Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Triple Your Pleasure

The Yankees returned home last night, for a short 2-game Interleague series with the Cincinnati Reds. If it wasn't quite the 1939 World Series (the Yankees of DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Ruffing and Gomez swept the Reds of Ernie Lombardi in 4 straight) or the 1961 World Series (the Yankees of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford beat the Reds of Frank Robinson in 5), it was certainly better than the 1976 World Series (the Yankees with Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter, but not yet Reggie Jackson, got swept by the Big Red Machine of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan).

One of the weirdest plays in the 115-season history of the Yankees -- or even the 136-season history of the Reds -- happened last night. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the 2nd, Matt Holliday led off against Luis Castillo. As we've seen, National League players named Luis Castillo have some unpleasant (for them) history at the new Yankee Stadium.

But this was different. Holliday singled to right. Didi Gregorius singled to right. Chase Headley singled to left, but Holliday couldn't score. Bases loaded, nobody out. The Yankees should've gotten at least 2 runs home.

The batter was Todd Frazier. From Toms River, Ocean County, New Jersey, he was making his Pinstripes debut, having come to the Yankees in a trade while we were on the road. He got a nice hand.

Frazier hit a ground ball up the middle. Jose Peraza, the Reds' shortstop, got it, and stepped on 2nd base. That's 1 out. He threw to Joey Votto at 1st base to throw Frazier out. That's 2 outs. In the meantime, Holliday came home to score.

But Gregorius thought the ball might be caught, so he stayed close to 2nd. Maybe 99 times out of 100, that's the smart thing to do; maybe 999 times out of 1,000, it's at least the safe thing to do. But, seeing what was happening, he ran for 3rd base. Votto saw this, and threw across the diamond, and Gregorius was caught in a rundown. Eventually, he was called out for running wide of the baseline to avoid a tag. That's 3 outs.

A triple play. The 1st pulled by the Reds since 1995, the 1st against the Yankees since 2011. But since Holliday scored while the play was still in progress, and none of the outs concerned him, his run still counted.

"A strange play," said Captain Obvious, in his secret identity of Joe Girardi.
Not to be Captain Obvious myself, but, for any Met fans
who may be reading, this is not actually Joe Girardi.
This is Brandon Moynihan, the actor who plays
Captain Obvious in the Hotels.com TV commercials.

"Got to be a record," Frazier said. Not quite: It was the 1st run scored during a triple play since the Seattle Mariners did it against the Minnesota Twins in 2006.

This wasn't a case of, to paraphrase the old Doublemint gum slogan, "Triple your pleasure, triple your fun." But it did get the Yankees on the board. Cliche alert: That's baseball: You never know when you're going to see something you've never seen before.

A triple play, but we still score? Cliche alert, part 2: Whatever works.

So, anyway, one-nil to the Pinstripe Boys. Gregorius made up for his baserunning faux pas with a sacrifice fly in the 4th inning, to make it 2-0. An Austin Romine double brought home a run in the 5th, to make it 3-0.

Jordan Montgomery walked a batter in the 2nd inning, but kept a no-hitter going through 5. We were 12 outs away from having a no-hitter and a run-scoring triple play in the same game. Cliche alert, part 3: Baseball is a funny game.

In the 6th, Montgomery ran into trouble, allowing a leadoff double, and 2 grounders that each advanced the runner a base, to make it 3-1. Girardi kept him in through 7, and brought Dellin Betances in for the 8th.

Cliche alert, part 4: Walks can kill you. Betances bracketed a strikeout with walks. A fielder's choice moved the runners up, and then he allowed an RBI double to make it 3-2, with the tying run on 3rd.

Girardi brought in Adam Warren, and I figured this was another game that Girardi had blown with his pitching musical chairs. But Warren got a strikeout to end the threat. And Gregorius, clearly the man of the game, in whatever direction you want to suggest, got us an insurance run with his 15th home run of the season. Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect 9th to close it out.

Yankees 4, Reds 2. WP: Montgomery (7-5). SV: Chapman (12). LP: Castillo (1-4). The Yankees have now won 4 of their last 5, and it really should be 5 in a row; while the Reds have lost 10 of their last 12.

Even better, the Boston Red Sox lost last night, so the Yankees close to within 1 game of 1st place in the American League Eastern Division -- and, because we have 4 games in hand on them, we are actually a game ahead of them in the all-important loss column!

This briefest of actual series, rather than a 1-game rainout makeup -- 2 games, most likely ending within 21 hours -- concludes with a matinee today, with Luis Severino starting for New York, and Homer Bailey, he of 2 career no-hitters but otherwise with a career record of just 59-56, for Cincinnati.

Then, tomorrow night, the Tampa Bay Rays come in for a 4-game series.

*

Hours until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 9, tonight at 9:30, in the Final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, against Jamaica, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. The U.S. had expected to play Mexico in the Final, but Jamaica pulled the upset.

Days until The Arsenal play again: 3, on Saturday, 11:20 AM our time, as they begin the 2-day Emirates Cup. Four teams, two doubleheaders. The early game on Saturday is Sevilla of Spain against Red Bull Leipzig of Germany, followed by Arsenal vs. Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal. The next day, Benfica play RB Leipzig, while Arsenal host Sevilla.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 3, on Saturday night at 7:30, home to the Montreal Impact.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 11, a week from this Sunday, August 6, against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. They will next play the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, September 17, at at Red Bull Arena. They will next play the D.C. Scum on Saturday, September 27, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. They are not scheduled to play the New England Revolution again this season. The Red Bulls might make the Playoffs, but the Revs probably won't, so they almost certainly won't face each other again until next season.

Days until the Premier League season begins: 16, on Friday, August 11. A little over 2 weeks.
The Arsenal open the season at home to Leicester City, in a game moved back from the intending opening to suit British TV.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 16, on Friday, August 11, at Yankee Stadium. A little over 2 weeks.

Days until Rutgers University plays football again: 37on Friday, September 1, home to the University of Washington. A little over 5 weeks.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 44, on Friday night, September 8, home to Sayreville, a "derby." A little over 6 weeks.

Days until the New Jersey Devils play again: 73on Saturday night, October 7, home to the Colorado Avalanche. A little over 10 weeks.

Days until the New Jersey Devils next play a local rival: 80, on Saturday night, October 14, against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan. Their 1st game against the New York Islanders will be on Sunday, January 7, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- and they'll have played the Rangers 3 times by then. Their 1st game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be on Saturday, January 13, 2018, at the Prudential Center in Newark -- and they'll have played the Rangers 3 times and the Islanders once by then. This is a weird schedule. But at least we have it. The NBA usually doesn't release its new season's schedule until August.

Days until the Alex Rodriguez Contract From Hell officially runs out, and the Yankees can spend his salary on new players: 97, on October 31.

Days until the next election for Governor of New Jersey: 104, on Tuesday, November 7. A little over 3 months until we elect Phil Murphy, defeat Kim Guadagno, and end Christieism forever. But only if you vote!

Days until the next Rutgers-Penn State football game: 108, on Saturday, November 11, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.

Days until the next North London Derby: 115, on Saturday, November 18, at the Emirates Stadium. This game could be moved to the following day, for TV purposes.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving high school football game: 120, on Thursday, November 23, at 10:00 AM. A little under months, and thank God it's at home, at Jay Doyle's Green Grove, rather than at that purple shit pit on Route 9.

Days until the next Winter Olympics begins in Pyeongchang, Korea: 202, on February 9, 2018. A little over 6 months.

Days until the next World Cup kicks off in Russia: 323, on June 14, 2018. Under 11 months. Has Bruce Arena turned our chances around? Maybe. Or maybe, with the tournament on his soil, Vladimir Putin will tell his bitch Donald Trump to tell Bruce Arena to tank the games. Maybe not. Or maybe only if we end up playing Russia. I don't think Arena will listen. If he doesn't, I hope his life insurance is paid up, because Putin has had people killed for defying him.

Days until September 2018 roster call-ups, when we can finally start to expect seeing most of these wonderful "prospects" for whom Yankee general manager Brian Cashman threw away a chance at the 2016 Playoffs: 402. A little over a year, or a little over 13 months. Of course, Clint Frazier is already up, but we've hardly benefited enough to offset the cost of Andrew Miller. We could end up seeing another of them sooner than that, but since most of them are at Double-A Trenton now, if that, who's kidding who?

Days until the next Congressional election: 468, on November 6, 2018. Under a year and a half, or a little over 15 months.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Mariano Rivera: 532, on January 9, 2019. A little under a year and a half, or a little over 17 months.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Derek Jeter: 897, on January 8, 2020. A little under 2 1/2 years, or a little over 29 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics begins in Tokyo, Japan: 1,102, on July 24, 2020. A shade under 3 years, or 36 months.

Days until the next Presidential election: 1,564, on November 3, 2020. Under 3 1/2 years, or a little over 39 months.

Days until Liberation Day: 1,642, at noon on January 20, 2021. A little over 3 1/2 years, or a little under 42 months. Note that this is liberation from the Republican Party, not just from Donald Trump. Having Mike Pence as President wouldn't be better, just differently bad, mixing theocracy with plutocracy, rather than mixing kleptocracy with plutocracy.

How to Be a Met Fan In Colorado -- 2017 Edition

Next Tuesday, the Mets arrive in Denver to play the Colorado Rockies.

Before You Go. Denver is a city of unusual weather, because of its elevation. I still remember that Monday Night Football game in 1984, when the Green Bay Packers, thinking they'd escaped the Wisconsin chill, got surprised by a blizzard when they played the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. On October 15. Check the Denver Post website before you decide to go.

For the moment, the projections are varying greatly. For Tuesday, they're saying low 80s in the afternoon, with a 30 percent chance of a thunderstorm; for Wednesday and Thursday, high 80s; and for all 3 nights, low 60s.

Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone, so you'll be 2 hours behind New York time. And there's a reason it's called the Mile High City: The elevation means the air will be thinner. Although the Rocky Mountain region is renowned for outdoor recreation, if you're not used to it, try not to exert yourself too much. Cheering at a sporting event shouldn't bother you too much, but even if the weather is good, don't go rock-climbing or any other such activity unless you've done it before and know what you're doing.

Tickets. When the Rockies began play in 1993, there had never been a major league team in the entire Mountain Time Zone, and the Denver Bears and their successors the Denver Zephyrs had been among the best-attended teams in the minor leagues.

That, plus the huge capacity of Mile High Stadium, allowed Colorado fans to set several major league attendance records that are unlikely to be broken in my lifetime, including most fans for an Opening Day game (80,227), most fans for a single regular-season game (same -- the old Yankee Stadium and Cleveland Municipal Stadium had a few bigger crowds for doubleheaders, but the Dodgers didn't top that at the L.A. Coliseum in the regular season), most fans in a single season (4,483,350 in that 1st season of 1993) and most fans per home game (56,094 in the strike-shortened 1994 season).

When Coors Field opened in 1995, with a capacity around 47,000 (now officially 50,398), every game was still sold out, until 1999. The Rockies have gone downhill since their last Playoff berth in 2009, but are still averaging 37,578 this season, about 5,400 more than last year. So tickets may not be easy to come by.

For tickets that are available, a Rockies game is the most economical in the major leagues: Infield Boxes are $54, Lower Outfield Reserved are $32, Right Field Box are $26, Left Field Reserved are $20, Right Field Mezzanine are $19, Upper Reserved Infield are $17, Upper Right Field Reserved are $15, and the center field "Rockpile" seats -- a holdover from the bleachers of that nickname at Mile High Stadium -- are the cheapest seats in Major League Baseball, just $7. That's right: Seven dollars. For a Major League Baseball game. In the 21st Century.

Getting There. It's 1,779 miles from Times Square in New York to the Denver plaza that contains the State House and the City-County complex, and 1,790 miles from Citi Field to Coors Field. You're probably thinking that you should be flying.

The good news: Denver International Airport, like its predecessor Stapleton International Airport (named for 1923-47 Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton), is a major change-planes-here spot for going to the West Coast and Las Vegas, so there are lots of nonstop flights available.

The bad news: Ordinarily comparatively cheep, this week, flying to Denver is not. You'be lucky to get in and out for under $1,200.

Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station at 3:40 PM Sunday, and arrives at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Central Time on Monday. The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM Monday and arrives at Denver's Union Station at 7:15 AM Mountain Time on Tuesday. The return trip would leave Denver at 7:10 PM Friday, arrive in Chicago at 2:50 PM Saturday, leave Chicago at 9:30 PM Saturday, and get back to New York at 6:23 PM Sunday. The round-trip fare is a whopping $729.

Conveniently, Union Station is at 1700 Wynkoop Street at 17th Street, just 3 blocks from Coors Field. The front of the building is topped by a clock, framed by an old sign saying UNION STATION and TRAVEL by TRAIN.
Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 4:00 PM Wednesday, and arrive at Denver at 10:50 AM on Friday, a trip of just under 45 hours, without having to change buses. That 44:50 does, however, include layovers of 40 minutes in Philadelphia, an hour and a half in Pittsburgh, an hour in Columbus, an hour in Indianapolis, 2 hours in St. Louis, half an hour in Salina, Kansas, and another half-hour in Burlington, Colorado; plus half-hour meal stops in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas. Round-trip fare is $370. You can get a bus back at 7:10 PM Sunday and be back in New York at 3:50 PM Tuesday. The Denver Bus Center is at 1055 19th Street, 5 blocks from Coors Field.

If you actually think it's worth it to drive, get someone to go with you, so you'll have someone to talk to, and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You'll be taking Interstate 80 most of the way, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, before taking Interstate 76 from Nebraska to Colorado, and then Interstate 25 into Denver. (An alternate route: Take the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to Interstate 70 and then I-70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado into downtown Denver. It won't save you an appreciable amount of time over the I-80 route, though.)

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, 6 hours in Nebraska, and 3 hours and 15 minutes in Colorado. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you'll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that's where you want to make rest stops), we're talking about a 40-hour trip.

Even if you're only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You'll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.

Once In the City. Founded in 1858 as a gold rush city, and named for James W. Denver, then Governor of Kansas Territory from which Colorado was separated, Denver is a city of 700,000 people, in a metro area of 3.4 million -- roughly the population of Brooklyn and Staten Island combined. It's easily the biggest city in, and thus the unofficial cultural capital of, the Rocky Mountain region.
The State House in downtown Denver

Broadway is the main north-south drag, separating East addresses from West. But the northwestern quadrant of the street grid is at roughly a 45-degree angle from the rest of the city, and this area includes the central business district, Union Station and the ballpark.

The sales tax in the State of Colorado is 2.9 percent, however, the City of Denver adds a 3.62 percent sales tax, for a total of 6.52 percent. ZIP Codes in Colorado start with the digits 80 and 81, with the Denver area running from 800 to 810. The Area Code for Denver is 303, with 720 overlaid.

Bus and light rail service in Denver is run by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and goes for $2.25 for a single ride, and $6.75 for a DayPass. Denver switched from tokens to farecards in 2013.
Don't worry, the weather isn't forecast to look like this during your visit.
I chose this picture for the look of the train, not for the snow and wet streets.

The Denver Post is a good paper, but don't bother looking for the Rocky Mountain News: It went out of business in 2009.

Going In. Coors Field is in the Lower Downtown, or LoDo, section of Denver, a mile and a half northwest of Civic Center Park, the government center which contains the City & County Building and the Colorado State House. The Number 60 bus will get you to within 3 blocks of the ballpark. Denver has a light rail system, RTD, but chances are your hotel will be downtown, and you'd have to change trains at least once, so the 60 bus is the way to go. If you're driving, parking is $13.

The mailing address is 2001 Blake Street. Blake bounds the 1st base side, 20th Street the 3rd base side, 22nd Street the right field stands, and Wewatta Street and the light rail tracks the left field side.
Most likely, you'll enter through the home plate gate, at 20th & Blake (shown above). I like that: All visits to the ballpark should make your first view of the field from behind home plate. This was rarely possible with the old New York ballparks: The stadiums pointed east, and both subway exits put you at the right field corner (if you entered Yankee Stadium from the 157th Street plaza, or the left field corner if you came down 161st Street). In the case of Coors, it's just more convenient.
The field is natural grass, and points due north. Outfield distances are 347 feet to left field, 390 to left-center, 415 to center, 375 to right-center, and 350 to right. Why so far? To counteract the easy home runs that were hit at Mile High, due to the thin mountain air. A line of purple seats, 6 rows from the top of the upper deck, shows the exact point at which the elevation of the park is 5,280 feet above sea level, making it "a mile high."
After years of opposing teams complaining that the highest elevation in MLB history resulting in too many home runs, prior to the 2002 season the team ordered a study to determine if the elevation was the cause. As it turned out, the study suggested it was not thin air, but dry air that was doing it.

So a giant humidor – a room-sized version of the kind of box where a smoker would store his cigars – was put into the ballpark, and the baseballs were stored there. As a result, the ball is no longer going as far as it once did, although the thin air does make it go farther than at most ballparks. The thin air also makes curveballs curve less, which means it's still not a good park for pitchers. Nevertheless, the team's pitching staff can no longer be called, as it once was, "the Rocky Horror Pitching Show." The longest home run was by Andres Galarraga, a 529-footer in 1997.
This past February, Coors Field hosted 2 hockey games. The University of Denver beat arch-rival Colorado College 4-1 in a game billed as the Battle On Blake. And as part of the NHL Stadium Series, the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps perversely celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the birth of their brief but nasty rivalry. The Wings won 5-3.

Food. Being a "Wild West" city, you might expect Denver to have Western-themed stands with "real American food" at its ballpark. Being in a State with a Spanish name, in a land that used to belong to Mexico, you might also expect to have Mexican food. And you would be right on both counts.

A stand called Buckaroos is at Section 148, Burritos is at 134, the Helton Burger Shack (named for Rockies star Todd Helton) at 153, a full-service bar called the Camarena Loft behind 201, another called Margaritas at 330, 3 Monster Nacho stands, and, for club-seaters, the Mountain Ranch Club Bar.

There's also stands with baseball-themed names, including several Fan Fare stands, Fair Territory in 106, and Yard Ball Yogurt at 330. There's a Starbucks-type place called Madeline's at 151, a pair of sandwich bars called the Club Carvery behind 219 and 238, a coffee bar call Java City at 223, a Chinese-themed Wok in the Park at 150, and a Blue Moon Brewing Co. outlet at 111. The Rooftop at Coors Field has, according to a recent Thrillist article on the best food at each major-league ballpark, the best item at Coors Field: The CHUBurger, made by Colorado brewer Oskar Blues.

Buckaroos has "Dinger Nuggets," which I'm hoping is standard chicken nuggets, not dinosaur meat. (I'll get to that in "During the Game.")

Team History Displays. The Rockies' history is short. They have made the Playoffs 3 times (in 1995, 2007 and 2009, all through the National League Wild Card, they haven't yet won the Western Division in the regular season), have won just 1 Pennant (2007), and have won a grand total of zero World Series games. As yet, they have no figures in their history who are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. No Rockies players were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players in 1999. In 2006, Larry Walker won the Rockies' edition of the DHL Hometown Heroes contest.

However, there are 7 men with Rockies connections in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, whose display is at the new Broncos' stadium: Original owner Jerry McMorris, original manager Don Baylor, team president Keli McGregor; early stars Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker and Vinny Castilla; and more recent star Todd Helton.

And while Walker's Number 33 has not been reissued, officially, their only retired number, aside from the universally-retired 42 for Jackie Robinson, who died over 20 years before the Rockies ever played a game, is the Number 17 of 1997-2013 1st baseman Todd Helton.

Those numbers are on the outfield wall, as is a display reading "KSM," for Keli Scott McGregor. Keli McGregor was a native of the Denver suburbs who played for Colorado State, and then briefly with the Broncos in 1985. He joined the Rockies' front office in the Autumn of 1993, after the 1st season, and was team president from 2001 until 2010, when he died of an undetected heart virus at age 47.
The 2007 Pennant is displayed top the left field scoreboard, under the giant Rockies logo. The 1995 NL Wild Card banner used to be on the wall, but once a Pennant was won, it seemed a bit silly. (Nevertheless, the Mets still have that 1999 Wild-Card display on the third-base facing of Citi Field, along with their 2 World Championship, 3 other Pennant, and 2006 NL East stanchions.) There is no mention, anywhere in the stadium, of the Pennants won by the Rockies' minor-league predecessors, the Denver Bears (also briefly known as the Denver Zephyrs).

Stuff. Coors Field has the Majestic Team Store behind Section 149, in the left-field corner. I don't know if the Rockies gear they sell includes cowboy hats with team logos on them, to tie in with the State's Western heritage. In addition, there are 7 Rockies Dugout Stores throughout Colorado, including 1 in Denver at 535 16th Street.

Don't look for old Rockies videos on DVD – there aren't any. Unless you want to find the official highlight film of the 2007 World Series, in which the Rockies got swept by the Boston Red Sox. You'd think that, having won 14 of their last 15 regular-season games, making it 21 out of 22 counting the Playoffs, winning their 1st-ever Pennant, and setting a major league record for highest team fielding percentage (.989), there would be a commemorative DVD. But there isn't.

There are, however, a few books about the team, including A Magical Season: Colorado's Incredible 2007 Championship Season, by the staff of the Denver Post. You can also pick up Colorado Rockies: The Inaugural Season, by Rich Clarkson, which came out right after that 1993 season ended.

The first-year Rockies probably got more respect than any 67-95 team ever. To compare, the 1969 Seattle Pilots went 64-98. They also played in a stadium that was inappropriate for the major leagues – albeit because it was an expanded 1930s Triple-A park, not a 1940s Triple-A park converted into a 1970s football stadium like Mile High. They got fewer fans in a homestand than the '93 Rox got in their home opener, got moved to Milwaukee right before their second season started, and today are remembered only for being in Jim Bouton's book Ball Four. Even Seattle fans would prefer to believe their major league history started with the Mariners in 1977.

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article ranked Rockies fans 29th among the "most intolerable" fans. More accurately, that makes them the 2nd-most tolerable.

Coloradans love their sports, but they're not known as antagonistic. Although the Jets came within a half of derailing a Bronco Super Bowl in 1999 (1998 season), and the Devils came within a game of short-circuiting their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the people of the Centennial State don't have an ingrained hatred of New Yorkers. As long as you don't wear Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders gear, you'll probably be completely safe. (But, as always, watch out for obnoxious drunks, who know no State Lines.)

Wednesday night will be Dollar Dog Night, though 1 $1.00 hot dog to a customer. That's the only promotion during this series.

The Rockies hold auditions for National Anthem singers, as opposed to having a regular, but they give priority to groups, even letting their Group Sales department handle applications.

When construction workers were excavating to build Coors Field, they found dinosaur bones. So the Rockies' mascot was made a dinosaur. In honor of the thin air's propensity for allowing home runs, the mascot was named Dinger the Dinosaur. Great idea, right? Well, a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or even a "Tyrannosaurus Rox") would probably scare kids, so Dinger is a purple triceratops, wearing a Rockies jersey, Number 00. Think of him as Barney's cousin from the weird side of the family.
The Rockies play Bruce Channel's song "Hey! Baby" after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch. Why? I have no idea. Channel isn't from Colorado, or any other Rocky Mountain State (he's from Texas). Why not a Colorado singer's song? You got me.

I guess "Rocky Mountain High" – whose singer used the stage name John Denver, for crying out loud – isn't particularly rousing. And his "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was already the 7th inning stretch song for the Baltimore Orioles. Also not especially crowd-cranking is "How to Save a Life" by The Fray, who, unlike John, are from Denver. Sometimes the Rockies play "Get Free" by the Australian rock band The Vines.

Their postgame victory song used to be "Rocky Mountain Way" by Joe Walsh of The Eagles, but it's been replaced by "Take the Field," as recorded by the Colorado Symphony.

After the Game. Denver has had crime issues, and just 3 blocks from Coors Field is Larimer Street, immortalized as a dingy, bohemian-tinged, hobo-strewn street in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. But that scene was written in 1947, and LoDo has become, with the building of Coors Field and the revitalization of Union Station, a sort of mountain Wrigleyville. So you'll probably be safe.

LoDo is loaded with bars that will be open after the game, including Scruffy Murphy's at Larimer & 20th, and an outlet of the Fado Irish Pub chain at Wynkoop & 19th. But the only baseball-named place I can find anywhere near Coors is Sandlot Brewery, at 22nd & Blake, outside the park's right-field corner. Behind home plate, at 1930 Blake Street, is The Sports Column, hailed by a recent Thrillist article as the best sports bar in the State of Colorado.

Perhaps the most famous sports-themed restaurant near Denver is Elway's Cherry Creek, a steakhouse at 2500 E. 1st Avenue in the southern suburb of Cherry Creek. Bus 83L. It's owned by the same guy who owns John Elway Chevrolet in another southern suburb, Englewood.

About a mile southeast of Coors Field, at 538 E. 17th Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood (not sure why a southern, rather than northern, neighborhood is called "Uptown"), is The Tavern, home of the local New York Giants fan club. Jet fans gather at Chopper's Sports Grill, possibly named for Chopper Travaglini, at 80 S. Madison Street at Bayaud Avenue, 3 miles southeast of downtown, in the Pulaski Park neighborhood. Bus 83, then a mile's walk.

If your visit to Denver is during the European soccer season (which is now winding down), your best bet for watching your favorite club is at The Three Lions (named for the crest on the jerseys of the England national team), 2239 E. Colfax Avenue, about 2 miles east of downtown. Number 15 bus.

Sidelights. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly Invesco Field at Mile High, has been the home of the NFL's Denver Broncos since 2001. Everyone just gives it the same name as the old facility: "Mile High Stadium." It includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and the Broncos' Ring of Fame.

It was built on the site of the McNichols Sports Arena, home to the NBA's Denver Nuggets from 1975 to 1999, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche from 1995 to 1999, and the first major league team called the Colorado Rockies, the NHL team that became the Devils, from 1976 to 1982. The Denver Dynamite played there from 1987 to 1991, made the Arena Football League Playoffs every season, and won the 1st ArenaBowl in 1987. But the cost of running the team was too high, and it folded.

It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1990, with UNLV (the University of Nevada at Las Vegas) clobbering Duke. (The University of Colorado, in Boulder, made the Final Four in 1942 and 1955, although it wasn't yet called the Final Four.  No other Colorado-based school has made it, and none has won a National Championship -- not in basketball, anyway.)

When the time came to play the final concert at McNichols, the act that played the first concert there was brought back: ZZ Top. This fact was mentioned on a Monday Night Football broadcast, leading Dan Dierdorf to note the alphabetic distinction of the long red-bearded men, and say, "The first one should have been ABBA." Which would have been possible, as they were nearly big in the U.S. at the time. However, the fact that the arena only lasted 24 years, making it not that hard for the act that played the first concert there to also play the last, says something about America's disposable culture.

The old stadium was just to the north of the new stadium/old arena. The current address is Mile High Stadium Circle, but the old intersection was W. 20th Avenue & Bryant St. (2755 W. 17th Avenue was the mailing address.) It was built in 1948 as Bears Stadium, an 18,000-seat ballpark.
When the American Football League was founded in 1960, it was expanded to 34,000 seats with the addition of outfield seating. The name was changed to Mile High Stadium in 1966, and by 1968 much of the stadium was triple-decked and seated 51,706.
In 1977 – just in time for the Broncos to make their first Super Bowl run and start "Broncomania" – the former baseball park was transformed into a 76,273-seat horseshoe, whose east stands could be moved in to conform to the shape of a football field, or out to allow enough room for a regulation baseball field. The old-time ballpark had become, by the standards of the time, a modern football stadium.
The biggest complaint when the Rockies arrived in 1993 wasn't the thin air, or the condition of the stadium (despite its age, it was well-maintained, and was not falling apart), but the positioning of the lights: Great for football fans, but terrible for outfielders tracking fly balls. But it was only meant to be a temporary ballpark for the Rockies, as a condition for Denver getting a team was a baseball-only stadium. What really led to the replacement of Mile High Stadium, and its demolition in 2002, was greed: The Broncos' desire for luxury-box revenue.

At Bears/Mile High Stadium, the Broncos won AFC Championships in 1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997 and 1998, winning the Super Bowl in the last 2 years after losing the first 4 in blowouts.  (They've now won an AFC title at the new stadium, but not a Super Bowl.) The Denver Bears won Pennants while playing there in 1957 (as a Yankee farm team), 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1991 (winning the last one under the Denver Zephyrs name).

The old stadium also hosted the Denver Gold of the United States Football League, the Colorado Caribous of the original North American Soccer League, and the Rapids from their 1996 inception until 2001 -- in fact, they played the stadium's last event, before playing at the new stadium from 2002 to 2006. The U.S. national soccer team played a pair of games at Mile High Stadium in the 1990s, and beat Mexico at the new stadium in 2002 (the only game they've played there so far).

While the 2008 Democratic Convention was held at the Pepsi Center, Senator Barack Obama gave his nomination acceptance speech outdoors in front of 80,000 people at New Mile High Stadium.

The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium. At McNichols, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976, and the Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup (albeit clinching in Miami). Elvis Presley sang at McNichols on April 23, 1976.

The new stadium, and the site of the old stadium and arena, are at Mile High Station on the light rail C-Line and E-Line.

The Nuggets, known as the Denver Rockets until 1974, played at the Denver Auditorium Arena, at 13th & Champa Streets, from their 1967 inception until McNichols opened in 1975. It was also the home of the original Nuggets, who played in various leagues from 1935 to 1948, and then in the NBA until 1950.

It opened in 1908, and its seating capacity of 12,500 made it the 2nd-largest in the country at the time, behind the version of Madison Square Garden then standing. It almost immediately hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan for President for the 3rd time – although it's probably just a coincidence that the Democrats waited exactly 100 years (give or take a few weeks) to go back (it's not like Obama didn't want to get it right the 1st time, as opposed 0-for-3 Bryan).

The Auditorium Arena hosted Led Zeppelin's 1st American concert on December 26, 1968. It was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, a.k.a. the Denver Center. Theatre District/Convention Center Station on the light rail's D-Line, F-Line and H-Line.

The Pepsi Center is across Cherry Creek from downtown, about 2 miles northwest of City Hall. The intersection is 11th Street & Auraria Parkway, but the mailing address is 1000 Chopper Circle, in honor of Robert "Chopper" Travaglini, the beloved former trainer (and amateur sports psychologist) of the Nuggets, who share the arena with the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. It is 1 of 10 current arenas that is home to both an NBA team and an NHL team.

Chopper was actually a Jersey Boy, albeit from Woodbury on the Philly side. He died in 1999, age 77, right before the new arena opened. Chopper Circle is an extension of Wewatta Street.

Pepsi Center/Elitch Gardens station on the RTD light rail. If you're coming in that way, you'll probably enter from the west gate, the Grand Atrium. If you're driving, parking starts at just $5.00. The rink is laid out east-to-west, and the Avs attack twice toward the east end.

In addition to hosting the Avs and the Nugs, the Pepsi Center has also hosted NCAA Tournament basketball games, the 2008 edition of NCAA's hockey "Frozen Four," and the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The Denver area's Major League Soccer team, the Colorado Rapids, plays at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, about 8 miles northeast of downtown. They'e won the MLS Cup since moving there, in 2010.

The U.S. national team has played there 3 times: A 2-0 win over Guatemala in a World Cup Qualifier on November 19, 2008; a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a World Cup Qualifier on March 22, 2013 (the famous Snow Classico); and a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup Qualifier this past June 8. The women's team has played there twice: A 2008 win over Brazil, and a 2012 win over Australia. It's also hosted football, rugby, lacrosse and concerts.

6000 Victory Way. If you're going in by public transportation from downtown Denver, Number 48 bus to 60th Avenue & Dahlia Street, then Number 88 bus to 60th & Monaco. Then they make you walk 10 blocks on 60th to get to the stadium.

The Beatles played Red Rocks Amphitheatre in suburban Morrison on August 26, 1964. It is still in business, and a Colorado Music Hall of Fame is a short walk away. 18300 W. Alameda Parkway, 10 miles west of downtown. Sorry, no public transportation.

Elvis played 2 shows at the Denver Coliseum on April 8, 1956, and 1 each on November 17, 1970 and April 30, 1973. Built in 1951, it still stands, seating 10,500, and is best known for concerts and the National Western Stock Rodeo. 4600 Humbolt Street at E. 46th Avenue, off Interstate 70, 3 miles northeast of downtown. Apparently, no public transportation to there, either.

Denver has some renowned museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (their version of the Museum of Natural History) at 2001 Colorado Blvd. at Montview Blvd. (in City Park, Number 20 bus), and the Denver Art Museum (their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History), at 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway at Colfax Avenue (across I-25 from Mile High Stadium, Auraria West station on the C-Line and E-Line).

Denver's history only goes back to a gold rush in 1859 – not to be confused with the 1849 one that turned San Francisco from a Spanish Catholic mission into the first modern city in the American West. The city isn't exactly loaded with history.

There's no Presidential Library – although Mamie Doud, the eventual Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, grew up there, and her house is now a historic site. Mamie and "Ike" were married there, their son John (a future General, Ambassador and military historian) was born there, and the Eisenhowers were staying there when Ike had his heart attack in 1955. The house is still in private ownership, and is not open to the public. However, if you're a history buff, or if you just like Ike, and want to see it, it's at 750 Lafayette Street, at 8th Avenue. The Number 6 bus will get you to 6th & Lafayette.

After his heart attack, Ike was treated at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in nearby Aurora, 12 years after Senator John Kerry, nearly elected President in 2004 and now Secretary of State, was born there. It's not a Presidential Birthplace, because Kerry narrowly lost. It is now the University of Colorado Hospital. The Fitzsimmons Golf Course is across Montview Boulevard – it figures that Ike would be hospitalized next to a golf course! 16th Avenue & Quentin Street. Number 20 bus from downtown.

The University of Denver's Newman Center for the Performing Arts hosted a 2012 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. 2344 East Iliff Avenue, about 5 miles south of downtown. The University's Magness Arena hosted the Frozen Four in 1961, 1964 and 1976. 2250 E. Jewell Avenue. Both can be reached via H Line light rail to University of Denver Station.

Denver doesn't have as many tall buildings as the nation's bigger cities, nor are they as interesting, architecturally. The tallest building in the State of Colorado is Republic Plaza, 714 feet high, at 17th Street & Tremont Place downtown.

The University of Colorado is in Boulder, 30 miles to the northwest. At Market Street Station, 16th & Market, take the BV Bus to the Boulder Transit Center, which is on campus. The ride should take about an hour and 20 minutes. Colorado State University is in Fort Collins, 65 miles up Interstate 25 north, and forget about reaching it by public transportation.

The U.S. Air Force Academy is outside Colorado Springs, 60 miles down I-25. As with Fort Collins, you'd need Greyhound. Unlike CSU, you might not be able to just go there: Some of the area is restricted.  It is, after all, a military base.

Colorado Springs was also home to the Broadmoor Ice Palace, which hosted what's now called the Frozen Four every year from its inception in 1948 until 1957, and again in 1969. The 3,000-seat arena at The Broadmoor Resort & Spa was home ice to Colorado College from 1938 to 1994. 1 Lake Avenue, across Cheyenne Lake from the main hotel. Its 7,750-seat 1998 replacement, the Broadmoor World Arena, is 4 miles to the east, at 3185 Venetucci Blvd.

A few TV shows have been set in Denver, but you won't find their filming locations there. The old-time Western Whispering Smith and the more recent one Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman were set in old Colorado, but filmed in Southern California.

Probably the most famous show set in Colorado is South Park, and that's a cartoon, so forget seeing anything from that. Not quite as cartoonish was Mork & Mindy, set in Boulder. The McConnell house actually is in Boulder, at 1619 Pine Street. But don't try to copy the opening-sequence scene with Robin Williams and Pam Dawber on the goalposts at the University of Colorado's Folsom Field. You could fall, and end up saying, "Shazbot!"

The most famous show ever set in Colorado was Dynasty, ABC's Excessive Eighties counterpart to CBS' Dallas, starring John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, an oilman and a thinly-veiled version of Marvin Davis, who nearly bought the Oakland Athletics from Charlie Finley in 1978 with the idea of moving them to Mile High Stadium, but the deal fell through. Right, you don't care about Blake, all you care about is the catfights between the 2nd and 1st Mrs. Carrington's: Krystle (Linda Evans) and Alexis (Joan Collins).

The Carrington mansion seen in the opening credits is in Beverly Hills, but the building that stood in for the headquarters of Denver Carrington is in Denver, at 621 17th Street, while the one that stood in for Colbyco is at 1801 California Street. The show is being rebooted, premiering on The CW Network on October 11. It may take place in Denver, but is being filmed in Atlanta. 

Movies set in Denver or its suburbs include The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the original Red Dawn, and, of course, Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead. Films involving skiing often take place in Colorado towns such as Aspen or Vail. City Slickers, a film with loads of baseball references, has a cattle drive that ends in Colorado, but there's no indication of how close it is to Denver. Flashback
takes place on the Pacific Coast, but Denver's Union Station stands in for a train station in San Francisco.

*

Denver had been considered a potential destination for Major League Baseball many times: The Continental League planned a team for there for 1961, it was a finalist for expansion teams in 1969 and 1977, and, as I said, the A's came within inches of moving there for the 1978 season. When they finally got a team in 1993, they were embraced as perhaps no expansion team has ever been embraced -- even more than the Mets themselves in 1962. And, the way it's worked out, the Rockies' 1st-ever game was against the Mets (a Met win at Shea), and their 1st game at Coors Field was against the Mets (a Rockies win in 14 innings).

The Rockies have seen the bloom come off the rose, but they've also seen some real success. The experience of Coors Field should be a good one. Have fun!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

John Kundla, 1916-2017

It's hard to believe that there's a Hall of Fame coach out there who managed to outlive all of his Hall of Fame players.

There was. But not anymore.

John Albert Kundla was born on July 3, 1916 in Star Junction, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. He was of Slovak descent on his father's side, and Austrian on his mother's. When he was 5, his mother, who didn't like the drinking culture of the Pittsburgh area, moved John out to Minneapolis, hoping her husband would join them. He never did. Until the move, John spoke only Slovakian at home.

He adapted quickly, and happily lived in Minnesota for the rest of his life. He played baseball and basketball at the now-closed Minneapolis Central High School and at the University of Minnesota, winning the Conference title in basketball in 1937. He played minor-league baseball, but never got above Class D (which would be Class A under today's system). He coached high school basketball in Minnesota, served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and later became the basketball coach at the College of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

In 1947, the Minneapolis Lakers -- so named because Minnesota was known as "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" -- of the National Basketball League offered him $6,000 a season to be their head coach. This was twice what he was making at St. Thomas. (It's about $64,000 in today's money.) At 31 years of age, he was a pro basketball coach.

A month into the 1947-48 season, the Chicago American Gears folded, and their best player, the 6-foot-10 former DePaul University star George Mikan, became available. The Lakers snapped him up, and they won the NBL Championship. That got the notice of the rising Basketball Association of America, which became the NBA in 1950. They admitted the Lakers, beginning the league's 1st dynasty.

They won the title in 1949, beating the Washington Capitols, the 1st NBA team coached by Red Auerbach. Mikan and Jim Pollard were named to the All-NBA Team. Mikan was the defining player of that era, using his height to dominate the lane. And long before Philadelphia 76ers legend Billy Cunningham came along, Pollard, the star of Stanford University's 1942 National Championship squad, had the jumping ability to get him the nickname "The Kangarood Kid."

They also had Arnie Ferrin, who had led the University of Utah to the 1944 National Championship. (They also had a player named Johnny Jorgensen, not to be confused with the baseball player of the same name, nicknamed Spider, who helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the National League Pennant in 1947 and '49.)

In 1950, they added Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin, and a Minnesota kid who also played a little football, Harry "Bud" Grant. Yes, Vikings fans, that Bud Grant. With a starting five of Ferrin and Martin at guard, Pollard and Grant as forwards, and Mikan at center, they beat the Syracuse Nationals in the Finals. To this day, 2/3rds of a century later, John Kundla remains the only man to win a Championship in his 1st 2 seasons as an NBA head coach.

In 1951, Mikan broke his ankle near the end of the regular season. Without him, they lost the Western Division Finals to the Rochester Royals -- meaning they were still a pretty good team without him, just not a championship team. The Royals then beat the Knicks in a tough 7-game series, the closest the Knicks would get to the title until 1970.

Some retooling was in order, and, with Grant choosing football, they needed another guard. The Royals had traded Frank "Pep" Saul, of Westwood, Bergen County, New Jersey and Seton Hall University, to the Baltimore Bullets. This was not the team that we know today as the Washington Wizards: They won the NBA title in 1948, but by this point, were losing money left and right, and when the Lakers flashed the cash, they sold Saul.

They also added Howie Schultz, a Minnesotan who had played for the Dodgers; and Myer "Whitey" Skoog, another Minnesota product, to their bench. The Lakers plowed through the NBA in 1951-52, and, while it took 7 games, they beat the Knicks in the Finals. In 1953, they won the title again, needing only 5 games to dust off the Knicks. And in 1954, with Skoog having taken Saul's place in the starting lineup, and Clyde Lovellette, star of the University of Kansas' 1952 National Championship, added as an obvious move to have a proper successor to Mikan before it was necessary, they beat the Syracuse Nationals in 7, making it 5 NBA Championships in 6 years.

To put that in perspective: That's nearly all the titles ever won by Minnesota major league teams. The Twins have won 2 World Series. The Vikings have won 4 NFC Championships, but never a Super Bowl. The Timberwolves and the Wild have each reached 1 Western Conference Final in their entire histories. The North Stars reached 2 Stanley Cup Finals, but lost them both.

After the 1954 season, the Lakers' fate was sealed, and the sport changed forever. The 24-second shot clock was added. The reason was a game on November 22, 1950, when the Fort Wayne Pistons beat the Lakers 19-18, with only 3 Pistons points to the Lakers' 1 scored in the 4th quarter. The Pistons wanted to keep the ball out of Mikan's hands, and so they only attempted 13 shots. This and other, similarly low-scoring games led to the shot clock's adoption.

This made the game considerably faster, and made the Lakers' game obsolete. In a 1969 book, New York sports-talk maven Bill Mazer said of Mikan, "He wasn't graceful. He was more like a stampeding elephant."

That was when Mikan was still a relatively recent player. In 1996, on an ESPN Classic panel discussing the greatest teams in NBA history in the wake of the Chicago Bulls' 72-win title season (and with Mikan very much still alive and having sat for an interview with the network), Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe said that you couldn't compare a great pro team, including before the NBA, from before the shot clock to one after it, citing Mikan, and the man who won the NBA's 1st scoring title and led the Philadelphia Warriors to the 1st Championship in 1946-47:

Before that, I don't think Jumpin' Joe Fulks makes it in today's NBA, except, maybe, as a 12th man. George Mikan? A good backup center. Greatest player of his time, deserved every accolade he ever got, but now? He's Greg Kite with a hook shot.

In case you've forgotten, Kite was Robert Parish's backup as center on the 1984 and '86 NBA Champion Boston Celtics. Ryan, who probably knows more about the Celtics than any living person now that Auerbach is dead (and more about the NBA's history than any person currently covering it), was suggesting that the NBA centers to come -- Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Parish, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal -- would have handled Mikan fairly easily.

Whether that means the other stars that Kundla coached, or Kundla as a coach, would have made it in the modern NBA, Ryan didn't say. But Mikan seemed to think he would have done just fine, telling Sports Illustrated in 1997:

He was a great coach, one who really understood the players. John wasn't a screamer, and was very mild-mannered, but he'd let loose when we deserved it. And, usually, I was the first one he bawled out. The message he sent was that no one on the team was above criticism.

Mikkelsen agreed, telling The St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1995, when he and Kundla were elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame together:

Our coach had to be the greatest psychologist who ever lived. There is only one ball. A lot of so-called superstars didn't get it as much as they would have liked, because George was the priority. But John kept everyone happy. John sold each of us on the importance of our individual roles.

Whitey Skoog also agreed, when interviewed for the same story as Mikkelsen:

John was an excellent coach. What I appreciated most, and the other ballplayers did too, was his willingness to put himself out there to help each ballplayer improve...

He was humble and positive. I really appreciated John’s ability to communicate. He was never negative about a player’s mistakes. He worked to find a way for the player to improve. He never criticized a player in the press, and gave the players the credit for the Lakers’ success.

But in a 2007 interview with SI, Kundla himself seemed to suggest that the game had passed him by:

I'm not sure I could coach professional basketball players today, and I'm not sure I'd want to. The players are younger, and don't play as much as a team. With agents, crowds, television and the big bucks, everyone involved is under so much more pressure. Pressure for us was still having some meal money left by the time dinner rolled around.

At first, the Lakers weren't affected too much by the institution of the shot clock. Although Mikan retired, only 30 years old but possibly having seen the writing on the wall, Mikkelsen, Martin, Pollard and Lovellette had enough left to get the Lakers to the Western Division Finals, before losing to the Pistons. They only dropped from 46-26 to 40-32. But Pollard then retired, and, despite a comeback by Mikan, they fell to 33-39 for 1956, a drop of 13 games in 2 years. Mikan then retired for good, Martin was traded. By 1958, they were 19-53.

After the 1958-59 season, Bob Short, a Democratic political operative from Minnesota, purchased the team. Despite having ties to Minnesota, he wanted to move them to Los Angeles. Kundla didn't want to go, and the University of Minnesota offered him a lifeline, hiring him as head coach of the program for which he once played. In 1960, Short moved the Lakers, and Minnesota was without an NBA team until the Timberwolves were expanded into existence in 1989. (The ABA had the Minnesota Muskies.)

Kundla was the 1st coach in any sport at UM to give scholarships to black players, among them future NBA All-Stars "Super" Lou Hudson and Archie Clark -- and got hate mail for it. Nonetheless, he remained their head coach until 1968, with his best season being 1965, going 19-5 and getting the Golden Gophers to 2nd in the Big Ten.

However, under the rules of the time, only a league champion could go to the NCAA Tournament, and Minnesota was stuck for years behind the Ohio State teams of Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, and then behind the Michigan of Cazzie Russell. Kundla also taught physical education at UM, retiring from that post in 1981.

In 1995, 37 years after coaching his last professional game, Kundla was finally elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1996, as part of the NBA's 50th Anniversary celebration, he was named one of the NBA's 10 Greatest Coaches.

In 2002, his Laker team was honored on the 50th Anniversary of one of their titles, and he and the surviving players from the title teams were honored by the current Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. They, and the families of those who had died, were given championship rings, and a banner with the names of the Minneapolis Lakers' Hall-of-Famers was raised with the Los Angeles retired numbers: Pollard (Number 17), Mikkelsen (19), Martin (22, retired for Elgin Baylor), Lovellette (34, eventually retired for O'Neal), Mikan (99) and Kundla. It is powder-blue with gold trim, to match the Lakers' colors at the time.
Minneapolis Lakers banner at Staples Center,
next to the banner honoring broadcaster Chick Hearn

While in college, he met a woman named Marie. They married and had 6 children: Sons Tom, James, Jack and David, and daughters Kathleen Dahlman and Karen Rodberg. Marie died in 2007, and Jack did so the next year.

He had 6 grandchildren, including Isaiah Dahlman, Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 2006, briefly the State's all-time scoring leader, and a player at Michigan State University. Noah Dahlman, who played basketball at Wofford College in South Carolina, and was voted 2010 Southern Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Year. And Rebekah Dahlman was Minnesota's Miss Basketball in 2013, and remains the State's all-time leading scorer in girls' basketball.

After his wife's death, he moved into an assisted living community in Minneapolis, and still followed the NBA on television. "It's unbelievable how big they've grown," he said in a New York Times interview shortly before his 100th birthday, July 3, 2016. "But there's still finesse in there, the way they handle that ball, pass it around."
John Kundla, July 3, 2016, with a jersey given to him
by the University of Minnesota, in honor of his 100th Birthday.

John Kundla died on July 23, 2017, this past Sunday, at the age of 101. The current version of the Lakers paid tribute to the man who set the tone for the franchise, long before Bill Sharman coached Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, before Pat Riley coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, before Phil Jackson coached Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Whoever is in charge of the L.A. team's Twitter account wrote, "The Lakers family is saddened by the passing of our original coach, John Kundla. Our thoughts are with his family and friends."

Nor did the owner of the current Minnesota NBA team, the Timberwolves' Glen Taylor, let his passing go without tribute: "John was an incredible staple of Minnesota basketball, and he continued to be a fan of the local hoops scene well after he left coaching. Our condolences go out to the Kundla family during this time."
Of John Kundla's NBA Championship Minneapolis Lakers: Johnny Jorgensen died in 1973, Herm Schaefer in 1980, Billy Hassett in 1992; Jim Pollard, Edwin "Whitey" Kachan and Jack Dwan in 1993; Tony Jaros in 1995, Don Smith in 1996, Paul Napolitano in 1997, Don Carlson in 2004, George Mikan and Earl Gardner in 2005, Jim Holstein in 2007, Howie Schultz and Joe Hutton in 2009, Slater Martin and Lew Hitch in 2012, Vern Mikkelsen in 2013, and Clyde Lovellette in 2016.
There are 7 of them still alive: Donnie Forman (played on the 1949 title team, 91 years old), Arnie Ferrin (1949 and 1950, and if he makes it to this coming Saturday, he will be 92), Bud Grant (1950, 90), Bob Harrison (1950 and 1952, scheduled to turn 90 on August 12), Frank Saul (1952, 1953 and 1954, 93), Whitey Skoog (1952, 1953 and 1954, 90) and Dick Schnittker (1953 and 1954, 89).

Top 10 Athletes From Puerto Rico

July 25, 1952: Puerto Rico adopts its current Constitution, making it a Commonwealth of the United States, but not a State.

Top 10 Athletes From Puerto Rico

Remember: To qualify for this list, the person in question has to have been trained to play his or her sport in Puerto Rico. Where he or she was born, or went on to play, does not necessarily have any bearing on it. Therefore, Héctor "Macho" Camacho, born in Bayamón, and Héctor Jr., born in San Juan, do not qualify, because both were raised in New York.

As you might expect, baseball players and boxers dominate this list. 

Honorable Mention to José "King" Roman of Vega Baja. He came closer than any Puerto Rican to winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World, but George Foreman wrecked him in the 1st round in Tokyo on September 1, 1973.

Honorable Mention to Carlos Arroyo of Fajardo. Probably the best basketball player from Puerto Rico, he was a career backup in the NBA from 2001 to 2011, playing with the Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.

He has had a considerably better career in European leagues, playing for such famous sports clubs as Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, and Besitkas and Galatasaray in Istanbul, Turkey. About to turn 38, the point guard now plays in his homeland, for his original professional team, Cariduros de Fajardo, of which he is now co-owner.

Dishonorable Mention to Iván Rodríguez. I don't care that he's now in the Hall of Fame, and considered the greatest catcher of his generation: He cheated, and does not make the Top 10. Nor, for the same reason, does Pudge's Texas Ranger teammate Juan Gonzalez. (For the same reason, another teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, wouldn't make the Florida team I will eventually do.)

10. Monica Puig of San Juan. At 23, an age by which many women's tennis players have already peaked, she has yet to even come close to winning a Grand Slam event. But she won the women's singles title at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

9. Wilfredo Gómez of San Juan. "Bazooka" (a great nickname for a boxer) was Super Bantamweight Champion of the World from 1977 to 1983. Featherweight Champion of the World for much of 1984. Junior Lightweight Champion of the World in 1985 and 1986.

8. Sixto Escobar of Santurce. The 1st Puerto Rican to win a boxing World Championship, he knocked Baby Casanova out in the 9th round at the Montreal Forum on June 26, 1934, to take the Bantamweight Championship. This was appropriate, since a batnam is a rooster, and his nickname was El Gallito, the Little Rooster. (Better than "the Little Chicken.")

He held the title until 1938. In 1939, he won a fight at a stadium named for him in San Juan. Upon his discharge from the U.S. Army after World War II, he found it too difficult to make weight, and opened a liquor store. Unfortunately, like so many men who ran liquor stores and bars, he sampled too much of his own product, and his drinking combined with diabetes killed him in 1979, only 64 years old. The stadium still stands, and a statue of him has been added.

7. Carlos Delgado of Aguadilla. A 2-time All-Star, the 1st baseman led the American League in RBIs in 2003, including those he drove in when he tied the major league record with 4 home runs in a game.

He was a bit unlucky, being called up as a rookie with the Toronto Blue Jays too late to make their 1993 World Series roster. He only made the postseason once more, with the 2006 Mets, and was part of their 2007 and '08 collapses. Nevertheless, he hit 473 career home runs, was named to the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence (their version of a team hall of fame), and should be seriously considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

6. Carlos Iván Beltrán of Manatí. A 9-time All-Star, the center fielder has won 3 Gold Gloves, was AL Rookie of the Year in 1999, and is a member of the 30-30 Club (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season).

After starting with the Kansas City Royals, he has reached the postseason with the 2004 Houston Astros, the 2006 Mets, the 2012 and 2013 St. Louis Cardinals, the 2015 Yankees, and the 2016 Rangers, and will do so again with the 2017 Astros.

He recently turned 40, but shows no signs of slowing down. Going into tonight's games, he has a .280 lifetime batting average, 2,690 hits including 433 home runs, and 312 stolen bases. Of all players with more career stolen bases, the only players with more career home runs are Willie Mays, Andre Dawson (in each case, barely), and 2 guys with asterisks, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

He should be headed for the Hall of Fame. In spite of his failure to swing on the final out of the 2006 National League Championship Series, Met fans voted him -- not Tommie Agee, Mookie Wilson or Lenny Dykstra -- the center fielder on their 50th Anniversary Team in 2012.

5. Roberto Alomar. There are reasons to not like him, but his career is loaded. He was a 12-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove. He had a .300 lifetime batting average, and 2,724 career hits, including 210 home runs, and 474 stolen bases.

He won back-to-back World Series with the 1992 and '93 Toronto Blue Jays, and also reached the postseason with the 1996 and '97 Baltimore Orioles, and the 1999 and 2001 Cleveland Indians. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his Number 12 is the 1st number retired by the Jays, who also elected him to their aforementioned Level of Excellence. His brother Sandy Alomar Jr., and their father Sandy Alomar Sr., can be considered Honorable Mentions.

4. Félix Trinidad of Fajardo. Welterweight Champion of the World from 1993 to 2000, Middleweight Champion of the World briefly in 2001.

3. Orlando Cepeda of Ponce. His father Pedro Cepeda was a great player, known as Perucho, The Bull, but was kept out of North American pro ball for being black. His son, known in Puerto Rico as Peruchin or the Baby Bull, was fortunate enough to debut after integration.

An 11-time All-Star, the Baby Bull was the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1967 NL Most Valuable Player. He led the NL in home runs with 46 and RBIs with 142 in 1961, and led it in RBIs again with 111 in 1967.

He won Pennants with the 1962 San Francisco Giants and the 1967 and '68 St. Louis Cardinals, winning the World Series in '67. He also reached the NLCS with the 1969 Atlanta Braves and won another Series with the 1972 Oakland Athletics, although injuries kept him off the World Series roster. He batted .297 for his career, and hit 379 home runs. The Giants retired his Number 30, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

2. Miguel Cotto of Caguas. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, but raised in Caguas from age 2, he has held titles ranging from Light Welterweight to Middleweight from 2004 to 2015. An 11-year run as a top contender is impressive enough, but that's 11 years as a World Champion, regardless of how much boxing's titles have been fragmented the last half-century.

1. Roberto Clemente of Santurce. Was there ever going to be a doubt that The Great One -- a nickname he had after actor Jackie Gleason, but before hockey player Wayne Gretzky -- would be numero uno? He was a 15-time All-Star, a 12-time Gold Glove, a 4-time NL batting champion, and the 1966 NL MVP.

He played in 14 World Series games, and got a hit in every one of them, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1960 World Series, and being named the MVP of the Pirates' win in the 1971 World Series, which raised him from Caribbean icon to American icon.

Although he played most of his home games at Forbes Field, whose dimensions were similar to the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium, limiting him to 240 career home runs, his lifetime batting average was .317, his OPS+ 130, and he collected an even 3,000 hits.

We know how the story ends, on New Year's Eve 1972. It's worth noting that, in that season, at age 38, he batted .312, and had 10 home runs and 60 RBIs, despite missing most of July with an injury, and helped the Pirates reach their 3rd straight NLCS. He got hits in 21 of his last 31 games that season. He batted .341 the season before.

This was, at most, a first step toward age-related decline. He was selected for the All-Star Team in 1972, and it wasn't a gift to an aging player from a public unwilling to disappoint a proud man: He earned it. Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were both still legitimate All-Stars at age 40, and playing at 42. There's no reason to suspect that Clemente, barring the tragedy, wouldn't have matched them.

The Pirates retired his Number 21, erected a statue of him outside Three Rivers Stadium, moved it to PNC Park, and made the right field wall at that park 21 feet high in his honor. The 6th Street Bridge, connecting downtown Pittsburgh with the ballpark and the Steelers' Heinz Field, is named for him. He was the 1st Caribbean-born player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was the highest-ranking Hispanic player, Number 20, on The Sporting News' 1999 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.