Monthly Archives: October 2012

Memories of a sportswriter

I’m bringing this blog feature back, at least for today. But maybe more, because it’s enjoyable for me to think back on my career. Most of the time.

I will have been at The Eagle for 38 years in a few weeks. Who would have ever thought I could hold the same job – with some different responsibilities – for that long? It’s been an interesting ride.

But my newspaper career actually started when I was 16 years old and went to work part-time for the Derby Daily Reporter in my hometown. I was a nearing the end of my junior year in high school and, because I apparently had some aptitude in a journalism class I had taken when I was a sophomore and became the sports editor of the highly-acclaimed “Panthers Tale” as a junior, I was able to finagle a part-time job out of it.

Not all of what I did for the Daily Reporter was sports, though. In fact, I don’t remember the sports stuff as much as some of the other things I covered during my time with that paper.

We were a small operation, just a four-person newsroom, as I recall. So in addition to being the sports editor, I also occasionally covered Derby city government, the school board and whatever else needed covered at the time. I was as green as a reporter could get and had little grasp on the important issues facing a city or a school system. But I dug in and gave it my best. I often wish I had saved more of the stories I wrote from that time, just to see how bad they were.

I was also a staff photographer in Derby. When I covered an event – whether it be sports or news – I was expected to take pictures and then develop the film. This was long before the digital age. I remember being very proud of a picture I took at a Derby football game in El Dorado the year after I had graduated from high school. Bill Campfield, who went on to play at Kansas and then in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, was a Derby running back and I got a shot of him slipping as he was close to running out of bounds near the sideline. It was a good shot, if I say so myself. It must have been; it’s the only picture I remember taking.

It wasn’t an easy job. Anybody who has ever worked at a small paper knows how time-consuming it can be. And those few of us who worked in Derby during the early-1970s were committed to doing a good job.

I didn’t make much money, but I thought I did. And one of the best perks of the job was knowing that Pizza John’s, a Derby institution that makes some of the best pizza and hoagies on the planet, was across the street from the Daily Reporter building. So when I worked nights – and I worked lots of nights in those days – it was easy just to go a few steps and eat a sandwich. Plus, I kind of had a crush on one of the girls who worked there at the time, but please don’t tell my wife.

Working at the DDR was a big deal. I grew up reading that paper. They used to have a Man on the Street feature when I was a kid that we all talked about at school.

But the Daily Reporter shut down in 2009, a victim of the tough times in the newspaper business. It had been a Derby staple for 47 years and it provided me with a great training ground.

It’s been fun thinking about those years in Derby, where I even helped load the press with plates and did some page layout. Most everybody there at the time did a little bit of everything. Those were good times.

 

BCS mess hits close to home

Even if it were to mean Kansas State would somehow get a raw deal, I want the four teams atop the BCS rankings in college football to remain unbeaten. I want it badly.

Alabama, K-State, Notre Dame and Oregon have to run the table the rest of the way. They have to, if for no other reason than those of us who love and follow college football want to see how the BCS system, which will be gone in 2014, picks the two best teams.

Because I’m here to tell you, it’s an impossible task. Humans can’t do it, computers can’t do it, not even Lee Corso can do it. And if Corso can’t do it, you know it’s difficult.

This is lining up as the perfect year for the implementation of a four-team playoff, but that’s a couple of years away. Instead, we’ll use every imperfect way of determining a team’s strength while the only true way – competition – is left standing on the sideline. It’s a ridiculous system and it will remain so until the day we bury the sucker 60 feet beneath the ground, under layers of iron and steel.

You can’t tell me Alabama is better than Kansas State. Or that Kansas State is better than Alabama. You can certainly have an opinion, but you can’t tell me for sure. And when it comes to sports, I have been programmed to know for sure by what has been decided on the field of play.

The San Francisco Giants are the best team in Major League Baseball because they went through an arduous playoff system and came out the other side.

As for college football, I have no idea as to which is the best team. Perhaps it will become more clear as the rest of the season plays out, but I hope not. I will be disappointed if the four unbeaten teams at the top of the BCS standings aren’t the four unbeaten teams there at the end.

Then what?

Polls and computers take over. It becomes a guessing game. Poll voters come in all shapes and sizes. Some pay close attention to the goings-on in college football while others do not. Coaches who are asked to vote in polls often turn those duties to some flak in the media relations department. And sportswriters who cast votes in the Associated Press poll are often too busy covering teams in their area to pay much attention to college football on a national scale.

And don’t even get me started on the computers that take in different kinds of data and spit our their rankings from week to week.

Here’s what we know: Only two teams can play for a national championship. Nobody has ever figured out a way to get three or more teams involved.

We also know the four teams at the top are high-quality squads. Based on what they have done this season – and having nothing to do with preseason rankings or any of that stuff that often creates an advantage for the teams that start higher in the polls – I believe the four best teams in America, in order, are: Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame.

You might agree and you might not. There is nothing scientific about my order; it is based solely upon some statistical information and upon seeing all play at times this season. Certainly, I have seen Kansas State the most. I have seen a couple of Notre Dame games and bits and pieces of Alabama and Oregon.

Why is Alabama my No. 1? Probably because of the Crimson Tide’s defense, which ranks No. 1 nationally in points allowed. But Alabama also scores more than 40 points per game. True, the Tide does not have a jaw-dropping win yet, even though they play in the SEC. Saturday’s game at LSU will be Alabama’s toughest test to date.

Oregon has whitewashed its competition in the Pac-12 so far, but its’ toughest tests are to come starting with a game Saturday at Southern California. The Ducks finish the regular season at California, at home against Stanford and at Oregon State, before playing in the conference championship game on Dec. 1. And how unfair is it that the SEC and Pac-12 have an extra game while the Big 12 doesn’t? Anyway, Oregon scores more points than any team in the country and its defense isn’t shabby, either. But Oregon does have the toughest remaining schedule.

Finally, there’s Notre Dame. What the Irish did to Oklahoma on the Sooners’ home field Saturday night was impressive. Before that, I’m not sure I took ND seriously as a national-championship contender. I do now, based mostly on a defense that has limited opponents to less than 10 points per game. But Notre Dame has a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way, outside of a regular-season finale agianst USC in Los Angeles on Nov. 24. And who knows what the Trojans’ record will be by then? If bounce from a team’s remaining schedule is a big BCS factor, the Irish look to get less of one than the other contenders.

If – and this a big if – the four top-ranked BCS teams win out, I believe it will be Alabama vs. Oregon for the national championship. That would make Kansas Staters and Golden Domers irate. Those teams likely would be left to play a morbid consolation game in the Fiesta Bowl, sure as shootin’ they belong in Miami to play for a national championship.

What we potentially have here is a huge, giant mess. Somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt, I believe, because of a system that has never worked and one that is finally being tossed on the scrap heap in a couple of years. As this season takes shape, it looks like a couple of years too late.

 

Friday musings

* I’m sure you Kansas State football fans have seen and read this piece by Miami Herald sports columnist Joseph Goodman. If you haven’t, it’s right here. Listen, I’m a columnist, too, and I understand that my job is to present opinions that will get people to think. Or to respond. Or to consider. Or, in some cases, to become angry. But I do my best to at least present a credible case for the argument I’m making. Goodman’s agenda is unclear and out of left field. I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make here, except to express his viewpoint that Kansas is a vast wasteland, unworthy of national championship aspirations. So on that, Mr. Goodman, congratulations. You have made what looks for you to be a slow news day an extremely active one, I suspect, as you fend off the e-mails from K-State Nation. Trust me, I know how adamant and invasive that Nation can be.

* In his column, Goodman makes the case that an Alabama-Kansas State match-up in the national championship game – and specifically a coaching contest between the Tide’s Nick Saban and K-State’s Bill Snyder – would fall short of what a title game should be. Huh? Saban vs. Snyder is a dream coaching match-up. You can make the case that they’re the finest two college football coaches of the past 25 years. Mr. Goodman, do you pay any attention whatsoever to college football?

* I posted Goodman’s column on my Facebook page, and the comments are as you would expect. I guess Goodman’s column is being read, which is a good thing. But as a columnist myself, I would prefer people read my stuff without then slamming down the newspaper. Or, thanks to modern technology, slamming shut their laptop. Making a fan base mad is one thing. But to do so with ridiculous tripe is another.

* OK, I’m off my high horse now. On to other things.

* Kansas is ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press’s preseason college basketball poll. As KU football coach Charlie Weis is already finding out, when Jayhawks fans have a struggling football team their eyes do wander quickly toward basketball. Indiana is the preseason No. 1 and Creighton is ranked No. 16. Kansas State did receive 12 votes in the preseason poll while Wichita State received none. I have a feeling the Shockers are going to surprise people this season. I think they’re going to be good enough to sneak into the Top 25 sometime in February. Call me crazy. Just don’t call me Joseph Goodman.

* Goodman’s column has cheap shot written all over it.

* I’m not sure why his column is bothering me this much. Normally, these kinds of things roll off my back. It’s not that I’m a Kansas State fan. You K-Staters know I’m not a K-State fan; you tell me that all the time. I just don’t like the laziness exhibited in the column. There’s nothing there except a bunch of jiberish.

* Now I’m moving on. Promise.

* There are those – quite a few of “those,” in fact – who believe Texas Tech will upset Kansas State’s apple cart today in Manhattan. I’m not sure how Goodman feels about it, except that it sounds like he would be relieved. I suppose I could see it happening, but I don’t think it’s likely. Texas Tech is playing better defense in 2012, but the Red Raiders aren’t exactly the Purple People Eaters. They did give up 53 points – albeit in triple overtime – last week in a three-point win over TCU. That game was 36-36 at the end of regulation and I don’t regard the Horned Frogs as an offensive juggernaut.

* Texas Tech can throw the football, of course. And the Raiders have been good running the ball at times this season, but that’s not as much of a given. Kansas State, I think, will focus on taking away Texas Tech’s running game and make senior quarterback Seth Doege pass more than he or Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville wants to. Doege has already put it up 267 times this season in seven games and he leads the country with 28 touchdown passes. But he has also thrown seven interceptions, three of which came in Tech’s 41-20 loss to Oklahoma in Lubbock. Those turnovers really turned the tide the Sooners’ way and while K-State’s secondary is still questionable at times, it has been good at picking off passes.

* I like Kansas State to win today, 35-24.

* Won’t the movie “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe himself, either be the greatest movie ever or the biggest bust of all-time? Is there a middle ground? I’m thinking it’s going to be the former considering the rest of the cast and the track records of the director and lead actor. But this subject material is almost too overwhelming to get into a movie, isn’t it. Can’t wait for this flick.

* I really enjoyed Disco Week on Sports Daily. Next week, tune in for hair bands, as chosen by frequent SD contributor Shane Dennis.

* Texas beats Kansas, but in a closer game that you might think. I like the Longhorns, 35-24. Yes, that’s the same score I picked for Kansas State-Texas Tech. I can’t get anything by you people.

* I picked the Detroit Tigers to beat the San Francisco in five or six games before the World Series. Things change. I’m not sure Detroit gets this series back to the Bay Area now after the Giants have gone up 2-0. San Francisco’s two best pitchers – Ryan Vogelson and Matt Cain – make starts in the next two games in Detroit, facing the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Now I think it could be a Giants sweep.

* Baseball, more than any other sports, has a strange connection to momentum and curses and luck. I do not believe San Francisco is a better team than the Cincinnati Reds or St. Louis Cardinals, teams they dispatched in the NLDS and NLDS. I don’t think the Giants are better than Detroit, either. But the Giants have some strange karma working for them, aspects that cannot be explained. This team is straight out of “Paranormal Activity 4″ or something.

* Chiefs vs. Raiders. Remember when that was a huge deal?

* Are you Chiefs fans excited about Brady Quinn? I didn’t think so.

* Somewhere in Miami, a sports columnist is being deluged by angry K-Staters. Just glad it’s him and not me. K-Staters love me.

* Texas Tech makes too many mistakes to beat Kansas State in Manhattan. The Red Raiders have turned the football over 11 times in seven games and are averaging 67 yards of penalties per game. I just don’t see Texas Tech winning at K-State. Now what it happen.

* I’m enjoying Day 2 of being a Brooklyn Nets fan. I’ve ordered gear. I like the whole black-and-white thing. Brooklyn, baby.

* Thanks for reading. I might post something on the blog when I arrive in Manhattan tomorrow. I hope I have a press box seat next to Mr. Goodman.

 

Picking an NBA team to follow

My friend Paul Suellentrop is an NBA guy. A few years back, he dedicated himself to picking a team (the Phoenix Suns) and steadfastly following that team. He’s still a Suns fan, he says, and presumably can’t wait for the NBA season to start next week.

Good for Paul, who buys the NBA package and watches a bunch of games on television, even though he’s supremely busy during the late fall and winter months covering Wichita State basketball.

My point here is that, honestly, I don’t have an NBA team. I’m one of those people who almost ignores the regular season, except for a peek now and then, satisfied that the two months of playoffs is enough of an NBA season for me.

Last season, I was for the Miami Heat to win a championship. Let me rephrase that: I wasn’t so much pulling for the Heat as I was pulling for LeBron James to finally win a title and get some people off of his back. Now, still not five months after the fact, the mood concerning LeBron in this country has changed drastically. We (mostly) love him again, especially after he helped lead the U.S.A. to an Olympic gold medal in London.

But I’m not really a devout Heat fan. If made the pick a team, that’s probably the one I would go with. But it seems too easy to me and I feel like I should pick an NBA team, like Paul, that perhaps isn’t the favorite to win a championship.

So which team?

You would think I would just jump on board with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That team is just down the road, after all. The Thunder has some likeable stars and a good coach in Scott Brooks. But for some reason, I’m not a Thunder fan. Remember, I pulled for the Heat in the NBA Finals last season.

Let’s start by eliminating some teams I’m not going to jump on board with. It’s got to be a team that has a reasonable chance of advancing in the playoffs. I’m not going to invest a bunch of energy in the Sacramento Kings, for instance, even though the Kings have former Kansas standout Thomas Robinson and a bunch of other good, young talent. But what the Kings don’t have is leadership or the ability to win many games. So they’re out.

The Lakers are out, too. I could never, ever like the Lakers because I was such a Celtics guy during the 1980s.

Utah. Out.

Memphis. No, sorry.

Portland doesn’t do it for me. Neither does Golden State or Phoenix (sorry, Paul). I used to like Houston back in the Elvin Hayes days, but that was a long time ago.

I can’t be an Atlanta Hawks fan, although I’m not really sure why. I do not care for the New York Knicks and I’m not going to waste my time with Toronto, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, Orlando or Charlotte.

By my count, I have eliminated 18 teams. That leaves 12 still on the board, including the Heat. But that’s just too easy, so I’m reluctantly going to eliminate Miami. I might catch you guys in the playoffs again, though.

I’ve been there, done that with Boston, so the Celtics are eliminated. I can’t go with the Chicago Bulls because of Joakim Noah and even though I like Doug Collins as a coach and think Philadelphia is a team to watch, I can’t do the 76ers, either.

Sorry, Indiana, you’re eliminated, too.

So are the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, although it’s not easy to discard the Spurs. I’m knocking the Dallas Mavericks off my list, too. And despite heralded rookie Anthony Davis, I can’t get on board with the New Orleans Hornets.

That leaves three teams: the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets.

Wow. This isn’t going exactly like I thought it would.

But this process of elimination has been painstaking and this is what I have.

Denver? I do like the Nuggets’ coach, George Karl. And I like Denver’s style, in which a lot of players contribute. The acquisition of Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia should help a good team become better. But I’m not just feeling it for Denver the way I should feel it for a team I’m going to follow for an entire NBA season. So I have to dismiss the Nuggets, with apology.

Minnesota and Brooklyn? Seriously, those are my choices?

First, Minnesota. In Kevin Love (injured, out for a significant amount of time) and Ricky Rubio, the ‘Wolves have two young and exciting players. I’m thinking Derrick Williams, wildly inconsistent as a rookie after being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, might be a third. He’ll certainly have to step up big in Love’s absence. I could like this team. But with Love out, I’m going to take a pass for now.

So, ladies and gentlemen, my team for the 2012-13 NBA season is the Brooklyn Nets.

This, my friends, is a pretty decent starting five: PG – Deron Williams; SG – Joe Johnson; SF – Gerald Wallace; PF – Kris Humphries; C – Brook Lopez. Johnson really brings this team to life, having come over from the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a big-time scorer and the Nets have some offensive weapons.

A bench? OK, maybe not so much. In fact, I wasn’t even sure who Brooklyn’s coach was before I looked it up. It’s Avery Johnson, a guy I like.

Believe it or not, I’m feeling excited about my newest team and vow to stay with them for at least a week or two. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. This is the perfect fit between fan and team. If I had been born in one of the buroughs of NYC, I would have wanted it to be Brooklyn. I think it’s cool that a team has re-located there.

OK, that’s it. I’m a Brooklyn Nets fan. And we’re going to have just an outstanding season together.

 

World Series intrigue

I love the World Series. OK, maybe not as much as I would if a certain team that wears birds on the bat were playing. But I still look forward to the Detroit-San Francisco match-up. And here are some of the story lines that hold my interest.

Marco Scutaro – Will the Giants’ second baseman carry on as he did against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, when he batted .500

San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro has been on fire offensively since coming to SF in July.

and put everything into play? Scutaro could drive Detroit manager Jim Leyland to smoke an extra pack of cigarettes in the Tigers’ dugout tunnel. He’s nearly impossible to strike out, which makes his match-up against Detroit flame thrower Justin Verlander all that more interesting. Verlander strikes suckers out. Scutaro takes patient at-bats.

The crowds – San Francisco fans are straight-out bonkers, probably the loudest in baseball. But Tigers fans aren’t far behind. These are two fan bases that love and cherish their teams. There will be great atmosphere in both ballparks, provided the games cooperate by being competitive.

Detroit’s bullpen – The Tigers have a better offense than San Francisco, and better starting pitching. But the difference in bullpens could end up being a big edge for the Giants. Detroit doesn’t have a closer; Jose Valverde gave up that role in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. New York couldn’t hit anyone all postseason long – except Valverde. Phil Coke, a left-hander, now looks like Detroit’s best bet for the ninth inning, but Detroit’s bullpen is a serious question mark.

Cabrera and Fielder – Tough middle-of-the-order hitters for Giants pitchers to face. These are the kind of sluggers who can ultimately wear down a pitching staff, especially if the Tigers are putting runners on base for Cabrera and Fielder. The Giants do have four left-handers in their bullpen, which could help neutralize Fielder in the middle to late innings. But when you’re facing a Triple Crown winner and one of the best left-handed hitters of the past decade, your pitching staff is going to be taxed.

Barry Zito – I’m not bullish on Zito, despite the fact that he made the Cardinals look like Little League hitters last Friday night in a Giants win that ultimately turned that series around. Zito runs it up there at about 84 mph and apparently caused the Cardinals to forget how to hit, judging from their performances in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS. I think the Tigers will rock Zito in tonight’s Game 1 of the World Series. Then Detroit could go up 2-0 when facing another lefty, Madison Bumgarner, in Game 2 on Thursday night. Bumgarner hit a wall late in the season and was shelled by the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS. The pitching match-ups set up extremely well for Detroit in this series, another reason I think the Tigers win.

Andy Dirks vs. Conor Gillaspie – Well, not quite. Dirks is a key member of the Tigers who likely will be starting in the outfield for all of the games in the World Series. The Haven native and former Wichita State standout looks like he’ll have a nice big league career as a .280 hitter with a little pop and a lot of smarts. Gillaspie, though, hasn’t been on the Giants’ roster for the postseason. A teammate of Dirks’ at Wichita State in 2007-08, Gillaspie was only 3 for 20 in six games with the Giants in 2012. The 25-year-old spent most of the season at Triple-A Fresno, where he batted .281 with 14 homers and 49 RBI.

Unsung players – I’m not sure Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson qualifies as unsung, but I sure do like this guy. The Yankees traded him a few years back for Curtis Granderson. I think the Tigers, despite Granderson’s surge in power, hit the jackpot. I also like Detroit second baseman Omar Infante, who came over in a mid-season deal with the Miami Marlins. Infante knows how to play and teams with another veteran, Jhonny Peralta, to give the Tigers an underrated up-the-milddle combination. The Giants, meanwhile, have a few guys who can really play but most people don’t know about, starting with Scutaro. He’s incredible. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Angel Pagan is really good (I kinda wish the Cardinals had him), and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is red hot.

Prediction – I think the Tigers are the better team. And any home-field advantage the Giants might have has been nullified by the way the pitching match-ups set up for Games 1 and 2. Verlander vs. Zito is a big edge for Detroit. And in Game 2, I like Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister to beat Bumgarner. If the Giants go down 2-0 – and I know how they came back from 2-0 down to win three straight at Cincinnati and how they came back from 3-1 down to knock off St. Louis – this World Series is finished. I’m taking Detroit in six games. But it could be five.

Thanks everyone for reading the blog. By doing so, you help feed my family. Talk to you tomorrow.

 

Where Cardinals go from here

Some quick thoughts on the St. Louis Cardinals after their sudden and shocking demise in the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants:

* It really wasn’t that shocking. The Cardinals have been wildly inconsistent all season, especially on offense. The big bats in the St.

Could St. Louis first baseman Allen Craig be trade bait during the off-season. You wouldn't think so after his highly productive season. But the Cardinals have other first base options.

Louis lineup aren’t always big. Left fielder Matt Holliday had a two-month hot streak, but was nothing close to dangerous for much of the season. Carlos Beltran cooled down in the second half. David Freese was up and down. The only consistent hitters for the Cardinals were catcher Yadier Molina and first baseman Allen Craig, both of whom struggled for much of the NLCS.

* The starting pitching failed, too. Obviously, Chris Carpenter wasn’t ready to assume such a big role in the rotation after missing all but a small portion of the regular season with a shoulder and neck injury. Lance Lynn wore down in the second half. Kyle Lohse just had an off night in Game 7 on Monday night and Adam Wainwright wasn’t fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2011.

* Now what? The Cardinals have to beef up their rotation, especially since it looks like Lohse, their ace, will be leaving town as a free agent. I think Lynn is best suited for the bullpen. The Cardinals had three exciting young pitchers up at the end of the season and into the playoffs: Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. Miller should get every chance to earn a spot in the rotation in 2013. And if I were Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, I would be torn about the best roles for Rosenthal and Kelly. Those are two power arms who can provide shutdown help in the bullpen. But Rosenthal will be a starter at some point and his stuff, beyond his occasionally 100 mph fastball, is suited for a starting role. I don’t think the Cardinals can count on left-hander Jaime Garcia in 2013, and who knows how effective veteran right-hander Jake Westbrook will be after missing the final month-plus with an oblique strain. Pitching is a big key. I expect St. Louis to resign Adam Wainwright, who can become a free agent at the end of the 2013 season. Carpenter, hopefully, is good to go. Westbrook has a spot and so might Garcia, if he’s healthy. One or two spots, though, could be open.

* With Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte, the back end of the Cardinals bullpen is well stocked. The Cardinals need to add a left-hander to the bullpen mix who isn’t named Mark Rzepczynski, who took a big step back in 2012. I like young Sam Freeman, who pitched at Kansas, but I’m not sure he can be the main southpaw out of the pen. I think Fernando Salas can bounce back and have a productive season and I’m not giving up on Eduardo Sanchez, who was so dynamic for a portion of the 2011 season. And don’t count out Jordan Swagerty, who missed the season with Tommy John surgery. He should be in the mix somewhere, either at Triple-A or with an outside chance of getting into the St. Louis bullpen. And which of the young power arms goes to the pen? I like Lynn and Kelly as relievers.

* Middle infield is a problem. Pete Kozma isn’t ready to be an every-day shortstop. He might be a utility guy, but I’m still not convinced he’s good enough either offensively or defensively to be on a major league roster for a full season. Daniel Descalso just doesn’t hit enough to play second base every day. Kolten Wong is proceeding through the minors and is destined to arrive at second base soon, maybe even in 2013. But the Cardinals can’t bank on that. Rafael Furcal missed the final five weeks with an injured elbow and at his advanced age there are no guarantees he’ll be back. Middle infield is a need area and the Cardinals have to jockey some to fill this need. A trade from the surplus of young, starting pitching could be made to help beef up the infield.

* Freese and Craig look good to go at third and first, respectively. However, I would not be shocked to see one of these guys traded. Matt Carpenter looks like a plus-hitter and he could step in to play either position. Young slugger Matt Adams looks like a future star at first base. Again, I think Craig, as good as he is, could be on the trading block this winter. He would be viewed as a valued bat by a lot of other organizations.

* Molina is the catcher, signed to a long-term deal. He is one of the best players in the game and isn’t going anywhere.

* When will outfield prospect Oscar Taveras get the call to St. Louis? Holliday is a fixture in left with several years left on his contract. Jon Jay is prone to slumps, one of which he went through in the NLCS. But he’s an outstanding defensive center fielder and the Cardinals don’t really have anyone waiting in the wings. Taveras, considered perhaps the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues, played some center field for Springfield in the Texas League this season, but he projects as a right fielder. Beltran is signed for one more season and his gimpy knees make him iffy. I could see Taveras getting a call to the Cardinals in the spring of 2013 and staying in St. Louis for the next 15 years. Maybe. You never know.

* I don’t think the Cardinals will try to solve issues through free agency, but I could see a couple of trades to help in the middle infield and the bullpen. And I look for some changes to the coaching staff for Mike Matheny’s second year as manager. I hope the Cardinals hang on to hitting coach Mark McGwire, but I think he’s one who could go. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cardinals replace Derek Lilliquist with a more-experienced pitching coach, either.

* Thanks for reading and indulging me about the Cardinals. I’m already looking forward to the Hot Stove League and spring training.

 

The fuzzy BCS

We’ll have a playoff in college football soon and the confusion that has reigned over the sports for these oh-so-many years will be cleared up.

Mostly.

But for now, the BCS and all of its subjective rankings and impossible-to-explain computer formulas is what determines which two teams play in the national championship game.

Most teams are through more than half of their 12-game schedules, so we’re starting to get a better idea of the contenders vs. the pretenders. And Kansas State, folks, is a contender. The Wildcats are smack-dab in the middle of the national-championship picture, ranked No. 3 in this week’s BCS standings behind only Alabama and Florida.

The question becomes: Is there a way for K-State to get to No. 2? And the answer is: Heck yeah, are you kidding me?

Florida just needs to lose. And the Gators could do that this week at home against Georgia, 6-1. Or they could do it against Florida State on Nov. 24. And if Florida wins the SEC East, the Gators could lose to Alabama or the SEC West representative in the conference championship game. So, yeah, Florida could easily lose.

What about Oregon? The Ducks were No. 3 in the BCS last week, but dropped a spot this week so that Kansas State could slide into that position. Oregon has three difficult games remaining on its schedule: at USC (Nov. 3), Stanford (Nov. 17) and at Oregon State (Nov. 24). The Ducks could lose.

Then there is Notre Dame, sitting at No. 5 in the BCS. The Irish’s fan base is going a little bonkers, seeing how it has been a while since ND was in the championship hunt. But . . . and this is a major “but” . . . The Irish plays at red-hot Oklahoma on Saturday. And Notre Dame finishes the regular season at USC on Nov. 24. So you better believe the Irish is in danger of losing a game.

Which brings us back to Kansas State. The general feeling is that with road games against Oklahoma, Iowa State and West Virginia in the rear view mirror – all wins, by the way – K-State’s schedule lightens up.

Whoa, there, fella. What’s light about a remaining schedule that includes five teams with a combined record of 23-10? Does that sound light to you?

Kansas State has Texas Tech coming to Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday. And save a misstep against Iowa State in Lubbock earlier this season, the Red Raiders are perfect. Also, Tech has the nation’s No. 11 offense to go with the No. 7 defense. The more you look at this game, the more you see the potential for a letdown, even though the word “letdown” isn’t in Bill Snyder’s vocabulary.

Next week, Kansas State is at home again against Oklahoma State, the country’s top offensive team. Then come road games at TCU and Baylor before a home game on Dec. 1 against Texas.

K-State could run the table. Don’t put anything past the Wildcats and quarterback Collin Klein.

However, there isn’t an easy mark for the Cats the rest of the way. These are all tough games in which anything can happen. And, with my sincere apologies to Snyder for the word I’m about to use, doesn’t every team have a, um, letdown?

Perhaps Kansas State had one at Iowa State, where the Wildcats narrowly won. Perhaps KSU’s letdown was against North Texas last month. Perhaps there are no more letdowns for K-State.

I’ll say this, any team that has Snyder on the sideline and Collin Klein in the huddle has a serious edge up on most other teams.

Klein is having a tremendous follow-up to a tremendous 2011 season. Let’s face it, the guy is just tremendous.

Can’t pass?

Klein has completed 70.5 percent of his attempts for 1,397 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s a big jump from 2011, when Klein completed 57.3 of his pass attempts. And he’s still rushing with the same abandon and finding the end zone with regularity.

Klein is the best college football player in America. There is no need to qualify that nine-word statement. It is simply fact.

And the argument can be made that Snyder is having his best season as a coach, at the tender age of 73. He has after burners that ignite after his three previous sets of after burners shut down.

It’s still to early, honestly, to know which teams will be playing in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami. But it’s exciting that Kansas State is in the mix this deep into the season. And a strong case can be made that the Wildcats are the most well-rounded team, outside of Alabama, in the BCS picture.

Stay tuned. This thing will start to become clearer over the next few weeks. I think Kansas State has real shot.

Thanks, as always, for reading. And pull for the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, please.

 

Saturday musings

It feels good. I’m not going to lie, it feels really good.

It didn’t feel good at the start of Friday night’s Game 4 NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals. The Nats battered Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, abusing him for six runs in 2 1/3 ugly innings. The crowd at Nationals Park was bonkers and a little voice inside my head said this was it, this was just too much adversity for the Cardinals to overcome.

I was resigned to the off-season.

I sold the Cardinals short and shame on me.

Slowly, they came back to life. A run, then two. Then another, and another. It was 6-5.

When Washington scored a run in the bottom of the eight to re-gain its two-run lead, that little voice inside my head tried to speak again. But the Cardinals’ duct-taped the mouth of that little devil with an improbable four-run ninth inning, capped by huge hits from Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma.

Descalso and Kozma. Not actually Ruth and Gehrig or Holliday and Pujols.

I watched the game in my hotel room in Des Moines because I’m in Ames today to cover the Kansas State-Iowa State game. My wife is with me on this trip and I think she was taken aback when I switched the channel after the Nationals took the 6-0 lead.

The game ceased to be something I wanted to watch. I needed a little break. If the Cardinals showed any sign of life, I would be back.

Postseason baseball is a killer for die-hard fans, and I’m definitely that when it comes to the Cardinals. I hope I still have my die-hard card, considering I did change the channel. I hope my fellow Cardinals fans understand why I did what I did. I couldn’t bare watching those Nationals fans go crazy. I needed a break. I even went for a walk outside our hotel room at one point, during which I checked my phone three times for a score update.

By then it was 6-2, soon to be 6-3, and I was locked back in. I wasn’t necessarily hopeful, but it was becoming apparent that the Nationals’ pitching staff might not be up to the moment. Starter Gio Gonzalez lost his control. The Nats’ bullpen had been seriously taxed in the series, so getting Gonzalez out of the game early, I knew, could have a huge pay-off.

And the Cardinals did it. Again. They topped their Game 6 comeback against the Texas Rangers in the World Series less than a year later. Most teams never experience one postseason comeback like this; the Cardinals have had them in back-to-back postseasons.

Incredible. I didn’t get to sleep last night until 1:30 a.m. I couldn’t turn off the television as one analyst after another marveled in this Cardinals team.

Whenever I’m watching the Cardinals, I’m thinking of my later father, Ray. He’s the guy who got me started on this team in 1963. The suffering – and there is intense suffering when you’re a serious fan of a baseball team – has been worth every heartache.

I say that after the Cardinals won a dramatic Game 5. Would I be saying it had they lost?

That’s a legitimate question and I honestly can’t say for sure I would. Baseball fans are a fickle lot, in need of constant affirmation.

I’m feeling affirmed today. But there’s a National League Championship Series starting up tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants.

Get back to me.

Now for some musings:

* A very loud thunderstorm moved through the Des Moines/Ames are last night. But we’re assured that today’s football game should be played without any weather delays, unlike those that interrupted the KSU-ISU game last season in Manhattan.

* I like K-State to win today, 27-20. It won’t be easy.

* The Cardinals’ Kozma was a Wichita State signee in 2007, you’ll remember. But the Cardinals took him in the first round of the MLB draft and he’s mostly struggled as a minor leaguer. Given a chance because of an injury to starting shortstop Rafael Furcal, Kozma has been a huge contributor since getting his shot in late August.

* I don’t understand why West Virginia is only a four-point favorite today at Texas Tech. And I don’t understand why that line has stayed the same. I just don’t understand.

* The folks at the University Daily Kansan are at odds with KU football coach Charlie Weis, who mistakenly believes a student newspaper has an obligation to be supportive of the university’s athletic programs. He’s wrong about that, of course. But the whiny, holier-than-thou response from the Daily Kansan is over the top. Can’t everyone just get along?

* I’m ready for college basketball season.

* My son is getting married a week from today. Fortunately for him, it’s a travel day during the NLDS.

* As you can probably tell, I’m wired today. Bouncing off the walls wired.

* Curious to see how Brady Quinn performs at quarterback for the Chiefs tomorrow afternoon at Tampa Bay. I’m sure KC coach Romeo Crennel would love to keep the offense close to the vest for Quinn. But if the Chiefs get down early, how much will Crennel loosen the offensive reins? Interesting game. And with the mediocrity in the AFC West, the Chiefs aren’t out of the mix. Especially given the comparatively soft schedule they’ll encounter the rest of the way.

* I wonder what my son and Jamin Anderson are saying about the Cardinals on today’s “Just Sayin’” show on KFH? I might have to listen to that podcast later.

* How bad will it get for Missouri today at home against Alabama? I’m guessing pretty bad.

* Why do I feel the need to run that in with Missouri fans, many of whom are fellow Cardinals fans?

* Thanks for reading, everyone. We’re getting close to the opening kickoff here at Jack Trice Stadium. I’ll be off this coming week – no columns or blogs. I’m going to miss you terribly.

 

The name game

Dusty Baker – It’s gonna be hard to live that one down, Lizard. Your Cincinnati Reds won the first two games of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, in San Fran. Your Reds won 9-0 in Game 2 and were coming home to the Great American Ballpark, where they’re

Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker.

at their best. And your Reds proceeded to lose three in a row to drop the series. I’ll give you that your team fought hard to come back from a 6-0 deficit in Game 3 on Thursday, ultimately pulling to within 6-4. But I’m not sure you’re gonna survive this loss, Dusty.

Jerry Sandusky – I hate even typing this guy’s name. And I’m glad he’ll die in prison. Sick man. Sick wife. Sick, sick, sick.

Alex Rodriguez – You handled your benching Wednesday night with class, no doubt about it. But how did you really feel? I was shocked when Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled A-Rod in the ninth inning with the Yankees down a run to the Baltimore Orioles. It was a genius move, it turns out, since pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez came through with a game-tying homer. Ibanez, miraculously, won it in the 12th with another homer. What a tough decision that was for Girardi. Where does it leave A-Rod? He’s in the Yankees’ lineup tonight for Game 4 of the ALDS against Baltimore and batting in the five-hole. He’s also playing third base against Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders. If a right-hander was on the mound for the O’s, would Girardi have left A-Rod out of the starting lineup? Inquiring minds want to know.

KU basketball – The Jayhawks have been picked by Big 12 coaches to win the conference basketball championship in 2012-13. This barely qualifies as news anymore. I don’t see much strength in the Big 12 this season. And despite the losses of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, KU easily has the best returning players in the conference. This could be a rout.

Brady Quinn – How will the Chiefs starting quarterback – I started to write “back-up” but he’s not backing up anyone now – do this week at Tampa Bay? Will Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel ask much of Quinn or will Crennel look to exploit the Buccaneers’ run defense? I would expect we’ll see Quinn run a pretty vanilla offensive package in his first game as the Chiefs’ starter. That could all change, of course, if KC falls behind early. But the Bucs aren’t a prolific offensive team so I expect a close-to-the-cuff kind of performance from Quinn and the Chiefs’ offense.

The Pit Crew – I receive a lot of feedback from the radio show, “Sports Daily,” that I do weekdays on KFH with Bruce Haertl. One of my favorite segments of the week is our visit with J.R. Sartain and Warren Hardy, who we named “the Pit Crew,” because of their auto racing expertise. I know absolutely nothing about auto racing, by the way. But it’s fun to talk to those guys as we do every Thursday.

St. Louis Cardinals – I’m watching Game 4 of the Cardinals-Nationals NLDS as I write this. My stomach is in knots. Postseason baseball is excruciating. So very hard as a fan. But I’ll take it over not having my club in the postseason. I guess.

Sam Bradford – Still not sure. I’ll be curious to watch Bradford’s performance Sunday for the St. Louis Rams against the Miami Dolphins. I like some of the young Rams receivers, but Bradford will be without his favorite target and security blanker, Danny Amendola, for a few weeks while Amendola recovers from a shoulder injury. Given that Bradford has not had consistent coaching and that the Rams haven’t exactly surrounded him with weapons, I’m willing to give him a significant amount of time to develop. But there need to be some positive steps soon.

Wayne Gifford – My best friend – my best friend since seventh grade – is a Reds fan. Sorry, buddy.

Thanks for reading. I might add some more later this evening. If not, I’ll be back at the blog tomorrow with Friday musings before heading to Ames, Iowa, for Saturday’s Kansas State-Iowa State football game.

 

Baseball thoughts

As you know, I’m pretty wrapped up in the St. Louis Cardinals at the moment. But I’ve spent a lot of time paying attention to all of the MLB playoffs and here are some off-the-cuff thoughts:

* I wonder whether Dick Stockton and Brent Musburger are friends? They should be. They do have one significant thing in common – they both drive me crazy.

* I have always been a Cardinals fan, but I was also a little bit of an Oakland A’s guy back in the day. And by “back in the day,” I’m talking

When Reggie Jackson was a young up-and-comer with the Oakland Athletics.

about the 1970s, when Oakland was having all of that success with Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter, Kenny Holtzman and that group. I’m finding that I still have an affinity for the A’s and I love their home crowd, which I believe is made up of bitter Oakland Raiders fans who aren’t quite sure what to do with success. Watching the A’s play in their home park is a treat and I’ll be tuning in tonight.

* Johnny Cueto. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

* St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter, who shut out Washington over 5 1/3 innings today while making only his fourth start of the season, is one very bad man. And I’m so glad he’s on our side.

* I’m glad 22-year-old Trevor Rosenthal is on our side, too. I haven’t been this excited about a young Cardinals pitcher in a while now.

* Come on Baltimore. Figure out a way. Go into Yankee Stadium and send New York packing. I’m as “baseball guy” as it gets and you have people on your roster I thought were washed up years ago. Nate McLouth? Lew Ford? Seriously, these are players who would be better suited playing in the National Baseball Congress World Series. But they’re finding a way.

* Alex Rodriguez looks like Burt Mustin at the plate. If you don’t know who “Burt Mustin” is, please google him.

* I don’t have much respect for Andy Pettitte. And I used to like the guy. Now he’s just a Roger Clemens enabler for me.

* When the San Francisco Giants lost 9-0 to Cincinnati in Game 2 of their NLDS, I thought it was over. But the Giants are, as we speak, continuing to put up a fight. I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what the Giants do.

* Giants manager Bruce Bochy used to manage the Wichita Wranglers. But you probably already knew that.

* It was interesting that Reds manager Dusty Baker benched third baseman Scott Rolen today. Rolen didn’t take too kindly to St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa’s decision to sit him out of some playoff games in 2006. That created a rift between the player and the skipper that was never resolved and ultimately Rolen was traded to Toronto. But Rolen is near the end of his career now and Baker’s decision is the right one, considering it gets the dangerous Todd Frazier into the lineup to play third base.

* Pete Kozma has been a revelation.

* Reds right-hander Homer Bailey has transformed into a top-of-the-rotation ace before our very eyes. With Bailey, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Cueto, the Reds have something. As a Cardinals fan, I’m not unhappy Cueto will miss the NLDS, should both teams advance.

* It’s fun watching Haven’s Andy Dirks patrol left field for the Detroit Tigers and Goddard’s Derek Norris catch for the Athletics. It gives that series just a little more oomph for me.

* Baltimore might have the best bullpen in the big leagues this season. And I’m still not sure who any of those guys are outside of closer Jim Johnson. Amazing, amazing story.

* I honestly do feel sorry for fans who don’t get to experience playoff baseball very often. I’m spoiled. So I’m happy for fans of the A’s and Orioles. I hope those teams have some staying power.

* It was a pleasure listening to Bob Costas and Jim Kaat call the Cardinals-Nationals game today on the MLB Network. Costas might be the best broadcaster ever. He’s at least in the discussion, right? And Kaat is a superlative analyst, given that he’s almost double my age. And I’m not young, friends. Not  young at all.

* I just called you “friends,” which made me think of CBS’ Jim Nantz. #schmaltzy.

* I scream at my television three or four times during each Cardinals playoff game. The language is not something I’m proud of.

* I wonder what Washington general manager Mike Rizzo really thinks of his decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg with a month left in the regular season? I mean really thinks. I know what he says publicly, that this is the right move. But if the Nationals are bounced out of the playoffs by the Cardinals, how much flak does Rizzo catch? I think it’ll be a lot. Nobody guarantees a team a playoff spot and although the Nationals have the look of a team that will get back to the postseason soon, these are opportunities to be cherished.

* Thanks for reading some baseball banter today. Much appreciated.