● Kimbo Slice Beats Up Godfather

The King of the Web Brawlers took another big step in his MMA career.

Kimbo Slice defeated Ken Shamrock Friday night in St. Louis. Shamrock, the 51-year-old godfather of MMA seemed poised for a submission victory in the opening moments, turning Bellator 138’s Main Event into an over-hyped afterthought.

But Slice had seven years of inspiration in his favor, and somehow fought his way out of a rear-naked choke that should have resulted in his tap out. The 41-year-old got back on his feet and turned on a fully-automatic assault on Shamrock’s face, resulting in a TKO moments later.

Kimbo SliceSlice won his first three MMA fights and was set to fight Shamrock back in 2008 at EliteXC: Heat. Shamrock was forced to pull out of the fight due to injury and unknown Seth Petruzelli stepped in, shockingly knocked out slice in 14 seconds.

Who cares what to AARP-aged MMA fighters do? BELLATOR. Slice is well-known for his ability to draw within the MMA community and hosting and hyping the bout that has been anticpated since Obama was POTUS helps gain steam for their “Live On Spike” series. And beyond.

● Kristaps Porzingis Not A Fit For Magic

You’ve heard the story time after time; scouts and basketball “experts” extolling the virtues of an extremely tall player from a former Soviet Republic or African Nation. The kid has all the moves and makes all the shots. He is guaranteed to be the next coming of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Tim Duncan.

But what if he’s the next coming of Gheorghe Muresan, Manute Bol, or Yinke Dare instead?

Or even worse – Frederick Weis. You remember the seven-foot-two first round pick of the Knicks? Despite being the 15th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Weis failed to play one second in a NBA game.00OlympicsVinceFrederiqueWeisFrance His career highlight came in the 2000 Olympics when Vince Carter showed him the difference between a “project” and a “player”. A poster is worth many words.

Can’t happen you say – things are different now. We have YouTube, video streaming, social media, and live tryouts/combines. There is no way a “can’t-miss” prospect can miss.

Which is why our latest edition of experts say Kristaps Porzingis is a can’t-miss, super-sized version of Dirk Nowitski. Or Andrea Bargnani. Or Pau Gasol.

Which is why those same experts say the Orlando Magic HAVE to draft Porzingis if he’s still available at number five.

Kristaps PorzingisThankfully, Magic GM Rob Hennigan and his staff appear to have a rebuilding plan already underway, which arguably sets them apart from those picking ahead of them next Thursday (Timberwolves, Lakers, 76ers, Knicks). 10 of the 15 players currently on the Magic’s roster were drafted in the last four years. The idea of “grab the best player available” is a strategy usually reserved for desperate teams with rebuilding plans better known as “Hopefully we’re better and I still have a job in five years”. The Magic are not a desperate team, no matter what you read in the funny papers. It’s why using the fifth overall pick for a sometime down-the-road, not-ready-for-prime-time “project” seems desperate. And ridiculous.

Manute BolWhich brings us back to Porzingis. He’s 19 years-old and likely still has growing and filling out to do before his body fully matures. For those of who need a picture – Porzingis is currently six inches shorter and only 20 pounds heavier than Bol was at the “height” of his playing career (pictured here with teammate Muggsy Bogues). The “Zinger” (what the cool kids call Porzingis) is a work-in-progress, seemingly best suited for a team with no plans to compete for a few years (i.e. Knicks, 76ers). And not wanting to wish the big kid any harm, he may not be done experiencing any of the number of ailments big people suffer as their bodies reach maturity. Things like feet, ankles, knees, and hips tend to wear out faster and slow big people down sooner and more debilitating than us closer-to-the-earth types.

Ask the 76ers about Joel Embiid, their seven-foot first round pick in 2014 who may still be a year away from playing in his first NBA game. While you’re at it, ask the 76ers if there are any hard feelings about their seven-foot former star bowler Andrew Bynum, who likely played his last NBA game before his 26th birthday. One last name for you – Greg Oden.

Let’s assume for a moment that the Magic are committed to upgrading their current big-man contingent (Dewayne Dedmon, Channing Frye, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic). There are choices in the 2015 NBA Draft to do just that, and they don’t involve rarely-seen, shiny new media toys from Latvia or Croatia.

Obviously, the choices aren’t as sexy – because everyone (even you) has SEEN THEM PLAY early and often in this thing called NCAA Basketball and/or March Madness.

The top choice on that big-man list likely still to be on the board at five is Willy Cauley-Stein. Two years more mature and already playing at a level of basketball the “Zinger” won’t come close to for a few years. There’s no “hoping” or “guessing”, the NBA team that drafts him already knows what to expect from him. So far (knock on hardwood) Cauley-Stein appears physically sound.

Make no mistake, Porzingis is a top-level prospect/project. The Magic may be better served to draft a top-level PLAYER, especially since this may be the last Magic lottery pick for years to come.

● A-Rod CHEATED
    (Out Of Chance To Make History)

It seems the most unlikely scenario: Alex Rodriguez being on the victim side of cheating.A-Rod

A-Rod entered Thursday night’s game against the Marlins just three hits shy of 3,000 for his career. A single in the first inning and another in the fifth inning put him just one hit away. In the sixth, his first chance at 3,000 resulted in a line out. The Yankees sent seven batters to the plate in the seventh, assuring him another chance in the eighth. The Bronx was ready to host baseball history once again.

Sam DysonEnter our villian – Marlins reliever Sam Dyson.

After Dyson walked Chase Headley, the mighty A-Rod strolled to the plate. While home plate umpire Lance Barrett acquired the specially-marked baseballs used for historically significant moments, Yankee Stadium’s 38,239 fans rose to their feet. Facing each other for just the second time in their careers, Dyson’s first pitch was a 97mph sinker WAY inside – almost hitting A-Rod’s belt buckle. Dyson threw another pitch just like the first. And another. And another. A-Rod was the victim of what appeared to be an unintentionally intentional walk – cheated out of the the chance to successfully complete his quest for 3,000 hits. A crime that was committed in front of almost 40,000 live witnesses and millions more on television.

The Yankees would score four runs that inning, all charged to Dyson. His entered the game with a respectable 2.93 ERA, then watched it balloon up to 4.06 from the shower in the Marlins’ clubhouse. The price you pay to cheat A-Rod.

“I was really hoping he’d get it out of the way tonight,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said about A-Rod’s impending milestone after the game. “He really didn’t have much of a chance in his last at bat.”

But wait, there’s more. Yankees fans didn’t just boo Dyson’s travesty of justice. They did something they haven’t done to A-Rod since his days as a member of the Texas Rangers. Sam Dyson was the recipient of a serenade of “A**hole”, almost 40,000 voices strong. Dyson’s reaction? “”I just tune them out. It’s just noise.”

For the love of the game.

● And With The 51st Pick In The 2015 NBA Draft, The Orlando Magic Select…

With attention solely focused on what the Orlando Magic will do with the fifth overall pick in next Thursday’s draft, let’s take a moment to ponder their second selection.

Hilliard and PinkstonThe Magic brought in recent Villanova grads Darrun Hilliard II and JayVaughn Pinkston for workouts today in Orlando. The pair helped the Wildcats to three straight NCAA Tournament Appearances and this past season’s Big East Championship.

Simply put, both are blue-collar winners. Pinkston at 6’7″ is considered (by some) undersized to be a power forward in the NBA, but so was a kid from Auburn named Barkley – who Pinkston has been compared to. Unlike many “prospects”, the 23 year-old Brooklyn-bred hoopster has had five years of college to mature physically, athletically, and mentally. He’s a tough hard-working kid who has been successful at every step of his basketball career.

That being said, the “sleeper” in this year’s draft is arguably Hilliard.

Darrun+Hilliard+Villanova+v+St+Joseph+xbJOd7Y-MI_lOn paper (where only mock drafts are played) he is a 6’6″ shooting guard. Reality is that the Big East First-Teamer trains ridiculously hard. Write it down – no potential second round pick is more prepared physically to step in and play right away than Hilliard.

NBA teams have taken notice, Hilliard has already been worked out by the Thunder, Mavericks, Suns, 76ers, Nets, Pistons, and Lakers. Since graduating in May, his military-style work ethic has continued, assuredly because he has been overlooked at every step of his basketball career. His fire to overachieve and surprise everyone yet again remains as strong as ever. Coming out of high school, few gave him a chance to play Division I – four years later Hilliard is a Big East Champion and Big 5 Player of the Year. With the 2015 NBA Finals still in everyone’s minds Hilliard’s upside potential is a small forward like Iguodala who is also an above-average perimeter shooter.

It’s tough to imagine a better second-round pick for the Magic than Darrun Hilliard. A smart, hard-working defender who knows how to win and can step up at any time to be an offensive spark. Those that watched Villanova on their way to a 33-3 record this past year know that their offense was very balanced – six players averaged over nine points-per-game. Hilliard was often called upon to guard the opposition’s best player AND led the team with 14.3 points-per-game.

Hilliard’s future is bright – the Magic would be wise to select him at 51 if he’s still there.

● Seminole County Wins Third Straight Solar Bears Cup

Congratulations to Seminole County – winners of their third straight Central Florida High School Hockey League title!!!

2015-06-18-CFHSHL

Click here to read more about the Solar Bears Cup.

● Unlikely Ace: Palm Bay’s Chris Heston

It’s been an interesting baseball life for Chris Heston so far.

It got even more interesting last night for the Brevard County native as he pitched a No-Hitter against the New York Mets. In a ballpark filled with young pitching studs named Harvey, deGrom, and Syndegaard – Heston was the man.

Chris Heston

It all started in Palm Bay, where Heston had a pretty good high school career at Bayside. After graduation he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins – in the 47th round.

Instead of beginning a professional baseball career, he decided to attend Seminole Community College where he continued to improve on the mound. He again was drafted, this time by the Washington Nationals – in the 20th round.

Saying no to the pros once again, he packed his bags and headed to East Carolina University, where he was named Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year. After the season the San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 12th round and Heston signed. The third time was the charmer.

But Heston struggled in the minors. His 1-5, 4.11 ERA first season didn’t turn any heads. His 5-13, 3.75 ERA second season wasn’t much better. But Heston continued to work at his craft and the Giants rewarded his efforts by promoting him. He recorded 131 strikeouts in his 12-4, 3.16 ERA third season and was promoted to Double-A for season four. He earned a spot in the Eastern League All-Star Game and after the season he was promoted to Triple-A and added to the Giants 40-man roster. Halfway through the 2013 season, Heston was struggling. His ERA ballooned up to 5.80 and the Giants designated him for assignment then released him in order to free up a spot on their 40-man roster. Heston re-signed with the Giants and pitched well for the rest of the season at Fresno. He made it to the show in September, and pitched a scoreless inning against the Dodgers in his September 13, 2014 debut. Heston sat out the postseason as the Giants won the World Series.

Heston expected to start the 2015 season at Triple-A, but an injury to Matt Cain resulted in his promotion to the Giants on April 7th. His 13th major league start was the lucky one – his no-hitter against the Mets yesterday.

A pretty interesting story so far. Let’s keep watching to see how it turns out.

● Pat Venditte’s Professional Debut

Oakland A’s switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his major-league debut last Friday in Boston. Seven years ago, his professional baseball career began in the middle of a New York City baseball rivalry.

Minor league baseball is known for being a fun family experience, and in Coney Island it borders on “extreme fan-friendly” every single night. Brooklyn Dodger FansBrooklynites love baseball and the Cyclones were the first professional baseball team to play there since the Dodgers slithered away to Los Angeles in the 1950s. Since their arrival in 2001, the Cyclones have routinely sold out their ballpark in Coney Island and consistently win every minor league award available for entertaining fans, two pretty impressive feats. I know, I had the privilege of working for the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team for a decade – first as Official Scorer then as their PA Announcer.

When the 2008 season rolled around, I was preparing to be impressed myself. The Yankees drafted Venditte from Creighton University that year and I was well aware that if he signed he would likely start his professional career with the Staten Island Yankees. Staten Island and Brooklyn have a bitter borough rivalry OUTSIDE of baseball, and in the New York-Penn League the additional incentive between the Yankees and the Mets farm teams is alive and well between the teams and their fans.

You may ask how a collection of hastily-assembled college-age ballplayers can be classified as “bitter rivals”. Their indoctrination started on opening day when the Brooklyn Borough President would borrow my microphone and welcome the fans and the new Cyclones’ players to Coney Island. 2008 was no different and on opening night his speech ended the same way it always did; “…we don’t care if you win the championship, all we care about is that you beat the Staten Island Yankees.”

Not convinced? Here is an example of the sports passion that is former Borough President Marty Markowitz:

It was seven years ago today that Pat Venditte signed his first professional baseball contract. He was in uniform for the season-opening series between the Baby Bombers and Cyclones, making his professional debut in the third game – played on Thursday, June 19, 2008.

Up in the announcer’s booth we had already wondered if there were rules in place to determine which side of the plate and mound a switch-pitcher vs switch-hitter would stand. We knew that the NCAA required the batter to choose first, but weren’t sure if the pros had a rule as well. We thought about asking the umpires but never did.

Pat VenditteA-RodThe Cyclones trailed 7-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Venditte had been warming up and now jogged in from the visitor’s bullpen to make his professional debut. He wore number “13”, which gave the Yankees-hating Cyclones/Mets fans additional incentive to boo him.

I looked on my scorecard and sure enough – if at least one Cyclones’ batter reached base Venditte would face a switch hitter! The honor would go to Ralph Henriquez, an up-and-coming catching prospect in the Mets organization who was already on his way to becoming a fan favorite in Brooklyn. After a two-out hit, he would indeed get his chance.

Henriquez’s arrival at home plate triggered Venditte’s glove-switching dance at the pitcher’s mound. But unlike the routine in college, Henriquez now kept the action going by swapping sides in the batter’s box. As the fans began to understand what was going on, it appeared to all that there was no rule for the umpires to enforce. I was ready – it was time for me to rile up the crowd as the on-field drama between players, coaches, and umpires dragged on and on. When the game resumed, I triumphantly announced to those who were witnessing history:

“and now… FINALLY batting, Ralph Henriquez!”

Like in Mudville, there was no happy ending in Coney Island – the mighty Henriquez struck out to end the game. Luckily the game was being televised, so the first-ever (and only) “switch-off” has been immortalized. The video montage below includes game footage (if you listen you can hear yours truly doing my thing) AND candid interviews that occurred a few weeks later with Venditte and the umpires involved. Turns out – that game was ALSO the professional debut of the home plate umpire…

MLB soon adopted a “Venditte Rule”, making the first-ever “switch-off” a unique thing of the past.

It was fun to have been a part of baseball history that night, and I am proud to say I announced Pat Venditte into the first game of his professional career.

A night like no other.

● NCAA Approves 30-Second Shot Clock

The NCAA announced via twitter on Monday afternoon that they have made significant rule changes to men’s basketball for the 2015-16 season.

NCAA

Shot Clock
– reduced from 35 to 30 seconds. This is the first shot clock change in NCAA men’s basketball since the shot clock was reduced from 45 to 35 seconds in the 1993-94 season. NCAA women’s basketball already uses a 30-second shot clock.

Pace Of The Game
– Team timeouts – reduced from five to four per game
– No more than three team timeouts can be carried into the second half
– Team timeouts withing 30 seconds prior to media timeouts will become media timeouts, with the exception of the first called team timeout in the second half
– Stricter enforcement of resumption of play after timeouts and after a player has fouled out.

Restricted Circle
expansion of the restricted circle under the hoop from 3 feet to 4 feet

● Brandon Spikes: Ex-Patriot Once Again

The New England Patriots cut former Gator linebacker Brandon Spikes on Monday morning.

Brandon Spikes

The move came just 30 hours after Spikes 2011 Mercedes was found abandoned on I-495 near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Police confirmed that they had been told by OnStar that the driver had reported hitting a deer. Neither the driver nor any deer were found anywhere near the vehicle.

Spikes Car

At about the same time, police responded to another incident in the area in which a Nissan Murano had been rear-ended by an unseen vehicle. All three passengers in that vehichle were treated and released from a local hospital for minor injuries.

Spikes had rejoined the Patriots in May. The former University of Florida standout was New England’s second-round pick in 2010 but was placed on injured reserved and not re-signed after showing up late to a playoff bye-week practice at the end of the 2013 season. Spikes spent the 2014 season with the Buffalo Bills.

● Moe Harkless:
    Preparing For Breakout Year

Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.com spoke with Orlando Magic forward Maurice Harkless, who is thrilled with the hiring of Scott Skiles.

Maurice Harkless

Harkless is in the midst of a rigorous off-season workout program – hoping to capitalize on the opportunity to make a tremendous first impression with his new head coach.

Click here to read the story.