Sports Shorts

* That was a candid, but unsurprising, comment on the Rays’ stadium scenario by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman the other day. It only underscored the priority that must be keeping the Rays in the Tampa Bay market. Parochial ego can’t be a factor.  “Psychologically, we’d take a hit,” acknowledged Kriseman, “but economically the city will be fine. That’s a transformative property (Tropicana Field’s 86 acres) with or without a stadium.”

In his own way, Kriseman is conceding the obvious. Keeping a baseball franchise is a regional “win-win.” St. Pete won’t miss a developmental beat. And Tampa, as the business, media and geographic hub of this asymmetrical, mass transit-challenged, regional market, is where the stadium belongs–if the franchise is going to remain here. The hard-nosed, leverage game has already begun. Just ask the other Rays-involved mayor.

* Tampa’s own Lou Piniella, 75, missed the Hall of Fame by one vote. How ironic that had he not taken the Rays job, he likely would have made it in. He ended his managerial career on a down note: a three-year (2003-05) Rays run that was his only losing record.

* Tampa winter resident Joe Maddon is a strong proponent for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium in Tampa. “I think for the survival of major league baseball in this community, it needs to be built, it needs to be that nice and it needs to be over on the other (Hillsborough County) side,” he said. Left unsaid: Who all is paying exactly what to make that happen.

* It still seems weird to read about Rays off-season moves that include the naming of a new “process and analytics coach” (Jonathan Erlichman) and a new “mental skills coach” (Justin Su’a). But as we’ve been seeing, this kind of “weird” works.

* It’s official; the XFL is coming to Tampa Bay in 2020. The eight-team, winter-spring football league is backed by World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon. For the record, McMahon says there will be no, uh, crossover between the XFL and WWE. Also for the record, it’s never a good sign when you have to address any possible connection between a football league and pro wrestling.

Sports Shorts

* We all know the reality of bowl games these day. There are too many of them, ESPN has too much input and too many have to invite teams that, because of unimpressive or flat-out, non-winning seasons, don’t deserve to go to a bowl in the first place. Then there are the sponsor names. Some sound better than others. Tampa’s own Outback Bowl, for example, actually sounds like a bowl game. The Cheez-it Bowl in Phoenix, uh, doesn’t.

* USF will be at RayJay for the Gasparilla Bowl against (favored) Marshall later this month. It’s the Bulls’ consolation prize while on a five-game losing streak. Meanwhile, nationally ranked UCF, which has won 25 straight and routed USF two weeks ago, will play LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. It wasn’t that long ago that USF, then in the Big East, was less than willing to keep UCF, then of the Mid-American and Conference USA, on the schedule, because it was a step down to play them–and you get no credit for beating an inferior opponent. That was then; this is not.

* Let’s hear it for the winning women of Florida State and the University of Tampa. In Cary, N.C., FSU won the women’s soccer national championship, and UT won the NCAA Division II national volleyball championship in Pittsburgh. But, no, this is not nearly consolation enough for FSU football fans.

* The Lightning is still without its injured ace goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. It hasn’t slowed them down. When forced to go with back-up goalies for an extended period, it helps–a lot–to have the highest-scoring team in the NHL.

* The Washington Redskins found a way to divert media attention from their ongoing, unconscionable defense of “Redskins.” They were the only team to waiver claim Reuben Foster, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker who had been arrested for domestic violence. SF summarily released him after a viral video showed Foster shoving and kicking a woman–and nobody but Washington wanted any part of Foster and his domestic-violence baggage.

* Vanity license plate: I get it. I used to have one: “Nittany.” It’s what you do when you’re a proud alum of Penn State–and before anyone had ever heard of Jerry Sandusky. Our current plate features a sea turtle. It’s about a cause. But I don’t get a Buccaneers plate. This is de facto marketing by private enterprise. Shouldn’t they pay you?

Sports Shorts

* It is arguably the most awkward time slot on local TV news. WFLA-TV 8 News features “Koetter’s Korner,” an “exclusive sit-down” each Monday with host Dan Lucas and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. The season has devolved embarrassingly, with regime change seemingly inevitable, but all parties are stuck with this till the end of the season.

* OK, the football season is heading south for both the Bucs and the Bulls, but there’s always this: In a little more than two years, the Super Bowl will be back at the RayJay. And look for the Riverwalk to be spectacularly front and center for the national media countdown. And, yes, no Trump Tower Tampa for downtown diversion or ignominy.

* The Chicago Blackhawks just fired their head coach, Joel Quenneville. The Blackhawks were off to a disappointing 6-6-3 start. So much for Quenneville having led the franchise to three Stanley Cups. So much for having the second most career wins in NHL history. So much for being a certain Hall of Fame inductee. In the world of professional sports, it’s “What have you done for us lately?” The Glazers and Jon Gruden would understand.

Sports Shorts

* If I were a hard core UCF fan, I’d still be steamed over how the Knights were shafted last season and didn’t make the College Football Championship playoffs. Now with the nation’s longest winning streak (21), they are perched for a similar experience this year if they run the table again. It’s all about their schedule. Yada, yada. But UCF Athletic Director Danny White had a tactful response to the no-respect reality. “If you can go undefeated and not play in the so-called (CFC) playoff for a national championship, it’s not a playoff. It’s an invitational.” Well put.

* Speaking of UCF, it had to be disappointing to not have a packed “Bounce House” at Spectrum Stadium last Thursday for the nationally-televised, come-from-behind win over Temple.

* Former NFL fullback Jim Taylor, the first Green Bay Packer star in Vince Lombardi’s dynasty to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recently died at age 83. It spoke volumes that for a long time he was no longer a fan of the game he was once so good at. “Today’s athletes, they’re just full of so much conversation instead of keep your mouth shut and just do your job,” explained Taylor. “I don’t even watch a game.” I get it. I’m not an NFL fan, because I’m no fan of camera-courting, boorish lounge acts.

* The latest AP Pro 32 poll has the New Orleans Saints No. 1. Indeed, the same Saints the Bucs beat in week one. It only adds to the frustration.

Sports Shorts

* No, this is not the sort of football season that FSU fans were hoping for. And it could get worse. But here’s a consolation: a former FSU golfer, Brooks Koepka, is now ranked No. 1 in the world. But, yeah, if you’re a ‘Noles fan, that’s not consolation enough.

* “A relentless team that looked every bit the Stanley Cup favorite.”–That was a Chicago Tribune reference to the Lightning after the Bolts had soundly beaten the Blackhawks in Chicago. Sometimes it’s good to hear from the other side for additional perspective about a home team on a mission.

* The USF Bulls only lost two games last year–to Houston and UCF. Now, after going 7-0, comes the Houston-UCF part of the schedule again, starting with Houston on Saturday. A win at Houston would be huge. A loss would give pollsters all the reason they need to drop USF, a team known to play down unimpressively to the competition while winning, out of the Top 25 national rankings.

* Undefeated Ohio State lost–by a lot–to Purdue. Previously, Purdue had lost to Eastern Michigan. The bottom line: another reminder that, except for Alabama, there is still an any-given-day parity in college football.

Sports Shorts

* So, half way through the college football season, Florida still has two undefeated teams. And none of them are Florida, Florida State or Miami. They are USF and UCF, which both won on the road last weekend, each with a comeback, 1-point win against Tulsa and Memphis, respectively.  It probably won’t happen, but here’s hoping both stay undefeated until Nov. 23. That’s when the Golden Knights would bus down I-4 to play the Bulls at RayJay on national TV and in front of the biggest USF crowd in years.

* Last week I found myself “looking in” on the American League series between Boston and New York. I had the sound turned down while I was reading. I looked in because I like baseball, and I was curious. I kept the sound down because I wasn’t rooting for either the Red Sox or the Yankees. In fact, I like neither, because they get to play by rules that don’t apply to modest-budget franchises such as the Rays. Also, their fan bases always seem entitled. The geopolitical analogy would be indifference in a competition between ISIS and the Taliban.

* I don’t have serious rooting interest in the MLB playoffs, but, if pressed, I’d choose the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers had the most wins in the National League and are now playing the Los Angeles Dodgers to see who moves on to the World Series. This, despite the fact that the Brewers play in MLB’s smallest market and are in the bottom third of MLB payrolls. It can be done. As the Rays know.

Sports Shorts

* USF hasn’t been overly impressive so far, just impressive enough to still be unbeaten and ranked 23rd in the country. Next up, Tulsa. Go, Bulls.

* It’s rare to see a MLB home crowd boo one of its own–especially in the post-season. But that’s what happened to pitcher David Price of the Boston Red Sox after lasting less than two innings against the Yankees. It was understandable. Price has been leveraging himself since his Rays days to move from one obscenely-rich contract to another. But he never performs when it matters most; he has been consistently awful in the post season. Boo, indeed, unless he agrees to give some money back.

Sports Shorts

  • Putting the Rays season into context: Tampa Bay won 90 games, a number that often gets a team into the post-season. But so much depends on league-and-division variables. The Atlanta Braves, for example, had the same record as the Rays and won the National League East. The Cleveland Indians had one more win and won the American League Central. The Rays finished 43 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

Moreover, the 2018 Rays could also feature both a Cy Young Award winner and a Rookie of the Year honoree.

  • “We should fire every person that was on that field today, starting with me. That was horrific.” That was Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter after that horrifically embarrassing (48-10) loss to the Bears. (All too) well said, Dirk.

The “FitzMagic” show has ended, and the Bucs starting quarterback for the first four games is back to being Ryan Fitzpatrick, career back-up. But his numbers will live on. He became the first quarterback ever to throw for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games. And he has thrown 184 TD passes over his career, which is more than some Hall of Famers–namely Joe Namath, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

Sports Shorts

  • Blake Snell should not be in a Cy Young Award conversation. That’s because the conversation should be over. Regardless of what he does in his last start on Saturday. Nobody, including those with marquee names and better career records, has better 2018 numbers that count: W’s, L’s and ERA.
  • This had to be a first. The Bucs initial TD against the Steelers came on a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to tight end Cameron Brate. From one Harvard grad to another Harvard grad. That’s unheard of. This is the NFL and these are pro football players, not high techies, hedge funders, corporate attorneys or political insiders. This is a trivia-contest answer down the road.
  • I like college mascots and traditions. The Marshall University “Thundering Herd”: great, original name. The University of California Santa Cruz “Banana Slugs”: college-humor hilarity. And I like the Texas A&M “Twelfth Man,” the Oklahoma “Sooner Schooner,” Army-Navy pageantry, the Florida “Gator Chomp” and FSU’s Chief Osceola.

What I don’t like is when professional sports franchises–with their decidedly different athletic identity and vibe–appropriate from the college ranks. It’s also known as lazy marketing. Best example: the Atlanta Braves who adopted FSU’s Seminole war chant and the complementary, demonstrative “Tomahawk Chop” several decades ago. I used to live in the Atlanta area and attended some Braves games at the “Ted.” The chant and “Chop” seemed incongruous for a game played at a pedestrian pace. Still does.

  • Cheerleaders at pro football games: Do they really lead cheers? As if. They’re part of a chorus line. Call them what they are: cheerproviders

Sports Shorts

  • Steve Yzerman is one of those rare sports phenomena: A great player who became a great executive. In this case the Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer who became the highly-respected, highly-successful general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Different skill sets, to say the least.

Now he has stepped down and been replaced by his, by all accounts, very well-prepared assistant, Julien BriseBois. The transition, if not absolutely seamless, should be smooth. BriseBoise is also an attorney–like head coach Jon Cooper–who is a quick study and has worked well with Yzerman for eight years. Reportedly, they were more like partners.

One factor in a surprise move such as Yzerman’s is family. Not unlike with Marty St. Louis, it was notable that the respective families never relocated to Tampa.

  • As the Rays Ybor-stadium scenario ratchets up, we understandably remain focused on the financials: from tourist taxes, CRA funds and economic opportunity zone designation to tax-break incentives for surrounding capital projects and fees for a new entertainment district around the ballpark. It only makes sense: Follow the potential money scenarios to see if there might be enough of it.

But one critical component is sometimes overlooked. A transit terminal.

Brightline is scouting land around the ballpark site for a terminus for its proposed high-speed rail link between Orlando and Tampa. How important can it be? Ask the Minnesota Twins.

  • This is looking, surprisingly, like an up-cycle in local sports. The Rays have become an impressively creative, winning team. The 2-0 Buccaneers just beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. And the Lightning are prepping for a season where winning the Stanley Cup would surprise no one. And, yes, the USF Bulls are still undefeated, including wins over Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois.
  • Speaking of the Buccaneers, how about “FitzMagic!” Right now, the play of Bucs back- up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is off-the-charts great. It’s also refreshing that nothing this Harvard grad and old-school family guy will do off the field will embarrass the franchise or imperil women. How’s that for “win-win”?