Thursday, July 2, 2009

Halftime (II)

Don't forget to read Part 1 of Halftime and check the new video from KeySpan Park.

Cue the classic Nas track.

Early July is a pretty intriguing time in sports. There’s the free agency frenzy in both the NBA and NHL, with the backdrop of a devastating recession. The sight of the word July is a boon to Major League Baseball as it prepares for the All-Star Game, the trading deadline and its only month as the lone major team sport in town. Wimbledon is going to give us championship battles during the holiday weekend, with storylines for both the men and women’s finals.

Yet, as Wednesday’s post discusses, we have entered the second half of 2009, a year that has sped by us with great games, historical events and utterly bizarre news. After reading about a few of the general issues headed into the next six months, here are some sport-specific thoughts you should pay attention to.

MLB: It looks as if the big boys are wielding heavy lumber into the postseason chase as all of the usually-despised big market teams (save the Cubs, at the moment) are in contention for the playoffs. Specifically, the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Mets and Phillies are in the running, while fans in Cleveland, San Diego, Washington D.C. and Oakland await NFL training camps to distract themselves from the misery.
For a sport that almost openly roots for the major market teams to go long in the postseason, it will be interesting to see not only how their players perform, but their stadiums. The demand is high in those cities, for sure, but if we are seeing empty seats immediately behind home plate in Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium, what will we find in a few months?

You can’t even dream of getting Red Sox tickets during the season, let alone the playoffs. The Phillies might be fine considering that they would be defending their championship. Manny Ramirez’s presence in the Dodgers lineup creates absurd revenues for the front office. Yet in New York City, neither team can fill their ballpark, even as they play winning baseball. Ticket prices are such a turnoff at a time where fans would love to attend games that it would be hard to imagine that anyone would fork over entire paychecks/unemployment benefits for a Divisional Series game, let alone the World Series.

NFL: Donte’ Stallworth’s guilty plea to DUI manslaughter – in which he was given 30 days in jail, two years of house arrest, eight years of probation, 1,000 hours of community service and a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license – had set off a firestorm among fans and media. The immediate and most common reaction has been a comparison of his crime compared to that of Michael Vick’s prison sentence after his dog-fighting ring was discovered. However, the Humane Society and PETA gave the NFL enough grief (that’s being kind on PETA) about Vick that it could be credited with placing the pressure on law enforcement and the league to act swiftly on the former Atlanta Falcon.

As pondered in part one last night, will there be any word from any anti-drunk driving organization such as MADD in regards to Stallworth? Sadly, if there hasn’t been already, there may not be any time soon. Since this country and this particular league have a kinship to the alcohol industry, drunk driving does not illicit the same anger and conversations as performance-enhancing use, dog fighting or throwing three interceptions in the first half.

NBA: So the LeBron in 2010 campaign started this past season, but it will be in the final year of his contract that the real chaos begins. I say chaos because while LeBron-to-New York (or Brooklyn, if the Nets are still dreaming of the Barclays Center) has been assumed for some time, if you think that the Knicks and Nets are the only teams that will make a play for him, you must not follow the NBA outside of what the mainstream media says.

Unlike the Draft, where leading to the event, it’s insinuated that teams will intentionally lose games to have a better chance to secure the top pick for a potential star, free agency is about maneuvering salaries in order to attract the best available and newly unattached players.

We should keep an eye out on which other teams not only enter the fray for the current Cleveland Cavaliers star, but which teams have a legitimate shot in landing him. Many believe that James would inherit just about the same scenario of the lack of a strong supporting cast wherever he may go. When you also add to the fact that he didn’t need to be in a ‘major’ market to become a superstar, teams that are not in the New York, Los Angeles or Chicago areas have greater incentive to make a play so long as they have the foundation to win, or at least contend for championships during the span of his new contract.

Then again, this offseason will provide plenty of intrigue on its own without thinking so much about 2010.

NHL: This league has found remarkable success since emerging from the lockout in 2005. Much of this has to do with its young stars to go along with are arguably the most exciting playoffs in all of sports year after year.

What we have discovered in the last two years in particular is that whether people love or hate them, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have people watching and debating their skills, value and presence in sports. What is somewhat overlooked is that both players, along with some strong supporting casts have matched, if not trumped, attention paid in larger markets. Sure, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. are not home of the Original Six teams, but both are fairly strong sports towns. The Steel City is already home to the current Super Bowl champion Steelers, but also a pretty profound hockey history. Meanwhile, outside of Cleveland, there’s probably not another American city as starved for a champion than D.C.; proved by their willingness to get behind the Capitals in recent seasons.

Early free agent movement points towards some of the bigger market teams as they try to supplant the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Yet, with the NHL’s momentum being built without some of those squads, there’s a legitimate question headed into the fall: can the league continue its ascension without a contender in New York City or a relevant team in Toronto?

Finally, a few quick thoughts:

College football: Will the anti-BCS movement gain greater traction now that there has been some governmental wrangling in recent months?

College basketball: Who will be the most talked about rent-a-stars/one-and-done players with even fewer brand names next season?

Tennis: Will the US Open give birth to a new star beyond the usual names of Venus, Serena, Roger, Rafael, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Novak Djokovic?

Golf: Can the PGA learn how to live without a dominant Tiger Woods? Can the LPGA withstand some of the economic hits to some of their tournaments?

NASCAR: Next week, there will be a lengthier discussion on the country’s most popular motorsports organization. For now, if (a HUGE if) Danica Patrick joins NASCAR after the season ends, how much of an impact would she make on a sport once considered America’s fastest growing sport just a few years ago?

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