BOB GEARY: I come at this issue from the standpoint of the young athlete, male or female. At age 18-22, they’re in their prime years to begin and attempt to succeed at a career in professional sports. Some of them are also, even mainly, interested in being students. The problems arise when we professionalize “college” sports to the point that it’s impossible for serious students to take part while at the same time we pretend that terrific athletes who are not good students are nonetheless, cue the marching band, “student-athletes.” In other words, let’s not mix up two things that don’t mix—college sports and professional sports.
I suggest two optional courses of action for UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and other universities that were once members of the Southern Conference and—or the original ACC. One is to get rid of athletic scholarships completely. Reorganize your sports “programs” so they’re not professional—sorry, Roy Williams, no more paying coaches million$ when faculty get thousand$—and a good student can play football or basketball while also carrying a reasonable academic course load. This, of course, means limited travel, but hey, it’s not that far from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, or Chapel Hill to Clemson, for that matter. But if the team’s going to China or Dubai, Coach K, it ought to be for their intellectual development first.
We can’t stop a corrupt Texas U. from playing a corrupt Auburn U. for professional stakes. But we can step away from the cesspool.
If true amateurism doesn’t suit, then let’s divorce our professional sports teams from our universities and allow non-students, part-time students and any full-time students who think they can manage it to play and be paid for what they are—professional athletes. Or is Harrison Barnes not a professional athlete? And if he’s not, why is Roy Williams getting millions to coach him and the TV networks …? Oh, never mind.
There was one out and the score was 4-3, Durham. The out was secured by left fielder Russ Canzler, who was named league MVP earlier in the day, drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth with a clutch two-out single—after striking out in his three previous at-bats—and had just raced to the retaining wall in foul territory and caught Wilkin Castillo's foul fly ball. Not a great play, by any means, but a good one, especially for a guy who takes flak for his fielding.
The next batter was the Braves' other Wilkin, the one named Ramirez. He goes around singing to himself, "With the thoughts I'd be thilkin' / I could be another Wilkin." Ramirez singled to left field off of Rob Delaney.
I am psychic. I've said it before and will have cause to say it again. This is not a boast. We are all psychic, but our minds are over-cluttered with stimuli and so we can't hear the messages that the future sends us. What I like about watching baseball games is that their deep but thrumming quiet, and their extraordinary, head-clearing equilibrium, push out all of the mental obstructions and allow you to see the future.
I thought to myself: Someone is going to make a diving catch to decide this game.
Follow us over to Bull City Summer to read the rest of this story about the Bulls' biggest win of the season.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Lost in the general happiness of the Durham Bulls' Sunday doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights was this nagging problem: The Bulls haven't been scoring runs. They came into last night's game against Gwinnett having scored 51 of them over their last 13 games, an average of less than four per game, which is a lower rate than Rochester's league-worst 4.01.
It got lower in last night's 2-1 loss to the Gwinnett Braves. The Bulls' lone run scored on a passed ball. The Braves pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Bulls for the IL South Division lead with a week left in the regular season.
The evening put a damper on the Bulls' promising three-game winning streak, literally: rain fell from the middle innings through to the end of the game, which not only made it a soggy affair but probably reduced the potential crowd—10,000 strong on Sunday—to just 4,000 or so Monday night.
The rain also reduced the Bulls again, shrinking their production to just six singles. They had no hits, or even a hard-hit out, after the sixth inning, and none with runners in scoring position all night. They stranded 10 baserunners overall.
There was another ambient effect after the game. The media assembled in Durham manager Charlie Montoyo's office, as usual, for the customary five minutes of interview time, and in its midst all the power went out for a few seconds.
Hey, fans: Tonight's game is not only the last one the Bulls will play against arch-rival Gwinnett, it's the LAST HOME GAME OF THE REGULAR SEASON! If you're out-clicking here, before the jump, let that gut-kicking fact serve as an invitation to get yourself and about 10,000 of your friends out to the DBAP. The torpid Toros could use some very loud cheering, straight from the gut.
My friends, join us over on Bull City Summer to read the rest of this gut-bucket game story.
DBAP/ DURHAM—The Durham Bulls pulled off a doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights yesterday, beating them 4-3 and then again, 3-0. The two victories gave them a five-game series win over Charlotte, three games to two; more importantly, the Bulls won three straight games in less than 24 hours, nearly setting the Bulls upright after an ugly four-game slump that had slowed their march toward the playoffs to a crawl.
Two wins, so Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said it twice: "Great day, man. Great day."
Most importantly, the Bulls nudged their IL South Division lead over the Gwinnett Braves (who beat Norfolk again) to 3 1/2 games with eight left to play, reducing their so-called "magic number" to clinch the division to an almost-comfortable five games.
What an insulting phrase, "magic number." Yes, it of course refers to the "magic" that awaits teams that make the post-season—if magic is really what it is (ask the 1960 Yankees, the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, or best of all the 1919 White Sox). But A) you get there by playing the fiendishly hard, unforgiving, body-grinding game of baseball just about every single sweaty mundane day for five months; and B) the number itself is calculated by a very unmagical process known as math: Any combination of Bulls wins and Gwinnett losses totaling five gives the Bulls the division title.
This is not to take the romance out of it, but only to honor what Class AAA ballplayers do 144 times in a season, with a grand total of 10 days off. That's more than enough daily repetitions to render out the hocus-pocus that the term "magic number" implies. The game of baseball itself is magical—methinks its very repetition is what makes it magical, along with its precision and its relentless dailiness. Wins and losses are not magic. They are the cumulative evidence of how much magic your hard work, your discipline and your patience with failure have created. If the Bulls make the playoffs—which they probably should, given the circumstances—they will have gotten there not by sleight of hand but by handwork; not by trickery, but by uprightness.
Folks, head over to Bull City Summer to read the rest of this double-headed game story.
I'm sure this etymology has been widely broadcast, or perhaps you already knew that the name "Irene" comes from that of a Greek goddess. Irene was the goddess of peace, and there's an adjective, irenic—"promoting peace; peaceful; pacific," as my dictionary defines it—correlated to the name. Or maybe vice versa.
Plenty of commentators must have noted that it was
irenic ironic that a destructive force majeure would bear such a name. Irene battered North Carolina yesterday, causing several deaths, copious floods and damage, and widespread power outages. Weather remains one of the only hazards human beings have not yet learned to control or ward off. There is nothing you can do but absorb the damage, lament the losses, and then recover.
Sportsfans, read the rest of this story, and all of our expanded and improved Durham Bulls coverage, on the new Bull City Summer pilot site, where Sam Stephenson has all the details on how groundskeeper Scott Strickland readied the DBAP for Hurricane Irene, enabling the Bulls and Knights to play just hours after the storm left the Triangle:
He said that last time I interviewed him, too, way back on April 20, in virtually the exact same words: "One thing I'll never forget is how hard this game is."
I ran with that in April, and even though it's clearly the line McEwing feeds the media, I'm running with it again four months later. That's partly because I got home from the ballgame, cranked up Twitter, and was confronted with this tweet from the great Neko Case:
Music is too hard. Other people make it look so F-ing easy.
McEwing and Case affirmed what I'd been thinking while I watched the Bulls lose their fourth straight game: Right now, everything about the game of baseball looks really hard for them, and they compound the difficulty by making it harder on themselves.
Coverage of the Bulls has moved to the new Bull City Summer pilot site, but I haven't wanted to leave Triangle Offense high and dry. Come along to the new site, though, and keep reading this story—and many more, including Sam Stephenson's interview with DBAP groundskeeper Scott Strickland, there:
The Gwinnett Braves did what the Bulls could not: they beat Norfolk at home (and Charlotte at home, twice, before that), and crept to within three games of the Bulls for first place in the IL South Division with 12 left to play. The two teams go head to head for two games at the DBAP on Monday and Tuesday. Four days ago, it seemed like those games might wind up being virtually meaningless, but with Gwinnett having recovered from their own bad stretch—they went 2-6 from August 14-21—and the Bulls currently ensconced in a three-game losing streak, you might need to drop whatever bone you're planning to worry those nights, and get out to the ballpark.
Sportsfans, our coverage of the Durham Bulls has moved, for now, to another corner of the Independent's web site, known as "Bull City Summer," a gullywhumpus of a new project that is going to take the Bulls by their horns in 2012 but is having its first rodeo here at the tail end of 2011. Continue reading this game story, and all those that follow, here.
My usual 3,000-word story is here:
See you over there for the rest of 2011, and look for a big splash from us in 2012.
Indy intern Philip Hoover spent several nights this summer attending the S.J.G. Greater N.C. Pro-Am, a loosely organized series of basketball games in McLendon-McDougald Gym on the N.C. Central campus in Durham. He filed the report, and he assisted producer Brooke Darrah Shuman in the making of this video.
One night last month, the air was hot and thick as my friends and I strolled up to the back of a line that extended several hundred yards from the entrance.
A ripple of anticipation ran through the line as Jerry Stackhouse rode by in his Cadillac Escalade and pulled into the nearby parking lot. Minutes later, another large SUV pulled in behind him. After double-parking in front of three other cars, John Henson stepped out and smiled at his parking job (but it was no match for the parking of erstwhile UNC football player Greg Little).
Harrison Barnes, P.J. Hairston and Kendall Marshall emerged from Henson’s car as well. The foursome dapped up Stackhouse and waved at some of the fans before entering through the back of the stadium.
Division I college basketball teams are not allowed to hold practices for most of the summer. Not with their coaches present, anyway. While the coaches can still advise their players on how to improve during the off-season, it’s ultimately up to the players themselves to decide just how to try and do so.
Under the “about” bar on the website of the S.J.G Greater NC Pro-Am, which recently concluded in Durham, a reference is made to ”grassroots mentoring… professional athletes who have a connection to the community come back to mentor local college players.” It sounds like boilerplate lip service, but there was nothing phony about the experience gained by the local college players who played in the Pro-Am on this summer, in the classroom known as North Carolina Central’s McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium.
The rosters were dotted with college and professional players. As usual, many current Duke and UNC players participated. Players from other schools stood out as well. Most notable were Dominique Sutton, a NCCU transfer formerly of Kansas State and Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom. Several NBA performers—in need of competitive workouts due to the ongoing lockout—joined the teams, as did former college players trying to get their careers back on track. Former Tar Heel Sean May and flamboyant N.C. State star Julius Hodge came in and balled hard, clearly raring for another shot at an NBA contract once the lockout runs its course.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Checking in on the Carolina Mudcats, who are trying desperately to stave off elimination from playoff contention in their final season in the Southern League.
Tonight’s opponents, the Jacksonville Suns, are in even worse shape, 11 ½ games behind the runaway leader Mobile Bay Bears in the South. N.C. State alumnus Andy Barkett is the Suns’ skipper.
Josh Ravin (0-0, 7.62) will take the hill for Carolina against Jeff Allison (3-4, 6.50).
The Mudcats get off to a good start but not so good of a finish, as the Suns score the last six runs to win 8-4 and take the tragic number to five.