Anne Delaney

Friday, July 24, 2009

Delaney: Baseball in the Rain, sans Gene Kelly

A steady rain in Cooperstown early Friday evening appeared to keep many people off the village sidewalks. The streets weren't crowded even before the rain, which started about 6 p.m. and turned into a downpour less than an hour later.

On Baseball Hall of Fame weekend when it rains in Cooperstown it's raining Red Sox and Yankees instead of cats and dogs. Or Cubs and Cardinals. Depends on if you favor the American or National League.

The start of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's signature weekend was a wet one. There was a rain delay at Doubleday Field Friday morning for Ozzie Smith's PLAY Ball clinic. Told you there'd be Cardinals in this. Smith had at least one fan at the clinic. Thirty-five-year old Jeff Bary now of Hamilton, but originally from southern West Virginia where he learned to be a Cardinals fan and had a cup of coffee as a Little League infielder.

Now a Colgate University astronomy and physics professor, Bary paid up for the clinic because he wishes he'd stayed with America's pastime, which he believes baseball is by the way. So Bary is sort of Hamilton's Doc Graham. Sort of.

"That's my regret, I didn't play baseball," said Bary, who gave it up for tennis.

Graham regretted he didn't get to hit in the Major Leagues. After a sac fly in Kevin Costner's corn, he went back to medicine.

More Hall of Fame events are planned for Saturday, of course, including a 'Connecting the Generations' seminar featuring 2008 inductees Goose Gossage and Dick Williams.

From the few people who were in downtown Cooperstown late Friday afternoon, I think Jim Rice is going to have a healthy group of supporters at Sunday afternoon's Induction Ceremony.

There were plenty of people in the village wearing t-shirts from Rice's former team, the Boston Red Sox. Red Sox stickers and license plate frames were spotted on several vehicles, including those with non-New England state license plates. And every other car seemed to have Massachusetts plates. They must have all been there for Rice. Why else would anyone from Mass. leave the state this weekend?

A young man downtown wore a gray Red Sox road jersey with Rice's name and No. 14 on the back. The number will be retired by the Red Sox next week. Gossage was the only other Hall of Famer represented in town Friday. You'd think someone would have a Rickey Henderson jersey considering he played for nine teams. No, it was Gossage who slipped through a downtown market with a hat and dark glasses.

While Rice might end up being the fan favorite Sunday, Henderson is the stat star and personality. The all-time runs and stolen base leader - second in walks - Henderson was a first ballot selection with 95 percent of the vote. For Boggs, he was also the first to refer to himself in the third person.

"It will be interesting to find out if he does that on Sunday," Boggs remarked.

Rice was elected in his final year of eligibility, despite being a "dominating" player of his era according to Boggs. Rice's numbers are impressive. As my colleague John Pitarresi wrote in a blog earlier this week, Rice is one of only three guys to lead a league in home runs, triples and RBIs.

Rice was a different personality from Henderson. He wasn't flamboyant, wasn't a guy to draw attention to himself, though his opponents had him pegged.

"In Baltimore, we avoided Rice," Eddie Murray said. "In that lineup, and that was a good lineup, but sometimes you got to pick your poison. We thought he was the guy to drive in runs so we tried to duck him."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Delaney: Barrett a sight for sore eyes

I didn't watch much of The Open Championship from Scotland on Sunday. Once Tom Watson's shot on 18 went over the green, I knew it was going to end up in a playoff. And right there, the momentum went to Stewart Cink.

Perhaps contrary to what some think, sports reporters don't want the athletes we cover to have a bad time. At least, most of the sports reporters I know feel that way. It's hard to watch when an athlete struggles in a big moment. That's part of the game, part of life really, but it's not easy.

One of the reasons I had to tear myself away from watching golf Sunday afternoon was so I could go watch golf - in person at the Greater Utica City Amateur Tournament. There, I saw the opposite of Tom Watson.

Shane Barrett won his third title in four years with a 20-foot chip in for birdie from the fringe of the 18th hole. With his parents among the crowd gathered near the green, Barrett then did the deepest and most emphatic fist pump I've ever seen. Better than Tiger.

It's rare for me to see athlete celebrate with Barrett's relief and enthusiasm. I couldn't help but think of Tom Watson and his disappointment. Then I looked for Barrett, and there he was - at the edge of the green smiling in a Tiger-red golf shirt, unshaven and long hair sticking out of his cap.

It was an easier sight to see.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Delaney: Hamlin not thinking Vancouver - yet

Erin Hamlin knows the Olympics are coming.

She can't help it with training and paperwork, and there are more people and more of a buzz around the Lake Placid U.S. Olympic Training Center where she lives. The Vancouver games are seven months away. Hamlin pre-qualified with her World Championship title earlier this year. She needs a top 5 finish or better in one of the first four World Cup series races this fall to lock up a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Hamlin is in a much different place now than she was in 2006, when she unexpectedly raced onto the team that competed in Torino, Italy. Hamlin is the top-ranked U.S. women and many in the USA Luge organization expect her to be a member of the team next winter.

Hamlin isn't yet looking at Whistler - the British Columbia, Canada resort town where the luge competition will be. Whistler's permanent population is about 10,000. It's 2.5 hours from Vancouver, B.C. and about 5 hours from Seattle, Wash.

"For sure, the races before that are definitely in front of my mind because I need them to make the Olympic team," Hamlin said. "Really I’m focusing on the races that happen first but in the long run I’m focusing on them to do well so I can be in the Olympics."

Hamlin has stayed at the Olympic training center through most of the spring and summer to make the most of her training opportunities. Everything she needs is in Lake Placid - the start house, the trainers, the weight facilities. It's not always easy being isolated up in Lake Placid, though her family is only 2 1/2 hours away, but as Hamlin says: "If I really want to be the best, it's the most logical place to be."

Hamlin, born Nov. 19, will celebrate her 23rd birthday a day before the season-opening World Cup series race in Calgary, Canada. Series stops 2-6 will take the team to Europe before breaking for pre-Olympic training in Park City, Utah. The second series race is Nov. 24-29 in Igls, Austria. Hamlin had a career-best fourth-place finish in Igls last year. The rest of the pre-holiday schedule is: Dec 1-6, Altenberg, Germany; Dec. 8-13, Lillehammer, Norway. Racing will resume Dec. 29-Jan. 3, 2010 in Koenigssee, Germany, followed by stops in Winterberg and Oberhof before wrapping up in Cesana, Italy Jan. 26-31.

Official Olympic training begins Feb. 10. The men's singles are Feb. 13-14, women's singles Feb. 15-16 and doubles on Feb. 17. Olympic luge is a two-day event with four runs, unlike World Cup series races. U.S. National team coach Miro Zayonc said all luge events used to be two days but the races were cut back for convenience and for television. A four-run competition is a greater challenge, "a good test," Zayonc said, because the mental side of the sport takes over especially for an athlete in a good place after Day 1. Going to bed with the lead might not make for a restful night.

"Then you have to sleep on it and you have to wait on it," Zayonc said. "It's difficult, the nerves the expectations."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Delaney: No soap, Olympic spirit lives in Lake Placid

Erin Hamlin was sliding Wednesday. Hamlin and some USA Luge teammates rolled down the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track on wheels during afternoon runs as the organization continued its training camp in Lake Placid.

Hamlin was back to the nitty-gritty work Wednesday. On Tuesday, the sliders' responsibilities included credential photographs and publicity photographs, and athletes played team games as we wrote yesterday. The athletes are scattered all over the country during the offseason and this camp is the one time when the entire team is together.

The team games, which we wrote about yesterday, looked fun but were not easy. Men’s singles slider Bengt Walden came off the court dripping with sweat during one break.

On Wednesday, the team had a nearly hour long weight lifting session. For Hamlin, it was then over to the luge office where she worked on starts. Hamlin has spent most of the spring and summer in Lake Placid, living in the self-contained "biosphere" of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. The U.S.O.T.C. is an impressive building. Hamlin, a lifelong fan of the Olympic games, has gotten used to being at the U.S.O.T.C. but still said it's "very cool" to be in the building.

The U.S. and Olympic pride is everywhere in the building, especially in places where you wouldn't expect to see it. It makes sense for the spirit to be apparent in flags flying in front of the building. Or in the weight room, where the letters U-S-A and the five Olympic rings are painted over an entire wall. The USA and the five rings are also on the restroom soap and paper towel dispensers. What does that say to visitors? We're never washing our hands to the dream?

While in Lake Placid this offseason, Hamlin has had plenty of time to work out and she's devoted at least three days a week to perfecting her technique on the start.

“I can definitely tell the difference when I do things right,” Hamlin said. “I’m really working on getting the most out of the power that I put into it. Opening up has been what my coach has been talking to me about, bringing my shoulders back instead off hunching over.”

Starts have been a focus for Hamlin the last few years. She’s improved a great deal, and much of that has come from increased body strength. Hamlin looks to be in great physical shape. She's broader and bigger than I remember, though it's been a while since I've seen her without a parka.

As we wrote here Tuesday, the time at the top of the track is critical to putting together a good overall run. Hamlin took four or five start runs in the 56-degree start house while closely watched by senior national team head coach Wolfgang Schaedler.

Schaedler is just back from his native Liechtenstein where he builds sleds. He was hands-on with Hamlin on Wednesday. In between one run, the former three-time Olympian took hold of Hamlin’s arms, shoulders and back to get her in the proper posture to maximize the starting position.

“I saw something, something with the technique is wrong,” Schaedler said. “Or is not where it should be at this point. Since she is skating into the start, I don’t want to have any bad habits carrying over. Now it’s easier to fix them, to begin the start training. I want her to get that technique perfect first before she goes for more speed.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Delaney: Hamlin in training

Luge in July?

Well, not exactly but the unseasonably cool temperatures in Lake Placid Tuesday might be favorable for icing down the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 30s early Wednesday morning. Observer-Dispatch photographer Nicole Cvetnic and I are back in Lake Placid to see USA luger Erin Hamlin, and it doesn't feel much warmer than when we were here for the World Championships in February. Yes, and I thought the Utica weather was rough.

Though it's summer, sort of, training goes on for Hamlin. She's been in Lake Placid throughout the offseason. Some of her teammates are also around on a regular basis. Seven months before the 2010 Winter Olympics, 18 of the 19 senior national team members are in a training camp this week.

On Tuesday, Nicole and I watched Hamlin in physical training, sprinting, stretching and doing core work. We also watched her in a free-for-all foul shooting contest and in a fast-paced Swedish floor hockey game called Bandy. Hamlin played soccer in high school at Remsen but she carried her small Bandy stick like she knew what she was doing. Hamlin must have gotten some tips from teammate Bengt Walden, who is Swedish.

Hamlin is the top women's slider in the U.S. and is attracting a lot of attention - paparazzi, as she said - leading up to the February 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada outside of Vancouver. A reporter and photographer from USA Today were also on site Tuesday. A crew from NBC Nightly News is coming up Wednesday.

Hamlin, 22, needs a top 5 finish in a fall World Cup series race to lock up on a place on the U.S. team in Vancouver.

On Wednesday, the sliders will be in the weight room and working on starts at an indoor ramp. Starts remain a focal point for Hamlin, who is continuing to work on getting faster and stronger. The start is a key part of a luge run because a slider needs speed at the top to generate more speed later.

"It's free time," said USA coach Miro Zayonc. "You're a tenth faster at the bottom. You can't start from behind."

The start is one area where the German women are strong and it's a reason they have been so dominant in the sport. Before Hamlin's World Championship victory, the Germans had won 99 consecutive international competitions.

Some of Tuesday's workout were non-traditional, for sure, especially Bandy. The team games went a long way toward group bonding and the events gave the athletes a fun way to get in some agility work while using muscles they spend so much time maintaining.

Among the sliders at the training camp was the doubles team of Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin. The highly decorated duo was third at the World Championships earlier this year when Hamlin won her gold medal in the women's singles.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Delaney: Jeff Fisher got it right

I loved what Jeff Fisher said about Steve McNair. The Tennesee Titans football coach spoke about his former quarterback at a press conference the other day, and offered a side of McNair that has been lost in the strange circumstances surrounding his death. Fisher's comments below were from The Tennessean newspaper. I heard the same words from Fisher on television.

"The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say I am sorry. I am not perfect. We all make decisions sometimes that are not in the best interest. Please forgive me. The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, "Celebrate my life.’’ For what I did on the field and what I did in the community, the kind of teammate that I was, that’s what Steve that I knew would want me to say."

Fisher's words were right on. The circumstances of McNair's death were strange and sad, but there was more to the guy than how he died. The same for Michael Jackson. Jackson made some "interesting" choices as his career went on but he did a lot of good.

We need to remember the entire person.