|10-07-2003, 06:45 PM||#1|
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[Sports Central Newsletter] - #105 - One-On-One With LaVar Arrington
The Sports Central Newsletter
October 2003 - Issue #105
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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|
- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "One-On-One With LaVar Arrington"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Take Me Out to the Ballpark"
- Marquee Matchup: "NFL: Bucs vs. Colts"
|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|
Sports Central's been privileged enough in the past to get exclusive interviews with athletes and other influential figures in the sports world. And now we're proud to present to you our latest, a special one-on-one interview with Redskins All-Pro linebacker LaVar Arrington. Brad's got the month off in his O-Files column, so special correspondent Robert Janis brings you his interview with Arrington instead.
Not to be forgotten, Feature Writer Mike Round decided to do a little investigative journalism when it comes to the issue of whether or not baseball is slowly dying. So what did he do? He took the proactive approach of visiting three very different and unique MLB ballparks: Yankee Stadium, Turner Field, and Tropicana Field. Find out which stadiums make the passing grade and what kind of indication this gives on the state of the game in the Feature Article. Enjoy!
Until next time,
- Marc James
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|-- THE O-FILES--|
Note: Brad's got the month off, so we are running a very special interview with All-Pro linebacker LaVar Arrington this month. Brad will be back next month.
"One-On-One With LaVar Arrington"
By Robert Janis
I believe that you would get no argument from anyone who knows football that LaVar Arrington, outside linebacker for the Washington Redskins, is one of the best playing the game today and may be one of the best to ever play the game. He was drafted in the first-round of the 2000 draft by the Redskins out of Penn State University and has played for four different coaches each year.
There was Ray Rhodes, Marvin Lewis, and now George Edwards. Edwards is expected to stay as the Redskins' defensive coordinator for some time, thus assuring some consistency for the All-Pro backer.
Many people inspired LaVar Arrington throughout his life. His dad was a Vietnam War veteran who was injured in combat. And he has played for some of the best coaches to ever be involved in the game of football.
Sports Central: How old were you when you first started playing football and who inspired you to play?
LaVar Arrington: I was 8-years-old and Bruce Smith inspired me.
SC: Were you always a linebacker? If so, why did that position attract you?
LA: I was a defensive end at first, Watching Bruce Smith with the Buffalo Bills. He was a rookie I think and I wanted to be just like number 78. That"s what inspired me.
SC: You grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Penn State, which is known as "Linebacker University". Did you choose Penn State over other schools because of that reputation?
LA: Yes, I went to Penn State for its reputation of being a linebackers' school.
SC: In your college and pro career, you have played for some of the best coaches. What have you taken from each coach and who do you consider to be the best?
LA: That's a hard question to answer. You always take a little bit from each coach you play for. Unfortunately, I have not had a lot of time around any of those other than Joe Paterno. The one I would say is the best coach out of all of them is Jerry Sandusky. I think George Edwards has the potential to surpass him, but for now, Jerry Sandusky was the best coach that I've probably ever been under. He's "The Professor" or what was "The Professor" at Linebacker U. He's just a great coach, great all-around guy. I really enjoyed playing for him.
SC: You are entering your fourth-year in the NFL and every year, you have played for a different defensive coordinator. How has that affected your play?
LA: Well, having guys like Bruce Smith around you, it doesn't really affect your play because you have guys like that to coach you up. They're field coaches because they've been around the game so long that they know every defensive system that there is. It just makes it easier. It makes the transition so much easier when you have a guy like Bruce Smith or somebody like a Jessie Armstead. Those guys, they're just field generals. They know all these different schemes. So having a new defensive coordinator every year affects you a little bit because you want a sense of stability, you want to know the guy that is coaching you, but at the same aspect, you have a lot of guys that can help you and support you.
SC: If you were the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, how would you use LaVar Arrington?
LA: To be honest, if I was defensive coordinator for LaVar Arrington, I would probably stack the two linebackers in front of him and put him right behind them, let the D-line do what they do and if they get past the D-linemen, then he'll probably make the play. That's how I'd use him. And occasionally rush him here and there.
SC: Do you look for any tendencies that players for the opposition might have that tips-off a play?
LA: You always look for some type of edge, some type of something that is going to give you an opportunity to be successful. You always look for an edge on the film and different things like that and you just go from there. Go out there to make a play.
SC: How do you prepare for a game during the week on your own?
LA: I just relax the whole week basically. I really just try to stay as focused as possible, just getting better with different schemes and different things like that and just go from there. I just have to stay focused.
Sports Central thanks LaVar Arrington for taking the time to talk to us, and Robert Janis, for his efforts in obtaining the interview.
Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:email@example.com?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
|-- WHAT'S NEW AT SPORTS CENTRAL? --|
A look back at the new articles from the week of 09/29/03 - 10/05/03:
NFL: Rush Limbaugh: Wrong about football, the media, and McNabb
By Eric Poole
When Rush Limbaugh took a gratuitous shot at Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb, he revealed that he is as ignorant about football as he is as about politics -- and those are his two best subjects. Limbaugh was hired for his controversial opinions. However, his penchant for being wrong is the reason he never should have been hired in the first place.
COLUMN: "JQ": A hockey cynic's guide to the Eastern Conference
By Greg Wyshynski
Grab a beer and throw on your favorite hockey sweater ... it's time for the annual Jester's Quart NHL Preview. This week, the Wales Conference gets the cynical treatment. That, plus a new edition of "Connect the Dolts," analysis of the Rush Limbaugh split with ESPN, and rants on Kevin Garnett and Dany Heatley.
GOLF: Vouching for Vijay
By Vincent Musco
Soon, the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award will be bestowed upon one of a handful of worthy individuals. Why, then, is it destined to end up in the wrong player's trophy case? SC's Vincent Musco explains his case for Vijay Singh.
MLB: Looking ahead, and back, at the World Series matchups
By Jeff Zaginailoff
The baseball playoffs are underway, and SC's Jeff Zaginailoff takes a look at all of the possible World Series matchups, and the history (if any) between the teams. Twins/Marlins? Not very appealing. Cubs/Red Sox? Now that's intriguing.
NBA: The search for the fifth-starter
By Danny Sternfield
You think you've got what it takes to play in the NBA? Probably not, but that doesn't mean you can't start for the Lakers this year. After all, how hard could it be to play alongside four first-ballot Hall of Famers? SC's Danny Sternfield analyzes this conundrum.
MLB: Playoff division series psychology
By Mason Williams
The playoffs are here and it's time for the contenders to get in the right mental state. Rather than focusing on statistics and matchups, SC's Mason Williams looks at the psychological profile of each playoff contender.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The intangibles of success
By David Shaw
Winning goes deeper than talent and coaching in college football. It delves into a realm a bit more vague, a bit tougher to define. SC's David Shaw takes a look at these traits that make teams successful -- these intangibles.
NFL: NFL Week 4 power rankings
By Brad Oremland
This week's power rankings from SC's Brad Oremland feature a close top-five that hasn't changed from last week, with rising teams like Minnesota and Carolina knocking on the door. Get rankings and analysis for all 32 teams, plus Five Quick Hits and thoughts on Steve McNair, Dennis Erickson, and soup commercials.
|-- FEATURE ARTICLE --|
"Take Me Out to the Ballpark"
By Mike Round
I've been hearing for years how baseball is on its deathbed. It's too expensive, the players don't care anymore, there's too many teams, too few good pitchers, the parks are too small, yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, I decided to try it myself and take a road trip. Three very different stadiums and places in two weeks. Virtually new Turner Field in Atlanta, home of the despised (by me) Braves, historic and revered Yankee Stadium, with it's traditions and bleacher-creatures and the young Tampa Bay Devil Rays' home, Tropicana Field, with Lou Pinella attempting to kick-start a moribund franchise to life.
The trip to The Ted to take in the Braves and Pirates matinee didn't get off to an auspicious start. Have you ever used Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport? If you have, you'll know why I'm vowing never to return to the great city of Atlanta by air. We landed at Concourse D, which is in Tennessee, judging by the time it took to find the exit to our car. As our flight originated in Europe, we needed to go through immigration. If you're planning on returning to the U.S. through Atlanta anytime, stock up on water and non-perishable snacks. And don't take young children -- they struggle to stand in line for nearly two hours.
After a night in a poorly-maintained and cleaned Days Inn off I-75, (the Promise Keepers were in town, so all the downtown hotels were booked), it was off to the ballpark. Easily accessible from the interstate and with plenty of close-by parking, Turner Field makes a great impression straight away. The main entrance is beautifully-crafted to be a nice mixture of old-fashioned, functional, and fun and it's set against the backdrop of the huge stands behind homeplate.
There's plenty of pre-game entertainment in the main concourse area to amuse the kids and the array of food available is truly mind-boggling, all at the usual absurd prices.
Tickets were easily obtained, with large numbers of scalpers around outside the stadium. The Braves rarely sell out, even on a weekend, so we opted for the box office and got seats along the third baseline at $27 a pop. Great seats with a great view in a superbly-appointed stadium. Upper-deck seats were just $1 or $5 for a more central view -- who said baseball was pricing away the fans?
The game was just the type I love -- a real pitching duel between two solid pitchers, Kip Wells and Mike Hampton. Wells is a minimum 15-game winner on a good team. He keeps the ball down, relies on location, and rarely makes a mistake. His fastball is respectable and any contending team looking for a genuine third starter could do a lot worse than Wells.
Compare his record to namesake, David Wells, who has 14 wins. Kip's ERA is 70 points lower at 3.51. Though he's pitched 13 less innings, he has 38 more strikeouts. The only advantage David Wells has over Kip is he walks a lot less batters -- Boomer's 14 wins compared to Kip's 8 is down to better run-support from a better team.
Mike Hampton has restored his reputation down in Atlanta, after a disastrous spell in the thin air of Denver. He still gives the impression of being vulnerable, with a fairly high WHIP of 1.36, but a strong postseason will see Hampton again regarded as one of the sport's premier pitchers.
Javy Lopez knocked in both runs for Atlanta, with a double that scored Gary Sheffield and a solo homer. Javy his having a career-year and hits the free-agent market this winter, which is probably no coincidence. He's bulked up significantly, which has led to a huge increase in his homerun total, up from a career high of 34 in 1998 to 39 as of 09/12/03. He'll be looking for a huge pay increase from the Braves in the offseason and won't get it. He may be disappointed in the reaction of the other teams out there looking for a power-hitting catcher -- GM's are rightly wary of one-off standout years and will be loathe to overpay.
The people of Atlanta are amongst the friendliest folk I have ever met. The employees of Turner Field surpass the expectations of even the most demanding visitor. A courteous security search, welcoming and knowledgeable ushers, a free scorecard for anyone who asks and, for our disabled guest in a wheelchair, a courtesy buggy to the car park. Overall, an extremely pleasant afternoon that didn't break the bank. Even the wife didn't complain, which is as rare as Mo Vaughn being healthy.
After Atlanta, it was off to New Jersey and a trip to Yankee Stadium. I'm a big Yankees fan, but I've never liked Yankee Stadium much. I like it even less now. Sure, the place stinks of tradition, as well as other, less attractive, aromas. There are too many boorish, fickle, drunk, and plain dumb fans. The staff are sullen and unhelpful. Even the slightest infraction of the numerous rules inside the stadium gets you the boot. Listening to the voice of announcer Bob Sheppard droning on interminably is as much fun as root canal work.
My visit took place on Thursday, the 11th of September, with its obvious connotations. Security was intense, though I suspect no more intense than on the 10th. No hang bags, no cameras, no smoking, no backpacks, no drinks allowed unless you purchase them from a designated outlet, no enjoying yourself, no laughing, no talking. Okay, I made the last three up, though no laughing might have been on the list -- I didn't have the necessary 30 minutes to read all the things you couldn't do.
My pre-game visit to the club store was short and not so sweet as I only had $300 on me and could only afford a Chuck Knoblauch bobble head that was on sale. The ticket prices were frightening. I thought of putting one of my children into slavery so I could afford a seat behind homeplate or selling a kidney for a Lodge Box seat, but settled on a scalper instead.
The first guy who approached me was so insulted I only offered him $35 for a $47 seat he called me a bunch of names I couldn't repeat on a respectable website and hinted I originated in Iowa or Idaho. Luckily, I found a nervous-looking guy prepared to sell me a $37 seat for $20 bucks. An upper-deck seat along the first base line with a face value of $37 -- the same seat in The Ted was $5.
The game was a routine win for the Yankees over a surprisingly=spirited Detroit team. Roger Clemens pitched a good game, but I hope he goes through with his plan to retire this winter as you can see the decline. It's also obvious that the Yankees need a second baseman soon as Alfonso Soriano is an error waiting to happen. His strong, but inaccurate arm is more suited to the outfield. And Jason Giambi plays first base as well as Oprah, but you knew that already.
The seventh-inning stretch tribute to the victims of 9/11 eerily ended at precisely 9:11 PM and was followed by the traditional seventh-inning fight, with the morons seated a few rows behind me deciding it was a good idea to shower their fellow fans below with unwanted beer. Security moved in with zealous, barely-concealed glee, and numerous innocent fans were ejected while the culprits remained in their seats.
Any fans that were brave enough to point this out to the model ex-KGB employees George Steinbrenner has working at Gulag Yankee Stadium were also ejected. Exiting the stadium was tricky as fans were forced to wriggle past two drunken women fighting on the exit ramp. All in all, a pretty grim, over priced New York night.
The next weekend, we set off for Florida for a three-game set in St Petersburg between the Yankees and D-Rays. This was a much more civilized prospect than the sheer ugliness of Yankee Stadium. I even persuaded the wife to join me, after she'd refused a trip to The House That Ruth Built on the flimsy pretext that there was an interesting looking program on the Home Improvement channel on Latvian basket weaving. My son is currently coaching soccer in Orlando and he joined us for the three days in the picturesque setting of Treasure Island, close to St Petes.
Indoor baseball? Not my idea of the way the game should be played, to be honest, but it's understandable why there's a roof in places like Houston and St Petersburg. If it's not stiflingly hot and humid in Florida in the summer, it's raining, so the roof makes a lot of sense, though why they bother in Toronto and Montreal escapes me. The wife said it was like being at a high-school basketball game, and she had a point. The roof seemed flimsy and saggy and we didn't completely trust it to stay up there. Luckily, we were south of Hurricane Isabel.
The seats were $32 each along the third baseline, where I tend to prefer to sit. The facilities were adequate, better than at Yankee Stadium, yet significantly worse than pristine Turner Field. Most of the crowd was rooting for New York, yet had suspiciously dark Florida-style suntans. The home crowd was extremely strange, booing lustily every time Derek Jeter came to bat (jealousy?) and, mysteriously, for every Hideki Matsui at-bat. Obviously, memories are long in Florida and the local octogenarians have yet to get over the events of Pearl Harbor.
The three games were pretty routine Yankee victories, though the Friday night game, a 2-1 win for New York, featured a great pitching duel between Jose Contreras and rookie Doug Waechter. The Cuban Contreras has really looked the part since coming off the DL after the All-Star Break and will surely be an integral part of the rotation next year. With Roger Clemens likely retiring and Andy Pettitte's and David Wells' contracts up, this is an area of big concern for Brian Cashman next year, though whether Cashman is back is a moot point.
The key is Pettitte, who pitched seven strong innings on the Saturday night and is the Yankees' best starter. He still has years ahead of him as a premier pitcher, and to my mind, should receive Cy Young consideration this year. He must be resigned, unless the unthinkable is going to happen and the Yankees begin next year with a rotation of Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, John Lieber (if healthy), and one other.
The Jeff Weaver situation is baffling. Dominant, aggressive, confident, dynamic, and a workhorse in Detroit, Weaver is a pale shadow of his former self in New York. We were sat right by the Yankee relievers for the Saturday game and not one of his teammates even spoke to him throughout the game. Gabe White, Felix Heredia, Chris Hammond, Antonio Osuna, and Jorge De Paula chatted amicably with one another throughout the game and regularly interacted with the more attractive female fans seated nearby, as wealthy guys with wives in another state far away tend to.
Jeff Weaver sat rooted to his chair for the whole game, staring at his feet during intervals. The only time he spoke to anyone, or anyone spoke to him, was when he briefly warmed up and he got to play catch with John Flaherty. It was a sad sight and suggests that Weaver is on his way in the offseason. Personally, I'd be disappointed if that were to happen. Weaver is young and talented, with a rocket arm and excellent durability. He'll have a good career somewhere and I hope it's in the Bronx. The wife pointed out after that Jeff Nelson didn't speak to anyone either, but I told her that was because he's a grumpy old man with the personality of a bear that hasn't eaten for a week rather than he's on the trading block.
So, based on this mini-adventure, how's baseball doing? So-so is my opinion, though it should be doing a lot better. Atlanta has it right, though the fans there seem apathetic, sadly. Previously an anti-Brave, I admire what they're attempting down there. The stadium is superb, the tickets reasonable in comparison to most, and the whole operation is geared to attracting the whole family to the ball game for a pleasant day out. The staff couldn't be better and the facilities are magnificent. Plus, the management team puts out a solid ballclub year after year. I'm rooting for a Braves NL pennant this year, something I never thought I'd say.
The New York Yankees have it totally wrong. Sure, the team is more than competitive every year, but the whole atmosphere is unpleasant. There's a nasty hint of desperation in the air this year, too, judging by what I saw in September. The feeling seems to be this is it for the Joe Torre/Brian Cashman regime if a World Series doesn't come their way in October. Steinbrenner sets the tone and it's an unattractive one. Win or else I'll throw a tantrum isn't my idea of motivation.
The stadium is aging about as well as the starting rotation. The facilities are grim, the fans grimmer. The prices for tickets and souvenirs are at the same level as Jersey property prices. Getting to the stadium is as dangerous as fighting your way from Tikrit to Basra. The staff had former lives as members of the Waffen SS. A wholly unpleasant experience I wouldn't dare inflict on a child, which isn't what baseball should be like.
Baseball in Tampa relies on the regular visits of the Yankees and Red Sox, which is a shame because Lou Pinella is putting together a good, young ballclub. He has some good young arms in Joe Kennedy, Jorge Sosa, Doug Waechter, Victor Zambrano, and Brandon Backe. Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff, and Carl Crawford can play a bit, too. The problem in Tampa is belief. The fans have never had a competitive team to get behind, so they are still wary, but the hiring of Pinella shows that management is committed to changing things in The Trop. If they can attract a marquee free-agent, like Gary Sheffield this offseason, then the good people of Tampa might forget the Bucs for a while.
Baseball has a good product and a slew of tremendous players that the bulk of the population is, as yet, unfamiliar with. It needs marketing properly to compete with football. That's Bud Selig's job and it's something he's sadly failed to address during his tenure as commissioner. Selig has many achievements on his resume, like interleague play, divisional realignment, and the wildcard. If he could restore baseball to its pre-1994 level of popularity, or above, he can retire with grace.
Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Feature_Article
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|-- MARQUEE MATCHUP --|
By Anthony Brancato
TAMPA BAY 24, Indianapolis 13 (+4 1/2) TV: ABC, 9 PM EST
In their four indoor games, the 4-0 Colts have scored 33, 23, and 55 points, and in their one outdoor game, they scored nine -- at Cleveland on Opening Day. And like the Cleveland game, this one is also on grass, upon which Indianapolis is just 14-21-1 against the spread since 1996.
* Home team is capitalized.
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