Friday, March 2, 2012

Leap Year & Then Some Sports Chowdah Update: O Captain My Captain- 'Tek Bids Farewell; The Devils- Owned; Saints Dogged w/Bounty Charges

RED SOX- After weeks of speculation and reports from the media, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek announced his retirement at a new conference in Ft. Meyers, FL on Thursday. The announcement comes less than two weeks after knuckleballer Tim Wakefield announced his retirement after 17 years with the Red Sox organization.

A graduate of Georgia Tech [where he and teammate Nomar Garciaparra won the 1994 College World Series- NANESB!], Varitek was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1994. After spending time in the Cape Cod League and the independent Northern League during the lockout, Varitek agreed to terms with the Mariners and entered their minor league system in 1995. Within two years, both 'Tek and teammate and starting pitcher Derek Lowe were traded by Seattle to Boston for releiver Heath Sloclumb. 'Tek made his big league debut in September 1997, collecting a single in his one and only at-bat that year and would go on to earn the starting spot at catcher from Scott Hatteberg in 1998.

For the Boston faithful, the most memorable Varitek moment was undoubtedly the July 24th 2004 fight between him and Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez. With the Yankees leading in the 3rd inning and an errant Bronson Arroyo pitch sailing up and hitting Rodriguez on the elbow, the Yankees infielder had some choice words for Arroyo while heading off to first base. Deciding he should stop talking and take his base, 'Tek reportedly told A-rod "We don't thrown at .260 hitters" before the two came to blows, with Rodriguez shoving the Red Sox catcher while getting 'Teks mit in his face. This cleared the benches, with DH David Ortiz nearly coming to blows with Yankees reliever Tanyon Sturtze as he was trying to pull teammate Gabe Kapler out of Sturtze's headlock.

After warnings were issued, a back-and-forth game resumed with the Red Sox coming behind to win 11-10 in the bottom of the 9th thanks to a walk off homer from 3B Bill Mueller. The game was viewed a turning point in the season that saw the Red Sox win their first World Series title since 1918, and the fight in turn was seen as a pivotal turning point in that game.

I'm usually loathe to quote the Boston Globe's Dan Shaugnnessey [AKA the Curly Haired Boyfriend- NANESB!] but I think he nails it with this quote.
We have the iconic photo of Jason Varitek smashing his catcher’s mitt into the face of Alex Rodriguez. Try to find a saloon in Greater Boston that does not have this photo somewhere behind the bar.

It is the image of defiance.

It’s a memory of stepping up for yourself and for your team. It’s a Red Sox captain saying “no more’’ to the bully of eight-plus decades.

It makes Jason Varitek immortal.
Also making Varitek immortal is the fact that he is the only catcher in the history of Major League Baseball to have caught four no-hitters.

This includes the following-
Hideo Nomo on April 4th, 2001 at Baltimore
Derek Lowe on April 27, 2002 vs Tampa Bay
Clay Buchholz on September 1, 2007 vs Baltimore
Jon Lester on May 19, 2008 vs Kansas City

After being the first catcher behind the plate for four no-hitters, Varitek's cather's gear was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on May 20th, 2008.

Interestingly, 'Tek is also one of two players to have ever played in a championship game for the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the MLB World Series [former Marlin's pitcher and Arizona alum Ed Vosberg was the other- NANESB!].

Varitek retires with a career batting average of .256 with 193 home runs and 757 RBI. In addition to the two World Series titles with Boston, he also won a gold glove and silver slugger in 2005 and was named to the MLB all-star game three times. His 11 postseason home runs are the most for any catcher in MLB.

Even as 'Tek's abilities as a catcher were in decline, he still was valuable in his experience behind the plate and coaxing consistent starts from Boston's younger and inexperienced starters when they were struggling. Like Wakefield's departure, the end of the Varitek era in Boston leaves a huge hole for Saltalamacchia to fill.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- The Red Sox will open up their Grapefruit League tilt with a doubleheader against the Northeastern Huskies at 2:35 PM ET and a nightcap against the Boston College Eagles at 7:05 PM ET. The latter game will be televised on NESN.

OTHER MLB NEWS- The league announced that they were expanding the playoff format to allow two additional teams from both the AL and NL to vie for a postseason berth via a single elimination game. This means that 10 of the 30 MLB teams could get into the playoffs- still fewer than any other professional league. The new system will take effect starting this season and is the first significant change to the playoff format since 1995.

BOSTON BRUINS- After remaining fairly quiet at the trade deadline [the Bruins did pick up veteran Brian Rolston- once part of the Ray Bourque trade- from the Islanders and BC alum Mike Mattau from the Devils system on Feb 27th- NANESB!], the Bruins returned home earlier this week only to be shut out by Ottawa's sophmore goaltender Robin Lehner in a 1-0 game Tuesday night.

On Thursday night, the Bruins hosted the Devils at the Garden, wrapping up the regular season series with New Jersey. The B's got out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first with goals from David Krejci and Tyler Seguin. The Bruins would have an excellent opportunity to make it 3-0 when Krejci had a shorthanded breakaway eight and a half minutes into the first, but the Devil's Brodeur.

The Devils would not only get on the board, but take the lead in the second with goals from Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson to go up 3-2.

Early in the 3rd, however, David Krejci would get the equalizer from a tough angle to knot things up at 3-3 and eventually send the contest into OT. With two minutes to go in OT, Krejci gave Boston the go-ahead goal good for his second career hat trick and the 4-3 Boston win [altho' New Jersey gets a point for heading into overtime- NANESB!].

Brodeur made 21 saves on 25 shots faced while Tim Thomas stopped 28 of 31 shots faced. Both teams were 0-3 on power play opportunities.

The Bruins will be busy this weekend taking on the Islanders Saturday afternoon before travelling to Madison Square Garden on Sunday to take on the NY Rangers. Saturday afternoon's game gets underway at 1:00 ET and will be televised on NESN while Sunday's game will start at 12:30 and will be broadcast on NBC.

OTHER NHL NEWS- The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Ron Wilson on Friday, tapping Randy Carlyle as his replacement. Carlyle takes over with 18 games remaining for Toronto in the 2011-2012 camapaign.

The Maple Leafs were 4-9-1 in the month of February, losing six straight before Wilson was fired.

NCAA HOCKEY- #1 Boston College secured at least a share of the regular season title with a 5-1 win over the Vermont Catamounts Friday night.

Senior Barry Alalmedia scored twice and junior netminder Parker Milner made 29 saves for the Eagles in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The Eagles face off against the Catamounts on Saturday night at 7 PM for the regular seaosn finale two points ahead of archrival BU.

NFL- After reportedly being warned the the NFL against such action, defensive players and coaches from the New Orleans Saints maintained a 'bounty' program where players awarded themselves cash prizes for knocking out and injuring opposing players. Former Vikings QB Brett Favre and Cardinals QB Kurt Warner were reportedly among the targets with payouts doubling or tripling in the playoffs according to a report from NFL security.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints and the players involved are likely to face fines or suspension and the organization may end up forefeiting a draft pick, according to an AP report.

The Washington Post is also reporting that the Redskins maintained a bounty system with defensive players while Williams was assistant coach in Washington in the mid 2000s.

NBA- The second half of the abbreviated NBA season is off to a much better star for the Celtics on Friday night as they won their third straight game since coming out of the All Star break.

Firday night's 107-94 win over the New Jersey Nets puts them above .500 once again. They have Saturday off, but will take on the New York Knicks at the TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday at 1:00 PM ET- the game will be televised on ABC.

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