Dodgers Notes: 6 words that sent the Giants swooning in June

 

Could the Dodgers be surging in June again ? Last year they were cellar dwellers 9.5 games out of first place on June 22nd. They would then win 42-out-of-50 and the rest is history. If somehow the Dodgers find their way back to the top of the NL West they may have a San Francisco Giants broadcaster to thank for it.

Just ten days ago (June 8)  the Los Angeles Dodgers were languishing 9.5 games back of the scintillatingly hot San Francisco Giants. The Giants could no wrong. It didn’t matter what kinds of miscues they made through the first 9 weeks of the season. Every mistake WAS NOT magnified as the Giants just found a way to win every single night. They found a way to win every single day. The game of baseball was their friend. Many well-known pundits, including Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, declared the National League West race over. They said even if the Dodgers got hot, they wouldn’t be able to catch the Giants.

All of the reasons cited were valid. The Dodgers defense is bad, and at times atrocious. The Los Angeles bullpen has been disappointing. Inconsistency from the likes of Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, JP Howell and even closer Kenley Jansen have hampered this teams’ chances of keeping clubs in check.

The Dodgers also don’t have any worker-bees. Think about it. There aren’t many grinders on this ball club. Hitters who will wear a pitch, grind out an at-bat, foul off two-strike pitches for the sole purpose of driving up a starter’s pitch count. Last year’s club had Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Mark Ellis. These types of players have great value when a team is struggling. They have a penchant for willing a team out of funk. So, as I witnessed this vast array of issues it wasn’t surprised me they were scuffling. It was still frustrating beyond belief. I found myself starting to agree with the pundits.

“The Dodgers may make a run, but they won’t have enough to catch the Giants.”

Then, something crazy happened, and in my mind, it changed everything. I know it’s going to sound funny, superstitious and just plain odd but hear me out. I was watching the Giants play the Mets on Saturday June 7th. The Giants had trailed the entire game, but here they were a base hit away from ANOTHER come-from-behind walk-off win. Almost on cue Michael Morse would flip a single into right field and the Giants would win another game in a walk-off. And then, it happened.

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow in his glee and joy and happiness uttered six words that immediately caught my attention. As the Giants were jumping around and mobbing Morse, Krukow interjected.

“All the Giants do is win.”

“What did he say?” I thought. Did he really just say THAT ? Any ballplayer worth his salt knows you don’t mess with a winning streak. As Crash Davis said, “respect the streak.” This bold statement by Krukow, for this superstitious Dodger fan was like manna from heaven. It was something I could grasp, hold onto. Krukow had just proclaimed that the Giants simply can only win. “ALL THE GIANTS DO IS WIN.”

The Giants would move to a season high 21 games over .500 with a come from behind 6-4 win over the Mets on Sunday, but the damage had been done. Since that statement, the Giants are 2-8. Their 9.5 game lead has been whittled down to 4.5 games, and if the Dodgers hang on to this 7-0 lead in the 3rd inning with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, it will be down to 4 games.

Some of you will say my sanity needs to be checked, but for those of you that have ever played the game competitively and played it at a high level, you know there is no one more superstitious than baseball players.

When I was 17 playing Legion ball in Alameda I went on a crazy hitting streak. Seven straight multi-hit games. It was a laser show (apologies to Dustin Pedroia) I refused to wash my Kirby Puckett hitting shirt I wore under my uniform. The shirt was rank. It was disgusting. The stench was dizzying. But, I didn’t wash it until I went hitless. Never mess with good fortune on the diamond. Some will not see Krukow’s comments as having any bearing on the Giants June Swoon. That is fine. Krukow spit into the wind. He tugged on Superman’s cape and he messed around with Jim. And since his declaration, the Dodgers have played better, the Giants have played worse and the Dodgers are six innings away from only being 4 games back.

You don’t have to believe it, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Oh, Giants fans, the June Swoon is real. The Big Dodger in the Sky tells me so.

World Cup Soccer: This novice is ALL IN

 

Admittedly I am not the biggest futbol aficionado, but my fandom is coming along slowly and surely. I have come to appreciate the world’s game for its athleticism, artistry and passion.

With the 2014 World Cup now in full swing I am completely ALL-IN. I am watching and savoring as much as I can. If I can’t watch the games, the live stats are up on my computer at work (shhh !) I already have an adopted team and am ready to cheer, groan and feel the pangs of passion for the teams I want to see do well.

Of course being from Chico we are all pulling for our favorite son Chris Wondolowski. The Division II superstar has turned into one of the best players in the country and scratched and clawed his way onto the US squad. His penchant for being in the right place at the right to put the ball in the back of the net, has not only been a professional trait, but was the college norm as well. Wondo, as he is affectionately known in these parts, has a legion of Wildcat faithful hoping he gets to make his mark on this World Cup.

I will be most fervently cheering my United States countrymen, but I also have a soft spot for Spain. The Spanish are the defending champions and were handed an embarrassing loss to the Netherlands, the team they beat in the 2010 World Cup Final. Having Basque heritage I feel it is in my blood. LOL ! Yesterday was an embarrassing  5-1 loss to the Dutch. Hopefully they can rebound in their next Group B match.

I would really love to see Italy do well. I want to live there someday. I love the people. I love the country. And on a recent trip to Italy I felt more at home there, than I do in some American cities. So, Viva Italia.

So, while my knowledge may be limited, my passion will be high. I am willing to learn. This futbol novice is ALL-IN, just be patient with me. And remember, if I ask you a question about the game, there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers

Spurs working on ultimate payback

Last year the San Antonio Spurs were one defensive rebound away from beating the Miami Heat in six games and capturing their 5th NBA Championship. They didn’t get that rebound and eventually fell to the Heat in seven games.

This isn’t last year.

With surgical precision the Spurs have dismantled the Heat every way imaginable. And, while the stars on each team get the headlines, we are seeing the emergence of a soft-spoken assassin who is taking this finals by the throat. After stumbling, and fouling his way through the first two games, Kawhi Leonard has emerged as the best player in the finals. His virtuoso performances in Games 3 & 4 have stymied the Heat at every turn and are turning these Finals into his personal playground.

Spurs point-guard Tony Parker is still driving the car, Tim Duncan is still reliably chugging along, and Manu Ginobli is still giving making his presence felt, but the stars of this series for the Spurs are Leonard and journeyman Boris Diaw. Diaw has been the consummate facilitator in a power forwards body. His versatility in defending Chris “Birdman” Anderson and then closing out on Dwayne Wade gives the Spurs a weapon the Heat just don’t have. Diaw’s decision-making has been impeccable. He is making the right pass, at the right time, perfectly delivered. Parker said last night that he knew what Diaw could do after playing with him on the French National team for several years.

We will save the post-mortem on the Miami Heat until they are finally put out of their misery. But, it doesn’t look pretty. Miami’s attack right now consists of a whole lot of LeBron James and nothing else. James is doing all he can to try to carry the Heat over the threshold, it’s just not enough. The Heat’s age and mileage is rearing its ugly head on the biggest of basketball stages and it’s clear to everyone, they are old.

Dwayne Wade looks way past his prime now. Sure, on occasion he can bust out with an elite performance, but superstars don’t flourish on occasion, they are consistently great, and Wade is no longer that guy.

Chris Bosh has always been a nice complement but he is nowhere near the player he was even last year. Bosh was always a supremely talented tweener. You don’t ever want to hear that name associated with your game, but in Bosh’s case it worked. He was able to beat you inside with his agility, and on the perimeter with his smooth left-handed jumper. Bosh has completely lost his identity with this team.

Mario Chalmers has been awful. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra can’t afford to keep the guy on the floor. He isn’t making shots and is getting torched on the defensive end. You might as well go with Shane Battier who will at least give you a great defensive effort. Chalmers gives you nothing.

Ray Allen is one of the premier shooters in the game. But, right now it’s just not enough.

For the past year the Spurs have been salivating at the thought of a possible rematch with the Heat. Last year’s Finals loss was excruciatingly painful. A 5-point lead with 29 seconds left in Game 6 only to miss a couple of free throws and see Ray Allen hit a dagger three to send it to a Game 7 would have been too much for many teams to take. Not THIS team. Instead they have had one singular focus and that is get back what they feel is rightfully theirs, and that is the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The mission isn’t completed yet, but for the Spurs and their tremendous head coach Gregg Popovich, they are damn close.

Cramp-Gate

The internet is a flame with criticisms of LeBron James having to leave Game 1 of the NBA Finals because of cramping in his legs. Novice nutritionists are blasting James for his “lack of toughness” and for being “soft.”

I strenuously object to this characterization.

Anyone who knows me can vouch that I am far from a LeBron apologist. While I respect his immense talent, and keen sense of marketing, I will never forget LeBron choosing to take the “easier” road to a title and joining with other superstars, rather than trying to gut it out for his home-town team. But, that is neither here nor there. At issue is CrampGate 2014 and whether the self-proclaimed “King” is soft. I say no way.

If you have ever played sports or competed at a high level, there is a good chance at some point in your athletic endeavors you had to deal with cramps. They can be mild or they can disabling and debilitating. What I saw from James last night was a guy who, physically “appeared” human for the first time in his career. The porous conditions with no air conditioning brought him to his knees, literally.

I can not criticize James for bowing out with those cramps. I have had cramps like that before. They can be excruciating. You can’t move. Your muscles lock up, and any attempt to move brings horrible pain. It’s not something to be laughed at or made fun of.  I would venture that most of these people ripping James for not playing have never played a day of competitive sports in their lives. They are the same people who look at every opportunity to “tear down.” Heck, I was that guy earlier in my life. It’s ugly, and actually pretty pathetic.

I find it interesting that most athletes who were “tweeting” their reactions to LeBron’s injury were sympathetic. The only criticism I have of James is that he should probably have been more diligent in replenishing his body with potassium and electrolytes. With such airid conditions and temperatures hovering near 90 degrees on the court it’s important to stay hydrated. This isn’t so much on James, but it’s on the training staff for the Miami Heat, who knew the air-conditioning was off since the beginning of the game. If I am the Heat trainer, I have those players constantly replacing fluids AND I have them eating bananas. The potassium that bananas provide would assuredly guard against cramping.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told media today that his players were trying to stay hydrated and they “were drinking fluids.” That isn’t good enough. These were extraordinary circumstances which required the Heat training staff to be pro-active in trying to prevent the Heat’ players from succumbing to the rare conditions. That is their job.

I still really want the Spurs to win this thing. But, I will not criticize LeBron James for leaving Game 1 because of cramps. I have been there and done that, and it’s nothing to be trivialized.

49ers jump the gun on Kaepernick contract

I am not really sure why the San Francisco 49ers felt the need to pay Colin Kaepernick a record-setting deal. While Kaepernick holds great promise and could be one of the best in the game someday, he is not there yet.

The 49ers rewarded Kaepernick with a 6-year and 126 million dollar contract with 61 millon guaranteed dollars. This is the largest guarantee in NFL history. We know why Kap and his agents jumped at this deal, the question is why the 49ers offered it.

If the 49ers play it out, and let Kaepernick play under his rookie deal he would make 1 million dollars next year. Even after the 2014 campaign, if the 49ers didn’t want to pay Kap, they wouldn’t have had to. They could have franchised Kaepernick for between 18-20 million dollars. So, instead of paying him an average of 10 million over the next two-year, the 49ers opted to pay him 42 million over those two years. Why ???

Well, in this age of sensitive athletes they may have felt it was a good move to keep the face of their franchise happy. They may feel it’s good to lock him up now before he actually wins a Super Bowl. If Kap were to lead the Niners to a championship would he ask for 25-30 million annually ? Maybe.

It just seems a bit odd that a team as financially savvy as the 49ers would opt to pay Kaepernick when the collective bargaining agreement dictates they could sit on their hands and wait for him to produce.

It also is a bit perplexing they would pay him when his character has come into question this off-season. While he isn’t being charged with a crime, he certainly needs to show better judgement than his run-in with an ex-girlfriend in Miami several weeks ago. When you are the face of a  storied franchise you can not put yourself in questionable social circumstances.

In the end this could turn out to be a great deal for the 49ers. An exciting, athletic quarterback who dazzles the fans and brings his unique skill set to the field each Sunday.

Why the 49ers opted to pay him max dollars two years before they had to is beyond me…..

Tempered confidence in Poker is an asset

 

HE IS ABLE WHO THINKS HE IS ABLE.” -BUDDHA

Confidence is an amazing thing. In whatever walk of life you travel, if you believe in yourself, believe in the process; magic can happen.

On a recent trip to Vegas I experienced the confluence of confidence, mindfulness, and being present on a three-day poker excursion. I had never had a “run” like this before. But, I have no doubts it will happen again.

While stacking chips at my table after winning yet another pot, I wasn’t surprised, amazed or even questioning what was happening. I was confident in the fact that I was just better than the people I was playing with, regardless of whether I had the winning cards in my hand. The cards were ancillary. They didn’t really matter. The more I won, the better I played.

There is a fine line between that feeling of invincibility and just straight confidence. It is very easy to slip into that impenetrable zone at the table. That is why “tempered” confidence, a rational confidence is what best serves the “tune-in” player.

At no time did I feel I was going to win every hand. I never pushed my chips, when I was in “hope” mode. I pushed when I knew I was going to win. It wasn’t an ostentatious feel, it wasn’t cocky. It was a knowing confidence, with an awareness of self and fellow players. Channeling that feel, where you are  mentally aware of your surroundings can lead to great results.

The more people at the table came after me, the more I backed off. I had no problem folding a marginal hand when out of position when someone wanted to flex their muscles. In my state of mind, I wasn’t thinking about past failures, or future riches, all that existed was the present. Being so acutely aware of what is happening RIGHT NOW, not only in poker, but life can only serve you well. Your mind will tell you what to do. You just have to clear the clutter and mentally tune in to your soul.

This may sound a bit philosophical, new age or even a bit ” out there.” It is “out there.” One has to shelve their pre-conceived notions. You have to train your mind to forget what you have been taught about feeding negativity in your life. Embrace the moment. When you embrace the here and now and are in tune with your thoughts, centrally focused on a task at hand, and attack a task with tempered confidence and enthusiasm, you will be tough to beat in poker and in life.