Friday, February 23, 2007

Relaxed Fit

For anyone who thinks that professional athletes are spoiled, bitter, jaded and not should spend some time at the Walt Disney Sports Complex with the Atlanta Braves.

I realize that some people...including Brother Jon and Brother J-Dub, bristle at the mention of the Braves, but I grew up a Braves fan...and now I get to cover them.

Chipper Jones (Courtesy Brother Phil)

It’s a Mindset...

Maybe it is...and who knows, maybe it’s the reason the Braves got the reputation for not being able to win the "Big One." But, for selfish reasons, it makes things a whole lot easier when you are dealing with a "Laid-Back group of town to practice baseball...and to have a little fun."

Most successful teams...or for that matter businesses tend to take on the personality of their leaders. Good, bad, uptight or laid-back...look closely at the place you work...or think about the teams that you love...its know that it is.

The Braves take on the personality of Bobby Cox. Cox treats his players very simply. If you are in camp you are expected to take care of your business. Be ready to play when asked and stay out of trouble when you aren’t playing. Those are pretty much his only rules.

Training Camp...

Braves Spring Training is a simple ritual. Arrive around 9. Some players will already be there working out on their own. A little before 10, the team will make its way to the dugout...shortly thereafter they’ll hit the field. They run a lap...stretch, throw, take infield, the pitchers go and pitch...the fielders all take turns hitting, they run in the outfield after hitting and the day is done.

Good People...

Maybe its just me, but I don’t think so. The Braves locker room is a good group of guys. Most hang out together, play golf, fish or do something else outdoorsy during the afternoon and generally go to dinner afterwards. You can tell when around these guys that they like each other.

From John Smoltz’ continuous ripping on Jeff Francouer to Chipper and Andruw Jones messing with every and anyone who walks by...everyone is laughing most all the time.

On Wednesday evening...we had a Local Atlanta TV Media Dinner at a Cuban Restaurant near Disney World. While we were all sitting there cutting up, we hear a familiar “What the hell? You guys actually like each other?” It’s Francoeur eating dinner with Brian McCann and Pitcher Mike Hampton.

Not Like it Used to Be...

It used to be that TV Crews and Newspaper guys would spend Spring Training with the teams for the whole time they were there. Not any they do it like us: Come in for 2 and a half days, get as many stories as you can and get out. Strangely, that makes sense to me. No, you aren’t there if someone gets hurt...but chances are there is a camera of some sorts there. It’s harder to build relationships, but at the same time, you see most of the guys over the course of the its not a total loss.

Spring Training now is nothing like Spring Training used to be. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing...the ideological pining for the youth of a forgotten time isn’t there, but there still is the fun of being around a group of people playing a kids game...and still acting like kids themselves.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

True Fans

You know, after all my years of doing stories, working for a TV station and reporting on things I guess has made me sometimes a bit jaded. After so many years of going to Spring Training and doing basically the same story you feel a bit robotic. Most in my business do the same stories: “Oh, look, here’s the team, it’s the first day of Spring Training”. “Here are the guys who are playing on your team.”
Chipper Jones (Courtesy Brother Phil)

Someone New...

On February 21, 2007, I got the pleasure of meeting a 5th Grade Student from Peachtree City, Georgia who really put things in perspective.

Cami Kelly is her name is she traveled to Orlando with her mom, her cousins and brother. They came because Cami is special, she is mildly autistic and has an incredible talent. She can name each player on the Braves team, their birthday and the name of their pets.

Over Here...

Cami and her mom, Jenny decided on this trip they would let the Braves know that they were there. They stayed up late on Tuesday night creating a sign, a sign wishing Brian McCann and Ryan Langerhans a Happy Belated Birthday.

They arrived at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex early on Wednesday, we met them around 8:30am. They were hanging out down the first baseline, just sitting, waiting for the team to take the field. Sign in hand and held at various times by Mom, Aunt, Cousin and Brothers, they finally got their first wish around 10, when the team finally took the field.

Cami, like any other kid was fidgeting all morning long. She and her cousins moved from behind the dugout, to right field, to first base and back again…the whole time waiting, waiting for McCann and Langerhans to see their sign.

A Little Help...

Sports Anchor Mark Harmon and I had already talked to Cami, spoken to her mom and had decided to do a feature on them for the day. We also had to do our other work of the day... stockpiling stories on the team, the players and what to expect this year…just like we do every year.

One of the players we spoke to was McCann. McCann, one of the “Baby Braves,” is also one of the nicest, down to earth 22-year old Major League Baseball players that you will ever meet. When Mark and I got finished talking to Brian, we told him Cami’s story and he said he saw the sign earlier in the day. He told us “That’s cool, I’ll go over there after we are finished.”

True to his Word...

It took awhile…this being the first day of Spring Training, the Braves practiced a little longer than normal. They finally finished around 1pm.

No sooner had they finished when Mark pointed down the 1st Base Line, where McCann was signing autographs. I quickly ran over there and got there about the time that Cami did. She held true, stood her ground and when McCann got over to her, she shyly handed him the small bat that she had been holding all day long. Brian looked up, smiled, signed the bat and handed it back to a beaming Cami.


The look on her face was priceless; she grinned ear to ear. I saw her walking away, down towards the right field corner. I don’t know if she realized it, but she looked right at me…smiled real big, then turned and kept walking. I couldn’t help but smile back…seeing the look on her face makes you really think about things, think about what you do, why you do it and what makes you happy.

Meeting people like that, making them happy does nothing but make you even happier. It really made me think back to my days as a kid, think back to what it meant to be around your heroes and to have them acknowledge you - that moment will live forever.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over…thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)

Monday, February 19, 2007

When a Sale Is Not a Sale

For those of you who care -- and, apparently many in the market I work in (Atlanta) do care -- the sale of the Atlanta Braves has finally been agreed upon. Forgive my narcissism about this, but the negotiating has been going on for over a year and half…ever since the mega-conglomerate Time Warner decided they wanted to sell.

Is This Significant?Image

Uh...yeah, in a way, it is significant. If agreed upon by the Gods of Major League Baseball…it would represent the first time that no cash was involved in the sale of one of their teams.

To try and boil this down, Time Warner is essentially trading the team to Liberty Media for mostly Stock Options. They are doing this, surprise, because they can get out of paying taxes on the transaction this way.Gosh, I would hate for companies whose profits are oh…in the Billions, to avoid paying a little tax money to Uncle Sam. But, nowadays if you are mega-rich…you can get away with it.

The catch to all this is MLB’s approval. It probably will happen, but it isn’t a sure thing. One thing that Baseball and most of the other Pro Sports teams encourage is local ownership. This ain’t local ownership. Liberty is based out of Colorado…oh…a thousand miles or so from Atlanta. The other caveat is…and this is just my opinion…Liberty will sell the Braves in oh…2 or 3 years. They will sell it for cash…all cash that they pocket.

Will it affect the team?

No, it won’t. Actually, it will pretty much be status quo for the Braves. They won’t be able to spend much, if anything more than they do now on payroll. They will get to keep current management. And, more importantly, still won’t be able to keep up with the rest of the “Big Boys” in baseball.

Don’t get me wrong; I still despise the idea of escalating salaries in Pro Sports. However, it’s pretty much now a fact of life. Teams will over-pay more and more for players and will pass those costs off to you and me. Liberty Media won’t dig deeper into their pockets for it…they don’t have to.

--Phil Cantor

“The Time has Come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say...” Time (Pink Floyd)

Curious Case of The Schottenheimer

You know, I guess this really isn’t a good time to be a Head Coach in Sports anymore. Well, check that...maybe it is, I don’t know. I always thought that my business (TV) was wacky, crazy and didn’t make any sense, but geez…Coaching takes it to a whole different level.

Curious Case of The Schottenheimer

Okay, anyone who thinks that the owner and the General Manager of the San Diego Chargers are idiots, please raise their hands. They just fired, well after the “Coaching Carousel” came to a halt, a head coach who basically rebuilt a struggling, moribund franchise and made it one of the most exciting in football.

I’ll grant you “Marty’s Curse” otherwise known as the playoffs, probably factored into things but come on…this just reeks of stupid. This was done after roughly 65% of the Coaching Staff found other jobs. Charger Owner Dean Spanos blamed that as a “Primary” reason for the change. Come on “DEAN”…are you really that stupid? Did you ever think that the coaches left…because they got better opportunities? Gosh, maybe Cam Cameron or Wade Phillips would stay out of the kindness of their hearts instead of…oh…taking Head Coaching jobs. Come to think of it…Rob Chudzinski and most of the others got promotions too. But no…in Dean’s world that meant that his coach (Marty) had problems.

Another part of this apparently was the team General Manager…A.J. Smith. Apparently, he felt, the rebuilt Chargers were all his doing. He and Schottenheimer feuded…sometimes publicly on personnel and other issues. Okay, great – it’s not like that doesn’t happen with other teams. But apparently, he couldn’t exist with someone who didn’t think he could be “The Man.”

Act Like Grownups…

Never let it be said that those in Football management always act like adults. They don’t. With these folks, you are dealing with egos that sometimes are too big for the stadiums that they play in. They truly believe if they’ve had “any” success…that it was from their genius. Yeah…right.

The Curious Case of the Schottenheimer boils down to this: Ego. In the long run…Marty will be fine, in fact, probably better off. The Chargers…not so much. Sure, they’ll find someone to coach LaDanian Tomlinson and their other stars, but I’m betting they won’t be as successful. I mean come on…who’s left to Coach these guys…Norv Turner? (Webmaster's Note: This was written on February 13. I've been swamped and haven't posted it. Phil is our resident Carnak.)

--Phil Cantor

“The Time has Come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time- (Pink Floyd)

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Quite Frankly, Stick to Sports...

ImageQuite frankly...

Stephen A. Smith doesn't need to quit his day job...his 13 seconds of soap opera fame are over.

Click here to enjoy!

--John V. Wood

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Cold Pizza Fight


OK, this is flippin' hilarious, and you have GOT to listen to this...

Actor and Chicago Bears' fan Michael Clarke Duncan (left) and sports reporter Skip Bayless get into a heated fight about Duncan's love and knowledge of the Chicago Bears, on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza."

My favorite line of the whole rant was from Skip: "Michael, if you're a Bear superfan, then Ricky Bobby was a genius."

Shake and bake, baby!

--John V. Wood