Tag Archives: sports

The Arm

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The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan (Harper, $26.99, 376 pages)

One of the first things nearly all of us who picked up a baseball as a little boy – dreaming of one day playing in the major leagues, heard was, “Now remember, son, you only have one arm.” Jeff Passan has written a must read for any baseball fan called The Arm, which delves deeply into the mystery of how this limb withstands the continued trauma of throwing a baseball until it finally breaks down.

Anyone who has taken the pitcher’s mound in any relatively competitive situation from youth travel ball, to varsity high school baseball, to college, to pro ball, has said on numerous occasions, “I can throw. Gimme the ball.” That is how pitchers are wired. In the pitcher’s mind, he can’t pitch and beat you if you don’t give him the ball. But, how much is too much? What is the right number for a pitch limit? How much rest is required under what circumstances? What types of training, conditioning and preventive measures work best? What actually causes the arm to break down? According to Passan, nobody knows for sure. He faults organized baseball for not being more proactive in this regard, though he does cite some progress in this area over the past couple of years.

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In 1974 Dr. Frank Jobe made history by drilling holes into Tommy John’s elbow and weaving a new ligament into it to replace John’s torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL). This, of course, came to be known as “Tommy John surgery,” which now seems about as common for pitchers as putting their spikes on. According to Passan, instead of naming the surgery after himself – which is common when coining an innovative surgical procedure – he deferred to John, who he said is the one who had to undergo all of the pain and hard rehabilitative work.

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Two hundred and eighty-eight major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Just two have had it twice: journeyman reliever Todd Coffey, and Dan Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. A significant portion of the book chronicles their professional and personal highs and lows as they attempt to return to The Show.

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The book addresses how travel ball and specialization has taken over youth sports and delves into one of the preeminent organizations in the country, Perfect Game. It goes back in time to trace the evolution of arm care, from Sandy Koufax and the premature end of his career, all the way up to Kyle Boddy of DriveLine baseball in Kent, Washington, and his controversial training approach using over and underweight balls. Also included are discussions of alternatives to going under the knife.

While Passan seems intrigued at the possibilities offered by some of the new approaches to training, prevention, and treatment, the book does not conclude with an answer as to how to better protect young and old pitching arms. That’s because nobody has the answer. It may be that throwing a baseball as hard as you can, thousands and thousands of times – over decades beginning at age eight or so, is simply a destructive act.

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One final note: assuming both World Series teams carry 12 pitchers on their roster, 12.5% of the pitchers throwing in the 2016 World Series have had Tommy John surgery – John Tomlin of the Cleveland Indians and John Lackey and Hector Rondon of the Chicago Cubs. Tomlin was drafted in 2006, reached the big leagues in 2010 and had Tommy John surgery in 2012. He went 13-9 this year in 29 starts and sports a 49-39 career win-loss record. Lackey was 11-8 this year in 29 starts, and boasts a 176-135 win-loss record over 16 seasons. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011. Rondon, a reliever, had 18 saves this year and has a 14-14 career win-loss record. He missed some playing time this year with a non-arm injury and had Tommy John surgery performed in 2010.

While The Arm does not supply a solution as to how baseball can protect the arms of Little Leaguers and college pitchers and professional throwers like Tomlin, Lacky and Rondon, it performs a service in focusing attention on the ongoing issue of constitutionally fragile arms. It’s a good start.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Arm was released on April 5, 2016.

Dave Moyer is a school administrator in Illinois, a member of the Sheboygan A’s Baseball Hall of Fame, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Horse Racing Dreams

B Team cover

The B Team: A Horse Racing Saga by Alan Mindell (Sunbury Press, $16.95, 246 pages)

“Down here there’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.” Bruce Springsteen (“Atlantic City”)

The B Team Earns an “A”

Alan Mindell’s The B Team chronicles the unlikely story of seven people and a horse. The book combines the right amount of back story on the world of horse racing to satisfy horse lovers without overdoing it for the casual sports fan or human interest junkie with a perfect touch of realistic, engaging characters and Hallmark appeal.

As the story unfolds, Stan, an old-school track regular who knows his way around a racing form, becomes associated with a team of owners and trainers, which includes Cory, whose only fault seems to be his total commitment to his craft. Together, they claim One-Eyed Bandit, whom they enter into the Kentucky Derby after an improbable win at Santa Anita.

One-Eyed Bandit, as the name implies, is blind in one eye. Cory’s son-to-be love interest, Tracy, has a similarly handicapped child; their parallel stories of hope, persistence, and overcoming the odds carries the reader through the culminating race.

B Team back cover

The book is above all human. It is mostly good and always interesting. It is not uncommon for any writer, even the best, to sometimes struggle with the whole male-female relationship thing. The dialog between Cory and Tracy is occasionally awkward but – considering the overall strength of this book, it is a minor flaw that is easily overlooked. This work is a step up from Mindell’s debut novel, The Closer. In short, it is one heckuva story, suitable for virtually all audiences.

During this holiday season, it is nice to remember that dreams sometimes do come true.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in the greater Chicago area, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Interview: Chris Ponteri, Director of the Milwaukee Running Festival

Chris Ponteri is Executive Director of Milwaukee Marathon, Inc., which is putting together the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival (October 30-November 1, 2015).

Chris Ponteri

1. It appears that something special is happening in Milwaukee at the end of October. Would you like to briefly tell us about it?

We are putting together the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival, which is exactly what the name suggests: a festival of running. And since Milwaukee is the “City of Festivals,” we feel it’s a good fit.

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2. Why did you decide to make this a three-day event rather than simply a one-day marathon?

Most major marathons are in fact three-day events since they have an expo the two days leading up to the race. We decided to not only have the expo, but also have some other events like a mile race and a kick-off party. Many of our city’s festivals are not just held on one day; they run multiple days. This is no different.

3. How many running events are being held in addition to the marathon?

There will be a half-marathon, a 5k race and a mile race.

4. Do you have an estimate of how many runners will be participating in the marathon and in the other running events?

Being a first-year event it’s really hard to tell. If I had to guess, I would say we will get about 2,000 registrants for the marathon and approximately 5,000 for the other races.

5. How will the city of Milwaukee benefit from the Milwaukee Running Festival?

There are multiple benefits to the city. The most obvious one is the economic impact it will generate. The least obvious one is the impact it will have in the various neighborhoods we will run through. We are doing considerable outreach in these areas and trying to get the residents involved, not just as spectators or volunteers; we would like to see them participate in one of the races. There are numerous other benefits including attraction and retention of professionals who want to live and work in a city with major running events like this, promotion of a healthy activity, and raising funds for charity.

6. How will Milwaukee charities benefit from the Festival?

We have a charity program in which runners can sign up to raise funds for one of the participating organizations. So far we have five charity partners.

7. Runners have a broad variety of locations to choose from in selecting a marathon to participate in. Why would you encourage them to participate in the first-time event?

We are creating something special here and I can tell you that there will be a huge buzz in the running community after our event. So why not be a part of it in its first year?

8. I understand that you are seeking to ensure diversity in terms of the participants who will be running through the streets of Milwaukee’s historic neighborhoods. Can you tell us about your work in coordinating with representatives of the African-American and Hispanic communities in Milwaukee?

One of the missions of this event is to bring running to some of the segments of our community that are not as exposed to it as others. This includes Milwaukee’s African-American and Hispanic communities. I have made it a priority to find influential runners among these populations and asked for their help in spreading the word about running and our event. I am very excited about this.

9. How will you know if the Festival is a success?

It will be a success if we get to do it again next year.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add?

One common misconception about this is that it is solely a running event. As I have said hundreds of times, this is a community event first and a running event second. We want to do everything we can to include the entire community and try to get them to be a part of this. We want to create an event that will make people proud to live and work in the Milwaukee area.

Thank you, Chris.

Joseph Arellano

This interview was first published on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/interview-chris-ponteri-director-of-the-milwaukee-running-festival/

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The Game of Life

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

Everyone has a dream. Ricky’s is to pitch for the baseball team of the high school that he’ll be attending in the coming year. The Hispanic youth has a great fastball but no control, so the dream appears unlikely to come true. But then he meets The Pitcher, a former major league baseball player who pitched his team to victory in the World Series. The Pitcher is not only gruff, he’s in mourning for his late wife and wants nothing to do with the world.

William Hazelgrove has fashioned a near classic baseball story with a few unexpected elements. Because Ricky is Mexican-American in a predominantly white and prosperous community, he faces discrimination based on his ethnicity and poverty. He’s willing to do almost anything to prove that his athletic skills are good enough, knowing full well that life generally gives you only one shot at success. Can he somehow convince The Pitcher to be his coach and mentor?

This novel is completely unlike Hazelgrove’s previous book, Rocket Man, but it’s engaging and uplifting. It would be a perfect story for a young athlete-to-be who needs inspiration and encouragement. Ricky demonstrates that grit and determination are essential qualities for dreamers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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The Heart of A Lion

On These Courts: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash (Touchstone, $26.00, 267 pages)

“A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on Elvis Presley as the icon of Memphis, but I put mine on Anfernee Hardaway… He’s a great person and he cares… Anything that he can do for anybody, he will do it.”

On These Courts (nook book)

On These Courts demonstrates that the Bad News Bears exist in real life. This is the story of the Lester Middle School Lions, based in the crime ridden Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis. The goal of this team was to win the state championship for their age group. To qualify they would have to beat the one school they lost to earlier (they did). And they would find themselves down by 14 points with 5 minutes to go in the big game.

Did the Lions come back to win? Well, life is not a Disney movie. You will need to read this book to find out.

The team’s coach was struck by cancer, and a former professional basketball player worth $200 million — Anfernee (“Penny”) Hardaway — stepped in to help. This sometimes-moving account of a special season shows how important courage, determination and grit are in the face of social and economic adversity. A group of kids with nothing to lose gave it all they had in order to bring a small measure of glory and acceptance to their downtrodden community.

This book reminds us that one person can change the world; all it takes is a dream.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

On These Courts (400)

A review of On These Courts: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash.

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Power To The People

Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life by Garrett Kramer (Atria Books/Beyond Words, $22.00, 191 pages)

Stillpower (nook book)

This slender book that promises assistance with sports and life seems at first glance to be just another guide to success in life. It is more than that. Author Garret Kramer has been a businessman, sports coach and motivational speaker. His years of experience have been distilled into a credo of sorts that he defines as:

Stillpower n. The clarity of mind to live with freedom and ease; the inner source of excellence; the opposite of willpower.

Kramer uses scenarios and vignettes from his days with sports figures to illustrate the principles of stillpower. His first person narrative delivered in a down-to-earth conversational tone is reassuring. Kramer can be a bit chatty and redundant; however, the message bears repeating. Sports and life are really the same. Games compress time and physical effort, whereas life can move along at a painfully slow pace or rush at you. Having a game plan or, in this case a mindset, increases the chance for a satisfying outcome.

So, the next time you feel the urge to provide guidance or discipline, please understand that what comes out of your mouth is much less significant than the level of mental functioning from which the words are spoken.

The somewhat self-deprecating approach Kramer uses can be slightly off-putting. He means well and has a mighty list of clients and successes. References to Zen and the inspirational quotes that begin each chapter enhance his message. Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a similarly-sized volume. They can be complementary additions to a mindful reader’s book collection.

Ultimately, we have no ability to control the actions of others, but we all possess the potential to understand that these actions have no ability to control us.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Stillpower was released on June 5, 2013.

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