First Three Stories for the McAlester News-Capital!

One week, and four of my stories have now been published by the McAlester News-Capital! Three made it online, and I’m happy to post the links here. TheNews-Capital sometimes abbreviates its online content in an effort to boost print sales, so my tennis camp link just gives you the first few paragraphs. But my golfer profile and boating roundup are both full stories.

Enjoy!

McAlester Tennis Camp in Mid-Summer Form

MHS grad qualifies for spot in national Public Links Championship

Miller family has big day on Lake McAlester

A Letter to the Boston Celtics

To the Big 3 and the rest of the Boston Celtics: thank you for fighting unceasingly until the final buzzer of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. (Globe Staff Photo/Jim Davis)

Dear Boston Celtics,

Thank you.

Thank you for the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Thank you for fighting from the opening jump to the final seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thank you for keeping us riveted to our seats night in and night out.

I know how easy it would’ve been to check out during these playoffs. No one really ever believed you could win a championship. And when Avery Bradley‘s shoulder injury against the 76ers cost the team its only perimeter defender young enough to hang with the Heat, you could’ve basically thrown in the towel.

But that wouldn’t be the Celtics’ way. It wouldn’t be how Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have approached their entire careers. It wouldn’t have been “ubuntu.”

Continue reading A Letter to the Boston Celtics

An Evening With the Memphis Redbirds

One unexpected pleasure of moving to Oklahoma has been my four-day road trip through the Southeast. I spent Sunday night in Harrisburg, Penn. — home of such teams as the Stampede of the Southern Indoor Football League.

Then I spent a night in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of both the Volunteers and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

And while some people would arrive in Memphis and fall back on the city’s incredible musical history, I chose to spend my evening at AutoZone Park watching the Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cardinals.

Easy access to my red Wesleyan Cardinals sweatshirt in an otherwise jam-packed car had nothing to do with it. I swear.

Continue reading An Evening With the Memphis Redbirds

NBA Finals Preview

Between their considerable physical skill and better role-players behind them, expect the smiles to continue for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James when the Heat begin the NBA Finals against the Thunder Tuesday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This is the NBA Finals that David Stern dreams of at night and pleasures himself to during the day. The Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami Heat. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The league’s best teams pitting its brightest stars against each other on its biggest stage.

The advertising pitch pretty much sells itself. It all starts Tuesday night, and here’s my preview.

Heat Too Multifaceted

Besides both having meteorological collective noun as mascots, the Heat and Thunder have much in common. Both have two elite offensive players, as capable of splitting defenses and dunking as stepping into mid-range jumpers. Both teams’ youth enables fast-paced, transition offense designed to strike before an opposing defense sets. And both teams have role-players capable of big plays when called upon.

Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat just have more. When Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and apparently even Chris Bosh can all shoot three-pointers, the Heat’s offense becomes nigh-unguardable. And at their best, James and Wade may be the physically strongest players in the game (minus Dwight Howard), which has translated into numerous trips to the foul line (17.0 per playoff game for James and Wade combined, 13.3 for Durant and Westbrook).

James Harden gives the Thunder a little more depth, but not enough to overcome the myriad snipers the Heat can use to eat up leads quickly.

Continue reading NBA Finals Preview

So Long, and Thanks For All the Clicks

I'll be working as a full-time sports reporter for the McAlester News-Capital starting June 18. But first, a huge thank you to every visitor to Goose's Gabs since it began in July 2009.

When I drive away from Boston Sunday morning, an era will come to a close. Bound for McAlester, Oklahoma, and a full-time sports reporting job, I find myself on the verge of the next step in a hopefully long and successful career in sports journalism.

But first, a look back.

I published my first post to Goose’s Gabs on July 12, 2009. Over 15,000 visitors – nearly 11,500 unique – have since clicked through to my blog, checking out the 645 blog entries I wrote leading up to this one. That’s translated to over 25,000 page views.

And for each and every one of those views, let me just say: thank you.

Like any craft, writing only gets better with practice. And like any art form, writing only reaches its zenith when exposed to the public. My writing’s improvement over the last almost-three years is as much a testament to all of you as it is to BU or any of the outlets I wrote for.

Without all of you, my writing would’ve stagnated. Wanting to keep you interested forced me to make my writing, from the structure to the style to the topics, more interesting.

I wanted Goose’s Gabs to be a catch-all writing archive that could show potential employers my breadth and depth as a sports writer. I don’t know how much my blogging directly impacted my employability, but I certainly think practicing certain skills – recapping games, covering a diverse selection of sports and writing columns and editorials – over and over again have helped me improve from a novice to a near-professional much, much faster than not blogging would’ve.

But without all of you checking these stories out, I’d forever wonder if anything I’d tried had or hadn’t worked. I’d never be sure I had the chops to make it if your repeated decisions to “check it out,” as I so often requested, didn’t show me I could indeed build an online following.

So after five-plus months of job-hunting, I’m finally going professional. Now I’ll be writing multiple articles for publication five days a week, taking charge of not just McAlester’s high school and recreational sports, but also those of the surrounding towns in southeast Oklahoma. This job will be more demanding than any I’ve had so far, but I feel ready for the opportunity.

Unfortunately, that opportunity means Goose’s Gabs is going to change. During the school year I published something five times a week, and I ramped that up to six times once BU ended back in December. Given the long hours every professional reporter I’ve even spoken with talks about, I just don’t think I can maintain that kind of blogging schedule in McAlester.

Don’t get me wrong: Goose’s Gabs isn’t disappearing. I plan to share the stories I write for the McAlester News-Capital with weekly links round-ups. I also plan to continue my semi-regular book reviews, and I hope to occasionally reflect on my new adventure, sharing the trials and tribulations of working for a small-town paper.

But the nearly everyday updating you’ve all gotten used to just won’t join me on my road trip. I plan to post an NBA Finals preview Sunday, plus a final Celtics article later this week or the week after (depending on how far they go). And whenever Brookline Access gets its act together, I’ll be sure to post a link to the baseball game I commentated for them. Plus maybe one more USA Ultimate story.

After that, however, I just don’t know when next I’ll post. Maybe my first few days will leave me with plenty of nighttime energy, and I’ll just come home and bang out another blog. Or maybe I’ll come home too exhausted and sick of computer screens to do anything more than collapse into bed and read.

At this juncture, no one can say. But if this is one of the last times y’all hear from me for awhile, let me just say this once again:

Thank you.

Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

Endy Chavez knocks in the eventual game-winning run on a sixth-inning fielder's choice during Wednesday's Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Pitchers who lack a decent fastball rarely survive in the MLB, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Josh Beckett learned that the hard way Wednesday, losing a 2-1 pitchers’ duel to Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen at Fenway Park despite a pinpoint-accurate fastball.

With the loss, the Red Sox fell four games behind the Orioles, who’ve won their last seven games at Fenway, dating back to September 2011. The Red Sox lost a series for the first time since going 1-2 at Kansas City in early May.

Two-Run Sixth Spoils Beckett’s Outing

Beckett needed just 48 pitches to get through the first five innings, setting down the Orioles 1-2-3 four times. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, gave up just a lead-off single in the fourth, and quickly erased it on one of two Red Sox double plays.

Beckett relied heavily on his fastball, throwing just enough curveballs and cutters to keep the Orioles honest. This resulted in better than 71 percent accuracy and 22 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters, but Orioles hitters started looking for the fastball after their first at-bats.

Without much variation to Beckett’s pitch-selection, the Orioles strung together three consecutive singles to start the top of the sixth. The third, by second baseman Robert Andino, scored Wilson Betemit to tie the game 1-1. Right fielder Endy Chavez then drove in left fielder Ryan Flaherty with an RBI fielder’s choice to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

Beckett got out of the sixth with Boston’s second double play, then retired six of the next seven batters he faced. Had the Red Sox tied the game or retaken the lead, Beckett probably would’ve finished the game, having thrown just 92 pitches through eight innings.

Continue reading Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

Book Review: “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton

"Ball Four," by Jim Bouton

Modern sports journalism owes everything – both good and bad – to Ball Four. Written by Jim Bouton, a World Series champion and 10-year major league pitcher, Ball Four covers his 1969 season, beginning with one-year expansion team the Seattle Pilots, then covering his brief stint with AAA Vancouver and following him to the Astros after a late-season trade.

Along the way, Bouton mixes hilarious stories and incidents from inside the clubhouse with opinions on drug use, race, salary rules and other baseball-related issues. Bouton writes with an honest, breezy, easy-going style that rips into himself as fearlessly as it does his teammates.

Ball Four was the first sports book to favor gossip, team relations and drama over statistics and strategy, and the fans have demanded that ever since. Every story now about players not getting along, conspiring to get a coach fired or getting drunk in the locker room – those stories only come out because Ball Four made them popular 50 years ago, making it a milestone in sports writing.

Red Sox fans are also sure to like Bouton’s experiments with the knuckleball. Ball Four gives the reader a look at the pitch’s earliest stages of evolution.

Jim Bouton: Pioneer

Both players and Major League Baseball widely criticized Bouton when Ball Four came out. The league has always tried to present its players as wholesome, moral, clean-cut, good ol’ American heroes. Bouton smashes that image to pieces, instead portraying baseball players as alcoholic, drug-abusing adulterers and voyeurs (or, as Bouton wonderfully calls them, “Beaver-shooters”).

And Bouton doesn’t hold his negative depictions to baseball’s no-names. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Ted Williams – Bouton lays into all of them as badly as he does his unimportant teammates on the one-and-done Pilots.

Continue reading Book Review: “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton

Troy Brown Elected to Patriots Hall of Fame

Between his punt return skills and his willingness to play defense in 2004, Troy Brown absolutely deserves his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Troy Brown‘s statistics will probably keep him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other than a few special teams accomplishments, Brown just never did enough to be considered among the best in the NFL. Still, some honor is definitely due to the Pro Bowler who played in five Super Bowls and retired as the Patriots’ career leader in receptions.

Sports writers may never recognize Brown’s greatness, but Patriots fans have, voting Brown into the Patriots Hall of Fame Monday, according to Boston.com writer Steve Silva. Brown will be inducted as the 18th player and 19th overall member of the Hall on Saturday, Sept. 15, one day before the Patriots’ home opener,

Brown’s Punt Return Heroics

Brown played all 15 years of his career with the Patriots, starting in 1993. Though always a competent receiver – he caught a career-best seven receiving touchdowns, including one in the playoffs, in 1997 – his best work often came on special teams. Specifically, punt returns: he led the team in punt-return yardage eight times, including his first two seasons on the team and six straight years from 1998 to 2003.

Brown only scored four touchdowns on returns, but one broke a scoreless tie in the 2001-01 AFC Championship against the Steelers. Considering the Celtics won that game 24-17, one could argue Brown’s special teams contribution made the difference.

Continue reading Troy Brown Elected to Patriots Hall of Fame

The “Maybes” Make Sports Great

When it comes to predictions, sports reporters need to show conviction to be taken seriously. An “expert” might suggest how both teams could win a game, but ultimately he or she has to pick a team, then stick to it. There’s no room for “maybe.”

Saying “it will be interesting to see” can buy a play-by-play or color commentator time, but that’s quickly become an all-but-meaningless expression. I try my hardest never to use it.

I predicted before the Eastern Conference Finals that the Heat would beat the Celtics in six games. The voice of the analytical, objective observer that lives in the left side of my brain still argues the Heat will win in six, and for the same reasons: the Heat are too fast, too young, too strong and too deep.

But as I watched the Celtics pull out an edge-of-the-couch overtime victory over the Heat in Game 4, I could hear another voice in my head. It didn’t come from the part of my brain that thinks – no, it came from some deeper, rawer, part of my brain. A part that just “feels.”

And everything that voice said started with one word: “Maybe.”

Continue reading The “Maybes” Make Sports Great

Punto Powers Red Sox Past Blue Jays and Into Fourth Place

Nick Punto watches the flight of the ball after hitting a home run off Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva during the ninth inning of Saturday's baseball game in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

Ask anyone – teammate, coach, manager, reporter – and he’ll tell you the same thing: Nick Punto is still finding his swing.

Punto found his swing Saturday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, going 3-for-4 and falling a triple short of the cycle while driving in two and scoring two runs. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 7-4, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the AL East.

Punto’s first hit came in a second-inning sequence of four consecutive Red Sox hits, beginning with a Ryan Sweeney single, off Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek. After Will Middlebrooks drove in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and moved Sweeney to third with a single to right, Punto doubled to score Sweeney and make it 2-0 Red Sox.

With Middlebrooks and Punto on second and third, Daniel Nava then hit a line drive at Colby Rasmus in center field. The ball hit Rasmus in the glove and fell to the turf, and both Middlebrooks and Punto scored, putting the Red Sox up 4-0.

The play could’ve easily been ruled an error, but instead it was a called a two-RBI single.

Punto also singled in the top of the seventh but advanced no farther than second base, then homered in the ninth to make it 7-4 Boston. Facing reliever Carlos Villanueva, Punto crushed a 2-0 fastball into the second deck overlooking right field for his first home run of the season.

Continue reading Punto Powers Red Sox Past Blue Jays and Into Fourth Place