Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Political Thoughts

Ok, so this is my one and only political based blog entry. At least it is all I plan to say about it for now!

First, I believe our true hope for our nation and the world does not reside in any government, but in people being restored to a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. So whoever sits in the chair is really there as an appointee of God even if they don’t think they are. The Bible makes it clear how we should honor those who govern in the following verses:

13Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil.17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.  1 Peter 2:13:17.

So whoever wins this election must be given the honor due the offices to which they are elected. And whoever wins the elections will not be the ultimate authority for Christians. For the Believer, the order should always be to fear God and honor the government.

With that being written, as an American citizen, albeit a temporary one since my ultimate citizenship is in heaven, I believe I have both a right and obligation to vote. I also believe God gave me a brain and reason to use to attempt to find out what is the best decision to make after prayer and study of the scriptures for every situation. So after prayer and consideration of the scriptures here is my take on the whole election issue facing Americans for the next week.

I am voting for Mitt Romney and not for President Obama for several reasons. I know some well-meaning and sincere believers who will disagree and who are or have voted for the President to continue for four more years. The first reason is that the Democratic Party of which my father was a member of for years made it clear in their convention that the most important thing I believe in is not welcome in their party. I am not sure why they felt they needed to address that God was not welcome in their platform, but if He is not welcome then neither are His children and therefore I could not vote for a candidate of that Party. I am sure they backtracked on it, but to even bring it up means those in charge of the platform and ultimately its execution believes that God is not welcome in Governmental matters. I cannot support that position so I can’t vote for their candidates.

Second, they made it clear that the right to choose trumps the right to life. At the moment this applies to only un-born babies but is it that far of a stretch under the guidelines of Obama Care to see this being applied to those in long-term care in government hospitals or those under long term care who cannot make decisions for themselves? I cannot vote for a candidate whose Party will use all its political force to work against a position that I hold, so therefore I cannot vote for those members even if their own personal convictions differ.

Third, on a purely practical basis, my life is not better now than it was four years ago. The President Obama has not kept the promises made by Candidate Obama. So please tell me why I should believe that the promises made by President-Candidate Obama will be delivered upon during his last possible term in office? Once elected, he will do what he wants and that my friends is what I am truly afraid of. I don’t know all he plans to do, but given his track record for the last four years of skirting the constitution at best, I doubt seriously that he would play by the rules in his last four years. I am afraid that if re-elected he will move us more toward a socialist government. My income is not up, my expenses are definitely up, job creation is not up, the government stimulus that was pushed through and signed by the President did nothing but help those who got him elected. Let’s be honest enough to say that if you promise to do something or not run for re-election and then fail to deliver but run anyway, at best you have a problem understanding the job at hand or at worst a serious integrity issue.
Fourth, I am voting for Mitt Romney as the choice of two not favorite choices. I did not support him during the primaries. I don’t think he will be a great president. I don’t know if he is fully qualified to lead our nation. But I do know that he is just as qualified as or more so than the guy we elected four years ago. And he is the only viable option running in opposition. I like his choice for VP. I like the party platform. I think we are better off with less government and by working to balance the budget and get people back to work. I think when rich people and corporations believe the government will stay out of their way, they tend to invest more, do more, and expand creating new jobs and more opportunities. I don’t like the fact that there are only two parties capable of winning the major elections either but that is a story for a different day.

Finally, I wish that both sides would just start running ads telling us why to vote for them rather than telling me why I shouldn’t vote for the other person. Why not win me over by telling me what you want to do and spend less time trying to scare me with what the other person will do if they win. You are wasting millions of dollars on ads that do nothing not to mention all the money spent to call me twenty times a day it seems with your recorded messages from rock stars and political icons to try and sway my vote. None of them are listened to and none have convinced me to change my position. I would rather you commit that money to help reduce the national deficit or help with disaster relief. If you ran one ad saying the …… party will be donating 4 million dollars to help with …. Rather than spend it on stupid ads and phone trees, you have a better chance of getting my vote! And please stop attacking one candidate for how little they paid in taxes. I just wonder how much the Kennedy’s have paid in taxes over the years and where exactly did Obama get his fortune? If you are a plumber in the white house then you can portray yourself as one of us, otherwise stop trying to identify with the middle class. When is the last time a true member of the middle class sat in the white house?

I find it difficult to believe any of the political rhetoric anymore. Why would you spend so much of your own money or give so much money to a campaign where the salary is not that significant? Oh wait, the perks are enormous. But so are the responsibilities. Do you really think either party truly has the welfare of the middle class first in their agenda? In 51 years of life, I’ve never been invited to a state dinner at the white house or the state house for that matter. I’ve never been given a government contract because I voted for one person or denied one because I voted for their opponent. I pay my taxes. I enjoy the benefits of roads, protection, etc. I work for what I have and don’t want anyone to take it away or claim that I didn’t earn it. I wish it was more about me, but in the end it will always be about unions, big business, and personal investors. It only appears to me that those entities do better when the government is smaller and leaves them alone more and that does trickle down to a better live for me and my family who live squarely in the middle class.

Whether you agree or disagree, I hope we can still be friends on Wednesday of next week. I am thankful that we can vote and disagree without having to fear for our safety when we do. So become informed, vote your convictions, and if you are a believer, vote your values from your study of the Word of God. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

What October taught us about football

The last Saturday in October has passed and for Gator fans, it was a bitterly disappointing day. Last month I wrote that I would wait until the end of October to see what I thought of this team because we had been 4-0 coming out of September for the last three seasons and well two of them were less than stellar finishes! Well now that the October gauntlet is finished for this year, where do I stand on this Gator team and football in general?

I have to admit that this Gator team is better than I anticipated. But I think our weaknesses finally showed up this past Saturday. It would be easy to say this now, but anyone who has been around me this entire month knows that I have been saying the same thing even when we were winning. We are not a top 5 team. We just don't have enough offense playmakers. We have a top 5 defense. Our kicking game is solid, maybe the best duo in the land. Our return teams are not where they should be and our offense is one dimensional. I have said it all along, if you want to beat Florida, stop the run at all costs. This past weekend Georgia did just that. They loaded the box, played man to man coverage and brought the safeties and dared Jeff Driskell and our receivers to beat them. And the results speak for themselves. Our line is not good enough to hold up under the rush. Our receivers can't win enough battles on the edges. And Driskell is not ready to win the games on his quick decision making skills. I thought the Georgia coaches' won the day over our staff who couldn't seem to fix our protection for the second week in a row on the left edge.

But even with six turnovers, the Gators still had a chance to tie the game late which is way ahead of where we were last year at this time. The Gators have won at least two other games they could have lost in SCAR and LSU during the October stretch. I thought we we would be at least 6-2 or maybe even 5-3 at this point in the season, so being 7-1 and ranked in the top 10 is a huge bonus. The Gators have a real chance to finish the season no worse than 10-2 heading into the bowl game. Yep, I don't think we will beat the clown college out west this year. We have a chance with our defense, but I just don't see how our offense will be able to score enough to win this one in Tally. I hope I am wrong on this one, but I don't see it happening. There is still a chance to play for the SEC title if Georgia flops against Ole Miss or Auburn but if that happens then bacon will be falling from the sky next!

I think Alabama is the best team in the land. It hurts me to even write that, but I think it's true. Still the Tide will get it's first real test this weekend in Baton Rouge. Those Cajuns get nastier at night after a full day of partying at Red Stick! The best team doesn't always win there! But if the Tide can survive that one, the only other team on their schedule that can beat the Tide is the Tide! At least it looks good for another SEC national championship and the Tide boosters look like geniuses for paying Satan, I mean Saban, all that money. And that is saying something to make the Tide boosters look smart!

Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Oregon all act like they want a shot at Bama for the title, but be careful what you ask for. I think all three would be good teams in the SEC. They all have a punchers chance in a one game, winner take all situation. But give any of them the schedule Florida plays or South Carolina plays or even LSU plays and none of them are undefeated either at this point. That is why the SEC is the toughest conference in the land. Try playing three top ten teams in a month and see if one of them doesn't get you. Any team in the top 25 can beat one top ten ranked team, but trying doing it three out of four weeks and mix in there games against a couple of other ranked opponents and see where you land!

The best story may be Charlie Strong and the Louisville Cardinals. They have come from behind, struggled, yet they still remain unbeaten. Charlie has been a friend for a long time and I couldn't be happier for him. He waited patiently for the chance to be a head coach at the right place and it seems he has found it in Louisville.  He and Vickie and the girls are great people and I hope the folks at UL know what a treasure they have in the Strong family and embrace them. Their love for the Lord is a testimony for others to see and the fact that they are an inter-racial family makes it an even better story!

One final point that will make some Gator fans mad at me is that whatever you feel about how he left, the fact remains that Urban Meyer can flat out coach. He and his staff just find ways to get it done no matter where he has been and who has been on his staff. That makes me think it is the man at the top who is making it happen. I hope his health lasts because that is the only thing that will prevent him from being one of the best coaches of all time. I don't think he will last long enough to rival Joe Pa or Bowden, but he just wins wherever he coaches. The whole idea of balance seems to be gone from his life again and that is a sad statement, but if he can find it and last in the profession, he has a chance to be remembered as one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history. The first hate mail will come from my wife who calls him Urban Liar by the way!

November will clear things up for everyone. We will know if Bama can run the table along with K state and Oregon and Notre Dame. We may have plenty to discuss about the BCS and how it got it wrong or right. We may wish we had the playoff this year if all four are undefeated or they all may lose a game and then chaos will ensue with all the really good one loss teams out there. But after the Thanksgiving turkey has put us in a food induced slumber, we will all be wishing it was September again and college football was just starting rather than coming to an end!

Monday, September 17, 2012

We've been here before!

The victory Saturday night in Knoxville was impressive in many ways. We haven't seen an offensive explosion like that in a couple of years against a good team. Although to be fair, we will have to wait and see if Tennessee is indeed a good team or if NC State is a really bad one! A win on rocky top is always special and seeing Neyland Stadium empty early is always a good deal! We haven't seen a staff make as many good second half adjustments as we did the last two weeks in a while either. I wish they could do a better job of planning for the first half, but at least they are making adjustments. That gives you the impression that there is a chance if you are at least close at the half.

But Gator fans don't need to get too far ahead of themselves lest we become like the Nole fans last year. We have been here before. We have been 3 and 0 before going into the Kentucky game. Just last year after the month of September we were 4-0 and highly ranked. Then the reality of October hit and we finished the month at 4-4 and out of the rankings. Granted, this year's October isn't as tough but it isn't as easy as September either. LSU looks as tough or tougher than last year so apart from a mighty effort by the Gators and a little luck on a bounce or two, I think that will be the first loss for the Gators. Next comes a road trip to the land of Country Music and the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Dores are better and we don't usually play well there, but we should win that game but it could go either way! Thankfully we have South Carolina in the Swamp and that should give us a home field advantage and if the Cock's starting QB continues to have shoulder issues, we have an even chance to win that one. The final game of the month is the annual party in Jacksonville verses the Dogs. Georgia is supposed to be loaded this year, but when is that not the case. They just never live up to hype. They won their once a decade game last year but I don't see them beating Florida this year if both teams remain healthy. Of course injuries to key players could throw all of those picks out the window either way.

So at the end of October we could be anywhere from 7-1 and in great shape to win the east or 4-4 and hoping for a bid to the champs sports bowl again! I lean more toward the upper end, but wouldn't be surprised to find ourselves at 6-2 or 5-3 even. This team just needs to keep growing up and in the end we will be fine. I think Gator fans will have a lot to celebrate in the next two years, but remember to stay humble Gator fans. We have a long way to go before anyone should make the claim that we are back!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's Up Gator Fans?

Now that I am no longer officially connected with the University Athletic Association, I can say some things that I never could or chose not to before out of loyalty to the athletes and coaches that I worked with. And out of a general sense of loyalty to the Gators. Not that I am going to reveal any deep dark secrets. If I did know something, I would never tell, and I don't so you don't have to worry!

No, this is a general response to Saturday's game in the Swamp. Gator fans are supposed to be some of the best in the country. We make the swamp one of the toughest places to play in America with the noise and the heat and the...... Wait, did I say heat? There have been hotter games than this past Saturday, so if heat is what kept fans away, then something must have been wrong with the thermometer. Maybe if you fraternity guys and gals would stop trying to be Auburn or Alabama and give up the wearing of long sleeved button downed shirts and ties and semi-formal dresses then you wouldn't be so hot or have to take off your shirt completely before halftime! I promise that I heard a young lady sitting next to me for about five minutes before it was just too hot to stay say more about the colors the players were wearing than the game itself. What was worse was that the guy she was with was into that conversation more than the game. If you care more about a color scheme than a defensive scheme, please give the ticket to someone else and stay home and watch style shows on TV!

Now it was hot and I know that the students have to stand in the hot sun the entire game, but I did it this week as well. The point to the UAA is that if you want to keep the swamp as one of the most intimidating places to play, then you might want to take a look at improving the student side of the stadium as well. Maybe you should make sure the concessions don't run out of stuff before the end of the game and maybe create some easier access for entry and exit of the stadium. Some cold water fountains might help if they actually had enough water pressure to work to keep fans from over heating and leaving. And while you are improving stuff, why not start with the product on the field. This team better get better in a hurry or last year will mark the high water mark for Coach Boom! I don't think he can go 7-6 again and get a third year here. Hey the old Zooker did better than this and he got canned after three seasons! I am not ready to jump off the cliff yet, but I sure don't have any plans to be in Atlanta on the first weekend of December. Can you remember what it was like to pencil that trip in every year? Maybe we did get spoiled as Gator fans, but if you are going to sweat buckets every Saturday in September in the Swamp, it is a lot nicer to do so solely because of the Sun and not because you aren't sure you are going to beat Bowling Green.

If I get a ticket for the next game, you can bet I will be there again. And you can bet I will be there at the end of the game win or lose. Because deep down inside, I still believe the words that we sing at the end of the third quarter in the swamp. I just don't know if this generation of students and many of the alumni feel the same way! Prove me wrong against Kentucky and I will gladly say so. That goes for the team too!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Miami Marlins, Here we go again!

For all the hype that the Miami Marlins created in the off-season with the new stadium, uniforms, manager and high dollar free agent pick ups, expectations were relatively high. I had them finishing second in the division and making the playoffs as a wildcard team in my preseason post. That was more wishful thinking than expecting any Florida fan to recognize Bobby Bowden as the DI coach with the most wins regardless of what the NCAA says! The Marlins have under-produced at every level this year. Hey, maybe the players are having trouble understanding what the manager wants them to do. I know that I have trouble understanding Ozzie whenever he speaks. Maybe Ramirez wasn't happy about the change to third base and the clubhouse is a disaster. I am not an insider, but things are not good in the land of silicone and south beach.

 But now we begin to see why Miami will always be Miami in the MLB. They lure the fans back with the promise of a new stadium, coach and spending money on players and then when you get back on board, they begin the sell off. Only this time, there is no championship to celebrate. The Marlins are dumping payroll faster than the US is rolling up the deficit. In the last few weeks they have dropped two of their pitchers and half of their infield, including the sullen superstar Hanley Ramirez. There are rumors flying that the Marlins are fielding offers for ace Josh Johnson and closer Heath Bell. Bell has been a bust since coming over from the Padres but still you only have the guy for six months and you are going to trade him?

 The Marlins will never be a quality franchise if they continue to operate this way. Can you be like the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, or even the Dodgers if you continue to offer huge contracts and then ship the players off when you have a bad start to a season? Can you be the team that offers the fire sale every time after you make a splash with a great year or try to put together a group of talented players? If you can't afford the guy for the life of the contract, then stop signing them to it. Relegate yourself to the likes of the Brewers and A's or the Rockies and the Indians. Teams that will occasionally sneak into the playoffs only to be broken up when the stars of the team get near their free agent years.

 With the new name, the new uniforms, the new colors and the new stadium, the Marlin ownership promised a new day in Miami, but it looks like here we go again down the same path for Marlin's fans whether they be Florida or Miami variety!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two events over the last week have caused me to pause and do a little deeper thinking. It may not be that deep for some of you and for some it may be like jumping into the deepest part of the ocean thinking you are in a kiddie pool. Last Friday, Lica and I drove to Plant City for the memorial service for Mike Storter. Mike had been battling Leukemia for the last three years and had been sent home with Hospice care in February with only 8 days to live. Three months later, he finally went home to be with Jesus. Then on Tuesday I got word that another former student had lost her husband to a heart attack on Monday night. He was only 38 years old, a full 7 years younger than Mike. You don’t think about having to comfort your former students who have lost loved ones from diseases for some reason. Yeah there might be that tragic car wreck or something like that, but not from a heart attack and cancer. These two stories mark the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to death. Mike’s death was slow and painful, filled with medicines, chemo, radiation, hospital stays and loss of mobility prior to his death to some degree. Robyn Bell Thomas’ husband Chris appeared quite healthy and had just returned from an anniversary trip to Puerto Rico when he suffered a massive heart attack and died moments later. No pain, no suffering, no warning, just a sudden and sobering loss. Lica and I talked on the way home from Mike’s service about those two options. With the diagnosis and no cure available one like Mike, you have time to get your affairs in order, make sure your spouse and kids are as well taken care of as you can, plan your own service (which Mike did incredibly well by the way), and cherish the last few days and months you have with those you love. And while the initial struggle for the family is difficult, the end of the struggle in some ways comes as a blessing because you just don’t want your family member to have to suffer anymore. That is especially true if they are a believer in Jesus and you know that they are going to heaven to be with the Lord and that you will one day join them there. When you go like Chris did (and my father eleven years ago), there is no time to say goodbye. No chance to tell extended family you love them and maybe not even the immediate family. One moment you are fully alive and the next you are in eternity. The loss for the family is so much greater in that moment because you just don’t have time to prepare. Even if the person was a Christian as Chris had professed earlier this spring, you still have this overwhelming sense of incompleteness to it all. The loss is the same, but our reaction to it can be quite different. So one takeaway from these events for me has been to make sure that I am living today as if it was my last day on the planet. That doesn’t mean selling off everything, quitting the ministry and buying a boat and go fishing in the keys or the Cayman Islands. Although that doesn’t sound too bad come to think of it! It doesn’t mean not going to work and approaching today like every other day of ministry. It simply means living with an appreciation for the incredible gift of life for another day that the Lord has given me. I believe that God has known the number of my days before a single one of them came to pass and that He knows the last day I will breathe on this planet before the resurrection long before that day will come. I want to do everything I can (ok, not everything, cause giving up Adam’s Ribs, sweet tea, and desserts would be hell on earth!) to live healthy like exercise and changing some things in my diet, not to prolong my life, but to make those days more productive. I can’t know how many days the Lord will give me, but I want to be able to give him my best for every one of those days and running and biking and swimming make me better able to function for the kingdom than getting fatter and lazier! A second takeaway is to make sure that I appreciate and love those around me. Starting with my family and extending to my friends and neighbors. One thing I noticed about Mike after he got sick, which was true before as well, was that he never seemed to be in a rush to get away from people. He loved being with his friends and family. If you knew you only had a few weeks or days to live, would that change the way you valued minutes with those you love? So why wait for the diagnosis? We are all day to day in this world and this might be our last day, so don’t wait to tell them that you love them, make sure you do it today, right now, this very moment, stop reading and pick up the phone or shoot them an email, or get in the car and drive over and tell them face to face! A third thought is to stop worrying so much about the trivial things that others think are important. If I live tomorrow, that project can be completed then. If not, then it won’t matter now will it? Even your boss will probably decide it wasn’t that critical if you are dead before you get it finished. Now some things just can’t wait to get done. I don’t want my surgeon deciding to leave in the middle, but if he has a good assistant that might even be okay. The trick is to determine those things that are true priorities and those things that are simply imposed on us by others. People should always come before projects, but I have to confess that my particular personality and leadership skills can sometimes get that confused. The events surrounding Mike’s life and death lead me to conclude that God really does know what He is doing with our lives. Over the years, I had often wondered why God put Mike back in Plant City after college and seminary when all he was able to do was work on staff part time at a church and work full time in the school system. The answer to that question was evident on Friday as the church was packed with over 1500 people for the service. Teachers, administrators, coaches, athletes, former students and friends were there to say their goodbye to Mike but Mike was able to share with them one more time the message of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. He would not had that wide spread of an impact if he had just served on staff at a church! God knows what he is doing and why even if we don’t. God knew that Laura and the girls would need the support of her family to complete the job of raising the girls once Mike was called home, so He allowed them to stay there almost 20 years instead of moving around as so many do these days. That also allows me to say that somehow God will redeem this sudden death of Robyn’s husband after only a little over a year of marriage. I don’t understand why Chris was taken so soon or why their time together was so brief, but I believe that God has a plan to use this event to bring people to himself as well. I know that Chris was drawn into a relationship with the Father through the Spirit working through Robyn. If for no other reason, then Robyn’s pain and sorrow will be redeemed through the knowledge that by loving Chris, Christ was able to call Chris to himself through it. It won’t take the hurt away, but knowing that God will redeem our suffering means that it is not in vain and can give our pain meaning in our lives or for the sake of the kingdom. Finally, I don’t know how people can face death without a relationship with Jesus Christ. How could you possibly face the future of living without a spouse as these two ladies are doing, or without a dad as Mike’s two girls are doing, or losing a friend as so many of us have in the past week if you truly believed that this life is all there is. That is why Paul wrote that he didn’t want the Christians to grieve as those who have no hope. There is nothing wrong with grief. It is a natural reaction to loss and is common for all men and women. However, for the believers in Jesus we have one who has travelled the path of death before us. His resurrection means that death is not final. We do not have to fear the path of the unknown because we have a guide who has walked that way and found it to be a doorway to a new and glorious future. Because Jesus lives, so does Mike and Chris. Do you know Jesus today? If we had your funeral or mine tomorrow, would the world know, would your friends know, would your family know that you knew Jesus? Could they affirm that you and I would be in the presence of Christ? If not, give your life to Jesus and ask him to forgive your sins today and commit yourself to follow Him for the rest of your days, however many they may be!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review of John Grisham's new book Calico Joe

Calico Joe is the newest novel by my favorite fiction author John Grisham. It arrived on my ipad late on Tuesday afternoon. I finished it by Wednesday night and most of it was finished on a trip to see our Gator softball team take on UCF a couple of hours away. We lost the game by the way! So it was a really good thing that at least I had the pleasure of reading this book or the day would have not been as pleasant.

The fact that this story is set in the context of baseball in general and major league baseball in particular definitely helped me immediately buy in to the characters and the story. The thirty year flashback of the main character and narrator of the book take the reader back to the summer of 1973. I was twelve that summer and because I loved baseball as much as the main character did, I knew all the names of the players Grisham mentions weaved in with the fictional account of Calico Joe.

I will not give away the plot but the book is a good reminder of the fragility of our innocence and the fallen nature of all of us, even our greatest heroes. It is an honest look at redemption and the consequences of our actions for generations to come. I think everyone could find a great lesson in the book and for those who are baseball fans, it is a must read!
The book deals in a subtle way with the changing of the game of baseball over the years. I think it began to change when free agency hit the scene. Some of the changes have been good, even great, especially for the players and the money they can make. However, the changes were tough on those who had been around the game for a long time because some of the unwritten rules of the game were changing as well. This is captured in the book for the discerning fan of the game, but others will miss this aspect of the characters and their struggles. The early seventies was the last of the eras of baseball where fans were tied to teams first, then players. Now it seems that all we ever hear about are the players first, the managers second and maybe the team a distant third. The baseball fans who were kids in the seventies will read this book with a sense of loss I think because it will remind us of how far the game has moved since then. Now the entire game is about fantasy numbers and individual statistics and our favorite players may only be on our favorite team for a couple of years before they are traded so we don’t lose them to free agency!

Calico Joe brings us back to remembering that the game we love is ultimately the story of players whose lives are intertwined forever in moments that play out in front of us on the field and on TV, some good and some tragic. It also reminds us that our days on this earth are numbered and every one of them is an opportunity to do something good and leave a legacy or do something evil and make the lives of our families and friends incredibly more difficult.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Miami Marlins 2012 Preview

Last season the old Florida Marlins finished in last place in the Eastern Division of the National League. The new Miami Marlins will look to improve on their 72-90 season which was 30 games behind the division winning Phillies. With a new ballpark, a new manager, and a new spending philosophy, this team in 2012 should look nothing like the team that played in the football stadium turned baseball park in 2011. The fans and players alike would likely try to forget last season and gladly move on to the new one beginning in April.

If he is healthy as projected, Josh Johnson should be the opening day pitcher for the new look Marlins. For the Marlins to make a serious run at the division or wild card, he must stay healthy and make a minimum of 25 starts. Newly acquired veteran lefty Mark Buehrle figures to be the number two starter in the rotation. If he remains true to form, he will give the Marlins a lot of innings and keep the pressure off the weaker middle relief part of the bullpen. The rest of the rotation appears to be a spring training battle between returning Marlins, Anibel Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, and veteran Carlos Zambrano. Nolasco was 10-12 last year with a 4.67 ERA. Sanchez who recently won his arbitration with the club was 8-9 with a 3.67 ERA last year and will likely test the free agent market next year unless he has a break out year for the Marlins. Zambrano is truly the wild card in the rotation. Last year he was 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA with the Cubs before melting down in mid-season. If he can keep it together and return to his former form that led to a 125-81/3.60 career, he could provide the Marlins with a veteran rotation from the #3 or #4 spot.

The bullpen was the weaker spot in the pitching last year as the Marlins struggled to keep games close or keep the lead. It is also an area where the team made some moves to shore up the back end of the games but the real question will be in middle and long relief. The addition of veteran Wade LeBlanc may prove to be one of the biggest values of all the off-season moves made by the Marlins’ front office. The 28 year old lefty who was with San Diego for the last four years should be counted on to provide some long relief and as a spot starter if needed. Young arms, Michael Dunn, Brad Hand, and Alex Sanabia will also be working hard in spring training to secure spots in the bullpen. The Marlins acquired another Padre Pitcher in closer Heath Bell. If he averages his 40 saves this season, the Marlins should be in the hunt for at least a wild card spot in the playoffs. With the legal situation surrounding last year’s closer Juan Carlos Oveido who was known as Leo Nunez last year still up in the air, look for late season closer Steve Chishek to serve in the setup role for Bell. If the Marlins can get Oveido back this season it will likely push promising prospect Jose Ceda back to the minors or the trade mill. If not, and depending on how he pitches in the spring, Ceda may make the big league roster and provide the gap between the starters and the Chishek, Bell closing duo.
Handling the catching duties will fall once again to John Buck. He will look to improve on his .227 BA after coming over from the Blue Jays where he hit .281 in 2010. Buck is a solid defensive receiver and really should benefit from now playing in an indoor facility when the sizzling summer heat begins in South Florida.

Gaby Sanchez will once again start at First Base. The 2011 All-Star appeared in all but three games for the Marlins last season batting .266 with 19 homers and drove in 78 runs while scoring 72 times. With the offensive addition of SS Jose Reyes, Sanchez figures to see more quality pitches and should post a better average and possible set a career high for home runs in the new park. On the hot corner this year for the Marlins will be former SS Hanley Ramirez. While the move has been less than smooth, it now appears that Ramirez is completely on board and working hard to become a quality third baseman. If he can make the transition defensively, and stay healthy, he should return to the quality player that many felt should be the face of the franchise a couple of years ago.

Omar Infante returns as the second baseman for the club this year. He hit .276 last year with 7 HR, 24 2B, 8 3B, 55 runs, and 49 RBI. He was solid in the field with only 8 errors in 734 total chances. The biggest addition to the Marlins’ roster for 2012 is SS Jose Reyes. The three time All-Star comes over from the Mets after hitting .337 with 7 HR, 31 2B,16 3B, 44 RBI, 101 Runs scored and 39 Stolen Bases. His range and offensive prowess gives the Marlins a significant upgrade up the middle on the infield. Time will tell if he is good enough to erase the 30 game deficit the Marlins ended up with last year.

The starting outfield should be solid for the Marlins with Logan Morrison in Left Field, Emilio Bonifacio in Center Field, and Mike Stanton in Right. Bonifacio will benefit from returning to his more natural Center Field after moving to Short last year to sub for Ramirez. His speed combined with Reyes makes the top of the lineup fast and dangerous if they can hit at all. That should provide Stanton and Sanchez with ample opportunities to set new standards for RBI this year. Morrison has the reputation of being the character of the bunch but is also a solid performer on the field as well as the master of the tweet. They all should be better this year after playing together last year and going through another spring training together this year.
In addition to the starters, Greg Dobbs re-signed with the club after a brief test of the free agent market. Rookie Matt Dominguez will also compete for some utility infield duty. Outfielder Chris Coghlan appears to be healthy again and should be a serviceable substitute for any of the outfield positions and remains an option should an infielder go down and force Bonifacio to return to the dirt. Kevin Mattison and Bryan Petersen will also be competing in Spring Training to find a spot on the roster along with Austin Kearns. Brett Hayes appears to have the backup catcher spot unless someone comes out of nowhere to wow new manager Ozzie Guillen.

If they don’t make the opening day roster, look for Dominguez and Jose Ceda to be back up with the big club at some point this season. In addition, any injuries on the pitching staff would likely result in a call up for Righty Tom Koehler. Don’t be surprised if the Marlins bring up a young Marcell Ozuna at least for a cup of coffee in September to see if the kid has the right stuff for the future. He may be a season or two away due to an injury in 2010, but he is listed as one of the Marlins’ top prospects for a reason.
Pre-Season Predictions:
MVP – Jose Reyes
Ace – Heath Bell
Record – 90-72
2nd Place Eastern Division
Lose the Wild Card Series

The easy pick for MVP will be Reyes because of his ability in the field and to set the table for the rest of the lineup. I almost went with Stanton but I am not sure he will see enough quality pitches to merit the MVP. Bell is the ace of the staff because he will make the rest of them look better. If they can get the game to him with a league, he will not blow many and the Marlins will win more games as a result of his presence at the back end of the game. I think the additions the Marlins have made will allow them to be the second best team in the Eastern division and IF they stay healthy they have a chance of flipping their record from last year. If Guillen can keep Zambrano involved as a key part of the team and reasonably sane, the Marlins have a chance to prove me wrong about the end of their season. As with every team, they need their key players to stay healthy to make a deep run into the post season and maybe crown their new ballpark with a NL Pennant.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New year, same old debate

This applies on two very different fronts!

First, the Tebow debate continues after last night's victory against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers and their number one ranked defense. As I have said before, Tim is not the best quarterback in the league right now. But let's remember that this is his first year as a starter and only second in the league. You can't compare him to Brady or Brees or Rodgers or even Rothlisburger. Given the same talent, the great according to experts Kyle Orton couldn't win with the Broncos, but somehow the team got better with a worse quarterback. HUH! Sometimes you wonder how those so called experts got the gig. The only thing that changed in Denver was they got rid of a few whiners and starting playing a guy who has always been a winner. The broncos will not win every game and I don't even think they will win next week at New England, but do you think they would have won last night with Kyle Orton?

I believe God raises up people who will exalt His name and give Him the glory when success happens. I think that is what is happening with Tim and the Broncos. They have to do their part in the process. Unlike some who think what is happening is magic, it's not. It is a group of men who are working harder and working better together because they believe in the guy under the center. Tim played well last night but so did the other guy the Broncos picked ahead of Tim in the draft. The line played well enough to keep the Steelers on balance and the receivers made a few catches to make Tim look better than he really was. But isn't that the case in every other game and with every other team in the NFL? You can't have one without the other! Great receivers make the QB better than average and Great QBs make the receivers look better than average. The Broncos are a young football team and they need a few more pieces before they can be a great team, but they are growing together and they are playing like a young team, sometimes great and sometimes less than average.

So let's be glad Tim has done well enough to stir the debate about his faith. Those who know him have already decided that issue a long time ago. Those who speak about him from a far distance should spend some time with him and that debate will go away. He is a Christian who is a football player and he will always live his life in that order. If you don't want him to say anything about his Lord and Savior, then just don't ask him any questions. If you don't want to hear his religious views anymore, then stop talking about him. He doesn't make a big deal of his faith, it is just who he is, so the media needs to either adjust and adapt or stop the madness. I for one am glad to see an athlete refuse to tone down his faith to appease the mass media. Keep giving the Lord credit Tim, you know what that has done for you in the past!

On the second front, the political debates continue. I must admit I never watch those things. I know, I know, I should but I don't. First of all, I don't believe half of what my favorite candidate says in them is the real truth. Every candidate is going to try to say things to get elected, so for me the debate is just a waste of time. The questions are fixed to either make one side look good or slanted to help one candidate often, so I am not sure what they tell us that we didn't already know about them. Except that Gov. Perry doesn't think on his feet very well!

Rather than debate, I think if we said you get two terms in the House, two terms in the Senate, and one term as President we would be better off. If I was running for President I would run on the platform that I was only going to do it for one term at the max. I would do what needed to be done to get our country on the right track and when it was done, then I would resign and let the VP finish the term. If we want to get this thing fixed, someone is going to have to do some very unpopular things. You can't make everyone like you and govern well in times like we face today. That's why we need someone who will do the hard tasks and then live with the unpopularity for a while. History will record them otherwise, but that is not what drives modern politics. It is all about polls, and popularity, and keeping the status quo from both sides of the aisle. Now you know why I don't watch the debates on either front!