LOS ANGELES — When he got traded, he said change was good.
Sure, he loved the Dodgers. He loved the traditions and the friends and the benefits, and the feeling that nothing in the world existed outside Dodger Stadium where you’re rounding the bases inside it.
But now he was with San Diego, a franchise that had won one World Series game. No problem, Matt Kemp said. He wasn’t going to act as if his ceiling collasped, the way Jim Kelly did when the Buffalo Bills drafted him. The first day on the job is always happy.
Kemp learned that change isn’t good. He was introduced to no-hope losing in San Diego. He was traded again, to Atlanta, and San Diego’s co-owner ripped him. Suddenly the man who was the MVP runner-up in 2011 was a salary, swapped for another salary. The Braves were rebuilding and losing, too, and Kemp was the placeholder for upcoming outfielder Ronald Acuna. Then he hurt his hamstring.
On Saturday Kemp sat at the same Dodger Stadium locker that he occupied when they opened the new clubhouse in 2014.
“I never thought I’d come back here,” he said, as he laced up shoes for a pregame workout. “But then I always thought I’d be a Dodger in the first place.”
It is Memorial Day Weekend and Kemp is still a Dodger, which was not the way to bet, in spring training. He’s also been the best Dodger position player.
He came into Saturday night with a .338 batting average, six home runs and 25 RBI. His .907 OPS is his highest since that massive 2011 season (.986), and he is producing the highest line-drive/at-bat ratio in his career. He is 17 for 35 with men in scoring position.
“Even when he was in San Diego and Atlanta, he was always the guy who would get that run in,” said A.J. Ellis, the ex-Dodger catcher who is now in San Diego. “He looks happy and comfortable up there.”
Kemp’s body reshaping has triggered much of this. He grounded into a league-leading 25 double plays last year. He has done so only three times this year. You can quibble with the “Runs Saved” stat on Fangraphs.com, but Kemp was minus-17 last year in the outfield and is plus-one now.
“I feel really good,” Kemp said. “I’ve got guys like JT (Justin Turner), righthanded hitters to talk about hitting with. There’s great hitting coaches here. I’m really learning a lot more about the game. It’s just fun to come to the ballpark, knowing that there’s a chance to win.
“With all that’s happened to us, we’re three-and-a-half games out of the lead at the end of May and there’s four months left. That’s pretty good.”
When Kemp walked into Camelback Ranch this spring, he found only eight former Dodger teammates. Gone were Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, two logs in the outfield jam that eventually squeezed Kemp off the roster.
“There were a lot of unfamiliar faces,” Kemp said. “I knew the clubhouse guys and the trainers. But the atmosphere was a little more electric than I remembered. That’s what happens when you go to the World Series.”
Kemp and Dee Gordon were the first exports of Andrew Friedman’s tenure, at a frenetic winter meeting in San Diego. The returns weren’t obvious at first. But the Dodgers got Yasmani Grandal for Kemp and got Austin Barnes, Kiké Hernandez and (indirectly) Howie Kendrick for Gordon. Versatility and defense were in. One-dimensional players were out.
Kemp was under an electron microscope from his first day in L.A., with every home run celebrated, every baserunning mistake dissected. Now the Padres were 10 games out at the All-Star break and it suddenly didn’t matter what Kemp did.
His 23 home runs and 100 RBI moved no needles in 2015. He was better in 2016, and then he was traded in late season for Hector Olvera, and had 35 home runs and 108 RBI overall.
But when he thanked the Padres fans in a Players’ Tribune article and also acknowledged he had built a reputation as being “selfish, lazy and a bad teammate,” Padres co-owner Ron Fowler fired back. “Talk about a bunch of BS,” Fowler said.
The dollar marks moved west when the Braves agreed to take Adrian Gonzalez and Brendan McCarthy for Kemp. The assumed Next Trade didn’t happen, and now the Dodgers find themselves dependent on Kemp. Just like old times.
“Every year, any player has something to prove,” Kemp said. “People will say what they’ll say. You can always control what they say, by playing better.”
He also said, “In my mind I was always going to be a Dodger no matter what. They made my dreams come true.”
Those dreams never changed, even after a wake-up call.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/26/matt-kemps-rate-of-return-has-kept-dodgers-afloat/
ARCADIA — Bob Baffert didn’t see the same race you didn’t see.
The fog came into Pimlico on large hooves Saturday. It gulped down the Preakness field for a few seconds, spat it out again.
All Baffert knew was that Justify, who had delivered Baffert’s fifth Kentucky Derby victory two weeks prior, was in lockstep with Good Magic.
“It was a match race,” Baffert said Thursday. “I thought, wow, Good Magic is putting it to us. They came here to win. Then they came down the stretch and Justify hung on. I thought, well, we might have won, but maybe the party’s over. It was tough.”
Good Magic faded, but Bravazo and Tenfold materialized from the outside, as if produced by the fog. Justify won by a head and Baffert came downstairs, victorious but edgy. Once you have won a Triple Crown with American Pharoah and then bring Justify to that same brink, two trips to the winner’s circle aren’t enough.
“Is that it? Do you think that’s the bottom of him?” Baffert asked Mike Smith, the jockey.
Smith was reassuring. He mentioned that when Justify crossed the finish line, he kept galloping to make sure Bravazo wouldn’t pass, even then.
“An exercise rider came by and wanted me to give him a high-five,” Smith said. “If I’d done it the horse would have run off and left me. He wasn’t on fumes. Good Magic wanted to wear us out, but I like the way Justify came out of it.”
More encouragements followed. Justify held his weight steady. “He’s an eating machine, a chowhound,” Baffert said. There should have been collateral damage after two major wins, two weeks apart, for a horse that never ran as a 2-year-old. It wasn’t there.
So for the third time in five years, a Triple Crown is possible. Justify was a 2-to-5 favorite to win the Preakness. The odds will be longer in New York, but Baffert and Smith don’t seem to think Justify is on his last four legs.
Immediately after the race, NBC’s analysts expressed doubts. Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said he thought Justify was “more vulnerable,” an opinion he sticks to, and Randy Moss said the fact that four horses finished so tightly meant that Justify wasn’t dominant.
The consensus is that American Pharoah’s win in 2015 was more stylish, although Justify had a better Derby than Pharoah did.
“Visually that might be true just because the margin was shorter,” Smith said. “But this horse ran the Preakness three seconds faster (1:55.93 to 1:58.46).
“Michael Jordan didn’t win every game by 20, you know.”
“I thought Justify showed a lot of fight,” Bailey said. “I also think he left everything he had out on the track.”
The fog of time lifted and showed what Justify was really dealing with.
At Pimlico, the traffic to the infield crosses the racing surface and leaves its imprint. Horses have to deal with that inconsistency.
Sometimes a horse “jumps the tracks,” goes airborne and has to regroup. Smith said Justify did that three times and still kept pace.
“That has nothing to do with inexperience,” Smith said. “I’ve had 9-year-olds jump the track. And sometimes you just let it happen, because you don’t want to get into stutter-steps. I rode Ax Man in the previous race and he saw the tracks, and I know Justify saw them. I told some people he got some air underneath him. He was up there. You can see it in the pictures.”
“We’re waiting to hear from Nike,” Baffert joked.
Then there are the parachuters, horses who skipped the Preakness and maybe the Derby, too. The past eight Derby/Preakness winners who fell short at the Belmont were ambushed by such horses.
Audible is the most dangerous drop-in, but trainer Todd Pletcher has not announced that he’ll run.
Bailey has his eye on Hofburg, who ran a Great Circle Route at the Derby and still finished a charging seventh.
Restoring Hope, trained by Baffert, is another candidate. Bravazo and Tenfold will make it to New York, but not Good Magic.
“Belmont Park is different,” Smith said. “Everybody talks about the stretch, but it’s actually shorter than Los Alamitos’ stretch. What I think about are those big turns. Justify reminds me a lot of Easy Goer. He was a big, strong, beautiful horse like this one. I think the big turns play to our advantage.”
Easy Goer won the 1989 Belmont by eight lengths and denied Sunday Silence a Triple Crown. Baffert and Smith don’t see fog in the Belmont forecast. They do see a great big bank.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/24/whicker-no-need-for-justificiation-baffert-smith-say-their-horse-is-just-fine/
FULLERTON — Colton Eastman wins because of all the tough losses.
He wins because of the crowds he’ll never win over.
He wins because he never wants to be unhittable.
The swing-and-miss pitch, the one that attracts scouts like the smell of ribs that Eastman and his teammates were cooking on Wednesday afternoon? He’s not interested in that. Swing, don’t miss, dribble it to an infielder and then head for the dugout.
On Thursday, Eastman and Cal State Fullerton return to Blair Field in Long Beach, where the Titans and Dirtbags played three days of baseball last May that set new standards for precision and drama.
It was an NCAA Super Regional, with the winner going to the College World Series, and Eastman pitched the rubber match. He gave up one hit in seven innings and struck out eight, and even though he thrives as a soloist, he remembers that he is a teammate. When Coach Rick Vanderhook asked Eastman how he felt after 106 pitches, Eastman nominated closer Brett Conine for the final six outs, and the Titans won 2-1.
Eastman also beat Stanford to clinch the four-team regional the previous week. As a freshman, he beat the Dirtbags 2-1 to clinch the Big West title in 2016. These Titans have already done that. But the rivalry remains, as does Eastman’s desire to spread quiet and resentment through the home stands.
“When I have the ball, it’s nice to pitch in front of a whole bunch of people who don’t like me, yet they have to look at me,” Eastman said Wednesday, as the Titans wrapped up practice and prepared for a valedictory feast.
“Oregon State, Mississippi State … I remember 13,000 people at Mississippi State, with the cowbells. I loved that place.”
Eastman is 8-3 as a junior. He has 103 strikeouts in 98-2/3 innings with a 2.32 ERA. As a collegian, he is 18-6, 2.28. That’s six losses in 39 appearances.
At Oregon State, he outlasted Luke Heimlich, perhaps the best left-hander in college, and put Fullerton in position to win 5-3. He pitched seven innings, and he averages a tick over that for the season.
Those who orchestrate big-league baseball try to rescue their pitchers from facing a batting order for a third time as if it’s a different, menacing level on a video game.
“I think I saw a stat where the average now is 60 pitches in four innings,” he said. “That’s not good.
“When you face a guy a third time it’s all about mixing, throwing your breaking ball for a strike. Even if he’s seen it 20 times he’s not going to hit it. I want to pitch to contact. Most guys are going to get themselves out.”
Eastman and his dad Shawn trace it to Central High in Fresno, where he often found himself going it alone.
“I was 4-9, and I think I had about a 0.60 ERA,” Eastman said. “It was generally up to me whether we won or not. I’d either get one run or no runs, so my goal even now is to put a goose egg on the board. It was frustrating. But it got me here.”
Vanderhook was impressed that Eastman didn’t bail, didn’t transfer to a more visible powerhouse.
“There’s no sense in switching to a school that’s running roughshod,” Shawn Eastman said. “He might have won 15 games somewhere else, and all the games might have been 15-0. This way he built mental toughness.”
And it wasn’t like Eastman hadn’t won. His youth team, the Central Valley Braves, played “up” in age and won a national tournament in Cooperstown. It was coached by Dick Ellsworth, who pitched 13 major league seasons.
But the primary source of Colton’s knowledge was and is his dad.
Shawn put black duct tape on the baseball to show Colton the rotation. He even taped two baseballs together to refine Colton’s curveball.
Even today when Colton runs to the mound, he hears Shawn from the stands “Go after ’em.”
The MLB draft begins June 4. Eastman has lived this before when he was eligible as a high school senior. It didn’t go well. He invited his friends over and they followed it on the internet. Minnesota picked Eastman, but not until Round 30.
“You get all hyped up at Christmas and you think you’re getting a bike and it turns out you get a pair of hand-me-down shoes,” Shawn said.
“I’m not getting my hopes up this time,” Colton said. “But I know I’ve put myself in a good position.”
Will Eastman bring out the laptop when they start calling the names?
“Actually, I hope we’re playing that day,” he said.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/23/whicker-cal-state-fullertons-colton-eastman-thrives-when-the-games-and-seasons-get-late/
TUSTIN — He has the best seat and also the hottest. Blood and sweat dance all around him. Tears are prohibited.
Max DeLuca is a boxing judge. The ring announcer runs through the judges’ names when the bout starts. He does it again when he gives the scores. You have to listen hard to hear DeLuca’s. He hopes you never do.
“It’s like going into the zone,” Deluca said. “I don’t hear the crowd. You’re on an island. The judges might be the only people in the building who aren’t drinking their sodas during the fight or talking to anybody.
“I get nervous, sure. Not as bad as when I started, but you don’t ever, ever want to give the fight to the wrong guy. I know how much power we have over somebody’s career.”
DeLuca has achieved invisibility under a klieg light, so it wasn’t surprising that no one noticed him lunching in a Tustin brewery last week. This is his 21st year of doing this.
His father, Dr. Michael DeLuca, was a psychiatrist who became the ring physician at many Southern California fights. Max would come along, sometimes sitting with Michael if they were at the Irvine Marriott, finding another seat somewhere at The Forum.
That was in the 80s, when boxing thrived, and Max developed favorites. No longer. He doesn’t even like to look at a fighter’s face. The mantra is “effective punches.” The goal is consensus, to see the same fight as his two colleagues, who also sit by the ring apron, on two other sides.
“We always have an after-meeting with the (state) commission,” DeLuca said. “We’re held accountable. You and I could score a fight the same and come at it 10 different ways. But if you have very different scores three or four times in a row, it’s time to evaluate something.”
According to Boxrec.com, DeLuca inhabits the middle ground. In every fight over the past three years, DeLuca’s score has been within two points of at least one of the other judges’.
His is the kind of comfortable anonymity that will always evade Adelaide Byrd, who ruled that Canelo Alvarez had beaten Gennady Golovkin by eight points (118-110) last September in what turned out to be a split draw.
DeLuca worked Golovkin’s tight decision over Daniel Jacobs 14 months ago and gave him a 1-point edge while Don Trella and Steve Weisfeld scored it 115-112. Again, that’s the difference of one round and maybe a punch or two within that round.
DeLuca does not comment on what other judges do. He does explain why a weird card can still be solidly judged.
Championship fights are 12 rounds. For DeLuca, that’s 12 one-round fights. He takes no notes. He hands his card to the referee after each round.
The commission adds it up after the 12th round ends. DeLuca says he doesn’t always know who his winner was.
“You can have 10 really close rounds and it winds up 9-1,” DeLuca said. “That’s happened to me before.
“I look at effective punches, the ones that do damage. If you’re jabbing a guy and he isn’t coming forward anymore, that’s effective. If he’s walking through those jabs, that’s different.”
And DeLuca and his mates are the only ones who can clearly see the punches that are hitting flesh, not gloves. They see the hidden uppercut that resonates. Even the omniscient press is usually a few rows back, which might as well be Siberia. How can the fan in Section 600 know, let alone the TV viewer?
Yet social media is its own rage machine. Judges are also suspicious of Compubox, which counts the punches and measures “power shots.” It is used extensively by HBO and Showtime and is often taken as gospel.
“Compubox is great for the fans,” DeLuca said. “Those punch counts don’t have anything to do with us. I’ve known judges who said five jabs equal one hard punch. What if the one hard punch had more impact?”
The judges aren’t watching the telecast, either. When ESPN’s Teddy Atlas depicted Jeff Horn’s decision over Manny Pacquiao as some sort of Great Train Robbery, the fans followed along. Most others, including some in Pacquiao’s corner, thought the decision was at least defensible.
It takes two years of clinics, shadowing and live judging for the commission to put you on the island. DeLuca is judging fights in his mind even when he’s not working them.
“I have never second-guessed myself on who I thought won the fight,” DeLuca said. “I have had a few where I could see the other side.”
So far, the other side hasn’t seen him.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/21/whicker-for-boxing-judge-max-deluca-its-a-matter-of-12-one-round-fights/
Susan Jacoby’s book, “Why Baseball Matters,” can be read comfortably within a typical nine-inning span.
Most nights, it would be more entertaining than the game of statues MLB has given us. It’s cheaper, too.
Baseball matters differently to everyone. To Jacoby, it matters because of unpredictability, context and its defiance of today’s breakneck pace. She loves baseball’s ability to “encourage our natural gregariousness,” as Bill Veeck said, and how a game on the radio can be your daily soundtrack, as Vin Scully taught us decades ago.
As a bonus, Jacoby risks the wrath of the idealized by admitting she “really, really hated” the movie “Field of Dreams.” She notes that it “bears the same relationship with baseball – a game not played by ghosts in the middle of farmland but by real people on real grass, mostly in the environs of real cities – as faux movies….like ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘The Robe’ do to the birth of Christianity.”
So she prefers baseball as it is.
And she is one of the few to point out that the length of baseball games is not the problem. It is not the reason teenagers barely know MLB exists and their parents barely care.
The problem is what happens between the first and the final pitch. Or what doesn’t..
The average length of a nine-inning MLB game was 2:57 in the 2000 season. It was 3:00 in 2018. Since it can take at least three minutes to make the round trip to the bathroom, this is not a large time investment. In 1995, an average nine-inning game lasted 2:50.
As Jacoby mentions, a compelling marathon baseball game is like a compelling long movie or theatrical production. “Hamilton,” in fact, runs 2:45, counting intermission. The next time you hear somebody say, “Hamilton was just too long,” please let us know.
The Cubs’ 8-7 victory over Cleveland in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series ended at 12:30 EST and lasted 4 hours, 28 minutes. It drew 46 million viewers. The audience of boys from 12 to 17 was more than twice that of the previous World Series.
And, yes, there was the tiresome March of the Relievers, an outgrowth of the over-management that has plagued recent baseball. But Cubs fans weren’t the only ones who considered it time well spent.
Jacoby is contemptuous of the cosmetic and silly ways MLB wants to attack the time problem, with the end of the four-pitch intentional walk and the consideration for placing of a runner on second base at the beginning of an extra inning. Jacoby’s “unshakable conviction that bad ideas are almost never abandoned once given a chance” makes her worried the free runner will become a fixture.
Maybe Commissioner Rob Manfred is one of those people who landed on second and thinks he hit a double.
Meanwhile, attendance in 2018 is 26,793 per game. That’s down nearly 6,000 per game from the all-time high in 2007.
Bad weather is a factor, but it’s normally chilly and damp in the early spring. Two stronger factors are the massive increases in ticket prices and concessions and long stretches of stand-around baseball.
The first month of the 2018 season was the first in which strikeouts exceeded hits. Until 2010, the average strikeouts per game, per team, had never reached seven. This season it is 8.66.
Today’s MLB batting average is .246. No season has ended with a lower batting average since 1972. Clubs don’t care. It’s all about swinging hard, generating exit velocity and hitting fly balls. Would purposeful contact hitters such as Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose even be drafted today?
In 2007, there were 13 pitchers who averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Cleveland’s entire staff averaged 10.1.
In 1968, that time when Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and Fergie Jenkins roamed the earth like T-Rexes and seven pitchers had ERAs less than 2.00, absolutely nobody struck out 10 per nine.
Teams might be spending their hours waiting for home runs. Fans are not.
Jacoby is more concerned about “the diminution of concentration” that comes from all our devices. Her concern is not limited to baseball. She shows Nielsen’s reporting in 2017, that there is a 13 percent decrease in the number of categories in which people say they are “intensely” interested in anything, and a 15 percent increase in those in which people are “slightly” interested.
“‘Slightly,’ for a game as demanding as baseball, just isn’t good enough,” Jacoby said.
And maybe that’s why baseball matters less and less. Those in charge have surrendered to the concept of a demand-free world.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/19/whicker-baseball-games-arent-too-long-theyre-too-slow/
William Karlsson, center for the Vegas Golden Knights, has become Jeremy Lin on a continuous loop.
The former Anaheim Duck’s rocket ride out of nowhere could make general manager Bob Murray feel like ex-Dodgers GM Fred Claire, who once dealt Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields.
The difference is some MLB general managers would not have made that deal.. In effect, every GM in hockey did.
Karlsson scored 43 goals, tops among NHL centers, for the first-year team that, on Wednesday night, played Game 3 of the Western Conference playoffs.
Not one word of the previous sentence would have been comprehensible a year ago, when Vegas GM George McPhee was standing at the leftover table and figuring out which fruits were overripe.
Karlsson’s plus-46 was the best plus-minus number in the NHL by a margin of 12.
He played all 82 games, ranked second in the NHL with four shorthanded goals, and picked up only 12 penalty minutes.
NHL award voters could nominate five players for the Hart Trophy, the league’s MVP. There were abundant candidates, but Karlsson did not make the 3-man cut.
That now appears a travesty and might reflect the general league-wide denial of the Knights’ success.
Meanwhile, Karlsson had 12 points in his first 12 playoff games.
And, yeah, Murray’s face surely reddens every time “Wild Bill” takes a hit to make a play that turns into a pivotal goal, as he did in Game 2 against Winnipeg.
But Vegas got Karlsson from Columbus, not Anaheim. The Knights sent a 2017 first-round pick, which Columbus traded to Winnipeg, and also assumed the large contract of David Clarkson. Vegas also promised not to draft winger Josh Anderson or goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
Nobody on earth but Karlsson thought Karlsson was capable of doing this. Which doesn’t sugarcoat the way Karlsson left Anaheim.
Murray had been talking up Karlsson from the time the Ducks drafted him seven years ago in the second round. Karlsson was not a dazzling scorer in Sweden or Norfolk, the Ducks’ AHL affiliate. He played 18 games for the Ducks in the 2015 season and scored twice.
“He was always a very good defender,” said Doug MacLean, the former general manager in Columbus. “He looked like a third-line center. There was nothing wrong with him, but nobody saw this coming.”
As the 2015 playoffs approached, Murray coveted a righthand-shot defenseman with some experience and bile. In March, he got James Wisniewski, a Ducks alumnus, from Columbus in exchange for Karlsson.
In the next two seasons, Karlsson provided the Blue Jackets with 45 points in 162 games. By then Wisniewski was gone. Coach Bruce Boudreau did not play him a minute in the playoffs, which ended in a Game 7 Western Conference final loss to Chicago. That didn’t really thrill Murray either.
“When you’re a third-line center, you don’t get a lot of minutes,,” MacLean said. “When you’re a first-line center, your mind-set changes. You’re a leader on the team now.”
Karlsson, rookie Alex Tuch, Erik Haula and Colin Miller are spending at least four more minutes on the ice this year than last year. Karlsson went from 25 points to 78, Tuch from zero to 37, Haula from 26 to 55 and Miller from 15 to 41.
But it isn’t just opportunity. Reilly Smith is playing fewer minutes than last season and is up from 37 points to 60. Of course, he’s been on Karlsson’s line.
McPhee’s secret weapon was the actuarial table. Ten Vegas skaters in Game 2 were either 25, 26 or 27 years old. Mix those prime-time players with a 4-line approach that evens out the minutes, and maybe that’s where Vegas gets its perpetually full tank.
Meanwhile, Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher lost his job. One imagines Tuch and Haula were part of the reason.
“I remember when we traded Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim (for Sergei Fedorov in 2006),” MacLean said. “We thought he was a good player, but then I’m looking up and he’s playing 25 minutes a game with Scotty Niedermayer and he’s physical and he’s scoring and he’s winning a Stanley Cup. And he kept playing through this season. You’re happy for the guy, but you think about what you could have had and it’s absolutely sickening.”
Maybe Karlsson, 25, has an expiration date. Surely his shooting percentage will recede from 23.37, which was the NHL’s highest in seven years. Or he could do this every season and wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Thirty general managers who could have had Karlsson will have their names etched on his career.
Unfortunately for Murray, the list won’t be alphabetical.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/16/whicker-william-karlsson-is-the-vegas-star-who-got-away-from-the-ducks/
There is no Camelot in the NBA, not anymore.
For 20 years San Antonio was the shining city. It checkmated the argument that the NBA was a breeding ground for the selfish, the self-absorbed, the mercenaries and the slackers. The Spurs were idealized but real, sort of a Leave It To Beaver, and the closest thing to Eddie Haskell was Gregg Popovich, their coach. Their five championships seemed like virtue rewarded, the way it happens in the movies.
Now the Spurs are everyone else.
They spent most of the season without Kawhi Leonard, thanks to a dispute over how badly his quadricep was hurt, whether the Spurs’ doctors misdiagnosed it, who should be taking care of it, and whether Leonard, the NBA’s best two-way player in 2016-17, was willing to risk playing.
Popovich and some veterans were clearly unhappy with Leonard, an opaque personality even in placid times. You can imagine Leonard was clearly unhappy with them with their public allusions about his want-to, considering how buttoned-up the Spurs usually are.
Then San Antonio began sinking in the standings and probably shouldn’t have made the playoffs. As someone in the league said the other day, the Spurs find themselves in the bottom of the ninth.
So the teardown begins. Whether Popovich wants to be part of it, especially after the passing of his wife Erin, will be learned later, probably in a statement.
Even if the bridges between Leonard and the Spurs weren’t aflame, San Antonio would have to think about trading him and getting younger.
That’s where the Clippers come in.
They need to learn, indisputably, that Leonard has retained his competitive instincts, is healthy and would have no problem coming home (he’s from Riverside), especially with a $218 million contract awaiting him at some point.
If the answers are right, they can pursue Leonard, although they were hoping for more plump trade bait than they received in Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery.
As Jerry West sat there gamely, the Clippers got the 12th and 13th selections. It’s supposed to be a deep draft. We’ll see how deep on June 21, but it might be too shallow to land Leonard, at least not without enhancement.
The mock drafts have several players slotted for 12-13, and there’s more than a month of evaluation, and paralyzing analysis, to go.
The most common name is Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s 6-foot-6, and his mother Charmaine was a sprinter for Antigua in the 1992 Olympics. He also emerged as the most reliable leader on Kentucky’s band of yearlings, which won the SEC Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals. He’s praised for his length and his knowledge.
His teammate Kevin Knox also comes up in those slots, as does Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, whose motivation hasn’t matched his gifts. You can find a mock that has Alabama’s Collin Sexton drifting into the Clippers’ sights, which would thrill them to no end but isn’t likely.
If the Clippers had gotten lucky they might be picking at No. 6 or No. 7 and would give the Spurs a more persuasive menu. Now they might have to consider waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for 2018-19 and then offer Jordan and one of those picks.
Another option would be a sign-and-trade involving Jordan, who seemed to flourish after Blake Griffin was traded but is basically a rim-bound center with offensive limits. That might not be completely Jurassic in today’s NBA, but it’s not the trend.
Or the Clippers could map out any other permutation that the Spurs want.
Everyone remembers what Leonard can do and, beyond that, what he made of himself. It’s difficult to believe that a player who so dramatically reshaped his own offense has suddenly lost the taste for self-improvement.
The Clippers are a shiny bag of clubs in search of a driver. They got deeper, younger and more cooperative when they traded Griffin. They have Lou Williams, a volcanic scorer. They have Tobias Harris and Montrezl Harrell, both ascending.
Getting Patrick Beverley back and healthy might be a high draft pick in itself. He played 11 games in 2017-18.
Chris Paul, now in Houston, was the Clippers’ leader. Leonard might not be what sportswriters used to call a “holler guy,” but neither was Tim Duncan. He also would give the Clippers the kind of perimeter defense that left with Paul and wasn’t provided by Beverley.
The Clippers haven’t picked higher than 25th since 2010. With any change in the buzzard’s luck that continued into Tuesday night, they’ll show up in October with two decent newcomers, or one great one.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/15/whicker-clippers-need-kawhi-leonard-they-also-needed-better-lottery-luck/
One recent evening, Mike Gillespie saw a play differently than the umpire did. That has happened occasionally during his 47 coaching years.
But someone apparently lengthened the trot from the third-base dugout to the first base bag.
“It takes me longer,” Gillespie said. “This time, I told the guy, ‘I’m not going to embarrass myself by hobbling all the way out here without me telling you that you kicked this call.’”
Gillespie laughed. The arguments, the chilly nights, the hot afternoons, the fleeting thrill of victory and the indelible agony of defeat will be gone soon.
These are his final weeks at UC Irvine, a three-year gig that turned into 11, with a trip to the College World Series and two excruciating Super Regional losses.
On Tuesday night he makes his final trip to USC, where he won CWS titles as a player and a coach, where he took the Trojans to Omaha four times and followed the toughest act in college baseball.
Rod Dedeaux was a jolly raconteur who won 11 College World Series and never saw a cloud. “When we lost, it never fazed him,” Gillespie said. “In his mind, we just ran out of innings.”
Gillespie never was like that and still isn’t. But he also leaves an endless trail of stories and laughs and championships. Coupled with the death of Augie Garrido in March, Gillespie’s retirement will leave a major hole in the college diamond.
It would be nice to say that Gillespie is leaving because he wants to hobnob with his four grandchildren, although he does. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story.
“A big issue is the health of my wife (Barbara),” Gillespie said levelly, sitting in his office at Anteater Ballpark. “I need to be at home.”
Five years ago the doctors found that Barbara had Alzheimer’s Disease. “Her health is still good,” Gillespie said. A new dog, a Maltese, has been “a blessing,” he said. If not for all that, he probably wouldn’t be gathering his mementos.
He shook his head.
“They call it a progressive disease,” he said. “I don’t know why they don’t call it digressive.”
Gillespie has won 400 games at UCI, won 761 at USC and won 418 at College of the Canyons. The Irvine years were an unforeseen coda. USC fired Gillespie after the 2006 season, which bewildered everyone in baseball. In 2007 he coached the Yankees’ rookie ball team at Staten Island.
He could have done it again in 2008, but Dave Serrano left UCI for Cal State Fullerton.
Gillespie turned 78 last week. He might be remembered as the last 67-year-old to get hired to do anything, especially in college sports, and certainly the last 74-year-old to get a contract extension. His senior moments have been the Anteaters’ best.
“It was sheer good luck that I got this opportunity,” Gillespie said. “There is literally no better playing surface anywhere than the one here. It gets chilly at night at times, but it’s paradise.”
Gillespie was a left fielder when USC won the 1961 championship. The Trojans walked around like winners and lived like pros.
“You’d walk through the hotel lobby in San Francisco and if Rod saw you, he might buy you a beer,” Gillespie said. “I don’t think that happens today.”
Dedeaux offered Gillespie a job managing warehouses for his trucking company. He also mentioned that coaching was a noble pursuit. When Dedeaux left USC he recommended Gillespie, but the sport was no longer USC’s property. Gillespie went to five regionals before he won his way to Omaha in 1995. He got his championship in 1998.
“It was relief,” he said. “We beat Long Beach State in that regional in Fresno. Walter Dawkins made a great catch. But the losses stick with you more.
“We lost to Creighton in a regional at home (1991). I had (current USC coach ) Dan Hubbs and Jeff Cirillo ready in the bullpen and I left Mike Collett in and they hit a home run. I remember those unfortunate details.”
Every time Gillespie sees Chris Taylor play for the Dodgers he visualizes Taylor’s game-winning hit for Virginia that sent UCI home. A late loss to LSU is another kick south of the border.
“Games like that stick with me longer,” he said. “I hate that.”
There are also nights when six players from Gillespie’s Rolling Hills High team come to UCI for a visit. He remembers those, too.
As Gillespie prepares for whatever awaits, maybe he’ll leave the fungo unpacked.
“I think I could be happy coaching somebody’s JV team,” he said. “There’s still a way to field a ground ball. There’s still a way to bunt.”
And there’s an umpire or two.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/14/complete-game-the-uc-irvine-years-gave-mike-gillespie-his-finishing-touch/
It was a Sunday in 1992, with neither team going anywhere, when Kevin Greene tackled Browning Nagle, the Jets’ quarterback, in the end zone.
Safety. The Rams got two points and the ball.
They won, 18-10. Both the win and the safety were like great blue herons for the Rams, rare Anaheim Stadium sightings that deserved commemoration.
Someone mentioned the safety to Rams coach Chuck Knox, who rarely lapsed into a public smile.
He began grinning, almost ravenously. His eyebrows danced.
“Safeties,” he said. “I like safeties.”
Of course. A safety usually means a quarterback has bitten the dust, and quarterbacks were ghosts who followed Knox through the fall and pounced in December.
Either he was playing a really good one when it mattered, or his own wasn’t good enough, or he and his bosses couldn’t agree on which one to play. The coach always goes 0-3 in those scenarios.
That’s why Knox never made it to a Super Bowl sideline, even though he coached 18 playoff games, and made 11 postseasons in 22 years, and his teams won 10 or more games nine times.
The safety also meant Knox got the ball back. Nothing was more precious. To keep it, he usually put it in somebody’s gut, like Lawrence McCutcheon or Curt Warner or Joe Cribbs or Jerome Bettis. Most of his possessions ended with some kind of kick.
His Seattle teams threw effectively when Warner was hurt, and Steve Largent wound up setting an NFL record for catches. Knox also used the shotgun before everyone else did. But he had been a guard at Juniata College. You blocked people. If not, you ran them over.
Knox died Saturday at age 86. Dementia had overtaken him. He was the coach from Central Casting, all the way down the vocabulary, in which “football” became the essential adjective and noun. “We played good football today, ran the football, controlled the football game,” he’d say, with an extra emphasis on the “foot.”
But you often found his postgame show at the bar,with a glass of Scotch and a cigar.
His former players, most of whom revered him, collected his sayings.
Proper practice prevents poor performance. Don’t tell me how rough the water is, just bring in the ship. What you do speaks so well, there’s no need to hear what you say. Work will win and wishing won’t.
“He’d say, ‘To win you have to first keep from losing,’ which might sound like a goofed-up way to look at it,” said Blair Bush, the Seahawks’ center. “But he was talking about those three or four plays a game that made a difference, and you had to take care of those details.”
“We’d be getting ready to go somewhere and he’d say, ‘Let’s get out of here like a herd of turtles,’’’ recalled Norm Pollom, the personnel director on Knox’s teams in Buffalo, L.A. and Seattle.
“With Chuck you knew where you stood. And you knew where he stood.”
Knox’s seasons never ended with confetti. His first four Rams’ teams in the 70s won 10-plus games apiece, as Knox concocted detailed blocking techniques and taught them at field level. But the Rams would always seem to run into Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton, without an equivalent QB of their own.
Knox made James Harris the first African-American quarterback to start a playoff game and win it. Owner Carroll Rosenbloom wanted Pat Haden, and then he brought in a walking memory who once was Joe Namath.
Knox’s Seahawks did upset Miami in a playoff game when they controlled the ball for 34 minutes and left Dan Marino sidelined. But when Knox stuck by quarterback Dave Krieg as owner Ken Behring was asking for Dan McGwire, it was time to move again. When you work for people who don’t know football, you lose your safety.
“We had Steve Largent and Kenny Easley, two Hall of Famers, but we weren’t overly talented beyond that,” Bush said. “He took us about as far as he could.”
And long before that, the Jets took the offensive line that Knox had coached and knocked off the Colts in Super Bowl 3 …. after Knox had become Detroit’s OL coach.
His second tour with the Rams dragged his winning percentage to .558, but his 186 wins are 10th all-time.
He is not in the Hall of Fame, but maybe that’s OK. Too many owners and quarterbacks.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/13/whicker-chuck-knox-coached-without-frills-and-too-often-without-quarterbacks/
NORTHRIDGE – Mark Gottfried began coaching college basketball 31 years ago. His travels never brought him to CSUN.
“Then I saw the campus and I was stunned at how nice it is,” he said last week. “There’s 38,000 students here. And there’s probably 25,000 who don’t know we have a basketball team.”
He was short on one estimate, probably long on the other.
CSUN has the largest enrollment in the Cal State system, at nearly 43,000. It might be a reach to claim that half of them are aware of the Matadors, or that a quarter of them care, or that a majority can tell you where the gym is.
Dick Enberg, Helen Hunt, Debra Winger and Richard Dreyfuss all attended CSUN or its antecedent, San Fernando Valley State.
But according to Basketball-Reference, only one Matador ever played in the NBA. Paul McCracken served a 37-game tenure.
Gottfried, 54, is the new CSUN basketball coach, the most credentialed to move into Matador Hall.
In 2015 his North Carolina State team evicted top-seeded Villanova from the NCAA tournament in the second round. He lost a regional final to Connecticut in 2004 when he coached Alabama, his alma mater. He was a UCLA assistant when the Bruins won the 1995 NCAA championship.
If nothing else, his first move inoculated CSUN from age discrimination. His top assistant is Jim Harrick, who turns 80 before the season starts and was Gottfried’s boss at UCLA. Harrick was 20 when San Fernando Valley State was founded.
They and the staff, which includes ex-Clipper Mo Williams, have already secured a promising six-man recruiting class.
Gottfried and Harrick call each other “Coach.” They don’t act like jaded ex-major league pitchers descending into Double-A. They seem excited.
“This will be the greatest challenge I’ve had,” Gottfried said. “It’s a great campus. The athletic department has been behind the rest of the university. But if we can build a product and facilities, we can find players and ask them, ‘Why would you leave L.A.?’ Because at the end of the day, we’ve got L.A.”
He starts from whatever is below rock bottom. The Matadors were 6-24 last season and were No. 340 in RPI, out of 351. They had two wins over Division I teams and lost their finale by 26 to Cal State Fullerton. But then Fullerton won the Big West with maybe fewer advantages than CSUN has.
“The league is good, with a lot of good coaches,” Gottfried said. “But there’s no monster. There’s no Gonzaga.”
The Matadors only made news when coach Reggie Theus and athletic director Brandon Martin celebrated the end of the season by fighting each other, literally. Both were fired the next day.
Gottfried was scouting for the Dallas Mavericks. The search committee called and he wasn’t an easy sell, but he missed coaching, “having a team around me. It’s a great job. It’s just not always a great business.”
The underbelly of the business was exposed by FBI investigations that, among other things, involved Dennis Smith. Gottfried recruited Smith at N.C. State and coached him one season. Smith jumped to the NBA and Gottfried was fired, and Smith is accused of receiving a $73,000 payment from an agency. A grand jury subpoenaed some of Gottfried’s personnel files but did not implicate him.
“We looked into it thoroughly,” said Colin McBride, CSUN’s vice president of administration and finance. “In fact, Coach Gottfried has attested in the contract that there was no wrongdoing on his part, so it isn’t an issue.”
Two placards that lean against Gottfried’s office table sold him on CSUN. They depict an on-campus arena and a practice/office facility. Fund-raising, and a student referendum on fees, will finance it.
McBride maintains that the project “will get done, we’re committed to it.” Gottfried said university president Dr. Dianne Harrison told him, “I want this more than you want this.”
Gottfried’s first four N.C. State teams made the NCAA tournament. His next two did not, and he was fired. “I thought it was a quick trigger,” he said, shrugging.
He calls it “the toughest neighborhood in America,” referring to the chilly shadows cast by North Carolina and Duke.
He also went through a divorce. He got heavy and unhealthy, and finally went to a hospital for a heart procedure.
“The hospital was in Chapel Hill,” Gottfried said, laughing. “I told them I hoped (Tar Heel coach) Roy Williams wasn’t doing the operation.”
He noted that a fired coach used to “wear a scarlet letter around his neck” but it’s different now. A whistle around Gottfried’s neck feels better. Someday, someone might even hear it.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/11/whicker-does-csun-play-basketball-mark-gottfried-hopes-to-build-a-program-worth-knowing/
LOS ANGELES — You might not have noticed Scott Alexander at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, which was the whole point.
He quietly muffled Arizona when the Dodgers only led by one run. Chase Utley then sent a two-run double into the left-center gap and the Dodgers wound up 6-3 winners in an affair that resembled a hostage situation more than a game.
They went 2 for 12 with men in scoring position and had immense trouble advancing more than one base. They got their first four runs on two wild pitches, a hit-by-pitch and a run-scoring fly ball.
They have been having so much difficulty delivering in the clutch that they’re thinking about hiring a doula.
“We’re still not playing complete baseball games,” Manager Dave Roberts said. Nor do they have a complete lineup, although right fielder Yasiel Puig did play Wednesday, and third baseman Justin Turner was all over the place in pregame ceremonies, had a simulated game, and expects to be active next week.
Alexander was a point of light. He came here in a three-way deal, bringing solid ground-ball credentials from Kansas City. He was supposed to be a left-handed weapon to replace Tony Watson, who signed with San Francisco.
But he couldn’t get out of his own way in the first month of the season and went to Oklahoma City for a tuneup. Triple-A pitching coach Bill Simas got him aligned, without the world watching, and Alexander looked the part on Wednesday.
“I don’t really judge it by velocity,’” Alexander said. “It’s just how it feels, coming out of my hand. I thought I was starting to get a better flow before I was sent down. I got some help with my timing and everything started to work.
“At first I was kind of lost, didn’t have a feel for anything. Down there I found the final piece of it. I’ve had slow starts before, but I don’t remember feeling that lost. It was frustrating not being able to even get into a game. Tonight I felt normal out there.”
Alexander wasn’t allowed to ease back in. The Diamondbacks, winners of 14 of their past 17 regular-season games against the Dodgers, had scored twice in the seventh off J.T. Chargois and had two on with two out.
Alexander got a ground ball from Ketel Marte that made Roberts’ heart flutter a bit when shortstop Chris Taylor flipped it to second baseman Austin Barnes instead of throwing to first. Another hard slide by Steven Souza, who hit third baseman Matt Muncy hard with a slide on Tuesday, almost broke up the force play but didn’t.
It was still 4-3 in the eighth when Alexander got two grounders, then fanned Daniel Descalso.
Alexander had three rough outings in his first 11 appearances and had a 1.853 WHIP, which was not the introduction that he’d had in mind.
“I think it was tough only because they didn’t know me,” he said. “Early on, you think you can patch it in spring training, you’ll figure it out. Eventually, you just want to get the ball somewhere close to where you want it. It felt good tonight.”
Kenley Jansen got a three-out save after he pitched two innings on Tuesday. Alex Wood gave up an inside-the-park home run by Nick Ahmed in the first, after Kiké Hernandez rammed into the center-field wall. But Wood shut down the Diamondbacks for the next four innings, despite five hits and three walks.
Puig had three hits and Utley, after that double off lefty Jorge De La Rosa, gave his usual baseball tutorial by hustling to get to third on a fly ball to center.
And no bones were broken during the making of this victory.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/10/whicker-scott-alexander-adds-to-the-general-relief-as-dodgers-win/
LOS ANGELES — His pitches didn’t gain true velocity until high school. Neither did his ambitions.
When Walker Buehler was on the youth baseball circuit in his early teens, he encountered Rick Rembielak, the Wake Forest coach.
“You’re going to pitch in college,” Rembielak said. When he saw Buehler was not really processing that, he repeated it. “We’re going to recruit you,” he said.
“At that point, I thought I might pitch Division III,” Buehler said. “My dream school was Miami of Ohio. That was where my parents went.”
On Friday night Buehler stood on a dirt mound in Monterrey, Mexico and got the first 18 outs of the Dodgers’ combined no-hitter against San Diego.
You can always expand your dreams. It’s easier than scaling them back.
Buehler is a 6-foot-2 right-hander from Lexington, Ky., and Vanderbilt. He speaks softly, but you can tell he sees the whole field, that he can separate the extraneous part of this job from the 60 feet and 6 inches that matter.
Marty Lamb, the scout who signed him, remembered him as a “good visit.” Not all of them are.
Buehler also has a chance to become the Dodgers’ third consecutive Rookie of the Year. In three starts, he has not allowed a home run and is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA. He has struck out 19 in 16 innings.
In his two minor league seasons, Buehler struck out 147 in 106-2/3 innings. He was their first-round pick in 2015. The Dodgers aren’t surprised by all this, except maybe how quickly he plowed through the aftereffects of the Tommy John surgery he had a month after the 2015 College World Series. Typically, Buehler found peace with that, too.
“There’s not a much better time to have surgery than right before you get going,” he said. “I didn’t have bad outings. I was able to learn and watch, and there were some big-leaguers down there getting rehab, too. They let me annoy them with my questions.”
Buehler’s long-term significance is obvious. Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Unless he’s chronically hurt, there isn’t a good reason why he wouldn’t. A post-Kershaw world might seem a bleak moonscape, but maybe not if Buehler keeps blossoming. They will have Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood in next year’s rotation and maybe incipient free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu as well. By then, 22-year-old prospect Dennis Santana might be a candidate, and the Dodgers would use Kershaw’s old money to chase a free agent.
There is little doubt about Buehler’s weaponry and less about his temperament. Lamb remembers a College World Series game against TCU, with the winner going to the championship round.
“Suddenly he’s pitching with a different delivery,” Lamb said. “He’s got his hands back over his head. I’m watching and thinking, this is a pretty big stage to be doing that for the first time.”
Buehler gave up one run in 6-2/3 innings and the Commodores won 7-1.
“I liked the way it felt in the bullpen and I decided to roll with it,” he recalled Wednesday. “When you try something new, it can be a crutch. You think about that, instead of the situation you’re in.”
He had been off for 18 days because the Commodores hadn’t needed him during their super regional. Buehler had to fight his talented peers to get the ball on weekends. Five Vanderbilt pitchers have been first-round draft picks in the past four years, and 10 since 2007, including David Price and Sonny Gray.
“The head coach, Tim Corbin, concentrates on developing men,” Buehler said. “There are some well-known celebrity kids who go there, and he gets them to think about being good teammates, playing for each other. He shows them it’s OK if you’re not ‘the guy’ every game.
“The pitching coach, Scott Brown, emphasizes throwing hard, training hard, hitting the weights, doing everything with intent. If you’re not used to doing everything 100 percent and you get into a tough spot, you tend to overthrow. The way we did things, it wasn’t any different. It was a fun culture.”
He also learned how to outwit hitters before he learned to overwhelm them. “That was the only way I could get people out until I started throwing hard,” he said.
His grandfather built a wooden, makeshift mound that Buehler was able to take with him. On days when it was too cold for Henry Clay High to practice outside, he set up the mound in the gym and everybody pitched.
And, yeah, Buehler is familiar with the film references. His Twitter handle is Buehlersdayoff, and he’s been known to post Ferris Bueller’s words of wisdom.
Life hasn’t moved too fast for him yet.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/09/whicker-in-the-dodgers-shaky-world-the-significance-of-walker-buehler-is-clear/
LOS ANGELES — You can say great teams don’t get hurt. More accurately, hurt teams don’t get great.
The world champion San Francisco Giants of 2014 got through the season with minimal bruising. Brandon Belt missed 50 games with a broken thumb and had two other disabled-list appearances. Pitcher Matt Cain had three sabbaticals, and outfielder Angel Pagan’s back betrayed him. Otherwise, they were pretty much clean.
The world champion Chicago Cubs of 2016 barely needed a tongue depressor, much less a trainer. After Kyle Schwarber tore up his knee on April 7, and aside from a groin injury to Dexter Fowler, there were no serious hurts to essential players. Eight hitters played at least 145 games and the five starting pitchers made it to the mound 29, 30, 30, 31 and 32 times.
The world champion Kansas City Royals of 2015 didn’t even hit their team deductible. Pitcher Jason Vargas tore an elbow ligament and outfielder Alex Gordon had a groin strain. That was pretty much it. The Royals got at least 30 starts apiece from four pitchers, got at least 67 relief appearances from four others, and got at least 600 plate appearances from five hitters.
The definition of a “minor injury” is one that doesn’t happen to you. The 162 games will bring both traumatic and cumulative injury to all teams.
But it’s difficult to find a deep-October club that ever hemorrhaged as spectacularly as the Dodgers.
Rich Hill returned from his cracked fingernail and pitched against Arizona on Tuesday night. That meant L.A. was only doing without three-fourths of its starting infield, its right fielder, two left-handed starters and a projected setup reliever.
You know them better as Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Logan Forsythe, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tom Koehler.
In Tuesday’s fifth inning, Arizona’s Steven Souza Jr. plowed into third baseman Matt Muncy, who was briefly shaken. Understandably, there were voices in the L.A. dugout that began barking at Souza, who barked back and was restrained by catcher Yasmani Grandal.
So the Dodgers are a little edgy right now, as are their fans. It’s easy to over-react to all this. Turner said Tuesday that he should be ready to play at Miami, in a series that begins next Tuesday. The Dodgers reiterated that Kershaw’s bicep tendinitis is just a passing cloud, and Forsythe should return this month.
Ryu will be gone until July and Seager until 2019.
“I’d rather have all this happen early in the season than in September,” Turner said. “We want to win these games, sure, but injuries are part of baseball.”
They aren’t part of championship baseball, at least if they rage out of control.
“This is the same team as last year, pretty much,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “We’re all men in here. We know there’s a lot of baseball left to play.”
In fact, the Dodgers have 127 games left to play. If the baseball season were a PGA Tour event, the Dodgers would be playing the 16th hole on Thursday. So being eight strokes behind Arizona is surmountable and, unlike golf, baseball has wild cards.
“I see the same hunger to win games,” Manager Dave Roberts said.
He also said, “We haven’t played many complete games. If you don’t play complete games, if you don’t hit, field and pitch, you’re not going to be successful.”
A bullpen that was the best in the National League last season ranks 26th, out of 30 in Major League Baseball, in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). An offense that overwhelmed everyone last season ranks sixth in the league in runs scored, and 12th in home runs.
The Dodgers brought in one major newcomer this season, and he was famous alumnus Matt Kemp. The assumption was that he would rent, not buy, that he was making a quick stopover until the Dodgers could find a trade partner. Now they dare not think of where they would be without his .344 average and .941 OPS.
The same goes for Grandal, who had only 11 plate appearances in the 2017 postseason. He is now the club leader in RBIs and stroked his fifth home run Tuesday night.
Perhaps the fans should hold their panic until they see what Turner brings to the stew.
Dodgers’ third basemen are hitting .185 with an OPS of .585. Both are league worsts. Just because the psychological effects of leadership aren’t quantifiable doesn’t mean they’re not real. When Turner isn’t playing, when he isn’t there in the clubhouse as the Dodgers’ true-blue north, it’s a much less stable team.
Roberts tried to answer the injury questions honestly without copping a plea, but the truth isn’t an excuse. They won’t win if they don’t get healthy. After all the manna from heaven that floated into Dodger Stadium this year, this is just a mean reversion.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/08/whicker-dodger-fans-shouldnt-panic-but-they-also-shouldnt-lose-the-button/
The Tampa Bay Lightning took a licking and kept on ticking in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with an elimination of Boston despite Brad Marchand’s strange desire to turn Ryan Callahan into a Slurpie.
This Eastern Conference semifinal made NHL history because of unprecedented headlines like this: “Coach Urges Marchand Not To Lick Opponents.”
Marchand did not receive a penalty for his comprehensive licking of Callahan’s face, or for his kiss to the cheek of Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the previous series.
Brad Marchand gives Ryan Callahan a lick pic.twitter.com/b2th9vdOwO
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 5, 2018
Doctors warn against dogs licking faces, no matter how cute it looks on Facebook. The same bacterial danger probably applies to Marchand, who did not decide to taste any heavy playoff beards.
Marchand, a fabulous and fabulously mischievous winger, apparently got tired of pushing the envelope and licked it instead.
But when he put his stamp on these playoffs, he generated far more copy and conversation than acts of real skullduggery.
Washington’s Tom Wilson is a former first-round draft choice and another gifted winger whose malice overshadows his mastery.
In the Capitals’ series against Columbus he needlessly floored Alexander Wennberg of Columbus. Against Pittsburgh, he clipped Brian Dumoulin with an elbow in Game 2. Then he launched himself into Zach Aston-Reese and broke his jaw in Game 3..
He got a penalty for the Wennberg incident but not for the other two. It took a review by the Department of Player Safety to sideline Wilson for three games, primarily because the 6-foot-4, 194-pound Wilson has been suspended twice and left a trail of unconsciousness throughout his career.
This is a good time to pick up a copy of “Game Change,” by Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goaltender.
It is the story of Steve Montador, the exuberant defenseman who played for six NHL clubs, including the Ducks.
Montador died in 2015, four days before his daughter was born. Opioids, THC, valium and cocaine were found in his system.
He was a seeker, an includer, an overachiever for whom 24 daily hours never were enough.
He also began picking up concussions when he was 12. As his NHL career wound down and as lockouts idled him, he spiraled.
The Canadian Sports Concussion Project found CTE in Montador’s brain.
Daniel Carcillo, a highly-penalized NHL alum who campaigns for head safety, was with Montador near the end.
“He was researching concussions,” Carcillo told Dryden, “and what the (deleted) was going to happen to him…And the more knowledge he gained … the worse he got, realizing maybe that he wasn’t going to reverse the symptoms and the memory loss and the headaches.”
Dryden traces the problem to hockey’s evolution. A slow, grinding game, in which wingers stayed on their designated sides and everyone carried the puck, became today’s thrilling carnival of speed, stretch passes, unobstructed play in the neutral zone and brutal hits.
Dryden singles out the relatively new concept of finishing checks. “We need to see ‘finishing your check’ as what it is; interference,” Dryden writes.
Some will argue that the game is too fast to avoid head contact, that the victims are often to blame, etc. They will say many head shots are accidents, and what do you do about that? Well, it’s an accident when you flip a puck over the glass, but it’s delay of game nevertheless.
“All of us need to be saved from ourselves at times,” Dryden writes. “Steve did. It’s why we have traffic lights. The league needs the players to go full out when it’s time to go full out. The players need the league — its doctors, rule-makers and decision-makers — to say stop when it’s time to stop.”
Dryden refers you to the rule that bans players from bashing opponents in the head with sticks. That used to happen a lot. It rarely happens now. Players adjusted.
“The rule (60.2) doesn’t say anything about whether the head was the main point of contact, or whether the player should have seen the stick coming, had his head down or tried to draw the penalty,” Dryden writes. “The league decided a stick to the face is a bad thing. It is a penalty. Automatic. Period.”
Sidney Crosby’s addendum was this: “If a guy’s got to be responsible for his stick, why shouldn’t he be responsible for the rest of his body?”
Dryden says head shots with the intent to injure should warrant automatic suspensions. Perhaps they should always be five-minute majors, power plays that don’t end with just one goal.
It’s a special book, primarily a lament for the return of common sense, for responsibility in the commissioner’s office, and for Steve Montador’s truncated life.
Maybe Brad Marchand was providing unintentional satire, dealing licks instead of wounds.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/07/whicker-banning-head-shots-in-the-nhl-would-make-a-lick-of-sense/
CARSON — Wherever Canelo Alvarez was on Saturday night, his message light was burning brightly.
Gennady Golovkin invited him to meet him inside the ring once more. “Of course he is still the priority,” Golovkin said.
Vanes Martirosyan also had a message for Canelo.
“Run,” he said.
Martirosyan was still rearranging himself after Golovkin bludgeoned him to the canvas at StubHub Center, late in the second round. It was hard for him to sort out the shots, since they all felt the same.
“He’s a helluva fighter,” Martirosyan said. “All of his shots had the same power. That’s what I couldn’t believe. Each time it was like getting hit by a train.
“He surprised me at first. I thought he might try to be aggressive with his jab, but he came out trying to actually box.”
Martirosyan actually tagged Golovkin with a left to the chops in the first rund. Asked later, Golovkin smiled and pretended to put his jaw back in place. “It’s boxing, it can happen,” he said.
But when Golovkin rocked Martirosyan in the jaw with a right uppercut, the first responders began to gather. Golovkin backed his man into the corner and teed off with nine punches, the most telling of which was a seismic left hook.
“I think the last two guys who got into the ring with him just wanted to go the distance,’ Martirosyan said, referring to Daniel Jacobs and Canelo. “If Canelo actually wants to stand in front of him instead of running, he’s going to get knocked out, too.”
He smiled. “Now I see why he wanted that beef,” Martirosyan said.
It all comes back to that, doesn’t it? Canelo tested positive for clenbuterol and still claims it was due to contaminated Mexican meat.
Golovkin was not in a joking mood as he approached this fight. He shelved that illuminating smile of his, and preferred to communicate through a Russian interpreter.
“He was edgy,” said promoter Tom Loeffler.
Evidently punching out people is theraputic. Golovkin’s light-hearted side returned after the knockout, and he was speaking English again.
The win gave Golovkin 20 consecutive successful defenses in the middleweight division, tying Bernard Hopkins’ record.
Triple-G had said that there was only “a 10 percent chance” that the proposed September rematch with Golovkin would actually happen.
Now? “Well, 10 percent is a lot,” he said.
But Loeffler and trainer Abel Sanchez said without equivocation that Canelo must enroll in the VADA drug testing program before any dotted lines are signed.
“Gennady has been tested since February,” Sanchez said. “He’s proven he’s a clean athlete. It’s time for Canelo to do the same thing.”
Loeffler said he had received assurances from the brain trust at Golden Boy Promotions that Canelo will enroll.
“But suddenly the middleweight division has opened up,” Loeffler said. “There are some good young middleweights who want to fight Gennady instead of scattering for the hills.”
If that’s true, they haven’t read their messages from Martirosyan.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/06/golovkin-says-he-wants-canelo-martirosyan-says-canelo-doesnt-want-that/
CARSON — Gennady Golovkin got a lot of stuff out of his system Saturday night. Most of it landed on Vanes Martirosyan.
Golovkin loaded up and fired a 9-punch fusillade, right in Martirosyan’s corner, that produced the knockout in 1:53 of the second round. That gave Golovkin a 20th consecutive title defense in the middleweight division, tying Bernard Hopkins’ record.
Golovkin used the full force of his resentments over the postponement of his fight with Canelo Alvarez, which was originally scheduled Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Martirosyan, who had said he planned to “go forward and exchange” with Golovkin, was upright and functioning until GGG tore into him with a right uppercut. Then Golovkin moved Martirosyan against the ropes and hit him with a looping right.
Two lefts followed, and Golovkin set his feet like a 3-point shooter and crushed him with a right to the ear. A massive left hook followed, and Golovkin got in two more shots before Martirosyan hit the floor.
Martirosyan fell on his chest as referee Jack Reiss came over for the court. Half-heartedly he tried to find his feet, but then slumped as Reiss came to the end of his count, and Golovkin was 37-0-1 with 34 knockouts.
“Those are the hardest punches I’ve ever felt,” Martirosyan said. “It was like being hit by a train.”
In the lead-in, Cecilia Braekhus remained undefeated but not unmarked. The undefeated welterweight champ was floored by Kali Reis in the seventh round and was staggered in the eighth, but she banked enough rounds earlier to win by four cards on one judge’s card and by three on the other two.
Braekhus raised her record to 33-0. Some of the 7,837 fans booed the outcome, and it’s difficult to say whether she made a convincing impression in her HBO debut.
“That was awesome,” Reis said. “I was setting up for the right hand all night long. I felt like I had the decision, especially with the knockdown.”
Cris Cyborg, the UFC star, was on hand, wearing a “Cyborg vs. Braekhus” T-shirt. But Reis said she wanted a rematch and Braekhus, surprisingly, agreed.
“She’s a top fighter,” Braekhus said of Reis, who came down from middleweight. “She’s bigger and stronger, and I could feel that in her punches.”
The hope, at least among those who enjoy getting some competition back for their time and money, was that Martirosyan would not be the worst stand-in since Jack Burns replaced Don Knotts on “The Andy Griffith Show”.
He was summoned into Golovkin’s world after the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Canelo Alvarez, and thus postponed the May 5 rematch in Las Vegas.
Martirosyan never had fought at the 160-pound middleweight limit before and hadn’t fought anybody in two years. Even he sounded disappointed that Canelo had tested positive for clenbuterol, although the finding indirectly deposited $225,000 into Martirosyan’s account.
There’s a chance Canelo will fight Golovkin in September, after Canelo’s suspension expires, but Golovkin is clearly unhappy with where this is going. There is no requirement for Canelo to undergo random drug testing, and Golovin expressed resentment over the concessions he made to get Canelo into the ring in the first place. So the renewed negotiations might be difficult.
The casualty in all this is Golovkin’s winning smile. It has largely disappeared, at least in media encounters. He uses a translator now to get his point across, which isn’t a bad idea, so he no longer comes up with ingenuous sayings like “big drama show.”
He also didn’t care for the judging last September that ended in a split draw, contrary to what most people thought. Besides, he’s 36 years old and hears the clock ticking. He’s impatient for the big cards and purses that a champion deserves and so is his fan base.
Other middleweights have improved their standing. Golovkin could make a pile of money by fighting Ryota Murata in Tokyo, a bout that Bob Arum, Murata’s promoter, has suggested.
Jermall Charlo is 27-0 and is coming off a scary second-round knockout of Hugo Centeno, and Daniel Jacobs, who broke Golovkin’s knockout streak in March of 2017, is still around.
“There’s a lot of guys talking,” said Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer. “What Charlo and Jacobs ought to do is fight each other. That would be a great fight, and it would establish who the right guy is.”
Here, Golovkin said he wanted “everybody,” including Canelo, and aspired to “clean out the division.
“Vanes caught me a few times in the first round but I came out all business in the second,” he said.
His business works better than boxing’s.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/05/whicker-gennady-golovkins-frustrations-land-on-vanes-martirosyans-head-in-second-round-knockout/
CARSON – Gennady Golovkin is beginning to think only the ring is square in boxing.
Instead of marching out of T-Mobile Arena into the homes of millions Saturday night, the undisputed middleweight champion will be at StubHub Center, putting up his titles and his future against a guy who hasn’t fought in two years.
And despite Golovkin’s vows to focus on Vanes Martirosyan, he’s clearly thinking, and fuming, about Canelo Alvarez.
Golovkin and Canelo fought to a draw in September. They were supposed to meet in Las Vegas. Then Canelo tested positive for clenbuterol and was suspended until August by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Golovkin didn’t want to throw away all this training, so he scheduled Martirosyan, 36-3-1 and a junior middleweight until now
Golovkin risks being stripped of his IBF title if he doesn’t meet mandatory challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko within the next 90 days, but all signs have pointed to a Golovkin-Canelo rematch Sept. 15.
This week, Golovkin told Yahoo! Sports there was only a “10 percent chance” he would fight Canelo. He said he gave up too many concessions in the original negotiations, and there is no evidence Canelo is taking drug tests, as promoter Oscar De La Hoya had indicated he would during an April 25 interview.
Obviously Golovkin chose Martirosyan, instead of a real middleweight contender, because he wanted a placeholder who wouldn’t endanger the Canelo rematch.
Martirosyan, from Glendale, has never been knocked out and has only been on the canvas twice. However, he has lost three of his six past fights.
Only once has Martirosyan weighed in above the 160-pound middleweight level. He lost chances at a junior middleweight title in 2016, to Erislandy Lara, and in 2013, to Demetrius Andrade.
Martirosyan hasn’t fought since the loss to Lara. He was training for Maciej Sulecki, but that fell through when Sulecki had a chance to fight Daniel Jacobs on HBO.
Both Golovkin and Martirosyan were at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, in different weight classes. Golovkin won the silver medal and beat Andre Dirrell of the U.S. along the way. Martirosyan lost in the second round.
“He was the best American fighter there,” Golovkin said, “and it wasn’t just me saying that, it was other Americans.”
“Abel has done a great job with Golovkin,” Martirosyan said of Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer. “Some people don’t develop the power when they become a professional. He has.”
Told he was a 30-to-1 underdog, Martirosyan smiled. “I guess I should have bet more on myself,” he said.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/04/martirosyan-hopes-to-be-more-than-a-speed-bump-for-golovkin-at-stubhub/
CARSON – So far, the biggest difference between women’s boxing and men’s boxing is also the difference between “suspended” and “canceled.”
A main event gets suspended and it usually gets rescheduled. Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez were supposed to write Chapter 2 on Saturday. Canelo was suspended for a positive drug test, so now the promoters aim for Sept. 15.
Lucia Rijker was supposed to fight Christy Martin in 2005. Rijker ended her career 16-0 as a boxer and 35-0-1 as a kickboxer. She provoked fear.
Rijker had just appeared in “Million Dollar Baby,” the movie about women’s boxing that won an Academy Award for Hillary Swank. Rijker’s character rendered Swank’s character a quadriplegic.
So promoter Bob Arum arranged for a Rijker-Martin main event, with $250,000 going to each woman and a $750,000 bonus for the winner.
Rijker, long contemptuous of Martin’s exalted media status, never got the chance to mark her territory. She snapped her Achilles tendon. The fight disappeared.
On Thursday, Rijker walked into a ballroom at an LAX hotel. Behind her was Cecilia Braekhus, the unanimous welterweight champion.
Rijker was from The Netherlands, with a mother from Surinam. Braekhus is from Colombia but was adopted by Norwegians when she was a toddler. On Saturday, Braekhus will barge her way onto an HBO card, the first woman to do so, although Kali Reis, a Native American from Rhode Island, will be there too.
Reis is a middleweight. “She’s coming down two weight classes to fight me,” Braekhus said. That, and the fact that Braekhus is the lead-in to Golovkin’s fight with Vanes Martirosyan at StubHub Center, makes for a fast lane. She said it “makes my head spin”, and that all the media focus is “something that’s on the other side of the planet for me.”
In reality, boxing badly trails the UFC, where women have driven the box office for years.
Braekhus, 36, is known as “Lady Cecilia.” Before you cue up the Commodores, it translates to “break house.” On Thursday, you could have identified her as an extraordinarily stylish software executive. There’s a limit to how often you can tell your story without turning it into a task. Braekhus is not there yet. She radiates the joy of a woman who has reached her time.
“In Norway you might have 10,000 spectators coming to my fights,” Braekhus said. “So there’s nothing new about that. But I’ve never done this much media. It’s amazing and overwhelming.
“I think this fight will bring out the best in both of us. And I hope it will bring more women boxing to HBO. But it’s not for the money and the celebrity and all the hula hoops.”
Braekhus grew up in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. She was looking for something to pursue. She came upon a kickboxing gym when she was 13.
“The moment I walked in, I knew it was for me,” she said. “It was like meeting your husband. It was love at first sight.”
But it was secret love. Braekhus said she didn’t tell her parents about the gym for an entire year. She would sneak out of her fifth-floor apartment, via the fire escape. Now Mom and Dad will be ringside in Carson.
“It’s funny when people see them, with their blond hair and blue eyes, and they realize they’re my parents,” she said.
When Braekhus became a professional, she had to sneak out, too. Norway banned boxing in 1982. Braekhus had to launch her pro career in Germany. Not until 2016 did Norway’s parliament rescind the ban, by a vote of 54-48.
“I’m no longer a criminal in my own country,” Braekhus said.
She was out front during the pro-boxing campaign. After her first victory on home ground, she was joined in the ring by Erna Solberg, Norway’s prime minister. Her four most recent fights have been held in Norway and three of them were pay-per-view occasions.
“Norway is a safe country, a rich and peaceful country,” she said Thursday. “We are very spoiled there.”
Braekhus, now 32-0, has risked all four championships (WBC, WBA, WBO, IBF) in her past seven bouts and will do so again Saturday. She has discussed a match with UFC champ Cris Cyborg, sort of a distaff Mayweather-McGregor.
The dream matchup would involve Clarissa Shields, the two-time Olympic gold medalists, although Shields fights at super-middleweight.
Next weekend Braekhus goes to New York for the Boxing Writers Association of America banquet.
Someone mentioned that she will be receiving the BBWA’s first-ever award for best female boxer.
“It’s the Christy Martin Award,” the man said.
Abruptly, Rijker looked up.
“The what?’ she asked.
The man repeated it, and Rijker shook her head and laughed and laughed.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/04/braekhus-hopes-to-rock-the-stubhub-house-in-her-hbo-debut/
LOS ANGELES — “We left it all out there tonight, it was awesome,” Nicolas Szerszen said.
And he was on the losing team.
His Ohio State volleyball team met Long Beach State on the Pauley Pavilion floor, in a match that became an inquisition.
Could the Buckeyes get through this semifinal and play for their third consecutive NCAA title on Saturday?
Could the 49ers shed the cobwebs of the past two Final Fours, or deal with all the collateral that comes with being No. 1?
“You can talk about technique,” said Alan Knipe, the 49ers coach, “but at some point, it becomes a gut check.”
It also became a box check for Long Beach State.
The 49ers won in four sets, needing seven match points to wrap it up 32-30, after grabbing a 2-0 lead (25-22, 25-23) and then dropping the third set (27-25).
The 49ers knew a fifth set wasn’t a good option. Szerszen, one of the two Frenchmen in the Ohio State rotation, kept turning away Long Beach State at match point. Jake Hanes, a 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman, cranked up his serving and hitting game.
But Josh Tuaniga, the setter who won player of the year honors from the national volleyball coaches on Wednesday, got the match-winner with Kyle Ensing serving. Ensing had 20 kills (35.6 percent) and TJ DeFalco 16 (36.1), and Tuaniga piled up 42 assists.
“Sometimes you have to get from frustration to determination,” said Knipe, whose team will face UCLA in Saturday’s final. “There might have been times the last couple of years where we might have showed some frustration in the situations we were in. It’s a real thin line in sports. Tonight we executed through determination.”
From the time Long Beach led the fourth set at 6-4, the teams were within a point of each other. The 49ers wiped out two five-point deficits in the third set and had a stirring sequence in which DeFalco, Bjarne Huus and Jordan Molina sprawled to keep points alive, and the 49ers won all three and got the set tied 20-20. For the match, Long Beach’s margin was five points.
DeFalco, Tuaniga, Ensing, Molian and Nick Amado are all juniors. Last week DeFalco described their takeover as a case of “hungry guys who want to go after it every single day. We had older guys before, who might not have been having the best of years and were a little melancholy about it. That was difficult. Now it’s almost like a paradigm shift.”
And it’s a far more balanced team than some might think. Huus, the freshman from Norway, keyed the first-set victory with his blocking, and Amado, the middle blocker from Aliso Niguel who came off a medical redshirt year, gave the 49ers a leg up in the second set.
Ensing, the opposite hitter, is as instrumental as anyone. He knew DeFalco and Tuaniga, the leaders of the HBC club powerhouse, were coming to Long Beach, but that was just the icing. His brother Eric played for Knipe from 2014-17. Kyle had his own youth portfolio, too, having led his Valencia High team to the CIF Finals, having played on various national teams, indoors and on the beach.
Ensing was a first-team All-American, with DeFalco and Tuaniga, and hopes to follow Eric to a career in Europe soon. “He played in Greece last year,” Kyle said, “and I’m always asking him what it’s like. He said it was a blast over there, a crazy place to live. I didn’t have any problem following his footsteps here.”
Ensing is 6-7. He and DeFalco have more than 1,000 career kills for the 49ers. “We spread out the blocks, but I’ve got to give credit to my middles,” Ensing said. “The way they pass the ball, they’ve really set up both of us.”
Indirectly, Long Beach State has football to thank. Ensing played football and basketball growing up and didn’t really see the magic in volleyball.
“Then, the year before my freshman year at Valencia, I went up for a pass and came down and broke both wrists,” he said. “My parents, said, okay, that’s it. And Eric told me to give volleyball another chance. I said I’ll give it a shot and then I started loving it.
“But I needed to find a way to put the physicality into it. You get big at the net, you put the ball down as hard as you can.”
The Pauley floor bore the brunt of all that. On Saturday, for the first time since Knipe, Brent Hilliard and Brett Winslow played in 1991, the 49ers can take everything home.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/03/whicker-kyle-ensing-long-beach-state-unseat-champs-now-eye-ncaa-volleyball-throne/
LONG BEACH — The best college volleyball player in America is looking through the other end of the binoculars.
He sees a homeschooled kid on a Missouri farm, “in the middle of nowhere,” without teammates and teachers and borders.
He is asked what might have happened, had he never left, and especially if he hadn’t found this volleyball world that he dominates.
“Who knows? It could be anything,” T.J. DeFalco said.
“There’s more responsibility that I’m still having trouble understanding sometimes. Back there you’d do what you want, you’d do the chores, you’d have all this 6time. The concept of homework every night wasn’t easy for me.
“I miss the snow, building snowmen, having snowball fights….back there I could walk for miles and chop down a tree and no one would ever know,” he said.
He also fed goats and chickens, milked cows at sunrise, took care of emus.
Now he’s plugged into a position on a hardwood floor, wearing a uniform, surrounded by those who haven’t always shared his wavelength.
DeFalco’s 49ers are 26-1. They have lost only 11 sets and are top-seeded in this week’s NCAA tournament at UCLA.
Failure, however momentary, is a vexation for DeFalco, a junior. He is unfiltered, animated, seeking exactitude in everyone around 6him, including the guy in the mirror.
How do you learn to play well with others when there weren’t any others to play with?
“It was difficult to understand that not everyon6e is processing the same things I am,” DeFalco said. “That’s the DNA my dad has, too.
“I haven’t always been happy with the way I’ve handled things. It’s not the message I want to send. The guys need to get my face about it. But not all of them are super-extroverts. I ask myself, what are you doing? Do you know what you’re doing? And yet I can’t say, well, I won’t say anything. There has to be a happy medium.”
The great ones don’t do medium.
“T.J. is the best player we’ve had in this country since Karch Kiraly,” said Darrick Lucero, his coach at the powerful HBC club in Huntington Beach, “and I truly believe he’ll be the best in the world.”
“But every once in a while, I might chuck one way over there,” DeFalco said, smiling and pointing at the folded-up stands. “Then it’s time to move on.”
His dad Torey says he’s surprised T.J. wound up in a team sport. In Missouri they’d play golf, and T.J regularly threatened par. T.J. is the fourth of seven children, and when the older ones played volleyball at the YMCA, he might sit and watch or hit a ball against the wall.
The farm is near Cassville, on the Arkansas border. Torey had 240 acres. He has a different farm now. There were Wal-Marts and restaurants nearby. Maybe twice a year they’d make a serious run to Joplin and Springfield to stock up.
“We pretty much lived off what we had,” Torey said. “We were country folk.:
Torey came west to help a friend set up a fiber-splicing company. Eventually Torey got into the business, which branched out but finally failed in the hard times of 2009. He has another related business now.
The DeFalcos moved from San Jacinto when T.J. was nine, and then to Fallbrook to Encinitas. By then they had met Junior Tuniaga, whose son Josh played volleyball. That friendship became T.J.’s conduit to this new world. They have played together ever since.
“They’re the best duo since Abbott and Costello,” Lucero said. “I guess I’m dating myself.”
When Tuinaga joined HBC, he convinced T.J. to join in, even though it meant backbreaking drives from Fallbrook to Huntington Beach, with DeFalco doing homework in the car. They eventually moved, and T.J.’s Huntington Beach High teams were 114-2.6
HBC won 15 national tournaments, and its 17-year-olds played in the 18-year-old division of the Junior Olympics and almost won that.
“I knew what I was getting,” said Alan Knipe, the 49ers’ coach. “But I also wanted T.J. to make his teammates better. I didn’t want them being timid. How do you balance the fire?
“He knows he can take them with him. We addressed it in front of the group, and the guys knew T.J. was being challenged. Fortunately our group doesn’t fear conflict.”
This year the folks are back in Missouri, and DeFalco lives alone in a dorm. A Long Beach State media official heard DeFalco bemoaning his own academic shortcomings. When DeFalco left, she quietly mentioned that he had a 3.1 GPA.
He might survive this bordered life. The borders themselves? We’ll see.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/30/whicker-t-j-defalcos-volleyball-journey-from-nowhere-to-anywhere/