Dwight Smith Watch: A Slow Start

If you didn’t read my post from a month ago, I’ve been keeping an eye on Toronto Blue Jays prospect Dwight Smith Jr. after pulling his autograph in a pack of baseball cards.

Unfortunately, Dwight hasn’t done much to make those hastily scribbled initials worth big bucks during his first couple months of professional ball, as he has struggled throughout the 2012 season with the Blue Jays’s Rookie League Affiliate, the Bluefield Blue Jays.

His stat line hasn’t been that impressive, as he is hitting just .226/.316/.393 in 21 games with three home runs and 11 RBI’s. After a paltry month of June where he hit .219, he has looked slightly better in July, hitting .231. Those numbers would be better, but after last night’s game, he is now in a 1-for-17 slump.

He also, for whatever reason, cannot hit at home, where he has posted a ridiculously low average of .160 as compared to .254 on the road. He also hasn’t excelled in situations where he can knock in runs, hitting just .190 with RISP.

There is no need to panic however, as young Dwight is just 19 years old playing against some competition that is older. It will be interesting to monitor his progress through the rest of the season, to see if he can begin 2013 at a higher level in the minors.

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Book Review: Don’t Put Me In Coach by Mark Titus

I’ll start off this review by saying I’m not particularly fond of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I attend OHIO University, something that the folks in Columbus fail to realize when jacking our name to root for OSU, but that is an argument for another day.

However, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by former Ohio State basketball player Mark Titus’s book “Don’t Put Me In Coach”, as it was easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

If you haven’t heard of Titus, it may be due to the fact he was a four-year walk on during his time with the Buckeyes and scored only nine points in his career. But Titus happened to be attending during one of the most successful eras of OSU basketball, beginning with the Greg Oden-led squad in 2006-2007 that made it all the way to the National Championship and concluding with Evan Turner’s outstanding 2009-2010 campaign that saw the team go on another deep run in the postseason.

The true goodness of this book doesn’t come from the story of the Buckeyes, but rather from the storytelling by Titus. He is the incredibly quick-witted college kid that I and many others wish we could be. I constantly found myself laughing aloud at his one-liners and his stories full of over-exaggeration.

Titus’s story of himself, is actually quite incredible. He was picked up by the AAU team that featured future NBA players such as Greg Oden and Daequan Cook after having a hot shooting day against the team. He was slated to receive a scholarship to play basketball on scholarship on Harvard until he was suspended for a high school game that the coaches from the school attended. Then, through the help of Oden and Cook, got a spot as a manager for the Buckeyes basketball team, which Titus turned into a spot on the practice squad and then to full-time walk on status. He began a blog called “Club Trillion” during his college days which catapulted him into cult internet hero status, and landed him a gig writing for Grantland after his college career was over.

Ohio Bobcat fans will appreciate the anecdotes that feature former basketball head coach John Groce (he was an assistant at OSU at the time) and current Bobcat guard Walter Offut (whose misfortunes with Titus in an elevator during a road trip was easily the funniest part of the book.)

If you are a Buckeye fan and haven’t picked up this book already, I have no idea what you are waiting for. As for the rest of the nation, there is plenty of laughs to be had, as Titus shows just how fun sports and our lives can be when we don’t take them so seriously.

Summer Reading: “Wherever I Wind Up” by R.A. Dickey

The past week I took a good, old-fashioned vacation with my family to Ocean City, Maryland. While there I got some much-needed sun, lost my phone in the Atlantic Ocean, and finally got the chance to do some reading for pleasure, a hobby of mine that has gone by the wayside since starting college.

The first book I decided to tackle was R.A. Dickey’s autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up.”

The first thing you realize while reading this is that Dickey is a very intelligent man, far from your typical jock in the sports world. He was an English Literature major at Tennessee, which clearly shows in his smooth telling of his stories. It comes off as if he is talking directly with you rather than writing.

Dickey is the definition of a baseball journeyman. After he was selected in the first round of the MLB Draft in 1996 by the Texas Rangers, his career almost never got off of the ground when a post-draft physical showed that his elbow was missing an ulnary collateral ligament. Rather than take a risk on him, the Rangers took off more than $800,000 worth of bonus money from his deal but still signed him.

The book then dives into Dickey’s next 14 years of toiling in the minor league ranks and bouncing from organization to organization, as refused to give up his dream of becoming a regular major league pitcher. He turns to the knuckleball in 2006, and his relentless working with the pitch turns out to be a career-saving move. It culminates with his 2011 season, in which he finally gets his shot with the New York Mets, in which he puts together a solid season, his first full one in the majors at the age of 36.

The book goes far beyond baseball, however, which is why it is such a great read.

Dickey’s story about his career alone is incredible, but the book also goes into his struggle with coming to terms with his past in order to move forward with his life. His rough road early in life includes being born into a broken home and being raped by a babysitter at just eight years old. Dickey talks about the struggle of dealing with these problems, and how trying to hide away from them as an adult almost cost him his marriage and even his own life.

In what he calls his “search for authenticity” in life, he comes to terms with his past demons and coincidentally finds happiness and baseball success once doing so. He goes into detail about his Christian faith and the role it played in his life, but it doesn’t come over as preachy.

I can’t recommend this book enough for a variety of reasons. First, it comes off as a great self-help book for anyone that has had doubts about themselves at any point. While we may not have suffered the atrocities that Dickey has in his life, his struggles of  continuing to believe in himself while reaching dead end after dead end is something everyone has experienced. Also, given the situation at Penn State, the book provides perspective as to what the victims of sexual abuse go through, and how it isn’t easy to just be forward about it.

I finished the book in no time and was glad I picked it up. Dickey is having an incredible 2012 season despite being 37 years old and was just named to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. I highly suggest you jump on the R.A. Dickey bandwagon, and a great start is picking up this book.

 

Summer of Nothing: Steve Watches the 2012 NBA Finals

It may be hard to believe, but I used to be a huge NBA fan.

I worshipped at two churches each Sunday during my youth. One was Roman Catholic, the other was the Church of Jordan. The T.V. set in the Uhlmann household would be set every Sunday to the NBA on NBC and the sweet sounds of John Tesh’s awesome theme music and Marv Albert (Saturday belonged to the NHL on Fox.) Every day after kindergarden, I’d come home to a game of NBA Live ’98 to see how many points I could drop with Jordan or Reggie Miller against the computer.

But then Ben Howland became the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh basketball team at the turn of the millenium, and with that came a competitive team on the hardwood in my hometown. My attention shifted to the professional ranks to the college game, to which I still follow more closely to this day. I gave the NBA one last go with the Minnesota Timberwolves of the mid-2000s, but after Kevin Garnett decided to ruin that franchise, I gave up.

The 2012 NBA Playoffs have been different. With the Penguins’ season ending earlier than expected, I found myself peaking into the match-ups more often, watching bits and pieces here and there. With me having absolutely nothing to do so far this summer, I decided to pay special attention to the NBA Finals, culminating in me watching an NBA game from beginning to end for the first time in approximately six years.

Here is what I took out of Game 2.

-We are witnessing something special in the play of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. They are this generation’s Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. At times, I had the feeling that the two were competing mono y mono through much of the game, which is exciting to watch.

-There is so little structure in the NBA that it becomes hard to watch at times. Even the great teams of the past, even the Bulls teams of the ’90’s had an offensive set (the Triangle Offense helped Phil Jackson win 11 titles between Chicago and L.A.) You just don’t see it anymore. Teams just have their stars run isolation or pick-and-rolls, and this was definitely the case with the Heat. One of these days, coaches will realize team basketball on offense will lead to more success. For my sake, I hope they realize it so the product can be much better.

-Oklahoma City fans are one of the best groups fans for any of the four pro sports leagues that I’ve ever seen. Even with their team down double digits early, they never sat on their hands. With how loud it sounded on just T.V., I can’t imagine what it would be like to be there in person.

-Going along with that point, why must NBA teams continue to feel the need to have to blare music during every possible second, including while the ball is in play? You don’t hear music once the puck is dropped in the NHL, or once the quarterback goes under center in the NFL. OKC’s fans were loud enough, so there was no need to attempt to drown them out with OutKast instrumentals.

-I’m very excited for the rest of this series. Though the series is 1-1 with it shifting to Miami for the next three, OKC is still very much in the series. If they can win just one game in Miami, having Games 6 and 7 at home with their home-court advantage has me thinking they still have a good chance to bring home the hardware. Final prediction: Thunder in 7.

Summer of Nothing: Dwight Smith Watch

On June 9, 2011, something remarkable happened.

I had nothing to do.

No schoolwork, no articles, no meetings, nothing.

It was then that I officially dubbed the summer of 2012 the “Summer of Nothing”. I have a part-time job where I write articles from home for 12 hours per week. After that, nothing.

With this new-found freedom that has escaped me for the past two years, I need to find some things to do to pass the time. Going to Pirates games and watching Game Show Network can only get me so far.

I really want to ramp up content on this blog over the next three months, and I received some inspiration from a likely source.

I had gone to Wal-Mart this past weekend and bought a pack of baseball cards (imagine that). In my pack of 2012 Bowman Baseball, a product that traditionally spotlights the biggest prospects in the game, I pulled this. A card autographed by Blue Jays prospect Dwight Smith.

I had never pulled an autographed card in my life to that point, and it gave me a brilliant idea. I’m not one for “prospecting” when collecting cards, but those who do like to collect young ballplayers’ cards and monitor their rise through the ranks. I’d figure I could do the same during this “Summer of Nothing” and keep tabs on Smith, who was the second-round pick of the Blue Jays in last year’s draft.

So it’s official, you are on watch Dwight, and I will be posting your progress on this blog from time to time. The “Summer of Nothing” could be the beginning of your rise to stardom, or making that piece of cardboard worth, well, the price of a piece of cardboard.

 

 

Oregon Football’s New Locker Room Is Really Nice

The Oregon Ducks like being on the cutting edge.

Taking advantage of Nike CEO Phil Knight’s generosity to his alma matter, Oregon has received the finest the sporting giant has to offer.

But unlike the football jerseys that can be ugly, really ugly, or God-awful, everyone will be able to agree that the new locker room that Knight had built for the team is incredible.

This is the kind of thing that would have the folks at Disney drooling and the crews of MTV Cribs (that’s still a show, right?) on the next flight to Eugene.

Back in my catholic school basketball days, we couldn’t get out of the tenements they called a locker room fast enough after games. With a marvel like that, I’d never want to leave.

College teams are always looking to find ways to one-up each other to find recruits. As a high schooler, I’d have a tough time going to play somewhere other than Autzen Stadium if Oregon came calling.

This isn’t the end, however, as I’m sure other teams will be trying to get donors to get money to build the next modern marvel of a dressing room. All I have to say is bring it on.

Let the locker room wars begin.

MLB Preview: What I’ll Be Watching For This Season

As the final notes of “One Shining Moment” played at 12:08 a.m. on April 2, it was finally the official start of baseball season.

One fun part of being a fan is finding all of the cool story lines to follow during the six-month grind of a regular season. Here is what I feel will be the best things to track this regular season.

Changing of the guard in the NL East

The National League East Division has been run by dynasties. The Atlanta Braves won it 11 times in a row from 1995-2005. After the New York Mets (somehow) won the division in 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies then began their impressive streak of five straight East crowns.

However, a wise man once said, “the times they are a-changin’.” The Phillies era of dominance my be coming to an end. Injuries, age, and offensive regression has made the division up for grabs again. The Marlins had money left from their new funky uniforms and aquarium backstops in their new stadium to sign Jose Reyes which will compliment their young core nicely. The Washington Nationals also have a ton of young tallent that could be a dark horse for a 2012 breakthrough. Also, don’t forget about the Atlanta Braves who were in control of the Wild Card until their late-season collapse. They will be hungry to rebound.

The AL East is really good

I hate the Yankees. I hate the Red Sox. I really love the AL East, however. This division is completely stacked with four teams (don’t forget the Rays and Blue Jays) that could easily win any other one in the league. The fifth playoff spot was no doubt added to help the third place team in this division get into the playoffs, and the race for it will be interesting. My pick to surprise will be the Toronto Blue Jays, assuming Jose Bautista continues to be ridiculous, and the Rays lack of offensive depth comes back to bite them.

Pedro Alvarez

I knew I couldn’t go a whole baseball post without mentioning the Pirates, but I feel this is a story line that many outside of Pittsburgh will be following too. Pedro has such great potential, as many baseball ‘experts’ notice, but he hasn’t been able to consistently put it together in the majors. He lost even more weight this offseason and is in the best shape of his life, but he still can’t hit the ball to save his life (.170 AVG, 2 HR, 3 RBI, and 22 strikeouts in 53 AB’s in spring training this year). The Pirates’ level of success in 2012 could hang in the balance of this former  top draft pick. If it doesn’t click for him 2012, it may never.

Battle for the basement

Not all the fun in baseball comes from following the pennant races. In 2012, there are two teams that are shaping up to be historically bad. The Oakland A’s followed up the great publicity that the movie “Moneyball” brought to the franchise by GM Billy Beane trading away anyone of worth in a rash rebuilding effort. The Houston Astros thought they could keep their team going by completely ignoring their farm system and thinking that Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman could play forever.

These two teams could easily lose 100 games, and it will be interesting to see who ends up with the worst record in the league.

The season kicks off Wednesday night with the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Miami Marlins and their awesome new stadium. In the great words of Mr. Huynh…..