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SPORTSTALK

Jonathan Papelbon and I have a couple of things in common. We both went to Bishop Kenny High School, so chances are he, too, has a collection of white shirts, blue pants and maroon ties. Chances are he saw "Star Trek" in a religion class — assuming Sister Edith's curriculum hasn't changed. And he has a habit of saying whatever he thinks. This habit revealed itself — yet again — recently.

Papelbon is best known for his relief stint with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, where he looked like he might be a once-in-a-generation closer along the lines of a Goose Gossage. His time in Boston ended soon enough, but his predilection for explosive quotes remains — thank goodness. In what was intended to be an anodyne interview with regional sports network CSN Philadelphia, Papelbon made some comments regarding the incident at the Boston Marathon, stoking a fire of national controversy.

"Today's day and age has gotten so crazy. Shoot man, Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything. You got all this stuff going on; it's just a little bit insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it," said the pitcher.

Compared to former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker's comments in 1999, at the height of his career, criticizing the diversity of New York City ("It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."), those comments seem relatively sane, I guess, but what wouldn't?

Still, when one's being measured against Rocker (who'll be here on June 6 as a special attraction at a Jacksonville Suns game), that's a red flag. And when one deconstructs Papelbon's sentiment, it's just as insipid.

Let's start with the first sentence. "Today's day and age has gotten so crazy." Really, Jon, you don't say.

What day and age hasn't …   More

SPORTSTALK

I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.

Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.

Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”

The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.

Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.

It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.

This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.

OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA …   More

SPORTSTALK

There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.

 

JU’s Juggernauts

One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.

JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.

In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.

In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.

The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.

The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and …   More

SPORTSTALK

When considering how successful the Jacksonville Suns have been over the decades, it's a good idea to allow for more than just the win/loss record. The Suns — owned by the Bragan family since Jacksonville was a much smaller, more provincial city — have adapted with the times. Still, some things remain the same. One thing is a robust schedule of crowd-pleasing promotions designed to keep people coming to the park all season long.

The team just wrapped up its first homestand against the Jackson (Miss.) Generals, and the promos were all centered on Peter Bragan Sr., the legendary owner who died last July. Bragan was honored with a talking bobblehead giveaway and a distribution of Bragan Field baseballs. These are the kinds of keepsakes that diehard Suns and Minor League Baseball fans will cherish for years and are great kickoffs for what will be a special season. There'll be many events, and while there's not enough space to cover them all, a few highlights should be noted.

All-Star Blitz: Why not showcase some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues — the Southern League All-Star game in July? Bragan Field is the crown jewel of the parks of the Southern League, as locals know, and the Suns are among the minor league's preeminent franchises. So it makes a perfect locale for the All-Star game on July 17, as well as the Homerun Derby, a favorite of kids of all ages. The day before the game, go by The Jacksonville Landing and check out the MLB All-Star Game “Watch Party” on the big screen.

Rocker Around the Clock: The team is bringing two former Atlanta Braves from back in the day. A hero to every 30something Southern male who ever played outfield and swung for the fences every time he stepped to the plate … Dale Murphy hits town May 6. On June 6, fireballer-turned-conservative-flamethrower HYPERLINK "http://www.johnrocker.net/"John Rocker visits. He made some controversial comments about New York City’s ethnic …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Age of Austerity is upon us, and legislators at all levels want to make cuts. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) is currently in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature, and it’s hard to see how it will escape.

House Bill 1279 would cut FHSAA revenue and executive director Roger Dearing's $151,000 salary. Dearing would be terminated at the end of June. All 16 board members would be replaced at the end of September. The proposal passed a legislative subcommittee unanimously, and it’s easy to see why.

From the outside, especially considering what used to be traditional conceptions of amateur sports as an adjunct to the educational process, it’s hard to understand why the FHSAA executive director would have a higher base salary than the Florida governor – even before factoring in Dearing’s car and cellphone allowances.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported the proposal would “chop in half the FHSAA share of revenue from the preseason classics and postseason playoffs it sanctions. That is $2.5 million in 2012-’13, almost half of a $5.2 million budget.” Dearing maintains the FHSAA has a right to this money.

“The misconception is that we’re taking tax revenue," Dearing said. “That’s not the case. The money we get is from gate receipts of events we put on. We receive nothing from regular-season games. That stays with our schools.”

The bill would also change student-athlete eligibility, requiring the FHSAA to presume a student is eligible unless proved otherwise, opening the door to students no longer being barred from receiving benefits from schools, changing the language to the more subjective “significant benefits” — a phrase that will undoubtedly be open for discussion if HB 1279 passes.

The FHSAA has been on the ropes in recent years, with legislative efforts designed to make it easier for transfer students to be eligible to play …   More

SPORTSTALK

"What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father."  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Ric Flair's son was found dead March 29, according to WrestlingObserver.com. There is no good way for a man in his mid-20s to die, and the speculation — given his predilections — was that his death was due to a drug overdose. A sad end to a life that seemed to have so much potential.

The American public's first introduction to Reid was on an episode of "WCW Monday Nitro," in which the young man appeared in a segment with Eric Bischoff in 1998, in which he showed a remarkable sense of timing and ability, even at the age of 9, to move as a pro wrestler should. I thought at that time that Reid would be a future world champion. It never came to pass. He spent most of his life dealing with what are so euphemistically called demons. And there seemed to be plenty.

Having Ric Flair as a father certainly must have been a mixed bag. For Reid and his brother David, they elicited instant interest from wrestling fans; in the parlance of the game, both were pushed "too hard, too soon." In the 1980s, Reid's drug use might not have been a dealbreaker — as any survey of YouTube indicates, there were no shortage of wrestlers with obvious issues. In the more corporatized world of 2013, however, his rep seemed sealed as that of a washout.

Ric had worked a deal with a Japanese federation to help get Reid some ringtime, and with Reid's sister Ashley in WWE Developmental Territory NXT, it seemed logical that Reid may join her. Obviously, that won't come to pass.

Ric's own career is in serious jeopardy. He has been working as a non-wrestling performer for WWE of late, but a blood clot in the leg ensured that he couldn't work TV this week, and he has been advised not to fly going forward. It is terrifying and heartbreaking to imagine what is going on in Ric Flair's mind right now, and the closest analogue this …   More

SPORTSTALK

Some folks believe — mistakenly — that football is inextricably linked with autumnal chill or frozen tundra. Not so! Football is a year-round occupation now. For NFL fans, free agency and the impending draft take pride of place. And for those who'd rather watch live action, the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League and the Arena Football League have offerings worth checking out.

Ladies first, as the aphorism goes. At first glance, the Legends Football League struck some observers, like me, as willfully exploitative. That reputation might stick. However, if one looks at this brand of women’s football from a different angle, the precise analogue for it may not be the NFL, but something like roller derby — a sport that defied its roots long ago and has become a vehicle for genuine female empowerment.

What I’m saying is, don’t let the pretty faces and the taut bodies fool you into thinking there's anything soft about this version of the game. With a name change and an alteration of the uniforms, the LFL is moving toward legitimacy, in a WWE diva sort of way. The women will still be wearing short shorts and exposing their midriffs, but garters — which haven’t been used in the NFL in some time — are now gone. This makes it easier, in theory, for sports fans to know these women for the athletes they are.

And just like athletes in any other sport, there are legitimate rivalries — though, admittedly, they fly below the SportsCenter radar. And smack talk galore.

“Everyone thinks we are looking forward to the Atlanta game this year because everyone is talking a big game about them. [They] are the least of my worries right now,” said Jacksonville Breeze linebacker Adrian Purnell on LFL360.com, an indispensable Legends Football League resource.

It's hard to say, given the paucity and opacity of information about the league, how good the Atlanta team coming to town March 30 might be. …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Jaguars made it known heading into free agency that they would play their cards close to the vest. General Manager David Caldwell made no secret of that in his interview on 1010XL before free agency began.

“Every year, after this first week of free agency, they come out with the ‘big winners and losers’ of free agency, more often than not, the big winners in free agency are the big losers during the season, so it's just based off past history,” he said on March 9. “We're looking for good solid players that fit our age bracket [who] can provide not only some leadership capabilities, but some depth for our guys if we draft some young guys and have to play young guys early on, that these guys are going to be the bridge and help us get to the next level.”

Depth. Youth. Leadership.

These are the hallmarks of the Atlanta Falcons, the organization from which Caldwell hails, and the hallmarks of the Seattle Seahawks, the team for whom current head coach Gus Bradley worked as defensive coordinator.

As it turned out, the releases — not the signings — were the most notable aspect for the Jaguars in the days after free agency opened.

Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis — gone, if not forgotten.

Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton — allowed to “test the market.”

Knighton’s first stop was Denver, where former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is now defensive coordinator. It remains to be seen if Knighton — whose weight and conditioning have been recurrent issues throughout his career — can handle the thin air of the Mile High City. The Broncos signed him almost immediately, though.

Last year’s free-agent splash, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, is gone after one season in the black-and-teal. A big year exploiting favorable matchups with the Cowboys earned him a $14 million bonus — a number widely ridiculed at the time of the signing …   More

SPORTSTALK

Being a fan of Division I college basketball in Jacksonville can be a frustrating experience. For fans of Jacksonville University's Dolphins, the last moment of real glory was more than 40 years ago, when big man Artis Gilmore led the squad to the national championship game at the end of the 1969-’70 season.

Fans of University of North Florida's Ospreys, meanwhile, can’t count on even a sepia-tinged memory like that to keep their memories sweet. In a sense of real achievement, every season is frustrating … and 2012-’13 was no different: Both teams were bounced from the Atlantic Sun Tournament in the first round.

The less-surprising of the two eliminations was the first — No. 7 seed UNF fell 73-63 to Florida Gulf Coast in Macon, Ga., in front of a reported crowd of 683 souls.

In any given year, the Ospreys haven’t inspired excitement, and this year was more of the same: UNF finished with 13 wins, eight in conference play. The Macon game was actually rather competitive, though; UNF led by five in the first half, and was within three points with less than six-and-a-half minutes to play. Then Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson scored nine consecutive points to effectively seal the victory.

The scrappy Ospreys did earn the respect of their opponents, however.

“Give UNF a lot of credit. They are an excellent basketball team, and I’m very happy with how hard we played to get the win,” Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield told FGCUathletics.com afterward. “We had different guys step up at different times in the game and when that happens, we are a dangerous team.”

Guard Parker Smith, an all-Atlantic Sun Conference second-team selection in 2011-’12, put up numbers that, as always, made observers wonder what would happen if UNF had more players of his caliber. Smith, a senior, scored 29 points, but given the Ospreys’ issues with turnovers and production inside the paint, he would’ve needed to score a few more to take the …   More

SPORTSTALK

Have you ever wanted to sing the national anthem at a Suns' game? You will have an opportunity to demonstrate your chops. Below, the missive from the Suns on the subject:

"With the regular season only a few weeks away, the Jacksonville Suns will hold an open casting call for National Anthem performers at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on Saturday, March 16th, from 1:00 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. The Suns have seventy dates to fill with National Anthem performers. Auditions will be held on the field and singers will be asked to perform the song in a traditional fashion and in its entirety. Instrumentalists will be given more flexibility with their rendition. Vocal groups are also encouraged to perform."

The team also needs batboys.

"Applicants for batboys for the 2013 season must be at the Baseball Grounds by 1:00pm sharp on Saturday, March 16th. Potential batboys must be 14 years of age or older, be accompanied by his parent/guardian and must bring a copy of his most recent report card and a copy of his baseball playing schedule, if available, to apply."

These are great opportunities for singers looking for exposure and for high school aged ballplayers looking for a connection to one of the most respected organizations in the minor league system. Check them out!   More

 
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