My favorite articles I’ve written Part 2

This is the second and final part of this list which allows me to go back and look at some of my favorite articles I have written in 10 years as a sports journalist. There will be all kinds of information on each article as well as a link to the piece if it allows.

I also wanted to include two more honorable mentions that I forgot to place in the first post.

1. Mazeroski Statue symbolic for engaged Pirates co-workers (July 7, 2016, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This piece actually was written a year to the day I wrote this blog post.

Thomas Leturgey actually told me this story, his own about the unique circumstances behind his and his now-wife Marion’s proposal and the events that led up to it.

Tom trusted me to tell his story and this was part of a surprise for his wife, with the two having their wedding ceremony at the Mazeroski Statue located by PNC Park’s right field entrance.

It was a fantastic, heartwarming story to tell and of course went well past the sports bubble I normally confine myself to.

I was privileged to be invited to the wedding and gladly accepted. It was a short ceremony with just some family and friends in attendance. Even though there was a post-race party for the Color Run in a parking lot very close by which had blaring music, that was no match for the power of love.

The ceremony was a very enjoyable one and it was nice to meet both Tom and Marion’s family and friends.

Both bride and groom alike thanked me for the story and the whole ceremony was very emotional for everyone.

I cannot thank Tom enough for trusting me to be the one to tell his story. He has been a great friend.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/mazeroski-statue-symbolic-engaged-pirates-co-workers/

2. Pirates draw parallels with Bryant’s hype (April 21, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This feature piece was suggested by my editor Michael Waterloo and was one I really dove into.

The occasion was that Kris Bryant was enjoying the early stages of his rookie season and the series was his first one on the road with the Chicago Cubs.

A lot of times when an article is not about a player themselves let alone the team they are on, a lack of interest is shown, but when I told Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker about this piece, both were more than game to contribute.

I was pleased to get a couple of quotes from Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s pregame media availability but the thing I worried about most was if Bryant himself would be willing to be quoted.

To gauge Bryant, I spoke with Mark Grote, who does the pre- and post-game shows for the official Cubs radio affiliate. I still keep in touch with Grote, though I am no longer on the Pirates beat and Mark told me I should be fine.

Sure enough, I talked to Kris in a 1-on-1 interview and had no issues. It was a great interview and he could not have been nicer.

Though I published the article, I updated it again the very next day because his agent Scott Boras was in town and spoke to reporters.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-draw-parallels-with-bryants-hype/21796/

With those articles now having been discussed, it is time for the top-10 list itself.

10. Column: Many pros and cons for Ferry’s dismissal but the wrong decision was made (March 14, 2017, DYST Now)

I will be honest and say that once Duquesne men’s basketball lost to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship first round, that I knew Jim Ferry’s time with the team would almost certainly end.

I also knew that with Duquesne serving as the host school for the tournament that the school knew better than to part ways with Ferry until the event was over. Massachusetts fired Derek Kellogg after its second round loss at A-10’s but that was a different circumstance.

Sunday night when the tournament was over, I was at the Hard Rock Cafe waiting for my friend to perform when the itch came to start writing the Jim Ferry parts ways with Duquesne article.

When the news officially came the next day, I added quotes from the university press release and was the first to publish the straight news article. By no means was I hoping for Jim to be fired, I got along very well with him and his staff, but it was to be expected.

While other news outlets reported the firing and offered little analysis, I decided to wait a couple of hours, feel the temperature and then write a comprehensive piece on the news.

It was a column so to speak with positives and negatives for Ferry. Ultimately I determined at the time that Ferry should have stayed.

This was without knowing who would be the coach would be and not offering much if any speculation on that.

Fans on social media, message boards and those who talked to me were almost unanimous that they wanted Ferry to be fired, so my column was not going to be well-liked, but I did not care about that.

In my time as a student at Point Park University, I served as a student apprentice in the sports information department and it helped me understand a lot of things from an administrative, coaching and student-athlete perspective and I believe had that not occurred, I would have been right there with the fans. There is more than what the fans see though.

My column was to articulate both sides and what everyone had to way. It certainly was not cut and dry like everyone thought.

This piece easily took an hour to comprise my thoughts and another 2-3 to write. I did not finish writing this until around 2:30 AM but I wanted this piece to be clear on my thought process in my time on the beat and being aware of each side to this issue.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/14/column-many-pros-and-cons-for-ferrys-dismissal-but-the-wrong-decision-was-made/

9. Duquesne’s Waskowiak finally ready to play (December 15 2015, DYST Now)

Covering Erin Waskowiak was one of the biggest honors during this time I have spent on the Duquesne beat.

Erin was supposed to redshirt her freshman season but her basketball career was jeopardized when her brother accidentally ran her over with the family car.

I talked with Erin at this point for an article I was doing for my class so I was familiar with her story and she sent me several pictures that I could use with the article, so I certainly saw the crash caused.

Erin was set to return to the court in December 2014, but suffered an ACL tear which delayed her return a whole year.

I talked to Erin a couple of times in between that year and coach Dan Burt gave me an update of sorts with the injury and when he told me she would be in uniform for a December 2015, non-conference game against Seton Hill, I knew it would be a good idea to revisit this story.

Erin and I sat at the press conference podium and for 10-15 minutes revisited the story and discussed the future.

It was clear throughout that season that Erin was not 100%, but it was not about that. It was about her inspiring journey onto the court. She even scored a 3-point basket during the team’s NCAA Tournament victory against Seton Hall.

Though Erin did not play during the 2016-17 season and her time as a Duquesne Duke is done, her impact is just as big if not larger than any women’s basketball player to wear the team’s uniform.

This article is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2015/12/15/duquesnes-waskowiak-finally-ready-to-play/

8. My experience covering The Summer King (April 24, 26, 27, 29, 30, DYST Now)

Never in a million years did I ever think that covering an opera would be something that I would do, but when Liz Fetchin sent me an e-mail about The Summer King and if this would be something the website wanted to cover, there was no hesitation.

The Summer King dealt with Josh Gibson who had played for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues and how he helped break baseball’s color barrier. So there was a sports angle, a Pittsburgh angle and of course figuring out how baseball and opera could form a nice marriage throughout the libretto.

When Liz told me who I would be able to interview, the nerves began to kick in but when she told me I would be talking to the lead performer, Alfred Walker, who would play Josh Gibson the very next day, I was extremely worried.

I knew absolutely nothing about opera and within 24 hours, I would be doing an interview. It was trial by fire so to speak and I do not ever remember being that nervous with any interview I had ever conducted.

When it was time to call Alfred, the nerves went away and we talked about The Summer King and his thoughts on Josh Gibson. Soon after the Pittsburgh Steelers came into conversation and Alfred told me about his dislike for Jerry Jones. It was the most free flowing interview I ever had. It was enjoyable and transcribing it was a true joy.

I also got to talk with librettist Daniel Sonenberg, Gibson’s great-grandson Sean Gibson and Christopher Hahn of Pittsburgh Opera.

Part of my experience included tickets to the dress rehearsal and opening night, which helped me better understand the piece, its intent and form a review based on my findings.

After the dress rehearsal, Dan took me backstage to meet the cast and interact with them.

Upon attending opening night, I was actually a row in front of Bob Nutting, the Pittsburgh Pirates Chairman of the Board, something which amused me, but more importantly I observed things from the dress rehearsal and this helped me have a clear vision for my review piece.

This was easily the biggest challenge I ever faced as a writer and though it was three articles that came out of it, this was a month long process.

I educated myself on opera, read Rob Ruck’s Sandlot Seasons to upon Dan’s recommendation to better feel his vision and wrote three pieces which I felt were not too intimidating for any audience with this piece, since so many different types of crowds potentially could have read these articles.

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/24/pittsburgh-opera-set-to-host-the-summer-king/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/26/josh-gibsons-life-featured-in-the-summer-king/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/30/review-the-summer-king-hits-a-home-run/

7. Dambrot brings optimism, energy to Duquesne/One-on-one with Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot (March, 31, 2017 & April 2, 2017, DYST Now)

While everyone else was catching up on Keith Dambrot’s hire and getting all of his background information, I already had done that in a column and on social media.

Duquesne’s coaching search really was lampooned by media, both on a local and national scale. This is not meant to pat myself on the back, but I did not break any news unless I knew it to be 100% factual. Some listed 3-6 other names Duquesne supposedly interviewed and then offered them the men’s basketball job (they offered the position to anyone but Dambrot).

It sent many reporters on a spin while I knew exactly what I wanted to ask Dambrot. I was pleased to ask the first question of Duquesne’s Director of Athletics David Harper and of Dambrot.

On a couple of occasions Dambrot praised me for my questions and after the press conference when I had a chance for a 1-on-1 interview, he did so again.

After the interviews were all done, other reporters either left to write their articles or stayed in PPG Paints Arena to write them.

I already had written the article on Dambrot’s hire, so I enjoyed the chance to talk with coaches, administrators and fans.

My intent was to write another in-depth piece on the hire and include a separate piece with the 1-on-1 interview, which is what I did.

These highlighted the press conference and the atmosphere which was a very positive one, something which was needed for the program.

Again, both pieces were 2:30 AM specials and captured the excitement from everyone really. It was almost as if a party was being thrown and my writing conveyed that scene.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/31/dambrot-brings-optimism-energy-to-duquesne/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/02/one-on-one-with-duquesne-coach-keith-dambrot/

6. Duquesne women rout Seton Hall in NCAA debut (March 19, 2016, DK Pittsburgh Sports)

This was a pleasure to cover as it involved a 6 AM flight from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. and then a final connecting flight to Hartford as the game was played on UConn’s campus. In women’s basketball there are four teams that play first and second round games at a best seed’s venue.

I had covered Duquesne before Dan Burt took the women’s basketball head coaching position but not necessarily in a beat reporting capacity.

I was a student at Point Park University and as a sports information student apprentice, that was my first priority. When I was not at Point Park, I would cover either a Pitt Panthers or Duquesne Dukes game.

Certainly the familiarity was there with the team.

I actually wrote the online article breaking Burt being named the team’s coach and I have been covering the team both home and sometimes road in the process.

I saw what the team would consider the lows of the first year and what this team has become.

For a while Dayton and George Washington were always the consistent powerhouses in Atlantic 10 women’s basketball, but Duquesne has placed itself on this list under Burt’s tenure.

I remembered the disappointment on the team’s faces after it fell to GW in the conference tournament finals and then the excitement during Selection Monday when Duquesne found out it had done enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

Flying to Dayton I was covering both Duquesne and Robert Morris for DK Pittsburgh Sports.

Robert Morris lost its first round game and that was two articles, a pregame piece and postgame recap.

Duquesne played in the second game that first round and when they won you could not help but feel the emotion they had.

I was the lone reporter at the time who went to the locker room after the players finished their press conferences and did a few interviews and just the smiles did not leave anyone’s faces.

This beat may be the one I enjoy the most because everyone is always thankful when I write something and there is a trust and respect that is there. That goes both ways.

They are an easy team to root for and they make my beat reporting job easy. This article is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/03/19/duquesne-hoops-family-makes-history/

5. Snow stranded Dukes ‘came a long way’ (January 24, 2016, DK Pittsburgh Sports)

Everyone asks if I wanted to be on the bus during the Duquesne men’s basketball bus debacle and each time, I answer that I did.

The Duquesne Dukes were stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after trucks jackknifed around Breezewood.

I was one of the last to report in locally and I was basically challenged by Dejan Kovacevic not just to catch up, but to surpass everyone covering it.

That day I specifically remember there was a Duquesne women’s basketball game and I had several responsibilities I was preparing for with that game, when SID Dave Saba got back to me and stated that Nick Foschia, a senior on the men’s basketball team would be able to do a phone interview with me.

At this point Micah Mason and Foschia had done some media rounds. While waiting to confirm that I would speak with a Duquesne player, I reached out to the Atlantic 10 to either obtain an interview or statement with Bernadette McGlade, the conference’s commissioner and rather quickly got a statement.

As I kept a very active scorebook for the women’s basketball game, I was also furiously writing a story and updating the process of the men’s bus situation.

When the women’s basketball game was over, I was able to get video of Dan Burt, the team’s coach as well as April Robinson and Deva’Nyar Workman to speak of the men’s situation, a nice nugget that went with the piece.

I also called the spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and AD David Harper for continuous updates and kept updating my story.

After I did this and wrote my piece on the women’s basketball game, it was time to call it a night.

It seemed as though the men would be stuck on the turnpike for a second day so I comfortably took a 40 minute bus ride to Bravo, an Italian restaurant when a source told me that the team was moving once again and set to make it to Duquesne.

As I ate a chicken parmesan dish with one hand, I updated on the other hand and did more interviews from the table. My poor parents and brother were with me at the dinner table, but knew I had to work and that even dinner would not come between that.

When I got home, I called a friend and Ed Thompson who had taken pictures of the women’s basketball game with me earlier in the day. I had found out through a source what time the team would be back and if both wanted to go.

My friend picked me up and we drove together and met Ed. It was myself and the three local TV stations who sent camera people only to ask stock questions, so really I was the lone reporter there.

Ed got pictures of everything and I was able to talk with Mason, Saba, coach Jim Ferry and play-by-play man Ray Goss.

Going to the event was a chance opportunity where I got footage of the bus arriving back on campus and of the interviews.

What started out as a day where I lagged behind but the way I was able to get interviews while covering another game, get this coverage and then write a totally different article.

After edits, I did not go to sleep until after 4 AM that next day.

There were two articles written but one has been taken down. This is the other article, though it is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/01/24/snow-stranded-dukes-came-a-long-way-2/

4. Pirates Stewart a creature of habit (April 23, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

One of the first things I learned on the Pittsburgh Pirates beat was that manager Clint Hurdle has a lot to say, and sometimes when you listen, a story idea comes together.

That certainly was the case with this piece.

Hurdle was discussing Chris Stewart and his routine as a catcher. He complimented Stewart’s professionalism and was detailing some of the routing.

While other more experienced beat reporters either ignored this or decided to focus on something else, I am unsure but I immediately saw a story.

When I took the Pittsburgh Pirates beat reporting position with Pittsburgh Sporting News, I knew that my creativity with feature ideas could be what set me apart.

This was my first real feature that I came up with and presented a chance to allow my work to stand out.

From the beginning quote of Stewart diagnosing himself with ADHD, I knew this story would be a winner.

I also asked another catcher David Ross for some insight on this and I still have the opening to our conversation recorded.

Me: “I’m doing a feature on catching, the routine involving catching and being able to have a high IQ to manage guys”

David Ross: “I think you might be asking the wrong guy, but go ahead”.

Ross’s lighthearted sense of humor made the story flow a whole lot more and it really provided an excellent look into the daily life of a catcher.

Back to Stewart for a second. Aside from Jared Hughes, Stewart was my most valuable resource for player quotes in the Pirates clubhouse. This piece helped establish a positive relationship with him.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-stewart-a-creature-of-habit/

T2. Catchers easily transition into becoming manager (July 25, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News) & Speed kills: is a steal more on a pitcher or catcher (July 10, 2015 Pittsburgh Sporting News)

A tie for second seems like a cop out, but I am equally proud of both of these pieces and how they came about.

As mentioned above, each piece was part of features that were different than what any other Pirates reporter was doing, and this is a very difficult task. It was one I replicated in the 2016 season with the thought process of a hitter at the plate. These two pieces came first though and to paraphrase WWE wrestler Chris Jericho that’s why they made the list.

The speed kills feature was the first of these two and if it were not for my trip to Detroit with Tom Singer, this piece probably does not happen for two reasons.

The first was that the idea again came from listening to what Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in a pregame press conference. A lot of the questions the Tigers beat reporters asked were not pertinent to my story and Ausmus kind of brushed them aside, but all of a sudden he talked about stolen bases and the idea of who was accountable for them.

Ausmus being a catcher, and a respected one at that maintained it depended on the variance of pitcher’s deliveries.

It was this that got me thinking about the story. Of course I was able to talk to Chris Stewart about it and Clint Hurdle appreciated the question. It was something he’s probably never been asked before, or if it had been, it was something not brought up for quite a while.

What really made the story for me though was the second point, which was getting Dave Roberts and Joe Torre quoted in this piece.

The series played at Comerica Park occurred June 30-July 2 but the article was dated July 10 for a reason.

That first day at Comerica Park, I heard former Pirates and Tigers manager Jim Leyland talk to broadcaster Greg Brown. Leyland told Brown that Joe Torre would be at PNC Park for that game. I was the only reporter that could hear that and immediately I began brainstorming, trying to find a way to get that interview for both of the above features since Torre was a catcher and of course a manager.

When July 4 came, I talked to Greg to confirm Jim’s words and then talked with Pirates Director of Baseball Communications Jim Trdinich to see if there was any way he could help me secure the interview. Unfortunately there was not since any interviews with him would go through Major League Baseball’s office, but he did tell me that I could try.

Before the game, I had an idea of where Torre would be and I decided it was best not to knock on the door but wait to see if he would come out of the door and then talk to him.

Sure enough within minutes he was on the phone and he did see me. I was gesturing with my hands and tried to mouth to him what I was trying to do, but he went straight inside.

I updated Trdinich and he said it was best to try one more time. So back over I went and again after a few minutes of pacing, he was again on the phone. After Torre took a bit longer, his handler with him came out. I was able to explain who I was and what I was looking for. I was told I had three minutes and I got to ask Joe questions for both features in the allotted time.

Joe’s answers were detailed and could not have been better. He did not seem agitated and probably would have talked longer, but I did not dare push the envelope. I thanked both with a handshake and then went to update Trdinich who seemed pleased that I was able to get what I wanted.

I only told Singer and my friend Alex Stumpf after what I did until the next day.

Even then, I wanted to keep the story going since the San Diego Padres were in town July 6-8 and Roberts, who then was the Padres bench coach was my target.

His steal in game four of the 2004 ALCS helped the Boston Red Sox overcome a 3-0 series deficit to the New York Yankees.

I knew his quotes on what he looked for when stealing a base would be the last piece to what would be a great article.

It would have been easy to post the article after the Tigers series but I am so glad I waited. The piece had more integrity to it and I could not have been prouder of the end result.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/speed-kills-is-a-steal-more-on-a-pitcher-or-a-catcher/

As far as the catchers transitioning into managers, that piece came about when I was talking after my seemingly daily interview with Jared Hughes.

I was able to gather Hughes’s thoughts in addition to asking Brad Ausmus about it after his pregame availability on July 1.

As stated above I was able to get Joe Torre’s thoughts on it from his unique perspective and Brad Fischer who was coaching the Pirates catcher followed shortly after.

The last piece to the puzzle was talking to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after a pre-game media availability and he spoke of himself and the example Red Schoendienst set.

This piece was just as enjoyable because I took my time with it and just enjoyed these two pieces.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/catchers-easily-transition-into-becoming-a-manager/

1. Bison Break: Alphabetical Disorder (February 17, 2014; The Globe)

This article, which came with Point Park University’s student newspaper, did a lot of things for me.

First it proved to me that I could write strong opinion based pieces with the facts guiding the opinions. I owe a huge thank you to Alex Stumpf who let me have his column for the week and the next semester, I became The Globe’s sports columnist.

I had a Potter Box of sorts to deal with when I found out that the Point Park men’s and women’s basketball teams were denied hosting the conference tournament because of what was deemed an unwritten rule.

For some background, Point Park is in what then was the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (now the River States Conference) and the right to host the basketball conference tournament was done on an alphabetical, rotational site process.

For the 2013-14 basketball season it was Midway’s turn to host but due to facilities and a new athletic director it was determined that they would pass on their turn to host, which meant the next team alphabetically, Point Park was due to host.

To make a long story short, Point Park was passed over as they were viewed as a “new” school, even though it was their second year as a program in the KIAC.

I had to report on the topic because I knew it was possibly the most controversial topic for Point Park, an NAIA D-I/D-II institution but had to be careful because of my position as a student apprentice in the athletic communications office.

If I did not properly report this then there easily could be repercussions not just on myself but the athletic department as well.

I informed sports information director Kevin Taylor in person of my intention of doing this column but not interviewing either him or Dan Swalga, the athletic director, that way there was no conflict of interest attached with the column so that all of the fault, if any would be attached would be directed to me. Kevin agreed but told me to be careful.

I had most of the information together the day before I had to submit the column and then decided to contact women’s basketball coach Tony Grenek.

I knew that Grenek was upset about the bylaw and previously told me he wanted to participate in this piece but I called him, warned him of any potential backlash that came from this and asked if he still wanted to be quoted on record. He told me that yes he wanted to go for it.

Grenek already was a good friend of mine and for him to stick his neck out there for my piece was an amazing gesture and him standing up for his team.

Finally, Monday came, the day the piece was due and I tried to get a hold of Bill Melton, then the KIAC Commissioner. Sure enough I was able to connect with him and in the library I did the phone interview. It was ironic that in what should be the most quiet place on a university campus the silence was there but the implication was louder than any sports story to date in my time on campus.

Melton explained his side, which I depicted verbatim in the column.

When I got to the computer to transcribe and write Melton’s quotes, I had maybe 90 minutes until deadline.

Finally when everything was done, I was well over word count and had 20-25 minutes before deadline.

I finished the column with 10 minutes to spare and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

When the article came out, Swalga later told me that he wished he had been quoted but never did he or Kevin ever criticize me for the article.

Tony was pleased that in his words I had “the stones” to write the article.

Melton emailed me disagreeing with the article but we left the conversation very cordial after meeting face-to-face at Alice Lloyd during the KIAC Tournament, in which he was nothing but nice to me, we texted throughout the summer.

When I was in the stands before I was a credentialed Pirates reporter, Melton was with some of the Point Park athletics department, I was invited to come down and we all took a group picture together. Pictured from left to right is myself, Point Park SID Kevin Taylor, Point Park Baseball Coach Loren Torres, KIAC Commissioner Bill Melton and Point Park AD Dan Swalga

IMG_7658

This piece allowed me to trust in myself and my instinct and break some news.

As it turned out, during the next athletic directors meeting, the AD’s all met and the basketball KIAC Tournament procedure was put to a vote and the rule was changed to where the top seed in each matchup would host throughout the tournament.

While I am hesitant to take credit for the rule change, I believe my column certainly opened some eyes and one of the Point Park women’s basketball parents printed out several copies of my column and handed them out to anyone who wanted a copy, something which embarrassed me.

A follow-up column was done the next year and Melton again took part and explained the process.

This is my favorite article I have written and occurred during college. It will be difficult to top because of the changes this column helped create.

The new rule gave each team something to play for, a chance each year to show off their school to fans during the playoff time. Now a top seed would have a home court advantage instead of going to a road gym. It rewards regular season play and while it is tougher for a commissioner to attend it can provide less of a travel strain to some teams, brings more universities more money and gives more seniors a chance to play a conference tournament game at home in front of family and friends.

http://ppuglobe.com/2016/06/word-from-the-weiss-15/

 

 

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My favorite articles I’ve written Part 1

I cannot help but be in a reflective mood at this point in time looking back at what is now over 10 years as a sports journalist. I have written a lot of articles, probably 30-40% of which on the iPhone.

It is a difficult task looking back and picking my favorites of myriads of articles I have done. I do not have an exact count of how many articles I have done in these 10 years, but I definitely have some that I felt would be special the minute they were either brainstormed or after an interview.

I figured I would make a big post with some of my favorites, a little subtext around them and the link so you can hopefully enjoy them. There are eight honorable mentions so bare with me and enjoy this post. I will post the other part shortly.

Honorable Mentions:

8. DeLaet finds success in first group of morning wave (June 2, 2017 DYST NOW)

Anyone who knows me knows I love covering golf, it is one of, if not my favorite sport to cover so anytime I get credentialed it gives me a sense of pride.

This year was my fifth year covering the Memorial Tournament and I got into the Muirfield Village Golf Club press room early enough that I decided to do a Friday morning wave round up. It started innocently as Graham DeLaet gave me a great 1-on-1 interview but it was Shane Lowry who made the piece.

It was a 2-on-1 as another reporter joined me and led the interview. When he was done, I asked Lowry about what he learned from his final round at the 2016 U.S. Open. The 2017 U.S. Open was set to tee off in nearly two weeks at that point and it was a chance to allow Lowry to be reflective on a four shot lead he lost to Dustin Johnson.

Lowry was not thrilled with the question, he clearly showed it but to his credit gave me an answer. I appreciated his honesty and did not follow up. It is a tough question I probably would not have asked my first or second year covering golf, but one I am more then comfortable asking.

I found out the next week that an Irish newspaper referenced this soundbite claiming I was “given an earful” by Lowry, which was far from the case, something the reporter would well have known had he showed up.

It was a piece I enjoyed putting together and my question to Lowry was the talk of the small table I sat at for our quick press dinner that night.

http://dystnow.com/2017/06/02/delaet-finds-success-in-first-group-of-morning-wave/

7. Call to the ‘pen benefits Pirates’ Comadena (August 11, 2016, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This was a feature I mulled over for a good week to 10 days. I got the frame work started at the very end of a homestand before the Pirates went on the road.

Jordan Comadena was then the Pirates new bullpen catcher (it is now his second season) and I had a feeling no one else in the media knew who he was. Comadena did not have his name in the media guide since he came on at the start of the regular season and he did not have his picture with the other coaches on the team website.

I went the bullpen catcher route in 2015 with a lengthy feature piece on Heberto “Herbie” Andrade which was very well received and Andrade himself later called me over, complimented me and gave me a nice pat on the back.

This article was a great chance for fans to know who Comadena was and how he got to the Pirates.

I still remember going up to Pittsburgh Pirates Director of Baseball Communications Jim Trdinich as I always did whenever I needed a coach interview.

“Jimmy T, would it be possible to speak to Jordan for a feature,” I asked.

Once he realized that I was talking about Comadena, the plan was made. It was a Sunday afternoon game and we did the 14 minute interview on the field right after the pitchers threw.

It was a great interview and I ended up typing the entire thing on my iPhone on the Greyhound down to cover the U.S. Senior Open.

I was grateful that Jordan appreciated the piece and it certainly was fun to put together.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pittsburgh-pirates-bullpen-jordan-comadena-purdue/

6. Rahm prepares for U.S. Open (June 5, 2016, DYST Now)

I will be honest and say that for once, I was late. I always insist on being early to things but at the Sunday of the 2016 Memorial Tournament I was completely unaware of what time the Jack Nicklaus Awards were being presented and missed the entire ceremony. The 2016 ceremony had Jon Rahm headlining the winners of that year’s Nicklaus Award. When I got inside the press room, everyone was scattered and pictures were already being taken of the winners with Jack Nicklaus.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to get Jon Rahm in a 1-on-1 situation and it made for a great first article of the day. Rahm was a great interview and we talked about the award and the U.S. Open which he would take part in.

Once we parted ways it was 45 minutes tops that the article was done.

Normally I do not use an athlete’s twitter handle on the article but Rahm was not as known 14 months ago as he is now so I decided to go for it.

I was pleasantly surprised by a retweet, a favorite and a Twitter follow that I still have to this day.

That last graph is not why this makes the list, but the process of that article, the opportunity to walk a couple of holes at the U.S. Open with Edorta his father and the answers he gave me in the U.S. Open second round flash interview. They were just as great as in Ohio.

http://dystnow.com/2016/06/05/rahm-prepares-for-us-open/

5. Luck does not enjoy solo Memorial Tournament round (June 3, 2017, DYST Now)

This was literally a day after the DeLaet and Lowry article. Chris Dazen had come into town Friday night and we were discussing what time we were going to the course.

I saw that Curtis Luck was teeing off as a solo at 7:40 EST and knew that was the ticket. I had never followed a golfer that went out as a single and that early in the morning it was going to be interesting.

A huge thanks goes out to PGA TOUR media relations for giving me inside the ropes access during the third round which allowed me to take plenty of detailed notes which later helped bring a lot of life to this piece.

The top of my article was one of my strongest in a while and the whole thing was fun with the imagery of Luck teetering his driver after another missed fairway and of course the swearing.

It was clear that the 20-year-old Luck was not enjoying being the pacer so to speak and he did not handle the pressure well.

Luck did meet with some media after the round, myself included and other than one question I asked did not go too much into length with his answers.

He did flirt with the lead at times during Quicken Loans National this past week though but on this day his struggles made for a good read.

http://dystnow.com/2017/06/03/luck-does-not-enjoy-solo-memorial-tournament-round/

4. Can rise of women translate to baseball? (September 12, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This was a fun piece to do just because of the topic. The rise of women in sports was at the time and still is a fantastic topic to discuss and write about. Frankly it is about time women get recognition and elevated in sports but my purpose was to observe how that process was going in baseball.

The piece itself was not the best thing I’ve ever wrote but I found the interviews to just be fascinating.

It is rare that I ask anything of Neal Huntington after his Sunday media availability. At that point he’s done a long radio show and then met with reporters while the ice machine and other machinery makes obnoxiously loud noises for another 15. This was one of two occasions where I asked for time after and he was more than willing to discuss the topic.

I was proud that I was able to get Clayton Kershaw to discuss this topic as well. I held onto the piece an extra day despite feeling pleased with what Huntington and Jared Hughes had given me.

All I did was approach Kershaw at his clubhouse locker and ask for an interview. I had done that two or three years earlier and after he threw gave me a couple of minutes.

This time, Kershaw had a bullpen session but told me he would meet with me after he was done.

When Kershaw was done, he first talked to a reporter about a headline and then we talked for a good five minutes, shook hands and parted ways. Just like that other time, it was a good interview, though Pirates PR seemed surprised that I was able to get Kershaw 1-on-1.

I told them when they asked how I secured the interview that I simply went up and asked, ready to accept a no if needed.

The story I believe was a well-rounded one and it is nice to see baseball is finally making some much needed strides in getting women involved in the game.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/can-rise-of-women-in-sports-translate-to-baseball/

3. Dugout advice saves Hughes’ career (June 22, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

Let me preface this by saying I am very thankful for a lot of things in my time as a Pirates beat reporter, but Jared Hughes was my most dependable source, always there for a quote or a hello.

I would throw off the wall pregame or feature pieces his way and he was always game, knowing that it was a unique piece that I hoped would translate well to my readers.

When I found out about Kris Watts, a then Double-A catcher and the role he played in Hughes’ career, this immediately became a feature priority.

Upon approaching Hughes, I barely got out the words Kris Watts before a smile came on his face. It was a great interview and Hughes was his usual candid self.

What made the story even more special was that I found a way to contact Watts and we did a phone interview before a Pirates game.

It made the story so well rounded and though he was over 2,500 miles away from PNC Park, I could just feel the emotion through the phone.

Both Jared and Kris each were grateful for the article. It was one of the highlights of my 2015 season.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/dugout-advice-saves-hughes-career/

2. GW’s Prange working hard to shed labels (March 2, 2017, DYST Now)

I have to give credit where it is due. I am extremely thankful to Jennifer Rizzotti and Dan DiVeglio or else this piece certainly would not have been possible, or at least to the desired effect.

Both Dan and Jen allowed me into their practice at the Richmond Coliseum the day before their Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinal game against Duquesne.

It is one thing just to do that, but it was a tremendous leap of faith, because both knew that I was a beat reporter covering the opposing team.

The easy thing to do would have been to say no, make me do the interview after the quarterfinal game, done a phone interview or meet at the team hotel lobby for the interview. None of these are what Dan and Jen did.

I was fortunate to meet both prior to the season in Richmond at Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball media day, again in January during the GW-Duquesne game in Pittsburgh and again at the end of January in Foggy Bottom.

Each time both were very accommodating to me and this time when the time of year is most stressful, they let me watch their entire practice, Jen talked to me a little after the middle of practice and I had an extended interview with Kelli Prange, the subject matter of this particular feature.

Kelli was a great interview, which made my job very easy, at least on paper.

I remember going back to the Best Western Hotel and that article was honestly the most stressed I was in writing all season.

When I finished the article it felt good and I knew it was my best piece of the season, not even close.

Kelli was nice enough to retweet and favorite it, Jen retweeted it by mentioning and promoting it and the George Washington Women’s Basketball Twitter account also retweeted and mentioned it.

When GW did lose to Duquesne, Jen and I had a nice moment after the postgame press conference where we thanked each other and we hugged.

I have nothing but respect for Jen and of course Dan. I consider both of them to be friends and know I will see both soon.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/02/gws-prange-working-hard-shed-labels/

1. Pirates headed to wild card game after loss to Cardinals (September 30, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This one just misses the cut but this piece easily was my biggest learning lesson. It was the day the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League Central at PNC Park.

Being my first year on the beat, I had always wondered what the experience would be like to cover a clubhouse celebration.

I had someone help me get quotes from the Pirates side and went over to the Cardinals clubhouse. There, reporters all had raincoats on, except for me that is.

All I had to defend myself was the stick of peppermint gum that I was chewing.

When we were let inside the clubhouse, it was loud and both beer and champagne was everywhere.

I quickly surveyed the scene and after we all talked to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, I was able to secure a 1-on-1 interview with Cardinals Senior Vice President and General Manager John Mozeliak and Mark Reynolds got him with a little bit of beer, but “Moz” hung in there and got the interview in.

The other person I wanted to interview was Adam Wainwright. Wainwright has been a leader of this Cardinals team and made what a lot of the team would consider the ultimate sacrifice.

His season was supposed to be over after getting an Achilles injury in late April but was able to battle back and return to the team in a relief capacity the rest of the season.

The day Wainwright came back was the day the Cardinals secured the division and I believed it to happen for a reason.

Upon asking Wainwright for an interview he looked me square in the eyes and offered the following.

“I will only let you interview me if I can pour this beer on your head,” Wainwright stated.

I processed the situation very quickly offering a stern “hit me” in return.

It was a pound of ice cold Budweiser and I was very fortunate to have that stick of gum in my mouth because I never shivered or flinched. At this point most of the coaching staff and at least five Cardinals players were watching.

After Wainwright finished pouring the beer on me, he granted me permission to start the interview. As I asked the first question, he started pouring another cold Budweiser on me. My voice of course went up but I still did not react.

Mind you my glasses were on at the time and my voice recorder was also in the line of fire. Risks I felt were worth taking.

I wanted a chance to experience what the celebration would be like, but I ended up way more involved than I ever would have thought.

A couple or so years before I was a beat reporter, I actually was a very big Wainwright fan. I loved his curveball and thought it was the best non-Kershaw curveball in the league. So to have someone I respected pour two full pounds of beer on me, was quite interesting to say the least.

After the interview, Wainwright gave me a handshake and a pat on the back while complimenting me on handling things so well.

I ended using one of Wainwright’s quotes in the article. Yes getting doused with two pounds of beer for one quote was well worth it in my book. I was more impressed I could actually hear any of the quotes to be honest.

Still I did learn a lesson in 2016 as the Nationals clinched when I was covering. I brought a raincoat, change of pants and shoes.

It was an experience that became way more interactive than I would have liked but one which I believe captured the moment very well for both teams.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-headed-to-wild-card-game-with-loss-to-cardinals/

My experience with “Beef”

Andrew Johnston has taken off quite a bit in America. He was a known commodity winning the Open de Espana.

Many do not know this name though, but rather one word “Beef”.

My first Beef experience came in the third round of Saturday’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. Johnston was way behind in the standings but his attitude did not change. Fans were cheering him as he raised the roof.

This was something special and I stored it away for later. Clearly this was just temporary and this happiness would not last.

Fast forward one day and I went into the media interview request area submitted my request to talk to the man named Beef. I wanted to see what the hoopla was all about.

I walked back over to the area as Johnston was on the 18th hole. All of a sudden I heard a loud, clear scream.

“Beeeeeffff,” the audience roared.

I will be honest and state that at first I thought they were chanting “Spieth”, for Jordan Spieth but looked at the pairings guide to confirm this not to be the case.

After the final hole was done, the wait for Johnston began. He finished in a tie for 54th place, but that was not the story, though it was his first start in America.

I was told I had a few minutes to speak with Johnston as he had a flight to catch. He had switched into his tennis shoes, gave me a firm handshake and away we went.

After some basics about the round, I asked him about the impression he got from this first start in America and it was a genuine one.

“People told me that they were going to love me in America,” Johnston said at the time. “I thought ‘okay, yeah, yeah you might get a little bit of a reception’. I never thought it would have been this mad. The last two days have been absolutely crazy, and all of the playing partners have had no idea what was going on.”

A lot of people are drawn to Johnston who was seen in at Pittsburgh International Airport in a 1979 style Pirates bucket hat and Penguins Stanley Cup shirt among other items he purchased from the city.

Johnston makes himself very accessible to fans whether its doing face swaps on Snapchat, spending hours signing autographs and posing for pictures, eating hamburgers made from food trucks or just interacting on Twitter, there may not be a professional golfer more fan friendly.

Recently, Johnston added a fitting sponsor in Arby’s, whose logo now can be seen prominently on his polos.

Johnston endears himself to fans with his relaxed nature and reactions that the average person would have.

When he won the Open de Espana, he was quick to admit his plan to “get hammered”. Johnston promised to do the same for a week were he to have won the U.S. Open. This every man type of reaction earned him his fair share of fans.

“I’m just telling the truth,” Johnston said. “I’ve grown up and had a normal childhood. I was a member of my home course, nothing special, playing golf and then you end up playing in a U.S. Open, it’s mad. I don’t see myself as any different than anyone else. I don’t care where someone is from and what they are, if they’re nice and they’re fun, I’ve got all the time in the world for them. I think the guys picked up on that and I felt so much love this week, it’s been great.”

Since Oakmont, Johnston has gained experience playing in the United States playing in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and tied for eighth recently at The Open Championship.

My interview on that Sunday afternoon in June ended with another handshake and a “cheers” from the 27-year-old from London, England before he walked off Oakmont Country Club.

It was that moment that I knew why he was so likable.

Practically anyone can relate to him and everyone roots for him.  It is clear that this is no act. Fans love Johnston and he loves them right back.

Wrestlemania 32 predictions

A lot of people who know me are aware that I am a WWE fan. My dad is the one to blame for this as for as long as I can remember he watched Monday Night Raw. At times I would join him out of curiosity but I am a newer fan having actively followed along for the past two or three years.

With this in mind, I am going to take my best guess at Sunday’s card.

Wrestlemania 32 preshow:

Usos defeat The Dudley Boyz– Usos will find a way to use the tables as The Dudleys put the younger talent over. Both teams will get their spots but Usos get the win. Not much else really to say here.

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal– Two names come into my head and that is Mark Henry and Braun Strowman. I know what you’re thinking, really, Mark Henry? WWE could get away with it here. The winner really gets nothing out of this and Henry, a giant and Texas boy could end his career on a high so it makes sense. Strowman makes just as much sense as the Wyatt family does not have a clear role on this card and need to establish a known presence again with Luke Harper injured. I will take Strowman for that reason.

Team Total Divas (Natalia, Paige, Brie Bella, Alicia Fox and Eva Marie) vs Team B.A.D. & Blonde (Naomi, Tamina, Lana, Summer Rae and Emma) – I fully expect the Total Divas team to come out and get the upper hand until Eva Marie swerves the audience of sorts and turns on her team giving Team B.A.D. & Blonde the win. WWE was expecting an ovation for her but the reaction she received from NXT fans continued on Monday Night Raw this past week. They need to embrace this and allow the reception to affect her character. Anything less would be underwhelming. This very well could be Brie Bella’s final match with WWE.

Wrestlemania 32 Card

Kalisto (C) vs “The” Ryback for the United States Championship- I will admit I am not a Ryback fan. WWE did him a disservice making him a face and even as a heel he is reading off cue cards. It does not feel natural and ruins the improvements Ryback is making in the ring. Kalisto is a special high-flying talent. These two met in the King of the Ring tournament and Kalisto won. I think the same happens here. There is the potential for several titles to change hands tonight but this will not be one of them. Kalisto takes it and retains.

Kevin Owens (C) vs Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Star Dust, Sin Cara, The Miz and Zack Ryder Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match- To me this is a two person match with Ziggler the dark horse with the chance as he so calls it to “steal the show”. This is all about Owens and Zayn. Ziggler could capitalize and creep up the ladder to win. I could easily see Owens and Zayn team up to eliminate everyone else and let the true action begin. There is no love lost between these two. Could Zayn be distracted by his NXT Takeover loss to Shinsuke Nakamura? Yes. I could see Zayn go up the ladder only for Nakamura to provide the distraction Owens needs to win. Owens will be by himself Sunday night but that is all he needs to retain his title.

League of Nations vs New Day 4-on-3 Handicap match- There is a chance League of Nations wins this as the title is not on the line but I just do not see that happening here with all kinds of New Day merchandise selling like hot cakes. Let’s face facts, nothing is hotter than New Day right now and that has been true for months now. Rusev will be the one pinned.

Brock Lesnar vs Dean Ambrose No Holds Barred Street Fight- This one I feel will be a very bloody affair with both men busted open. Lesnar will control early and that is when Mick Foley will come out to provide a distraction which levels the playing field. There are so many other surprises that could happen. I could see Seth Rollins providing a pedigree or a signature move on Lesnar to support his former Shield partner or Terry Funk comes out with more weapons. This will be a long match and I believe with both men bloody and unable to fully get up, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out and hits the stunner on Ambrose. Lesnar gets up and the ref counts to three to seal the win. While Lesnar and Paul Heyman prepare to come out and celebrate Bray Wyatt’s music hits and he hits Sister Abigail. Wyatt stands tall.

Charlotte (C) w/ Ric Flair vs Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks– There are so many opportunities for interference here it is crazy. The question is if Ric Flair does anything dirty enough that could be caught by the referee which would warrant removal from the match. Charlotte will control the match early, for me there is no question about that. Becky Lynch does not want help and will suffer for it. For some reason one name comes to mind here and that is Snoop Dogg. With so many injuries WWE will try anything and Snoop Dogg brings ratings. He could always get physical with Flair which would be enough of a distraction for Becky or Sasha to pin the champ. Realistically I think Charlotte will not get pinned in this match. Lynch will find an opening to try and pin the champion but Sasha will have the last word and be the new divas champion… well at least until they likely rename the title and re-brand the division.

Chris Jericho vs A.J. Styles– This will be a good storytelling match. There is absolutely no chance Jericho wins this. He is all about putting others over at this stage and will do so again. That is not to doubt in Jericho, especially with him being so much better as a heel character but a win does not do anything for him. A.J. will have a phenomenal (I’m sorry) performance to win.

Triple H (C) w/ Stephanie McMahon vs Roman Reigns-I think this match will be hard hitting but I think it needs to be about Triple H trying to lure Roman to be a heel. He could bring The Rock out. Reigns would spear and/or Superman punch his cousin and complete the turn. Seth Rollins could come in and take a side. Shawn Michaels will come out and protect Triple H when Reigns gets the upper hand. Insert DX chop here. This is when Triple H gets his sledgehammer. For me assuming the Rock does not do a 20 minute promo at some point earlier in the card, he will run out to protect his cousin. Triple H could also bring out several heels to wear down Reigns. This would include the eague of Nations allowing the Rock to come out and lay out Rusev. Regardless of the guest spots, no one has lost at Wrestlemania more than Triple H and you can almost guarantee he puts another talent over. Roman Reigns will become the heavyweight champion once again.

The Undertaker vs Shane McMahon– Vince McMahon will be out there for sure trying to do whatever it takes for The Undertaker to win. Everyone knows that Shane McMahon will have at least one fun high flying spot in there. I have Shane McMahon winning but how is still unclear. For one thing it will not be clean. I do not consider The Undertaker turning on Vince and letting him be counted out as a clean win in this kind of a match. I could easily see Finn Balor, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows all making an appearance to push Shane over the top. This deserves to be the final match of the night and on paper a Shane win means Taker would be done at Wrestlemania but it did not say his career would be over. Plus if Shane O’Mac is in charge he could reinstate Taker at ‘Mania. Just something about The Undertaker wrestling in his home state has a finality to it though it is hard to say because the John Cena and Sting matches people have been looking for will not happen it looks like. If The Undertaker does win I expect one of those two to come in after the match and make their move to start building towards Wrestlemania 33. Right now though, I’ll take Shane.

Dukes make national headlines

My day started Saturday at 10 a.m. and it ended at 5:30 Sunday morning. There was a good reason for that as throughout the time I was kept busy by the news of the Duquesne men’s basketball team being stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

This is national news and there is no disputing that. Something such as this happens once every year or two but this incident was avoidable.

It is not the Atlantic 10’s fault. The conference scheduled the game 26 hours earlier so that Duquesne could try and get home safely as the snow started just a couple of hours before the final whistle sounded in the game against George Mason. Though A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade will talk with athletic directors, the conference will continue to monitor the weather. Scheduling favors two games a week so in theory rescheduling a game would not be out of the question though it would prefer not to.

A popular target has been Duquesne’s athletic director David Harper. I would say that is the easy way out and an unwise way to point blame. The team had a bus at VCU and keeping Duquesne with limited supplies in a Fairfax, VA area where 2-feet of snow were being projected was not any better than being unable to move on the PA Turnpike. Everyone in Pittsburgh and the coaching staff all monitored the weather and felt it was safe to proceed. With a game on Tuesday you want your team best prepared for the contest which is against LaSalle, an A-10 opponent.

No one could have been able to foresee several trucks causing a standstill. On any other day this is not a story because the Dukes are back in campus resting within 4-6 hours after leaving Fairfax. Blaming Harper is foolish because there was nothing he could do. He as well as Duquesne’s chief of police did all they could but given the situation that was just getting food to the bus. When you are trapped on the turnpike, you cannot get another bus or find another way to transport the team.

If anyone is to blame it is the PA Turnpike Commission. It was aware of how tough the roads would be to drive and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf had declared a state of energy for all of PA. It may be easiest to criticize them, but that is where most if any of the blame should be placed.

The good news for Duquesne is that all 32 people were able to maintain high spirits throughout the 30 hours and 24 minutes in the bus. The Dukes made friends with a bus next to them which contained eighth grade students from Iowa. When Duquesne did get food, it shared with the eighth graders.

This story is more than sports, its about a group of individuals used to adversity overcame more during this two day stretch.

My reporting included calls with the PA Turnpike Commission, Harper and senior forward Nick Foschia. I was also was able to obtain a statement from A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade.

Whether I was covering the Duquesne women’s basketball game or eating my birthday dinner, I was quick and consistent when it came to updates.

When I finally heard the Dukes would make it back on campus Saturday night, I knew what to do and never hesitated. It could have been 30 degrees below zero and I still would have been waiting at the A.J. Palumbo Center for the team to return.

It turns out I was the only reporter to do so, for a national news story. At 10:46 p.m. the team bus came into view and myself and the local TV cameramen prepared.

This is an experience the team will never forget. They will be brothers and family for life. I also will never forget the experience. Though I was not anywhere near the bus, it was my goal to give the readers the impression that I was.

The team remained together even after it got off the bus going to a restaurant close to campus to eat. A final scene of solidarity as I made my way back home.

Here are my links to my reporting on the story. Both are free and no subscription is needed to read either of these articles.

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/FREE/2016/01/23/dukes-remain-stuck-on-pa-turnpike/

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/FREE/2016/01/24/snow-stranded-dukes-came-a-long-way/

Photo credit: Ed Thompson

 

Five things I think Jan. 9

It’s back again and this time on sports in general.

  1. Playoff predictions:

Chiefs 17 Texans 10- The Chiefs just know how to win and I feel that momentum will carry them. My one concern is the Chiefs really haven’t played anyone since this winning streak. They defeated the Denver Broncos when Peyton Manning was injured and Landry Jones was starting for the Steelers.

Steelers 24 Bengals 13- I just do not trust A.J. McCarron at quarterback in a playoff game. The Bengals have admittedly scaled back the playbook and that will be the undoing. Sure Ben Roethlisberger has not won a playoff game in a good while, but that should not matter here.

Seahawks 13 Vikings 10- This will be an ugly weather game, the only reason why the Vikings have a chance. Neither team will get much going, but in this situation, I like the Seahawks experience to get them through.

Redskins 23 Packers 20 OT- I really could see this going either way. Perhaps it is because I am in Washington D.C. as I type this entry, but I just see the Redskins doing just enough. Kirk Cousins has transformed into a franchise quarterback and the Packers have lost six of their last 10 games.

2. Hall of Fame– Glad to see Ken Griffey Jr. in. He deserved it and his induction should have been unanimous. Mike Piazza admitted to using PED’s. As a voter, I would have been on the fence with him. I felt a lot of people gave him a pass. This admission tells me he is not the best catcher ever to play. I would have had to make a judgment call. A bit disappointed to see Jim Edmonds is off the ballot and it is because a lot of the BBWA does not embrace the new school of thinking. He was one of my favorite players to watch growing up. I am a big Mike Mussina fan as well and hope he gets in. I also would have voted for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman. So that would have been six definite picks for me.

3. Early NL Central prediction– NL Central will  take a step back next season. It absolutely has to. The NL Central winner in 2016 will have under 90 wins.

  1. Cubs– This did not take long at all. The Cubs are stacked. I think their youth will hurt them at times but I really like their team from top to bottom.
  2. Pirates– I am a fan of most of the free agency moves. The rotation as a whole will have to step up and that will be tough. Jung Ho Kang’s health will be a key question early.
  3. Cardinals– This may surprise a lot of people but I am not impressed. Cardinals feel they have enough to contend now and will build later. Yadier Molina’s health concerns me and I liked Tony Cruz as his backup more the Brayan Pena. I am not a fan of the rotation. Adam Wainwright is coming off injury and older. Lance Lynn is done for the season. Jaime Garcia concerns me. Michael Wacha limped to the finish line. Mike Leake would help but still the rotation is a question mark.
  4. Brewers– Rebuilding a bit but less than the Reds. I have a lot of respect for Craig Counsell. He was a very smart player and seemed to have a better grip of things despite the hand he was dealt than Ron Roenicke. This team still has pieces though Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann need to be more consistent.
  5. Reds– Just a total rebuild. No excuses for Bryan Price this season. He’s dealt with injuries to his core group but this year’s team needs to show a pulse or he needs to go.

4. PGA Tour major winners 2016

Masters Rory McIlroy– I just like the way he finished the 2015 season and will be back to full health. This win will put him atop the Official World Golf Ranking in addition to earning the career grand slam.

U.S. Open Dustin Johnson– Finally Johnson gets it done and at an Oakmont course where length off the tee will matter. This will be a career moment for him.

Open Championship/British Open Patrick Reed– It was a down 2015 for Reed’s standards but I like what he was able to do on the European Tour following the end of the FedEx Cup. That promise has me picking Reed just over Rickie Fowler.

PGA Championship Hideki Matsuyama– This pick may surprise a few people but I think Matsuyama will surprise a lot of people. He has shown promise and has a PGA Tour win in the 2014 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance but also was able to contend in big tournaments in 2015. I think he wins twice on tour this season and this will be a big moment for him and Japanese golf.

5. Novak Djokovic wins French Open in 2016/Serena Williams prediction– More people should be paying attention to tennis. Novak Djokovic is on a run similar to that of Roger Federer a few years ago. I have Djokovic winning three majors next season including a four-set win at the French Open this season. This would allow him to win the career slam. As for Serena Williams, I hope for her sake it is a healthier year. She fought through a lot on the court last season. It is for that reason that I rule out a calendar slam because she will fall in the Australian Open semifinal match. I like her to win the other three majors once she has that pressure off her and can play a bit more freely. Both men’s and women’s tennis are at a high point again and it is exciting to see.