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The SportsTalk Shop: Two Classy Guys

August 17, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the most professional and highly regarded people in the sports world recently for our “RCN SportsTalk” show (you can see these shows in their entirety through RCN On-Demand and on our podcasts.

Merrill Reese is the longest-serving current team announcer in the NFL and has become the sports voice of the entire Delaware Valley region.  Growing up in a region that already featured broadcasting icons By Saam, Bill Campbell, Gene Hart, Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, Reese’s calls are as memorable as nearly any Eagles play on the field since 1977.  Like Kalas, many of the Birds’ greatest moments and team highlights are accompanied by Reese’s calls, and the Eagles’ main radio affiliate, WIP, synchronizes their broadcast with television stations, so that people watching the game can turn down the TV announcers, and hear Merrill’s calls in real time.  Many local stations’ nightly sportscasters, when showing highlights of the Eagles, will stop talking so viewers can hear Reese’s voice and opinions as a play unfolds.

It wouldn’t be a true Eagles game if their fans couldn’t hear Merrill’s calls either during or after the game.  It was great to speak with him recently and get his thoughts on the Eagles training camp, the team’s biggest roster additions, and his outlook on the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants.

Tony Gwynn, Jr. is the son of baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Sr., and has carved out a nice career for himself–currently playing with the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate.  Like his dad, Gwynn, Jr. plays the game hard and rarely makes mental mistakes, and has always treated his teammates, coaches, fans, and the game itself, with the upmost respect.  I had a chance to interview both father and son a few times over the years when they were in Philadelphia—Tony, Sr. as a visiting player and Tony, Jr. when he played first against, and then for, Philadelphia.  Few people come close to this pair who combined professionalism with great baseball insights.  It was my pleasure to once again catch up with Tony, Jr. recently to speak with him about some current baseball issues, along with his memories of his father.

 

Here are samples of both of our interviews.

 

 

 

It’s wonderful enough to get an opportunity to spend a few minutes with a “big name” in the sports world, but it is incredibly rewarding when you have an opportunity to meet a special person in the sports world and revisit with them from time to time.  Both Merrill and Tony not only have a world of knowledge regarding their respective sports, but also they turn out to be great people when the cameras are turned off.

 

Keep watching our “SportsTalk” shows and check in for more special interviews here at the “SportsTalk Shop” as we continue to feature more of the great sports personalities in the RCN region.

The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Year Predictions – Part 2

August 11, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Recently here at the “Shop,” we took a look at some of the predictions I made last winter to see how I did.  Today, I look ahead to the next several months and guarantee* they come true!

1)  PREDICTION:  This fall’s HS football season will be more competitive than last year’s.
Last year, it was virtually Parkland and Easton as the favorites in District XI’s EPC league and Northwestern and Southern Lehigh, with Saucon Valley rising to prominence in the Colonial League.  There seemed to be a “next level” of several teams right below the top squads, and then another grouping of teams below them.  This made for a rather predictable season, with hardly any upsets or teams beating other squads not quite at the same talent-level.  While the Trojans and Red Rovers are the early favorites once again in the EPC, I see several teams stepping up and providing tougher competition, making for a more balanced schedule this fall.  Also, among the Colonial teams, Saucon Valley is the only one of the top three that didn’t suffer a huge number of graduate losses and many of the league’s teams that struggled in 2014 will be improved.  After the Panthers?  I could see Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Southern Lehigh, Pen Argyl, Palmerton and maybe even Salisbury, Wilson or another team all playing competitive football.

I think it will be much more difficult for the football prognosticators to accurately figure out which teams will have the most success, and make for many more “even” games to watch this fall.  For more on the upcoming high school football season, make sure you tune into our “SportsTalk: HS Football Preview” show on RCN-TV on Thursday, August 27, at 7pm—complete with coach and player interviews, insights, analysis, and predictions on many of the teams in the RCN coverage area.

2)   PREDICTION:  Emotions will be running at an all-time high for Eagles fans this season.
We’ll be talking more about the Birds on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show with legendary play-by-play broadcaster Merrill Reese, complete with his thoughts on the team’s offseason moves and updates from Eagles training camp.  But regardless of how Philadelphia does this fall, when you tear apart a team—personnel-wise—and move some of the region’s most popular players for ‘high-risk’ returns (see Kiko Alonso’s concussion injury this weekend), fans have been stirred-up for this team well before training camp even started this summer.  The overly passionate fan base has been building emotional steam for months and it won’t take much for people to start boiling over and voicing their excitement/anger (based on a win or loss) with Chip Kelly early and often this fall.

3)  “Stone-Cold Lock” PREDICTION:  The next 12 months will be a banner year for DC sports fans.
I think the Nationals will persevere through an incredible amount of injuries.  The Mets did make some nice moves at the non-waiver deadline, but I still believe that quality pitching—and Washington has a ton—must get the edge.  The impressive return of Stephen Strasburg this weekend can only help, and I think the Nats will soon gain momentum and retake the NL East League.  Even if they don’t and have to settle for a Wild Card berth, with the arms the Nationals have, I think they can challenge any potential National League opponent, perhaps with the exception of the Dodgers, the team that scares me the most.

But the Nats’ potential deep run in the playoffs won’t be the only reason for optimism for Washington sports fans in the near future.  The Redskins will have six wins and improved play (and boast closer margins in their losses than last year).  I also think Georgetown—in both football and basketball—will have solid campaigns.  If you haven’t noticed, Mike Lonergan has transformed the George Washington men’s basketball program and shows no signs of slowing down, and American will again be a major force in what’s shaping up to be another competitive Patriot League season.

I also think the Wizards and Capitals will also continue to improve on the court and ice, respectively, all making for what I feel could be the best stretch of professional and collegiate sports action the DC area has seen in decades.

And even if the Nats don’t get to the World Series—which, granted, will be a major disappointment, they still have a boat-load of talent that will return.  The Nats will still have work to do in the off-season picking and choosing which of their free agents they will bring back, but I think with Max Scherzer in tow, anchoring the staff, there won’t be a major drop-off in 2016.

There you have it.  Mark it down…and we’ll check back to see in a few months how these predictions fared.

*NOTE: ”guaranteed” is used in the most relative-term possible.

The SportsTalk Shop: Nationals/Phillies Post-Deadline Analysis

August 3, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With a flurry of activity for both the Nationals and Phillies prior to the non-waiver MLB trade deadline, here’s a rundown on what happened, why it transpired, and what to watch for going forward.

(Because of all the MLB news affecting teams in the RCN coverage area, my “2nd half predictions” blog entry teased last week, will be posted next week).

  • Papelbon to the Nationals

There may never have been a more successful Phillies pitcher whose departure stirred less emotion than Jonathan Papelbon.   Even as he takes a couple shots at the Phillies after the trade (his latest rant on 106.7 “The Fan” in DC includes being labeled “the scapegoat” for Philly’s failings), Philadelphia’s all-time saves leader never caught on with the fan base and always seemed to say the wrong things at the wrong times.  His ill-fated comments included openly championing for his trade for the last year (or more), which obviously killed the Phillies’ chances of an equal value exchange.  Given all these obstacles in trying to get anything for the highest-paid reliever in baseball history, the Phillies got a nice piece (Nick Pivetta) in return.

Despite Papelbon’s off-field antics, adding a reliever was a move the Nationals HAD to do.  In a year in which so much is riding on the team’s success, and so many free agents-to-be looming this offseason, Washington has to go all-in.  The friction Pap will cause (or perhaps has already caused with former closer Drew Storen), is an unfortunate side effect the team will have to deal with.  The team gave up very little—prospect-wise–and got salary relief on a first-rate closer while avoiding drastically overpaying in any trade involving other available top relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel).  In fact, the only thing Washington could have done was to try to get a diamond-in-the-rough/middle-relief option (like Jeanmar Gomez?) to help out their bridge to the later innings.  Baggage included, and with regret to Storen, (who unjustly gets bumped from his closer role for the third time in his career), this was a solid move for Washington.

Look for the Nats to continue searching for hidden gems over the next few weeks (prior to the waiver deadline on Aug. 31st) as they try to add talent, especially with the Mets making a huge splash of their own.

  • Cole Hamels to the Rangers

This was a far more emotionally draining move for the Philadelphia fan base, and the initial impressions were that the Phillies didn’t get enough for Cole (this spring on “SportsTalk,” I suggested a Hamels-for-Joey Gallo and another prospect swap, or maybe Hamels for Nomar Mazara and Chi Chi Gonzalez).

When breaking down this deal, one must remember the landscape for making trades has changed.  There is a greater emphasis on teams keeping young, blue-chip talent.  A “controllable” position player is a premium, and if the Phillies demanded one of the Rangers top prospects (Gallo, Mazara, Gonzalez), they ran the risk of not getting an adequate haul for their ace.  Who could forget the Cliff Lee-to-Seattle trade?  Imagine the outcry if the return for Hamels would result in another three players who did squat for the franchise.  Learning from their mistake in that deal (and also the ones dispatching Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino), the Phillies settled for lesser prospects (according to Baseball America) in exchange for more bodies.  The hedge is that, the more young players available in the organization, the greater the chance that some will help the parent club one day, thereby substantiating the return for Cole Hamels was worth the move.

The final analysis of this trade will take at least two to three years to properly evaluate.  But on the surface, it looks like the deal was a solid decision for Philadelphia.  They clearly weren’t winning with him, through no fault of Hamels, and as I said on this blog this past spring, their prime need in a few years may be to acquire a Hamels-like ace, and they might have to overpay to get him.   However, the Phillies have clearly shown that money will not be a hindrance to moving forward with the organization’s on-field success (as evidence by their taking on cash in all recent moves).  When the Phillies do feel ready to make a run at the playoffs, they can add a big money guy through free agency.

  • Ben Revere to the Blue Jays

While you usually have to wait to rate a prospect-filled trade as a success or failure, I feel comfortable in saying this was another “win” for Philadelphia, given the following:

  • They already have a centerfielder with a similar skill set in Odubel Herrera. Revere is more established, a better base stealer and contact hitter, but Herrera has more upside potential, a better arm, more power and is cheaper.   On a winning team, it’s doubtful both players could play at the same time on a regular basis, so Revere’s exodus opens up a spot for a more “tool-sy” player.
  • Revere is arbitration-eligible and probably would have gotten a nice raise based on his statistics for next season.  Now, that money can go to fill in one of the other short-term goals the Phillies will need to address.
  • Revere is a complementary piece on a team that is close to a playoff race. By the time the Phillies are heavy contenders again, Revere will probably be a free agent.
  • While neither pitcher they got in return is a blue chipper, the one (Jimmy Cordero) is a high risk-high reward guy, who has potential, to be a Major League closer some day. But even if neither Codero nor Alberto Tirado reaches the Big Leagues, they add much needed pitching depth to the organization.

What are your thoughts on the Nationals and Phillies deadline deals?  Should Storen have been bumped from the closer role?  Should the Phillies have held on to Hamels until at least the offseason and try to get a greater return?  Email your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we might read your comments on the Thursday, August 13th edition of “RCN SportsTalk,” live at 7pm.  Our guests will include Philly.com Sports Writer Jeff Moeller and WGPA host Jack Logic to analyze these deals further and look ahead to the playoff race.  You can also catch the podcast of the show at rcn.com/atvn/sports-talk .

The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Year Predictions/Evaluations – Part 1

July 27, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Sure, anyone can do predictions at the beginning of the year.

Making bold predictions is a natural column/blog post/show host monologue for media members to produce at the end of December and the beginning of January.  Coming on the heels of all the “year-in-review” stuff, it makes a natural segue to predicting things for the upcoming year.  (BTW, a neat trick among radio hosts is to make several earth-shattering predictions at this time, then bring them up if they come true.  If they don’t, how many people have remembered what you falsely predicted months before??)

But it takes a true prognosticator —or at least a very good imposter—to re-examine those predictions made in January, and then, in the interest of full disclosure, follow up on how those predictions are fairing.

So before we make predictions for the rest of the year (which will come in next week’s blog entry), here is a listing of predictions/observations I made this past winter on “SportsTalk,” and the truthful, and sometimes painful, realities of each one.

  • PREDICTION:  The Phillies will be bad.

OUTCOME:  While I could certainly brag that I got this one correct—especially after the Phillies had a six game winning streak and people started arguing with me that they had a shot to make the playoffs—I must admit that I didn’t think that they would be THIS horrific.  We’re talking “Sam Hinkie Year-One Tanking” bad here.  True, by being historically dreadful, they’ve allowed themselves a very realistic opportunity to snarl the number-one pick in next year’s draft.  But a top MLB draft pick isn’t always a guarantee as in the NFL or NBA, and there are a lot of empty seats that need to be filled at Citizen Bank Park for the team to be this horrendous.  Whether bandwagon-jumping is appropriate or not, fans will return when this team eventually gets good again.  In the meantime, however, the organization is taking some well-placed slings-and-arrows by media pundits from around the country for its putrid play, and racking up more losses at a pace faster than any other squad in the franchise’s history.  Even with this mirage of an 8-1 record since this All-Star break, I didn’t think the team would lose as many games as they will eventually accumulate—assuming, of course, that the team unloads its top players this week as they appear they’d like to do.

  • PREDICTION:  The Redskins will have a successful NFL Draft under new GM Scot McCloughan.

OUTCOME:  I would again say I was correct, but I’m not sure I was completely convinced that it was as highly successful a draft as I thought it would be.  Brandon Scherff is a good choice for a team that needed a major boost on the offensive line and I really liked Preston Smith to improve the defense.  However, I wasn’t overly enthralled with any of the other picks.  One can argue that the top picks are the ones that count the most, but I could argue that the first couple rounds are also the easiest (along with the most risky) to successfully select.  From the experts I talked with who covered the Redskins’ mini-camp sessions this summer, the team will definitely be improved this fall.  However, I didn’t see them make that “diamond-in-the-rough” addition that I thought the ‘Skins might be able to pick up…not yet, anyway.

  • PREDICTION: The Flyers will bounce back.

OUTCOME:  While I would love to lay down a verbal bait-and-switch here and say that by “bouncing back,” I meant that GM Ron Hextall would pull off a flurry of post-season moves, clearing cap space and acquiring young talent.  However, since I have hooked my fingers to a truthometer here on my keyboard, I must admit that I was referring to the team playing better in the second half of the ’14-’15 campaign.  While it ultimately proved better for the team to not make the playoffs and get a better slot in the NHL draft with a lower, out-of-the-playoffs finish, I still have to withstand a blow for this incorrect prediction and admit that the team did not rebound enough to qualify for the post-season, as I had suggested in late December.

Be sure to check back next week here at the “SportsTalk Shop” for part two of our “predictions” series, as I’ll address some scholastic prognosis, as well as a “Stone Cold Lock” I’ll present for the sports fans in the Washington DC area.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Summer Basketball Update

July 22, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

It’s always a little unusual that the hottest time of the year usually coincides with a sport most closely associated with the winter sports season.  However, July is a time when there’s a number of basketball tournaments played in both the Washington, DC and Pennsylvania areas.

I had the chance this weekend to check out one of them—the “A-town Throw Down”—and see some of the action, as well as uncover some developing storylines worth watching as we head closer to the scholastic regular season.

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OBSERVATION #1: I would NOT categorize Nazareth’s championship as a “major upset.”
This was quite the topic of conversation on Sunday as the Blue Eagles dispatched the defending Eastern Pennsylvania Conference & District XI champs—and the favorites to win this tournament—before going on to defeating Central Catholic in the final.  Anyone who watched Nazareth during the final weeks of last winter’s season—and I had the chance to see them four times—could tell you that this team was maturing…and building confidence…as a unit.  Yes, a look at the box scores of their last two meetings with the Trojans indicates Parkland blow-outs.  However, Nazareth had to overcome a couple key injuries, had athletes playing varsity for the first time ever, and had to play guys out of position…and still put together a very impressive run to first qualify, then to advance deep, in the District XI playoffs.

Furthermore, Nazareth had won three of its five games in the previous week’s tournament, and the underclassmen (Johan Dotson, Kevin Wagner) look much more comfortable playing against the other top teams in the area over this past weekend.  Both Dotson and Wagner exhibited great skill during the regular season and seemed like they would emerge as standout players in the area…and that time came on Sunday with impressive showings in both their semifinal and final contests.  Parkland will still clearly be the team to beat this winter, but the Eagles will not be sneaking up on any teams next season.

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N3

N4

It was a good tournament for all the Allentown teams.  Central Catholic also had an impressive showing in advancing to the tourney’s last contest (a fact that also should not be a surprise—if you read my blog on the Vikings last month, that is).  The Vikings are mixing some returning players with new talent.  Dieruff had a nice showing and recorded an impressive win over Reading.  Although Allen didn’t make the final two games, they did feature a number of returning players and had some impressive moments this past weekend and look to be among the top EPC teams again in the coming months.

OBSERVATION #2:  Bethlehem Catholic will be better this season.
I doubt teams will be able to beat up on the Golden Hawks again this season.  While they didn’t make it to the semifinals, I was impressed by the confidence—offensively—I saw among the Becahi players.  They were matched up against some strong competition this weekend, and constantly attacked the basket and acted aggressively in both passing and taking shot attempts.  I think they still have to work on their defense and develop a little more consistency overall, but after a very disappointing season, I think the future is very bright for the Hawks as they embark on a new era under new Head Coach Ray Barbosa.

B3 B2 B1

OBSERVATION #3:  The Return of the “Big Bangers”
There is no way to unequivocally say that what one sees over the summer will translate into the winter, indoor season.  However, for a couple days, I was impressed by several big men who seem to play “Old School” and demand the basketball—then knew what to do with it when they got it.  The game has evolved so that guards and small forwards are usually the go-to players, but a few centers really seemed to battle and work hard in the paint this past weekend.

One of the players who fit this bill was Whitehall’s Logan McKinley. 

W5

Against Del Val Charter and Hempfield, McKinley was constantly contested, hooked and bumped around by his opposing big men, but held his own and gave a shove-or-two in return.  Just as impressively he showed excellent footwork and good fundamentals in providing solid offense for his Zephyrs.  In fact, even when he was on this bench, it was Eric Johnson coming in and exhibiting some nice inside moves.  Whitehall graduated nearly its entire team from last year, but if they can get quality minutes from their big men to go along with rising sophomore Mikey Esquilian, the Zephs could be right back in the district playoff hunt again this winter.

OBSERVATION #4:  Defense is still important.
While stressing defense is always a key to winning teams, the defensive efforts sometimes wane during the summer leagues—especially on a weekend as hot as it was this year.  However, I have to give a shout-out to Liberty’s Amir Griffin.

The Hurricanes were in a tied ballgame with their tournament future up for grabs and found themselves on defense at the end of their game.  When the team came over to its huddle during the timeout, it was the players who wanted Amir to guard CB West’s top player with the game on the line.

L1 L2

There’s no question the Hurricanes have some big-time offensive weapons returning for the 2015-16 season and will once again be among the area’s elite teams, but it always good to recognize the top defensive players, as they don’t always seem to get the publicity that the top offensive players do.

Don’t forget, you can see more great summertime basketball.  Coming up next week will be the 26th Annual Catasauqua Tournament of Champions to be held at the Catty Playground once again this season.  RCN-TV will once again broadcast the title game on Thursday, July 30th.

The SportsTalk Shop: Joetta Clark Diggs

July 13, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

One of my most treasured benefits of my job is the opportunity to meet and interact with so many outstanding personalities on the East Coast.  There are many sports legends who reside in, or from time-to-time pass through, the RCN-TV coverage areas.  I could probably fill several blog entries just sharing the names and stories of the nationally-known athletes, coaches and broadcasters whom I have had the incredibly good fortune of sharing a few minutes (or sometimes longer) with, and hearing about so many wonderful experiences.

One of those truly special people I have had a chance to meet was former Olympic track-and-field star, Joetta Clark Diggs.  Here is just a sample of her athletic accomplishments:

  • 4-TIME OLYMPIAN: 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000
  • SELECTED AS USA TEAM CAPTAIN (2000)
  • RANKED IN TOP 10 IN THE WORLD FROM 1991-2000 (Until Retirement)
  • SELECTED TO “WHO’S WHO” OF AMERICAN WOMEN — 2000
  • INDUCTED INTO THE US TRACK & FIELD HALL OF FAME
  • INDUCTED INTO THE NJ HALL OF FAME
  • INDUCTED INTO THE UNIV. OF TENNESSEE HALL OF FAME
  • INDUCTED INTO PENN RELAYS HALL OF FAME

Actually, her title is not just a “former Olympian”, a title which, for many of us, would be a wonderfully special title to own.  Joetta is an accomplished motivation speaker, author, coach, social affairs advocate and spokesperson.  She is an incredibly engaging personality who has done remarkable work both in and out of the sports world.  Clark-Diggs was also inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (not just the “Sports” Hall of Fame) for all of her efforts.

She is one of the true diamonds in the RCN viewing area, not just for her past work, but I found out that she is continuing to do work with young people in the Eastern Pennsylvania regions.  She continues to talk about her life lessons with middle and high school athletes, in addition to being one of the top track-and-field minds you will ever find.  In fact, she is running a new camp and will be giving us more details on this and other exciting new projects she is working on when she stops by our “SportsTalk” set for this Thursday’s show (live, 7-8pm).  Joetta also has some great insights on current regional and national sports issues that she will be sharing with us on the program’s “roundtable” segment.

“SportsTalk” co-host Joe Craig and I had the honor of interviewing Joetta previously, to learn about her tremendous career, her experiences participating in four Olympic games, her family’s support, and their accomplishments and relationship with each other.  She also shared her unique experience of having her father portrayed in a major motion picture (her dad is Joe Louis Clark, who was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the 1989 film “Lean On Me.”)  Here is a sample of that interview.

Which other sports personalities who live and work in the RCN viewing area deserve extra attention for their efforts and accomplishments?  Is there a former or current athlete you’d like us to invite on our “SportsTalk” show?  Send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your suggestions and keep tuning in as we talk with more great sports personalities each Thursday on RCN-TV and catch our recent shows on our podcast and through RCN On-Demand.

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL & MLB News & Trade Rumors

July 6, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day weekend.  I’m not sure if it was just that this year’s “Fourth” fell on a Saturday, but it seemed like I encountered more energy, patriotism and general feelings of goodwill throughout my travels…and I hope the same was true for you!

Now, the post-July 4th season kicks in…which is usually an interesting time, pro sports-wise, in our DC/Philadelphia coverage area.  There was the trade…or, more appropriately, the ‘diamond-mine heist,’ that 76ers GM Sam Hinkie pulled off.  In case you were on vacation, Philadelphia secured a promising shooting guard, two solid role-playing forwards, an additional first-round selection and a unique, but brilliant, draft-swap option from the Kings.  They gave up two lower-level 2015 draft picks who probably would not have even been on the team’s Opening Day roster.  The Wizards made a great pick-up themselves in adding sharpshooter Gary Neal with various rumors swirling about Paul Pierce, Kevin Seraphin and others.  The Flyers were not outdone as they made some tremendous moves clearing cap space while adding young talent, which has revitalized their fan base after a disappointing season.

And that’s just the pro sports in the RCN region that WON’T be playing this month!

The Major League Baseball season of course is in full swing with the non-waiver trade deadline looming, and within a few weeks, the pads will be colliding across the country as all NFL training camps will be open.  We had the good fortune of speaking with sports writer extraordinaire, Associated Press’ Rob Maaddi, to get his insights on the latest developments with the Phillies, the Nationals’ hunt for a championship, and his thoughts on the storylines to watch for the Eagles, Redskins and the teams in the NFC East.  Here’s a portion of our interview (the entire show is available to watch on RCN On-Demand).

The Phillies were also active in the international market.  Philadelphia already selected highly-prized power hitter Jhailyn Ortiz, along with catcher Rafael Marchan, pitcher Manuel Silva and middle-infield prospect Keudi Bocio.  They also shipped two lower-level minor leagues and their number-nine international slots to the Diamondbacks to acquire the number-one international position, which allows the team to spend a greater allotment of money on signing free agents without being subject to drafting penalties.  Expect more Phillies moves over the next couple of weeks.

Whether your team has a mountain of expectations (Nationals, Eagles), or they’re building for the future (Redskins, Phillies), the next several weeks will be interesting for local sports fans and something to monitor in-between enjoying your summer activities!

 

Celebrity Basketball

June 30, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

One of the great things about my job and working at RCN is our involvement in the local community.  I’m very proud that RCN sponsors so many community events and our staff spends countless hours participating in charity functions and activities throughout the year.  I was also thrilled to hear that our own “SportsTalk” show gets to play a small part in a fund raising event going on this summer with our shows from Buffalo Wild Wings in Whitehall, PA .

I also have the good fortune to speak with young students from the college level down through middle schools, discussing the broadcasting industry, sports of all sorts, and on working in today’s fast-paced media environment.  One of my favorite experiences is being asked to participate in charity sports events…and I had that pleasure once again very recently, thanks to the Diocese of Allentown.

Each year they have a “Catholic Schools Week,” in which many events take place highlighting students’ abilities during the fiveday stretch.  I participated again this year in their annual “celebrity” (and I DO use that term lightly) basketball game, playing against up-and-coming basketball talents—as well as teachers and administrators—from their Sacred Heart Middle School.  Our team was comprised of local head basketball coaches, including new Dieruff Head Coach Joe Jarjous (who was raining-in three-point shots all afternoon), politicians and media members. 

In addition to getting great exercise (the other team seems to gets better every year), I get an opportunity to get a sneak peak and do some scouting for the not-too-distant-future Central Catholic high school  team—a program we see regularly on our RCN-TV broadcasts.  I know the Vikings had a good year this past season, but  this year’s group of young athletes might just be the best collection of basketball players I’ve seen at this event.  If the players I saw continue to work hard and play like they did against us (I know, we’re not the toughest competition in the world), Central Catholic will definitely be in the conversation of league favorites in the next couple of seasons.

More importantly, this event is an opportunity to meet young people up-close-and-personal and get to talk with them.   It’s wonderful to hear students’ great achievements from their teachers and administrators, and to interact with a new generation of wonderful people.  Here are some of the photos from this year’s event.

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If, by chance, you’re looking for photos of  me, or video of my “highlights” (and I also use that term EXTREMELY lightly), I’m saddened to report that those files were destroyed by a rapidly moving fire outdoors behind my office.   And the final score is not important and should take a back seat to just enjoying the experience (yes, we lost).  Besides, it’s more important that we focus on the young people here in today’s blog entry…right?

In all seriousness, my thanks to Principal Jim Krupka and his wonderful staff and colleagues within the Diocese for inviting me each year and for making us visitors always feel very welcomed at their school.  It is great to see our young students getting together, screaming their lungs out for a meaningless game, and being involved in a community event.  I charge everyone to try to get outside this summer and get involved in your community…whether its participating in a charity event, or just going to see a show or youth sports event in the upcoming months.  It does feel good to see positive young people doing something they love.

Don’t forget, we’re always on the lookout for outstanding achievements by today’s young people and big events that you would like the public to hear about.   Send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we might just include your comments on our “ShoutOut” segment on an upcoming “RCN SportsTalk” episode!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The End of an Era

June 23, 2015 By Cathy Neelon Leave a Comment

Guest blogger, Cathy Neelon, is filling in while Chris takes some time off.  Cathy is a member of the RCN-TV staff and an avid fan of horse racing.  Chris will return with a new blog June 29.
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Saturday, June 6, 2015…

There I was, hunched over in my seat at Coca-Cola Park, in the midst of a crowd of waving, hollering IronPigs fans. With eyes closed and fingers jamming my earbuds as far into my ears as they could go without coming out the other side, I desperately tried to shut out all the noise and distraction so I could hear the faint sound of the radio broadcast of this year’s Belmont Stakes.

The closer to post time it got, the more hunched over I got, the more I ignored or waved off any attempts to engage me in conversation, and the more I wondered why oh why I had come to the game in the first place when my attention was clearly not on what was happening on the field right in front of me.

During the race itself, I was still as stone, listening to the call, gripping my smartphone, almost breathless, not daring to believe what I was hearing as the horses made their way down the backstretch, then rounded the far turn into home. During the run down the homestretch, I quickly wondered – after all the years of disappointments and near-misses, when would American Pharoah lose this one? Which horse would be the one to thwart yet another promising attempt at the title? Would I ever see another Triple Crown champion in my lifetime?

And then I had my answer.

The first words to go through my mind?

Holy…

I was stunned. He’d done it. I was shocked. American Pharoah was the Triple Crown champion. I almost couldn’t believe it. After so many fabulously hyped and talented horses had tried and failed, this colt had found success.

And somewhere in the background, I think there was a baseball game going on…

As most of my RCN Studio colleagues could tell you, I have long been a rabid fan of the Triple Crown races. Chris Michael himself could probably attest to the number of times that I’ve bugged him to include a horse racing topic in the ‘Roundtable’ section of “RCN Sports Talk” or piped in with a suggestion for an equine ‘Shoutout’ when Derby time came around each year. What many of my colleagues might not realize is exactly how long I’ve been a fan. And what I did not fully appreciate until this past Triple Crown season is just how much my experience of those three races has changed over the years.

My first Derby-Preakness-Belmont viewing came in 1977, the year of the sensational Seattle Slew. Cable TV was around, but not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. We certainly didn’t have it yet at my house, so, like most of America, I watched the three races live on broadcast network TV. Like cable, consumer-grade VCRs were around but the market was still in a relative infancy, so chances were if you missed a race live, you were out of luck and had to wait to read about it in the newspaper the next day.

No doubt as a result of those early viewing limitations, the Triple Crown races became my first true “appointment TV”. For years afterward, on those three Saturday afternoons each year, you would not have been able to budge me from my lonely spot in front of the TV until the very end of each broadcast. Even now, my first inclination is to plant myself firmly in front of my TV at home and tune out as much of the rest of the world as possible. Don’t try to call me, don’t ask me to go out, don’t knock on the door – I won’t answer. It’s race time and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

However, times change. Technologies change. Personal circumstances change. I grew up, graduated from college and went to work for a TV production studio where occasionally I have to – gasp! – work on one or more of those sacred Saturday afternoons in May and June.

Usually the culprit has been our Grandview Speedway coverage. My fellow crew members on those productions have seen me go through contortions to get my live Derby-Preakness-or-Belmont fix.

A couple of times, I’ve poked my head through one of the side windows at the Grandview concession stand if they’ve had the race running on the TV in the kitchen; one of those times, I had to resort to listening to it on my old Sony Walkman (remember those?) while watching it because the volume on Grandview’s set was either turned off or busted. Most other times, when the kitchen TV was turned off, I listened to the races on the radio, either with the aforementioned Walkman or, more recently, with an app on my smartphone – pacing up and down behind the stands trying to find the quietest spot possible. At least two of those Saturdays ended in rainouts in Bechtelsville, and I either managed to catch the races on the set back at the studio office or had to settle for listening on the car radio on the drive back.

Despite all of those contortions and non-traditional viewing methods, all of those years had one thing in common. I managed to watch at least one of the three races per my original “appointment TV” mandate – live, alone, and in front of a traditional TV set.

And that held true for a long time. Until this year.

This year’s Kentucky Derby saw me at home, but with a dead TV set. I hadn’t yet signed up for MyRCN, so I couldn’t watch the Derby live online – and I was forced to listen to it through a radio app on my laptop computer. Hours later, I was able to watch a clip of NBC’s race coverage that had been posted on YouTube.

This year’s Preakness Stakes saw me at Grandview, pacing up and down by the production truck, earbuds in place as I listened to my smartphone app and relayed the dreadful Baltimore weather conditions and gratifying race results to my fellow crew members. Grandview ended up raining out that day and as soon as I got home, I popped onto YouTube to check the clips.

This year’s Belmost Stakes, as I mentioned back at the beginning of this post, saw me at Coca-Cola Park at an IronPigs game. In addition to listening live on my smartphone app, I was able to watch a delayed replay of the majority of the race on the park’s huge videoboard when the guys in the booth showed it between half-innings. Later on, there was the obligatory YouTube clip check at home and the reading of just about every online newspaper article on the race that I could find.

When I’d first realized the date on the game ticket, I had seriously considered staying home and giving my ticket away. It struck me that if American Pharoah won the Belmont, as he seemed likely to do, I would have experienced this Triple Crown in a completely different way than the last one 37 years ago.

1978 – I watched Affirmed take the Crown – on old-school live broadcast TV right down the line.
2015 – I “watched” American Pharoah take the Crown – via an weird amalgam of Internet, WiFi, radio, cable TV, websites, apps, mobile phone, videoboard and laptop computer.

Oh, what a strange new world…

One that I doubt my eleven-year-old self could ever have imagined.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Spring Sports ’15 Wrap

June 15, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

RCN’s coverage of the state baseball playoffs this past weekend officially concludes the scholastic sports season in the RCN viewing area in Pennsylvania and the Washington, DC regions.

First, a few “shout-outs” for outstanding achievements for the spring sports season.

In the DC area, Bishop O’Connell HS softball coach Tommy Orndorff coached his 700th win as his Lady Knights defeated PVI, 10-0, in six innings.  The win came later in the season, making Coach Orndorff one of only a handful of coaches in the region—-in any sport—to win that many games.  Orndorff has coached at the school for 30 years and has compiled a winning percentage just south of .900.  In addition, he has led his squad to 19 Virginia Independent School State Tournament Championships and 21 Catholic League Tourney Titles.  Orndorff was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame this past November.

Also, special congratulations are in order for the Gonzaga lacrosse team, who won its sixth consecutive title in a very competitive region for the sport.  The Eagles is one of a few teams in our coverage area that has won repetitive lacrosse titles.  This year, they overcame obstacles and faced a very tough schedule en route to its “six-peat” season here in the spring of 2015.

And although we mentioned this last year here at the “SportsTalk Shop,” congratulations once again for an ultra-impressive spring season overall for the Parkland sports teams.  The Trojans were in EVERY District XI championship game, winning titles in baseball, girls lacrosse, tennis, softball and volleyball (also winning a PIAA title).  They also recorded impressive track-and-field numbers in boys and girls conference and district meets.

The Trojans’ tremendous spring brings their overall sports record to an impressive .690-winning percentage, and ups their total to 233 conference championships, 140 district championships and 12 state titles.  This doesn’t include all the individual honors racked up in sports like track, wrestling, tennis and golf.

Speaking of Parkland’s success, we will have a chance to honor its District XI 4A-winning football team at our next “RCN SportsTalk Gets Wild” show from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, on Thursday, June 25, from 7-8 pm.  Head Coach Jim Morgans, his coaching staff and members of last year’s team will be in attendance as they talk about last year’s success, its controversial finish to last season, and look ahead as they try to defend their title once again against Easton, Whitehall and a number of other teams in the area that will all be improved from a year ago.

We’ll also be doing a fund-raising event that day at Buffalo Wild Wings, focusing on a great charity in the RCN viewing area.  Keep checking back to the RCN website for details on this great opportunity to support a local organization and make sure you mark your calendar to come out and support the Trojans and local football in person. http://www.buffalowildwings.com/en/locations/Detail/0474

Before we close the door on this spring sports season, here’s a final sampling of some of the teams we featured over the last few weeks on our Thursday “RCN SportsTalk” program (you can view these features in its entirety and all of our spring sports packages by viewing our “SportsTalk” shows through RCN On-Demand).

If you happen to go through high school sports withdrawal over the next several weeks, remember that the fall season’s “double sessions” begin in less than two months.  In fact, many schools have already started their “conditioning drills” for the autumn sports season, so it won’t be long until football, soccer and other popular sports will be in full swing once again!

 

 

 

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