3/27: A Profile of Eric Nadel

March 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

So what happens when a young Jewish boy from Brooklyn decides not to follow his father’s footsteps into dentistry?  The dental profession’s loss is baseball’s gain.  For more than three decades Eric Nadel has been the radio voice of the Texas Rangers.  For the last two years, Nadel has been a finalist for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford Frick Award presented to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball.

Marist Poll Senior Editor John Sparks caught up with Nadel at the Rangers Spring Training site in Surprise, Arizona.  Watch the video below.


3/15: On the Field at Spring Training

March 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

What is the latest from the Cactus League?

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks is at Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Find out the latest details in Sparks’ discussion with Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, below.

3/13: The Latest from Spring Training

March 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

What does Major League Baseball’s American League West look like this year?  What are the chances of the Los Angeles Angels, and what are the odds they will face-off against the Dodgers in the World Series?

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks is in Peoria, Arizona with the latest.  View his discussion with Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, below.

3/11: The Marist Poll Goes to Spring Training

March 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is still a few weeks away, journalists and sports fans alike flock to Spring Training games.  Among them is Senior Editor for the Marist Poll website, John Sparks!

What’s the latest from the field in Surprise, Arizona?  MIPO’s Director Lee M. Miringoff spoke with Sparks via Skype about today’s sights and sounds.  Check out the video below!

4/4: Opening Day

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

Although there were two official games played in Japan last week, this week marks the day all die-hard baseball fans wait for during the long cold winter — Opening Day.

The opening day of the baseball season used to be celebrated in Cincinnati where the Reds were the oldest of the original professional baseball clubs.  In the nation’s capital the President of the United States would always throw out the first pitch.

But, did those two games played by the Mariners and A’s in Tokyo take a little away from this week.  Is Opening Day not quite so special anymore?

Some say yes.  Why?  Because, baseball is now a year-round sport for both participants and spectators.

For one thing, we now have the MLB Cable Channel 24/7.  Instead of having to watch basketball, hockey, golf, and those other secondary sports, those of us who are addicted to the national pastime have a fix.  Not only do we get to watch quite a few spring training games, we also get to watch one-hour television specials on each of the 30 professional clubs.  Add to that replays of classic games, televised baseball trivia games plus hours and hours of commentary and prognoses by a host of former players, general managers, and sports writers.  Does that make Opening Day and that first pitch just like any other day?  For those who say the answer is yes, I say get over it.  I love the MLB Channel.  The MLB Channel has filled a void from October to February for sure.  If nothing else, since my wife also loves baseball, the television gets a reprieve from HGTV.    But, the MLB Channel isn’t the only thing that has altered the importance of Opening Day.  Some say it’s Spring training.

There was a time when players gathered in Florida and later in Arizona to hone their skills and prepare for the upcoming season.  Many had spent the winter working their second jobs to support themselves and their families.  Others had put on a few pounds on the banquet circuit.  So by the second week in February, reporting to training camp not only served the purpose of getting back in shape and shedding some pounds, it also was a transitional time where you could still get in a round of golf or even bring your family to enjoy the sunshine and warmth.  It didn’t come with the grueling travel by train, bus, and later airplanes.  The 154 game (and later 162 game) schedule was still ahead.  So while there was the business of getting back in shape to be taken care of, there was still time to do this in an atmosphere of relaxation.  Fans also discovered it was a great time for them as well.  Not only was there the opportunity to watch some of their heroes, but they discovered players had time to mix and mingle.  For quite awhile spring training was one of the best kept secrets among die-hard fans.

That was then.  This is now.  It’s no longer a secret.  Spring training has morphed into big business.  Arizona and Florida have become travel hot spots in February and March for the die-hards with the time and resources to take off and see first-hand what the prospects of their teams hold for the upcoming season.  The once simple practice fields have been replaced by big moneymakers — small stadiums which can seat as many as 13,000.  The players are no longer as accessible.   The practice games are now televised multi-camera productions.  The irony is that the small number of fans who once befriended the players of another era might brag they knew the players better, but today’s fans know more ABOUT the players…all of them… including the young ones who will not make the roster but show promise for the future.  All because of television.  Three and one-half million fans attended springs training games last year.  Thousands more are now watching those games on television.

The naysayers may tell you that you’re not as hungry for it when you’re well fed.  But, it’s still baseball.  And there’s no such thing as bad baseball.

I still count the days from the last out of the World Series until the day pitchers and catchers are allowed to report.  And count me in when the wins and losses really matter.  I’ll be there with my hot dog and scorecard for that first pitch… and rejoice for another year of life, and another baseball season.

I’m excited the time has finally arrived.  It’s Opening Day.  Let’s play ball.


9/9: College Football: The Legacy of the “Death Penalty”

September 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

It really doesn’t matter what college or university you may have attended, when it comes to football these days, your school’s color is green — green as in dollars, cash, filthy lucre.  It hasn’t been win one for The Gipper in forever.

The name of the game is money.  Today’s college football is about multi-million dollar television contracts, large stadiums, high dollar coaches and athletic directors, and don’t forget the huge gambling industry where, each season, billions are bet on the games.

College football is big business.  University presidents cannot ignore it.  Potential gifts from alumni are dependent upon a winning season and bowl game receipts.  The old saying about having a university the football team can be proud of is no longer a joke.  Our values and priorities have clearly gotten out of whack.

Is winning everything?  It’s one thing for Vince Lombardi to have said that about his professional Green Bay Packers, but we’re talking amateur athletics.  Or, are we?

Today’s sports pages are filled with stories about recruiting violations, overzealous alums, agents paying off Heisman Trophy winners, and coaches who must have their heads in the sand when it comes to knowledge of NCAA rules violations.

25 years ago the NCAA handed down its first (and only) Death Penalty against Southern Methodist University in Dallas largely because of a television news story produced by yours truly for the ABC affiliate in Dallas.  A disgruntled linebacker, David Stanley, told me in an interview that he received $25,000 to sign a letter of intent with SMU and that he and his parents were mailed monthly payments totaling $750 for the next two years until a cocaine habit got the best of him, and he was cut from the squad.  We confronted the SMU athletic director, head football coach, and recruiting coordinator with the evidence, and the NCAA reacted by banning intercollegiate football at SMU for one season.

True to its name, the Death Penalty, indeed, just about killed off the entire football program.

The university has never fully recovered.  The university president, athletic director, head football coach, and recruiting director all resigned in disgrace.  The bishops of the Methodist Church held their own investigation.  The governance of the entire university was restructured.  It turned out the governor of Texas, Bill Clements, knew about the cash payments, but when he was asked about it at his weekly news conference, he said, “It wasn’t like inauguration day when we had our hand on the Bible.”  Clements had been Chairman of the Board of Governors at SMU, and when he wasn’t wearing that hat, he served two terms as governor of the entire State of Texas.

Football is and has always been a huge deal in Texas.  It starts out at an early age.  In small west Texas towns, the high school football team often carries the reputation of the entire community on its shoulders.  The father of a good player who can run, pass, and catch has often been lured to another town where he’s been given a job so his son can help the local school to win a state football championship.  Many Texas high schools have stadiums that are nicer than some colleges.  The stakes get even higher when the lad is ready to go to college.

Over the years, money has corrupted football just as it has in just about every other aspect of life in these United States.  The big boys have swallowed up the little guys whether it’s food, automobiles, or even colleges and universities — you name it– big has become better, and only the large survive.

The most recent revelations in college football have concerned the University of Miami where a booster has been singing about getting hookers, cash, and a yacht for sex parties for players — all against the rules.  It seems Nevin Shapiro became righteously indignant when the kids he did these favors for did not return them and help him out with some cash when he was convicted on charges of running a Ponzi scheme.  Shapiro now receives his mail behind bars at a federal prison — his home for the next 20 years.

The stories Shapiro is telling were bound to happen.  After SMU was given the Death Penalty and the world saw what it could do to a football program, the conventional wisdom was that never again would the NCAA assess its Death Penalty…ever.  It was just too devastating.  And yet, when you think about it, what better environment for those who would push the envelope to operate in?

When it comes to sanctions, the NCAA has punished schools, coaches, and athletic department staffers.  It has banned boosters for life.  Now, some are saying let’s punish the players for accepting improper payments.  Really now?  Of all the folks who benefit from this multi-million dollar industry, the ones who carry the load and make it all possible are the players,  and they are allowed to be paid ZERO, zilch — absolutely nothing.  That doesn’t seem quite fair in our capitalistic society.  I was under the impression that those who do the work should reap the reward for their efforts.  I also thought Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863.  Except for the lucky few who receive scholarships, college football players are provided room and board and little else other than long days of practice, classes, study halls, not to mention the time away from school on the road during the season.

Some believe college players deserve more and have suggested they unionize.  Former academic all-American Dick Devenzio proposed this in the mid 1980’s and urged players to strike the Rose Bowl.  It didn’t work.  No kid wanted to miss out on the opportunity to play in the granddaddy of all bowl games.

The purists (and, I count myself among them believe it or not) say wait a minute.  This is amateur sports.  You’re supposed to play for the fun of it.

Yeah?  They used to say the same thing about our Olympic teams.  I recall in the 1950‘s when we would talk about how the Soviet athletes were paid to compete — it was, after all, their full-time job to be an athlete.  On the other hand, American athletes were true amateurs.  That hypocrisy finally went out the window.

Yet, the hypocrisy still remains for the college football players.  We hold on to a fantasy, yet many will tell you that paying college players under the table goes on just about everywhere.

So what’s the answer?  Isn’t it time we quit fooling ourselves and just openly pay them.  A great many are really just majoring in football anyhow.

Well, what would that do to the NFL?  What if we didn’t limit players to 4 years eligibility since we’re paying them?  Would the popularity of college ball eat away at the profits of the NFL and put an end to what has amounted to a free farm system for NFL teams?

These are questions fans and those who make their living off of college football continue to wrestle with.  The solution isn’t easy, but it’s clear that something needs to be done if for no other reason than the fact that the NCAA doesn’t have the resources to hire enough gumshoes to effectively police and enforce all the infractions that are being committed.

At least it’s not the FBI trying to keep up with all the terrorist cells.

8/10: A.J. Burnett and the U.S. Economy

August 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

Unless you’ve been under a rock or on another planet, you know that despite folks saying that our economy couldn’t get any worse, it has.  Standard & Poors has removed the United States from its list of risk-free borrowers, and following the action, the stock market plummeted, demonstrating a lack of confidence in our country’s ability to deal with the national debt.

If you’re a die-hard New York Yankee fan, you know that the Bronx Bombers finally defeated the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.  They owned a short-lived one game lead atop the American League East and haven’t won since.

So in summary, that’s the good news and the bad.

But for those of us who constantly find ourselves consumed with the fortunes of the Pinstripers, there is the lingering problem of what to do about A.J. Burnett.

Burnett was acquired in 2008 from the Toronto Blue Jays, and at the time, many considered him to be the icing on the cake for the starting rotation.  His first season was respectable — 13 wins, 9 losses.  He had moments of brilliance, and he appeared to be one of the ingredients in bringing some levity to the clubhouse with his propensity to slam shaving cream pies into the faces of the game heroes following walk-off victories.

But then things changed, and quicker than you can say Chuck Knoblauch, he has become the big question mark in the starting rotation.  Thursday night he could not maintain a 13-1 lead, and Joe Girardi had no choice but to yank him before he completed the 5 innings necessary for him to secure the win.  A.J. didn’t win in July.  He didn’t win a single game in July and August of last season.

Let me suggest that his mechanics are good.  He has the ability to execute.  However, one can look into his eyes and see the self-doubt.  Chuck Knoblauch had the same look when he could no longer make a routine throw from second base to first to get the out.  Knoblauch was moved to the outfield.  What do you do with A.J?  The bullpen is crowded with great performances.  The starting rotation is overflowing with good arms.  What to do?

I’m wondering if a good hypnotist might do some magic and help Burnett convince himself that he can win again.

And, I’m hoping the same thing for the United States of America.  We need to reclaim the self-confidence that has made our nation great.

My father’s generation experienced the Great Depression.  Then the leader of the free world stepped up to the plate and told us that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  The message rings true for today.

Let us hope and pray that we don’t enter a war to help us find ourselves again.  The stakes are much more deadly today.

Yet, it’s not so simple as moving to left field or engaging a hypnotist.  But we do need sacrifice.  We need to become a manufacturing giant again.  We can no longer live in a world of smoke and mirrors in which we rationalize that the age of technology changes everything.  Truth is, we have become a nation of consumers, and that must change.  In order to have jobs, we need to be making something.  In order to make things, we need to depend on our natural resources.  And to compete with the world, we must bite the bullet and go to work for considerably less than the wages we expect to make.  When shirt makers in Hong Kong and China go to work for the lowest of wages, we need to take a hard long look and make the decision that in a global economy in order to compete, we must make sacrifices.  We must feel the pain.  In short we can’t have it all.  We must either work for considerably less or make a personal statement by buying only U.S. products.  Since one can rarely find the label “Made in USA,” that’s going to be no mean trick.

Regardless, instead of thinking about number one, we must think of the team.  The team is the United States of America.  All of us need to be team players.

Relief pitcher Rafael Soriano told Joe Girardi that he didn’t care where Girardi pitched him — he was there to make his contribution.  Jorge Posada didn’t like it when he was dropped in the lineup earlier this season.  For a brief 24-hour period his ego got the best of him, and rather uncharacteristically, he thought of himself and not his team.  It didn’t take him long to remember to practice what he had preached to others.

It’s teamwork and sacrifice that will get the job done for the Yankees and for our country’s economy.  But each of us must participate — lawmakers, businessmen, labor, even baseball players.  We must come up with solutions, and that includes doing with less, rolling our sleeves up, getting to work, and making sacrifices — together as a team.

Above all, we must take pride in our team.  We must regain our self-confidence.  By the way — I’m convinced that A.J. Burnett can do the same.

1/20: Boom or Bust?

January 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

Each year when Beloit College releases its Mindset List about the traits of the entering freshman class, I am reminded of something I find myself saying more and more often … this is not the world I was born into.

sparks-caricature-440I am a classic Boomer born in 1947.  World War II was history.  My world in Texas reflected what was going on in other parts of the country … growth, housing starts, and the height of the military-industrial complex created out of necessity to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan.  The United States was a manufacturing giant, and my generation has always been the trend setters, the driving force behind the economy, and the beneficiaries of the Greatest Generation — our parents — whose values and determination strived to make the world a better place for us.  Born in the Great Depression, they never wanted us to do without.  The American Dream was the goal — everyone living in a house in the suburbs with a two car garage and a college education.

Polio was the dreaded disease.  Health insurance was not an entitlement.  Doctors made house calls, and we paid them in cash.  When I was six years old, my mother placed me in an experimental program to help find a vaccine for polio.  A couple of years later, we had the Salk vaccine followed by the Sabin vaccine.

Davy Crockett was the King of the Wild Frontier, and Walt Disney capitalized on him in one of the first mass marketing campaigns utilizing the new magic box in our living room — the television.  Television would play a formidable role in our lives, and for me, personally.  I would spend 40 years of my adult life working in television news.

As a child, I recall the times as optimistic and fun.  The shadow of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation were ever-present, but my day to day concerns were of cowboys, baseball, Boy Scouts and later on cars and girls.  We all felt we would live forever as invulnerable as another television and comic book hero, Superman.  Somehow our parents protected us from fears of doom, drought, and an economic recession that hit us in the 1950’s.  I never spent a waking hour thinking about retirement.

I barely remember Harry Truman.  The first real president I do remember was a grandfather-like figure who came on the television on rare occasions — Dwight Eisenhower.  The world would stop when that happened, and everyone would watch and listen closely.

The optimism of my pre-teen years was followed with the youthful vigor of our next president, John F. Kennedy.  He inspired us into believing we could send a man to the moon, and he talked about the torch being passed on to a new generation — us.

I saw President Kennedy in person on the morning he was assassinated.  I was at the breakfast at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth where he spoke just hours before he was gunned down in Dallas.  I could have reached out and touched him in the motorcade as it left the Hotel.

Many have written that the shots that rang out in Dealey Plaza marked the transition from an age of innocence.

Regardless of when, somewhere along the way, things went awry.  Some of it was our own undoing.  Some of it for all good intentions were the mistakes of our parents.

The verve turned to violence and Vietnam.  We began to question the status quo.   We had all the answers.  Our next president from an older generation vowed to end poverty with his Great Society.  He failed.

We had Earth Day and became aware of our environment.   We became the Woodstock Generation, and we thrived on drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

Believe it or not, though, forty years have passed, and in the course of time in the year 2010, those of us still kicking have survived many more periods of ups and downs.  Greed and corruption have always been present.  Every age has its own perils and promise.  Today, it’s terrorists, technology, and Tweets.  Tomorrow?  Who knows?

Of concern lately has been the results of a survey indicating that for the first time Americans feel like the country’s better days are behind us and not ahead.  Financial forecasts tell us to be prepared to work way past the age we thought we would retire.  Alzheimer’s is a growing concern of many of us as medical strides have lengthened our lifespan.

We Boomers are coming to grips with our own mortality.  As the world turns, our youth has given way to gray hair and wrinkles, but along with the fears and trepidation, this Boomer remains an optimist.

The earth still spins on its axis.  Life is still worth living.  The glass is far more than half full, and I continue to be blessed with new friends and new experiences.  I am thankful for being born when I was and for experiencing life as part of the Baby Boomer Generation.  I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

I also look forward to 2011 and to continue sharing interviews and insights with our Marist followers.  Happy New Year!

Related Stories:

Poll: Boomers Expect Less Comfortable Retirement

Baby Boomers’ Reality: An Interview

10/1: College Football in the Lone Star State

October 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

**Editor’s note—in the interest of full disclosure, in addition to being part of the Marist Poll team, the author is also on the faculty of the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

sparks-caricature-440Something strange is in the air.  It’s the final week of September in Texas.

No one is asking, “How ‘bout them Cowboys?”  They’re 1-2.

Baseball fans are talking about a Red October in Arlington since the Texas Rangers have clinched only their third divisional championship in franchise history.

But, this is Texas where there are really just two sports that really count:  football and spring football.

And with America’s Team in the same shape as America’s economy, the talk turns to college and high school football.

College football may be the free farm system of the NFL, but it’s big business and serious stuff in the Lone Star State.

The University of Texas annual $120 million sports budget is fueled by ticket sales, television contracts, and t-shirts (merchandise licensing).  Now UT is negotiating for its own cable television network.

It’s more than “win one for the Gipper.”  Football is also an integral part of drawing back well-heeled alumni to sustain other on-campus endeavors.

That’s one of the reasons why you will see construction cranes today building a new $78 million football stadium and high-rise hotel for the University of North Texas.

UNT is located in Denton 30 miles north of Dallas and Fort Worth. UNT is the fourth largest university in the state with an enrollment of some 37,000 students.

UNT is NOT a college football power house and never has been.  It can’t compete with UT, but it must compete with the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Mavericks, TCU, and SMU for the north Texas entertainment dollars.  And, it competes for those about as well as its teams do on the field.

Yet it continues to play.  It’s too important not to… especially if you want to sustain high enrollments, land high dollar research grants, and gain national prestige.

The biggest name to ever come out of the football program was a defensive lineman you may have heard of—“Mean Joe” Green.  He went from the North Texas Eagles to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  You’ll find a bust of him in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton.

Despite Mean Joe, UNT has not been known for its football program, but for its “One O’Clock Lab Band” which has performed for presidents, has accompanied Ella Fitzgerald, and produced members for the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands.

But, this is Texas and football is king.  That’s why a few weeks ago the UNT football team traveled to Clemson to become cannon fodder for a national football powerhouse — for half the gate, a share of the ESPN television revenue, and national exposure for a program desperately wanting to break into the big time.

What is college football?  It’s an American tradition.  But, it’s also in a fight for survival where colleges and universities find themselves dealing with the same reality taking place in the private sector where the big corporations get bigger, the smaller ones fight to stay alive, and those that can’t go out of business.

It’s also like the international arms race.  There are the superpowers who possess nuclear weapons (Divison I football programs and their Heisman candidates), and then there are the smaller emerging Third World countries who want to compete with the big boys.

And for some of us who just enjoy sports, it keeps us occupied between the World Series and when pitchers and catchers report again in February.

7/15: Instant Replay in the MLB

July 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Featured, John Sparks

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
-Alexander Pope

sparks-caricature-440A whopping 73% of baseball fans have told the Marist Poll that they like the idea of expanding the use of instant replay in baseball.

For all of its shortcomings, television coverage of the baseball games has given the armchair fans the best seat in the house for close plays and determining whether a pitch is in the strike zone.

It’s also put more pressure on the umpires to make the correct calls, and when they don’t, it puts them in the hot seat and casts a shadow on the integrity of the game.

We know the men in blue are human just as we are.  They make mistakes.  If it’s a judgment call, the call is not subject to dispute.  If the ump errs and makes a ruling contrary to the rulebook, that’s another case and can cause the game to be played under protest.

So, should we apply the technology of television’s instant replay to become the final word on a judgment call?

I’m not so sure.  I have mixed feelings.

I’m all for correct calls, but I’m also concerned about long games.  I’m not crazy about the game being halted while officials study video replays on close calls.

Baseball showcases our shortcomings.  We post defensive errors for all to see in the line score.  Players in the field are so separated that there is never much doubt when one makes a mistake and which one that is.  On the field, a batter who fails 70 percent of the time is a hero who bats .300.

Some players and their mistakes become legends.  Ask Bill Buckner or Ralph Branca.  Sometimes, close calls which could go either way become the difference in the outcome of the game.  Sometimes, the emotions associated with them get the best of a team and turn the tide as well.

So, will the instant replay change all that?  No doubt it would make a difference and certainly correct egregious errors.  But, it won’t correct all of them.  There’s always the problem of the different angles, and sometimes they can show different results.

Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive divine.” We saw that illustrated last month when first base umpire Jim Joyce cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Joyce admitted his error, and Galarraga forgave him.  It was the right thing to do, and it was classy.

Had the instant replay been in effect to overrule Joyce’s call it would have been a bizarre way to end such a triumph and undoubtedly would have taken some time to employ.  It’s hard to picture the fans waiting around in the stands in suspense to learn the outcome.

Regardless, I suspect MLB will adopt the instant replay in some form or fashion. It probably won’t be perfect and will be refined over time.  It may even bring about some new issues which we haven’t even thought about.

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