All posts by Deepak Bhagat

Major League Baseball Returns to Cuba, first time since 1999

On a day that was marked with a dark cloud over the terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium, many were able to seek solace with a landmark event that occurred in Havana, Cuba. For the first time since 1999, a Major League Baseball game was played in the country that, for decades, had been relatively closed off to the United States. A symbol of renewed openness and relations between the United States and Cuba saw Presidents Obama and Castro sitting behind the netting at Estadio Latinoamericano as the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Cuban National Team in a Spring Training exhibition game.

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Rays players line up with Cuban children for the singing of the respective National Anthems

The Rays defeated the Cuban National Team by a score of 4-1 as Dayron Varona made his return to his native Cuba, leading off for Tampa Bay. Prior to stepping into the batter’s box, Varona received a standing ovation from all fans in attendance; he is the first player to ever defect and then return to play in his home country. After the game, Varona expressed the entire thrill of the trip, from seeing his family for the first time since his defection to playing in front of his home crowd. The first pitch of the game was hit to the right of first base by Varona;  a high pop-up that resulted in the first out. When asked why he swung at the first pitch, Varona stated that he might as well hit the ball as hard as he could because “it would make it to the Hall of Fame” anyway.

The last visit by a Major League Club to Cuba happened 17 years ago when the Baltimore Orioles played in a Spring Training game. Today’s game showcased something much different. It was filled with a capacity crowd of 55,000, celebrating the “open door” relations between Cuba and the United States, it was a homecoming for Dayron Varona, and it was a game filled with symbolism and exuberance.

Said Ray’s starting pitcher, Matt Moore, “It’s really great, you know, this is something that feels like a very big game back home. … I’ve had the opportunity to be in the playoffs a few times, and this feels like that kind of an event.” Moore, like others were amazed by the entire scene, from the thrill of the game to the political and organizational underlying significance. Baseball may finally be open to Cuba and Cuba to baseball. We might see an influx of Cuban players in the game; players who no longer feel the need to run under cover of night and defect from their home just to achieve a dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Cuban players were also incredibly excited about the opportunities this day brought with Cuban player, Rudy Reyes giving his view of the game, “A lot, this game meant a lot, because of the brotherhood there will be from now on.”

Notes:

-Notable members of the crowd included Secretary of State, John Kerry, Yankee icon Derek Jeter, Rachel Robinson, widow of the late Jackie Robinson, and Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred.

-Cuban pitcher and 19-year major leaguer, Luis Tiant and former Cuban National player, Pedro Luis Lazo threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Estadio Latinoamericano

-Though there was much excitement over the game, Cuban protestors and dissidents interrupted ESPN’s Bob Ley throwing pamphlets and calling for freedoms

h/t:

-http://m.mlb.com/news/article/168496904/historic-rays-cuba-game-filled-with-thrills

-http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/15045394/tampa-bay-rays-beat-cuban-national-team-landmark-game

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Head Coach Shake-Up in Cleveland

It seems to be déjà vu all over again for the Cleveland Cavaliers. David Blatt was fired today, January 22nd, in just his second season at the helm. Cleveland fans might remember a similar thing happening to one of their coaches six years ago when the Cavs fired former head coach, Mike Brown following a season where, despite not reaching the NBA Finals, they went 61-21, owning the best record in the East.

Blatt has ultimately faced a very similar fate. After leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season where they fell to Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, the Cavs came into the 2015-16 season with a renewed vigor. They officially have a healthy team of elite talent with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving and have been surging along in the Eastern Conference yet again to the tune of a 30-11 record, holding a 3.5 game lead over second place, Toronto.

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David Blatt has been fired after just 1+ seasons at Head Coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers

So what led to this change? Many people have speculated that the coaching change came at the behest of Cleveland’s star, LeBron James. It’s no secret that James’s opinions are highly regarded when it comes to his team. The 4x MVP and 2x Champion has always had the best interest for his team (whether Cleveland or Miami) at heart. He’s vocal and expects the same from his fellow players and coaches when it comes to leadership. However, all speculation that LeBron was involved in this Decision can be thrown out the window. As per, ESPN Insider, Brian Windhorst, LeBron was not consulted on the decision to fire Blatt. It remains odd that a Head Coach who is frankly quite respected by many in the NBA was fired so abruptly. Outspoken GM, David Griffin offered his take on the decision to fire Blatt at today’s news conference. Griffin frequently mentioned a disconnect within the organization, that “pretty good” was not good enough, and that he believed in the team possibly more than they believed in themselves. Griffin basically laid it all down, there. The decision to fire David Blatt was more or less his, and his alone. He seemed pretty determined and didn’t mince words in front of the press and stated that the players did not have a say in the decision. What he saw was sufficient enough for him. If you ask me, I’d say this has shades of the recent Chip Kelly firing that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Who knows what the real story was on Blatt? As far as any fan or spectator could tell, sure there was some “disconnectedness” between the players and the coach, but that will happen with most franchises from time to time, and it can often be worked out of! David Blatt had a great track record as a Head Coach, both abroad in Israel and at home with the Cavs. In 123 games, Blatt went 83-40 with Cleveland, that’s good enough for a .675 win percentage, and though they lost the Finals to Golden State, he did this in his first year with the team (again, not overshadowing the accomplishments of Steve Kerr)! Blatt, in my opinion, has been the best coach that LeBron has played for in the NBA. He has excellent credentials and led this team as best as he could. He is MUCH BETTER than Erik Spoelstra of the Heat who, again in my opinion, is really not much of a coach at all but more of a figurehead, especially when he has James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh on his team. So, yeah I’m kinda peeved at the Cavs organization and Dave Griffin, but what’s done is done. The Cavaliers begin a new chapter tonight with assistant coach, turned head coach (on a multi-year contract no less) Tyronn Lue. Will Lue help this team reach its full potential? I couldn’t tell you. David Griffin seems to think he’s the best coach for this team right now, even if he doesn’t think he’s a “better basketball coach” (GEEZ! Way to instill confidence in your man, Griff!). I look forward to seeing how the rest of this season for Cleveland plays out.

 

NOTES:

-Tyronn Lue signed a 3 year contract worth at least $9.5 million, as per Adrian Wojnarowski

-GSW Head Coach, Steve Kerr returns to the bench for the first time this year, following an extensive recovery from offseason back surgery, the Warriors are 39-4 on the year

NFL Owners Approve Move to Los Angeles

THE NFL IS BACK IN LOS ANGELES!

In a meeting in Houston, Texas today, NFL Owners agreed to approve the proposed plans for the St. Louis Rams to return back to Los Angeles, starting in 2016. Owners voted overwhelmingly to accept the relocation proposals of the Rams and the San Diego Chargers to move back to Los Angeles, voting 30-2 in favor of the franchises. The Rams would be returning back to Los Angeles, home to the second biggest media market, for the first time since 1994-95 when they played as the Los Angeles Rams.

The Los Angeles Rams played in Southern California from 1936-1995, with a brief gap in 1943, when operations were suspended. They are best remembered for bring the city 21 playoff appearances in the 48 year history culminating in the highest honor in 1951 with an NFL Championship. There were also plenty of Hall of Fame players who graced Los Angeles with their presence over the years, such as Eric Dickerson, Norm Van Brocklin, Deacon Jones, and Jack Youngblood. The LA Rams were a powerhouse of a franchise that certainly gave off the idea that football in Southern California would be a mainstay for the NFL, though it was not meant to be. In 1994-95, the Rams had lost their fanbase and had failed to make the playoffs since 1989. The stadium situation as well as the fact that they were being overshadowed by the more successful Dodgers and Lakers teams of the late 80s resulted in loss of viewership and a plummeting franchise. It wasn’t until 1995, that the Rams were able to relocate to St. Louis, Missouri where they would play out the next 20 years (winning Super Bowl XXXIV in 1999).

Other teams that initially pursued relocation from their respective cities following the 2015 Regular Season were the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. Oakland played in Los Angeles from 1982-1994, where they won Super Bowls XI (1976) and XV (1980) before relocating to their current home. They withdrew their request on January 12, 2016. The San Diego Chargers called Los Angeles home when the franchise first started out, residing in the City of Angels solely in their inaugural season, 1960 but winning the division that year.

With the Rams approved to move back to LA, they will play out their next few seasons from 2016-2019 most likely in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before the new facility, proposed by owner Stan Kroenke, is completed in Inglewood, CA in 2019. The Chargers have until January 16, 2017 to decide if they will join the Rams in moving to Los Angeles, though all indications seem to point to the move being a certainty. Incentive to both the Raiders and Chargers to stay in their current cities will include $100 million to go towards stadium renovation costs, as per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

With what is surely both shocking, yet expected news, it will be interesting to further gauge the response by fans and cities of NFL teams, mainly those that have struggled in past seasons, to the news of the Rams, and possibly the Chargers playing in LA once again. But for now, let us all take in this news as more information unfolds while remaining optimistic that the uniforms of old will return along with the team in 2016.

Chip Kelly “Let go” by Philadelphia

It’s the beginning of an era! One without Chip Kelly at the helm of the Philadelphia Eagles. The head coach and GM (just don’t tell Chip) was fired Tuesday, December 29th after the Eagles fell to 6-9 on the season with a loss against the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins. This was only Chip’s third year as the head coach of the Birds, coming over from Oregon in 2013 following the departure of long-time coach, Andy Reid.

Right from the start of the season, rumors were already swirling that Chip Kelly had lost his team and allegedly was, as former Eagles CB Brandon Boykin put it to CSN Philly’s Derrick Gunn, “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture”. What does this mean? Was Chip Kelly a racist? Did he have an issue with those who were verbal in the locker room? Maybe he just didn’t like how they fit into his scheme. While the third reason seems to be the one that many just settled on, I find that simply put, Chip Kelly has an alpha-male complex, or in more historic terms, a Napoleon complex (just look around, he isn’t exactly the tallest guy around).

Chip was able to turn the organization around in his first year going 10-6 and winning the NFC East, but the following year, despite having the same record, the Eagles missed out on the playoffs. He only made it 15 games this season before getting the boot after a 6-9 season, finishing with an overall record of 26-21 (.553). The most telling part of this entire saga was that despite literally EVERYONE knowing that Chip was both Head Coach and GM, with former GM Howie Roseman now being the “Executive Vice-President of Football Operations” for the organization, Chip refused to take the blame for it all. He pointed fingers, underscored his responsibility for, yes, trading or releasing the best offensive players on the team (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, even Nick Foles), he just would not accept that it was his fault. Couple all of this with the fact that he was very contentious with the media (but let’s face it, which coach isn’t? i.e. Jim Mora and “Playoffs?!”), and Chip Kelly had pretty much worn out his welcome in Philadelphia.

Now let me jump to the defense of both my fellow Philadelphians and Mr. Kelly as well. We are a restless bunch. The 2015-16 season is Super Bowl 50! The Eagles haven’t won a Championship since 1960, let alone a Super Bowl. Chip was the “savior”, and if I’m gonna be honest here, he did revolutionize the pace of the game and showed the rest of the league what an up-tempo offense was. His pace was so quick that the NFL actually started having the referees stand in the way of the lines to slow down Kelly’s offense and actually mandated that the refs run a certain time on a 40-yd dash, but don’t quote me on that! I think I’m right, and it sounds cool! So here we are..the end of Chip Kelly is upon us.

Notes:

-Interim Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, Pat Shurmur led the Eagles to a 35-30 win over the New York Giants to close out the season 7-9.

-Long-time Giants Head Coach, Tom Coughlin will resign. He led the G-Men to 2 Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots

-The Eagles played 4 quarters of football for the first time this year

-Walter Thurmond III notched his 4th interception of the season, taking it back for a pick-six; he led the team in INTs

-With Coughlin resigning, the streak of 12 years ends between Eli Manning and Coughlin being together on the team (only Brady and Belichick have a longer tenure)