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The Young and Restless

06.30.09 at 12:31 am ET
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Welcome to the latest edition of the LEEInks! Today we’ll be taking a look at youth’s impact on the wide world of sports in recent days.

On Thursday, the NBA held it’s annual entry draft. To no one’s surprise, the Los Angeles Clippers took Oklahoma power forward extraordinaire Blake Griffin with the first overall pick.

Prior to becoming the newest Clipper, Griffin appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for a dunk contest between himself and the former Fever Pitch star. Hopefully moves like this will become a feature of Griffin’s repertoire in the NBA.

The other big name coming out of Radio City Music Hall is Spain’s Ricky Rubio. Rubio was selected fifth overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rubio’s selection made some pretty serious NBA history as the point guard became the first player born in the 1990’s to be drafted into the league. Unfortunately for Rubio, he’s also the first NBA player to be unable to enjoy songs like this or this when they sat high atop the Billboard charts.

However, LEEInks has discovered a new hoops prodigy who one day may make hoops scouts go crazy. Meet Aaron Shutway from Brecksville-Broadview Middle School in Ohio…could he be the NBA’s next phenom?

Moving along now from the hardwood to the diamond, we head into Ray Kinsella’s beloved Iowa. High school pitchers Matt Dermody and Kole Klocko nearly pulled off the cleanest of doubleheaders for South Tama High in Des Moines earlier this month.

Not a bad day on the ballfield, eh?

Finally, in what is likely a LEEInks first, we’re coming back closer to home to talk a little bit of some NASCAR. Middletown, Conn., native Joey Logano took home the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hamphire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

According to this ESPN the Magazine article, Logano probably has one of the best nicknames in sports, “Sliced Bread” — as in best thing since. Not to mention, he also appeared in one of the cheesiest PSA’s ever caught on film.

And to think he received his driver’s license only a few short years ago!

The International House of Soccer

06.29.09 at 10:17 am ET
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Cinderella’s carriage pulled away yesterday without the U.S. men’s soccer team inside when they lost to Brazil 3-2 in the Confederation’s Cup Final. After a thrilling — albeit unexpected — upset victory last week against Spain, the U.S. could not hold onto their two-goal lead for the final 45 minutes of yesterday’s match.

Yet it might be time to break out Aretha Franklin, as the US has finally earned a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the world of international soccer. After years at the bottom of the international soccer food chain, a victory would have been sweet redemption. But still, the US can walk away from the game in South Africa with more confidence for next year’s 2010 World Cup.

The Jekyll and Hyde Americans have been nothing but inconsistent when it comes to World Cup play. In 1990, the team qualified for it’s first time in 40 years — and did so again in 1994, when the match was held in the U.S. Four years later, the U.S. finished last out of the 32 teams that qualified, but made the quarterfinals in 2002 beating Portugal and Mexico. In 2006, the U.S., qualifying for a fifth consecutive time, failed to make it past the first round, tying with eventual Cup winners Italy.

Former New England star Clint Dempsey played a key component in the Confederation Cup success, scoring three goals in the tournament — including the first against Brazil yesterday in the ninth minute. Dempsey played for the Revs from 2004 through 2006 before being signed to Fulham FC of the English Premiership. (Yet the Revs surely wish he was still with their team.)

Entering their own international match yesterday against Mexican club Atlas in the 2009 Superliga tournament at Gillette, the Revs were missing seven players to injury and suspension, leaving only four players on their bench.

The Revs only goal came from Kenny Mansally on a cross from Kheli Dube in the 32nd minute of play. The 20-year-old was one of the most experienced players on the field as head coach Steve Nicol had to place a severely handicapped team on the field.

“You can’t go on forever and ever and ever doing what we’re doing,” Nicol said. “We need to try and get some guys back because eventually we’ll run out of steam. So it’s huge we get some guys back.”

The Revs received bad news last week that Taylor Twellman was being placed on the disabled list and would miss at least the next six games still ailing from whiplash symptoms dating back to last August. In addition to Twellman, Shalrie Joseph (knee cartilige defect/bone brusing), Steve Raltson (hamstring strain), Kevin Alston (hamstring tightness), Gabriel Badilla (bulging disc), Mauricio Castro (hamstring strain), Chris Albright (lateral meniscus surgery) and Mike Videira (suspension) were all unavailable for the game.

A questionable red card to Emmanuel Osei in the second half did not help the Revs, cause as they head for a quick turnaround on Tuesday with a U.S. Open Cup match against the Harrisburg City Islanders in New Britain, Conn. — now, without Osei.

Yet the win against Atlas helped the Revs gain home field advantage for the SuperLiga semifinals on July 15 against MLS foes the Chicago Fire, a good thing for the soon-to-be-tired team. The Revs will play four games in the next 16 days, including the SuperLiga semis on July 15.

“Considering the amount of games we have coming up and the amount of players we have left,” Nicol said, “the last thing you want to do is travel so home advantage is really important.”

And while it’s good news that defenseman Jay Heaps was named to the U.S. Men’s National Team for the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Heaps will also be missing at least two of the next three games for the Revs. The U.S. will play Grenada, Honduras and Haiti in Group B of the competition.

With the U.S. efforts against Brazil and the Revs defeat over two Mexican teams, international play seems to suiting Americans well as of late. We can only it continues next year.

The King of Pop Remembered by Athletes

06.26.09 at 10:39 am ET
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Love him or hate him, Michael Jackson was an icon. From his days as a child star to his tremendous success with Quincy Jones to questionable surgical procedures to accusations that eventually proved to be false, the King of Pop always seemed to be caught up in headlines. A day after his death, nothing has changed.

Coverage of Jackson’s death has been inescapable since the news broke yesterday afternoon. In addition to undoubtedly being an inspiration to his fans — “Black or White” — MJ had an impact on athletes all over the world. Many have sent their condolences through the media and Twitter.

“rip micheal jackson. wut a sad day. my homies gone,” said Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard via Twitter on the same day his team acquired Vince Carter from the Nets. “y are people so controversial on here. i am very shocked about mj. i have every song he ever put out. i am shocked and sad ‘€¦ today isnt a good day to talk about trades. really not. im sorry.”

Meanwhile, Chad Ocho Cinco did the unthinkable by taking it a little too far, something he had never, ever, done before. Check out some of these tweets from 85:

‘€œOkay, first Mrs. Fawcett now Mr. Jackson, please tell me that this is a mistaken rumor, if not this is just as sad as 9/11 ‘€¦”

“okay not as bad as 911, its sad period, both situations my goodness people, they just said he is okay in the hospital ‘€¦”

“The 9/11 was a bit over the top, i am just in an emotional state right now, bare with me while i regroup people, be back in 10 minutes ‘€¦”

“Sorry 85 million times, today sucks man, i still have my jacket with the zippers on it, wow”

Surprisingly enough, Dennis Rodman had the sincerest (and best-written) tweet of the trio:

‘€œMourning the loss of the greatest pop star and icon of my lifetime. Michael Jackson was truly the best. I wish his family well.’€

In a chat during yesterday’s Red Sox game on the the Full Count Blog, former Sox ace Curt Schilling gave his two cents on the death of the pop star.

 “I am not sure how to react to that other than to feel sad he is gone,” said Schilling. “[The] last half of his life I felt incredibly sorry for him.”

Athletes didn’t just wait for his death to pay tribute to the King. Who could forget Donovan McNabb turning to the following dance for inspiration on his touchdown celebration? 

And Carmello Anthony felt he had to tell everyone just how much Allen Iverson loved Jackson last year.


Chris Rock famously said America’s love for MJ was apparent when his child molestation accusations weren’t taken seriously. As is usually the case with Rock, the video contains explicit language.

Here’s a glimpse at what some of his fellow pop stars had to say in Jackson’s memory. Note that Paul McCartney still spoke highly of Jackson despite the fact that MJ screwed him over in an auction for the rights to Beatles songs. Apparently Jackson made all things right again in his will.

Despite the accusations, skin transformations and which babies Jackson may or may not have endangered on a certain balcony, the King of Pop is gone. Clearly, he will be remembered.

Read More: Chad Ocho Cinco, Curt Schilling, Dennis Rodman, Dwight Howard

The NBA Draft and deciding what Shaq and LeBron’s celeb couple name should be

06.25.09 at 11:18 am ET
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It’s a big day in the NBA today!

Day, not just night, and here’s why. Draft Day for the NBA has two of the most exciting things on the NBA calendar (unless you’re into watching games and that kind of stuff): the draft (obviously), and the pre-draft deadline for dealing teams to make their moves. Obviously, the deadline isn’t a big deal, but it’s a real treat to watch David Stern walk up to say the Celtics have drafted Jeff Green when he knows damn well that he’ll be back out there in two minutes to announce that they have traded the forward to Seattle.

It seems like a ridiculous system, having teams select players for other teams and making the poor kid put on the wrong hat for five minutes and get interviewed under the falsest of pretences. Personally, I’m tickled by it. I thought it was cool seeing Randy Foye in a Boston cap, even if it only was for a brief moment.

As for who could be putting on that cap tonight for the Celtics, two draft outlets have them selecting a point guard with the 58th overall pick (apparently they traded their first-rounder for some guy named Garnett). has the Green taking Gonzaga senior Jeremy Pargo while ESPN has them going with Southern Illinois point guard Bryan Mullins. Pargo might project a little better to the NBA and is a little taller than Mullins, but Celtics fans aren’t getting caught up with who Danny Ainge will take in the second round. Boston is waiting for his next big move.

Obviously Ainge is a guy who is familiar with trades involving top-10 picks. In addition to spinning Foye in ’06 in a deal for Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff, he also turned Green and parts into Ray Allen in ’07.

This time the rumors are different. Rather than trading out, as they did in the past, the Celtics could be looking to swap Rajon Rando for a package that includes a top-10 choice. While earlier rumors had Rondo and Allen going to Phoenix in a deal that would net them Amare Stoudemire, recent speculation has made a bit more sense.

The most commonly-speculated deal of late has been one in which Ainge sends Rondo and Brian Scalabrine to Memphis in exchange for Mike Conley and Rudy Gay. That’s a pretty fantastic deal for the Celtics, but in a perfect world the Celtics would be able to get the second pick in exchange for Gay and select Memphis shooting guard Tyreke Evans. That’ right, there’s a scenario in which Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet doesn’t go second overall, but think of how much that could benefit the Celtics. In Conley they would have a young point guard, and by getting Evans they would have a shooting guard who can learn for a year under Allen before becoming a starter in his sophomore campaign.

The biggest head-scratcher throughout this whole Rondo fiasco is this: if the Celtics are trying to trade Rondo, why is their GM badmouthing him to the media? Isn’t that the opposite of trying to maximize what you get back in return?

Also, in case you’re living under a rock and don’t know, Shaq got traded to the Cavs. Expect LeBron’s points per game to dip because he will no longer have the middle at his disposal. The attention that Shaq will bring to the paint will make it far more difficult for James to drive, but if anyone can make it work, it’s “The Bron.”

And yes, I promised some celebrity couple names, so take your pick: LeShaq (too easy), ShaBron (sounds like the name of a Martin Lawrence movie), and my favorite, LeBraq.

Read More: Jeff Green, LeBron James, NBA Draft, rajon rondo

What We Know About John Smoltz, Polka King

06.25.09 at 9:50 am ET
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Remember that scene in Home Alone where Kevin’s mother is frantically trying to find a way back to Chicago and finds herself S.O.L. at the airport? Remember how she ends up getting bailed out by a polka band led by John Candy, who declares himself the “polka king of the midwest?” Tonight when you’re watching John Smoltz on the hill for the Red Sox, imagine John Candy out there.

“What the…?” you wonder.

Fair enough. Let me explain. According to Accordion USA, Smoltz has been known to tickle the … accordion? Not completely sure how that expression translates to the accordion, but it’s still a fascinating note. This isn’t to say athletes aren’t musicians — you’re bound to find an acoustic guitar in any clubhouse (you’re also bound to find this on my iPod, not this) — but the accordion is an interesting choice to say the least.

Smoltz recently told’s Alex Speier that he hasn’t played the instrument since he was a kid (he learned at the age of four). Even so, his dalliance with that instrument — and the comparisons between Smoltz and John Candy (?!) seemed a good place to start with a list of things we’ve learned about Smoltz in his nearly six months as a Red Sock:


Many people have taken to comparing Smoltz this year to Curt Schilling in 2007, which may be a bit of a stretch, considering Schilling wasn’t coming off a major injury like Smoltz is. Plus, Schilling tossed an impressive 204 innings the year before, compared to Smoltz’ 28 last year.

Even so, the issue of reinvention as a pitcher is relevant to Smoltz, just as it was to Schilling. What should people expect out of Smoltz? For starters, a completely different pitcher. While his fastball has been in the low 90’s (he topped out at 91 in his last Pawtucket start), he has placed a bigger emphasis on his changeup than ever bef0re, as he said after the start. Gone are his days of being an overpowering hurler, an adjustment that has undoubtedly required tremendous patience, but he has been able to use his change to his advantage in the minors without any serious problems.

‘€œI had to work on that pitch awfully hard because that’€™s not a comfortable pitch,” said Smoltz at the time. “That’€™s not my pitch that I would go to [in the past].”

The pitch really got a lot of attention from Smoltz, who threw it more than any other pitch in the second inning in his final start against Charlotte. While he threw it more than regularly in the minors, don’t expect him be like Keith Foulke out there.

“Whatever pitch I think is best for the moment, I will throw it and look at tape later to determine if it was the right one or not,” said Smoltz yesterday.


Back in the late 90’s, Smoltz experimented with a pitch that Sox fans have come to love. He began throwing the knuckleball to save his arm, but some were wondering last year whether he could permanently add it to his arsenal. In a word, no.


I had planned on putting together some well-researched statistical masterpiece on Smoltz, but luckily for me, I awoke this morning to see that Gary Marbry had already done the perfect one in Nuggetpalooza. Genius. As Gary From Chapel Hill notes, right-handers have never hit better than .240 against Smoltz in a season.


Many folks probably assumed that Smoltz was going to be a lifer with the Braves, though even if he stayed in Atlanta, he still technically wouldn’t be a one-organization man. Similar to what Jason Varitek has been to this point, Smoltz was traded as a Tigers prospect before spending 21 seasons in Atlanta.


Time will tell how big this signing will be for the Red Sox, but the fact of the matter remains that it was a low-risk move that could pay off come October. A man with his resume could have gone found work in other places for sure, but the move is one that is based around the playoffs for both parties. Plain and simple, Smoltz didn’t come to Boston so he could go golfing in October, though he’s tight with a guy who’s pretty good at it.


Smoltz hopes to have a make a big impact on fans in Boston, just like he did on beer-drinkers in Augusta. Well, maybe not exactly like he did on the beer-drinkers in Augusta. For my money, if he can maintain an ERA around the low- to mid-fours while remaining strong down the stretch, he will be a fine third or fourth starter. And, of course, that would be put him in line for a start in October, where history suggests he is at his best, and where Smoltz is focused on being an impact pitcher again.

“(The first start) is just one rung on the ladder to try to climb as far as I can to see how good I can be and really, at the end of the day, be in a position to pitch in the playoffs,’€ Smoltz said in Washington on Wednesday. “It will be a success. I came back with this mindset. It ain’€™t about stories, it ain’€™t about to say I can do it again. This is about pitching and getting hitters out. The end result is going to be that. And in three, four, five starts from now, I think you’€™ll see why I feel the way I do.”

Read More: John Candy, John Smoltz, Tiger Woods,

A Giant Step for the U.S. in the Soccer World

06.25.09 at 9:41 am ET
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Does anyone remember the 1980 US men’s hockey team beating the Soviet Union in at Lake Placid in one of the greatest Olympic games ever played?

Granted, I wasn’t even born yet but I’ve seen the movie and the clips of Boston’s own Mike Eruizone scored the fourth U.S. goal with 10 minutes left in play.

Twenty nine years later, we have witnessed another upset that is almost as improbable (if not as significant) in U.S. sports history.

The U.S. men’s soccer team’s colossal upset of Spain, the top-ranked team in the world, is being compared to that 1980 win at Lake Placid. While not exactly on the same level, the U.S. win in the Confederation Cup final yesterday was a big step in the right direction for U.S. soccer credibility and is being called the biggest upset in non-World Cup soccer history.

Before the game, Revs owner Jonathan Kraft spoke on The Dale & Holley Show about his club, soccer in America and the magnitude of the US-Spain game.

“If the U.S. could go out and beat Spain, to put it in perspective, it’s like the Patriots beating the Rams in that first Superbowl,” Kraft said. “It’s not likely but it could happen.”

Well, it wasn’t likely and it did happen. Kraft’s Revolution, meanwhile, are doing their part to keep U.S. soccer visible on the global level. The Revolution are currently hosting SuperLiga 2009, a tournament between the top Mexican and American soccer teams at Gillette Stadium. The Revs, the 2008 defending SuperLiga Champions, beat Santos Laguna Sunday night 4-2 while drawing a 1-1 tie last night against their MLS foes, the Kansas City Wizards.  A win on Sunday against Mexican club Atlas will advance them to the SuperLiga semifinals in mid-July.

“It shows how the sport is growing in America,” said Kheli Dube who scored the Revs only goal. “It helps so that other leagues can look at players over here and it’s good for the exposure of U.S. soccer.”

Kraft thinks the MLS should get more credit on the international level and SuperLiga play is one way to do so.

“I get a little sick of people saying things about Major League Soccer,” Kraft told Dale & Holley. “Could we play in the Premiership? No, we couldn’t. But the Mexican professional league, which is considered to be a pretty darn good league, we won SuperLiga. We beat the top Mexican teams last year to win that tournament.”

Kraft also mentioned how the MLS “Beckham experience,” as he coined it, helped with the credibility of the league. Beckham came to the MLS to play for the L.A. Galaxy in 2007 but returned to Europe after playing for England’s national team. He recently signed a contract with AC Milan, a team that will visit Gillette Stadium in late July for an international match against Inter Milan.

“I think it definitely raised the visibility around the world with the great players and with this country and MLS,” Kraft said in the interview. “The Beckham experience is what finally pushed us over that complete line of soccer credibility on a global basis.”

At a time when the MLS is trying to secure its standing in the world, the incredible U.S. win over Spain can only help that cause.

Read More: confederation cup, jonathan kraft, revolution, soccer

The Belichick of the Soccer Pitch

06.24.09 at 4:38 pm ET
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Stevey Nicol is the Bill Belichick of Major League Soccer. Now that is a compliment, especially given that it was bestowed byNicol’s boss, Patriots President and New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft, in an interview with the Dale & Holley Show on Wednesday afternoon.

The Revs are looking to clinch a spot in the semifinal round of the SuperLiga competition with a win tonight over the Kansas City Wizards at 7 p.m. Doing so would give the club a chance to defend its 2008 SuperLiga title. The Revs won the first game of the competition on Sunday night in a 4-2 thrashing of Mexican rivals Santos Laguna without leading man Taylor Twellman and captain Steve Ralston, who went down before the half with a hamstring strain.

Nicol has worked all season through myriad injuries to put a winning team on the Gillette Stadium field. With a 4-4-4 record and 16 points, the Revs are taking a break from MLS action to focus on defending their SuperLiga title.

“Stevey did a wonderful job at getting our younger players to step up and contribute,” Kraft told Dale & Holley. “With four games in hand, if they win all four we would be first place.”

Kraft compared Nicol’s analytical and tactical coaching style to Belichick.

“With Stevey Nicol we really got the best of both worlds. He played in Liverpool and is still considered to this day to be one of the best defenders in Premiership history,” said Kraft. “He has lived and raised his family in the US for close to 15 years and has coached in the minor leagues of soccer in the US so he came with an understanding of how Americans approach the game but with a real cache and knowledge of what it’s like to play at the highest level.”

The Nicol comparison to Belichick, the Krafts’ all-but-adopted son, is a good sign for the Revs coach. So, too, is his longevity: Nicol has been with the team since 2002 making him the longest tenured coach in MLS history.

“I think our drafting and signing of free-agent players has been dramatically better and it’s been a wonderful fit. It’s the same type of consistency we’ve had with Bill Belichick,” underscored Kraft. “Stevey Nicol, in my opinion, is the Bill Belichick of Major League Soccer.”

Nicol has led the Revs to the MLS Cup four times  – in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 – and entered the 2009 season with 87 career victories. While Belichick’s championship rings give him a few more bonus points, Nicol is not far off the mark.

With Kraft opening the door to Pats-Revs comparisons, it will be interesting to monitor whether New England’s soccer team can enjoy the same sort of success without its top playmaker as did the football club. The Pats, of course, spent the year without Tom Brady after his infamous knee injury. The Revs have enjoyed limited availability from Taylor Twellman due to his severe whiplash symptoms that date back to a game in late August well he was kicked in the head. Twellman is still recovering from those injuries but has appeared in two of the last four Revs games, both of which the team won.

The speed and agility of midfielder Shalrie Joseph is not far off that of wide receiver Randy Moss. Defenseman Jay Heaps has been with the team since 2001 and made his MLS 300th appearance on June 7; he is as much the heart of the team as linebacker Tedy Bruschi is to the Patriots.

But enough of comparisons. The biggest difference between the teams — aside from the size of their followings — is the lack of championships for the Revs. But Kraft insists that the soccer team is working to correct that deficiency, both at the national and international level. Kraft thinks that with the progress the MLS has made in the past 15 years that it can compete on the international level with the English Premiership in another 20 years. The Revs can prove worthy of their international standing if they can pull off a win tonight to advance to the SuperLiga semifinals.

(As for the fan base, the Krafts are trying to do their part to bring fans into the stadium with free parking on game days. Kraft told Dale & Holley that they negotiated with MLS to work the parking price into the ticket price without raising it so families could come to watch the game without the added expenses.)

To listen to the whole interview with Jonathan Kraft, click here.

Read More: Bill Belichick, jonathan kraft, steve nicol,

The 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame Class

06.24.09 at 1:46 pm ET
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Welcome back to the LEEInks for a look at the Hockey Hall of Fame class. Yesterday, the Toronto shrine announced that Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, and Lou Lamoriello will be inducted next fall.

This  is a star-studded class to say the very least, and New England hockey fans couldn’t be more pleased to see Leetch, a New England favorite, make it to the Hall of Fame. The stalwart defenseman played his final season with the Bruins, and played one season of college hockey at Boston College in 1986-87.

Leetch is one of only five defensemen to tally a 100-point season. In 1991-92, Leetch notched a whopping 80 assists for the Rangers en route to a 102-point campaign.

Leetch also holds the distinction of being the only American and first non-Canadian-born player to win the Conn Smythe trophy in 1994. That year the Blue Shirts ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

Robitaille was a standout forward for the Kings, Penguins, Rangers, and Red Wings. Robitaille, didn’t get as much publicity as another Kings teammate, but Lucky Luc finished his careeer with 1,394 points, most for any left wing.

Robitaille’s name even became a part of a title for a song by Swedish rock band Mando Diao. At last check, the Great One has yet to be mentioned by the Scandinavian Indie-rock scene. (Take that, Gretzky!)

Yzerman wore the captain’s “C” for an NHL record two decades in Detroit. Stevie Y became captain at the tender age of 21, an age when his playoff beard was no doubt entirely unimpressive.

However, Yzerman was involved in one of the uglier fan moments at the old Boston Garden. The stoic Red Wings captain was punched in the eye at the Garden, and WEEI’s own John Dennis told Boston about it in this 1980’s clip from Channel 7.

Brett Hull will likely be remembered by hockey fans for this goal, but it certainly should be the 741 he potted throughout a stellar 19-year career.

Hull and his father Bobby, will be the first ever father-son pair to be inducted in Toronto. Certainly an achievement for a sport that starts with fathers and sons on a mini-mite level.

Finally, Rhode Island’s Lou Lamoriello, the architect of the New Jersey Devils‘ Stanley Cup teams of the last 20 years, will be going into the Hall’s Builder’s category. As Athletic Director at Providence College, Lamoriello even hired this guy to be his basketball coach for the Friars.

Could be worse, he could’ve fired Jack Adams Award winner Claude Julien midway through a season, and replaced him with himself. Oh, wait a minute…

Despite any past mistakes these five men may have had during their careers, they’ve certainly deserved their inductions. Congrats to the star-studded class of 2009!

Read More: Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Lou Lamoriello, Luc Robitaille

Reliving The Greatest- Wimbledon 2008

06.23.09 at 3:48 pm ET
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If you didn’€™t get a chance to see the historic Wimbledon final of 2008, you really missed something special. Any sports fan that watched this terrific match where young phenom Rafael Nadal defeated defending 5-time consecutive champion Roger Federer was instantly captivated by not only the class that both players showed, but also the level of which their play was at.

With the tournament starting up again this week, let’€™s put in perspective how great last year’€™s final really was.

The 4-hour 48-minute epic battle is considered by many to be the best tennis match ever. The match had everything that a tennis fan could ask for: scintillating tennis, dramatic twists and turns, and sportsmanship on and off the court.

Former world number one player and now commentator, John McEnroe, offered his words about the final, saying that indeed it was the best ever.

But I would even go as far as to say it was the greatest sporting event to take place in the past year.

Since the match, we have seen other tightly contested finals in the NFL, NHL, and Champions League. But none of them could match how great the intensity that every point brought.

Throughout the whole match, this kind of intensity was shown at all times by both players. The drive that both of them had to win was incredible and they completely sacrificed their bodies for every point, every ball, in order to be crowned a champion.

They were hampered by darkness, rain delays, fatigue, and emotions. The match was also historic because those rain delays will never be seen again at Wimbledon. This year, the club will unveil a new retractable roof that has been build over Centre Court so that no matter the conditions, matches can still continue during rain or shine.

Nadal had been on record saying that Wimbledon was his number one goal and he would do anything to win just once at the All England Club. It took him what seemed like forever but he finally captured victory.

Just last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins captured the Stanley Cup Final by defeating the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit in game seven of the series. Many fans, including myself, believe that a game seven in the Cup Finals is one of the best moments that sports can ever produce. But that entire series still pales in comparison to what was witnessed that day at Wimbledon.

The match’€™s score in itself just shows how tightly contested the match was. A true five setter, the final was: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7.

In the cup finals, games were decided in regulation and the players, while still giving their all, did not have to experience any rain delays or tough conditions. Towards the end of the match, it was getting so dark that both players had a tough time seeing the ball, but neither player wanted to stop the match. They just kept playing and playing.

Another sporting event that reminds me of last year’€™s final was during the Big East Men’€™s Basketball Tournament this year when Syracuse outlasted UConn in an outstanding six overtimes. But the difference between the two is that neither Syracuse or UConn went on to win the tournament. The game itself was fantastic but in the end it didn’€™t count for that much.

This match marked the end of Federer’s 5-year run as Wimbledon champion and also can be looked at as a turning point in his career. Nadal went on to claim the number one ranking soon after and in many fans eyes, became the best player in the world when he won that match. Neither Syracuse or UConn could say that they were the best this year, as that title clearly belonged to the North Carolina Tar Heels.

However in light of recent events at the 2009 French Open, the storyline going into Wimbledon this year is a bit different. After winning the French for four consecutive years from 2005-2008, this year proved to be different for Nadal, as he was upended in the fourth round by Robin Soderling. This paved the way for Federer to take down Soderling in the finals and win his first ever French Open title, completing the coveted career grand slam. A title that many believed he would never capture with Rafa standing in his way.

Greg Garber of also looked into reliving last year’€™s match in his latest column, shown here.

So the stage is set for this year’€™s tournament. But before it starts, take a look at this video for a sample of what transpired last year, and why nothing may ever top that superb match.

LEEInks Meets the Nationals

06.23.09 at 11:06 am ET
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Welcome to a noon edition of the LEEInks! Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at the newest Red Sox opponent, the hapless Washington Nationals.

The Nationals come into Tuesday’s game with a worst-in-baseball 20-46 record. The team has basically taken up residence in the NL East basement since the team’s inception.

In recent months, the team has become the subject of some fairly famous quotes. Last fall, presidential “hopeful” Ralph Nader even poked fun at the Nationals expense.

When Nader was told that the Washington Post wasn’t covering his campaign because he simply can’t win, Nader then asked the reporter, “Why do you cover the Washington Nationals?” You know it’s bad when Ralph Nader takes a potshot at you.

The Nationals are also the subject of arguably the greatest quote in the history of words. The quote comes from old friend and part-time lawn bowler, Julian Tavarez.

“Why did I sign with the Nationals? When you go to a club at 4 in the morning, and you’re just waiting, waiting, a 600-pounder looks like J. Lo. And to me this is Jennifer Lopez right here. It’s 4 in the morning. Too much to drink. So, Nationals: Jennifer Lopez to me.”

This team has even had a notable “wardrobe malfunction.” Not exactly Janet Jackson, but still embarassing.

The Nationals boast a roster with some familiar names on it, including old friend Josh Bard behind the plate. The Nats also feature standout third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (who had a 30-hitting streak snapped earlier in the year), and home run/strikeout machine Adam Dunn.

However, as much as this team can’t seem to get anything right on the field, they’ve found a way to get one small entertainment-related thing right. Like, Milwaukee’s sausage races at Miller Park, the Nationals have American presidents race around the warning track.

Finally, two summers ago, the Nationals were part of one of baseball’s most historic, yet ultimately controversial, moments when pitcher Mike Bacsik threw this pitch in San Francisco.

With all of that said, please welcome your Washington Nationals. Or maybe today it’s the Washington “Natinals.”

You simply never know with this team.