Monthly Archives: June 2010

Block I Sold Out

http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/062910aab.html

    Just two days away from July, exactly two weeks from the release of NCAA Football 11, does that make it football season yet? I wouldn’t say so, but according to fightingillini.com, football is on the brain for current and upcoming orange and blue students. As said by the site, the Block I, Illinois’ football student section, has officially sold out. “Our high season ticket renewal rate, sold out horseshoe and Block I sellout all point to more great crowds for Fighting Illini football this season” said Chris Hanna, Assistant Athletic Director of Sales and Marketing. This isn’t a huge feat but at least somebody is excited about what will be going on this fall in Champaign, besides Midnight Madness, where you will get your first look at Jereme Richmond.

      Last season, the Block I was sold out as well, unfortunately by the time yours truly made his way over to freshman orientation all spots were gone, but not this year. I’m moving up in the world, or at least that’s what I told myself when I made sure to secure my seat to see (1) the birth of a star QB, (2) the last season of Ron Zook on the sidelines, (3) a half empty stadium by mid October, (4) Mikel Leshoure rep Champaign while running like the last Illini running back to wear #5, or any combination of the four. What is for sure is that this season is going to come with a bunch of unknowns, just ask ESPN’s Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenburg. In his segment “Best Case/Worst Case”(http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/13069/video-best-caseworst-case-illinois), Rittenburg said the Illini could reach a ceiling of 8 or 9 wins if everything goes well this season. On the other hand, if things go sour, Zook could be staring a 2-10 record directly in the face, with basketball season coming before Halloween in the Paign.

      I know what you’re thinking, “how can one team have the potential to win 8 or 9 games but also lose 10?” My answer, welcome to Illinois football where everything is based on potential. Petrino’s offense could do wonders, just look at Ryan Mallet who could very well be the first QB taken in next year’s draft,

Centennial Pride: Mikel Leshoure

Martez and Mikel could break out and be Big Ten first teamers, and the Illini could make some noise in a deep conference that will only get deeper in 2011. Yeah, I’ll take this scenario in a heartbeat, but you always have to worry about an absolute collapse which has been the storyline all but two years in the past decade at Memorial Stadium. Scheelhaase could go through terrible growing pains against Big Ten defenses, Martez could hurt his neck again, the offensive line might fail to open up enough holes for Leshoure and Ford, combine that with some shaky coaching and there you have a 2-10 season.

     I don’t want to get too caught up in a bunch of football talk just yet, but the season really is just down the street, over the bridge, and around the corner. Take it from me, the students and other season ticket holders will pack Memorial Stadium in early September but whether the place is jammed in November against Minnesota as the Illini fight for a good bowl birth or whether it will be empty as fans wait to see the Illini play Presbeterian at the Hall, well, that is up Zook & Co. More on Illinois football in the future, but for now, the Block I is sold out and if you haven’t already, go buy your golden ticket because this season is going to be like a rollercoaster: either the ride of your life or a reason to throw up. Hopefully it’s somewhere closer to the first one.

-Derek Piper

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The Holliday Season

     Remember back when you were a young kid waiting anxiously for Christmas, Hanukah, or whichever holiday you chose to celebrate? You would always ask your parents, “how many days left” until the best time of the year would finally arrive. Well, that was the holiday season, as a Cardinals fan in mid June, the Holliday season is what everyone is waiting for, and as it looks right now, that time has come. It’s no secret that Matt Holliday has been under a great deal of heat in the STL the past month and a half, and I’m not talking about the St. Louis humidity. Prior to last weekend’s series with the Athletics, Holliday, who was rewarded with a seven year contract last offseason that is paying him over 16 million dollars in 2010, was batting only .284 with 6 HR’s, definitely not Matt Holliday type numbers. With those struggles came much criticism from the restless faithful in red, who aren’t known to be hard on their players, exclude the end Jason Isringhausen’s stint with the Cardinals and Tino Martinez’s entire term, but Cardinals fans have been sleeping easy once again now that the Holliday they are used to seeing appears to be back.

     It started last Friday against his former team, the A’s, where Holliday looked to be locked in. Was it an attempt at revenge, as everyone knows Holliday was not a happy camper in Oakland, or was it just a coincidence that the sleeping bear woke up from his May/June hibernation?  Whatever it was, Holliday exploded with a 3-4 night, hitting a homerun and driving in three runs. To say he was overdue would be an understatement, but even Mark McGwire, who has taken some heat of his own with the Cardinals offensive struggles, always believed he would get it turned around and just wanted Matt to continue to be patient. “Matt knows how to hit, and Matt knows how to make adjustments. I’ve always been a believer. You’ve got to wait and see the whole six months.”  

     Holliday continued his tirade against the Athletics, hitting three more homeruns and driving in another five runs, leading the way for the Cardinals to take two out of three. Just how much of a surge was it for Holliday? To put it simply, Holliday finished the series with 8 RBI’s and had only driven in 9 runs in the 22 games prior to that.

     Then came last night. Would Holliday have anything left for the Blue Jays in Toronto or would he go back into relax mode? That question was answered in Holliday’s second at bat when he blasted a pitch over the left field wall in the third inning, but he wasn’t done there. With his single in the first inning and his big fly in the third, #7 also added an RBI double in his third plate appearance, leaving him a triple shy of the cycle. Granted, Holliday was unable to get the “three-bagger” but his performance sent a message across baseball, beware because summer is the Holliday season.

     All you have to do is look at the numbers, the hotter the weather, the hotter Matt Holliday’s bat becomes. Everyone was all up in arms about the star the Cardinals “overpaid for”, but could you really doubt a career .317 hitter who has yet to hit under .300 in his seven year career? Well, Holliday has given you reason to believe again. After his four game tear, Matt Holliday’s average is now sittin’ pretty at .308 which is tenth in the NL right now. Where will he go from here? Well, if history repeats itself, which it seems to do, Holliday will only get better. Over his entire career, Holliday’s numbers consistently climb from month to month, where he finally hits his peak in July and continues to be strong the rest of the season. July is only a week away, and this .337 career hitter in that month should be at his best.

-Derek Piper

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Pie Day!!!

     Today is a historic day on Feel Da Paign. Derek Piper and Jacob Southey are back after a 3 month break from webcasts with a great show. We got NBA Finals, NCAA Expansion, Buzzer Beaters, and everyone’s favorite, a pie in the face for Derek. Enjoy

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Mayhem on Michigan Avenue

Cory, myself, and 2,000,000 of our closest (literally) friends. (courtesy of chicagotribune.com)

     Quick question… where can you go to find drunken superstars, bottles of Jim Beam being passed around, flying water bottles, accusations of harassment, ticker tape, cops on horseback, and oh yeah, 2,000,000 people dressed in red and black ready to party? As of now that seems like a pretty hard combination to find, but if you were in attendance, like my friend Cory and I, at the Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade, that’s exactly what you would have seen and so much more.

     It was a day of celebration. A day of excitement and recollection. Man who am I kidding? It was a day to do whatever the hell you wanted because the Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup. At least, that was the mindset yesterday for the majority of people who lined the street of Michigan Ave to see the Blackhawks return home with the cup. So where do Cory and I fit in all of this? Well, we did not want to miss such a great opportunity to experience something that, Chicago crowd control hopes, will only come around once in a lifetime.

     The parade was set to begin at 10:30 yesterday morning, with the championship rally kicking off at 11:30, but trust me, the festivities began long before then. To get a good spot in parade the die-hard Blackhawks fan, Cory, and the bandwagon Blackhawks fan, myself, left our beloved Champaign at 4:30 AM. Are we crazy? Yes. Will I ever wake up that early the rest of my life? I hope to God I do not, but there’s a first time for everything and both of us agree that it was worth it.

Kane with his champagne

On our way up Interstate 57, we enjoyed some great Chicago sports radio, and had heard that Patrick Kane and a few other teammates were still at the bars at 5:30, drinking champagne from Lord Stanley’s Cup. The funny thing to me was that the guy on the air also reported that yesterday’s starting pitcher for the Cubs, Randy Wells, was out partying with them until 3:00 AM, despite his 1:00 PM start against the White Sox. Is it just me or does that sound like not such a good idea? Oh well, Cubs will be Cubs.

  We arrived at the Millennium Parking Garage, just a few blocks from Michigan Ave, at exactly 6:40 AM and began to make our way over to the parade site. By the time we got to our spot, there were probably about 1,000 people there, most of them occupying the stage area where the team would ultimately end up, but we were still able to get a great position. The next three and half hours were quite eventful. They included standing, being annoyed by children, and oh yeah, standing. I had never stood in one spot for almost four hours straight, and now know why I do not. While we were standing, the street began fill up like crazy. It literally got to the point where I could not see where the line of people ended. The one exciting that did come from those three hours was when they began to pass out free water bottles. I know what you’re thinking, how can that be exciting? Well, little did the Salvation Army workers who passed out the water know, but it didn’t take long for the water that was meant for drinking, to be flung into the air like bottle rockets. Empty bottles, half empty bottles, and full, never been opened, bottles of water were tossed in every direction. It was ridiculous, yet somewhat funny, being that I was not struck by one of the “aircrafts.” More on this subject a little later, but now on to the actual parade.

     The parade was awesome. It looked like we were at Times Square on New Year’s Eve the way ticker tape flew through the air. The players rolled through on red double-decker buses, waving to the crowd. A few of them had obviously had a bit to drink and looked like they hadn’t slept in a while, Patrick Kane the most obvious one, but who can blame them? That part of the event went as I expected, looking much like any other parade just a whole lot cooler, but what happened next was not one of the things I had pictured in my head when thinking of making my way up I-57 at 4:30 in the morning.

     Continue reading

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CHAMPS!!!

     Raise up your cups Chicago, whether it be like the one above or any old thing filled to the top with your favorite beverage, the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. From the time the first puck of the 2009-2010 season was dropped until Patrick Kane’s wrister blew past Michael Leighton in OT, the Blackhawks have provided us with intensity, excitement, and a whole lot of unbelievable hockey. In a city where championships come around about as often as flash floods in a desert, the Hawks did virtually the unthinkable, win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  

     Much like the Washington Nationals  are hoping for with Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Blackhawks got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to do one thing, win championships. Fortunately for them, it has worked out pretty well so far and it doesn’t seem like much will be stopping these two in years to come. Toews, though his production dipped a bit in the Final (credit to Philadelphia), had one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. Seriously, how can you argue with a guy who had at least one point in 13 straight playoff games? If that’s not the definition of a PTP’er (Prime Time Performer), I don’t know what is, remind me to ask Dick Vitale the next time he is at The Hall.

Jared Allen

     What goes well with an unbelievably talented, young center who rocks some nasty (in a good way) sideburns? That’s right, the illusive playmaker who sports a mullet that even Jared Allen would be jealous of; his name is Patrick Kane. Kaner, who was second to Toews in Blackhawks points this playoffs, was a gamer this post season. Toews may have been Mr. Consistent, but Kane was the homerun hitter. Despite being held scoreless in the first two games against Philly, Kane racked up 8 huge points in the Finals, including the biggest goal of all, in overtime of Game 6. The Bulls had Jordan and Pippen, and now Chicago has another great duo with Toews and Kane.

     The dynamic duo deserve a lot of credit, but none of this could have happened without the rest of the young guns. Big Buff burst onto the scene this post season and came up with big goal after big goal the whole way through.

I'd let Big Buff hold my cup

 Using his size and strength, Buff was a nightmare that would make even Patrick Roy toss and turn at night. Speaking of great goalies, Antti Niemi was diamond in the rough for Chicago. Just watching him night in and night out made me realize two things: 1. man this guy is amazing, and 2. I would not want to play goalie in the NHL. Quarterback in the NFL was once my number one, but now I’m not exactly sure what the toughest position in sports is, but goalie in the NHL is up there.

     My hands would hurt too much if I went through each and every player that made this thing happen, but that shows the depth of this Hawks team. Hossa, Sharp, “the Rat”, Keith, Seabrook, Versteeg, all did their fair share in bringing the cup back to the Windy City. What an amazing team this is, hopefully they can stay together for a long time. There may be no more games on the schedule, but the party has just started. The Hawks rally will take place tomorrow morning, yours truly will be in attendance. Enjoy the cup Hawks fans, because if Chicago sports has taught us anything, it’s that no joy can come without years of suffering.

-Derek Piper

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Game 6

     The parade has been scheduled, the Tribune has stirred up controversy, and man, am I ready for Game 6 tonight. They say that a seven game series hasn’t started until a road team wins a game, will that happen tonight? I don’t know for sure but if these past five games haven’t been a “series”, they have featured some darn good hockey. In one of the most high scoring Stanley Cup Finals in the last half a century, we have seen goals, big hits, great saves, and oh yeah, more goals. Are the Flyers prepared to protect their home ice where they have only lost one game (9-1) this playoffs? Or will the Hawks finish off yet another series in six games?

Key to the Game: Which Michael Leighton will we see? Are we going to see the one who is nearly unbeatable at home, oh wait, he has been since these playoffs have started. If that happens, then obviously we will be preparing for one more game in Chicago before it is all said and done. However, if we see the Michael Leighton we saw in Game 1 and Game 5, both games that he was not fortunate enough to finish, Lord Stanley’s Cup will be the property of Toews, Kane, and the city of Chicago.

     The question of Michael Leighton’s performance tonight is not all him, as Chrissy Pronger (the new name given to him by the Chicago Tribune) will tell you. When Leighton has struggled, so has the Flyers defense, which shows an obvious correlation. The same can be said of Leighton’s success, and really of any goalie’s success. Just look at Game 3 when the Flyers came out punching, as they smashed the Blackhawks first line. The Hawks have made some adjustments since then, so something has got to give.

Home Ice: There may not be another sport in which home field advantage plays a bigger role, or at least some would argue. I would say college basketball would compare, but championships during March Madness are not decided on a home team’s hardwood. Either way, home ice in hockey has shown to be very important, especially in this series. There is just a renewed energy or boost of emotion that comes out when players are playing in front of their home fans and why not? Who wouldn’t be a little more jacked up if they heard the catchy song that encompasses the United Center when the Hawks score, as opposed to pure silence in Philly. Believe my rationale if you want, but the stats don’t lie. Home ice plays a big role in deciding hockey games.

Prediction: Hawks 4, Flyers 3. Did I not just say playing at home essentially guaranteed victory? Well, I think talent defeats superstition tonight. The Hawks have shown they can win on the road this post season and I think it is time the better team closes out this series. Will it be easy? No, but let’s just say the parade should be pretty crazy in Chicago late into Thursday morning.

-Derek Piper

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Strasburg the Next Chosen One?

     Remember the first time you watched Lebron James play? I’m not talking about his high school games at St. Mary’s or his performance at the McDonald’s All American game, I mean on the big stage. The time when the potential professional met current professionals. You had heard all the hype, watched highlights of him on ESPN or across the internet, and ultimately wondered whether he would be as good as everyone sized him up to be. In Lebron’s case, he was spectacular from the very beginning and look at him now. Well, tonight you will witness another “Chosen One” who will be making his MLB debut in Washington, Stephen Strasburg. Like King James, Strasburg is not some ordinary prospect or draft pick that has eventually found his way to the “Big Show” with pedestrian expectations. He, no thanks to the media and scouts everywhere, is expected to be the next Nolan Ryan and he hasn’t even thrown a Major League pitch yet.

     Right or wrong, this is the way “up and comers” are viewed in sports today. There are such high expectations put on them from the time they are in high school, essentially setting most of them up for failure. Not everyone can be the next Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, or whoever, and that is why maybe the sports world has taken things a little too far. If Strasburg comes out tonight against the Pirates and goes 6 innings, giving up no runs, then he did what he was suppose to do. On the other hand, say Strasburg isn’t on his game tonight and gives up 6 runs, then some will already say he’s a bust. This is the world that we live in today, right or wrong, but as Lebron has shown us, these expectations can turn out to be a good thing.

     When Lebron came into the NBA, expectations were through the roof, but he lived up to those expectations and even exceeded them. He has done everything anyone could have expected out of him, minus winning an NBA championship, and for that, he has been raised up to “King” status. The same can be said for Strasburg. If Strasburg is as good as he “should be”, he will be put above all others in a Godly class.

     As it stands right now, the Nationals are in last place in the NL East and Strasburg is only one player. Will his presence take them from last to first in one season? I don’t think so, but this could be the beginning of an era. He has torn up the minor leagues and will be going up against a Pittsburg lineup that is solid but not an All-Star team. Will this be the night Strasburg shows the world what we will hopefully see for the next 15 years? We will see but as Ryan Zimmerman told Scott Van Pelt, “he’s going to pitch again in five days.”

-Derek Piper

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