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Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 American of the Year: Ron Paul

There was no bigger development on the American political and social scene in 2010 than the emergence to power of the "Tea Party", and that movement arguably had no bigger inspiration than Texas congressman Ron Paul.

Emerging in the wake of the disastrous Presidential election of 2008 that saw Barack Obama win the race to the Oval Office for the Democrats, the Tea Party (basing it's moniker on the historical 'Boston Tea Party') espouses a firm adherence to the U.S. Constitution, drastic reductions in government spending, and reducing the national debt and budget deficit.

A longtime critic of what he perceives to be the frequent misuse of our nation's military power by the American military-industrial complex, Paul inspired the Tea Party with his Libertarian-based run for the 2008 Republican Party nomination. Paul fell short, but his agressive criticisms of the American foreign, domestic, and monetary policies, especially in attacks on the Federal Reserve system, struck a chord with many.

For his leadership example and principled stand on the vital economic and Constitutional issues at this fragile time in American history, Ron Paul is named as this website's annual "American of the Year", following in the footsteps of previous honorees Glenn Beck (2009), George W. Bush (2008), Chuck Cassidy (2007), Billy Graham (2006), Bill O'Reilly (2005), and the first honoree Pat Tillman from 2004.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Decade of Parity and History

In western historical terms, there was no year '0', so most people realize that an official decade truly runs from the year ending in '1' through the 10th year.

This means that 2001 opened the true first year, and the recent 2010 season ended the final year of the first decade of the 21st century.

For all of the talk about payrolls in baseball and a fear of competitive imbalance, here is the bottom line fact as it relates to that recently completed first decade: 9 different teams won the World Series.

The only franchise that was able to win multiple World Series titles was the one that opened the decade with a supposed jinx or curse, one that hadn't won in 90 years. That franchise was the Boston Red Sox, who won in 2004 and then again took the crown in 2007.

League or Divisional assignments didn't matter this past decade either. The two leagues evenly split the World Series victories at 5 apiece, and teams from every division won titles. The Phillies ('08) and Marlins ('03) from the N.L. East, the Cardinals ('06) from the N.L. Central, the Diamondbacks ('01) and Giants ('10) from the N.L. West gave the National League 5 titles. In addition to Boston's two titles, the Yankees ('09) joined from the A.L. East, the White Sox ('05) won from the A.L. Central, and the Angels ('02) from the A.L. West to give the American League 5 titles as well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful For a Game?

It's Thanksgiving Day here in America, the fourth Thursday in November. It's a day where we give thanks to our God and spend time with the family and friends with whom he has blessed our lives.

The day usually includes a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, pies, and other foods and treats. It also includes watching pro football games on TV, and sometimes watching high school rivalry games in person.

Something that we don't usually think about or associate with on Thanksgiving Day is the sport of baseball. But I am going to take a little time to speak about the game on this day for one important reason.

This is supposed to be a day on which we recognize and express our gratitude for the people and things that we love, and in my life there have been few things outside of my family that I have loved more than the sport that I like to call "The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented."

My love of the game encompasses every way that it can be enjoyed, from playing to coaching to spectating to fantasy. My involvement in the game pretty much began with the opening of Veteran's Stadium in my South Philly neighborhood when I was just 9 years old. Until that point the only real sports events that I had been exposed to were the Big Five basketball games that I remember my dad watching on television.

In the spring of 1971, 'The Vet' opened it's gates at Broad and Pattison, and my dad took my brother Mike and I to the 'Opening Day' festivities. It was an event prior to the first game, where fans could get in and walk around the sparkling new facility.

All of the baseball specific features were on display, from the baseline picnic areas, to the booming cannon of Phil & Phyllis that would follow each Phillies' home run, to the colorful Dancing Waters fountain in center field.

I was hooked by the place, and the team and game would soon follow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hot Corner Gold Glover

Scott Rolen is the greatest defensive 3rd baseman that I have ever seen in my lifetime.

For any real fan of baseball, and especially for those who both know me and my passion for what I regularly call "The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented", you'll know that is no small statement for me to make.

It is also a fairly controversial statement. After all, this is the town where Phillies legendary 3rd baseman and Baseball Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt played for all of his nearly 18 big league seasons, and I got to see him in every one of those seasons.

It is also controversial because my lifetime takes in the majority of the career of another Baseball Hall of Famer, the legendary Baltimore Orioles 3rd sacker Brooks Robinson. During their careers, Schmitty was a 10-time Gold Glover at 3rd base, including 9 in a row from 1976-1984 and Brooks won the Gold Glove a record 16 times at the hot corner, all consecutively from 1960-1975.

In fairness, it's difficult for me to comment on any first-hand witnessing of Robinson's greatness. I didn't really begin following baseball until the 1970 season when I was 8 years old and Brooks was playing at age 33 in his 15th MLB season. Even after that, in those pre-cable TV days the only time I got to see him was on the occasional Game of the Week or other national TV broadcast such as the All-Star Game or the playoffs. I will toss in this caveat, that my pick Rolen has a ways to go to match the number of Gold Gloves won by Brooks Robinson.

I did get to watch Mike Schmidt's entire career here in Philly. I was 10 years old when he broke in for a September 1972 call-up, and 27 years old when he retired early in the 1989 season. I probably saw Schmitty play in more than a hundred games at Veteran's Stadium over the years, and in hundreds more on television. He was incredible at the hot corner, a human vacuum cleaner with a cannon for an arm, tremendous instincts, and uncommon athleticism. He could charge a slow roller and make the bare-handed pickup and throw in one motion play as well as anyone who ever played the game.

My opinion on Rolen is no knock on Schmitty, who in my books is simply edged out just slightly, and who comes in 2nd out of the hundreds that I have seen play 3rd base.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies thrilled local sports fans with the city's first major sports championship in a quarter century. For that they were embraced and showered with love, and as Fred Shero once famously said of the 1970's-era champion Flyers, they will "walk together forever."

Eventually there will be reunions, old-timer's games if you will, alumni homerun derby nights at the ballpark. These heroes, some of whom are now temporarily booed because they moved on to opposition teams, will all be cheered again at the ballpark. 2008 will trump anything and everything else in the long run.

Nothing lasts forever, particularly the roster of a major sports team since the free agency era began, and especially in the 21st century when the money involved has become so huge. Keeping the core of a championship team intact for more than 3-4 years is nearly impossible. What Ruben Amaro has done at the helm of the Phillies has been magnificent, but the challenge becomes more and more difficult as each year passes, and as each new champion from 2008 gets a year further along in their contract and a year older in age.

The first major goodbye came almost immediately after the magic of 2008, while some loose confetti still blew down Broad Street and before championship rings had even been dispersed. Pat 'the Bat' Burrell, the slugging leftfielder who had bashed homeruns for 9 seasons at Veteran's Stadium and Citizens Bank Park and who had ridden in the honor position at the very front of the team title parade caravan, left via free agency for World Series opponent Tampa Bay.

Another year passed, the Phillies returned to the World Series and this time lost to the New York Yankees, and following the 2009 season another longtime franchise hero left when pitcher Brett Myers signed as a free agent with Houston. Myers had pitched 7 1/2 seasons for the Phillies, including a year when he saved their skins by moving successfully into the closer's role.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

In Cincy, 'V' is for 'Votto', and 'Victory'

It has been 73 years since St. Louis Cardinals' Hall of Famer Joe 'Ducky' Medwick hit .374 with 31 homers and 154 rbi to lead the National League in all three categories, in the process becoming the last man to win the 'Triple Crown' in the senior circuit.

It has been 15 years since the Cincinnati Reds won their only NL Central Division crown, and 20 since their last National League pennant and World Series titles in 1990. In fact, it has been a decade now since their last winning season, when the 2000 club led by returning-hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr led the club to a 2nd place finish.

In short, it's been a mostly long, hard ride for the fans of the Redlegs out in western Ohio since the days when Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and the rest of the 'Big Red Machine' under manager Sparky Anderson were dominating the National League during the 1970's.

But in 2010, the winning is back in the Midwest. Victories have piled on top of victories, and the team woke up this morning in first place, 20 games over the .500 mark, 4 games in front of the previously favored St. Louis Cardinals. But the letter 'V' does not only stand for those 'victory' totals this summer in Cincy. The letter also stands for 'Votto', as in Joey Votto, the team's 1st baseman and leader whose performances are MVP caliber, and also have him challenging to win the Triple Crown.

Votto woke up on Saturday morning with a .327 average, 31 homeruns and 91 rbi. He has also scored 90 runs and even stolen 11 bases. Votto's average has him 7 percentage points ahead of fellow Triple Crown contender Albert Pujols and Colorado Rockies' phenom Carlos Gonzalez at the top of the NL leader boards. The 31 homers have him tied for 2nd in the league with Adam Dunn, 4 behind Pujols. The rbi total leaves him 3 behind Pujols.

The fact that both Votto and Pujols are legitimate Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player contenders in the NL is, in fact, being bolstered by the competition to get their respective teams to the top of the NL Central standings at the finish.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Phillies Are Now Slump Proof

Throughout the stretch run of the 2010 season and again in at least both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, given reasonable health, the Philadelphia Phillies will remain a contending baseball team.

They will remain so because their trade deadline acquisition of right-handed starting pitcher Roy Oswalt has now made them virtually slump-proof.

Every team will go through slumps during the course of a 6-month long, 162-game season. The slumps will come because the team doesn't hit collectively on a consistent basis.

The slumps come because injuries hit. Sometimes, as with this year's Phillies team, those injuries occur to multiple key players at the same time.

They come at times because there is simply not enough pitching, and bad pitching gets beaten up by good professional hitters.

The one thing that can make a team 'slump-proof', or much more unlikely and infrequently than other teams to a slump or multiple slumps during a long season, is the presence of consistently strong starting pitching.

The Phillies now run three true ace starting pitchers at other teams: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The odds that all three will lose their respective turn through the rotation are long. The odds that will happen twice in a row are even longer.

Most teams want to have what is known as an 'ace', or a 'stopper'. A true 'ace' is a top-of-the-line starting pitcher, one of the perhaps twenty best starters in the entire game.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hamels Frustrating Season Continues

We all know that good pitching stops good hitting most of the time, and that games start to get tighter and more tense as pennant races begin to heat up in mid-August and on into September. But three teams battling in a pennant race (well, at least two really are) all playing a 1-0 game on the same night?

Here in Philly we all witnessed the Fightin's latest frustrations at the hands of a knuckleballer. This time it was Mets righty R.A. Dickey tossing a 1-hitter, of all things. And the one hit was a simple flare that dropped in off the bat of pitcher Cole Hamels. Meanwhile the Braves and Mets were both winning 1-0 games on the same night, the Atlanta win opening up a 3-game lead for them in the division race.

The Phils are playing a bit shorthanded still with both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of the lineup. But no hits from anyone in the lineup against a guy who throws most of his pitches at maybe 75mph? You can't smartly adjust your approach for one game in a known situation like that, especially when it's already happened to you multiple times in 2010?

A couple of months ago my wife and I had the misfortune of watching the Phils get similarly shut down by the Red Sox extremely hittable veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in person at Citizens Bank Park. I remember clearly turning to her around the 3rd inning after she said "They better start hitting soon" and telling her something to the effect of "They'll have 7-8 runs at least before this game is over." The joke was on me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Broxton Ain't This Bad, Phillies Fans

Carlos Ruiz took a hard slider from Dodgers' closer Jonathan Broxton and shot it on one big hop off the wall in left-center field in the 9th inning at Citizens Bank Park last night. Jayson Werth easily scored the tying run, and right on his heels was Ben Francisco with the winning run as the Phillies rallied from 9-2 down entering the bottom of the 8th and 9-6 entering the 9th to defeat LA by a 10-9 score.

As all Phillies fans (and Dodgers fans) are well aware of by now, this latest incredible late rally to overcome Broxton and the Dodgers is not the first time that it has happened, not by a long shot.

Flashback #1: October 13th, 2008: National League Championship Series game four in Los Angeles. The Phillies are leading by 2 games to 1, but the Dodgers are winning by 5-3 after 7 innings and appear ready to wrap up the 4th game to tie the series, with the next one on their home turf as well. But in the top of the 8th, Shane Victorino rips a 2-run homer off reliever Cory Wade to suddenly tie the game. When Carlos Ruiz follows with a single off Wade, manager Joe Torre goes to his bullpen and calls on big flame-throwing Jonathan Broxton to shut the Phils down. Phils' manager Charlie Manuel counters with the free-swinging veteran lefty pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, who blasts what turns out to be a game-winning 2-run homer off Broxton. The Phils wrap up the series the following day.

Flashback #2: October 19th, 2009: Stop me if you think you've heard this all before. National League Championship Series game four, this time in Philly. The Fightin's are again leading by 2 games to 1, but again the Dodgers lead late, and this time it seems that time is about to run out for the Phillies. There are two outs with two runners on base as shortstop Jimmy Rollins steps in against Broxton. One more out and the Dodgers tie the series up. Instead, Rollins turns on a Broxton fastball and shoots it up the right-centerfield gap, splitting the outfielders. Both runners score as the Phillies and their delirious fans at Citizens Bank Park celebrate yet another miracle over Broxton and the Dodgers. The Phils blitz LA two nights later and advance to the World Series for the 2nd straight season.

So all that leads up to last night's dramatics, which are only slightly less incredible due to the stakes being a bit lower in a regular season matchup as opposed to a pivotal playoff game. But for the 2010 Phillies, every win is important as they attempt to maintain some momentum and stay close to the front-running Atlanta Braves while waiting for their numerous injured players to recover. The Braves were off on this Thursday night, and as the Phils entered their half of the 8th trailing by that 9-2 margin it appeared as if a loss was about to sink them to 3 games back in the NL east division race.

They put together a little rally and closed the gap to 9-6, and still down by that margin as they came to the plate in their half of the 9th there was some hope. Torre again called on his big closer Jonathan Broxton. Now at this point, some Phillies fans who don't know better might be asking "Why?" Well, as it turns out, Broxton is really good at what he does. He does everything you want a closer to do, from giving up fewer hits than innings pitched, to striking out more than a batter per inning, to striking out about 3 hitters for every walk allowed. His fastball comes in at a consistent 96-98mph, he saved 36 games a year ago and has 21 more already this year. He is the prototypical big armed closer that every team loves to have.

Jonathan Broxton is good, Phillies fans. Joe Torre knows it, and didn't hesitate to call on his big horse of a closer once again to try and finish the Phillies off last night.

When Broxton grazed Placido Polanco's jersey to put the leadoff man aboard, the crowd remembered, and rose to roar and remind Broxton. An epic battle followed with newcomer Mike Sweeney, who worked a walk on a full count pitch. Jayson Werth then walked fairly easily, with Broxton appearing to come more unnerved as each pitche missed the strike zone. At one point, Torre went to the mound and clearly asked his closer "Due you trust your stuff?". He must have gotten the right answer at the time, because he left the clearly struggling pitcher in the game.

So with the bases loaded, Broxton induced Ben Francisco to bounce a ground ball to 3rd baseman Casey Blake. It appeared to be a relatively easy double-play grounder, the kind the Dodgers closer would happily trade a Phillies run for in order to get the two outs. But instead of two outs and a 9-7 lead, all hell broke loose for the Dodgers closer - again. Blake anticipated the ball's bounce, and somehow it stayed down on him, rolling under his glove and into left field as both Polanco and Sweeney scored to cut the lead to 9-8. Oh, and there was still nobody out.

Werth was now the tying run at 2nd base and Francisco was the game-winner at 1st as catcher Carlos Ruiz stepped into the batter's box. Ruiz has begun to put together a nice little season for himself as he has developed fully into an integral part of the Phillies' lineup, and has also fashioned himself a well-deserved reputation as a clutch hitter. That the Phillies announcers even considered the idea that Manuel would have Ruiz bunt the runners over was ludicrous, but they said it anyway.

There would be no bunting from the Phillies catcher. On a 1-1 pitch, Broxton unfurled a hard, low slider, and Ruiz was right on it, driving it deep into the left-centerfield power alley where it one-hopped high off  the wall. Werth held up momentarily to ensure that the ball wouldn't be caught, and so as he romped home with the tying run there was Francisco flying on his heels with the winner. The Phillies rushed from their dugout and mobbed the heroic "Chooch" as the half of the crowd that hadn't left early erupted in pandemonium all around them.

For the Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton it was yet another disastrous, epic meltdown for the ages. How many disastrous meltdowns for the ages can one team and one pitcher have against any one other ball club anyway? While rightfully celebrating a great victory, the Phillies and their fans simply cannot hope that they will continue to catch Broxton like this in key moments of big games. He is simply too good, too talented, to allow this to keep happening.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look Out Braves, Phillies Gettin' Healthy

The Phillies activated Shane 'the Flyin Hawaiian' Victorino today from the 15-day DL, optioning lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo back to AAA Lehigh Valley. It's a good news-bad news deal for the Phils, who really could use that 2nd lefty out of the pen to complement J.C. Romero. Bastardo has done well in his opportunities, has a nice arm, and will undoubtedly be back no later than September 1st for the stretch run. His demotion is the bad news.

The good news is that Victorino is back. He will be ready to go tonight vs. the Dodgers, though it is unclear as to whether Charlie Manuel will have him back in the starting lineup right away. I can't see why he wouldn't be manning centerfield and hitting either leadoff or in the #6 slot, however, because he proved in a pair of pretty strong rehab outings the last two nights that he was just fine.

Shane's return to the club continues the Phillies' return to overall health. Primary setup reliever Ryan Madson returned in early July after missing two months of the season. Starting shortstop Jimmy Rollins returned in mid-June and is still working his way back to full health after missing nearly two months worth of the season. Starting 3rd baseman Placido Polanco returned in mid-July after missing over three weeks, and starting catcher Carlos Ruiz returned in mid-July after missing nearly a month.

With the return of Victorino and his 15 homers and 20 steals production to the lineup, the Phillies have just two more big pieces left before they can call themselves truly, fully healthy. Those two missing pieces may be the two biggest pieces, and when they return it will be akin to the club signing two major free agents and adding them to the lineup.

Starting 1st baseman and cleanup hitter Ryan Howard has missed the last ten days with a sprained ankle, and he will likely be out another week. Starting 2nd baseman and #3-hole hitter Chase Utley has missed a month and a half, and was just cleared to begin hitting again. He is due to return in about two weeks.

Somehow through all of these injuries (none of this has even mentioned the loss for the season, possibly his career, of veteran lefty Jamie Moyer) the Phillies have managed to fight back into the East Division race and the NL Wildcard race. The club currently stands just 2 1/2 games back of the Braves in the division, and Atlanta is just now learning that it has lost veteran 3rd baseman and leader Chipper Jones for the season due to injury.

With the trade deadline acquisition of righthander Roy Oswalt from Houston, the Phillies rotation big three of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt should make them virtually slump-proof for the rest of the season, no matter what the offense does. But that offense should now begin to get significantly better with the return of the starting lineup. Not only will that everyday lineup be better, but the bench will then be deeper and even more ready with everyone having received increased playing time.

It looks like the Atlanta Braves and the rest of the National League are going to have a healthy and confident defending champion stomping around in September. The fans who have continued to fill Citizens Bank Park all summer long and kept the carnival atmosphere around the team going strong through the dog days should finally be rewarded as the season rolls into it's most exciting final few weeks.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup 2010

American culture is filled with sporting events which have become major cultural events. These include the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, Kentucky Derby, NCAA basketball tournament and many, many more.

To our closest cultural neighbors, the Canadians, there is nothing comparable to hockey and winning the Stanley Cup. An appreciation for what is known here in North America as 'soccer' has been slow in building at the professional level.

But elsewhere around the globe, from Europe to South America, Asia to Africa, Down Under and everywhere in between, no game is bigger than soccer, or what is actually known as 'football'  to the rest of that world.

Today begins the biggest event in the biggest sport drawing the most interest the world over as the World Cup gets under way. It has been estimated that approximately 715 million people the world over watched the 2006 finals in which Italy defeated France in a shootout for the title.

Held every four years, the World Cup is the championship of football. Competitions actually begin three years earlier, so for this 2010 championship the competition began in 2007.

The early competitions occur within geographic regions of the planet, as nations battle against their neighbors for the right to advance to higher levels in the tournament.

The World Cup tournament began officially in 1930 with Uruguay dumping South American rivals Argentina by a 4-2 score.

There have been 18 World Cup tournaments, as the competition was not held in either 1942 or 1946 due to the events surrounding World War II.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Obama's Deepwater Response Another Disaster

The year and a half disaster known as the Obama administration has completely crystallized in their response, or should I say in the President's non-response, to the outrageous oil spill containment measures, and lack thereof, in the Gulf of Mexico.

On April 20th, an eon ago as far as appropriate disaster response by the government should be concerned, there was a fire and explosion on a British Petroleum (BP) licensed oil drilling rig known as the 'Deepwater Horizon' which was operating approximately 42 miles off the Louisiana coast at the time. Two days later the rig sank, and a 5-mile long oil slick became visible.

By April 25th, the US Coast Guard estimated that the rig was leaking approximately 1,000 barrels of crude oil per day into the waters of the Gulf. Within 3 more days that estimate had risen dramatically to 5,000 gallons per day. Still no effective response by President Obama or his administration. It would be another day, nearly a week after the initial incident, before he would announce "every single available resource" would help resolve the situation.

It would take until May 2nd before the President deemed the oil spill important enough to clear space from his busy schedule of private-industry takeovers, debt-and-tax raising program creation, and irresponsible financial entity bailouts to squeeze in a visit to the disaster area.

Over the next two weeks, the Obama administration would watch stoically and dispassionately as the oil spread towards Louisiana, reaching the Breton National Wildlife Refuge among other places.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roy Halladay Is Perfect

Embed from Getty Images
Doc was all smiles on his perfect night in South Florida

Florida Marlins' catcher Ronnie Paulino smashed a ball into the hole between 3rd base and shortstop, and for a brief moment everyone watching the game at Sun Life Stadium, players and fans who were in attendance as well as those of us watching at home here in Philly on television, held our collective breaths.

There had been two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Paulino came to bat, and the Philadelphia Phillies new ace starting pitcher Roy Halladay had a 'perfect game' going.

This meant not a single batter had reached base during the game. Against the Phillies ace, 26 men had come to the plate with a bat in their hands that night for the Fish. All 26 had returned to the dugout having made an out. No hits and no walks. No one had reached on an error.

So history was in the offing when Paulino struck the ball.

There had been only 19 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball going back well over a century. There had been just one in Phillies franchise history. That was pitched by Hall of Famer Jim Bunning on Father's Day in 1964.

As Paulino's smash left his bat, playing third base was the Phillies regular backup shortstop, Juan Castro. Castro had been inserted as a defensive replacement for regular 3rd baseman Placido Polanco. The move would prove a stroke of genius by manager Charlie Manuel.

Castro quickly ranged to his left, stabbed the hard shot grounder, wheeled, and gunned a throw to first baseman Ryan Howard. The throw beat Paulino easily, and Halladay's historic night of perfection was complete.

The usually calm and reserved Halladay let loose with a big smile as he was embraced by catcher Carlos Ruiz and the rest of his teammates on the mound.

Back in the locker room, his teammates called on him to make a speech. Halladay simply pointed at Ruiz and said "Chooch is the man!", referring to Ruiz' nickname and the fact that the catcher had called pitches during the game.

Ruiz later said that he had learned some lessons regarding the Marlins hitters during an effective start the previous night by Kyle Kendrick. Ruiz decided that he would utilize those lessons in calling Halladay's start.

Whatever it was that Chooch picked up, it worked, and Doc delivered by executing his pitches to perfection. He rarely left the ball out over the plate, needed just a couple of big defensive plays, and struck out a number of hitters on the night.

The Phillies traded for Roy Halladay in the off-season to become a bona fide ace for the Phillies rotation. He has lived up to every bit of the expectations that a veteran former Cy Young Award winner can bring with him.

Though the Phils have struggled somewhat with injuries and inconsistent play, they remain on top of the National League to this point. Halladay is the main reason. He makes the Phillies favorites to win every fifth day. On this particular fifth day, Roy Halladay was perfect.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flyers Finish a Philly Sports Miracle

With just over 7 minutes left to play in the decisive 7th game of their NHL playoff series at the TD Garden in Boston, Philadelphia Flyers' winger Simon Gagne, himself an inspirational comeback story, beat Bruins' goalie Tuukka Rask for a power play goal to put Philly on top by a 4-3 score.

That the Flyers were even still playing hockey on May 15th after the predicament in which they found themselves just 10 days earlier was a minor miracle. What they accomplished by holding on to that 4-3 lead for a game and series victory was nothing short of a major Philly sports miracle.

On May 5th, the Bruins defeated the Flyers in Philadelphia by a 4-1 margin to take an overwhelming 3 games to none lead in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup playoff series. Two days later, the Bruins took the Flyers into overtime, needing just a goal to sweep a Philly squad that had been inconsistent all season long out of the post-season.

Boston would not get that overtime goal to win the series. In fact, they would never get any goal to win the series. That night, Gagne returned from a broken foot that had kept him off the ice for the first three losses to score the overtime game-winner for the Flyers, sending the series back to Boston. Most felt it was just a temporary reprieve for Philly, and that the Bruins would put the series away back on their home ice in the 5th game.

Back in Boston, Flyers' goalies Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton stood tall in the visitors net, combining to shut out the Bruins by a 4-0 margin. The Flyers' complete dominance had taken the hometown crowd out of the game, and left them disheartened at having missed a chance to witness their team clinch the series on home ice. Still up though by a 3-2 margin in the series, surely the Bruins would regroup to finish off the Flyers back in Philly. And even in a worst-case scenario, the decisive 7th game would be back in Boston where the Bruins couldn't possibly lose.

In Philly for the 6th game, Leighton would get his first playoff start. The former backup had bailed out the Flyers regular season, but an injury had knocked him out, and Boucher had stepped in to lead the Flyers into post-season action. Boucher had made the big save in the shootout victory in the season's final game that had allowed the Flyers to get into the playoffs. He had been marvelous in the Flyers opening round upset of the New Jersey Devils. But in that 5th game in Boston he had suffered an injury and had to leave the game. Luckily for the Flyers, Leighton was just returning that night from his own injury.

Leighton showed no nerves and was solid in the Flyers net, and goals by captain Mike Richards and Danny Briere led the home team to a 2-1 victory that evened the series up at 3 games apiece. Only two teams in NHL history and three in major North American professional sports had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to actually win the series. It had not happened in the NHL playoffs in 35 years. This was the history that Philly would try to make happen back in Boston.

In the penultimate Game 7, the hometown Bruins stormed out behind their boisterous fans at the Garden, pouncing on the Flyers for an early lead and extending that lead out to 3-0. Surely here was the final stake in the Flyers hearts. But these Flyers kept coming, kept playing the game hard, and incredibly worked their way back to a 3-3 tie. It was then that Gagne struck for the goal that silenced the Garden.

The Bruins made one last charge at avoiding their historic meltdown. In the final minute, they stormed the Flyers end of the ice, looking for the equalizer, trying to take the heart out of the Flyers with a stunner and then steal the series back for themselves. But it was not to be for the home team. The visiting Flyers held on for the 4-3 win to complete the miracle comeback from a 3-0 series deficit with a miracle comeback from a 3-0 game deficit on the road.

On May 5th, the Bruins had taken a seemingly insurmountable 3 games to 0 lead with a win at the Wachovia Center. On May 15th, the Flyers finished a Philly sports miracle with the 7th game win at the TD Garden. What a difference 10 days can make, possibly the most inspirational 10 days in the storied history of the Philadelphia Flyers as they made their mark in hockey history.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Arizona Correct, Philly Wrong in Ilegal Immigration Battle

The ultra liberal, Democratic Party controlled City of Philadelphia is solidly in the corner of illegal immigrants as one of America's leading sanctuary cities

Deemed as such because they basically offer themselves as a sanctuary or place of refuge to illegals, it is Philly's stated policy that they will in no way assist in any types of investigations of immigration status. Philadelphia police have been specifically instructed to disregard a person's immigration status.

This is entirely amusing when you consider that the word "illegal" is right there in the terminology that properly defines these individuals. What Philadelphia is in fact saying is that "we don't care if you are breaking the law, you're welcome here to our town!"

Wonder why tens of millions have flocked from our city, businesses have shuttered up and moved away, and our crime rates have soared in the recent decades? Philly's policy on illegal immigration is yet another of many examples of how the liberal Democrats have driven the city into the ground, and continue to do so and get away with it.

On the other hand, Arizona has stood up and said "we're not going to take it anymore" in their border state that is on the front lines for the illegal immigration battle.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Los Angeles Galaxy - 3, UNION - 1

Less than a minute into their 5th official MLS match, the Philadelphia Union were victimized by the hottest player in the league. LA Galaxy forward Edson Buddle streaked down the sideline, drew the Union defenders towards him, and then laid a perfect pass to A.J. DeLaGarza who drilled the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 Galaxy lead.

The Galaxy is what the Union hope to become one day soon, a true MLS title contender with star players dotting the roster and a winning tradition. Even with injured superstar David Beckham unable to play, the Galaxy still fielded the likes of Buddle, who would later tally his league-leading 9th goal, U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and more. The Galaxy lost the MLS Cup final a year ago in an upset.

The Union, playing yet another away match as their future home PPL Park in Chester just outside of Philly is being completed for a June 2010 opening, never recovered from that early goal and deficit. But once again the Philly 11 established that they don't lie down for anyone. Peter Nowak's side played hard the entire match, and had some scoring opportunities of their own. In fact, following that first goal, the Union controlled play for most of the next 25 minutes.

The Galaxy got a break in the Union end, and a precise corner kick by Landon Donovan found Alex Gordon in front. His header was stopped by goalie Chris Seitz, but the rebound went right out to Buddle. The LA star took one swipe, had his shot blocked, and then made a nifty spin move on his own rebound to drill the ball home for a 2-0 lead. Just before the half was to end, it was Donovan again feeding Buddle as they blitzed the Union defense, and Buddle's 2nd goal made it 3-0 at intermission.

The bad news wasn't even over for the Union, as for the 3rd time already this season a player received a first half red card. This time it was Stafani Maglioranzi given the boot, and Philly was forced to play the entire 2nd half trailing by 3 goals and now a man short. Despite this self-inflicted disadvantage, the club pressed play and got a goal. Teenager and likely future Union star Jack McInerney (pictured) used his great speed to break towards the Galaxy goal, took a pass from midfielder Fred, and slipped the ball in for his first of what should be many MLS scores.

Following the loss, Nowak summed up the club's initial struggles: “We knew it was going to take time, and more experience. It’s going to take time to get the players familiar with each other. After our win in the second game, I think we forgot we were an expansion team. And sometimes we got punished by ourselves.”

The 3rd consecutive loss leaves the Union sitting with a 1-4 record in MLS play headed into yet another road matchup, this time against defending MLS champion Real Salt Lake. Against LA, the Union continued to display the twin traits that have characterized their early season play thus far: gritty determination, and a disturbing lack of discipline.

The team takes play to their opponents and shows great skill for large stretches, but particularly with injured forward Sebastien LeToux out with a nagging injury, they appear short on goal-scoring finishers. On the defensive end they have had a number of key breakdowns leading to easy opponent goals, and have also lost their cool in outbursts that have cost them to play shorthanded.

It doesn't get any easier for the youthful Union expansion club in travelling to Salt Lake City and meeting the champions. The club has the talent to win at Rio Tinto Stadium, but only if they play disciplined in their own end this time. The Union also announced during the week that the club would play an exhibition match on July 21st at Lincoln Financial Field against legendary English club Manchester United, an event that is sure to draw a huge crowd and create tremendous local excitement.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Concern Over New Philly Newspaper Owners

At an auction conducted on Wednesday, the struggling and increasingly irrelevant Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News as well as their Internet arm "Philly.com" were all purchased by a group of creditors.

The new owners have quickly come under fire from the top politicians at both the Commonwealth and the City levels.

Governor Ed Rendell, the former 2-term Mayor of Philadelphia, voiced his concern that he believed that newspapers should  be owned by people from the area. He further stated "In the end, the newspaper is nothing if not the people who work for it. If you take that away, you take away it's soul."

Mayor Michael Nutter, the current Philly head honcho, called on the new owners to make their decisions on how to proceed with the operation of the papers "based on great journalism" rather than being overly concerned with the financial bottom line.

Both of these comments mask the actual concern of these two leading Democratic Party politicians. Their real primary concern is that with new ownership will come a basic change of direction in the editorial content and presentation of the two papers.

For decades, the Philadelphia Inquirer and even more overtly the Daily News have been outwardly liberal in their political and social commentaries and with the vast majority of their political endorsements. It is this liberal ideology as directed by Rendell and Nutter's Democrats that has demoralized Philly and reduced it to a shell of it's former greatness.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tea Party Should Not Be A 'Third' Party

There has been a great deal of angst among the Lefty Lib community regarding the emergence over the past year or so of what has become known as the 'Tea Party' movement.

The liberals who now control the Democratic Party should be concerned, because they and their political leaders led by President Barrack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have awoken a sleeping giant.

That sleeping giant is the true Conservative movement that the majority of Americans feel a natural affinity towards. The people who make up real main-stream America.

Hard-working, family-rearing, tax-paying, God-fearing, America-loving, law-abiding folks who want government out of their lives. Who recognize that low taxation, modest regulation, secure borders, and the teaching of and support for American exceptionalism are the true path to lasting recovery, not the socialist style policies of the Obama administration.

That sleeping giant has been embodied by the Tea Party.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New York Red Bulls - 2, UNION -1 (Twice)

Twice within a short span of four days, the New York Red Bulls hosted and bested the expansion Philadelphia Union by the same scores of 2-1. Both games were held at New York's Red Bull Arena, with the first being an official MLS regular season match and the 2nd representing a play-in to the U.S. Open Cup tournament.

In the first match, the Union 11 again came out fast, as has been their habit in these early games of the franchise' history. They took the action to the Red Bull end, but couldn't bury the ball in the net, and then as the pace became more even the two clubs battled into a 0-0 tie at half.

As has also been the case, they again found themselves behind by a goal on the road when New York scored on a header just five minutes into the 2nd half. The Union continued to plug away, and just moments later they got the equalizer in a familiar fashion. Alejandro Moreno broke free in the Bulls end, slid a pass along the ground towards the goal, and a streaking Sebastien LeToux (pictured) tapped it in for his 4th goal to tie the score at 1-1.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Union downfall also came along in familiar fashion. A handball in their own end resulted in a penalty kick for the Red Bull's Juan Pablo Angel, who buried the shot to put New York on top 2-1. The Union were unable to get the equalizer, and thus dropped their 2nd straight road match thanks to a 2nd half penalty kick goal. The loss leaves the club with a 1-3-0 record in the early season.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Real American Hero: Brandon Darby

For the past couple of years I have written a semi-regular series of articles here titled "Real American Hero", all of the previous entries of which can be viewed by clicking on that 'label' at the bottom of this original post here at the http://www.mattveasey.com/ website.

Beginning with the very first article whose subject matter was Arizona Senator and former American POW John McCain, each of the entries has highlighted a hero from the American military. These were people who put their lives on the line, and in many instances laid down those lives, for their country. And except for McCain, every one of them was virtually anonymous outside of their own closest inner circle of family and friends.

But it is not just within the military that we can find individuals whose significant contributions have gone mostly unnoticed, and this article is going to begin the process of incorporating some of those civilian stories into the series as well. The story of Brandon Darby, a former radical leftist activist who openly called for the overthrow of the U.S. government turned Real American Hero, is a fitting one with which to begin.

Darby is a good ol' Texas boy who grew up to harbor and cultivate anti-government and anti-establishment feelings. He became an outspoken critic of fellow Texan George W. Bush during his presidency, in particular following Hurrican Katrina. It was in the relief response to the Katrina disaster in Louisiana that Darby began to come to some prominence.

As Matthew Vadum tells the story in Town Hall magazine, Darby used $50 of his own money to co-found the group 'Common Ground', a supposed relief agency that was in actuality a far-Left political activist organization that included a number of former Black Panther members. It was during and thanks to his experiences with this group that Darby's social and political viewpoint began to change and mature.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Toronto FC - 2, UNION - 1

After going almost two weeks between their first-ever match on the road in Seattle to their first-ever home match back in Philly, the Union took the pitch for the 2nd time in 5 days at Toronto.

The Toronto FC (football club) have one of the most rabid and supportive fan bases in all of MLS, and so for the 2nd time in their young history, the Union 11 were going to be in extremely hostile conditions on the road in front of almost 22,000 Toronto partisans.

The Union came out strong and confident, riding the high of their weekend home victory over D.C. United, and were generally dominating play against Toronto in the early going.

But the momentum and the ultimate outcome of the game all changed suddenly and dramatically. In the 34th minute, Union defender and team captain Danny Califf was handed a red card and tossed from the game for delivering what appeared to be an intentional elbow to the head of Toronto forward Julian de Guzman.

With Califf tossed from the game, the Union would be forced to play the rest of the match shorthanded by a man. That was bad enough, but also on the ensuing free kick Toronto's Dwayne De Rosario drilled a shot that overpowered Union goalie Chris Seitz, slipping through Seitz' hands and into the net for a 1-0 Toronto lead.

Things appeared pretty bleak for the Union at that point in the match being covered nationally on ESPN2. They were trailing 1-0 on the road in an extremely hostile arena and had to play shorthanded. But hope reared it's head again just before halftime.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TV Watch: Breaking Bad

The AMC network, home to the best drama show on television in the award-winning 'Mad Men', has another major hit on their hands, one that I was personally just introduced to this year.

'Breaking Bad' just began the run of it's 3rd season, and the quirky human-interest drug-dealing drama is well worth anyone's time.

The show is based around the life of high school science teacher Walter White, a man whose intellect is well above his current position and pay grade. As played wonderfully by Bryan Cranston, White suffers a serious setback when he learns that he has cancer and does not have long to live. His wife, Skyler, played smartly by the beautiful Anna Gunn, turns up pregnant with what will be their 2nd child. Timing is everything.

Walt then makes a dramatic decision that will change thier lives forever, and will setup the story line. He decides that he is going to become a drug manufacturer, and cooks up a new brand of meth that is extremely high-quality. He hopes to make enough money from the distribution of the drug before he dies to setup his family financially after he is gone.

To that end, Walt solicits the help of one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Pinkman has a talent for both the science end, where he helps out Walt as his assistant 'cook', and as a dealer as well.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

UNION - 3, D.C. United - 2

Young Roger Torres has proven to be one of the most exciting players on the youngest team in Major League Soccer, and the 19-year old Philadelphia Union forward was a key player in setting up the first goal in franchise history. I was there, but thanks to Vice President Joe Biden, I didn't get to see it live.

My wife and I had purchased a pair of great tickets, just off mid-field on the west side of Lincoln Financial Field, in anticipation of seeing this Inaugural home match, the first for the new expansion Union in front of their home crowd in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Deb, she got sick in the days leading up to the match, and was still sick on game day.

My eldest daughter, Christine, pinch-hit and accompanied me to the match, and we got to enjoy a nice dad-daughter evening at The Linc. Unfortunately it got off to a slow start. Even though we arrived more than a half hour before the scheduled kickoff and were able to quickly and luckily find a great parking slot despite the crush of fans, our progress into The Linc was halted at the front door, literally.

It turns out that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden had been solicited by the club to kick-out the ceremonial 'first ball', and thus the security at the front gates was unbelievable. Every fan entering and ever bag they carried was searched and screened, making for a massive holdup at those gates. It took us about 40 minutes to get through the sea of humanity and make our way into The Linc.

As we began to trek around the concourse to our seats, we scanned the food and merchandise concessions, and just then heard the roar of the crowd inside. Torres had been awarded a 'corner kick', blasted the ball inside, and then taken a carom and quickly fed the ball to striker Sebastian LeToux who came streaking towards the goal and headed it home for that first-ever goal in Union history.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Goodbye, Donovan McNabb

There has been a battle brewing in my pro football-crazed town of Philadelphia over the past couple of football seasons. That battle has been over the fate and future of it's quarterback, Donovan McNabb.

Is McNabb good enough to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl? Should McNabb be traded away?

The answer apparently came on Easter Sunday night when the Eagles traded McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins for a pair of draft picks.

Some have been waiting for more than a decade for McNabb to stumble and fall. These were the Eagles fans infamously known as the 'Boo Birds', the fans who showed up for the NFL Draft in 1999 hoping and praying that their beloved Eagles would select running back Ricky Williams to lead them out of the wilderness of losing seasons that had befallen the team.

With the 2nd overall pick, Williams was there waiting for the Birds. But much to the chagrin of the rabid fan base, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium and made this announcement:

"With the 2nd pick the Philadelphia Eagles select Donovan McNabb, quarterback, Syracuse University."

Never before has such a torrent of boisterous "boo" calls rained down upon an NFL Commissioner as the Eagles fans delivered on that infamous day. And that is saying a lot, considering the Draft is held in New York, rabid Jets fans show up regularly in numbers, and their team has made some awful picks over the years.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MLB 2010: Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies returned to defend their World Series championship last season, marking the first time in the 126-year history of the franchise that the club appeared in back-to-back MLB championship series. And although the team fell two games shy of a repeat, the new 2010 season dawns with them once again as the favorites in the National League.

To actually make that 'favorite' status turn out to be a reality, to become the first National League team since the 1942-1944 St. Louis Cardinals pulled the trick during the years when talent was seriously reduced all across the Major Leagues during World War II, the Phils will have to navigate a mine field of tough opposition both in and out of their division.

First, the Phils faced a stiff test a year ago from both the improving Atlanta Braves and the always budget conscious Florida Marlins. Both of those clubs remain solid this year, and the Braves in particular look strong. They have a deep starting rotation, bullpen talent, some impact bats, and one of the best looking young offensive prospects in years in outfielder Jason Heyward. It would be an upset if Atlanta does not at least push the Phillies all season long, and contend for both the division and the Wildcard.

Around the rest of the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Colorado Rockies lead the group of 7-8 teams who could emerge as serious threats for the pennant based on how they actually perform, whether they stay healthy, and what additions they might make during the course of the long season.

For the most part, however, there appear to me to be just two things that are likely to keep the Phils away from a 3rd straight trip to the World Series. Those two things would be injuries, which can crop up and add up and derail any team's promising season, and themselves. Better teams than these Phillies have self-destructed by not performing up to their overall talent levels during a particular season or playoff series.

The main place that the self-destruction could begin, the team's only apparent achilles heel entering the season, is in the bullpen. Closer and 2008's perfection hero Brad Lidge has started the season on the DL after off-season surgeries. Joining him on the DL to open the year is lefty setup man J.C. Romero. With former #2 bullpen lefty Scott Eyre having retired and last year's relief savior Chan Ho Park having left via free agency, the group that will try to nail down games at the end has plenty of questions to answer.

Can Ryan Madson hold down the closer duties with strong performances until Lidge returns, or in the long term if Lidge's injury issues linger? Will newcomer Danys Baez thrive and succeed in the primary righthanded setup role? Can young lefty Antonio Bastardo show that he is finally ready to claim a Major League job? Can aged veteran Jose Contreras squeeze one more solid season from his arm? Is Rule 5 find David Herndon for real and a keeper? The reliable Chad Durbin is back, a good thing. Getting both Lidge and Romero back sooner rather than later would be an excellent thing. Not getting them back at all, or later, or having them become constant injury problems would make for a season of tough spots.

The starting rotation is in much better shape than their bullpen counterparts. That rotation is now led by one of the best pitchers on the planet in righthander Roy Halladay, one of the biggest free agent signing in Phillies history. Halladay is that rarest of finds, a genuine ace with a track record of big success in the prime of his career. Everyone remembers how good Cliff Lee was last season, but few seem to remember that the Phils did not acquire him until August. They will have Halladay around this year from Day One, which makes them much better right off the bat.

Cole Hamels went from NLCS and World Series MVP, hero, and budding superstar legend to an enigma seemingly overnight. He came to camp last season on a World Series hangover that produced a combination of nagging injuries and mental funk from which he never fully emerged, showing only glimpses of his true talent. Still, a close look at his overall numbers show that he was not far off. He was much more focused and determined, and worked harder, this past winter. There is no reason, especially with Halladay now manning that #1 slot, that Hamels should not emerge as one of the best lefties in the game once again.

Joe Blanton is an underrated #3 starter who eats up innings and gives the Phils a chance to win every start out. Unfortunately he will start the year on the DL as well. Out 6-8 weeks, the Phils will have to make due short in their rotation until his return in late May. With last year's rookie sensation lefty J.A. Happ, ageless lefty Jamie Moyer, and born-again-hard Halladay protege Kyle Kendrick around the rotation should be at least capable of weathering that early challenge to it's depth.

The Phillies lineup is one of the 3-4 best in all of baseball from top to bottom. They have power, speed, clutch veterans, and now newcomer Placido Polanco gets dropped into the #2 hole in the order and adds in a bit of the one thing that has been largely missing - patience. Polanco was here before the playoff years, and now is back to take over at 3rd base from the great-glove, light-hitting Pedro Feliz. Polanco won a Gold Glove the last couple years at 2nd for Detroit, and so provides some depth in case of some flukey major (bite my tongue) injury to Chase Utley.

To Polanco's left in the shorstop hole, and directly in front of him in the batting order at leadoff is veteran spark plug Jimmy Rollins. The man affectionately known as 'JRoll' won the 2007 NL MVP Award and delivered once again in the clutch in last year's NLCS vs. the Dodgers with a now-legendary 9th inning, 2-out, 2-strike hit in Game #4. Jimmy has set goals of 50 steals and 150 runs scored. Those would be career highs and appear slightly out of reach, but I for one would never say that Rollins cannot do something that he sets his mind to accomplish. If he even approaches those numbers, it will be phenomenal. Look for a big year out of the Phillies shorstop.

2nd baseman Chase Utley is steadily building what could end up as a Hall of Fame resume. The #1 draft pick, 15th overall, in the Phils 2000 draft, Utley took over the starting 2nd base job in 2005 after platooning in '04. Since becoming the starter, an average season has produced a .300 batting average with 30 homeruns, 100 rbi, 110 runs scored, and 15 steals. He has received MVP votes each of those years, finishing in the top ten in voting 3 times. He has been an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger Award as the top offensive player at his position for 4 straight seasons. And going a step further, Utley has been acknowledged as a strong defensive player at 2nd base who has worked hard each year to get better there.

At 1st base, Ryan Howard seems like he has been smashing homeruns for a long time in the middle of the Phils batting order. However, 2010 will mark just his 5th full season as a starter. He was probably ready for a shot earlier in his career, but was blocked for a time by the imposing presence of Jim Thome at 1st base for the big league club. Since finally taking over the full-time duties for the 2006 season, Howard has put up an average season of 48 homeruns, 140 rbi, and 100 runs scored. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 when he wasn't even the starter all  season, then followed that up by winning the NL Most Valuable Player in 2006. He has finished in the top five in MVP voting each of his full seasons, and is a 2-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner at the toughest position to gain those honors. All that, and last year he finally took his conditioning seriously, lost weight, and made himself much better defensively.

In the outfield, the Phillies group received rare public acknowledgement of their individual accomplishments a year ago when all three starters, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth were selected for the NL All-Star team. Ibanez started out his first season with the team by providing offensive fireworks for more than two months, carrying the club while some of the other stars struggled. Victorino, a fan favorite as "The Flyin' Hawaiian", provides speed, an emotional spark, and Gold Glove defense to centerfield. In right, Jayson Werth finally had a full, healthy season and proved that he could produce big time. He is currently in his contract year, and a decision on whether to re-sign him just as he may be emerging into stardom will be the Phillies management team's toughest decision in the coming months.

At catcher, the Phillies are blessed to have the steady Carlos Ruiz. The man affectionately known around the clubhouse and with the fans as "Chooch" has grown into a leadership role in handling the pitching staff as well as any catcher in the Majors. He has a strong, accurate throwing arm, and he stands up at his position defensively as well as anyone. He has also shown himself to be a clutch hitter at playoff time in the club's recent run of post-season success. Brian Schneider, a former Phillie-killer, has joined the club as an experienced, talented backup backstop who would be capable of stepping into the starting role with ease should anything happen to Ruiz.

The rest of the bench in addition to Schneider is improved over last season's bunch. Greg Dobbs and Ben Francisco return, providing a strong lefy/righty pinch-hitting tandem with pop in their bats and covering backup defensive duties at 3rd base, 1st base, and in the outfield. Juan Castro gives the Phils a solid option when they want to rest either Utley or Rollins in the middle infield. Ross Gload has been one of baseball's top pinch-hitters in recent years, and gives the Phils another proven left-handed option off the bench.

The Phillies largely cleaned out their minor league system during the last two years in order to bring in first Cliff Lee to help nail down last season's run to the pennant and World Series, and now Roy Halladay for the long term. Still, there is help down on the farm, and there are gems coming soon. Outfielder John Mayberry has shown that he is fully capable of holding down either a temporary starting role or a key bench role should the Phillies need him at some point. Pitchers Andrew Carpenter, Scott Mathieson, and Mike Zagurski, 1st baseman Andy Tracey, 3rd baseman Cody Ransom, outfielders Mayberry, Chris Duffy, and DeWayne Wise, catcher Paul Hoover, and infielder Wilson Valdez all have the type of AAA profile that could allow them an in-season promotion to help successfully fill-in the roster due to injuries. And top prospect outfielder Domonic Brown is the next Phillies offensive star-in-waiting, possibly ready by next season to take over a starting slot.

The manager has gone from buffoon to beloved, from a fish-out-of-water country hillbilly hick to a hometown fan favorite. Charlie Manuel was ready to be run out of town by the local radio talk show hosts and the fan base when the team suddenly surged past the slumping New York Mets and won a thrilling division race on the final day of the 2007 season. The club followed that up with just the 2nd World Series championship in it's history in 2008, and then returned to the Series a year ago, cementing 'Uncle Charlie' as a beloved character. Pitching coach Rich Dubee and hitting coach Milt Thompson are both Manuel loyalists and solid baseball men. Add in the maestro of the Phillies strong running game in 1st base coach Davey Lopes, and the Phils get outstanding instruction, leadership, and experience from their management team.

When you factor in everything that is important in putting together a championship baseball team: power, speed, pitching talent, maturity, leadership, strong defense, winning experience, steady management, committed ownership, and a rabid fan base the Phillies have it all. Again, they are the 3-time defending NL East champs, the 2-time defending NL pennant winners, and have been to the World Series in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. There is little that realistically appears to be standing between them and making those numbers read 4-time NL East champs, 3-time NL pennant winners, and 2-time World Series champions, and that is exactly what this fearless prognosticator believes will happen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

MLB 2010: National League

In nearly every major publication and from most every prognosticator you will find that the 3-time defending NL East winning, 2-time defending National League champion, and back-to-back World Series participant Philadelphia Phillies are considered the odds-on favorites to repeat at least where that eastern crown is concerned.

In fact, many have them again winning the NL pennant and advancing back to the Series, some predicting they will win.

An admitted lifelong Phillies fan, this absolutely prejudiced observer is calling it that way. Phillies to win their 4th straight NL East crown, 3rd straight National League pennant, and then a 2nd World Series title in 3 years.

Did you expect anything else from me under the current circumstances? However, it will be a struggle, there will be highs and lows, they will be pushed. I will cover the Phillies specifically in detail in my next article here in the coming days.

In that NL East race, the team that will push the Phillies the most this year will be...the Atlanta Braves. In fact, some might even find a reason to pick Atlanta to Tomahawk Chop their way back to the top of the division and unseat the Fightin's from their lofty perch.

Atlanta's rotation of Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson & Kenshin Kawakami is talented and deep. The lineup is led by declining veteran and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and perhaps the best offensive catcher in the NL in Brian McCann.

However, the biggest reason that the Braves will challenge the Phils will be the play of tremendous rookie right fielder Jason Heyward. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will, and soon. Bobby Cox has a strong bullpen as well, and in his final season as manager he should push for a playoff spot.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MLB 2010: American League

If there is one consistent in almost every single prognostication for the American League in the coming 2010 season it will be that the Yankees and Red Sox will finish 1-2 in some order in the AL East.

Almost every one, because you won't find that pick here. For the 2nd straight year my pick is for the Rays to win the East, and to advance back into the World Series for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.

In that AL East division race, Tampa will be able to matchup with the 'big boys' in New York and Boston with talented young pitching that I believe is primed to take a big step forward, a deep bullpen, and some exciting young hitters throughout the lineup.

Leading that rotation is underrated ace James Shields, just entering his prime at 28 years old and the senior member. Following him in order will be Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis.

The Rays now have a legitimate closer in Rafael Soriano, and a quality setup man in Dan Wheeler. But they will be challenged at least early as lefty J.P. Howell battles injury.

The offense will feature 3rd baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Carl Crawford, two of the best, most exciting all-around players in baseball. They will be supplemented by outfielder B.J. Upton, 1st baseman Carlos Pena, 2nd baseman Ben Zobrist, and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

I am picking that Yankees-Red Sox race as a dead-even battle right behind Tampa, with the 2nd place team here in the AL East becoming the Wild Card playoff club.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Surrender Like Christ

Today is Palm Sunday, celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem to begin the pentultimate week of his life which would end in the most important event in human history.

As Christ willingly surrendered himself for our sake, we should follow his lead. Our inspiration can be found right in the Bible, in Proverbs 16.

It is the Old Testament's Book of Proverbs chapter 16 where we learn to "entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed." This important chapter of God's own book of wisdom is full of lessons and inspirational sayings that guide us to surrender our lives to the Lord.

We all make plans and set our lives on a course. But no matter how well-meaning or well planned that personal direction might be, you will not find ultimate success without the blessings and guidance of the Lord. You must not only make your plans, but your plans must include yielding to God's ultimate plan for you.

"In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps" says Proverbs 16. "Happy is he who trusts in the Lord." 

Make your plans, they are necessary. But just as necessary is to both pray on your plans and to include in your prayers to God an acknowledgement that He might have another direction for you. Make your plea that His will be done.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Philadelphia Union

There was a big local football event last night that was covered fully by ESPN2 for hours in prime time. No, I'm not talking about the Philadelphia Eagles and trade talk involving Donovan McNabb or their other quarterbacks or their upcoming draft. I'm talking about the game that the entire world outside of the United States knows as 'football', but that we here refer to as 'soccer'.

A new era dawned for our sports-crazed town when the Philadelphia Union stepped on to the pitch at a jam-packed and rowdy Qwest Field in Seattle to take on the host Sounders in the Union's first-ever official MLS regular season match in franchise history.

The sport of soccer has been the fastest-growing sport in America for two decades now. Youth programs have exploded across the country since the 1980's. Yet still the game has generally floundered here at the pro level as it has attempted to emerge from the huge shadows cast by Major League Baseball, The NFL, the NHL, and the NBA. Those days may fast be coming to an end.

The youthful generation that grew up playing the sport is now reaching the age where the spending power of their pocketbooks and their interest in watching such events is opening up a legitimate place in the market for Major League Soccer to succeed and now even expand here in the States, including now finally returning the game to the Philly market.

Soccer's professional history in Philadelphia has been mixed but ultimately futile in the past. On April 16th, 1967 the Philadelphia Spartans took to the field at Temple University and shutout the Toronto Falcons 2-0 in front of more than 14,000 fans in the inaugural game of the fledgling National Professional Soccer League. It would ultimately mark the only season in the team's history.

At the end of that season, the NPSL merged with United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League (NASL), but Pennsylvania lost out completely when both the Philly and Pittsburgh teams from the NPSL were folded. NASL would last from 1968 all the way through 1984, and would see a return to Philly of pro soccer as well.

In 1973 the Philadelphia Atoms were born for their first season of play in NASL at the new Veteran's Stadium. Led by one of the earliest big American stars, goalkeeper Bob Rigby, the Atoms won the East Division and then won the NASL championship in their first season of existence when they downed the Dallas Tornado 2-0 in the title match.

The first-year success of the Atoms did not last. The club played on for three more seasons, the final one at Franklin Field, and never again recorded a winning season. The franchise was finally placed in 'receivership' by NASL, and Philly would find itself completely without pro soccer for the 1977 season. Few seemed to know, and even fewer to care.

Then in 1978, NASL returned pro soccer to the city with the birth of the Philadelphia Fury. The Fury was owned by a rock star group that included Paul Simon, Peter Frampton and Rick Wakeman and would be an 'indoor' team playing at the Spectrum. Rigby played for the Fury, but the team itself failed to secure a winning record in any of it's three seasons and drew just over 18,000 total fans in those years. The team was sold after the 1980 season and moved to Montreal before being dissolved after the 1983 season.

It was a long dry spell for pro soccer fans in Philadelphia at this point before finally in 1996 the indoor Philadelphia Kixx were born in the National Professional Soccer League. The club would go on to win two titles in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 2002 and 2007. The Kixx continue to compete in indoor professional soccer, playing to a mostly niche audience.

The wait for real, full-blown, world class outdoor-style professional football/soccer stretched for almost three decades until finally it was announced that Philadelphia had been awarded a franchise in Major League Soccer. MLS had begun in the early-90's, and has proven to be the most successful and stable professional league in American history.

The Philadelphia Union name was selected by a combination of fan and ownership input, and a site was chosen on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester, PA for building a brand-new 18,500 fan capacity state-of-the art outdoor soccer stadium. That stadium, PPL Park, is near completion and should open this summer. The Union will play their first two home matches, including the April 10th opener vs. DC United, at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly.

For last night's franchise debut, the Union could not have been given a more formidable task. The opponents were the Seattle Sounders, one of the leading contenders for the Western Division and overall MLS titles in 2010. The Union took the field with the youngest roster in MLS, while the Sounders field a lineup of strong, skilled, experienced stars.

Seattle was an expansion franchise just a year ago, and proved to be the most highly successful such franchise in league history. Fans flocked to Qwest Field and made noise from start to finish. The team responded with a winning record before being shocked out of the playoffs. This year, Seattle and their fans are primed for a run at the MLS crown, and last night both the team and the fans were in roaring form.

Manager Peter Nowak's young Union actually came out pretty strong, mostly setting the pace for the first 10 minutes. But a breakdown in their defensive zone in the 12th minute resulted in a fairly easy goal for the Sounders' Brad Evans. The Union had yielded the first goal in team history and were down 1-0 on the road, and momentum for the rest of the first half shifted overtly to the Seattle side.

As the Sounders continued to apply pressure to the Union side and halftime approached, things went from bad to downright ugly. In the 41st minute, Union defender Toni Stahl's rugged play dealt them a fatal blow. Already yellow-carded (warned) once for rough play, Stahl received his 2nd yellow and the accompanying automatic red-card (ejection), leaving the Union to play the rest of the match a man short.

This was a bit too much for the youthful expansion club. Less than two minutes after Stahl's exit, Seattle star Fredy Montero banged in a shot from close range, and the host Sounders had a big 2-0 lead. The Union appeared on the ropes and were lucky to get to halftime trailing by that same margin.

Having to play an entire 2nd half on the road in a steady rain against a more experienced opponent in front of a vocal crowd and already down 2-0, things looked bleak for the Philadelphia side. However, the team acquitted itself well for the most part. The shorthanded situation generally kept them from any real, quality scoring chances, but they were able to dodge some bullets and play securely enough that the same 2-0 halftime score would end up being the final.

The bright side for the Union on the field came from the performances of a number of players. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz was generally steady and showed that he can succeed if given a full opportunity as a starter protecting the Philly nets and leading the back end. Forwards Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno looked good and each had bright moments on the offensive end. Tiny American teenager Jack McInerney showed steely-eyed determination, speed and skill in a late cameo appearance.

The Union were also forced to play the entirety of their inaugural game without Fred, the 30-year star Brazilian forward who is expected to be a huge part of their team. Fred was serving a 1-game suspension for an incident while playing at the end of last season for D.C. United, and will return to the Union lineup for their home opener on April 10th at the Linc against his former team.

So professional soccer is back in Philadelphia. The Union will play approximately once a week now through a 28-game season that will end in October. There will be a 2 1/2 week break in mid-June for the playing of the World Cup. The team may be young, but it has talent and showed under extremely adverse circumstances last night that it has heart as well. That characteristic is something which will serve it well in this always tough sports town.

I turned in to the MLS Cup championship last fall and watched a thrilling game as Real Salt Lake battled David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy to a 1-1 tie in regulation, then won 5-4 on penalty kicks. That game and the pending birth of the Union have me excited about and interested in pro soccer for the first time in my life. My wife and I will be attending the Union's first-ever home opener, and I'll be following them regularly.

It's time, Philadelphia. This is a truly great sports town, and there is really no reason that we cannot devote a portion of our loyalty and attention to this extremely worth game. The franchise seems to have made a longterm commitment to our area, so we can safely put our affections into it's hands. Go ahead, watch some games. Go to a game or two. Let down your guard, Philly, and embrace the new kids in town, the Philadelphia Union.