Monday, July 31, 2006

Good reading...

Here are some stories that stood out on Monday morning:

  • Scott Lauber's feature in the Wilmington News Journal on Tommy John surgery is outstanding. This is his first year covering the Phillies, but already Lauber has stood out with his enthusiasm. He could turn out to be another Doug Lesmerises.

  • The New Yorker's take on the Bobby Abreu deal in The Times from local kid Tyler Kepner and Jack Curry. According to the story, the Yankees believe they got a steal. It's hard to argue with that.

  • From the before-and-after file, here's on from Dennis Deitch of the Delco Times published on Feb. 16, 2003 and the reprisal from July 31, 2006. Deitch has an innate ability to cut through the crap and tell the real story. For anyone who appreciates real iconoclasts, Deitch is your man. Better yet, he wisely believes that the Pixies are the greatest band in the past 25 years.

    I call them No. 1a, standing astride Fugazi, but that's a different post for later.

  • And, of course, there is Todd Zolecki's short interview with Cory Lidle, who hucked a Moltov cocktail on his way out of Philadelphia. Very nice.
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    Deadline day

    Obviously, Sunday was a really busy day with the trade of Bobby Abreu and the speculation that there will be one, maybe two more today. That means the thoughts on steroids and doping will have to wait until later this week. There's just too much going on in regard to dismantling the Phillies.

    Anyway, it's a shame that Abreu's end came the way it did because the stats show that he would have re-written the franchise's record books. It's also a shame that a certain segment of the fan base just didn't get it or understand modern baseball.

    Oh well. Abreu is gone now and the Phillies are a far worse team. Sure, the Phillies save a lot of money, but it's not as if they are going to use it to land a big-time free agent. It's more like they can use some of that money to help pay another team to take on someone like Pat Burrell.

    It's also a shame that money is more important than talent.

    In that regard, expect more deals today. Rheal Cormier is likely on the way out, though as a 5-and-10 man he can veto any deal. There are also renewed rumblings that Jon Lieber might not make today's scheduled start even though general manager Pat Gillick said there was nothing going on in regard to the pitcher as of 5 p.m. yesterday.

    But something changed between 5 p.m. and the end of yesterday's second game. Tuesday's probable pitcher Scott Mathieson was in the clubhouse just hanging out when he was asked about his next outing when he let it slip that he was told to "be ready to go tomorrow... "

    In other words, Mathieson was pulled out of Sunday's start at Triple-A to be in Philadelphia to stand at alert.

    As an aside, the Phillies clubhouse has a decidedly different look about it now. It's hard not to look around at the spots once occupied by Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, David Bell and Bobby Abreu and wonder, "who are these guys." It will be much more different next season when Mike Lieberthal, Randy Wolf and maybe Pat Burrell are gone.

    As far as Wolf goes, it was really cool to see him back on the field after 13 tough months of rehab. Just getting back out there is achievement enough and the lefty deserves all the kudos he gets. With guys like Wolfie, Thome, Rolen and Doug Glanville, it's hard to be objective.

    Now here's a theory: expect another year with Charlie Manuel... more later

    Saturday, July 29, 2006

    More Landis

    I keep writing about it here because e-mailers keep asking for it, and everyone knows I want to give the readers what they want...

    Anyway, there were no new developments in the Floyd Landis case today, though Greg LeMond -- like he enjoys to do -- weighed in with a not-so subtle shot at Lance Armstrong and some support for Landis.

    The Lancaster newspapers, as one would expect, had a bunch of stories about Landis, including a man-on-the-street one. Those are so boring. Meanwhile, The New York Times' Ian Austen offered one with the headline, Landis Has a Reputation for Honesty. For those who read the July issue of Outside with Landis on the cover, The Times story re-interates a lot of the same themes.

    It looks as if the Landis story could take on an interesting partner now that it has been reported that Justin Gatlin, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100-meters and "Fastest Man in The World," tested positive for an improper testosterone levels. This case seems very similar to the Landis case because Gatlin had been outspoken about doping in his sport and had maintained that he was "drug free." However, the test Gatlin took, according to the Associated Press, measured carbon to isotope ratio, which is a test that looks only at testosterone, not epitestosterone, and can determine whether the testosterone in a person's system is natural or unnatural.

    Interestingly, Gatlin apparently failed a test taken last April.

    Meanwhile, it is exactly 7:54 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park and no trades have been made. Ryan Howard just launched one into the right-field seats off Dontrelle Willis to give the Phillies a 7-1 lead. Whispers around the press box seem to indicate that something will go down tomorrow.

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    Trade winds blowing?

    Here's the Phillies' lineup for Saturday night:

    Victorino - rf
    Rowand - cf
    Utley - 2b
    Burrell - lf
    Howard - 1b
    Coste - c
    Nunez - 3b
    Sandoval - ss
    Hamels - p

    Yeah, the Phillies are facing left-hander Dontrelle Willis, but is that the real reason Bobby Abreu isn't in the lineup? I guess we'll find out sooner rather than later.

    Meanwhile, the trade of David Bell to the Brewers sounded a clarion bell that there are more moves coming. Clearly a salary dump -- the Phillies save $1.8 million on the remainder of Bell's salary this year -- it's safe to assume that the Phillies are pulling the plug on the remainder of 2006 kind of like they did in 2002 when Scott Rolen was sent to St. Louis. Sure, there was more involved there, but the feeling around the ballpark is that something is happening.

    Then again, you never know.

    Friday, July 28, 2006

    Did he do it?

    I believe Floyd Landis.

    Let me clarify that. I believe Floyd Landis when he says his drugs test that showed on improper ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is not a doping case. I believe Landis when he says he did not dope and I rarely ever believe any professional athlete when they attempt to maintain some sort of innocence.

    There are a lot of reasons for my belief in Landis. And yes, part of it has to do with the fact that Landis and I were raised in the same part of the world. Oh yeah, our backgrounds are very, very different. Landis comes from the country in which the people are almost reactionary in their conservatism – and then there is that whole Mennonite thing. As a kid, that type of belief or philosophy never was a blip on my radar. Living in Lancaster, I encountered Mennonites and Amish people enough to know who and what they were, but nothing beyond cursory introductions. That world never intersected with mine.

    That’s because I come from Lancaster Township in a little area adjacent to the campus of Franklin & Marshall and Wheatland, President James Buchanan’s home. My neighborhood was about as urbane as Lancaster got and my neighbors were professors, doctors, lawyers and financial people – not a lot of diversity there. However, my high school, J.P. McCaskey, was a Benetton advertisement come to life. White kids made up less than 50 percent of the student body, while African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Vietnamese kids encompassed at least 51 percent of the school’s population.

    Needless to say, my McCaskey was quite a bit different than Landis’s Conestoga Valley. And frankly, I could never imagine any better high school in the world than McCaskey or a better place to grow up than roaming James Buchanan’s Wheatland or the quad at F&M. Thankfully, I left the Philadelphia area to return to my old ‘hood.

    On the other hand, I’m sure Landis feels the same way about where he grew up. Imagine all of those endless miles though that perfect landscape on those forgotten country roads… what could be better than that for a budding cyclist? Yes, Landis clashed his conservative parents and fled to California in order to make his dreams come true, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a great athlete came from such a place as Lancaster County.

    That tangent aside, knowing what I do about where Landis comes from makes it hard for me to believe that he took any performance-enhancing aid. It’s impossible, really. No, Lancaster Countians are not the worldliest or most sophisticated people one will ever meet. In fact, in some sense the stifling conservatism that chokes the region and limits its potential to be a really great place to live and visit can be classified as a social disease.

    But the people from Lancaster County have a strong sense of fairness, right and wrong, and inert intelligence (common sense). People in Lancaster County do not reward or celebrate bad behavior.

    That’s where Floyd Landis comes from.

    It just doesn’t make sense. Floyd had passed 20 previous drug test until Stage 17 and then all of a sudden he flunks one? Really? And that point-of-view is not just coming from me, but from Dr. Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Association. In an interview with ESPN, Wadler said:

    It's certainly not one of the first-line drugs one thinks of for racing. Steroids can increase strength and improve recovery time and prevent the breakdown of muscle, maybe make him more assertive and aggressive. All of those could have some positive attribute. But most steroids are given in cycles [6-12 weeks] and in context of working out in a gym with weights. It makes no sense to me why an athlete would take testosterone the day of a race when it doesn't work that way. It doesn't make sense in terms of the pharmacology of the drug, and it really doesn't have the attributes that would be attractive to a cyclist -- particularly one running the risk of violating anti-doping regulations.

    Everybody knew the spotlight was on cycling. For eight years, the world has been watching cycling particularly closely. It would be the ultimate form of denial, or the ultimate sense of invincibility, to think you're going to evade that. And when the pharmacology of the drug doesn't really, in my judgment, seem like a drug of particular note to a cyclist, it doesn't really compute.

    Charles Yesalis, the renowned excercise and sports science professor from Penn State, agrees with Wadler, saying in interviews that he doesn't understand why Landis would dope.

    "The use of testosterone makes zero sense," Yesalis said in an interview. "If he wanted a boost in his performance it makes no sense to use it.

    "Testosterone is a training drug. You don’t use it during the event."

    At the same time, as an endurance athlete with 12 marathons under his belt who is currently logging 100-plus miles weekly in preparation for another marathon in mid-November (sportswriters should be involved in sports, right?), I know what hard training does to the human body. Obviously, I’m nowhere near Landis elite level – no one is – but running and biking are similar in many regards. One of those is that hard running and hard biking alter a person’s body chemistry.

    My epitestosterone levels are on the low side. That’s just the way it is when a person runs 15 miles a day for an average. My guess is that if I were to take the same drug test Landis took after his Stage 17 victory last week in the Tour de France, my testosterone to epitestosterone ratio would not be 1:1 as it’s supposed to be for a normal, everyday person.

    And I have never touched any performance-enhancing drugs in my life. I don’t even know what a steroid or any of that garbage looks like and I would have no idea how to use or inject it. If caffeine, Ibuprofen, Clif Bars and banana, strawberry and blueberry smoothies are performance enhancing, I’ll fail every test.

    So it’s not surprising that Landis’s ratio was 4:1 or 5:1 or even 6:1. As explained by AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner, it isn’t far fetched. The testosterone to epitestosterone test really seems to be bad science – no matter what Draconian zealot Dick Pound says.

    The point is I find it hard to believe that Floyd’s testosterone levels were high. They actually were probably lower than average. It’s just that pesky epitestosterone was probably much lower.

    This is a very, very important distinction, because the test Landis took is generally used to detect doping. From The New York Times:

    The key is to look at the pattern of Landis’s tests and see if his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio is consistent or whether it varied, said John McKinlay, the senior vice president and chief scientist at the New England Research Institutes.

    "You don’t get variations in human beings," he said. "If there is a spike that coincides with that day when he did fantastically well, that answers the question."

    Unless, of course, alcohol raised his testosterone level. Or unless the test was in error. Or unless the B sample shows a normal ratio, in which case he would be cleared.

    But the test will not detect a specific drug used or if the shots of Jack Daniels that the Wall Street Journal reported Landis indulged in after his nightmare Stage 16 collapse caused the epitestosterone levels to dip so much.

    But if it is higher than a normal realm, well, Floyd has some 'splaining to do.

    I also believe Landis when he says he is not optimistic about the "B" samples exonerating him. It’s hard to believe that Floyd’s nightmare will end any time soon.

    Good reading on the Floyd Landis case
  • Austin Murphy talks to Landis for SI
  • Austin Murphy offers his opinion of the case
  • Outside magazine interview with Landis before the Tour de France

    I'm not familar with too many of the biking publications other than VeloNews and some of the triathlon magazines, so if anyone has any links to decent stories regarding this case, please e-mail them to me. The thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

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  • Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Say it isn't so, Floyd...

    LANCASTER, Pa. – I’m often asked by people who are not writers or in the media business why most writers – specifically sports writers and journalists – are so darned cynical. It’s a fair question because most of the people who write for a living seem to take a bit of perverse pleasure in debunking myths and raining on parades.

    “The reason writers are so cynical,” I answer, “is because almost all of them have been burned by the truth more than once.”

    It’s kind of like the time when I was a teenager and spent two weeks during a summer working in one of my grandfather’s restaurants. I would never eat there, I told people, because “I saw what went on in the kitchen.”

    That’s the way it is with most writers. The clichéd credo is often either “hope for the best but expect the worst,” or “if something is too good to be true, chances are it is too good to be true.”

    Nevertheless, there is still the idea of hope. Hope for the best – a good story, a hero or something uplifting. Hope is always the operative word.

    So when Floyd Landis and his improbable story rocketed into the sports landscape like it was Haley’s Comet, writer-types broke out the binoculars and telescopes with the hope (there’s that word again) of gleaning something new and interesting. You know, something out of the ordinary from so many of the stories that dot the papers and Web sites like so many stars in the sky.

    But when the news of Landis’ failed drug test first began to tickle out – showing higher levels of testosterone/epitestosterone allowed by rule – it was like a jolt to the solar plexus, followed by a kick in the gut. This hurts. This hurts badly.

    That’s especially the case for a writer-dude like me, who grew up in Lancaster city – not too far from where Landis was brought up in his fundamental Mennonite household. Though our upbringings were about as different as could be, just the idea of the winner of the Tour de France coming from the same general place as me was, well, neat. Though those differences are myriad, there definitely had to be some shared experiences. Like I once bought a bike at Green Mountain Cyclery in Ephrata, Pa., which just so happened to be the shop where Landis hung out, got his first real bike, and signed on for his first racing sponsorship.

    Heck, I even live on Landis Avenue.

    Actually, it’s the same way for the folks all over Lancaster County where people are looking for some way they can share in greatness. You know, find something they can touch and relate to.

    At the Oregon Dairy, a food market, dairy, ice cream shop, gift shop and restaurant, located just at the edge of the Lancaster suburbs and farm country, there is a makeshift shrine on the wall near the entrance for Floyd Landis with newspaper clippings, a copy of VeloNews, photographs, and the coup de grace, a sheet of poster board neatly written with a simple sentence:

    Floyd Landis Worked Here!

    Needless to say, there was no talk about Thursday’s news – aside from a headline on the front page of the Lancaster New Era taunting the locals from the paper box on the sidewalk:

    Floyd Landis Fails Drug Test.

    Six miles away from the Oregon Dairy through rolling countryside with little-used back roads that are perfect for bike riding along the banks of the wildly winding Conestoga River, is East Farmersville Road. At a neat farmhouse filthy with TV trucks, writer-types and curiosity seekers sitting astride touring bikes, no such dichotomy exists. The headline, not poster, is the reality. Nevermind the fact that the truth is still out there in the ether waiting to settle on those pages and Web sites, or that Landis issued a strong denial to Sports Illustrated on Thursday evening.

    All that’s left is hope. Hope that the “B” sample proves that there was a false positive. Hope that something extraordinary will occur just like during Landis’ miraculous comeback during Stage 17 of the Tour de France. Hope that Landis will still have an honorable reputation remaining when this is all over.

    His mother and devout Mennonite, Arlene Landis, is hopeful.

    "My opinion is when he comes on top of this, everyone will think so much more of him. So that's what valleys are for, right?" Mrs. Landis told reporters from in front of her house on Thursday.

    "I'm not concerned. I think God is allowing us to go through this so that Floyd's glory is even greater."

    Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Question begat more questions as the poking and prodding of what Landis puts into his body has just begun. Landis knows this and is not hopeful, according to his interview with Sports Illustrated.

    Landis told the magazine that he "can't be hopeful" that the "B" sample will be any different than the "A."

    "I'm a realist," he said.

    Sadly, we all are.

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    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    We know when you are sleeping...

    There was an interesting story in today’s New York Times regarding the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), and its head, Dick Pound, and the extreme and Draconian pressure it continues to put on honest and clean athletes.

    The story, written by Gina Kolata, explains how WADA and Pound have determined that endurance athletes, namely cyclists, runners, skiers, and triathletes, should not be allowed to use altitude tents or altitude rooms that simulate the low-oxygen conditions of high altitude. According to WADA, sleeping, resting, sitting, reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or surfing the Internet in a room that simulates the atmosphere found in places like Boulder, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, or any of the other mountain meccas where endurance athletes live and train, violates WADA’s idea of “the spirit of sport.”

    Meanwhile, if an athlete lives in a shed on some ramshackle mountain road with the big horn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots, and elk routinely found in high altitude, or in Flagstaff, Ariz., well then that’s just fine and dandy.


    For runners and cyclists, high altitude training is a good way to build endurance and lung capacity before returning to competition at sea level. Regular training at high altitude, usually classified as 5,000-feet or higher, prompts the body to make more oxygen-carrying red blood cells and can lead to improved endurance. According to recent studies, sleeping at altitude provides the benefits at a better rate than actually working out in the thinner air, but as someone who has spent a few weeks a year over the past 10 years running at nearly 8,000-feet in Estes Park, Colo., sleeping in the mountains never made me feel winded. That 13-mile run is another story.

    Nevertheless, altitude tents and rooms have become so popular with endurance athletes, including those in Nike’s distance running program, that the use of them has trickled down to more mainstream athletes. According to the story in The Times, even the hometown Flyers have jumped into the tents.

    So with the story out there and the small, yet cliquish world of endurance sports clamoring with outrage, what does the always outspoken Pound or any other representative from WADA have to say?

    Insert crickets chirping here.

    Yeah, can you believe that? Pound was quiet for a change.

    Pound, of course, has been a crusader for keeping sports clean. That in itself is admirable, because when the athletes are dope and steroid free, the sports are better. Just look at this year’s Tour de France in which three of the top riders were ousted from the race just days before the start because of questionable drug tests. Had the Tour or cycling not been so bold as to take a hard-line stand about doping in its sport, chances are no one would have ever heard about Floyd Landis. Certainly Landis’ story is a lot more interesting than hearing commentary about Bobby Julich or Jan Ulrich.

    So with that, Pound and WADA’s goals are very admirable, and it would be interesting to see real baseball, football or basketball played by athletes that are held to the high standards that endurance and Olympic athletes have to meet. But where Pound and WADE fail is when they continue to wipe away the line of personal privacy in regard to the crusade.

    Pound and WADA also have been one of the many groups stalking Lance Armstrong because of his rumored use of EPO and doping during his seven-year dynasty at the Tour de France. This is despite Armstrong never having failed a drug test and, unlike some baseball players, the cyclist has threatened to sue any group accusing him of illicit and performance-enhancing drug use.

    Last month Armstrong sent a letter to Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, in which he requested that Pound step down as head of WADA. In his letter, Armstrong claimed that Pound was guilty of "reprehensible and indefensible" behavior in the manner in which Pound made repeated drug-use accusations aimed at the cyclist.

    As for the issue with the tents, here’s an excerpt from the story in The Times:

    “Ninety-five percent of the medals that have been won at Olympic Games have been won by people who train at or live at altitude,” said Joe Vigil, who coaches Deena Kastor. She holds the United States women’s record in the marathon. Kastor lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., at an altitude of 7,800 feet, and often trains at sea level.

    The decision on whether to ban hypoxic devices has taken many athletes and exercise physiologists by surprise, but the antidoping agency has quietly spent the past few years considering the issue, said Dr. Bengt Saltin, director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. Saltin was a member of the agency’s health medicine and research committee until two years ago.

    “We have discussed the issue a lot,” he said.

    In Saltin’s opinion, the altitude tents and rooms are no different from going to “a suitable mountain area,” only cheaper. Banning the altitude tents or rooms, he said, “should not be on the WADA or International Olympic Committee’s priority list.”

    That is also the view of the 76 scientists and bioethicists who recently signed a letter to the World Anti-Doping Agency expressing “grave concern” over the proposal to ban the tents and rooms.

    The letter’s lead author was Dr. Benjamin D. Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Presbyterian Hospital and a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, both in Dallas. He said the antidoping agency was starting down a perilous path.

    “This is a pretty slippery slope,” he said. “WADA is going to lose their credibility with the scientific community, upon whom they depend to further their mission, by pursuing this. And how to enforce it is a whole different question.”

    In addition to Levine’s letter, the Center for Sports Law and Policy at the Duke University School of Law recently issued a position paper opposing the notion of banning the altitude tents and rooms.

    So just for fun, if WADA wants to determine how and where athletes can sleep maybe it would be a good idea to help them out with a few other issues with running and cycling that seem “unfair.” Why not ban the following:

  • Shoes

  • Caffeine

  • Aspirin

  • Band-Aids

  • Stitches

  • Helmets

  • Ice (frozen water is just so... unseemly)

  • Americans

  • Cities with Wi-Fi access

  • Cities with an extended trail system

  • Personal trainers

  • Stretching bands

  • Weights

  • Brakes on a bike

  • Gatorade

  • Powerbars (Clif Bars are OK… they’re organic)

  • Locker rooms

  • Water for showers or whirlpools

  • The letter E

    Hopefully, as soon as WADA gets rid of that pesky altitude maybe they can do something about humidity.
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    Fasano heading for the Bronx

    Having spent a little bit of time with the Yankees during spring training a few years ago, Sal Fasano knows how it works in the Bronx. In that regard, Fasano knows that he is going to have to shave the ‘stache and get a haircut because he has a real job now.

    Fasano went from being designated for assignment by the Phillies to a trade to the New York Yankees this afternoon. Interestingly, Fasano will replace Kelly Stinnett, a backup catcher that former general manager Ed Wade acquired in a post-deadline deal with the Reds in 2003. The Yankees designated Stinnett for assignment this afternoon.

    In return for Fasano the Phillies got a Single-A second baseman named Hector Made, who is 21-years old. Obviously, Made is not the second coming of Chase Utley.

    Then again, those sitting on the press-box level at the ballpark – from the Phillies’ brass to the scribes covering the team – quickly learned that Fasano was not the second coming of Todd Pratt, the solid backup catcher who the Phillies cast aside in order to save a few hundred thousand bucks. When regular catcher Mike Lieberthal went down, everyone saw that Fasano could not handle the ins and outs of everyday catching the way Pratt could. More interestingly, Fasano’s work behind the plate made some appreciate Lieberthal a little more.

    Fasano was not without his good qualities, though. He had some power – when he made contact – as well as a pretty decent arm. Fasano also was really good with the media, a trait that cannot go overlooked, and somehow attracted a fairly loyal fan group that were very willing to look past his shortcomings as a player.

    That won’t be the case with the Yankees, though. It definitely takes more than sporting the Hell’s Angels look to win over the hardened and savvy New York ball fans. That’s especially the case when the Big Boss, George Steinbrenner, will demand that all of his players come to work clean shaven and with a businessman’s haircut. That makes it even more about the results for Fasano.

    So good luck to Sal. He’s definitely going to need it in backing up All-Star Jorge Posada for a club that believes anything short of winning the World Series is a failure.

    Meanwhile, will this video become Fasano's legacy as a Phillie?

    Fasano traded to Yankees

    Here's the full release from the Phillies. More to follow.


    Catcher Sal Fasano was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league second baseman Hector Made, Phillies Vice President & General Manager Pat Gillick announced this morning.

    Made, 21, was hitting .286 with three home runs and 28 RBI in 86 games for single-A Tampa of the Florida State League. The Phillies have assigned him to single-A Clearwater, also of the FSL.

    A native of the Dominican Republic, Made hit .459 (17-37) in his final 10 games with Tampa. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees in 2001.

    Fasano, 34, had been designated for assignment by the Phillies on July 22. In 50 games, he hit .243 with four home runs and 10 RBI.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    A final word on Floyd from Farmersville

    LANCASTER, Pa. – If one were to ask someone from Lancaster where in the world Farmersville, Pa. was or who the heck was Floyd Landis, chances are they would probably respond with a long, blank stare. Oh sure, there had been some mention of Landis in the local papers a few years ago when he spent the summers as one of Lance Armstrong’s cadre of lieutenants who did all the dirty work to help bike racing’s biggest star win all of those Tour de France titles, but the majority of folks had no clue as to who or what Floyd Landis was.

    As for Farmersville, that sounded like something conjured by Hollywood types or from the preconceived notions as to what Lancaster and the county that bears its name actually is. Yeah, there are farms in Lancaster County – lots of them, in fact. But for the people who live in Lancaster city and its suburbs, the farms and places like Farmersville are for the tourists or places one ends up after a wrong turn off the Turnpike or Route 30.

    Farmersville? Never heard of it.

    But it’s funny how three weeks can change things.

    It would be very difficult to find any one in America who hasn’t heard of Floyd Landis, the recovering Mennonite from little old Farmersville, Pa. in bucolic Lancaster County these days. Winning one of the biggest sporting events in the world has a way of making anonymity disappear. Everybody knows Floyd Landis now. His story has been told and re-told over and over again amongst friends and acquaintances like it was the latest episode of a favorite TV show or a crazy snap of the weather.

    “Can you believe that Floyd Landis? Did you read that one how his parents don’t have a TV so they go to the neighbor’s house to watch highlights from the race?”

    “Yeah, I saw one where his dad said that the family didn’t disown him after he chose to leave their ultra-conservative way of life to move to California to become a pro cyclist. They just told him that he was ‘living a sinful life.’”

    Landis mania runs rampant in Lancaster now. So much so that Farmersville – more a sweeping country crossroads than a hamlet – has become a tourist destination for people who live just a few miles away. It seems as if Lancasterians are curious about just where in the world Floyd Landis comes from.

    The locals aren’t the only ones, either. According to the Lancaster New Era, reporters from all over, including one from the French newspaper L’Equipe joined the fray of TV trucks and curiosity seekers at the Landis home.

    And what did Arlene Landis, Floyd’s mom, do when everyone showed up? She invited them in and made them steaks while the neighbors wondered what the fuss was all about and hoped that Landis’ new celebrity won’t turn the little street into another tourist stop the way nearby Amish farms are.

    “We’re not really into all this. It seems kind of something we wouldn’t do, and I don’t really watch TV,” Mary Jane Horst, a neighbor of the Landis’, told the New Era.

    According to Google Earth, Farmersville is very near New Holland, Pa. in West Earl Township. To get there from Philadelphia, it’s just a few miles south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Route 222. Once in Farmersville, visitors are swept up in a sea of cornfields and greenness, with rolling hills and little-used back roads. To get to the city of Lancaster, it’s a good 14-mile bike ride through farm country and suburban sprawl, but it feels like stepping through a time machine. Speeding cars, shopping centers, and industrial parks replace the horse-and-buggies and unmitigated earth.

    Yet it seems to make a lot of sense that the best bike rider in the world came from this little spot on the globe. It’s still very much a place where work ethic, community and selflessness are more than cheap buzzwords used by people who don’t know the meaning of those words. It’s also a place where those values are more than a way of life, because that simply isn’t strong or forceful enough.

    No, the toughest man on the planet comes from a place where what you do is a lot more important than what you say. Where else could someone like Floyd Landis be from?

    Farmersville. Where else?

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    Wolf's final rehab outing

    On short rest and with his season debut on Sunday looming, lefty Randy Wolf ended his rehab work in recovery from Tommy John surgery pretty well. Pitching for Single-A Lakewood, Wolf turned in these digits:

    5 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, 0 H, 63 pitches.

    That will do it.

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Things noticed around the ballpark

  • There was a lot less media checking out the Phillies-Braves series finale on Monday night. In fact, only the big(ger) papers had columnists at the game and afterwards there was just one TV camera crew. Know what this means? The Phillies aren't very good and training camp has started at Lehigh.

    Taking CSN out of the equation (because they always show up), we won't see any more TV cameras until the last weekend of the season.

  • Scouts, once again, were out in full force. Some of them were advance scouts, working ahead and picking up tendencies for an upcoming series against the Phillies, but others were not. Is there a deal brewing? Maybe. Or maybe not.

  • It's quiet around here. Almost too quiet.

  • David Bell is smoking hot. With a home run and a single in the loss to the Braves, the much-maligned third baseman boosted his average to .288 to continue his torrid July.

    How hot is Bell? Try this out: in his last five games he's hitting .571 (12-for-21) with a triple and a homer, and is hitting .426 (29-for-68), a .452 on-base percentage, with nine extra-base hits this month.

    If he isn't careful, Bell could put together a "career" year.

  • The always astute Dennis Deitch pointed out that Mike Lieberthal has just one walk this season. Yeah, just one. In fact, Lieberthal is four times more likely to be hit by a pitch than to draw a walk.

    Upon further perusal, four of the Phillies' pitchers have more walks than Lieberthal this season.

  • The Phillies, at 44-52, lead the last-place Washington Nationals by just 2 1/2 games.
  • Saturday, July 22, 2006

    The Legend

    While the Eagles training camp and Brett Myers’ return to action in Philadelphia is the big news in these parts, the most riveting and exciting televised sporting event was Floyd Landis’ clutch performance in Saturday’s time trial in the penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour de France. From those just flipping around the dial it looked like nothing more than a bunch of guys in tight clothes riding bikes, but for those who knew what was at stake, it was sports at its best.

    Better yet, it was impossible to turn away from.

    Landis, the 30-year-old star from Lancaster County whose story and background is now well known, came into the time trial in third place, trailing by 30 seconds. But 30 seconds was not a lot to make up for Landis, who is known for his strength in the time trial. All Landis would have to do is ride as hard as he could, avoid any mechanical issues with his bike, and don’t crash.

    Sounds easy, but think of the pressure. Anything less than the best effort would go down as nothing but a big choke – especially since the entire cycling world had its eyes glued to Saturday’s action.

    Making it more interesting is the fact that Landis is headed for hip replacement surgery when the Tour ends. In fact, Landis’ degenerative hip injury is similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s football career. Because of that it’s quite possible that this could be his one and only shot at winning the Tour.

    “I have to say that since it’s a dream of mine, and having hip replacement puts that in jeopardy, that having won the race, I’ll be much more relaxed” about the surgery, Landis told The New York Times. “I don’t feel like my life is a failure if I didn’t win the race, but it’s a dream, and I’d be extremely disappointed if that was taken away by an unfortunate accident.

    “I’ll fight as hard as I have in this race to come back next year or the following year, whatever it takes to be back.”

    But tomorrow’s race toward the Champs-Élysées in Paris should be just a formality with a 59-second lead squirreled away. Certainly such a lead was unfathomable earlier this week when Landis dropped from first place all the way to 11th after a seemingly monumental collapse during the 16th stage. At that point all of the cycling experts wrote Floyd off as cracked, beaten and battered. He was finished, just another rider chewed up in the Alps in the most grueling race on earth.

    Then the next day the unthinkable happened. Landis had the day of his life – until Saturday’s time trial, that is – vaulting all the way to third place by making up nearly eight minutes.

    Those same experts that wrote Floyd off jumped back on the bandwagon by calling him a “Legend.”

    Whether Landis ever makes it back to contention in France again is of no consequence now. He is truly a legend on his way to becoming the just the third American to win the Tour de France, joining Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.

    Imagine that – it’s actually quite difficult, actually. Floyd Landis, the Mennonite kid from Farmersville in Lancaster County, Pa. mentioned in the same sentence as Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.


    During the 1980s, Greg LeMond was looked at by kids like me as one of the baddest men on the planet. He won awe-inspiring Tour not once, not twice, but thrice. Americans started to race bikes because of LeMond. And then came Lance who took it all to another level by actually transcending his sport to become a celebrity and a cyclist.

    Now comes Landis – from Conestoga Valley High School over on Horseshoe Road. He bought his bikes at Green Mountain Cyclery in Ephrata, Pa. just like all everyone in the know from Lancaster.

    “Talents like Floyd come along once in a lifetime,” said Mike Farrington, the owner of Green Mountain Cyclery, to the Harrisburg Patriot News.

    Once if we’re lucky.

    Don't forget about Furyk
    Yeah, that's right... Floyd Landis might be getting all of the attention in Lancaster right now, but homeboy Jim Furyk fired a 66 on Saturday to crawl to within two shots of Tiger Woods heading into the final day of the British Open.

    Imagine if Furyk wins the British Open on the same day Landis wins the Tour de France... bottle up that Lancaster County water and sell it as a magic elixir to anyone dreaming of athletic glory.

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    Wolf makes strides

    Rehabbing starting pitcher Randy Wolf had his strongest and longest outing on his path back to the Majors on Saturday for Double-A Reading. In picking up the win for the Phillies, the lefty worked five innings where he allowed six hits, three runs (two earned), two walks to go with four strikeouts. Most importantly, Wolf threw 95 pitches in Reading’s 12-5 victory over Connecticut.

    Recovering from Tommy John surgery performed on July 1, 2005, Wolf is expected to return to the Phillies during the first week of August.

    Fasano designated for assignment

    It seems as if Chris Coste has finally earned a spot in the Major Leagues for the rest of the season.

    At least that’s the way it appears after the Phillies announced that catcher Sal Fasano had been designated for assignment prior to Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves at the Bank.

    Though popular with a certain segment of the fan base and the media, Fasano’s batting average was .243 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 50 games. Though his strong arm was an asset when runners reached base, Fasano didn’t seem to be the answer for the Phillies when starting catcher Mike Lieberthal had an extended stay on the disabled list.

    The Phillies now have 10 days to dispose of Fasano's contract. If he is not claimed by another team or traded during that period, Fasano can be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or opt to become a free agent.

    "I'm not very pleased with it, but it's a part of the game that you don't understand and you don't know if you'll ever understand," Fasano said. "Me coming off the DL really forced their hand. They basically said they needed to make a move, and they can't justify getting rid of anybody else, which I can understand. Catching-wise, you keep the guys that you had, but I was under the impression that we were going to keep three catchers."

    Said assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr.: "We decided to stay with (Mike) Lieberthal and Coste as our catchers. We felt like they were doing a very good job in that role. Unfortunately for Sal, while he worked hard and was very professional for us, he got caught up in a numbers game. He did a pretty good job, but there are certain difficult decisions you have to make when these types of situations occur."

    Coste, on the other hand, has performed pretty well for the Phillies since his call up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With a pair of homers and 12 RBIs to go with his .333 batting average in 20 games, the 33-year-old rookie has turned himself into a viable backup catcher. Plus, Coste can play both corner infield positions and probably the outfield if he can dig up the correct glove.

    Nevertheless, Coste looks at the decision as yet another motivator in his quest to become a big-league mainstay. That’s especially the case with Fasano having spent parts of eight seasons in the Majors.

    “Seeing a situation like that is motivation to work harder,” Coste said.

    That’s definitely the case since Fasano was set to be activated from the disabled list on Saturday after spending time in the minors on a rehab assignment. Coste figured there was a good chance that he was going to be cast aside when Fasano was eligible to return despite his superior offensive numbers.

    For instance, Coste has as many RBIs this month in limited action as cleanup hitter Pat Burrell. Both players have driven in 10 runs.

    Still, Coste believed that he was a good option for the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel because he can play other positions as well as catcher. Even though he started his big-league career on a 0-for-13 skid, Coste knew he gave Manuel some options.

    “I wasn’t nervous [about being sent down to the minors] because I was still a third catcher and I gave them some flexibility,” Coste reasoned. “Even though I wasn’t producing I knew that I was providing flexibility just by sitting on the bench.”

    But now that he is producing by going 18-for-41 (.439) after that initial 0-for-13, including a pair of homers in his last two games, Coste knows that the big-league experience on his resume will help him when he attempts to make a club next spring training. Even after a strong spring like he had by hitting .463 for the Phillies in March.

    “I could have hit .700 in spring training, but it’s still just spring training,” Coste said. “Now I have some experience as a backup. That should help me.”

    Or at least get him out of having to play winter ball this year.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Since you've been gone

    I spent most of today playing catch up with what has been happening with the Phillies as well as on the East Coast and this is what I learned:

  • Humidity is an awful, awful thing. Yes, we were lucky enough to miss the horrible heat that tour through the area last week, but going from highs of 17 percent humidity -- with temperatures never going higher than 85 --to this is very difficult. It just makes everything feel so heavy and malodorous.

    Moreover, when people say it is much more difficult training for a marathon in humidity than at altitude, they are correct. Sure, today's 14-miler was performed nearly 2-minutes per mile faster than what I was able to do in Colorado where we were between 7,500 to 8,200 feet, but I felt like I was walking in a furnace here. Worse, now I'm paying for it with a case of heat cramps.


  • You know how they say people on the East are in more of a hurry, aren't as friendly, and suffer fools less? It's true. Next to the humidity, the biggest difference I notice when I return to our coast is the vibe emanating from the people like the heat off the macadam. Sadly to say, I kind of enjoy the rush and rudeness.

  • No one is sure whether or not the Phillies are "buyers" or "sellers," using the popular parlance of the times. Needless to say, the results from this weekend's four-game series against the Braves should clear that up nicely for GM Pat Gillick and his minions.

    Along those lines, whether the Phils are adding or subtracting, Bobby Abreu and/or Pat Burrell appear likely to finish the season with another team. That's more so the case with Abreu than Burrell based on what the ballscribes are writing these days.

    Like rumors and innuendo? Here's some fun stuff from ESPN's Rumor Central:

    Shea Hillenbrand and Scouts Inc.'s Keith Law reports that the Angels have no interest in acquiring Hillenbrand, who was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

    ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reports the Giants, however, are interested in Hillenbrand. The Toronto Sun, meanwhile, reports several other teams are in the mix to get Hillenbrand. Included in the list are the Brewers, Twins, Phillies, Dodgers and Padres.

    "We're confident that we will be able to move him," Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said in a report in the Sun. "We'll play it all out and try to get the best deal we can."

    Bobby Abreu
    While the Mets are interested in acquiring Bobby Abreu, the New York Post reports outfield prospect Lastings Milledge will not be moved as part of any trade for the Phillies' right fielder.

    The paper reports that people close to Mets GM Omar Minaya say the only player Milledge would be traded for right now is Marlins left-hander Dontrelle Willis, but he isn't currently available.

    The Detroit News reports that the Tigers are no longer looking to acquire Abreu, and instead are keying in on making a trade for Alfonso Soriano.

    Any teams interested in Abreu, meanwhile, must be prepared to pay a hefty price, reports's Jerry Crasnick. Not only is Abreu owed $15 million in 2007, but he also has a complete no-trade clause. So any new team would likely need to pay for 2007, pay his $16M salary for 2008 and give him a contract extension in order for Abreu to waive his no-trade clause.'s Jayson Stark reports that the Phillies are also looking for an impact player and another player in exchange for Abreu.

    Rodrigo Lopez
    The Orioles have discussed trading Lopez to the Phillies for one of their outfielders, either Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell, according to the Baltimore Sun.

    Sources told the Sun that the Phillies would be willing to take Lopez and a mid-level prospect if the O's would pay a large portion of the contract for Burrell or Abreu. One official, though, called the deal "unlikely."

    Meanwhile, the Orioles are talking to other teams about Lopez, including Arizona, St. Louis, San Diego, Texas and the Yankees.

    Buster Olney wrote that the future of the Phillies is contingent upon how Gillick's decisions of the next 10 days. Olney wrote:

    Does Gillick, along with other Phillies executives, believe Abreu is worth one-sixth of the team's payroll?

    Maybe they'll determine that Abreu, with his gaudy on-base percentage and his speed, is worth the cash. Or maybe they'll determine they'll be better off making sure they dump his contract now and ensure they can spend money currently allocated for Abreu on other players.

    Whatever happens, the next 10 days should be pretty interesting.
  • Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    He's from where?

    At Foolish Craig’s, a restaurant and juice/coffee bar on the fashionable Pearl St. in Boulder, Colo., diners and imbibers halted their conversations mid sentence in order to catch the latest action from the Tour de France flickering from the TV hoisted above their heads. When American Floyd Landis was presented with the Yellow Jersey, signifying that he is the leader of the great race, there was an audible, “YESSSS!” to go along with a few happy fist pumps.

    Actually, Foolish Craig’s is no different than any other establishment in Boulder. Instead of the Rockies-Reds matinee burning up the airwaves, it’s the bike race from France that has everyone’s attention during a busy lunchtime. If there were sports talk radio just for the hip and trendy folks in Boulder, all of the chatter would be about Landis, the latest on the summertime European running circuit, and the Denver Broncos.

    Colorado still shuts down when the Broncos play and it’s still impossible to get a ticket for a game. Lets not kid ourselves and think that endurance sports have surpassed the NFL just yet.

    Nevertheless, Boulder is crazy for Landis. So too is the establishment – the New York Times recently published a six-page feature detailing the 30-year-old cyclist’s plans for surgery to replace his broken hip following this month’s Tour de France. Imagine that – a guy is at the top of the Tour de France (the Tour de France!), riding all of those miles day after day with a broken hip. No wonder cycling crazy Boulder and the pages of the New York Times have dedicated some prime space for the guy.

    Yet meanwhile, in Landis’ hometown of Lancaster, Pa. where he grew up and graduated from Conestoga Valley High in 1994 …


    And in the Philadelphia area, where the budding superstar pedaled thousands of miles along the Schuylkill, through Valley Forge and the environs cranking out another routine century …

    Ho-hum. Have two-a-days started at Lehigh yet?

    This is where it gets tricky. Take away the altitude and the 300 sunny days a year and there really isn’t that much different from Boulder and Lancaster/Philadelphia areas. In fact, some in the know have suggested that the roads and trails in bucolic and wide open Lancaster County are better than the mountain cycling routes in Boulder County.

    According to a story in USA Today, Philadelphia was rated as one of the best places for bike riding, though the ratings seem to have ignored smaller metropolitan areas like Lancaster and Boulder. Nevertheless, here’s what appeared in the Sept. 23, 2003 edition of the national paper:

    Home to the USA's most prominent cycling race, the Pro Cycling Tour's Wachovia U.S. Pro Championship, which is run the first week of June. Need a personal challenge? "Try an out-and-back ride on the Schuylkill River Trail to Valley Forge starting at the Philadelphia Arts Institute and climbing the steep and infamous Manayunk Wall."

    At the same time, stories have appeared in The New York Times and Kiplinger’s with throwaway sentences in which Lancaster is called “one of the best places in America for cycling” as if this was a given and common knowledge.

    You know, bike riding in Lancaster. Of course.

    Still, it’s hard to believe our region is rated so highly, especially when one considers what goes on outside of the actual athletics in both places. Though Boulder and the area surrounding Philadelphia are approximately the same size (for now… Boulder’s growth is ridiculous), running and riding are a way of life in the Colorado college town and participatory sports is serious business there. A common conversation heard in Boulder goes something like this:

    “Well, I work for (Insert tech company here) by day, but really I’m getting ready to move from trail running to the triathlon.”

    With 60 Olympians living in Boulder County, it’s easy to understand why playing instead of watching sports is a big deal. It’s also easy to see why the communities for sports like running and bicycling have transformed the area.

    Perhaps Boulder is best summed up by Marc Peruzzi in the August issue of Outside magazine: “The Dunkin’ Donuts went out of business, but the oxygen bar next door to the gay-and-lesbian bookstore seems to be doing well.

    “In most American towns, outdoor-sports aficionados are part of an elite counterculture minority. Mountain bikers and climbers have cachet. Not so in Boulder. Recreating outdoors in the norm here, and it’s in your face.”

    Maybe it’s starting to get that way in our area, too. Yoga studios are springing up and are a much more mainstream style of exercise and cross-training than ever before. Actually, in my neighborhood in Lancaster, the question isn’t where you take your yoga class; it’s which discipline you practice.

    Along with this come the restaurants with healthier foods, the supermarkets that cater to that set, as well as the chiropractors and physical therapists. Bottom line wise it all means higher property values and a better quality of life.

    But there are still battles to be waged. Despite the 300 sunny days a year, it still snows quite a bit in Colorado. However, the first thing that gets plowed as soon as the trucks get rolling is the biking and running trails. Meanwhile, we still haven’t learned how to share the roads here.

    Perhaps most telling is the way the locals react in Lancaster when the pro cycling tour rides into town every May. Instead of embracing it the way the Philadelphians have (OK, it’s another excuse to drink… who are we kidding?), Lancasterians view the top cyclists in the world coming to their little town as an inconvenience full of traffic jams and clogged streets, rather than something that makes the town special.

    But personally, I’ll never forget watching the 1998 race where one rider made his return to the sport after battling cancer for the previous two years. After the race, in which he finished in second place but was clearly the strongest rider, I sat down next to the guy with our backs against the Hotel Brunswick on the corner of Queen and Chestnut streets for a little chat about the race, his comeback and his chances in France later that summer.

    Who would have ever guessed that after that ride through Lancaster on a warm afternoon that Lance Armstrong would go on to win the Tour de France seven years in a row?

    Maybe not Lancaster County’s Floyd Landis. He knows what pedaling on those roads can do.

    Sports capital?
    If Landis goes on to win the Tour de France, it will cap off a pretty interesting year in sports for Lancaster natives. On the PGA Tour, Manheim Township High grad and Lancaster native, Jim Furyk, just missed winning his second U.S. Open with his second-place finish. Furyk, the former basketball standout for the Blue Streaks (who can forget that jumper from the corner he hit to beat Lebanon in the 1988 Section 1 title game?), will finish this year rated in the top 10 again and will make another Ryder Cup team.

    Must be something in the water there.

    Riding (or running) in Lancaster
    Looking for the best places to ride (or run) in Lancaster? Pick up Sil Simpson's Short Bike Rides in Eastern Pennsylvania. It's an excellent guidebook with all the inside info from a guy who is a riding and running junky.

    As for the running routes, email me. I have a ton of them stashed away.

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    Monday, July 17, 2006

    Greetings from Wyoming... yeah, Wyoming

    That's right. I'm in Wyoming. Apparently it's a state in this here U.S.A. located just north of Colorado and south of Montana. And apparently, there is a state called Nebraska very near the Colorado and Wyoming border.

    Weird, wild stuff.

    Anyway, I learned quite a bit about the United States, Wyoming, and its capital, Cheyenne, which is where I spent today. Get this -- if you want to meet the governor of the state of Wyoming you can just walk into his office. He doesn't get pissed or anything like I usually do if I'm typing something and my wife is hovering around, trying to read over my shoulder or wanting me to turn around so she can tell me about something stupid some dumbassed fourth grader did to ruin her day. After about a minute or so of that crap, I finally lose patience and yell:

    "What! Just say it! What! What!"

    "Jesus, what the hell crawled up your ass, Mr. Patience?"

    So when my two-year-old boy went rambling into the Governor's office and did a little soft shoe in his doorway, the honorable David D. Freudenthal was cool and didn't shout at his secretary: "For chrissakes, who let the freaking kid in here? Doris, are we letting everyone in here now? Geezus -- I'm the freaking governor. I run this place."

    There was none of that. In fact, Mr. Freudenthal -- or Gov. Dave as he likes to be called -- got up from behind his desk, where it didn't really seem as if he was really all that busy, and stuck a Wyoming pin on the lapel of my boy's shirt. He couldn't have been more gracious, asking us where we were from, chatting about common aquaitances in Democratic politics in Pennsylvania, indulging my story about how I snapped at a college democrat panhandling for money in Boulder, Colorado a few days earlier ("No, you don't need money... you need better ideas and you need to stop running shitty candidates"), and what we could do for fun in his God forsaken state.

    I don't know how many of you folks out there have ever been to Wyoming, but there is nothing there. And when I say "there is nothing there," I don't mean, "We went to Wyoming and all they had was a freaking Wal-Mart and a bunch of rednecks hanging out at the mall... " There was no mall. There was no Wal-Mart either. In fact, the reason we met the Governor was because we walked into the state house thinking there would be some sort of historical tour or something (there wasn't). Instead, we marched right up the front steps, entered the building without going through any security clearance, and then made a hard right into the Governor's office. Yeah, that's right -- the Governor of the entire state was sitting about 25 yards from where some sporadic midday traffic was kind of whizzing by.

    Crazy, huh? Think Ed Rendell would get his ample ass up from behind his desk for anything less than a 6-foot hoagie? No, me either.

    There was a lot I learned about Wyoming and Cheyenne that I'm saving for a more ambitious project and won't bore anyone with the details here. I'm sure no one wants to hear about the finer details of the drive from Estes Park, Colo. through Northern Colorado and into Wyoming. I have pages on that. Nor do I think anyone is too interested in how Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote -- they have a big statue for Esther Hobart Morris in front of the capitol. She led the sufferage movement.

    Sure, Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, but so is Jackson Pollock and Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman governor of any state in the union.

    Forget all of that, but remember this: according to the 2000 census, the population of Cheyenne is 52, 011. That makes it the largest city in the state. It also is quite a bit less than Lancaster, Pa., and Lancaster has a whole bunch of things Cheyenne doesn't -- a few Wal-Marts, Taco-Bells... you know, suburban sprawl. Wyoming has none of that. From my experience, the nine miles from the Wyoming state line to Cheyenne makes the Pennsylvania Dutch Country look like Manhattan.

    Or how about this: Nobody in Cheyenne gives a shit about the Phillies, nor has anyone ever heard of Bill Conlin. Of course, we didn't get a chance to talk to everyone, but we got a good start in a walk up and down Capitol Street and into a Western clothier called "The Wrangler," where they have all the gear stocked up in anticipation for this weekend's Frontier Days, which, if my rudimentary knowledge of professional rodeo is on the money, is akin to the U.S. Open in golf.

    Along with all the bucking broncos, cowboys, fightin', spittin', cussin' and all of that country crap, there's a pretty big sideshow, too. Just look at this lineup:

    Steve Miller Band
    Friday, July 21

    Martina McBride/Mark Wills
    Saturday, July 22

    Keith Urban/Hot Apple Pie
    Sunday, July 23

    PBR (Professional Bull Riders)
    Monday, July 24 and Tuesday, July 25

    Dierks Bentley/Billy Currington
    Wednesday, July 26

    Phil Vassar/Josh Gracin
    Thursday, July 27

    Montgomery Gentry/Trace Adkins
    Friday, July 28

    Larry the Cable Guy
    Saturday, July 29

    According to my wife, who is a hardcore follower of the People/US magazine scene, that's some big-time talent. She says Keith Urban is about as big as it gets in country music right now. I don't know about that, because my idea of a big deal when it comes to music is the Aug. 15 version of Henry Rollins' radio show where he will play nothing but bands from Washington, D.C.. Finally, someone will play Trouble Funk on live radio.

    So while I'll have to take her word on Keith Urban, I know all about the Steve Miller Band (who doesn't) and Larry the Cable Guy. Needless to say, The Wrangler was stuffed to the gills with "Git 'R Done" t-shirts in anticipation for Larry's arrival in town. That's his line, right? Perhaps I am not as well versed on the comic genius of Larry the Cable Guy as I should be.

    Now I don't want to come off as an arrogant jackass or anything, but I doubt Larry or Keith will stop in at Phoenix Books & Music, just down the street from the capitol and The Wrangler on Capitol St.. Luckily, I did because it was there that I found a first edition copy (1953) of The Lewis & Clark diaries. I got it for $5 and I'm still downright giddy over the find. But if two overrated explorers aren't Larry and Keith's speed, the affable proprietor of the book shop had a copy of Ludacris' Chicken 'n Beer right up front.

    On a final note, the Mountain time zone is the coolest one out there. Plus, I made it the entire way through a post without once mentioning Ken's penchant for gluing his balls to his leg. How about that?


    Tuesday, July 11, 2006


    The cool thing about Ryan Howard isn’t that he hits the longest home runs that anyone has ever seen. After all, that’s his job and a guy doing his job almost as well as anyone on the planet isn’t really a big deal.

    Is it?

    No, the cool thing about Ryan Howard is that he is on the doorstep from becoming one of the biggest stars in the game and he doesn’t know it. That isn’t to say Ryan is unaware, not interested or above such triviality and superficiality. Maybe he is. I don’t know – I don’t feel like getting into that deep. I’m sure I could, but that’s something for the people who write for Slate or Salon or some other navel-gazing type edifice of supposed intellectual discourse.

    Ryan doesn’t seem to know it because he’s unaffected. Maybe he is or isn’t above such things, but the he’s still the same old guy who likes hanging out with his teammates and playing baseball. And again, not that I’m a psychiatrist or anything like that, but Ryan seems to be pretty grounded – based on talks with baseball writers far smarter than me and observations at a few award presentations, Ryan’s parents seem to still have an important influence on him. In a way – but totally different – Ryan reminds me a bit of Scott Rolen, another Midwestern guy who placed his priorities on family, roots, friends and education.

    The rest was just what you did.

    And judging from last night’s made-for-TV home run hitting contest, Ryan Howard is pretty good at what he does.

    Here's Ryan's big homer to the third deck against the Yankees:

    Two in a row
    OK, this could be a cheap shot, but whatever. When a team wins just one World Championship in 123 seasons, facts aren’t cheap shots. They’re facts

    Anyway, two different Phillies have won the Home Run Derby in consecutive seasons… how come that’s the only thing they can win. Oh yes, it’s pretty cool and it’s good to see good guys and solid citizens like Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard represent the Phillies and the city, but would it have really mattered if neither guy won? It’s the worst kept secret around that the balls used in the competition are a little “doctored.”

    Then again, it was cool watching those long shots land in the Allegheny River.

    And speaking of the Allegheny, how great does Pittsburgh’s downtown ballpark look? Wouldn’t it be great if the Phillies could build a ballpark along the banks of the Delaware or Schuylkill with the tall buildings in Center City hanging over the bowl?

    Oh wait… never mind.

    Home run Ramon
    For two years in a row, Phillies’ bullpen coach Ramon Henderson has been smacked around more than a cheap piñata.

    No not literally.

    Henderson, of course, pitched to both Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard during their slugging runs in the Home Run Derby. Based on how well Abreu did in smacking a record 41 homers in Detroit in 2005, Red Sox David Ortiz asked Henderson to pitch to him, too.

    Apparently Henderson is a juggernaut at serving up titanic blasts because not only did both Abreu and Howard win the competition, but also Ortiz launched the longest bombs of the contest, including one that almost left the Earth’s atmosphere before settling down in the muddy Allegheny.

    Upon returning to Philadelphia after last season’s title run, Henderson was a bit of a celebrity in the Phils’ clubhouse. If he were able to parlay his home-run throwing talents into some sort of business, Henderson might be able to clean up.

    Either way, it’s obvious that Henderson is having a blast with all of this. Two straight trips to the All-Star Game with his young son with the best seat in the house for the Home Run Derby… not bad. Not bad at all.

    Note: Updates here will be even more sporadic than the past week. Currently I am in Estes Park, Colo. relaxing and trying to recharge my fried batteries for the rest of the year. There may be a chance of a post here or there, but nothing too significant… then again, here in Mountain Time and with the aid of; those west coast ballgames come on at a reasonable hour.

    Then again, the only sports I’m going to be interested in for the next 10 days are running, golf and chasing a high-energy 2-year old around the Rocky Mountains.

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Hey, Billy... Shhh!

    Yeah, Billy Wagner is at it again. When asked about the Phillies by a reporter from Sports Illustrated, ol' Billy just couldn't resist. Here are some of the notable quotes:

    Comparing the Mets to the Phillies:
    "That team has as much talent as this one. But there's something lacking there... "

    On the lack of team leadership:
    "Nobody ever gets upset. If somebody does, he's a big mouth and nobody likes him. They take it as, 'I did my best. I'm going home.' There's nobody screaming, "Hey, we're better than this!'"

    On the potential of Bobby Abreu going to the Yankees:
    "I don't think he'd mind [going to the Yankees]. Bobby Abreu's a good guy, but he's not a vocal leader. The one thing you have to know here (in New York) is, you have to come every day. He's got a real laid-back attitude."

    On Brett Myers:
    "As far as stuff, he's a No. 1. But mentally, he's a No. 4."

    Much to the credit of the Phillies, they didn't take the bait. Quietly, they probably reacted the same way as everyone else when they were alerted to Big-mouth Billy's latest salvo, which is: "Yawn... hey, did you see what Billy said? Man, he really needs attention, huh? Do you want to get some lunch?

    The Phillies are not a threat to the Mets. They are 12 1/2 games out of first place, a game-and-a-half away from falling into last place, and it isn't even the All-Star Break yet. The Phillies should be in Wagner's rearview mirror, especially since the Mets gave him the contract he wanted.

    Nevertheless, Wagner certainly says a lot about the Phillies for a guy who only saved 59 games in two seasons and ranks behind Ricky Bottalico and just ahead of Al Holland on the team's all-time saves list.

    Hey, he was no Jose Mesa.

    Kidding aside, here's the link to the Sports Illustrated story. On another SI-related factoid, writer Gary Smith stopped by the press box during Thursday night's game against the Padres.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Boy, that's different

    Here's the Phillies' lineup for Opening Day as compared to the one skipper Charlie Manuel used against the Padres on Wednesday night.

    April 3, 2006 vs. St. Louis
    ss - Rollins
    3b - Nunez
    rf - Abreu
    2b - Utley
    lf - Burrell
    1b - Howard
    cf - Rowand
    c - Lieberthal
    p - Lieber

    3b - Bell
    of - Dellucci
    c - Fasano
    ss - Gonzalez
    of - Victorino



    July 5, 2006 vs. San Diego
    ss - Rollins
    2b - Utley
    rf - Abreu
    1b - Howard
    lf - Burrell
    cf - Rowand
    3b - Bell
    c- Ruiz
    p - Mathieson

    of - Dellucci
    3b - Nunez
    of - Victorino
    c - Coste
    of - Roberson


    Here's an interesting factoid for all the stat heads out there from the always trenchant Baseball Reference blog.

    Meanwhile, here's a tracker for Ryan Howard's home runs this season.

    Optimism: A novel concept

    Let's try some optimism with the Phillies even though they aren't a very good team and fastball-throwing rookie Scott Mathieson will face Cy Young Award-winner-waiting-to-happen Jake Peavy on Wednesday night... in that regard, the July 4 victory over the Padres was one the Phillies would have lost a few days ago.

    The Phillies definitely would have figured out how to lose that lead in the late innings, but despite the blown save, Tom Gordon did a nice job wiggling out of that jam.

    More optimism: though it isn't ideal, the Phillies are better off with Carlos Ruiz doing the brunt of the catching than Sal Fasano. Yes, Fasano is very popular in a kitschy way with a certain segment of the fans, but he isn't very good... and, no, we're not simply talking about his batting average. Surprisingly, his defense has been a bit sub par, though his arm is quite impressive. Besides, if Carlos Ruiz is supposed to have a bit of a future with the Phillies, they ought to find some playing time for him.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, the Phillies have 80 games to make up 10 1/2 games in the NL East and five games in the wild-card race. The problem with the wild-card chase is that there are seven teams ahead of them.

    According to AccuWeather and the great weather blog, Philadelphia Weather, it looks like we're in for some more rain tonight.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    And you are?

    It's definitely been too long since I updated this thing. Far too long, in fact. I guess the popular excuse is that I've been busy with going to Baltimore, the Myers/Phillies fiasco, regular old life as a parent of a wild 2-year-old boy, more marathon training, and all of those losing baseball games.

    But since we're all about debunking myths and not suffering fools, let's deconstruct those silly excuses: for starters, Baltimore is much closer to my house than Citizens Bank Park. Plus, the drive to Camden Yards is much more interesting, enjoyable, and smooth.

    I have no more comments on the Schuylkill Expressway.

    Better yet, the press box at Camden Yards is my favorite one of all the ballparks. Coors is pretty good, and there's something about that sky-high box at Fenway that I like, too. But as far as building ballparks go, they really did it right in Baltimore. Nevertheless, as soon as I empty out the contents of my camera onto this computer (more procrastination), I will definitely post my behind-the-scenes photos of Fenway Park.

    As far as the other stuff goes, everyone is busy, lots of people have kids, tons of people run marathons, and I knew that Brett Myers was a ticking time bomb. No, no one expected this alleged crime, but most people who have been around him suspected something.

    Here's a story written in my small, local paper about Myers... if the author only knew.

    As far as the running stuff goes, I have come to a revelation that the Arthur Lydiard method of training should be embraced. I was kind of on board back when I was younger and faster, but in retrospect, I listened to the wrong people. Those people always told me to run fast, fast, fast, which is correct if you are a middle-distance runner. For the long distance guys, it should be long, long, long. That's where the Lydiard school of thought comes in.

    Now I understand why all those guys I used to listen to were always injured.

    Yep, like baseball, I could yap about running all day long.

    As for the Phillies... oh my.

    Yes, we all knew that the Phillies were not going to run away with the NL East and would probably have some difficulties with the pitching staff, but no one suspected that at the halfway point the team would be 37-44 and six games off the pace in the wild-card race. But aside from the 2-7 road trip and the three-week stretch where the Phils have gone just 5-17, there have been a handful of positives.


    Of course. Ryan Howard is on pace to hit 56 home runs to shatter Mike Schmidt's single-season franchise record of 48 (1980). Howard should also threaten the 140-RBI plateau. The most RBIs Schmidt ever had in a season was the 121 he drove in during his MVP season in 1980.

    As an aside, should Howard be talked about as an MVP candidate?

    Meanwhile, Chase Utley has become a solid partner with Howard in the lineup. Should the powers that be decide to "blow up" the team, Howard and Utley will be the base (along with Cole Hamels) for the future. Then again, Utley and Howard are closer to being 30 than 20... is it possible that the Phillies waited too long before giving those two a shot?

    Tom Gordon has pitched admirably, earning an All-Star bid with his 21 saves and 2.12 ERA. With 41 strikeouts in 34 innings, he has certainly made everyone forget about whatshisname.

    As for the recent spate of games, David Dellucci has been a pleasant surprise. In the last five games, the lefty has three homers and is 9-for-20. While in his last 10 games he is 14-for-32. In June, Dellucci hit .388 with four homers and 1.047 OPS, but in just 47 at-bats.

    Maybe it's time to showcase the veteran lefty before the trade deadline because it doesn't seem as if the Phillies will need Dellucci for the playoffs.

    © 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved