Saturday, July 31, 2010


I’ve been standing on this here soap box for as long as I’ve been sharing my private thoughts with the readers of central Connecticut and the far reaches of cyberspace, and I’m not about to get off now.

I don’t care what Commissioner Bud Selig says, Major League Baseball is broken.

Oh, it’s not broken as far as the ballgame itself is concerned. The players are more talented than ever. It’s the violation of the general meaning behind the idea of fair competition as a baseline for the evolution of sports in our society.

MLB is set up just perfectly for the fat cats in the big cities to feed off the oblivious fans in America’s smaller cities.

Selig stands behind the lectern with that stern look about him, casting off expressions like the boy who got caught raiding the cookie jar when the question is asked.

Why, Mr. Selig, is the system set up so pennant contenders can gut the less fortunate so those poor bottom-feeders can save a few dollars at the expense of the fan?

Then the fan takes a double screwing when those dear tickets that he’s been holding since March for an ostensibly competitive Astros-Giants game becomes a travesty. The Astros, minus Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, come in with their headliners replaced by minor leaguers.

Does the fan get a rebate for not getting what he bargained for? Hardly.

Mr. Selig delights the short-sighted metropolitan hucksters when he speaks of parity. Parity? Then how come it’s been nearly 20 years since the playoffs transpired without the Yankees or Red Sox involved?

It’s not just about winning a World Series. It’s about competing over the grueling 162-game schedule and coming out of it in contention as September rolls around. Where does that take you parity argument, Mr. Commissioner?

The Commissioner’s argument is a ruse to intelligent baseball fans everywhere. He’s smart enough to know that but everything revolves around money and Selig isn’t about to utter a word that may cause his cash cow to deliver sour milk.

Ratings are highest when the Yankees and Red Sox are in the postseason. Fans in New York and New England have come to regard winning as a birthright. If you disagree, please tell me when the last time either has been in the second division. When has either faced the ugliness of a last-place season? When has either last had a season with more defeats than victories?

Here are some answers that would make Selig dance faster than if he were dodging bullets.
The Red Sox have been in the playoffs in six of the last seven years. The last time they had a losing record was 1997. The last time they finished at the bottom of the division was 1992.

The Yankees have been postseason participants for 14 of the last 15 years. Their last season of total discontent was 1992 and they haven’t had that basement feeling since 1990.

No wonder Yankee fans walk the streets as if their bodily discharges smell like the air at the New York Botanical Gardens. The system protects the Yankees against losing when they can dip into their endless cash supply on July 30 and fortify their Hall of Fame-bound cast with former All-Stars from other teams.

It’s never going to stop. I’m not gullible enough to think that Selig and his band of robber barons would have the fortitude to fight for the oppressed.

Think of why sports became popular.

Baseball was nothing more than a child’s game, played fairly I might add, before the Industrial Revolution created a society that suddenly had more leisure time.

Manhattan bank employee Alexander Cartwright and his cronies, given that their working days ended in mid-afternoon, had energy to expel and many hours of daylight to expel it. They went over to Hoboken, N.J., drank the adult beverages of their choice, and tightened a child’s game into a competitive drama that others enjoyed watching.

Others enjoyed watching. I’ll bet they’d pay to satisfy that urge. The rest is history, and that’s where man’s two greatest emotions took hold – greed and greed.

There were those who tried to tilt the playing field in the 19th century but common sense equated to balance. The game wasn’t firmly entrenched enough that the unbalanced history we witness today wouldn’t have turned spectators off forever.

But as the years passed and baseball became a link between generations and touted as the revered National Pastime, something purely American, professional baseball became an attraction for the masses.

Not any more. The prices at Yankee and Red Sox games are surely not for the masses but serve the elite. A few hundred bucks for a baseball ticket may not deter Corporate America or politicians but it sure isn’t in the budget for most of us. Everyman’s game has become the stomping grounds of the upper class.

Interesting how the NBA’s New York Knicks, no matter how much salesmanship Mayor Michael Bloomberg employed on the soiled pages of Gotham’s tabloids, couldn’t sway Lebron James into saving their decrepit team. No Chris Bosh nor Dwyane Wade either.

Sorry, Knicks, unless you make some wise personnel decisions (are you really bringing Isiah Thomas back?), you’re destined to be whipping boys in the Eastern Division for a spell, probably into Spike Lee’s old age.

When the New York Football Giants make bad decisions, they lose. They can’t get to a Thanksgiving trading deadline, pick the bones of the less fortunate and leave the carcass of the Detroit Lions for the buzzards. I guess it’s because the NFL doesn’t have to stoop to such nonsense in order to captivate the sports-loving public.

So what do the NFL and NBS do that MLB does not? To Selig and those who revel in lopsided races, it’s a bad word so I’ll whisper it.

Salary Cap.

What, the union won’t allow it? Well baseball won’t be the first thing that unions ruined.

So feed on this. No matter how the Yankees fare, it doesn’t impress me. If I gave you $50,000 for Christmas shopping and I had $1,000, who would get the better presents? In other words, the crown is there for the taking for this team of All-Stars, and if they don’t win it going away, they deserve the criticism that New Yorkers enjoy dishing out when things don’t go their way.

I’ll reserve my credit for a Padres club enlightened with young pitching that seems destined to hold on to the NL West, the vastly improved Reds, the surprising Braves and a Twins club powered by former Rock Cats. I’ll even doff my cap to the Red Sox, who have battled tremendous adversity to stay on the edge of the AL East race.

May one of them reap the gold while Yankee fans can join their Mets counterparts as they look under every rock in Central Park for someone to blame.

One thing’s for sure, they shouldn’t blame Selig. He’s reduced the field quite efficiently for them.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Is it any wonder why the New Britain Rock Cats have difficulty competing in the Eastern League?

The Twins promote the player who contributed to the two rare victories Saturday and Sunday -- outfielder Brandon Roberts -- and that's fine. Roberts should be in Triple-A, and would have been if he hadn't been injured coming out of spring training.

They also lose catcher Danny Lehmann.

What do they get in return? A 22-year-old catcher -- Tobias Streich -- who's hitting a lusty .124, not at the high Class A level but at low-A Beloit in the Midwest League. Can you spell "o-v-e-r-m-a-t-c-h-e-d?"

And take a look at the lineup they're facing in the Yankees' Double-A club, division leader Trenton.

There's Justin Christian, 30, a long-time Triple-A vet who's played 24 games in the majors. And catcher Rene Rivera, 27, who has logged time with the Seattle Mariners.

It's like the men against the boys, but that's the way the Twins do things. They'd prefer to send up some kid who may as well step up to the plate waving a toothpick instead of a bat.

With the Rock Cats threatening to become one of the five worst teams in 87 years of EL history, I am reminded of the dismal 2000 club that was stocked with Midwest League kids as it lost its final 17 games. Now that was worthwhile putting your money out for, wasn't it fans?

Is it any surprise why none of those Midwest League kids in 2000 ever made it back as high as Double-A for any length of time?

Is it 2000 all over again? Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


The Rock Cats clubhouse has had the aura of a funeral parlor most of the season.

The individual players go about their jobs admirably in light of the team’s record, particularly at home, but collectively they’re hushed after defeats.

The boom box that pulses with urban and Latino songs is silent, strangely obscured by the sounds of low-level chatter, running showers, equipment falling to the floor and the whir of washing machines.

It’s understandable, and appropriate. The Twins would no doubt want their players of the future to contemplate why each loss happens and what they can do to best represent the organization and themselves as the dog days of summer begin to howl.

The scene is anything but quiet when the result is good.

On Thursday night, left-handed pitcher Tyler Robertson threw his best game of the season. Throwing his curveball and slider for strikes, his fastball had some added sizzle and he made the young Portland Sea Dog hitters uncomfortable.

Saturday’s game featured a dramatic ending with an inspirational backdrop supplied by the bat, the tenacity and the beaming personality of catcher Jair Fernandez.

Fernandez, injured in a collision with Reading catcher Kevin Nelson at home plate July 8, appeared headed for the disabled list.

He wasn’t able to brace himself properly for impact and his right knee hyperextended. It had all the look of season-ending ligament damage, but here he was, eight days later, pressed into action as a late-inning replacement. He ripped into a fastball from Portland pitcher Bryson Cox and sent it majestically over the wall in left field for a 6-4 Rock Cats victory, just their 12th win at home in 48 starts.

Like Robertson the night before, the excitement of winning blended with a huge degree of personal satisfaction set off an emotional rush for Fernandez, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound 23-year-old from Cartagena, Colombia.

Robertson, a low-key 22-year-old lefthander out of Simi Valley, Calif., had a tendency to keep the exhilaration bottled up inside but it leaked out. His delivery during the interview did as much to his words as his mound delivery did for his ERA.

With Fernandez, the excitement was more palpable, perhaps because his achievement happened so suddenly and ended the game the instant it left his bat. Fernandez broadcast a smile that brought sunshine to a clubhouse that has been all too overcast all season.

You can’t help but feel good that these youngsters have had a moment in the sun, and where it carries them in their careers is anybody’s guess. What you immediately discern is that when wins come in sparse number, the ones that do come your way bring on that much more pleasure.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Rumors abounded dating back a week that New Britain Stadium might be the scene of a rehabilitation start for Red Sox starter Josh Beckett on Friday.

Beckett, folks hypothesized, could make a start for the Portland Sea Dogs. It was a reasonable assumption. MLB clubs prefer their pitchers to rehab at the home of their nearby minor league affiliates, but Portland, Triple-A Pawtucket and even short-season Class A Lowell will all be on the road come Friday. Pitching for Portland at New Britain or Pawtucket at Syracuse or Lowell in Batavia, N.Y., left the Red Sox some choices.

As the week went on, it became reasonable to assume that righthander Clay Buchholz could also be making a rehab start on Friday. New Britain's chances of seeing a big leaguer at work were improving.

But a report on the NESN website late Wednesday morning said the Red Sox have decided to pitch Buchholz on Friday and Beckett on Saturday, both for Pawtucket in Syracuse. It appears that New Britain fans will have to be satisfied with future big leaguers instead of present ones. Rock Cats officials expect a sellout on Friday anyway.

Friday, July 2, 2010


We're sitting around on a perfect Friday afternoon on the eve of Independence Day weekend and thinking about getting a pizza.

This is always a difficult decision in the Lipshez household. It's a decision that forces us to weigh quality versus distance. Here's how it goes.

There's some decent pizza in the immediate area. We'll do one at Joey Garlic in Farmington on Route 6 once in awhile, or maybe Naples near Farmington center on Route 4. They'll do in a pinch but you must remember I'm a New Haven boy.

New Haven boys take their apizza seriously. No typo there. If the 'a' is out front you're reasonably sure it's an Italian-style pie. As a Jewish boy growing up among many Italians, you learn that the word is pronounced "ah-beetz."

When you're talking pie in New Haven, you're talking Wooster Street -- Little Italy -- and with all due respect for Sally's, Pepe's is the king. The original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napolitano is celebrating its 85th year making their signature tomato pie in a coal-fired brick oven that reaches temperatures that no regular oven can match. The result is a crust that is ultra thin and gives special meaning to the word crispy.

The place is legendary. People traveling between New York and Boston on I-95 will often stop and get in the long line that snakes out the door and along Wooster Street. I've stood in that line for 45 minutes in the rain waiting for a pepperoni pie.

I went through grade school with a happy-g0-lucky guy named Francis Roselli and his cousin Nancy Pepe. They're Frank Pepe's grandchildren. The only times I've seen Francis since those carefree days were at the restaurant on Wooster Street. To the best of my knowledge, he's still helping run things. I tried emailing him through the website,, but I've never heard from him.

Anyway, the Pepe's people decided to spread their dough a few years ago. They opened a place in Fairfield County, and then in Manchester across the street from the Buckland Hills mall. That's where we usually go.

The atmosphere isn't like New Haven but the apizza is amazing. And there are some great photos on the wall. Ronnie Reagan making his way through the crowd for his pie. Bill Clinton trying to wrap his lips around a steaming slice. You don't see guys like that having pizza in New Britain or Farmington, do ya?

So we're thinking, do we go to Manchester and battle the holiday weekend traffic for the best, or do we go down to Southington for the reasonable facsimile that Randy's Wooster Street Pizza puts out.

"It's up to you," sez Lisa.

"We're going to Manchester," sez I.

Well I don't know all the reasons why but there was no rush-hour traffic. We made in to Buckland Hills in about 20 minutes, not a whole lot longer than it would have taken to cruise to Queen Street in Southington.

Mozzarella and sausage throughout, 'shrooms on half and peppers on the other half. Baby, it doesn't get any better than that, except damn I missed my pepperoni. They make their own, you know, more spicy and flavorful than any other pepperoni on the planet. I could have done bacon, too.

Well, there's always tomorrow.