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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Jersey City Board of Ed drops ball with ridiculous budget cuts

It got lost in the shuffle recently, but it was a move that will have major ramifications to the kids of Jersey City for many years to come.

The Jersey City Board of Education voted recently to eliminate all freshman athletic teams in an attempt to save approximately $1 million in the district’s overall costs. In addition to slicing all freshman teams, the Board of Education totally wiped away golf and bowling as varsity sports, cut the number of assistant coaches for each athletic team and eliminated any further spending in terms of new uniforms and equipment.

What that all adds up to is an absolute screw job to the kids of Jersey City.

This move is an absolute disaster, both on and off the playing fields.

First, from a competitive standpoint, how in the world does a football program intend to get better without having a freshman team? How does a player develop and improve without having a chance to be nurtured and learn, playing and competing against kids their own age? Especially in a sport like football, having a good freshman program is essential if you want a varsity team to be successful.

Teams like Lincoln, Ferris, Dickinson and Snyder will be at a disadvantage from now on, facing teams that had the benefit of a nurturing freshman program. The Board of Education is essentially throwing these kids to the wolves and asking them to compete against schools and teams that have solid freshman programs.

Totally eliminating golf and bowling as cost-cutting moves is just an imbecilic gesture. Especially now that there is a legitimate, professional nine-hole golf course in Jersey City that could be used for development. I remember the Lincoln golf team getting the chance to play at the luxurious Liberty National Golf Course in the past, but I don’t think that was a regular opportunity. However, the nine-hole course right off Route 440 is an outstanding course and would have been a perfect locale for a Jersey City kid to learn to play the game. 

Not anymore.

And bowling? Are you kidding me? How costly is it to field a bowling program? The teams are not big to begin with, with nine, perhaps 10 kids to a team. The people at Hudson County Lanes in Bayonne are glad to accommodate the high school teams. It’s another move that made absolutely no sense.

Some critics of the cuts have stated that it might lead to a rise in the crime rate, that kids will have more free time on their hands and get into trouble instead of playing sports.

That remains to be seen.

But just from a common sense angle, we should want to encourage our youngsters to participate in sports. Playing high school sports is a healthy, extracurricular activity that encourages teamwork and unity and togetherness and camaraderie. We should do anything and everything in our power to want kids to play sports, not take the chances away from them simply because of budgetary reasons.

There should be a way to have the freshman sports continue. There should be a way to have the kids who play golf and who bowl to continue playing the sport they love. It should be a priority to keep athletics going, not eliminated simply to make line items on a spreadsheet balance out.

High school sports are essential to the development of our youth. Memories are made playing high school sports that last a lifetime. You cannot put a price tag on the importance of high school sports. It’s totally immeasurable, regardless of who wins and who loses. Just from the social angle alone, high school sports are vital.

There should have been a way for the Jersey City Board of Education to realize that high school sports should be a priority, not a line item elimination. When a budget is introduced, high school sports should be just as important as purchasing new textbooks or updating the information technology in the school’s computers. It should be just as essential.

There should never be a day where the powers-that-be determine that the way to have a budget more palatable would be to hack away at athletics.

I have an idea. Why not start hacking away at the ridiculously high salaries that the administrators all receive? Why not take a few thousand away from those already collecting better than six figures in their annual take? 

That would be a better way of attacking a budget problem instead of punishing innocent teenagers.

But of course, that will never happen.

If no one hears or learns of these cuts, then the Board of Education will take the approach that no one is complaining about it, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Guess what? It is a big deal. These cuts will be felt by the results of the teams down the road, who simply cannot fairly compete against other schools, programs and teams that field competitive freshman teams.

But these cuts hurt the ones that should matter the most in the Jersey City Board of Education. These cuts hurt the kids, the ones we’re supposed to be educating. How do these elected officials actually justify these cuts? That they had no other choice? That they reluctantly had their hands to the fire and were faced with the dilemma of finding the cuts from some place?

Well, athletics should not have been the place where they looked to save a few bucks. Plain and simple, there should have been a better way. These cuts were nothing short of moronic and simple minded. Shame on the people who were elected and entrusted to take care of our youth. They have basically turned their backs on these teenagers.  It’s an absolute disgrace.
It’s only two weeks into the new NFL season, but the Giants sure look like a complete disaster.

Thanks to new general manager Dave Gettleman and new head coach Pat Shurmur, the Giants entered this season with eternal optimism that Saquon Barkley was the savior at running back, that Eli Manning had found the Fountain of Youth, that the newly formed offensive line was going to be sensational and the defense would be revitalized and rejuvenated.

Well, two weeks in and Big Blue is a big mess.

Let’s start with the offensive line, because it’s probably the most glaring problem right now. Gettleman and Shurmur were convinced that Ereck Flowers would need nothing more than a shift from left tackle to right tackle, that the former first round draft pick just needed a change of scenery to jump start his career.

Well, on the first play from scrimmage this year, Flowers was called for an idiotic tripping penalty. On the third snap, he was flagged for holding. He’s been beaten at least 15 times in two games trying to make a simple block and he’s whiffed badly, like Gary Sanchez wailing at an outslde slider.

It’s safe to say now that Flowers is a complete bust. The Giants would never say that they wasted a first round draft pick three years ago on a guy who can’t play. But I’ll say it for them. Ereck Flowers cannot play the game of football. He’s slow, clumsy, has worse feet than Herman Munster, can’t block Betty White and worst of all, he will not admit to the fact that he’s been absolutely lousy since he mistakenly put on a Giants uniform four years ago. It would be easier to just cut bait, release him and admit he was a mistake, but the Giants won’t do that because they don’t have a viable backup on the roster.

Poor Eli Manning will have to continue to take the brunt of the Giants’ mistake of drafting Flowers.

But Flowers is not alone with his horrific play thus far. You have to wonder what In the world the Giants were thinking when they gave Nate Solder a four-year, $62 million contract ($35 million guaranteed), making Solder the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Well, after two weeks, that contract is downright offensive, because Solder has been dreadful. He’s missed block after block. I can’t even begin to think what he’s graded out the first two weeks, but it can’t be pretty.

The Giants drafted Will Hernandez in the second round to play left guard next to Solder, giving the Giants what appeared to be a dynamic left side of the line. But the rookie has been brutal as well, forcing Eli to run for his life every time he drops back to pass.

The Giants have electrifying offensive players like Odell Beckham, Jr., Sterling Shepherd and Evan Engram, but if Eli doesn’t have more time to drop back and allow these receivers some time to get down field to run their routes, their talents are wasted. Beckham was thrown to a total of five times against Dallas. He has to touch the ball a lot more than that. Eli used the safety valve so many times that Barkley set a new team record for receptions in a game. The rookie had 14 catches. For 90 yards. That gives new meaning to the “Dump down” pass.

Here’s my slap at Shurmur. Yes, he’s only coached two games, but he made a glaring mistake in the Dallas game that I think changed the face and complexion of the entire game.

Dallas scored the first touchdown early and led 7-0. The Giants then got the ball and were moving the ball methodically up the field. They get to just outside of midfield where the drive stalls, giving the team fourth down and inches. And when I say inches, it wasn’t like a foot’s worth of inches. We’re talking two, maybe four inches tops.

Instead of rolling the dice early, Shurmur elects to punt the ball. It was a pooch punt by Riley Dixon (who looks like a keeper in the early going) that gets caught for a fair catch at the 25-yard line, a 27-yard punt that didn’t exactly pin the Cowboys back on their heels.

Shurmur had to go for it there. He did later in the game on two QB sneaks by Eli that worked.  But he should have done it right there. It would have shown that he was in control, willing to take a chance and shown that the Giants meant business. If it didn’t work, then the Cowboys got the ball at midfield and the Giants would have to suck it up a little and play a little harder.

But it was a chance for Shurmur to show he was in charge. And he muffed it. The Giants had to go for it there. It changed the entire game.

I could go on and on like Stephen Bishop (bad 70’s music reference there) about the Giants, but I’ll say this: 
They now have to win this Sunday against the Houston Texans. On the road, against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney and the Honey Badger and Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.  That’s a very good football team the Giants are facing. Very good. Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy and beating a very good team that is also 0-2 in their building is a pretty tall task.

So we will see, but I think it doesn’t look good for the Giants this week.

I’m also going to say that it doesn’t look good for the Jets as well. In fact, I think the Cleveland Browns’ awful losing streak comes to an end Thursday night against the Jets. Just a feeling I have.

But the picture that is being painted isn’t a rosy one for the locals.

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Just wondering, as we honor the life of Sen. John McCain

Image may contain: 4 people, including Jim Hague, people smiling, people standing, sky and outdoor

It’s been a while, so I decided to go back to the roots of my writing career and fire off another version of “Just wondering,” Labor Day style.

Just wondering if anyone gave a good thought about Sen. John McCain’s funeral services over the weekend. I found the entire ceremony to be classy, respectful, joyful and loving. I found all of the eulogies to be picture perfect, from the emotions of his daughter Meghan, to the former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to his friend and colleague Sen. Joe Lieberman. They painted a splendid verbal portrait of the man, of who he was and how much he truly loved our great nation.

I don’t seem to care now that the President was not there. And shame on the clowns that were questioning Ivana and Jared Kushner’s seating in the church. Are you kidding me? It wasn’t like they were pushed to the 47th row. They were in a place of prominence and I give them credit for even being there.

But the one thing that I got out of the whole ceremony was this. Political parties were tossed aside to honor a true American hero, a servant of our great nation for more than 60 years of his life. Democrats shook hands and greeted Republicans. George Bush was clowning around and giving candy to Michelle Obama. Comments were issued by both parties. It was a day that brought everyone together.

And especially in this tumultuous and trying time in America, isn’t that a great message to derive from Sen. McCain’s passing? In the immortal words of the late Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” There’s always someone who has to bring up politics on a day like that, but sorry, when we’re all saying farewell to an American hero, it’s time to put politics on the backburner and just honor him the way he truly deserved that honor.

I mean, I’m a Democrat through and through, but I watched John McCain’s funeral start to finish and honored him by singing “America the Beautiful” at the closing of the ceremony. I still believe that should be the national anthem and sung only by Ray Charles, but what do I know? I think it serves the great nation better than the bombs bursting in air and the flag still flying.

So maybe, just maybe, both political parties can try to get along with each other, like they all did on Saturday in the National Cathedral, when they were all saying farewell to an American hero. Maybe we can put our differences aside for a little while and focus on the matters at hand that mean the most. After all, everyone wants to see America to be a better place than it is. No one likes the backstabbing and biting that is going on back and forth between the two parties. No one likes the hatred that is certainly fueled by the man elected to be the 45th President of this great nation.

In honor to John McCain, patriot and hero, let’s all try to get along better in the months and maybe years to come. If we can all do that, then that will be John McCain’s eternal legacy. Although he was pretty damn good when he was the host of Saturday Night Live in 2002 and again in 2008 after the election.  So that’s an eternal legacy as well.

Just wondering if all the Giants fans are over the fact that the team cut Davis Webb on Sunday, admitting that the second-year signal caller from California wasn’t the future like everyone believed he was going to be.

Webb showed during the preseason that he had a ton of flaws. He overthrew practically every receiver on every route, either the little screen or mid-range slant to the long ball. He had almost a robotic release, like he was the QB on the old Electric Football game. He wound up and tried to throw the ball. Everything in football is supposed to be precise and quick. Webb was slow and predictable. He also was slow afoot and took too long to get in proper throwing position. All in all, Webb wasn’t any good and it proved to be a waste of a third-round draft pick.

Kyle Lauletta, although a little smaller in height and weight the NFL wants quarterbacks to be these days, has the potential to be a good backup to Eli Manning. But this all proves that last year’s removal of Eli as the starter was a total disaster and was the perfect reason to send Ben McAdoo packing. It also proves that the new regime of Pat Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman hope that Eli is able to stay around for three, four maybe even five years.

Just wondering why the Jets took so long to announce that Sam Darnold was going to be the starting quarterback to start the season. Once the team shipped Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints, it was clear as a bell that Sam was the man.

And it’s evident that the team believes that Sam is going to be the face of the franchise for the next decade or so. He’s a keeper and they all realize it. But there was really no suspense In the fact that Darnold was going to start Week One. Head coach Todd Bowles should have said so officially weeks ago.

Just wondering if anyone else has gone to the movies to catch BlackKKKlansman yet. It’s a cinematic gem, an absolute wonderful trip back to the early 1970s and the troubled times our country faced in terms of the divide between the races. I’m not going to reveal the plot or anything else, other to say that this was Spike Lee’s best picture ever (although Do The Right Thing is close). Obviously, producers must trust Spike these days, because the budget for this one had to be high.

Anyway, Denzel’s son John David Washington was brilliant as the leading man and watch closely at the end to see if you catch a little of the old man in John David. I also like him because he had a brief stint as a running back with the Rams in 2006. But this movie will catapult John David into stardom.

Adam Driver was also excellent and will be worthy of Best Supporting Actor nominations come January. And Topher Grace from “That 70’s Show” was spot on as David Duke, the grand wizard of the KKK.

It’s a must see for all movie fans. It’s so well done and I was blown away with the overall brilliance.

Just wondering if anyone else is convinced that Jeff McNeil is the second coming of Daniel Murphy and can actually be our second baseman of the future. The kid can definitely swing the bat and I just wonder why it took so long to get him to the big leagues.

And the Mets are just so backward in their thinking of not promoting slugging first baseman Peter Alonso to the big club, just because they don’t want his free agent clock to start ticking a year early. It’s just so backward and not the way to conduct a Major League team. Shame on the Wilpons for their backward thinking.

The fans deserved to see Alonso and not traipse the dreadful Dominic Smith and all three of his RBI back to playing first base for the last month of the season. I’ve seen enough of Smith to realize the kid just can’t play and also doesn’t give two enough to deserve the attention he gets.

It should be Alonso at first with McNeil at second for the last 30 games or so and see what they can do as we look toward 2019.

And please, oh please, oh please, can they leave the starting pitchers alone? They are all pitching lights out right now, even the scary bad Jason Vargas, who we have to keep for next season. But please, leave deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz alone for next year. I don’t think there’s another team in baseball with a better four-man rotation than those four. I kid you not. They are all that good. The records don’t indicate that because the offense doesn’t score any runs.

I think the Mets could be pretty good next year if they spend money to construct a bullpen and get rid of the pile of dog doo they have out there now. Keep Lugo and Gsellman. I think Drew Smith has some potential. Maybe the lefty Daniel Zamora has a shot. But the rest are God awful and they have to address that as the main priority going forward.

They also need a catcher big time. They could also use a third baseman if someone would take Todd Frazier off of our hands. And hope and pray that a healthy Jay Bruce can return to the Jay Bruce who hit 30 homers for us for three-fourths of 2017.

If all of that happens, I think the Mets could be pretty good. But that’s a big if.

Just wondering if anyone is as excited for the start of the football season as I am. After all, I am a true-blue dyed in the wool long-time suffering Los Angeles Rams fan and I truly believe we have the team that could make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl this season. The pieces are all there. They just have to make sure that Todd Gurley stays healthy.

I’m the defending champion of my fantasy league and I have the first overall pick in this year’s draft. I’m not letting out any secrets in saying right now that my first pick will be the one and only Gurley man. There’s no reason for suspense like the Jets  did with Sam Darnold. I’m going Gurley.

So let’s go Rams and let’s go Gurley, early and often.

Just wondering if that’s enough for this blog. Yeah, I think it’s more than enough.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Memories of my boy OC

The phone rang on that February morning in 2014 when the familiar voice was on the other line.

“Jim, it’s OC,” the voice said, but I knew who it was by the time “Jim” came out of his mouth. “Listen, Jay Williams, Ray Cella and I were talking the other day and we all decided that we wanted to bring you lunch.”

My friend OC, the member of the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions as the premier college basketball writer in America for the Associated Press for more than 40 years, was going to come to my front door in Kearny to bring me a sandwich.

“OC, you don’t even know where the hell Kearny is,” I said to him. “You’re crazy.”

But sure enough, OC showed up at my door – albeit after getting lost while driving just a little bit on the way – holding a box full of sandwiches and chips and “these Italian cookies to die for,” OC said, bringing me and Jay-Bird and Aldo Cella lunch.

OC had heard that I had spent some time in the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute and that I was still having a tough time walking. I was still confined to my home at the time, already certain that I wasn’t going to make my annual sojourn to the NCAA Final Four with my Maguire University buddies, and so totally afraid that I may not have been able to walk freely ever again.

As the true friend that OC was to me for the last 35 years, OC helped to organize the trip to Kearny to bring me lunch. The four of us sat in my living room for a couple of hours, laughing and telling stories. If there was one thing that OC did better than anyone, it was telling a story. He was the Stephen King of storytelling novellas, turning even the slightest meeting into a saga.

I will forever remember the image of OC walking up my walkway with a box full of Italian sandwiches from a deli in Queens that he loved and a box of these Italian cookies that diabetics like OC and myself should not have been eating.

OC knew that one of his good friends was sick and feeling down in the dumps, so he wanted to do whatever he could to cheer him up.

That was OC at his finest. That’s the story I’ll always remember. And that’s what came to mind almost instantly Monday morning, when I received word that OC had indeed passed away at the age of 64. His health was in decline over the last couple of years. He lost a toe here and a half of his foot there due to his battle with diabetes. His heart was failing.

But he never once forgot one of the poor schlubs that he dealt with during his early heyday at AP, back when we met in the 1980s, when I was the Sports Information Director at St. Peter’s, when Jay Williams was the main man at the MAAC offices and when Ray Cella was the SID at Iona.

That was OC. Whether it was helping a friend and colleague who couldn’t walk by bringing him an Italian sub and a smile or whether it was spending the entire length of a basketball game just laughing and kidding around, that was Jim O’Connell in a nutshell.

He was quick witted and funny and always willing to tell a tale. But he was also loyal and faithful as they come on this planet.

I also don’t know if OC had any enemies. I know there were some in the world of college basketball that he didn’t particularly care for, but as a mortal enemy, no way. As for having friends, well, OC had thousands. Literally thousands of people called OC “friend.” I was so very fortunate to be one of those people for the last 35 years.

I was a friend long before I started to work for Associated Press 17 years ago.  I used to speak to OC two, maybe three times a week, when I was at St. Peter’s and there was no other form of communication like e-mails, Twitter and Facebook, other than the phone call and word of mouth.

OC and I became good friends from those phone calls, talking about Willie Haynes and Alex Roberts and Ted Fiore and the Peacocks. No text messages, no Tweets. Just the old fashioned phone calls and the liquid lunches in New York City. There were plenty of those. Sometimes, those lunches dragged out into dinners because there was storytelling going on in some bar like P.J. Clarke’s outside the campus of Fordham University or Dohoney’s or the Park Tavern in Jersey City after a Peacock home game.

OC was enamored with my recall of college basketball, all stored away in the back of my noggin. We constantly told stories back and forth, reliving our greatest memories.

I’ll never forget OC’s friendship to me. He was a mentor, a teacher, a colleague for the last 17 years, but first and foremost, he was my friend. I loved OC. I know I’m not alone. There will be countless other tributes written and said about him over the next week or so. His list of friends stretches far longer than mine.

But he was truly the best friend anyone could want. He was beyond just the premier college basketball writer in the country and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was OC. It’s about as simple of a tribute I can give to anyone. He was OC. Two little letters put together to utter a sound. It’s a sound that is so melodious because it represents only one person.

I grieve for wife Annie and his two wonderful sons, Andrew and James, both of whom I got to know pretty well over the years. I met Annie for the first time after a golf outing that OC ran every year and had no idea that she was a great college basketball player in her own right at Fordham and that’s how the two met.

God bless OC. I’ll treasure those days of covering Seton Hall basketball games together, telling him about how bad of a player Ty Shine was or how no Seton Hall player could make a jumper from “the corner of doom.” Sitting next to OC during a basketball game was like sitting next to royalty, because he knew everyone and had a story to tell about practically everyone.

I know people get sick, get old and die. But I didn’t want my last conversation with OC to be over me having a tough time filing a story to AP about a Seton Hall basketball game. But that’s what it was. Back in January, I covered Seton Hall-Georgetown for AP and my computer was acting weird. So I had to try to recover my story off the laptop and cut and paste it into an email in order to have OC edit it for me.

“It’s OK, Hague, I’ll cover your ass once again like I always do,” OC said.

Damn straight he did.

I hope God shines a little light on my buddy. I wish I could have said goodbye, wish I could have told him how much I truly loved him, how much I cherished that visit with Jay-Bird and Aldo and the Italian subs when I was sick and scared. The laughter and the stories brought me back to reality. I hope to carry on in OC’s memory. Rest in peace, brother.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day memory---Courtesy of the movie Field of Dreams

This column was first printed in the pages of the now-defunct Hudson Dispatch on June 29, 1989. It ended up winning several different awards from the New Jersey Press Association, the North Jersey Press Club and the Garden State Society of Journalists. It was also reprinted in Reader’s Digest later that year (although I never got credit, the paper did).
For several years, the clipping sat in an old Avon box in my basement. We had a major flood two years ago that ruined a lot of my old clippings, including several of the old Dispatch articles. But somehow, this one survived. It’s very weather beaten and faded, but it survived.
I’m re-typing it today and posting it, because after all, it’s Fathers’ Day.

I ventured to the movie theater the other day. No, not to see “Batman” or even “Ghostbusters II.” I’m not a trendy type of guy. In fact, I’m a little behind the times. I saw “Field of Dreams.”
OK, so the rest of the western world has already plunked down the cash to see “Field of Dreams.” We’re in the midst of a blockbuster movie season. “Field of Dreams” is old news to movie freaks. After all, it was only released nine weeks ago.
But “Field of Dreams” is about baseball _ sort of. And besides, “Batman” is not about Don Mattingly. I am a sportswriter _ at last check. And I’m a movie fan. Just a tardy movie fan, that’s all. I had to go see it. Who cares if I’m late?
I heard so many things about the movie. It was supposed to be the best thing ever to happen to baseball movies _ which wouldn’t be a hard feat, considering that most baseball flicks flounder.
I went with an open mind, waiting to be disappointed. I left feeling wonderful, feeling alive, feeling good. “Field of Dreams” touched me more than any other movie. It was clearly the best picture I’ve ever witnessed.
And my strong feelings about “Field of Dreams” had nothing to do with baseball. It had to do with life. Or, for that matter, afterlife.
For those who have not had the chance to see “Field of Dreams” _ like all seven of you _ you can stop reading here. Take my word for it, the movie is excellent. It’s the best thing you’ll see all year.
Now, for you other fortunate folk.
Let’s face it. “Field of Dreams” has its flaws. I mean, Shoeless Joe Jackson batted left-handed in real life and threw right. In this movie, the exact opposite. He batted right and threw left.
Brings up a good question. Do your extremities become mirror images after death? Only Elvis can answer that one. Remind me to ask him the next time the King is spotted at a 7-11 in Michigan. Elvis probably shoots at TVs with his left these days.
Gil Hodges is mentioned to be on the “Field of Dreams.” But there were no Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms to be found.
Still, this movie was absolute perfection to me, because it was able to touch me in a way that some people can relate to _ but hopefully not many.
Because of one movie, I got in touch with the huge vacancy that has been dominating my life for the last 18 years _ namely the absence of my father.
I was 10 when cancer snuffed Jack Hague away from me. He was sick, dead and gone within one month’s time in 1971. He was my everything. He was my inspiration, my motivation, my life. He was my Little League manager, my friend. He taught me so much about life in 10 short years _ and then he was gone.
It left me with a brother who was 60 miles away with his own family, a sister who was maturing rapidly _ and a loving mother, who had to be both parents from that point on. It was not easy.
Especially because of my obsession with sports _ something I shared with my Dad. We would watch ball games together, talk baseball constantly, play catch in my backyard.
With no father, those times came to an abrupt halt. I longed for the days of playing catch in the yard. They were long gone.
“Stop throwing like a girl, James,” I could hear him saying. “Step and throw.”
There were so many times in 1972, the first year after my father’s death, that I would stand in the yard, hoping he would come back. I just kept standing there, smacking the ball into my empty glove.
Little League was no longer fun without my Dad. It was a struggle to play for some other manager.
That summer, my mother bought me a “Pitch-Back,” the net that snapped the ball back to you after you tossed it. However, the damn thing never offered advice. It never told me what I was doing wrong. It just stood there.
And the “Pitch-Back” could never tell me what I was doing wrong in life. Of course, my mother did _ and worked hard at it. But living with two women and no man’s view of life certainly was no breeze for a moody kid who found his only release through sports.
As time went on, I tended to forget about my Dad. Not entirely, but enough that he wasn’t a major part of my life anymore. I lost his set of values, his standards. I forgot what Jack Hague stood for. I wanted to be independent, my own person. I couldn’t fill the shoes of a memory.
Sure, sports remained my one constant _ and still is today. Without it, I would be lost. But most of all the other values I thought I had disappeared.
People think I’ve lived a good life, an exciting life. But it’s been fairly shallow. I never realized that until recently _ and never more so until I saw “Field of Dreams.”
It was a total awakening for me. I knew how important my father was _ and still is. Sure, my father was gone, but I should never let him stop being my parent. I should have left his values live on in my life instead of being pigheaded and stubborn and wanting to be something and someone else.
“Field of Dreams” touched me so much that I wanted to build a field in my backyard, albeit a small patch of brown grass nestled in Jersey City. And all the greats of yesteryear who are now departed could come back. They wouldn’t even need an invitation.
Gil Hodges would wear a Met uniform and run the show. Thurman Munson would be behind the plate. Satchel Paige on the mound, Lou Gehrig at first _ and Jackie Robinson stealing bases all night.
And the players would leave a little spot where right field would be, just enough for a grey-haired man with a three-finger glove could throw some high hard ones to his son.
“Field of Dreams” did what it was supposed to do _ make us all dream. It made me dream _ of the days when my father taught me about baseball and life.
I almost took those days for granted. I look back now and cherish. I never realized how much I truly missed my father.
So this is somewhat of an open call to all our readers. Stop, take time out and realize how important your father is.
Sure, there may be some differences and there may be some strife, but the day may come when your father is suddenly not there _ and that vacant feeling of his loss almost gets a stranglehold of you.
I know what that feeling is like. I knew it 18 years ago _ and I rediscovered that huge gap 11 days ago. Yes, Fathers’ Day, the day I saw “Field of Dreams.” I had totally forgotten it was Fathers’ Day. It was so totally ironic I saw the movie on that day.
I’ll never forget Fathers’ Day again. That’s why I love the movies so much _ and why “Field of Dreams” is the best movie I’ve ever seen. I found my Dad. I’m grateful for Hollywood for that.
That’s why I’m asking all of you to find your fathers, too. While he’s still around.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stick a fork in them. The Mets are dead

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”– Winston Churchill

Obviously, the legendary prime minister from Great Britain never saw the New York Mets play baseball.

Well, Churchill died in 1965, so it was long before the Mets even conceived thoughts of being somewhat decent. In 1965, they were still the laughingstocks of the Great American Pastime.

But if Churchill was alive today, he would have very little to be optimistic about with the Mets.
Because as they prepare to face the cross-river rival Yankees tonight, the Mets are deader than Churchill ever was. Paraphrasing another great Brit John Cleese, the Mets are deceased, they’ve expired, they have moved on to meet their maker, they’re pushing up daisies, they cease to be, they are no longer, they are an ex-team.

Don’t give me that line about that it’s only June 8 and that there are 103 games left in the schedule. Don’t sell me a line that they are only 7.5 games out of first place in the NL East standings.  Don’t tell me that they’re going to improve immensely now that Yoenis Cespedes is closer to returning (is he really?) and that Todd Frazier is back. Don’t be like the moron we hired as a manager and spew crap that the pitching has been really good over the last couple of weeks.

Don’t do any of that, because the Mets are dead. They’re a dead team, a dead franchise, a dead organization from top to bottom. They’re also cursed, but that’s another matter for perhaps another day.

Right now, as the latest version of the Subway Series is only a few hours from beginning, can there be more of an unmitigated mismatch than what will transpire this weekend?

The Yankees are absolutely rolling along. They have a young, vibrant, alive roster filled with this generation’s superstars. How can anyone not get excited by seeing Gleyber Torres play second base for that team? The kid has it all. He hits and hits for power. He runs. He fields his position and plays with a smile on his face. Torres is the real deal and then some.

And then there are the other youngsters. Miguel Andujar is getting miggy with it on the hot corner (I can’t say I invented that one—it was a John Sterling creation that almost made me spit out my Arnold Palmer Zero the other night when I heard it). We all know what Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez can do. Greg Bird is back at first and if he stays healthy (which is a big IF right now), he’s scary. Austin Romine is hitting .373. Tyler Austin is a stud. We haven’t even mentioned Clint Frazier – because he’s in Scranton. There’s no room in the Bronx for his talents right now.

All of those aforementioned guys are under the age of 26 years old. All of them! They’re all good and they’re all superstars in the making.

And the Yankees are flirting on a daily basis with the Red Sox for both first place in the AL East standings and the best record overall in baseball.

The Mets? They currently have 11 players on the disabled list and that number was increased today, when Jeurys Familia was added to the DL with some sort of shoulder woes. Who do the Mets have as a closer right now? Who knows?

The old players on the Mets appear to have become even older as I write this. Someone obviously kidnapped Jay Bruce, because this is not the same guy who hit 36 homers and drove in 101 runs last year. I applauded the Mets for bringing Bruce back. I thought it might turn out to be as brilliant as what the Yankees did to get Gleyber and then bring back Chapman. But there’s only one problem with that. Bruce, owner of a $39 million contract, has three homers and 15 RBI and is hitting .220. It’s the second week of June and Bruce has 15 RBI. Are you kidding me?

We can go on. I understand Michael Conforto had major reconstructive surgery to his shoulder after hurting it last year on a swing. But Conforto has 16 RBI and is hitting .228 this season. He had 27 homers, 70 RBI and hit .280 in 109 games last year, earning a spot on the NL All-Star team. Tell me if you didn’t think this kid was our version of Judge. There was a tabloid backpage feature last year that compared the two. Can that even be considered now? No way.

The Mets thought they had the shortstop of the future with Amed Rosario. But the moron we hired as a manager (I can’t even mention his name, because I may start to laugh and cry simultaneously) continues to bat Rosario ninth and the pitcher eighth. Abner Doubleday is chuckling at the big ballpark in the sky with this daily disaster. Rosario is hitting .251 with three homers and 18 RBI. Yes, he has more RBI than Bruce and Conforto.

Need we go on? OK, let’s. Adrian Gonzalez was a pickup from the waste basket. You know when you walk by a garbage can and see a Bic ballpoint that has some life left in it, so you pick it out of the trash and give it a try. That’s what the Mets did with Gonzalez, once one of the most feared hitters in the game. Well, Gonzalez, who finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting three times in BOTH leagues, seemed to have a little bit of life in him and they weren’t paying his $22 million contract (the Atlanta Braves are), so it was worth the chance.

But lately, the Bic pen is not writing anymore and Gonzalez looks absolutely feeble. He’s hitting .244 with six homers and 26 RBI, but he didn’t get the ball out of the infield in two losses to the dreadful Orioles this week (yes, the Orioles with the worst record in the game beat the Mets twice, albeit 2-1 and 1-0).

The Mets did the same reclamation attempt with Jose Reyes after his domestic violence arrest and subsequent release by the Colorado Rockies. But the once-exciting Reyes has been relegated to a bench player and even there, Reyes can’t do a thing, batting a hideous .141 with one homer and three RBI. He appears finished, much like Gonzalez, but he’s not costing the Mets much, so he remains.

The Mets also scooped up another former All-Star in Jose Bautista, after Joey Bats was given the boot by the Atlanta Braves. Bautista isn’t costing the Mets hardly anything as well, as his $18 million contract is being paid by the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s another player who has finished among the top eight in the AL MVP voting four times in his life, but his career is also being held together with Elmer’s glue and rubber bands. Bautista has not been bad with the Mets, batting .280 with three RBI in 32 at-bats. But again, here’s a 37-year-old reclamation project.

The Yankees have youth, vim and vigor. The Mets basically have a dead roster.

We didn’t address the pitching situation, because in honesty, the pitching hasn’t been too bad. Jacob deGrom, tonight’s starter, has been lights out, pitching to a 4-0 record and a 1.54 ERA, after he hurt his pitching elbow swinging the bat. Steven Matz has a 2-4 record, but his ERA is a manageable 3.54 and has looked good in recent starts. Noah Syndergaard, who is currently on the DL like everyone else, but is scheduled to face the Yankees Sunday night, has a 4-1 record with a 3.06 ERA. But Thor really hasn’t been the dominating force that he was before he got hurt last year.

Zack Wheeler has a 2-4 record with a 4.57 ERA and he has also looked good in recent outings. He pitched seven scoreless innings Wednesday against the Orioles and appeared dominant. But the Mets once again failed to score for Zack and they lost 1-0 on a run fueled by Rosario’s fielding miscue.

Jason Vargas (2-4, 7.71 ERA) has been a disaster signing. He got $18 million for two years. That may be the biggest heist since the Lufthansa theft at JFK in the 1970s. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have been solid. One of those two has to be the closer now that Familia is gone. Maybe it’s Anthony Swarzak. Who knows?

But at this point, who cares? Because Churchill, this team is dead in the water. They started off like gangbusters, posting an 11-1 record to start the year. It looked as if they were going to run away and hide from the rest of the division.

However, since that time, they are 16-31 and plummeting faster than Roseanne Barr’s approval ratings. Can they turn it around? Sure, they’ve proven me wrong before. I thought they were so totally dead in July of 2015, but they miraculously turned it all around, won the division and the National League pennant. God, that feels like so long ago.

But can they turn it around and win this time? It’s highly unlikely. I’m not one that says the Mets have to trade off their desirable commodities. In fact, I want them to lock up deGrom and Thor long term. I’d even throw Matz a contract and see if he bites. Will it happen? Not the way they operate. They allow the market dictate how they sign contracts. If some other team offers a solid contract, then the Mets might counter offer. They are never the aggressors. They allow the market determine how they approach contracts, which is a stupid approach.

I don’t think Sandy Alderson has been a bad general manager. His hands have been tied by the financial restraints laid down by the stingy ownership. But Alderson had a chance to make this team better in the offseason and really wasn’t aggressive enough to address the team’s needs, like depth in the bullpen.
But Alderson’s biggest blunder was hiring a new manager. I know it’s only 59 games, but Mickey Calloway (there, I finally got to him) is the biggest disaster the organization has ever made – and they’ve had their fair share of loser managers.

In fact, they haven’t had a decent manager since Bobby Valentine. I was never a Terry Collins fan at all, but the Gray Fox is light years ahead of Moron Mickey, who continues to make moves that make me scratch my head and shake that head faster than a Taylor Swift song.

I can’t even begin to put together the words to describe Moron Mickey, but he was supposed to be a pitcher’s manager and obviously the strength of the team was going to be pitching. But Calloway has no idea how to handle the pitching staff, taking out starters too soon, bringing in the wrong relievers, having a short leash on all of the pitchers. He parades Jerry Blevins out there regularly and he can’t get anyone out. The same for the atrocious Paul Sewald. I have always been a Hansel Robles fan, but he’s pitched 15 innings this year and given up six homers. Who does that?

And Calloway’s game strategy is just scary. It’s like he’s never watched a baseball game in his life. That Kumbaya attitude he displayed at his first press conference, when he was going to get everyone together in a group hug, is long gone. His ability to manage this team doesn’t exist.

So there we have it. First pitch awaits and we have two teams in the same Big Apple going in opposite directions. Do I dare say “Play Ball?”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A blast from the past: "Just wondering"

For the longest time, I used to write a regular column that would be titled, “Just Wondering,” where I would fire off a bunch of different ideas that would pop into my noggin.

Last week, I received a tweet from someone who said that it was time for another “Just Wondering” piece. I realized that I hadn’t written one in such a very long time. In this era of “reboots” like Will & Grace and Roseanne, it’s time for a sports reboot, another version of “Just Wondering,” a little long time in the coming.

JUST WONDERING what the two New York teams will do in tonight’s NFL Draft.  The months of speculation are now down to a few precious hours. Will the Giants and Jets keep their picks and take players that will help change the face of the franchise? Will they trade their picks for other picks down the road?

It has certainly led to some great fodder for the sports talk shows since the Jets traded up to get the No. 3 from the Colts.

Now it’s all down to today.

I think Sam Darnold goes No. 1 to the Browns and in my opinion, Darnold is a no-brainer. I still believe he’s the best QB prospect the NFL has seen in 20 years, probably going back to Peyton Manning. He’s going to be a flat out stud. How Phil Simms said that Darnold was going to drop to No. 17 overall is downright wack-a-doodle.

So that puts the Giants on the clock and from every little snippet I have read or heard since Dave Gettleman became the Giants’ GM, I think they’re going to take Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick.
Running backs that weigh 235 pounds and run a 4.4 40-yard dash don’t come around every day. Barkley is the kind of player who can turn around an entire franchise, never mind just make the team better.

Barkley is sold on being the best player in the game, not just the best running back. There was a piece on him on the NFL Network the other day where Barkley was talking about being a brand name, a one-named superstar in the same way that Michael and Kobe were and LeBron is.

I know it sounds like some bold statements for someone who hasn’t played a down in the league, but it certainly has an air of confidence about it.

Sure, running backs generally have a short shelf life in the NFL, around five years. But Barkley has the physical tools that make you believe he’s going to be around for a while and that he’s going to be a special player. I think the idea of Barkley being an every down back and Odell Beckham, Jr. being healthy and catching passes from a rejuvenated Eli Manning gives the Giants’ faithful reason to be excited.

After the G-Men take Barkley, the Jets are on the clock. And I think before the clock even ticks down to the precious few seconds, I think the Jets are going to take Josh Allen with their selection at No. 3.

I know everyone is clamoring for Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at No. 3, but I think the Jets are going to take the Wyoming signal caller instead. You can’t teach 6-foot-6 and an arm strength that can throw the ball 80 yards without a hitch. You also can’t teach that kind of mental makeup. I think Allen will be able to handle the pressure of being the Jets’ quarterback down the road. I don’t think he takes a snap this season. I think if he’s healthy, then Teddy Bridgewater is the Jets’ starter at QB, even over Josh McCown, who had a marvelous season last year for the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets.

But Allen represents the Jets’ future and he will change the face of the franchise. Let’s face facts. Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan is staking his reputation, his career, his football life on this pick. If Allen is a bust, then Maccagnan slinks away into the list of abysmal Jets general managers. If Allen shows some promise as being the Jets’ future, then he gets to stick around for a while. If there’s anyone who feels a ton of pressure on his shoulders, chest and head tonight, it’s Maccagnan.

So I think it’s Darnold, Barkley and Allen in that order. I’ve been wrong before.

JUST WONDERING if anyone else agrees with me. It’s not easy to do, you know.

JUST WONDERING if anyone else agrees with me and is glad that the draft is actually over after Saturday. All this talk and speculation and rumors have driven me completely nuts, especially since my Rams don’t have a pick until No. 87 overall in the third round. That’s a lot of waiting around to get excited about a backup offensive tackle.

JUST WONDERING what in the world Ereck Flowers is thinking about when he doesn’t show up for the Giants’ mini-camp this week? I mean, if you’re Anthony Munoz, you can get away with such crap. But Flowers may be the biggest bust in the history of the Giants and he thinks he’s entitled to the starting left tackle position for life, even if you, er, totally suck. If the Giants can trade Flowers for a roll of adhesive tape and an old Jane Fonda workout video, then I’d do it just to get his fat, lazy, miserable ass out of here.

JUST WONDERING when spring is going to arrive in the Northeast. Enough is enough with this cold weather. I don’t want to see 50 degrees again until November.

JUST WONDERING when all this hype about Shohei Otani will die down? I mean, it’s great that he can hit and pitch and all that. But he’s mentioned every single second I turn on ESPN. Once again, the mothership, as Dan Patrick calls the brilliant people of Bristol, has found a new fangled hero to beat with a stick. Shohei went to the bathroom today. Let’s mention that. Shohei went shopping for shoes. Let’s lead SportsCenter with that. It’s annoying.

JUST WONDERING what Mike Francesa was thinking when he spent nine months retiring, had every sports celebrity under the sun praise him to the high heavens when he retired, then four months later, he decides to come back and everyone is supposed to just accept it? What was the Sports Pope thinking? Does Mongo Nation just accept him back? Francesa’s credibility takes a huge hit with this move, even if his inflated ego doesn’t think so. One thing is for sure: You can be rest assured I’ll listen, because the drive-time has not been the same without him.

JUST WONDERING where the Knicks and Rangers are going to go for their new coaches. It’s safe to say that MSG and especially owner James Dolan has no idea what he’s doing. I am in the minority here, but I didn’t think Alain Vignault deserved to lose his job. The Rangers have one bad year and then he’s gone? In the case of Jeff Hornacek, he was a bad hire in the first place. But in the case of the Knicks, it’s been one bad hire after another.

JUST WONDERING if the Mets will be a contender all summer long. I tend to think they will be. They’re very good. I also think the Yankees are also very good. I think it’s going to be great baseball summer locally. I mean, it could evolve into the best baseball summer of my life.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's all this fuss about the Winter Olympics? I don't get it

OK, it’s been over a week of wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of the Winter Olympics on all 20 or so of NBC’s networks and I have now finally come to one realization.

I personally don’t get the Winter Olympics at all.

I mean, I tried this time. I really tried hard. But I’m missing something that I guess the rest of the globe understands.

What’s all the fuss about? Where’s the excitement in it? There have been times _ like all of them _ over the last 11 days of the gripping wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage that I find myself totally bored out of my wits and longing for anything to grab my attention. Like anything.

First, let’s start with the name of the area in South Korea where this frozen display of international bad fashion is taking place. It’s being held in Pyeongchang County. It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue like Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey does. Couldn’t we just rename the place “Cleveland” for a few weeks to avoid confusion and trying to learn to spell it or even say it? I’m not going to charm school to learn how to say Pyeongchang. I think it rhymes with Young Chang, which sounds like an Asian rap star.

I found myself watching the figure skating _ I don’t know which one, long form, short form, ice dancing, pairs ice dancing, team pairs ice dancing, free fall _ the other night just waiting to see what Johnny Weir was wearing.

Terry Gannon, the former N.C. State basketball player on Jim Valvano’s “Survive and Advance” NCAA champs, is actually announcing the figure skating with the over-the-top flamboyant Weir and his sidekick Tara Lupinski, who from what I gather won some sort of medal in some form of figure skating a while back.

Bring me back to the days of Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, please. I’ll even take the drama of trailer queen Tonya Harding and that big-toothed phony Nancy Kerrigan over what is going on now.

Apparently, one young lady attempted a triple something or other the other night, which had never been done in Olympic competition. And yeah, sure, right, Terry Gannon knew exactly what that move was. It was definitely not the run and jump defense or the pick-and-roll offense, if you catch my drift.

Sure, it was nice to see that American brother/sister combo from Connecticut or Boston or Michigan (my head was spinning trying to keep up with where they actually live) Maia and Alex Shibutani, who were dubbed with the catchy nickname “The Shib Sibs.” But I was confused because most of the other competitors were also Asian and the crowds were going nuts for the Koreans and I had no idea whether they were American or Korean, but I did find out that they were huge fans of the Korean Pop band BTS, whose big hit is entitled “DNA.” Got all that?

So the figure skating had me losing whatever little mind I had left. Don’t ask me who won or who lost. There was no Dick Button to ramble about the “humanity” of another famous ice pair Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, when one of those two or both got hurt in the middle of their Olympic performance somewhere.

Let’s move on to another gripping Winter Olympic event. There was the awesome activity called curling, which I really want to know how it was invented in the first place. There had to be some drunks sitting around in some frozen tundra pounding down some brewskis _ on a frozen pond, of course _ who grabbed a frying pan filled with snow, slid it across the frozen pond and another of the malooks grabbed a broom to sweep away the excess snow and ice that might be a deterrent to the frying pan filled with snow.

How curling is a sport is beyond my comprehension. If I think about it too much, my eyes will explode out of the sockets. Taking that weighed pot (called a stone, now I know) and slide it gently across the ice while two other people with brooms feverishly brush the ice so the stone gets as close to the center as possible. And the ice is painted to look like an archery board. Just thinking about the people who actually dreamed up this mistake on ice is comical to me. And there are men’s and women’s curling and of course, team curling, which is just as gripping.

Is anyone as excited as I am so far? We’ll continue.

We’ll move on to the International Sliding Station (kid you not) for two more events, namely bobsled and luge.

There’s a two-man bobsled and the four-man bobsled (which was made famous in that great Disney movie “Cool Runnings” with John Candy about the Jamaican bobsled team). See, if you wait long enough, there is always a reference to Disney. It just pops up. Like Oprah and Justin Bieber.

There’s actually strategy involved with the bobsled and how they run real fast, then systematically jump into the moving contraption as it makes its way down the ice in the International Sliding Station. It’s a sight to behold. There are little clocks that appear at the right hand bottom of the screen, but they keep spinning over and over like the tote board in the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

In luge, there aren’t two-man teams. That would get too funky. But these people run, dive on the box that is not much bigger than a trash can lid and slide down flat on their back. Some travel feet first and other daredevils travel head first. There’s a different name for that kind of luge. Again, it’s just something to confuse the crap out of me.

Again, there are people who really get into these events, but since I’m clueless, I watch for a few spins of that clock-like thing in the corner of the screen and move on.

Well, there’s skiing as well. Now, how can anyone screw around with the sport that is so popular as a form of recreation in the winter? Trust me. They can.

There is Nordic Alpine and Super G (isn’t that the weatherman on Channel 11?) and slalom and giant slalom and cross country (hey, there’s a term I’m familiar with, but that’s running on grass, twigs and hills in October and November). There are all these different races going on every single day, just enough to confuse the living hell out of me.

I do remember Franz Klammer doing the downhill at the Winter Olympics when I was a kid and Bob Beattie and Frank Gifford going bonkers as the German was completely airborne for most of his gold-medal winning run. That was exciting.

But the only thing I got out of the skiing was that Lindsay Vonn is still a very pretty woman and that the gold medal winner in one of the races sounded like she was from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The other thing I got was that people scream unintelligible things when the skier comes out of the opening gate. It doesn’t sound like a genuine language, just utter yelps like when Grandma’s rocking chair rocked back onto the family cat’s tail. I never understood the “Get in the hole” screams at golf tournaments when the golfer is some 500 yards away from the pin. And I don’t understand whatever it was that these ski mavens were barking at the start of every run.

It didn’t matter what country the skier was from. The yelling seemed to be universal and seemed to show no purpose whatsoever.

Then there’s the biathlon, where skiers cross country ski for miles, toting a rifle along for good measure in case there’s a stray moose on the course, then get down into the snow and shoot at targets while lying in the snow, then get up and race more cross country skiing. Again, who dreamed up that one? Ski for miles, then lay in the snow, shoot a rifle, get up and ski some more. The thrill of victory and the agony of my feet.

To capitalize on the popularity of the Winter X Games, a creation for television by ESPN years ago, the International Olympic Committee voted to include many of those trick-based, stunt driven events like snowboarding and half-pipe and full pipe and crack pipe and ski jumping with tricks on the halfpipe as actual Olympic sports. Now, isn’t that special?

Ah, hockey. Now, there’s something I can relate to. However, the National Hockey League ruled this year that they were not going to put the league on a three-week delay to benefit the Olympics, so if you were under contract with an NHL team, you were not allowed to participate in the Olympics.

So Team USA was comprised of a bunch of older hockey veterans no longer talented enough to play in the NHL, some minor leaguers and some college players. It wasn’t like the days of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, which was meticulously selected from the college ranks. This was a conglomeration of misfits thrown together with USA across their sweaters. The team didn’t stand a chance and they were eliminated early.

In recent years, each of the top teams featured the NHL stars, so there was some national pride going on with the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, you have it. This year, it was more of an “eh.”

On the women’s side, there was Team USA battling Team Canada for the gold medal, a game that went into overtime and eventually the shootout. Perhaps that was the most dramatic moment of the games.

And then there was the coverage of these events from a broadcasting point of view. Long gone are the days of the immortal Jim McKay, who always had us captivated with his “Up Close and Personal” features on the athletes, both American and foreign, and those little vignettes really made you have more of an interest and created rooting flavor.

Now, we have Mike Tirico, who stands there looking completely out of place and definitely creepy. And what’s with the set, when he’s sitting behind what is supposed to be some sort of desk, but it’s actually carved out to look like an ice sculpture? What brilliant NBC mind thought up that design? I’d take Bob Costas and his pink eye anytime.

I have to say that I was impressed with the announcing skills of former US ski champ Bode Miller, who while he was competing sounded like he was Jeff Spicoli’s long lost brother from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Back then, Miller was looking to catch some bitchin’ hills and make some frosty moves around the awesome pilons. Now as a mature responsible announcer, Miller sounds professional and true, even speaking bluntly about the powdery conditions of the courses. Miller stood out in my eyes.

But when we had Chris Schenkel and Dick Button doing the figure skating for ABC back then, they captured the drama and the essence and importance of the Olympics. NBC has Weir wearing hats that Carol Channing disposed of from the set of “Hello, Dolly,” and Weir and Lipinski practically cheering and saying, “You go, girlfriend.” Ugh!

So I tried this year. I really tried. As you can see with the verbal rant, I certainly watched enough to come away with these observations. I just didn’t have to like it. Because basically, I have no idea what in the world I was watching in the first place.

Here’s the best news of all. The first spring training baseball games are scheduled for Friday. Adrian Gonzalez says that he’s healthy and ready to have a big year for the Mets. Yankee fans are predicting 80 homers each for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and about 75 homers for Gary Sanchez (who still cannot speak English for some reason) and 50 homers for Greg Bird.

Baseball is a sport that I understand. The stuff from Pyeongchang? Not so much.
The college basketball season is winding its way down to the last few regular season games. Believe it or not, the postseason tournaments will tip off in two weeks and March Madness is only three weeks away from beginning. The season has flown by.

When the season began, I truly believed that Seton Hall was a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. I was predicting that they were an Elite Eight team and could perhaps head to the Final Four with a little luck. They were talented and had enough good senior leadership and talent to do it.

But now, for some reason, the Pirates are floundering again. They were teetering on the possibility of not even making the NCAAs, but I think they’ve rebounded with two wins over DePaul and Providence to secure their place in March Madness.

Can they make a run at the Big East title? They did so two years ago when they shocked Villanova in the championship game of 2016, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

However, something happened with this team to make things turn sour as bad as they did.  They have a 19-9 record overall and an 8-7 record in the Big East after defeating Providence Thursday in a game that started Wednesday night and ended Thursday due to unsafe floor conditions caused by the condensation in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after Wednesday’s unseasonably warm temperatures.

It’s really hard to put a finger on what transpired with the Pirates. It’s not a team with riddled with dissention like when they collapsed in 2015. This team generally gets along well and plays well together. So their poor play is a mystery.

The Pirates need their senior leaders like Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeem Carrington to step up and play like four-year college basketball veterans. With the ever-changing world of college basketball teams, kids transferring from school to school in rapid fashion, the Pirates should have an advantage by having three kids who have played together for four years with more than 110 games of experience together. 
There aren’t a lot of college teams that can lay claim to that fact.

So the Pirates need to have those three make the final weeks of their collegiate careers memorable or they would have to be considered a major failure. Could it be rectified in time? Of course. All they need to do is look at what they did two years ago, when they shocked the world and won the Big East championship. It can happen again _ but they better get their acts in gear right now before the Big East Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden beginning March 3.
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