sports

Playing Ball

Sep 20, 2011

If you could magically transport a Detroiter from a century ago to the present, he or she would recognize virtually nothing about their city or their state. They’d be staggered by the size of things and appalled by the vast stretches of blight.

While cars were becoming the mainstay of our economy back then, today’s vehicles are so different that they would be essentially unrecognizable to someone from nineteen eleven.

Most people back then had never seen an airplane, there were no bridges over the Detroit River and no federal income tax.

But they would understand they were in the same place once you told them: “The Detroit Tigers are in an exciting race for the American League pennant.”

Baseball, of course, is more than a sport; it is a cultural touchstone.  The Tigers of a century ago had a season that was a mirror image of this one. This year, the team played only slightly better than mediocre baseball until the last month or so.

Flickr/go mustangs

Adrian College has agreed to changes after federal investigators found the small, liberal arts school has discriminated against female student athletes. The Detroit Free Press reports Saturday that the U.S. Department of Education cited the southern Michigan school for 11 violations of gender-equity rules.

Among the changes the school must make: add at least one more women's sport, build a women's locker room in its multipurpose stadium and increase pay for coaches of women's sports.

School spokeswoman Jennifer Compton says the school "has maintained the highest commitment to equality and respect for gender equity" during its 152-year history. She says the college believes it offers "a quality higher educational experience to all students."

The agreement caps a three-year investigation into Title IX violations at the school.

user slidingsideways / Flickr

Steve Kampfer grew up in Jackson, and learned to play hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan.  He was a good student and player on great teams, but few expected Kampfer to make it to the NHL.

What chance he had seemed to vanish in October of 2008, when he was leaving a campus bar.  He started jawing with another student, who happened to be on the wrestling team.  Things got hot, but it was all just words, until the wrestler picked up Kampfer and turned him upside in a single, sudden move – then dropped him head first on the sidewalk. 

Kampfer lay on the sidewalk unconscious, with blood sliding out of his mouth.  His stunned friend thought he might be dead.

by Rebecca Williamson / flickr.com

It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to buy a book, there was no Kindle or Nook or amazon.com – or even the internet.  There weren’t even big-chain book stores.  You had to go to one of those narrow stores in mini-malls that sold paperback best-sellers and thrillers and romance novels. 

But then the Borders brothers changed all that. They decided to go big, opening a two-story place on State Street in Ann Arbor.  They stocked almost everything, they gave customers room to relax and read, and they hired people who weren’t just clerks, but readers.

user: Keith Allison / flicker.com

Tiger Woods has missed most of the season due to his injured left knee. In the past decade, he’s fractured the tibia, torn the ligaments, and had it operated on several times – making it the kind of hamburger more commonly seen on NFL running backs. But he returned this week to play in his first PGA tour event in months. This is big news in the golf world – because without Tiger Woods, there’s barely any golf news at all. Watching golf on TV without Tiger Woods is like…watching golf on TV.

Woods returns ranked 28th in the world – his lowest mark since he was just getting started 14 years ago. So what? The TV ratings will skyrocket. People love him, people hate him – but few are indifferent. His first decade was arguably the greatest any golfer ever had in the history of the game. After winning his 14th major tournament in 2008, the question wasn’t if he would pass Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major titles, but when.

user: 46137 / flickr.com

The longest lockout in the history of the National Football League is over.   Now, what may be the shortest free agency period in NFL history is about to begin.   The Detroit Lions are expected to be busy during the whirlwind of player trades and signings during the next few days.  

Lions team president Tom Lewand released this statement yesterday on the deal agreed to by the players and owners.  

“First and foremost, we are happy for our fans because all they ever wanted was for us to play football and, thankfully, that’s what we are getting ready to do. This agreement is a big win for NFL football and for all NFL fans because it helps secure the long-term health of our game.

“It is a fair deal for players and teams. We will be able to grow the game and appropriately share that growth with our players as partners. It is a deal that places a high priority on player safety and on the integrity of our game.

The Lions released this timetable detailing the off the field and on the field schedule between now and the kickoff of the fall 2011 season.

Sarah Aittama

Imagine watching a place you love—and that your family has loved, for generations—fall into disrepair.

That’s what it’s been like for many Detroit baseball fans, who consider the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues to be sacred ground. That’s the site of the old Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.

One group of fans decided to do something about that. The only problem: the land isn’t theirs to maintain. And while they may see themselves as being helpful, the city of Detroit sees it differently.

desmondhoward.com

Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said.  When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy.

In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place.  Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise.  Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.”  When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.

User: dmealiffe / flickr.com

Canada might be the only nation on earth that invented its favorite sport, has no other sport that’s even half as popular, and remains arguably the best in the world at playing it. How big is hockey in Canada?  They put the sport on their five-dollar bill.  It has a drawing of kids playing a pick-up game outside, and a quote from a beloved children’s story, “The Hockey Sweater.”  It goes like this:  

user Urban Adventures / Flickr

Inside today’s New York Times, you’ll find my story on Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander.

I was on hand Tuesday night when Verlander nearly pitched the third no-hitter of his career.

He wound up with a two-hit game against the Cleveland Indians, in a performance that baseball scribes say was one of the best of the year.

And we discovered, there is an economic impact for Detroit every time he walks on the mound.

Call it the Verlander Effect.

Verlander attracted 28,128 fans to Tuesday night’s game — the latest proof that attendance when Verlander pitches goes up by more than 5,000 (5,137 to be precise). The fan count at a Verlander appearance averages 26,981; the Tigers are averaging 21,844 on nights when he doesn’t.

That extra 5,137 people adds up to a lot of revenue for the Tigers and by extension, the businesses around Comerica Park and in Detroit.

Zach Chrisholm / Flickr

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by all objective sources to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too.  But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less.  That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burn-outs got the park permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, with names like the Junior Junkies, the Extra Burly Studs, and – yes – the ‘Nads.  If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio Staff

The University of Michigan is elevating the men’s and women’s lacrosse clubs to varsity status. Dave Brandon is the Athletic Director at U of M. He says the announcement Wednesday is “the worst kept secret in America.”

Brandon says lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the nation. Michigan high school programs have grown from 50 to 180 in the past ten years.

(MSU Dept. of Kinesiology)

A new Michigan State University study finds ‘virtual’ athletic training partners might be more effective than trying to work out alone.   Researchers found a virtual training partner, someone appearing on a video monitor,  actually provides greater motivation for people to exercise longer , harder and more frequently. 

wingsofjustice.com

Robert "Tractor" Traylor died of apparent massive heart attack in Puerto Rico.

From ESPN:

Police in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said in a statement he was found dead Wednesday on the bedroom floor of his oceanfront apartment. Police and Traylor's team, the Vaqueros de Bayamon, said he had been missing for a few days and apparently died from a heart attack.

The Vaqueros said Traylor was rehabbing a heel injury and had not been playing. They suspended their game Wednesday night because of his death.

Traylor played for the University of Michigan from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that he played for Murray-Wright High School in Detroit.

He was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to play for seven years in the NBA for 4 teams (Milwaukee, Cleveland, Charlotte, and New Orleans). After his NBA career, Traylor played for teams in Turkey and Italy before playing in Puerto Rico.

Michael Zanussi / Flickr

Sometimes the real world is so overwhelming it sneaks into sports.  One of those times occurred after 9/11, when the crowd at Yankee Stadium sang “God Bless America.”

I’m not very religious, but it sounded right to me. 

It seemed appropriate that that signature moment, when we needed to be together, occurred in our country’s most hallowed arena, the nation’s front porch.

We are probably the most sports-soaked culture in the world. We’re the ones who pay for the Olympics, after all – and I believe our code of conduct when we’re competing often represents our values at their best. 

People like to say sports teaches us how to be aggressive.

But you can learn that through alley fighting.  Any jerk with no regard for others can be aggressive.  Prisons are filled with them.  9/11 was conceived by them.  

So I disagree.

University of Michigan

A key part of the offense for the University of Michigan men's basketball team will leave the team for the NBA draft.

The school reports that Darius Morris has decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility.

From the Associated Press:

The sophomore point guard had declared for the draft but could have returned to the Wolverines if he'd withdrawn by May 8. Instead, he'll forgo his remaining eligibility, meaning Michigan will have to replace one of its most important players as it tries to build on last season's impressive finish.

"There have been long discussions with my family, friends and my Michigan coaches," Morris said. "In the end I decided to go with my heart. Playing professional basketball has always been a dream for me. I feel this is the right time for me to pursue that goal. It will be hard to leave the University of Michigan. However, I truly believe the basketball program is moving in a very positive direction."

University of Michigan

On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.

Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.   

I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral. 

As he told Angelique Chengalis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You've lived a damned good life. You've got lot to be thankful for.’”

user WDPGShare / Flickr

The NCAA sent Ohio State University's president a letter citing the "notice of allegations" against the school's football program.

In the letter to Ohio State, NCAA officials say, "Your institution should understand that all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary."

Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Christina Shockley will be running in the the 2011 Boston Marathon today!

Her start time is 10:20 a.m. where she'll run with the "second wave."

You can track her progress online.

We're all cheering her on - Go Christina!

MGoBlue.com

Most sports fans love a Cinderella story.

I've found an athlete who played the role twice.

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its

record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born.

They were picked to finish first in the league, but they finished a disastrous seventh. 

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six straight playoff games to get an automatic bid.

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