Richard’s Weekly Sports Round-up
Many sports fans consider this a down period for sports viewing. I disagree. The NBA Finals, Stanley Cup and the French Open tennis tournament are just a few of the sporting events worth watching. Along with major league baseball, a person could stay glued to the television for hours watching all the events. In case you don’t have the time or you don’t enjoy it as much as I do, I’ll give you the Weekly Sports Round-Up. The Round-Up includes a Top Ten of what you missed or didn’t get enough of the week before and a Looking Ahead section of what is forthcoming in the sports world. In addition, I may include a sports-related book review or movie review. Don’t forget to check out my weekly column every Thursday.
10. My Take: On Tuesday, I finished reading a book about professional bull riding. I had heard about it a few years ago and decided it was worth the purchase (a mere $4). The book, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies & Bull Riders: A Year Inside The Professional Bull Riders Tour, gives you a blow-by-blow account of what life is like on the PBR tour. It details injuries, bull riders’ cliques, food served at the events and the fawning buckle bunnies (women who pursue professional bull riders). It’s definitely not a must-read, but if you’re interested in experiencing the life of a bull rider then it is more than worthwhile. The book covers the 2004 season and the riders’ chase for $1 million. The No. 1 overall rider at the end of the year is awarded the $1 million check. You might remember that the Tour made a stop in Jacksonville on December 27, 2003. Well, if you have free time this summer, give the book a chance. It’s an easy read, and you’ll walk away knowing all about the PBR Tour.
9. Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova upset fellow Russian Dinara Safina in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2 Saturday to win the Women’s French Open final. Kuznetsova played a mentally-tough match whereas in the past she would completely fall apart. Safina filled that role by double faulting 7 times while on the verge of weeping on court. Kuznetsova has one other Grand Slam title under her belt: the 2004 U.S. Open. However, she finished runner-up at the 2006 French Open and the 2007 U.S. Open (both to Justine Henin, who is now retired from tennis). The world No. 1 Safina has struggled to live up to the hype. Being the younger sister of former world No. 1 Marat Safin, she has now been the runner-up at this year’s French Open, this year’s Australian Open and last year’s French Open. My Take: Kuznetsova was more deserving of the title. She only dropped three sets on the way to the final. Working her way to the finals, Kuznetsova, the No. 7 seed, took out No. 12 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 2 seed Serena Williams and No. 30 seed Samantha Stosur. If Kuznetsova can keep her mental composure, she is tough to beat with her powerful, consistent groundstrokes. Dinara Safina needs nerves of steel before she can truly claim the title of world No. 1. It is evident she is her brother’s sister. She should carry a box of Kleenex with her in her tennis bag. Her on-court breakdowns are troubling to the fans. If she can contain her emotions, Safina will be untouchable. But, everyone said that about her brother Marat, and he only won 2 majors. Undoubtedly, Safina will surpass his career achievements.
8. After pitching six innings in a 5-1 win over the Washington Nationals, Randy Johnson, left-hander for the San Francisco Giants, won his 300th game Thursday. The Big Unit is the 24th pitcher to reach 300 career wins. Prior to Johnson, the most recent pitcher to reach that total was Tom Glavine in 2007. Johnson, a 6’10” pitcher, has had a stellar career. The 10-time All-Star has won the Cy Young five times and has been runner-up three other times. After reaching the 300-win milestone, the typically-shy Johnson spoke to the media for a half-hour. He thanked everyone he had played with throughout his 22-year career. At 45 years old, Johnson this season is 5-4 with 56 strikeouts thrown in 58 innings pitched, but he has a whopping 5.12 ERA. My Take: I wish the talk of 300-win pitchers going extinct would stop. Yes, players are getting stronger and fitter, but pitchers will still succeed. Even if there are fewer of them, the 300-win career total won’t be an impossible milestone anytime soon. I commend the Big Unit for reaching this impressive feat. I never thought Johnson could reach 300 wins. Being as tall as he is, I figured his body would break down by the time he hit 40. Now, he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. I’d like to know which team he will select as his team for the induction. I think it might be the Arizona Diamondbacks, his hometown team, but he had his best years with the Seattle Mariners. Johnson should shoot to pass Tom Seaver’s 311 career wins.
7. The Detroit Red Wings took a 3-2 series lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals in Detroit. On Saturday night, the Red Wings won 5-0 in dominating fashion. So far, the home team is 5-0 in this series. Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk, playing for the first time this series because of a foot injury that hampered him, assisted on two goals at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings notched three power play goals in the second period with Henrik Zetterberg scoring the final one. This postseason, Detroit has been most impressive allowing 44 goals while Pittsburgh has allowed 62. My Take: In the end, it will come down to home-ice advantage. Detroit has the advantage. Game 6 is Tuesday in Pittsburgh, and if necessary, Game 7 will be Friday in Detroit. The Red Wings are 11-1 at home this postseason. With their experience, the Red Wings should win the Stanley Cup. However, the youthful Penguins won’t be overlooked. Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can make magic on the ice. It will go 7 games. Detroit will bring home their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
6. Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was released by the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. Glavine was scheduled to be removed from the disabled list and pitch yesterday. However, he’ll have to find another team to pitch for in the future. His contract stated that once he was added to the active list he would have received $1 million. Glavine, 43, pitched 11 scoreless innings in his last two outings with Class-A Rome. And, the Atlanta Braves management said Glavine was cut because of performance reasons and not monetary. Braves president John Schuerholz apologized to Glavine for releasing him. The 305-game winner underwent offseason shoulder and elbow surgery, but his production was improving nightly in the minor leagues. There are reports that say Glavine will file a grievance against the Braves. Releasing a player for financial reasons is against the collective bargaining agreement. My Take: The Atlanta Braves should be careful when releasing such star players. During the offseason, the team didn’t re-sign future Hall of Famer, John Smoltz. Instead, he signed with the Boston Red Sox for $5.5 million. Even though Glavine pitched for the NL East-rival New York Mets for five seasons, he was loved by Braves fans. Fans cannot be pleased losing recognizable faces. Unless Greg Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz signs with the Braves this year, this will be the first time since 1987 that one of them will not be pitching for the Braves. No player is untouchable. When younger, less expensive players can do the same job without probable injuries, that mere fact threatens the future of the more senior players.
5. Last Monday, Jacksonville Jaguar John Henderson pulled himself out of the team’s organized team activity with a bum shoulder. The next day, head coach Jack Del Rio called him out for it. Henderson missed Tuesday’s practice as well with the same injury. Del Rio said coach Vince Lombardi would be rolling in his grave if he knew about Henderson’s pulling out of practice with such an injury. Del Rio followed it up with comments about how in his day a player would have played through the injury. X-rays revealed later in the week that Henderson’s shoulder was slightly separated. Henderson was at practice on Thursday, but did not participate in team drills. Henderson said he and Del Rio had discussed the injury and Del Rio’s tirade. The 7-year defensive tackle told Del Rio that this season he has dedicated himself to winning. My Take: It’s obvious that Jack Del Rio was upset that Big John pulled out of an OTA. Henderson has had personal issues and some minor injuries the past two seasons, which he mentioned on Thursday. And, his play has suffered because of it. I believe at age 30 Henderson feels his body beginning to deteriorate. Since the 2-time Pro Bowl selection is 6’7” and weighs over 330 lbs, his body cannot take the pounding of professional football at the elite level too much longer. The NFL is about money, and Big John wants to keep making the big bucks before the Jaguars and other teams realize he doesn’t have the physical stamina to play the game like he once did. His best years are behind him, and he knows it. The NFL will always be a young man’s game.
4. The Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a 2-0 series lead over the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals Sunday night. After a lackluster Game 1 loss 100-75, the Magic kept it close throughout Game 2 at the Staples Center. The Lakers’ 101-96 Game 2 overtime win was sparked by Lamar Odom’s 46 minutes off the bench. He contributed 19 points off 7-8 shooting while grabbing 8 rebounds. Of course, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 29 points and center Pau Gasol added 24 points. For the Magic, poor bench play and eight more turnovers than the Lakers didn’t help stir any magic for the visitors. Magic forward Rashard Lewis scored 34 points in 45 minutes of play. The Magic struggled to cover Kobe once Mickael Pietrus, the primary Kobe defender, fouled out. Although rookie point guard Courtney Lee started, he replaced Pietrus late in the game. My Take: The Magic had their opportunity to win Game 2. Now, Orlando needs to take care of business at home. The next three games are in Orlando. Magic center Dwight Howard shouldn’t be afraid to dish the ball to his teammates, especially shooting guard J.J. Redick. Howard’s 7 turnovers in Game 2 is a red flag. Once the Magic acquire better point guard play, success will be right around the corner. However, the Magic might not find it until Kobe and the Lakers are in the California sun with the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy. Lakers win the series in 6 games.
3. Mine That Bird finished third in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes behind winner Summer Bird and Dunkirk. Summer Bird, ridden by jockey Kent Desormeaux, galloped to victory down the home stretch. You may remember Desormeaux from last year after he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness riding Big Brown. Given 11-1 odds, Summer Bird outlasted the 10-horse field by finishing the longest of the Triple Crown races with a 2¾-length lead. The 1½ mile race was spectacular to the last ½ mile. My Take: The one complaint I have is that the television executives need to get the start time correct. Prior to the race, I read multiple, differing start times. I guess that’s why recording devices were created. For casual horse racing fans, Belmont isn’t a priority. Unless there is a chance for a Triple Crown winner, Belmont means nothing. This year, the story was jockey Calvin Borel striving for a personal Triple Crown, which has never been achieved. There is no doubt he is talented, but Mine That Bird looked a little tired. Obviously, if the horse doesn’t cooperate, the jockey has no chance. Considering there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, I’m surprised horse trainers haven’t been injecting steroids into their thoroughbreds to end the dry spell. At least this year, we had characters like Borel and Mine That Bird’s trainer Chip Woolley to keep us entertained.
2. Tiger Woods won the Memorial Tournament yesterday in Dublin, Ohio with a final score of 12-under par. To start the fourth round, Woods was down by four strokes. He shot a fourth round 7-under 65. Woods has a streak of 18 consecutive fairways hit. It’s his longest stretch since 2003. The win gives Woods his 67th career win and a fourth overall title at The Memorial. My Take: Tiger Woods will leave his opponents in awe come the U.S. Open. He has two wins this season and is super-confident. Now, if he can only come back from four shots down at a major, he will be in business. I’m guessing Woods read that his friend, Roger Federer, won the French Open and tied Tiger with 14 major titles. Since just about nobody in their own sport can keep up with them, the two probably have some competition going on between them. Tiger will easily defend his U.S. Open title at Bethpage.
1. Swiss Roger Federer finally completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open on Sunday over Swede Robin Soderling, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4. From the start, Federer seemed in control as he broke Soderling twice to take a 3-0 lead in the first set. Soderling appeared to have no leg strength and was fatigued by his 5-set semifinal win over Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. In the second set with the score 2-1, Federer was at the baseline ready for Soderling’s serve when a man, dressed as if he were a Cirque de Soleil regular, ran to Federer and attempted to place a hat on the champion’s head. While a little shaken, Federer continued to play well enough to keep Soderling at bay. With the win, Federer ties American Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors and is the sixth male tennis player to complete a career Grand Slam. My Take: Roger Federer is the most accomplished men’s tennis player of all time. Wimbledon is a few weeks away, and the 5-time Wimbledon champion has an opportunity to break Pete Sampras’ record. Throughout Sunday’s match, it was clear that Soderling wasn’t in the same skill-set as Federer. However, Federer was plagued with the all-or-nothing load placed on his shoulders by the media. If he lost, he would be remembered more for losing to an average tennis player, who took out Rafael Nadal, Federer’s rival. If Federer won, he ties Pete’s record and claims the French Open title that has eluded him. Fortunately, for him, it was the latter.
Looking to the Week Ahead
5. PGA star Phil Mickelson announced on his website this week that he plans to play the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, the weekend of June 13. It’s his first tournament back since his wife announced she has breast cancer.
4. The 2009 MLB First-Player Draft is this Tuesday and Wednesday, June 9 and 10. The Washington Nationals will most likely select Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State pitcher, with the No. 1 overall pick.
3. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who was upset in the fourth round by Robin Soderling at the French Open, will have his knee examined this week. His coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, isn’t hopeful that Rafa will be fully healed for Wimbledon.
2. On Tuesday, June 2, Florida State University was given 15 days to respond to the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions secret response to the school’s appeal to keep the football team’s 14 wins during the cheating scandal. Head coach Bobby Bowden needs those wins if he wants to pass Joe Paterno as the all-time wins leader.
1. The Men’s College Baseball World Series begins June 13. The Florida State Seminoles were knocked out Saturday by the Arkansas Razorbacks. North Carolina, Cal State Fullerton and LSU are a number of the teams headed to Omaha, Nebraska.