Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to School!

Sitting in the food hall at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University and seeing all the folks come through with piles of books and notes in their hands can only mean one thing: school is back in session! As such, here is the short story on my bold predictions for this year in IU sports:

IU Football: 7-5, bowl victory of some sort
IU Basketball: Final Four
IU Soccer: I don't care how they do, I'm still going to love it

So, for the long story of it, we first turn to the wonderful story that is IU Football. Sometimes, you need a very large negative to occur to bring about positives. Of course, the last 14 years of Hoosier Football have been full of negatives (Cam Cameron, anyone?). Still, all of those negatives pale in comparison to the one suffered this summer, as head coach Terry Hoeppner succumbed to complications from a brain tumor. While this is a great tragedy for all involved, it is also a great opportunity to galvanize the fan base, pump up the team, and win games for the man who was just starting to get IU back on the football map. Normally, I would predict a crowd of maybe 25-30,000 at the opening game versus Indiana State, but with the emotion surrounding this season (and new coach Bill Lynch's offer of free tickets for freshmen for the ISU game), I wouldnt be shocked to see 40-45,000. My earlier prediction of 7-5...that too could easily be an underestimation.

As for this campus' favorite sport, things look very promising. Assembly Hall will no doubt be sold out for every game and the Hoosier Hysteria event so that fans will be able to catch a glimpse of a roster that could make up a significant portion of the All-Big Ten list at the end of the season. DJ White will be coming back for his fourth year on the roster and his third year of playing (broken foot in '05-'06), and he looks set t be more dominant than ever. Complimenting him down low will most likely be either Mike White, a powerful and energetic bundle of pure muscle down low, or Lance Stemler, who presents the added threat of a pretty good 3-point shot. The first shooting guard position will be up for grabs during the first half of the season beacuse senior AJ Ratliff was declared academically inelegible, but I predict that his spot will be filled by sophomore Armon Bassett, who showed that he can shoot and distribute the ball pretty well last year. Taking Bassett's spot at the point will be Jordan Crawford, who has impressed just about everyone he can impress during the summer with his hot point guard play. Finally, the crown jewel of the lineup, Kelvin Sampson's dream recruit, and a name that will be echoing through the rafters all season: guard Eric Gordon. As if that weren't enough, the bench is stacked with a great lineup of star recruits and veteran players. Barring a major disaster, this team is definitely Final Four-capable and should bring home at least a share of their 21st Big Ten title.

The other sport I'm excited about? IU Soccer! I don't even care how many games they win or if they make it to the College Cup this year. I just want to go to Armstrong Stadium and act ridiculous for a couple of hours while watching that other form of football.

Well, it's time for me to run off with my own books to class. If you're lucky enough to have the Big Ten Network by the end of this week, be on the lookout for IU vs. Indiana State at 8 PM on Saturday. I'll try to bring a little preview of that on Friday.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

All Hail the King

Contrary to what I predicted earlier today, Barry Bonds' 756th career home run came from the hands of Mike Bacsik. Bacsik admitted to ESPN's Erin Andrews that he made the mistake that led to this record-breaking event. He said that the 3-2 pitch called by catcher Brian Schneider was supposed to be a fastball down and away which would catch Barry out and make him swing at a pitch that would jam him. Bacsik let the ball sail a bit and it ended up sliding right down the pipe and right onto the fat part of Bonds' bat. Obviously, the mistake was punished hard, with the ball sailing over 430 feet to the deepest part of AT&T Park.

As far as the record itself, I do not think it is tainted by anything other than Barry's abrasive personality. Since there is nothing but circumstantial evidence against Bonds, the record is clean for now. While we may not respect the man behind the bat, we should respect the number. 756 home runs is a very big number and, even for the most muscle-bound baseball players out there, it is a very difficult achievement. Congratulations are in order for the time being, and a fine performance it was by Bonds.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bonds vs. The Nats: Night 1

How about that? Despite the fact that John Lannan looked incredibly shaky in the Nationals' 3-2 extra-inning loss to the San Francisco Giants, He still had the wherewithal to give up exactly one run -- none of which came off the bat of Barry Bonds. Even more incredible was the fact that the one run came off of eight hits and five walks. Yes, Lannan let 13 batters reach base and only one of them, Rajai Davis in the first inning, made it to home plate.

When faced four times with the Giants' star slugger, Lannan had a distinct advantage in that Barry Bonds had never seen (and, in fact, probably never heard of) him. Therefore, when Lannan's breaking curveball flew towards him in the first inning, Bonds was not ready for it. Instead of taking a sure home run ball into McCovey Cove, Bonds popped the ball high in the air towards the Giants' dugout, well within the range of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

After a walk in the third (which drew the obligatory chorus of boos), Bonds had a great chance against Lannan in the fifth. A fastball sailing towards the outside corner, which was a similar pitch to the one that became 755 in San Diego, was hit from above and bounced harmlessly to second baseman Ronnie Belliard for a double play.

In the seventh, Lannan finally showed just how much potential he has. After feeding Bonds several pitches around the outside corner to bring the count to 2-1, Lannan fired a killer fastball up and in on Bonds. Usually, such a pitch is an easy homer for Bonds, but he simply swung under it because he wasn't ready for an up-and-in fastball. on the 2-2 pitch, Lannan sent the ball sailing towards the same spot, but just before it hit the plate, the pitch fell like a rock and Bonds swung right over the top of it.

Now, if Bonds had such a difficult time with a pitcher who was decidedly not having their best day, you have to think that more experienced pitchers will have what it takes to knock Bonds down a notch. The main issue is that Bonds has faced both Mike Bacsik and Tim Redding before. However, these two pitchers are throwing the best they ever have, and the Giants will certainly have trouble with them. I'm very much looking forward to the next few nights, and I still stand behind my initial judgement that 756 will not be hit against the Nationals.

Note: Ronnie Belliard and Dimitri Young are still tearing up opposing teams. End statement.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Well, here's something interesting. Everyone had assumed that, by now, Barry Bonds would be long past his milestone 756th career home run and he'd be preparing for a long retirement filled with all sorts of peace and quiet (along with a few pleasant discussions about asterisks).

Well, it's August 5, and Barry has finally hit number 755. The thing that makes this so interesting (to me, at least) is that Barry's next four games are against the Washington Nationals. Normally, since I'm a cynic, I would say that 756 is a sure thing in the next few days. But these are not normal circumstances.

The facts are that Barry has hit one home run in the last week, the Giants are not a particularly strong team, and the Nationals are, to say the least, overachieving at the moment. After taking six straight against the Reds and the Cardinals who, much like the Giants, are poor teams with a big-name slugger, it's hard to see the Nationals losing more than two games to the Giants.

The other thing is that the Nationals' flakiest starter, Matt Chico, pitched Sunday afternoon. That means his next start is on Friday in Phoenix. John Lannan, Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding, and Joel Hanrahan (none of whom were in the Majors -- the Majors -- at the start of the season) have shown very few cracks in the last week. The bullpen for the Nats is still somewhat inconsistent, but they are certainly not bad right now. Chad Cordero has converted 23 of his 30 save chances this season, Jon Rauch has been solid, Ray King has more confidence than he had in April, and Saul Rivera is throwing some serious stuff.

You will hear a lot of people saying that the pitcher that throws 756 at Bonds will be wearing "Washington" on his chest. But you will not hear that from me.

(on the off chance that 756 does come this week, I'm glad it will be happening in San Francisco, where people will actually appreciate it)