March 2013

Going where everybody knows his name: Paul O’Neill joins “Cheers” reboot

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These days you can usually spot former Yankee right fielder and fan-favorite Paul O’Neill in the YES Network booth, making witty observations during broadcasts.

In the coming months, you’ll still see him on TV, but everyone – not just those watching Yankee games on YES – will know his name.

This afternoon it was announced that television network NBC is rebooting its hit show from 1982, Cheers – which O’Neill will be a part of. The man who the late, great George Steinbrenner once dubbed “The Warrior” will take on the role of Sam Malone, a character portrayed by actor Ted Danson in the original series.

The decision to pick up the role of a retired baseball player that runs his own bar was a no-brainer for O’Neill.

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“I retired in 2001 after the World Series and I even thought about running my own bar when my baseball career ended because I didn’t know what was next,” O’Neill told the Associated Press earlier today.

“In a lot of ways I wanted my life to kind of be like Sam Malone’s life, from the show. He retired from the game and found something he loved to do. Now I can do the same. Of course on the show Sam was a pitcher and I played right field, so it’s a little different in that respect.”

Danson found success after Cheers, acting as the lead on the sitcom Becker, which ran from 1998-2004. He now works on CSI, seemingly landing hit role after hit role. Danson has seen some of O’Neill’s acting in the past, and the Emmy and Golden Globe award winner is proud to see someone carefree and fun-loving – like O’Neill – take up his mantle.

“I saw that episode of Seinfeld Paul was on in the ‘90s, and I laughed; I thought, right off the bat, he had a great sense of humor,” Danson told the AP. “I know he is perfect for the role, and I’m anxious to see how the new series is going to turn out and what direction all these wonderful characters are going to go in.”

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O’Neill’s YES broadcast partner and good friend Michael Kay, albeit a bit shocked, expressed his congratulations.

“I’ve always thought Ted and Paul kind of looked a lot alike, but never would have thought in a million years this would happen,” Kay said.

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“Paul is a pretty funny guy. In 2009 when the Yankees played the Red Sox in August, he sat up in the booth and ate peach yogurt when the game went into extra innings – on the air! Peach yogurt, on the air. That’s the type of personality he’ll bring to the Sam Malone character. I couldn’t be happier for him, I know he’ll do well.”

According to YES, O’Neill will work 30 games in the booth in 2013 before leaving to start filming the first season of the NBC series reboot. He will work alongside Jodie Sweetin (of Full House fame; she’ll play Diane Chambers, Shelley Long’s former character), Patton Oswalt (of King of Queens fame; he’ll play Norm Peterson, George Wendt’s former character), and David Faustino (of Married…with Children fame; he’ll play Woody Boyd, Woody Harrelson’s former character).

Roles for each of the other starring characters are still being cast.

With a new challenge ahead, plainly put, O’Neill is excited to get started.

“I can’t wait for the first table read,” he continued. “I can only hope I do as well on this sitcom as I did in right field. But I’m comfortable. I’m going where everybody knows my name.”

Cheers is expected to premier in October, the night after the World Series.

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If you believed this for one second, you’re way too gullible. Yet I suppose there isn’t anything wrong with a little yellow journalism on April 1.

HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

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More importantly, HAPPY OPENING DAY!!!

#BeatTheDrum #AndHoldThePhone #TheSunCameOutToday

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Class always on display at West Point

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Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer once said, “I’ve never rooted against an opponent. I’ve never rooted for him, either.”

Some of what I’ve witnessed these past 20 days might leave Mr. Palmer rethinking his words.

On March 10 I made my way to Christl Arena at West Point to cover the New York State girls’ basketball regionals. The best team in my newspaper’s coverage area, Ossining, was matched up against a team located not far from the United States Military Academy, Monroe-Woodbury.

Ossining this season had arguably the best girls’ hoops player in New York State girls’ basketball history: a young lady who next year is heading to UConn by the name of Saniya Chong. This past season Chong broke the New York State all-time scoring record.

Along with that she holds countless records and has won an endless amount of awards – and if you have never heard of her, you’ll probably see her playing in many “March Madness” games for the UConn Huskies somewhere down the line, within the next few years.

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Ossining handed Monroe-Woodbury a 79-50 loss to advance to the Class A New York State girls’ basketball finals, which, by the way, they went on to win. But after winning the game for the region crown, I noticed how players from the losing Monroe-Woodbury team approached Chong, after being defeated.

And with appreciative and respectful smiles across their faces, the losers posed for pictures with her – in my two-and-a-half years of doing this, the most dignified gesture I have ever witnessed. In fact, the Ossining head coach called it “a class act” when I inquired about it in my postgame interview.

Twenty days later, some of the exact same class was clear and present at West Point.

Today, in the Yankees’ final tune-up of the spring before Opening Day on Monday, the Bombers visited the Army Black Knights for an exhibition; the 22nd time in the Yankees’ history they’ve played the Army baseball team. Coming into today, statistically, the Yankees had never lost to the Black Knights; a perfect 21-0 for the Yanks over Army.

If you watched closely though, today wasn’t really about stats, or even the action on the field.

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Yankee players were given a tour of the campus upon arrival at the Military Academy, ate pulled pork in the mess hall with the cadets, and in a lot of ways really embraced their opponents. Despite beating the Black Knights 10-5 (maintaining the win streak, the Yanks now at an undefeated 22-0 vs. the USMA), the Bombers went out of their way to show their appreciation for Army.

While not just posing for pictures with them, the Yanks (most notably Andy Pettitte, the injured Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner) hung out with the Black Knight players during the game in their dugout, while Joba Chamberlain left the bullpen for awhile and sat with the cadet spectators in the bleachers.

The Yanks signed autographs before the game and after, and in the spirit of sportsmanship high-fived the Army team following the final out – like a regular old Little League, high school, or college game.

The class just seems to pour out of West Point, doesn’t it?

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In this writer’s opinion, what transpired in these two games at the USMA within the past 20 days have proven that, no matter the sport or the level, gracious losers and respect for a team’s opponent do exist. The realm of sports is such a competitive environment, and in a world where the whole idea is to beat the other team, it’s nice to see.

Yet, we can’t expect the same kind of attitude from the Yankees on Monday. Opening Day they’ll face off with their fiercest rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

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Funny how quickly the Yankees are going to go from caring about their opposition to wanting to beat the other team more than anything in the world in a matter of roughly 48 hours.

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Interest Sparked: The WBC

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It was another Saturday night, I didn’t have nobody. I had some money, because I had just gotten paid. How I wished I had something to do – and then I went on Twitter and saw that David Wright of the New York Mets had crushed a grand slam homer for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, putting them ahead 6-2 in front of Team Italy.

I flipped on the game.

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OK. So the guy from the other New York team hit a bomb. To me, the World Baseball Classic was still meaningless; a pointless, glorified exhibition which simply takes players away from Spring Training, the players competing for seemingly nothing. Japan won the two previous WBCs (2006, ’09), and my philosophy remained,

“The World Baseball Classic is a joke. Spoiler alert: Japan will win it again, its players will come to the USA/MLB…and suck for their entire careers.”

Daisuke Matsuzaka is my case in point.

But as I continued to watch Teams USA’s game vs. Team Italy, my feelings slowly changed. By the end of the night, I was actually interested in the WBC, a position I never imagined I’d be in when the tournament commenced. A couple of storylines have put me over the top.

First off, Robinson Cano has been an absolute beast in the WBC, playing for his homeland, the Dominican Republic. The studly second baseman was named MVP of Pool C, cracking four extra base hits (including an opposite-field home run), five RBIs, while batting .600 over the first three games.

The DR went on to advance in the WBC; Cano ready to lead his squad against Wright and Team USA tonight, in fact.

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Given the concerns and recent, unexpected injuries the Yankees have suffered (Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson) it’s overly encouraging to see Cano slaughtering the ball the way he’s been in the WBC. Come April 1, if Cano keeps it up, there won’t be much to worry about when he steps into the batter’s box.

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There was also a second piece of WBC business that piqued my interest. Italy had a familiar reliever on its roster: my paison, Brian Sweeney. I only say “had” because last night Team Italia was ousted by Puerto Rico, a come-from-behind effort by way of sloppy Italian defense leading to the Azzuri’s downfall.   

I was pleasantly surprised – and in a big way, proud – to see my fellow Mercy College alumnus on the hill in front of a worldwide audience and a packed house at the new Miami Marlins ballpark. As most readers of the blog know, I interviewed Sweeney in July, 2010, weeks after he faced the Yankees in the Bronx.

He went on to make several appearances vs. the Bombers over that summer, and got the likes of Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner out. Using his signature changeup which he learned pitching for Mercy, some of the most powerful Yankees didn’t stand a chance against Sweeney.

And during the WBC, Sweeney added some more names to his list of big outs.

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In Wright’s first at-bat following his trip to granny’s, Sweeney got the Mets’ third baseman to pop out. He followed suit by walking the Marlins’ own Giancarlo Stanton, Sweeney’s changeup painting the black; barely missing the outside corner for a walk culminating a 13-pitch at-bat. He went on to get catcher Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) to fly out to left field and first baseman Eric Hosmer (KC Royals) to foul out behind third.

Not a bad night at the office for a Mercy College grad.

Team Italy had two more losing efforts vs. Cano’s Dominicans and Team Puerto Rico – both narrow losses; one-run games. Over the course of those two games, Sweeney struck out Alejandro De Aza (Chicago White Sox) swinging, and got both got Jose Reyes (Toronto Blue Jays) and Hanley Ramirez (LA Dodgers) to fly out.

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Unfortunately Sweeney was on the hook for the loss in last night’s elimination game to Puerto Rico, although the decision was more reflective of shoddy defense: particularly on the left side of the infield’s behalf. Italy’s shortstop Anthony Granato was eaten alive on a number of ground balls, and third baseman Alex Liddi didn’t curb the problems, missing an easy out by coming off the bag at third on a force play.

Yet Sweeney’s participation in the WBC wasn’t what made me entirely proud. After the loss, the 38-year-old journeyman right-hander stood on the top step of the dugout and tipped his cap to the fans and to Team Puerto Rico – a class act, all the way through. Despite the ousting, he showed great sportsmanship and a graceful attitude.

That’s a Mercy College guy for you.

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My hope now is that he catches on with a team this spring. Hopefully for him, it’s the Seattle Mariners, seeing as how he told me in the interview he always wanted to pay dividends for them. They gave him a chance in the show; I suppose he feels he owes them.

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As for the rest of the WBC, my interest has been sparked. Next time there’s a night within the next couple of weeks before Opening Day and I don’t have nobody – regardless of whether or not I just got paid, I’ll have something to do: watch the WBC.

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The Shot

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The 2013 baseball season is in its baby stages, Spring Training in full swing and the third annual World Baseball Classic underway. April will bring the full-time cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather, but the basketball craze known globally as “March Madness” is here.

And boy, did yesterday I witness some madness – in fact, madness might not even be the right word for it. Absurdity is more like it.

Yesterday was Championship Sunday in New York’s Section 1 high school hoops season. My beat this entire winter has been girls’ basketball; two teams I’ve been covering all season (Ossining and Peekskill) were playing in their respective title games. Not that it’s all that relevant (although interesting to me) the Ossining team even faced off with the team from the high school I graduated from in 2005, Our Lady of Lourdes (Poughkeepsie, NY).

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I was excited to cover this pair of big games, so I arrived at the Westchester County Center – the site of the Section 1 finals – a little bit early. I found an open seat in the press row, and figured I’d tweet the final few minutes of the New Rochelle vs. Mount Vernon Class AA boys’ championship game.

At 1:35 p.m. I sent out:

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New Rochelle down by nine and with such little time to bounce into a clean offensive rhythm, I thought it was a foregone conclusion Mt. Vernon would be taking home a gold ball; the Class AA crown theirs. Yet somehow, by a stroke of turnovers, defense, rebounds and foul shots, New Rochelle fought its way back into the game, the Huguenots turning a nine-point deficit into a two-point game: 60-58. New Rochelle even had possession, a glimmer of hope.

Despite that, time and location were not of the essence. 2.9 seconds left on the clock, and the Huguenots on the wrong side of the court; the inbounds pass needing to travel a long way in order for New Ro to even have a termite-sized chance of knotting the game up.

What followed would have probably left God himself in utter disbelief.

Khalil Edney, after making the inbounds pass, recovered the ball; took a 55-foot Hail Mary-esque shot from beyond half court that was eventually deemed good by the officials, who initially waved the spectacular basket off, thinking the game clock had expired before he got the shot off.

The refs conferred, ruled it good – a tenth of a second left on the clock before he shot the ball. Just like that, New Rochelle wins it 61-60 to snag the Class AA title from right underneath Mt. Vernon’s nose.

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ESPN was all over this story, as were a number of national media outlets.

Two points I would like to make. First, I’m glad I arrived at work early, which has kind of been the story of this season for me. Come to think of it, my colleague and former editor at the North County News Rob DiAntonio nicknamed me “On Time A.J.” this year. I was not scheduled to cover the New Ro/Mt. Vernon epic (neither team is in my newspaper’s coverage area), but in getting there ahead of time, I was treated to some history.

Secondly, I was able to, I suppose, sneak my way into the footage of it; the MSG Varsity cameras facing the press row. Yes, that’s me (circled), the blur in the white sweater. If you look close enough, the video even shows my dumbfounded reaction; putting my hands on the top of my head in sheer amazement.

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What I hadn’t realized until this morning is that, in October, I had seen Edney play football. New Rochelle visited one of the schools in my newspaper’s coverage area – Mahopac – and I covered that game. Edney was New Ro’s quarterback and led them to not only a 6-0 win over Mahopac in the game I covered, but a state football title.

It’s also worth mentioning New Ro beat Mahopac to reach the basketball finals vs. Mt. Vernon, the Huguenots really playing spoiler to Mahopac’s sports teams this season.

And on top of all that, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice – New Rochelle high alum – won a Super Bowl back in February.

The Huguenots received a lot of glory this past year.

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SportsCenter showed two more high school buzzer-beaters from half court yesterday, and in the first girls’ hoops game I covered (Ossining/Lourdes) a young lady headed to UConn next year by the name of Saniya Chong made two shots as time expired in the first and second quarters from beyond half court. (The first shot by Chong was ruled good; the second shot was waved off, as she was called for a travel).

I don’t know what it was yesterday. It’s inexplicable. But half court glory was the order of the day.

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