I must admit I didn't know what a "libero" was until I got wrapped up in the University of Wisconsin's stirring rise to their first women's volleyball championship last weekend. I now know that a libero is the rearmost roaming defensive player in both volleyball & soccer.
Undefeated Louisville and perennial contender Nebraska provided stiff competition for my Badgers in the Final Four. But behind a 6' 8" and 6' 9" front line of senior Dana Rettke and first-year Anna Smrek (daughter of a 1980s-backup-LA Laker champion), Wisconsin won the title in a five-set thriller.
"We try to practice gratitude," head coach Kelly Sheffield said during the week leading up to the tourney. "And it's really tough when you're in a grind." But he stressed the importance of appreciating the advantages players have - competing in a sport they love with teammates who may be friends forever for a truly supportive Madison community.
Wisconsin has been blessed with a lot of inspirational leaders and well-chosen psychologists. "If consistency were an island, it would be lightly populated," current basketball coach Greg Gard cited one such thinker last year.
Nearly ten years ago, Gard's predecessor Bo Ryan explained how the Badgers overcame a late game deficit to win in Columbus: "You measure people by what it takes to discourage them."
BTW So far this season, the Badgers are a pleasant surprise with a 9-2 overall record and 1-1 in the Big Ten. How Covid affects the rest of the season is still an unknown but I'm looking forward to more great play from sophomore sensation Johnny Davis. He has to shine for the team to have a chance at contention in the maelstrom/moshpit known as B1G basketball.
A shoutout is also in order for Badger backup center Chris Vogt from Mayfield, Kentucky.
He not only contributed to two recent wins including the erasure of a 22-point deficit
against Indiana. But more importantly he has spearheaded relief work in his home town that was devastated by the recent tornados. His GoFundMe page reportedly raised nearly
Today's last word on Badger exploits goes to National Women's Volleyball Player of Year Dana Rettke who explained the team's success this way: They have learned to live "in the precious present . . . taking one point at a time and being where our feet are." Reminds me of the old baseball scout who said that 87% of baseball was played beneath the waist.
ROLAND HEMOND, 92, who passed away in Arizona on Dec 12. From the age of 10 he was steadily employed in baseball and ultimately won three executive of the year awards. Yet Roland never forgot his roots as a hot dog and soda vendor.
His first front office job was as a typist for the Boston Braves. "I always call him Henry Louis Aaron because that is the name I typed on his form," he once quipped.
In this age of impersonal uber-analytics, his kind will never be replicated. But he must be remembered for his kindness and understanding that the human touch is vital in a sport where someone must lose every day.
KENNETH MOFFETT, 90, in Alexandria, Virginia, on Nov 19. He was the federal mediator in baseball's 1981 strike. After that season, he briefly replaced retiring MLB players union leader Marvin Miller but he was considered too accommodating to owners' interests.
In his less than a year of heading the MLBPA, Moffett and Lee MacPhail, his labor relations counterpart on the management side, hoped to work out a joint drug abuse program. It was not to be.
Moffett moved on to work for the NABET union (of broadcast employees and technicians) and stayed with them when they merged with CWA, the Communication Workers of America.) I'm glad he was remembered well in Wash Post and NY Times obits.
He loved the game of baseball and once coached in youth ball former Oriole Baby Bird southpaw Steve Barber. He was an avid runner.
Maybe early in the new year, there will be a breakthrough to end baseball's latest exercise in labor relations brinksmanship. All the field managerial positions have been filled now that Buck Showalter, 65, is taking over the Mets, and former MLB outfielder Mark Kotsay, 46, will lead the Oakland Athletics.
Being media savvy is essential for high positions in today's sports so I am sure both men will impress in their introduction to the public.
Whether they can lead the players to the playoffs is another question. The A's might be headed to Las Vegas in the relatively near future and they could be on the verge of a fire
As the Yankees manager pre-Joe Torre, Showalter, of course, is a known commodity to the New York market. He has been a TV commentator so he will obviously be more fluent than the previous Mets rookie managers Mickey Callaway and Luis Rojas. (Carlos Beltran never got to manage even one game because of his role as a player in the Houston sign-stealing scandal).
It will be very interesting to see who Buck names as his coaches. He inherits the former Mets journeyman pitcher Jeremy Hefner as his pitching coach.
Sure hope Jeremy and Buck are on the same page. The trend in baseball, however, is for pitching coaches to be hired by front offices not the manager.
And people wonder why games are so long? "See the ball, hit the ball" has been replaced by pumping the latest analytics into pitchers while batters are gearing up for the proper hand position for maximum launch angle and exit velocity.
More Mets questions: Can the two horses at the top of the rotation, $43 million a year man Max Scherzer and oft-injured Jacob DeGrom, deliver full-seasons? What kind of year will erratic closer Edwin Diaz provide? Which Francisco Lindor will show up - the Cleveland star or last year's washout?
Very interesting questions all and many more. As a fan of the Woerioles, who just before the lockout lavished $7 million a year on Jordan Lyles, one of the most ineffective pitchers in recent history who is penciled in as a number 2 starter, I guess I'd like to have the Mets' problems.
That's all for now! There is reason to believe that if we don't panic, the latest Covid variant, amicron, might not be life-threatening and maybe even short-lived. So again stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it! l