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Imperfect

Posted on November 30th, 2010 by TheSportsVirus

Watching Steve Johnson drop a potential game winning touchdown pass for the Buffalo Bills in overtime on Sunday is yet another reminder that nobody is perfect. Not even the best athletes in the world are immune from making mistakes no matter how hard they try. Regardless of how easy the play is, in this case a pass that seemed to nestle directly into the palms of Johnson’s talented hands, errors are a part of sports just like they are a part of everyday life. Who is to blame? Johnson seems to think God is at fault. He tweeted “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
Initially you might have felt sorry for Johnson. But, now that he’s thrown God under the bus, he has set himself up to be vilified for years. Was God to blame for his other four dropped passes in the game too?

Most of us strive for perfection. Or, near perfection. Or, at least to be ostensibly perfect. It’s impossible. And, for some it is a cruel reality. Just ask Bill Buckner, who will never be forgiven by some Red Sox fans for letting the ball go between his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He had a simple explanation for the miscue: “I watched the ball. I think it hit something and bounced to the right. It went above my glove so it wasn’t something that I didn’t stay down on. The ball just bounced and I missed it. It wasn’t because of any stress or whatever, just a bad bounce.”

A few years ago Mets second baseman Luis Castillo dropped an easy popup that would have been the last out of a win against the rival Yankees. It turned into a loss instead, and Castillo was the goat.

From Leon Lett’s fumble for the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving to Jim Marshall running the wrong way into the wrong end zone for an opponent’s touchdown, sports gaffes are prevalent.

In baseball it goes all the way back to 1908 when New York Giants base runner Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on a potential game winning hit. He was subsequently forced out and the play is forever known as “Merkle’s Boner.”

More recently, San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle ended an NHL playoff game by inadvertently shooting the puck into his own net on a clearing pass. After the game he predicted nightmares and he admitted before the next game that he had not “turned the page.” Fortunately for Boyle, the Sharks won that series against Colorado and all was forgotten.

Boise State football fans recently went to an extreme in forgiving kicker Kyle Brotzman for missing two short field goals-one with two seconds left in regulation and the other in overtime-in the Broncos’ loss at Nevada that ended the team’s 23-game winning streak and hopes of playing the in the national championship game.. They started a facebook page titled, “The Bronco Nation Loves Kyle Brotzman.” According to USA Today, more than 14,000 people had clicked on the “Like” button on the page and hundreds of supportive messages had been posted. If only facebook was around for Bills kicker Scott Norwood after he went wide right in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.

It’s not as easy to forgive those who knowingly choose the wrong path. Pete Rose gambling and lying to us for so many years was inexcusable. All of the major league baseball players involved in the steroids scandal are hard to exonerate no matter how you justify it. Tiger Woods and his infidelity had nothing to do with the sport itself on the course, but his image is shattered forever.

A key question to ask yourself: Are we more willing to forgive our athletic heroes than ourselves? Or vice versa? The problem with mistakes is that there are usually consequences. Sure you might have a little fender bender and not leave a scratch. But, more often than not, cause and effect comes into play, sometimes in a comical fashion.

A couple of personal examples come to mind. Two years ago, I was flying to Buffalo to cover an NFL game. My connecting flight in Chicago was canceled, so I took to the road for a long drive to Western New York. I arrived at around 5 am, hoping to check in and get a few hours of sleep before heading to the stadium for the Patriots/Bills game. After checking in at the Hyatt hotel front desk, I got off the elevator and barely noticed the security guards on my floor. They didn’t question me, and I was too tired to ask why they were there. Using the restroom was my top priority upon opening the door to the room. MY room, I thought. But, while using the facility, I noticed a toiletry bag on the sink counter. Uh oh. As soon as I flushed, I heard a man’s voice inside the bedroom. He yelled out, “Who the hell is in my bathroom!” The voice was recognizable and distinctive. I knew right away it was Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. I didn’t get to see if he was wearing his hooded sweatshirt because I ran out of the room as quickly as possible. On my way back to the elevator I noticed a sleepy security guard who probably never saw me on the “Patriots floor.” The front desk attendant apologized, but didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. She may have learned a little lesson about attention to detail. I have a story to tell for a lifetime.

More recently, a CBS colleague was deplaning in Newark when a confluence of events led to him being separated from his luggage. While leaving his seat he was blocked by the likes of a 300+pound woman who should be signed by the 49ers to protect one of the Smiths. She inadvertently ran interference while a man named Dan Martin grabbed my friend’s bag. The pieces may have looked similar, but unbeknownst to Mr. Martin, the bag he took has a tag reading, “Not Yours.” Dan was oblivious to that little warning and my friend couldn’t see him behind the refrigerator woman. Unfortunately, Mr. Martin was connecting to Tel Aviv and he toted the bag 5,683 more miles than it should have ever expected to travel. My friend purchased new clothes for the weekend in New Jersey. Dan got to use an electric razor. He’ll probably need a converter in Tel Aviv though.

Whether it’s a dropped pass, an inadvertent shot, a botched hotel room assignment or muffed luggage pickup we are constantly reminded of our mortality. Dan Martin’s airport blemish will never be confused with Bill Buckner’s blunder even though both men encountered a simple task. At least Martin only has to answer to one man. Buckner crushed a nation of fans and disappointed his teammates in unforgettable fashion.

As 1986 Buckner Red Sox teammate Don Baylor once lamented on my XM radio show with a glazed look in his eyes, “It was just a ground ball. A GROUND BALL.” His voice trailed off. I got the feeling he wished his memory of that imperfect night wasn’t so vivid.

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Lunch Special: A Title and A Parade

Posted on November 6th, 2010 by TheSportsVirus

The long wait is over in San Francisco. In their 53rd season, the Giants finally won a World Series for the City By the Bay.  The players celebrated on the field in Texas. The fans joined the party during a spectacular downtown parade two days after the clinching game. Now it’s time for…lunch! That’s right. What better atmosphere could you experience, than eating great Italian food and talking about a a thrilling season?  The SportsVirus Joe Castellano and TheDoctor Michael Duca discuss the 2010 World Champion Giants, and MLB awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year), all while dining at Caffe Delucchi, 500 Columbus Ave. in the heart of North Beach in San Francisco. What a treat! Check out the menu while you listen: http://www.caffedelucchi.com/lunch.php.

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ALSO AVAILABLE ON ITUNES: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/thesportsvirus/id382724152

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SF Giants World Champs…on a personal note

Posted on November 6th, 2010 by TheSportsVirus

Watching the Giants parade through downtown San Francisco is a bittersweet feeling for me. On one hand, the fan side of me is thrilled to death. On the other hand, 2010 was the worst baseball season for me personally, so I’m filled with negative emotions as well.  The Giants have a version of torture (one of their many slogans this season). For me, torture means going through an entire season on the outside looking in.

Let’s start with the fan side of me. As Brian Wilson got the final out of Game 5 of the 2010 World Series in Texas, I watched from a hotel room in London, where I was covering an NFL game the night before. It’s such an improbable title for the Giants. Underdogs all the way, it is great to see them prove a lot of experts wrong. The best part for me is seeing the team I cheered on for the past 35 years finally win it for the city of San Francisco. So many memories come to mind: Jack Clark homering as a rookie, Darrell Evans parking one in the upper deck at Candlestick Park (section 41), Jose Uribe and Robby Thompson turning a double play. Just thinking about wearing a ski jacket on those cold, windy, summer nights in that stadium with 15,000 other fans gives me goose bumps. I earned the Croix de Candlestick (a button given out to fans who could actually endure extra innings in freezing weather). I followed Willie McCovey from the players’ parking lot to SFO airport just to get a glimpse of one of my heroes. I booed Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers. Rick Monday homered on the last Friday of the 1982 season and broke my heart. And who can forget the Joe Morgan homer that eliminated LA?

Another one of my favorite moments was when John Tamargo hit a two-out, pinch-hit, game-winning shot on opening day in 1979. My friend Stu recorded Lon Simmons’ radio call of Mike Ivie’s grand slam against the Dodgers in 1978. “Ivey, trying to guard against being an anxious hitter. Here’s the pitch from Sutton… Hit deep to left… Way back, way back, way back… a grand slam! Mike Ivey a grand slam!” Dorothy Cervanis of Livermore won a Chevy Chevette in the grand slam inning that day. I can still hear “Let’s go Giants” while leaving the ballpark after Game 5 of the 2002 World Series. A 3-2 Series lead looked great. So did a 5-0 lead in the 7th inning of Game 6 in Anaheim. Scott Spezio. Ugggh.

During my 12 years in the minors, I continued to root for the Giants from afar. Even as I worked in Geneva or Bend or Rancho Cucamonga or Syracuse or Rochester, the Giants score was foremost on my mind (after my game, of course). In Rochester I was fortunate enough to partner with former Giants manager Joe Altobelli. I loved to hear him reminisce about his days in San Francisco. One of our favorite stories to tell was the Giants game where SS Johnny LeMaster decided to have some fun with the fans at Candlestick. He was hitting around .200, and he was getting booed quite a bit. One night he took the field with “Boo” stitched on the back of his jersey in place of his name. I was a teenager in the stands wondering what Altobelli the manager thought about that move.

I moved to San Francisco in 2002 to pursue my dream of being a play-by-play announcer. I had been a runner up for jobs in Minnesota and Texas. A Giants executive said that my tape was really good. We had a chat in person one day at his office and he told me to stay in touch. I did, but I never got a shot. In 2005, I was fortunate to be on the ground floor of a new baseball channel on XMSatellite Radio called MLB Home Plate. I hosted a nightly, four-hour, national baseball talk show. I covered every MLB event, from the general managers’ meetings, spring training, and Hall of Fame Inductions to the All Star Game and the World Series. I called play-by-play of the World Baseball Classic and the All Star Futures Game. The WBC was one of the highlights of my career and working the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium was a real treat.

During my 5 years at XM (which became Sirius/XM) I was a regular at AT&T Park and the Oakland Coliseum. I interviewed the stars of the game as well as the last player on the bench. One day I interviewed Albert Pujols. The next day I talked to a groundskeeper. I chatted with a kayaker in McCovey Cove, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Reggie Jackson to name a few. I covered the Barry Bonds home run record chase and the Bonds trial on charges of perjury.

Throughout the winter heading into 2010, I was pretty excited about the upcoming season. No more steroids to discuss outside of a story about Roger Clemens every once in awhile. The hometown Giants looked pretty good. Great pitching was a given and there was more optimism with the additions of players like Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff. The lineup looked a bit better than 2009.

As much as I enjoyed being around the team I grew up with, I prided myself in not displaying my rooting interest in the Giants on the air. I think you can lose credibility as a broadcast journalist if you come off as a homer, especially when you are hosting a national show. I’ve always tried to be objective in my analysis. You don’t have to be a former player to really know the game. I know the game and I want to bring journalistic integrity to my position. I think it has made an impact among my peers. One day, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller pointed to me as I stood in the dugout with my XM microphone flag. He asked, Are you Joe Castellano?  I thought, “He actually knows who I am?  I must be making progress!” Or so I thought. I’m learning that it’s not always easy to be objective.

On a late March afternoon, a week before the 2010 baseball season, I was informed that my services at Sirius/XM were no longer needed. My show was being replaced by a simulcast of MLB Network TV. MLB Home Plate would now be called MLB Network Radio. Despite all of my efforts and experience there was no room for me elsewhere on the channel. I was stunned.

I could have contributed to the Sirius/XM coverage during the Giants playoff run. I would have provided some excellent insight. And, as much as I appreciate MLB allowing the Giants and A’s to give me the season credential, when it came to the NLCS and World Series I’m bummed I got shut out. This website wasn’t big enough for the big event. I was the struggling coffee shop down the block from Starbucks on the outside looking in.

Wait a minute…What happened to objectivity?

Seeing the Giants win brings back great memories. And it’s timely for teaching me a lesson in how to overcome torture. If the Giants and their fans can do it, so can I.

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