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In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.

~ Sam Huff                    



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Dusty Hernandez-Harrison headlines a November festival of local boxing starting Saturday night.
by Thom Loverro
Oct 29, 2014 -- 9:52am
ESPN 980

Boxing is alive and thriving -- you just need to know where to look.

The sport may not dominate the national sports landscape anymore, with big fights drawing everyone's attention. But the local scene here in Washington and Baltimore is active, with great fights and rising stars

The biggest of those rising stars will step into the ring Saturday night, Nov. 1, at a great venue -- DAR Constitution Hall.

Dusty Hernandez-Harrison -- one of boxing's hottest rising young fighters, undefeated at 23-0 with 12 knockouts -- returns home to Washington to face veteran Michael Clark, with his 44-11-1 record and 18 knockouts.

Harrison has met every challenge so far -- including fighting on one of boxing's biggest stages, Madison Square Garden, winning the World Boxing Council Youth Welterweight championship -- and may be ready to step into the national spotlight as a major title contender. The fight with Clark was originally scheduled for Sept. 27, but hurt his ankle training, and it was postponed. Now he is healthy, and going up against a fighter with more bouts under his belt than any other Harrison has faced.

“I’m excited by the chance to fight in my hometown and am grateful to all the fans and my team for their continued support,” Harrison said. His father and trainer, Buddy Harrison said, “This was Dusty’s first injury as a professional. He is 100% healthy and ready to go and we are looking forward to the large DMV crowd.”

The show is called "Hometown Takeover," promoted by All-In Entertainment. "Dusty is certainly excited to be fighting in Washington, D.C., after developing his skills on the national level during the past 18 months," promoter Jeff Fried said.

Also on the show is another young rising star, Jarrett Hurd, a 24-year-old undefeated (12-0, 7 knockouts) junior middleweight.

Event tickets are available for purchase through Ticketmaster beginning Friday, October 10. Ticket prices are $150 Ringside, $75 Preferred Reserved, $50 Reserved and $25 General Admission. For additional information please visit www.ticketmaster.com or call All In Entertainment at (202) 331-3902.

Two veterans will meet in another high-profile show on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Patriot Center at George Mason University --a rematch between Jimmy Lange and Tony Jeter.

In 2012, Jeter won a controversial decision over Lange in a 10-round middleweight bout. Their rematch promises to be a personal battle.

Lange has been one of the most popular fighters in the area, and the shows he puts on at the Patriot Center have been successful and first-rate promotions.

The show also features one of the legendary fighters in Washington boxing history, former world super lightweight champion DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, who, at the age of 40, is coming off an impressive win over Daniel Attah at the Washington Convention Center.

Also on the Patriot Center card is world champion Tori “Sho Nuff” Nelson of Ashburn. Va. and Ronny Hearns, the son of Boxing Hall of Famer Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns.

Doors will open at 6:00 pm, with the first fight scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm. "Lange-Jeter 2: The Rematch" is presented by Jeff Valcourt and Valcourt Building Services.

Tickets, priced at $50, $75, $125, $250 and $500 (plus applicable service charges), can be purchased through all Ticketmaster outlets, including the Patriot Center box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com/ and via Phonecharge at 1-800-745-3000.

Up the road in Baltimore, boxing returns to the Royal Farms Arena with a card called “Baltimore Boxing Renaissance” on Thursday, Nov. 13, featuring a card of local rising boxing stars. Tickets are $30 to $350.

You also have several charity boxing shows in November – Jonathan Ogden’s event in Baltimore, and Fight Night in Washington. And I would be remiss if I didn’t note the terrific local boxing shows Keystone Boxing puts on at Rosecroft Raceway, with one just taking place on Oct. 24.

Boxing dead? Not in this area.


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Could Joe Maddon have managed the Washington Nationals?
by Thom Loverro
Oct 27, 2014 -- 9:10am
ESPN 980

You have to wonder if Joe Maddon had left the Tampa Bay Rays a year earlier – when the Washington Nationals had an opening for a manager – if he would have wound up in the Nats dugout.

But the Nationals have a manager – Matt Williams. Though he may have had a postseason meltdown, he was just named Sporting News National League Manager of the Year, and will likely win the same honor from the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.

Still, everyone has speculated that about 27 or 28 major league teams – most with managers – would take their guy for Maddon, one of the most respected managers in baseball.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and Joe Maddon are good friends, going back to when Maddon was Rizzo’s minor league manager in 1982. Maddon told me this story when I was doing a profile of Rizzo for Cigar Aficionado magazine.

“Joe Maddon, his former manager at Class A Salem in 1982, describes Rizzo as ‘the kind of guy who would fight for you and literally did.’ Rizzo was in the middle of a legendary minor league brawl in Salem. ‘We were playing the Bend Phillies, and I think it was the home opener,’ Maddon said. ‘There was a play at the plate and a fight broke out, and he was pushing the whole pile up against the backstop and had somebody pinned up against the fence. It was not a push-everybody-around-the-field baseball fight. It was a tough, real fight. And I must say, he thoroughly enjoyed it. He was never afraid.’”

They remain close, and Rizzo would have likely wanted Maddon to take the Nats job. But that doesn’t mean he would have gotten it.

It’s unlikely the Lerners would have paid Maddon the kind of money he will get -- $4 million to $5 million a year for 3-5 years, most likely.

The Lerners don’t pay managers. The only one they paid that kind of money to was Davey Johnson in 2012, and you saw that lasted one year. Matt Williams doesn’t make that kind of money.

So Joe Maddon in Washington, under any circumstances? Not likely.


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Postseason Press Box memories --- part 2
by Thom Loverro
Oct 23, 2014 -- 1:29pm
ESPN 980

The Washington Times stopped sending me to cover postseason baseball after 1997 for several reasons. The business was changing, and not for the better. Deadlines were getting worse, as newspaper distribution grew wider and wider in geography.

Many years ago, a hometown paper might have a 5-10 mile radius for delivery to most of its customers. Now, given not just the suburban growth but even to rural areas – and how willing people are to travel great distances from the city to live in affordable, comfortable housing – that radius was more like 90 miles now. We had customers to deliver the paper to in places like Richmond, Va., and Charles Town, W. Va.

Because of those limitations for us, the smaller paper in town, we didn’t have the resources on the desk and production to handle two late stories – a game story by our baseball writer and a column by me, sometimes coming in after midnight – for postseason baseball coverage. So they decided to just send our baseball writer to give the basics of coverage for our readers. Also, with about 10 minutes to file after the game ended, there would not be much difference between the game coverage and any column. So I was on hiatus from covering postseason baseball.

That changed in 2003, as the reality of baseball returning to Washington grew closer. It was important for me to be around the postseason atmosphere, where you run into many insiders in the baseball industry and can pick up valuable information about the story that I had been chasing since 1994 – a baseball team in Washington.

I came back to postseason baseball in 2003, and I came back with a bang.

I covered the memorable 2003 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. I was in the Fenway Park press box for game three on October 11, 2003, with the series tied at 1-1, when all hell broke loose.

 

It was a matchup between former Red Sox pitching great Roger Clemens and the ace who replaced him, Pedro Martinez. The atmosphere was tense. Karim Garcia was hit in the back by a pitch from Martinez. The Yankee dugout started yelling at Martinez. Then Manny Ramirez was buzzed by a Clemens fastball and charged the mound. Both dugouts emptied, and it was an all-out brawl. But right in front of us, we saw 72-year-old Don Zimmer running toward Martinez with his arms swinging. He was going to fight him! Martinez grabbed him on the back of the head and pulled him down to the ground, and it felt like something pretty bad was about to happen. After about 15 minutes, order seemingly was restored.

A few innings later, though, I was sitting near Sports Illustrated Tom Verducci when he yelled, “There’s a fight in the bullpen!” We looked up and saw Yankees relief pitcher Jeff Nelson fighting with a Fenway Park groundskeeper.

Since this was an afternoon game, there was no shortage of column material for me and plenty of time to write it.

Game four the next day was rained out, which led to dueling press conferences between the Red Sox and Yankees brass, each blaming the other for what happened. Remember, this was the height of the “Evil Empire” designation that Boston owner Larry Lucchino gave the Yankees.

I was in the Yankee Stadium press box for game seven, when Grady Little left a tiring Pedro Martinez in the game in the eighth inning, resulting in the Yankees scoring three runs to tie the game at 5-5. And yes, I was there Aaron Boone sent Tim Wakefield’s first pitch deep into the Bronx night for the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th.

ESPN 980 Right next to the press box at Yankee Stadium was George Steinbrenner’s celebrity box. And the only thing separating the two was a piece of plexiglass. I was sitting front row right next to the plexiglass. Right on the other side, just a few feet away, sat Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, who, like many Yankees fans that night, hugged each other in joy after Boone blasted his home run.

The Yankees would go on to lose a forgettable six-game World Series to the upstart Florida Marlins. I remember the Marlins colorful manager, Jack McKeon, telling a story about how he went to church every morning, and before he walked in, he would put the cigar he was smoking in a ledge outside the church. Then, when he came out after services, take the cigar back out and light it up again. My father would do the same thing.

I was there again in 2004 when the Yankees were up 3-0 in the League Championship Series – winning game three by a score of 19-8 – when, down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound, wound up winning the game when pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second and scored on a single by Bill Mueller to tie the game. Boston would win on a two-run home run by David Ortiz in the 12thinning, and remarkably, win the next three as well to take the series. They would face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Boston would sweep St. Louis, but what I remember from this was several columns I came up with. Here is some more inside baseball – because of our deadline limitations, I had to write columns for the next day that stood up no matter what the result of the game was, a feature-style column. Sometimes that is easy, when you simply write about the next day’s starting pitchers. But this was my column – a source of pride – and I wanted to come up with something different, something unique. Sometimes, I nailed it.

The Red Sox-Cardinals series featured a showdown between two former partners – Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino and St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt. They were partners to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1993 for $140 million from Eli Jacobs, when the deal fell apart because Jacobs went into bankruptcy. Lucchino and DeWitt agreed to become partners with Peter Angelos when he made his successful $173 million bid for the franchise in bankruptcy court, but both found out there is nothing more limited than being a limited partner with Peter Angelos. Lucchino dropped out quickly after the sale, and DeWitt, after declaring upon the sale of the team that he would be in charge of baseball operations, bowed out a year later.

Now both of them would face each other in the World Series – both had recovered well and were now enjoying success that Angelos never had in baseball.

The column for someone from Washington, and particularly Baltimore, to write was about the two owners. Turns out I was the only one who noticed that.

Getting Lucchino was easy. I had a relationship with him ever since I did the book, “Home of the Game – the story of Camden Yards.” I got him on the phone and interviewed him about his history with DeWitt and how they both wound up there now in the World Series.

But DeWitt was harder. I had met him before, but didn’t know him well. I had no way to get in touch with him, so that meant I had to go through the Cardinals public relations department. Like most major league baseball PR departments, they were useless, so I only had a one-sided column.

Walking through a packed Fenway Park just minutes before game time – surrounded by a sea of people – I turn around suddenly and bump into – guess who – Bill DeWitt! I spent a few minutes interviewing him and had my column – a good angle that no one else had.

The other column I liked from that series was something that tied into the pain of Red Sox fans, particularly the 1986 World Series pain, the game six loss to the New York Mets on the ground ball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs. In a small item in the Boston Globe – about an inch – was a note about a baseball clinic being held in town that featured a number of former major league ballplayers.

One of the players? Mookie Wilson.

Mookie Wilson was going to be in Boston during the World Series – the man whose dribbler of a ground ball changed the history of this franchise. That was too good to pass up, so I went to the clinic and interviewed Wilson.  I always thought it was curious that Boston fans never vilified Wilson for hitting the ground ball. They made Buckner the villain, though it was likely that Wilson would have beat out the ground ball anyway. So I had a column about Mookie Wilson in Boston while the Red Sox were trying exorcise the curse of that ground ball. 

 


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Remarkable moments in postseason baseball - on and off the field
by Thom Loverro
Oct 17, 2014 -- 12:06pm
ESPN 980

This time of year I count my blessings for being able to have witnessed a number of remarkable moments in postseason baseball, both on and off the field. I’ve covered nine World Series and a host of League Championship Series and Division Series games for the Washington Times. Every time I do, I think back to being a kid growing up in Brooklyn and watching World Series games and thinking, “Other people go to those games. Not me.”

My first was 1993 – I covered the ALCS between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox. The Blue Jays would win that series in six games and go to defend their World Championship against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

What I remember from that ALCS is what happened that had nothing to do with baseball. A buzz went through the new Comiskey Park press box during game one of the series on October 5 – Michael Jordan – at the age of 30 in his prime – was retiring from baseball.

The next day I was at the Rosemont Center – the Bulls practice facility – covering this bizarre press conference, an event with questions that remain unanswered today.

The announcement cast a pall over the city, and the White Sox would go down to Toronto in six games. I remain convinced that if there had been a full 1994 season – no baseball strike – the 1994 White Sox would have won the American League pennant. It was a very talented team, led by Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura offensively, and Jack McDowell, Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez on the mound.

I went on to cover the World Series that year, and yes, I was in Skydome – the name of the Toronto ballpark which had been opened for just four years (it’s called the Rogers Centre now) and was still a remarkable sight at the time, with its retractable roof – when Joe Carter hit his famous three-run game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off Phillies reliever Mitch Williams, with Philadelphia leading 6-5, to win the World Series. The place went crazy, with fireworks and celebrations, and the press box was frenzied with people killing their stories that had the Phillies winning and extending the series to seven games to writing about Carter’s historic home run.

That’s not my favorite game in that series, though. My favorite was game four in Philadelphia – a wild 15-14, four hour-plus nine inning game. The Vet was as loud as I’ve ever seen a ballpark, and this was the year the one-hit wonder, “Whoomp, there it is,” by Tag Team came out, and it was the theme song for that crazy – and steroid racked – Phillies team, with Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, Dave Hollins, John Kruk, Curt Schilling and others. Every time a Phillies batter got a hit, the entire ballpark would chant, “Whoomp, there it is.”

Whoomp, there it is was there early and often. Philly had a 6-0 lead after two innings, and Blue Jays starter Todd Stottlemyre was out of the game after two innings. But on the other side, Phillies starter Tommy Greene surrendered seven runs in three innings, and he was gone as well.
 

The run fest continued as Philadelphia took a 12-7 lead after two-run home runs by Dykstra and Daulton in the fifth inning. Philly led 14-9 in the eighth inning when Toronto scored six runs to take a 15-14 lead. The Blue Jays scored three of those runs off Mitch Williams, who received death threats called into Veterans Stadium before the game ended – and that was before he gave up the Joe Carter home run in game six.

Some of those death threats might have come from the press box, as writers on deadline had to change what seemed to be an easy Phillies win game story in the eighth inning into a Toronto comeback – negating much of what they had written up to that point. And, given it was the longest nine inning game in World Series history, deadlines were already strangling everybody covering the game.
 

There was no postseason in 1994 because of the baseball strike. What I remember about 1995 was covering the World Series between the Braves and Indians – Chief Wahoo vs. the Tomahawk Chop – was that I was covering two or three stories before I ever got to the park to start writing about the series. While this World Series was going on, Bill Collins made a deal to buy the Houston Astros and move them to Washington-Northern Virginia, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos was firing his general manager Roland Hemond and manager Phil Regan. So I was working those stories before Tom Glavine ever threw a pitch.
 

Then came 1996 – the bizarre scene at Camden Yards the morning of the first division series game between the Orioles and the Indians. The series came on the heels of Roberto Alomar spitting in John Hirschbeck’s face on the last weekend of the season in Toronto. Umpires were threatening to boycott the postseason unless Alomar was banned from playing.

American league president (yes, there were still American League and National League presidents back then) Gene Budig gave Alomar a five-game suspension, which would not start until the following season. That really didn't address the level of anger towards the Orioles second baseman.
 

Alomar became a national villain. It became front page news and was threatening the very American League Division Series about to start between the Orioles and the Indians. The umpires threatened not to work the game. Major League Baseball went to court that morning to get an injunction to force the umpires back to work. They also hired a crew replacement umpires which was hidden away in the auxiliary clubhouse deep in Camden Yards waiting to be called on if needed.

About 40 minutes before the game, the regular umpires were still in their hotel near Camden Yards, watching ESPN and waiting for a call from their attorney, as everyone wondered if the Alomar incident would cause the fall season to unravel.

Twenty minutes before game time, Marty Springsteen, American League supervisor of umpires, came out of the umpires room and told reporters the regular umpires would work that day. The crew arrived at the ballpark like rock stars, with cameras running in reporters jostling to get a glimpse of them. An agreement had been reached that they would hold off on their threat.

Ironically, Alomar would hit the game-winning home run in game 4 of a 12 inning, 3-3 tie to win the series for Baltimore. I vividly remember during the Orioles clubhouse celebration his brother Sandy, the Indians catcher, coming into the Orioles clubhouse to find his brother, and watching them both burst into tears as they hugged each other.

Little did I know the 1996 postseason was about to get crazier.

The Orioles would go to New York to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and it was over in game one.

In the bottom of the eighth, with one out and the Orioles leading 4-3, New York's Derek Jeter hit a high drive to right field that Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco -- now the Washington Nationals first base coach -- took his time getting under on the warning track, standing up and waiting for the ball to come down.

Then, just like that, it disappeared.

"To me, it was a magic trick, because the ball just disappeared out of thin air," Tarasco said. "Merlin must have been in the house."

Jeter's ball turned from an out - or a double, at the very most - into a home run that tied the game at 4-4, allowing the Yankees to hang on until Bernie Williams tagged a solo shot in the bottom of the 11th off reliever Randy Myers for a 5-4 win

The magician in this case was a 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier who reached out over the wall and made the catch of a lifetime, snaring the ball in his glove before it could reach Tarasco. It was clearly fan interference. If it wasn't, then there is no reason for the rule to exist, unless fan interference applies only when a player is tackled on the field by a fan.

"The way I saw it, I thought the ball was going out of the ballpark," Garcia said. "The ball was going out of the ballpark, and I called it a home run."

 That was an illusion. The reality, shown time and time again on replays, was that the ball was not a home run, that it would have at the very least hit the wall, and Tarasco certainly believed he was going to catch the ball. Once Garcia realized he had been tricked by young Maier the Magnificent, after seeing a postgame replay, he essentially admitted he blew it.

"Obviously, after looking at the replay, it was not a home run," Garcia said. "But from what I saw, the fan reached out, not down, which, in my judgment, did not interfere with the guy catching the ball."

That was still extremely debatable. But even if that were the case, the worst that should have come out of it would have been a double for Jeter, which is what should have happened.

I saw Garcia the next morning eating breakfast at my hotel – the LaGuardia Marriott, otherwise known as the Goodfellas Marriott. He seemed hungry. Later that day for game two at Yankee Stadium, he was signing autographs for Yankee fans.

Baseball had a chance to do something courageous and unique after that. The Orioles – actually Angelos’ law firm – filed a detailed appeal seeking to have the outcome of the game overturned. The league denied the appeal, but years later, general manager Pat Gillick said it was a moment for baseball to do the right thing and they blew it. “Instead, the Yankees won the game, and this kid was a hero in New York, on television, on the back pages of the newspaper,” he told me.

My memory of the following postseason? The 1997 Orioles led the American League East wire-to-wire, only to lose to the Indians in the League Championship Series. But I have a fond memory of that postseason – game one of the Orioles division series against the Seattle Mariners.

With Randy Johnson on the mound for Seattle in the Kingdome, Orioles manager Davey Johnson benched his three best hitters – Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff, all lefthanded hitters. Johnson started Jerome Walton for Palmeiro at first, Jeff Reboulet for Alomar at second and Jeffrey Hammonds for Surhoff in right field.

It’s the boldest postseason decision I have ever seen – and it worked.

Johnson benched 72 home runs and 258 RBI in favor of three hitters who had a combined 28 home runs and 91 RBI.

Baltimore would beat up on the fearsome Johnson with a 9-3 win to take a 1-0 lead in the Division Series. "I'll bet no one in history has ever started a playoff series by sitting down their leading home run hitter and RBI guy," general manager Pat Gillick said.

It may have been disappointing for the Orioles to fall short of a World Series appearance in those two seasons. But it was a heck of a ride, with a lot of great memories.

The Orioles would begin a 14-season losing tailspin the following year. The Times decided to cut back on its postseason baseball commitment, and I didn’t cover another postseason until 2003. That, as we know, turned out to be a memorable one, which I will pick up in part two of my postseason memories.


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Redskins have something to prove now -- that they care
by Thom Loverro
Oct 10, 2014 -- 10:53am
ESPN 980

As they say in Animal House, "Otter, this is getting serious. They're taking the bar."

You've got a Redskins team that is 1-4 and could be 1-5 by the end of the day Sunday.

This is getting serious. They're taking the season.

You lose to the Arizona Cardinals and go 1-5, you're a lot closer to that familiar point of the season for this franchise -- the point where the new head coach has to look around the locker room and see "who wants to be here and who doesn't."

Fortunately, this team may have had an epiphany of sorts last week -- thanks to the messenger.

You know the saying, "Don't blame the messenger" when it comes to the media? Well, this time you can give credit to the messenger.

This team found itself called out last week after their satisfying 27-17 loss Monday night to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. They thought they had accomplished something, but were exposed for failing to have a true sense of themselves.

Their very essence as football players was being called into question.

That should put a giant chip on their shoulders going into this Cardinals game -- and a chip on the shoulder can be a very powerful performance enhancing substance. And since they aren't facing Russell Wilson or Eli Manning, they have an opportunity to celebrate a win instead of a loss. They have something to prove now -- that they care.


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Results vs Potential: Kirk Cousins vs RGIII
by Thom Loverro
Sep 19, 2014 -- 1:40pm
ESPN 980

We heard from Redskins Super Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann during the preseason. We heard from former NFL head coach Herm Edwards.on ESPN. If the Washington Redskins had a quarterback competition during training camp, Kirk Cousins would have beaten out Robert Griffin III. Well, we've got a quarterback competition now.

It will be Kirk Cousins results vs. Robert Griffin III potential.

Cousins results weren’t great the last time he was a starter – the last three game of the 2013 season. That’s hardly a fair comparison, since he was taking over a 3-10 team in turmoil with a coach who was on the way out the door.

Now, taking over a 1-1 team with a new coach trying to prove himself, we’ll get a real measure of just how good of an NFL quarterback Cousins is. Even last week’s outstanding performance, leading the team to a 41-10 victory over the Jaguars, has the preparation asterisk next to it – Jacksonville prepared for Griffin, not Cousins.

No asterisks this week. The Philadelphia Eagles know that Cousins will be the quarterback they are facing. So will the New York Giants, the Seattle Seahawks and every other team on the schedule for the foreseeable future.

If those results are good, it will be hard to see how the Redskins can avoid a quarterback competition. Griffin showed just enough of a taste in the early minutes of the Jacksonville game of the great RGIII, running with the ball and throwing with accuracy and confidence. The potential is still too great to ignore.

But so will the results of Kirk Cousins.


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