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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Banshee's Best: Loving Baseball Through the Radio

"It is high.  It is far.  It ... is ... gone!  A home run!"

I can picture the right fielder, dressed in his road grays, drifting towards the warning track before giving up chase.  In my mind's eye, I can see the Modell's sign on the wall in right-center as the ball soars overhead and into the bleacher seats.  I sit alone on my porch in the dark ... five hundred miles away from the stadium.  Yet, as I listen to the play-by-play announcer, I feel as if I am right there with the Bleacher Creatures in the Bronx.

This is the magic of baseball on the radio.

Thanks to MLB cable subscriptions, no matter where you live, you can watch every game your home town team plays.  I can afford these subscriptions, but I choose not to.  If baseball on TV is an expensive date at a trendy restaurant, then baseball on the radio is a candlelight dinner dinner at home.  Subtle.  Heartfelt.  And intimate.

(AP Images)
But, it's not just the romance that draws me in.  Listening to baseball on the radio is a connection to the past.  Baseball, more than any other sport, is defined by its history.  This is why steroids use in baseball is treated as a capital offense while it is merely a misdemeanor in football and barely tested for in basketball.  When I listen to baseball on the radio, I feel connected to the history of the game and the history of my family.  As I listen in 2013 to John Sterling regaling Robinson Cano's exploits, I imagine my grandfather listening to Mel Allen describe the exploits of Joe DiMaggio in 1942.  Through radio waves, seventy years of baseball remain connected.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Movie Review: 42

The movie 42 debuted a week ago.  Unlike real movie critics, I don't get advanced copies of movies so that I can have reviews published in time for opening night.  I finally got to see 42 this week.  And, it was worth the wait.

Despite the title, this movie is as much about Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers navigating the tempestuous season of 1947 as it is about Jackie Robinson himself.  I've heard some critics complain about that fact, but I see this as a strength of the movie.  MLB rightly honors Jackie Robinson every April when all players where his number instead of their own on their jersey.  But, Robinson's appearance in that particular time and place would not have been possible without the dedication, vision and religious beliefs of Rickey.  In fact, as the film portrays, it was Robinson's strength of character and shared religious beliefs that caused Rickey to choose this particular player for an invitation to spring training in 1946.  And, the impact Robinson had on his Dodgers' team mates and front office is also worthy of examination.

(Rights belong to Warner Brothers)
Another positive aspect of the film is the portrayal of Robinson as a husband and a father.  The movie could easily have focused exclusively on Robinson's magnificent career on the field.  But, instead, director Brian Helgeland takes the time to show us the importance of Robinson's marriage as he struggled through the racial tensions.  There is also a meaningful scene where Robinson talks about the kind of father he wants to be for his boy.  I am glad Helgeland went this route because it is these aspects of Robinson's life that make him truly worthy of our admiration six decades later.

As far as the filmmaking goes, the movie is very stylized.  Similar to Eight Men Out in this respect, this seems to be done intentionally to capture the era in which the film is set.  Despite this, there are a couple of strong performances from the actors in 42.  Chadwick Boseman makes his debut in a starring role as Jackie Robinson.  Boseman delivers a strong and complex performance.  He ranges from funny to furious.  And, physically, Boseman is quite believable in the role of the ultra-athletic Robinson.  Harrison Ford stepped out of his comfort zone a bit to play the deeply religious and elderly Branch Rickey.  And, Nicole Beharie was fantastic in the important supporting role of Rachel Robinson.  The editing and cinematography in the game sequences is well done, and the soundtrack is quite fun.

To sum it up, 42 might not have lived up to the hopes and dreams of social activists or baseball historians.  But, 42 is a movie about men who are admirable in their personal and professional lives.  It is uplifting, and it is entertaining.  And that cannot be said about many movies these days.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: The Azalea

It's Sunday at the Masters.  The Masters is played at Augusta National Golf Club, one of the most beautiful and picturesque golf courses in all the world.  The 13th hole is one of the most famous holes on the course, both because of its history and it's beauty.  It is a par 5 where many Masters champions have launched their charge to the finish line and many other players have seen their hopes trickle away into Rae's Creek.  The hole is named Azalea, and this drink bears that name.  And, before you start protesting about your dislike of gin, give this a try.

The Azalea

2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz pineapple juice
Splash of grenadine

Add ice to a cocktail shaker.  Combine all the ingredients into the shaker.  Fill a tumbler with ice.  Shake it up.  Pour over the ice in the tumbler and enjoy.  If you want to fill a mason jar, you'll probably need to double up the recipe.

This recipe and photo came from  Check out that site.  And check out Banshee Sports on Facebook.  "Like" it if you like it.
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Friday, April 12, 2013

Master of March Madness

This post is about a week late.  The Louisville Cardinals captured the men's basketball championship on Monday night.  But, it didn't take that long for J.B. Errico to win the 2nd annual Banshee Bracket Bonanza.  Errico picked Louisville to win the title and had things wrapped up when Louisville defeated Syracuse in the semi finals.

In an email to me, Errico revealed a little bit about his process for picking the brackets but confessed that luck plays a big part in it.  Since I failed to predict any correct teams for the Final Four, I whole-heartedly agree with the "luck" analysis.  But, in all seriousness, J.B. has been playing fantasy sports for a good long time.  He won his fantasy football league way back in 1998 thanks to a late season pick-up of Jake Plummer and a cheap $1 draft pick of rookie Randy Moss (and yeah, that $1 was straight cash, homie!).  He's also a sports industry kind of guy who who actually does some of the official scoring for the Yankee's Triple A affiliate, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders.

I'm especially excited that Errico won the 2nd Banshee Bracket Bonanza because it marks an expansion of Banshee Sports' online persona.  J.B. and I only know each other through Twitter. He was one of the first people I followed when I first started to explore the Twitterverse.  In addition to J.B., there were three sports writers in this year's Bonanza who only know Wild Banshee through the Internet.  But, there was still a little family flavor to the top of the leader board.  Jerry Wetzel, my father, finished in second place.  Since J.B. already had a subscription to ESPN the Magazine, both he and Jerry will receive their favorite movie from the Banshee Sports top movie list.  J.B. picked Hoosiers.  Jerry picked Cinderella Man.

So, congratulations to J.B. and Jerry.  And thank you to everyone else who entered and helped to make this a fun competition.  Can't wait for next year.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Banshee's Best: Banshee Blitz

This blog has been around for about eighteen months.  Nonetheless, Banshee Sports is still very much a work in progress.  As I announced in January, I'm committed to having several recurring features on this blog that readers can depend on.  One of the recurring posts is Banshee's Best.  I had such a hard time picking just one topic to focus on that I came up with an idea for a new monthly feature:  The Banshee Blitz.  This column is a test run.  The basic idea of The Banshee Blitz is that I'll hit on a few hot topics.  Not a lot of research and backstory.  Just my thoughts ... rapid fire.

So, here we go ...

Mike Rice and Twitter mob:  If you are reading this blog, then you surely know by now that Mike Rice, the head basketball coach at Rutgers was caught on video tape throwing basketballs at players in practice and screaming homosexual slurs.  When this story jumped from ESPN to CNN, the Twitterverse and the blogosphere lost it's collective mind.  There was a non-stop demand that this coach, who had already been punished with a heavy fine and multi-game suspension, lose his job.  Once Rutgers complied with that demand, the Internet mob turned its attention towards the AD who had not immediately fired Mike Rice.  Although the exact circumstances might be a little hazy, the AD has resigned.  Next in the Twitter and media firing line: the president of the university.  That has yet to be resolved.

Don't misunderstand what I am about to say.  I would never behave the way Mike Rice behaved.  And, I would not function well under a coach who behaved that way.  Do I think Mike Rice should have been fired?  Do I think the AD should have been fired for moving too slowly?  Do I think the president of Rutgers University should be in the unemployment line?  I DO NOT KNOW.  Here is what I do know:  People with Twitter accounts or blogs or a national radio audience really do not know, either.  Being qualified to break down a teams ability to score against a 2-3 zone does not make you qualified to make personnel decisions at a state university.  The general public has no idea what disciplinary processes and rules exist at an institution.  The general public doesn't have any idea what mitigating circumstances might have existed.  Nor do they know the details of the investigation that was conducted or even if an investigation was conducted at all.  In short, the general public only knows what is shown on a 30-second video clip that was edited to fit in a SportsCenter segment.

Again, I am not saying that Mike Rice should not have been fired.  But, I am saying that the Twitterverse and the blogosphere are not the proper forums for making that type of decision.

Brittney Griner to the NBA:  Last week, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, hinted that he might give Brittney Griner a shot at a roster spot in the NBA.  I don't believe for one moment that Cuban was serious about doing this as anything more than a publicity stunt.  And yet, this somehow sparked people to legitimately debate this on Twitter and on sports talk radio.  That was still just idle chatter.  And then Griner herself chimed in.  Griner responded to Cuban on Twitter by saying: "I would hold my own! Let's do it."  Fine.  Griner's a confident college kid having some fun.  But, a couple days later, Griner followed up that tweet by posting this picture on Instagram:

Okay.  That was the last straw for me.  I'm not sure who photoshopped this image.  But I am sure that Brittney Griner wouldn't "hold her own" in a men's college game, let alone the NBA.  Could Brittney Griner compete with men?  Yes.  But those men would be at a suburban YMCA.  Not the NBA.  Griner is a center who plays in the post with her back to the basket.  She is 6'8" and weighs 208 pounds.  Given optimal circumstances, she can squeak a one-handed dunk over the rim.  Impressive ... for a girl.

So, just for comparison's sake, let's look at a few NBA players.  Who is the first 6'8" player in the NBA that comes to mind?  LeBron James, of course.  Somehow, I don't see Griner getting a lot of shots off against King James, let alone guarding him.  Not fair, you say?  Maybe so.  After all, James is the greatest player in the world.  So, let's look at a few other power forwards.  Serge Ibaka.  Zach Randolph.  Dirk Nowitzki.  Those names ring a bell?  How about Blake Griffin?  Somehow, I don't think that the man who jumped over a car in the process of dunking would be impressed with Griner's hops.  And, if you want to keep Griner at her natural position of center, things don't get any easier.  Who would she be facing down on the blocks?  Dwight Howard.  Tyson Chandler.  Pau Gasol and his brother Marc.  Greg Monroe.  Roy Hibbert.  Joakim Noah.  Brook Lopez.  Need I go on?  Not only is Griner 4 to 6 inches shorter than these guys, but she is slower and has about 24 inches less on her vertical.

Brittney Griner is possibly the most athletic and talented woman to ever play the game of basketball.  But, the idea of putting her on the court with the best male players in the world is ludicrous.  It's also insulting to the greatness she actually possesses as a female player.

Louisville's Luke Hancock comforts Kevin Ware
(Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)
NCAA Basketball is Still Great:  All throughout the this season and this year's NCAA tournament, the narrative that has been rammed down our throats is that the quality of play in men's college basketball is declining.  Well, I am absolutely fed up with hearing about how the quality of college basketball is something that needs to be apologized for.  Like most tautologies, "it is what it is" is kind of meaningless.  But college basketball in 2013 "is what it is," and what what "it is" is still worth cherishing.  Sure.  I agree that it would be nice if the officiating was such that a guard could cut through the lane without risking a mortal wound.  And the current one-and-done NBA rule probably means that no other 5-year old will have an imaginary playmate like the collegiate Patrick Ewing.  But, in just the last few weeks, we got to see a a Protestant Christian school in Central Virginia bounce back from an 0-8 start to earn a ticket to the Big Dance.  We got to see a school that only began playing Division 1 basketball last season advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  And, we got to see a team that was vomiting and crying after seeing 4 inches of a teammate's shin bone sticking out of his skin cut down the nets and celebrate a national championship just eight days later.  You tell me what other sport can bring your those story lines in the space of one month. I'll tell you the answer:  It's none.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Banshee Rant: A Connecticut Yankee

In this edition of the Banshee Rant, I am joined by my baby sister, Kay Kay.  Kay Kay is a die hard Yankee fan trapped in New England.  Stick with it till the end to hear Kay Kay's story about some crazy Red Sox fans in a Boston bar during the 2007 ALCS.

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