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The SportsTalk Shop: Joe’s Take — Greatest LV Football Players

November 26, 2014 By Matt Kennedy Leave a Comment

First of all, a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving Day holiday to all of our faithful “SportsTalk” viewers and blog readers.  We’ve gotten some wonderful feedback about the show and our blog the last few months and appreciate all the positive responses. We hope to continue earning your interest and attention as we transition to the winter sports season very soon.  Chris Michael is taking a few days off for the holiday this week and in his place is “RCN SportsTalk” co-host Joe Craig manning the “SportsTalk Shop.”  Joe gives his commentary on a variety of sports issues for each edition of the “RCN SportsTalk” show on (what is suppose to be a short) segment, entitled, “Joe’s Take,” which you can see every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV.  Here, Joe gives his opinions on who he thinks are the top ten football players—EVER—in the Lehigh Valley area.

Picking the top 10 football players to ever play in the Lehigh Valley is absolutely the toughest assignment I could have undertaken.  There’s no way anyone is going to agree with me because there have been so many worthy choices.  Now, before you jump all over me, remember that I’m not very bright.  But I will put up these 10 guys against anyone’s list.

Here goes!  The list is not in any particular order but I do believe the very best player ever is Chuck Bednarik of Bethlehem Liberty.  How can anyone argue with this choice?  Following Chuck is Jim Ringo of Phillipsburg.  Both of these men played in the Lehigh Valley, went on to play professional football, and are members of the Hall of Fame.

So far, I have listed two great linemen.  Now for two great backs.  How about Bobby Pilz of Easton, 1968.  Pound for pound he may be the best ever.  In three years at Easton, they went 28-1-1 and that 1968 team is considered by many to be the best team ever to play in the Lehigh Valley.  Pilz had a stellar career at N.C. State under Lou Holtz.  Another back has to be the great Artie Owens of Stroudsburg.  He played in the early 1970’s and went on to become an All-American at West Virginia under Bobby Bowden.

No list of linemen would be complete without the next two greats:  Mike Hartenstine of Bethlehem Liberty and Matt Millen of Whitehall.  Hartenstine was All-State and an All-American in high school who went on to play at Penn State under Joe Paterno.  He went to the pros and had a great career with the Chicago Bears.  Neshaminy All-Stater Bruce Traney called Mike “the scariest player I ever faced.”  Now, Matt Milen was also Mr. Everything at Whitehall and became an All-American at Penn State again under Joe Paterno.  Matt went on to become an all-pro linebacker at Oakland and finished his career with the Washington Redskins.  He was a five-time Super Bowl champion.

Two more backs:  actually Andre Reed of Dieruff became a Hall of Famer in the pro ranks as a wide receiver with the then-great Buffalo Bills.  He played in four Super Bowls.  A Kutztown graduate, Andre excelled at receiver and quarterback at Dieruff.  That brings us to James Mungro of East Stroudsburg.  James held the state record for rushing yards for many years.  He went on to play at Syracuse and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts where he had a fine career.

The last two members of my top 10 are both from across the Delaware River.  How about Dick Lynch from Phillipsburg Catholic and the great Ned Bolcar of Phillipsburg.  Dick Lynch played for coach Mickey Frinzi at the now-closed P’burg Catholic.  Dick went on to Notre Dame University.  While at Notre Dame, he scored the game-winning touchdown that beat Oklahoma and broke the Sooners’ 54-game winning streak.  He was then drafted and played for seven years for the New York Giants as a defensive back.  He was an all-pro during this time.  Ned Bolcar was best known as a tough linebacker at P’burg.  He played for Phil Rohm and Tom Dominic from 1983-1985.  Ned was a two-time All-Stater in New Jersey.  He went on to Notre Dame where he started at middle linebacker for three years.  In 1988 he captained the Irish to a national championship.  He then was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and finished his career with the Miami Dolphins.

Well, there you have it.  I know what you’re thinking:  “How could Joe miss ______________ (fill in the blank)!”  Yeah, there are plenty of other great players that we have been blessed to see play right here in the Valley.  And while you could make another deserving list, I think you’d agree that at least some of my top 10 transcend time.  Let me know what you think by emailing us at and who you would include in your top 10.  Until next time, that’s “Joe’s take”.

The SportsTalk Shop: Non-Football Fall Sports Highlights

November 19, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While high school football is extremely popular in Eastern Pennsylvania, there was a plethora of great athletic accomplishments achieved by boys and girls in many different sports this fall season.  On our “RCN SportsTalk” show, we highlighted many of these outstanding programs this past year and we’d also like to add more honors in today’s blog entry.  Here’s a sampling of the great non-football Lehigh Valley sports stories that took place.

It was not a surprise the Saucon Valley boys soccer team captured this year’s District XI 2A title—they were one of the preseason favorites, but the girls’ team relished the role of underdogs all season long and joined the boys in action on championship day before falling to Northwestern.  The Panthers’ program was just one of the top soccer squads in the area.  Here’s some interviews with local coaches and athletes on their fall teams.

Southern Lehigh turned in a great storyline in its win over Emmaus in the District 3A soccer final.  The Spartans, led by long-time coach Terry Nevill, who announced he was stepping down after this season, turned in a run few soccer fans will forget anytime soon.  The Spartans defeated the teams ranked first, second and third en route to the championship.  The win marked the first time in Nevill’s career that he won a 3A title.

An exciting season for girls’ volleyball fans ended with very few surprises, as four of the most dominating programs – Parkland, Emmaus, Bethlehem Catholic and Notre Dame – advanced to the district finals.  We caught up with the ladies from the Trojans and Hornets to talk with them about their season and on facing each other four times this season.

The Whitehall girls’ soccer team captured another District XI championship by beating Nazareth.  The Zephyrs’ program, one of the last “big schools” to form a girls’ soccer team in Lehigh County, has established itself as one of the premiere programs in the region.  We highlighted Kourtney Cunningham (who scored the game winner in the district final) and her sisters playing two fall sports at the same time on a recent “SportsTalk” show.  Whitehall’s field hockey program was also strong once again this year, as was Nazareth, Northampton, Parkland and others, but perennial state qualifier (and often state champ) Emmaus once again won the District XI 3A title.

The Easton cross country team became just the second Lehigh Valley team ever to sweep the 3A District Title in their sport.  The Northwestern girls’ program (guests on “SportsTalk” this past fall) had another successful season as they shared 2A honors with Central Catholic.

The local tennis scene might have had the biggest news of them all.  The Parkland girls’ team that had gone years without a league loss, suffered a few defeats in what turned out to be a “retooling” year for the Trojans in the new Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  Several teams that had some success in previous years rose to new heights this fall.  We had a chance to interview some of the top girls’ tennis players in the area, including the District XI’s doubles pairings.

And it was a win-win fall season for Emmaus coach Mike Mihalik.  His team not only won a District XI 3A golf title for the second consecutive year, but he was also unanimously approved by the East Penn School Board to be named the new head coach of the highly successful Hornets baseball program, succeeding longtime skipper John Schreiner.  Mihalik was a former Parkland graduate who spent time pitching in several minor league affiliates after originally being drafted by the Phillies.

We welcome you to post or email ( other fall sports team or individual highlights to us. We constantly look to honor the young men’s and women’s accomplishments in the RCN viewing area.  Also, to see more of these interviews and as well as recent news on our local sports programs, you can check “SportsTalk” out for yourself through RCN On Demand or live every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV.


The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Playoff Preview

November 5, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The RCN TV crew is gearing up for another exciting high school football post-season. We’ll be busy with the top games on Friday and Saturdays for the next several weeks. Before the fun gets underway, here’s a peek at the teams in our coverage area and a look at what lies ahead over the next few weeks in the different classifications. (We’ll have much more on the playoffs over the next several weeks on our “RCN SportsTalk” show as well).

Class 4A
Easton enters the District XI playoffs as the number one team (10-0) with multiple impressive wins during the regular season. Here are some thoughts from the Rovers themselves on their season to date and experiences this year.

The Rovers have done a great job of keeping their focus week in and week out. Fans and media observers look ahead to the potentially grueling three-games-in-eight day stretch that they have to fight through as a major deterrent to a deep state playoff run. However, a large number of people, both inside and outside of the Easton borders, have raved about this year’s squad. Many have dubbed it the best Easton team in over a decade, which is truly an amazing compliment given their tradition and the great players who have played there. Here’s some of their highlights the last time we saw them in action on RCN TV.

First, Easton has to advance through some tough competition within the district. Easton opens with Pleasant Valley (9:30pm; RCN-TV) this Friday and the Bears have to shake off a disappointing loss to Stroudsburg last week. Easton defeated Pleasant Valley earlier this year—the winner of this game faces the winner of the Whitehall/Freedom match-up (7 pm live, Friday; RCN-TV), which will be a major topic of conversation on our Thursday “RCN SportsTalk” show.

I think Parkland is once again in an interesting position. They lost two regular season games and fell to the #7 seed entering the playoffs. They’re matched up with a Delaware Valley program that has become a consistent opponent for the Trojans over the last few post-seasons. On paper, Parkland has all the weapons on offense, defense and special teams to go far in the playoffs. I still believe DeVante Cross can be one of the most talented quarterback in the state, and they have a stable of quality offensive players led by Jarel Elder. Omar Haddad has been and will be a huge key for them on defense. I would not be surprised if they once again face Easton in the District XI 4A Championship in a few weeks.

Class 3A
Becahi comes into the playoffs winning their last two regular season games, but they still have a bad feeling following their loss to Stroudsburg.

Remembering that loss, and correcting the mistakes they made in that game, might actually help the Hawks over the long haul. I think the frustration of that game, and some of the issues they had to overcome in last year’s 3A championship, might help them focus this playoff season in making sure they take care of business early in games, and keeping the pressure on teams when/if they get an early lead. They’ll start off against Lehighton (7 pm live, Saturday, RCN-TV), a team led by junior running back Wyatt Clements (over 2,000 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns) and junior quarterback Tyler Cann (over 1,100 passing yards). “SportsTalk” co-host Joe Craig already told me he thinks Lehighton will be a tough matchup for the Hawks, but I’d expect Becahi to once again be playing in this year’s 3A final.

The other 3A playoff game might just be the most competitive game all weekend, featuring a rematch of a great game during the regular season between Saucon Valley and Southern Lehigh (9:30 pm Saturday, RCN-TV). The Spartans have really been playing solid football all year long and showcase multiple impressive players on both offense and defense. Here’s a look at some of them in action.

Saucon Valley, meanwhile, defeated Southern Lehigh earlier this year. I’ve been impressed by several of the Panthers this year, including running back Evan Culver, who’s averaging over 10 yards per carry. Early indications are that Saucon Valley could be the team to beat in 2015, but honestly, I’ d have a hard time trying to predict a winner in this year’s matchup between these two rival schools.

Class 2A & A
While I haven’t had a chance to see the teams that are in the 2A playoffs this fall, I have continued to hear many positives about Northwestern. They definitely have the horses to make a run at the 2A District title, and quite possibly more. Harry Hall, Frank Dangello, Cam Richardson, you could go on just talking about all the horses they have on this year’s team. Palisades is once again having a great season, with a terrific coaching staff and one of the top District XI backs in Christian Gretzinger, who went over 3,000 yards rushing the previous week. However, I’d have to think the Tigers are definitely the favorite in this weekend’s matchup, along with whoever they would face next week in the title game.

Also, Pius is having another solid season. They don’t feature the multiple playmakers at the level they were playing at a few years ago when they made a major run in the state playoffs, but Phil Stambaugh once again has some quality kids led by Tre Jordan. The junior quarterback has already thrown for over 3,500 yards passing and is closing in on 50 touchdowns for his career. Much like Northwestern, look for the Royals to be the solid team to beat in the District XI A playoffs.

Of course, we’ll have many more thoughts on the teams and players in the postseason, and we’ll also have comments on the local teams in the “Eastern Conference” playoffs, as well as predictions from our panelists on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” from 6-7 pm, which is also available On-Demand. You can email your comments and questions to us at and we’ll respond live on the air to your emails on our next show.


The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies’ Off-Season Countdown Clock is Ticking

October 28, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Phillies organization is at a crossroads. After seeing the team steadily decline each year since their 2008 World Championship, the team hit rock bottom this summer. Finishing last in their division and wincing from a sharp drop-off in attendance, the Phillies must swing into action to recapture the city’s interest. They need to give fans reason to think the Sixers won’t be relevant more quickly than the Phillies, and I’m not buying in to Acting CEO Pat Gillick’s suggestion that the team is content to wait until 2017 to make a playoff run. With the Delaware Valley nearly universally disappointed that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is coming back as the General Manager, the focus on off-season moves will be even more scrutinized than ever, and Amaro’s future is clearly resting on what he does over the next few months.

With that in mind, here’s an itinerary of issues that must be addressed before we (hopefully) see many dominos fall this winter. Or, if they don’t make major moves, here’s why.

1) A. J. Burnett – One of the biggest underperformers of the 2014 season is going to have a huge effect on what the Phillies can do this offseason. He is contemplating retirement and, five days after the World Series concludes, he must decide if he is going to return or not. If he does, he’s guaranteed $12.75-million (more with incentives) and his decision will largely affect what else the team does this winter.

If he does return, the Phillies’ available cap space would be slashed from over $30-million to around $17-mil, which will drastically change who the team tries to target via the free agent market, or if they can somehow swing a deal for a big-name player. If Burnett does NOT return, they’ll need to find a new “#3 pitcher”…although replacing Burnett’s numbers from this past season shouldn’t be too difficult. There’s a handful of players (Ervin Santana, Ryan Vogelsong, Brandon McCarthy and others) that should bring you better quality at a lower per-year cost. The downside is that it will detract from what should be the team’s top priority (and should have been for the last several winters), which is improving the lineup. From my sources, I would lead towards Burnett’s return, which is why they already spent money re-signing Jerome Williams to bolster the back end of the rotation (see more below on him).

2) Ryan Howard – The Phillies have already decided what they’d “like” to do with their former All-Star slugger. It’s a question of ‘can the team unload him in the “right” deal?’ They’re willing to each money, and they’d like to get at least something in return for him, but other teams are well aware of their strategy. It will be difficult to swing any deal in which other franchises don’t try to take the Phillies to the cleaners. Whether or not Howard returns is also a major factor in the team’s offseason priorities…dealing him increases their long-term salary relief, plus they’ll have to find another #4 hitter (Yasmany Tomas?) and figure out who will take over first base (Maikel Franco, Darin Ruf, Chase Utley?) BTW: If the Phillies don’t get Yomas but do unload Howard somehow, don’t be surprised if Pablo Sandoval becomes a target. Not likely to happen, but he would be your next, best offensive upgrade.

3) Dominic Brown/Antonio Bastardo – Two former golden boys with the organization that turned in a less-than-stellar 2014 campaign. Both have members of the Phillies’ front office championing their cause, fighting to give them one more chance in 2015, but both could also use a change of scenery. The problem in trading them is similar to Howard’s situation: you’re not going to get much in return, and they’re both young enough that they could one day hit their stride (raise your hand if you’re tired of seeing ex-Phillies players making contributions on playoff teams!) It might just be in the organization’s best interest to hold onto both of them, especially Brown. However, doing so means you’re giving up a roster spot to a potential improvement and cutting into your team salary by about $3-million per player.

4) The Bench – Another glaring weakness of the ’14 team that needs a major boost—seeing the declining ability of aging vets like Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd as the season wore on only heightens their need for improvement. Following the re-signing of Grady Sizemore, the decisions on Howard and Brown will affect which direction the team goes for the remaining reserve spots this offseason, and what positions they’ll need to target in acquiring players. Personally, filling in bench personnel has been almost as under-executed as developing pitching through their farm system. Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis might be decent “day-off” players when spelling Utley or Rollins, but having to force John Mayberry or Carlos Ruiz into the heart of the batting order shows a serious lack of depth in the power department…and there are very few free agent options available. Also, and this will be even more necessary if one of the relievers is moved, the team could use another veteran with experience for the bullpen to add stability in case one of the younger pitchers takes a step backwards in 2015.

5) Pap – Jonathon Papelbon continues to be a wild card—in more ways than one—to the Philllies’ future plans. On the one hand, he’s been a steady mentor to the younger players both on and off the field, he’s still one of the game’s top closers and has been a hallmark of consistency and has remained injury-free during his time in Philadelphia. On the other hand, he commands a ridiculously outrageous salary, he’s seen as blocking the development of Ken Giles and Jake Diekman and also has shown a propensity to act like a horse’s…uh, rear end. Detroit is probably lamenting declining the Phillies’ offer to ship him to the Motor City, since the Tigers’ faulty bullpen leads directly to the team’s undoing in the playoffs. The fact that Detroit was afraid he’d be a clubhouse disruption shows to what extent other teams will go to NOT acquire Pap. And perhaps, with everything considered, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have him return.

Right now, this is how your 2015 Phillies pitching staff is shaping up.

SP – Cole Hamels
SP – Cliff Lee (if healthy)
SP – A. J. Burnett (or another free agent if he declines his option)
SP – David Buchanan
SP – Jerome Williams
SP/RP – Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
RP – Antonio Bastardo (if not dealt)
RP – Luis Garcia (or an low-risk/high reward veteran?)
RP (2nd lefty) – Mario Hollands
RP (7th innnng) – Justin DeFratus
RP (Lefty Specialist) – Jake Diekman
RP (Set-up Man) – Ken Giles
RP (Closer) – Jonathan Papelbon

Keeping Papelbon, whether they really have a choice or not, adds stability to the overall staff. Also, I do like the signing of Jerome Williams which took place last week (one-year, $2.5-million). I know a few people complained to me that they spent money on a pitcher who only had a good two-month stretch with the Philllies (and a horrific first four months with other teams). However, for his “small cost” (by modern day pitchers’ salary numbers) he gives you someone that you can count on to fill out the rotation and also has versatility to help out in the bullpen. Think a younger, cheaper version of last year’s Roberto Hernandez, who actually pitched pretty well during his time in Philly last year. Assuming everyone is healthy, you now have a decent-enough pitching staff and can devote the rest of your offseason to tweaking the offense.

One more thing…Cole Hamels. It would definitely be a game-changer if they trade him this winter. I wouldn’t think—if it happens at all—that this is likely to happen early in the hot stove season as the loser(s) in the Max Scherzer/James Shields/Jon Lester free agency races will be more desperate (and willing to ante-up more) for a top quality, #1 pitcher like Hamels. Of course, the Phillies could still enter the “buy-an-ace” sweepstakes  as I had suggested during the season.

OK. Wind your clocks and start watching the transaction roll-in. But remember to keep an eye on the items mentioned above if you start scratching your head wondering when the ‘what-the-heck-are-they-doing’ moves start to take place.


The SportsTalk Shop: Analyzing the “Big East”

October 22, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference’s first football regular season is heading down the home-stretch with several “big” (Class 4A) schools all looking impressive and making a run for the District XI playoffs. Here we take a look at some of the top teams in this category so far this season (we’ll take a look at the smaller schools in an upcoming blog post).

The Mountaineers proved their mettle with a hard-fought win in an “interesting” back-and-forth contest with previously undefeated, league-favorite Bethlehem Catholic last weekend.

S’burg rode the back of Gerald Douglas for a large part of the Becahi game and he responded, showing why he’s one of the top tail backs in the district. John Jakobsen delivered some clutch passes to Joel Ozoemena, Marcello Riccardi and other receivers when his team needed him to, and the defense led by Quintin Small stepped up and made some big-time plays in keeping the team undefeated. Riccardi also proved to be a key weapon and changed field position with his returns, and Nico Ruiz displayed one of the most powerful legs in the region. The Mounties have already taken a huge step in proving themselves in the new EPC (on our fall preview show in August, I promised they would) and, depending on who they match up against in the first round of the playoffs, the Mountaineers could advance past the first round this fall.

Patriot fans may not want to hear this, but regardless of what happens the rest of the season, you already have to count the 2014 season as a success for their tremendous turnaround. If you take an absolute worse-case scenario the rest of the season, the Pats finish 7-3 with a District XI playoff appearance. Objectively, to go from 2-8 a year ago and make that kind of about-face in the EPC 4-A classification is nothing short of remarkable. In my opinion, Jason Roeder deserves to be named “Coach of the Year” right now. I think they match up very well and can beat Liberty next weekend and could beat more than half of the teams that they could face the following week. They will miss quarterback Joe Young, but they have enough young talent still available (and many will return for 2015), and have shown me enough to buy in to this year’s team. Their highlights include a close contest versus Parkland, but their signature win so far this year was their overtime victory at Whitehall.

The Zephyrs impressed the entire area with their win over Parkland, and followed that effort up with one of the wildest games in recent memory against Easton. With two losses, people will forget about Whitehall come playoff time—which is a very dangerous proposition. Don’t forget, this was a team that featured perhaps the best back in the area, numerous explosive weapons on offense, and a big, fundamentally sound line that people were raving about two weeks ago. They should win their final two regular season games and clinch a district playoff berth. Once in the postseason, I think the Zephs will make the adjustments necessary to have a run at advancing in the tournament.

I have not had a chance to see a Parkland game in person so far this season, but RCN’s Tony Cocca has, and on our most recent “SportsTalk” show, he felt that the team was just not jelling the way Parkland teams normally do by this time of year. Their track record has been to lose to a team or two early, and then storm back and win when the games matter most. That could play out again as, on paper, they could be the best team in the area. The Trojans should defeat both Nazareth and Emmaus to finish the regular season with just two losses, which would put them directly behind Easton and Stroudsburg in the district rankings and could pave the way for an eventual rematch from their tight-fisted affair against the Rovers.

The Rovers will be able to talk about their successful season for themselves as they will be our guests on the October 30th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (live from 6-7pm). We invite you to tune in to get their opinions on the 2014 season and their thoughts on the upcoming playoff picture. Plus you can contact us during the show with your comments and questions and perhaps win a nice prize. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the highlights from their record-setting game against Whitehall.

While we invite you to keep watching the football playoff games the next two weeks as the teams jockey for playoff positioning, don’t forget to check out RCN’s special Halloween programming. It starts on Thursday, October 30th at 11:30 pm and runs through early Saturday morning (with a break for Friday night’s high school football games) featuring some of the greatest and most terrifying horror classics of all-time. And there’s a special surprise for this year’s movie marathon. You’ll have to tune in for yourself to find out what it is…if you dare!

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies “September Call-Ups” Recap

October 14, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the “Montgomery-out, Middleton-in” rumors subsiding—at least for the short term–it’s time to take a look back at the final weeks of the Phillies baseball season as they begin the daunting task of “retooling” with many weighty contracts remaining on the books. When a team like the Phillies find themselves wallowing in the basement for most of the Major League Baseball season, die-hard fans hold out hope for the September call-up season. This is the time when rosters expand and organizations can bring up a few of its younger players, hopefully to show some glimpses of hope that next season will be different. Here we take a look at the Phillies players recalled later in the season, and an analysis of how things played out for them this past month.

Maikel Franco
He may have won over a spot on the 2015 roster just by his defense alone. While one of the knocks against him was his slow foot speed and an assumed lack of range at third base, Franco made some of the most spectacular plays no one saw this year (the Phillies were practically eliminated from the postseason before Franco got a chance to play on a regular basis). While incredibly streaky for the first several months at Triple-A (he told me he HATES the cold weather with a passion), his bat warmed up enough over the summer that the Phillies tried playing him at the major-league level against mostly left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, Franco never really hit his stride offensively and further clouded the issue of what the Phillies should do with their corner infield situation (Franco also looked adequate playing first base). One may pencil him in as a platoon-option to start next year, but don’t be surprised if he continues to struggle for the first two months of the 2015 season.

Cameron Rupp
It was a curious season overall for Rupp—a guy who appears to be about as ‘old school’ as they now come when talking about playing baseball the way it should be played. He impressed the Phillies brass with his defensive ability and surprised them a bit with his strong arm and knack for throwing out base runners. However, Rup took a major step backwards in terms of his offense. Triple-A Manager Dave Brundage would often speak of Rup’s ability to hit in clutch situations—unfortunately he did get many chances to hit with men on base, and batted a pitiful .165 (.555 OPS). In limited latter season opportunities, his major league numbers weren’t much better, calling into question his ability to be a capable MLB backup catcher. He’s an incredibly good guy who calls a nice game behind the dish. I hope he can turn things around in 2015, but don’t be surprised if the Phillies look to add more upper-level organization depth at this position this winter.

Cesar Hernandez/Freddy Galvis
Both of these players have very similar skill-sets: Hernandez is a better offensive threat while Galvis has the defensive edge. Galvis got more playing time in September and looked to be swinging the bat well enough to earn him the inside track between these two players for what now looks to the utility infield position for next year. Hernandez, who hits fastballs well, which is usually a good characteristic of a pinch-hitter, really didn’t overwhelm anyone in his limited at-bats in the season’s final month. Both of these players are out of options, which means whoever doesn’t make the Opening Day ’15 roster could be lost to another team. One of the many question marks for this offseason will be if the Phillies can trade Ryan Howard, possibly allowing Chase Utley to be moved to first base, which would save him some wear-and-tear. If that occurs, Hernandez and Galvis (along with possibly Cody Asche) would probably compete for the second base position, with the loser having a chance to stick around as the extra infielder.

Mike Adams
Signed as a guy to add stability to the back end of the bullpen, Adams never stayed healthy long enough in his two-year stint to make a difference in Philadelphia. The Phillies will certainly not pick up his $6-million team option for 2015 and even though he returned to the parent club in September, he fell well short of the 60-inning qualifier that would allow his third-year extension to kick in. He was overheard saying that he felt guilty signing a 2-year, $12-million contract yet barely saw extending time due to injuries. If Adams truly does feel bad about not helping the team, he might be brought back in an incentive-heavy contract to give some experience and mentoring skills to what will be a young pen next year, especially if they find a way to unload Jonathan Papelbon this offseason.

Tony Gwynn Jr.
It was a tough year for one of the nicest guys in the Philadelphia clubhouse this season. Gwynn started the year on the Opening Day roster, but eventually lost his job to Ben Revere. Tony then lost his Hall of Fame father, and one of the classiest athletes ever, Tony Sr., followed by a demotion to the minor leagues. This one-time prospect’s future is probably not with the Phillies, unless Revere is moved. One of the primary jobs for the front office is to upgrade the offense in the outfield, and Gwynn’s roster spot is one of the most likely ones to be replaced by whatever additions take place.

Luis Garcia/Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
Two guys with electric stuff who came into the organization from very different situations. Garcia was out of baseball a few years ago but worked his way back to become the top pitcher in the Phillies farm system (as evidence by his winning of the Paul Owens Award). I talked with Luis a few times this year and he is loving every minute of his second chance with the organization and, when he has command of his pitches, is incredibly tough to hit against. Gonzalez, like Garcia, has been erratic this September, and neither pitched well enough on a consistent basis to lock in a spot for 2015. The hope was the Gonzalez, highly touted when initially signed, would show enough to give you reason to think he could slide into one of the open starting pitchers’ slots for next year. However, even when he had success in Triple-A he didn’t always show the aggressiveness needed and seemed too fine with his pitchers, to give you reason that he could be counted on going forward as anything more than a long-man. Gonzalez is owed two more years on his $12-million deal, forcing the Phillies to be patient with him. At the same time, it will be hard for the team to justify keeping two roster spots for right-handed relief pitchers with control issues when they are so many other issues to address.

It will definitely be an intriguing offseason for the Phillies, who have many holes to fill if they have any hope of competing for a playoff spot next year. The members of the front office claim they are ready to move in a new direction, but I remember Ruben Amaro Jr. making similar suggestions after the 2012 season, only to have the team remain mostly status quo. Trading big-money contracts like Howard and Papelbon will not be easy. The Phillies must upgrade their offense, bench and starting pitching with very few bargaining chips to use in trades (save Cole Hamels and Chase Utley) and very few quality options in the free agent market. Unfortunately, the team got very limited reasons for optimism from what they saw from their September roster additions and very few questions resolved about many of the team’s current players. Once the MLB postseason concludes, watch for the Phillies to start laying the groundwork to hopefully revamp the team to be more competitive for 2015.


The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles’ September Recap

October 1, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

As pain of the tough loss to the 49ers begins to subside just a bit, it’s time to take a realistic look back at the first month of the Eagles‘ season. Yes, if the Birds could have reached the endzone from the one yard line in the waning minutes of the San Francisco game, a 4-0 start would look tremendous heading into October. But when you look at the schedule, the sluggish starts to their games, their inconsistent offense and defense, and all the injuries sustained the past four weeks, 3-1 is nothing sort of amazing. If fact, with games against the lowly Rams and then the Giants coming up, I think most Eagles fans will be thrilled if their team heads into the bye week with a 5-1 record.

Before we start looking ahead, let’s analyze the three biggest stories so far, and what needs to happen for their success to continue.

#1 Nick Foles, You Are The Man…I Think
Foles recovered from a dreadful start against Jacksonville to post a second half stat line of 5-for-21, 183 yards & 2 touchdowns, followed by successively improving performances against the Colts and the Redskins. Foles became just the eighth quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 320 yards in each of the first three games of the season. And, perhaps even more encouraging, after practically ignoring Foles in 2013, the national media teased last Sunday’s game as “Nick Foles and the Eagles…” as opposed to “LeSean McCoy and the Eagles…” or last year’s “DeShawn Jackson’s Eagles…” After a year-and-a-half of questions surrounding the team’s QB, it seemed like Foles had finally arrived as “the guy.” That was before Sunday, when he put up one of the worst quarterback ratings of his career. I know–it’s just one game, and Sunday could simply be a minor blip on the radar of his steadily climbing career.

If there was a sliver of optimism from the Eagles’ final, yet futile drive in San Francisco, it was that Head Coach Chip Kelly showed the utmost confidence in the third-year pro by putting the game’s outcome in Foles’ hands, as opposed to some combination of Jason Peters’ blocking/McCoy running, as what I would have done in that situation. Granted, the woeful play of the decimated offensive line played a huge role in the decision (and was repeated by Kelly in his “day-after interviews” multiple times). But Kelly has been making all the right moves so far (or at least most of the right moves) in his short tenure in Philadelphia, and his decision to allow the game’s outcome to be decided by his quarterback could provide Foles with a world of confidence that his head coach has his back.

At least for this season.

#2 The Injuries
Without three-fifths of the team’s offensive line and the services of the team’s best defender due to injuries, Eagles fans should just be happy the team even had a shot a winning the game in San Fran. I had a chance recently to chat with Eagles reporter Al Thompson (“Footballstories” Magazine) and he was optimist about the Birds’ ability to overcome the medical setbacks on the offensive line and at middle linebacker.

Clearly the Eagles will benefit from the return of Lane Johnson from his four-game suspension, which will also allow Todd Herremans to move back to his more comfortable guard position. Fans can also take comfort in the fact that Center Jason Kelce should be able to return from his sports hernia in time to shake off the rust and be back to full strength for the playoff push. The team should be in good shape on the health front in a few weeks provided they can stay away from another rash of O-line injuries and if Mychal Kendricks can recover from his calf injury.

#3 The Running Game
On the one hand, the addition of Darren Sproles to the backfield has looked like the steal of the season. If fact, a national broadcaster said that if the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year, the New Orleans Saints should get a chunk of the championship prize money for giving Sproles away for just a fifth-round pick. He’s one of just three NFL players to have two 50+ yard receptions, he was named Offensive Player of the Week after setting career highs in both receiving yards and total years again Indianapolis, and he’s helped change field position numerous times on special teams, including returning an 82-yard punt for a touchdown against the Niners.

McCoy, meanwhile, came into the San Francisco game averaging less than 3-yards per carry, and that number went DOWN this past Sunday (10 carries for just 17 yards). Against the 49ers, the entire Eagles backfield combined for just 22 total yards for the game. It is true that McCoy has been dinged-up in a couple of the games with injuries, and the dreadful offensive line the Eagles had on display in their last ball game no doubt was a major contribution for lack of a ground assault. However, McCoy and the Eagles’ rushing attack MUST improve if the team is to have any postseason success, no matter how much luck they have in-tow and have already used through the team’s first four games. The upstart Cowboys are also 3-1 and, of more concern for Birds fans, are having great success moving the ball on the ground, which allows Tony Romo the wiggle room he usually needs to overshadow his often inconsistent passing. It won’t matter how many regular season victories the Eagles enter the playoffs with–it won’t mean a thing if they don’t get to at least the second round of the playoffs (see the 2011 Phillies).

Feel free to email your comments and opinions on the Eagles’ 3-1 start to the season to and tune in for our live show this Thursday from 6-7 pm. We’ll also be discussing the use of technology in football on this week’s program on RCN-TV.


The SportsTalk Shop: Previewing the “Classic”

September 23, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I have many fond memories of the Celtic Classic and really enjoy when this time of year comes around. I am not a direct descendent of any Irish or Gaelic ancestry as far as I’m aware, nor have ever held any desires of wearing a kilt. But the entire festival is a really enjoyable experience and there’s always great entertainment venues and plenty of displays to check out throughout the entire weekend.

My first trip to the Celtic Classic was a bit of an adventure. I was to interview people at different sections of the grounds for a feature on a show called, “Time Out! Lehigh Valley.” While going from different stands asking people about their areas of expertise, I came across the late, great RCN personality Craig Borst, who was supposed to be handling the “play-by-play” of the highland games competition. Craig was one of the nicest and most gregarious people you would ever meet and, although he rarely wasn’t in the best of moods, I could see by his facial expressions that there was a problem. Our exchange went something like this:

Craig: “Hey, Chris. Can you do me a really big favor?”
Me: “Sure…what do you need?”
Craig: “Well, the guy who was supposed to announce the highlands events with me didn’t show up, and I really don’t know anything about these events since I was depending on him. I know it’s short notice but do you think you can be my expert for today and do the broadcast with me?”
Me: “Uh, yeah. I think I can do that. How long do I have to prepare?”
Craig: (grabbing me by the arm): “About 30 seconds.”

Needless to say things worked out fine (I didn’t even have time to even think about being nervous). In fact, even one of the most intelligent and insightful RCN viewers we have in Eastern Pennsylvania gave me kudos for the broadcast. The compliment came from RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach’s wife, Luba (did I mention she’s very intelligent and incredibly insightful?)

Fortunately, in the many years since that first broadcast, we have added a REAL expert, highland games legend Gene Flynn, to our broadcasts. Gene gives wonderful insights on the history and legacy of the games, background on all the competitors and great stories about training and participating in these extraordinary events. Just to hear Gene describe what it’s like to participate and to see just how difficult the competition is, is reason enough to tune in and see what these athletes put themselves through for the competition.

This year, we’ll be broadcasting the latter five events and the awards ceremony this Sunday on RCN-TV. The games itself are a ton of fun to watch—especially if you have never seen the events before. The competitors are incredibly focused when the events are going on, but also love to have a good time and put on a great show for the audience. This year’s rundown of athletes include:
Daniel McKim
Michael Zolkiewicz
Matt Vincent (current World Champion)
Sean Betz
Eric Frasure
Nathan Burchett
John Piling
Jeremy Gillingham
Jake Sullivan
Spencer Tyler

Many of these athletes have appeared at the Celtic Classic previously, but there are also some new names that will be competing in Bethlehem for the first time ever.

The Celtic Classic is more than just sports, and I’m proud to say that we have a great sampling of the many experiences from the Celtic Classic on RCN-TV once again this year. One of my favorite performers over the years includes the O’Grady Quinlan Irish Dancers (one year they ask me to perform with them…let’s just say I did a better job announcing the highland games). Other must-see performers include the Glengarry Bhoys, Burning Bridge Clearly and the Town Pants. And, of course, to see the Liberty and Freedom High School bands alone make the “Tartan Parade” something you have to check out.

There really is something for everyone and I invite you to check out all that the Celtic Classic has to offer. Don’t forget, whether you watch the events in person or on RCN-TV, you can relive all the memories for the next two months by watching these events, for free, through RCN On-Demand.


The SportsTalk Shop: Three H.S. Football Surprises…”

September 16, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Actually, I had another, perhaps more fitting title, but I felt it was a little too long. Something along the lines of:

“Three Phrases I’ve Heard Repeated By Fans And Media Members This Football Season Expressing A Revelation or Shocking Fact That We Probably Should Not Have Been Surprised About in the First Place”

(Probably best we went with the former headline).

I know I always dread making predictions when it comes to high school sports. It sometimes put unnecessary pressure on kids and quite often creates hard feelings. However, because of the success and popularity of scholastic sports programs in this area, we in the media are constantly questioned to make “educated” guesses about teams, players and possible results. Local fans are also very opinionated and most often very knowledgeable about the local sports landscape. Predictions encourage debate among the fandom—and publicity for our local athletes and communities. While becoming a foregone conclusion for everyone to make pre-season predictions, it sometimes leads to rash or incongruent opinions evolving on certain teams and players. Here are three phrases echoed by local residents claiming shock, when really, we all should have taken a closer look.

Myth #1: “Where Did All This Central Catholic Offense Come From?”
Central Catholic scored 41 points in each of its first two games this season, and was able to move the ball against arguably the best defense in the area this past weekend (several ill-timed penalties killed drives—two were deep in enemy territory).

Many people looked at the Vikings’ 2013 record (2-8) and saw many of the same offensive players returning with few additions and assumed that they would once again struggle to score points this fall. However, if you looked back to last season, you’ll notice that moving the chains was not an issue at all. ACCHS ranked right in the middle of the pack in a number of offensive categories. Failure to execute in the red zone and penalty-killing drives (as was the case vs. Parkland) were the big culprits in several of the team’s losses. Central battled in nearly all of their ball games that ended in defeat.

Look deeper and you’ll find that returning QB Mason Kholi has continued to post very impressive numbers (501 yards passing, a 4 to 1 touchdown/interception ratio and over 200 yards rushing—despite being sacked at least six times). The Vikings also have several talented, skilled guys (among them Dallas Kassis, Deionte Wilson, Pat McKellick and others) and have a solid line anchored by Max Ebert and Marc-Antony Ocascio (both 6-3, 245 lbs).

Furthermore, Head Coach John Cupples has shown the innate ability to come up with impressive game plans against the top teams in the LVC—now EPC—during his tenure. Despite being heavy underdogs and incredibly outnumbered in terms of depth, his team has put together very strong performances over the last year against Parkland, Easton and Whitehall…until those teams eventually wore down the Vikings, as those bigger schools frequently do to everyone. Our panel on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ a few weeks back thought it would be an extreme reach for Central Catholic to make the post-season this year, and that may be the case. But to be shocked if the Vikings do pick up five wins and reach the playoffs, and continue to score a ton of points in the process, would not be an educated assumption.

Myth #2: “For A 4-A School, Bangor Should Be Winning More Games By Now”
Now, the facts.

First, Bangor is NOT a 4-A school. According to the District XI classifications, they are a 3-A school with similar male enrollments of Central Catholic, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Pottsville, East Stroudsburg-North, Bethlehem Catholic, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Blue Mountain. Bangor is like many schools across the country now that have fewer athletes participating in sports and coaches have had to share students in order to avoid program cuts.

Also, in case people haven’t noticed, there is an incredible amount of parity in the Colonial League again this season (see last week’s blog). Southern Lehigh, a team many thought could go undefeated, already has picked up an “L.” Notre Dame and Pen Argyl, two teams predicted to be no worse than sixth, are both winless. Wilson, despite being 0-3, has played well this fall and might have fared better if not for a rash of turnovers.

Look even closer at Bangor’s competition. The Slaters have played two undefeated teams that have outscored their opponents 214 to 44. Bangor won its third contest easily, 31-19, against a Catasauqua team that easily handled the Crusaders—the consensus #3 preseason team. Second-year Head Coach Donnie Hawk had tremendous success as an assistant at Pen Argyl and needs to be given an opportunity. If Bangor beats Salisbury Friday, they could jump as high as 4th place in both the Colonial League and District XI standings. It is FAR too early to make assumptions or outlandish statements about the Slaters’ program.

Myth #3: “Boy, Where Did This Saucon Valley Team Come From?”
The smart-guy commentator might answer this by saying “Hellertown,” but in reality we should have seen the Panthers’ undefeated start to the season coming—at least to some extent.

First, Head Coach Matt Evancho is an defensive whiz and has created a number of schemes over the years to slow down even the stoutest of offenses. His win over the Spartans last Friday was legitimate and his defense did a tremendous job in frustrating some of the most talented offensive players in the league (this game is available to watch on RCN On-Demand right now).

Secondly, Saucon came into this season with a ton of momentum, winning its last four games last fall and being one of the few teams in the region to win its final playoff game (an Eastern Conference Division-3 title) last November.

If there was any surprise to this team, it’s the rapid overall development of its younger players. An accomplished running quarterback one year ago (and another 225 rushing yards so far this season), junior Zach Thatcher has become an equally lethal throwing option, passing for 370 yards with a ridiculously good eight touchdowns to just one pick. The dearth of underclass talent doesn’t stop there, with Mike Kane, Evan Culver, Devin Fontanez and Mike Paolini among a number of skilled-position players. Many fans (and media members) assumed the Northwestern/Southern Lehigh matchup in October would be the only game needed to decide who’s winning this year’s Colonial League title. But the Panthers have forced high school football fans to pay more attention to them this fall, and their upcoming games against the Bombers, Tigers and Pirates will be factors in determining this year’s champion.

What are some of the other surprising facts about this current fall sports season? What other teams and players do you feel are flying under the radar? Email you comments to us at and join us each Thursday live from 6-7 pm to talk about local issues.


The SportsTalk Shop: Four Teams to Watch: Colonial League

September 9, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Recently we discussed four East Penn Conference squads with interesting storylines to follow this fall. Today we look at some of the Colonial League teams to follow this football season.

A friend of mine who covers the Tigers told me in the summer of 2013 that the Northwestern football team had some really good talent, but that they were probably a year away from “making some noise” (aka. being considered one of the league’s top teams). He called me back last October and said he underestimated those kids and proclaimed them ready for prime time. Two weeks later they became the only Colonial League team in two years to beat Catasauqua in a regular season match-up.

Most of those same players who pulled off that monumental win against the Rough Riders have returned, and very few people who have seen them so far this year have been anywhere close to disappointed by their performance in this young season.

Individually, they have some amazingly talented players littering the roster. Among them are Cam Richardson (2 TDs against Bangor), Frank D’Angello (3-6 passing for 52 yards and a touchdown), Dylan Snyder (interception returned for a touchdown) and Harry Hall (also scored two touchdowns vs. Slaters).

The biggest general comment about the entire squad is the overall team speed. It’s going to be hard for any team to play a ‘shoot-out’ game with them, but former sports writer Bruce Buratti made a great observation on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show. Bruce pointed out that the weather conditions on a grass surface might be the only thing to stand in their way of winning a 2A District Championship. If the Tigers have to play a quality opponent in a rain-soaked game on a muddy surface, it might be their greatest weakness. But even then you’re talking about a number of “what ifs” that would have to happen, and it seems pretty clear after two impressive showings so far this year, that the Tigers are in great shape to win one—if not two—titles this fall.

Excuse me for 10 seconds while I play a few notes on my own horn. A few years ago and despite naysayers, I predicted Southern Lehigh would bounce back from an 0-3 start to win at least seven more games and reach the playoffs—they responded by winning eight games and a playoff contest. Last year on “SportsTalk’s” high school football preview show, I said the Spartans would win at least one championship. I was unanimously told by the experts on that show’s panel that I was wrong—only to see Southern Lehigh get within a half-a-yard of winning TWO titles. This year, I think they have the ability to go one step further. I think Southern Lehigh fans should believe they have a reasonable chance of winning the 3A District Championship.

(“What was that?” shouts the Becahi contingent. “What about the Golden Hawks?”)

Yes, I am aware the Spartans are in the same classification as Bethlehem Catholic—a team I recently predicted would go undefeated during their EPC schedule. And I am fully aware that, because of the new league alignments, the Hawks will probably hold the number-one seed and have home field advantage through districts. I also realized that the Spartans are without their star defensive player, and one of the area’s top middle linebackers from a year ago. But I was very impressed by quarterback Travis Edmond’s ability to run the offense and to pass the ball last season. They also return key players on the D-line and in the secondary, and I think the new players will be able to improve and gain experience as the year goes on (a huge test will be October 10th when they face Northwestern). I was also impressed by the way Solehi hung with the Hawks last year, after falling behind 14-0 (nearly 21-0) early in the title game and persevered to push the game into overtime. They’ve been scrimmaging against larger schools and their kids have an idea of what it takes to be successful on bigger stages and with higher stakes. On paper Becahi is still the best team in the division, but I see no reason why Spartans’ faithful should expect anything less than a district championship in the near future.

Some football fans may forget, but Saucon Valley is also coming off a championship season, in which they captured the Eastern Conference Division-3 title. They won their final four games in a 9-3 season last fall, but have to fill the shoes of last year’s Express-Times player of the year — Nick Savant, who rushed for a school record 2-thousand plus yards and 28 touchdowns. There was also some pre-season concern how the teachers’ contract-situation might affect the athletes, which the players have appeared to put behind them. While the Panthers have a number of juniors and seniors on the varsity roster, they didn’t come into the season with a wealth of playing experience—especially on offense. However, first year starting quarterback Zach Thatcher is coming off an ultra-impressive game over Northern Lehigh (8-9 passing for 132 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus 63 yards rushing) and the Panther flat-out dominated the Bulldogs in every aspect last Friday. While the rivalry is not as publicized as an Easton/P’burg or Liberty/Freedom battle, there is no love-loss between Saucon and Southern Lehigh. Only one of these two 2-0 teams will remain in first place as they square off against each other Friday (10pm, RCN-TV).

As for the fourth team to watch…?

Wow. This is a tough one. Coming into this past weekend, I was expecting both Pen Argyl and Notre Dame to bounce back with a “W” and keep themselves right in the middle of the huge conglomerate of solid teams. However, not only did both the Knights and the Crusaders lose a second game last Friday (the season is still young), but a few teams really pushed themselves into the spotlight and have caught people’s attention. Everyone was counting out Catasauqua after they graduated nearly every starting player from a season ago, but the Rough Riders posted an impressive win Friday. Palmerton was a team no one was talking about in August, and now they’re undefeated through two weeks. Both Bangor and Palisades scored an impressive win each, and don’t forget about Northern Lehigh looking very strong in their week one victory. Even some of the teams that are 0-2 have had some good moments. So who is the next best team in the Colonial League this fall? I may have to leave that to you, the reader, and of course, the teams themselves, to figure that out.

What Colonial League teams do you think will step-up and remain in the upper half of the standings after this weekend? Who are some of the league’s top athletes and who are some younger players to watch? Send your opinions to or post a comment below and tune in to “RCN SportsTalk” every Thursday night at 6pm on RCN-TV.


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