Thinking out loud … while wondering where Jeremy Kapstein has been?
— And it may be only preseason, but Patriots fans love their football — Deflategate notwithstanding, and a meaningless exhibition seems to matter little. Ratings for the preseason opener were the highest for local TV since just after the Super Bowl in February for the Grammy Awards. Higher than the NBA and NHL finals. Higher than the Republican debates, too — which means a Pats game is one show around here that Donald Trump can’t take over. I hope.
— Deflategate vs. Bountygate. Or Spygate. In effect, that’s what we had this week in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Some in the media tried to play that angle but didn’t have a lot of success with it. The Patriots and New Orleans Saints stayed and practiced at The Greenbrier resort, where some of the Friars basketball teams in the ’90s stayed when facing the Mountaineers during Pete Gillen’s tenure. There’s not much out there, and it’s darn near perfect if you like seclusion.
— Maybe that’s why there weren’t any notable skirmishes between players, whereas in other scrimmages teams seem to be duking it out with regularity? Pats and Saints players were lulled to sleep, or rather, they may have feared for their professional well-being if they were tossed from practice for fighting.
— There are similarities between the organizations, and not just because of the infamous violations for which they’ve been accused. Sean Payton loves to wear hoodies cut off at the sleeves, as does Bill Belichick. Payton is very guarded and doesn’t talk about injuries, just like BB. And both teams appear to have an organizational chip on their shoulders, when it comes to alleged “fair treatment” by the NFL. Right or wrong, that can be useful.
— The Brady-Goodell Peace Accord goes back to the bargaining table on Aug. 31. When does this charade end? Neither side really cares about budging, although rumors of Tom Brady‘s willingness to compromise (one-game suspension, no admission of guilt) at least SOUNDS magnanimous compared to The League. I don’t see him compromising, but then again, I’m not TB12 with this big, fat albatross hanging around my neck, either.
— No, this goes down to the bitter end. Commissioner Bad-ell (how can anyone really call him Goodell?) loses what’s left of his disciplinary authority if he caves and compromises. Brady is branded a cheater if he caves and compromises — if that hasn’t happened already in 31 other NFL fandoms. Both are standing at the craps table, hoping that Judge Berman rolls a seven or 11 for ’em.
— In the “I never thought I’d see that” department, ESPN actually apologized to the Patriots for airing an erroneous report that as part of the Spygate controversy, the team had filmed a Rams walkthrough prior to Super Bowl 36. Except that it never happened, and the original report and retraction by the Boston Herald was done in 2008 — seven years ago! And ESPN was still using the filming story as fact, as recently as this week? Your journalistic credibility shrinks by the day, Four-Letter Network.
— Should we be concerned, at all, that the ESPN correction ran in the middle of the night, when the fewest viewers possible could see it? Nah, no collusion here with the NFL’s millions potentially hanging in the balance, right?
— Interesting that ESPN’s NFL Nation beat reporters cast their own ballots on which player should be the league’s highest paid, as the New York Giants‘ Eli Manning attempts to lay claim to that honor with a new deal. While Manning did get mentioned — by exactly one reporter, ESPN New York’s Dan Graziano — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers outpolled Tom Brady by 19 votes to five by the team reporters.
— Eli’s brother Peyton also received one vote, as did Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Houston’s J.J. Watt. Colts QB Andrew Luck finished third with four votes.
— PAT and two-point conversion update: Through the first week of NFL preseason, NFL teams are 54-for-56 on PATs in preseason (0.96 points per attempt), 6-for-13 when going for two (0.92 points per attempt). Meh, but it’s a start.
— So, the Northwestern football players can’t unionize, which means there’s some sanity returning to college athletics? Actually, the revolution has already begun. Since former NU quarterback Kain Colter began pushing this issue, student-athlete welfare issues have moved to the front burner of the collegiate kitchen stove — including cost of attendance beyond academic scholarships for some student-athletes, which undoubtedly will help quantify the haves and have-nots in the collegiate sports world.
— So no, student-athletes are not “employees,” but they are being heard by school administrators and decision-makers. The days of simply gaining a free education in return for playing a varsity sport have long left us, so get over that. This is bidness, and college athletics are big bidness. The employees, er, athletes should have their say as long as schools continue to monstrously profit off of their endeavors.
— Without a doubt, congratulations are in order for the Cranston Western Little Leaguers, playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It’s the second appearance for CWLL, after winning the national championship in 1996 and losing the World title to Chinese Taipei — well before any of the current players were born. Think about that for a second.
— And what is the reason behind Lil’ Rhody’s sudden reign in Little League baseball? CWLL’s LLWS appearance is the third in the past five years for Rhode Island teams (Cumberland in 2011 and 2014), and this now makes four Rhode Island Little League organizations (with Lincoln and Pawtucket’s Darlington American) that have reached the pinnacle of the sport. Who’s spiking the Del’s Lemonade with HGH around here?
— Seriously, there are multiple reasons why Rhode Island Little Leaguers have had success, and it starts with the coaches in these communities, as well as many others throughout the state. Having been a Little League, RBI and AAU coach in Rhode Island myself for 20 years, I’ve learned good things from many of them — and have also seen how they care for their kids. The late Mike Varrato, who led CWLL in ’96, was one of those. Bill Valerio in Rumford, where I coached, gave so much to so many before he passed away. Cumberland’s Dave Belisle is another, and he is still giving today.
— I would also argue that because the baseball season is shorter here in the Northeast, practice and training can be more intense and more focused than it is in other areas of the country. Get that special group of kids together and you can make a run. Plus, with all due respect to our neighbors, the regional competition here probably isn’t what it is, say, in the South or West. When you get in one-game situations, anything can happen — and anyone can win.
— Which may be exactly what Warwick North experienced in the Little League Softball World Series at Portland, Oregon, this week. Wednesday night, the Warwick ladies lost to North Carolina 4-2 in the championship game, perhaps a life lesson learned during a lifelong, memorable moment. But two teams from little ol’ Rhode Island on the national stage at the same time? Terrific.
— In the Softball World Series, the evidence that coaches from Snohomish, Washington, “threw” a game and intentionally lost to gain a better matchup is a sign that for every good kid out there, there’s an adult waiting to mess them up. Keep that in mind, Mom and Dad. And always, karma somehow finds a way to win — since Washington lost a Little League-mandated makeup game that knocked it out of the competition. Stupid is as stupid does.
— Not for nuthin’, but Dave Dombrowski‘s arrival as new Red Sox president is a bit of a surprise. Before you believe it’s a signal that ownership has flip-flopped from “our way or the highway” to turning over the team keys to him, let’s see how this offseason plays out. Dombrowski built up the Detroit Tigers, sure, but also is known to trade/sell off prospects for established stars. The Tigers’ farm system is at the bottom of the pile, according to Baseball America. Didn’t we just get through something similar a few years ago? Thanks, Dodgers, for the gift that keeps on giving.
— But if Dombrowski can find somewhere — anywhere — other than left field for Hanley Ramirez to play next season, that would be a good start to his tenure.
— Ben Cherington is the fall guy? Yup. Three last-place finishes in four years, if they stay on the current pace, is just too ugly for the status quo in a place like Boston. He struck magic in 2013, but several of those deals/players are striking back against him today. That’s the life of a baseball GM — ultimately dependent on the actions of others. That John Henry and Tom Werner said they wanted him to stay simply defies believability and credibility. Good guy or not, pro sports are a results-oriented business.
— It’s hard to believe Dombrowski would be in Boston without assurances from Henry and Werner that HE’s the man. Dombrowski is the Old School to Henry and Werner’s Nu Skool technology and thinking, which may be the most surprising aspect of this bold move. There are any number of places he could have landed, as many surmise. But his previous tenure in Florida with Henry (as GM of the Marlins during Henry’s ownership) and winning in Boston, winning in New England, are the ties that seem to bond here.
— Will there be a new GM for the Red Sox? If there is, and former Atlanta GM Frank Wren has been prominently mentioned, he won’t have a ton of sway, I’d guess. Dealer Dave will run the show at Fenway.
— Jackie Bradley’s excellent adventure last weekend was the stuff legends are made of — but only if he finds some consistency in the hereafter. His five extra-base hits in the 22-10 bombing of Seattle made him the youngest big leaguer EVER to have five in one game. Great news, but his overall average is in the mid-.200s. Before his current streak, Bradley was hitting .102. That ought to tell you everything you need to know.
— And that team offensive explosion in the series against the Mariners? Weren’t we told that would be the rule, rather than the exception, before this season started? Just sayin’.
— Can’t imagine where Milwaukee Brewers prospect David Denson’s head was before this season started, but his decision to announce his sexual orientation — saying last week he was gay — makes him the first player in a Major League Baseball organization to do so. Gutsy? Sure. But when do we stop caring about sexual orientation and start caring more about whether or not he can actually play and help a team win?
— Winning is something the streaking Toronto Blue Jays have learned how to do, certainly. They’re making the AL East tenable right now. And their willingness to stretch on some trading deadline deals, like picking up Troy Tulowitzki? Reminds me of a little Boston swagger, if you know what I mean. They’re fun to watch.
— For all of Jordan Spieth’s accomplishments this year on the PGA Tour, why can’t he be as popular as Tiger Woods? Perhaps in time, he will be. But the sporting public has long loved “bad boys,” which is what Tiger became. They also loved his once-in-a-generation talent, which has disappeared like a fart in the winds of time. Partly because of his behavior, no doubt.
— Here’s why I root for Spieth, and not just because he’s a Longhorn (which he is, and “Hook ’em,” btw). Spieth is a good sport. Spieth is a gentleman, and he’s shown that through his actions on the golf course. Spieth has boy-next-door looks, for whatever that’s worth, but he LOOKS like a nice guy. And he hits the ball a long, long way. Drive for show, putt for dough. He does that, too. This nice guy won’t finish last, in anything.
— Did anyone else see where after 63 years, the Harlem Globetrotters made the decision to drop the Washington Generals as their nightly cannon fodder? What in the name of Red Klotz is going on here? With a won-loss record of 16K-3 — that’s right, three losses and more than 16,000 wins — against the Generals, the Trotters are getting ready for a makeover.
— I had the privilege of suiting up for the Generals against the Globetrotters 25 years ago, during an exhibition game at the then-Providence Civic Center. Scored on them, too. I wanted to dunk, but Sweet Lou Dunbar — who now coaches the team — wouldn’t let me climb on his back to do it.
— Klotz’s comments one night in 1971, after one of those three Generals wins when the Trotters couldn’t do much of anything right, were that winning the game was like “shooting Santa Claus.” An all-time coach’s quote, if there ever was one.
— My buddy “Big E” embraces the role of Santa during the holidays, always willing to play the part as one of his helpers. In legal terms, that would make him a Subordinate Claus, wouldn’t it? Insert rim-shot here. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.
— Did anyone see where former NBA No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden — taken before Kevin Durant in 2007 — signed with Jiangsu of the Chinese Basketball Association? Oden will be a teammate of former Friar and Celtic Marshon Brooks.
— Great piece in the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer this week on PC assistant Jeff Battle making an immediate impact for the Friars. His personal story is such that you find it hard not to root for the guy, no matter what team you pull for. And with a background recruiting and developing players like Chris Paul, Jeff Teague, Josh Howard, Ish Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu, David West and James Posey, Providence basketball could be in good shape for some time to come.
— But what about now? Now would be a good time to get started, right Friars fanatics? Love those coaches, but talking is a waste of so much breathable air — and I know this first-hand. Doing is better. Let’s git ‘er done.
— Tim Higgins swallowed his whistle and retired two years ago. Now, veteran official Jim Burr is putting his away at age 68, and will turn to scouting officials for the NCAA. Some probably think “it’s about time,” but I’ll tell you this — on the road in the Big East, you wanted Burr out there. He was one ref who never got caught up in the home teams’ emotion. Probably why many Friars fans despised him.
— Great moment in the national spotlight for Rhody hoops this fall, as the URI-Valparaiso home game at the Ryan Center on Nov. 17 will be televised nationally on ESPN2 as part of the College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon. A 10 a.m. start time in Kingston? Who goes to class, anyway? I’m one teacher who would hold class AT the game — if you can’t show up for that, might as well drop my course.
— The Atlantic 10 has three teams playing in the 16-team, season-opening event. George Washington arguably has the toughest task, facing fourth-ranked Virginia, while Dayton gets a home game (what else?) against Alabama — with new assistant coach (and former PC assistant) Bob Simon getting the Flyers back-to-back in his career.
— Georgetown is the lone Big East rep in the Marathon schedule of 16 games over approximately 31 straight hours, and the Hoyas will have a chance to make the most noise, too. They’re playing at preseason No. 1 Maryland, and the game also is a part of the Big East-Big Ten Gavitt Games matchups this year.
— Brown hoops is off to Italy next week, for a nine-day tour and four games in four cities. If you want to keep up, four players from the team (including Jordan Spieth’s brother Steven) will post blogs throughout the trip on brownbears.com.
— Providence men’s soccer will have the bull’s-eye on its back in the upcoming season. Winning the Big East last year and reaching the College Cup national semis (yes, that’s soccer’s version of the Final Four), the Friars are preseason picked for third in the league this year, behind Creighton and Georgetown. All three teams are ranked in the nation’s top 10 (PC is seventh). Should say something about Big East soccer, shouldn’t it?
— Thanks to the Pawtucket Times’ Brendan McGair for pointing this out — the SportsBusiness Journal has a biannual ranking of the top minor league sports cities in America, and this year the poll dropped Providence and Pawtucket (considered the same metro area) to 30th out of 212 ranked minor league markets. That’s a drop of 18 spots from the last ranking done in 2013, and a whopping 27 spots from the lofty No. 3 rung on the ladder in 2011. Why? Dwindling attendance, largely, at McCoy Stadium. In case you were wondering, the Providence Bruins were second in the American Hockey League in attendance last season. The Pawsox were ninth in the 14-team International League in attendance.
— Thirtieth out of 212 is certainly respectable overall, ahead of noted cities and markets like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse and Hartford. But as the poll explained, with zero population growth (as we have had over two years), you expect support to continue, and local support for the PawSox has slipped. Team ownership, as we know, is hoping to reinvigorate that support with the new stadium plan.
— Rhode Island’s own Jeremy Kapstein, once Chris Clark’s right-hand man on Friars radio broadcasts-turned-super agent-turned Major League Baseball executive, has been conspicuously absent from his familiar seat right behind home plate at Fenway Park. A reader pointed out this past week he hasn’t been seen on the TV much lately, but I’m happy to report it’s only because he’s been pretty busy. The PawSox’ Bill Wanless says Kapstein has been seen at several Pawtucket games recently, intently watching prospects, and has been involved in meetings as a Red Sox senior adviser with the changeover in Boston management. So, the beat goes on for a true Rhode Island treasure.
— Ron from Warwick posted an interesting thought on Facebook this week: “So, if the NFL is this determined to screw over the Patriots, how do we know that the referees will not have at least the knowledge that the league wants them to lose?” Ron, we should all be hopeful that game officials are nothing but professional, and perform their duties as they would for any other organization. It’s hard to hide poor performances, and even harder to hide purposeful poor performances. These guys are rated week-to-week, severely scrutinized, and want to stay gainfully employed. They’ve worked too hard to get where they are — at the pinnacle of the sport — to risk any kind of impropriety or questionable appearance. I think.
— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to email@example.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to join Scott Cordischi and me on Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.