Running back Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants celebrates after running in a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2014 in Canton, Ohio.
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Andre Williams explodes onto the NFL scene

On the Buffalo Bills 3-yard line with the end zone in sight, New York Giants running back Andre Williams bent down into the up stance, waiting for the snap. On the previous play, Williams sprinted down the sidelines for a 21-yard gain, with a burst of speed unlike his Boston College days, including his historic senior season.

Eli Manning called for the ball. Williams broke his stance, going from low to high with an explosive burst into the handoff. He stays low after the handoff, gains momentum and cuts to the left through the line and lands in the end zone. It was his first (unofficial) NFL touchdown, but it won’t be his last.

Running back Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants celebrates after running in a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. (Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Running back Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants celebrates after running in a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2014 in Canton, Ohio.
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Williams’ debut comes as no surprise. It’s the amount of attention on him that comes as a surprise. The Monday Morning Quarterback documented Williams’ journey to draft day, including the moment the Giants called him to say they selected him in the fourth round.

Yes, a Heisman finalist and the nation’s top running back in the 2013 season was a fourth round selection. You read that correctly.

But even though he was a fourth round pick, Williams played like a first round pick in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on Sunday night, leading the Giants ground game, a big Achilles’s Heel for the G-Men last season. A strong run game is imperative now with the news of David Wilson being shut down for the 2014 season. And with his 37 yards on 5 carries and a touchdown, Williams got the attention of those who weren’t paying attention before.

It’s been like that Williams’ entire football career. Coming into his senior year, no one paid him any mind, unless you were one of the many Superfans plastered in maroon and gold at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. If you were one of the lucky few to witness Williams perform on the gridiron, you were mesmerized by his ability to break tackles in explosive manners and blaze by defenders.

Williams’s breakout performance came when BC played against Army. He rushed for 263 yards and scored 5 touchdowns. Following that performance, Williams name was in Heisman talks. His candidacy was solidified with a 339 rushing yards performance against NC State at BC’s final home game.

Andre Williams #44 of the Boston College Eagles runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Alumni Stadium. November 2, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Eagles won the game 34-27. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images North America)

Andre Williams #44 of the Boston College Eagles runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Alumni Stadium. November 2, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Eagles won the game 34-27.
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images North America)

And yet, with Heisman candidacy, an ability to break tackles and be the center of an offense, a la Adrian Peterson, Williams wasn’t touted as any of this. In a pass-happy NFL, his inability to catch a ball and make a quarterback better was criticized. So he worked on it. But he kept working on what got him to the big dance and that displayed well on Sunday night.

Williams looked faster, stronger and more explosive than ever. If he is better now than last season at BC, great things are destined for Williams this season. The Giants would be wise and allow him to share the load with front man Rashad Jennings, who the Giants signed in free agency. The tandem of Jennings and Williams could be a reincarnation of the Bradshaw and Jacob days, where Manning saw huge success.

But for now, it’s not about Manning or Jennings. The attention is on Williams and it is well deserved. Boston College lives on the motto “Ever to Excel” and demands from its students to “go forth and set the world aflame.” Williams is already excelling early in the NFL and is setting the gridiron aflame with his running improvements. It’s only a matter of time before Williams brings back relevancy to the importance of the running back position and show running backs of his caliber shouldn’t be relegated to the fourth round.

Go; set the NFL aflame, Andre.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

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Players trade jerseys. Fans burn jerseys.

After a classic battle (as all games seem to have been in the 2014 World Cup), Colombia’s golden boy, James Rodriguez, was in tears. Colombia’s storybook journey in the World Cup ended abruptly courtesy of a 2-1 victory by Brazil. In a physical match that saw Neymar get carted off with a fractured vertebrae and no-calls by officials, you couldn’t blame Rodriguez.

Klose, but no cigar.

As Rodriguez wept, David Luiz and Dani Alves of Brazil went to console Rodriguez, after the  striker electrified the World Cup with his six goals, two assists, and virtually carried Colombia to the quarterfinals. Luiz applauded Rodriguez and asked the crowd to join in.

As Luiz hugged and consoled Rodriguez, something along the lines of “trade jerseys?” was mentioned and both men took of their respective team jerseys and swapped them. They embrace and Luiz and Rodriguez walked away, arm-in-arm, Rodriguez wiping tears from his eyes with the jersey of another country draped over his shoulder.

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(Photo credit: Pool/Getty Images South America)

It was the most touching moment of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it was the most class seen in this year’s World Cup. The tradition of swapping jerseys dates back to 1931 when France beat England for the first time. The French, jubilated from their victory, asked the Englishmen if they would swap jerseys as keepsakes for their victory. The English obliged and the tradition of trading jerseys was born.

But Luiz and Rodriguez weren’t the only ones to complete a trade. Croatia pummeled Cameroon 4-0 in their group play match and Cameroon’s Stephane Mbla and Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic not only traded their jerseys. The players traded their shorts, pioneering a new way to display respect and remembrance in the sport of soccer.

Soccer isn’t alone though. Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions took it upon himself to bring the soccer tradition to the NFL. During the 2013 season, Johnson traded jerseys with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

“I can’t tell when I first started doing it,” said Johnson in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’ve got eight to ten hanging up and eventually I’m going to get them signed and put up in my basement.”

It’s cool to see the players engage in this trade after hard fought contests. The trade displays respect and reveres players who take part in the act. Rodriguez was unheard of before the World Cup began. Now, after six goals and two assists in four games, he not only caught the attention and respect of the worldwide audience captivated by his play, he caught the attention and respect of fellow soccer players, as predicated by Luiz.

The same applies to Johnson’s respect for the youth of Green and Brown. The jerseys become a part of a collection for the players to remember great matches they took part in throughout their professional careers. They are a keepsake, a talisman of sorts to commemorate respect and admiration for sports.

The same, however, can’t be said for fans.

Fans have had a history of defacing jerseys and disrespecting them. Do a quick search of ‘fans burn jersey’ on Google Images and you’ll see images of fans setting flames to jerseys they once wore proudly or purchased just for the sake of burning them to go viral on the internet. The most recent occurrence of the pyromania epidemic sweeping the sports world was on Friday when LeBron James announced he was going home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

(Photo credit: BroBible.com)

(Photo credit: BroBible.com)

It was like the phrase “I’m coming home,” was a welcoming for Miami Heat fans to take James’ Heat jersey and set it ablaze (no pun intended). These fans, who once revered James for bringing 2 NBA championships to Miami, now turned on him in a blaze of infamy. Cleveland isn’t wearing the white hat though. Images of Cleveland fans wearing tattered James’ Cavalier jerseys surfaced on the internet, reminding us that in 2010, Cleveland did the same thing Miami did. Out of spite for James’ infamous “Decision,” they burned James’ jersey to show their disdain for James turning his back on his hometown.

During the 2013 NFL season, fans participated in burning jerseys as well, the most notable being Houston Texans fans burning then-starting quarterback Matt Schaub’s jersey after Schaub threw a pick-six for a third straight week, resulting in another loss for Houston. How bad was this act of arson? The fan paid 200 dollars to buy a Schaub jersey just to burn it moments later…I’m not making this up, look at the YouTube video.

And in the 2014 World Cup, where soccer fans are known to be brash, following Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil, Argentina fans saw fit to burn the Brazilian flag. The rivalry between the two South American countries is well documented, but burning another country’s flag is a sign of pure hatred for the country and a crime in many countries, including Argentina and Brazil! Before Brazil’s game with Germany, Argentinian fans mocked Neymar’s injury by hoisting a fake spinal cord and chanting “Aca tenemos la columna de Neymar!” which translates to “Here we have the spine of Neymar.”

Really?

Burning jerseys, sewing jerseys to represent the number of quarterbacks a franchise has had, defacing murals devoted to players, the list is endless. Fans have a storied history of displaying disrespect to their teams, their rivals, and current/former players of their teams.

But why? Fans aren’t the ones engaging in 90 minutes of intense competition and running over six miles on a soccer field for the love of their country. Fans aren’t the ones throwing the football on the field. Fans aren’t the ones deciding what team an athlete should play for. We boo. We cheer. That’s it. We can yell and scream for 90 minutes just like the teams playing on the field act like sworn enemies for 90 minutes. But when the final whistle sounds, fans should engage in the respect players engage.

(Photo credit: Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo credit: Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports)

Keep those jerseys, not as painful reminders, but as a remembrance to the joy you shared when your favorite player was on your team. Don’t yell and scream at a fan of a rival team after the game. Share a beer or a hot dog and laugh about “painful” memories of your teams rivalry. And for goodness sake, don’t burn another country’s flag or poke fun at a player’s injury. It’s just not cool. Cry if you must and allow yourself to be angry, but don’t allow the anger to consume you to the point of no return.

My words may be foolish, but from showering an innocent fan with beer in Chicago to sending death threats to young African-American basketball players in Michigan, fan participation has been a thorn to the game that needs to be cut down. It doesn’t make sports great. It gives sports a black eye. You want to know what makes sports great?

Soccer players, after contesting in an intense game, trade jerseys at the end of a game make sports greater. Coach K walking into Mercer’s locker room and congratulating them after his Duke Blue Devils lost make sports greater. Mark Herzlich, beating cancer and becoming a Super Bowl champion, make sports greater.

Burning a jersey, defacing a player’s monument, hate mail/tweets, and disrespecting another team doesn’t make sports great. If so, then we shouldn’t teach sportsmanship to pee-wee leagues should we? Fans, like myself, shouldn’t take it so seriously. Yes, it’s more than a game for many of us, but if the players, coaches and teams, who make their living off of sports, aren’t blowing up and trading blows after a game on the field, no reason we should do the same.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

Soccer is changing American life

Warning: a lot of regret and remorseful sentences as well as TIM FREAKING HOWARD lines are going to be in this post so bear with me because the good stuff will follow the bad.

I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. I’m glad the U.S. lost. Now don’t burn me at the stake just yet, remember, I warned you. But first.

TIM FREAKING HOWARD! Okay, moving on.

The first time I ever watched the United States men’s national team or #USMNT as they go by on Twitter, was back in 2010 in their match against Ghana. I was working at a summer camp and the staff was watching the game on a projector screen. Disappointment wretched us all when the U.S. was defeated, but not much was talked about afterwards.

The next day was normal. No lingering emotions from the events of yesterday’s game. It was…normal. 2010 was the first display of the United States’ connection with soccer. It’s a bandwagon effect. Every four years, anyone not an American Outlaw joins the wagon to soak in our country being represented in a world event for the hope of coming out the best in the world. And with every four years comes the betrayal of these “loyal” fans as they exit the wagon and hop on the next bus to the NFL. I was one of them.

Before the World Cup even started, the bandwagon/outlaws joined forces to align against coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to cut American darling Landon Donovan. I didn’t know much about the decision so I stayed away from criticism and studied the decision. It made sense. He did create a lot of scoring opportunities when he played, which may or may not have benefited the team in Brazil. We’ll never know, but Klinsmann’s decision did two things: made us focus on the US as a team and made the country expect something great to happen from omitting Donovan.I didn’t buy into the bandwagon effect nor did I plan on doing so in the Donavon debacle.

This effect is the reason I wrote how I wasn’t rooting for any country in the World Cup, including the United States. I stated how the country of my roots, Dominican Republic, would be the only country I’d root for, but not the U.S. The reasoning behind that decision was because I did not want to get sucked into the bandwagon effect again. The U.S. was in this year’s “Group of Death” to many experts so off the bat, any hope the U.S. would even make a legitimate run was folly (We’ll get back to hope in a second).

So I watched the World Cup, cheering on nobody, and boy was I glad I did. During the U.S. vs. Ghana game, I missed Dempsey’s quick score, but kept thinking to myself Ghana would eventually score. Eventually, they did, with minutes left to play. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought, until John “The Dreamer” Brooks  headed the ball into the net to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead and an eventual win.

The U.S. won. The U.S. won? Yeah, they won, and I felt excited and I didn’t know why until the Portugal game happened. As I sat in Naples 45 in New York watching the game, the restaurant erupted in applause when the U.S. scored against Portugal to take the lead. The restaurant also groaned and became silent when Portugal tied the game with seconds left. And then the Germany game happened where we lose, but yet everyone is still celebrating we moved on to the Round of 16.

Let that sink in. The United States lost and the United States celebrated…

And all of this led me to running out of the 2 train and almost tripping on the stairs and potentially getting run over by cars as I rushed to my house to not miss a minute of the U.S. vs. Belgium match.

On the edge of my couch, my eyes bulged during every Belgian and U.S. attack. I jumped on every one of TIM FREAKING HOWARD’s 16 saves. I fell to the ground when Chris Wondolowski missed what would’ve been the game-winning goal as my parents threatened to turn the TV off because of how loud I was. I went to my room after Kevin De Bruyne scored for Belgium and told my brother to turn the TV off when Romelu Lukaku scored the second goal for Belgium.

Until the U.S. did what they have done the entire tournament. They gave hope.

19-year-old Julian Green got a beautiful shot passed Thibaut Courtois, who played a decent game, but not as great as TIM FREAKING HOWARD. It was 2-1 and the U.S. got several chances to tie it up and send it to penalty kicks. The whistle blew and the Belgian team jumped for joy. I sat there, looking at my screen, with my hand on my chin and a scowl on my face that rivaled a seven-year-old’s when mommy says no.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t cry. I went on a walk.

On my walk, Twitter went crazy with #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave and the multitude of gratitude given to the U.S. team for their run, but I was more focused on what I saw and what I was thinking. Kids and adults were engaging in soccer by the green space near my house after the match. People were talking about the game and what could’ve happened. And in my thoughts, I said.

‘We could’ve won.’

The keyword in the aforementioned sentence is ‘we.’ Before the World Cup began, I identified with no team. With the end of the U.S. run, I have identified with the team, but not just because of their play, because I didn’t see the bandwagon effect in play anymore. Co-workers wore patriotic jerseys and ties. Twitter was filled with recaps and reactions to each U.S. game. Everywhere I walked, people were talking about U.S. soccer. Sure, many of these were not loyalists to the team before the World Cup, but the bandwagon effect means people get off the bandwagon after. After this World Cup, many stayed on that weren’t on the wagon to begin with, which means the soccer population and interest is heightening. And today, a day after the U.S. lost, it still feels like we won.

We won because the 2014 U.S. men’s national team will forever be remembered as the team that completed the improbable task of making soccer relevant to those who weren’t just American Outlaws or interested in international play. The ‘I Believe’ chant that started as a chant only a few knew became the anthem of a country that believed this team could win. And like stated, even though we lost, we won. We believed this team could win and they did win.

They won us (pun intended).

We won because soccer is changing the American life and it has reached the plateau to make the change visible. Sure, this was just one month, only time will tell, but the fact I and an entire country is still recovering from the loss, it doesn’t seem like a phase. It has been a slow process, but it’s finally here.

And that’s what I regret. I regret it took me so long. I regret I didn’t go to the viewing parties in Bryant Park or paid the American Outlaws chapter in New York a visit at Jack Demsey’s. I regret I wasn’t pulling for the U.S. for fear of disappointment. But damn am I proud I realize it now.

Soccer is no longer something Americans will hop on a bandwagon every four years to check out and see what happens. It is now a part of American culture. Not only can’t I wait for the 2018 World Cup, I can’t wait for the U.S.’ next matchup. Why? Because…

I.

I.

I believe.

I believe.

I believe that.

I believe that.

I believe that we.

I believe that we.

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

Now you see why I’m glad we lost?

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

If Miami didn’t work for LeBron James, how would it work somewhere else?

LeBron James announced last Tuesday that he was opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat and becoming a free agent.

Before I break this down, let me take you through my reaction to James’ decision. The notification appeared on my iPhone screen, courtesy of Bleacher Report’s Team Stream App. It read as follows

Breaking: LeBron James to Exercise Early Termination Option and Become a Free Agent, According to ESPN’s Chris Brou…

Not kidding, that’s how it actually read.

After reading the notification, another B/R Team Stream notification followed below James’ announcement. This one read as follows

Mets Will Recall C Travis d’Arnaud Today for Series Opener vs. A’s; Hit .436 with 6 HRs and 16 RBIs in Triple-A Stint.

After reading this notification, I went to Twitter and posted this tweet.

It was the right response to be frank. James’ decision to opt of his contract with the Miami Heat was not a surprise nor was it earth-shattering. There were reports James, Bosh, and Wade were going to restructure their contracts so the Heat’s front office could have more finances to buy complementary talent for the “Big Three.”

It was the right response because nothing leads me to believe James is leaving Miami and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, he’s won in Miami.

Since James took his talents to South Beach, he has made the NBA Finals every year from 2011 to 2014. Taking a team to one finals is hard enough, but doing it four times in a row is nothing short of remarkable. James has established himself as the star of a team that will live on the history books as one of the most polarizing NBA teams. Not only did James help the Heat get to the Finals, James helped the Heat get not one, but two NBA Finals championships.

Say what you want to say about James’ uncalled-for proclamation where he went off saying “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” but NBA all-time greats like Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Elgin Baylor and Charles Barkley never won an NBA title. James got to experience not one, but two NBA titles in consecutive seasons and was named the MVP of each Finals. James established a winning culture in Miami and the success he garnered in Miami can not be duplicated on another team.

Two, James can’t join a team he can’t fit well in nor play as the only part of a team. Remember Cleveland? That’s what James can look towards if he leaves Miami, because if he stays in Miami, there will be transactions to compliment him. The only teams able to afford James at the moment without making any other transactions are the Heat, the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. If James does leave Miami, the Phoenix Suns serve as the best fit because of how remarkable they played last season with such a young team. But it’s the Heat who have the best chance.

It’s unfortunate, but it seems Wade isn’t the player he used to be. The injuries are catching up and his Finals performance left much to be desired. If you appointed me as Pat Riley for, no pun intended, “Decision Day”, I would push Wade to not take as much money and if he pushes back, I’d push him out the door. There is respect for all Wade has done for Miami, but other franchise darlings like Chris Paul, Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce all left and everyone moved on. Riley might have to move on. As it goes for Bosh, I’d keep Bosh for height and for his shooting abilities, but again, he can’t be asking for so much money.

The problem that lies with James staying in Miami is his (no pun intended) decision is dependent on what Wade and Bosh do and receive. If Wade and Bosh get the asking prices they desire, James won’t get the team that can take him to another title. So for his sake, I hope that little powwow the three had last week was like a settlement in a courtroom. Lot of money, but no sentencing.

Miami is not only the best fit for James, it’s the only one. He can’t fit anywhere else because no other team can offer the caliber of talent James requires to thrive and win. The Spurs displayed James’ true weakness. It’s not cramps, but rather playing for a team that plays like a team. Sure, he won two titles with this team, but the first was against a young, maturing Oklahoma City Thunder team and Ray Allen’s three pointer save the Finals for James last season. If James can’t play on a complete team, he loses, so the Heat need to give James a team, not two all-stars and a shooter.

Build around James and the Heat will have more success, but more importantly to James, it won’t be two, it won’t be three, it won’t be four.

Probably five I would say, but if the Heat execute these plans and build a complete team around James, more gold will grace the castle of King James.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

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Is “Moneyball” Ruining Baseball?

I was sitting in Naples 45, an Italian restaurant near Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan, awaiting with eagerness for my dinner. I am a part of a foundation called the Emma Bowen Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to providing internships to minority college students in the media industry, and our annual conference had begun with our trip to Naples 45.

As I sat with other Emma Bowen scholars, anticipating our soon-to-be delicious Italian dinner, a group of us weren’t concerned with eating. We picked the table nearest to a television screen to watch the second half of the United States vs. Portugal World Cup game.

Our anticipation for food turned into anticipation of hunger for a victory from the US. Win and they’re in. Draw, and they’re almost in. Lose, and have to face Germany in a must-win situation to move on from group play.

We sat and waited, for our food and for a goal. And it came, and the restaurant erupted in applause. Clint Dempsey, with an apparent crotch shot, netted the ball and gave the US a 2-1 lead in the 81st minute of the game. The waiting game for a goal now turned into waiting for the game to finish.

The 90th minute came and bad news along with it. 5 minutes of stoppage time added to the game. Portugal still had life. With mere seconds remaining, Cristiano Ronaldo, as only Ronaldo could, kicked a flawless ball to the center where Silvestre Valera’s head made contact with the ball. US goalie Tim Howard flew behind him as the ball went through the goal posts.

A collective AGH! filled the restaurant. The US and Portugal game ended in a draw. Not bad, but not great, but to some in the restaurant, they were utterly speechless.

As the aggravation left the room and people turned back to the pizza, pasta, and chicken cutlets, my eyes remained on the TV. Baseball was on. It was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (breath) vs. the Texas Rangers for Sunday night baseball. But that didn’t seem to appeal to the restaurant’s customers.

Nobody watched and a question popped into my head that I posed to the group I was with that joined my pondering: Is Moneyball ruining baseball?

Before the introduction of sabermetrics courtesy of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, baseball captivated the country. It was America’s past-time, what you got your kids involved in with pee-wee and little league, and a game you did not complain was three to four hours. My favorite game to this day was the 10-run eighth inning by the New York Mets to come back down 8-1 against the Atlanta Braves in 2000. The game lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes, combining two things that would cause fans today to turn off the television or shift over to reality television: Down by many runs and going over three hours.

Sabermetrics could not explain why this ten run inning occurred. Before Robin Ventura’s RBI ground out that began the 10 run inning, the Mets had a 1% chance of winning the game. It was the best game because the game just occurred by chance.

While it isn’t a smart move for the front office to just make moves by chance, it was the reality until Beane and the A’s. Scouts subjectively looked at players, paid attention to the sexy stats of home runs, RBIs, batting average in hitters and wins, strikeouts, and ERA for pitchers. It wasn’t intelligent nor geeky enough. It was simple, inexperienced, but it created a game that captivated our country and others along the way.

Now, as I watched the Angels and Rangers go at each other, there was no excitement, no game of chance. It was a real-life game of Stratego, strategizing based on data collected by front office to create the team that can create the most runs and therefore create the most wins. The romantics of chance, gone, and complaints of a long season, long games, no fun, but lost in these complaints is this.

Could the mathematicians that changed the game forever, ruin the game forever? This article is not a persecution towards these pioneers in sports as I am interested in the practice, but the fan in me, the little boy who watched his lowly Mets, down 8-1, come back and score 10 runs with 2 outs in one inning, can’t help but wonder if, sadly, the geeks like me have toppled the mean jocks and ruin the game of baseball. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real, you don’t want to believe it, but evidence points to it being true.

On Thursday, the entire country will sit and watch with bated breath, at work, at home, or at a viewing party in their respective locations as the US goes against Germany in their last group match for a chance to move on in the World Cup. Baseball, once upon a time, did this exact thing across the country, with fans tuning on TV or packing a ballpark to watch their team. But while the World Cup possesses the element of chance and suspense, baseball has outgrown that stage, thanks to the evolution of statistics in sports.

We have to thank these people who have changed the sport, but at the same time question if they changed it, not for better, but for worse, for good.

soccer

My Country Isn’t in the World Cup.

I’m in a pickle.

My country is not in the World Cup.

I’m American so I should root for the USA, right? But just because I am American doesn’t mean I identify with USA’s men national soccer team.

I speak Spanish. But just because I speak Spanish doesn’t mean I will root for the originators of the language, Spain, or any other Latin American country for that matter.

But just because my country isn’t in the World Cup doesn’t mean I won’t watch the World Cup.

My parents were born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the states in late 70s. It has been well documented that baseball rules Dominican Republic, both figuratively and literally. Young boys of the slums use a stick and a bottle cap to master the basics of the game while the teenagers picked out of the crop fields by baseball academies forgo an education to pursue a large payoff in professional baseball. But soccer isn’t as popular.

It’s like the United States. Soccer exists, but it isn’t given the attention it deserves. Soccer is the world’s sport. It connects international with locals, native speakers with foreign speakers. In soccer, there are no borders.

But with the World Cup taking place this year and with me more interested than ever in the event, I found myself asking myself two questions. One, who should I cheer for? And two, if soccer really is the world’s sport, then why isn’t my country represented?

Yes, I understand I was born in the United States, am an American citizen, go to an American university, Boston College, and will most likely live in this country until my dying breath. But just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you are required to identify with your location. I am proud to live in this country, but in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, I wasn’t draped in a star-spangled banner. I was draped in cross-bearing banner with the words Dios, Patria, Libertad etched in the center as I watched the Dominican Republic national team win the World Baseball Classic.

In the World Cup, my country, Dominican Republic, isn’t one of the 32 nations represented. It may not seem like a big thing because the World Cup is a joyous occasion, but my co-worker is Colombian and rooting for Colombia. One of my good friends is Mexican and rooting for Mexico. Restaurants across New York are hosting viewing parties for respective countries.

The representation I have in the World Cup is the United States and I have nothing wrong with cheering for them, but it just doesn’t feel the same. My roots are planted in Dominican Republic and you can’t pull those roots and re-plant them somewhere else to identify yourself as the new plantation. I can’t root for more than one country and just because the one I do root for is not represented in the World Cup, that doesn’t mean I can throw a dart to a picture of the 32 nations and pick or pretend to cheer for a team I’m not passionate about.

It’s a tricky situation to be in and one that I’m not alone in. Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, Ireland, southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, the list goes on of other nations not represented in the World Cup and certainly many others that feel similar to me.

But we, the bystanders, who may not identify nor cheer passionately for the 32 nations of the World Cup have the best gift of all. We get to enjoy every single game, with no guarantees of heartbreak, agony, despair–the negative emotions of sports–and we get to watch all the way until the final whistle of the championship game feeling that way. As a fan of teams known for making me question my loyalty to them, it is a feeling I am not willing to trade for the sake of having my country in the World Cup.

I’d love for one day to wave my flag, draped in red, white, and blue (of Dominican Republic that is), and scream at a TV screen with DR playing in the World Cup like I did for the World Baseball Classic. But for now, I’ll take the road less traveled. I will sit back, relax, and watch at the edge of my seat, enjoying every second of the 2014 World Cup, with no fear of letdown and no bandwagon hopping.

Just watching, for the love of the game.

Defending LeBron James and his Cramps

Apparently every athlete is no longer human.

On Thursday, LeBron James and the Miami Heat had to test how much heat they could stand. No, not the heat of Miami or the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, the Heat literally had to deal with the sweltering heat of an arena with a broken air conditioning system.

#FirstWorldProblems

In the heat of battle (no pun intended), James started to falter. He kept motioning to the sidelines about something wrong. He didn’t seem right, but he kept playing. He played and played and played, until he could no longer. With his entire body cramping, Eric Spoelstra made a tactical decision. Like the general of an army, Spoelstra called off the reinforcements, as if to say to the Spurs, ‘you may have won the battle, but we will win the war.’ He pulled James out of the game so he could be attended to by the medical staff.

James left the game because of cramps; something many seem to think is laughable. Michael Jordan played a game with the flu. Kobe Bryant made a free throw with a torn Achilles tendon. Willis Reed played in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a torn muscle in his thigh and made two shots. Greg Jennings scored a touchdown with a broken freakin’ leg!

Okay, the last one is fictional because it was a video game, but you get the point. If you compare what happened to James on Thursday night to Jordan, Bryant, and Reed, you think it’s laughable. You get cramps and you leave the game? What a wuss.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Cramps occur because of how much you exert and how much hydration you lack. Cramps aren’t like injuries that happen because of a bad fall or because of improper technique. Cramps happen because the body, not the mind, can’t function. It is even worse if the body is dehydrating extremely.

James didn’t prepare to play in the sweat box of the AT&T Center. The heat was the king’s downfall, but like a great king, he fought valiantly and when it came to surrender, he surrendered when he could continue no longer.

And you know what that shows? Toughness.

If James, arguably the greatest basketball player in the world, is cramping on his entire left side to the point where he can’t support the pain no longer, it means he played hard. I am very critical of the Miami Heat, but I am not critical of James’ work ethic.

You don’t get drafted as the number one pick straight out of high school without hard work. You don’t get out of the streets of a low socioeconomic neighborhood without hard work. You don’t get 4 MVP titles, 2 NBA titles, and the title of the best in the world without hard work.

But apparently, you can get called a wuss, soft, and become the laughingstock of the internet because of hard work. James left everything and more on the court on Thursday night in his quest for a third NBA title for him and the Miami Heat. He started showing signs of slowing down in the third quarter, but pushed forward until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. You can’t compare what James endured to missing a shot with the game on the line. You also can’t compare James’ situation with that of other players.

Everyone is different. Everyone’s body is different.

But this isn’t just about James. This is about how we view athletes. These men and women who play sports aren’t some fictional characters you can laugh at in the comfort of your own home and judge without haste on social media. They are people just like you. It’s easy to laugh and make fun of someone when you don’t do it yourself. Place yourself in the situation James was in and let’s see how you can handle it.

Jordan once left a game with cramps back in 1997. It was in an NBA Finals game. It was also the game before the “Flu Game.”

I hope James drops 100 points in Game 2 to shut up all this nonsense. Not 20, not 30, not 40, not 50, not 60.

If not 100 points, at least make a strong enough statement to quiet all those who question his toughness and the toughness of other athletes.

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You Have $15 To Make An NBA All-Time Starting Lineup. GO!

Some things you’ll want to know in this article:

  • Triple-Double – a player makes 20 or more points, 10 or more rebounds, and 10 or more assists in a game.
  • Win Shares – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player
  • Defensive/Offensive Win Shares – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense/offense.
  • Win Shares per 48 minutes – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes
  • Player Efficiency Rating – a measure of per minute production. League average is 15.
  • True Shooting Percentage – a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
  • Effective Field Goal Percentage – this statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.
  • Defensive Rating –  An estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions

 

Challenge accepted.

BallisLife.com sent a tweet with the following photo.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 9.23.09 AM

So I have $15 to spend wisely on the best NBA team $15 can buy. This should be interesting.

So I obviously can’t get each player worth five dollars, nor would I even want to and I’ll explain why. Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are all fantastic players, but these wouldn’t be my all-time starting five. So I need to put on my general manager cap on and get to work on who I want on my team.

Point Guard – Oscar Robertson $4

I wanted to go with either Magic, Oscar, or John Stockton. I eliminated Magic because of his price so it was down to Stockton or Robertson. The reason Stockton was in this discussion is because of his price of $2 and because of his ability to pass the ball. Stockton holds the record for most career assists with 15,806. Stockton had a better field goal percentage with 51.5% compared to Robertson with 48.5% and made the playoffs in all of his 19 seasons.

But while Stockton statistics are compelling, I can’t pass on the opportunity to not only have someone who can pass AND score, but someone who defined his career off passing and scoring, and even rebounding. Robertson is Mr. Triple Double, averaging a triple-double from 1961-1965.  Not only can Robertson give me 10 assists like Stockton, but Robertson can give me 20 points and 10 rebounds, an area where Stockton didn’t prosper in because of his passing abilities. It makes it a no brainer to go with Robertson over Stockton. Two other things: Robertson created more wins in his 14 seasons in the league more than Stockton  and Robertson was LeBron before LeBron was LeBron. Thanks for that, Michael Smith of Numbers Never Lie.

So with 11 dollars left, I need to be careful with the next four players.

Shooting Guard – Michael Jordan $5

To be honest, I battled a bit with this choice. Shocking. But nevertheless my brain overcame my heart on this one and went with arguably the greatest of all-time, Michael Jordan.

I debated between Jordan and Kobe Bryant, worth $4, because of the price so I could spend $5 elsewhere, but I thought better because Jordan is well, Jordan, the standard for basketball supremacy. I thought Bryant may have better numbers than Jordan, but when i went to look for them, I was shocked. Jordan was that good. He averaged 30.1 PPG (points per game) compared to Bryant’s 25.5. He also had more assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks than Bryant recorded in his career. The big factor was Player Efficiency and Win Shares per 48 minutes, where Jordan wipes away the competition. Jordan had a Player Efficiency of 27.9 and Win Shares of .250, good for best of all-time in the NBA.

Sure, Kobe’s playoff success and the ability to always come up with a big shot in a big game situation is remarkable and it can convince some to go with him over Jordan. But let’s be logical and critical here. Do people compare LeBron James to be Kobe or Jordan when they argue he’s going to be the greatest of all-time? I’ll leave it at that and go ahead and spend my big $6 dollars on the remainder of my team.

A team without LeBron James. Gasp.

Small Forward – Kevin Durant $2

Since I couldn’t get LeBron James and just dismantle every team ever created with the trio of Robertson, Jordan and James, I had to get the second best option. While I don’t think James should be $5 (I actually think Bird should be worth $5), I went with his “arch-rival” and the NEW most valuable player, Kevin Durant.

I battled between snatching Larry Bird priced at $4 or Scottie Pippen priced at $1 along with Durant. Putting Pippen on the team would re-create the magic of the famed Chicago Bulls team alongside Jordan on my all-time team, but I needed a guy who can shoot a three, drive, and play some stellar defense. Bird can do all of this, but priced at $4, I didn’t want to go all out on Bird with two positions left to fill so Durant was the smarter option.

Durant has a career Player Efficiency Rating of 24.53, good for 5th among active players and second among the small forwards on this list (LeBron is first) and a True Shooting Percentage of .5999 (better than LeBron!). So not only can I count on Durant’s efficiency, but in case Robertson drives and dishes it to Durant on the corner for three, Durant has a better chance of making it than LeBron, which means, getting Durant at $2 could probably be a steal!

Mama, there goes that man!

Power Forward – Tim Duncan $3

In my opinion, Duncan is the most underrated player of all-time. Never mind the fact he is a 14-time All Star, 4-time NBA champion, an MVP, and a 10-time All-NBA first team, Duncan’s accolades don’t even summarize how great he truly is.

No disrespect to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, both great players  as well and deserve to be on the list of all-time NBA greats, but Duncan should be worth more than both of them. Duncan isn’t the steal of my team at $3, but he is the second steal.

With a team with three prime shooters and good defenders, Duncan down low makes my team’s defense exponentially better. He is second all-time in Defensive Win Shares to the great Bill Russell, making him the best among active players and he also is the best among active players in overall Win Shares. He is the fifth most efficient active player in the league with a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.56 and first among active power forwards. Duncan can grab 11 rebounds per game and give me 2 blocks per game, which is more icing on the cake for me defensively.

Offensively, the story isn’t any different. Duncan averages 19.86 points per game and an effective field goal percentage of 50.67%, making him just as efficient on offense as he is on defense. So not only do I have a power forward that can rebound efficiently on offense and defense, shutdown inside shots, and give me about 19-20 points a game, I have in my opinion the best power forward in the game.

For only $3.

If you were counting the dollars, I have one dollar left so you can guess who I have at center.

Center – Hakeem Olajuwon $1

Remember how I said Duncan was my second steal? THIS IS MY STEAL!

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who is 4th in Basketball-Reference.com’s Elo Player Ratings, a community-based project ranking the best players in NBA history, one of the best defensive and efficient players, is worth one dollar?

Give me an orange jumpsuit and a chain gang because I just committed a robbery.

I’m not going to say Olajuwon should be worth $5 (I’m not that crazy), but I would say he should be $2 and O’Neal should be $1. Olajuwon is one of the greatest centers of all-time and one of the greatest NBA players of all-time. In his career, Olajuwon scored 26,949 points, ranking him 11th on the all-time leaderboard for points. Olajuwon also had a defensive rating of 97.89, thanks to his 11.1 rebounds per game, 3.1 blocks per game, and 1.7 steals per game. And last but not least, he had a career Player Efficiency Rating of 23.6, ranking him 16th all-time. O’Neal had a higher efficiency rating, but aside from that, Olajuwon trumps him in the other categories.

Olajuwon is the force down low both offensively and defensively, not to mention he was also a 2-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star. And come on, the Rockets took Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 draft, the same draft one Michael Jordan was in. They knew something so I’m not going to pass on having “The Dream” on my dream team.

So let’s recap.

Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon. These five all-stars for $15. That’s one amazing team.

Obviously, without the salary cap, this team would be completely different. My five would be Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But that’s another article for another day.

 

 

BM Finish Line

The Men in the Wheelchair

This article was an assignment for my Feature Writing course the first semester of my junior year at Boston College. The assignment was to go to a location off-campus and sit and observe for an hour and detail what you see. I chose to visit the finish line of the Boston Marathon and this is what I saw. 

It’s 2:19 pm on a cool Wednesday autumn afternoon and in the midpoint of Boylston Street between Exeter Street and Dartmouth Street lies a stretch of yellow paint with the word “FINISH” in navy blue letters. The ambiance is serene as if you were walking by the Charles River walking by or taking a stroll with your dog. At the epicenter of this street sits a man, motionless in his wheelchair, with a shopping cart full of soiled clothing.

With a 7 Eleven cup in his hand facing west of Boylston street, it’s as if he is replaying events that occurred on this street. Five months ago, this man would have had a front row seat to the Boston Marathon bombings and the chaos that followed the explosions. Citizens, law enforcement, medical staff, all spring into action on April 15th, 2013, but today, September 18th, 2013, the man sits their on his wheelchair, with no one offering any help.

A man dressed in a white shirt and a black tie sits on a bench across from the man in the wheelchair. Sipping on his Red Bull and smoking a cigarette, the man pauses and takes in the calm autumn day, relishing the serene nature of the street. A street once filled with thousands of cheers and then thousands of screams of panic now lies dormant, with only footsteps to be heard. All the while, pedestrians pass by the man in the wheelchair as he sits there in the same position, 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes in the direction of where the bombs went off.

Cars, taxis, and buses drive by the finish line. The 55 bus stops in front of the north side of Boston Public Library and by the door lies a sticker in the shape of ribbon with blue and yellow colors and a “T” in the center of the ribbon. Off in the distance, a siren blares. As the ambulance approaches the finish line, the sirens cease for a moment as if to observe a moment of silence. The ambulance crosses the finish line and at the intersection of Boylston and Dartmouth Street, blares its sirens as it begins to accelerate. It’s 2:40 p.m. and the man still sits there in the wheelchair with a 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes still fixated west on Boylston Street.

A young man dressed in tattered clothing approaches the man in the wheelchair and begins a conversation with him. While it is quiet, the conversation is inaudible due to the myriad of footsteps and speeding cars passing by. The young man departs leaving some wires on top of the shopping cart of clothes and approaches a man smoking a cigarette to ask for one. A couple walks by with the man wearing no shirt and tattered jeans and the woman wearing an unclean sweater and flip-flops. There is a man lying down in front of the subway entrance on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth. For an entire minute, 33 people pass by the man in the wheelchair without putting anything into his 7 Eleven cup.

Suddenly, the man struggles to get up and walks towards the young man he was conversing with earlier. He tells the young man he needs to use the bathroom so the young man takes the 7 Eleven cup and replaces the man in his wheelchair. Nothing else happens. The young man sits there in the wheelchair facing the same direction as the old man with a 7 Eleven cup in his right hand.

Five months ago, these men may have been helped. Five months ago, every one in the vicinity of the bombings was evacuated and brought to safety. Five months ago, the city of Boston was united against terrorism and everyone sought to help out those unable to help themselves. Five months later, two men took turns sitting in wheelchairs hoping they too would be assisted just like the victims. Three middle-aged individuals approached the man with the black tie to ask about the bombings, but strolled by the men in the wheelchair asking for assistance. Five months ago still reigned over a moment happening in the present.

Across the street stood the Charlesmark Hotel with a banner in the middle of the building reading, “Charlesmark Strong. What Big Papi Said.” Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz cried out to Bostonians in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, “This is our (expletive) city!” Five months later, two men in a wheelchair wait for helping hands of their own along with many other displaced individuals at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

BM Finish Line

Fox Docs on Youth Sports

This is not a video I did (although I wish I did), but I thought it would be cool to share on my blog.

I work at WNYW-Fox 5 New York and a new series called Fox Docs debuted on July 7th. It’s short documentaries and then first one was right up my alley.

Reporter Dan Bowens went out to see the safety of youth sports today with the growing number of injuries.

Like the video and subscribe to the MyFoxNY YouTube channel.

Stay safe.