Monday, July 6, 2009


When I received
an invitation from a New York ad agency last week inviting me to attend the premiere of the Penguins new highlight DVD, my initial reaction was, "This could be a lot of fun, I've never been to any kind of a premier before." Little did I know the surprises that awaited me.

"P.B.& G." photography by Darlene Spagnolo

ABOVE: Part of the crowd that gathered to glimpse a few Penguins, see if there were any "Lords" hanging around and if they were lucky, view the new Penguins highlight video. The video was a real killer and a must have for any pierogi-loving Pittsburgher.

Upon arriving at the Loews Waterfront Theater in Homestead I immediately saw all of the satellite trucks from the various media. This was really going to be a media circus! Even the bloggers are invited! Once inside, it was obvious that the word had "leaked out" somehow that this VIP screening was being held because there was a large crowd of Penguin fans gathered.

ABOVE AND BELOW: The Prince of Wales Trophy. What a beauty!

After I had registered, I gained admission "behind the ropes" and I immediately noticed that there was a special visitor present for the event...Lord Stanley himself! Also there was the Prince of Wales and his buddy, Conn Smythe. In short, all of the hardware that the Pens had captured was on full display tonight.

ABOVE: Tyler Kennedy (left) and Kris LeTang (right) pose with their new "best friend". Both players had some great moments on the highlight reel.

The tv guys were conducting live interviews with Penguins Kris LeTang and Tyler Kennedy in front of the Stanley Cup. It was here that I saw my old golfing buddy, Alby Oxenreiter of WPXI. Alby was really happy to see me and he even seized the opportunity to kiss my wife for whom I had also secured a pass and who was acting as official photographer for "P.B.& G." (an unpaid position, by the way). It was here where Alby made this night one of my most memorable ever. "C'mon over, let's get a picture in front of the Cup!" He didn't have to ask me twice, believe me. As my wife was taking pictures (she was too shy to stand with Lord Stanley) I told Alby that his work after game seven was the finest of his career. The interviews he obtained were terrific, both on the ice and in the locker room. "I also liked the "F-bomb" that got past you," I kidded.

ABOVE: Alby Oxenreiter poses with Lord Stanley of Prescott and yours truly. I won't be forgetting this moment anytime soon!

He shook his head, a wry grin on his face. "I had to keep telling everybody, 'Hey we're on live tv." He continued, "You know Ang, do you realize what I've just had an opportunity to do? The SuperBowl and then the Stanley Cup just a few months later. It's a sportscasters dream."

ABOVE: It was like coming face to face with the "Ark of the Covenant". When I touched it I half expected to be electrocuted or something. Even if you look closely you still won't find my name on there.

I must say that touching the Cup was a magical moment for me. Seeing the names inscribed up close makes you understand why these guys kill themselves to win it. Who wouldn't want to have their name etched on the greatest trophy in sports? What happened next was fun too. Alby took the camera from my wife and took the picture appearing below of the inside of the Cup. "Can you imagine, the last time the Pens won I had a newborn baby. I got to put my baby inside of this Cup! He fit in there!"

It's really not that large of a bowl.

Photo by Alby Oxenreiter

ABOVE: Yeah Alby takes a mean picture of the inside of the Cup if I do say so myself!

What is it about the Stanley Cup that makes grown men do crazy things like that? It's simply one of the most beloved artifacts in the entire world and to think I got a chance to touch it today! If I had had a small baby on me, I probably would have stuck him in there too!

After spending some time talking golf, Alby was off onto his next story, but I did get to spend a couple minutes with the "Old two-niner", Phil Bourque. Nattily dressed, Bourquey is one of the better looking hockey players you'll ever see. His face came through his career with very few nicks although up-close, his nose looks like it took the butt end of a few sticks. But he still looks great though and in real good shape. After posing for a picture with Phil I told him that his work this year was absolutely awesome. He genuinely seemed appreciative and came across as not only a pro, but a real gentleman too. Not always what you expect coming out of the violent world of hockey.

But in Pittsburgh, we've been spoiled by the likes of Mario, Ron Francis and Sidney for years. For the most part almost every Penguin I've ever met has acted the same way. They're all classy guys.

ABOVE: "The Old 66er" gets his picture taken with "The Old 2-9er". This guy belongs in films! I mean me, not Phil.

Prior to heading for the theater, I was also fortunate to grab a photo with "Iceburgh". Iceburgh made this chirping type of whistling sound and got particularly animated when my wife and I were speculating on whether he was a he or a she!

The crowd rapidly filled to capacity and there was electricity in the air. "Iceburgh" was doing flips on stage and the crowd started chanting "Let's Go Pens" and then later, "We want the Cup!" Eventually, Tyler Kennedy made a triumphant entrance into the theater holding the Stanley Cup aloft for the wildly-cheering crowd.

ABOVE: I got to meet all of the important Penguins...even Iceburgh!!!

The video itself is a first-rate production that combines outstanding footage while telling the story of the Pens turbulent regular season, the replacement of Michael Therrien as coach and the subsequent rebirth of the team. The Philadelphia and Washington series were reprised in great detail as they were among the most scintillating you'll ever see. Appropriately, the Carolina series, which was won in four games by the Pens, didn't get as much play as the other series, however, the magnificent play of Evgeni Malkin in that series was the entire story.

Of course the epic struggle between Pittsburgh and Detroit was shown from the locker rooms out to the ice with many behind-the-scenes shots including light moments in practice. Combined with a stirring musical score and plenty of Mike Lange, Mike Emerick and snippets from people such as Dan Potash of FSN, it was a thoroughly engrossing video and one that will be considered "must viewing" for any diehard Penguins fan. The appearance in the video of arch-villain-traitor Marian Hossa brought a predictable reaction from the audience. Fortunately no one had any tomatoes.

Upon leaving the theater with the ebullient crowd, there were several stations set up to conduct "exit interviews" gauging the reaction of the crowd. While I was not exactly looking to be interviewed, I can tell you that this was certainly one of the best highlight videos I've ever seen. It also brought clearly into focus just how amazing it was that the Pens were able to win the Cup despite the adversity they faced during the regular season and then surviving against the rugged Flyers, the Ovechkin-led Capitals, the veteran Hurricanes and ultimately having the conquest over the Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings on their home ice. This was no easy feat and you are reminded of it constantly throughout as you witness the amazing action.

When you see Marc-Andre make that sliding save at the end of game seven, you realize just how close this series was and how evenly-matched these two teams were. It made for a compelling video and a night I won't be forgetting for a long, long, time. After all, how often does any blogger get to touch the most famous trophy in the world, get your picture taken with it, see your golfing buddy "OxonFox", meet the "Old two-niner" and even "Iceburgh" on the same night? And after all that, you then get to see one of the greatest sports highlight films ever made. Pinch me in case I'm dreaming.

Yes, blogging does have its' rewards...once every blue moon!!!


ABOVE: Freddy Sanchez acknowledges the cheers of the crowd.

I've never been one of those guys who study player contracts, but I heard an interesting nugget yesterday about the contract of Pirate second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, that certainly bears repeating.

Sanchez was just named by Major League Baseball as the Pirates lone representative to the All Star Game as a reserve. This will be his third trip to the midsummer exhibition. Hitting .316 for the year, Sanchez is currently tenth in the league in batting average and is having a much better season defensively with a stellar .997 fielding percentage, now that he has been healthy for the most part this year. While committing only one error so far all season, Sanchez has combined with Jack Wilson in turning 59 double plays. Here's where the interesting part comes in: Sanchez apparently has a clause in his contract that stipulates that he will receive an $8 million dollar bonus if he manages 630 at bats for the season. Over the course of the year, Sanchez would need to average 3.5 plate appearances per game. However, and it's a very large however, if he was named to the All Star Team, he need make only 600 plate appearances. Since Sanchez was just named over the weekend, his required plate appearances just dropped by 30 or approximately by 8.5 games.

LEFT: The "STAT RAT" weighs in on Freddy Sanchez.

This is what's wrong with this type of an incentive: Sanchez has just missed the past three games with back spasms and is still questionable versus the Astros. Obviously, with an incentive this big in front of him, he must be worried about meeting his performance clause. Will Sanchez come back too soon to stop the lost at-bats and potentially causing himself greater harm?

Even worse, let's say that he has 595 at-bats going into the last game. Do the Pirates start Sanchez and risk costing themselves $8 million or an additional 26% over their established payroll which is among the lowest in the league? Or, if they don't play him, do they risk causing an irreparable rift and lose all credibility with their players and fans?

This is the danger in signing these types of deals with players. Of course, in the case of the Pirates, this clause should merely be viewed as further reason why Freddy Sanchez should surely find himself as the next Pirate on the trading block. The Pirates won't want to have to face this scenario. Reports are circulating that the San Francisco Giants have already been scouting Sanchez. With Neal Huntington showing a penchant for turning over the roster that he inherited, don't be surprised to see Sanchez Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche and possibly even John Grabow dealt before the trading deadline. This will also open up several more spots in the lineup for new acquisitions and promoted players to try and make an impact during the remainder of the season.. With the Pirates starting pitching looking better than its' been in quite awhile, don't expect the team to go into a freefall. They won't crack .500 again this year, but they definitely will in 2010. The following season (2011) could see the Pirates vying as a serious contender in the NL Central for the first time in 19 years as the Huntington acquisitions mature and congeal as a team.

Now for the delicious part of this story: Sanchez currently has 304 at bats during 82 games the team has played this year. He has averaged 600 at bats in his prior seasons as a pro and amazingly, at his current pace, he would finish with exactly 600 at bats in the last game of the season! Stay tuned Pirate fans!!