Thinking out loud … and does anyone know where one-time Patriots linemen go after football?
— Has anyone else noticed the emergence of — gasp! – fans of other teams showing up at Fenway Park this season? This has long been a trademark of Red Sox fans at other stadiums across the country (right, Tampa? Baltimore? Toronto?), but for some reason, Sox rivals are returning the favor this year in surprising numbers.
— The recent San Francisco Giants series at Fenway was a perfect example of this phenomenon, with the stands crowded in Orange and Black jerseys and T-shirts. Even one fan sitting down from me wearing an orange wig, and I tolerated it, somehow. Now I ask you, if the Sox hadn’t been a last-place team the past two seasons, would any of this be happening?
— Of course not. True Sox fans would snap these tickets up in a, well, in a New York minute. Let this be a lesson, Mr. Henry and Mr. Werner, whenever you decide to go “on the cheap” in your hiring and firing. Spend it, to make it. Just sayin’.
— Like everyone else, there was mild disappointment in not being able to swing a trade deadline deal for Chris Sale, but I’ll wager the discussion over bringing him to Boston picks up again in the offseason. As for the one deadline deal done, hard to say right now that it wasn’t Abad one. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.
— Andrew Benintendi got his anticipated call-up, becoming the first player in the history of the High-A Salem (Va.) Red Sox (Carolina League) to advance to the majors in the same year he started in Salem. Of course, Salem only started playing ball in 2009, but hey, it’s still a significant move up.
— He’s also the first Red Sox player to get the call up straight from Double-A (Portland Sea Dogs) to the big leagues since Boston did that with Josh Reddick in ’09.
— But will he be a good major league player? How often do young players make a two-class jump and succeed right away? Like, never? Dealer Dave Dombrowski said early last month that Benintendi probably could handle fielding and baserunning in the bigs, but that his offense wasn’t quite major league ready — although Benintendi picked up his first two hits Wednesday night. Major league pitching will continue to be an awakening for him, only a little more than a year removed from facing collegiate pitching.
— After jumping on Craig Kimbrel’s supposed indifference to his performance when he didn’t have the chance to save a game, I’ll give him credit for a quicker-than-expected return to the bullpen just three weeks after knee surgery. Now, can he pitch effectively without a statistical save looming in the box score? Inquiring minds want to know.
— The walk-off and come-from-behind wins are nice. Really. But if David Price can’t figure out a way to not implode before coming off of the mound, the Red Sox will sit at home this fall. Make bank on it.
— Happy 39th birthday, Tom Brady! No, really. He’s 39. He’s not wishing he was 39, like every middle-aged man and woman I know. And what do you get that person who already has everything for their birthday, from fame to fortune to supermodel spouse? Another Lombardi Trophy, handed directly to him by Roger Goodell in front of millions? Yeah. That works.
— TB12 is only the fifth-oldest player right now in the NFL. The elder statesman? Former Patriot and current Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, at age 43. But Brady is the oldest non-kicker still in the league.
— Brady’s surprise cameo at Kevin Faulk’s induction into the Hall of Fame at Patriot Place was a nice surprise, and a cool gesture for a worthy one-time teammate. It also was a state secret around Patriots camp. I had the script in my hand, since I had the privilege of hosting the ceremony once again, and nowhere was his impromptu visit mentioned.
— Not for nuthin’, but you knew something of that magnitude was planned — there was plenty of security, you know. There always is, for rock stars.
— Loved the answer to this question at training camp this week. Tight end Martellus Bennett was asked just how good Rob Gronkowski is, to which he replied, “Pretty [expletive] good.”
— Always good to know. If Bennett’s play can match his personality, we’ll have some fun this season.
— Is it just me, or has Bill Belichick been particularly effusive in his praise of several of his players so far? Isn’t that a little out of character, or do you think it signals something deeper — like the coach really believes he has something this year?
— Depth and staying healthy are the two keys to success for the upcoming season. Clearly, depth in every area has been addressed. But unless the team stays relatively healthy, depth will become a problem again. Already, the offensive line is banged up.
— If you haven’t seen HBO Real Sports’ expose into Olympic corruption, crime, lack of human services and relative filth and disease in Brazil as the Rio Games get underway, do yourself a favor. Watch. Learn. And realize this is no longer amateurism, and hasn’t been for decades. It’s all about big business, and the rich and powerful becoming richer and more powerful — largely at the expense of athletes who receive little in return, and a country that will have none of its problems solved as it once hoped.
— Yes, some athletes will get medals that they’ll put in a sock drawer and forget. Others will be happy to actually represent their countries and participate under a true Olympic ideal. And a few old men will pocket millions (billions?) while a country in clear distress, that once celebrated the chance to leave Third World status behind, wallows further in its own desolate waste. Hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes and world tourists risk carrying the Zika virus home where it presently does not exist. But hey, how about those American gymnasts and swimmers?
— Michael Phelps was chosen to carry the Stars and Stripes, leading the U.S. team into Rio. And why not? Seems he has plenty of practice carrying the American flag in his four previous Olympiads.
— One-time WLNE Channel 6 sportscaster (and former WPRI Channel 12 “Rick Barnes Show” producer) Mark (Edwards) Asciolla is in Rio, working for Strauss Media of Washington for several broadcast and business clients, setting up TV interviews with present and former Olympians and helping to increase client branding and awareness. Hope he brought his bug spray.
— If you’ve paid attention previously, you may recall my one-time Olympic experience, having worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1984. Those Games turned a profit for the first time, and led to the alleged corruption we’re now left with. With all assuredness, no one ever saw the profit in those games grow into the greed we now have running rampant through the International Olympic Committee. Peter Ueberroth, where have you gone? What have you created?
— One fast solution to most of the alleged problems noted above; Rotate Olympic sites among a choice few. But those with the infrastructure (and cojones) to endure the mayhem, say, once every 10-12 years? Step to the plate, please.
— The Big East is soliciting some assistance to beef up what will be the 35th anniversary of the postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden (the longest-running college basketball tournament at a single venue) next March 8-11. Frank Supovitz has worked with the NFL and NHL in event management and planning, and has had a hand in planning and expanding the Super Bowl, the NFL draft and the NHL Heritage Classic, which has grown into the Winter Classic. Get ready for a Garden party next spring?
— Looking over some of the Big East basketball non-conference schedules for next season, Seton Hall’s non-league slate should test the Pirates’ ability to reach the NCAA tournament again, especially without Isaiah Whitehead. Iowa, Florida, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Cal-Berkeley and South Carolina all are capable of beating SHU, so if the Pirates get through this gauntlet and win a few? Look out.
— Creighton fifth-year senior Isaiah Zierden told the Omaha World-Herald he thinks the Blue Jays are a Sweet 16-caliber team next season. That would be quite the accomplishment, since Creighton has never advanced that far in the NCAA Tournament.
— But Zierden is right about one thing he also said — the Jays have more athleticism than they’ve had in their previous three Big East seasons. They should be a factor, if they stay healthy, in 2016-17 for their own NCAA Tournament shot.
— The winning team for the world’s first truly open basketball tournament, The Basketball Tournament (aka TBT), was Team Overseas Elite, which includes two ex-St.John’s players on its roster — D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne — and ex-Rick Barnes Texas Longhorn Myck Kabongo. Team Overseas Elite defended its title from 2015 and won $2 million (double its prize from a year ago).
— Must be some smart student-athletes in the Big East, as more than 2,000 were named to the league’s all-academic team for 2015-16, including 206 from Providence College. Four men’s basketball players earned recognition, including Junior Lomomba, Tyree Chambers, Casey Woodring and Tom Planek.
— How does one become a member of an all-academic team? To be eligible for the honor, a nominee must have competed in a Big East-sponsored sport, attained a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for the preceding academic year, and completed a minimum of two consecutive semesters or three consecutive quarters of academic work, with a total of 18 semester or 27 quarter credits, not including remedial courses.
— So, that academic prowess hasn’t yet spread to Villanova’s incoming super-frosh Omari Spellman, who is not yet eligible to play next season for the defending national champions. There are some NCAA Clearinghouse issues still to be cleared up, and as such Spellman won’t accompany the Wildcats on their summer tour of Spain.
— What’s this? UConn officially is a candidate for possible expansion into the Big 12 Conference, as we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks. The Big 12 reportedly has made the initial inquiry to discuss gauging the Huskies’ interest in the league, which has always been measured somewhere between tepid and tumultuous.
— But as Jersey Boy Mark Blaudschun reported this week, if UConn ultimately does not receive an invitation from the Big 12, it may attempt to move all sports other than football into the Big East anyway. In this instance, UConn’s choice would be to remain as a football-only member of the American, but it’s doubtful the AAC would want that — or even allow that to happen. Much depends on the Big 12’s potential expansion to 12 teams, or 14 teams.
— Would the American look to reload and build back to 12 members if it loses schools to the Big 12? Could the Atlantic-10 be targeted again (hello, UMass)? Perhaps, but with the new rules in place for holding conference title games with only 10 member schools in a league, it wouldn’t necessarily be a fait accompli.
— The American Athletic Conference football preseason media day was held this week in Newport, Rhode Island, continuing a long-standing tradition originally started by the football members of the old Big East. Following a huge New England clambake on Goat Island, to no one’s real surprise, Houston was named as the preseason favorite to win the 2016 championship. USF was selected as the East Division winner, with Houston getting the nod in the West Division and in the title game.
— UConn was selected fourth in the East Division, behind USF, Temple and Cincinnati. The Huskies finished 6-7 last year after a preseason pick for last place in the AAC East, losing in the St. Petersburg Bowl to Marshall — so they’re moving in the right direction, at least.
— Houston, 12-1 last season and winner over Florida State in the Peach Bowl, has seven offensive starters and 12 overall starters returning for second-year coach Tom Herman. If you’ve been paying attention at all, the Cougars also are a prime candidate for expansion into the Big 12, so this fall may be their last go-round in the AAC.
— My buddy Statbeast sez he’s been thinking about a new job in sales, hoping to generate some household cash flow. So he’s in the interview with a sales manager of a local company and the guy hands him a computer and says, “Here’s my laptop. Now sell it back to me.” So Statbeast puts it under his arm, and walks out of the office. The sales manager calls him on his cellphone about an hour later and says, “Bring back my computer!” To which Statbeast replies, “Two hundred bucks and it’s yours.”
— You mean I’ve been doing it right all these years? Saw a story put out by The Associated Press this week indicating there is little actual proof that flossing works. The American Dental Association still recommends daily flossing to prevent gum disease and cavities. I’m so confused these days. Down is up, right is left, and Republicans really are Democrats in disguise.
— Brennan Williams was on the Patriots’ roster up until last October, when the team decided to release the offensive lineman after only a couple of days on the practice squad. The former North Carolina tackle is a native of Easton, Massachusetts (and graduate of Catholic Memorial) and the son of former Patriots lineman Brent Williams, who played for the team from 1986-93. But he told NESN.com’s Doug Kyed as far back as 2013 that his ultimate goal was to join World Wrestling Entertainment. This week, WWE signed the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Williams to a contract.
— Former Patriots and those with NE ties have long dotted wrestling programs, from current rookie Ted Karras’ great uncle Alex dabbling in wrestling while in the NFL, to “All World” tight end Russ Francis competing in Wrestlemania back in 1986 (Francis’ father was a pro wrestling promoter). Former Pats draft pick Steve McMichael, who found his football fame in Chicago, also wrestled in the mid-to-late ’90s before retiring from WCW in 1999.
— Also noticed another former Patriots lineman, Quinn Ojinnaka, left Ring of Honor recently to wrestle with TNA. His stage name? Moose. Now Rob Gronkowski has mentioned pro wrestling as a possibility for his post-football days. The nickname possibilities alone are endless, but one thing stands out: I don’t really see Gronk as a “good guy.” He’d be more fun as a smarmy, cocky villain, don’t you think? He’s already villainous — with a smile — to 31 other teams in the NFL.
— DeLorean from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (@BeenHadRax) tweeted this week: Any chance that the backup, [Jimmy] Garoppolo, could take Tom Brady’s spot if he plays well? DeLorean: That question is rapidly growing a life of its own. It’s the question that Bill Belichick has already dismissed with an incredulous, displeased look, and his reaction to the next time an innocent reporter asks it will be must-see TV. But I’ll try to answer it for you. There’s a slim-to-none chance Jimmy G. keeps the gig, and Slim is on his way out of town. This isn’t like Brady replacing Drew Bledsoe in 2001 because of injury. A HOF-worthy QB who still has his faculties and ability will still have his job. But don’t think BB isn’t looking forward to the challenge and opportunity ahead, for Garoppolo and himself. He is.
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