Posted: Thursday May 18, 2006 1:15PM; Updated: Thursday May 18, 2006 5:10PM
Running on Fumes
Submit a comment or question for Michael.
It's one thing when Joey Porter, the Steelers' preciously incendiary linebacker, takes a dig at the president, telling reporters in Pittsburgh he doesn't "like the way things are running right now." But did you happen to catch NASCAR driver GregBiffle's comments about the oil industry to Fox Sports Radio's Craig Shemon and James Washington? "These oil prices are absolutely ridiculous," Biffle said. "I can't stand it when I pull into the pump. It's frustrating for me because they raised all the prices because of the hurricane (Katrina), but the thing is it's never gonna go back down because they figured out people are gonna pay that price... When they're reporting record profits and we're having hurricanes and tragic things happen and they're basking in the sun, there's something wrong with that." Could the NASCAR Dads be getting grumpy?
Cal Softball Item of the Week
Before I complain about the Bears' seed in the NCAA tournament -- and don't worry, there won't be too much whining, because bad postseason draws are an established part of the Cal softball experience -- it's time to bask in the glory of last Saturday's incredible Senior Day at Levine-Fricke Field and to congratulate the Bears' devastating Kristina Thorson on becoming the first player in school history to be named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. Thorson (32-5, five saves, 0.82 ERA) is not a power pitcher, but you wouldn't know it from her strikeout numbers in 2006: 399 overall (including 158 Ks looking) against 43 walks in 264 innings. Bill Parcells would kill for that kind of control.
Despite growing up a few minutes from the University of Washington, Thorson was not offered a scholarship by the Huskies. As usual, she came back to haunt them last Friday and Saturday, throwing a pair of 1-0 shutouts. In the two games she had 33 strikeouts (including the 1,000th of her career) while walking one and allowing no extra base hits, inspiring chants of "Thorio" from the left-field bleachers -- her father, John, was also serenaded on Saturday after deftly snagging a foul ball up the left field line.
After suffering a 2-0 defeat to top-ranked UCLA on Thursday, the Bears (44-12, 12-9 in the Pac-10) turned to their senior leaders to lock up third place in the conference. Left-fielder Lindsay James, the leading run scorer in school history, ended Friday's game against the 17th-ranked Huskies with a 10th-inning RBI single to left. On Saturday the drama came courtesy of the Bears' all-time RBI leader, catcher Haley Woods, whose fourth-inning bomb to left-center landed in the parking lot. Woods joined Thorson as a first-team all-conference selection, while James and junior outfielder Alex Sutton were voted to the second team. Senior second baseman Emily Friedman and freshman right fielder MorganSiegel received honorable mention honors.
Now the fun part: Cal, which moved up to No. 4 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, nonetheless received the 10th seed in the 64-team tourney -- thanks partly to a soft early season schedule that brutalized the Bears' RPI (really). Rather than bemoan the fact that a pair of Pac-10 teams, Arizona State and Oregon State, who finished behind the Bears (and who dropped two of three to Cal during the conference season) received higher seeds, I'll simply point this out: Each year, DianeNinemire's team has to go on the road for its regional, and every year the opposition seems suspiciously steep. Yet the Bears have been to the past seven Women's College World Series, the longest current streak in the nation, and if Thorson's arm doesn't fall off we like their chances to get back to Oklahoma City.
More on that in a moment. For the softball obsessed, the best way to stay on top of postseason developments is by logging in regularly to ultimatecollegesoftball.com and heading to the college softball forum. And for you Bear backers, Friday's regional opener against Illinois State at 7 p.m. Central Time is on gametracker, while the rest of the weekend's action at the Iowa City regional, which also includes Nebraska and the host Hawkeyes, can be followed via this site.
The Inevitable Eight
Sixteen teams will be left standing after Sunday, setting up eight best-of-three Super Regionals. We'll fast-forward and give you the teams we expect to see in Oklahoma City come June 1:
UCLA (No. 1 seed): The Bruins don't have any great hitters, but they have eight good ones, including Pac-10 Player of the Year Andrea Duran, and play impeccable defense behind sophomore pitching star Anjelica (Jelly) Selden.
Arizona (No. 2): With two standout pitchers in senior Alicia Hollowell and sophomore Taryne Mowatt (and Mowatt, perception notwithstanding, has been the better of the two this season) and a big stick in junior shortstop Kristie Fox, the Cats won 10 straight to close the regular season. One huge problem: A major mental barrier against the Bruins, who pummel them like soggy cactus every time.
Texas (No. 3): The bats have gone cold lately, but the Longhorns can at least hit a little bit this year. That and a predictably sweet draw will be more than enough to get sublime lefty Cat Osterman -- one of the greatest players in college softball history -- one last shot at a title.
UMass (unseeded): It's a random pick, yes, but look at the brackets: The Minutewomen, led by freshman pitcher Brandice Balschmitter, host a winnable region against topsy-turvy Texas A&M, and Notre Dame, UC Santa Barbara or Southern Illinois could topple overseeded Northwestern (No. 4 overall, 13th in the polls) to set up an all-underdog Super Regional showdown.
Alabama (No. 5): The Crimson Tide fared well against tough competition in the SEC, and senior pitcher Stephanie Van Brakle has WCWS experience that should keep Alabama in games. She and the team's other dangerous hitters will do the rest.
Georgia (No. 11): The Bulldogs, another SEC force, nearly bounced UCLA from last year's tourney. We like them to take out No. 6 Arizona State in the Supers.
Cal (No. 10): The bats are cold (which should be a temporary condition), the defense is shaky (which isn't) and unlike the previous three years, Bears coach Diane Ninemire will have to ride one pitcher to the finish. All good: She and her senior stars will get it done, because that's what they always do.
Michigan (No. 9): Uh oh. The defending champion Wolverines, after a shaky start, have quietly gotten it together at the plate and in the circle. Remember last year's WCWS heroes, first baseman Samantha Findlay and Jennie Ritter? They'll be sticking around for awhile.
Possible Regional Upset Specials: In addition to UMass over Texas A&M and the Northwestern-killers mentioned above, watch out for Penn State over No. 6 ASU, Virginia Tech over No. 8 Tennessee, Fresno State over No. 12 Stanford and Louisiana-Lafayette over No. 15 LSU.
Trippin' on E(mail)
"Dear Sir, although I understand the difficulty of obtaining and protecting sources in the course of journalism in NO way does it compare to the hardship endured and courage required to have the Medal of Honor bestowed upon oneself. It is a frivolous comparison at best and an insult to all the individuals who have won the Medal of Honor at worst. Please be aware that such comparisons are unworthy, even in this time of apparent attacks on the First Amendment that this Administration has undertaken. In no way do I mean to belittle the effort or the current situation of Mr. Fainaru-Wada or Mr. Williams. Such a comparison was unnecessary sensationalism. Please keep up the hard work and continue your well written and entertaining columns." -- Joshua Botsis, Holland, Mich.
That is a very nice way of telling me I goofed -- and by no means are you alone. Though I was writing for effect, I should not have implied that the contributions to steroid-awareness made by those excellent reporters compare to the valiant sacrifices made by Medal of Honor recipients. I hope they and you will accept my apologies. My bad.
"Dear Michael, I'm a big fan and frequently share your points of view (and appreciate your willingness to tread into contentious, non-sports waters). With that said, I think you might be missing the larger point with respect to Fainaru-Wada and Williams potentially facing jail time for refusing to divulge their sources."
Look, I hate the idea of journalists being strong-armed into revealing sources, and I believe that their protection against being forced to divulge sources should be almost unlimited. In this case, however, there may be a greater evil at play -- namely, the leaking of grand jury testimony to the press, which represents a massive blow to defendants' rights. I have no doubt that politically motivated prosecutors in a variety of cases would love to leak potentially damning grand jury testimony to a willing press corps, particularly in cases where the prosecution has little chance of securing a conviction in a court of law but can achieve the next best thing through conviction in the court of public opinion.
The politicization of the prosecutorial function in the US is a major problem, and the use of a pliant (and, potentially, untouchable) press to advance a prosecutor's political agenda is something that should concern everyone, especially us liberals.
I'd love to write more on this point, but writing in this god-damn two-inch by half-inch box is bloody impossible. In any event, I'm sure you get my point -- I'm sympathetic to the writers' plight (and I'm not certain that, after some more thought, I wouldn't come down on your side of this argument), but don't go mistaking this for the Pentagon Papers. Respect and regards." -- Kris Borg-Olivier, Toronto
For someone penned inside a two-inch by half-inch box, you did a pretty impressive job of expressing yourself. Now go get some Argos tickets -- Ricky is coming to town.
"I believe your book title is the longest I've ever read. Congratulations." -- Preston, Kansas City