Friday, February 27, 2009


With a tap on John Gilbert's helmet, here's UMD goalie Alex Stalock on the Gopher rivalry.
"Everybody looks ahead to playing Minnesota, and the fans make it the big rivalry. That's nice, but for me, our seven seniors have never had a home playoff game, and the main reason I'd like to beat the Gophers is that it could help assure our seniors of having home ice."
I'm not usually a fan of perspective, but I like this quote. There are seven really good guys who will play on the DECC ice next weekend against Alaska-Anchorage. Here's hoping it's not their last skate at the DECC.

That said, it's Gopher weekend. Screw perspective.


Former UMD Bulldog Tim Stapleton finally made it to the show.

After some time in Europe, Stapleton signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization last summer. He was sent to Toronto's AHL affiliate in, um, Toronto.

With the Marlies, Stapleton led the team in scoring and showed himself to be the nifty playmaker UMD fans all know he could be. Thursday, Stapleton got his first chance to play in the NHL.

The Maple Leafs summoned him from, um, Toronto, and Stapleton was in the lineup Thursday night against the Islanders.

That wasn't the only call Timmy got on Thursday. When the Leafs and Islanders needed a shootout to decide the winner, Leafs coach Ron Wilson called on his rookie in the third and final round. With the game on the line, Stapleton had a chance to deliver.

Stapleton got quite the humorous initiation during pregame warmups.
He'll also never forget hitting the ice for the warmup. His teammates, seemingly wanting to honour the rook's historic moment, told Stapleton to lead them on to the ice. There was only one problem: They didn't follow, leaving the newcomer to drift around the Toronto end, skating a lap by himself.

"I knew the joke, they told me to lead the way ... definitely embarrassing," he said. "It actually kind of broke the ice for me and made me a little bit more comfortable."
Hopefully, he lasts more than this one night.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


It's not March, but it's time for some Madness. Winter sport tournament time is so much fun for sports fans and media folk alike.

This week, local high school boys' hockey playoffs got underway. With the state tournament now less than two weeks away, here's a quick look at what to expect in the local tournaments.

Section 7AA

Duluth East is such a heavy favorite in 7AA, and this time they have some extra motivation. The David Brown Show in last year's 7AA semis was one of the best high school games I've ever seen, but it still must sting for the 'Hounds. Take a 22-win team, give them one of the best hockey coaches in the state (at any level), and throw a memory like that in for good measure, and you have a team that's going to be extremely tough to beat.

Who challenges them? Not sure it's going to be Forest Lake. The Rangers found a way to win at Andover in the quarterfinals, but I don't think their trek to the DECC Saturday is going to end well.

In the other half of the bracket, I see Elk River emerging. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton got great goaltending from Jordan Thompson to upset Grand Rapids, but they have to find a way to get more offense to beat Elk River Saturday afternoon. The Elks have too much balance and will bring too much heat for Thompson to get it done by himself again.

I believe East will take care of the Elks in the final.

Section 7A

I love Section 7A. It's ridiculously wide open. Any of the top four seeds could emerge, and I wouldn't be at all surprised. I love Hibbing's blend of skill and experience, and they seem to always find a way to the DECC for the final, no matter their seed and no matter what people think of their chances. Virginia/MIB is the sentimental favorite, as they have just one previous trip to state (Matt Niskanen's senior year).

Duluth Marshall is the defending champion, and they have the best player in the section in Zach Mausolf. However, the Hilltoppers have struggled on the blue line, and I'm not sure they can hold off either Hibbing or VMIB.

As for International Falls, they don't have a team like the one Ben Gordon and Tom Biondich led to state, or the one Jake Youso and Brady Hjelle starred on. Instead, the Broncos have balance. Nine players have at least 20 points, and that makes them a tough team to beat. If Mike Hart can be strong in goal, the Broncos are a huge threat.

In the end, I like Chris Westin and Garrett Hendrickson to lead Virginia/MIB back to St. Paul, beating Hibbing in the final. The last time these two played in a section final, over 4,500 fans made the trek to the DECC to see it. You couldn't have asked for a better section final atmosphere.

Section 5A

St. Cloud Cathedral is back as the favorite, thanks to an experienced team led by defenseman Nate Schmidt. The Crusaders knocked off Hermantown and Duluth Denfeld last year, but would only face one of them this year. This is an odd season for 5A, as it's weaker than usual. Fourth seed Sauk Rapids is well under .500, and no one else in the section plays anything remotely resembling a strong schedule.

This Denfeld bunch doesn't have the pizzazz of last year's, but they're scrappy, hard-working, and a tough out in this tournament. Hermantown, the second seed, lost a 2-1 game at SCC earlier in the season, but they've proven they can beat anyone in the state.

Of course, a Denfeld-Hermantown semi isn't a complete lock. The Hunters first have to get by a Proctor team that took them to overtime during the regular season. The Rails have some intriguing young talent, but they'll need a Herculean effort from goalie Derek Robinson to beat Denfeld.

I see Cathedral practically breezing into the final, where they'll run into Hermantown. The Hawks get revenge for last year's semifinal loss, and they get back to state.


Superior plays Hudson in New Richmond for the Section 1 title on Saturday. The Spartans should be able to get back to state, and I think they have a really good chance to win it all once they get there.

Big Blue was a bit inconsistent at times, but Jason Kalin has been superb at getting his team ready to play the big games. With no clear favorite in Wisconsin, Superior's superb schedule should allow them to emerge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I remember the first time I spoke to John Baggs. He was so proud of his St. Scholastica baseball team, which was playing in NAIA at the time. In that season, they would earn the right to host an NAIA Super Regional. They lost the series, but it was a sign this program was unquestionably moving in the right direction.

For the Northland, having a high-quality baseball program was kind of a new thing. UMD has a tradition of being competitive, but they were rarely a threat to win a national title.

Under Baggs, the Saints became an elite small-college baseball program. He won over 500 games in 17 years, and his teams won 12 straight UMAC baseball titles, and they had their best-ever finish in an NCAA regional (second) this past season.

Baggs lost his battle with a rare form of cancer Tuesday morning. At just 42, far too young to be taken from us. He is survived by his wife and two young children.

John had his son Maddux (yes, named after Greg) penciled into the CSS rotation for 2019. And why not? If he could teach other people's children how to pitch, he surely could teach his own.

He was a devoted Cub fan who loved to taunt me with stories of how much my Brewers stunk. And what could I say in response, since they were usually true?

There was the day John called me and pitched an idea for a radio segment. He wanted to interview me. Got tired, I guess, of me asking him questions, which was normally how the radio thing worked.

He asked me over 30 questions. I had to answer all of them, or he was going to drag me out for a round of golf. Since I hate golf, I was happy to oblige.

John was a joy to know, because he had such passion for baseball. He understood the game like so few people do. In an area where baseball is not a high priority, and where it can be hard to develop a great program because of the limitations put on you by the weather, the success Baggs enjoyed had a great impact.

Not only did it give fans an elite program to follow, but it also raised the proverbial bar for everyone else. Baggs disciple Eddy Morgan is the third-year coach at longtime doormat UWS now, and there have already been signs of life. A program that won just three games the season before he arrived won 17 last year, for their most wins since 1974.

It's fitting that a guy who wasn't just a baseball coach would be able to - even indirectly - help a neighbor program get on its feet. Ask any of his former players, and they'll tell you about what kind of man John Baggs was. Same for St. Scholastica faculty, local media, and any fans who were fortunate enough to meet him.

Please take some time to leave your thoughts here. And if you are the type who prays, please do so, for John's family, as well as the St. Scholastica family.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


For many years, the Minnesota Twins have been correctly perceived as a frugal (read: "cheap") organization that was typically unwilling to sign "name" free agents.

Forays into free agency have produced such busts as Livan Hernandez and Bret Boone. These were scrap-heap signings and reclamation projects at best. In the case of Hernandez, there was reason to believe he could eat innings as a starting pitcher. Instead, he spent too much time eating other things.

With a new stadium opening in 2010, there is a fair expectation that the Twins will be willing to spend more money in the name of fielding a competitive team. With the way this organization develops talent, it's not about buying expensive free agents with eye-popping contracts. It's more about keeping the players they develop for more than just their arbitration years.

Saturday, the Twins signed third baseman Joe Crede to a one-year deal. It's not a huge investment, as they are only paying Crede $2.5 million guaranteed for this season. The only way it becomes a huge investment (up to $7 million) is if Crede stays healthy and is productive enough to justify having him in the lineup practically every day.

Of course, it's not a sure bet Crede will do any of this. He's been felled by back surgery each of the last two seasons. Agent Scott Boras, who could probably convince a team to sign a dead guy for $1 million plus incentives, says Crede is 100 percent. I'll believe it when Crede crosses that 525 at-bat barrier in his contract.

To do that, Crede not only has to prove he's healthy, but he has to prove that the last two seasons are nothing but a back-related aberration. My guess is that if Crede goes for anywhere near the .237/.293/.412 he's posted in 502 at-bats over 2007 and 2008, Twins fans will be seeing a lot of the Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris combination at third base. The Twins have shown a willingness to eat small one-year contracts in the past when they haven't been working out. They'll do it again with Crede if he doesn't give them any reason to keep him around.

This is, however, a huge positive for the Twins. They have had a need at third base for a long time. We can only hope that their decision to pursue Crede is a sign that the organization is more willing now to sign veterans to fill holes when they don't think they have the personnel on hand to do it. Crede is not a Livan Hernandez or a Bret Boone. He's a guy teams would have wanted at the right price, but he and Boras scared them off with demands of eight figures. The Twins waited it out, knowing no one would meet those kinds of demands for a guy off multiple back surgeries.

It's the right move at the right time. Now, the team benefits from a slugging third baseman who may just relish the opportunity to burn his former team 19 times in 2009.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


At FanHouse, we like to make fun of the NHL for their seemingly random system of supplementary discipline.

After all, Sean Avery of the Dallas Stars got six games for telling an admittedly off-color sex joke, but excessively dangerous hits have resulted in (generally) suspensions around two games.

The WCHA appears to be heading down the road of randomness, too.

On January 30, Minnesota defenseman Brian Schack took offense to a hit from behind by Minnesota State's Channing Boe. Attacking Boe from behind wasn't enough. Schack took it a step farther, and a few steps too far.

Schack received a major penalty and a game disqualification, meaning he would be required to sit out the Gophers' next game.

He did not receive any supplemental discipline from the university or the WCHA.

In that same game, Minnesota State captain Trevor Bruess tried to behead Gopher Tony Lucia. Bruess received a major penalty and was given a game disqualification. He, too, was not given any supplementary discipline.

Saturday night, Bruess was involved in another controversial play. Be warned that this video is not easy on the eyes. North Dakota defenseman Derrick Lapoint will miss the rest of the season as a result of this play.

Thursday afternoon, Bruess was suspended for one game. Here is the statement from the WCHA on the suspension, which I received via e-mail.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association, in conjunction with Minnesota State University, Mankato, announced today (Feb. 19, 2009) that Mavericks’ junior forward Trevor Bruess has been suspended for one game as a result of recent in-game incidents the league feels are detrimental to the game.

The supplemental disciplinary action was taken after discussions between officials at Minnesota State University, Mankato and WCHA Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod.

“We need Trevor to understand that he needs to make every possible effort to avoid these types of incidents and want to emphasize to him that he is responsible for his actions on the ice,” said McLeod. “We hope he will use this as both an educational experience and as a time to reflect on his play.

“In addition, Trevor will be required to meet for a one-on-one session with WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd.

“We also want to use this occasion to again let all of our conference-member student-athletes know that the game must be played not only within the rules but within the spirit of the rules at all times,” added McLeod, “and that players are responsible for conducting themselves in a proper manner. Player safety is a prime concern of this Association.”

Bruess will be required to serve his one-game suspension during Minnesota State’s next scheduled game against Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 24.
I have no problem with the concept of a suspension here. Bruess has been overly physical on many occasions, and it's a good idea to sit a kid like that down before things spiral out of control.

I also didn't have a problem with the one-game suspension of Denver's Patrick Mullen for a stupid two-hand slash at UMD's Mike Connolly February 7.

But in light of these two suspensions, I'm again compelled to ask:

Why the hell wasn't Schack suspended?

There isn't a YouTube of Mullen's slash, and I'm not here to defend it. I'm also not here to defend the pattern of aggressive behavior Bruess has developed. Bruess' hit on Lapoint was borderline at best and probably should have been penalized. The hit on Lucia was disgraceful and probably deserved a suspension by itself.

What all four plays have in common is that they have absolutely no place in the game of hockey. I understand that game disqualifications were handed out to Schack for his stunt and Bruess for his hit on Lucia, but that's not enough. The WCHA can't issue a statement talking about player safety less than a month after they allowed one of their players to injure another with intent and only get the mandatory one-game ban that comes along with a game disqualification.

All it does is open up the criticism that the league treats the Gophers differently than everyone else ... that Schack would have been suspended for an appropriate period of time (six to eight games) if he played for, say, Michigan Tech.

If the league doesn't want to be criticized like that, perhaps they should stop acting in ways that lend credibility to that stance.

Monday, February 16, 2009


As I develop my NASCAR fandom, I freely admit that I have some biases when it comes to drivers.

I really like Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth. I'm okay with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, and Michael Waltrip. I can't stand Kyle Busch. I'm not a big fan of Jimmie Johnson (though I respect the hell out of him and his team) or Denny Hamlin.

There are a bunch of drivers I don't care much about one way or the other.

I'm just enjoying the races, and I'm trying not to force myself to be a fan of one single guy.

Anyway, I've always liked Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He understands the pressure he's under to win because of his name. He understands what it takes to win, and he's never given up no matter the bad luck he's been dealt.

Sunday at Daytona, the bad luck was his own doing. He couldn't find his pit stall to save his life. He tried his damndest to drive back into contention, but he got caught up in a pack near the "end" of the race. When that happened, a frustrated Junior caused "The Big One".

I know he defended himself afterward, but there is no defense. Junior caused the wreck by driving too aggressively in his effort to get around Brian Vickers. If this had been any other driver on the grid for Sunday's race, there's no question what would have happened.

In fact, if you want proof, just ask Nationwide driver Jason Leffler.

If Leffler was "driving aggressively" and deserved a five-lap penalty, what the hell was Junior doing?

The bottom line is that people are going to accuse NASCAR of treating Earnhardt differently than other drivers.

It might not be a correct statement, but it's a defensible one, and NASCAR will have a hard time refuting the argument given the evidence presented from this weekend's races.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Would you rather they sat and waited all night?


You would have waited four hours for the rain to stop and for them to get the track dried?

Quit looking for something to complain about.

Congratulations to Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Baseball is coming.


Or, maybe, just make yourself more busy watching sports.


It's amazing what happens when you don't have a "real" job.

I was sitting on my couch last night, watching the St. Scholastica-UWS game on iFan.

(Would have been at the game, but the boy had minor surgery Friday and the Mrs. was out of town, so I had to pretend to be a parent for a night.)

Even though it was a few seconds behind, I listened to the webcast from ESPN Radio 560, even though it's Scholastica's station. Steve Jezierski and Mark Marette do an entertaining broadcast, and Steve's always been one of the better play-by-play guys we have around here.

As I'm sitting there taking the game in (UWS won 4-3 in a highly-entertaining game), it hits me.

The playoffs are coming.

It's not that I haven't been paying attention. It's more that I haven't really been paying that kind of attention. When you're on the air every day, you're much more cognizant of what's coming up in one, two, or even three weeks. When you're just being a fan, those things don't stick in your head as much.

High school girls hockey playoffs are underway. Their state tournament is coming up at the end of February at the XCel Energy Center (gah!).

UWS and St. Scholastica are preparing for the NCHA playoffs, which begin next weekend. UWS knows they will host Lake Forest, the last-place team in the NCHA. The Yellowjackets (20-2-3, 11-1-2 NCHA) won the league title. Lake Forest (5-17-2, 0-12-1) needs to beat St. Norbert Saturday night to avoid a winless conference season.

St. Scholastica (18-5-2, 9-4-1) hasn't played a home playoff series at any point I can remember. They host either UW-River Falls or UW-Eau Claire next weekend.

Both teams are almost sure bets to make the NCAA Division III Tournament. With UMD in a good position in Division I (but with a ton of hockey to go before that tournament selection), it's been a wonderful year for local college hockey.

Oh, and the high school boys start their road to St. Paul next weekend.

For those who support local sports, it's the most wonderful time of the year. There are games all over the place, admission is affordable, and the action is top-notch.

It's good to be a fan sometimes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


UMD senior forward Andrew Carroll is one of ten finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which is in its third year of rewarding the "complete student-athlete".

According to the press release announcing the finalists, CLASS is "an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award encourages student-athletes to use their platform in college athletics to make a positive impact on their circle of influence."

There are nine other finalists, but we can only congratulate them on not being as awesome as Andrew.

Follow this link to vote daily for Andrew Carroll.

Monday, February 09, 2009


They're only 13-17 since Kevin McHale took over as head coach, but there were some obvious signs of improvement with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Throw it all out the window, and stick the Wolves in the mix for the top pick in this summer's NBA Draft. Center Al Jefferson will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. That should sufficiently blow up any outside chance Minnesota had at a respectable season.
It's unfortunate when any player goes down, but it's especially heartbreaking to see this happen to a guy who's playing the best ball of his career -- he's one of three players in the league averaging at least 20 point and 10 boards a game this year, and he's put up an incredible 26.9 and 11.8 boards in his last 10 games.
It's devastating news for Minnesota fans. Jefferson was really coming into his own, and he was a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

On the bright side, McHale is not running the basketball operations now. He's coaching. And I'll say it: He's doing a pretty good job. Maybe owner Glen Taylor can convince McHale to continue coaching, and the front office can move on without its most incompetent member.

That would be a real sign of hope, in another lost season.


On Saturday, it was reported that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was on the list of baseball's cheaters.

To the credit of the cheating, adulterous fraud, Rodriguez responded in a hurry, giving an interview to ESPN's Peter Gammons on Monday. In it, he admits to using performance-enhancing drugs.
"When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform, and perform at a high level every day," Rodriguez told ESPN's Peter Gammons in an exclusive interview in Miami Beach, Fla. An extended interview will air on SportsCenter at 6 p.m. ET.

"Back then, [baseball] was a different culture," Rodriguez said. "It was very loose. I was young, I was stupid, I was naïve. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time.

"I did take a banned substance. For that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful."
Check out the video.

I'm not about to "credit" someone for coming clean about cheating. Rodriguez cheated, and Rodriguez deserves to be thrown under the same bus everyone else was. He was already one of the best players in baseball.

He foolishly took $252 million from the Rangers, even though he had to understand it would destroy the team's budget, making it impossible for them to field a competitive pitching staff. Then, all these years after taking that initial contract, he has the audacity to blame it for his decision to take banned substances.

If Rodriguez was some unintelligible dope, I would understand his inability to comprehend reality past dollar signs. Instead, he always has come across as one of the more articulate and well-spoken players in the game. Clearly, he knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway.

Perhaps, at some point in July, it will hit Rodriguez like a ton of bricks. He'll realize that he's spending another summer being the second most-popular player on the left side of the Yankees' infield. At that point, we can only hope he understands the utter stupidity behind what he did in Texas, and how he ruined what was a great opportunity to be part of the rebuilding of baseball's integrity.

Instead of helping rebuild it, he'll forever be looked at as one of the people who tore it down to begin with.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


WARNING - Non-sports post ahead

Sorry. This one is the fault of our current President. I voted for him, and I think he'll do an admirable job.

However, this is entirely stupid.
Michael J. Copps, the acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in a statement that the additional four months of (digital TV) transition time would afford “urgently needed time for a more phased transition.”

Broadcasters were scheduled to end analog broadcasts on Feb. 17.
To me, this is an admission that the government wasted $1 billion on an information blitz for the DTV switch. If one person who uses their television more than once a day is not ready for the changeover now, four months isn't going to help any. Not one bit. Those stupid people will be equally not ready then.

So what's the point?
“Yes, it would be great if everyone had received their coupons, and if everybody understood the transition to digital, but they don’t,” Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, said Wednesday during the House’s debate. She said that some people, senior citizens in particular, were going to be “terribly inconvenienced.”

Some House Republicans had opposed a delay, saying that it would only increase confusion about the impending transition. “No matter what date you establish, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t get the message,” Representative Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida, said during the House debate.

Listen. I've got plenty of respect for the fact that there are a lot of people who don't understand what this is all about. I also understand that I watch enough TV that I've had the message beaten over my head, and I have no choice but to understand it by now.

But with all the annoucements running during all hours of the day, how could someone not understand what's going on? At the very least, how could people not make the call to a toll-free number and get some answers to their questions?

We've had a long time to prepare for this changeover. The Obama administration may think they mean well, but all they are going to do is add confusion ... especially when you look at the fact some stations have already made the change. Others plan to make it as scheduled on February 17/18. Once they get FCC approval, a station can make the change before June 12.

How is that not going to be confusing?

Thanks, government. Way to drop the ball. Again.


Sometimes, you just post the video and shut up.

This is one of those instances. LeBron James enjoyed himself at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors to Alex Stalock ... again. It's his fourth time winning the award, and the second week in a row.

(He shares with Minnesota State goaltender Mike Zacharias, who backstopped the Mavericks to a scintillating sweep of Minnesota.)

Stalock shut out Wisconsin with 33 saves and a fortunate gag by Tom Gorowsky in the first period. With the win, UMD pulled into a three-way tie for fourth in the WCHA.

The final four WCHA series will be huge for UMD. The Bulldogs have a better-than-puncher's chance at home ice, but they need to keep playing well. Denver and Alaska-Anchorage visit the DECC, while UMD must travel to Michigan Tech and Minnesota.

Stalock is the league's best player, a shoo-in for All-WCHA first-team honors in goal. He's got a money shot at the achievement Colorado College goalie Richard Bachman - last year's WCHA Player of the Year - pulled off last year.

It would be absolutely fitting for goalies to win that award in back-to-back years, considering how far scoring has dipped over the last five years.

Monday, February 02, 2009


A lot has happened since Jimmie Johnson hoisted his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Many have opined that the sport is now at a crossroads. Economic hardship has hit many areas of our nation very hard, and there are a ton of companies who have stopped spending money in racing. Automakers are in trouble, and the funding NASCAR gets from said automakers has taken a hit.

While the Sprint Cup series has the look of being relatively healthy and able to get 43-car fields in all 36 events, questions still surround the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. In Nationwide, the problem of "start and park" teams reared its ugly head numerous times last season, as the back of their 43-car fields would be taken by teams intent on starting the race, running to the first caution, and parking for the day/night.

Debate the merits of such programs all you want, but it seemed to be the only way NASCAR could field a full 43 cars for Nationwide races.

In the Truck series, there were races that didn't even get a full field of 36 trucks. 11 of the first 21 events on the 25-race schedule fell short. As of this writing, the Truck Series team chart is a disaster. Full-time sponsorships are rare, and there is still a goodly number of drivers looking for rides.

It seems like a remote possibility that we'll have a full field of 43 cars/36 trucks for a high percentage of the races on NASCAR's secondary circuits.

That said, Ed Hinton of posted an article that did make me happy. Hinton is a racing veteran who knows a lot more about this than I do (if you don't follow along much, I'm only in my third full season as a serious follower of NASCAR). What he had to say really caught my eye.
Not enough people have been around long enough to remember this: The tougher times are, the better NASCAR gets.

Stock car racing was born of the Great Depression, and NASCAR was organized amid the economic downturns following World War II.

And always, the more unknowns, the more charged the atmosphere around the garages.

Without offseason testing, the suspense over who'll come out on top, when, for how long -- and who might suddenly fade -- will linger, maybe grow, well after the Daytona 500.

So the plot should thicken as the season progresses.

The test ban "could affect the latter part of the season even more than the early part," (Jeff) Burton says. "Right now you can kind of race on what you did at the end of last year. But if you're still racing in May on what you did the end of last year, you're in big trouble."
Works for me. I'm all for anything that heightens competition.

Because of the nature of NASCAR fans, who travel hundreds or maybe thousands of miles to spend a weekend at their favorite racetrack, the economy is going to continue to have an impact on the sport. Instead of leaving their fans worried about how the economy will affect their real lives, NASCAR would do well to give them as good a show as possible every weekend. After all, six hours without thinking about reality is better than you get most weeks these days.

It all starts again Saturday night at Daytona, with the annual Bud Shootout. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 starts Sunday afternoon, and continues next week with the Gatorade Duel at Daytona. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series run there next weekend, too.


It's not been a great offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitching coach Mike Maddux went to Texas, leaving behind a gaggle of rebuilt careers and successful reclamation projects. Utility outfielder/cult hero Gabe Kapler signed in Tampa Bay, and it sounds like rubber-armed left-handed reliever Brian Shouse is headed that way.

Of course, you all know about that big left-hander who decided to move on.

Still in limbo is Milwaukee's other veteran starting pitcher. Ben Sheets missed the end of last season with another injury. As frustrating as his injury issues are, there's no doubt Sheets has plenty of talent. He's not as snakebit as Mark Prior was, and he's a free agent. It's amazing to me that no pitching-starved team has thrown money at Ben yet, but that's the situation we are in.

Sheets is still unsigned.

Part of this is his own doing. He's been looking for too much money. It's pretty obvious that baseball free agency has been impacted quite a bit by the economy. I get Sporting News Today delivered to my email every morning, and it's amazing how many good players are still without jobs. Guys like Joe Crede, Ivan Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez (!) join Sheets on the unemployment line. The World Baseball Classic begins on March 5, and if the next month is as quiet on the "baseball signing" front as the previous one was, there are some guys who may want to play in the WBC to showcase their abilities.

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Brewers grand master Tom Haudricourt is more blunt than I. He says Sheets screwed up by not taking arbitration and at least $12 million from the Brewers.)

Sheets is one of the players who probably doesn't have the WBC as an option. With no team to go to spring training with, there's no guarantee Sheets would be in any kind of game shape, and if he's not in shape, why would you let him pitch exhibition games?

Some players may have options, but Sheets really isn't one of them. He needs to find a team, work out a deal, and show up early to spring training. The longer he sits, the less money he'll find waiting for him when he actually signs somewhere.

As aggravating as his injury history is, I'd much rather see him re-sign in Milwaukee than go anywhere else. Yes, the Brewers have young guns Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra. Yes, they have an apparently emerging Dave Bush and a potentially returning Chris Capuano. But Parra faded down the stretch, Bush has never been consistently effective, and Gallardo was hurt for much of last season.

Even with Sheets, it could be a long year for the Brewers' starting pitching.


I hope to keep a strong readership on this blog. I don't have a specific goal or anything, but I'm also hoping that I'm not writing into space here.

Moving forward, I'm going to be using this blog to rant about basketball (NBA and college), racing, baseball, and local sports of all varieties.

You can keep up on what I'm doing with FanHouse on the right side of the page, and if you have any other suggestions or requests for the links section, please do drop me a line.