Thursday, September 28, 2006

SM goes to PNC

The disadvantage of working at an illegitimate radio station is that it requires being on a couple other payrolls, and it leaves little time for my very important home life, let alone visiting my favorite baseball venue.

Finally, the stars aligned and I headed out to PNC Park on Tuesday evening to watch what would be the first of three straight home-losses to the Houston Astros, and their 5th consecutive loss in their current string. I leave home ticketless and with only a general plan to buy a ticket on the third base side of home plate, as close the field as I can get as to provide me a view of one of the most underrated skylines in the world.

On the way to the park from one of those parking lots that's a bit closer to Heinz Field than PNC, I am approached by one of my favorite kinds of people: a Parking Lot Ticket Salesman (hereafter PLTS). I can't tell if he qualifies as a scalper because he's selling for less than face value, but neither can I tell if the ticket is genuine. I understand the art of counterfeiting has become quite impressive. Section 132 or so for $20. I told him I'd see what some of his other cohorts had available. I moved on, and, before I took more than 20 steps, PLTS#1 has signalled PLTS#2 who offers me tickets above the Pirates dugout, sporting a photographic image of current Detroit Tiger Sean Casey, for a mere $25. My innate distrust of PLTSes leads me to tell him that I'll be right back after I visit the ATM.

So, as I head off in the general direction of the park, there's a group of young, early 20-somethings tossing a football around. They flag me down and ask if I need a ticket. I ask them where their tickets were and what the deal was. They show me a ticket (this one looked a bit more genuine) with Section 112, row AA, on the ticket. They say a guy one of them worked with gave him 20 of these tickets, and they can't even give them away. So, they were going to give me one free of charge if I wanted one. I figured there was no real risk in taking the ticket, so I thanked them for it, and finished the journey to the home plate entrance. There was a moment's apprehension when the nice lady at the gate scanned my ticket, but there was the all-clear beep and I was in.

Heh. Now that I'd saved some money on admission, I splurged on a $1.00 scorecard, which I'd actually never tried to fill out before after almost 30 years of life. It didn't turn out to be terribly difficult, but I'm sure I made some mistakes. Am I supposed to put the Pirate pitchers at the bottom of the Astros hitters, or keep all the Astros on the same page? What happens if one team bats around? What if there are a whole bunch of double-switches and pinch-hitters in the middle of the lineup? Where do those guys go? How much space to I leave? I didn't know. I still don't. The instructions didn't answer these questions.

You can visit several pirate weblogs or read the boxscore for how the game actually went, blow by blow. I'm just touching on a couple of my personal observations.

Prior to this visit to the ballpark, the Pirates won all three games of theirs that I attended in '05 (defeating Florida in May, Milwaukee in July at Miller Park, and St. Louis in August). From the outset of this game, though, I had a feeling that maybe the Pirates weren't going to get it done. Maybe because I was sitting on the first base side of the the park instead of the third base side. Snell was off-again, on-again throughout the game, once again digging himself a first-inning hole, but the crowd of 17K+ exploded when Bay hit a solo shot (does he hit any other kind?) and Bautista drilled a two-run homer off Petitte in the 2nd inning to tie it up. This prompted me to tell the elated fan next to me (one of the folks from the parking lot crew overburdened with tix), "Let's start over."

Well, we lost that mini-game 4-1.

Most impressive Pirate performance: Freddy Sanchez. He went 4-5 that night, ending the night up by 11 points in the batting race. I actually left the ballpark thinking that he very well may have locked up the batting race with that performance. However, Florida's pesky Miguel Cabrera sits only 4 points back of Freddy.

Most disappointing Pirate performance: Xavier Nady. The X-man not only went 0-3, but threw a very possible double-play ball into left field (which might have saved all three runs from scoring that inning had they turned the twin killing, but at the very least kept Mike Lamb from scoring in the frame if they'd have only got the force at 2nd). Then, in the 6th, he dropped a decent pick-off throw from Damaso Marte which allowed Willy Tavaras to take 2nd base. Of course, there was no guarantee that if Nady had gloved that throw that he wouldn't have thrown that one into left field, too, or that he'd have beaten the evil-looking speed demon with the throw to 2nd (seriously, have you seen the villainous glare he sports while standing at the plate?).

My favorite non-scoring moment: 6th inning, Ronny Paulino, almost certainly the slowest baserunner on the team, leads off with a bunt single to third. As the play is unfolding, and as I see that it's actually going to work, all I can shout is, "No way! No way!"

They also gave away a boat to a guy who looks like the type who would be running home to put it on eBay. Of course, I'd probably do that, too, if my dad didn't want to take it on fishing trips.

Three games to go now.

Go get 'em, Freddy!

Who am I, and what have I done with Mike?

The Steelers are 1-2 heading into their bye week, and they way they've been playing, in all phases of the game, leads me to believe that things aren't going to get better right away. Normally, I'd be worried sick, but I'm not. I'm not nearly as hungry for a Superbowl repeat as many Steeler fans are. Did I just invest way too much energy in them last year, and now that I've seen one title, I'm fine with whatever happens this year, so long as New England, Dallas, or San Francisco (chuckle) don't win the big one?

The Penguins have lost Malkin for the first month or so of what I think will be the Penguins' final season in the Steel City, but I don't think the team will be much worse without him. After all, the defense has shown minimal signs of improvement, and Malkin, Crosby, or any Penguin, will be hard-pressed to score from their own blue line. However, two wins against the Flyers, whether they count or not, is still enough to make one happy. I hope the Penguins are able to make things interesting late in the season for the final playoff spot, but I think they'll only be slightly better as they won't start with nine consecutive losses like last season. If I can make any guarantee about this team, it is that.

The Pitt Panthers appear to have an offense when you just look at the final scores of games. Then you remember their head coach is stuck in those days just before the advent of the West Coast Offense when power running ruled the day. Then you recall that they've played three teams who've won a combined two games, and a 3-1 Michigan State squad (who should be 4-0) whom they were trailing 38-10 well into the 4th quarter before scoring a couple of garbage touchdowns. This tells me that Pitt is good enough to keep themselves out of embarrassing depths, but nowhere near a level where they will withstand the season-ending 1-2 punch of West Virginia and Louisville. Rutgers may even be a stretch. The only advantage they'll have in each case is the home field one. Of course, that won't account for much, except maybe the games won't be out of reach after one quarter of play.

And how about Louisville? They seem to be losing a "key player" every other game, but continue to score regularly enough win convincingly. Head Coach Bobby Petrino may be an arrogant S.O.B., but he can assess talent.

And the Buccos. After doing so well (relatively speaking) after the All-Star Break, they're showing their true colors again at the end of the season, currently in the middle of a 6-game losing streak. On the verge of re-entering the cellar to stay with the Cubs only one-half game behind. Part of me says they deserve to be there anyway, so just let it be...the Cubs would not ever have been in the cellar had it not been for egregious injuries to many a key player. Of course, the Pirates might not have been so bad had Freddy Sanchez started the season at third (which I'd argued for in this thread on around New Years), and the Burnitz signing never happened. Of course, I was ok with that signing at the time. I don't know how many people thought he'd hit the wall quite as hard as he did after donning the black and gold.

Am I just not a fan anymore, or am I beginning to adopt that partial "journalistic objectivity" that I'm going to need down the road? Either way, it's a very odd feeling.


In other "news", my spoof "Bad Team" was picked up on by the New York Daily News.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oh, those Yahoo! Sports Headline writers...

This is classic. I found this circa 10:15PM EDT today (September 14, 2006)

Can YOU spot the double entendre?

In other news, I feel a tad more legitimate now. I never thought I'd be so happy to get business cards...

I'm also feeling pretty darn ill. I'm sure I'll sound wonderful updating the 84 Lumber Classic going on at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort for what will likely be the last time ever. And once Michelle Wie misses the cut (+5 after day one), there's going to be no "news", not even of the fluff variety.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


It's the most concise title I could think of for my first update in a while.

1) The Steelers - Trailing by 3 to the Dolphins early in the 4th quarter, graced with a 1st and Goal that left the go-ahead score a mere 36 inches away, the play clock runs down quickly. Rather than burn a timeout (and certainly not wanting to take a delay of game penalty), Charlie Batch rushes the snap, bobbles and drops it. Alan Faneca runs into him, keeping him from getting it and the Dolphins recover. With the Dolphins deep in their own end, Culpepper rushes a throw which should be picked off by Troy Polamalu, but is not. Miami gets past midfield before their drive stalls and they punt it to the 13. One play later, Batch hooks up with Heath Miller for what should have been an 85-yard reception, but went for an 87-yard touchdown as Dolphins head coach Nick Saban failed to throw the red challenge flag in time (or at least to a place where a referee could see it). Elapsed time from start to finish - 6 minutes, 23 seconds.

Ike Taylor had also dropped a pick. The next play, the Dolphins score a TD. Had the Steelers lost, the Taylor & Polamalu missed INT would have been the big story. The special teams and passing defense were also not good. This was not the demolition that New England wrought on the Oakland Raiders in last season's opener. Of course, this season's Dolphins is better than last year's Raiders (and this year's for that matter).

What is good, though, is there is finally some comprehensive game film that will illustrate what needs to be done.

2) The Pittsburgh Pirates. Two-fold. -

a) They are out of the cellar entering a series for the first time all year. They see a bit of daylight. While catching the Milwaukee Brewers (7.5 games ahead) seems a bit out of the realm of possibility, with their horrific start, the Pirate players can feel like they accomplished SOMETHING. Especially if they can stay out of last place. The evil flipside, front office and management may feel the same way.

b) Sunday's 7-5 win over the Cubs bailed out struggling (and ailing) starter and constant butt of jokes Shawn Chacon. He finally went more than 5 innings (6), but seems that he can't really do quality work for more than 3, as he gave up 3 runs in the 4th, 1 in the 5th, and the equalizer in the 6th. All but one the result of home runs. Uhm...but how about getting those walks down, eh? (2BB in 6IP).

3) The Pittsburgh Penguins - they have officially signed Evgeni Malkin after a roller coaster ride. Of course, unless Malkin can score from his own blue line, the Penguins need to really worry about shoring up their defense.

Anyway, the Steelers and the Panthers are 1-0, so I'm feeling pretty good. I'm going to close by promoting that my 2006 NFL Preview is now available here. It will have a place in my sidebar, too, replacing the 2005 article (which only makes sense). The only thing that I don't like about this preview, and it's something I realized after crunching some numbers, studying depth charts, and consulting the ol' gut...I only have 2 new playoff teams in my field of 12. Since the divisional re-alignment in 2002, there have been no fewer than 5 new playoff teams, and as many as 8.

Feel free to register and comment on the burghsportsguys message boards (letting them know Steeltown Mike sent you when you register), or leave those comments here at the blog.

One final note: The broadcast I "blugged" earlier this week happened just before the Steelers game. My first on-air roundtable. It went fairly well. There were just too many things that had to happen within that hour's time (network and local news being the most time-consuming things). I'll get the audio on my podcast page before long. I sincerely thank those of you who tuned in.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Blug #1

That's a hybrid word for a plug on my blog. Sounded (or at least read) better than "Plog".

I'm inviting my regular visitors and my passer-bys to tune into 590AM WMBS on your drive home from work on Thursday for a roundtable NFL Preview prior to the start of the Steeler pregame.

At 5:15PM, "Saturday Night Sports Talk" host and SmartMoniesClub guru Dutch Wydo, WMBS's Jerome Shell, and I will be giving our rundown of what we expect from the NFL this year, including divisional breakdowns and playoff predictions. We're still hashing out final details, but we may be taking comments via e-mail or instant messenger. There probably won't be time to take calls this go-around as it's essentially an hour for 3 guys to give a preview of 8 NFL divisions...

We also may have a word from Raul Mondesi's House.

Yeah, you're probably used to listening to far more intelligent and entertaining sports talk in Pittsburgh during this time slot, but don't we already know what those guys think by now? ...

And if you can't tune in, you can listen live through the WMBS website.