Why Pittsburgh Won Again

The Stanley Cup Finals are over a game too early! This postseason was one of the best ever. Overtimes were plentiful, heartbreak was everywhere, and the sport put on a show that no other league can. There’s just one issue: It ended before we got to Game 7 of the Finals! Aside from that disappointment, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators provided fans with a well played and exciting cap to the 2017 NHL playoffs. At the start of the series, I predicted a Penguins victory with the provision that it was a toss up decision. With the series over, let’s take a look at what led to Pittsburgh hoisting their second consecutive Stanley Cup. 

1. Predator’s Lack of Offensive Potence

The chatter before the series was about Nashville’s defensive unit going up against Pittsburgh’s hall of fame forwards. Both teams were injured in critical ways and tried to play to their strengths with their cores. Nashville won when their defensive unit could keep Pittsburgh off the puck. Unfortunately, the Predators did not have the forwards to keep pace with the Penguins lines. Nashville was short on the offensive end, which makes some sense as Pittsburgh sports two guaranteed Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and one borderline Hall of Famer in Phil Kessel. But there were two major pieces that could’ve lifted the Preds offense. 

24 year old Ryan Johansen was one of the best centers in the league this season. This postseason, he played in 14 games and collected 13 points. He was a major piece of the Predators attack. And he was not able to play in the Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, Johansen took a hit and felt unusual pain in his leg. He played the whole game, which went into overtime, showered, realized just how bad his leg was, and got himself to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Acute Compartment Syndrome in his left thigh and was shut down for the remainder of the playoffs. So Nashville was without a top center. 


There’s one other personnel issue that undercut Nashville’s chances for success. In 2012, Nashville selected Jimmy Vesey, a left winger from Harvard, with the 66th pick in the draft. Vesey played all four years inn Cambridge, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate player in 2016 and laying the foundation for Harvard’s hockey renaissance. Near the end of his time in college, the Crimson star was guaranteed a spot on the Predators regular season and postseason roster in 2016. However, Vesey informed Nashville that he was not interested in signing with them. He did not want to play in Tennessee and wanted to choose his own destination. He ended up signing with the New York Rangers. He helped the team to a playoff series upset over the Montreal Canadiens, but they lost in the second round to the Ottawa Senators. While Vesey watched, the team he spurned had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup. The Boston native wanted to determine his own landing spot. He got what he wanted, but for now, Vesey screwed up royally. He could have been competing alongside PK Subban and Mike Fisher for the Stanley Cup in his second year in the pros. 


Without two major potential pieces, Nashville was behind the eightball against the Pittsburgh forwards and they failed to overcome the deficit. Their defensive corps was good, just not the forwards. 

2. Controversial Stripes

Let’s deal with this now: Nashville got absolutely screwed by one of the worst officiating calls I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the Predators had plenty of opportunities after the blown call to score, including a 5 on 3 power play in the third period. But proceeding opportunities do not change the fact that the game should have been 1-0 Nashville in the second period. Early in the frame, Nashville had momentum, energy, and the crowd. Filip Forsberg fired the puck on net and it got through Matt Murray for Colton Sissons to put it home. Except the official thought Murray had controlled the puck and whistled the play dead, wiping the goal off the board. To repeat myself and ensure my position, the Preds had opportunities to score and take the lead later in the game, but those later chances do not excuse abysmal officiating. 


3. Pekka’s Poor Play

In the first three rounds of the postseason, 34 year old Pekka Rinne played the best hockey of his career. He totaled a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage, both among the best in the history of the NHL for a postseason. Against Pittsburgh though, Rinne was a mere mortal. He was pulled twice in the series, in games 2 and 5, and his GAA went up to 2.33 while his save percentage dropped to .888 for the series. The Predators needed exceptional play from Rinne to beat Pittsburgh and they did not get it, especially in Pittsburgh. His counterpart, Matt Murray, lived up to the pressure and performed admirably all series, with a shutout in the final game of the series. Pekka turned into a pumpkin before midnight while Murray got to dance at the ball the whole night. 


4. Steady Sullivan

Ever since getting the job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan has been the most steady coach in the league. His team was outplayed by Washington for most of their second round series, and got destroyed by Ottawa in multiple games of that series. Sullivan saw the team through both of those roadblocks and led the Penguins to their second consecutive championship. He joins Toe Blake as the second head coach to win Stanley Cups in their first two seasons. Enjoy the stability of a BU Terrier favorite Pittsburgh!


5. Perseverant Penguins

The calling card for Pittsburgh all postseason was their ability to persevere and fight. They went the length of the hardest postseason in sports without their top defenseman, Kris LeTang, and lost Nick Bonino in the Finals. They used both goaltenders in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury almost singlehandedly beat Columbus and Washington after Murray injured himself during warmups in Game 1 of the postseason. Then Murray replaced Fleury in the Conference Finals against Ottawa when Fleury gave up 4 goals on nine shots in Game 3. And they went on to topple the Senators in Overtime. They then struggled to find a way to beat Nashville on the road in Games 3 and 4 of the finals. They outlasted Nashville, and created the opportunities to win. They killed a 5 on 3 late power play, scored off Rinne’s back, and escaped with the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. 


One last thing, Crosby should not be a 2 time Conn Smythe Trophey winner. Phil Kessel was robbed of that trophey last year and this year’s award should’ve gone to either Evgeni Malkin or Jake Guentzel. 

All that said, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their second consecutive Stanley Cup. They fought through an incredible series of battles and deserve the win. Crosby has secured his position in the upper eschilon of hockey’s elite, and the Penguins earned the title in a sport not built for repeat champions. I feel for the Predators. They went on a deep run and established themselves as a bonafide hockey destination. They have a great team and will be a competitor in the West. I just hope they can rebound from the pain to start next season strong. And now we have to wait until autumn to get the glories of hockey again. 

Why Watch the 2017 NBA Finals?

Oh boy, another match up between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. We’ve never seen this match up before… OK we could see this coming from a mile away. The NBA postseason has been wickedly boring and predictable. From the standpoint of a general NBA fan, it was one of the worst postseasons in recent memory. Golden State swept their way to the finals while Cleveland dominated almost every single game they played, losing only one in the Eastern Connference Finals to the Boston Celtics. I’m honestly a little bored with this matchup and discussion surrounding it after the last year. So why watch the NBA Finals this year?

1. Rivalry

These teams don’t like each other. They’ve shown remarkable contempt for each other through the last year with remarkable acts of trolling and subversion. They’ve also stage memorable battles in each of the last two NBA Finals.  This Golden State team is built to defeat LeBron and the Cavs. If there is any series with anticipation energy and height in the last few years, this is it. There is bad blood, and these teams are designed to beat the other. Yay passion and desire still existing! 


2. Style of Play

Since breaking out in 2015, the Golden State Warriors have rewritten in the style of play in the NBA. They took Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced style  of play and took it to its logical next progression. Golden State was the first team to win a championship by predominately shooting three-pointers at a high clip. However the 2015 championship is looked at with a little bit of contempt. They never faced a fully healthy team in the postseason and yet still ran into trouble with highly to please units in Memphis and Cleveland. The next year when facing fully healthy teams in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, The Warriors barely scraped by OKC and were edged by Cleveland. If the Warriors lose this series to Cleveland, I think the NBA will move away from three point shooting as your dominant method of winning basketball games. Teams will start going to size and rebounding more with players like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love becoming much more desirable than players like Klay Thompson.

3. Are Curry and Durant that good?

The last three MVPs of the NBA are the stars for the Warriors, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Both have had exceptional success personally and team wise, seeing many playoff roster their careers.  However both have faced sharp criticism in recent years and rightly so.

Curry has won the last two MVPs , the last one unanimously, and has become the NBA’s most marketable player after LeBron.He’s a charming, kind, and respectable individual and not an athletic freak like Durant or James. Despite his personal success though, Curry has seen his image chipped at. He did not win the MVP of the 2015 files and was not a leading contender for that award. Andre Iguodala, the teams sixth man won the award and Klay Thompson was a more likely winner than Curry. The next year, after winning the MVP unanimously in the regular season, Curry was one of the reasons the Warriors lost in the Finals. Outside of game 4, his performance was painfully pedestrian and his game 7 effort, particularly his 4th quarter, were awful and gave the Cavaliers a chance to win their first title. If the Warriors lose the championship this year, Steph takes a major hit to his legacy. 


His one time rival and current team and it has more to lose though. Since entering the league in 2007, Kevin Durant has proven to be one of the most dynamic scorers the league has ever seen. He’s a 7 foot tall forward who can handle and shoot like a guard, block shots like a center, and lead a high-quality team in rebounding. He can do everything on a basketball court, except when the biggest games. With the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durrant went to the NBA Finals one time and the Western Conference Finals  and additional three times. Durant never win a title, with notable losses coming to the Spurs in 2014, the Heat in Durant’s only trip to the Finals in 2012, and blowing a 3-1 lead in 2016 to Golden State with a damning game 6 effort highlighting the lost title chance. To make matters more complicated, Durrant left a talented OKC team to play with the team that just knocked him out in order to take the path of least resistance to the Finals. Durrant look to join a super team to win the Title he desires. Durant has a poor postseason reputation and if the Warriors win with him being a no show or lose, Durant’s legacy gets torpedoed. 


4. Is LeBron the greatest?

I can’t avoid this. I absolutely hate the comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James for many reasons. However, it is one of the most compelling reasons to watch the series. Since entering the NBA, LeBron has Reed written in the record book. He’s already put himself in the conversation with Larry Bird, Magic, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Bill Russell, and Shaq as one of the greatest players ever. If he wins the series against a team that was designed to stop him, LeBron seals his place as a top three player in the history of the league. I won’t say who is the better player until LeBron’s career is done. I want to see the full scope of LeBron’s career before I can rank him historically. That said, LeBron’s performance in this series will dictate his historical ranking. 


Prediction

This series had better make up for such a disappointing postseason. I will be very happy if it does is a basketball fan. Much like my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals, I’m not sure who to choose. Golden State is more talented from top to bottom but the Cavaliers have the best player in the world on the floor. I think this will go six or seven games and if I were forced to choose a winner today, I would pick Golden State. LeBron definitely has the talent to lead his team to victory and the Cavs are a great team. I could just more easily see Golden State winning the series. PLEASE BE A GOOD MATCHUP!!!

Why Watch the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals?

This hockey postseason has been exciting, entertaining, and miles better than the disappointing NBA postseason. Pre-playoff favorites Washington and Chicago were beaten shockingly early, underdogs like Ottawa and Nashville thrilled their rabbid fanbases with deep runs, and the NHL has another example of their postseason as the best in the sports world. It’s been exciting, maddening, and worth every second! 

Tonight, the Stanley Cup Finals begin! We get a matchup between a perennial powerhouse and a new arrival. The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for their fifth Stanley Cup and second consecutive cup. The Nashville Predators have only been in existence since 1998 and are making their first trip to hockey’s grandest stage. Both teams have rabbid fanbases, smart head coaches, and loaded talent. They will combine for an outstanding Finals series. So what are the things to watch the series for?

1. Repeat?    

The NHL has had regular competitors in the postseason recently, but no repeat winners. Chicago has three Stanley Cups this decade, LA has two, Boston has been to two Finals, and Pittsburgh is in their fourth Finals since 2008. However, there has not been a back-to-back champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. In fact, there has not been consecutive conference champions since 2008 and 2009 when the Red Wings and Penguins split the Cups. It is fitting then that Pittsburgh has a chance to be the first repeat champions in close to 20 years. Parity is the rule in the NHL, which makes what the Penguins are doing so remarkable. Pittsburgh will be remembered as one of the best teams of the modern age if they win the series. They will do what Chicago, LA, Boston, and every other great team recently has failed to do: win consecutive Cups. 

2.  Goaltending

The goalie is the most important position in hockey by far. Games have been decided by the net minders as far back as people have skated with vulcanized rubber. This postseason has been no different. Nashville had ridden Pekka Rinne to their first Finals appearance. The 34 year old Fin has played the best hockey of his career this postseason, with a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage. Rinne has given Nashville their best season and will have to be big time against the powerful Penguins offense.


Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has had quite the adventure in net. Matt Murray won the Stanley Cup last year as the starter and was slated to open the postseason this year. Instead, he got injured and Marc-Andre Fleury was summoned to start. Turns out it worked. Fleury dominated Columbus and stole the second round series from the Washington Capitals, including a Game 7 shutout on the road. In the Conference Finals against Ottawa, Fleury got shelled in game 3, giving up four goals on nine shots in the first period. They replaced him with a now healthy Matt Murray, who has played superb hockey since getting back in, getting Pittsburgh back to the Finals. 


Ultimately, Rinne is the most consistent goalie in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has used both of their goalies, which normally doesn’t work out, but has for the Penguins. Nashville has the stronger individual net minder, but Pittsburgh is no slouch with both goalies. 

3. Contrasting Styles

These teams might have similar color schemes, but they do not play similar games. Nashville’s strength is from their blue line. PK Subban, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in an offseason trade for stalwart Shea Weber, can direct a power play better than most defensemen in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm round out a strong unit that can control the blue line, limit shot totals, block shots, and create offense. The forwards can create offense, but Mike Fisher and Filip Forsberg are not dominating offensive stars. 


Pittsburgh, on the other hand is  a glass cannon. They led the NHL in goals per game this season and feature two sure fire hall of famers and one guy who’s got a more borderline case. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have won two Cups and have four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer between them. The addition of Phil Kessel to their lineup last year had the same effect as adding Ron Francis to the 1991 Penguins, making them a Stanley Cup winner. The problem for Pittsburgh is that their defensive corps is limited. Kris LeTang is gone for the entire postseason, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, and Trevor Daley are not on par with Nashville’s defensive unit. Their respective personnel require different styles of play, which makes for an intriguing clash of play this series. 


4. Securing Legacy

This year is the 100th anniversary of the NHL and the 50th for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The NHL has featured a few star players that transcend the regular descriptions of excellence. Sidney Crosby is one of those players. Pittsburgh lucked into him when they won the lottery in 2005 for the top pick in the draft. Since then, Crosby has led the league in scoring, won MVPs, and led the Penguins to multiple Stanley Cups. If he wins another Stanley Cup, he climbs higher up the ranking of all time greats. Same thing for Evgeni Malkin. Phil Kessel also secures himself a spot in the hall of fame if he helps Pittsburgh to a championship. 


Nashville also has some legacy to fight for. PK Subban wants to secure his spot as one of the best defensemen in the game, Pekka Rinne wants his reputation as a top goalie to be solidified, and the Predators want Nashville to be a secure hockey market. That third one is the most important. Hockey has grown in popularity internationally, but still is struggling to keep up with basketball and football in the United States. The sport needs some cities in untraditional places to take to it for development. Nashville’s success in developing a rabbid fan base is already reason for being happy, but if they win the Stanley Cup, they would bring hockey in the south to the forefront. 


Prediction

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this series to start! I also cannot tell you what’s gonna happen. These teams play differently enough that the question must be who can dictate the rhythm of the game? If Pittsburgh can skate and shoot as fast as they’re capable of, this is a Pittsburgh exercise in domination. If Pittsburgh goes cold and Nashville can dictate a defensive and hard hitting game, Nashville’s got their first Stanley Cup. If I were forced to pick who will win, I’d guess Pittsburgh. They have the experience, the scoring, and the capable goaltender play. This postseason has reminded us to not take chalk on the predictions. I will watch this series with baited breath and see what happens. I hope you will too. 

Aaron Hernandez: Tragically Wasted Talent

On October 21, 2012, I went to Gillette Stadium for my first ever Patriots game, and first ever NFL game. It was awesome! The tailgating scene was impressive, the crowd was excellent, and the game was outstanding. The Pats played the Jets. They trailed their long time rivals by three late in the game before Tom Brady drove the team into field goal range, Gostowski kicked the equalizer, and the Patriots won in overtime on another Gostowski field goal and Rob Ninkovich sacking Mark Sanchez, forcing a fumble, and recovering it in the same play. I enjoyed the day. Today though, I’m not thinking of that excellent game. 

Before the game, I bought my first Patriots shirt. I wanted a little different name on my shirt and I wanted to show a little Connecticut love. So I bought an Aaron Hernandez shirt. He is from Bristol, CT. Then June 26 of the following year arrived and I regretted my decision. He was arrested that day for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. When that happened, I watched in shock as one of the best players in football was taken away in handcuffs. I didn’t think he would’ve done it. I then looked into Hernandez’s history and the case itself; I found plenty of reason to be skeptical of Hernandez’s claim of innocence. I also was saddened watching this talent get completely wasted. 

He grew up in Bristol, CT, and was one of the best high school tight ends in the country. He originally committed to the University of Connecticut to play with his brother, DJ. He changed his mind and went to the University of Florida instead. Under coach Urban Meyer, Hernandez developed into one of the best collegiate tight ends of the decade. He starred on one of the best college teams ever assembled. He caught passes from Tim Tebow, blocked alongside Mike and Maurkice Pouncy, was flanked by Percy Hardin and Riley Cooper for receiving work, and was backed up by Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins on the defensive side. Yet his time in Gainesville is known more for his legal issues. 

Hernandez failed multiple drug tests and gained the reputation for being a guy who’d skirt the rules for a little enjoyment. However, there were two other major episodes that color him poorly. In April of 2007, Hernandez was in Gainesville and went out to a bar. He was 17 years old, consumed two alcoholic drinks, and refused to pay the bill. He was escorted up out by an employee, and Hernandez punched him so hard he ruptured the employee’s eardrum. He was arrested and charged with a felony battery charge. The matter was settled out of court with a differed prosecution agreement. Later that year, in September, Justin Glass and Corey Smith were injured when they were shot at on a street corner after just leaving a night club. Their friend Randall Carson, who was in the car and not injured, claimed that the shooter was a Hawaiian or Hispanic man with a large build and many tattoos. Hernandez invoked his right for counsel on the issue and was never charged. 

While he wasn’t hit for either of these incidents, Hernandez gained a reputation as a supremely gifted player but with a checkered past. If any organization could handle him, it probably would be a well run one like the Patriots. New England drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, two rounds after the team picked Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. The team had the best tight end tandem in the league and rode their two acquisitions to a 39-9 record over the next three seasons and a trip to Super Bowl 46. Hernandez became the most dependable receiver on the Patriots roster with Gronk’s injuries and Wes Welker’s ability to drop major passes. 

Unfortunately for him, the Patriots, and many others, things took a horrible turn for the worst. In July 2012, Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado were killed in the South End of Boston. Hernandez was indicted on these murders in 2014. He was acquitted of these on April 14th of this year. But even that is not the most damning story against Hernandez. 

On June 17th, 2013, Boston Bandit’s semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd was out at a night club and crossed Hernandez. Lloyd was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of Hernandez’s fiancee at the time. Whatever he said or did, it meant the end for him. Hernandez unloaded ten bullets into Lloyd, killing him. His body was discovered the next day and an investigation began. On June 26th, Hernandez was arrested on a count of first degree murder, one count of carrying a firearm without a license, two counts of possessing a large-capacity firearm and two counts of possessing a firearm without a firearm identification card. 

The Patriots released him from his contract with the team and owner Robert Kraft was stunned. He admitted that Hernandez had been a model Patriot, arriving early for work, practicing long and hard, building a strong repor with Tom Brady, and getting on Bil Belichek’s good side. Hernandez could diagram plays on a whiteboard as well as anyone and was a phenomenal football player and mind. He seemed to be exactly the perfect Patriot. But when he left the building, Hernandez refused to give up the dangerous life of the streets. He found some pleasure in the drugs, gang life, and was able to hide that under the veneer of playing for the most succesful NFL organization of the day. I went from a fan of his and owning his shirt to getting rid of it and turning the Patriots logo on the front of it into a part of a quilt I still own. I wasn’t alone in my removal of Hernandez kit. All Patriots fans did similarly to me. 

After a long trial, Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder on April 15, 2015. Massachusetts has removed the death penalty from its potential sentences, so Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was acquitted of the double murder charges in South Boston only five days ago. But apparently Hernandez did not believe it worthwhile to continue his life. In the early hours of this morning, April 19th, Hernandez was found in his prison cell, dead. He had hung himself using his cell’s window and his bedsheets. How depressingly appropriate that the Patriots visited the White House today in honor of their Super Bowl win this year. 

Everything about the story of Aaron Hernandez is sad. He came from a rough background, showed remarkable athletic talent, stayed on the streets in his mind, and lost his position as a reliable pass catcher for the best quarterback in the history of football because he was accustomed to gangster life. Hernandez is the most tragically wasted athletic talent of my lifetime. We saw what he could do and how he could contribute to a high level football team. We also saw how far into depravity a human being can fall. Lloyd was brutally killed over a meaningless dispute that stil remains murky to passersby. The brutal murder was capped with the most depressing way for someone to die: suicide. No one can condone or protect Hernandez for his actions. But any jokes about him committing suicide are unnecessary and crude. No one deserves that fate. 

It is a depressingly appropriate ending to the most tragic sports story of my lifetime. I can only pray that some good comes of it for someone who knows the story and decides that the street life is not worth it. 

Good Friday: He is Truly God.

This is a day I anticipate with dread every year. Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Christian year. It’s when Jesus is arrested, is beaten, carries his cross, is crucified, and dies. It is at the crux of the faith, and I dislike this day above all others. 

I’ve written here before that I’ve never liked Good Friday. I understand how necessary it is, but I still don’t like it for one reason: it requires the honest Christian to look into his/her heart and admit the sin bearing down upon their heart in a rather primal manner. The reminder that Jesus Christ was truly man and suffered greatly for all of our sins is wildly sobering. More details of the events that day make it even more gut wrenching.

First, ever wondered what Judah’s actually got for betraying Jesus? Well, 30 pieces of silver was about 5 week’s paying wages. So he betrayed Jesus for 5 weeks worth of money. In terms of actual spending power? Each piece was worth about $20. That means he betrayed Jesus for a total of $600. Yes, it costs less for an apartment in Malden than it does to betray the Son of God. I read that during a Bible Study I’m a part of and my jaw dropped. 

Then the amount of pain he went through is just stupifying. Every year, I watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. The amount of suffering Jesus went through and the way the film depicted it was raw, brutal, and shocking. And he did all that for you, me, the temple guards who beat him up, the man who betrayed him, the holy and sinners alike. All that for us. Truly God does love us. 

There is also one scene in the movie that leaves me in tears every time. After Jesus takes up his cross and walks to Golgotha, he falls under the weight of his cross. In one such moment, he meets his mother. They cut in a sequence of Jesus falling as a child and show Mary’s motherly love when He was a child and an adult. This scene destroys me every time. God was human flesh. God walked the earth and had a mother who suffered as she watched her son be beaten to a bloody pulp of a man. And she loved him. Jesus was true man and true God. 

It’s always a trying day because of how incredible this faith and journey is. Take time today to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for us. 

Retreat! Good for the Soul

Throughout college, I was active in the Catholic community we have at Boston University. I maintain that it was the best part of my collegiate experience. I learned how to pray, reflect intently on my life, and live with true joy. More than anything else, the BUCC shaped me into the guy I have become. And out of all the offered programming there, the semesterly retreats had the biggest impact on me. 

In the Catholic world, a retreat is a time of reflection, prayer, and contemplation. It’s a time when you leave home, get away from your life, and follow the Spirit to see where God is calling you in a much different setting than normal. While in college, there was one retreat each semester. I went on all eight undergrad retreats I was eligible for. They all meant something to me and affected me in some way. My freshman retreats sparked my faith to life. Sophomore year’s Autumn confirmed I was on the right path and the spring let me work on a retreat, so I saw the behind the scenes stuff. Junior year comforted and consoled me through some difficult times. And senior year closed out college with a bang. 

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anymore retreats like those after college. They’re special experiences and only happen so often. I stayed around BU this year. I still have friends in undergrad at BU and I got more into the graduate student and young professional group that’s just getting its footing within the community again. We had talked about doing retreats for our segment of the CC, but I wasn’t sure that it would happen. I went to SEEK in San Antonio in January and figured that would be my retreat. I loved it! I was content that God had given me the needed lessons and retreat experience that I hadn’t had in almost a year. Thank God I was wrong about that.

At the end of January, a friend in the BU Grad Group told me about the retreat being discussed and asked if I wanted to help make it happen. Without thinking about the timing of it or considering too much, I said yes. It seemed like I shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to do it and I’m so happy I did. By fortunate timing, the retreat fell on the weekend between the NCAA Regional tournaments in Manchester and Providence, both of which I covered, and the Frozen Four in Chicago, where I will be starting on Tuesday. I didn’t think about that scheduling when I said yes but thank God He did. 

We got to discussing the theme, title, structure, schedule, and we went to work. We didn’t have an existing framework for prior Grad Group retreats, so we took a beat from the undergrad retreats we were familiar with and crafted our own formula. It took months of planning, promotion, praying, and processing to make it all happen. And when the weekend arrived with the snow, sleet, rain, and everything else that happens in winter and not on April 1st, we were ready to go. 

We went to Acton Mass and went Into the Desert for the weekend. It was awesome. The priest who gave the talks was perfect, the witnesses were phenomenal, the meditations worked well(so I was told after leading the first one and experienced the second), and the time in adoration and confession was nothing short of amazing. I barely slept over the weekend, in part because we slept in sleeping bags on the floors of a classroom in the basement of the church and because my sleep spot was right next to the door, but that didn’t matter much. The weekend was just such an awesome time that I didn’t care exactly when stuff happened or how rested I was. I ran on the Holy Spirit for energy all weekend. I completely crashed when I got home, but oh well. It was needed. 

I can add this to the expanding memory bank of incredible moments made possible through the BUCC community. The retreat to St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish was lovely. The snow made things annoying at times and cold, but that was alright. The simple yet deep programming worked better than we hoped it would. And the healthy parish community at St. Elizabeth’s made things better. The working infrastructure at the church made our event possible and reminded us that there is life after college. 

Many of us come from parishes that are older and low in people our age. St. Elizabeth’s has plenty of families with young parents, teenagers, active high schoolers, and adorable children in addition to the older crowd. It’s good to know that churches like this one exist and that they can be formed in today’s world. 

It’s also good to be reminded that God guides us through our deserts and makes good from them. We spent the retreat focusing on spiritual dryness and anything that resembles a desert in the spiritual life. I haven’t processed everything that God showed me yet and I will continue working through my time in the talks, witnesses, discussions, meditations, Masses, and everything else that happened. What I have processed is a reminder of God’s love for me, a purpose for my spiritual battles in recent years, and reassurance that I’m in the right career. 

Retreats have always served as a time for me to reset and refresh. This weekend didn’t physically do either of those; I went home physically exhausted. I fell asleep at 4, woke up at 7, then fell back asleep until 5am. I was rested after that night’s sleep though! Spiritually though, I feel more alive than I have in a while. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in a while, met new people, and was reminded of God’s presence throughout my life. It was exactly what I needed. I can say that about every single retreat I’ve been on. I’ve got more to learn from what happened this weekend, but I know I got plenty out of it for now. 

I’m thankful I had the best crew possible to work with on this weekend. The Desert isn’t as bad a place as people make it out to be. 

Baseball Beginning Again

We’ve hit that most wonderful time of the year. Spring training has gotten underway and baseball season has begun! Yes, it is still early March, meaning that opening day is still a month away, but I am still happy to say that baseball is back! Even if there is snow on the ground. 

This year will be a bit different for me as a baseball fan, not for anything at the MLB level, but for a new fandom I’ve developed since working for the Whitecaps: college baseball. Of course the Red Sox are the top priority for my fandom. They are my favorite sports organization and I have high hopes for them this year. Last season was a phenomenal ride that ended with a painful loss to Cleveland. For 2017, there is plenty to be excited about. Dustin Pedroia patrols second and the defense, Pablo Sandoval has lost weight and looks more motivated to be a part of the team, and Mookie Bette is coming off a near MVP caliber season. And I haven’t mentioned the pitching yet, what with Porcello, Price, Rodriguez, and new acquisition Chris Sale forming a top level rotation. It will be weird watching the Red Sox without Koji in the back end of the bullpen, and I don’t know what to say about David Ortiz not being in the lineup. I’ve never known the Red Sox without Big Papi. He’s been at the heart of the Red Sox and Boston since 2003, and he is now retired. I will do anything I can to get into Fenway on June 23, when 34 will be retired. I’m still stunned that Ortiz is no longer playing, but I still have high hopes for my guys on Yawkey Way. 

And in case that wasn’t enough, I’ve got two other teams I’m following this year. Both are college teams with professional prospects. One is a DI team, one’s a DIII team. And I’m just a fan of one and I’m working for the other. 

My fan team first. This summer, I hosted two players from the University of North Carolina. They are both high quality guys who will be drafted this year into professional baseball. They made my summer on Cape Cod nothing short of amazing and I have my college baseball team for life. My alma mater doesn’t have a varsity baseball team, so I’m forced to look elsewhere. And why not look at Chapel Hill for good baseball? 

I’ve been rewarded so far. The Tar Heels are 10-3 so far, only running into trouble against St. John’s and Long Beach State. My guys have also had excellent starts to their seasons. Both have played in and started all 13 games this season. Zach is off to a .317 start, and has the second highest on base percentage on the team. He’s hit well, fielded well, and is upping his draft stock early this year, especially after a remarkably quick recovery from TOS surgery this off season. While Zach has been excellent this year, his roomie and running mate, Logan, is tearing it up. He’s batting .367, has an OPS of 1.021, and is leading the Tar Heels in hits, total bases, and steals. He’s proving himself as a top draft prospect and they’re looking to lead UNC to the College World Series after a bitterly disappointing end to last year’s college campaign. Fan me is excited to have another team to follow, and for that team to have personal connections. I’ll see these guys in early April when they play at Chestnut Hill against the Boston College Eagles. 

As excited as I am for UNC, I am equally excited for a DIII team that I’m calling games for this year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology isn’t known for its athletics, but don’t be fooled. There are skilled athletes at MIT. Perhaps one of the best stories in baseball right now is being authored there. 

I called MIT baseball games last year, and had a front row seat to Austin Filiere lighting up his conference. He’s a career .427 hitter and can play the field very well. He also got to play in the Cape League this past summer against my Carolina guys. When the Harwich Mariners showed up, I checked the roster and saw Austin Filiere from MIT on there. I was dumbfounded. A DIII player facing off against the best that college baseball has to offer? He had better be good. Needless to say, he was. Filiere finished tied for the 2nd most homers in the league and totaled the most RBI for the team with the best record in the league. He was voted to the All-League team and proved to be a legitimate draft prosepect. 

This year has already started for the Engineers. They split a pair of games against Texas Lutheran. Unfortunately, Filiere did not look that good. He’s only hitting .167 through two games. I have no doubt that Filiere will right his direction. The Engineers were supposed to play at UMass Boston on the 5th and they’re supposed to play a double header against Southern Maine to open the season at home on Saturday the 11th. Considering that snow will be on the ground, they won’t be able to play until the 17th, when they take the road to Oglethorpe, Georgia. I trust that the Engineers will entertain and that their star player will get drafted this year. 

The snow is still falling, but baseball season is upon us! I am so excited to get into the swing of it, especially with two more college teams to follow.