Florida has become known for the weird. Highly charged court cases, nudist colonies and a bounty of tanning salons seem to arise in the Sunshine State. And unfortunately, cut-off jeans and flip-flops are not in short supply here.
In the previous four days, the Red Sox, Rays, Angels, Braves and Cardinals all lost games in the eighth inning or later. The wild card races have become such wars of attrition that rumor has it the Mariners are back in it. Throw in the longshot Giants, and the six wild card contenders have gone 8-13 this week. It's absurd enough to root for the ultimate in chaos: the first-ever three-way tie in major league history.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The 2011 NHL Draft came to a close Saturday afternoon, and when the last pick was made -- a Swedish goalie by the name of Johan Mattsson to Chicago -- all eyes turned to the next key date on the league calendar: July 1, free agency day.
With several teams now having played as many as 18 games -- that's one-ninth of the 162-game slate -- the first inning of the 2011 season is in the books. Here, then, is a look at 10 underrated storylines of the early going, five that are trending upward and five downward:
The midpoint of the 2010-11 season occurs on Saturday -- Tampa Bay visiting Ottawa marks the official NHL winter solstice, in case you were wondering -- but like the announced attendance at some rinks, let's just say we're close enough to present our midseason awards.
My every-other-month dinner-and-discussion group met the other night. After a plentiful potluck meal, we got down to the topic designated for the evening: "If you could solve any issue or problem in your lifetime, what would it be?"
Outfielder LeVon Washington, the second round pick of the Indians, is in serious talks with Cleveland for about $1.55 million. Washington, a speedster from Chipola JC (Fla.), was the Rays' first-round pick in 2009 but turned down $1.1 million from Tampa Bay and went to junior college instead.
Rarely does the best player on the best team in baseball not even come close to making the All-Star team, and rarer still would be a case where such a snub was deserved. But when that player in question is just coming off a mandatory and lengthy suspension for violating the game's drug policy, the only true reaction to his absence must be: thank goodness.
If the White Sox (87-74) beat the Tigers on Monday in a makeup game at 2:05 p.m. EDT, they would be tied with the Twins (88-74). If that happens, the Twins would travel to Chicago for a one-game tiebreaker on Tuesday at 7:37 p.m. EDT. If the White Sox lose to the Tigers, the Twins would win the AL Central.
There will be six, and maybe as many as eight, new coaches patrolling behind NHL benches next season -- new, at least, in the sense that they'll be different than the coaches who finished the season in their respective places.
In terms of getting better quickly, nobody in the NFL improved more dramatically in 2007 than Cleveland (six more wins than 2006), Green Bay and Tampa Bay (five each). With the league's offseason re-distribution of talent in full swing, and the draft still six weeks away, here are the five teams I think have done the most to better their lot in the NFL:
Five days from now, you'll all get to open your holiday gifts. I agree with what ex-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi says in Tim Layden's upcoming Sports Illustrated piece about draftmania. According to Accorsi, the draft is now the second-biggest day on the NFL calendar, next to Super Sunday. And from what I'm hearing on talk shows, what I read on draft sites, what I'm running into everywhere I go, Accorsi's right.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has an idea that seems to make sense, especially after a trying first week in baseball in which the Indians had seven games either snowed out or relocated to a different time zone, stars such as Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Victor Martinez were hurt trying to play baseball in football weather, and fans, when they bothered to show up at all, sat through miserable conditions to watch something that did not pass for major league-quality baseball.
If you were one of the smart ones who laid out the $159 for the NHL's Center Ice package, this is the week your investment pays off. With seven teams contending for three playoff spots in the East, and with crucial seeding battles going down to the wire in the West, it's time send the wife and kids to the in-laws, set the TiVo to record your other favorite shows, settle onto the couch and see who wants it the most.
Manager Joe Maddon and the rest of Devil Rays management know its time for the organization's myriad top prospects to finally contribute on the major league level. Therefore they're going to do everything they can to let the kids play as much as possible. However, most of the top big-league-ready prospects are hitters, meaning that the club's destiny for the next two years is riding largely on the arms of pitchers who, with the exception of ace Scott Kazmir, are either just getting their feet wet in the majors or who've flamed out time and again. During this transition the Devil Rays will be both fun and painful to watch, an improvement over the rest of Tampa Bay's history, during which the latter has been the rule.
Delmon Young, talented as they come with a future as big as his swing, threw a bat that hit an umpire smack in the chest last spring. Maybe you heard about it? Elijah Dukes scrapped with a teammate, a coach and an umpire, B.J. Upton was arrested for driving while intoxicated and the lowly, hard-luck Devil Rays -- the big-league employers to Young, Dukes and Upton -- won a measly 61 games. They've never won more than 70.
Try as I might, I can't quite fathom what the Bucs are thinking with their new three-headed quarterback situation. If Denver's Jake Plummer showed absolutely no interest Friday in coming to Tampa Bay to compete with incumbent starter Chris Simms, what exactly makes the Bucs think he'll now change his mind and sign up for a three-man training camp battle royale with Simms and the newly acquired Jeff Garcia?
The Buccaneers signed veteran NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to a two-year contract Saturday, and if Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden has his way, that won't be the only veteran starter he imports to compete with Chris Simms for the No. 1 quarterback job.
If Jake Plummer follows through on his intention to retire and scuttle the reported trade that would have sent him from the Broncos to Bucs in exchange for a 2007 fourth-round draft pick, the move will have an effect on the quarterbacking landscape in the NFL beyond just Denver and Tampa Bay.
Conventional wisdom as it currently exists regarding the top of this year's NFL Draft took its first hit Thursday when the Detroit Lions agreed to a trade that will send cornerback Dre' Bly to Denver in exchange for running back Tatum Bell, offensive tackle George Foster and a fifth-round pick.
SI.com: Charged upupdated: Tue Feb 27 2007 02:19:00
Note: All statistics are through Sunday.
SI.com: Tampa Bayupdated: Mon Feb 19 2007 17:01:00
SOMETIMES being third has its perks. Tampa may lack Miami's party-town buzz or Orlando's status for family pilgrimages, but nor does it suffer from the overpriced courses and overcrowded fairways that come with popularity. Florida's third largestcity is the state's best destination for affordable, quality golf. This is best you can get in town for a handful of bills.
At the start of last season the Tampa Bay Lightning's arena finally got wired to receive Canadian sports networks TSN and Sportsnet, throwing the organization a technological lifeline that was as significant, in its way, as the bullet trains linking Paris with France's provincial capitals or the World Wide Web connecting China to the West. Even after winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, Lightning players still sensed they were working in a far-flung hockey redoubt, away from the sport's hot stove, and that by hooking up with Canada they were finally coming out of the cold or, more precisely, into it. "So at last we get TSN and we're all pumped,"
They talked about it on Monday -- the two old friends and potential opponents -- now that the Super Bowl is tantalizingly within reach. Well, at least Lovie Smith talked. Tony Dungy mostly listened. The Colts' always-composed head coach has been this close twice before and came away disappointed both times, so naturally he's hesitant to even let his mind linger on the possibility.
They talked about it again last week -- the two old friends and potential opponents -- now that the Super Bowl is in sight and tantalizingly within reach. Well, at least Lovie Smith talked. Tony Dungy mostly listened. The Colts' always-composed head coach has been this close twice before, and met with disappointment both times, so there's a natural hesitancy to even let his mind linger on the possibility.