Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is Tim Tebow the best NFL QB?

Is Tim Tebow the best quarterback in the NFL? That seems to be the question that a lot of national talking heads and beat writers are debating these days. I have been watching football for at least 45 years, most of them I can remember. So that makes me as much of an expert as anyone else, outside of those who have played the position at the NFL level. After listening to some of those guys talk, I think I may be more qualified to speak on the subject because I don’t have a personal agenda like Cordele Stewart does! So let me weigh in on the Tebow debate.

I have been watching SEC football in general and Gator football in particular from the field level since 1987 and what I am about to say might surprise and anger some Gator fans. Tim Tebow is not the best quarterback to ever play at Florida Field! Now before you start slinging rocks my way, let me finish. The best qb I ever saw play in person at Florida Field was not even a Gator. The best by far in my opinion to ever throw the ball within the confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt. He had an amazing arm and possessed great poise when he almost led the Commodores to an upset of Florida at home. His passes moved through the air in a way that was almost magical. He fit the ball into spaces that I was sure a nerf ball couldn’t have gone and if any other qb had tried to complete would have been easy interceptions. Heck, Tim may not even be the second or third best qb to ever play at Florida, if all you are looking for is the ability to throw the football in an aesthetically pleasing way. You could take your pick of Chris Leak, Shane Matthews, Rex Grossman or even Kerwin Bell if that is what you are basing your choice upon.

So clearly, I don’t think Tim Tebow is the best quarterback in the NFL based upon arm strength or ability to read the defense either. He does tend to hold the ball a little too long, a trait we all saw at Florida as well. I think that was coached into him to keep him from throwing silly interceptions. We saw the same thing with Chris Leak and with John Brantley until this year! That was a coaching philosophy of Meyer and his staff that Tim has taken to heart. That is also why he only has one interception thrown this year. And that is one reason why the Denver defense is so suddenly improved! He does tend to drop the ball a little too far when he throws it and it takes a little longer for him to release it than some other qbs in the league. So you can’t really argue the mechanical flaws that the national guys are pointing out.

However, if you ask me who the greatest football player I ever saw play at UF, Tim would have to be in the top three. The only reason he wouldn’t be number one is that I saw a guy named Smith run the ball here without much of any help on offense for three years. Emmitt had to carry more of the load, because he didn’t have a potent passing game to help him but he did have a good offensive line. And in spite of three different coaches, he put up some pretty impressive numbers. Tim had a lot more talent around him during his Gator career. Just look at the receivers and linemen who played on those teams who are playing in the NFL along with Tebow and you will know they had some great teams at UF. The third could be debated between some great defensive players and a few visiting team stars like Warrick Dunn, Shaun Alexander, Cadillac Williams, and Mark Ingram, oh and those Manning brothers!

Putting aside my respect for his character and faith, the thing that sets Tim Tebow apart from other players who have played at UF and are now in the NFL for me is his intense desire to win. If I had to choose one person to hold the other end of a rope with me dangling over a den full of hungry lions and covered in the scent of a wounded antelope, I would want Tim Tebow. I know that I could count on him to never quit and to give everything he had until his last breath to get me up and out of that pit. That was what made him so valuable at UF and what is making him so marketable in the NFL. He just won’t quit. He keeps his word, he keeps his composure, and he keeps making the plays necessary to win. I don’t think John Fox really knows what he has or he would not have punted with a fourth and a half-foot to go in overtime last week. I would have felt very comfortable putting my career in Tim’s hands by calling a QB sneak if I had been Coach Fox.

I have seen Tim do incredible things while at UF. Some of the most incredible were not even on the field. I have seen him take the time to have pictures made with hundreds of kids and girls of all ages after speaking in a church until all of them were finished. I have watched him hold a door on campus while talking with me for 15 minutes and taking the time to greet everyone who came through it. He’s not playing like a believer, he is a believer and that is what makes him special.

For all those who are questioning his ability to be an NFL quarterback, I would ask you to give me answer to this question. What has changed in Denver since the beginning of the season? The four letter experts point to the better play of the defense and the running game. Ok, but what has changed there? What has made them better? Did they change personnel or the scheme? The only thing that has really changed in Denver is that Tim Tebow is now the starting quarterback. He has made the running game better and he has made the defense better because they believe he will not quit and they don’t want to quit either. Tim is the best motivator I have ever known as an athlete. He just makes you want to play harder, longer, quicker, and do more than you did before he was around you. He makes coaches look better, smarter, and helps put money in their pockets if they put him on the field. He makes young men want to live better, love God, even keep their virginity, and do the right things just because they want to be like him. If you ever spend time with him, you will know that he is the real deal, plain and simple.

Many years ago, I gave a challenge to a guy who was a first round draft pick in the NFL. I challenged him to be a Christian who happened to play football instead of being a football player who happened to be a Christian. The difference is noticeable! Just look at Tim Tebow and you will see the best example of that that I have ever seen! Anywhere! Any time!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy 22nd Birthday to my daughter Jaclyn

Twenty-two years ago this morning I was awakened by my wife saying “I think we need to go to the hospital now”. As my mind began to focus, I jumped out of bed and said “How far apart are they?” To which she replied, “Oh about two minutes!” Or at least that is what I thought she said.
We quickly got dressed, called our friend Sue to come over and get Kevin ready when he woke up and when she got there, we left for the hospital. Driving down 13th street with the flashers on, isn’t that what you always do in the movies when you have a woman giving birth, we were stopped by a very polite policeman. His reply, “Turn off your emergency flashers and drive the speed limit, have a great day!”

A few hours later, we welcomed our baby girl into our lives. It has been said the first baby changes your life but the second one puts it on hold. That was certainly true for us. Now it was not easy to pack two kids up and just go everywhere. As a college pastor, there was always something going on that I needed to be at. And for a few years, Lica was not able to join me on those fun trips and mission ventures. However, those were also some of the best years. Christmas, Halloween, and even Easter are not as fun after your kids grow up, but they are sure a lot less stressful. Putting together bikes and swings in the middle of the night holds a dear spot in many a dad’s heart. Not to mention the blood that went into making sure they were just right for that big day, and I mean that literally! Those were great days indeed.
We have watched our children grow up and struggle like everyone through their adolescent years. I am thankful for great friends of ours and our children who have helped them navigate their way through those potentially troubled waters and helped us stay relatively sane in the process. The best thing was our children chose to keep Godly friends near them both at church and away from it as their “best friends.” They had some great youth ministers who also helped them mature in their thinking and in their faith over those years for which I will be eternally grateful.

While they have been in college at UF, I have had the joy to be both their dad and their college minister. They have been active in our BCM and served in leadership roles during their undergraduate years here. I have been blessed that they have chosen to be a part of something that has been a part of our family’s lives for these last 25 years, working with college students either through the church or the BCM. This really validates what I do and what I have sought to teach over these years.

Now, my daughter is in her final year of undergraduate school and this is the last birthday we will celebrate with one of our own as a college student. It is hard to believe that 22 years has passed since that momentous Thursday morning wake-up announcement. I am very proud of both of my children. They are both smart, funny, and relatively well adjusted young adults. I have been blessed with a great partner in this endeavor. Much of who they are is a direct result of who their mother is. She is a great woman of faith and love.

Happy birthday, Jaclyn. You more beautiful to me today than ever and you continue to make me one proud daddy with every passing day!

Friday, October 7, 2011

So the Yankees are out of the Post Season

So the Yankees are out of the post season! And the Red Sox just missed getting into the playoffs. So now people are worried about the ratings for baseball on TV. They probably should be, but for those of us who love baseball, this is a good thing.

In the American league you have the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers playing for a chance to be in the World Series. While the average fan couldn’t name four players combined on these two squads, the fact that two teams who don’t make it all the time are playing for the chance to go to the Series is good news for all of those fans whose teams don’t spend gazillion dollars each year to buy the best talent available in free agency. While the Rangers are back in the league finals again this year, only the most astute baseball gurus expected this Championship matchup. Really, who would have picked the Rangers and the Tigers back in March?
Those fans of the two teams might have. That’s what Spring Training dreams are made for. Every club and every fan of every club has dreams of being where the Rangers and Tigers are today. Sure if you are a Yankee fan or a Red Sox fan, you don’t dream about it, you anticipate and expect it. But everyone else is wishing upon a star that this will be their year. I have nothing against the Yankees or Red Sox. They are only doing what the rules of the league say they can do, so if you don’t like it, raise the funds to out-spend them. But I have to admit, that I love the fact that they won’t be there again this year.

It just goes to show you that just because you pay for the best players out there, does not guarantee you the best team performance. I think there is something to guys that have not been there and their mutual encouragement to win and get to the World Series or win it for their first time. It was almost like the Yankee veterans expected to win just because they were the Yankees.
With two more game 5’s tonight in the National League, the playoffs are picking right up where the season ended. This run might add a few more fans to the MLB coffers. If both of the games tonight can be as close and tense as the one last night was, the ratings may be okay as well. If the Brewers and Cardinals win tonight, the TV executives may hate it, but true baseball fans will cheer regardless of which team you root for, well with the exception of Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Phillies, and Diamondback fans!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Pressure of a Playoff Push

Upon the
Red Sox and Braves


Last night was one of the best baseball nights I can ever remember. There were four games that mattered, two in each league. On the line was who would be the last team to make the playoffs from each league. Boston and Tampa battling for the American League Wildcard spot and Atlanta and St. Louis doing the same for the National League.

Both races had travelled a similar path. The Braves had an 8.5 game lead over the Cardinals in early September, the Red Sox led by 9 games over the Rays. The playoff schedule looked like a lock. Nothing to do but “play out the string” in baseball lingo. Time to call up the players from AAA and give the big boys a few days rest.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a champagne celebration, losses began to mount for the front runners and the team in the mirror began to be closer than they looked! Then the last night hits and we have four teams tied for the two spots with what amounted to a one game playoff in each league. Now if all four had won there would have been a real one game playoff today, but that didn’t happen.
The Sox endured a rain delay in Baltimore and led 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. They sent their closer Jonathan Papelbon out to finish the deal. Then he gave up a two out double followed by another double followed by a sinking line drive single and the game is over and so is the Red Sox’s season. Because in Tampa the hated enemy of the Sox, the Yankees had built a 7-0 lead over the Rays heading into the bottom of the 8th. With Joe Giradi, the skipper of the Yankees saying he was giving his closer and set up men the night off, the Yanks relied on some arms deeper in the bullpen and it ended up hurting the Sox. The Rays rallied with 6 runs in the 8th helped by two hit by pitches and a three run blast by Evan Longoria. Then the unthinkable happened as Dan Johnson hit a pinch hit home run with the count 2-2 and two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie it up. The Rays won the game on another Longoria homer just moments after the Red Sox game had gone final and the celebration began in St. Petersburg!

The Cardinals took an early 5 run lead in the first against the Astros and never looked back cruising to an easy victory. While they watched in their club house, Atlanta had a one run lead going into the ninth inning and called on their closer to finish the game like the Red Sox. And like the Sox he imploded with walks instead of hits and a sacrifice fly tied the game. Chipper Jones had a chance to secure his place in Braves lore in the bottom of the inning but his two-out line drive in the left center field gap was snagged and the game continued. Then in the 13th it happened, with two outs Hunter Pence was jammed and hit a broken bat blooper between the first and second basemen and with a runner on third the Phillies scored the go ahead run. The Braves would not score in their half of the inning and their season would end as well.

Both teams who had the lead are out of the playoffs and both teams who were counted out are in. The difference last night might be seen in a matter of inches. If Chipper’s ball is a foot further toward left field the Braves win and if the ball in the Red Sox game was a foot higher they might have won. But the truth is there are so many moments that could have made things different. Any two games in April, May, June, July, or August that were losses if the team had won those games would have made last night irrelevant. Both teams felt the enormous pressure of the lead dwindling as they came down the stretch. And while it is true that all games count the same, they don’t all feel the same. The Red Sox and the Braves choked, no matter what they will say. Sure the Cardinals and Rays played well down the stretch but they didn’t have anything to lose. The front runners did and the lost a lot. The chance to be in Post-season play, probably some bonus money for a lot of the players and coaches, some fans who will jump off the band wagon, but most of all they will lose some sleep wondering about what might have been.

Pressure comes to all of us. How we handle it often defines our legacy. That’s why Jesus says to come to him when we are tired and weary. His grace will allow us to stand under the pressures of life.

Last night was the best night in baseball in 50 years! Just remember Red Sox Fans and Braves Fans that the sun still came up this morning. It is just a game, albeit one that passionate fans love with their entire being. The real question for today is can the playoff’s touch the drama of last night? If it does, baseball will have a whole new generation of fans.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another athlete arrest, why a yawn is not the right response!

The front page of the student paper reported the arrest of another member of the university of Florida football team. Linebacker Dee Finley was arrested for driving his scooter on campus around a barricade without a license and resisting arrest with violence, the latter charge has been reduced to resisting without violence because he attempted to ride off from the officer. If you are a Gator fan you might be tempted to yawn at this report. After all this is the 45 arrest since Ron Zook left six years ago. And surely this is one that doesn't hurt anyone so really officer, you are going to arrest a player for trying to get to practice at the stadium? You see there is no way to get to the player parking area and the locker rooms without going around one of those silly little gates. Hundreds of scooters and a few dozen cars do it every day. I am even guilty of driving around those barricades!

But I don't think a yawn or a wink is the correct response to this issue. If you are not a Gator fan, you want to have the kid kicked out of school in a slightly covert attempt at weakening the Gator team so that your team might have a better shot at a win. The only problem is that every program has its share of arrest stories and remember that not everyone arrested is guilty of a crime. We in Gator nation tend to forget that when it is a Seminole or a Hurricane or a Vol who gets arrested but we are quick to defend our own Gators who break the law. True if you break the law you deserve to be punished, but who would want their son or daughter punished for a traffic violation by a campus cop? The problem is that campus cops are duly sworn officers of the state and carry the same arrest responsibilities as other law officers. They just deal with a slightly less responsible segment of the population.

There is a problem with athletes acting like stupid little entitled brats for sure. But is not every athlete, only a small percentage of the total number of athletes on our campus. And most of those athletes don't really intend to behave that way, they just do! The vast majority of athletes are just like the vast majority of non-athlete students who go about their life trying to get through college without doing something so stupid that they end up as the butt end of a joke on a national radio or tv show. The problem is we tend to focus the spotlight on the few that do get in trouble to the exclusion of the majority that don't.

Our town runs a daily mug shot section in the online paper. I don't really know why but I look at it almost every day. Guess what I see? Almost every day there is someone who is college aged on it. Every day there are African-American males on it. Every day there are White males on it. Every day there are females on it from various ethnic groups. Every day there are old and young adults on it. The point is every day somebody is doing something in Gainesville that gets them arrested. If Dee Finley was a third year history students his picture would have been in the mug shots but not on the front page and not the subject of a national talk show, see Jim Rome! I know he is not just another student, he's a "Gator Athlete" and therefore not subject to the same rules as others. But wait a minute, wasn't another Gator Athlete just suspended for two games from the NCAA because people helped him survive when he was in high school? I know that we did fund raisers for my son's band when he was in high school that helped a lot of students who couldn't have paid for those trips by themselves. Did that make them ineligible to play in the band in college for two games. Heck no!

We want to make sure that athletes don't get preferential treatment but we don't give them equal treatment either. I can take any other student out for lunch and pay for it if I want to but I can't if they are an athlete. Any other student can make a mistake, pay for it, and move on without it being headline news, but not if they are a student athlete. I know not every student gets to be on national TV and play in front of 90 k fans and I get that they have additional responsibilities as well as additional privileges.

All I am asking for is that we respond to these types of stories the same way we would if Dee Finley were our son. We would be concerned for him and hope he learns from his mistakes. We would allow him to move on with his life after the legal procedures have been concluded. We wouldn't want him kicked out of class or school because of traffic issues. And we certainly would offer to drive him wherever he needed to go until he got his license back. Oh wait, we can't do that because he is an athlete according to the NCAA! Yeah, that's where fair ceases to be fair!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is a memorable quote from A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens but it aptly describes the first couple of weeks of the fall semester for those of us who serve as Baptist Collegiate Ministries directors around the country. Late August and early September are without a doubt the busiest weeks of the year for those of us who seek to reach and teach college students. It is the worst of times because it means long days and long nights and for most of us working 14 to 28 days straight without a day free of some activity related to the ministry of reaching college students on our state campuses. It also means an extended period of brief visits with our families, something you have to get used to if you are going to work with this age group for long. You keep reminding yourself that it doesn’t last forever, but about day 11 you begin to wonder if it just might. The reason you put in so many hours in this short span is that students set their schedules during the first 21 days of the fall semester. And whatever patterns of meetings, groups, churches, and friends that are established during this three week grind usually holds up for the entire year and for many during their entire collegiate career.
It is the best of times because of the awesome potential it holds. As a BCM director you never know what the future will hold for the next Freshman that wanders in your building at the invitation of a friend or pastor back home or the next transfer student that you meet during one of the welcome week events on campus. A few will decide to attend another campus ministry, one or two might drop out completely, and some will get more involved in their local church, but almost all of the students who drop into one of the BCM events during the first few weeks of school usually stay in touch with their faith during their college days. That is one of the biggest reasons why having a Baptist presence on our major state university campuses is so critical. The BCM can become a safe outpost on the frontier of ministry that is our University campuses. It is the place where you meet like-minded people who share your same values and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. The friends that you meet at the BCM those first few weeks are the ones who end up being roommates for years two and beyond, stay up late with you on the weekends, know who you fall in love with before anyone else, and usually end up in your marriage ceremony as bridesmaids and groomsmen!
As a director it is exciting to know that God has a plan for those students that they themselves might not even know about yet. Some of them will develop a heart for missions that just might take them around the world that will start on a spring break trip before they finish their freshman year. Some of them will go on to establish Christian business principles and will lead Fortune 500 companies in ways that will change the world. Some will enter the realm of politics and become elected officials who will direct our cities, counties, state, and maybe the nation. Some will become teachers who train up our next generation of students and learn to share their faith in appropriate ways in the classrooms. Others will become scientists who discover new materials or new procedures that will greatly enhance our lives while teaching Sunday school in our local churches. Some will become Pastors and lead our churches in the near future! Some will find their mates and establish Godly homes. Our hope is that they will also leave with the knowledge that God has been and will continue to be working in their lives and wants them to use whatever they do in life for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom.
It is also exciting to know that some of the students who are arriving on the campuses this fall who don’t know Jesus as their personal Savior will have the chance to make that decision because our BCM students happen to sit beside them in class or in the dining hall or live beside them in the dorm or apartment building. It make take a little longer in most cases than it did 20 years ago but students are still coming to faith in Christ on the college campus each year. It is exciting to see students get plugged into local churches where they grow, serve, and learn throughout their college experience because of our partnership between the BCM and the local Baptist churches who are reaching out to students. I have the honor of training the next generation of Sunday School teachers, deacons, ushers, choir members, nursery workers, youth ministers and leaders, and missionaries every four to six years. That’s why it is exciting to be at work with God on the campuses.
It is the best of times because we get to represent Florida Baptists and demonstrate our commitment to reaching this generation for Christ and training the leadership for the next generation of Christian ministry on our campuses throughout the state of Florida. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our pastors and college ministers who are working to reach the students for Christ and get them involved in the ministry of the local church. We serve as your missionaries to the Universities and State Colleges in our areas and because you give we get to cooperate with God in the changing of lives every year. This is my 16th year of working for you on the campuses of University of South Florida and now at the University of Florida and I still get pumped up about this crazy three week period that starts the fall semester. I have the best ministry position in the world thanks to you my Florida Baptist Convention family! Join us in praying for a year filled with new believers, growing disciples, and impacting the world for Jesus Christ!

Monday, June 27, 2011

NCAA Response

I sent my previous post to several folks at the NCAA as an email. In an effort to be fair, here is the response from Sharon Cessna Director of Championships.

Mr. Gilley:

Thank you for your email and for taking the time to express your concerns.

I am responding on behalf of President Emmert (and myself) as he asked that I respond to your email as the championship manager for Division I Softball.

Softball officiating along with all officiating is an important component to NCAA postseason competition and a priority for the membership. The NCAA Softball Umpire Program Staff works hard to protect the integrity of the Championship and ensure the most highly trained umpires are selected for the NCAA postseason. In addition, the staff collaborates with conference coordinators/assigners to recommend umpires they believe meet the high standards expected for NCAA postseason competition.

Umpires are not selected or assigned based on their geographic region or conference affiliation; however, knowing umpires may work specific conferences during the regular season, every effort is made to not place an umpire in a situation where that could be a factor.

The NCAA and in particular the softball umpire program staff will continue to develop programs to assist officials in their training, education and will work with the conferences to maintain a consistent application and implementation of the rules.

Thank you for your support of NCAA softball and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Sharon Cessna
Director of Championships

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Florida Fans Are Upset With NCAA Softball Officials

I have waited a few days to let my thoughts get focused and my emotions settle down before composing this note to the NCAA and those that are in charge of the Women’s College World Series. And before you Pac-10 fans start throwing rocks let me start by congratulating the Arizona State Sun Devils for winning the series. They made all the plays and hit every pitch that stayed over the plate too long and were the better team in the championship series. My beef is not with them or even with the Pac-10. I am just going to state the facts from my seat, call them the way I see them, the same thing that was told to us about the expectations of the umpires at the WCWS.

This is my third time to go to Oklahoma City having missed last year’s Gators run so all I have to go by is what I saw on TV that year. The emphasis on the illegal pitches seemed to focus on two teams, one just happened to be us. Our pitcher was told to basically shut up because “she had been dirty all year” when she asked what she was doing. That’s a professional answer from an umpire don’t you think? While UCLA pounded us, you can’t help but wonder if that kind of scrutiny affects the concentration of your pitcher. It did with the other team as well as they were sent to the losers’ bracket in the first game too.

Two years ago, Florida faced Washington in the final series. In the opening game, the Washington pitcher was consistently given three to six inches off the corners and a rather liberal strike zone up and down. She is an excellent pitcher and made full use of that to keep our hitters in check. On the other side, Stacey Nelson, an All-American herself did not have those same pitches called for strikes. Forced to throw more over the plate or walk batters, she gave up more runs in that series than she did the entire tournament to make it to the Championship. Florida lost the next night three to two with a different umpire behind the plate and watched as Washington held up the trophy.

This year, we faced the #1 seed ASU on Friday and had an umpire behind the plate that didn’t call one drop ball a strike and issued eight walks to ASU batters from Hannah Rogers. That marked a career high for the freshman pitcher. She had two more batters struck out in the decisive seventh inning that were not called by Chris Drumm which directly led to the game winning hit with the bases loaded. She missed a lot of calls but even the fans without a team playing were telling Gator fans how she was biased since we got 4 bad calls to every 1 called against ASU. This is the same umpire who had already missed a foul ball call, a missed call on a tag at third, two illegal pitches and a leaving early call against the Gators in previous games on the bases.

Florida battles back through the losers’ bracket to face ASU again in the championship series on Monday night. Imagine the shock to our team and our fans when we discover that Chris Drumm is behind the plate again. She draws the home plate gig for the biggest game of the year despite both coaches giving negative reviews of her performance on Friday night and Missouri fans reportedly chasing her down as she left the field because they felt cheated in Saturday’s 13 inning marathon game against Baylor. I knew that we had no chance of beating ASU in that game before it ever began and told that to an usher at the stadium. We had to play a great game to beat ASU and with a biased umpire running the game, we didn’t have enough to overcome both her bad calls and a great ASU team. The blown call in the first inning proved early that my fears would come to pass. When you are forced by the umpire to throw pitches up and over the plate against a talented hitting team like ASU, you are going to get hurt and we did. Batters at this level are not going to miss many down the middle and they didn’t. Would we have won without her behind the plate? We will never know, but I do think the outcome would have been different.

It seems that every time a team from the east comes to the WCWS and plays a Pac-10 team there is a bias that you have to overcome. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but after three trips and a lot of money spent, I have seen it and believe it to be true. It’s not that the Pac-10 teams need help. They are always some of the best in the country. It’s just that this group of Gator Seniors went 16-8 against the Pac-10 in their careers. This year they were 5-1 coming into the WCWS against the Pac-10 including beating UCLA in the regional and Oregon in the Super Regionals. They also beat ASU in the Supers last year and Cal the two previous years to reach the WCWS. So on a neutral field or home field, they have done well. But in the championship series they are 0-4. So outside of OKC they have had a pretty good run against the strongest conference in NCAA Softball. They haven’t played the doormats of the conference either to pad those stats.

The problem I have with the NCAA is that the two times we have played for the championship we have had an umpire behind the plate that is at best incompetent and at worst outright biased. This year it was even worse than two years ago. From what the NCAA has said publicly and to us fans who were there, Chris Drumm is one of the best six umpires in the land. That leads me to only one conclusion if they are right; her west coast bias came out a little more than she wanted. If she was incompetent, then shame on the NCAA and those responsible for the tournament for putting her in the most prominent spotlight to show off that incompetence.

In the end, ASU may have beaten Florida with robots calling the strikes and balls, but the fact that those who were there and those who watched on ESPN had more to say about the way the game was umpired than the way it was played by two of the best teams in the country is what needs to be addressed. There was no way that she should have been allowed back on the field to call any part of that series after what happened Friday night and the reviews. Those who watched knew it, those who played knew it, those who coached knew it, and those who paid to get into the stadium certainly knew it. Why didn’t the officials of the NCAA know it? And why didn't they do anything to stop it from happening again?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gaineville Regional Softball Action

It was a great weekend of softball at Katie Seashole Pressley Stadium on the University of Florida’s campus. Perfect weather if you were a Gator, very hot and humid if you had to make the trip from UCLA. The weather might have played a bigger part than expected when you factor in the two double headers UCLA had to play to bring the Gainesville Regional to the “If Needed” game on Sunday. Officially it was 92F at game time for game one but being in the stands, it sure felt warmer than that.
Senior, Donna Kerr pitched masterfully for the Bruins despite the heat. We began to notice her cramping a little as early as the third inning. She made it through the sixth inning only because Gator runner Kelsey Bruder was called for leaving early on a steal attempt in the top of the fifth with two outs. Kerr looked like she was about to pass out in the circle prior to the pitch. Much to our surprise her coach ran her back out for the sixth where the Gators would take the lead. A lead they could not hold as UCLA came back to win the game in the bottom of the 7th forcing the “if needed” game. She was obviously having trouble dealing with the heat and the effort exerted by her over the weekend.
That’s what made it even more amazing that she tried to go or her coach let her go out for the start of game two of the day. By the start of game two the temp had risen to 95 and the sun continued to beat down. Kerr gave it her best shot but only lasted one-third of an inning and gave up four runs before being replaced. Her replacements didn’t fare much better and Florida scored 9 runs and essentially won the ball game in their first at bat. It is easy to understand why you would want your Senior pitcher to start in that game, but what is hard to understand is how you could let her go back out there when less than a hour earlier she was barely able to stand in the circle from the heat and dehydration issues.
UCLA’s coach Kelly Inouye-Perez is obviously a great coach. She’s at one of, if not, the most prestigious programs for softball. But her decisions on the day might have been clouded somewhat by feeling disrespected by the NCAA for sending her and the mighty Bruins across country to play at UF. Not only did she send a player out that shouldn’t have been in the game for her own safety, she complained about her players being hit intentionally by UF pitcher Hannah Rogers. quoted her as saying: "Because of the history of this program, they continue to hit our best players in those situations," Inouye-Perez said. "It's just a fact. Call it what you want. Call it lucky. Call it a fluke. It just continues to happen. And we're down right now. We're definitely beat up. We're beat up as a team. For it to continue to happen, and consistently happen, to me there's more control. I think Hannah Rogers is a great pitcher. I think she's a phenomenal pitcher. And for her to lose control consistently against my best hitters is inexcusable. If she was a wild all over the place pitcher I might say something different. But she’s not.”
In a classic case of “Pot meet Kettle” let’s take a look at the stats from the three games between UCLA and UF over the weekend. In Saturday’s game both teams hit one opposing batter. Kerr hit UF leadoff hitter Michelle Moultrie in the first inning. Rogers hit UCLA’s B.B. Bates in the sixth inning in a two run game to bring the tying run to the plate. Sure Bates had hit a home run in the first, but you don’t wait two at bats and then hit her when all she can do is cut the lead to one with another home run. The Gators win that game 4-2 and put the Bruins in the losers’ bracket.
In the first game on Sunday, UF hit two batters and UCLA hit one. In the bottom of the fifth inning in a scoreless game, UF pitcher Stephanie Brombacher hit the lead off batter, Grace Murray. Murray came into Saturday’s game to replace UCLA’s injured catcher. She’s not an everyday player or even a pinch hitter, but a replacement runner for most of her four year career. After a conversation with her head coach she moves up toward the front of the box and as close to the plate as possible and leans over the plate and is hit by the first pitch. Both Brombacher and UF catcher Tiffany DeFelice both argue that she was over the plate but the umpire awards her first base anyway. Murray eventually scores the go ahead run on a sacrifice fly. In the sixth inning UF’s shortstop, Cheyenne Coyle, who chose UF over UCLA in a close recruiting duel was hit with a runner on at first. Coyle would eventually score the go ahead run for UF on a fielding error by the third baseman for UCLA. In the bottom of the 6th, Rogers hit the number 7 hitter in the UCLA lineup, Amy Crawford with one out and no one on to bring the tying run to the plate. Rogers was able to strike out the next two batters but UCLA won the game in the bottom of the 7th inning.
In the final game, coach Inouye-Perez complained to the umpires and eventually both teams were in fact warned, UF hit three UCLA batters. However, UCLA hit three Gators batters as well, one being SEC Player of the Year, Kelsey Bruder a native of California who was hit twice almost in the same spot. After a leadoff double by UCLA’s DiSalvatore, Rogers struck out Schroeder. She then hit 1B Harrison who has been hit 9 times this season and said after the game that she didn’t think Rogers intentionally hit her. If anyone was going to be hit it would have been her after her tossing the helmet celebration after scoring the winning run in game one of the day. But Harrison flipped the bat toward the UCLA dugout and glared at Rogers as she made her way to first. UCLA didn’t score in the inning. With two on in Florida’s half of the first, Kerr hit Bruder for the first time to load the bases. She would score in the inning. After DeFelice hit a home run to make it 6 to 0, Florida’s DH, Kelsey Horton was hit by UCLA’s Aleah Macon. UF replaced her with pinch runner Ensley Gammel who scored as well and at the end of the inning UF led 9-0. In the third inning, DiSalvatore was hit to lead off the inning. UCLA loaded the bases after that but didn’t score after the Gators turned a 1-2-3 double play and Rogers struck out Fox. In the bottom of the third, Bruder was hit again this time by Destiny Rodino after two outs with a runner at first. Bruder held up two fingers as she made her way down to first. Both teams were given a warning at this point and no more batters were hit.
So over the weekend, UF hit 6 and UCLA hit 5. Oh and there was another time in game two where Moultrie was either hit on the helmet or the ball hit the bat that the umpire totally missed and just called a ball that would have evened the bean ball stats. There was no way Florida was intentionally trying to hit the Bruin batters given the situations listed. I don’t think the Bruins meant to hit the Gator batters either, with the possible exceptions of Horton after the home run and Bruder’s last time up. But even if that were the case, it was just competition. What makes it something more are the comments of the UCLA coach basically, saying that this is something Coach Tim Walton and pitching coach Jennifer Rocha try to do against UCLA. She also made the comment loud enough for fans to hear that she was just trying to protect the safety of the athletes while in the third base coaching box just in front of the Gator dugout.
If you want to keep your players safe coach, don’t tell them to lean over the plate to get on base. Tell them not to crowd the plate and stand up straight and stay in the box. Tell them to move out of the way if the ball is going to hit them. You might want to even check with the trainer to see if you should send someone back out to pitch who was on the boarder of heat exhaustion and if the trainer said she was good to go, get another trainer. But don’t complain about Florida’s pitching when your staff was just as wild or just as intentional.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rivalries and Respect

Rivalries and Respect. Do those two words belong together in the minds of most fans or players? At first blush, I have to admit that I didn’t see it either. You hate your rivals don’t you? You can’t stand anything about them. You don’t like their colors, their field, their stadium, their players, their managers and coaches, their fans make you sick, heck, and you even hate the food and drinks at their place, right? That is what makes for a great rivalry, a seething dislike for all things related to your opponent.

I am not a fan of either team but in Major League Baseball no rivalry can equal the Red Sox - Yankees feud. The Yankees - Red Sox rivalry extends way beyond my lifetime. I get that people born in either New York or Boston get amped about playing those other guys. What strikes me as significant about this rivalry is that people who have never even set foot in either city will take a side in the battle of bragging rights. I see people all the time in Florida wearing either a Sox or Yankee hat and upon inquiry about why they love their teams; often I am surprised to find out that they have no real reason. They just sort of chose one day and the rest as they say is history. Sometimes their choice goes back to a spring training game they attended with their dad or some other memory but many have never made it a game in Fenway or Yankee Stadium, new or old. But if you ask them if they like the other team, you always get the same answer with varying shades of colorful expletives, NO! While other teams have divisional foes, there doesn’t seem to be the same hatred level in the rivalry with the possible exception of the Giants – Dodgers but since I live on the east cost that rarely makes the sports shows. This year that is not the case due to the violent attack that seems to be motivated by the rivalry. I say seems to be because I don’t know the details of the case except what has been broadcast by the sports shows. If you know of any other rivalries in MLB that you think are worthy of mention, please let me know in the comments.

College baseball and softball have more traditional rivalries and some that are situational. Florida and Florida State, Alabama and Auburn, UCLA and USC, Arizona and Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas, Texas and Texas A&M, and Kentucky and Louisville are always going to be rivals no matter what the sport or competition. You could list a dozen more easily and it wouldn’t take you long to come up with a much longer list of classic rivalries among collegiate athletics. But there are also situational rivalries that develop because two schools have great programs within a sport that may not be traditional rivalries. Florida plays Lacrosse now and will develop rivalries with schools from conferences outside the SEC because of who they play. Alabama comes to Gainesville today to play Florida in softball and this has developed into a huge rivalry because both programs are fighting for the same recruits, a right to go to the Women’s College World Series, and win the SEC on a yearly basis of late. Add to that the fact that Alabama and Florida have met for the a few SEC football titles and you see why fans are starting to pay attention to a new rivalry.

But consider this, a rivalry is only a rivalry so long as both teams are relatively good in the sport you are playing. You don’t usually consider it a rivalry game if you have beaten that opponent the last 20 times you have played them. The rivalry loses its luster somewhat if the won-loss record is heavily skewed in one direction. The team that has lost the last 15 in a row may want to win badly, but does the winning team and their fans really worry about beating a team you have owned for that long? That is the point where respect for your rivals comes into play. You know that you have to bring your “A Game” when you play your rival not only because you want to win but because you know if you don’t they will beat you because they are as good as you are. Nobody really cares about a rivalry with a constant cellar dweller in any league. We want our rivals to be good at some level because that makes us feel better when we beat them and lessens the pain should they beat us.

As fans we like to rag the other team and their fans. We mock their cheers, we make fun of their mascot, and we might even have great nicknames for their team, but at some level we realize that the reason we don’t like them is that they have a good team and we can’t stand to see them beat us. Fans may not dish out much respect on the surface for opposing players but let one of the Yankees or Red Sox trade jerseys and see how much love we give them then! But players on the other hand often have a deep appreciation for the talent of their rivals. I have witnessed this many times over the years with Gators and Noles after football games and I have seen this after many Gator softball games with the Crimson Tide. All of us who are fans would do well to learn from the players and remember to appreciate the talent on both sides of a rivalry. Perhaps then the rivalries will not spill over to stupid behavior like killing trees or punching people in the back of the head. Let’s keep the rivalries in perspective people and treat them with respect!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Triumph and Tragedy in Titletown

This past weekend was the epitome of the line "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" for those living in Gainesville. The events of the weekend show the range of emotion one experiences from living in a college town and being involved in the lives of college students.

The best was obviously the success of Gator athletics over the weekend. The #5 ranked softball team traveled to Clearwater to open their season. They completely overpowered all their opponents en route to a 5-0 start outscoring their opponents 53-3. Florida ace Stephanie Brombacher tossed her second career perfect game against NC State and the new freshmen contributed both in the field and at the plate. The mens basketball team defeated Tennessee on a clutch layup by Ervin Walker and then a defensive stop as time expired in front of a great crowd in the O'Dome! The Mens golf team won their own tournament. The Womens tennis team defeated two top ten ranked teams on the road in NC and Duke. The Gator Gymnastics team crushes the Georgia team in Athens where the crowd in unusually rude and crude for the sport in front of a sold out crowd recording one of it's highest totals for the year. All around it was a great weekend to be a Gator sports fan.

The worst came with the news late on Saturday evening that two UF students had died in a caving accident in Georgia. Grant Louderbach and Michael Pirie were among a group of 10 Fellowship of Christian Athletes members who had traveled to the cave to explore for the weekend. Grant is the president of the UF chapter and Michael was a freshman member of the group. While the details are still coming to light, Grant went back to retrieve a bag and apparently fell down a waterfall becoming lodged somehow and then Michael went down the rope to help his friend. When they didn't hear anything from Michael the group went for help but by the time the cave rescue unit arrived an hour or so later, the two had died. Cause of death will be determined later but hypothermia is considered to be a factor.

The death of two members of the faith community at UF was marked last night by a memorial service attended by almost 400 students and friends of the two men. Grant was a member of the ROTC and Michael of the Florida Drum Line. Many members of both groups were present at the memorial service along with the members of the FCA group. I was there along with most of the members of the Evangelical Campus Minister's Association and several area pastors of churches attended by college students. The memorial was organized by students and many shared their memories of Grant and Michael. It was a sad time, but it was marked by the certain hope that Grant and Michael had finished their race and were at home with Jesus. There was a marked difference among the way the groups grieved. The Christian students prayed, hugged, cried, and even laughed together as they shared the memories and the hope they have of seeing their friends again. The friends that were a part of the ROTC or the FDL who didn't know Christ grieved as well only without that hope of eternal life. The gospel was shared in an appropriate way from those on the platform and from the prayers of those within the ROTC and the FDL who are Christians. Who knows what good God will bring about from the tragic loss of these two fine young Christian men, but at least the full impact of their lives on those in the two non-Christian groups cannot be denied after that service last night.

Michael and Grant were definitely ready to meet Jesus. Their friends offered positive testimony of their love for the Lord and their friends. There was no hoping that they were in heaven or that they were saved, there was certainty because they had left behind evidence in the way they treated others, the way they worshiped the Lord, and the way they shared their faith with their friends. Would the same be said of you and me if a memorial service was held for us tomorrow? Live your life for the Lord today so that your testimony will linger tomorrow! Be like Mike and Grant!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

We still need a playoff

I have spent most of the last two days watching college football bowl games. I love college football and I will watch most games even if I don't have a dog in the fight. I know a lot of people are like me and really want a playoff system of some type for the Division 1 football championship. I am like the Coke Zero commercial guy, isn't it time for a true champion to be crowned on the field!

The games this weekend are all meaningless in the larger scheme of college football. Oh yeah, they mean something to the alumni, players and fans of the schools who are playing in the bowls. The way the teams have competed attest to the fact that the games mean something. But in the larger picture they are just an appetizer to the main entree which is the BCS Championship Game that will take place on January 10th of this year. Many of us are old enough to remember when College football ended on January 1st with the exception of the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. You younger guys may have to google those! All those games mattered because you could be #4 in the polls and still win the national championship if the bowls played out just right for your team. Now they are just about bragging rights and next year's pre-season polls.

The powers that be used to say it was about not extending the season for the student-athletes, but come on man. Classes start at UF next Wednesday. There are still a number of bowls after that date including the championship game almost a week into the Spring semester. How does that not extend the season into the next academic semester? The argument was that the playoffs would extend the season too much, but a four week playoff would still end before the current setup does. It's not even like the teams are the same as the ones that finished the regular season over a month ago. All you have to do is look at the offensive production from many teams and you see what a month layoff does to the timing. Sure some teams play well one week, but could they do it for three weeks in a row? TCU beat a good Wisconsin team, but so did the entire SEC that played the Big Ten today. But could TCU get ready to beat Alabama next week? Wouldn't that be a fun game to see? We all know we want it, but nobody seems to really want to do it.

I think it is easier for folks to say we like the money, only paying out one road trip, and we will just settle for the way it is. But the fact is the way it is isn't good enough for every other NCAA championship. Over the holidays, I read about the Mark Cuban idea for a tournament. I hope he succeeds but I doubt even his money can change the good ole conference network that has the championship routed through the SEC, Big East (Joke), Big Ten, Pac 10 or Big 12. Maybe it would always end up with a couple of those teams playing anyway, but at least we would have a chance to see it play out on the field, where it should be.

I'll keep watching the games, but I sure wish I could watch with some anticipation that if my team wins this game, they will move on one step closer to the championship rather than just celebrating the fact that Urban Meyer won his last game as a Gator coach. Albeit a meaningless Outback Bowl victory. Now maybe it that came with a free Blooming Onion to all Gators, I might just change my tune!