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Multi Points

Marquise Hill: 1982-2007 It’s a somber Memorial Day across the NFL and Patriot-nation. Marquise Hill, a third-year defensive end from LSU, drowned Sunday night on Lake Pontchartrain after a jet ski accident. Hill was a second-round pick of the Patriots in the 2004 draft, and was a rookie on the team that won its third Super Bowl in four years. He only played in a handful of games throughout his brief NFL career, but that was more of a testament to the depth and quality of New England’s defensive line. I don’t have any specific memories of him on or off the field but I know one thing: Marquise Hill was a Patriot for a reason. He was a Patriot because he was a hard worker and a good teammate. He was a Patriot because he had a winner’s mentality and a desire to become better. Marquise Hill was a man in a locker room where each man was valued as a necessary part of a greater entity. So even if we, as fans, were not aware of his impact, we need not look any further than the uniform he donned. Marquise Hill lived as a Patriot, and will be remembered as a Patriot.

(Note: Subsequent to publishing this on Monday I have done some reading about Hill and discovered he did a great deal of work helping his brethren in New Orleans rebuild their homes and city post-Katrina. This comes as no surprise but reinforces what a truly good man he was. He didn’t need camera crews and Patriots’ representatives documenting his deeds; he just did them because he was a caring and admirable individual. Marquise Hill will be missed by many.)

Now to segway into some playoff basketball…

Cavs-Pistons It’s evident that the Cavs could very well be up 3-0 on the Pistons. After Lebron’s questionable pass in Game 1 and mauling by Rip Hamilton in Game 2 resulted in consecutive 79-76 losses, King James needed to man up in Game 3. He rose to the occasion after proclaiming Game 3 the biggest of his life, scoring 32 points to go along with nine rebounds and nine assists. He also hit the two biggest shots of the game in crunch time. Most importantly, he finally had the look of a guy determined to find a way to win. My question is what took so long? Both games in Detroit were there for the taking. They were games hanging in the balance, waiting for the best player on the floor to take over and exert his will. Lebron was that player, except he didn’t show it.

Of course the Pistons are a championship team who know how to grind down opponents and finish games. But in nail biting postseason games the best player on the court should be able to dominate the last couple of minutes by himself. That’s how Dwyane Wade won a championship last spring; that’s how Michael Jordan won six titles in six tries in the mid-nineties. Maybe Lebron isn’t ready yet, maybe he’s too enamored with becoming a “global icon” and not the next great champion. Maybe he has to learn how to compose himself at the free throw line in the final minutes of huge games. Maybe he secretly knows the supporting cast around him is only sufficient enough to win ten or eleven playoff games, and not sixteen. Or maybe the stage is still too grand for him.

No matter what, the fact is that he is the best player in this series and has had the ball in his hands with chances to win each of the three games, with one victory to show for it. Detroit may well win the next two games in convincing fashion, and there will only be so much we can put on Lebron’s shoulders because the Pistons are the handily better team. But if the next two games play out like the first two did, we’ll definitely have learned more about Lebron than we would have if the Cavs drop Game 4 and Game 5 by double digits.

Spurs-Jazz The Jazz are playing with house money. The bad news is the money is only good in their house. The good news is Game 4 is in Salt Lake City. The Jazz are a perfect 7-0 at the Delta Center (actually it’s Energy Solutions Arena, but it was the Delta Center in the old days of Stockton/Malone and has been resuscitated this spring) this postseason. The Spurs have never won a playoff game in Utah in nine tries. And the fans there know it. They also know they are one of the rare crowds that can pick its team up and carry them by their jersey-collars. In the Stockton/Malone/Delta Center heyday the building rocked so loudly that it was difficult to be in the Salt Lake valley without hearing the buzz of the stadium. That familiar roar is back and driving the young-Jazz. A win tonight would guarantee one more game in the house that the pick and roll built. It would also send a clear message to the veteran-Spurs that while it’s not the Mailman delivering them playoff losses anymore, there is a kid named Deron Williams who will be postmarking big games for years to come.

Sox-Yanks and 24 Points

Have times ever changed. Tonight the Red Sox and Yankees renew their rivalry on ESPN while the two hour season finale of “24” runs simultaneously on Fox. If this were three years ago I would be beside myself. I would be angered at the level of my own excitement, because, of course I would be mired in a serious conundrum.

24 or Sox-Yanks? Jack or Pedro? Kingsley or Jeter? Since this kind of dilemma occurred annually from 2003-05, I got used to biting the bullet and taping 24, because Sox-Yanks was just too riveting to miss.

These days the “rivalry” is watered down to the point where one run games are the anomaly as opposed to the norm, and the singular buzz that used to surround every series ceases to be. Sure, they still attract wild amounts of fans and media and play the occasional fantastic game. For the most part though, the matchups have assumed the feeling of just another baseball game, and not yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of the Red Sox and Yankees. There hasn’t been a brawl since ’04, hasn’t even been a game so induced with emotion and passion that Derek Jeter has seen fit to charge into the stands to procure an out.

Simply stated, there hasn’t been a general, steadfast refusal to lose on the part of the players. That goes for both sides. Just look at recent history. Last year the Red Sox allowed the Yankees to come into Fenway in the middle of August in a pennant race, and disrobe them. Five straight? Excuse me? Then at the beginning of this season the Yankees watched, wide-eyed, as the Red Sox came from behind in three straight games at Fenway before getting smacked down in two of three the next weekend at the Stadium.

It’s almost as if the rivalry has turned into a give and take of touché. Humiliated at Fenway? Props Yanks. Toyed with at Yankee Stadium? Too-freakin-shay Sox.

Sorry but this would have never happened in the ’03-’05 heyday because those teams so mutually abhorred the prospect of defeat at the expense of the other that they would scratch and claw with everything they had to avoid that outcome. During that period if you took a sample size of any 12 consecutive games one team would have six wins and the other would have six wins. Game times would average almost five hours. The games themselves would average a good deal more than nine innings. Box and line scores would be irrelevant. Hell, there was only so much Sportscenter could do. Unless you were a part of it, the Sox-Yanks experience, you couldn’t do it justice. There was no such thing as the casual or outside observer; the magnitude of the thing wouldn’t allow it.

It used to be the same with 24. From 2002-04 every Tuesday night from 9-10 pm was specially reserved for another sixty-minute slice of Jack Bauer’s harrowing day. The audience was niche and the plots were taboo. The humanity of Jack was still a concept and not a punchline. The twists were unforgettable and the endings were groundbreaking. The purpose of the show was to present an adversarial point of view and run with it, even walk the fine line of subversion. It was timely, relevant, and realistic in a grisly way only achievable post-9/11.

Above all though, it was novel. No longer. Like anything in the entertainment realm, once it became too widespread it was doomed. Doomed to be ruled by the dollar and not the novelty. And let’s face it, when the first three seasons revolve around an elaborate assassination plot, a cohort of oil giants using Islamic extremists to detonate a nuke in LA to boost business, and the dispensing of a gruesome and deadly virus on innocents, there’s only so much horror to explore.

Then there’s Jack. Originally a Federal Agent-turned man apart, the character has become so banal that there are actually betting lines on the over/under on the number of his kills in any given episode. What used to be a unique narrative about a man struggling to salvage a few ions of humanity while fighting evil has turned into the Jack Bauer power hour. The questions surrounding season finales used to be along the lines of how is Jack going to save his wife and daughter? Or how is Jack going to prevent a school full of children from being attacked? And most importantly, will the hour end with Jack’s death?

Three seasons later, I’ve stopped asking those questions. Jack won’t die because Fox won’t let him. He’s too lucrative. Not to mention so uniquely lethal. Tonight, the question is something like how many Chinese and/or Russians and/or family members is Jack going to off in his latest blaze of glory? This is the question I ask myself, and in the same breath, who’s going to win, Red Sox or Yankees? On both accounts am I eager to discover the answer? Of course. Will I watch and be entertained? Naturally.

But will it ever be like it the old days again? With 24, not a chance. The show is now just another franchise, so if you want a real taste of it buy the DVDs of any or all of the first three seasons. The verdict is still out on Sox-Yanks because we do have a-now-three-years-pending ALCS rubber match to tackle, but that’s a long ways off.

In the meantime I’ll stake my rep on “over 11” for Jack tonight.’

NCAA Championship Softball

Hofstra played host to one of the sixteen NCAA Regionals the weekend of May 20th. I covered the the Friday and Sunday games for CSTV.com

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-softbl/stories/051807abz.html

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-softbl/stories/052007abf.html

Magic Sox Points

Okay, I’ve held off long enough. It’s time to write my “Red Sox are really freaking good” column. So here goes…

It’s May 14 and the old town club has an eight game lead over that team bombing in the Bronx. The good guys are currently on pace to win 112 games, and they just walked off at Fenway for the first time this season in most emphatic fashion.

And I missed it.

Being a Sunday game that was initially billed as Josh Beckett’s chance to stick his name next to Babe Ruth’s in the record books, this was the one that all of Red Sox Nation was tuned into.

Everyone except moi. At the precise moment when Julio Lugo was sliding into first base I was on a Long Island Railroad train returning from covering NCAA Lacrosse.

No worries though. In the words of the legendary-Tony Montana: “Isssoh-kay.”

In the two minutes or so that the train was underground in Brooklyn I received a barrage of texts and voicemails, and I pretty much got the gist. With a game like that, though, you really had to have watched it to capture it. In other words I couldn’t write about the game and offer a whole lot to my passionate and knowledgeable Sox-readership.

So in place of filling you in on my experience watching “Baseball Tonight” after the game (which was AWESOME), I will instead take you back to the last time the Sox overcame a five-run deficit in the ninth inning, because I was there.

April 10, 1998. Home opener against the Seattle Mariners. I was in the right-center field bleachers with my mom. The Red Sox were down 7-2 heading into the last of the ninth and Fenway had emptied. But I knew something most didn’t.

The worst closer the Red Sox ever had, Heathcliff Slocumb, had finally been dealt in 1997. While he was traded for two unknowns named Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe (a whole other column in itself), the Nation was both ecstatic and relieved just to hear he was out of town for good. I happened to know where the trade had spit him out, and to my delight on that fateful afternoon at the ballyard, he popped up in the most glorious of places: the Seattle bullpen.

With the bleachers almost barren he was fortunate enough to have one obnoxious little 14-year old boldly reminiscing about days past while he attempted to get loose on a brisk April afternoon turning to dusk.

To this day I still don’t know why Lou Piniella made the decision to bring Slocumb in for the ninth. But if Sweet Lou is anything, he’s a manager who’s not afraid to throw a player to the wolves if he feels like he’ll learn something from it. He probably calculated that a five-run lead at Fenway on Opening Day was the perfect combination of leeway and pending-disaster for him to get a legitimate look at his new “closer”.

What resulted was a complete catastrophe as Slocumb took the mound with no control and even less composure. He scattered a few singles around a few hit batsmen without recording an out. I’m pretty sure he hit Nomar to force in a run, making the game 7-5 with still nobody out and Mo Vaughn on deck. By this time the undersized concourses and slim alleyways were more populated than the cramped seats in the old ballpark. People were literally trying to cram their way back in.

Lou then pulled the plug on Heathcliff (and his career). He summoned Paul Spoljaric who promptly gave up a mammoth-walk off grand slam to the “Hit Dawg”, which soared over my left shoulder and disappeared into the right field grandstands.

To my knowledge there is no YouTube clip of this home run, but there should be. And should it surface you will see a brief shot of a kid jumping onto the fence between the visitors bullpen and the bleachers, hands violently waving over his head, as the ball carries into the blue wood-paneled seats in right.

And if someone ever tracks down the Channel 56 news reel from that night, amid the bedlam in the tunnel underneath the stadium a skinny kid in braces will appear from the left and in the next shot will have a mic in his face, belting out some version of: “I LOVE HEATHCLIFF!!!! THANK YOU HEATHCLIFF!!!!!! YOU’RE THE BEST!!!!!!!!”

I look back at that day as a defining moment. I grew up watching and loving the Red Sox, but that game marked the first time when I convinced myself that “this is the year”. The Pedro-acquisition had certainly helped reinforce that belief, but it was Mo Vaughn who made me really, truly believe.

Coming back to the present there’s no way anyone within the Nation would classify Sunday’s surreal victory as an illuminating, perception-altering moment, because the whole “this is the year” thing simply doesn’t apply anymore (see: 2004). Neither does one ridiculous comeback give off the collective impression that the ’07 Sox are suddenly the comeback kids (again, see: 2004). That’s the whole purpose of a “precedent”.

2004 and precedents aside, this 2007 Red Sox team is rapidly turning into something special, just not in the way we were expecting.

What if I had told you in March that on May 14, 1) Manny would be hitting .250, 2) J.D. Drew would have 12 RBIs…in 34 games, and 3) Dice-K would have an ERA of nearly five. Now would that be something you might have been interested in? I think not. In fact if you were privy to that info before the season started all you would’ve been interested in would be showing up at Scott Boras Headquarters with a blowtorch. But I digress.

Yes, Manny is still Manny. Dice-K is still getting acclimated, and is a self-proclaimed slow-starter (a phrase he now knows in multiple languages since meeting Manny). And Drew, well, Drew still gives as much of a hoot when he’s sucking as he does when he’s productive. Which is to say either way he doesn’t seem to care too much, so at least we don’t have to worry about this slump getting him down.

Point is, maybe we should all take a page from J.D.’s book of caring, because who really gives a crap about stats when the Sox are 25-11, eight games up, and only gaining steam? Not I.

All we should care about is that this team is gelling and it’s already adopted an identity, something I didn’t think would be possible to even start fathoming until mid-summer. But it’s happened, and it’s happened without some of the big-money new guys contributing much on the field. That’s fine by me because they are clearly chipping in what’s necessary for this team.

For Dice, and J.D., and even Julio Lugo, the numbers will come in time. (The Sox play 81 games at Fenway, remember?) All we need to concern ourselves with right now is that these guys are having fun, playing great baseball, and could care less about where they stand statistically in the league rankings.

Throw in a game like Sunday at the Fens and that’s when you know it’s a good time to be a Red Sox fan.

Hofstra-Hopkins

Hofstra’s season came to an end against Johns Hopkins in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship. Read about one of the all-time great women’s lax players, Mary Key, on CSTV.com

 

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-lacros/stories/051307aas.html

Hofstra Champs

The Hofstra women’s lacrosse team capped off a storybook season by capturing its first CAA championship. Read about the big win on CSTV.com before Hofstra takes the field in the NCAA tournament.

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-lacros/stories/050607aax.html

Hofstra Lacrosse

My much-anticipated update on the Hofstra women’s lacrosse team has been published on CSTV.com.

http://www.cstv.com/sports/w-lacros/stories/050207aas.html