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Matsu-Manny-zaka Points

The guy’s already a legend, and he hasn’t even thrown a pitch in the bigs. The Sox posted over $51 million for Dice-K. They courted him; tempered his piranha of an agent, and finally, signed him for another $50 mil.Since then they’ve knocked down walls in the Fenway clubhouse to accommodate his massive media contingent. They’ve morphed the mighty baseball enterprise that is the Boston Red Sox into a multinational and bilingual operation. They’ve even researched the finest Japanese cuisine the city has to offer. All this was done just in preparation of his arrival to Boston, and eventually, Fort Myers.

Now, he’s finally there. And it’s all about him.

So of course Manny has found a way to make headlines. Big shocker.

Who else, but Manny, could possibly report to spring training both late and early?!? Like all Manny side-stories, this one is murky. All that’s known for sure is that for the second year in
a row the team allowed Manny to arrive on March 1, approximately a week after normal position players are required to report. His mother may or may not be in the hospital. And Manny may or may not have known that he was scheduled to appear at a car auction in Atlantic City this past weekend.

Regardless, this morning Manny arrived at camp, big as life, a full three days before schedule, and about three days after position players living in the real world. You know how Manny likes to keep things on an even keel, right?

Well he also likes to be the center of attention. And since it probably only recently occurred to him that all those team mailings he’s been getting actually say, “Welcome to Boston, Dice-K!”, and not “Welcome back Manny!”, my bet is Manny’s had a lot to take in of late.

So he most likely deemed it necessary to arrive early. Or not as late. Whatever. What’s relevant is that Manny is now fully aware of Dice-K’s presence, which may or may not have pulled him away from whatever it was that he was allegedly doing. Get the drift?

What’s known is this: Manny upped on the scene today and wasted no time getting his first glance of Dice-K. Barely before he had a chance to show off his new doo to David Ortiz, Manny had a bat in his hand, and had stepped into the batters box during a session of live batting practice being thrown by the new guy himself.

He looked at three pitches Dice-K had to offer, without offering back at one. It was his so you’re the guy who’s been taking the attention away from me and I’m not yet sure if I like it or not moment with Dice-K. Which is why I’m officially excited about this season. The three-ring circus has gone international.

While the evolving dynamic of this Japanese infusion overlapping “Manny’s world” will undoubtedly produce some hilarious (and possibly awkward) anecdotes, I’m of the mind that Manny and Dice-K are really going to hit it off.

First of all, Manny can relate to Dice-K. He showed up in the spring of 2001 and had to immediately deal with a significant language barrier because he never really had to speak in Cleveland (English at least). It is his personality that has become larger than life in Boston, and when he does speak, it serves to merely enhance that Manny-mystique, as opposed to define it.

Dice-K strikes me as a similar breed. The guy is clearly a character. He’s played some “Lost in Translation” games with Theo and the Trio, as well as the media. His grasp of the English language is surely not fluent, but no one knows what his true level of proficiency is at the moment. And he seems to like it that way.

Aside from the fact that I think their personalities will mesh well together, the two have a lot to learn from each other. Manny’s approach to the art of hitting is unmatched in both ethic and implementation. Dice-K will definitely have questions. Manny, conversely, being the truest student of hitting, will be fascinated at the prospect of adding another dimension to his understanding of this innate and finely-honed skill of his.

In addition, they are both machines in their respective disciplines, which will be an immediate source of mutual respect. They also play a game that revolves around one guy using a piece of wood to try and strike a tiny round object being hurled at him by another guy who’s sole objective is to make him miss. Mano-a-mano.

Face it, these two are natural, primal adversaries, best at what they do, foreign to one another, and now teamed up. Anyone else get the feeling they won’t have to do a whole lot of talking in order to communicate?

No matter what, this is just the beginning. It will be interesting, and no doubt amusing, to see how this current conglomeration of spirits and egos mold together to form the 2007 Boston Red Sox. It will also be extremely well-documented so expect the bizarre, and watch as it is beamed back and forth over the Pacific. Who am I kidding, though? We’re a fan base that has become accustomed to putting our undying faith in circus acts featuring the likes of cowboys and idiots.

Manny and Dice-K? This year’s act just might become the main event.

NBA Midseason Points

With the 2007 NBA All-Star game on the horizon I thought it would be appropriate to look at the state of affairs in the league. This season has been rich with subplots: streaks (Suns and Mavs), beefs (Nuggets and Knicks), marquee player movement (Allen Iverson and Chris Webber), and one team inching ever so close to a new wing of the NBA Pantheon (hint: 16 championships, 18 losses…and counting). Because “parity” isn’t part of the NBA vocabulary, let’s take a look at some of the principal themes of the 2006-07 NBA season within a context of conferences.Western Conference

Simply put, the West is diesel, and Shaq has been back east for the last three years. The Mavs have won 42 of their last 47 games (a cool .894 clip) while the Suns won 32 of 34 at one point. Pantheon streaks? Absolutely. Both teams have championship-caliber lasting power, but Dallas is clearly a step above of Phoenix because of its defensive capabilities and depth. However, as the Suns have proven the last two years (2006 without Amare Stoudemire), they have the potential to run any team this era has to offer straight out of the playoffs. Steve Nash has been hampered of late and the Suns have fallen off the Mavs pace of 68 wins. Expect Phoenix to run off another 12-15 in a row soon after the All-Star break and make it an epic race for the West’s top seed.

If there weren’t two 65+ win teams in the West, the talk would be all about the balance of excellence throughout the top half of the conference. The Jazz have benefited from Carmelo Anthony’s 15-game suspension stemming from the “MSG Incident”, and have built a lead of seven games over the Nuggets. They’re going to need it, as the Nuggets will make a strong push with A.I. and Melo finally playing together over an extended period of time. I still like the Jazz to take the division with 50-52 wins, barely edging the Nugs, who will be relegated to the bottom half of what will be a fearsome playoff bracket.

Denver will be joined by Kobe’s Lakers on the latter half of the bracket. Bryant has been playing some of the best team basketball of his career (with the least capable supporting cast), remarkably transforming an inexperienced team into a group of young veterans. Both the Nuggets and Lakers will be assuming the identity of that team no one wants to face in the first round. And should the Clippers continue their resurgence, they will combine to form one hell of a first round speed bump for the likes of Phoenix and Dallas.

Amid all these legitimate dark horses in the West lies perhaps the most dangerous pair: Houston and San Antonio. Yao Ming has become what skeptics never believed he could be in this league: dominant. He was averaging 25.9/9.4 before he broke his leg two months ago, and the Rockets have actually been better since his injury. The Spurs, meanwhile, continue to hiccup through the ’07 campaign, but are without a doubt the Patriots of the NBA, and will obviously win their 57 games and become the toughest out in the West (mainly because the Mavs won’t beat them two years in a row).

Eastern Conference

You know things are bad when the most noteworthy storylines involve the weight problems of the defending champions, and the inability of the league’s most historic franchise to score more points than an opponent. For the Heat, it’s simply a case of having too many veterans (see: Antoine Walker and Gary Payton) having already achieved all they need to in their careers, opting for drive-thru instead of practice. The Celtics diagnosis is equally simple: without Paul Pierce the Celtics are a glorified college team.

That said, I still like Miami defending at least it’s Eastern Conference crown. See, that’s what’s glorious about the East. It’s entirely possible to tank half a season (as the Heat basically did last year as well), string some wins together at the end, and go to the Finals. It’s the age-old axiom: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Here the Heat are, 51 games into the defense of their title, with 25 wins to show, two impact players (Walker and James Posey) having been reprimanded for munchy-syndrome, and sparse amounts of Shaq. Yet they currently sit just four games behind Washington for first place in the Southeast Division.

Who’s gonna tell me the Heat won’t win 46 games, snag the three seed, go into Detroit or Cleveland and take the East again? It’s just that easy when you’re a beast of the least.

On the opposite end of that spectrum sit the Celtics. Their losing/tanking is well-documented, as is the fact that come May 22nd, Danny Ainge will be putting his livelihood into a plastic bubble filled with ping pong balls. To me, it’s worth the trade off. I didn’t get to grow up watching Larry Bird. I thought I was going to grow up watching Reggie Lewis. I ultimately settled for Paul Pierce, as if that was settling.

He’s been everything a superstar could be: talented and cocky, loyal and endearing, not to mention clutch. But he’s never had a big man. And that’s just not fair. In my opinion, if you replaced Antoine Walker with Tim Duncan (as the Celtics had hoped for in their last tango with lottery fate), Paul Pierce would today possess at least one ring, maybe a couple. If you find yourself a doubter, take a look at his 2001-02 season. He played in all 82 games and another 16 in the postseason. In his first playoff run he etched his name into the Celtics record books, alongside the likes of Bird, McHale, Russell, and Cousy. And he did this all after surviving an attempt on his life just three weeks before the season began, in which he was stabbed multiple times.

Let’s face it, Paul Pierce deserves a big man. And with the way everything has gone the last few years, culminating with “the collapse”, I’m willing to take my chances with the lottery…again. If not for Celtic Pride, for Paul.

Now that Greg Oden guy just better freaking declare.


Hofstra Lacrosse Feature

This is the link to my first piece for cstv.com, a feature about the three senior leaders of the Hofstra women’s lacrosse team.

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-lacros/stories/021407aab.html