Stronger competition awaits UW in Big Ten opener

first_imgAfter smooth sailing through the nonconference season, the Wisconsin volleyball team must prepare for a challenging Big Ten schedule starting with the undefeated Northwestern Wildcats Friday in Evanston.The Badgers (12-1) wrapped up the nonconference schedule by winning the Georgia Southern Eagle Invitational tournament last weekend. The team is currently riding an 11-match winning streak heading into Big Ten play.Despite dropping only a single match during nonconference play, Wisconsin’s competition is about to escalate considerably. In claiming the Georgia Southern Eagle Invitational last weekend, the Badgers defeated four teams with a combined 16-40 record. In the team’s opening Big Ten weekend, Wisconsin will face a perfect Northwestern squad (11-0) followed by the No. 20 Illinois Fighting Illini.Head coach Pete Waite, who earned his 300th victory as Badger coach last weekend, is well aware of the rising level of competition but remains confident in his returning starters to rally the team.“It’s always a step up [and] we know that,” Waite said. “Everybody’s bigger, stronger, faster, but I think our team is prepared for it. You just can’t give away easy points. You’ve got to take care of the ball well on every possession, just like football and basketball, and you’ve got a good shot at beating anybody.”Wisconsin’s toughest test will come Friday against Northwestern, when it attempts to defend two of the most explosive offensive players in the Big Ten.Junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus is tied for second in the conference with 4.84 points per set and contributes 4.20 kills per set, good for fourth in the Big Ten. Her setter, senior Madalyn Shalter, leads the conference in assists per set and was named Big Ten Setter of the Week for the second straight week.Waite has been impressed with the Wildcats’ dynamic duo and said they will be a main emphasis of the Badger defense.“Holthus has a ton of shots,” Waite said. “She’s not a huge player, but she jumps really well. [She has a] fast arm, hits the ball in every spot on the court. You’ve got to serve tough to keep them out of their offense. … [Holthus and Shalter] are definitely the two focuses for us.”Waite even compared the play of Shalter to one of professional basketball’s all-time legends.“You know how it is with Michael Jordan,” Waite said. “You’re not going to stop him, but you can stop everyone else.”Wisconsin will need a steady defense in order to contain the Northwestern offensive attack. Wisconsin ranks third in the conference in opponent’s hitting percentage as well as blocks per set with 2.86.Senior outside hitter Mary Ording leads the defensive front for the Badgers with 1.29 blocks per set, placing her seventh in the Big Ten. She was crowned MVP of the Georgia Southern Eagle Invitational last weekend and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week earlier in the month.Ording said blocking is an area that will prove important against tough conference opponents.“Blocking is something that I’ve always really enjoyed doing, and something that I am getting a lot better at,” Ording said. “I think, especially with bigger hitters, harder attackers, it’s harder to get the teams in bad situations, so the harder that I can work side-to-side on blocking, the better for the people standing behind me.”Senior middle hitter Alexis Mitchell is second in blocks for the Badgers with 1.07 per set while also posting a .408 hitting percentage on the offensive end. Along with sophomore outside hitter Deme Morales, Mitchell earned all-tournament honors at the Eagle Invitational.Mitchell’s philosophy on succeeding in conference play begins and ends with a full team effort.“I think that we’re just focusing on playing hard and being a team,” Mitchell said. “We’ve really had a theme of outworking other teams, and that’s how we’ve gotten a lot of wins, is just when we’re fighting and playing hard.”A recent trend of the Badgers has been to have solid nonconference seasons but to struggle in more difficult conference play. In 2010, Wisconsin went an undefeated 11-0 in nonconference play yet finished 10th in the Big Ten with a 5-15 record.Despite the downward spiral in Big Ten play for recent Badger squads, Mitchell had a positive outlook on the conference season.“We’re excited about it,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had a good preseason, we’ve learned a lot and we’ve just gotten better every match of the preseason. It gives us a lot of confidence going into this weekend.”last_img read more

Behind Mike Piazza’s image, a complicated legacy in Los Angeles

first_imgIf the Baseball Hall of Fame believes in honesty, Mike Piazza’s plaque will feature a New York Mets logo on his cap and a chip on his shoulder, placed there by the Los Angeles Dodgers.Piazza’s legacy in New York is simple. From 1998 to 2005, he formed a bond with the city and the Mets organization that he felt he rarely enjoyed in Los Angeles. Piazza has mentioned this bond often, so it might figure into his induction speech Sunday in Cooperstown, New York.The Dodgers’ role in helping Piazza morph from a 62nd-round draft pick into a Hall of Famer was less conspicuous, often unglamorous and is presently rather messy. It began with early mornings in Vero Beach, Florida and suburban Phoenix learning how to crouch and hold a mitt. Piazza spent one winter in “boot camp” in a tarantula-filled room in the Dominican Republic, another in Mexico. These are the building blocks behind bronze plaques, not Pert Plus commercials. All of it helped to craft, and complicate, the image that made Piazza a Dodger fan favorite in the 1990s.“I got to play with him in a Rock N’ Jock,” recalled actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris in the 1990s sitcom “Saved By The Bell.” “MTV used to have this softball game and it was rock stars and actors against jocks. (Piazza) was one of them. I remember the flowing hair, the playboy sort of lifestyle. Super nice guy. I remember thinking that he was a cool dude.”Born to hitLike some boys of his generation, Piazza’s father Vince installed a batting cage in their suburban Philadelphia backyard. Unlike his peers, Ted Williams once stopped by the Piazzas’ house in 1984 to watch young Mike take his hacks. Because the meeting was videotaped, there’s tangible proof that Ted Williams once told Vince Piazza that Mike “hits it harder than I did when I was 16.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorcenter_img Piazza could always hit. He slugged 427 home runs in his career, including 396 as a catcher — more than any catcher in history. Piazza finished his career with a .308 average despite never batting higher than .300 his final six seasons.“He’s a dangerous man, Mike Piazza,” Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “He could hit that ball into right-center field, dead-center field. If you can go dead-center field, there’s not much the opposition can do to you. Because that’s how they pitch you — to the big part of the ballpark — and if they can’t keep you in the big part of the ballpark, how are you going to get him out? He was one of the most dangerous men around.”Baker’s first 14 seasons managing in the National League (1993-2006) perfectly overlapped Piazza’s career. Baker played for the Dodgers from 1976-83.Because Vince Piazza was friends with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda — the godfather to Piazza’s younger brother, Tommy — Mike Piazza spent a portion of his youth as the Dodgers’ bat boy.Baker said he accidently gave a young Piazza his first taste of champagne, pouring it over his head when the Dodgers clinched an NL Championship Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies.“He was our good luck charm bat boy,” Baker said with a smile.If only he had a position.‘He had one position’Piazza was a first baseman for Miami-Dade College when the Dodgers drafted him in the 62nd round in 1988. He was the 1,391st overall pick, and he might not have received that much recognition without the relationship between Lasorda and Vince Piazza.To put that into perspective, the draft now consists of 40 rounds (1,216 picks). If a 19-year-old Mike Piazza were eligible to be drafted this year, he would have been neglected by all 30 teams.Why was Piazza so overlooked? His lack of a position was one reason. Piazza had never caught when the Dodgers drafted him, but many in the organization believed that was his only chance of reaching the major leagues.“Obviously I relied heavily on player development, but first base in my mind is such an incredibly critical defensive position, you can’t have someone playing first base who isn’t skilled,” said Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ general manager at the time. “You’re not going to win. Wes Parker, Keith Hernandez — they fielded a ball on practically every other play. Mike didn’t have the speed or the agility. I’m not saying he couldn’t play the outfield, but he had one position. “Mike could catch and Mike could throw. Balls didn’t get by Mike. You didn’t have all the analytics that you have now, but Mike caught the ball well, and he threw the ball well.”For that, give partial credit to the Dodgers’ player development staff.Kevin Kennedy and John Roseboro were the Dodgers’ catching mentors when Piazza was first sent to their Instructional League camp in Arizona. Kennedy, a former catcher, manager and occasional analyst on Dodgers radio broadcasts, described Piazza as a “raw” prospect.“We basically started from scratch, teaching him every phase of catching from a technical standpoint,” Kennedy recalled. “Later, we got more into calling a game, how to set hitters up, things like that. He needed to learn the technique of catching, period. It was a long process. He put a lot of hours in, a lot of work.”No American-born player had ever participated in the Dodgers’ Dominican Winter League camp when a 20-year-old Piazza spent the winter of 1988 in Campo Las Palmas. After the 1991 season, Piazza spent a few months with the Mexicali entry in the Mexican Winter League.The following year, 1992, Piazza was ready. He advanced from Double-A at the beginning of the year all the way to the major leagues.“I think if there’s one thing that Mike doesn’t get enough credit for in my view, is that very thing of the drive,” Claire said, “and driving to achieve as much as he could. I can recall Mike may be the only player I know that went to the Dominican. Mike went to Mexico after his A-ball season. He wanted to succeed and worked all of his life with that dream.”Perceived slightsIn his 2013 memoir, Long Shot, Piazza recalled the time he got a standing ovation at Dodger Stadium at the end of the 1993 season, after which he was named National League Rookie of the Year. “Throughout the last month or so of the season I’d felt a warm wave of fan support and affection,” Piazza wrote, “and that was the day it all washed over me.”But these moments were in the minority.Piazza’s memoir also recalled, in detail, how slighted he felt being the third-string catcher on his Rookie-ball team in 1990. That caused him to walk away for a time, intending to quit.“The whole episode had driven the romance right out of me,” he wrote. “I’d never again bleed Dodger blue.”Piazza called the speculation that he was only a Dodger because of his relationship with Lasorda a “bitter” subject. He carefully noted the lack of support he received for the MVP award, at one point singling out the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Vin Scully.The final straw came when Piazza was traded from the Dodgers to the Florida Marlins in 1998. “That effectively ended my relationship with the Dodgers,” Piazza wrote.Claire had no knowledge of the trade until it was completed behind his back by the team’s new ownership group.“I saw Mike as a Dodger for a lifetime,” Claire said. “I never wanted to see a dispute. I wanted to see resolution.”As fate has itAs Piazza described in Long Shot, all the perceived slights he experienced as a Dodger merely fed his drive. They’re two sides of the same coin. His moodiness at the ballpark alienated some teammates; one who was interviewed for this story said he had “nothing good to say about Mike Piazza.”“If that’s where you knew him, that’s probably the personality you thought represented him,” said Eric Karros, Piazza’s best friend as a Dodger. “He wasn’t close with a lot of guys. When he played, he was dead serious.”Karros also believes that Piazza would have found his edge regardless. Whether he was drafted early or late, by the Dodgers or some other team, Piazza would have found the drive he needed to reach the Hall of Fame somehow.“Things didn’t work out at (the University of) Miami,” Karros said. “He ended up going to a junior college. The Dodgers thing was probably an extension of what he dealt with the majority of his life.”As it happens, however, Piazza hasn’t been to Dodger Stadium since his final season in 2007. The opportunity to play professionally, the catching lessons, and the motivation the Dodgers handed Piazza are exclusive property of the past.This weekend, a magazine will be distributed in Cooperstown containing an advertisement placed by the Dodgers congratulating Piazza on his induction. That’s the extent of their relationship these days, cordial but distant.Karros believes that Piazza will be seen at Dodger Stadium again, eventually. Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ chief marketing officer, said Piazza is already welcome.“We’re proud that he was a Dodger and we’re excited for him,” Rosen said. “We’re hoping one day he’ll come to Dodger Stadium and see the love from the fans and the Dodger organization.”last_img read more

Devoted owners medicating aging pets

first_imgWAYNE COUNTY, N.C. – With aging, it’s become a routine faithfully endured by the Guffords. Each day starts with a blood-sugar check and a shot of insulin. Then a couple of pills, maybe mashed into a bowl of tuna and canned carrots. Mixed with dry chow. All for their 12-year-old dog. Brownie takes more drugs than his human companions put together. He has been medicated in recent months for diabetes, infections, high blood pressure and his finicky gut that rebels at red meat. Since 2005, he has taken drugs for everything from anemia to a spider bite. “He’s our baby; he’s a family member. I would want somebody to do that for me,” says Ann Gufford. She estimates spending $5,000 over the past two years on medicine for her baby, a mixed beagle-cocker spaniel. He has lost a couple of steps on the squirrels outside their little home near Goldsboro. His hearing is failing. Still, without some of the drugs, he’d probably be gone. “You cannot put a price on that,” says Ann Gufford. “And I don’t want to,” adds her husband Ben. Americans have begun to medicate their dogs, cats and sometimes other pets much as they medicate themselves. They routinely treat their pets for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and soon maybe even obesity. They pick from an expanding menu of mostly human pharmaceuticals like steroids for inflammation, antibiotics for infection, anti-clotting agents for heart ailments, Prozac or Valium for anxiety, even the impotence drug Viagra for a lung condition in dogs. Increasingly, they buy at people pharmacies or online and sometimes pay with health insurance. Until recent decades, American veterinarians still concentrated on care that reflected the country’s agrarian roots: keeping farm animals healthy to protect the human food supply. Instead of being medicated, a very sick animal was quickly sacrificed to save the herd. Pets were typically kept outside with the cows, chickens and pigs. A dog was lucky for a dry place in a crude shelter; a cat, for a warm spot in the barn. Within the past five years, pets have finally overtaken farm animals in the pharmaceutical marketplace, claiming 54 percent of spending for animal drugs, according to the trade group Animal Health Institute. Keeping more than 130 million dogs and cats alone, Americans bought $2.9 billion worth of pet drugs in 2005. Though equal to only 1 percent of human drug sales, the market has grown by roughly half since 2000. “As more and more drugs are being developed for people, more and more drugs are being developed for veterinary medicine. It’s really a parallel track,” says Dr. Gerald Post, founder of the nonprofit Animal Cancer Foundation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 40 new pet drugs over the past five years. One of them was Slentrol, which became the first government-approved slenderizer for obese dogs in January. It will cost up to $2 a day, though buyers could presumably put their animals on a diet and save money on dog food in the bargain. “We’re treating them like part of the family, so we indulge them,” says Georgette Wilson, a vet for Slentrol’s maker, the animal health branch of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. “We give them too much food. We don’t exercise them as much as we can.” The market growth reflects an intensifying bond between pets and their people, who are comforted by the unquestioning love of their animals in an affluent society where traditional institutions are frayed and mobility severs family ties. A 2002 survey for the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 47 percent of people viewed their pets as family members. This attitude – people depending on their pets – makes customers vulnerable to overspending, some vets warn. For example, a single three-month course of pet chemotherapy might cost $3,000, though chemo in an animal is meant more to ease symptoms than prolong life. It’s a reasonable option only for some pets. Researchers have also begun to test new, expensive, targeted cancer drugs like Gleevec on animals. “I really should have let him go before I did,” says Margaret Park of Raleigh, who had her failing Abyssinian cat treated with a second round of chemo. “When you’ve been treating an animal for a really long time, you lose your objectivity a little bit.” Unwilling to let go, some people go to extremes to scrape up the cash – even mortgaging their houses, says Dr. Steve Suter, who treats pet cancers at North Carolina State University’s veterinary college. “It doesn’t affect people at all. They love their animal,” he says. Most days, retiree Ben Gufford takes Brownie into Goldsboro for lunch at Burger King. In the drive-through lane, he orders the fish fillet sandwich – hold the mayo – for Brownie, along with a chicken sandwich for himself. Then Gufford takes the fish from the bread, cools it with the air conditioner and sops up the grease with napkins to accommodate Brownie’s sensitive digestive tract. Brownie wolfs down his lunch from Gufford’s outstretched hand, along with any pills he refused at breakfast. “It puts new meaning into their motto: Have it your way!” cracks Gufford’s wife. The Guffords take life Brownie’s way. When Ann Gufford’s parents and Brownie fell ill two years ago, she visited all three daily at their hospitals. Ann Gufford, who works as a laboratory technician in a hospital, says some co-workers seem to think she “should just go and put that dog down and forget about it.” She adds disdainfully: “They have yard dogs.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! 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Boom or Bust as Homers, Strikeouts Dominate Diamond

first_imgWASHINGTON (AP) — Boom or bust. This is what baseball has become — and that has owners worried.“It’s just kind of what it is: home runs and strikeouts,” Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said.Stripling had just given up 10th-inning home runs on consecutive pitches to Houston’s Alex Bregman and George Springer on a night players combined for 10 longballs , nearly double the previous All-Star record.Last fall, you may remember, the Dodgers and Astros totaled 25 home runs in the World Series , four more than had ever been hit before in a Fall Classic.“It’s extremely tough to manufacture hits these days, especially with the shift,” Stripling said after the American League’s 8-6 win Tuesday night. “I certainly understand that’s where the game’s going, and so I think this game encapsulated that.”It took until the 344th pitch for a run to be driven in on something other than a homer, Michael Brantley’s tack-on sacrifice fly that boosted the AL’s lead to 8-5. Joey Votto added the final home run in the bottom half, four more than the previous All-Star mark.“Everybody’s throwing 97 to 100,” Washington ace Max Scherzer, the NL starter, said in a reference to pitch velocity. “You’re not going to string three hits together like that. So everybody’s just swinging for the fence.”Hours earlier, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was expressing alarm. Strikeouts (24,537) are on track to surpass hits (24,314) for the first time and are likely to set a record for the 12th straight season. This year’s average of 17.0 per game is up from 12.6 in 2005. The current big league batting average of .247 would be the lowest since 1972.And the average of 2.28 homers per game is just below the record 2.51 set last year.“Standard operation nowadays, right? We’re going to homer-and-punch-out as an industry,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who led the AL to victory. There’s a great love affair with both results.”Among 90 plate appearances, 44 ended in a home run, strikeout (25) or walk (nine), at 48.9 percent the highest in All-Star history, according to STATS.“I don’t really want to see guys shorten up and slap the ball around the infield just to avoid a strikeout. That doesn’t excite me,” Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon, who won the NL batting title last year while hitting 37 home runs. “I don’t mind strikeouts. That doesn’t mean I want guys swinging way out of the zone, but it doesn’t bother me.”Many cite shifts as the cause of the, well, big shift in offense, transforming groundballs that once were hits into outs. There have been 20,587 shifts on balls in play, according to Baseball Info Solutions. That projects to a full-season total of 34,668 — up 29.8 percent from last year and an increase from 6,882 for the entire 2013 season.“There is a growing consensus or maybe even better an existing consensus among ownership that we need to have a really serious conversation about making some changes to the way the game is being played,” Manfred said. “We are not at the point where I can articulate for you what particular rule changes might get serious consideration. I can tell you the issues that concern people: I think that the period of time between putting balls in play, the number of strikeouts, to a lesser extent the number of home runs, the significance of the shift and what it’s done to the game, the use of relief pitchers and the way starting pitchers are going to be used.”When it comes to change, players are Luddites. Union head Tony Clark maintained his members are “stewards of the game” and are resistant to tinkering with the rules for fear of unintended consequences.“We may get to a point where those coming to the ballpark or have an interest in coming to the ballpark for whatever reason aren’t 100 percent certain that what they are seeing is the type of game that they want to see,” Clark said.Home runs bring the crowd to its feet, especially by the home team. Think back to the 1998 Nike advertisement with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, titled “Chicks Dig the Long Ball.” The Yankees’ Aaron Judge started the barrage with a second-inning solo shot off Scherzer.“I know the fans enjoy seeing these homers,” Judge said.By RONALD BLUM , AP Baseball WriterTweetPinShare55 Shareslast_img read more