Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pitarresi: Legion puts on good show

Having the New York State American Legion Baseball Tournament back her in the Mohawk Valley.


There are some terrific teams playing out at Murnane Field, and it’s a good day’s entertainment.


It’s terrific, too, that the tournament committee, headed by Don Oliver and assistant by Utica Post manager Greg Gaeta, thinks beyond baseball. The thought is to make the whole enterprise an event.


They succeeded in a big way during opening ceremonies Wednesday. They arranged to have former Utica Post player Scott Thrasher fly in to be honored and throw out the first pitch, and the result was an emotional meeting with his parents and a nice celebration that everyone in the crowd and the eight competing teams thoroughly appreciated.


Congratulations to Oliver and Co. for putting on a great show.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pitarresi: Hall of Fame induction a hit

I’ve been covering inductions at the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1972, back when the ceremonies were held on the stairs at the Hall’s library and a couple of thousand people pushed into Cooper Park, then hanging out of trees and dangling from the statue of a seated James Fenimore Cooper.


The festivities long since were moved to the Clark Athletic Center on Susquehanna Avenue, not quite as picturesque a venue, but far better able to accommodate the many thousands of fans who want to participate.


This year, with Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, and Joe Gordon being inducted, there were about 21,000 on hand. It was a good crowd, and it got a good show. In fact, I’d say it was one of the more enjoyable inductions in my memory. One reason: good speeches. One major key to a good speech hasn’t changed since the Gettysburg Address: brevity, something Abraham Lincoln understood instinctively. All the speakers obeyed that rule, and they also used humor and emotion and told anecdotes to illustrate their points. Very good stuff.


I was especially impressed by Henderson, a guy I never really liked much. He won me over during a teleconferenced last week, and even more so with his speech. There were no third person references, no glorying in his own accomplishments. He was witty, funny, heartfelt, interesting, genuine, humble, generous – all good things. If he was a little ungrammatical, that only added to the charm. Here was a guy who played to the top of his game for many yeaers, with great passion, and appreciated the ride and the people who helped him take it.


So, now I’m a Rickey Henderson fan.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pitarresi: Jim Rice a baseball rarity


I was writing a story on Jim Rice the other day – he’ll be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, along with Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon – and going over some statistics when something jumped out at me.


In 1978, the year he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Rice led the league in home runs (46) and triples (15) and about nine other things, as well. Home runs and triples? Who ever did that? I figured that has to be an extreme rarity. Usually power hitters aren’t going to be sprinting full bore for 90 yards to get three bases more than a couple of times a summer.


It turns out, it is indeed a rarity. Beyond that, Rice is a member of a triumvirate of hitters who have done something even more rare.


Craig Muder, my former boss as sports editor of The Observer-Dispatch and now director of communications for the Hall of Fame, provided me with a list of players who have led their leagues in homers and triples in the same year. It’s a short one. There are two guys on it I should have expected. Mickey Mantle led the American League with 11 triples and 37 homers in 1955, and Willie Mays led the National League with 13 triples and 51 home runs the same year.


The others? Jim Bottomley led the NL with 20 triples and 31 homers in 1928. He really is the only other “modern” player to have done so. The others were Harry Stovey (NL, 1880, 14 triples, 6 homers); Tip O’Neill (American Association, 1887, 19 triples, 14 homers); Harry Stovey (NL, 1891, 20 triples, 16 homers); Tommy Leach (NL, 1902, 22 triples, 6 homes), and Harry Lumley (NL, 1904, 18 triples, 9 homers).


But Craig passed on one more stunning stat. Only three players in the 130-plus history of big league baseball have led their leagues in home runs, triples, AND RBIs. O’Neill and Bottomley are two. Rice is the other. He had 139 RBIs in 1978. If you hit a lot of home runs you’ll have a lot of RBIs, but still, to lead the league in triples, homers and RBIs in the same year? Well, again, only three guys have done it, which shows you something about the talents of Jim Rice.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pitarresi: Hats off to old timers

It’s Old Timers Day today.


I love old timers, a term that somehow now includes people 25 years or so younger than I am.


In any case, I tip my hat to Tom Watson, 59, and Jim Thome, 38.


As for Watson, I, like millions of golf fans around the world, was praying that he would win the British Open. He didn’t, and we just missed one of the great sports stories of all time. Still, Watson’s outrageous performance at Turnberry, is something I never will forget. His run there will serve to reestablish his credentials as one of the truly great – maybe top five – golfers of all time.


Thome, my favorite big league player for many years, had a huge week last week - seven RBIs in one game, and 14 in three games. A big man with a beautiful lefthanded swing, Thome is one of the great powerhitters of all time. He has hit 557 home runs and 1,545 RBIs, with more than 100 nine times. His lifetime on-base percentage is .406 and he’s scored 100 or more runs eight times. Plus, no one ever has suggested the big guy – 6-foot-4, 250 – uses steroids, and no one ever has accused him of being anything other than a gentleman. I hope he has a couple of seasons left in him and gets to 600 home runs. I think he’s already a Hall of Famer, but reaching that number would seal it.


Again, hats off to both of them.  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pitarresi: Tom is in, Tiger is out

Wow. I just got a call from someone claiming to be Notah Begay III.


He said he’s firing Tiger Woods, hiring Tom Watson, and raising ticket prices to $500 for his NB3 Foundation Challenge at Turning Stone Casino and Resort next month.


Nah. Just kidding, but maybe Notah should think about it for a minute considering what’s gone on over in Scotland the last couple of days. Tom Watson holding the lead in The Open Championship after 36 holes? Tiger Woods out of it, missing the cut. The world has turned upside down. To have a 59-year-old man leading the field in one of golf’s greatest challenges, and the greatest golfer in the world headed home is pretty strange.


I’ve said it before. I love Tiger, with just some reservations about his occasional refusal to deal with the media on a tough day, but a failure like this one now and then probably is good for him, both competitively and as a person. Watson? You have to love the idea of an old guy – an old guy who is a year and a half younger than I am, which just kills me – winning a major tournament. I don’t yet believe he can do it, even if he has won five Opens, but I want him to.


I’ll be saying some Hail Marys for Tom the next couple of days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pitarresi: Hasbrouck could make it, too


Jonny Flynn is a first round draft choice.


Kenny Hasbrouck is a free agent.


Now I’m going to write something really heretical:


I think Hasbrouck might be as good as Flynn, and might have as much pro potential.


However, he won’t likely get to show it. Flynn was a huge star at Syracuse, a national power. Hasbrouck was a pretty big star at Siena, which had a very good team but is a “mid major,” a term I really despise. That might have some influence on how their futures develop.


Don’t get me wrong. Flynn is a great player. He’s strong, fast, quick, powerful and a great competitor. Hasbrouck is all those things, too, maybe not to as great a degree, but he’s three or four inches taller. Flynn played against top flight competition, but so did Hasbrouck on many occasions. I think he is a great player, and I don’t think there is a lot of difference between him and most of the guards in the Big East that Flynn played against. In fact, I think Hasbrouck can play with any of them.


The biggest difference between the Big East and, say, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference that Siena, Niagara, Iona and other small schools play in is good big men. I’m not saying the guards are interchangeable, but there are a lot of MAAC guards who can play in the Big East. This stands to reason. There are a lot more good basketball players 5-feet-9 to 6-feet-6 than there are 6-feet-7 and taller. There just are a lot more people across the world shorter than 6-7 than taller than 6-7. It makes sense to me that there would be a lot more competition for guard positions in major conferences, so if a guy is a late bloomer, he might end up at LaSalle or Detroit of Siena and still be a great player. I think that is what happened with Hasbrouck.


The fact that Flynn is a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Timberwolves helps him. Teams aren’t going to make that investment and not put everything they have into it. I’m not sure Flynn can be an outstanding pro. I just don’t know. I do know he’ll get every chance. Kenny Hasbrouck will not. He’ll have to do something special to make the Miami Heat, because he’ll have to bump a draft choice or an established player that the team has an investment in. That can be done.


Anyway, keep an eye on Hasbrouck. He might end up in the NBA.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pitarresi: British Open a great test

If the British Open, or The Open Championship, to say it properly, isn’t my favorite golf tournament, it is very close.


I do love the Masters, but the U.S. Open and the British, I think, are the great tests of golf. If I had to pick a favorite, it probably would be the British because of its long history and great character.


Because the courses are so difficult, and conditions so unlike most other tournaments, extraordinary demands are made upon the players. That’s a good thing. I think it is very interesting to see how these people respond when they are forced out of their comfort zones, and that is especially true in the British. Wind, rain, treeless landscapes, rough a rabbit couldn’t run through, bunkers a kangaroo couldn’t jump out of – all of that tests a man’s mind and spirit as much as it examines his skills. It’s a battle, and, again, that’s a good thing.


You wouldn’t want to see it every week, just like you wouldn’t want to see football in the rain or snow every week, but you do want to witness every now and then how very talented people handle adversity.  I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pitarresi: "Picture Perfect" is right on

Sometimes things just come together in a very good way.


It was that way for the 32nd Utica Boilermaker Road Race Sunday.


“Picture Perfect” was the lead headline in today’s Observer-Dispatch, and that characterization was right on.


The weather, with blue skies, a good breeze and temperatures somewhere between 55 and 61 degrees, depending on what source you used, was about perfect for running. You had the second largest field ever – 11,866 – and a great men’s open race, with Morocco’s Ridouane Harroufi patiently running down Bazu Worku Hayla to win the title.


Everything seemed to work well. No major snafus like last year’s monumental timing glitch.


There seems to be a lot of discussion about the crowd not being as big as in the past. I don’t know about that. It’s all personal perception. My own view is that the crowds are thinner along Culver Avenue and the Parkway than in the past, but have become larger after the 5-mile mark near the Utica Zoo, and especially in the last mile or so. It’s possible that people have moved down to be closer to the finish and the post-race party, and race director Jim Stasaitis suggested that spectators have found they can pick out friends and family more easily in the second half of the race, when the huge pack strings out. I don’t think the crowds were any smaller than in the past. Running legend Bill Rodgers told me he thinks they were larger than ever before and bigger and better than any place he’s been other than Boston and New York.


This was a very successful Boilermaker, to be sure. It’s something executive director Tim Reed, his committee, the thousands of volunteers, runners, fans, sponsors and everyone in the Mohawk Valley can be proud of.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pitarresi: Tough times don't stop runners


Bad economy or not, the Utica Boilermaker Road Race is doing rather well.


Very well, really, with 11,728 runners registered for the 15-kilometer race as of today. That’s the second-highest total ever.


That surprises me a little bit. Just about everyone has had to tighten his or her belt – oh, how I wish that were literally true for me – and I thought at the start of the year that one of the areas people would cut back in would be recreation. Not so, at least when it comes to road races, which according to most organizers are doing better than ever, and especially the Boilermaker.


Why is this? You can go out and run any time. You don’t have to pay to do it. However, road races, and especially the Boilermaker, aren’t just about running. Many of us don’t even think about it, but a sense of community, being able to connect with other people, is a big part of any athletic event. Maybe in tough times, people are drawn to that kind of gathering.


I know one thing. The F.X. Matt Brewery parking lot is going to be very, very crowded Sunday when that post-race party starts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pitarresi: Tiger Woods and the Pope


You’d think the Pope was on the way.


That’s how big Tiger Woods is.


The announcement today that the world’s number one golfer, one of the most recognizable people on the planet, will play in the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge August 24 was greeted with elation in Central New York.


Begay and Oneida Indian Nation chairman Ray Halbritter made the announcement at the Turning Stone Resort with a big crowd of media in attendance, along with scores of casino employees and patrons. It was big news that Wood will play in Begay’s fundraiser, along with PGA stars Mike Weir and Camilo Villegas. Woods might be, after all, the biggest star in any sport to have visited Central New York in many years. In fact, you might have to go all the way back to Babe Ruth’s barnstorming days in the 1920s to find a more significant athlete who passed through, and that includes all the great baseball stars who have been coming to Cooperstown for 70 years.


All of which makes me feel like maybe we’re all a bunch of rubes, like a group of farm kids from Iowa visiting New York City for the first time, craning their necks in wonder at all the tall buildings. I mean, the guy’s a golfer, right?


Right, but Tiger Woods is not just any golfer. With his 14 major championships and 67 PGA Tour victories, he has a solid claim on being the best golfer of all time, and, anyway, he long since has transcended the sport. Many millions of people who have no interest at all in golf are well aware of who Tiger Woods is.


The big thing here is how Woods’ presence will impact Turning Stone, and the Atunyote Golf Club, site of the Turning Stone Resort Championship, a stop on the PGA Tour. Certainly, he will give even more legitimacy to the course, which has been highly praised by professionals who’ve played there the last few years. And, if ever can make time to play in the championship itself – it’s Sept. 28-Oct. 4 this year – the impact could be tremendous. Begay said he said the chances are better than 50-50 that Woods would return for the skins game next year, but he said that scheduling would have to be worked out in a special way for the superstar to play in the TSRC somewhere down the line.


So, yeah, Tiger isn’t the Pope, but he is a big deal, and if we’re a bunch of rubes, so be it.





Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pitarresi: Sports are a cold-hearted business

Michael Curry got fired by his former teammate.


That’s pretty bad.


Tony George got fired by his mother.


And you can’t top that.


Curry was fired Tuesday as coach of the Detroit Pistons by Joe Dumars, the former Pistons star who is the team’s president for basketball operations. The guys played together, but that only went so far. Curry went 39-43 this season and didn’t make the playoffs. Fair enough, but Joe Dumars – a guy I always liked as a player, and one who has done well as a front office guy – has to do some soul-searching. He lost Larry Brown after the vagabond coach left winning an NBA title, he fired Rick Carlisle after the team reached the conference finals, and he fired Flip Saunders after three straight appearances in the conference finals. Maybe Joe should have hung on to one of those three guys.


Tony George? Gosh, he’s out as president and CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and head of the Indy Racing League, both of which have had a bumpy ride lately. He will remain as an owner in the IRL. So, okay, maybe a change needed to be made, but getting axed by your own mother? Mari Hulman George is chairman of the board of the speedway, and, wow, talk about not letting sentiment get in the way.


“We are pleased that he will continue to be a part of the Indy Racing League as a team owner and as a member of our Board of Directors, and we wish him every success,” Mari George said in a press release.


How cold is that? I’m glad my mom never wanted to be a corporate big wheel and was content with being a registered nurse.