Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Dick Pole?
— Rhode Island sports lost a true shining star in George Patrick Duffy this past week. He was 94 years young, and every time I’d see him and ask how he’s doing, he’d always reply, “I’m still vertical!” Mr. Duffy (and he was NEVER “George,” by the way) spent a part of four decades working for the Rhode Island Reds AHL hockey club as an announcer and PR man, and his radio work for the Reds helped him gain induction into the RI Radio Hall of Fame in 2009. But it was his work as a coach and mentor in Pawtucket, where he touched the lives of so many students and athletes for more than 70 years in various youth sports — and at St. Raphael Academy as well — that he really left his mark.
— One of my friends, Davies softball coach Scott Cooper, told me Mr. Duffy coached him on the 1980 Pawtucket Darlington American Little League team that reached the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Cooper says, “As a player, he made us feel like we were 9 feet tall and we could do anything!” If you ask me, that’s a heckuva legacy.
— Through his extraordinary 71-year run as a coach, it seems only fitting that one of his former American Legion players, former St. Ray’s, University of North Carolina and current Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta, hit a home run for the Angels while Mr. Duffy listened to the game the night before he passed away. Here’s a man who served in the Coast Guard during World War II, stayed married to his bride Helen for 71 years, called Reds games on local radio for another 25 years and had such an impact on local sports that Pawtucket’s Slater Park Athletic Complex and baseball fields were re-named the George Patrick Duffy Athletic Complex. Whoa.
— Godspeed, Mr. Duffy. His signature radio sign-off phrase, “Keep the sports parade moving by being a good sport,” is legacy enough for everyone to remember.
— I’ve always thought that when you consider the weather and field conditions in the Northeast, it takes mentally tough and talented players to play college baseball in New England. This year was no exception, and both Bryant and URI managed to play in championship games for their respective conference titles, falling just short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Both had close calls — Bryant lost 5-4 to Sacred Heart in the NEC title game, URI dropped a 5-3 decision to VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship — but both programs continued their recent trend of producing more-than-competitive play.
— Rhody’s Tim Caputo was named as one of 18 national finalists for the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby Fans’ Choice award, recognizing college baseball players for their accomplishments on and off of the field. Jordan Powell, Ryan Olmo and Steve Moyers were named to the A-10 all-tournament team, while Bryant’s James Davitt, Brandon Bingel and Buck McCarthy were selected to the Northeast Conference all-tourney squad.
— He’ll go down as the guy who drew up a national title-winning faceoff play from the bench. PC hockey associate head coach Steve Miller has decided not to return to that bench for his boss Nate Leaman next year and instead will return home to Denver to be with his wife and three children. Miller is a former assistant and associate head coach at Denver University, where his teams won national titles in 2004 and 2005.
— Miller drew up the faceoff that resulted in Brandon Tanev’s game-winning goal against Boston University in the national championship game in April at TD Garden. That’s a pretty solid one-year mark to leave on a program, so what could he really do for an encore?
— Speaking of Denver, the Pioneers won the national lacrosse championship this week, defeating Maryland in the final. That’s Denver of the Big East Conference, in case you didn’t know. Yes, it sounds weird. But the program needed a home, the Big East needed added strength and notoriety, and what do you know? It worked for both sides. Boise State could have done the same thing for the now-defunct Big East football conference, had that relationship lasted. Denver is the first western program to win a Division 1 lax title. Pioneers? Absolutely.
— The Big East began sponsoring lacrosse in 2010, before the downfall of the football league. Until that time, some league schools (like PC, for instance) existed largely at lower competitive levels and scholarship limits if they fielded teams at all. The formation of an actual lacrosse league within the Big East footprint sought to ride the rising tide with the sport and its increasing national popularity. It seems to be working. Especially at a place like Denver, where Bill Tierney, who won six national titles as head coach at Princeton, was lured westward and won his 7th with the Pioneers.
— Not for nuthin,’ but if you think Denver being in the Big East for lacrosse is strange, did you know there are other “associate” single-sport members in the conference? UConn is still in the Big East for women’s lacrosse and field hockey. So is Temple. Cincinnati remains a member in women’s lax — and in the Strange But True Department, Florida and Vanderbilt also are women’s lax members. Old Dominion is a Big East member in field hockey, too.
— Former UConn quarterback/wide receiver and one-time Brown QB coach D.J. Hernandez has decided to leave the game, it seems. After spending the past two years as a grad assistant on Kirk Ferentz’s staff at Iowa, and one at Miami, Hernandez apparently has accepted a position as a project manager for a roofing company in Dallas, according to his Twitter page. His infamous brother, Aaron, remains incarcerated at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, convicted of murder.
— I never thought I’d be as happy to talk about practice — not a game, not a game, not a game, but practice — as I was this week with the Patriots beginning their organized team activities. Otherwise known as “practice.” Sorry, Allen Iverson. We’re talking about practice. One of the great sports rants of all time — especially from an athlete, in May of 2002.
— Although, I fear (somewhat) that just talking about practice won’t give us the juice we’re now craving every day on the sports shows and publications of choice. We need stories. We need inside info. We need opinion, whether accurate or off the wall. It’s our soap opera-like need to follow a story to its conclusion, which is also like rubbernecking at the accident on the other side of the highway and slowing traffic to a crawl behind you. We must know what happened!
— Think about this — is it possible that Tom Brady decides after his hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to follow in Robert Kraft’s footsteps and turn cheek on the NFL and its suspension like his boss did? In all truthfulness, I doubt it happens. Brady has a legal team assembled that has fought and beaten the NFL before. But you have to wonder to what limit TB12’s patience and integrity can be stretched or questioned. If there’s no end in sight to the madness, would it not be in his best interest to put this behind him?
— Or, is it in Brady’s best interest to stand up and fight for what’s “right”? That’s our natural tendency, of course. If you’re innocent, why accept any punishment at all? Because sometimes, standing up for the greater good means falling on the sword for your teammates, your family and even your pride.
— It wasn’t much of a surprise to hear Willie McGinest will join Houston Antwine as inductees into the Patriots Hall of Fame later this summer. McGinest symbolizes New England’s ascension into legitimate contention within the NFL as well as any player who has ever had Pat Patriot on the sides of his helmet. There have been some great Patriots on some middling to poor teams over the years; McGinest was a Bill Parcells draftee whose rise to relevancy paralleled his team’s rise to prominence.
— Here’s a possible problem for future HOF classes, however. As Super Bowl-era players become Hall-eligible, they’ll undoubtedly continue to receive the lion’s share of attention from the fans who vote. What happens to other Hall-worthy players from the past, like Raymond Clayborn or Leon Gray? Hopefully, the committee considering “senior” candidates remains true to the meaningful history of the franchise. It’s hard to appreciate the journey, without knowing — and remembering — where you’ve come from.
— So, did I hear Curt Schilling correctly this week when he told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan you pretty much know what kind of baseball team you have by Memorial Day? I think I kinda knew that already, but it still hit me across the forehead like a two-by-four might. Bring on football season. Or say a little prayer that the AL East continues to stink as much as it has.
— How good is Minnesota? The Boston Red Sox should never be swept by the Twins, home or away. Ever. Forget the payroll disparity — that they were swept by the Twins in Minneapolis this week is a direct indictment of the underperforming nature of this team, and the miscalculations (to this point) of the team’s management. But how ’bout those Twins, huh?
— David Ortiz is sitting, because Father Time has finally introduced himself to Big Papi. Hitting .216 with six home runs and a mere eight RBIs? The end is never pretty. Why should this come as a surprise to anyone? He turns 40 in November; it’s a simple case of reality.
— And that reality is — this year, David Ortiz has a HR once every 26 at-bats. Over the last three seasons, it was one every 15.5 at-bats. He’s driving in runs every nine at-bats this year, but was driving them in every 5.2 ABs the past three years. Do I need to go on? How about only 7 (seven!) percent of his hits this year have gone for extra bases.
— I like listening to Lou Merloni, especially since he represents Providence College so well. Most of the time. For the life of me, why he insists that Ortiz (or anyone else) NOT bunt toward third base when a right field shift is on is preposterous. His job is to HIT the ball, not to swing and miss. Isn’t the idea to get the opposing team OUT of the shift, when you can then — potentially — hit to your strength? Lay a couple of bunts down where no one is playing, and I’ll wager they come out of any shift. He’s supposed to drive in runs? How does he do that when he can’t hit the ball? Besides, the way Ortiz is swinging now, what exactly does he have to lose, anyway?
— Down on the farm: Eduardo Rodriguez, who came to the Red Sox last year as part of the Andrew Miller deal with the Orioles, had been a standout performer in Pawtucket. So with the way things are going, it’s only natural for the big club to call him up to see what he can do. Right now, it seems no one else (other than former PawSox knuckler Steven Wright) can do much of anything on the mound. But boy, did he impress in Texas. Rodriguez had the longest scoreless performance (7 2/3 innings) by a Sox pitcher in his major league debut since Billy Rohr in 1967. Any more like him in the dugout at McCoy? How about another turn on that big league mound? He sure looked and acted like an “ace” should look and act. Just sayin’.
— My buddy Statbeast sez he got a good line from Statbeast Junior the other day: What do the Red Sox have in common with possums? Both play dead at home and get killed on the road. Now that’s some serious father-son bonding. Nothing like the younger generation getting clued into Sox fans’ misery at an early age.
— New England’s connection to the current bribery and kickback scandal racing through FIFA and the soccer world is Sunil Gulati, a one-time president of Kraft Soccer for the Revolution. Gulati is president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, and also is serving a four-year term on FIFA’s executive committee. No, he’s not one of the crooks. Rather, he may be one of the new, emerging world leaders. The U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean confederation (CONCACAF) overseeing the sport in this hemisphere banned its president, Jack Warner, who was one of the officials arrested on corruption charges this week. Gulati will be overseeing CONCACAF’s business operations in his place.
— Rysheed Jordan may be through at St. John’s, as he has been declared academically ineligible for the fall semester and word in his hometown of Philadelphia is he won’t play for SJU again. Coach Chris Mullin believes otherwise, however. And former Pitt star Durand Johnson, who averaged more than eight points per game two years ago before tearing an ACL, transfers in and is eligible right away as a fifth-year senior. The Johnnies also get highly touted Chicago point guard Marcus LoVett. Don’t cry for the Red Storm just yet.
— And the deck is being cleared for a new leader in the Johnnies clubhouse, as athletic director Chris Monasch resigned this week after 10 years to “pursue new leadership opportunities.” There are several rumors floating around about his departure and whether he might have been asked to leave. But he did bring Mullin back into the fold, which made a few St. John’s alumni I know pretty happy.
— Brown’s Rafael Maia will finish his basketball eligibility at Pittsburgh, and 6-foot-7 swingman Leland King is transferring to Nevada. Was he looking for more than the Ivy could offer? King averaged almost 15 points and eight rebounds per game for the Bears last season, and he’ll have two years left to play after he sits out next year. King is the fourth transfer player to join the Wolfpack program for new head coach Eric Musselman.
— It’s that time of year again, as the Brown women’s and men’s crew teams are back in a familiar place — competing for national titles. For the women, in Gold River, California, at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center, it’s their 19th straight appearance in the NCAA Championships. They are seven-time team national champs, all under coach John Murphy. The men? They’re competing this weekend in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s national championship in New Jersey, and ranked sixth nationally in the latest U.S. Rowing collegiate poll. Yes, there is such a thing.
— It’s hard to not be a little bit wistful when it comes to celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the 1975 AL champion Red Sox. That team was fun to watch — and one many Sox fans can recall as an all-time favorite, even when you include the three World Series title teams since then. Dick Pole was primarily a starter in Boston in ’75, but he was struck in the face by a line drive against Baltimore at the end of June that year. He recovered in time to face two batters in Game 5 of the World Series against Cincinnati — and walked them both. Pole was selected by Seattle in the 1976 expansion draft, and later became the pitching coach for the PawSox during one of my seasons as a team broadcaster, in 1992. It was in Pawtucket where he may have had his best moments as a player, leading the International League in ERA and strikeouts back in 1973. Pole, who mentored Hall of Famer Greg Maddux from ’88 to ’91, also spent time in San Francisco (as a bench coach), Boston (1998, bullpen coach), Anaheim, Chicago, Cleveland, Montreal and Cincinnati as a pitching coach.
— High Life Mike sent his thoughts in on Paschal Chukwu’s transfer from Providence, via email: “I don’t see how we as fans and media can hold 18-20-year-old basketball players to a standard that we don’t hold their middle-aged coaches to. If a coach is free to break a commitment — a contract in that case — to move on to greener pastures, so should the players. And they should be able to do so without harsh judgement from the outside world.” Well stated, Mike. I actually agree with your basic premise, but in reality we deal in a “Do as I say, not as I do” world. Coaches are paid professionals; student-athletes (at least in most cases) are not. You can’t hold kids to the same standards as those in the free-enterprise system of employment, unless you classify them as “employees.” If the NCAA allowed its student-athletes the same freedom of movement as coaches have, we’d have more chaos than we presently have. Programs would never be able to build.
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