Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Jersey Jackals Open 2014 Baseball Season in Trois Rivieres

By Michael Cohen
Courtesy of the CountySeat
The sound of baseballs hitting leather can be heard popping throughout Yogi Berra Stadium on a warm Monday morning as the New Jersey Jackals baseball team is busy preparing for the start of its 2014 season.

For pitcher Isaac Pavlik, a Parmaus, New Jersey native, and Seton Hall graduate, this Spring Training has been extra special for him. Last summer Pavlik tore his ACL while trying to cover first base on a ground ball to first baseman Chris Duffy, and was lost for the season. LISTEN TO JACKALS BASEBALL HERE!

For Pavlik, a guy who is the longest tenured member of the Jackals, this will be his 10th season with the club, owns many Jackals team records in wins (72), strikeouts (777) and games pitched (182). He called the injury a humbling experience he’ll never forget.

“I remember it like it was like yesterday,” Pavlik said while working out at Yogi Berra Stadium. “I got my hands on a video of my injury; it was upsetting to watch because I would make that same play 99 out of 100 times.

“That was the one time I didn’t make the play. I made a bad baseball turn and my knee basically suffered for it. It’s truly a humbling experience; I’m anxious to get out there again.”

While most of the baseball universe is already playing, the short-season Can-Am League begins play on May 22, with 96 games that run through early September. The league has seen its fair share of changes over the years, the number of teams has now shrunk to four in this division after the Newark Bears were extinguished, but even with the challenges, comes great enthusiasm for a new baseball season 11 miles from downtown Hackensack in Little Falls, NJ.

“I like our athleticism from top to bottom, and I think we have more depth this year and a better outfield this year,” manager Joe Calfapietra said, “We have 19 guys out of affiliated baseball, they have to get accustomed to what affiliated baseball is like. It’s a day to day process.”

The Jackals are coming off an incredible 55 win season in 2013, where they pushed their rivals the Quebec Capitales to Game 7 of last year’s League Championship Series before falling to the Caps on the final night.

This year’s squad, while with a complete roster facelift from last year’s team is not bereft of great stories, Pavlik’s story of course being one of them. Ed Ott, the former member of the World Champion 1979 Pirates, retiring from coaching after this year being another.

Pavlik spent nine months trying to come back from the injury working three times a week at Performance Physical Therapy and Sports Conditioning in Wayne where he rebuilt the strength and power in his legs through various strength and condition exercises.

“I’m doing the best I can to say to myself mentally, ‘I was never hurt.’ I want to be part of it all this year,” Pavlik said. Pavlik got his first crack at live hitters this week in an intra-squad game and pitched two shutout innings. Asked how he felt, Pavlik gave a big smile and thumbs up.

Meanwhile for Ott, this could very well be his last season in baseball. Then again, as he said with a laugh, “I said that last year too.” Ott enters his 42nd year in baseball, a career that spans both the majors and minor league baseball as a coach and player.

“42 years in the game, I think I’ve given it enough. I want to go out with manager Joe Calfapietra on top and try to win a pennant in our league this year,” Ott said.

Ott, who recently had his left knee replaced again, was a member the famed 1979 “We are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates who beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Ott was a key member of the club as its starting catcher. In ’79 Ott hit .273 with seven homers and 51 RBI.

“Being on the same team as Wille Stargell was unbelievable. To win a World Series with him was an incredible moment for me,” Ott said.

After an injury ended his playing career in 1983, Ott went into coaching. Over the next 30 years he moved from the Pirates, Red and Astros organizations, coaching at the minor league level. He eventually went the independent league route in 1998 as manager of Allentown, before joining the Jackals and confidant Joe Calfapietra in 2007.

“Joe, I consider him my son,” said Ott.  “When Allentown hired me, Joe was already there. I drove up from Virginia to Allentown, and Joe was invited to the meeting with the owner, and he said to me ‘Mr. Ott I will work as hard as I can for you.’ I told him, ‘We’ll see.’

“He’s said it before,” Calfapietra said about Ott, with a smile. “The big thing is he’s healthier this year, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’m not giving him a hug yet like it’s a swan song, because I don’t think that’s the case.”

The key to getting an independent team ready to play is a tricky one. It involves players putting their egos aside, forgetting about the statistics that will ultimately get them to an affiliate and focus on winning as a team. Calfapietra, Ott and Pavlik have traveled that road enough times together.

In his time as manager Calfapietra has sent 27 players to a MLB team affiliate.

 “We will play as hard as anybody plays.  We have to remember that this is independent baseball we are in this to give these kids an opportunity to get back to the major leagues. Nobody does a better job at that than Joe Calfapietra,” Ott added.

The Jackals home opener is May 27 at Yogi Berra Stadium. Game can be heard live on the Jackals Internet Radio portal, Stretch Internet, linked on the Jackals website.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Murphy & Mets Pound Yankees Again, Take Two in Bronx


The renaissance for the New York Mets offense continued with another outstanding performance by just about everyone in the Mets lineup as New York pounded the cross town Yankees 12-6 on ten very hard and powerful hits. The Mets feasted on a beat up starting rotation and a bullpen so beleaguered that it makes the Mets pen look fantastic, as Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Curtis Granderson put on a show in the Bronx.

The Mets, who belted four homers in the opener of this series, kept pouring it on Tuesday night jump-started by a four run first inning, highlighted by Granderson's three run blast to right. Granderson has recieved a lot of flack from Mets fans for his pedestrian batting average this season, but a return to his old stomping grounds has lit a charge into the right fielder.

 In the two games at Yankee Stadium, Granderson is hitting .500 (4-of-8) with two homers and five RBI, raising his average over the Mendoza Line. His homer gave the Mets a purpose on the night and they just kept the ball rolling. With each at bat one much maligned hitter after another delivered a bone crushing hit to the Yankees, it was almost like they were taking a year's worth of frustration out on Vidal Nuna and Alfredo Aceves.

 After the Yankees cut the Mets lead to 4-3 on Brian McCann's homerun, the Mets did the little things to make the difference in their favor. In the top of the third, David Wright led off with a double to left, before advancing to third on a fly out to center by Chris Young. Finally Wright scored on an sac fly by Juan Lagares to make it 5-3 Mets. An important run if there ever was one.

Fast forward to the fourth, the smart ball continued. First Ruben Tejada continued his slight resurgence drawing a walk, and scoring on Daniel Murphy's sac fly, before David Wright drove in the red hot Eric Young Jr. with a single to push the Mets lead to 7-3.

Then in the fifth inning, the passion and intensity of the 2014 Mets exploded onto the scene in an inning that could become a transcending moment for this club. With a runner on third and two out, Tejada, of all people, delivered a huge clutch RBI single to give New York some insurance at 8-4. For a guy who has taken a lot of abuse, Tejada is having a nice week. He's coming up big, finally.

Two batters later, Murphy lit a charge not only into Yankee Stadium, but he lit one into the Mets dugout when he cracked a three-run blast to right off the foul pole to give the Mets a 11-4 lead. The dugout exploded, players jumped on the top of the dugout steps. Even Terry Collins couldn't hold back his excitement over the hit. Murphy came flying home slapping the hands of his teammates as if a huge weight had been removed.

Perhaps the excitement is coming back into the Mets. It has been a long time since we have seen the kind of gleam in the eyes of the Mets players that we see right now. Everyone is making something happen. Tejada is getting hits, Murphy is as reliable and clutch as Wright and Granderson. Even Lucas Duda is playing some of the best first base of his career -- maybe there is something about this Subway Series that bring the best out in the Mets.

The only negative of the night was Zack Wheeler's performance. He couldn't get through the fifth inning, throwing 118 pitches, allowing five runs on seven hits with six walks. He has really struggled this year, in a year he was expected to be the defacto ace after Matt Harvey went down. With the Mets front office now bringing up the young arms i.e. DeGrom, Montero, etc. it would behoove Wheeler to pick it up -- he has the talent to be a top pitcher in this game; he has to show it, because the Mets have the arms to replace him if he doesn't.

Overall this was a special night for the Mets. It has been a special two nights in the Bronx, and who knows what's to come for the remainder of the series at Citi Field. They won their sixth consecutive game against the Yankees, now they have to keep up the same intensity against everyone else.

Rangers Stun Penguins, Advance to Conference Finals

NYR win series 4-3

The New York Rangers completed a comeback that nobody would have thought would ever happen. Trailing the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in their best of seven second round series, the Rangers stormed back to win the final three games of the series to win it and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

A combination of factors pushed the Rangers over the top. Obviously on the ice, their power play improved, and Henrik Lundqvist was incredible from Games 5-7, stopping 102 of 105 shots that came his way. Maybe the teams rallying behind Martin St. Louis, who lost his mother this week played a big role in the emotional factor.

The Rangers didn't let the pressure of playing on the road in a Game 7 deter them, as Brian Boyle scored on a wrist shot 5:25 into the first period to give the Rangers an initial 1-0 lead. After Pittsburgh tied it in the second period, the Rangers took the lead for good when Brad Richards scored on a powerplay with an assist from St. Louis.

Still the MVP had to be Lundqvist, who recorded 35 saves on Tuesday, recording his fifth consecutive Game 7 victory.

It was not an easy trip for the Rangers; many counted them out before these playoffs even started, but they are here now in the Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons. This time around they are playing with house money, and teams that do that are very, very dangerous. Next up either Boston or Montreal. 

Subway Series Offers Mets Chance to Show Arms Race

The Mets have told their fans for four plus years to be patient and wait, wait and wait, and so far they have seen very little in return. Instead it has been pretty much the same old same old with regard to the Mets, a team littered with underachieving ball players, and almost no hope in sight.

Yet it appears now that GM Sandy Alderson is ready to listen to those calls for the club to call up its top prospects and play them at the major league level, and not a moment too soon. The Mets bullpen has been a belegured mess for too long; once Bobby Parnell's implosion and injury happened on Opening Day everything other reliever succumbed to incredible mediocrity.

 Too many times this year the Mets have watched the likes of Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde blow saves. Too many times the Mets have seen their middle relief falter. The Mets are tied for second in the Majors in blown saves with eight, while ranked 27th in the league in saves with seven.

It is time to make a change, and that means it is time to call up the young arms that have been talked about for months and years and see what they have.

This week's Subway Series has already served up as a preview of coming attractions. Jenrry Mejia was removed from the rotation, where he was pitching pretty well inspite of some poor recent outings and inserted into the bullpen. On Monday night, at Yankee Stadium, Mejia came out to pitch both the seventh and eighth innings and shut down the Yankees as his Mets' teammates completed a miraculous 9-7 comeback victory.

He looked good. He was hitting the strike-zone and missing bats, something most Mets pitchers don't do on a regular basis.  Perhaps the Mets have something here that they can use to their advantage.

Mejia's days in the pen might become permanent, as Rafael Montero a prized prospect in the Mets system is to make his first start on Wednesday night against the Yankees, and if all goes well, he will make two starts next week. Montero is only 23, but already is wowing the Mets. He went 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA in Triple-A Las Vegas, a league that is better known for its hitting than pitching. He also owns 41 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. It was his time to be here and now here he is.

Soon, Jeuyrus Familia who was once a projected starter in his own right a few years back, and is in the Mets pen now, could be converted into a closer, or a set-up man if Mejia takes the thrown as the 9th inning man.

Jacob DeGrom, a 25-year old reliever with some nasty stuff and a 2.58 ERA, and the prized Noah Syndergarrd could both be coming up next. This all means that the likes of Valverde, Farnsworth, and even Bartolo Colon could soon find themselves out of a job real soon -- and if you a Mets fan that is exactly what you want.

The Mets need the arms race, they need it now. At 18-19, the Mets have been terrible most times, pretty fun to watch, as they were Monday against the Yankees, other times. By no means would a full fledged call up of their top prospects make this Mets squad contenders, but at the very least would speed up the process toward success and recovery from the darkness in 2015 and beyond.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sabathia is the latest beat up Yankee on the DL

It has been a rough start to 2014 for the Yankees, they just can't seem to stay healthy for a very long period of time. From Ivan Nova to Michael Pineda to Mark Tiexiera and now, CC Sabathia.

Sabathia was placed on the 15-day DL by New York on Sunday with inflammation in his right knee. In a season that has become epidemic for solid starting pitchers to hit the DL after a number of rough outings, Sabatahia is the latest to hit the list.

Sabathia came into this season having lost a noticeable amount of weight and avoided questions that he is getting too old, and may have lost a step or two from the ace he once was. Well, so far in 2014, he has completely lost that ace title. With a 3-4 record and a 5.28 ERA, he looks both lost and a shadow of the pitcher he once was.

Perhaps the knee has been an issue all along. According to reports Sabathia has said as much that he kept quiet about the injury becuase he felt a responsiblity to pitch with so many teammates going down for the count. He is to not only be examined by team doctors, but the pitcher also made a request to see Dr. James Andrews. A name synonymous with bad news for pitchers, but this has nothing to do with a structural injury.

Sabathia will have to have the knee drained, with too much pain and fluid buildup in the area for him to pitch. The hope is he will be able to rest for about week before resuming baseball activities and will be back in the rotation soon after that. 

In the meantime New York will have to dig deep into their bullpen and farm system to find a substitute. Candidates range from Alfredo Aceves, whom Joe Girardi wants in the pen, to Adam Warren, and minor leaguer Chase Whitley. However the Yankees decision making in this process is so scattered right now, they haven't named a starter for Thursday at Citi Field.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Johnny Manziel Creates Draft Day's Biggest Drama, Giants Land Beckham

It has been the most talked about NFL draft in some time and on an eventful first night that saw a few surprises, former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel stole the spotlight.

Talked up by many to be the "best" quarterback in the draft inspite of his size, 5'11", and his very thin frame, everyone was going gaga for Manziel. Just about every team was linked with a scenario to get the rookie QB, and those scenarios all fell by the wayside as each pick slipped past into the night.

The fact Manziel dropped like a stone in this draft, as many thought he could, is not much of a surprise. The Texans took Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick of the draft; Clowney is easily the most talented player in this draft. The Jaguars stunned a few when the selected Blake Bortles at number three. I like this pick, Bortles is Central Florida kid, who gives Jacksonville a face and a quarterback with a good pedigree. Later the Browns stunned everyone when they traded the number 4 pick to Buffalo for the 8th pick, which they used on cornerback Justin Gilbert. That moment was the true stunner, because everyone thought Manziel was a lock early for Cleveland. He just had to wait a while longer.

As the teams flew by everyone expected the Cowboys would make a move at Manziel; a move that even to this minute I don't totally understand. Jerry Jones likes shinny new toys, and Manziel certainly fit that bill.
 But just the idea of Manziel in Big D made very little sense otherwise. Why would the Cowboys, who are always in a win now mentality, in essence create an absolute circus with Manziel in town with Tony Romo as the incumbent?

It not only would have put a lot of pressure on Romo and coach Jason Garret, but would have split the locker room, a poison pill no team wants to take. Plus trading Romo, who is not the reason for the Cowboys' failures, would be a mistake Dallas would have regretted for years.

The Cowboys smartly and safely took offensive lineman Zack Martin with the 16th pick. Trust me it's the best for both worlds.

Finally once the Eagles came up at pick 22, the Browns traded back up to get their quarterback. Ironically this comes off the heels of Mike Pettine saying he didn't like starting rookie quarterabacks -- well -- he'll have to start one now. Also, isn't it eerily ironic that the Browns also selected Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn with the 22nd pick in the first round in years past? Three's a charm?

Now the Manziel circus goes to the biggest nightmare the NFL could dream up: the Cleveland Browns. This is the franchise that fired its rookie coach, Rob Chudzinski after one season; this is the franchise that fired it's entire front office after a year as well. This is the franchise with an owner who seems in over his head. This is the Browns. The real life Cleveland Browns, not the one with Kevin Costner in a Hollywood movie. And Johnny Manziel with his dollar sign antics and Twitter rants is about to become apart of it.

All Browns fans can hope for is that Manziel comes riding in on a white horse and plays up to the hype in order to fix this mess. Then again ... (I know) ...  it's the Browns.

Sure Manziel is talented. He can run all over the field and create plays. But that was in college, this will be a whole new ballgame. He will now have to play his style of football against the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals, three of the NFL's top defensive teams. The only running Manziel will be doing is running away from these guys so he doesn't get plastered to the turf. Just check out the Browns first three games of the season: @ Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baltimore. Talk about an ugly start to a season and career. It will not be fun for Manziel in year one -- hopefully the Browns can be patient this time around.

Meanwhile on the New York side of things, the Giants beat out the Jets, sorta, for hyped rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham who lit it up at the combine is coming off a big season at LSU where he hauled in 59 catches for 1152 yards and eight touchdowns. If he is as good as advertised, he will make a perfect complement to Victor Cruz in a Giants offense that is starved at wide receiver. It was a no-brainer pick, and a very good one for Big Blue.

As for the Jets, they selected Louisville saftey Calvin Pryor with the 18th pick. A major surprise considering there were a number of wide receivers available at this point in the draft, and the Jets had a great need for a playmaking wide out. Instead, they did what Rex Ryan always does and that is selecting defense.

While the pick won't excite a lot Jets fans, Pryor is a big, physical safety that stands at 6'2". He is known as a hard hitter, something Jets haven't really possessed at the position in the Rex Ryan era. So it is really wait and see here, much like every other project in the Jets secondary.  It might turn into a good pick, but maybe one the Jets kinda reached a bit too soon for in the first round.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Nets Melted By Heat in Game 1 of East Semis

HEAT 107/NETS 86

This was not even close.

When Deron Williams hit a long three pointer to end the first half bringing the Nets back to within three points of the Miami Heat, it was easy to think Brooklyn had a chance in Game 1. That was until two of Miami's Big Three turned the game into a total blowout by the third quarter.

To say that Chris Bosh and LeBron James dominated the Nets in the second half would be an understatement. They destroyed them. Bosh's monster three pointer, and layup with 6:30 to play in the third quarter gave Miami a 61-54 lead, and the momentum would only build from there. The Nets never came close again as they watched the Heat have their way in a 107-86 blowout in Game 1.

It was a disapointing night, but maybe not an unexpected one. The Heat had come off of eight days rest, while Brooklyn had only one day off, a travel day from Toronto to Miami. But there are no excuses in the NBA playoffs.

This was the team the Nets wanted to emulate. This was the team they wanted to compete against in a seven-game series like this one. That is why they went all in for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. That is why the brought in Jason Kidd to run the show; they wanted to down the Heat. In the regular season it worked. The Nets won all four games, but, those victories come with an asterisk since Dwayne Wade didn't play in two of them, and James even missed time too back then.

This was the first time this season the Nets faced the Heat at full speed, and it wasn't pretty. James hit one basket after another after another in the second half, making this anticipated match-up into a snoozefest.

James put up 22 points for the Heat, Bosh had 15, Wade 14 points. Even Ray Allen had 19 points in this contest, as he was hard to stop from any vantage point on the floor.

It was a lousy night for the Nets. One they have to forget very quickly. Game 2 beckons, a must win affair if the Nets are going to have any chance in this series. One thing about the Heat, once they get up on a team, they never let up. Kidd can certainly tell his players how to beat this team in the postseason--he's done it himself, when he was a part of the Mavaricks NBA title team that beat the Heat in 2010.  Problem is Kidd is not taking the floor. He needs his players to step it up.

Knicks Should Target Former Warroirs Coach Mark Jackson

There is a reason why Phil Jackson should not jump with both feet in so quickly into the pool for Steve Kerr. There are too many potential head coaches out there who could get fired or become available in the next few weeks as the playoffs continue.

One of those potential chips fell when Mark Jackson was fired by the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, after winning 51 games and taking the team to the playoffs for the second straight season.

Jackson's firing has more to do with his inability to get along with the front office, than with his players. The players loved playing for him, but ownership had other ideas. The controversy stems from the removal of two of Jackson's assistants, Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman, which escalated rumors that Jackson was in trouble. Scalabrine was fired without Jackson consulting ownership first. Erman was caught taping conversations that reportedly illustrate that Jackson was trying to undermine him. Erman was fired.

So, even though the Warriors won a lot the past two seasons, there was always descent between Jackson, his staff and the front office in general. Apparently Golden State's ouster from the playoffs was good enough reason to fire Jackson.

Now Jackson and his 121 victories in three seasons are free to find another job. And he will very quickly. He's a good coach. He turned a dead franchise into a perennial playoff team. He helped mold Stephen Curry into a great player, and found a way to win with guys like David Lee and Andre Iguodala. This cannot be ignored, and as a guy who is a former New York Knick player, and New York resident, bringing Jackson in to coach the Knicks would be an interesting move at the least for Phil Jackson and company.

Sure, Mark Jackson is not schooled in the Triangle Offense; he comes with an entirely different philosophy. Sure his issues with the Warriors front office would have to be addressed, but come on, this is Phil Jackson, and has there been a more dysfunctional front office than the Knicks over the years? The Knicks define dysfunction.

All kidding aside, Jackson would give the Knicks something Steve Kerr can't give them right now. Experience. He has been there, he has won, and he knows what it takes to get a team motivated and into the playoffs. He competed well against the best of the West, a conference dominated by Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and the Clippers (Yes, the Clippers not the Lakers). Bringing Jackson home to New York would not only motivate him even more, it might be the exact person who can convince Carmelo Anthony to stay put.

Sure Phil Jackson is going to play a large roll in player personal and decision making. His pitch to Anthony will be the key of the off-season, but if Mark Jackson comes in with his passion for New York basketball, it might be enough to sell Anthony to stay. Let alone, it might be enough to bring other free agents to town as well.

Phil Jackson needs to do the right thing here and kick the tires on Mark Jackson, talk to him and see if a fit is at all possible.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

D-Will Propels Nets to Game 6 Victory, Force Game 7 in Toronto

Series tied 3-3

Coming off of Wednesday's disappointing effort in Toronto, the Nets left nothing to chance in Game 6, playing loose and fast for seemingly the entire contest as they blew away the Raptors 97-83. It was like the Nets were playing at Mach 3, while the Raptors were stuck in neutral for the entire night; Brooklyn not only knew they couldn't afford to lose this game, they played up to the challenge, while Toronto grew flustered by it.

Deron Williams, who has been invisible all series, was tremendous for the Nets when they needed him to be. Williams cashed in on 8-of-16 shooting for 23 points and five boards. He was especially aggressive from long distance hitting four of ten shots from behind the arch.

It was Williams 25-foot three pointer with 6:28 to go in the first quarter that gave the Nets a 14-8 lead that seemed to turn the tied for Brooklyn, who would never look back again. Everytime a player in a while and black jersey touched the basketball it seemed to go through the hoop. Whether it was Joe Johnson hitting jump shots, or Paul Pierce hitting three's, even Kevin Garnett and the Nets bench, everyone followed Williams lead.

The Nets offensive explosion was too much for Toronto. They couldn't handle it. Buckets by Shaun Livingston, and Marcus Thorton pushed the Nets lead to 18, early in the second quarter at 40-22. Williams, then, hit a couple of free throws and a basket to kill a potential run by the Raptors, as the Nets pushed their lead to as much as 27 points, 56-39 as time was ticking away in the first half.

The second half was more of the same. An even third quarter that saw Brooklyn keep their 20 point lead, gave way to a more competitive quarter for the Raptors. Toronto crawled back into it when Kevin Lowry hit a three pointer, and a jumper to cut the Nets lead down to ten, 89-79, but Williams hit the monster 3-point dagger to not only stick it to Lowry but to the entire Raptors bench, as the Nets increased the lead back to 13.

For as much flack as Williams gets for not being a clutch player here in New York, he was big in the biggest moment for this franchise. They could ill afford to lose at home with their season on the line. He played like the franchise player, the Nets pay him to be, and because of him there will be a Game 7, Sunday in Toronto.