Monthly Archives: April 2009

Reflections Of David Poole, 1959-’09

I first met David Poole while covering NASCAR at California Speedway in Fontana in 2002.

Poole, who succumbed to heart attack Tuesday at age 50, sat directly behind me in the speedway’s media center. I can remember the first time I saw him…

I arrived at the speedway at about 10 a.m. on that Friday and Poole, the NASCAR beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, was already there. Matter of fact, he was always there before me.

Anyway, he was loudly debating, as was his style, the merits, or lack thereof, of bringing a second race to Fontana which, at the time, had only one NASCAR race per season. The debate didn’t last long because the poor guy Poole was debating couldn’t keep up with Poole’s bluster or energy and concluded his remarks with a meek “We’ll see.” Poole laughed heartily, clearly satisfied that he had won.  

A large man with a large voice to go with his large opinions, Poole was the most veteran of NASCAR  beat writers and it didn’t take long for me to realize his stature around the garage. He was the first to ask questions in post-race interviews, the first to ask follow-up questions and the first to ask any follow-ups to his follow-ups. That’s just the way it went. If another writer bucked the trend and tried to interrupt, Poole would scoff, guffaw and finish his question anyway. And the driver, whomever it was, would answer Poole’s questions first. As a young journalist, I was in awe of his command of a room, even if it was a NASCAR room.

I could also tell that Poole’s lifestyle was damaging his health.  He would eat heartily in the media cafeteria, drinks tons of soda and devour snacks while at his desk and often fall asleep in his chair during qualifying or lower-level races. And he snored relentlessly, clearly a sign of sleep apnea, a blocked airway, heart trouble or all three.

Did I mention Poole was a big guy? He was probably every bit of 6-foot and 300 pounds — not unheard of but not a picture of health either.

None of that matters in the end, though. What’s important is that the dude was one hell of a writer, a great interviewer and a respected voice for one of the most popular sports in America. I feel for his family, the sport and anyone who was ever enlightened by his words.

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These Avengers Will Not Be Avenged

First the Rams, then the Raiders. And now — the Avengers.

The Los Angeles Avengers, the lone “professional” football franchise remaining in the Southland, ceased operations on Sunday, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, which was picked up by ESPN.com.

The Avengers had played in the Arena Football League, which will not compete this season after league owners voted to suspend operations because of economic restraints. 

“It’s disappointing, because I don’t think it was necessary to get to this point,” team owner Casey Wasserman told the Times.

To what point? To the point where a minor league sports franchises are going belly-up because of the current economic climate? Well it’s happening all over. The Fresno Falcons and Phoenix RoadRunners of hockey’s minor league ECHL ceased operations during this season, as have the Atlantic City Surf and Ottawa Voyaguers of minor league baseball’s independant Can-Am League, which announced just a couple of weeks ago that neither would continue to operate.

At least the Avengers ownership had the presence of mind to end things at an appropriate time.

The Avengers are actually the second AFL franchise to fold, joining the New Orleans VooDoo, since the league voted to halt operations. The league has still not stated when it will resume operations and schedule games, but remains “hopeful” that the remaining 15 teams will play again in 2010.

“The fans in L.A. have been passionate and supportive of professional football, and I hope one day we can all share in the excitement of its return to Los Angeles,” Wasserman said, according to the Times.

There seems to be a lot of “hoping” going on. The league hopes to play games; Wasserman hopes football will return to Los Angeles. I hope both are right, although far much more so the former than the latter.

This is a sad turn of events. The Avengers were one of the AFL’s flagship teams and had a proud tradition, including an ArenaBowl championship earlier this decade. And the Arena League is just plain cool. It’s a sleek modern twist on a calous timeless tradition. Now the closest Arena League team team to SoCal, geographical, is the San Jose SaberCats. What the heck is a SaberCat anyway? What’s an Avenger, for that matter? My guess is an out-of-work semi-pro football player.

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John Madden The Next Karry Kalas?

I think the death of Harry Kalas has scared the holy hell out of John Madden.

Madden, who called it a career on Thursday, had been in the broadcast booth for more than 30 years  and I’m speculating that he did not want to go out as Kalas had — face down in his place of work.

Kalas, who died on Monday of what coroners said was heart disease, was the voice of NFL Films. He and Madden, an NFL Hall-of-Famer, were probably acquaintances and at the very least contemporaries. Kalas’ death likely hurt Madden deeply and has fueled his decision to retire.

Personally, I admire Madden but I’m not his biggest fan. His insistance on stating the obvious and slathering over Brett Favre grated my nerves at times but his enthusiasm for the sport was undeniable. I’ll never forget his “BOOM!” or how he would stutter over himself when he’d get really excited. Or that idiotic Tur-ducken.

He’s arguably the sport’s greatest personality and without a doubt its greatest voice. He’s covered football for CBS, FOX and NBC and would probably be welcome at ESPN in a second. And it’s not because Madden is an analyst; it’s because he oozes football in the way Abe Vigoda oozes funny.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Madden is that he’s been able to franchise himself more successfully than anyone in National Football League history. His name alone has made him a millionaire several times over and barely keeps gasoline in his Madden Cruiser.

Despite his quirks (he refuses to fly or eat a salad), Madden has made seemingly zero enemies in his rise to football immortality. He’s so likable, in fact, that his name continues to adorn the longest-running video game series in history and kids two generations removed from his greatest achievement, winning Super Bowl XI as coach of the Oakland Raiders, continue to learn about football in association with his name.

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Book Report: “Game Of Shadows”

I know, I know. The book was published how long ago? Anyway, I just finished reading it and came away thoroughly impressed by the scope of the reporting and the authors’ storytelling.

In “Game of Shadows,” authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams cover the steroids-in-sports saga from one tangent to the next. Not only is former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, and his alleged performance-enhancing drug use, discussed at length but so is the PED use of more than a dozen other professional and Olympic athletes. And these are significant names — baseball MVPs, NFL All-Pros, track and field’s elite — not minor league has-beens.

Jason Giambi, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery Bill Romanowski, Gary Sheffield, Dana Stubblefield, etc.

The big-time names aside, Fainaru-Wada and Williams do something with this book that I did not expect — they switch the roles of the central characters. In real life, BALCO founder Victor Conte is the antagonist and FBI agent Jeff Novitzki the protagonist, for obvious reasons. OK. Conte’s the drug dealer, Novitzki’s the “crime” fighter.

But in “Game of Shadows,” the roles are reversed. Conte is portrayed as the protagonist and Novitzki is given the role of antagonist. Conte claims that athletes must cheat to compete at the highest level. It was his view that he had “no choice” but to become a conduit to their success. In a sense, Conte believed he was helping everyone succeed. Conversly, Novitzki is a federal agent portrayed as having an axe to grind against those trying to cheat the game of baseball and will stop at nothing to prove Conte is supplying steroids to Barry Bonds. Which, of course, Conte is.

It’s the best part of the book. The authors uncover the BALCO controversy and turn it inside-out upon itself. From a fly-on-the wall’s perspective of what was said inside the conference rooms at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), to Bonds’ locker inside the Giants’ beautiful waterfront ballpark and the car ride with convicted steroid-dealer Greg Anderson in between, Fainaru-Wada and Williams really give the reader the ability to imagine how it was that Bonds became the all-time single-season home run champion around his 40th birthday, an age when ballplayers aren’t ballplayers anymore.

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What Are The Angels To Do Now?

This might not be the most sensitive thing to say given recent events, but what are the Angels to do now? Their pitching staff, already decimated by injuries, is in complete ruin.

The staff’s ace, John Lackey, is on the disabled list until next month. Kelvim Escobar has been on the DL since god-knows-when and Ervin Santana, last season’s biggest surprise, landed on the DL during spring training.

And now comes the death of Nick Adenhart.

As sad and at a loss as I am by his senseless demise, it didn’t take long for me to think about what his loss means to the Angels’ season and more specifically, their pitching rotation.

Adenhart was behind only Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders in terms of his importance to this year’s staff. His age (22) and ability (six shutout innings in his only start this season) lent themselves to that of a future top-of-the-rotation starter with plus-potential. Sure… he made the team, in part, because of the conditions of Lackey, Escobar and Santana. But his performance on Wednesday, April 8 spoke of a guy who could compete and maybe even dominate if given the opportunity, which he finally received this season.

Adenhart was the gem of the Angels minor league system. He was the guy the organization was so sure of, so convinced of his value and talent, that they never pushed him further than he was willing to be pushed. They treated him like a No. 1 overall pick even though they selected him in the 14th round. And he delivered on their investment, reaching the big leagues in only four seasons and contributing to the Angels’ run toward another division title with three so-so starts in May of last season.

And now Adenhart is gone. As is much of the minor league depth the Angels boasted for so long. The list of the team’s top prospects started with Adenhart and is not nearly as impressive without him. No offense to guys like Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Budde and Dustin Moseley but Adenhart was the class of the system — hands down.

His guile and determination reminded me of a young Jim Palmer. His latest performance had me hoping the Angels would finally have the pitching depth and talent to again challenge for the American League pennant. His death leaves me wondering what the Angels are to do now.

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