Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Griffey a "Bridesmaid"

Ken Griffey Jr. finished second in the balloting for NL Player of the Week two weeks in a row.

He was bested by teammate Felipe Lopez and then by the Mets' David Wright.

"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," said Griffey to Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News.

Yeah, but what would Junior rather be ... All-Century or just All-Week?

What now for UC hoops program?

Just returned from vacationing in Seattle, which is a wonderful town, by the way. This is my first opportunity to weigh in on the firing of University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins.

So, here goes ...

The University of Cincinnati’s entrance into the Big East Conference was expected to be greeted with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. Instead, it’s been a time of protest on the Corryville campus.

When head basketball coach Bob Huggins was given his walking papers by university president Nancy Zimpher it ignited a firestorm of local and national scrutiny.

Honestly, if you’re looking for further confirmation of Bob Huggins’ sainthood, turn the page. He made his own bed in many respects. The negative image of UC’s hoops program, right or wrong, is real.

“We expect to recruit very strong students on the court and in the classroom,” said Zimpher. “We expect our coaches to be role models, and we expect our students to be role models. I will not apologize for setting high standards.”

Zimpher took a stand that few, if any, college administrators these days are willing to take. Her stance is noble but reckless.

Cries of “How dare she!” echoed throughout town last week. But, Zimpher’s primary mistake is that she should have made the move sooner in order to ease the strain on recruiting.

Zimpher has made other significant and, at times, unpopular personnel moves during her tenure. But, changes in the law department rarely make news. Dumping big-time basketball coaches does.

She insists there’s a concrete vision for the University. What Zimpher needs now is a plan for the athletic program.

The big question on the Huggins front is not “Why?” but “What now?”.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Blame it on Rijo ...

Still one of the great quotes of all-time:

Former Reds pitcher Jose Rijo discussing the trade which sent he and pitcher Tim Birtsas to Cincinnati from Oakland:

"The Reds got two good arms in that deal," said Rijo. "Unfortunately, both of them were mine".


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Holbert make it to the big leagues

Batting practice had been “weathered out” so Aaron Holbert and his Louisville Bats teammates were relaxing in the clubhouse enjoying a friendly game of cards prior to their game against Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

“We were just going to hit in the cage,” said the 32-year old infielder. “We were sitting there playing cards, Dominos, what have you.”

Fifteen years have passed since the June 1990 draft when Holbert was selected in the first round by the Cardinals. Since then, he’s played his share of card games, made a lifetime’s worth of bus trips and heard the National Anthem sung in countless degrees of quality.

Unbeknownst to Holbert, the Reds had already been dealt their hand.

Utility-man Ryan Freel was placed on the 15-day disabled list with torn cartilage in his left knee. Freel’s injury required arthroscopic surgery. A prognosis as to his recovery was to be made on Thursday following the procedure.

Bats skipper Rick Sweet entered Louisville’s home clubhouse with a somber expression and told the players he had an announcement.

“He had kind of a mean look on his face,” said Holbert. “We were wondering who was in trouble.”

Instead, Sweet uttered the sweetest words of all.

“Hobey, you’re going to the big leagues,” he said.

“I thought he was kidding.” Holbert said. “I told him that he could mess up my game playing a joke like that. Then he said he was serious and they needed me there by game-time.”

After exchanging hugs and high-fives with his teammates, Holbert was packing for Great American Ball Park.

All the while, he couldn’t stop thinking about his wife, Jackie, who has stood by his side through all the ups and downs of his arduous minor-league baseball career.

“It’s just not the ballplayers who go through the rigors of baseball and travel, she’s gone through it too,” Holbert said. “Without her strength and support, I probably would have retired by now. It was great to allow her to experience this with me.”

Holbert said he and his wife had discussed retirement on a number of occasions.

“I contemplated retirement,” he said. “Without my wife, I probably would have. My wife’s the main reason why I’m still playing. She still saw the fire in my eyes. She didn’t want me to quit. She knows I enjoy playing but she also enjoys watching me play.”

The Torrence, CA native became Louisville franchise’s all-time hits leader earlier this season. He was batting .304 with six home runs and 23 RBI in 68 games at the time of his promotion. In 2004, his first year in the Reds organization, Holbert hit .271 in 115 games. In addition to ranking first in Louisville franchise history in hits, he’s also among the leaders in at-bats, triples, runs and games played.

The Reds are Holbert’s eighth organization since 1990. He had previously spent time in the farm systems of the Cardinals, Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Marlins, Red Sox, Pirates and Mariners.

The trip from Louisville to Cincinnati was longer than just an hour’s drive for Holbert.

It was a nine-year journey.

Holbert arrived in the Queen City on Tuesday just in time to pinch-hit in the fifth inning. He struck out swinging. The ball popped out of the mitt of Giants catcher Mike Matheny who threw to first base to complete the out.

And, Jackie was in the stands to see it all.

“It was a great moment,” he said. “I wanted to bless her with the opportunity to see me on a major league field in a major league uniform. That’s what kept going through my mind.”

It was the fourth big-league at-bat for Holbert who made three plate appearances for the Cardinals in 1996.

“When I was up back the first time, it was only for five days,” Holbert said. “She didn’t have the opportunity to come see me play. Since then I haven’t gotten back. I’ve been trying to get back to the big leagues ever since then.”

Following Tuesday’s game, a 10-8 loss to the Giants, Holbert changed out of his uniform just as he had hundreds of times before. Only this time he hung his No. 7 jersey on a big-league hook.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I’m most happy for my wife. I wanted her to see me out there playing with all of the big names of the game. Today she got that opportunity.

It was just fate, I guess.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

'Perfect' quote from Browning

As reporters waited outside the Reds clubhouse following Wednesday night's game, former perfect game pitcher Tom Browning strolled through the waiting area.

Browning, who was known to be quite the 'contact' pitcher in his day, overheard the writers discussing Milton's rocky outing.

"You think those balls were hit hard, wait 'til I get out there," said Browning, drawing laughter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Los Rojos en la Radio

Tonight's Reds/Giants game was broadcast in Spanish. It is the first Reds game to ever be broadcast locally in Spanish.

Perhaps Reds starting pitcher Eric Milton, who allowed 12 hits and six earned runs in five innings, should learn the Spanish verb "castigar".

It means, "hit hard".

Back to the ballpark

This is always an odd time of year. The days are getting shorter and football season begins to bleed into baseball. It's a juggling act at times.

This week is a good example. Four high school football stories, one Bengals column, a monthly minor-league baseball piece and my typical Reds coverage all deadlining at once. Strange.

Anyway, tonight it's back to Great American Ball Park for the first time in more than a week. The momentum of a 10-game road winning streak has vanished with back-to-back losses, but third place is still within a reasonable reach for the Reds.

I hear Reds COO John Allen had some venom in his voice when he shot down the Griffey trade rumors yesterday. Looking forward to learning more about that tonight.

Also, hoping see Chris Haft who used to cover the Reds for the Enquirer and later Chris is now the Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News. He's one of the good guys in this business.

Lewis says top pick Pollack being "selfish"

Wide receiver Kelley Washington told me at training camp a few weeks ago that the biggest difference since Marvin Lewis was hired as head coach is the lack of individualism that now persists in the Bengals locker room. "We're more of a team now," Washington said.

So, it was no surprise when Lewis chose the following words to describe top draft choice David Pollack's lengthy holdout and contract dispute.

"We have guys who have chosen to be here, and we've eliminated selfishness that occurs," said Lewis. "If that's what it comes down to, a dollar here a dollar there, they're on the wrong football team. This football team will never, never be guided by one guy, or we won't be a very good team. We will not be compromised by one player or one person. And that's not going to change. We have fought very hard over these three years to establish that, and it's important to our players we do not change that. It's been proven around the league. It's what wins in this league."

Good stuff.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Marvin Lewis "excited" about loss to Pats

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was all smiles following his team's loss to the Patriots in the pre-season opener for both teams.

"Now, we can get back on course," he said. "I'm excited. We can stop reading about how great we are."

This is just one example of why Lewis is the coach that will lead the Bengals back to the playoffs.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Third time's a charm for Lewis and the Bengals?

Pre-season NFL football games aren't typically things of beauty and tonight's Bengals/Patriots tilt at Paul Brown Stadium has been no exception.

Missed tackles, dropped interceptions and mental mistakes have been numerous.

Marvin Lewis, who has guided the Bengals to consecutive 8-8 seasons since taking over as head coach, is in the final year of a purported three-year "plan".

Had it not been for consecutive 1-4 starts, the Bengals might be working on their third straight playoff appearance. A good start to the season is imperative for a team which hasn't qualified for the postseason since 1990.

Carson Palmer threw an interception on the game's first play from scrimmage. The Bengals trailed 10-6 at halftime.

"We had opportunities, but we didn't take advantage of them," said Lewis at halftime. "We missed some chances on offense, we had chances for interceptions on defense that we didn't convert. Some guys played well, but overall, we've got to do better."

Game-time temperature in the Queen City: 94-degrees. Not exactly football weather.

Team nicknames about honor not insult

The political correctness police are back on the team nickname patrol and the NCAA, that bastion of social sensitivity, has agreed to join their fight.

The NCAA announced recently its plan to place restrictions on schools who misuse Native American imagery in their mascots, logos and team nicknames. Schools refusing to comply with these guidelines could be prohibited from hosting any NCAA-sanctioned event.

The message is clear:

Leave the Indian mascots at home and cover those logos which depict Native Americans in a negative light, or else.

The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Alcorn State Braves, Illinois Fighting Illini and the Arkansas State Indians are among those targeted for being “insensitive” to Native Americans.

This battle has precedent.

The Miami Redskins are now called the RedHawks.

The Marquette Warriors are the Golden Eagles. The St. John’s Redmen have become the Red Storm.

If you ever see a “red” storm approaching, I suggest you forgo the cellar and run for the hills.

Before the politically-correct cops decide to organize a new wave of protests at Cleveland Indians games, perhaps they should consider this obscure piece of historical fact:

In 1915, the Cleveland Naps were in search of a new nickname after their star player Napoleon LaJoie departed for Philadelphia. Readers of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper were asked to provide their input on the choice. The readers selected “Indians”, a nickname utilized by the Cleveland club two decades earlier.

Thus, the Cleveland Indians were born.

The new moniker was praised not protested. In fact, the Plain Dealer called it a “honorable name”.


Well, because the nickname “Indians” was first used in honor of a Native American ballplayer named Louis Francis Sockalexis who starred for the Cleveland club from 1897-1899.

Sockalexis batted .313 during three seasons for the Indians. His throwing arm and base-stealing ability quickly became the stuff of legend.

Cleveland fans and Indians players were so enamored with Sockalexis’ skill they named the team after him.

So, the Cleveland Indians’ nickname wasn’t meant to be culturally insensitive. It’s origin was to recognize a Native American man who not only excelled on the playing field but also had to endure many similar racial prejudices as Larry Doby, the Indians’ first African American player, did many years later.

Perhaps if the NCAA, and others, looked deeper into the origins of team mascots they would find many of the same types of stories.

Wonder how the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have escaped this sort of scrutiny?

“I happen to be an American of Irish descent,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla, who wants the NCAA to wise up. “Should I be outraged at the notion that the Fighting Irish suggest a brawling, half-drunken Irishman?”

While we’re at it, let’s sick MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) on the Brewers; atheists on the Angels; or Baptist ministers on the Blue Devils.

Predictably, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is already on board.

They’ve asked South Carolina and Jacksonville State to refrain from using the nickname “Gamecocks” because it refers to the banned practice of cockfighting.

While they’re at it, why doesn’t PETA do something about the popular T-shirts and caps which display a shortened version of South Carolina’s nickname? That word is far more obscene than a few chickens pecking at one another in a make-shift ring.

Truth is, Florida State and Central Michigan have an agreement with the Seminole and Chippewa tribes.

They said it’s ok to use their nicknames as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

Two high schools on the Navaho Indian reservation in Arizona don’t seem to have an issue with this.

Their nicknames are “Warriors” and “Redskins”.

It’s been reported that the local Potowattamie tribe gave permission to Miami of Ohio to use “Redskins” many years before other people began to complain.

Florida State University officials called the NCAA ruling “outrageous and insulting”. Many other schools, including FSU, were in the process of appealing.

On a personal aside, I am part Cherokee Indian. When I first learned of my Native American heritage I was thrilled and honored. Still am.

Name a team after me. I won’t care. Call them the Redskin Warrior Columnists, if you want.

Finally, wonder why the most offensive team nickname in the history of sports was never abolished?

Washington Senators.

A little about myself ...

If you're like me, you dislike lengthy introductions. So, I'll keep this as brief as possible.

My first story was published in February 1994 by Chicago Cubs VineLine. In the 11 years since, my sports writing career has evolved more quickly than I could have ever imagined.

In addition to covering Cincinnati Reds baseball for the past seven seasons for the Downtowner Newspaper, I also cover the Cincinnati Bengals, local college and minor-league sports. For the past three years, I have covered prep sports for the Cincinnati Enquirer and Community Press Newspapers.

I am a regional stringer for and a correspondent for At the Yard Magazine, a national minor-league baseball publication.

My writing and reporting has been published in the Boston Herald, New York Post, Northern Virginia Daily and Baseball America.

God blessed me with the abililty to write. I developed a passion for sports on my own.

I'm extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to write and report on the games I love.

I am equally pleased to have the chance to share my experiences and opinions with you in this rural outpost on the World Wide Web.

But, enough about me ...