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Archive for October, 2008

In Memory Of My Friend, LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Posted by sportsmaven on October 15, 2008

Sitting in my home office, the mail was piling up on my desk, up to bottom of my monitor screen, as usual.  Catching up on the mail is always a task that loves my procrastination, but tonight, I was determined to get through the growing pile on my desk.  I was shocked and very deeply saddened when I opened my high school alumni mailing to find out that my classmate and good friend, LTC James J. Walton was killed in action in Kandahar City, Afghanistan on June 21, 2008.

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Jim was one of my good friends at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC, a private, all-boys Catholic, military high school.  We met during our freshman year in August of 1982 and we couldn’t be more of opposites.  Jim was as sharp a cadet at St. John’s, easily the most self-confident member of our class and the freshman with the most military bearing and pride.  I was the cadet that struggled with all things military.  Somehow, we managed to become friends.

Jim taught me how to shine my brass, “spit” shine my shoes, and finally, when that didn’t work, taught me the lesson of getting a pair of patent leather “inspection” shoes that I would keep in my locker and wear only to pass the daily morning inspection.  He taught me how to properly salute and chided me to learn my cadet knowledge.  Jim was destined to be our class leader and future Regimental Commander.  I recall that he wanted to be Cadet Colonel so bad, not for the rank itself, but rather to be in the best position to help and mentor fellow students in the way of being military.

Jim and I both had a common interest in music, he was in the Cadet Chorus and I was in the Concert Band/Wind Ensemble and the Regimental Band.  We used to hang out in the chorus hall, do homework, talk about the things we wanted to do with our lives.  Only Jim knew exactly what he wanted to do: go to West Point and serve his country in the Army.  Jim loved his time in the choir; he became the student director of the choir our senior year.

When we were seniors, Jim was named Regimental Commander, with the rank of Cadet Colonel.  I fondly recall the evening of our Commissioning Ceremony as cadet officers, Jim was beaming with pride and honor to have earned the leadership position of our entire regiment.  I was proud to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the Regimental Band.  It was due to Jim’s mentoring of my feeble military skills that I was able to achieve that level of rank.  He got me through the system.

The Regimental Band was the only battalion in the regiment that didn’t have a sergeant major.  I volunteered to assume that position for the Regimental Band, taking a voluntary demotion from lieutenant to sergeant major.  I did it because I believed it was an opportunity to be special; there were only 4 sergeant majors in the entire regiment, while there were dozens of ordinary lieutenants.  It also allowed me to be glued to the hip of my best friend in high school, John Shaw, who was our battalion commander, making my final year at St. John’s a military breeze.

When word moved up the chain that I took a demotion, Jim found me and said “DeCesare, only you would take a demotion to try to make yourself look good.”  We both got a good laugh out of that one.  One day, I volunteered to be Officer of the Day, an assignment that took the serving cadet out of classes for the day to be an aide to the military instructors and school administrators.  When I went to the Military Office to report for duty, Jim laughed at me, asking me if I had a test today and needed to skip class.  Even though we were friends, Jim was pretty relentless on us in morning officer’s inspection.  He would demand that we lead by example and that started with appearance and attitude.  He expected the officers of the regiment to lead with dignity, honor, and sense of duty.

When graduation week came, we all knew that we would be moving on to our next phase in life.  The day before graduation, we took our class photo at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.  The Cadet Colonel is the centerpiece of the photo, standing in the middle of the front row with Brother John Herron, our school president.  It had rained that morning and we were unsure if we were able to take the picture, but the rain broke and we gathered as a class on the marble steps of the Shrine to take one last photo.  It would be the second to last day we would all be together as classmates.

On graduation day, we re-assembled at the Shrine to go through graduation ceremony.  It was the last time that we would all wear the uniform at St. John’s.  Jim, like so many other occasions, led the officers of the Class of 1985 into the ceremony, with his perfect military demeanor, white sash, chest full of medals and ribbons, 3 diamonds signifying the rank of Cadet Colonel on his shoulders.

After the ceremony, we were milling outside the Shrine, taking pictures with family, friends, and classmates.  I remember Jim and I hugged, glad that we made it through, sad that our days at St. John’s were coming to an end.  I knew Jim was going on to bigger and better things at West Point, while I was off to a vastly different life at Virginia Tech with two of our other classmates.  That would be the last time I would see Jim Walton.

While my initial memories of Jim have always been about his impressive military manner, my most fond, treasured, and lasting memories of Jim had very little to do with the military.  My memories were of his strength of character, kindness, dedication, compassion, honesty, and loyalty to his friends and family.  Jim loved helping people, especially his friends.  He was selfless in that regard.  I loved that we shared a like of music, the playfulness of the Senior right to cut in the lunch line and sit at the Senior Table.  We endured schoolwork, Brother Albert’s monotonous typing class, bonded for life with our classmates, and loved our school, it’s sense of integrity, honor and duty, and all it represented.

People may think that the world will be a lesser place without Jim Walton, but I believe otherwise.  I believe that the world is infintely a better place because of Jim Walton.  As I look at that picture of our class, the Class of 1985 of St. John’s College High School, I see front and center, where he belonged, the indelible image of Cadet Colonel Jim Walton.  I also see the image of Jim Walton my mentor, my leader, but most of all, my friend.

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Chicago Bears Coaching Staff Puts Team In Position Not To Win

Posted by sportsmaven on October 13, 2008

In football, coaching is an important facet of the game.  As you move up the levels of football, from pee wee to high school to college, the gap between the knowledge and ability of the coaching staff as compared to the ability of the players to execute the game plan the coaching staff puts together gets smaller and smaller.  In the NFL that gap is small, but the level and quality of play takes a huge leap from college football.  Typical NFL personnel practice hours a day, every day as practice is primary to making the gap between coaching and execution/ability as small as possible.

Today’s Chicago Bears game against the Atlanta Falcons was a case study in how wide the gap can become between coaching and player execution.  Three plays in today’s 22-20 loss for the Bears sums up how the 2008 version of the Chicago Bears consistently lose winnable games with their inconsistent play and coaching.

First play was the third and goal play on the goal line stand.  Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner likes to get cute and call plays for FB Jason McKie.  Sometimes they work, but more often than not, they don’t.  McKie is a nice fullback, but why get cute with your 4th best RB when you can give your best RB 4 tries at the goal line.  The ball should have went to all world RB Matt Forte.  You have to go with your best guy in key times.  Turner didn’t do that and when he realized it, it was too late.

Second play was the squib kick.  Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith said the reason they called the squib kick was that the coverage units were tired.  Calling a questionable strategy because your team is not conditioned to run the right strategy?  Lovie Smith has a reputation for running easy going camps.  Training camp is the time to work on conditioning.  Tired in Week 6?  Will it get any better by Week 15?  If this truly was the reason to call the squib kick, it was a poor coaching decision.  The end result validated that 100 times over.

The last play was the base defense the Bears chose for the final offensive play with :06 left in the game.  The Bears may or may not have called the correct defensive set, but due to previous injuries to 4 other defensive backs in this game, the Bears were forced to play a player that they acquired just 19 days ago.  To compound the situation, the call didn’t cover the sideline and account for the only pattern the Falcons could have run to make the completion and still have time to attempt the game winning FG.  Bad decisions, game ending loss.

The Bears played another out of sync game today, with only the offense having a decent day.  The defense came in with a game plan to stop Falcons RB Michael Turner, which they did.  But they never stopped Falcons QB Matt Ryan or any of the Falcons receivers.  Didn’t make adjustments to that game, thus Ryan was virtually untouched today.  Special teams play today was about as bad as I’ve seen in Lovie Smith’s tenure.

Although today’s performance by the Bears can be and should be attributed to the players, I believe the coaching staff is equally responsible.  The Bears 3 losses are by a total of 8 points combined.   That 8 points is mostly due to being outcoached in every game this season, save for the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions games.  The Bears coaching staff has consistently gameplanned not to lose games.  Not only is that a defeatist attitude, but it shows no confidence in the talent that is on the roster.  That’s what takes what should be a very solid 6-0 team and turns it into a mediocre 3-3 team.

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Chicago Cubs Should Trademark The “Wait ‘Til Next Year” Slogan

Posted by sportsmaven on October 5, 2008

It’s been over an hour since RF Alfonso Soriano took the last of his pitiful swings to end the season for the Chicago Cubs and I am still pissed off.  I, like millions of other people, am a Chicago Cubs fan and again, we have been turned into a mockery again by the very team that we live and die for.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

WE have become a national laughingstock, a total joke.  There are hundreds and thousands of Cubs fans in the city of Chicago, as well as all over the world that are angry tonight after the Cubs were swept out of the 2008 playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Los Angeles newspapers accuse Cub fans of giving up after being down in Game 1.  TBS showed shot after shot of grieving, somber Cubs fans after both Game 1 and Game 2, heads in their hands, stunned beyond belief.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Practically every person associated with Cubs management has sounded off about how there are no such things as curses caused by billy goats, that those things are the concoctions of the imaginations of over-restless fans and yet Cubs management felt the need to sneak in a Greek Orthodox priest to Wrigley Field to splash holy water over the Cubs dugout hours before the start of Game 1only to get caught by a TBS camera crew who showed up early to set up for the Game 1 telecast, thus broadcasting this absurd event to the entire baseball watching audience.

This Cubs team had brought so much pride and joy to Cub fans in a magical regular season with 97 wins, and a second consecutive, NL Central Division Championship.  In three short playoff games, this very Cubs team has brought shame and embarassment to Cubs fans all over the world.  Extinguished all the wonderful, inspiring, positive feelings about Cubs baseball in 27 innings of the worst playoff baseball played in recent memory — by ANY team.  I don’t care what Lou Piniella or any of the 25 guys in the Cubs locker room says – this season was a failure, no other word to describe the end result.

It’s not that the Cubs lost, it’s the ridiculous manner in which they lost.  It’s not that the Cubs played their hearts out and just got beat by a superior team, because that wasn’t the case at all.  The Cubs lost because they failed to show up to play.  No hitting, no pitching, and no fielding.  A pathetic, lifeless effort by every member of this Cubs team.  Not one player played good baseball in this series.  Cubs P Ryan Dempster said in tonight’s post-game interview that the Dodgers just brought more energy to the series than the Cubs.  How utterly ridiculous is that?  The Cubs just have a tendency to play appallingly bad baseball at the absolute worst possible time.

Of course, we’ll all have the offseason for the anger to diminish, the Cubs will be back next season and we’ll do this all over again for the 101st consecutive season without a World Championship.  We’ll also be entering our 64th year without making the World Series.  We may even have a new owner that will do whatever it takes to erase those indignified statistics.  If next season’s Cubs make the playoffs again, I’m sure the pressure will still be there, the statistics will still be there.  The Cubs are not the New York Yankees. They don’t make the playoffs every year.  Opportunities are few and far between and the Cubs blew this one in a disgusting, embarassing, shameful, uninspiring and lacksidasical, manner.  Wait ’til next year?

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Chicago Cubs Playoff Baseball Takes Yet Another Cruel Turn

Posted by sportsmaven on October 1, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, this series is over.  That’s it, all up in smoke in 2 hours of bad baseball.  The Chicago Cubs were on the biggest of the biggest stage tonight.  Most everything has been going their way in what has been an amazing baseball season to this point.  What was needed was a Game 1 victory in the National League Division Series, to show the world what we have seen in Chicago for the past 6 months, but the Cubs came out flat, nervous, and scared, a virtual repeat of last season’s sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Cubs suddenly have developed a severe case of the flop sweats.  From the outset of Game 1, the Cubs looked shell shocked, scared.  Looked as if they were pressing, the pressure of all the expectations, burdens of 100 years of fan expectations, on their shoulders.  The burdens of 100 years of failed Cubs teams to make up for.  They took that on the field with them tonight and played as though they wanted to wipe out 100 years of expectations in one failed swoop.

After the game, everyone looked completely stunned, in a state of shock, with no confidence.  From the tone and look on manager Lou Piniella’s face in his post-game interview, to the tentative, shaky answers the Cub players provided after tonight’s 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, from body language, tone of voice, not one bit of confidence oozed from anyone associated with the Cubs tonight.

This team looked defeated.  And this is why this series and the season will be over for the Cubs in 4 or 5 short days.  The Cubs have an 0-7 record in their last 7 playoff games, going back to the 2003 NLCS, and there are no discernable signs of this trend breaking any time soon.  And now, ironically, the season is in the very erratic hands of RHP Carlos Zambrano in a must win Game 2 tomorrow night.

Tonight’s Cubs team performance, and RHP Ryan Dempster in particular, reminded me of actor Albert Brooks in the 1987 hit movie “Broadcast News”.  Brooks plays an uber intelligent reporter named Aaron Altman.  Altman is a neurotic, socially repressed reporter who is craving for a chance to dance on the big stage of network news, the anchor desk of the prime time news cast.

He wants to anchor the prime time news show.  When all the regulars are attending the White House Correspondents Dinner, Altman is given his chance to star on the prime time evening news.  Altman is beyond smart, almost overqualified in many ways, but he craves just one opportunity to shine in the limelight.

When the camera light blinks on at the most crucial moment when newscast begins, Altman suddenly realizes the enormous magnitude of the moment and his perceived inadequacy, he gets the “deer in the headlights” look in his eyes.

As the newscast contunues, he begins profusely sweating, so bad that William Hurt’s character described it as “singing in the rain”.  An utter disaster.  This is what happened to Dempster and the Chicago Cubs tonight.

The baseball gods are very fickle at this point of the season.  They don’t care about destiny nor the burdens of 100 years of baseball futility.  They have no room for perceived entitlement, fans expectations, nor do they care what you did yesterday.  They don’t care about predestinations, or history.  They certainly don’t care about curses, billy goats, or pressure.  All they care about is baseball played today, played well, and with execution.  Today’s game.

Tomorrow night’s game is the most important of the season.  It is the season.  The short divisional series is the great equalizer in the baseball playoffs.  It’s where dreams, hard work, and grandiose expectations go to die.  The Chicago Cubs are in a must-win situation tomorrow night and in Game 3 in Los Angeles on Saturday.  Carlos Zambrano, lets see what you’ve got……

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Sportsmaven’s 2008 Fantasy Football Team Rosters

Posted by sportsmaven on October 1, 2008

I’ve been asked by more than one person about my prowess in fantasy football.  I have two teams and through week 4, my records are 4-0 in one league, and 3-1 in the other.  For those interested, below are my 2008 Fantasy Football team rosters:

Team 1: The West Coast Offense 4-0 record:

Team 2: Windy City Bombers 3-1 record:

Thoughts?  I tweak my rosters constantly, so these are not the exact teams I began with, nor will they be the teams I finish with, but the core players will remain the same.

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