Sports with Chuck McGill Dedicated to the stats and the silly in sports

Love when things are at their worst

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Monday — a few days after floods devastated my home state of West Virginia — I returned to work after a week-long vacation. The red light on my phone was blinking when I arrived at the office, which meant several voicemails awaited my attention. I listened, jotted down notes and deleted them, one by one.

And then I heard one that made me weep in my little cubicle here inside the Charleston Newspapers building.

It was an 83-year-old woman who called to talk about a story that was published while I was away. I had written about Nick Harper, a teenager who once lived in a storage unit until he could be eligible for a transitional living facility (click here to read). She was so moved by Nick’s story and wanted to call and chat about it.

She talked about Nick, but her words seemed to fit perfectly with what has happened in the aftermath of the floods.

“It breaks my heart,” she said of the story about Nick. Those are four words I’ve heard a lot in the past few days.

“I don’t have much, but I would’ve shared it with him,” she said. I’ve seen the good people of West Virginia share — whether they had it or not — over and over this week.

“Tell him I would’ve loved him,” she said, before delivering the dagger, “and I would’ve loved him when things were at their worst.”

That is my home state of West Virginia. When our hearts are breaking, when we don’t have much to share but we do, when things are at their worst — we love.

This is a popular tweet

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Charleston native Ryan Switzer, who was a two-time Kennedy Award winner at George Washington High School before starring at North Carolina in football, proposed to his significant other, Gabie Dinsbeer over the weekend. Switzer, ever the showman, made the announcement on social media and it had received nearly 7,000 “likes” and almost 1,400 retweets on Twitter. He also posted the announcement to Instagram.

Switzer is a rising senior for the Tar Heels.

5-0! 50! (for the Power)

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When Alen Hanson pinch-hit for the Pittsburgh Pirates last night, he became a milestone for the West Virginia Power.

The former Power infielder, who starred during the 2012 season, made his Major League Baseball debut on Monday night. He also became the 50th former Power player to make his MLB debut since the Power rebranded itself before the 2005 season.

Here is a full list:

Ryan Braun    2005    Milwaukee; May 25, 2007
Yovani Gallardo    2005    Milwaukee; June 18, 2007
Joe Thatcher    2006    San Diego; July 26, 2007
Hernan Iribarren    2005    Milwaukee; April 12, 2008
Mat Gamel    2005-06    Milwaukee; Sept. 3, 2008
Alcides Escobar    2005    Milwaukee; Sept. 3, 2008
Ángel Salomé    2005-06    Milwaukee; Sept. 3, 2008
Matt LaPorta    2007    Cleveland; May 3, 2009
Carlos Corporan    2005    Milwaukee; May 6, 2009
Michael Brantley    2006-07    Cleveland; Sept. 1, 2009
Jonathan Lucroy    2008    Milwaukee; May 21, 2010
Zach Braddock    2007-2008    Milwaukee; May 23, 2010
Lorenzo Cain    2006    Milwaukee; July 16, 2010
Mike McClendon    2007    Milwaukee; June 6, 2006
Darren Ford    2006-07    San Francisco; Sept. 1, 2010
Jeremy Jeffries    2007    Milwaukee; Sept. 1, 2010
Mark Rogers    2005    Milwaukee; Sept. 10, 2010
Chase d’Arnaud    2009    Pittsburgh; June 24, 2011
Eric Fryer    2008    Pittsburgh; June 26, 2011
Steve Garrison    2006    New York (AL); July 25, 2011
Eric Farris    2008    Milwaukee; July 28, 2011
Taylor Green    2007    Milwaukee; Aug. 31, 2011
Logan Schafer    2008    Milwaukee; Sept. 2, 2011
Martín Maldonado    2007    Milwaukee; Sept. 3, 2011
Lucas Luetge    2008    Seattle; April 7, 2012
Wily Peralta    2008    Milwaukee; April 22, 2012
Starling Marté    2009    Pittsburgh; July 26, 2012
Kyle McPherson    2009-10    Pittsburgh; Aug. 20, 2012
Phil Irwin    2010    Pittsburgh; April 14, 2013
Robbie Grossman    2009    Houston; April 24, 2013
Donovan Hand    2007    Milwaukee; May 26, 2013
Caleb Gindl    2008    Milwaukee; June 15, 2013
Brandon Cumpton    2011    Pittsburgh; June 15, 2013
Tony Sanchez    2009    Pittsburgh; June 23, 2013
Duke Welker    2009-10    Pittsburgh; June 23, 2013
Vic Black        2010-11    Pittsburgh; July 25, 2013
Rob Wooten    2008    Milwaukee; July 26, 2013
Casey Sadler    2011    Pittsburgh; May 2, 2014
Rudy Owens    2009    Houston; May 23, 2014
Gregory Polanco    2012    Pittsburgh; June 10, 2014
Zelous Wheeler    2008    New York (AL); July 3, 2014
Dilson Herrera    2013    New York (NL); Aug. 29, 2014
Hunter Strickland    2009-10    San Francisco; Sept. 1, 2014
Guilder Rodríguez    2005    Texas; Sept. 9, 2014
Diego Moreno    2009    New York (AL); June 22, 2015
Ryan Kelly    2009    Atlanta; June 30, 2015
Ramon Cabrera    2010    Cincinnati; Sept. 5, 2015
Elias Diaz    2011    Pittsburgh; Sept. 12, 2015
Yhonathan Barrios    2014    Milwaukee; Sept. 25, 2015
Alen Hanson    2012    Pittsburgh; May 16, 2016

Lacrosse’s popularity

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About a decade ago I worked for a newspaper in Virginia and hired a former collegiate lacrosse player as one of my sportswriters. On one of our rare, empty Saturdays, he took me to a nearby Division III school and tried to show me how to play lacrosse.

It did not work.

It’s not because I don’t have hand-eye coordination or lack athleticism. I found it a challenging sport to pick up later in life. What it did do, however, was give me a new perspective of the sport. It wasn’t that I didn’t respect the sport previously, but I had no point of reference to sculpt an opinion.

That seems to be the story of lacrosse here in West Virginia. I was born here and raised here and had no idea about the sport. That’s changing.

In Wednesday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail I wrote about George Washington’s club lacrosse team, which is in the state semifinals this weekend and two steps away from a state championship (click to read!). They’re a tremendous story, a program started in 2008 that has steadily grown in the years since, but they’re also part of a smaller story about lacrosse in the Mountain State. I felt the need to try and tell that story, too, because it’s important.

“I’d say it’s a sexy sport,” Maloney said. “It’s got the movement of football, it’s got the endurance of soccer, it’s got the hitting of hockey, it’s got the scoring of basketball. Everybody loves scoring.

“When you take a sport like lacrosse that involves all of that, it’s really fun and people gravitate toward it.”

It’s clear that the sport is experiencing a boon in our beloved little state right now. There are now 31 boys and girls lacrosse teams at the prep level. The Charleston YMCA is pulling in kids from all over the Kanawha Valley and grooming them to be tomorrow’s stars. The area is producing All-Americans now. Student-athletes are parlaying their skills into scholarships.

It’ll be interesting to see how much it can grow here. The passion is undeniable … and growing.

Jameson Taillon: Then and now

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Because we like to celebrate anniversaries around these parts, today — April 27 — is the five-year anniversary of Jameson Taillon’s professional baseball debut.

Yours truly was there for it: a rainy night at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park with Bryce Harper in town.

Taillon, for the unaware, has long been considered one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ and baseball’s most promising prospects and arms. He is big — 6-foot-5, 240 pounds — with a powerful right arm. Sadly, as sometimes is the case, his career was temporarily derailed by a series of injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and is three starts into his 2016 comeback. We’ll get to that.

Back to the debut. Taillon, who told me that night five years ago he was 226 pounds, tossed 45 pitches in two innings before heavy rains shortened his professional debut.

Some other nuggets from that night:

— The Power hosted the Hagerstown Suns, which had Bryce Harper. Harper was 19 games into his professional career.

— Taillon’s first pitch came at 7:07 p.m., and was clocked at 96 miles per hour.

— Taillon needed 28 pitches to escape the first inning, which included a five-pitch walk to Harper.

— Taillon gave up one run on three hits, walked two and didn’t record a strikeout.

— The first inning ended on a 6-4-3 double play.

— Taillon hit triple digits — 100 miles per hour — on one pitch.

Taillon started 23 games for the Power that season, striking out 97 across 92 2/3 innings and getting his ERA to 3.98.

This season, Taillon is reminding everyone all the talent that right arm possesses.

Through three starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 16 1/3 innings. He hasn’t issued a walk.

It’s fun to watch this now 24-year-old on Major League Baseball’s doorstep.

Happy Danniversary

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Today is the two-year anniversary of Marshall announcing it had hired former Herd star and longtime NBA assistant Dan D’Antoni as its head coach.

The school’s athletic director, Mike Hamrick, tweeted the news at 2:06 p.m. We posted a full story of the hiring five minutes later. It was a whirlwind day that included this column by yours truly: D’Antoni hire shines spotlight on Marshall for a day

These paragraphs are particularly relevant today:

“Conference USA coaches are texting me at a furious rate downright giddy by the fact that Marshall hired Dan D’Antoni,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman posted to the social media website Twitter shortly after the news leaked.

The tomato tossing didn’t stop with that.

Subsequent tweets from Goodman said “everyone in NBA circles … along with C-USA coaches — killing the hire.” CBSsports.com college hoops columnist Gary Parrish noted that Dan D’Antoni hasn’t worked on a college campus in 40 years and said one text from the NBA predicted Marshall’s hire “will be the worst thing you’ve ever witnessed.”

What rubbish. Shirtless pictures of me exist that will prove Parrish’s tweet wrong.

Lewis Joseph “Dan” D’Antoni II is coming off his second season. It was a winning season, 17-16. In fact, the Thundering Herd finished in a tie for third in Conference USA. D’Antoni was in the mix to be the Conference USA Coach of the Year, and some could argue he should’ve been.

In short … this has hardly been the worst thing we’ve ever witnessed.

Marshall averaged 86.0 points per game, which fell 0.4 points per game shy of the national lead (and ranked No. 3 nationally). The Herd ranked fourth nationally in 3-point attempts. The crowds swelled inside the Henderson Center, which is what younger brother Mike D’Antoni predicted after the hire was announced two years ago today:

“The Henderson Center will be rocking with excitement,” he said.
Happy Danniversary, coach.

Programming note: former Marshall star and current Atlanta Braves pitcher Aaron Blair will make his Major League Baseball debut Sunday afternoon against the New York Mets.

Blair, 23, has been dominating this season, with a 3-0 record and 1.42 ERA in three starts. He has 22 strikeouts against five walks in 19 innings.

Blair, a 2013 pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was part of a blockbuster that included the Braves sending All-Star right-hander Shelby Miller and prospect Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Blair.

Blair entered this season as the No. 40 prospect on Baseball America’s top 100 list.

Kobe’s farewell vs. Longo’s walk off

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jazz_lakers_basketball_227109730

In the wee hours of Sept. 29, 2011 — long after my wife had fallen asleep — I grabbed a post-it note and started to scribble a thought. It read something like this:

Wake me up so I can tell you what happened last night

I pressed the post-it note against our bathroom mirror so I know she’d see it. I didn’t go to sleep until after 4 a.m. that night, but I didn’t care if she shook me awake a few hours later. I had to tell her about the night in baseball, one where the Red Sox fell out of the playoffs and an Evan Longoria home run pushed the Rays into the postseason. The Rays won that night to finish 91-71 and earn the wild card. The Red Sox lost to fall to 90-72.

It was a wild ending that concluded in a matter of moments. The Red Sox blew a 1-run lead just moments before Longoria, at 12:05 a.m., ripped a ball down the left-field line for one of the shortest walk off home runs in history. Mayhem ensued. In fact, one of my favorite sportswriters, Joe Posnanski, described it like this:

Elation. Sadness. Mayhem. Champagne. Sleepless fury. Never been a night like it.

Kobe Bryant’s farewell night has to come close.

Like that September night of 2011, the events started on one day and ended after midnight. I am older now and it was me who had fallen asleep early. When my wife came to bed, it woke me up. Thank goodness, because I grabbed my glasses and phone and headed to the living room to watch Bryant conclude a 20-year career and the Golden State Warriors pursue 73 wins. I just hoped I hadn’t missed it all.

Sure enough, both games were headed to the fourth quarter. The Warriors were comfortably ahead in their pursuit, so I switched the TV to ESPN2 and watched Kobe Bryant take a chunk of his 50 shot attempts.

As the commercial break ended, Lakers coach Byron Scott asked if they could get Kobe Bryant 50 points. “We’re going to try,” he said.

Bryant finished with 60 points … including 15 of the Lakers’ final 17 … including the go-ahead jumper with 31 seconds left … all of which resulted in a come-from-behind win I didn’t think possible because, clearly, Bryant’s teammates were intent on him shooting the ball every possession. That’s a tough way to win, but it also upped the degree of difficulty for the all-time great.

He rarely had a clean look. Everyone in the building knew he was going to shoot — 50 times! — and yet here he was, crossing people over, burying jumpers, draining 3s, leading the Lakers to a win in a season where those were few and far between.

When I was a kid, I was a Lakers fan. Not really by choice. My dad was a Lakers fan, so I was a Lakers fan. I adored Magic Johnson. I’d grab the Charleston Gazette in the morning and if I saw the Lakers were going to be on TV late at night — always that 10 p.m. game — I’d ask my parents if I could stay up past my bedtime, well past my bedtime, to watch Showtime in Los Angeles.

Last night took me back to my childhood when I’d be willing to cheat sleep in the chase of catching something incredible and unforeseen in sports. Like Longo’s walk off. Like the Warriors’ 73. Like Kobe’s 60.

Something so incredible that it makes me want to leave a post-it note for my wife so I can tell someone all about it.

 

powER bAseball

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The West Virginia Power open their first homestand of the 2016 season Thursday. You should go because, well, it’s baseball … and it’s supposed to be clear and warm … and you are likely to see this pitching staff continue to roll.

The Power is off to a 3-2 start with road games looming Tuesday night and Wednesday night before the team returns to the Mountain State. The two losses came when the Power allowed three runs (two earned) in the season opener at Greensboro, and two runs in Monday night’s shutout at Greenville.

Overall, the Power has allowed just nine runs through five games this season — only six of which were earned. That puts Charleston’s low-Class A minor league baseball team among the top pitching staff’s for team EERA in ALL of the minor leagues. Here’ the list:

Oklahoma City (AAA, Dodgers), 0.78 ERA (46.0 IP)
West Virginia Power (low-A, Pirates), 1.17 ERA (46.0 IP)
Frisco (AA, Rangers), 1.31 ERA (48.0 IP)
Corpus Christi (AA, Astros), 1.31 ERA (48.0 IP)
Hartford (AA, Rockies), 1.76 ERA (41.0 IP)
Pensacola (AA, Reds), 1.88 ERA (48.0 IP)

This list excludes any teams that have yet to play at least five games, but only Oklahoma City ranks better than the Power. West Virginia has allowed earned runs of 2, 0, 1, 1, 2 in its five games. Pretty impressive.

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Busted brackets: Father vs. son

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My son, Gunnar, is 4 years old. This is, technically, the fifth NCAA tournament he has witnessed (although I bet he doesn’t recall much, obviously). Even so, I have always taken the time to fill out his bracket.

The concept is simple: I give him the four No. 1 seeds in the first round, but the rest is decided by a coin flip (better seed advances with heads, tails means it is Upset City.)

I have never beaten him, which goes to show you how much of a crapshoot the brackets can be. I’ll never think highly enough of myself to declare myself an expert, but there’s no doubt I watch more basketball than 99 percent of people, especially in years in which I am West Virginia’s only representative Associated Press Top 25 poll, which was the case this year.

Well, Gunnar can’t defeat me this year, but we can still tie.

Entering the Final Four, we’re deadlocked at 80-80. I can still earn 16 points with an Oklahoma win, but if the Sooners fall and Villanova advances, we’ll tie. I didn’t come up with a tiebreaker, although I think he should win on cuteness.

He held a commanding lead after the first round games. You see, not only do I award the standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 point system, but for first round games ONLY there is a bonus for picking an upset. The bonus points are determined by the number of seeding lines between the two teams, so if a 15 beats a 2 and a person picks it correctly, they get the 1 point for the win and 13 additional bonus points.

Gunnar raked here.

He had Wichita State over Arizona (5 bonus points), Yale over Baylor (7 bonus points), Northern Iowa over Texas (5 bonus points), VCU over Oregon State (3 bonus points), Providence over USC (1 bonus point), Little Rock over Purdue (7 bonus points) and Syracuse over Dayton (3 bonus points).

Obviously, he benefited greatly from Syracuse’s run. He had the Orange in the Elite 8.

He’s done earning points, though. He had Colorado vs. A&M. Yikes. Plus WVU vs. Little Rock. Double yikes.

But I still have Oklahoma. And, perhaps, a little bit of dignity.