Matthews: Buffalo "Most Cursed Sports City"

posted by Bob Matthews - 

BUFFALO ROMPS IN “MOST CURSED SPORTS CITY” POLL

BOB’S PICK TO UPSET JUSTIFY IN THE BELMONT STAKES

WHISPERS REGARDING THE KNIGHTHAWKS

SCHOENDIENST’S BRIEF AND BRILLIANT STINT WITH THE WINGS

The Washington Capitals ended 44 years of frustration by winning the Stanley Cup Thursday night in Las Vegas.

The popular syndicated radio talk show Outkick The Coverage (6 to 9 a.m., on FOX Sports 1280 in Rochester), noting how poorly pro teams in Washington have performed in recent decades and how starved fans were for a championship, on Friday morning conducted a poll asking, “What is the most cursed sports city in the United States?”

More than 12,000 listeners nationwide responded, and Buffalo was the landslide choice with 40-plus percent of the “votes”.

Host Clay Travis and his crew wound up agreeing that Buffalo was the right choice. Travis at first said he gave added weight to cities with more than two major-league teams, but he later recognized the extraordinary “passion” of sports fans in Buffalo.

The Travis crew noted the four straight losing trips to the Super Bowl. Scott Norwood’s name was mentioned. And the Sabres reaching the Stanley Cup Finals only twice in their history. And the high TV ratings in Buffalo for the NHL playoffs even when the Sabres aren’t participating. And the NBA Braves (1970 through 1978) moving to San Diego. They might have added Buffalo’s unsuccessful bid to get a Major League Baseball team.

I suppose it is a badge of sports honor to know that fans across the country are aware of the lack of success of the Bills and the Sabres and respect the passion and devotion of the fan base.

BOB’S HUNCH: BRAVAZO TO UPSET JUSTIFY IN THE BELMONT STAKES

Justify on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes will try to become the 13th thoroughbred racehorse to win the Triple Crown.

The speedy colt will be facing nine rivals in the 1 ½-mile “Test of Champions”. He has never run so far but he also has never lost. He’s won all five of his career starts and he’ll be the short-priced favorite.

Here is my worst-to-first mini-analysis:

10th – Restoring Hope (post position 5) – 5 career races: 1 win, 1 place, 1 show; earnings $149,880; jockey Florent Geroux; trainer Bob Baffert. Only win was a maiden race in his third start February 2 at Santa Anita...third in the Wood Memorial with a wide trip at 3.75-to-1...ran wide and faded to finish 12th in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on the May 5 Kentucky Derby card...not much hope in this spot.

9th – Noble Indy (post position 9) – 5 career races: 3-0-1; $691,600; jockey Javier Castellano; trainer Todd Pletcher. Impressive rider-trainer combination but the colt appears in over his head...second in the Grade 2 Risen Star and then won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby by a neck as the 2.70-to-1 favorite...Finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby, beaten by 42 lengths at 59.20-to-1. Allowed to settle early and never fired. Maybe he didn’t like the sloppy track. More likely he wasn’t good enough,

8th – Free Drop Billy (post position 2) – 9 career races: 2-3-2; $625,220; jockey Robby Albarado; trainer Dale Romans. 2nd in the Grade 2 Holy Bull, 4th in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes and 3rd in the Grade 3 Gotham. Tries hard but hasn’t been good enough to beat top competition...16th in the Kentucky Derby and beaten by 41 lengths at 45.40-to-1.

7th -- Gronkowski (post position 6) – 6 career races: 4-1-0; earnings $135,644; jockey Jose Ortiz; trainer Chad Brown. The colt was named for New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has become a part owner (a small part) and will be in attendance...all six races were in England. He won his last four starts but has never raced on dirt or longer than one mile...was set to run in the Kentucky Derby but spiked a fever and had to pass...a big class jump here and a very ambitious assignment.

6th – Blended Citizen (post position 10) – 10 career races: 3-0-2; $406,854; jockey Kyle Frey; trainer Doug O’Neill. The first Grade 1 race for the colt and the jockey (after more than 4,100 rides)...lost his first four races by a combined 30 lengths but obviously has improved since...fifth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at odds of 25.10 to-1...won the Grade 3 Peter Pan May 12 at Belmont Park. Seven horses have swept the Peter Pan/Belmont Stakes, most recently Tonalist in 2014...figures to try hard and pass some tiring horses but probably isn’t good enough to pad the exotic payoffs.

5th – Vino Rosso (post position 8) – 6 races: 3-0-1; $620,500; jockey John Velazquez; trainer Todd Pletcher. Some “smart guys” are touting this son of Curlin as a live longshot...two-for-two as a 2-year-old...third in the Grade 3 Sam Davis at 2.30-to-1 and 4th in the Tampa Bay Derby at 2.10-to-1...Won the Wood Memorial April 7 at Aqueduct at 4.20-to-1...not sure he’d be a threat on his best Saturday.

4th – Tenfold (post position 7) – 4 races: 2-0-1; $289,200; jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.; trainer Steve Asmussen. Unraced as a 2-yerar-old...appears to be rounding to top form...fifth in the Arkansas Derby at 9.60-to-1 with a four-wide bid before tiring late...third in the Preakness Stakes at 26.10-to-1, beaten by only ¾ length and gaining on Justify at the finish...would be no be shock if he pulls off the upset but I prefer three other colts in the race.

SHOW – Hofburg (post position 4) – 4 races: 1-1-0; $227,950; jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.; trainer Bill Mott. This lightly-raced colt is eligible to improve in a big way...second in the Florida Derby March 31 at odds of 8.60-to-1...seventh in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 27.00-to-1 but he was bothered at the start, steadied twice and beaten by only 8 ¾ lengths. That might have been a positive learning experience and skipping the Preakness makes him fresher than Justify, who had smooth sailing in his Derby win.

PLACE – Justify (post position 1) – 5 races: 5-0-0; $2,998,000; jockey Mike Smith; trainer Bob Baffert. Tough to fault and obviously the colt to beat in his bid for the Triple Crown but he’ll be a short-priced favorite and appears vulnerable against fresher colts...did Smith step off the gas nearing the wire in the Preakness win or was Justify tiring a bit?...drawing the rail was not ideal but he has the speed avoid early traffic problems. That could compromise his efforts in the deep stretch. Many Triple Crown hopefuls came up short in the Test of Champions. I don’t expect that to happen to Justify but I won’t be shocked if it does happen.

WIN – Bravazo (post position 3) – 10 races; 3-2-1; $736,529; jockey Luis Saez; trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The third choice on the early betting line at 8-to-1...the only colt to take on Justify in all three Triple Crown races this year...a disappointing 8th in the Louisiana Derby March 24 at odds of 2.90-to-1...6th in the Kentucky Derby with an awkward start and a wide trip in the slop at odds of 66.90-to-1...with another wide but much cleaner trip in the Preakness Stakes, he finished second and was gaining on Justify at the wire at odds of 15.30-to-1...the early weather forecast had a 60 percent of rain for Saturday in New York. We know Justify can handle a wet track and Bravazo in the Preakness proved he could, too.

I picked Justify to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but I’m playing a hunch on Bravazo to upset Justify on Saturday.

HAIGHT’S PICKS: JUSTIFY ALL THE WAY

Here is the Belmont Stakes worst-to-fist from Batavia Downs director of live racing and crack handicapper Todd Haight: 10th Gronkowski...9th Free Drop Billy...8th Restoring Hope...7th Noble Indy...6th Tenfold...5th Blended Citizen...4th Bravazo...SHOW Vino Rosso...PLACE Hofburg...WIN Justify.

JUSTIFY HOPES TO AVOID JOINING THIS LIST...

Twenty-three horses missed a Triple Crown by failing to win the Belmont Stakes. Eight of those finished second (most recently Smarty Jones in 2004), five finished third most recently Funny Cide in 2003), four finished fourth (most recently California Chrome in 2014). Carry Back (1961) finished seventh, War Emblem (2002) finished eighth and Big Brown (2008) was pulled up and failed to finish.

Three Derby/Preakness winners did not run in the Belmont Stakes -- Burgoo King in 1932 (ankle injury; idle for more than on year), Bold Venture in 1933 (bowed tendon and was retired) and I’ll Have Another in 2012 (scratched with tendonitis the day before the race and retired).

WILL THE KNIGHTHAWKS BE ON THE MOVE?

There is a buzz in town that the National Lacrosse League Knighthawks could be the next pro sports team to leave Rochester.

Two callers to my show Thursday night said Knighthawks owner Curt Styres would be announcing shortly after Saturday night’s NLL championship game in Saskatchewan that his team will be moving. One of them said the Hawks will move to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

There are a few possible scenarios and another interesting rumor:

1—The K-Hawks leaving Rochester is an unfounded rumor and pure speculation.

2—Styres could move the team, possibly to Halifax, a lacrosse-loving city where he’d probably be the toast of the town and get a sweetheart arena deal.

3—Styres could acquire an NLL expansion team and play at Six Nations in Ontario. It is a relatively small arena but the team would have a passionate following.

4—The Pegulas could take over operation of Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. The K-hawks would remain in Rochester. A new NLL by-law permits a person(s) to own more than one team. Was this by-law inserted to allow for this specific situation? The Pegulas, who own the NLL Buffalo Bandits, presumably would seek a new owner for the K-hawks. I assume Jody Gage would play a prominent role in selecting a coach and stocking the team.

Why would the Pegulas be interested in running Blue Cross Arena? They could get prime dates for their AHL Amerks and presumably get a good deal with the City. I assume Jeff Calkins would be retained as arena manager. He does a good job and is extremely popular in our community. They’d be a good management team to maximize use of the facility. The Pegulas might also be more inclined to make the improvements to the building that the City can’t afford.

One big question is what the roster for the K-Hawks would look like (assuming Styres wouldn’t take the team’s nickname with him). Styres would want to take Six Nations products such as Cody Jamieson and Sid Smith with him. If anything happens, I’m pretty sure that already has been negotiated.

The bottom line: I believe something is in the works. Styres has been a terrific owner but I understand his frustrations here. I won’t be surprised if he leaves for another home base. Six Nations seems more likely than Halifax. It seems probable that Rochester would remain in the NLL. I believe the Pegulas operating Blue Cross Arena, with Calkins steering the ship, would be a plus for Rochester.

RED SCHOENDIENST HAD A BRIEF BUT GREAT STOP IN ROCHESTER

Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst didn’t stop in Rochester for long in his Hall of Fame career but he played brilliantly and left a lasting impression.

Schoendienst died Wednesday at age 95. He was the oldest surviving member of baseball’s Hall of Fame and probably the oldest surviving Rochester Red Wing.

A product of the Depression, he grew up dirt poor in Germantown. Ill. At age 16, he dropped out of school to work for the government’s Civilian Conservation Corps, making $1 a day. While fixing a fence, a nail ricocheted into his eye. Doctors considered removing the eye, but Schoendienst begged them not to. His dream was to play pro league baseball.

He attended a St. Louis Cardinals tryout camp with 400 other hopeful young players in 1942 and earned a $75 dollar-per-month contract with Class D Union City, Tennessee.

The Cardinals assigned him to Class B Lynchburg out of 1943 spring training. The skinny, red-haired, freckle-faced shortstop was hitting .472 (17-for-36) when he was promoted to slow-starting Rochester. Red Wings manager Pepper Martin at first mistook Red for a batboy but it didn’t take long for the switch-hitting youngster to fit in. In fact, at age 20, he went on to lead the International League in hits, won the batting title (.337) and was voted IL Most Valuable Player (playing on a fifth-place team). Times-Union baseball writer Al Weber dubbed him “The Team”.

St. Louis, knowing he was ripe for military service, returned him to Rochester to start the 1944 season. The Army called on him for active duty. Before he left, he played in 24 games: .373 batting average (38-for-102), 26 runs, 16 stolen bases, 13 walks and 1 strikeout.  On Sunday, May 21 at Red Wing Stadium, 6,902 appreciative fans (a great war-time turnout) paid their respects by passing hats during his final game. More than $400 was raised – teammates threw in $30 more – and presented to Red after the game. He held back tears in the clubhouse.

Schoendienst’s career batting line with the Red Wings: 161 games; .343 batting average; 107 runs; 24 doubles; 7 triples; 8 HRs; 51 RBI; 36 stolen basses in 43 attempts; 51 walks and only 20 strikeouts in 753 plate appearances.

Schoendienst went on to play 19 seasons in the majors, including 15 for the Cardinals. He was Stan Musial’s roommate and best friend.  Red was a career .289 hitter with 2,449 hits; 1,223 runs and 773 RBI. Musial said Schoendienst had the best infield hands he’d ever seen. In his final two seasons, back with St. Louis, he was a terrific pinch-hitter.

He spent 76 years in pro baseball, 67 with the Cardinals as a minor-leaguer, big-league player, coach manager (won the 1967 World Series) and special assistant.

Schoendienst was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1989, the Red Wings Hall of Fame in 1990 and the International League Hall of Fame in 2009.

IS THE RED WINGS’ POTENT-LOOKING LINEUP DUE TO EXPLODE?

The Rochester Red Wings have had strong pitching all season. The hitting? That’s another story.

The Wings lost 8-0 at home to Indianapolis Thursday afternoon. They were outscored 20-2 in being three straight losses to the Indians. Two runs or fewer in the last seven home games.

Rochester’s home woes continued (10-18 at Frontier Field). The Wings are an International League-best 18-9 on the road.

The offensive numbers are a huge disappointment considering the names on the lineup. For example: 2017 International League All-Star center fielder Zack Granite is hitting .195 and has 0 RBI in 34 games (that’s hard to believe). 2017 Pacific Coast League batting champion is hitting .239. Third baseman Leonardo Reginatto is hitting .201. Second baseman Taylor Featherston is hitting .176. They’re all better hitters than that. Newcomer Taylor Metter also is a proven Triple-A bat.

No team outside Major League Baseball has three more dangerous big boppers than Chris Carter, Kennys Vargas and Cameron Rupp.

Jack Cave and Willians Astudillo have been solid all season. Nick Gordon has been impressive (.338) since his promotion from Double-A.

The Red Wings enter Friday last in the 14-team IL in batting average (.233), runs (193) and on-base percentage + slugging percentage (.664). They’re tied for 8th with 36 HRs.

Rochester is second with a 3.45 ERA.

The pitching figures to remain strong. The hitting should pick up – hopefully.

SHORT SHOTS

2018 AFC East predicted record by Sports Illustrated/MMQB’s Jonathan Jones: Patriots 13-3...Jets 6-10...Dolphins 3-13...Bills 2-14 “a big step back for the surprise playoff team from 2017.”

The World Cup starts Thursday, June 14 in Russia. Many Americans won’t miss it until they realize that we failed to qualify. The US failed to qualify nine straight times from 1954 through 1986 but had qualified seven times since. For the record, the US has 8 wins, 6 draws and 19 losses record and has been outscored 62-37.

Brighton native and former Rochester Rhinos player Dave Sarachan has done a solid job since being named “interim” coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team last Oct. 24. But Saturday’s game against host France in Lyon (3 p.m. on ESPN) could be his finale. U.S. Soccer expects to name a permanent coach later this summer and the next game for the U.S. men after Saturday is scheduled for Sept. 11 against Mexico in Nashville. The USMT is 2-1-1 this year: 0-0 draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina Jan. 28; 1-0 win over Portugal March 27; 3-0 win over Bolivia May 28; and 2-1 loss to Ireland in Dublin last Saturday.

The Dallas (formerly Rochester) Rattlers are tied for first in Major League Lacrosse with a 5-2 record. They also lead the league in average home attendance: 5,974 through two games. The MLL is having a poor season at the turnstiles. The average crowd through 29 games is 2,442. Charlotte is averaging 991 and Florida is averaging 1,060. The last six seasons in Rochester (2012 to 2017), the Rattlers averaged 3,649; 1,591; 1,329; 1,198; 1,456; and 2,298.

The North Carolina Courage (National Women’s Soccer League), formerly the Western New York Flash, are off to a great start: 9 wins. O losses, 3 draws; outscoring opponents 24-11. The Courage is averaging 4,389 fans per game – not great but much better than it did in downtown Rochester.

The 23-team Major League Soccer has an average attendance of 22,147 so far this season. Atlanta is tops at 48,401. D.C. United is last at 8,762.

We didn’t need to wait long for ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early 2018-19 NHL Power Rankings”: top 5: Tampa Bay, Nashville, Winnipeg, Washington and Vegas...Buffalo is 27th, ahead of Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Arizona.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, June 8

Patrick Kaleta (32)...Andrej Sekera (32)...Kimk Clijsters (35)...Lindsay Davenport (42)...Bryan McCabe (43)...Gabe Northern (44)...Troy Vincent (48)...Rob Ray (50)...Phil Bourque (56)...Thomas Steen (58)...Dave Jennings (66). Kanye West (41) is invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, June 9

Sebastian Telfair (33)...Yuli Gurriel (34)...Joshua Cribbs (35)...Udonis Haslem (38)...Olin Kreutz (41)...Jeff Saturday (43)...Randy Winn (44)...Tedy Bruschi (45)...Chris Villarrial (45)...DlMarco Farr (47)...Tom Rouen (50)...Don McSween (54)...Wayman Tisale (54)...Billy Knight (66)...Dave Parker (67)...Dick Vitale (78). Johnny Depp (55) and Michael J. Foxx (57) are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, June 10

Jeff Teague (30)...Michael Mitchell (31)...Chad Johnson (32)...Kyle Williams (35)...Tara Lupinski (36)...Freddy Garcia (42)...Pokey Reese (45)...Kevin Donnalley (50)...Brent/Duane Sutter (56)...Jay Vincent (59)...Dan Fouts (67)...John Gianelli (68)...Larry Brooks (68)...Ken Singleton (71)...Jon McGlocklin (75). Sasha Obama (17) and Elizabeth Hurley (53) are invited to the birthday party,

Bob Matthews' Column

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