Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pitarresi: Lucas deserved to win, Rivera irreplaceable


I’ve been out of touch, having spent eight days in Wyoming.


Wyoming is a long way from a lot of places, but it is beautiful, and believe it or not, they have newspapers and television sets there. So, I was able to keep up with the national sports scene when I wasn’t fishing, trying to find a place to fish, sightseeing, dining lavishly at my sister’s house, or trying to make a fortune in the casinos.


 I watched the final round of the U.S. Open and felt good for Lucas Glover. He was able to hold it together – the way poor Ricky Barnes didn’t – and deserved to win. Seems like a good guy, and that’s a plus.


I felt bad for Barnes, who fell apart, but his talent showed. We might hear more from him soon. The hat killed me, though. Was that really a painter’s cap?


It would have been nice if Phil Mickelson had won, but I’m almost glad he didn’t. I think his wife’s  battle with breast cancer might have been turned into a maudlin soap opera, more of a story device than anything else.  


The guy I was pulling for was David Duval. He has been nowhere for years, but he just keeps plugging. If he never is a top player again, he proved he has some guts.


I did not see Mariano Rivera earn his 500th save. Quite a landmark. It seems strange to say that a relief pitcher could be at team’s most important player over 15 years, but, really, where would the Yankees have been without Rivera since 1995?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pitarresi: Flynn moving up


Jonny Flynn is moving up.


Sports Illustrated has the former Syracuse University point guard projected to go fourth in  Thursday's NBA draft. Flynn was regarded as a low first-round choice when Orange season ended, and a few weeks ago was talked about as being a mid-first-rounder. Now fourth. That's quite a jump. Apparently it's due to impressive workouts with several teams.


I'm don't know if Flynn is worth the fourth pick in the draft, and I don't think the scouts really know, either. The kid is a great athlete, very strong, plays with passion. He has holes in his game, some of them that have to do with maturity, but he just turned 20 Feb. 6, so he has plenty of room  to grow.


Flynn's size could be a factor. SI lists him as 6-foot-1, but that certainly is not true. Having stood face to face with him many times, I'm sure the 5-11¼ I saw on one scouting report is much more like it. But plenty of guys that size and shorter have made it in the NBA, although not many lately. Well, Flynn is not likely to grow taller, but he can improve his shooting, and he will have to, especially from long range. He was a capable shooter in college, sometimes terrific, but rather streaky. That has to get better. And I can't see him attacking the basket consistently in the NBA. He often did in college, where I thought he often got the better of calls when initiating contact with big guys, but I don't think that will pay off at the next level.


Flynn has the athletically ability to play in the NBA. He is fast and powerful and gets off the floor like a rocket. If he can make up for his lack of size, improve his shooting – that's a skill that responds more to hard work than almost any in any sport – and continue to increase his basketball IQ, he has a good chance of being a success.





Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pitarresi: Have you ever watched the Stanley Cup playoffs?

When people tell me they don’t like hockey, or I read that sentiment someplace, or the national radio talk show guys do everything they can to ignore the game – and most of those smug know-it-alls do ignore it with an vengeance – I want to shout at them:

Have you ever watched the Stanley Cup playoffs?

And I’m shouting it again now after last night’s 2-1 Pittsburgh Penguin victory over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in the seventh and terrifically entertaining deciding game of the finals.

You don’t like speed, body contact, aggressive and creative play? You don’t like seeing guys give up their heart’s blood to win? You don’t’ like a dramatic save to preserve the victory a couple of heartbeats before the final horn sounds? What is not to like? You don’t even have to understand the game to any great depth to like all of that.

I also love the Stanley Cup itself, which is more and more hyped each year but doesn’t need any help in terms of value. It is 116 years old, and it’s the most treasured trophy in sports. I think it’s great that everyone on the winning team from the general manager to the stick boy gets to lift the Cup.

I don’t think any sport celebrates its championship as monumentally as the National Hockey League does, and I don’t think any sports media organization does a more thorough job in covering one than the CBC does. By the time they got to the 22nd player on the roster, I was getting a little tired, but I was very impressed with the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast team – and it’s a big team - which knows just about every salient detail of every player’s career and private life.

The coverage might have been too good. I’m quite sure that I heard at least three Penguins use the “magic word” as they lifted the Cup. I can hardly blame their exuberance, but guys, come on, you know you are on national television.

That aside, it was a great show. And I ask again, if you say you don’t like the game, have you ever watched the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pitarresi: Farewell to Randy Smith


The death of former Buffalo Brave Randy Smith the other day brought back some memories.


Smith was in college the same time I was. I never saw him play then, and only on television when he made the NBA, but we were well aware of his exploits. He was a big name back then.


Smith went to Division III Buffalo State. I have no idea why he was there, because he clearly was a big-time athlete. He was All-American in basketball and soccer and track, went on to become an NBA all-star, and held the league’s consecutive games streak for many years. That from a small college seventh-round draft choice.


Buffalo Braves coach Jack Ramsay, a man whose knowledge of the game is unsurpassed, call Smith the best athlete he ever coached.


"He had stamina, great speed and developed into a very good player," Ramsay told the Los Angeles Times. "And was so fun to be around. There was not a bad day in Randy's life."


We wish he had a lot more of them to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pitarresi: Cherry wins us over

So, yesterday, I cut up Don Cherry a little bit for what he had to say about D-Day.


I thought it was very nice that he took time to pay tribute to the heroes of that time, but I took him to task for going over the top and insulting everyone involved in the invasion who wasn’t Canadian.


So what happens? During his Coach’s Corner segment during the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals between Detroit and Pittsburgh last night, he let us know again that, right or wrong, smart or dumb, he is all about passion, loyalty, patriotism – whether you think it is misguided or not – and being real.


Cherry began a tribute to Canadian soldier Alexandre Peloquin, 20, recently killed in Afghanistan. A photo of the young man, in uniform, was shown on the screen, and then Cherry began reading from a piece of paper. He barely got it done. He mentioned  the soldier’s parents – this kid was French-Canadian, which makes it all the more amazing if you know Cherry’s history with Quebecois - giving some details and then breaking down and crying. “I love him,” he said through his tears. The camera cut away and CBC went to a commercial, far sooner that scheduled I’m pretty sure.


I couldn’t believe it, but I could. It’s Don Cherry – loudmouth lout and big-hearted promoter of rock-solid values, visor-hating, foreigner-disparaging Neanderthal, big teddy bear of a great guy. He really ticked me off Saturday, then he made me love him all over again Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pitarresi: Cherry offbase on D-Day comments

I love Don Cherry … to a point.


Cherry, nearly three decades into his second career as the centerpiece of Hockey Night in Canada, is the most recognizable person by far from our neighbor to the north, and, depending who you talk to from up there, either a national hero or a national disgrace.


Cherry says anything he wants to after the first period of the hockey games televised on CBC, and he does it in a colorful manner, to say the least. He’s refreshing in many ways, and a lot of fun, but he also crosses the line way too often and way too easily, and he’s capable of saying incredibly ignorant things – about European hockey players, French-Canadians and lots of other stuff.


He did it again the other night, during the fifth game of the Stanley Cup Finals, which occurred on the 65th anniversary of D-Day.


Cherry started out fine. It was very nice that he went out of his way to honor the soldiers who participated in the invasion, and I certainly didn’t mind his pride in the work of the Canadian 3rd Division on Juno Beach. However, when he compared the Americans and British unfavorably to the Canadians, and when he deeply insulted the French Resistance, which played a key role in the operation, he charged across the bounds of good taste.


“Canadians are the best soldiers,” Cherry said. “You know why? Because they were volunteers.”


Like a good portion of the Americans, British and French weren’t? And whether they were or they weren’t, they were out there fighting and dying. So were soldiers from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland. Apparently, Don was unaware of those guys.


I liked the idea of Cherry calling attention to D-Day. I just wish he had done it without somehow belittling non-Canadians, especially since thousands of them found their finally resting places beneath white crosses in France and Belgium. Be patriot, but have a better understanding of what went on, and have a bit more compassion for all those people who helped make D-Day successful and helped win the largest, most decisive conflict in the history of the world.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pitarresi: Hall of Fame induction a good show

The Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame banquet tonight was quite nice.


I was there to cover the ceremonies and also, I guess, as a fan. I think it is important to honor the past, and to shine a spotlight on those who have made a difference. They make great examples for those coming along.


It helps to have had a little bit of a relationship with all four of this year’s inductees. I knew the late Pete DeStefano a little bit and several of his children pretty well. I knew Gerry Gilberti in his coaching days and Joe Leo a little bit. I’ve gotten to know Mike Slive somewhat in the last year. They’ve all had distinguished careers, and they’ve all made a difference.


They all deserve the accolades they got tonight.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pitarresi: Remembering Terry Barr

Terry Barr died the other day.


I’m sure few readers of or The Observer-Dispatch remember Terry Barr. I do because he was one of my favorite pro football players in the 1950s and 1960s.


Barr was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, a team I had no particular allegiance to except that they always seemed kind of tough back in those days. I remembered that Barr wore number 44, but, no, that was Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau. I checked today and Barr wore 41, which pleases me no end because I wore 41 myself in two sports for four years and 41 always is part of my personal identification numbers, in case you want to hack into any of my accounts.


What did I like about Terry Barr? Well, he was a great receiver, very fast – a two-time Michigan 440 champion at Grand Rapids High School - and athletic, and he just looked like a football player. He and Gale Cogdill, the other wide receiver, made a good team. These guys were terrific athletes. If the guys today are better, largely because of better nutrition and conditioning program, they aren’t that much better. Barr was great fun to watch.


He died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.


“He was suffering for quite some time, so I’m glad the Lord decided to take him home,” said his friend and teammate, Joe Schmidt, the Lions’ Hall of Fame linebacker.


Amen. But I’ll remember Terry Barr.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pitarresi: LeBron has something to learn

LeBron James is a great athlete and a great basketball player.


That can’t be denied.


That doesn’t mean that, at age 24, he doesn’t have a few things to learn.


You lose the conference final to the Orlando Magic and you just stalk off? You don’t commiserate with your teammates? You don’t congratulate your opponents? You don’t stay afterwards and deal with the press that helps make you one of the most popular athletes in the world?


The Cleveland Cavaliers star made excuses yesterday for his behavior:


He’s a “winner.”  Not that night he wasn’t.


He’s a “competitor” Who isn’t?


Its hard for him to shake a guy’s hand after he just got beat up. Well, yeah.


LeBron shot himself with this. Why not just acknowledge that on that night, or through those six games, the other guy was better than you were. You hung around to be congratulated when you won earlier in the playoffs.


Another guy did this a few years ago. Brett Favre has been a great player throughout his career, but throws a terrible, mindless interception at the end of a playoff game – against the Giants? I can’t remember – and just takes off, never bothering to stand and take his medicine dealing with the media afterward. I always loved the guy, and I pretty much still do, but I lost some respect for him that day. He took all the praise throughout his career, basked in the limelight. It’s only fair that he face the music when the result was not something to his liking.


Same for James. Any excuse you make for him ends up sounding like he’s bigger than the game. The problem is, no one is.


Fred Dunlap, the longtime Colgate University football coach - a winner and a competitor, believe me - said something to me 30 years ago that I’ve never forgotten.


“You better learn how to lose,” he said, “because if you stick around long enough, you will.”