Monthly Archives: June 2011

NBA Draft thoughts

Why wasn’t Jacob Pullen selected in Thursday night’s NBA draft?

I watched a lot of college basketball this season, and Pullen was really good. Remember? He became Kansas State’s all-time leading scorer. He was the key player in the Wildcats’ late-season push to the NCAA Tournament, and almost master-minded a second-round upset of Wisconsin.

Pullen was at his very best in a K-State win over Kansas. Yes, he had some rough spots, both on and off the court. But if Pullen was a notch behind first-round guard choices like Kyrie Irvin, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and Brandon Knight, it was just a notch.

Wasn’t it?

So what am I missing?

Is it that Pullen isn’t a true point guard? And that he’s not big enough to be an NBA shooting guard? Is that what I’m missing?

I really thought Pullen would be one of the 60 players chosen Thursday and I refuse to believe 60 better players went ahead of him. Pullen is a basketball player. And a winner. If there’s a player most instrumental in the K-State good fortunes of the past five years, it’s Pullen. It’s not Michael Beasley, who was in Manhattan for only one season.

It’s a shame Pullen wasn’t chosen. Here’s hoping he eventually gets a chance to prove himself.

Some other NBA draft observations:

  • Isn’t it strange, and great, that the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, went back-to-back in the first round; Markieff at No. 13 to Phoenix and Marcus at No. 14 to Houston? And isn’t it strange to think of Markieff now getting top billing, since he was taken ahead of his brother, after all?
  • Cleveland, as expected, took Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick. Then, in a bit of surprise, the Cavs went with Texas center Tristan Thompson at No. 4. I’m not convinced Cleveland had a bang-up night. I’m not convinced either of these players is going to turn out to be as good as the Cavs need them to be.
  • I love Detroit’s draft. Getting Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight at No. 8 was good, although I wonder how tempted the Pistons were to take Kemba Walker, who went with the next pick to Charlotte. The Pistons then got Duke’s Kyle Singler early in the second round. I think Singler will be a good pro. He’s such a smart, heady player. Detroit picked up a banger, Florida’s Vernon Macklin, late in Round 2. Good draft for the Pistons, I’m thinking.
  • Josh Selby isn’t as good a player as Jacob Pullen. No way, no how. But Selby at least was chosen Thursday night, by the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 49 pick. Selby has hired an agent and can’t return to Kansas for his sophomore season. I think he made a huge mistake by entering the draft and being picked in this spot supports my argument. Good luck, Josh. You’re gonna need it.
  • With the No. 31 pick in the NBA draft, the Miami Heat select Bojan Bogdanovic. Pretty sure he was a “Saturday Night Live” character back in the day.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers picked Chukwudiebere Maduabam with the 56th pick in the draft.  I grew up with a Chukwudiebere Maduabam. Wonder if it’s the same guy?

Hear the roar? It’s for Rory

Rory McIlroy is the sports star of the day. And in this fast-moving Internet world, sometimes the stars of today aren’t the stars of tomorrow.

So how long will the 22-year-old U.S. Open champion, swamped in new fans who want to get their paws on him and everything about him, last?

Rory McIlroy. You've gotta love the kid.

That’s the question that is far more relevant to ask about McIlroy than to compare him to Tiger Woods, which is where many of the knee-jerk sports pundits want to jump.

It’s way, way too early to guess as to whether McIlroy will win 13 more majors. His career is still in its beginning stages. But it is worth wondering how much staying power McIlroy has.

Judging from his ball striking and carefree demeanor, I’m guess Rory, the pride of Northern Ireland, will be around a good long time. I would be surprised if he’s finished winning golf tournaments or majors. Watching him tear apart a U.S. Open golf course – Congressional – over the weekend was captivating.

But there’s no sense to dump a bunch of pressure on McIlroy’s back and compare him to Woods or anyone else. It’s too early in the game for that nonsense, which is something the sports media used to understand. But that was before the world wide web, blogs and sports-talk radio. Now, when a talented and charismatic player comes along in any sport, it takes no time at all for the comparisons and predictions to begin.

McIlroy elicits strong feelings from everybody who watches him play, including his fellow professional golfers. Many of them, including fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, rave about him. Padraig Harrington, from Ireland, says McIlroy not only can catch Tiger Woods’ 14 majors, but is likely to eclipse the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

I understand getting caught up in the moment, but McIlroy doesn’t need this hyperbole. He needs to do what he does. Hopefully, the success of winning a U.S. Open on golf’s biggest stage doesn’t go to his head. I can’t imagine it will, given how he has handled the media throughout his career. The smooth way he got through his final-round blow-up at the Masters a couple of months ago was masterful. Instead of hiding from the failure, he owned it. And did  his best to explain it.

That’s why everyone I know was rooting hard for McIlroy on Sunday, the final day of the U.S. Open. I think most of the players in the field were hoping he would win, especially since none had a reasonable chance of catching him on the final day. Only another meltdown would have allowed anyone else into contention, and McIlroy never showed even a sliver of a meltdown.

Golf has a new star that fans can rally around. There are so many good young players on the PGA Tour now, and some great young foreign players. But no one has been able to step away from the pack and into the spotlight until now.

McIlroy looks like a star. He plays like a star. He seems to have the maturity and composure of a star. The guy’s a star, burning bright. Stars, though, burn out every day. Others continue to shine. Which will McIlroy be?

* I know a lot of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band fans and I admire their tremendous loyalty. It reminds me of how big a fan I am of the Eagles.

I know it’s a sad day for E Street Band lovers because of the passing of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, one of the most recognizable members of any band at any time.

Clemons was 69 and died from complications from a stroke he suffered a week ago.

It’s always a sad day when an iconic musician dies for me. Music is such a big part of my life and is something that takes me back to my youth, which was pretty much defined by sports and music.

I saw Springsteen and his band perform only once, a few years back at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. It was an amazing performance and Clemons was frequently showcased. Springsteen obviously knew what a treasure he had and how so many of his fans also adored The Big Man.

Sad day.

* I don’t know how many of you watch “The Killing” on AMC. It has been airing on Sunday nights and last night was the finale, in which I thought we were going to learn the identity of the killer.

Well, we didn’t. An unexpected plot twist created much doubt and Season 2 of the show looms starting early next year.

Disappointing.

All season long, Debbie and I have been expecting some closure at the end of the season. It didn’t happen and now we have to continue guessing for months – months – about what might be happening.

It’s been a really good season and the show gets a strong “B” from me. Probably even a “B-plus.” But last night was a letdown.

Thanks for reading. On tomorrow’s blog, look for another edition of What’s Right Wichita Wichita, both from a sports and general viewpoint.

Some Cardinals banter

My team, the St. Louis Cardinals, have bummed me out over the past week, losing six straight including three at Washington.

Washington!

It’s the longest losing streak in the nation’s capital since Anthony Weiner. Ba-da-boom.

Anyway, the Cardinals are a team I follow religiously. And when they lose a bunch of games in a row, it affects my mood.

So, as a coping exercise, I’m going to list five things that need to happen for the Cardinals, who begin a home series against Kansas City tonight at Busch Stadium, for St. Louis to turn things around.

1) Fix the bullpen. Ryan Franklin has to go. He’s been finished since the season started so why don’t these astute judges of baseball talent – manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan and general manager John Mozielak – recognize this. It’s bizarre. While you’re at it, get rid of left-hander Brian Tallet, too. And notify lefty Trever Miller and right-hander Miguel Batista that they better start pitching a whole lot better than they are or you’ll get rid of them, too.

2) Figure out, in the next few weeks, whether you believe in center fielder Colby Rasmus or not. It’s starting to feel like Rasmus isn’t

Colby Rasmus needs to start producing/

going to be the player he should be, at least not while he’s in St. Louis. Too many bad and strange things have gone on since he signed with the Cardinals as a teenager, most of them having to do with his hands-on father, Tony. I hate to say this, but it appears to me Rasmus might be a bad fit in St. Louis. If so, trade him for a bounty. He’s only 24 and could bring a lot on the market. Rasmus has a world of ability, but it’s legitimate to wonder about his mental capacities. He’s been an easy out for over a month.

3) Don’t panic with the lineup. Hitting is the least of your worries. Third baseman David Freese is close to a return. Allen Craig will be back just after the All-Star break. Matt Holliday returned to the clean-up spot Thursday night. Ryan Theriot, as expected, has brought a solid bat to the lineup but has been atrocious as the shortstop. There’s no back-up; Tyler Greene is a 4A player and will never – ever – be a good major leaguer. But even though the Cardinals haven’t hit much the past week, they will.

4) Get a win for Chris Carpenter. Yes, easier said than done. But do whatever it takes. Carpenter has only one victory and it’s the middle of June. He pitches tonight against the Royals and the Cardinals aren’t going to win anything unless Carp gets untracked. Trick up the Kansas City bats if you have to, but make sure Carpenter wins tonight.

5) Keep a watchful eye on these starting pitchers. Over the past few weeks, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and Kyle McClellan have dropped off noticeably in performance. So has left-hander Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals’ pitching staff is in a shambles right now and it’s going to take something to pull it back together. The team desperately needs a guy to nail down games. Fernando Salas has been excellent, but can’t be called upon to pitch two innings as he was against Washington on Thursday night. Eduardo Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury. The Cardinals are really limping along. A spark is needed, which makes me thing some key roster moves are in the process of being made.

Thanks for reading. And have a Happy Father’s Day.

Jordan No. 1, Dirk and LeBron where?

This morning on radio, I said I was going to work on my personal all-time list of top NBA players. I’m going 20 deep, and it’s been a huge struggle. Sounded easy, proving to be nearly impossible.

I took several factors into account, including championship cred. But winning championships isn’t enough on its own. I also checked

Michael Jordan, no surprise, is the greatest NBA player ever. The rest of the Top 20 is more difficult to choose.

the numbers, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. I tried to determine, subjectively, how valuable a player was to his team. It can’t be all about statistics and championships; rating players has to be at least somewhat based on intangibles.

I know some of you will have strong opinions about this list. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

The genesis of this list is Dirk Nowitzki and the talk now about where the Dallas Mavericks star, fresh off his first NBA title, belongs among the game’s all-time greats. He’s in my Top 20. So is LeBron James, despite his disappointing performance in the NBA Finals.

Here’s the list:

1) Michael Jordan

2) Magic Johnson

3) Larry Bird

4) Wilt Chamberlain

5) Kobe Bryant

6) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

7) Bill Russell

8) Karl Malone

9) Oscar Robertson

10) Hakeem Olajuwon

11) Shaquille O’Neal

12) Jerry West

13) John Havlicek

14) Tim Duncan

15) Dirk Nowitzki

16) LeBron James

17) Elvin Hayes

18) Moses Malone

19) John Stockton

20) Julius Erving

Nowitzki, who will be 33 on June 19, still has three or four very productive years, I believe. He currently ranks No. 23 all-time in points (22,792) and No. 54 in rebounds (8,315). He has a chance to get in the top 10 in points and top 20 to 25 in rebounds before he’s through. And not many have performed better on the biggest stage than he did in his 21 playoff games this season.

Some final (hopefully) words about LeBron

LeBron, LeBron, Lebron. I’m so sick of hearing about LeBron.

OK, just one more Lebron thing.

I’ve listened to many of the sports and NBA analysts today concerning their thoughts on LeBron and his disappearing act during the NBA Finals. And the more I listen, the more confused I become.

LeBron James, left, and Dwyane Wade arrive at a news conference after Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Dallas on Sunday night.

So, I’m going to address three LeBron questions today. I’d love to get your thoughts, as always.

1) Is LeBron just not as good as we thought he was?

Believe it or not, this one has some legitimacy. LeBron was a monster in Cleveland, where he had to do a lot of everything. He scored, rebounded, passed, preached, begged and carried. In Miami, not so much. His role with the Heat has never been that clearly defined. Is he a scorer? A scorer and a rebounder? A scorer, rebounder and passer like he was in Cleveland?

Is he the Heat’s leader or does that role belong to Dwyane Wade? Or even, heaven forbid, Coach Erik Spoelstra?

What is it that LeBron is supposed to be doing on the floor when he’s not scoring all the points and getting all the points or getting all the rebounds. It sometimes look like LeBron thinks his role is to stand around. And when he has the ball, to pass it as quickly as possible.

The guy passed it to 400-year-old Juwan Howard a couple of times in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s Game 6. Juwan Howard’s mother wouldn’t pass him the ball in an important game at this stage of his career. I half expected Howard, given his age, to look at the ball and try to eat it.

I watched all six games of the Finals and I have no idea what LeBron’s job was. If his job is to be a superstar, then he failed miserably.

2) Why doesn’t LeBron’s game match his ego?

The guy has one, you know. He’s The King or King James. He loves being called those things. Yet he barely played like a prince against the Dallas Mavericks. Sometimes, more like a pauper. The only throne LeBron saw Sunday night was the one he threw up into after the game.

Again, this is the NBA’s greatest mystery. What happened to LeBron? Can he play with another superstar and a third player who is a perennial All-Star. Or had he grown so used to being The King in Cleveland that to be in any kind of subservient role drives him crazy?

3) Where does the Heat go from here?

One of the commentators on ABC mentioned something after the game that sounded ludicrous at the time, but is starting to make some sense to me now. Some sense, still not a lot.

Will Heat general manager Pat Riley want to keep Wade and LeBron together? They are, essentially, the same player in many ways. Both need the basketball in their hands to function at a high level. And when James doesn’t have the ball, as I’ve written here, he appears lost and unmotivated

Was it ever a good idea to pair the two? Would it have made more sense to bring Bosh to Miami, then look for another standout player who didn’t bring with him the baggage LeBron carries?

I still think LeBron and Wade can win multiple titles. Right? I’m right about that, aren’t I?

Or is there a chance the two superstars will never mesh?

I mean, Miami did get to Game 6 of the NBA Finals before losing. It’s not as if the Heat were a complete disaster this season.

But the moves of bringing LeBron and Bosh to Miami were designed to pay off immediately. A championship was the only thing that was going to make this season a success. That will hold true in future seasons, but there are 31 teams out there who would like nothing more than to do what the Mavericks did this season.

It seems like LeBron just doesn’t get it. Everything he says nowadays feels chippy and ill-advised. He wants the glory that goes with being the NBA’s biggest star, but not the scrutiny. He should probably shut off Twitter and use this offseason to develop a thicker skin and a deeper game.

It’s incumbent on the Heat – and I’m not sure Spoelstra is up to the task – to define itself during the offseason. How can LeBron and Wade co-exist? Where does Bosh fit in? What other players can help finish the puzzle?

Miami needs a ballhandler and a big guy. But would a ballhandler take the ball out of the hands of LeBron and Wade too much?

For a second-place team, the Heat is sure fascinating. LeBron said he went to Miami to win multiple championships – five, six or seven. Winning that first one is going to be a big enough challenge.

Dallas goes up

I think most basketball fans assumed the Miami Heat were going to find a way to win the NBA championship, even after Dallas tied the series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Well, it’s time to take the Mavericks seriously and to acknowledge this veteran team, led by two players hungry for rings, is capable of winning these NBA Finals after taking a 3-2 lead with a three-pointer-fueled 112-103 win over the Heat in Thursday night’s Game 5.

As “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson would say, Dallas is in it to win it. And even though the series shifts to Miami for Game 6 on Sunday night and a potential Game 7 on Tuesday, the Mavericks are going to be extremely difficult to beat two games in a row.

The LeBron James haters will say he again disappeared in Game 5, as he did just two nights earlier. I’m not buying it. James had the ball in his hands on nearly every fourth-quarter possession for the Heat. He made four nifty passes that resulted in easy baskets. Yes, he did score only one basket, a lay-up late after the game had been decided.

But James was involved, something he wasn’t in Game 4. This loss can’t be laid at his feet like the Game 4 defeat rightfully was.

Dallas made 13 three-pointers. No defense in the world was going to slow down the Mavs, who got four of those three-pointers from diminutive guard J.J. Barea, who was 1 for 10 from beyond the three-point line previously in the series.

It was, for once, an offensive game and fun to watch. But while Miami cooled off late, the Mavericks never did. They depended on their veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to make big shots down the stretch. Miami, meanwhile, went cold.

It’s troubling that James has scored only 11 points in the fourth quarters of games during the Finals. But especially late in games, Dallas can focus its defensive energies on James and Wade. The Mavs were burned a few times because of the attention they paid to those two players, but mostly the double teams on Miami’s two superstars has paid off.

I made the comment during the fourth quarter that the more I watch the Heat in this series, the more I think Miami is one really good player away from being a dominant team. I’m not saying the Heat won’t win the championship, but they could really use another perimeter play-maker.

Guard Mario Chalmers was that guy in the first half, but you knew he couldn’t sustain his offensive fireworks. In the fourth quarter, when these games are on the line, Miami hasn’t had enough. And Dallas has, especially since Terry has overcome whatever was affecting him early in the series. Now when he shoots, it’s a surprise when the basketball doesn’t go in.

I still think Miami will win this series. But don’t take me to the bank on this one. Dallas has proven itself to be a tough and resilient team. And very talented with a superstar (Nowitzki) who has outplayed everyone on the planet in these playoffs. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a player in history who has had a better run in the postseason. I’ll look into that for a blog tomorrow.

Miami is going home. Dallas won’t be intimidated. I can’t wait for Sunday night.

Gotta have Bubba (Starling)

* I’d love to be a fly on the wall inside the draft offices of the Kansas City Royals today.

Actually, I’d never want to be a fly. Not with those weird legs and wings and those crazy-looking eyes. No, don’t want to be a fly on anybody’s wall.

Still, it would be interesting to hear what the Royals front office guys and scouting personnel are discussing today because they’ll have a very intriguing decision to make later today when the Major League Draft begins.

The Royals shouldn't pass on Bubba Starling if he's there when they pick fifth in today's MLB Draft.

Kansas City picks fifth in what is regarded as a very good draft. There probably isn’t a Bryce Harper or a Stephen Strasburg in this draft, but the depth appears to be for real. There are a bunch of really good pitchers, from the high school and college ranks.

The Royals have choices and might well go with one of the arms – perhaps right-hander Dylan Bundy, a high schooler from Owasso, Okla. Bundy, by all accounts, is as close to a can’t miss prospect as there is in the draft.

But Kansas City has to resist the temptation to take a pitcher and pick Bubba Starling, who has one of the best names in the history of sports and could become an iconic player for a franchise that needs one. Oh, and Starling is from nearby Gardner, making him a hometown product. The Royals’ marketing gurus must be salivating at the prospect of Starling become a potential face (and name) of the franchise.

Starling already has a football scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska. He’s a throwback to a different era, an athlete so gifted that he could literally do anything he wants.

He throws the baseball in the mid-90s, but his future as a baseball player is likely in the outfield. He has the speed to cover center field and the arm to make runners think twice about taking an extra base. And he regularly clobbers the baseball, which obviously doesn’t hurt.

I’ve seen Starling play basketball, and he could definitely play at the high Division I level in that sport.

But I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t choose baseball, although you can bet the team that signs him will have to reach deep into its pocket book. Starling, with the scholarship to Nebraska as a fall-back, will command millions of dollars.

That doesn’t matter. The Royals have to pick him. They have to resist the urge to take pitching – nobody can get enough pitching – and go for a player who could potentially become a Kansas City legend.

The Royals have a bunch of good prospects on the way. Despite the American League Central standings, this is a team going somewhere.

They should pick up Starling, a player who will make Kansas City’s arrival that much more of a sure thing.

Imagine Kansas City passing on Starling and watching as he becomes one of baseball’s best players. Imagine that.

Of course, no player in this draft is a sure thing. Highly-drafted baseball players become busts all the time. It could, I suppose, even happen to Starling.

But I’m betting the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Starling becomes the star he’s destined to be. His name is Bubba Starling and he’s the real deal.

Dallas makes it a series

If the Miami Heat had gained any good will among a doubting public (and I am cheering for the Heat in the NBA Finals against Dallas, FYI), the team is making it difficult to stay on board.

Thursday night’s meltdown against the Mavs included a little of everything that makes people skeptical about how this Heat team, put

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has every reason to be a happy man after Thursday night's comeback win over Miami.

together with star power and some crossed fingers, is going to ever nail down a championship.

Egos are an obvious impediment with the Heat and they sure got in the way Thursday. This is not (NOT!) to take anything away from the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki. It wouldn’t shatter me to see Nowitzki win his first ring. In fact, after Thursday’s debacle, I’m finding myself leaning more and more his way.

But I’m not going to abandon the Heat. I picked the Heat to win before the playoffs started. Having watched the Heat play a lot during the postseason, I’ve mostly seen a team that looks to be on the same page emotionally and physically. I haven’t seen many of the hijinks that I saw Thursday, when Miami built a 15-point lead late and started coasting.

The Miami players looked too busy patting themselves on the back to realize Dallas has enough offensive weapons to make 15 points disappear the way a magician does a rabbit. Instead of buckling down and playing defense, the Heat got soft. Instead of driving the ball to the basket offensively, the Heat settled for difficult three-point attempts late in the shot clock.

It’s as if they forgot how to play. And as if there was no direction coming from the bench, where Erik Spoelstra supposedly has control of this team.

I wonder just how much control he or anyone outside of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade has on the Heat.

How does Miami, with a foul to give on Dallas’ last possession, not jump all over Nowitzki as soon as he touches the ball at the top of the key. Doing so would have forced the Mavs to in-bounds the basketball again and made them take up more time trying to find a way to slip Nowitzki the basketball.

But there was no foul. And Nowitzki easily got past (superstar?) Chris Bosh to get to the rim for a relatively easy game-winning left-handed layup.

That’s it?

Everybody inside the American Airlines Arena was stunned, including the Mavericks. It was one of the most amazing – and easiest – fourth-quarter comebacks in NBA history.

Dallas just kept getting easy shots and Miami kept taking bad ones. Over and over again.

The Heat made one good play in the final seven minutes, setting up Mario Chalmers for a wide-open three-pointer during a time out. Chalmers made the shot as Dallas’ Jason Terry, one of the offensive stars late, fell asleep defensively.

That tied the game and should have finally awakened the Miami team. But the Heat were in a deep sleep, standing around while the game collapsed around them, failing to remember that Dallas is one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. Did Miami not get the memo from Oklahoma City about the Mavericks’ amazing 18-point comeback to win a game in the Western Conference finals against the Thunder?

Now all bets are off. As the Finals head to Dallas for games three through five, doubt has been cast as to whether the Heat can win this thing. And whether LeBron James can win this thing.

James was quiet as a mouse in the fourth quarter last night, turning the game over to Wade. Not a bad idea since Wade was outstanding. Still, it’s going to take a two-headed monster, at least, to bring down Dallas. I think we can all agree that the supposed third head on this monster, Chris Bosh, has far too many teddy-bear moments to be considered scary.

I still think Miami figures out a way to win this thing. But the Heat fueled the fire for their critics by losing Game 2 in the way in which they lost. It’s a great day for all the Miami and LeBron haters, a real “I told you so” moment.

Why I love Wichita (Part I)

As part of my “I Love Wichita” campaign on my blog, I’m periodically going to highlight one thing about Wichita’s sports scene and something else about the city in general that I love and that, in my opinion, makes Wichita an outstanding place to be.

North High School is one of my favorite things about Wichita.

I’m interested in your feedback so how about giving me some. Huh?

Anyway, these are the slow months for a sports columnist and why not try something like this?

OK, first the sports scene:

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium

Been going to the place since I was just a whipper snapper, since the early 1960s. Yesterday, I went out with some guys who meet every Wednesday at the Hometown Buffet on West Central and Leonard Kelley was there. Leonard is one of the most under-appreciated Wichita State athletes ever; he was a standout guard on some of the Shockers’ best teams under Ralph Miller in the early 1960s.

But Leonard was also an outstanding baseball player and starred in several NBC World Series with a number of different teams. Talking to him reminded me of those days when I went to the ballpark with my father and we stayed until the wee hours watching baseball. L-D is very special to me for a lot of reasons and I believe it’s one of our city’s most important landmarks. I hope city leaders recognize that and never decide to build a new ballpark in a different location. Never, never, never. The stadium will have to be razed someday, but when it is I hope the new ballpark carries the same name and is in the same location, just to the west of the Arkansas River with what I think is the best view possible of downtown Wichita.

Now for something not related to sports:

North High

What a beautiful high school. I’ve loved North since I started covering City League sports for The Eagle in 1975. I have lived in the North district for most of my adult life and I don’t think it’s coincidence. North is housed in a beautiful building on a gorgeous  campus and I’m surprised not more is said to promote the history of the school.

East is nice, too, but it doesn’t compare to North, set just to the east of the Little Arkansas River. The renovation to North several years ago did wonders for the school and I’m excited that there is more to come. I wanted my son, Jeff, to attend North and he is a 2001 graduate, proud to be a Redskin as so many others are.

The drive from North to Amidon Street is one of the prettiest in Wichita. Yes, I’m going on and on about North. I love the place.

Willie Sanders

When I learned about Willie’s death Wednesday, in an e-mail from my boss, I was floored. I don’t talk to Willie – Barry’s colorful and interesting father – much nowadays. We last visited in November about Barry’s son, Barry, who is a standout high school running back in Oklahoma. As usual, Willie provided great copy.

The man was truly one of a kind. He never quite fit with his cautious son, who was always very careful with his words and much more like his soft-spoken mother.

But it’s probably a good thing there was only one Willie. He worked hard all his life to make a living and helped raise one of Wichita’s finest families. The Sanders clan included 11 children. They have always been close and all of them inherited traits of both of their parents’ personalities.

Barry, those who know  him well say, was more like his father than he wanted to let on.

I knew William has a warm and funny man. I’m sure, though, that his kids knew him at least partly as a disciplinarian. He pushed them and didn’t pass out compliments for free. Even when Barry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, William took a couple of shots at his son during his acceptance speech.

But it speaks volumes that Barry, who I’m sure was completely in the dark about what his loose-lipped father might say on the podium in Canton, Ohio, that day, wanted him up there anyway.

And his speech, at least for me, was the highlight of that incredible Hall of Fame day.

William was diagnosed with lymphoma in March. I didn’t know and wish I had. I’m sorry I didn’t go sit with Willie. I very much enjoyed the few opportunities I had to talk to him over the years. He’s one of those rare special people who made everyone in his presence feel rare and special.