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Monday, May 30, 2011


I will be away from Dallas for some much needed time off after a brutal weekend at work. My wife and I are driving the six hours down to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico coast for some sea, rest and relaxation....

Over the weekend, I took care of my lodging in Nelson, New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup and am in the process of bidding on a place in Wellington. I have almost 3 month of work to finish here in Texas before I head to Oz and Kiwiland.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Goodbye Christchurch, Hello Wellington

One of the results of the earthquake that slammed Christchurch, New Zealand was that ALL of the matches for Rugby World Cup 2011 that were to be played at the home of the Crusaders were moved to other venues due to damage to hotels and the stadium in Christchurch.

I had initially bought tickets for Australia-Russia in Christchurch. Since all of the games in Christchurch got cancelled, what the New Zealand organizers decided to do was to refund ALL of the ticketholders for games in Christchurch, and then have the holders be given first priority to purchase tickets at other venues.

I already had tickets to see USA-Italy in Nelson. As luck would have it, the Australia-Russia game was to be played...also in Nelson. I thought long and hard about it.  On the one hand, I could have stayed in Nelson for both matches, but who knows when I will get a chance to get to Kiwi-land again? I decided that  in terms of costs and logistics, to not get the Austrlalia-Russia match in Nelson. Instead, I decided to get tickets for Argentina-Scotland in Wellington. This works for me on a couple of different levels: It will allow my wife and I to take the ferry from Wellington to the South Island. Argentina-Scotland is going to be a key match in deciding who goes to the quarterfinals out of their group. The game is just a couple of days before USA-Italy in Nelson, so travel logistics should not be that bad.

Back in 2007, when I went to the Rugby World Cup in France, I had a chance to see Argentina-Namibia  at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. The Argentine fans were just great, and I think a match pitting the passionate South Americans against the Scots, with their kilt-clad army of travelling supporters should have a great ambiance.

Now it's back to the not so-small matter of saving money for the cost of a plane ticket to get me to Australia to visit my Aunt Kay, and then to New Zealand to catch some rugby and soak up the culture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

RIP Harmon Killebrew

It's really rare when I write about baseball, or baseball players in the blog-after all, the intent is for it to by rugby-centric. That said, it was with great sadness that I learned yesterday that Harmon Killebrew passed away from Esophageal cancer at the age of 74.

As a small kid growing up in Minnesota during the 1960's, baseball was my first love. My paternal grandmother took me and my brother Bill to Minnesota Twins games at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, south of Minneapolis, and the current site of the Mall of America.(In the mall there is actually a bronzed home plate for where home plate really was at the old Met)

My first sporting hero was Harmon Killebrew. I loved how his compact swing could make a baseball fly. The man could just hit bombs. Over his career, he hit balls out Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park, and Comisky Park. By today's standards, he would be considered small. His burly physique for the time was God-given with some help from meat and dairy products. His nickname was "Killer", but when you saw him on TV, he came across as a very gentle, soft-spoken man. In an era when baseball pitchers were not afraid to come inside with the high, hard one to brush him off the plate, you would see him get off the ground, dust himself off-no eyeballing the pitcher, no gestures, no yelling-he would just get back up to hit, and invariably deposit the next pitch into the left field pavilion. His 573 home runs is now 11th all time among MLB players. He hit 40 or more home runs for 8 seasons. Only Babe Ruth had more than Killebrew.

I had a chance to see his last at-bat as a Minnesota Twin. He teased us on a cold September afternoon with only about 5,000 people watching the Twins play the Texas Rangers. He hit a ball a mile-only for it to be foul.He later struck out, but for a fleeting moment, he had everybody at the old Met on their feet. The Twins did not re-sign him and he finished out his last season wearing the blue of the Kansas City Royals. I once saw him hit the longest single I had ever seen at a baseball game. He hit a line drive so hard, that it bounced hard off the center field wall-missing a home run by about a foot-the ball came back with such force that the Red Sox center fielder was able to play it like a jai-alai player and quickly get it back to the infield, holding the slow-footed slugger to a single.

When I was in my mid thirties, I had heard that he was going to be signing autographs along with former Twins players Tony Oliva and Jim Perry at the Mall of America. I just had to get his autograph. I waited in line, got my autograph, and was walking away when I remembered "Oh Shit! My camera!" I went back to the line and asked Harmon Killebrew if I could please get my picture with him, that I just gotten his autograph, but did not have the camera. He simply could not have been nicer. I cannot tell you what a cool thing it is to meet somebody whom you have admired for so many years, then when you meet him, you find out he is just as nice...maybe nicer than I ever imagined. I felt like a little kid in a 35 year old body when I had a chance to meet him. My only regret right now is that the framed picture of me with Harmon Killebrew, along with his autograph is back in New Hope, Minnesota, where it is boxed away while I am working as a travel nurse.

I am very sad that my first sports hero has passed away. He had lived a good life, and 74 is hardly premature... I guess with Killebrew's passing,  it's a sign that I'm growing older, too. I think it's too bad that in this cynical era of huge salaries, bigger egos-to say nothing of the sorry, sad chapter of the whole steroid era of the 1990's, it's too bad that kids don't have that many baseball players who are role models. I know that there is a school of thought that parents should be role models, and that's true-but I felt that I was lucky to grow up in the era when I did where you could try to emulate somebody like a Harmon Killebrew-I may not have had that wonderful swing, or power at bat-but at least I could be a good sportsman and a decent person. I think that still counts for something.

RIP Killer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Montpellier: Who ARE those guys?

In the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", as Butch and Sundance are being tracked by a persistent posse, Paul Newman's character mutters several times "Who ARE those guys?"

For people who follow French Rugby, they must saying "Qui sont ces mecs?" regarding Montpellier. It's a nice town that I know very well from studying there almost 30 years ago, and where I saw a couple of Rugby World Cup games with my son back in 2007. (USA-Tonga and Tonga-Samoa)

Back when I was studying in Languedoc, Montpellier was not even a blip on the rugby scene in France. Their neighbors down the road in Béziers were THE dominant force in French Rugby in the 80's. At that time, most rugby supporters in Montpellier were fans of Toulouse, Béziers or Narbonne.

Well, 30 years later, Béziers now sits in the 3rd tier of French rugby, and Montpellier now finds itself in the French Semi-finals for the very first time, after dumping Castres on the road over the weekend. François Trinh-Duc and his mates now face a road trip to Paris to play Racing Metro for a shot to play for Le Bouclier de Brennus (Brennus' Shield) at the Stade de France against the winner of Toulouse-Clermont Auvergne in the other Semi-final. Perhaps even more importantly for Montpellier is that by finishing in the top six, they qualified for the first time ever for the Heineken Cup-ahead of some French Clubs with deeper wallets and better pedigrees like Perpignan and Stade Français.

Racing, the runners-up in the regular season of Top 14 Rugby, have an international line-up with a lot of familiar names like Chabal and Steyn. Racing have to be the clear favorites, but in a one-off match, anything can happen. Can Montpellier continue it's magical run this weekend? Rugby fans there will make the road trip to see if the party will continue on in June in St. Denis at the Stade de France...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There Will Be No Caveman for France@ RWC 2011

When French Coach Marc Lievremont announced France's World Cup squad to play at in New Zealand this coming September and October, there were some notable omissions: Yannick Jauzion (77caps), Clément Poitrenaud (44 caps) and the face of French rugby from the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Sebastien Chabal (62 caps) His pace, strength and athleticism helped France make the Semi-finals. His stare down of the All Black Haka before France's upset win against New Zealand was one of the iconic moments from the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

It really should not come as a shock for anybody who has had a chance to watch Chabal play this spring for France in the Six Nations Tournament. He had a nightmare game against England, and was a starter in France's famous loss to Italy in Rome. In some ways, Chabal is like a great  boxer who has stayed on a bit too long. Chabal can still play at the club level, but in terms of top-flight, international rugby, he just doesn't have it anymore. Credit to Lievremont for doing the right thing in this case.

According the Lievremont, it was still a very tough decsion-in the tape of the press conference, he was very emotional and did his best to keep his "Sang Froid", but in the end, he wanted to add some young legs(Biarritz's Lafakia and Picamoles from Toulouse) to his French side, which should not have any trouble making it out of group play(After New Zealand, the group has Togo, Canada and Japan), but to advance past the quarterfinals, they are going to need to improve in a big way from their form that they showed in the Six Nations. People talk about pressure on New Zealand, but people also forget that France, in spite of all of it's success in the Six Nations and a couple of famous wins against New Zealand in the 1999 and 2007 World Cups and Australia in 1987, France has never won a Rugby World Cup title. One can argue that among the rugby nations, France is probably the best rugby nation to have not lifted the Webb Ellis trophy.

This is a list of the 32 that made Lievremont's list:
Front Row : Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Thomas Domingo (Clermont), Jean-Baptiste Poux (Toulouse), William Servat (Toulouse), Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Français), Luc Ducalcon (Castres), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz)
Second Row : Pascal Papé (Stade Français), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Métro 92)
Flankers/8 Man : Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse/Cap), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Raphaël Lakafia (Biarritz), Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)
Scrum Half : Morgan Parra (Clermont), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz)
Fly Half : David Skrela (Toulouse), François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier)
Centers : Fabrice Estebanez (Brive), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), David Marty (Perpignan), Aurélien Rougerie (Clermont)
Wings/Fullbacks : Maxime Médard (Toulouse), Alexis Palisson (Brive), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), Yoann Huget (Bayonne), Cédric Heymans (Toulouse), Damien Traille (Biarritz)