Summer can sometimes get a bum rap in the world of sports. By the end of June, basketball and hockey have both lapsed into their off-seasons, leaving the average viewer or fan down to baseball, tennis and golf. Compared to football, basketball and hockey (which are all three built on mostly break-neck action) we’re talking about the most stereotypically slow and unexciting games of the sporting world. That being said, this summer’s early months have been full of some wonderful moments and contests, proving the stereotype wrong in spades and keeping this sports fan’s plate more than full.


The baseball season has always been a big deal for me, with the Detroit Tigers being the only team I live and die for other than the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a result, baseball and summer are never a let down for me, though I’d be lying if said I didn’t spend a good deal of the summer anticipating the next season of Buckeye football in the fall. This year’s baseball season has been full of big surprises and competitive pennant races across the board, some of which I’ve already explored a bit in previous posts. The exclamation point on the first half of the season came a couple of weeks back when the American and National leagues met in the mid-summer classic, the All Star Game. The game has taken on a bit more weight and relevance since it became the deciding factor in home field advantage for the World Series, and this year’s contest was only further energized by being the last to be played in Yankee Stadium.

Joe Buck, Fox’s play-by-play announcer, called the soon-to-be-abandoned Yankee Stadium the American equivalent of the Coliseum in Rome. While I may not put the “house that Ruth built” in quite that high of regard, it is an incredible place that has seen some amazing moments both inside and outside of baseball during the course of its existence. Last night the old ball park saw another classic played within its historic confines, a 15 inning affair that ended up being the longest in All Star Game record. The game started while I was at work and I was disappointed when I came home that though the game was knotted at 2-2, it was already the 8th inning. For my sake, the game proceeded to take a thrilling set of turns and momentum shifts, with each half-inning thereafter full of runners ready to score the game winner, only to be thwarted by a mix of great defense, questionable calls and some truly impressive pitching.

While the All Star Game is an exhibitory affair, both leagues are obviously interested in a win because of both pride and the prize of home field advantage in the World Series. It can sometimes make for an uneasy mix of decisions for each team’s manager, because while each wants to play all of the players selected to appear in the game, exceptions must be made when it comes to banged up players or pitchers on short rest. Situations like last night’s game, where the contest happens to stretch into extra innings, create a series of tough decisions to be made. In extras, both teams’ benches are stretched thin in both position players and pitchers, which led to the game’s first ever tie a few years back in 2002. Both teams were out of pitchers and because of substitution rules, the game either had to end in a tie or have the final pitchers for each squad throw until the contest ended. Since the best pitchers from all of the MLB teams are throwing, no manager wants to see his guy go any longer than necessary.

It’s why so much talk was focused around AL manager Terry Francona leaving Scott Kazmir of the Tampa Bay Rays on the bench for as long as he did. Francona’s Boston Red Sox are right in the middle of a division race with the surging Rays, and he obviously didn’t want to hear from anybody about inserting Kazmir, using up the young pitching stud’s arm on short rest. Not to mention the fact the MLB season returns to play just two days after the All Star Game, providing even more incentive to keep the kid on the bench and let his arm rest for the beginning of the second half. In the end, Kazmir ended up pitching and the game trudged on into the 15th inning, when somewhat anti-climactically it ended on a sacrifice fly by the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young. The sacrifice plated the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau and ended a truly riveting All Star Game that seemed to refuse to conclude. Kazmir got the win, which was the AL’s 12th consecutive victory in the All Star Game, and the disastrous possibility of another tie in the mid-summer classic was averted. Phew. All in all a wonderful evening that was a baseball fan’s baseball game.


While I’m a bit late in commenting on the All Star Game, I’m very late in commenting on the Wimbledon final. The match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was some of the best tennis I have ever seen, an opinion that was backed up by John McEnroe as he watched from the pressbox at the All England Club. Federer is the Tiger Woods of tennis and especially on grass has been the best player in the world for what seems like an eternity. He had previously won the last five Wimbledon championships and if he had won this year’s final, would have stood alone as the only player to win 6 straight. That would have put him ahead of legendary players like Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg, who have already cemented their legacy in the sport. Federer will still probably achieve the title of “greatest of all time” by the end of his career, but the young Spaniard Nadal spoiled his attempt at history in the final match of the tournament. Finally besting Federer on grass, Rafa only made his mark on the tennis map grow larger on a rainy Sunday in London.

The kid has been the only player in the world that seems like he can actually give Federer fits on the court, and his match with the world’s greatest at Wimbledon proved that fact once again. The match was interrupted on more than one occasion by rain delays, which in my opinion only added to its drama and edge-of-your-seat allure. The rain delays seemed to re-energize both players and allowed them both to look fresh all the way down to the final game of the final set. While Nadal took a commanding two-set lead before the first delay, I think even a casual tennis fan knew that Roger was going to come back and make a match of it. It’s the same way you know that Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or any other dominant athlete will simply not go down without the world’s biggest fight. Federer continually bested Nadal in a series of dramatic tie-breakers and evened the match at two sets a piece. Lucky for Nadal, the rules at Wimbledon made the final set a marathon event, with no tie-breaker to end the match, giving us more of what had already been one of the greatest matches ever played. Nadal finally bested Federer 9-7 in the deciding set and handled himself with a lovely balance of humility and excitement in victory.

His address to the crowd (after playfully climbing into the stands to embrace his family and honor Spanish royalty in attendance) gave more than a tip of the hat to Federer, glowingly lauding Roger on an amazing match and giving him the respect the best player in the world deserves. Federer’s comments after the match were equally respectful, though you could see the crack of sheer disappointment in his exasperated smile at the press conference. The rivalry that is brewing between these two players is exactly what men’s tennis has lacked for so many years, ironically because Federer has been simply unbeatable for so long. Now he finds himself in the middle of a power struggle in the sport, and while the two men are a bit too congenial with one and other for a Connors/McEnroe type war that was so electrifying for the sport in the past, it should help revitalize tennis and make for great viewing down the road.


One of my first few posts on this-a-here blog was all about my aversion to the level of coverage that Roger Clemens received during his congressional questioning about his steroid use. At the time I thought my feelings toward Roger may have had something to do with my disgust with the publicity he was receiving from ESPN (who I have also loosed my venom upon for their “journalism” in a previous post), but now I realize that the sports media juggernaut can inspire the same level of scorn when it comes to an athlete I truly admire, Brett Favre. The network has been simply relentless in their coverage of Favre’s un-retirement, with the crawl at the bottom of the screen addressing his situation with the same frequency as the day’s baseball, tennis and WNBA scores. In between what I feel to be pertinent information, like who won the Tiger’s game that night, I’m also inundated with the latest comments from Favre or the Green Bay Packers or a reporter who happened to hear a rumor about the whole situation.

I don’t need constant updates on this whole saga, because like I said about the Clemens case, it simply doesn’t deserve this level of attention. Favre and the Packers are going to sort this whole situation out shortly, and until then I don’t need to hear about every phone call or text message the guy sent to a Vikings offensive coordinator or if Aaron Rodgers (Favre’s heir-apparent in Green Bay) cracked a smile when Justin Timberlake was making jokes about the situation on the ESPY’s. I realize that the guy is among the sport’s greatest of all time, but if he decides to come back as a Packer or a member of any other team, just let me know when that happens. I simply can’t take ESPN’s dependence on rumor and innuendo to create a story when that air-time could be devoted to more baseball highlights and analysis or actual developments in the NFL off-season outside of Favre’s situation.

Like I said, I do like Favre quite a bit and the level of attention he is receiving is not quite as bad as the whole Roger Clemens debacle. Still, Favre’s sudden change of heart about playing football again was released to the media in slippery ways that for me, indicate that Favre not only misses the competition of the NFL, but the limelight it creates as well. I don’t think he’s a preening sports diva like Terrell Owens or Manny Ramirez, but he had to know that telling former teammates he was “getting the itch” to play again and making contact with other teams’ coaching staffs was going to end up in the press. He has put an undo amount of pressure on the Packers organization, whose rabid fanbase is foaming at the mouth for Favre’s return, and slighted Aaron Rodgers to a more than necessary degree as he tries to step into Brett’s former role. Rodgers, who was a college phenom at California and has waited patiently for three years behind Favre, already had a hard row to hoe when Favre retired and left him the keys to Lambeau Field. Now Rodgers must answer questions about whether or not Favre is going to come back and steal the job he has been waiting for and be distracted throughout training camp by an NFL legend who not only casts a shadow over his position, but has now begun peering over his shoulder at the playbook.

What Favre is doing is unfair to the Packers, Rodgers, and the fans in Green Bay, who now have split-allegiances on what is the only community-owned franchise in American sports. I wish Rodgers nothing but the best of luck, because in the end I think Favre will end up with another team and the Packers will move on with their young QB and have a great season. Favre has pulled an uglier version of Michael Jordan’s return to basketball with the Washington Wizards, which was ill-conceived but at least not detrimental to an organization, a young player and a legion of devoted fans.

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