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Friday, June 28, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Dessert Drinks

It's summertime, y'all!  Time for outdoor parties and fun in the sun.  For kids, that means cake and popsicles.  And for the adults ... well ... here are some liquid versions of these old standby desserts.  Both of these delicious treats use one of Three Olives many flavored vodkas.  I know some of you macho men out there who only come to this site for articles about car racing and football will roll your eyes and dismiss these as fluffy girly drinks.  If that's your attitude, then you'll just be missing out.

Birthday Cake Cocktail:  Fill a tumbler with ice.  Pour Sprite into the tumbler until it's two-thirds of the way full.  Fill the rest of the way with Three Olives Cake Vodka.  If you don't like the icing on a store-bought birthday cake, then you won't like this drink.  But, if you're a regular American then you'll be surprised and delighted by the smell and taste of this tasty treat.

Liquid Creamiscle:  Fill a tumbler with ice.  Pour orange soda into the tumbler until it's two-thirds of the way full.  Fill the rest of the way with Three Olives Whipped Cream Vodka.  This has all the delicious flavor of a creamsicle but with none of the melty, sticky mess or splinters from licking that pesky stick in the middle.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Temper, Temper: Sports Tantrums of Spring

Spring has sprung.
The grass has ris'.
Tell me where the self-control is?

Okay, not exactly Shakespeare.  But a recurring column about grown men acting like misbehaving children hardly deserves world class poetry.  So, here we go.  The best sports tantrums of spring.

1. Tony Stewart Challenges Joey Logano's Manhood.  Most NASCAR fans will tell you that the Auto Club 400 in California this March was one of the most exciting races of the season.  Kyle Busch and Dale Junior avoided a crash on the final lap to finish first and second.  But the excitement continued after the checkered flag flew.  Tony Stewart squared off against Joey Logano with fists and words.  And lest you think that it was the wreck that broke Denny Hamlin's back that sent Stewart into a tirade, dial down your righteous indignation a bit.  It was far less noble than that.  It was a offensive block that incensed Stewart.

2.  A Basebrawl with Injuries.  Yeah, I know.  I didn't think that was possible.  But when Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres squared off against Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 11, that is exactly what happened.  Based on the circumstances of this game, it is almost inconceivable that Greinke intentionally hit Quentin with this pitch.  But, apparently, there is some bad blood between these two that extends back a few years to when both players played in the American League Central.  And so, the brawl was on.  I give Greinke credit for attempting to level the charging Quentin.  But, when all was said and done, Greinke suffered a broken collarbone that put him out of commission for an extended period of time.

3.  Fight Like a Girl.  This is from the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond on April 24.  Not only does Nelson Piquet, Jr. intentionally wreck Brian Scott after the race was over but he follows it up with a kick to the crotch on pit road.  Am I the only one who thinks this fighting style looks like something a drunk sorority girl would employ?  Go ahead and skip the to the 1:00 mark.

3. Time for Anger Management?  For the first time in the history of this column, one person makes two separate appearances in a single Temper Temper post.  Give it up for Zack Greinke, everybody!  When we last saw him, he broke his collar bone fighting Carlo Quentin.  In this clip, he plays a prominent role in one of the best baseball fights of the season.  The hostilities between the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers started in the 5th inning when Greinke hit Diamondbacks' outfielder Cody Ross with a pitch.  Ian Kennedy then responded in the bottom of the 6th inning by hitting the Dodgers' rookie phenom Yasiel Puig in the nose with a pitch.  In the top of the 7th inning, Greinke promptly plunked the D-backs' catcher in the center of the back.  Then, in the bottom of the 7th, Ian Kennedy exacted his revenge by hitting Grienke with a pitch right between the numbers.  And then it was on.  This fight has some great blasts from the past.  Don Mattingly, Kirk Gibson and Mark McGuire all got suspensions after this brawl.

4.  A Bear and a Monkey.  I thought NASCAR drivers had violent reactions to wrecks during a race.  Then I saw this video.  A bear is competing against a monkey in a bicycle race in China.  When the monkey wrecks in front of the bear ... well ... let's just say that the bear has a rather extreme reaction.  There is really no end to the comments I could make about this video.  But, I'll just say that this is simultaneously the funniest and most violent sports tantrum I've ever seen.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sports Media Negativity

Humor me for a moment.  Read each of these two paragraphs.

(Mark Erhmann/Getty Images)
Paragraph One:  The championship was in their grasp.  But, stubborn coaching, poor rebounding and missed foul shots cost the San Antonio Spurs a victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  Tim Duncan turned in a performance for the ages in the first half, but Gregg Popovich stuck to his usual substitution patterns and had Duncan resting on the bench at the start of the 4th quarter.  This opened the door for the Heat to begin the 10-point comeback that eventually led to overtime.  Despite this strategy, the Spurs still had opportunities to close it out at the end of regulation and in overtime.  But the Spurs could not capitalize.  In the most important moments of the game, the Spurs allowed offensive rebounds to slip through their fingers and failed to wrap up the victory at the foul line.  Those failings in crunch time may very well cost Popovich, Duncan and Ginobili a final ring before retirement.

(Getty Images)
Paragraph Two:  On the brink of elimination, LeBron James reminded everyone why he is the greatest player on the planet.  LeBron shook off the frustrations of a lackluster start to the game and put the Heat on his back to start the 4th quarter.  LeBron took control on both ends of the floor as the Heat made a furious 10-point comeback to tie up the game.  Along the way, LeBron James lost his headband but amassed yet another triple-double playoff performance.  In overtime, Chris Bosh rose to the occasion and secured two key, contested rebounds.  Bosh then sealed the victory by blocking Danny Green's last second 3-point shot as the final buzzer sounded.  And so, after eight months of basketball, the world championship will be decided by game Game 7 on Thursday night.

Which one of these paragraphs accurately described what transpired Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals?  Both did.  Which one was more fun and uplifting to read?  I'd say the second one.  And yet, it was some version of the first paragraph that filled my Twitter timeline immediately after the game.  And the paragraph one narrative dominated the sports talk shows the next morning and on into the afternoon slate of chatter on ESPN.

This negative tone is not unique to Thursday night.  Nor is it unique to any one media outlet.  It has increasingly become the accepted standard for how to analyze a sporting event.  I watch sports to be entertained and uplifted by athletic excellence and competition.  I imagine most other people do, too.  So, why must the narrative be so negative?  My answer:  Because it's easier.  And because a critic gets to feel superior to the person he is breaking down.  Somehow pointing out someone's excellence is perceived as less perceptive than finding their flaws.  But, as we move forward, I'd admonish all of us to remember these words from Sam Rayburn:  "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."

I'm looking forward to Game 7 on Thursday night.  And I'm looking forward to seeing Lord Stanley's Cup awarded later this week.  And, I'm looking forward to praising the excellence of the champion on this blog and on my Twitter feed.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Baseball, Family and History

At a ball field carved out of the coal-filled mountains of Pennsylvania, Johnny Pitts stepped to the plate.  It was the summer of 1898 in Locustdale, PA ... a town that exists solely because of the anthracite veins that run beneath the ground.  Pitts was a small but wiry man.  He spent his weekdays toiling in the mines -- a job he started as a breaker boy at the age of eight.  It was a dark and dangerous existence.  But on this day, the world was bright.
anthracite coal region
Breaker boys in Schuylkill County, PA

In February, Johnny had married the love of his life, Stella Horbach.  And on this day, Johnny was playing the game that would grow to become America's pastime.  As Johnny Pitts dug in at the plate, his world was bright.  But, in an instant, it turned dark.

Pitts was unable to avoid a fastball that was high and inside.  A sickening thud echoed through the valley as the baseball struck Pitts in the head.  He dropped motionless to the ground.  Although the severity of the injury was not yet known, Pitts' teammates, men who also earned their daily bread in the mines, were enraged by what they considered to be a violent and intentional act by the opposing pitcher.  The anger of the Locustdale squad was not the fake bravado of today's players who wander onto the field to exchange pleasantries in what passes for a brawl in the 21st century.  Pitts' teammates attempted to lynch the pitcher who had rendered their teammate and co-worker unconscious.  It was actually the newlywed Stella who intervened to save the pitcher while her husband's life still hung in the balance on the field.

Johnny Pitts remained in a coma for many days ... possibly weeks.  Medical records from the coal region in 1898 are hazy, at best.  Perhaps more dangerous than the pitch that struck his head or any day in the mine was the surgery the doctors performed to save Pitts' life.  A steel plate was installed in his head.  Miraculously, Pitts recovered completely.  He resumed work in the mines and lived to the age of 77.

Anthracite Coal Region
Baseball that beaned Johnny Pitts in 1898
Is Johnny Pitts the only man who ever suffered a life threatening injury playing sports?  No.  Is he the only man who sought refuge from strenuous labor in the joy of baseball?  Certainly not.  So, why do I share this story?  Because Johnny Pitts is my great great grandfather.  And just recently, my grandmother gave me the ball that nearly ended his life before the rest of my family line could be born.

Johnny Pitts died nearly a half century before I was born, yet looking at that ball, I feel connected not just to the history of my family but to the history of the great game of baseball.  I grew up in the same coal fields where Johnny Pitts lived and worked and played.  My grandfather, a local baseball legend in his own right, took me to the old ball field in Locustdale.  And, he let me hit a baseball there, although it was overgrown with weeds and peppered with rocks at the time.  That was probably 25 years ago.  I've since moved away and started my own life.  But, when I watch baseball to this day, the experience is about more than just the one game on my TV screen.  It's about staying connected the sports roots that run deep in our country and in my family.  And, it's about being connected to all of you who are nodding in agreement as you read this paragraph.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Banshee Blitz

The Banshee Blitz debuted in April.  The basic idea of the Banshee Blitz is that I get to touch on several hot topics in the sports world in just one column.  Not a lot of research and backstory.  Just my thoughts ... rapid fire.

(Daniel Shirey/USA Today)
Stephen Strasburg to the DL:  The Washington Nationals are 8 games out of first place in the NL East and have a losing record.  And this week, the Nats announced that their young ace, Stephen Strasburg is headed to the DL with a sore back.  I'm not happy about either of these things.  I like Strasburg, and I like the Nats.  But I hated the decision last season to put Strasburg on the shelf for the playoffs in order to protect the health of Strasburg's right arm.  The Nats acted as if making it to the post season in the years to come was a mortal lock and that they'd need Strasburg healthy for their inevitable 10-year World Series dynasty.  Well, congrats, Nats!  Strasburg ended last season with a healthy arm.  And yet, Strasburg apparently has other body parts that can go awry.  And, you cannot count on a season as magical as 2012 to happen every year.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20.  But, I'm entitled to spout off about this now because I dedicated an entire Banshee Rant to criticizing the Save Strasburg strategy last July.

(Elsa/Getty Images
The End of A-Rod?  Please?:  While we're on the topic of baseball, I feel obligated to spend just a few words on Alex Rodriguez.  Alex Rodriguez hasn't played a single inning of baseball this season for the New York Yankees, but he got to be the hottest topic in the MLB this week due to his connection to yet another steroid scandal.  I don't want to get into the details of what A-Rod might have done or the merits of the claims against him.  After all, this is the Banshee Blitz ... not the Banshee Grand Jury Argument.  But, the hot rumor this week is that Major League Baseball may seek a 100-game suspension against the already injured and aging third baseman.  As the news was breaking, almost every single person on my Twitter feed was excited about the possible demise of A-Rod.  This might seem obvious to some of you, but I'm a Yankees fan.  There are a lot of Yankees fans on my Twitter timeline.  It was the Yankees fans were actually leading the charge in the anti-A-Rod parade.  Most Yankees fans would be delighted if they never have to hold their noses again while hoping for #13 to produce at the plate.  And despite the huge salary that the Steinbrenner family will still have to honor, I have to wonder if part of them also wants to just be rid of the PR mess that A-Rod has become.

(Getty Images)
NFL to London:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell got the sports media world all in a tizzy this week when he made it clear that he'd like to see an NFL franchise in London.  And, of course, the group of parrots that comprise the national sports media all started talking about the London Jaguars.  Getting the Jags out of Jacksonville is inexplicably a beloved narrative for people of that ilk.  But, for purposes of this Blitz column, let's leave the Jaguars out of this and address a more fundamental question.  Why is NFL football in London supposed to be a good idea?  Sure, the game or two that the NFL exports to Wembley Stadium each year get decent attendance.  But, that's because everyone goes to see the circus when it comes to town.  It does not mean that the people who turn out to the big top actually want to see the acrobats 16 times a year.  And it certainly doesn't mean that they're gonna start shelling out big bucks to buy jerseys with their favorite elephant's number on them.  Let's be honest, if the folks across the pond were really clambering for American football, then NFL Europe would still exist.  If there must be expansion or relocation of a franchise, why not look to San Antonio, Oklahoma City or Los Angeles.  And if it's international expansion that the league really craves, why not take a baby step into Canada first.  Why not Halifax, for example.  They've been lobbying to get a CFL team for years.

(Terry Gilliam/AP)
Gordon Gee is Gone:  Gordon Gee, president of the Ohio State University, retired this week.  The retirement came in the wake of a some controversial comments surfacing regarding, among other things, the SEC, Notre Dame and Catholics as a whole.  This was by no means the first time that Gee's words have drawn scrutiny.  Gee's retirement announcement made me both happy and sad.  I'm sad because no one should be defined by their least flattering moment (or in this case, two or three least flattering moments).  But, by all accounts, Gee was a fine man and was very skilled at his job of president of a major university ... a post he's held at many other reputable institutions of higher learning.  The fact that Gee was a lousy comedian does not mean that he's a lousy president.  It certainly doesn't mean that he's a lousy man.  But, at the same time, I'm happy about Gee's retirement.  It's easy to hang on too long.  To linger until you're fired.  Gee left before his departure became overdue.  And for that, I applaud him.  And, I'm sure his family will applaud him, too.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fan's Voice: Birth of a Broncos Fan

This is the second installment of the Fan's Voice series of guest posts on Banshee Sports.  It's a series where even serious writers can throw away their objectivity and rant on behalf of their favorite NFL team.  I am proud and honored to present a piece by Joseph Nardone, currently a writer at Sports-Glutton and always an entertaining and informed voice in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere.

One of the hardest things about being a fan is staying objective. For one reason or another we all have teams that we root for and do so in ways that are rather unbecoming of us as reasonable people. Losing perspective on something you care about isn't really all that new or strange, though. If you have children, chances are that you think your 4 year-old who draws on your walls, runs into doors and uses the wrong adjective while describing something happens to be the smartest kid in the world. It is okay, at least in the realm of sports, to lose that objectivity and use the team you root for as an escape from real life.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
For real, real life stinks. Dealing with stresses that come from your profession on a daily basis is bad enough. You have to be realistic about that. There is no room for losing self-awareness in your day-to-day goings. Sports, however, is that sanctuary where everything and anything goes. Where people can act like an idiot while screaming at their picture-box for a few hours is widely considered acceptable. Are you a 44 year-old businessman? Sure, paint yourself blue and go yell at a 23 year-old who ran out of bonds. Try going to your accounting firm with spikes on your shoulders and berating the rival accounting firm's best tax-guy. That will likely end with you being fired and a possible lawsuit headed your way. Sports is that place where real life rules no longer apply. Where acting like an idiot is not only okay but encouraged. Hooray life!
How a fan gets a favorite team is another story in itself. That is why I thought it be wise to tell you how I became a fan of the Denver Broncos before I unknowingly tell you how they will be the greatest thing since sliced bread in the upcoming season. I, too, lose all sense of direction while talking about "my" team. Heck, I hated Tim Tebow when he was in college, thought he was going to be a horrible pro while watching the NFL Draft and then, but only then, when Denver selected him I immediately thought he was going to revolutionize the quarterback position and change the fortunes of the Denver franchise one wobbly pass at a time.
When I was a youth my parents had me attending a parochial school. For those of you who are unaware of what that is: It is a place ran by nuns and priests. Where strict rules preside in a building that would otherwise be a random attachment to a church. I cannot speak for every other person who has ever attended such a school, but I hated going there. To be fair, though, I wasn't even in the double-digits as far as age range goes so I assume I would have hated any school I was enrolled.
In 1990 (the 1989-90 season) the Super Bowl had the Broncos facing off with the much more popular San Francisco 49ers. At the time I had no allegiance to any pro football team. I mean, I was 7 years-old -- I was still debating which members of The Rockers in the WWF were going to be my favorite (I chose Marty Jannetty. A mistake I had to live with), nevertheless, make such a life changing decision like which NFL team I was going to root-on for the rest of my natural life. St. Mary's -- the school which I attended -- decided it would be fun to have the kids wear the uniform for whatever team they were rooting for on the last day of school before the game was going to be played.
This is where my father comes in. With almost every team I root for, a story about my father follows. Like most sons I thought of my father as a brilliant person who I wanted to be just like. Being 7 and all, however, I was more biased to my father's decisions when it came to his reasoning for rooting for certain teams. He could tell me to root for a team because their bullpen catcher was great at milking cows and, without fail, I would go and tell all of my friends why to like "team x" for said reason -- because my father said so.
Long story short, my father bought me a Steve Atwater jersey to wear to school. When I attended "Super Bowl Uniform Day" at school I noticed that almost everyone else had on a San Francisco jersey. It looked like there were less than a handful of us who wore a Denver jersey while hundreds of others took to the more popular national team. I assumed my father knew something no one else did and all those hundreds of kids would look like idiots when Denver beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Alas, the game was nowhere near close, and I was stuck rooting for a team that was located halfway across the country and NEVER on my local TV.
It was not until I was in high school -- after Denver one their first Super Bowl -- that my father told me why he bought me a Denver jersey rather than the San Francisco counterpart. No, it wasn't some supernatural force or foresight my father had about the franchise. Rather, the truth of the matter was a lot more realistic than it was altruistic. My father was life altering honest with me when he said, "An Atwater jersey was about 10 bucks less than a Jerry Rice."
There you have it. I became a Denver Broncos fan because my father was cheap! Okay, okay, I kid. Saving 10 bucks is cool with me. I am in the midst of trying to brainwash my daughters into liking things that are really cheap: Playing in the grass, using their imagination or anything else that doesn't involve me going to Toys R Us to buy a $150 toy that will be played with once.
Joseph loves BansheeSports and thanks Rebecca for letting me contribute. If you would like to read more of Joe's scribbling, well, don't! You can follow him on the mean streets of Twitter, however, @JosephNardone. 

If you'd like to be the next contributor to the Fan's Voice series, please contact Wild Banshee via Twitter or email.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Banshee's Best: Spurs Superiority

On Saturday night, the eyes of the basketball world were focused on Indianapolis, Indiana.  LeBron James and his Miami Heat were seeking to eliminate the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers won and forced a Game 7.  The media and fans have been in a frenzy of analysis and anticipation of Game 7 ever since.  What have the San Antonio Spurs been doing this weekend?  Waiting.  Watching.  Studying and preparing.  The Spurs clinched their spot in the NBA Finals last week when they completed a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.  A sweep executed with a level of precision that would be the envy of any surgeon.  This weekend has been a microcosm of the last 15 years for the Spurs.  Every year there is some more exciting team playing in some more glamorous city that captures the fancy of the press and the public.  But away from all that noise, Spurs have been quietly winning for a decade and a half.

(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
The two constants for the Spurs over the last 15 years have been Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.  Like the city they live in, neither are glitzy.  Neither are sexy.  But they are winners.  Gregg Popovich was hired as the general manager of the Spurs in 1994.  Partway through the 1996-97 season, Popovich fired head coach Bob Hill and took over the head coaching duties himself.  Due to a season ending injury suffered by David Robinson on Christmas Eve of 1996, the Spurs limped to a 20-62 record in Pop's first year as head coach.  But that dismal season allowed the Spurs to have the first pick in the 1997 draft.  And thus began 15 years of greatness.

In his dual role as head coach and general manager, Popovich used the first pick of the 1997 draft to select Tim Duncan.  Paired with a healthy Robinson, Duncan averaged 20 points per game in his rookie year and helped the team to a 56-win season in 1997-98.  The next season, the Spurs won the world championship.  In 2002, Gregg Popovich gave up his role as GM, but the winning continued.  Despite age and injury turning David Robinson into a shell of himself, the Spurs won the world championship again in 2003.  Even after The Admiral's retirement, the Spurs continued their success.  The Spurs captured two more championships in 2005 and 2007.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
When the Spurs get done with their mini vacation, they will be attempting to win their 5th championship in 15 years.  And yet, headlines such as "Spurs Say Goodbye to Six Years of Pain" appear on the websites of major newspapers.  Six years of pain?  Talk about accentuating the negatives.  Twenty-five other teams did not win a championship during that span either.  Unlike most of those other 25 teams, the Spurs have been consistently excellent during that entire span.  Aside from the strike-shortened season where the Spurs won the championship, the Spurs have won at least 50 games in every single season since Tim Duncan joined the team 15 years ago.  And that includes the 50-win campaign during last year's strike-shortened year.

The Spurs might not have been the most fun team to talk about over the last decade and a half, but they have been the most consistently great franchise in the league.  And once again this year, even in their own conference, the Spurs spent the regular season in the media shadow of the Thunder, the Clippers and Lakers.  In the Western Conference playoffs, the media darlings seemed to be whoever the Spurs were playing.  And if the Heat end up being the Spurs' opponent in the NBA Finals, there is no doubt where the microphones and cameras will be pointed.  But, my guess is that will suit the Spurs fine ... just as it has for the past 15 years.  The Finals are not a popularity contest.  And at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to Popovich, Duncan and the rest of the Spurs is winning four more games.

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