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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. 

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. 

My Favorite Player

On February 15, 2006, I was on February break. I was a sixth grader on the cusp of puberty. I was just getting over the Patriots losing in the postseason to Denver and  Spring Training for the Red Sox hadn’t started yet. I wasn’t yet a hockey fan and I was just starting to like basketball in a big way. UConn was good, but not great that year, and Georgetown, my mom’s alma mater hadn’t captured my attention yet. I was aware of the NBA’s existence but wasn’t a big fan. The night of the 15th, though, that all changed. I watched the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers play. It was a classic game that took 2 overtimes to finish. Cleveland won behind a 43 point triple double by phenom LeBron James. My eyes were glued to the guy wearing 34 for the Celtics giving James the business all night. After a 50 point game against the most hyped player of the day, Paul Anthony Pierce became my favorite basketball player, and eventually, my favorite athlete. 

I watched the Celtics through the abysmal 2006-2007 season, got excited when Paul got help from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and celebrated when they won the Celtics’ 17th championship. I followed the team intensely ever since. I watched Glenn Davis hit a game winner in Orlando in 2009, KG and Rondo end the Cavs chances in 2010, and watched the Lakers break my heart the next year. I saw Pierce hit a three in LeBron’s face in 2012’s Conference Finals, and watched the Celtics bow out against the New York Knicks in the 2013 playoffs. 

Once that postseason hit, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded out of Boston to Brooklyn. I was crestfallen, but I would still follow the Celtics through the rebuild, seeing my first ever Celtics game in February 2014, with no Pierce. I watched the Nets and rooted for my guys in the playoffs that year, loving Pierce’s block on Kyle Lowry, and being bitter with LeBron James and the Miami heat for beating my heroes again. 

Pierce left Brooklyn and joined the Washington Wizards for the 2015 season. I liked the fit. He provided veteran leadership for a young team that was trying to learn how to win. He helped them to a playoff sweep over the Raptors and authored maybe his best playoff moment against Atlanta. In Game 3 of the Conference Semi-Finals, Washington lost a big lead and were tied with the Hawks late in the 4th. In the last seconds, Bradley Beal took the inbound and passed it to Pierce at the left elbow. Pierce called for Beal to clear out, dribbled, waited for the clock to wind down, put up a shot over two players, and banked in the game winning shot. In the frenzy afterward, he was interviewed by Chris Broussard. To end the interview, Broussard asked “Did you call bank?” Pierce answered “I called Game!” and he walked off to hype the crowd more and go to the locker room. 

That play against the Hawks shows exactly why Paul Pierce is my favorite player of all time. He stayed confident through the toughest moments, always giving his team the confidence that they could win the game. He swaggered his way into big time shot after big time shot, on the basis of the ugliest game a superstar has ever played. 

He didn’t have a pretty shot. He wasn’t smooth. Pierce played a brawny, brawly, physical style of game. Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and LeBron James all played much more aesthetically pleasing games. Garnett was smooth, Dirk’s shot was beautiful, and LeBron’s athleticism was undeniably magnificent. Paul could spin in the post and be effective, but he was not smooth. Pierce had a good shot, but not a pretty one. And Pierce could throw down, but he was not the dominating athlete LeBron is. Instead, Pierce could switch speeds well with quick dribbles and a smart shot. Pierce played a grounded and effective game that depended upon old school confidence. He never wavered with the Celtics and he carried them through hard times. He lived through being stabbed in 2000 to become one of the most respected players of the decade. He represented the old school heart with a dash of modern flash and flair for the dramatic. And he did all of this while brazenly facing off against the best players of the day and being undervalued and underappreciated. He was a model of consistent confidence and he never wavered as an old school player in the modern day. I love that old school mindset that Pierce walked into the league with. 

Despite my admiration for him, I had never seen Pierce play in person in a regular season game. I saw the Celtics played a preseason game at the XL Center before the 2009-10 season, but that was just a preseason game. The first regular season Celtics game I ever went to was the February 12th game of the 2014 season against the Spurs, after Pierce had been traded. I wanted to see him when the Wizards were in town, but I never had the chance. Before the 2016 season, he signed with the LA Clippers. Before this season, he announced that it would be his last. When I saw the Celtics schedule, I made it a point to go to the February 5th game against the Clippers, which would be (in all likelihood) Pierce’s last game in the Gahden. 

When I bought the tickets and got in, I had an odd feeling I had only felt once before, at David Ortiz’s last game ever. I felt nostalgic, almost longing for more time to watch my favorite player in his prime, winning games and making the crowd go crazy. I cried when Pierce checked out, was tributes with a video from the Celtics, and received a standing ovation from the crowd that stopped the game. I yelled with everyone else in the 4th quarter when we wanted Pierce to come back in. And I cheered when Pierce hit a 3 pointer in the final seconds. It was a perfect goodbye to a legend, and a memory that I will hold personally forever. 

Thank you Paul Pierce for representing Boston well. You are an all time Celtic, and my favorite athlete of all time. We’ll see you in Springfield for your Hall of Fame induction in 5 years! 

2016: What a Year

I started this year reflecting on the trying yet rewarding events of 2015 while enjoying champagne with my family in West Hartford. Tonight, I will do almost exactly the same thing. Except I am in Quechee, VT, and I will reflect on the zany events of 2016. I’ll spend time reflecting on the crazy events of the world at large, like Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, the shocking terrorist attacks, and all the reactions to them. More than that, I’ll remember how much happened for me.

It was a chaotic year for many, including me. I started with the promise of my final semester of college. I had my best selection of classes and the excitement to get it done. January turned into February, and I worked through my classes, broadcasts, and beat reporting for WTBU. Lent came with the spiritual gifts I needed, and at Easter, I was getting ready to end my college career. 

Late April and early May came with many trips to Fenway Park, and many sweet Red Sox victories. I also hit the hardest stretch of final papers and exams I ever had in college. A few overnights, enough cups of tea to keep me awake for hours, paper writing, and game broadcasts kept me from sleeping.  But I got through it, and after four long years, my collegiate career came to an end. 

I’ve had some time to reflect on my time at BU, and my ultimate perspective on it is generally positive. I had many difficulties and made it harder than it needed to be. I probably made the wrong choice of schools for academic purposes. But for all the rest that college has to offer, I made the best possible decision. I met many of the closest friend I will ever have, learned more about God and faith than I thought there was to learn, discovered what love is and how good it is to love and be loved by someone, and found my passions and interests. When I got to 2016, I learned so much from prior years, and I made my last semester of college my best. 

After graduating and celebrating a hard earned bachelors, I went home for a few days, then went to Cape Cod. I found a job at a coffee and bagel shop within walking distance of my house called JoMamma’s and returned to interning with the Brewster Whitecaps. We hosted players this year too, and what a treat they were. The summer was completely different than early on in the year. I didn’t have school hanging Over me, and I was doing things I loved full time. I loved the JoMamma’s people. They were comedic, introspective, entertaining, and loaded up with cool stories. They introduced me to new movies, music genres, and lines of thought. And I loved the Whitecaps even more. Having Zach and Logan around was like having two more physically fit brothers around. We played so many games on Zach’s PS4, talked baseball, food, girls, movies, hopes, dreams, and were just guys for a summer. It was awesome. And then I got pulled into doing a musical through a JoMamma’s coworker. And I got to dabble in one of my loves by complete accident. 

I didn’t figure out a full time job, so I decided to go into the freelance broadcasting world and return to class. This time at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting’s campus in Needham, MA. At that point, life got interesting. 

I had gigs with Tufts, MIT, the Boston Pride of the NWHL, JWHL events, and writing for InsideHockey. I had class in the morning, but my classes were spent in studios and drafting rooms. It was so wildly different from what I knew school to be. And work was tiring, but kept me entertained. 

I never had a gig I didn’t find good in, and never had a class I hated. And while I was tired, and felt more on my own than I had in many months, I had nothing but good things to discuss and think of. 

I have come so far. Graduating, writing, broadcasting, driving all over New England, flying to Green Bay, meeting and saying so long to amazing friends, testing myself in the classroom at BU and CSB, and finding God’s hand in all of it. I feel like I’ve lived a decade in the space of 366 days. I cannot say enough good things about the path I’ve been on this year. 

It’s been trying. I’ve shed many tears and had sleepless nights along the way. I said goodbye to many meaningful people and there are pieces of my life that were very good and are no longer there. I also watched my childhood end. I’m no longer in the standard educational world, which is a bit unnerving. It’s all I’ve known since 1999, and the working world is different than what I’ve known so far. I’m enjoying it, but it’s still different. Symbolically, when David Ortiz walked off the field at Fenway for the last time, my childhood was done. 

But after the madness, I have many more positives than negatives. I had too much fun to be mad, and made too many memories to be angry. 

If there’s one way I would describe my year, its with a phrase coined by my friend Tomás when we played basketball one day. He described his game as “consistently inconsistent”. That phrase sums up my year extraordinarily well. I didn’t know what exactly was coming next. One day I was writing a paper. Next day I was pondering the universe and the nature of love with a friend. Then I was driving to New York to call a basketball game. Or maybe traffic on route 6 going to Bourne for a game was up next. I rarely knew what was up next for me. I just knew I would be entertained. 

Thank you to everyone who made 2016 unforgettable. Let’s make 2017 even better! 

Hard at work


Summer with the Whitecaps

Graduation Day!

Yeah that’s me and Mookie Betts.

Me with Brockstar! (Brock Holt)

Senior Week with the guys.

Me and my roomie.

Prequel characters (and Artoo) at Fenway

Storm troopers at Fenway

Me and my bro at Fenway

The CC Grad Group goes Apple Picking

The Joker

The Grease Cast

Back on the stage.

The JoMamma’s crew

BUCC graduating class of 2016

Me and the Ballplayers.

BUCC Broomball. I was the goaltender!

On skit team for my last retreat of Undergrad

Retreat small group for my last undergrad retreat

Ash Wednesday

Craig Sager: Model of Faith, Consistency, and Broadcasting Work

On April 20, 2014, the San Antonio Spurs faced the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It was a close, tense, exciting game between two tense rivals with recent history and championship pedigree. The Spurs won 90-85 behind Tim Duncan’s classic 27 point performance. And all of that takes a back seat to something almost mundane that happened between the third and fourth quarters of the game. Craig Sager Jr. interviewed Gregg Popovich for TNT’s broadcast of the game. Popovich is famous for giving brief, one word answers and curt responses that scream of contempt to the reporters asking these questions. He has no time, he’s got a game to win and a team to coach! Except for April 20th. On that night, he took his time to answer the questions posed to him and took the time to praise Craig Sager Jr. for the job he did, but expressed disappointment in Sager’s father not asking him the questions. 

Senior was at that time being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. He needed a bone marrow transplant, and got it from his son; the same some who interviewed Popovich. Sager had never missed so much as a TNT regular season game between two horrendous teams since joining the Turner sports crew in 1981. But he missed the entire 2014 playoffs and a major personality was missing. The playoffs went on and entertained millions while Craig recovered and became a model of how to live honorably and enthusiastically while recovering from serious disease. 

On March 5th, 2015, Sager returned to the sidelines to work the TNT broadcast of a game between the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center. It made sense. Sager grew up in Batavia, Illinois, only an hour and a half west of the Windy City. He loved the Cubs and was a diehard Chicagoan. He got to cover an exciting game between two excellent teams in his home town. How perfect

Then on June 16th, 2016, TNT loaned Sager to ESPN to work his first ever NBA finals. The man once described by George Brett as a “one man crew” when he worked in Kansas City had reached the pinnacle of the sport he became synonymous with. He was holding a different logo on the microphone than he had since the 80’s, but LeBron James still hugged him in the middle of the game while being interviewed and asked him how it took so long to get him to that stage. Craig responded by brushing it off and doing his job. How perfect. 

He did and lived all of this while being in and out of the hospital for follow up treatments after his first remission and, tragically, his cancer’s return. He needed three bone marrow transplants to keep going, something that hadn’t been done by many before. He would go to Houston to get chemotherapy, hop on a plane to go work a game, then fly right back to continue treatment until he was physically able and needed to work again. Truth was, he was always needed. Popovich needed a colorful character to make him look even more stoic than he already was, and Kevin Garnett needed another bright character to play off of to make his time more fun for all. He just wasn’t able to do it forever. 

Yesterday, Craig Sager finally succumbed to the leukemia that had been eating away at him. It has resurfaced in March, before his first NBA Finals game, and before he was awarded the Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPY’s. He remained a model of energy, passion and zest for life, and going to work despite all possible setbacks. 

I came to know Sager as the guy who wore the funny suits while telling you interesting facts about the game that was happening. It was an eyesore to see some of his suits, but he was a remarkable figure of consistency and entertainment on the sidelines. Everyone knew him, loved him, enjoyed making fun of his suits, and were inspired by him. No one could pull off his look, and even fewer could make the broadcast so entertaining and make it look so easy. 

Sager is a model for how all young, aspiring broadcasters, myself included, should carry themselves. I will take inspiration from his example and be sad about the loss in the NBA community. Many will try and pull off Sager’s style, but no one will make it work. No one will wear those suits well again. No one will make it look so easy while looking so outlandish. And no one will replace the giant shoes that Sager is leaving behind. An institution is gone from the game, but the memories he gave live in and will entertain forever. May God welcome Craig Sager in heaven and comfort his family. Lord knows they need it today. 

World Series Magic: Way to go Cubs!

I’ve been watching baseball since 2003. I’ve enjoyed the sport since the battles of the Red Sox and Yankees awakened my imagination and presented me with heroic figures, dubious villains, and a captivating and engaging story wrapped in an understandable and beautiful form. I’ve watched my team go from the most jinxed franchise in baseball to one of the most blessed. I’ve seen long time desolate franchises like the White Sox, Phillies, and Giants all become champions in recent years. I have even seen some of the most exciting and best baseball ever played in the history of the sport. After thinking about it, I’ve come to realize just how special Wednesday night’s game was. It confirmed my undying love for the sport of baseball. 

On Wednesday night, two denied franchises played in the seventh and final game of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians battled and fought to win each game, and the fight was never out of these teams. The Indians hadn’t won since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won since 1908. They played and managed desperately, they made a few mistakes along the way, and exhausted their bullpens and benches trying to win a championship. 

That second point is the most interesting to me. With all the excitement surrounding the game, people are brushing by the fact that the Cubs won almost in spite of Joe Maddon’s managing. He pulled Kyle Hendricks much too early. Jon Lester made him look good with his performance, thankfully, and then Maddon pulled him too early as well. And what’s worse, he pulled him for Aroldis Chapman, a guy Maddon had overworked and asked too much of beforehand. He threw 41 pitches in Game 5, which was fine, the Cubs needed to win that game and it was close. But he threw 21 pitches in Game 6, in which the Cubs led 7-2 when he threw. That over reliance on Chapman was almost a fatal mistake. Chapman didn’t have his location or his velocity and was exposed by Cleveland in the 8th. Watching that game with some friends, one of whom is a Chicago native and one of whom just badly wanted the Cubs to win, there were plenty of nerves and F-bombs to go around when Rajai Davis sent Cleveland into a frenzy and gave us this all time image of Lebron James going berserk. 

I wanted the Cubs to win but I could just watch this gif on repeat for a while, it’s that good. 

After that momentary disaster, the Cubs showed, as I had been telling my Chicago friend, that these were not the same old Cubs from 1969, 1984, 1998, 2003, or any of the prior 108 years. This was a new, resilient team, and we would find out what these guys were made of. Chapman, despite being overworked, bounced back and shut out Cleveland the rest of the 8th and the 9th inning. Cleveland’s bullpen held strong too, despite allowing a runner to reach 3rd base in the 9th for the Cubs, and for the first time since 1997, extra innings were needed to decide Game 7 of the World Series. The Cubs offense rallied for two runs in the 10th, and their bullpen gave up one more run in the bottom of the inning. In years past, the Cubs would’ve folded under pressure and surrendered the lead and the championship. But this team was different. Kris Bryant slipped on the throw to first to end the game. Other years, that ball goes into the third row of the stands. This year? The throw is right on and the Cubs won.

The pub where we were watching the game had to close up before extra innings got underway, so I ended up listening to the rest of the game on the radio. Fine by me, Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone were better than Joe Buck and John Smoltz. Plus baseball was made for radio. Anyway, I listened to the game on the way home, and let out a joyous cheer when the final out was recorded. Not because I’m a Cubs fan because I’m really not. I have only one true baseball love and that’s the Red Sox. But since the Sox were not in it and because us Boston baseball fans understood the plight of Cubs fans, I wanted to see them win. I sat in my car and listened to the postgame interviews and tried to soak in the seemingly impossible dream that just became real. I wanted the Cubs to win, and I genuinely never thought they would win a championship. But here it was. They won. They deserved it. They won in spite of their manager’s maniacal use of his closer. And they beat a tough opponent that gave them everything they could’ve asked for. 

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and every die hard Cubs fan. They deserve this championship and the chance to celebrate at today’s parade down Michigan Avenue. Congratulations also to David Ross and Kyle Hendricks, alums of the Brewster Whitecaps who were a massive part of winning this championship. I’m thrilled to say that an organization I’m a part of helped mold champions and broke the longest championship drought in sports history. Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians deserve all the respect in the world for playing honorably and reminding the world how amazing a sport baseball is. This was certainly one of the greatest World Series ever played (yes that countdown is next), and one of the alltime feel good stories in sports. Enjoy your championship Chicago! Ernie Banks and Harry Caray have popped the heavenly champagne already. 

Game 7: A Night to Exercise Demons

The baseball season began back in April. Eight months later, and the season has now reached its final night. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will play the 37th deciding Game 7 in the history of the World Series. One of these two denied franchises will win their first championship in many years and the other will walk away from a long season in painful defeat. How marvelous. 

The excitement and anxiety that a game 7 can produce is unmatched in sports. A season full of attrition and magical performances culminates in a few games played between two great teams with the whole world watching. They both are fighting to win and, in baseball, playing the mental games that no other sport has. They’re trying to keep up with the other guy and not look dumb on the game’s biggest stage. Those are common elements of every Game 7, but this year’s matchup has some extra history attached to it. 

The Cubs and Indians are two of the most denied franchises in professional sports. Cleveland last won a World Series in 1948, beating the Boston Braves 4-3 at Braves Field in Boston (which is now Nickerson Field at Boston University).

Chicago, famously, hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They beat the Detroit Tigers in five games, closing out the series in Bennett Park in Detroit to win their second consecutive World Series. Since then, not much success has come to these Great Lakes area teams. 

After 1908, the Cubs went on to win seven more National League Pennants and lose every World Series they played in. They lost some of the most famous World Series ever played. The Red Sox beat them in 1918 before Boston sold Babe Ruth and induced the Curse of the Bambino, Babe Ruth called his shot against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1932, and  Goose Goslin hit a walk off double in game 6 of the 1935 World Series to put Detroit over the Cubs. 

Their last trip to the Fall Classic was in 1945 and it ended with a crushing game 7 defeat at Wrigley to Detroit. In a series heavily affected by the recently concluded World War II, the Cubs and Tigers played the last Series before many of Baseball’s stars, like Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and others, returned to the field from battle. It featured players who wouldn’t get a chance to play Major League Baseball otherwise, and they actually produced a pretty good series. It went the distance with Game 7 at Wrigley Field but the Cubs ran out of pitching and caused their own curse. William Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, attended the 4th game of the World Series. He took his pet goat with him to the game (yes this was allowed back in the day, kinda). The goat’s odor was unsettling to many fans around and Sianis was asked to leave. He famously proclaimed that the Cubs would never win again. The Cubs only won one of the four games played at Wrigley Field that series and lost the Series. They started Hank Borowy in both games 6 and 7 (again, yes they did that back then) and Borowy ran out of steam. He only faced 3 batters in game 7, gave up 3 singles, and Detroit got 5 runs in the first inning. The Tigers won 9-3 and until this year, Chicago had not been back to the World Series since then. 

Cleveland’s record in the postseason is not much better than the Cubs. After their 1948 Championship, the Indians were most famous for playing in a cold football stadium referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake”. Cleveland Stadium was famous for feeling empty with 40k people, which felt even colder and more empty during the lean years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. there was one failure in the 50’s that stung Cleveland badly. In 1954, the Indians won 111 games, a then American League record, and faced the New York Giants in the World Series. They didn’t win a single game. They became a footnote to Willy Mays magnificent catch in game 1 at the Polo Grounds. 

After being swept, they didn’t make it to a postseason series until the 90’s. The Indians made a dramatic turn around in the mid 90’s, becoming one of the best franchises in the sport. They got a beautiful new stadium in 1994 and won 100 games and the AL Pennant the next season. The Indians would make the playoffs every year from 1995 until 1999, and set a record for the longest sellout streak at Jacobs Field (Now Progressive Field). However, that era is marked by three painful defeats. First, Cleveland went to the World Series in 1995 and lost to the Atlanta Braves in 6 games, with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leading the way over the Tribe. 

Cleveland returned to the World Series in 1997 and faced the expansion Florida Marlins and combined for one of the greatest series ever played, capped by a legendary game 7 in Miami. Cleveland took a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning, and looked to win a championship on manager Mike Hargrove’s birthday. And then things unraveled. Jose Mesa took the hill in the bottom of the 9th, and surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Extra innings followed and the 11th inning still stings for Cleveland fans. Bobby Bonilla led off the inning with a single, and after a botched bunt, Craig Counsel grounded the ball over to 2nd base for a tailor made double play. Except Tony Fernandez (a 4 time Gold Glove winner who set a record for best fielding percentage for shortstops and drove in the only two runs of the game for Cleveland) committed an error and the Marlins were in scoring position. A few batters later, Edgar Renteria drove a single into center field and the Marlins won. Cleveland walked off the field shell shocked. 

Two years later, they looked to threaten the powerhouse New York Yankees for the AL Pennant. They led the Red Sox two games to none in the division series and looked to take down New York in the ALCS, except they didn’t get that chance. Boston came back and forced a decisive game 5, and after a few barn burning innings early, Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and threw 6 innings of no hit baseball to win the game and the series for Boston. Cleveland would rebuild their team and the dominant 90’s teams were done. Cleveland had one more chance to win in 2007, but blew a 3-1 series lead against the Red Sox and Terry Francona (their current manager), and missed out on the Fall Classic. 

I made a prediction for the Division Series earlier this year. I declined to make predictions for the League Championship Series and the World Series and I will NOT make a prediction for tonight’s game. I will appreciate the game, enjoy the competition, and be happy for the fan base and team that wins. Both of these franchises have long and checkered pasts. One of them will win and end their pain. The other will add another chapter to their agony. And it all depends on how the ball bounces in one game. How marvelous.