Sunday, September 30, 2012

On This September Saturday: Football > Baseball

Despite my professional responsibilities, I consider myself a baseball guy first. And September baseball is high drama, but yesterday it was swallowed up by an dynamic week of college football as conference races are off to a booming start.

Let's go through the epic battles yesterday, in order of finish.

Miami 44 NC State 37 How did Phillip Dorsett get behind the defense for a 62-yard TD with 19 seconds left? Stephen Morris passed for 566 yards and he and Mike Glennon combined for over 1,000 pass yards.

West Virginia 70 Baylor 63 Yes both defenses were non-existent, but an incredible game to watch in the Mountaineers' Big 12 debut. Geno Smith's numbers (45-51, 656 yds, 8 TD/0 INT) were unprecedented in our lifetime, and they weren't just dinks and dunks. His passes had air under them and they always landed on their target. The WVU WRs and Baylor Offense guys were also statistically off the charts, but too many to mention here.

Cincinnati 27 Virginia Tech 24 It was a pretty pedestrian 13-7 game going into the 4th Qtr, but then the laser tag game broke out with four lead changes in the last 9 minutes. It was highlighted by Cincinnati's heroic 85 yard drive in final 1:49, capped by a sensational 39-yard TD from Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian.

Georgia 51 Tennessee 44 Lots of big plays and 95 points on the board, but the teams still had time to combine for 7 turnovers. UT QB Tyler Bray's 3 INT proved to be too much to overcome, as well as Georgia's 282 rush yards.

Texas 41 Oklahoma State 36 Another game with 4 final quarter lead changes, and gutsy Texas Soph QB David Ash took his team 75 yards down the field for the win in Stillwater. This sets up the showdown with West Virginia next week in Austin.

Nebraska 30 Wisconsin 27 Huskers were down 27-10 in the 2nd half, and finished with 20 unanswered points. Bo Pelini's defense forced a Monte Ball fumble on 4th & 1 to seal it. In Nebraska's storied history, I've never heard Memorial Stadium so loud or raucous.

I fell asleep before Oregon State came down the field to upend Arizona on the road 38-35, or it certainly would be detailed as well.

I had one eye on the baseball action as well, and there was plenty of compelling stuff it just didn't reach the magnitude of the events on the gridiron.

AL East Yankees blew a lead at Toronto and lost 3-2. Orioles blew a lead but got a Manny Machado HR in the 7th and Jim Johnson nailed down his 49th save in a 4-3 win over Boston. The AL East is tied again.

AL Wild Card The amazing A's trailed Seattle 4-1 late. They got one in the 8th, they tying 2-run HR by Josh Donaldson in the 9th, then winning 3-run HR by Brandon Moss in the 10th. Unfortunately only 21,517 were in Oakland to enjoy it.

The A's crept within one game of the Yankees/O's for the Wild Card lead, and put more distance between the trailing Angels, who were rained out in Arlington and now need to play two there today.

AL Central The Tigers big money guys earned it. Justin Verlander won his 17th. Miguel Cabrera hit another HR and is closing in on Triple Crown (.327, 43, 136) in a 6-4 win over Minnesota. Meanwhile White Sox ace Chris Sale had his worst start of the season in a 10-4 home loss to the mathematically-still-breathing Rays. Detroit now leads by 2 with 4 to go.

NL Wild Card The Cardinals came back from 4-0 down to force extra innings, but lost to Washington. The Dodgers got 2 taters from Matt Kemp in a combined shutout of Colorado. LA inched closer to STL, and are 2 back with 4 left.

Ultimately there was plenty of TV to go around yesterday, just not enough TVs in the house. Maybe baseball wasn't better in one particular snapshot, but that's the thing about baseball. It goes every day, 162 of them. While football may win any given day, baseball wins day after day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Definitive 2012 MLB Playoff Primer

There are five games left in the MLB regular season, and while the season's final day promises not to approach last year's drama, there is a new playoff format ahead. So I'm going to attack this chronologically before targeting scenarios.

WEDNESDAY 10/3 - Regular Season Ends.

THURSDAY 10/4 - Open Date, can be used for Rain Makeups or Tiebreaks.

FRIDAY 10/5 - AL & NL Wild Card Showdowns. One-game battle to advance to Division Series.

SATURDAY 10/6 - 2 Division Series begin (division champs #2 at #3)

SUNDAY 10/7 - 2 Division Series begin (#1 seeds at remaining wild card)

So there are cushions in the schedule should we get to an "all hell breaks loose" scenario. The key thing to note is that this year (besides there being a record 10 teams in the postseason) is that the Divisional Playoff Format is 2-3 this year only, as opposed to 2-2-1 from the past or the future. That means the lower seed will start at home.

The NL picture, outside of #1 overall seed, is pretty much set so we'll start there. For this purpose we'll call the Nats the top since they won the season series vs Cincinnati 5 games-to-2. There are no restrictions any longer with teams facing a team from their own division in the divisional round.

So let's take a look at the lowest seed, the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals, and assume the Dodgers don't make up a 3-game deficit with 5 to go.

On Wednesday, the Cardinals would close their regular season at home against Cincinnati and scheduled starter Homer Bailey, who just threw a no-hitter last night (thanks to Twitter for all the alerts).

Then on Friday, the Cards would head to Atlanta for their one-game death-match and meet up with Kris Medlen, who has a 1.05 ERA since June 20.

Should the Cardinals make it out of Atlanta alive, they would have to return to St. Louis for a Sunday game to handle Washington and another ace starter, 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. The other series would be Cincinnati opening in San Fran on Saturday.

So the deck would be stacked against the Cards (no pun intended) more than Wild Card teams of the past, including their such run to the championship last season. But St. Louis likely won't be fighting it out until the last day of the season so they'll have a good chance to set up their pitching the way they want.

The American League situation is a lot more crowded. First the divisions need to be decided. Unlike previous years if the division is tied and one team is assured a wild card, they would just re-seed. Now since there's so much extra weight attached to winning the division, ties need to be settled on the field.

The Yankees and O's are separated by 1 game with 5 left. Should they end in a tie, the one game tiebreak, the 163rd game of the season, would be in Baltimore (better divisional record). The loser would have a Wild Card game (likely at home, but maybe in Oakland) on Friday. The winner gets two days off and would open the actual playoffs on the road on Sunday.

The AL Central situation is the same, but different. The Tigers lead the White Sox by 1 with 5 left. On Wednesday, Chicago is in Cleveland and Detroit is in KC. So they would both have to travel to Detroit to meet up for a tiebreak game Thursday.

Since neither team figures in the Wild Card race, it would be win or go home. And if today's starters go Thursday as scheduled, it would be Chris Sale vs Justin Verlander. I'd call that appointment viewing.

Oakland looks good to be the 2nd wild card. They're are 2 up on Angels and 3 up on Rays. So they finish Wednesday at home vs Texas, then go to Baltimore/NY for Friday game, and if they win would return home for the Sunday ALDS to take on Texas again.

But stranger things have happened in the last 5 games of the season. We saw it just last year. If the A's and the Angels wind up tied for the 2nd wild card, they would play a 163rd game Thursday in Oakland. Then the winner would have to come east to face the the Yankees/Orioles loser on Friday.

Then there are situations with three-and-four-way ties, where multiple tiebreaker games need to be played, and the team with the best overall head-to-head record gets to choose whether to play one game on the road or two games at home.

I will get to all that (what's the phrase this time of year?) if necessary. Although Jayson Stark has already glimpsed into the very murky crystal ball.

I'm more concerned with the schedule and TV network. Plan on TBS from Thursday on for Tiebreak/Wild Card/Division Series coverage.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Garden Variety Weblog

OK, Backtime relaunch Day 77 and like the little flower patch on the street corner, we're not dead yet.

Keeping your garden alive combines both natural and external factors. It rained almost every day in August, but hardly at all in September. Then you have to make sure you water them right before a trip out of town, and as soon as you get back.

The blog isn't much different. You want it to grow organically, but it still needs to be fed every day. And due to lack of inspiration, or lack of time (work, kids), you sometimes have to rely on external factors to keep the blog alive.

In my case, I have a backlog of books to review, a presidential election breathing down our necks, and if all else fails, the Yankees and the Jets.

It's also Day 77 for the four sets of beauties hanging from my porch. They require a lot more attention as they don't get direct sunlight or rain.

Well today's planned post required a little more attention so it's been pushed back to tomorrow. There are six games to go in the MLB regular season and things may be clearer (or more muddled) when I tackle it tomorrow. It will be the ultimate one-sheet for the MLB Playoff scenarios, as THIS YEAR IS A NEW FORMAT.

This will come from someone who once drew out a 32-box grid, charting all the 1984 NFL Playoff possibilities going into the last weekend, all while waiting for my race at an indoor track meet as a high school sophomore. It will be precise. I hope.

In the meantime don't forget to water your plants, y'all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Accountability Returns To The NFL

After a national uproar, the NFL officials have returned, resuming their duties tonight in Baltimore. Thus the arbiters of the gridiron will restore a level of accountability.

As an aside, Backtime's Editorial Department is accountable for the level of sarcasm in yesterday's post. With all the righteous outrage out there, Backtime decided to take too many cues from our Patron Saint,  Stephen Colbert. We are all of course happy to have the regular officials back.

And gone are the nameless, faceless stand-ins who can go back to their jobs in D3 and the LFL. The names and faces we know, such as Mike Carey (pictured above) will go back to enforcing the rules and officiating the disputes in NFL games.

Not that they are deserving of a hero's welcome. These men are not perfect, and as noted yesterday, they sometimes suck. But we know their names and they are accountable for their decisions.

When I was growing up, names like Jim Tunney, Pat Haggerty, and Red Cashion were part of the fabric of the game. They made their announcements before the stadium and TV audiences, and that was that. They weren't always correct but they had authority.

Take today's best-know NFL official, Ed Hochuli. He is a presence on the field, and not just because of his guns. It's because of the years of equity he's had dealing with the league, players and coaches.

And since Hochuli is a household name in NFL circles, he is accountable. When he screws up and costs a team a game, like he and his crew did in the 2008 Chargers-Broncos fiasco, he takes responsibility.

And for the last three weeks it wasn't the responsibility of the ill-equipped replacement zebras, but the owners who locked out the regulars. There was nobody in charge on the field.

The men in stripes are back and there's order in the universe again. Coaches, players and fans will know exactly where to direct their incessant bitching.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blowing The Whistle On NFL Zebra Talk

I resisted the temptation to pile on, but it's too great. The Backtime Editorial Department's official statement on the NFL officiating fiasco:

"Let's get all nostalgic about the regular officials, who just don't suck as much."

The truth is, I have no real take on this which hasn't already been put out there. The product is impacted and the games are becoming very difficult to watch. Professional gamblers in Vegas are no doubt turning to the roulette wheel, which now involves more research and strategy than betting a 2012 NFL game.

Wisconsin pols have gotten in on the act after their beloved Packers were jobbed on Monday. Paul Ryan in Cincinnati yesterday:

"You guys watch that Packers game last night? I mean GIVE ME A BREAK! (pauses for expected laughter, co-opting the personality of his running mate) It is time to get the real refs. And you know what it reminds me of? President Obama and the economy. If you can't get it right, it is time to get out."

I am trying, really trying to find the analogy here. Oh they're both lousy, I see - must've gone over my head. Kind of like how parking tickets and raw meat are both so hard to swallow.

Even the foremost authority in killing the right to collectively bargain has caved, as Scott Walker took to Twitter with the hashtag "#returntherealrefs." So he's suggesting that fatcat, billionaire NFL owners just give in on their hard-line stance against unionized workers. Maybe he was joking.

But despite all the attempts at comedy, as usual, one man stood alone. Noting that NFL ratings have never been higher, Stephen Colbert suggested that this is what the people want:

"People love sports disasters. That's why they watch NASCAR, or the Mets. I think the NFL should incorporate other things that entertainingly ruin the game. For instance, stop mowing the grass...

Or if you must mow it, make the groundscrew spend 20 minutes in a gyroscope before they paint the lines on the field...

Or maybe swap out the uprights for those wavy car dealership guys...

So I say, let the lockout continue. These replacement refs are great for business. I just hope they're demanding to get paid what they're worth. I mean if the owners don't give it to them, they should really form a union."

I think we found our whistleblower. But I must repeat Backtime's official statement:

"Let's get all nostalgic about the regular officials, who just don't suck as much."

These zebras-in-exile are responsible for things like a famously botched coin flip, and a completely mangled 2006 Steelers-Seahawks SuperBowl.

For the time being, things are what they are, and the product has suffered. But GIVE ME A BREAK (P.Ryan 9/25/12) with all the righteous outrage.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book vs Movie: Game Change

This post was inspired by Julianne Moore's well-deserved Emmy (and bright yellow thing) Sunday night. I thought she was phenomenal in late-90's classics Boogie Nights and The Big Lebowski, though she seemed to disappear after taking a run at FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling in Hannibal.

But she came back in a big way in the 2012 HBO Original Film Game Change. Her portrayal of a certain Alaskan half-term governor took us inside the meteoric rise to national cult figure, the hubris that came with it, all wrapped in the mind of crazy.

But now more to the point of this post, the book Game Change wasn't really about Palin. The actual title of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's work is Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.

There are 23 chapters in the book, and Sarah Palin is only the subject of two of them. That's only one more than devoted to John Edwards, who was a factor in the Dem race early on. In fact Palin doesn't even enter the story in person (and only mentioned a couple of times before that) until page 359.

So why did HBO decide to make a film using just a small subsection of the book by the same name?Well, as the long title of the book hints, the story would be way too broad. So why the McCain/Palin angle? The Obama-Hillary heavyweight fight was just as compelling. And the book's ultimate hero is obvious.

In the afterword, the writers state, "And then there is 44. More than any other character, it was Obama who was at the heart of Game Change."

It's probably because Obama's American success story is boring in comparison. Palin went from unkown to unavoidable literally overnight. The American reality mentality now is that anyone can be a star, and when they get there we love to see them torn down, built back up, and torn down again. It's the perpetual story arc.

In fact America has become so attached to the Palin brand, the supply and demand is there for the whole clan to continue to do reality TV for the foreseeable future. The Palins and the American viewers are co-dependants. Thus the telegenics of a TV movie.

The movie seems to check out. The McCain campaign needed a running mate with sizzle to match the heat of Obama, and didn't do their homework on Palin. McCain brain-trusters Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace have backed the story up. Palin's legions feel that she's been scapegoated for the lost 2008 election.

Conventional wisdom is that Palin, though an extremely flawed VP candidate, did not lose the election. Chapter 21 of the book is called "September Surprise" in which McCain totally mishandles the financial crisis of 2008. This is glossed over in the movie.

The focus is on how ill-prepared Palin was for the position she was running for, and ultimately how she changed politics forever. Politicians have always stretched the truth, but the absolute denial of facts plays the country for fools, and the 2012 GOP candidates' seismic-shifting, facts-be-damned narrative wouldn't have been possible without her precedent setting the table. This exchange between Schmidt and Palin sums it up:

Schmidt: [regarding "Troopergate" charges] You can't say you were cleared of all wrongdoing. 

Palin: Why not?
Schmidt: Because you weren't. The reports stated that you abused your power; that is the OPPOSITE of being cleared of all wrongdoing. 

Palin: Then why was I told otherwise? 

Schmidt: You weren't told otherwise! 

Palin: And why haven't you released a statement saying that Todd was never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party? 

Schmidt: Because that would be untrue! He WAS a member. 

Palin: He checked the WRONG BOX! He registered BY ACCIDENT and rectified the error immediately! 

Schmidt: He was a member for SEVEN YEARS! I'm sorry, Governor, but there is only a few weeks left in this campaign and you have got to stop saying things to the press that are blatantly untrue; that is NOT the kind of campaign that we are running here! 

Schmidt's role in the movie is definitely outsize in the movie compared to the book, but Woody Harrelson's performance is excellent. He goes from nurturing to placating to puppeteering to excoriating the VP candidate.

The movie, as many movies will do to smooth out a story, takes what were likely a dozen meetings among the McCain campaign staff and condensed them into one. That was before Palin's arrival in the movie, and the story seemed incongruous.

I'm pretty sure John McCain never said, "Then find me a woman." And I'm sure Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) never checked a shopping list of every woman in GOP politics against Google articles and You Tube videos.

McCain (Ed Harris) is the one who is short-sold in the movie. He's actually the most dynamic character in the book. His legendary temper doesn't come out, and his profanities are kept in check.

In the book he's quoted dropping 11 straight F-bombs on poor Cindy after she interrupted him. And his sly humor is invisible as well, "I'm the only one I know who would go to Iraq to get away from it all." In the movie version, McCain comes across less of a maverick and more of a deferential uncle.

Also Todd Palin seems too benign in the film. It is well-documented that he was a man behind the curtain in Alaska, manipulating and peddling influence, not a nerdy dad with puppy dog eyes.

But Julianne Moore steals the show. She doesn't look like Palin as much as Tina Fey or Gina Gershon, but the nuance is uncanny. The speeches, body language, accent, smile are all spot on. After a little while you forget it's a portrayal. The makeup room meltdown before the Katie Couric interview was chilling. Wallace later said it made her "squirm."

I think that people who love the movie and love to hate Palin, might pick up the book and find it's not what they expect. It weaves the tapestry of a 2-year campaign on both sides. The title Game Change actually fits the movie better than the book, even if the movie doesn't have the same mission as the story that spun it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Costliest Win

Only in football: the best player on the field, maybe the best player in the league gets no action. It's lonely on Revis Island, but a top corner takes away a top offensive weapon and takes away a quadrant of the field. It allows a defensive-minded coach like Rex Ryan to construct an entire defensive scheme around him.

In the most violent sport, Darrelle Revis got the dreaded not-contact knee injury yesterday, which makes every pretense of being a torn ACL. Like when you saw Mariano Rivera's knee buckle shagging flies in batting practice, you know how that wound up.

So that obviously hangs over the Jets' overtime victory in Miami yesterday. But there are only 16 games in a season and every win counts. The Jets looked terrible, but they're 2-1.

The offense was stymied. The "ground & pound" run game hasn't materialized yet this season: 88 rush yards for the game, and 22 of those were in OT. That means you're relying on Mark Sanchez, which is a risky proposition.

Sanchez can look great when he has time and timing, but he is prone to horrific mistakes. The ledger sheet tilts to the positive (how can it not with 4 road playoff wins?) but sometimes you have to watch through your fingers which are gripping your face.

The defense wasn't good either, though they were missing Revis for most of the second half. They gave up 185 rush yards, allowed an 80-yard TD drive in the 3rd quarter, and let rookie QB Ryan Tannehill take the Dolphins right down the field for the tying field goal at the end of regulation.

The difference was special teams. Kicker Nick Folk made all 3 attempts. He's 6-for-6 on the year, and has been quietly reliable for 3 years now. Punter Robert Malone had 6 punts for 45.7 and dropped 4 inside the 20.

Mike Westhoff's unit also managed to establish Tim Tebow, running him from punt formation for 5 yards on a 4th & 3 on their own 25. A ballsy call that led to a Field Goal.

The game ball goes to Jeremy Kerley, who had 3 nice punt returns, a 66-yard catch & run, and the go-ahead TD reception with 3:01 left in regulation.

And despite the uneven performance, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano gets to look himself in the mirror knowing he is 1-0 against the team that fired him.

Where the Jets go from here is anyone's guess. It truly is one game at a time as the overall gameplan may have to change significantly without #24.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Saturday Away From The Fray

It's unusual that I get a Saturday off in the fall (or winter). It's quite the out-of-body experience to catch glimpses of afternoon college football from my own kitchen. But bouncing around for the weekend with the kids isn't such a bad Plan B.

First, the White Bluff Burger King for breakfast. Entirely their call. Breakfast and an indoor playground, and I concurred since I knew I'd get to break in my next book. It was maybe the slowest and most understaffed counter service I've ever experienced at a fast food restaurant. It was beyond frustrating but I have to admit, the food wasn't bad. And the kids ate plenty. E-Man astutely pointed out that fall began at 10:49 AM.

On to Star Bike. C-Love is dangerously close to losing the training wheels, but her legs get longer every day and she had just outgrown the old one. I carry a wrench every time we ride now as I am constantly hiking up the seat or the training wheels, so I splurged on a used Raleigh Retro Sixteen.

The staff told me she should be good for the next couple of years. The kids both got new helmets and we were on our way home. We read some books and played video games, while I made lunch and kept track of the football scores and tried to keep one eye on the Yankee game in what has become a gripping AL East pennant chase.

The Yankees were up 5-4 on Oakland in the 7th when we pulled up at the theater to meet two other families for Finding Nemo 3D.

Now I like Pixar films as much as the next dad, and this is a good one. But I'm sure Finding Nemo was far more ground-breaking in its 2003 debut than in the 3D re-release. The kids look cool in the glasses but the 3D thing doesn't do much for me.

The saving grace was that through an incredible stroke of luck, the Yankee game was still going in the bottom of the 13th when I got to the car. I heard the amazing rally from 4 runs down (fortunately ESPN Radio had it and I wasn't forced to listen to John & Suzyn) but didn't catch the triumphant 14th as we all did pizza at a friend's place.

I got home and searched for highlights and game stories. I reconstructed the late innings, extra innings, and historic comeback as best I could in my own mind and was going to renumerate it here. But there was a level of drama and tension I couldn't possibly reenact having not watched it.

What I can say is that Ichiro Suzuki is in rare air this week. In the last 5 games, he's 14-for-20 (.700), bringing his average up to .335 in 56 games in Pinstripes.

The other prong in all this drama is that the Orioles won another extra-inning game today themselves, the 16th straight such win for the math-defying O's. And if there's any wonder how great they've been playing: the Yankees have won 7 straight, and the Orioles still only trail by 1 game.

I was convinced that September baseball is more compelling than September football. But last night's results with Kansas State, Oregon State, Rutgers, and a resurgent Notre Dame scoring huge wins throw that argument back up in the air. And there's still NFL today - if you can get around your life and get situated to catch it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Paper Backtime: Marco Rubio, Behind The Music

On June 19th of this year, two dueling Marco Rubio biographies were released on the same day. On the left American Son, the memoir/autobiography of the Florida Senator and conservative rock star. On the right The Rise Of Marco Rubio, the unauthorized biography by Washington Post writer Manuel Roig-Franzia. Which one do you think I read?

Roig-Franzia's work is investigative to put it lightly. The text of the book, including afterword is 244 pages. After that, there are 32 pages of source notes. Much of the professional end is kind of boring, unless you like the hero's ascension through local and state politics. But as Rubio's life story is peeled back layer-by-layer, you can see why he wasn't the VP pick.

Would Rubio have helped Romney's chances? Maybe. Would he have dragged more drama into a ticket already riddled with soap opera? Absolutely. Not that anything necessarily disqualifies Rubio from the job. But the national vetting process would've caught wildfire with all the issues the book details, especially in a 3-month sprint to the finish.

Rubio's story, which is uniquely American by the way, is better deconstructed over the long haul. He could announce in 2015 and let the media and his GOP opponents have at it. What would be massive distractions to the campaign now would be something he and his strategists could tackle individually over the long haul.

Before chronicling the problems with Marco Rubio's own narrative, it's important to point out that he's not Tea Party. Yes he rode the insurgent wave against the GOP establishment in 2010 as he was a massive underdog to Florida's then-Governor Charlie Crist, and incorporated the movement into a landslide victory.

He essentially sent Crist packing to the other side. And Crist's chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, who managed a huge lead into a woeful defeat is doing his unwitting best to unravel Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.

Rubio was the House Speaker in one of the purplest states in the country. While he wasn't a household name, he was a political animal. He got the Tea Party support because Crist infamously hugged President Obama. Godfather Jim DeMint gave the blessing, but once in the Senate Rubio opted not to join Rand Paul's Tea Party Caucus.

On the whole Rubio's bio is conservative enough, definitively on social issues and mostly (a converted GOP spender) on financial ones. But he's been moderate-to-progressive on immigration, and had to modify his position several times as the GOP candidates tried to out-reactionary each other in the early 2012 debates.

Rubio's mantra is about a family being welcomed in the America, and the land of opportunity made it possible for him to be where he is today. Which is true. Except he wasn't exactly forthcoming with his story's specifics, and it might seem as though it was politicized to raise his profile.

Rubio went on the stump and kick-started his web bio as his family was in exile, fleeing from the thug Castro's Cuba. But the real story is that his parents arrived in May of 1956, a good 2 1/2 years before Castro took power.

And while it's true that after Castro the Rubio family could not return to their homeland, they were immigrants, not refugees. In fact Rubio's grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia was a proud man. When he realized that he couldn't find good work in the US and was tired of depending on his seven daughters and their husbands, he returned to Cuba in 1959 to make a better living.

If anyone ever scratched their head about what on earth Mitt Romney meant by "self-deportation," this encapsulates it. Garcia actually took a job with the Cuban government (Castro regime) before returning to the US in 1962, attempting to re-enter for good. An immigration judge ordered him deported, but the Cuban Missile Crisis began, and his return to Cuba became logistically impossible though his presence in the US remained illegal for several years until his permanent residency was approved in 1967.

The point here is that Cuban-Americans are held politically in higher regard than other Latino immigrants because of their escape from Communist rule. Again it doesn't diminish the Rubio success story, but the circumstances under which the family arrived from Cuba are not political, and not exploitable for political gain.

There's more family baggage of note. Rubio's sister's husband, brother-in-law Orlando Cicilia, was convicted on a drug trafficking/money laundering deal in 1987. He didn't seem to be a major player, but it was for a major honcho (think Calderone from Miami Vice). He wound up serving 12 years on a 25-year sentence.

How does this affect Marco Rubio, who was roaming in the defensive secondary at South Miami High at the time? Likely not at all. But it became a major dust-up with Univision when they broke the story. Which could be another reason Rubio isn't ready for the national glare, that he reacts hotly and needs time to grow a thicker skin to play the bigger game.

Then there are the corrupt types around him. Rubio's very first fundraiser when running for US Senate was thrown by Alan Mendelsohn, a notorious GOP donor, who later was sentenced to four years in prison for bribery, siphoning PAC funds, and failing to report 600K in income.

And members of Rubio's inner-circle have also found trouble. State Legislator Ralph Arza faced pressure to resign after using racial slurs more than once. And his itimidation tactics later led to a guilty plea in a witness-tampering case. He got six months.

Rubio's other right-hand man David Rivera, is now the US Representative from Florida's 25th district. He has repeatedly been under investigation related to financial disclosures, and possible kickbacks received from gambling proprietors (dog track owners).

Despite Rubio's fierce anti-gambling track record (he saw the destruction of lives throughout his years in Vegas), he and Rivera are best buddies. They were even involved in a foreclosure proceeding for a house they co-owned in Tallahassee, which was quickly rectified.

But many of Rubio's personal finances are co-mingled with his political ones. There are many situations over the years where his RNC card was used to pay for personal stuff, big and small. Rubio always seemed to work the matters out, but it could be interpreted as he was trying to slide some purchases through.

That could be in part due to his own personal financial disclosures, which showed an ongoing debt problem (into low six figures) that could be viewed in direct opposition to the public profile of personal responsibility. In later years, the lucrative sale of property to a campaign contributor also raised some flags.

These items from the Florida political landscape are documented matter-of-factly by Roig-Franzia. Corruption and kickbacks are nothing new to the Florida state politics, or would it be to any other state. It's the price of doing business, and Rubio doesn't come across as a criminal or an angel.

Rubio's religious history is also a zigzag. He was born Catholic, converted to Mormon when his family moved to Las Vegas in his middle school years, became Catholic again when the family returned to Miami, then went Baptist as an adult while eventually settling on Catholic.

His straddling of the line between the different branches of Christianity may also come across as calculated. After all, in order to embrace all of Florida, it would be wise to caucus with the Spanish-speaking Catholics in Miami while simultaneously thumping bibles in the panhandle. Throw in some pandering to rich Jews in Boca (make sure you check for hidden cameras) and you've got the trifecta.

What the book doesn't capture is the charismatic figure and captivating speaker that Rubio has become, you'd probably have to read the other book to tap into that. He is championed by republicans up and down the line, and seems respected by democrats as well.

His endorsement of Romney was tepid (like many), he's kept a fairly low profile throughout 2012, and looks to be gauging which way the future GOP wind blows, so he can adjust his sail accordingly.

Friday, September 21, 2012


In the middle of the 1999 season, the Seattle Mariners made the move from the cavernous and outdated Kingdome to state-of-the-art Safeco Field.

Before the 2001 season, the Seattle Mariners signed Ichiro Suzuki from the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League. The money was big at the time ($14M) since no Japanese non-pitcher had ever made a mark the US.

Ichiro of course was a sensation in Seattle, bringing the Pac Rim to the ballpark in their #51 jerseys every night. So Safeco Field marketers weren't dumb. The sushi/sake stand was very popular, which included the "Ichiroll," which wasn't anything exotic - a spicy tuna roll - but still far from the standard ballpark fare.

The first time I had sushi at a Major League venue was October 3, 1995 in the press box pre-game at Dodger Stadium, at the height of the Hideo Nomo frenzy. It was also the day O.J. Simpson was found "not guilty" on murder charges. Yes, I was in LA. Dodgers-Reds NL Divisional Playoff Game 1.

But I digress as usual. Like working with Don Criqui, Memory Lane isn't always a straight path.

Anyway I wonder if Suzuki, even in his heyday ever had a 3-game series like this one with Toronto. Two more hits last night, a solo HR, and 3 RBI makes him 9-for-12 in the series sweep and brings him up to .321 as a Yankee - only one point off his career average.

Suzuki is 38, and his skills this year seemed to be diminishing. But streaks like this prove that he's far from done, and his career resume may still have a few lines that are yet to be written.

The Yankees won ugly last night, but Nick Swisher hit a grand slam and Phil Hughes though largely unimpressive, won his 16th. Now the Yankees have won 5 straight, are 1 full game up in the AL East with 13 to go, and trade the Jays in for the smoking-hot A's for a weekend set at the Stadium.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yankees Find Newest Hiro, But Can't Shake Birds

All season, Yankees starter HIROki Kuroda has served as the rotation's stopper (14-10, 3.26, over 200 IP). I argue that you could start him in Game 1 of the playoffs over CC.

And last night the real IcHIRO Suzuki stepped up. In a doubleheader vs Toronto that the Yanks needed to sweep, Suzuki did it all: 7-for-8 total at the plate, the super game-winning catch in Game 1 and a 4-hit, 4-steal nightcap, where he drove in the game-winning run to boot.

He didn't look like a guy on the gradual career decline, he looked like they guy who hit .350 four times in his career. In fact since his acquisition from Seattle on July 23, he's hit .317 in Pinstripes. It reminds Yankee fans (or at least this one) of the late-season, late-career surge of Tim Raines who hit 7 HR down the stretch in September 1996.

But there were plenty of heroes on Tuesday. Andy Pettitte (Raines' former teammate) returned from a DL and pitched 5 unblemished innings. David Phelps went deep in the Game 2 start, sparing the bullpen - except for Rafael Soriano who amazingly nailed down Saves #41 & #42. Oh yeah, and Derek Jeter got his 200th hit.

Meanwhile out west, the MLB's feel-good story Orioles did it again. Even Yankee fans appreciate what they're doing, we just wish they'd be battling for the Wild Card instead.

They battled King Felix Hernandez to an 8-inning stalemate, and took the game into the 11th when Adam Jones launched his 30th to break the tie and then they record the final out on a caught stealing.

It was a mind-bending 15th straight extra-inning win. This one only kept me awake until 1:23 AM ET as opposed the 18-inning marathon the night before. The incredible O's did what they had to do, taking their last 4 games on the west coast. And they are 39-20 in the last 2 months.

It's worth pointing out again that for the first time since 1995, there is a much greater significance in winning the division over the wild card.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yes Ed and Steve Sabol, You Built That!

As a kid, everything was sports - as opposed to now which is just mostly sports. I played tennis and ran track, but on TV I devoured baseball and football. Basbeall was (and is) 162 games a year, but back then not every game was on TV and radio play-by-play came with you on the bike, in the backyard, after bedtime.

The NFL wasn't as present or as saturated in our lives as it is today. There were three windows: CBS and NBC would have either the 1 PM or 4 PM game (which were almost always the Giants and Jets), and there was Monday Night Football. We didn't get doubleheaders in the New York area, and there was no NFL Primetime yet.

What filled the gap, was the can't-miss Inside The NFL on HBO with Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti, who hosted the show from 1980-2001. On Wednesday and Thursdays, they had extended  highlights from all the games.

And it wasn't just a video mash-up. It was the elegantly produced NFL Films coverage, narrated by John Facenda and later Harry Kalas, with that incredible music. The Sam Spence-composed themes were immortalized along with the great Facenda's voice on The Power and the Glory. If I'm ever down in the dumps, I can flip to my iTunes and remember that The Autumn Wind Is A Raider.

Ed Sabol started NFL Films in 1962 in Mount Laurel, NJ, and then got the league contract to shoot every NFL game in 1964, employing multiple film cameras at each venue. In an era when broadcast networks were still recycling videotape, NFL Films became the archive source for the entire modern era of NFL history. The NFL Films narratives of every Super Bowl contain the iconic images that we remember to this day.

While Ed Sabol founded the company, his son Steve put it into our culture to stay. He would dig through the archives to create specials, compile the teams' seasonal yearbooks, and write, produce (and host) a number of other projects.

Steve Sabol, the writer of "The Autumn Wind," died yesterday cruelly just before summer concluded. I'm sure the NFL will honor his memory in a style that befits a storyteller for a generation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

L'Shana Tovah Y'all: Ringing In 5773 In Savannah

Yes I know the Jewish New Year actually began Sunday at sundown, but the good thing about a 2-day New Year is you get a second chance to make your resolutions stick.

The Jewish culture here in the U.S. is more about community than religion, so today I strung together some community things.

First stop - coffee. Every city, big or small, has its subversive coffee joint. The Sentient Bean fits the bill in Savannah. It also happens to have the best coffee and scones in town.

Not that I can't make my own coffee, or "sell out" for Starbucks once in a while, especially when I'm in a pinch. But I enjoy the 1-mile walk (round trip) cruising by SCAD's Arnold Hall to start my day.

And my repeated business infuses the local economy. The same philosophy goes for the haircut I got today at Darryl V's.

You've all seen my picture - I could cut my own hair if I wanted to. But my bi-weekly presence help to stimulate a local business. And, as with many African-American (I say neighborhood) barbershops, there is also banter, philosophy, and therapy. My money is not wasted.

I headed to ATA for the Tuesday double class. "Black belts only" at 10 AM, followed by "All adults" at 11 AM. Master Richard just got back from a weekend training in Philippine Combatives, which meant a lot of ambidextrous weaponry. Tough for an old dog to learn new tricks. I meant me of course, Sir!

Then it was Rosh Hashanah "dinner" at Chez Reeves. Yes, a multi-course, delicious dinner for 28 people (at last count) was at 2 PM. That's the Jewish holidays for ya.

At 4:30, E-Man had his own karate and C-Love had gymnastics. I shuttled between them as a proud Dad, watching and sometimes participating as a pad-holder on primary schoolers' punch-kick combos.

It was an active day in my community and I look forward to many more in the New Year. Even if I'm still writing 5772 on my checks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Epic Escape From Salt Lake

OK, when the Utah fans rushed the field for the third time it was finally over. And so were our chances to get out out of Dodge - so it appeared...

When planning your TV crew's escape from a packed college football stadium, there's some etiquette that needs to be followed:

1) Get your plan done early, like the day before. Find out how many people and how many cars are going to the airport. Let your operations people in on the whos, whats and whens, and touch base with university or local police to find how to best get out of the parking lot or to the highway.

I have been in full police details with lights and sirens all the way to the airport (SEC), and inched along behind security golf carts (Big Ten). I have been abandoned by announcers (you know who you are) and been unable to keep up with the lead car while drunken fans pounded on the hood of my rental vehicle (more than once). Every situation is different.

2) You are there for one reason only, to do the game. Getting out is secondary. You set up a turn key operation ahead of time so that you can concentrate on doing your job without logistical distractions hanging over you.

Overtimes happen. Lightning delays happen. Officials sometimes slow games to a crawl. This is your career, and nobody paid you to do this game at gunpoint. On the rare occasion you will miss your planned family time or your next work assignment, just as you would with a standard-issue airline fiasco.

3) There will be no complaints. See #2. Hopefully I set a good example on this.

Personally, I will not tolerate people on my crew complaining, whining, or cheering like children because the path the game has taken has affected your ability to get out. I have seen announcers and directors completely lose focus in close finishes because they had a flight to catch. You need to be a professional until the moment we are done with our responsibilities from site.

This is all prologue for dateline: Salt Lake City - September 15th (and 16th), 2012.

BYU vs Utah was a 8:15 MT kick, and a handful of us had the 12:55 AM red-eye to Atlanta. My GPS spat out a 9-mile route that would take 13 minutes from Rice-Eccels Stadium to SLC Int'l in an ideal world.

Our stats guy was going to ride with us - he had the NFL game in Charlotte at 1 PM ET Sunday, and asked during the week what our chances were.

I immediately thought of Breaking Bad Season 4, "Salud," what Mike told Jesse on their expedition down to the Mexican drug cartel as they sat by Don Eladio's piscina.

"I promise you this. Either we're all going home or none of us are."

You would have to think, barring some sort of worst-case scenario that we would make it out.

And things seemed to be going smoothly. The game was slow but the outcome seemed assured. Utah led BYU 24-7 at home, entering the 4th quarter. But after a botched Utah punt attempt deep in their own end, it became 24-21 late rather unexpectedly.

At about 11:40 MT, BYU got the ball back on their own 8 with 1:11 left and no timeouts. The game seemed all but over, but on a 4th & 12 Cody Hoffman got past a clueless defender and Riley Nelson hit him for a 47 yard out-and-up.

Now there was :08 left and BYU was at the Utes' 34. They tried one play to get a closer FG, but Nelson's arm was hit and the ball fluttered. When it landed there were all zeroes on the clock and Utah celebrated. We did our due diligence, showing there should be :01 left. The replay review process confirmed this and the field needed to be cleared.

BYU then attempted a 52-yard FG to tie. It was blocked. The Utah sideline and fans emptied onto the field again in triumph. Except the blocked kick bounced back to the holder, who started running. He didn't get very far - it wasn't exactly a Stanford band situation - but he dodged a couple of guys and kept the play alive long enough for an "illegal participation" flag to be thrown on the home team.

That's a 15-yard penalty. BYU would have an un-timed down and a much more probable 37-yard kick to send the game into OT. And it would take a couple of minutes to clear the field once again.

At that point you know the kick decides whether you have a chance to get home to your kids, or spend another night in the S-to-the-L-to-the-C and all of Sunday in the air. You can't keep it out of your mind, and you know what you want to happen, but you simply push that all aside and do your job.

Then the improbable happens, the kick looks good but hits the upright and drops meekly to the ground. Utah wins and the field is deluged in red for a third time.

At this point there are a handful of edgy people, since it's my car that's going to the airport. We milk the scene in the stadium, do all of our replays and reactions and get off the air right at Midnight MT. But now we have postgame responsibilities.

Our reporter and handheld camera were sifting through the masses on the field trying to get Coach Whittingham. I felt a tug-of-war in my head. I knew we really had to leave if we were going to make our flight, but I also knew I had to stay to make sure the interview was happened properly.

There was no glad-handing, and no "good job" farewells with the crew. The stadium had begun to empty and the parking lot was starting to look like the zombie apocalypse. We had a solo police vehicle in front of our Chevy Equinox, but no lights no sirens - a Utah state law.

Now I'm a New York Driver, I've cut off plenty of taxicabs and taken my share of turns from the middle lane when pressed for time, but plowing through crowds isn't my specialty unless it's in a video game. We needed someone with a little more (how do I say this?) balls. My colleague took the keys from me.

We had ignition at 12:08 MT, 47 minutes to our ETD. Sometimes they close the doors at 10 minutes prior to departure so we had 37 minutes to get to the gate. Backtime indeed!

Sergeant Smith's guy took us out a route we didn't expect and over the trolley tracks, wound us through some side streets, and we were pretty much clear. The GPS estimate was 13 minutes and we pulled up at the rental car return in under 20.

We all had our boarding passes and security was a cakewalk at that hour. It was one of those moments when we were the ones playing against the clock...

...And reached the end zone.

We arrived in Atlanta on schedule. I even slept a bit on the plane but there were still 3 hours to kill in the airport before my connection home. It was now 7 AM, and Sunday morning of course, which meant Chick-fil-A was closed. It infuriates me every time but that's a subject for another post, if not a manifesto.

I saw highlights of the end of the BYU/Utah game several times on monitors throughout the airport. I was running on fumes and wondering if the adventure was worth it just to spend a few extra hours with the kids. I eventually melted into an open seat at the crowded gate area and audibly sighed.

"Tired?" I heard a deep voice, and turned to the older gentleman next to me. He looked like Colin Powell, but was dressed like Jimmy Buffett. I told him I just took the redeye in from Salt Lake City, "and you?"

"Afghanistan, Kandahar Province."

Dude was retired military. He had just completed his one-year contract training Afghan police, and was headed home to Hinesville. Now that's what I call an escape.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Day The Big East Got Off The Mat

The Big East Football conference has always been an adding, subtracting, shape-shifting entity. Had it been able to keep its original members, it would be a formidable BCS member rather than constantly trying to reinvent itself.

2004 - Miami and Virginia Tech to ACC

2005 - Boston College to ACC

2012 - West Virginia to Big 12

2013 - Syracuse and Pitt to ACC

That will leave Rutgers from the original Big East Football conference alignment of 1991. And of course Temple, who rejoined the conference this season.

Just this past week, Notre Dame announced plans to leave the Big East for the ACC in all sports except football, in which they'll remain independent.

So it's been a crazy week for new commissioner Mike Aresco, a former TV sports bigwig, who just took over a month ago.

But a funny thing happened Saturday. In 3 head-to-head matchups between the Big East and ACC, the conference taking the hits delivered them.

> Pitt clobbered #13 Virginia Tech 35-17. They held the mighty Hokies to 59 rush yards, and forced 4 turnovers.

> UConn won at Maryland 24-21, beating former coach Randy Edsall, who left last year for greener pastures.

> #19 Louisville hung on to beat North Carolina 39-34. We'll forget that they led 36-7 and were a goal-to-go situation away from a colossal loss.

But the point is The Big East isn't dead, or even broken. Louisville and Cincinnati are teams to reckon with nationally, and we'll see if Rutgers is capable. And they will all enjoy a week of good publicity.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Backtime Walkabout: Salt Lake City

Two things about Salt Lake City strike you immediately. First, it's the cleanest big city you'll ever visit. Second, breathe the air. If you're from say-- Savannah, Georgia -- the high altitude and lack of humidity is something that is a definite shock to the system. Keep lots of water handy!

I used to cover NBA quite a bit, and I remember the Jazz teams of the late 90s very well. In fact as these posts deconstruct my life on the road, I pinpointed my last trip to SLC as April 26, 2003:

Utah 107, Sacramento 104. Game 3 of the Western Conference 1st Round. The last playoff win for Karl Malone and John Stockton.

Having a 10:15 ET start time on Saturday, one of the last games of the college football weekend, means there is some extra down time to actually soak in some of the local flavor.

Had a splendid lunch at Hires Big H, a classic drive-in burger, onion rings, root beer float type of joint. You would almost call it retro, except in many ways time has stood still here.

Dinner was solid too at Red Rock Brewery. But let me quickly drop some 411 on the 801; Beer from a tap in Utah is capped at 3.2%. So if you want full effect on one of the many craft beers, you need to order it by the bottle. And if you're looking for the Polygamy Porter, that's a different brew pub.

The Saturday morning walk was a gorgeous 64 degrees. I saw sunrise over the Wasatch Mountains. And our fashionable downtown hotel was in short walking distance of a couple of historic sites.

The State Capitol is just a half-mile from The Temple. If you have to ask, "Which temple?" then you've never been to Salt Lake City.

The people are courteous and the service is great. But sometime tonight a couple hours before kickoff, whatever potion Dr. Jekyll took - these folks will have a double. Utah and BYU will put aside their civilities and become Mr. Hyde for one Saturday night. Then they'll likely be back in church on Sunday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Yankees Arms Race To The Finish

Two-out-of-three in Boston. Just what the Yankees should have expected, and got. There are 19 games left in a nail-biting AL East race where they still can't seem to shake (or be shaken by) the upstart Orioles.

You can't get too high or too low with so much time left, just trust the man on the hill will do his job. And this year, Phil Hughes (15-12, 3.96) has done that. In a season which C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Ivan Nova have all spent time on the DL, and Mariano Rivera was lost for the year, Hughes has taken the ball every time out.

Yes he's given up a ton of Home Runs (33) but the key number (besides 15 wins) is 175 Innings Pitched. And after a rocky first two months, he's gone 6 innings or more in 14 of his 19 starts.

You can point all the way back to May 22nd when the Yankees were 21-21 and 5.5 games out of 1st place. They were still lost in the wilderness without Rivera and had no direction. Hughes (then 3-5, 5.23) threw 6 solid innings in a win vs KC which began a team run of starting pitching that had not been seen before, and may not be seen again.

It was a 24-game span in May and June that defined the Yankees season. The Yankees won 20 of 24 and their starting pitchers, with their rotation fully in tact, went 18-2. And maybe even more remarkably, those starters went 6 or more innings in 23 of those 24 games.

You could say that makes Joe Girardi's job a lot easier, but he had to have the trust in guys like Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda to work through their issues, and they flourished. On June 3, Hughes went the distance, out-dueling Justin Verlander. And Kuroda has arguably been the Yankees' ace - and is a start away from 200 innings.

Now Nova returns from the DL on Saturday, and Pettitte on Tuesday. The Yankees have held the fort down for the cavalry to return while the O's get a 6-game West Coast trip.

And just another reminder before any more games are played that Girardi is only the second-most tightly-wound manager in baseball.