Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

---Today's Broadcast---

So, I finally returned from the Caribbean cruise with my family last night to remember that I had yet to get a guest for my next broadcast.

In less than 20 hours.

Greg Brown to the rescue!

The first two segments are my talk with Mr. Brown, first a bit about behind the scenes on the Pirates Radio Network, followed by his opinions on what the 2007 season holds.

The third segment was a couple of phone in calls and a quick wrap toward the end about the Penguins seemingly destined to draw Ottawa in the first round. And a quick hit on WVU's NIT victory.

Greg Brown 1:

Right click to download, if you wish...

Greg Brown 2:

Right click to download, if you wish...

Mike Rambles:

Right click to download, if you wish...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

-- Today's Broadcast. (Also taking suggestions for next week's broadcast...)

-- Steeltown's Angels.

---Next Broadcast---

Special thanks are due to Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? for joining me this afternoon. It was a lot of fun, and we probably talked about all of the important points we could have considering how much Spring Training means.

The audio is below, but beware, somewhere just after the 10 minute mark, the CD burner at the station mysteriously stopped recording. So, to bridge the gap (where we miss what was said about Paul Maholm pitching well when he's had the chance, and the introduction to the topic of Sean Burnett), I inserted a rather loud sound effect pulled from one of my favorite video games, ever.

But the beginning of the broadcast is my thoughts on a couple of the items that have happened with the other Pittsburgh sports before getting to the Bucs. Consider it kind of like an audio blog/mini-podcast.

Right click to download, if you wish... (File is 4.8MB)

Also, I have found that I have an hour-long show coming up next week, on March 31st from noon until 1PM. Who would you like to hear me have on? If you want to throw out a big name athlete, go ahead, but I can't promise anything there. Mainly because next week I'll be on a Caribbean cruise with my family (celebrating a milestone anniversary for my parents). I'm leaving very early Monday, returning very late Friday, so setting up a guest of great renown would take more than a bit of luck. Still, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say. And if I can't get them now, maybe I'll be able to the next time I am graced with some air time.

---Steeltown's Angels---

I'm sure I'm infringing on a copyright somewhere, but I should be safe as long as I'm not making any money off of it.

Apparently, I'm a sports-blogging playa (slang for "player", not Spanish for "beach"). This part of the entry is largely for Karri, Tiffany, and Nicole. Thank you for bringing the comment section to life. You have been officially dubbed "Steeltown's Angels."

Go off and boast to all your friends.

(Which one of yinz is the blonde, the redhead, and the brunette?)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

-- Penguins prepare for biggest game yet, again.

-- Panthers have gone the distance. For them.

-- Pirates two weeks from putting up or shutting up.

-- Broadcast reminder.

---Raising the Stakes. Again.---

They do it to themselves.

In one of the tightest conference-wide playoff races in recent memory, the Penguins have proven themselves to be swimmers, rather than sinkers. Michel Therrien has the hammerlock on Coach of the Year. Sidney Crosby is closing in on the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer and has got to be the favorite for the Hart Trophy after the insane goal he scored against Montreal Friday night.

Jordan Staal is making his own case for the Calder Trophy after setting the rookie record for shorthanded goals in a season, recording a hat trick, and just being an out-and-out stud. That Evgeni Malkin guy's not bad either.

What has all of this done? Simply makes it a case of raising the stakes of each game played. And tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators has eclipsed every other game so far as being "the biggest of the year".

If only the New Jersey Devils hadn't been embarrassed at home by Carolina and had extended their division lead. If only Philadelphia hadn't conspired to continue to screw the Penguins and allow Ottawa to win last night and retake 4th place in the conference.

Now, the Penguins have the chance to have some cake and eat it, too, if they can manage to extend their winning streak to 5 games.

With a win: The Penguins close to within 2 points of the Atlantic Division lead. They leapfrog Ottawa for the 4th spot in the conference and have a game in hand. They won't have time to enjoy it, as they have to go to the Big Apple for a Monday night showdown with the Rangers.

With a loss: The Penguins trail Ottawa by at least 2 points (if overtime), and possibly by 3. With one game in hand, they'll need to win another that Ottawa loses to re-catch them.


This is what hockey is all about.

---Expectations Fulfilled---

There are some people who don't understand how I can be a fan of a team when my expectations are not as high as a die-hard's. My realistic/borderline-pessimistic outlook makes me fairweather, somehow.

In none of the several brackets I filled out this year did I have the Pittsburgh Panthers advancing beyond the Sweet 16. In a couple of cases, I had them bowing out in the 2nd round, which, they nearly did.

Now, a game that Panther fans have wanted to see for years has finally been set up. Ben Howland, the teacher, takes on his acclaimed pupil, Jamie Dixon. For this reason alone, I will be watching/listening with great interest.

For about 10 minutes.

Pitt had big leads against "smaller" programs, but in both cases, the "smaller" programs have rallied to tie the game.

UCLA is not a "smaller" program.

In the 2nd round game against VCU, Pitt shot 54.4%. That is a winning shooting percentage for just about any team. Sixteen turnovers and hitting just better than half of their free-throws (two of the misses coming at the end of regulation that wuold have made overtime unnecessary) allowed the Cinderella would-be an extended season.

UCLA was able to quell a rally by Indiana last night by coming up with some key turnovers late in the game. Pitt's tendency to turn the ball over vs. UCLA's tight defense is a poor combination for the Panthers. And it's a given that Pitt will need to take advantage of every trip to the foul line. We know that perfection at the foul line doesn't happen, but it's going to have to be close for the Panthers to even be thinking about an upset.

I expect the Bruins to win by 10 or 12 (pending some kind of bizarre injury during practice this week), but it'll be nice to see Pitt play at least one perennial power this year, since VCU denied a much-anticipated match-up with the Duke Blue Devils.

As I've said before, it's only underachieving if you lose to a lower seed. Pitt players and fans alike can now be proud of this team's season.


And one other NCAA note: Am I the only one who doesn't see the "depth" of the North Carolina team? Of course they have some depth or they wouldn't be a one-seed, but last night was a 2.5 man show (Hansbrough, Lawson, and, at the end Terry), and Michigan State was the victim of some shady officiating while they were in the see-saw battle with the 'Heels during the middle stretch of the 2nd half. Not that North Carolina wouldn't have eked out a win anyway, but I saw some not-so-clean blocks by North Carolina that weren't called, and some better-looking blocks (that may have still been fouls) called against MSU. Regardless, the goat of that game was the MSU defense. North Carolina shot an almost inhuman 65%.

---A Winning Attitude---

"Welcome to Hell."

Pittsburgh hearsay tells that those were words that former catcher Jason Kendall used to use to greet people new to the Pirate fold.

The talent pool was never really that deep when Kendall played for the black and gold; that's a virtual given. Something like that, can only have an instant negative impact. You don't hear about those kinds of things in smaller clubhouses. Florida Marlins star pitcher Dontrelle Willis could have easily said that to new teammates during the first third of Florida's season, that actually had some moments where the national spotlight was on them as they made a furious rally to challenge for the National League's Wild Card slot last year.

It could be successfully argued that the Marlins run was due to some good young pitchers (again, something Pittsburgh never had), Miguel Cabrera and a couple of surprising young rookies in Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, but last year's Florida squad was one that started off with unproven Major League talent that never lost their confidence. They made a surge. They made teams look at them seriously. They gave themselves a shot of a winning attitude.

Adam LaRoche may be the man who can inject the Pirate team with the "keep your heads up" approach when the team inevitably hits a stretch where they lose a few in a row.

In an interview with WMBS's sports talk show host (and Duquesne Dukes basketball color guy) George Von Benko, LaRoche said that the positive attitude, the genuine believe that you can win everyday, is the first important step in making that real. Wanting to finish .500 is only slighting yourself. You have to be aiming for the playoffs from Day 1. He said something to the effect of, "You might not make it, but if you don't set those goals, you're only doing yourself a disservice."

I feel he validated that further by saying, first, that he believes there is a boatload of talent on the team that could really click together. But, he would not say how well he thought the team was going to do this year. Instead, he said to ask him in a couple of months. He said the first month will reveal where their holes are, what their strengths are, and where they stand as a unit.

Some might see that as some kind of a cop-out answer, but it's the best one I could have ever come up. Giving a record like 93 wins would have drawn disdain from even the most pure of fans. Giving something like 85 wins would have been something fans would have scoffed at, perhaps thinking that it wouldn't be enough to win a division and then think, "where's this positive attitude?" And, of course, anything less would have opened up the door for people to call him a hypocrite.

There aren't a lot of people on the team who have been in Pittsburgh long enough to have become completely jaded, either. Jack Wilson seems to be the elder statesman, and he continues to work hard to improve his game. I don't think his attitude is in question. Nor is another long-time Pirate's, Salomon Torres. The starting pitchers are all young and feel they have a bit of something to prove. LaRoche is obviously new to the club, along with Xavier Nady. Chris Duffy and Jose Bautista want to make their respective marks. Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay don't have the all-hope-is-lost-on-Opening-Day attitude, either.

There is no evident clubhouse cancer. No one is kicking any laundry carts. Some players who were considered out of shape have shown up with the intention of rectifying their shortcomings the previous season. Both Jose Castillo and much-maligned backup catcher Humberto Cota have slimmed up considerably.

Since bobbleheads, fireworks, and clever marketing can't turn the team on the field around, and a higher payroll is just a pipe dream, perhaps positive clubhouse chemistry will be what keeps this team out of this history books.

You know what I'm talking about.

---Next Broadcast---

I used to visit Mondesi's House with regularity and put what were later dubbed as "shameless plugs" in the comment section (Mondesi himself didn't call them that).

If that's what they were, I hope I've outgrown that. Putting shameless plugs on other people's websites. I'll just do it here.

"Steeltown Sports: Live!" returns for a half-hour broadcast (more like 25 minutes...21 with the likely commercial break) this Saturday, March 24, from noon until 12:30PM.

Scheduled guest is Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone, Andy van Slyke?

We'll talk Pirates baseball (10 days from Opening Day), who we expect to make an impact, who we expect to suck up space, where we expect them to finish, and maybe if a winning attitude has any measurable impact on a team like the Pirates.

Pat has been getting increasingly "grumpy" insofar as his expectations regarding a team with Dave Littlefield as its General Manager.

---Chicks Dig Me---

Better still, chicks who are Pittsburgh fans dig me!

Seriously, thanks to Karri and Tiffany for gracing my site with their cyber-presences and comments.


I feel obligated to apologize for lack of humorous content most of the time. When I go out of my and try to be funny, it doesn't work. I did improv for about 6 months in Chicago with the now-defunct "Low Sodium Entertainment" in late 1999 until mid-2000. I was never really that good at it. I can count my "brilliant" moments that had an audience rolling in the aisles on one hand.

When something humorous comes along, I'll use it. It's not my M.O. to purposely find things to make fun of. I try to remain as respectful of fans and athletes alike, unless they do something very disrespectful themselves. This attitude was born in me when I listened to certain sports talk personalities in the area.

When I started into this whole blogging/podcasting/broadcasting thing, I wanted to counter that and see how much of an audience there could be for sports talk without adolescent humor, name-calling, and especially the razzing of other teams and their fans that goes beyond good-natured and becomes personal. Be critical of those who don't come through, especially due to what I perceive as a lack of effort, praise those who I feel are at least showing strong effort, even if they fall a little short, and just simply root for our Western Pennsylvania teams.

Oh, and simultaneously keep it interesting.

There are plenty of other venues to get the stuff that I'm not a personally a fan of.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

-- It was a beautiful day, then night, then tomorrow for the Penguins.

-- Panthers preparing to choke again?

-- Pirate offense coming from the wrong places. Pitching also dubious.

-- Next broadcast of Steeltown Sports: Live! on WMBS-AM.

---Fabulous Forty-Eight---

As in "hours".

Unless you've been living under a rock, then you know that as of late Monday night, announcements were flying around on all the media outlets in Pittsburgh that a deal for a new arena was reached, and the Penguins were going to sign on for another 30 years in the 'Burgh (Of course, if you listened to "Steeltown Sports: Live" two nights earlier and heard Adam and Derek from talk about how they'd heard at Saturday's Rangers/Pens game that the deal had already been struck and they were to announce it "next week", you were ahead of the curve).

Then, prior to Tuesday night's game vs. the Sabres, Mario Lemieux, the Penguin who saved Pittsburgh, twice, made it three times. Along the lines of, "The only thing we have to fear..." and "Ask not what your country can do for you...", Mario spoke words that were instantly immortalized:

"Tonight, I'm proud to announce that your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh. Where they belong."

Remarkably, the fans had enough collective vocal chords to get through the ensuing game that went to a shootout (though it should have been over in regulation). The Pens outshot Buffalo 38-19, further improving their Shots-on-Goal Differential (a.k.a. Steeltown Mike's magic hockey stat) to -1.6, which is certainly acceptable.

Come playoff time, I'll compile the league standings as how they relate to the SOGD.

Then, less than 24 hours later, the Penguins blanked New Jersey on the road for the first time since the Colorado Rockies became the Devils.

So, recapping:

11PM Monday - City abuzz with anticipation of a new arena.

7:30PM Tuesday - Mario makes the official announcement

10:30PM Tuesday - Marc-Andre Fleury stonewalls Thomas Vanek for a shootout win against the top team in the Eastern Conference.

10:00PM Wednesday - The horn sounds, ending the most unlikely of shutouts.

Oh, yeah. And because Monday's game went to a shootout, the Penguins twice screwed over New Jersey, by allowing a point to Buffalo, then denying them any the following night.

Fan. Tas. Tic.

---Different Sort of Madness---

At least, that's what I'm expecting for this tournament: the Panther fans being angry after Pitt's 2nd round exit at the hands of 6th-seeded Duke.

I'm not even sure how Duke stayed in the top 25 this year, considering their losses this year, and the controversial win against Clemson due to a time-keeper error. Maybe there truly is an East Coast media bias, as a radio host from Seattle I spoke with said in my first chat with him last January.

Anyway, all the focus has been on the Panthers making it to the Elite 8. I believe the focus is in the wrong place.

If the Panthers lose to a higher-seeded team (in this case, we'd be looking at a Sweet 16 matchup with #2 UCLA for that to be possible), then it's only disappointing. It can't really be called "underachieving". If you want to venture that the Panthers should have played better during the regular season and been the higher seed to begin with, that argument works well enough for me.

Panthers losses this season have not really been ones of hard luck. Simply being outplayed, especially the higher-profile the game and with the most on the line.

Wisconsin is a tough place to play, but Pitt's experience should have shone instead of shuddered in the late going.

Oklahoma State was a classic ball game, but the Panthers were the first to blink.

Their first game against Marquette, they had a chance to pretty much put the hammerlock on the Big East regular season title. At home. They lose in overtime. They had to overcome a double-digit deficit to even get it to go that far.

Then, with Georgetown nipping at their heels, the Louisville Cardinals come to the Pete and rip the Panthers on their own turf, bringing the Hoyas to within striking distance.

The showdown in Georgetown goes south in the waning minutes, giving Georgetown control, but a loss by the Hoyas afterwards gives Pitt the opportunity to salvage a share of the title if they can exact some revenge on the Marquette Golden Eagles. No dice.

In the quarterfinal round of the Big East tournament, though, they were able to get that same squad in foul trouble and take advantage of their own fresh legs to grind out a win. It's just the quarterfinals.

I'm not exactly sure what happened in the 2nd half of the semi-final game against Louisville. Probably the Cardinals being worn out from playing two overtimes the night before.

But, with all the chips on the table and an even number of games played in the tournament, Pitt played their worst all-around game of the season. Star Aaron Gray had only 3 points. The team shot under 30%. Sam Young sounded like the only one with any desire to win that game, and he was the only Panther in double figures, scoring 10 of Pitt's 42.

Now, here we are in the tournament. Yes, Pitt should be able to grind Wright State into the boards, especially in the second half, but a likely matchup with Duke in the 2nd round has me worried.

There's that "mystique" that is synonymous with Duke in the tournament. Coach shih-SHEV-skee is one of the best in the game. Meanwhile, despite absolutely no physical similarities that I can discern, coach Jamie Dixon reminds me of another Pittsburgh sports figurehead:


TheJim over at is holding a "celebrity" bracket contest with folks from around the Pittsburgh media. I am in this group. My official tournament picks are there (or soon to be posted), but the reader's digest version: all #2 seeds in the Final Four. UCLA over Georgetown for the title.

Like my NFL picks last year, I sadly note that I didn't pick very many low-seed upsets, so I don't expect to do very well. There's always some 3 or 4 seed that lands in the Final Four. We'll see.

---Honeymoon is Over?---

The Pirates, despite their Grapefruit League record, seem to have been hitting the ball well. But, as I noted previously, much of the offense is coming from people expected to open the season in the minor leagues, and probably stay there for the balance of the relevant season. Neil Walker has homered in his last two games, for example. I could be wrong here, but I don't believe Jason Bay has (in his admittedly short playing time). Sanchez is injured. Duffy's not doing a whole lot of good lead-off work...

The folks who are supposed to be in the starting lineup are looking pretty sub-average right now, except for maybe Ronny Paulino. Adam LaRoche has been getting some hits, but nothing to get you excited about a 40-home run hitter, and maybe more with the short right field porch (and, for God's sake, it's not's friggin TALL! It's probably easier to sneak one inside the left field foul pole!).

Despite all this, it's the spotty pitching that's been keeping me up nights (no, not really). Ian Snell has been pretty damn good. Zach Duke has been ok. Other than that, it's been hit and miss at best. Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm give up lots of first inning runs. Tony Armas, Jr. and Shawn Chacon have been decent so far, but you need a bit more encouragement before you jump on either of those guys' bandwagon. Shane Youman should make the squad. He could end up being this year's Tom Gorzelanny of '06.

Salomon Torres and Matt Capps, the present and future of Pirates closers, are also inconsistent. Again, I'm not getting too analytical as pitchers are still using this opportunity to try new things in games as the results don't truly count, but some of the signs don't point to good things.

While you're over at, you should check out the opening day T-shirt that they have on their site (I refer to the black one). I really hope their wrong, but I can't disagree with the sentiment.

If I had money, I'd buy one. That one could have a lot of life to it...

---WHYGAVS: Take 2---

And speaking of Pirates, the next broadcast of "Steeltown Sports: Live!" is scheduled for Saturday, March 24th from 12:05PM until 12:30. (Re)Scheduled guest is Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? We'll talk Pirates baseball because, at that point, Opening Day will be just a bit over a week away.

By that time, I also hope I'll have an opportunity to compile my MLB preview for this season. Maybe it'll be less hit-and-miss than last year's (see the link on the sidebar if you're interested).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

-- "Steeltown Sports: Live!" broadcast

-- What Chris Simon is doing now

---Honored Guests---

Those guys must have made me nervous, because I drew blanks and stumbled over my own tongue more times than I do during my standard newscast.

If you want an excuse to get drunk really fast, play the "Steeltown Sports: Live!" drinking game. Everytime, Mike stumbles over his tongue or "uhms" longer than a full-second, drink.

And now to the audio...

Right click to download, if you wish...

Thank you to Derek and Adam of for joining me.

---Chris Simon is Bored---

The guys from, while intimidating are also inspiring. I think we may know what Chris Simon is doing now that his career may be done.

Not for the faint of heart.

Friday, March 09, 2007

March 9, 2007 (supplemental)

---Wild Bill---

Until tonight, I've never heard a commentator, TV or radio, local or national, call out a referee like I just heard Bill Hillgrove call out Tim Higgins. Late in the 2nd half, Aaron Gray is apparently fouled as he shoots, and the shot falls. A count-it-and-a-foul situation, or so it appears. But Higgins apparently waved off the field goal and made Gray go to the line to earn those two points. Gray sinks the first of the two, and Hillgrove exclaims:

"Take that, Tim Higgins!"

With 21 seconds left, both he and Dick Groat were still talking about it. I wish I'd have seen it. Bill usually isn't that harsh on officiating. I can't really say the same for Mr. Groat.

To the game itself, the Panthers win on 42.6% shooting and only allowed Louisville to shoot 4 foul shots the entire game (the Cardinals made 3 of those). Louisville also only shot 29.6% from downtown, and couldn't take advantage of being able to limit Pitt's spotty foul shooting and inability to get offensive rebounds with Aaron Gray riding the bench much of the way due to foul trouble.

It looks more like Louisville lost this game more than Pitt won it. Interesting stat of the game:

Cardinals starters: 16 points combined.
Sophomore Terrance Williams: 18 points off the bench.

Props to Pitt for overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit, though. Antonio Graves had a career night, and oft-maligned Mike Cook stepped up and made a couple of key plays at crucial times. If they can win tomorrow night and bring home their second-ever Big East Tournament title, they should be able to net a 3-seed going into the Big Dance.

As I mentioned at the end of the Panthers segment in my previous blog, Georgetown shot nearly 54% against Notre Dame. Expect a more pedestrian 42-45% shooting tomorrow from the Hoyas. I have no idea of what to expect from Pitt, but they will need to shoot closer to 47%, because this Panthers team cannot shoot free throws reliably enough if it's going to come down to that.

If Georgetown takes home their Big East-best 7th, and it's a close game, the Panthers may still get a 4-seed out of the mess, but 4-seeds are the ones that tend to fall to upsets. Syracuse was a 4 to last year's 13 Vermont, for example.

The Pitt Panthers' Big East Revenge Tour concludes tomorrow against regular season champ Georgetown.

Buckle up.

Friday, March 9, 2007

-- "Steeltown Sports: Live!" broadcast on Saturday evening

-- Pitt finally defeats a ranked team

-- Penguins' focus should remain below, than ahead

-- Pirates making accommodations for Eldred

-- Fox Sports Radio in the Tank

---Saturday's Broadcast---

"Steeltown Sports: Live!" airs Saturday at approximately 8PM on 590AM, WMBS in Uniontown. We'll be nestled between the PAC-10 tournament final and the Big East Tournament final.

Scheduled guests: Adam and Derek of the immensely popular ThePensBlog to talk at length about playoff pushes and arena deals and jobbers. If you can't tune in (out of range/don't own a radio), you can either listen to us over the internet by copying this link into your windows media player:

If you cannot do that, or, if the feed is disabled because of the copyrighted games WMBS will be piggy-backing throughout the day, I plan to post the audio here, sans commercials, as soon as I'm able.

Also, a teaser that I'll have another short show on Saturday, March 24th from noon until 12:30. Guest(s) to be determined, but expect it to be folks to sound off on the Pirates as it will probably be my last show before the season begins.

---Off the Snide---

Pitt finally beat a ranked team last night and prepares to take on yet another in just a short time. But listening to Bill Hillgrove and Dick Groat call the game last night, there is still a way for the blue and gold to go to make people take notice.

For much of the middle portion of the game, the Panthers seemed to commit turnovers and miss free throws the closer the game became. Turnovers have been the Panthers' M.O. during big games throughout the Jamie Dixon era. You're not going to be flawless, but those turnovers consistently happen when Pitt is poised to take command of a game. When your competition is going to be getting increasingly better, a better job of mental preparation is needed.

Statistically speaking the difference between last night's game vs. Marquette as compared to the other marquee Big East losses the Panthers have endured have everything to do with their own shooting percentages. Looking at the two previous Marquette losses, as well as the losses to Georgetown and Louisville, Pitt's opponent has shot between 44% and 48.1%. Defensively speaking, that's not exactly stellar, but you have an idea of what to expect. Last night, Marquette shot 46.6%, pretty much right in the middle.

In the four losses, Pitt shot 32.8% vs. Georgetown, 35.4% against Louisville (only 14.3 from beyond the arc), 42.8% when they hosted Marquette (the game that went to OT), and 37.9% last week at Marquette. In their victory last night, the Panthers shot 49.1%.

Pitt might also want to thank the fact that Marquette had to play the previous evening, and that some of Marquette's big guys got into some late foul trouble, while they largely stayed out of it.

Improvements need to be made defensively if there is to be a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but greater adjustments are needed to get open looks to Ronald Ramon, who is quite diminuative compared to others on the hardwood, or good passes to the inside. Defenses can only guard so many things at once, so if they're going to give up the perimeter to make sure Aaron Gray doesn't contribute as strongly, Pitt has to recognize this quickly and take those long shots, and not wait for Gray to get open if the D isn't giving it to them. If they're playing man-to-man, quick pick and rolls will create the space to either drive to the hoop or bounce a pass underneath.

If Pitt shoots above 44% tonight, that should be enough to defeat Louisville.

(Georgetown shot almost 54% in their 2-point semi-final win over Notre Dame. Wow.)

---Be-Deviled Again---

The New Jersey Devils are the best-conditioned team in hockey. After watching them skate more than a couple times this season, and listening to Mike Lange describe some of the shifts Devils skaters were taking, I have no doubt that we'll be seeing New Jersey in the conference finals.

That said, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played the Devils tough in their last 3 meetings, strangely enough only winning the one of those games that took place on the road. They barely held on for a 5-4 victory that night. They played tough but took a 1-0 loss on the chin at the Mellon not long afterward. Last night, they rallied from two one-goal deficits to force overtime, only to be done in by Martin Brodeur on one end and Patrick Elias on the other end of a tense shootout.

Regardless, picking up that point last night was the most important thing. While they drop 8 points back of New Jersey, the mission should definitely be staying ahead of the rest of the pack. There is a bit of breathing room at the moment, but all it takes would be two games to change everything around and have the Penguins just barely hanging on.

They must play like they are the pursued, not the pursuer.

---Unconventional Uses---

Freddy Sanchez at 2nd.

Neil Walker at 3rd.

Brad Eldred in the outfield?

The Pirates started dabbling with moving their players around last year when they had about 10,000 people playing first base after the Sean Casey trade. Joe Randa had a couple of stints there, migrating from 3rd, Ryan Doumit, losing his starting catching job to Ronny Paulino, tried his hand at first, and even Xavier Nady, pretty much a career outfielder, saw plenty of time there.

Considering that the Pirates haven't had a winning season since Bush I was president, I'm all for trying new and different things. I blogged a couple weeks ago about why Sanchez, LaRoche and Bay should bat 2-3-4 instead of 3-4-5. While conventional baseball wisdom suggests that the hitter with the highest average should bat in the 3-spot, what good is it if the two guys in front of him can't get on? A team with some holes in their offense, and some questions marks in pitching need to consider thinking outside of the baseball book. Former manager Lloyd McClendon was infamous for matching righties against lefties regardless of how much worse overall the lefty was over the righty, etc. Sometimes, he looked better when he'd just have a "hunch" and play that. It didn't always work, either, but when baseball is played with such disparity in team's payrolls, thinking outside of the box is probably the best way to go.

Back to Eldred, I am not as concerned when outfielders come in to play first as I am when first basemen go into the outfield. Some years ago, circa 2001, I went to Wrigley Field to watch a Kris Benson/Kerry Wood pitching matchup in early spring. The Pirates corner outfielders were Craig Wilson in left and Kevin Young in right.

Early in the game, a ball was hit to right, and Young stood beneath it...holding his glove at his belt. He makes a breadbasket catch. After recovering from my mini-heart attack, I shout from my seat in the 3B/LF section of the Friendly Confines, "Kevin! Never! Do! That! Again!"

He did it again. And, quite expectedly, he dropped that one. Even Wilson dropped one. He caught one later, and the bleacher bums behind him gave him a sarcasticly loud ovation. Pirates lost 4-0.

While I don't think Eldred could be worse in the outfield than K.Y., I'd still be concerned about having him on the 25-man roster with the intention of using him out there. Unless, maybe the game was well out of reach at that point.

I'm not sure how fast Big Country can run, but if Jeromy Burnitz was trusted for a good portion of the year out there, Eldred might not be so bad after he gets some added practice time there.

---The Rating Game---

WDVE is, as always, the highest-rated radio station in the 'Burgh. KDKA is, as always, the highest-rated AM radio station in the 'Burgh, and 2nd overall to DVE.

My radio home, WMBS, is at the way bottom (or at least of the ones that show up on the charts). This doesn't phase me terribly much as I recognize the demographic and location to which the station appeals. Generally an older crowd, with programs such as "Senior Spotlight" and music from members of the Rat Pack, Patti Page, and the Four Aces, as well as programs of community interest to the Fayette County region, including local sports. I've had the opportunity to do more things here (music, production, sports, talk, remotes) in almost a year and a half than I would have at any of the stations toward the top without having to run coffee or lick boots. And my demo is sounding pretty good.

Possibly the most interesting factoids I've pulled from the most recent release of Arbitron's quarterly ratings, however, is the fall of WBGG, a.k.a., Fox Sports 970.

Over the past year and a half, the highest portion of the market share that Fox Sports Radio in Pittsburgh had grabbed was still half that of ESPN Radio 1250 (and one-ninth of DVE's). That portion was during the winter of last year, when the Steelers were doing that Superbowl thing. It's very likely that sports radio listenership in the area was at an overall increase.

Stan Savran was let go in June of '06. During the summer of '06 and for this winter so far, WBGG is tied at the bottom with good ol' WMBS radio. They went slightly upwards during the fall (again, Steeler season). Fox Sports Radio apparently, has 1/6th of the listenership of ESPN Radio, and, if I'm reading it right, 1/32nd of DVE's listenership.

The only reason this is remotely amazing to me is that I'm pretty sure 970's broadcast radius is greater than 1250's.

This leaves me wondering if Fox Sports Radio even bothered to conduct a survey of their listeners to determine how they'd react if they didn't have Stan Savran (and, of course, other programs to disguise their thinking). If I'm scratching my own head this much of this, I can only wonder at the state of the collective scalp of those who run Fox Sports 970.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday, March 5, 2007

-- Penguins negotiating roller coaster runs out of track.

-- Pirates have yet to win, but it might not be a bad thing.

-- Panthers enter post-season on a down note.

-- Change to Radio Broadcast Time

---Nightmares and Dreamscapes---

Someone pinch me.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, long-time bitch of the Philadelphia Flyers franchise, just completed their first-ever season sweep of their cross-state rivals.

About twenty-four hours later, the Penguins announced that they are going to begin entertaining relocation options.

I've gotten some flak from some who didn't take too kindly in my lack of faith for local (and, particularly, state) government officials to make a new arena a priority. I'd rather have taken all that flak and been wrong rather than have one leg up on the "I told you so" podium.

Of course, many folks in the Pittsburgh fan base blame Governor Rendell, almost exclusively, for the impending debacle. I've no great love for the man's response to this situation, either, but what were the options? Elect Lynn Swann? Do you think that would have let to Harrah's winning the slots license instead of PITG? I doubt it. Bill Deweese, state rep of Greene County had been buddying up to Mr. Barden since at least Superbowl XL. Harrisburg had some desire to approve a license for a minority-led organization, of which PITG was the only applicant to have a minority at the head.

Some of the blame, unfortunately, has to also fall on the team, insofar as their implications that they would prefer to stay in Pittsburgh. Lemieux has had to put up with the political string-pulling the last 10 years (at least) about new accommodations, so you can't blame him for being fed up. But you get the idea that because the government and PITG folks aren't matching Isle of Capri's offer for the freebie. And K.C. just happens to have that offer extended.

Since none of the details of the negotiations appear to be forthcoming, it's impossible for the John Q. Publics of Penguin Fandom to say whether it's because the Penguins ownership is being unrealistic in their expectations of those across the table for them, or if the politicos still believe that they have something resembling significant leverage.

Now, it looks like the most unlikely of heroes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, will have to step up and prevent a move.

As I've said before, the government should realize that the arena would be more than a venue for the Penguins. There is a lot of money that the county, city and state can make from other events coming through town that currently won't touch Mellon with a ten-foot pole (e.g. the NCAA Tournament, select musical acts).

In the meantime, we can only hope that this is the Lemieux Group's final (and pre-meditated) move to get more out of the deal than is being offered.

---Still Too Early---

Ok. So, the Bucs are 0-4-1 after 5 preseason games. Last year, they were 4-1 after 5. As we know, that squad last year ended up doing no better than the one before it, who were 1-3-1 after 5. In a couple of weeks, we'll have a little better of an idea what to expect.

Some might look at the offense the Pirates are putting up and saying, "Wow, there might actually be some pop in the year's line up." Well, possibly, but the 8 home runs have come from Brad Eldred (3 of them), and he's expected to start in Indianapolis, Andrew McCutcheon (Altoona), Luis Matos (bench), Brian Bixler (minors), and Eddy Garabito (minors). But Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche, and Xavier Nady haven't played much, if at all, and the lineups all shift around practically every inning.

Some may be dreading the pitching that has given up more than a few runs. Salomon Torres got torched in the first game, then another person considered closer material got lit up the following game. Shawn Chacon continued to delight naysayers by giving up 2 runs in 2 batters before settling down for the rest of the time.

Right now, these games are a crap shoot. Jim Tracy appears to be taking the smart route and letting the minor leaguers shake themselves out instead of giving significant playing time to his "stars". Jim Colborn is letting his pitchers get beat up a little bit while they shake off the rust or experiment with new pitches. Meanwhile, the Cubs pulled Mark Prior after 1.1 innings. Maybe he threw too many pitches, but they're letting Alfonso Soriano bat lead off for 3 at bats in games already.

I like Tracy's approach here over Pinella's right now.

But keep an eye on the starters' ERAs as spring training proceeds. The most important thing the Pirates need is a consistent starting rotation. More than the coveted left-handed bat. I recall too clearly a graphic on one of the early broadcasts on FSN-Pittsburgh where one of the pitcher's "scouting report" notes was "7+ innings, please". I believe it was Victor Santos, but the Pirates early slide was mainly due to the inability to get to Stretch-time. Of course, getting rocked will shorten your outing as certainly as pitch count.

---Bottoming Out?---

Once again, the Pitt Panthers are looking like a team ready to fall short of a Big East crown, and fall to an upstart smaller program when the tournament starts. Remember Bradley? Pacific? Kent State? Or, maybe if they're lucky, they'll get beat by a larger program (Oklahoma St. or Marquette). Regardless, Pitt is fortunate to be ranked at #13 (despite their #5 RPI). And it's quite a far fall from the top 5 team they were expected to be.

It's tough to truly predict how well the Panthers will do in the Field of 65, especially until we see their showing against the Big East this week, but it just seems as though the level of the Panthers' play is inversely proportional to the importance of the game. That said, expect a semi-final loss in the Big East, and an exit in the Sweet 16 once again.

Of course, the optimist in me dares to hope that the Panthers are just not playing well right now and are getting ready to put together a 2005 Steelers-esque run where everything finally clicks.


The next edition of "Steeltown Sports: Live!" will still be on Saturday, March 10. However, the time has been changed from its original "noon-til-noon-thirty" segment to what looks like it will be "8PM-to-8:45PM".

Of course, I'll keep yinz guys updated. And I plan to post the audio on this blog anyway within a day.