaningful changes to the home plate collision rules that should protect players from malicious and “egregious” hits at the plate.

The new rule (7:13)

Avila and Ross collide
Alex Avila gets bowled over by David Ross in last year’s post-season
Courtesy yankees.mlb.com

unveiled today does not completely eliminate home plate collisions which I ENTHUSIASTICALLY applaud. The rule allows a base-runner to collide with catcher if the catcher is blocking the plate without the ball. This ruling will be under the umpire’s discretion. The new rule also falls under the new replay rules for MLB, which means umpires can rule on the play and then review their call to make sure it is correct.

The new rule allows the umpire to call the base-runner safe if the catcher is blocking home plate without the ball and the runner has to deviate from his path to home-plate. Umpires can also call base-runners out if they intentionally deviate from their path toward the plate and “go-after” or “hit” the catcher even if the catcher drops the ball. This will solely be at the umpires discretion, as well, and is subject to the replay rules.

I really like  how this rule preserves the home-plate collision while also acknowledging the game has to change to protect players from needless and senseless injuries. The integrity of the game is protected with the inclusion of the home-plate collision. We have all seen runners go out of their way to drill the catcher, but we have also seen catchers block home plate without the ball. They should not be immune to getting drilled by a base-runner who is trying to score. No longer will catcher’s be able to take liberties in blocking the plate without the ball, and no longer can base-runners declare open season on catchers.

None of us want to see players get injured with malicious hits at home-plate, especially with the added emphasis in protecting players from concussions. But, there are times the “game” calls for a collision at home-plate if a catcher tries locking down the dish on a close play at the plate. This new rule, if interpreted correctly, should allow for the safety of the players and for physical and aggressive play when the situation dictates.

 

Hey Arizona, the nation is watching

 

Home of the Arizona Cardinals-Univeristy of Phoenix Stadium

Rarely does a Senate Bill garner this much attention in the sports world. But, if Arizona Governor Jan Brewer doesn’t veto Senate Bill 1062 the state of Arizona could lose the Super Bowl in 2015.

The game has already been awarded to Glendale but there is increasing talk that if Brewer signs the bill into law then the NFL could pull the plug on the nation’s biggest football game.

Senate Bill 1062 was passed by the Arizona House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. This week Arizona’s Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake urged Brewer to veto the bill, but she has not given any indication of what she will do.

The bill would allow business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples based on the grounds of “religious freedom.”

There is precedent for yanking a Super Bowl from a state. In 1993 the NFL pulled the Super Bowl from Phoenix after Arizona voters refused to authorize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday. Eventually voters approved the holiday and Tempe was awarded the 1996 Super Bowl. It is believed Arizona missed out on 100 million dollars by losing the 1994 Super Bowl.

The Arizona Republic newspaper says the tourism industry is concerned about the residual economic impacts of the law if Brewer signs it into law. The Super Bowl is due to be played in Glendale in 2015. There is fear in Arizona that if the Brewer signs the bill, the NFL will do as they did in 1993 and pull the Super Bowl from Arizona.

Warriors open 6-game roadie with win in Detroit

 

KLAY THOMPSON HAMMERS HOME A DUNK ON KYLE SINGLER

Make it four in a row for the Golden State Warriors as they knocked off the Detroit Pistons 104-96 to open a six-game road trip.

Steph Curry led the way for the Warriors scoring 19 points dishing off nine assists and grabbing eight rebounds. But, the story of the game was the Warriors defense which held the Pistons to 34 points in the second half after allowing 62 points in the first.

Playing without David Lee, who is still under the weather with a stomach ailment, the Warriors leaned on 17 year veteran Jermaine O’Neal, who once again had a turn-back-the-clock type of night with 16 points and 10 boards. Andrew Bogut was back in the line-up but fouled out after scoring 4 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Klay Thompson scored 19 and Jordan Crawford scored 15 off the bench.

The Warriors move to 35-22 on the season and now sit in 6th in the Western Conference. The Warriors continue the trip in Chicago on Wednesday night where they hope to continue their success on the road against the Eastern Conference.

Harbaugh and 49ers; No longer a match made in heaven

The marriage made in heaven may be crumbling. If published reports are true the San Francisco 49ers may try and re-visit trading head coach Jim Harbaugh after the 2014 season.

CBSSports Jason LaCanfora is reporting that Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke are barely on speaking terms and that Harbaugh’s relationship with many others in the front office is strained. Throw into the mix that Harbaugh is not getting paid what he is worth compared to other coaches in the league, well, now you have a problem. An ego-maniacal, successful, underpaid head coach does not make for a happy bed-fellow.

None of us can see the inner-workings of the 49ers front office. One thing we don’t need a press pass to see is Harbaugh is incredibly intense. If his intensity is matched and even surpassed by some in the front office then that internal tug-of-war can deteriorate quickly. There can only be one decision maker in an organization and for the 49ers that person is Trent Baalke. Harbaugh may be the face of the 49ers but Baalke is the brains of the operation.  Owner Jed York probably feels more comfortable with the suit and tie wearing Baalke than the Dockers wearing Harbaugh.

Speculating here, but it would not surprise me to hear Harbaugh wants more of a say in personnel decisions. Why wouldn’t he want that ? He has had an amazingly successful three-year coaching reign and may be growing tired of having players hand-picked for him.  Moving forward, I don’t see Jed York over-paying Harbaugh or relinquishing or ceding any of the control from Baalke to Harbaugh.

One would reason, if Harbaugh is feeling squeezed why wouldn’t he take the job in Cleveland where the Browns were ready to have him coach and probably have more input in player personnel decisions ? Well, as a Browns fan that is easy to answer. They are the Browns. Until Jimmy Haslam can show he can run a buffet lunch line let alone a football franchise, the Browns will be toxic. Harbaugh may be desperate to make football decisions, but he wasn’t that desperate.

So, we do know Harbaugh will be at the helm for the 2014 San Francisco 49ers, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see his name back on the block next offseason. Don’t be fooled by the denials of Harbaugh and York saying a deal with the Browns wasn’t in the works and wasn’t true. Browns officials say parameters were set and the Niners were willing to let him walk. It makes sense for Harbaugh to nix the deal.  With one more year running the 49ers and a chance to win a Super Bowl he could maximize his value not only in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of responsibility. It is also in the 49ers best interest to let this play out. If they do win a title with Harbaugh on the sideline they can put his name out there and pretty much name the price for a desperate franchise he needs a bench boss.

Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. And it’s getting awfully hazy watching this 49er drama unfold.

 

Epitome of Mental Toughness

I am not going to try to convince anyone that I have any idea what it takes to make a great figure skater. To borrow a line, “it’s just not my bag baby!” The nuances of the sport and the specific technical qualities of a championship skater are beyond my grasp. But, I feel I am a pretty good judge of one attribute most skaters have and I have to say they are on a level by themselves.

The mental toughness a figure skater must show during their performance is stuff of legend. Picture it, you train for four years, every single day for this one moment to shine. The pinpoint focus these athletes need to display will directly correlate into their performance.

I am around athletes all the time. I see them in their highs and in their lows. I see when they flourish and fail. The one common denominator in failing is the lack of attention to detail. I know you sports fans see it with your favorite teams and athletes. There are certain days where your team just “doesn’t have it.” The body is willing but the mind fails them. Much of the time in professional sports its fatigue. I see it at the collegiate level all the time. A long road-trip, a restless night of sleep, routines being disrupted, and all of a sudden performance suffers.

I think the best of the best rise, when others are hindered. Rarely do we see great athletes who are mentally weak. It’s tough to find those that excel at a high level who mentally don’t have the wherewithal to ride the ebb of everyday life.  It’s ups and downs.

I am so impressed with figure skaters and their ability to focus on this one moment in time.  A professional basketball player has 82 chances to be great or not. A baseball has 162 chances. Even a football player has 16 opportunities to be spot on. For figure skaters and even gymnasts in these solo athletic endeavors it is truly a one shot deal. They need to be consistently great for four years to put them in a position to thrive at the World Championships and Olympic Trials. Then, they need to shine for two specific days if they want to be a champion.

So, as I watched the ladies figure skating at the Sochi Games. I can honestly tell you, I don’t know the difference between a triple-axel and a triple-lutz and a triple toe-loop. But, I can see toughness. I can see competitiveness, I see the joy in performing and steely eyed determination to win. That is what has me watching, that is why I love sport. And, it’s truly exemplified by some of these amazing athletes who mentally refuse to be defeated.

A Dodger platoon is no solution

 

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says the best option at second base might be a platoon. With recently acquired Alexander Guerrero still learning the position, the Dodgers have brought in Chone Figgins, Justin Turner and even Dee Gordon to compete for the job.  In the short-term a platoon may help, but I hope this is not his long-term answer.

To be fair, Mattingly has said he hopes someone emerges as the clear-cut favorite to win the second base job. We hear you Donnie B. The problem with a platoon is that the continuity that a middle infield needs to develop and mold is stunted when there is a constant shifting of personnel. Unlike a corner outfield position where lefty-righty platoons are common place, the middle infield platoon disrupts the synergy that is developed by your double-play combo. Middle infielders are creatures of habit and need the repetition of everyday play to develop those subtle nuances of playing the game at a high level together.

Some second baseman like a high feed on the double-play flip from their shortstop, some like a waist high feed, some like it low so they can flip it. These unique attributes that individual players bring to the game are cultivated through continuous play and practice. When you platoon a middle-infielder the precision and consistency of this ever-important combo is compromised. The last thing the Dodgers need at second base is a compromised defender who lacks the consistency of playing with Hanley Ramirez.

Mattingly needs to shelve this platoon idea. He shouldn’t allude to it, he should be nondescript when talking with the media about it. Dodger fans don’t want to hear the word “platoon” as it pertains to second base. Run Guerrero, Figgins, Gordon and Turner out there and see who wins the job.