Huge Names Highlight Baseball Dinner

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

The day is finally here. Tonight marks the annual Granite State Baseball Dinner at Radisson Hotel Expo Center in Manchester, NH. The head table was filled with twenty-ones guests of honor, and some of the names on the list were easily recognized by New England sports fans.

As soon as the doors opened, fans fingered through their programs trying to scout out where to start on their hunt for autographs. Popular signatures included Chris Carpenter, a New Hampshire-native who just announced his retirement this week after playing in the Major Leagues for fifteen years, as well as Jonny Gomes, one of the key contributors on this year’s MLB World Champions, the Boston Red Sox. The line for these particular VIPS were packed with people for the entire autograph session.

Other former players in attendance included Fred McGriff, Bernie Carbo, Jim Beattie, and Scott McGregor. There were also some up-and-coming talent at the head table, as players like Brad Zapenas (Cubs minor-league system), Jordan Cote (Yankees minor-league system, and Joey Maher (Yankees minor-league system) show up every year to the dinner. It is always great to see players (both young and old) representing the game of America’s pastime.

For live updates thoughout tonight’s event, you can follow @pcava12 on Twitter as he will be posting insight and pictures throughout the evening.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers pro baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at .

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Crazy weekend for P-Bruins

After a three game stretch where the team scored 19 goals, won three games, and had an all out brawl (including a goalie fight), its safe to say that this was the Providence Bruins’ most successful weekend of the young season. The P-Bruins, who are currently second in the Atlantic Division, were clicking on all cylinders offensively and getting production up and down the lineup.

The madness started Friday against the Wolf Pack, an 8-5 Providence victory, with a double hat trick from the Bruins. Matt Fraser, who is second in the AHL with 11 goals on the season, had the rare Golden Sombrero by tallying 4 goals on the night. Fraser has been a big time goal scorer in the AHL since he arrived in the league and was traded to the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin mega trade. Craig Cunningham, who was originally awarded a fourth goal before review gave it to Fraser, ended the night with three goals and is tied for second on the team along Nick Johnson with 6 goals. Niklas Svedberg started and won, despite only stopping 18 of 23 shots in the game.

Game two on the weekend was a battle with the Worcester Sharks and featured much better Bruins goaltending. Malcolm Subban earned the first win of his professional career, stopping 25 shots en route to a 5-2 Providence win. The scoring for the Bruin offense was much more spread out this time around, starting with Carter Camper’s 2 goal performance. Camper had been struggling to get going early on in the season, but has really picked up his play scoring 10 points in his last 9 games. He is going to need to continue to be one of Providence’s top guns if they want to be successful down the stretch. Cunningham, Matt Lindblad and Bobby Robins netted the other goals for Providence. The common theme in these two games was great play from top prospect Ryan Spooner. Game one saw him dish out four assists, and game two saw him have three. He is the team leader with 14 points, despite a call up to Boston prior to his return on the weekend, and can make things happen offensively. Of his 14 points only 2 of them are goals, so making other people on the ice better is one of the center’s strengths. One question that was raised for the P-Bruins though was what would happen when Spooner wasn’t the focus or was having an off night.

That question was answered Sunday when the Bruins beat up the Wolf Pack 6-0 even though Spooner didn’t record a point. Once again, the team had spread out scoring as four players had multi point games. Alexander Khokhlachev, another budding star, led the charge with 2 goals, while Jared Knight, Fraser, Tommy Cross and Justin Florek each scored once. However, the story of this game quickly shifted from dominate P-Bruin offense to an all out brawl between the two teams. Tempers between the two had been boiling since their game on Friday and finally boiled over in the third period. Pretty much everyone on the ice dropped their gloves and had at it, including the goalies as they skated out to center ice much to the delight of the crowd. The down side for Subban was that he lost his shutout after getting ejected.

Everything that can go right has gone right in recent games. Up and down, the offense has created chances and capitalized on those opportunities. This has led to Providence having a top five power play early in the season and has led to them scoring the most goals in their division. Coming into the season, the younger players that had been around a couple of years would be called upon to replace Trent Whitfield, Jamie Tardif, and Torey Krug amongst others. So far, this mix of players has answered the call and to me the person stepping up most is David Warsofsky. Warsofsky leads the team with a +9 rating and has been one of the best defensemen on the team. Joe Morrow has become what Krug was last year, a young, an emerging defenseman that will look to grow and hopefully help Boston in future years. He too was part of the Seguin trade and it’s nice to see him off to a good start with the P-Bruins.

Providence is good team with much talent and it is nice to see everything really starting to click. This should only be the start of good things to come as the team has all the components of a winning bunch.

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Free Agency Preview

It’s hard to believe the 2013 offseason is already here, and the World Champion Red Sox have four key free agents that other teams around MLB will be looking to steal away from them. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the offseason regarding these players and some of the other free agents around the league.

Jacoby Ellsbury

As sad as it is for Sox fans to accept, it seems like the days of Jacoby Ellsbury in Boston are over. I think the team will obviously make a run to sign him, but there is going to be some team that overpays for him. If he really wants a contract in the area of 7 years $150 million dollars, then it would be wise to for Boston to stay away. First of all, after all of the headaches that recent long term deals have caused this team, do they really want to pay that kind of money to someone who has had an injury history? Second, they have internal options that can fill the void in centerfield. Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready to take over that spot for years to come, but if the team doesn’t want to put him there yet they can move Shane Victorino from right to center. So where does Ellsbury end up? To me he fits best with either the Mariners or Rangers. The Mariners are looking to excite their fans with a big offensive signing, while the Rangers will try to find a replacement in the outfield for Nelson Cruz. I believe Seattle ends up making him the best offer, and the Oregon native becomes the Mariners centerfielder.

Mike Napoli

After signing him to a 3 year, $39 million dollar contract with Boston, Napoli was forced to sign a one year contract with incentives due to a hip problem that he didn’t know existed. That hip didn’t seem to bother him on the field. He came as advertised for the Sox: a .260 hitter that will strike out 180 times, hit 20+ home runs, be streaky, and produce come playoff time. I find it hard to believe that he won’t be back with Boston. They don’t have any other options at first base and Napoli loves it in Boston. He has been accepted here, and it would shock me if he wasn’t back for 3 more years and gets another chance to party shirtless in Boston.

Stephen Drew

The offensive postseason Drew had isn’t the type of hitter he really is, though he is streaky. Sox fans have seen that when he gets going, he can provide the bottom of the order with production. Of course, he brings superb defense to the shortstop position as well. But unless he accepts his qualifying offer (which is unlikely), there is no way the Sox will or should bring him back. He is an above average shortstop and was a great grab for the Red Sox last offseason. But with Xander Bogaerts the clear shortstop of the future and Will Middlebrooks still at third base, is it really worth paying Drew over $14 million a year? Keep in mind if he signs somewhere else, Boston would get a draft pick in return for him. I think the Cardinals would be a good fit for him, as Sox fans saw first hand that their shortstop situation isn’t the greatest. I could also see the Dodgers potentially making a run at him since Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis aren’t there anymore.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Salty is the only one of these four Sox free agents that didn’t get a qualifying offer, so if he signs elsewhere the team wouldn’t get a draft pick in return. The Sox will probably be in on Brian McCann and AJ Pierzynski, but to me they would be best served to keep Saltalamacchia with the team. Yes he was benched in the World Series, but he is still a 28 year old catcher who is developing and growing as a player. He has always had plus power potential, but this year he started to have more consistent at bats, striking out less and drawing more walks. He has become a better defender as well and the pitching staff (which will have many returning members) is comfortable with him. Should the Sox not want to go with him, any team looking for a catcher would be wise to go with him. The best fit other than Boston I see for him would be the Yankees, though I don’t know how likely that really is. Bottom line is that Saltalamacchia, while being a cheaper option, will be sought after by a number of teams and Boston would be wise to go with him.

Robinson Cano

Don’t get excited Red Sox fans, Cano probably isn’t going anywhere. The Yankees will have a tough time explaining to their fans why they let their best player go, and they are in no position to do so. Aside from the Dodgers, they are pretty much the only team that can pay him what he is asking for. With the Dodgers already having a ton in payroll and still having to lock up Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees are the only real suitor for Cano. And even if the Dodgers tried to get involved, the Yankees wouldn’t get outbid for their super star, right? George Steinbrenner would be rolling over in his grave if Cano was wearing anything other than pinstripes next year.

Carlos Beltran

Earlier I talked about ways to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield. This solution wouldn’t be too bad either. Beltran is an older outfielder with a history of injury, plus the Sox would have to give up a draft pick as compensation. But he is such a productive player when he is on the field and can do so much for a team. He provides solid defense, likely in right field if he came to Boston, power, average, and can hit anywhere from 2-6 in the lineup. Boston reportedly has shown interest in signing him, and is one of many teams that will look to hire his services. Ultimately, I think he stays with the Cardinals for one last run, but if not them Boston, the Yankees, or the Rangers would be a good fit for him.

Joe Nathan

Nathan is the best closing option on the market right now, and his services will be sought after by many teams. To me the best fits for him will be the Yankees and Tigers, with the Tigers ultimately landing him. The Yankees have a lot of positions that they need to worry about in free agency but there isn’t too much the Tigers need other than bullpen help, specifically a closer. If they had a solid closer in 2013, they likely would have won the World Series with the rotation and lineup they had. They decided not to trade for a closer at the deadline and it came back to haunt them. They should have learned their lesson will make sure that the 9th inning is no longer a problem in 2014.

Matt Garza

Garza is one of the top options on the starting pitching market. The Yankees, Rangers, and Angels among other teams will be looking to boost their rotation, but I think it will be the Yankees that land Garza. Garza has experience in the AL East, and the Yankees may be willing to pay more than other teams for that reason. Garza comes with risk as he has had health problems, but a fit with the Yankees makes the most sense for both sides.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Another top option on the market, Jimenez will be looking to cash in this offseason. He comes with risk as seemingly every starter on this year’s market does, but he will boost an already solid rotation. Once again, he fits with many teams, but I feel like he will go to the Angels. He would fill in nicely as the number 3 starter behind Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, and the Angels need another starter. They have focused on offense more in recent offseasons, but that hasn’t led to playoffs appearances. They should be able to pay for Jimenez and have no excuse for at least not being the playoff hunt with the talent they have.

Brain McCann

McCann is the top catcher on the market, and I think he goes to the Rangers. The team needs a catcher, and McCann provides good offense in a hitter’s ballpark. He might want money in the $100 million range, a price that Texas might not want to go to. Look for the Yankees to jump in if they can, as they too desperately need catching help and the short porch in right field will look really appealing to McCann. Boston will likely inquire about McCann too, but their money is better spent elsewhere.

These are just some of the many key players on the 2014 market, and it looks to be another exciting and interesting offseason this year.

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The Dilemma

It’s week four of the 2013 NFL season. I am on my feet in the Georgia Dome with an emotional typhoon running through my body, watching the Atlanta Falcons take on the New England Patriots. With four minutes left in the game, the Dome is about half-empty because Matt Ryan just threw an interception on what looked to be the Falcons’ last drive of the game. I am a die-hard Falcons fan, but am also cognizant that my opponent in fantasy football has the Falcons’ kicker, Matt Bryant.

This is where the dilemma starts. Would I rather see the professional team with my loyalty, which I have supported through thick and thin, lose a regular season game, while my fantasy football team emerges victorious; or would I rather a team that (most likely) doesn’t know who I am, yet I’ve been a lifelong fan of them, lose, and my fantasy team, connected so tightly with my friends and life, trump that week’s competition?

At this point in time, my fantasy team (The Raging Falcoholic) was up by four points. If Matt Bryant kicked a 50 yard field goal, I would lose that week (30 yards=3 points, 40=4 points…).

Call me lame, but at this moment, I was more morally and emotionally conflicted than any other time in my life.

I’m not quite sure why the fantasy gods chose me to torment, but indeed they did, as Atlanta successfully executed an onside kick, and got the ball back with minimal time left in the game.

Before I had time to contemplate the ethics of fanhood, Matt Bryant kicked a 30-yard field goal. This meant that my fantasy team was winning by just one point…and the Falcons were down by seven.

Falcons’ head coach, Mike Smith, tested his luck with another onside kick, but did not recover, so the Falcons’ hopes looked to be spoiled, and my fantasy hopes salvaged. But so inevitably, there was a twist.

Tom Brady fumbled the ball at the Falcons’ 40-yard line, and Matt Ryan gave his rebuttal with a deep pass to Julio Jones to put the Falcons at New England’s 20 without a timeout, and 36 seconds to play. Indeed I was hugging people, with the dignity of a grown man, who I did not know, and most likely will never meet again.

The game ends with Aqib Talib knocking down Matt Ryan’s fourth-and-goal pass to Roddy White, and every Falcons fan exiting the Georgia Dome in silence and disbelief.

My fantasy team won that week by one point because Matt Bryant never got a chance to kick that last extra point.

If you are still reading this, and have stuck with me through my hopefully-entertaining narrative, I’m not going to leave you without a conclusion to the question I originally proposed.

For some of you, I’m sure it is not difficult to decide whether you would value a win from your fantasy team or NFL team more. However, as a fantasy die-hard, and Falcons die-hard, this decision has been marching around in my (hopefully) semi-full brain for some time.

What I have to say, is that, when walking out of the Georgia Dome after a loss, surrounded by thousands of people just as depressed as I was, I concluded that I would have rather seen Matt Bryant kick 1,000 extra points if it meant that the Falcons won.

There you have it, the camaraderie, along with the bliss of an NFL team’s win of whom you are a die-hard fan tops the feeling of satisfaction than winning a fantasy football matchup.

 

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New season, new faces for P-Bruins

The 2013-2014 AHL season is upon us, and the Providence Bruins are in line for another successful year. However, this will be a much different looking bunch than the team that won the AHL regular season championship a season ago. The P-Bruins lost several key members of last year’s squad, including three of their four All-Stars. Former Captain Trent Whitfield has left American hockey and signed in Europe, and while his skill sets have fallen some in recent years his veteran leadership to the younger players will be dearly missed. Chris Bourque has left the country as well, signing in the KHL after spending time with both Providence and Boston last year. Jamie Tardif has moved on to the Buffalo Sabers organization, as he continues his journeyman career. Tardif was another veteran presence with scoring touch, as he was the only Bruin to score 30 goals last year. Other Bruins not in the organization anymore include Christian Hanson, Kyle MacKinnon, Colby Cohen, and Garnet Exelby. Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug are almost certain not to return to Providence this season after each enjoyed success with Boston.

It isn’t all subtraction for this new group of Bruins, as the Tyler Seguin trade with the Stars brought in some young talent. One of those new players is 23 year old Matt Fraser, who has led the AHL over the past two seasons with 70 goals scored. A player loved by his coaches, Fraser has natural scoring ability and in his first two AHL seasons has made the All-Star team twice. He is known as a hard worker and someone always looking to improve and be better. The other player acquired was 20 year old defenseman Joe Morrow. Morrow is very talented, but still has a lot to learn in order to bring that talent out on to the ice everyday. Malcolm Subban, the Bruins 2012 first round pick, will start the season as the backup goalie. The 19 year old is in his first professional season, and as such will surely have his growing pains. While this is an important year for him no doubt, any struggles he has shouldn’t be overreacted too. He is a very young budding star who is only going to get better with time. Moving away from the young guns, Nick Johnson and former Sharks captain Mike Moore were also signed as veteran leaders to this young team.

Providence also returns a group of core players from last year’s team, starting with goaltender Niklas Svedberg. Svedberg had been competing to be Boston’s backup goalie for this season, but ultimately lost out to Chad Johnson. It wouldn’t be a surprise if at some point he is promoted, but until then he will continue to be one of the best goalies in the AHL. He won nearly every honor one could possibly win as a rookie last year for the P-Bruins, and he shows no signs of slowing up.

2013 leading scorer Ryan Spooner is also back in the fold, at least for the time being. The play making center put together a strong camp for Boston, but ultimately didn’t make the team. Should there be an injury to Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, he would be an option for Boston. Until then it looks like he will be paired with Johnson and Fraser, a line that could put up major production this season. Their other returning forwards are Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham, Justin Florek, Alexander Khokhlachev, and Jared Knight. The group is talented, meaning they should be able to have a balanced scoring attack throughout. This doesn’t include enforcer and fan favorite Bobby Robins, who is currently out due to a knee injury and has no definite return date. Robins’ intensity and passion will be missed on the ice, and the combination of him, Camper, and Cunningham will likely have to take on a greater leadership role. On defense, the team has very solid returning players in David Warsofsky, Tommy Cross, Kevan Miller, and Zach Trotman. These are guys who aren’t just one dimensional players and can still grow and improve.

Through three games, the team is 1-1-0-1, however have squandered late leads twice already. On opening night the team let a 2 goal lead with 2 minutes to go slip away, but was able to survive in overtime on Johnson’s second goal of the game. Friday they were not so lucky, giving up a goal with under 3 minutes left to tie the score at 2 and losing in a shootout. It is still early though, and this a trend that likely won’t continue.

Providence looks to earn their second victory of the young season tonight in Portland.

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