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The Champagne Room

September 28, 2010 1 comment

That’s what they might as well start calling the Phillies locker room.

As entertaining as it was to watch Roy Halladay wheel and deal en route to another complete game shutout, watching the 2010 Phillies celebrate their fourth straight NL East title was the highlight of last night’s broadcast on Comcast Sports Net.

The media constantly talks up this team’s clubhouse chemistry, so it’s fun to get a rare glimpse at these popular personalities interacting with each other off the diamond.

Choooooooooch should have this down to a science by now

Anyone who hates Chris Wheeler, and there are plenty of those folk out there, had to love the string of pathetic interviews that started the celebration coverage. He actually started on an up note by borrowing Chooch, the definition of fan favorite, for a minute. Now that his English is just passable to complete an on-camera interaction, Ruiz has been the subject of many postgame segments lately, and it is must-see TV. As much as I laugh my ass off, the exchanges are not very productive, and Wheeler’s lame-ass “gracias amigo” with a heinous accent to conclude the interview was flat out uncomfortable.

Then he followed that up with two blockbuster Q & A sessions with Mike Sweeney and Brian Schneider, two players who had to be in the bottom five contributors to the accomplishment that was being celebrated. Wow, Wheels really has some pull in the locker room. I guess he just couldn’t quite land the Greg Dobbs interview, so he had to settle for those two.

Speaking of frustrating guys to watch celebrate, thankfully I didn’t see any footage of Kyle Kendrick opening a bottle of champagne, but I guarantee he popped the cork high and outside.

All kidding aside, it was fantastic to watch what has become an annual ritual. J-Roll walking around with the TV camera in hand. A ski goggled Ryan Howard spraying some bubbly. Jayson Werth hopefully not drenching these teammates for the last time. Victorino darting around the room with a smile on his face. Brad Lidge calmly enjoying some Bud Light, knowing that shaking up a bottle of champagne would probably aggravate his infamous elbow. And good ol’ Charlie, sitting in what seems like a wise man’s rocking chair, reflecting on another utterly successful regular season.

Does Werth really want to give up this yearly fiesta for a few extra shekels?

At this point, there’s no longer any doubt that the Fightins of the last few years are the best Philadelphia team in my 20-plus year tenure as a fan here, and watching this scene reminded me that the likeability of nearly each and every major personality makes each team accomplishment doubly sweet for a fan base that takes its sports so personally.

I wonder how an Eagles locker room celebration would be received by the fans these days. Of course the clash of Andy Reid and Stewart Bradley’s Mormon influence with Mike Vick and DeSean Jackson’s tweet-worthy Va. Beach/Long Beach party style would be awkward to start. And with the amount of animosity boatloads of fans have expressed toward the coaching staff, recently-jailed QB, and management, one has to think that contrary to all Philadelphia fan instinct, a bunch of people around here might actually find a Birds party tough to watch.

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Are you ready for Sixers season?!?

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Just kidding. Who could give a flying shit about the Sixers right now?

The Eagles are undergoing an exciting, and yet controversial facelift under the work of Michael Vick, who is performing surgery on opposing defenses. The Phillies have officially made the playoffs and are poised for another World Series run. The Flyers, who borrowed the hearts of  non-hockey diehards with a thrilling postseason run last year, are getting ready to begin a now highly anticipated season.

The Sixers, well….what is there to say at all? Apparently there is, and that is why I was shocked to find myself reading a column about them today before I looked over all the Monday morning Eagles analysis. The headline to Kate Fagan’s piece caught the attention of my trackpad: 76ers Said to Offer Iguodala In a Deal for Anthony.

I first wondered how an article from The Onion wound up on the Philly.com sports page. Iguodala for Anthony? That’s like Kevin Kolb for Tom Brady. Too soon? (Sorry Kev, Vick has reduced your role to punchline until he gets injured.)

A guy who kinda looks like and scores like Iverson...

....for a guy who makes Iverson-like money with one tenth of Iverson's talent. I'd do it.

Seriously though, could one of the NBA’s biggest stars make his way to Philly? A source in the article mentions that Denver has always liked Iguodala’s game. Who knew there was a team out there (besides the Sixers)  that appreciates a slasher who can’t shoot, can’t play any real position, can’t make his teammates better, but can command an $80 million contract.

The column is at least honest about the fact that it will be difficult for the Sixers to become front-runners in the Carmelo sweepstakes, but just the prospect of bringing him here should perk up the ears of fans who’d like the see the city’s basketball team become relevant. And with the current status of the team, it will take a move like this to find that relevancy. Evan Turner, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, is expected to be a key to a better era of Sixers basketball. Yet the team lacks so much that I can’t see one rookie really turning it around by himself. But pair him with a prolific scorer  like Anthony and that’d be product I’m eager to check out.

It would be wise for the organization to be as aggressive as can be in its attempts to court a player who would be the first legit star on the Sixers since A.I. Part I. Otherwise, this team will be condemned to the cold shoulder this season from a city that surely has enough fanatic verve to spread across four major sports teams. Nothing can be more embarrassing for an organization than a Philly stadium or arena that is empty all year. When that happens, it’s always crystal clear who is at fault.

Rollin’ without J-Roll

September 21, 2010 1 comment

I love this city. A couple months ago, when the Fightin’ Phils were slumping hard, even those in the camp that said the Phillies would be okay down the stretch, must have had some moments of doubt about the team’s playoff hopes. Today, there isn’t a soul in the city who can be convinced we’re not winning the whole thing.

More so than the ups and downs of the Philly faith, this swing can be attributed to the nature of this ball club. The team that broke the championship drought continues to thrive off its unique character, and is once again dominating the competition when it matters most.

The Phillies are clicking on all cylinders right now. They are in the driver’s seat with a four game division lead and a scarier trio of aces than the table camera has ever shown on the World Series of Poker.

With Madson clearly back on the stuff that added a few mph to his fastball overnight in ’08, and Lidge looking lights out once more, I have only one person to be worried about right now.

Jimmy Rollins.

How will Jimmy fit into the postseason puzzle?

This year, I’m not worried his strained hamstring injury will linger, I’m worried that it won’t. He has been the achilles heel of this team all year, himself a strain on the offensive lineup. Whenever there is a debate about letting a rusty, yet experienced player back in the order after being sidelined, I’m usually in favor it, especially when a guy has the accolades that J-Roll has as a former league MVP.

In addition to that trophy, he holds the post of team leader, so you’ve got to get him back in the lineup as soon as he’s healthy, right?

No. Not at this point. Wilson Valdez has stepped in and done so many things right that Rollins has done wrong. He walks, he makes productive outs, he gets clutch hits and puts the ball in play. His on-base percentage has gone up and up as the season goes on, and he has a .400 OBP this month. He gets on base, something Rollins has struggled to do for what seems like an eternity.

This is the only image I could find of J-Roll on base. No wonder he's thanking god.

A great argument for the re-insertion of J-Roll is his defense, which has been the only consistent part of his game over the last few years. But the Phillies have not worsened much in the infield with Valdez patrolling the shortstop’s land. The starting lineup may not sound as sexy with a guy named Wilson filling in for a guy named Jimmy, but it has been stronger.

Rollins’ absence has led to two very important offensive developments:

  1. Victorino Leading Off: Victorino has relished in the leadoff spot. He, like Rollins, is not really an ideal candidate for the top of the order. He can be a free-swinger, but Shane is one of the strangest players I’ve ever watched regularly. As much as his aggression leads him to hit into his share of pop-ups, he also has some of the more patient at-bats you’ll see from anyone on the team. He draws his share of walks. Rollins never seems to walk, and that alone makes Victorino more valuable there. He’s got a .438 on-base percentage during September, a month he’s spent atop the lineup. The Flyin’ Hawaiian has been getting on, stealing bases, and giving the team a spark. He should stay there. Sure, he swings for the fences occasionally, but at least he’s shown the power (17 HR) that Rollins seems to have lost a few years ago. Like Rollins, he’s an unconventional No. 1 hitter, but one that seems to work the way Rollins hasn’t for a while now.
  2. Ruiz Moved up to No. 7: CHOOOOOOOOCH!!!! Has anyone captured the heart of this city the way this cuddly Panamanian has? He’s practically rendered Chase Utley an afterthought as fan favorite. Ruiz continues to get more and more dangerous as a player. He used to have the reputation as a player who grew his worth exponentially come Autumn. But now he may as well be called Señor Abril Hasta Noviembre. It’s at the point where his appearance at the plate, with a man on base, sends everyone to the kitchen because an RBI-double is a forgone conclusion. The Phillies are finally riding Chooch’s value to its fullest. Buried in the eigth hole previously, so many of his clutch at-bats got lost in bottom-of-the-order irrelevance. I mean, turning over the lineup is fun and all, but knocking runs in is baller. The omission of Rollins has allowed Ruiz to bat in more big-time situations with Howard, Werth and Ibañez on the base paths.

Thus, the Rollins dilemma. I have to realistically think Rollins will be back in there if his injury allows. He does bring playoff experience and leadership. He showed last season with his game-winning double against LA in the playoffs (which left me at the bottom of a pile of strangers by the way), he has a flare for the dramatic that Valdez will likely never have, and even when he’s slumping, he can drive a pitch for extra bases.

I do want Jimmy back in there if he gets better, and hopefully Valdez can continue his good work off the bench. But Rollins unquestionably should bat No. 8 in the lineup. He’s earned his right to play in the lineup, but he shouldn’t be entitled to anything beyond that.

McNabb Left Town, But Controversy Hasn’t: Is this really Kevin Kolb’s Team?

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Last week, as a passenger in my friend’s car, talking about our predictions for the Eagles this year, I said I thought Michael Vick would wind up starting at least four or five games for the Birds this season.

The questionable competence of our offensive line led me to believe it would be difficult to keep Kevin Kolb healthy. If Donovan McNabb, with the body of a middle linebacker, couldn’t stay healthy over the last couple years, it didn’t bode well for the more diminutive Kolb.

Sure enough, 30 minutes into the season, Kolb was knocked out of the game, literally, with a concussion. Granted, the injury could be blamed as much on the chemical imbalance of Clay Matthews as the lack of protection, but the bottom line is that it didn’t take long for Kolb to be sidelined.

Now, after Week 1, Michael Vick has already seen significant time on the field as the team leader, not just a gimmick who steps into the game for a hot sec to make the defense play guessing games.

Who cares how he did it? Michael Vick made the Eagles better in Week 1.

So here we are, with the Donovan McNabb hullabaloo behind us, yet this team and its fans have made absolutely no escape from controversy. In fact, it is a multilayer cake of controversy. Not only is there a debate about the starting QB position, but Eagles fans are struggling with the internal dilemma of rooting for Vick.

During one of Vick’s impressive runs for a first down on Sunday, my buddy yelled at the screen “Run you dog killer run! I’m a dog lover, but if you come back and win this game for us, I forgive you for everything!”

For the record, this friend suffers from a similar imbalance as Clay Matthews. Nevertheless, his comments raise an interesting issue.  Might Kolb be on a shorter leash than Vick now?

There’s no question Vick performed admirably. This entire city, as usual, was psyched for Week 1—the beginning of a new era, and a great first week matchup. But the game was beyond lackluster until Vick resurrected it and almost pulled off the improbable comeback.  His play became relevant in a way unseen up to that point in his Eagles career.

He also forced us to wonder if his talents and style of quarterbacking, as opposed to Kolb’s, would be better suited to the circumstances now surrounding this team.

If the initial issue with the offensive line was a sore spot on the Eagles opening-day body, it has now become a full-blown open wound, as Jamaal Jackson and Leonard Weaver are done for the year.  Pass protection is only going to get worse from here, and the question becomes how detrimental that will be to Kolb’s development.

After what we saw in the opening game, it seems Vick’s athleticism and ad lib ability could very well give the Eagles a better chance to win games this season. But many believe this year is not about winning games, it’s about Kevin Kolb getting his shot.

Yet, would it be worth considering a postponement of his development one more year if he’s just going to take shot after shot and not be given much chance to deliver his own?

Is this how the Eagles pictured Kevin Kolb's development?

It could be beneficial to let Vick take the team for now until improvements are made to the O-line. An article I read made an interesting analogy to David Carr’s career in Houston, one which was pretty much derailed before it started because he unsurprisingly couldn’t figure out how to win games with his ass buried in the turf every second.

Vick’s ass moves too quickly for anyone to bury it. On Sunday, he showed he can be a No. 1 QB.  He may have an unorthodox style that many continue to poo-poo, but success is the barometer. I laugh in the face of all those who, even after Sunday’s performance, talk about how the guy can’t be taken seriously as a quarterback in this league.  They say he wasn’t accurate or Green Bay’s defense let up because they were leading. Give me a break. I look around and see Jason Campbell, Derek Anderson and Trent Edwards starting games. Anyone who can’t even as much as equate Vick’s caliber to those guys clearly couldn’t pass the NFL concussion test.

The Packers head coach even said after the game that Vick adds another dimension to the game and called him a dynamic player. They simply had no answer for him—until the very last play.  That I blame on the Birds’ coaching staff for calling the one play that everyone watching the broadcast and everyone in the stadium—including the Packers D—thought was coming.

As much as things have changed for this team, Sunday reassured us the coaching will remain a familiar presence in our Eagles life this year. Play-calling will continue to be suspect, and clock management will continue taking years off our lives. One of the timeouts was literally pointless!!!! The clock was stopped for a measurement and a timeout was still taken!

Andy Reid admitting for the 340th time that he's got to do a better job. When does he plan on actually doing that?

Moreover, Reid and the Eagles brass will not go back on their plan for Kolb this season.  They’ve earned a reputation as the smug team in town, never properly adjusting to new circumstances as they arise.  Honestly, in this case, they probably shouldn’t renege on their commitment to Kolb.  It’s now or never for him. It’s his fourth year in the league, not his first.

If this is indeed the choice, then Vick has to go.  He is too skilled to be a backup. Period. The way Reid has forced his incorporation into “Kevin Kolb’s offense” is the team’s own admission of that.  Vick will get the nod in Week 2 because of Kolb’s injury. If he performs well again and wins the game, his value will be at the highest point it’s been in years. One has to think another team bitten by the injury bug, or an 0-2 start, would be willing to work out a deal for Vick, perhaps for a promising offensive lineman that could step in to keep the bullies off Kolb’s back.

If the metamorphosis of Mike Kafka from third-string to backup is too frightening, the Eagles can surely bring in a free agent veteran who will be a clear No. 2, there in case of injury. But without losing Vick from the playbook, the so-called commitment to Kevin Kolb is a farce.

If types of quarterbacks could be made into smoothies, the veteran scrambler and young pocket passer combo would not be socially acceptable. But for now, the Eagles continue to shove this nauseating concoction down our throats.

It’s a good time for the Eagles to make a choice, but they’ll likely just keep calling timeouts to think it over.

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