A Ryder Cup Referendum

Oh Ryder Cup, how golf fans have missed you. Two years is too long between visits. When we last saw one another on the outskirts of Chicago the Europeans had just completed one of the most remarkable and improbable comebacks in the history of sports thanks to the inspirational leadership of captain Jose Maria Olazabal who effectively channeled the spirit and charisma of fellow Spaniard the late great Seve Ballesteros. Of course we can’t forget about Ian Poulter either whose standing as the greatest match play golfer of his era was only enhanced after his exploits at Medina. Watching Europe celebrate their come from behind victory on American soil was a disheartening experience for team U.S.A who have waited quietly and patiently for a chance at redemption.

So much has changed since 2012 however that many of the names and faces traipsing about the hallowed grounds of Gleneagles might strike the average sports fan as unrecognizable. After all, the Era of Tiger has been eclipsed by the Reign of Rory and while an injured Woods convalesces on his Jupiter estate, the responsibility of bearing the Stars and Stripes through the Scottish countryside falls on the worldly shoulders of guys with the last names Walker, Reed and Spieth. Team U.S.A is not completely void of veterans as seasoned patriots like Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson continue to wear the red, white and blue with great pride and distinction even if, in the case of Mickelson, the season to date has been a major disappointment.

And before the Europeans run about the local distilleries screaming that the 2014 Ryder Cup is theirs to lose, match play as you know has never been decided on paper and captain Paul McGinley will be rolling out just as many rookies as the Americans. Even if the top of their roster remains a veritable who’s who of the games elite: McIlroy, Garcia, Rose, Stenson, Kaymer, pressure is a tangible thing at the Ryder Cup and expectations can weigh down even the best in the world. The United States has embraced the role of underdogs before and captain Tom Watson would be wise to instill in his team this year a healthy commitment to the mantra ’Us Against the World’.

Now that the people of Scotland have let their voices be heard it’s time for golf fans to choose sides and while rooting interests may vary, what remains consistent regardless of the referendum is a love for match play and the Ryder Cup. Whatever happens at Gleneagles, however these three days in late September play out, memories will be made and passions will be stoked. Because two years is too long.

Champions League Soccer: A Perfect Excuse For A Pint

Champions League soccer, a perfect excuse for a midday pint. Preferably Guinness. But from the looks of this Irish pub few got the memo. Was all the momentum for more soccer in this country following the World Cup a ruse perpetuated by young, liberal hipsters or do Americans have more important things to tend to at 2:30PM on a Tuesday afternoon in September? Possibly work? Maybe exercise. Could be family. Still, bartender seems nice enough even though she hasn’t been around this joint long enough to learn how to lower the ambient 90s rock which now threatens to drown out the Dortmund crowd. Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal, first leg of the group stage. Live from Germany. Not Russia. Two well known sides. Even the two college kids are familiar but can’t trust them, they’re from New Jersey.

This guy sounds like he knows a little but more about the game. Maybe it’s the English accent. Could be the old school iPod shuffle. Nope, it’s definitely the English accent. Just finished a workout. Liverpool fan. Change channels? Why sure? Kids, you don’t mind do you? No. Ok, bye bye Dortmund/Arsenal hello Liverpool vs Ludogorets. English so happy that he decides to celebrate with an ice cold…Corona??? You’re English for crying out loud, aren’t you supposed to have better taste than that? Clearly ashamed, he redeems himself with an Americanized and Americansized portion of fish n’ chips. The English, so predictable.

First half transpires without incident, accident or any goals which is fine if you’ve got nothing personally invested in the Champions League but incredibly angst ridden if like English you’re a Liverpool fan and nervous because Ludogorets is playing an inspired brand of football even though few outside of Bulgaria have ever heard of the Eagles from Razgrad.

Halftime. Still no score. Kids order wings. Not too spicy. English has a second Corona. One Guinness good for me, it is a work day after all. Make the next one a seltzer please. Hold on hold on…with lime.

The second half goes by with limited drama. A few cooks come out of the kitchen to mingle with the bartender. One fills up a tupperware container with beer. Must get real thirsty standing by the oven. Either that or it’s for a recipe. English has been outside talking on his phone for the last few minutes. And you call yourself a serious Reds fan, Liverpool not Cincinnati? Back just in time for a well placed volley from newly acquired striker Mario Balotelli. Fists pumps from English. Cheers to the kids. Wink and a nod to the bartender who’s now busying herself with a celebratory Irish whiskey. Not for her, that would be against the rules. Must be for English. College kids are too young for coffee. And whiskey. But not cheap beer. Have another fellas, next one’s on English.

Ludogorets with the equalizer? How’s that possible? There’s like no time left on the clock. English silent, coffee mug pressed gently against his lips. Going to need to pace around the bar for a few moments while us other patrons do our best to blend in with the dark oak. Don’t want to upset the already distressed. Dinner crowd should be arriving momentarily and with only a few minutes of extra time remaining it does not seem like Liverpool is going to come out of this one with three points which has English sweating through his workout clothes for the second time this afternoon.

Leave it to a soccer referee to call a questionable foul in extra time. Wait, UEFA and FIFA are two separate entities? The goalie had an angle and the contact was of an incidental nature. Must be playing to the home crowd. Anfield. If this game were being played in Bulgaria it might have been a different story. But that’s not reality as Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard calmly strikes the ball in the back right corner of the net. Final score: Reds 2 Ludogorets 1. English takes a deep sigh of relief. Finally he can have a sip of that Irish whiskey. Major props to the Bulgarian side who might prove to be the thorn of this group. What’s that? Next game against Real Madrid the reigning kings of the Champions League? Fun while it lasted Ludogorets.

Settle the tab. Thanks for your kind, considerate company Ms. Bartender. Kids, get back to your books. English, congrats on the win and enjoy that whiskey. It is 4:30 in the afternoon after all. A perfect time for soccer in America.

Baltimore’s Getting Back to the Baseball

It’s about time Baltimore got back to being about the baseball.

Move over Ravens, time to share the tree branch. The Charm City’s isn’t just button hooks and goal line stands, this town’s got baseball in it’s blood once again.

Save the Old Bay for the crab cakes and potato chips, this fall season’s going to be all about Orioles baseball as the Birds make their second trip to the postseason in three years. And so what if this is the first time since 1997 that the team has won the AL East, Fort McHenry wasn’t built in a day and to all those fans who stood patiently by as the team floundered like the fish in Baltimore Harbor, congrats to you because without your loyalty and passion throughout those lean years Camden Yards would have felt even more like a graveyard, haunted by Orioles legends from the past like Ripken, Murray and the Robinsons.

To the national media still hesitant to sing the Orioles praises due to the roster’s apparent flaws like a starting rotation without a star or an injury/suspension riddled lineup missing all-stars Machado, Wieters and Davis, those fireworks exploding in the sky above the Warehouse may not be bombs bursting in the air but if Francis Scott Key were around today it’s hard to imagine that tucked between some line or stanza of our National Anthem wouldn’t be some reference to the Birds because while the Stars and Stripes still fly prominently next to Boog’s BBQ so too does the orange pennant nesting comfortable a top the AL East.

So let’s move the conversation beyond ‘The Wire’ already. With all due respect to David Simon the only corners that Orioles fans care about this fall are occupied by guys with the last name Pearce and Paredes. Yes, the Inner Harbor is still a great place to take the family, but when’s the last time you saw a bottle nose dolphin at the National Aquarium take back a home run like Adam Jones? Or the canons on the USS Constellation fire a strike like Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman?

To all you young ones out there that never heard of the Oriole Way, whose grandparents call them ‘Hon’ and still yammer on about the good old days of Memorial Stadium, buckle up because moments like this can be taken for granted. Appreciate this team and opportunity and make sure your family brings you back to the yard. Because Baltimore was built for baseball.

A Southpaw Showdown: Koufax or Kershaw

Historical comparisons in sports are great because there is usually no right answer to the question ‘who’s better’. Jordan or Kobe? Manning or Montana? Tiger or Jack? Individual opinions vary and can be easily validated or rebuked depending on your point of view. If you never saw Johnny Unitas throw a spiral how can you say that he was better than Brady? If you never watched Oscar Robertson drop an entire season’s worth of triple-double how can you possibly argue that LeBron is the superior basketball talent? Right or wrong, these comparisons fuel some of the most passionate conversations in sports.

In baseball today there is a debate developing that may never be solved, one that even though it is currently based on speculation and career trajectory remains very worthy of our attention. Who’s better: Sandy Koufax or Clayton Kershaw?

At this point in time the Hall of Famer Koufax’s legendary accomplishments make it difficult to compare him to just about any other pitcher in MLB history, let alone Clayton Kershaw. 1 MVP. 3 Cy Youngs. 3 World Series Championships. 2 World Series MVPs. The accolades do not do justice to the dominance of Koufax who’s career came to a premature end at the young of 30.

Yet the 26 year old Kershaw has already staked his claim as this era’s best pitcher and could soon find himself listed alongside some of the games all time greats. This season he is on pace to win his 3rd Cy Young award and could be in line for his first MVP as well. Kershaw’s superiority doesn’t stop there as he has allowed 3 runs or fewer in 24 of his 25 starts with the Dodgers going 18-1 in games he has started since the beginning of June.

The similarities between Koufax and Kershaw run deeper than their Dodger blue. Both lefties average around 230 strikeouts per 162 game season with Kershaw’s 2.48 career era slightly lower than Koufax’s 2.76. Koufax led the NL in complete games twice which Kershaw is doing for the first time this season.

The one area where there is no comparison is postseason performance as Koufax became an immortal because of October while Kershaw has so far struggled to find his playoff stride. Things could change this season however as the Los Angeles Dodgers are once again a top the NL West, thanks to Kershaw, with a talented roster poised for a postseason run.

And if the Dodgers do go on to win the World Series and Clayton Kershaw pitches like he has for most of his career, maybe then will the Kershaw/Koufax debate become a real thing, an argument for the ages, a showdown of southpaws.