ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Gabe Neitzel
By: Gabe Neitzel
Nostalgia is an interesting feeling. We all have felt the feeling at some point. For me, this past week has been full of that feeling. This is my last summer in Madison, and my last summer with the Madison Mallards. I have been enjoying every last bit of this week with the Madison Mallards, but this could be one of the toughest days for me though, as this will be my last night at the Duck Pond as the play by play voice as the Mallards. I am going to miss a lot about ESPN Madison. I loved PrepMania, and the fastest three hours during my week in the fall. I am going to miss the people I am lucky enough to call my teammates. But I am especially going to miss my time with the Madison Mallards.
The Mallards and the Duck Pond is where I got my first real opportunity with ESPN Madison, which in 2008 was called “Madison Sports Radio.” Jim Rutledge and I were getting an opportunity to host a show called “Baseball Night in Madison” before every Mallards home game. I like to think I was cool, calm, and rock solid in that first ever show. However, I know that isn't the case, mostly because Jim likes to tell the story, of right before we went on-air. There was a sponsor and a tag line that I had to read at the beginning of the show. Jim says my hand was shaking and he was surprised I could read it it was shaking so bad. So much for being calm and collected.
For the next six seasons, I was able to call the press box at the Duck Pond “home” for the summer. I played baseball in college, and since I clearly wasn't good enough to play at the next level, this was the next best thing. I found out a way to go to the ballpark every single day, and get paid for it. It was perfect. I got to meet a lot of good people throughout the past six seasons, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to sit next to and work with all of them.
My time in Madison has come to an end though. I am going to miss the Mallards, and I am going to miss going to the ballpark. As some of you know, I have accepted a position to slide over to the Milwaukee affiliate of ESPN Wisconsin. It is a tremendous opportunity for me, and I am very excited for it. I am excited to still be a part of the ESPN Wisconsin family, so I will still be around, only based out of the Milwaukee office, as compared to the Madison office.I will likely do what I am about to do on-air, but I want to do it in this space as well. I have lots of people to thank for allowing me to be a kid for 70 days for these past five or six years.
First I need to thank all of my ESPN Madison teammates. Ken Rovak, our General Manager, and Jim Rutledge, our Program Director, allowed me to be more or less non-existent around the office during the summer, which is a crazy busy time for us. Those two, along with Laura Mizer, Cathryn Curoe, Andrew Klein, Greg Scalzo, Zach Heilprin, Scott Kirst, and Tony Cartagena really pick up the slack while I have done the Mallards during the summer. A special thanks to adviser Evan Cohen as well, as he is the first to allow me to do the Mallards. He was also huge in helping me advance to Milwaukee.
I also have to thank the Mallards front office. Mallards President Vern Stenman, GM Conor Caloia, and Owner Steve Schmitt have allowed me to come back every year and be a part of the organization that they have worked so hard to build and maintain. I will be forever grateful that they let me join them for the fun parts during the summer.
This last season obviously has been a ride. It feels great to cap off my last year by winning the co-broadcaster of the year in the Northwoods League. While my name appeared on the list, I honestly share the award with everyone I just mentioned above. Without all of them, our accomplishment of that award never happens.
I also want to say thank you to all of the ESPN Madison and Mallards fans who have allowed us to be as successful as we have been. Its always great to meet and talk with all of you.
There are just two, maybe three games left in my Madison career. So, in the immortal partial words of Jake Taylor (of the movie Major League) “I guess there is only one thing left to do....”
By: Gabe Neitzel
The Bucks need to bottom out. Its no secret anymore. You just can't be in the middle of the NBA. You don't want to be a 7th or 8th seed. I'm not even sure you want to be a 6th seed. You can't be a team that is just “good enough.” I know Jim Rutledge has yelled it from the roof tops for years. Bill Simmons just wrote one of his patented long pieces on the Lakers and how they need to tank. You either need to be really good in the NBA, or really bad. You don't become really good, by being mediocre. You don't just take that next step. It doesn't happen. Enough is enough. I can't stand watching the Bucks win between 30 and 40 games anymore.
I like Jeff Teague. I thought he would have been a nice player for the Bucks. But, I wasn't all that excited, because he would have been a continuing part of the problem. He is a good player, but he isn't good enough to take the Bucks to the next level. As I write this, the Hawks have committed to matching the Bucks offer sheet for Teague. I'm not sure what the Bucks options are, but Brandon Jennings returning could be on the table. I don't want him back, at all. I don't think he wants to be in Milwaukee, even for a year. And if he were to come back for just one season, he would make the Bucks good enough to compete for the 8th seed, especially when there are plenty of teams tanking to get a good pick in the 2014 class.
Look, I wish there was another way. I really wish there was. I'm a very competitive person, and I hate losing, more than I enjoy losing. To me, there are very few feelings worse than losing. But the Bucks need to change the culture, change this cycle they are currently in. They aren't signing a big-time free agent, because they aren't closing in on a title. Winning changes everything. You might be able to attract a marquee free agent if your team is winning. And right now there is only one way the Bucks can change their culture to one of winning, and that is by losing, and losing a lot.
They need to collect assets, which is why they have been collecting 2nd round draft picks this offseason. Granted, 2nd rounders don't take off and become All-Stars often, but having more picks never hurts anything. (And the Bucks last All-Star was a 2nd round pick in Michael Redd) They need to get a top 5 pick in the 2014 class. There are Franchise-changing players in this draft in the top 5. Getting one of them would help start to put together an intriguing team, that just maybe could attract a free agent.
In my lifetime, the Bucks have competed at the highest level of the NBA in one season. In 2001, they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, and haven't been anywhere near there since. I know they aren't going to morph into an NBA powerhouse overnight. But to have a bright 5 years where they might compete, that is something to look forward to. That is a reason to head to the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Running out a team that will get an 8 seed and get stomped in round 1 of the NBA playoffs is not a reason to go watch and support this team. I just hope that the front office for the Bucks figure this out before it is too late.
By: Gabe Neitzel
The US Open isn't a golf tournament. It is the highest test of patience in sports. Golfers who are used to shooting under par, are going to be over par, and in some cases, well over par. This year the US Open had Rory McIlroy turning his 9 iron into a Nike swoosh, made Tiger Woods look like a mere mortal, and saw Steve Stricker hit a hosel-rocket out-of-bounds, ending his day (in terms of being in contention) sooner than most (including me) would have hoped. I saw a tweet on Sunday saying something to the effect of “Merion is tough, but it doesn't make the players follow through with one hand on the club.” I would beg to differ. The margin for error at the US Open is so small, that by Sunday, most of the players are mentally exhausted. The mental pressure of a US Open final round is enough to make the best players in the world second guess themselves to the point where they make some of the most horrid swings we see all year long on the PGA Tour.
Our national golf championship doesn't have a winner, it has a survivor. It has one man left standing after a four day grind-a-thon, that has the casual golf observer saying “If I wanted to see someone play like me, I'd head out to my local course.” I get the basis of the argument. Casual golf fans want to see low scores, see incredible shots. They just don't appreciate the nuances of the game. There were plenty of amazing shots and putts last week. They just didn't result in birdies. If these people actually wanted to see “great golf” then watch this weeks Travelers Championship, when the winner will likely be 15 under par or so. Seeing how most of these people aren't going to be watching this weekend, I don't think they actually want to see they perceive as “good golf.”
This years survivor was Justin Rose. Its always nice to see someone who has been close in the past, who has had success, finally break though in one of the majors. Rose is that guy this year. He jumped onto the scene with a top 5 finish at the British Open in 1998, turned pro, missed 21 straight cuts, before really getting his career going. Seeing him finally fulfill potential was a good thing to see.
However, the narrative after every major now, is “What's wrong with Tiger?” Woods is back to being number 1 in the world, but it has now been 5 years since his last win in a major. I know he has cooled off the incredible pace that he set, but it is still completely possible for him to catch Jack. Some are wondering, and even predicting that he won't win another major in his historic career. I feel as if I'm one of the lone people out there, in my thinking that Tiger will win another major. If not for his approach shot hitting the pin on Friday on 15 at the Masters, he would have won yet another green jacket. I'm not positive that he'll catch Jack's 18 anymore, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. Look, Tiger will win another major. And the reason for thinking this is simple: There is only one player in the world, who can show up and say “If I play my best, I will win.” And that player once again, is Tiger Woods.
By: Gabe Neitzel
Bud Selig can't win. First he was too lenient on PEDs. Now, with some of the reaction via social media this past week, he is being too hard; he is performing a witch hunt. I'm not sure what I think of yet, of the new MLB pursuit of Alex Rodrigez, Ryan Braun, et all. I do feel that Selig and his office might be over-reaching, trying to get 100 game suspensions out of this situation. But I don't know what side of the fence I am on.
I've always been a defender of Selig. I thought he took too much heat for the PED issue, and way too much heat for the All-Star game tie in Milwaukee. Selig is set in his ways, and apparently before he retires, he wants to make one last push, to let everyone know how tough he is on Performance Enhancing Drugs. If he is successful in this endeavor, it would be the biggest PED bust in North American sports. However, he does need more than just the word of Tony Bosch to be successful. Bosch has told so many lies to this point, he can't keep them straight. Who knows what he would say to try and save himself from the feds?
I don't know how much I can support Selig in this case. This thing does seem a little witch-hunty to me. First MLB put out a lawsuit that they knew didn't have a chance of standing up in court on Bosch and some of his associates. Technically, their strategy worked, as Bosch didn't have the money left to defend himself or his former company, so instead, he ended up flipping and trying to help baseball against some of his former clients. To me, its pretty clear. Selig's office is not happy that Braun beat their system, and they want to have him suspended. If Braun's name wasn't in Bosch records, I wonder how hard baseball would pursue this.
So does this make Braun a victim in all of this? If he is innocent, yes. But there is just too much smoke coming from this Braun situation for there not to be a fire. So I don't think he is a victim here. MLB is going after him, and maybe he'll have to pay for any alleged baseball crime he may have committed.
This is why I am so confused on this situation. There are no winners. If baseball does get the 20 or so players in Bosch's records suspended, they may feel like they won. But everyone will question they went about it. If Braun doesn't get suspended, and avoids a suspension, again, there is still a huge cloud around him, and one that he may never be able to escape for the rest of his career. Either way, I don't think any outcome here is going to end up being good for baseball.
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know not everyone pays attention to golf each and every week like I do. But I do know that when Tiger plays, people pay attention. He won the Players Championship for the first time since 2001 (and only his second time overall) on Sunday, thus proving that anyone who asks the question, “Is Tiger Back?” is just plain stupid. Seriously. I don't want to hear “but he hasn't won a major since 2008.” He is the number 1 ranked player in the world, and has won 8 of his last 22 events. You know that 8 wins in a PGA career is spectacular, right? He's won the World Golf Championship events, and the Players field is as strong as any major. So lets go ahead and look back to see how Tiger took the Players with a Retro-Diary. We pick up the action with Tiger on the Back 9.
Hole 10-Tiger makes the turn at -13. He hasn't had to hit driver much at all this week. Although, when you hit a 5 wood around 300 yards, why would you even think about pulling the driver out of the bag?? He has a two shot lead, which is a dangerous proposition on the back nine. The back side at TPC Sawgrass plays easier than the front, and the way he has been hitting the ball all week, he can just make par after par and make other players try to catch him. Tiger has been better than anyone ever in this position. He stings an iron into the fairway to validate everything I just said. Meanwhile, on 17, Martin Laird is two shots back, but is on the wrong side of the green. Thanks for playing Martin. Last time we mention your name in this blog. Back to Tiger, where he hits a “Mediocre at best” shot into the green. But he is still on the putting surface, and I'm willing to bet he two putts. By the way, I love this NBC broadcast crew. Good mix of teaching, praise, and criticism (Most of the criticism comes from Johnny Miller). And to no one's surprise, Tiger two putts. Lets move on.
Hole 11-Ageless Jeff Maggert (age 49) just made birdie on the green, before Tiger even tees off. He is now in solo second at -12. Back at 10, Sergio is trying to play out of a fairway bunker. He misses the green. Short tangent on Sergio Garcia. I get he is a little fire-y. He plays with passion. But doesn't he know better to not try and accuse Tiger of anything? Do you really want to try and make Tiger mad? He is already the best player in the world, and we know that he plays tremendous when angry. Just ask Stephen Ames. I understand Sergio was upset, but probably shouldn't try to create controversy when there isn't any. Doesn't end well for anyone but Tiger, usually. Meanwhile, Tiger drills his drive on 11. First time he's hit driver all day, unfortunately, he pulls his iron and now has a tough 3rd shot coming up. Side note: I love NBC's slow motion camera, where they show the divots that these pros take. Fun to watch the dirt explode out of the ground. Tiger can't get up and down for birdie, so settles for par. Ho-hum.
Hole 12-Another iron off the tee for Tiger. No need to be aggressive. He is clearly telling the field to “come and get me.” There is a lesson for all of us amateurs out there (and yes, I am including myself). If the number 1 player in the world keeps the driver in the bag more often than not, why do we all feel the need to hit driver all the time? I get that we aren't as nearly long as Tiger is, but at the same time, positioning and finding the fairway are more important than out-driving your buddies. Nice Wedge by Tiger, and he has a good birdie look, that he rattles home. Seriously, if you ask the question “Is Tiger Back?” You should never be allowed to talk about sports ever again, because you aren't paying attention. Tiger now at -14, and two clear of the field.
Hole 13-Safe tee shot by Tiger, as he misses the green, but is on the fringe. Stays clear of the water on the par 3, as NBC shows yet another feature I love: the pro tracer. Seeing how the pros shape their shots is another fun tool to give insight on how these guys play. Good speed on the first putt, and Tiger makes another par. For being must see TV, Tiger can get a little boring when he has the lead.
Hole 14-Uh-oh. Tiger pulls his tee shot into the water. Maybe this will get interesting after all...Peter Jacobson is almost speechless while calling the action. He can't believe it. Sergio hits a good shot on 13, and suddenly he may be back in the picture. Tiger has a drop upcoming, and every golf troll out there is going to be paying super close attention as to where he drops this. I know there has to be someone out there looking through the rule book, trying to find some rule Tiger is violating. After Sergio hits his putt back on 13, 3 players are now at -12, and Tiger is going to drop at least one here. “Heckuva shot” is about the highest praise you can get from Johnny Miller, and that is how he described Tiger's recovery shot that leaves him just short of the green. Tiger can't get up and down, cards a double bogey 6, and we have a four way tie for first at -12. Yikes, Sunday at TPC Sawgrass just got a lot more fun.
Hole 15-Tiger bounces back nicely. Drills his 5 wood down the right side. Some people always do the club twirl after every shot (I'm looking at you Rory), but you know Tiger likes a shot when he a) twirls the club, b) starts walking after the shot or putt, or c) never looks at the ball, and just picks up his tee. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the universal sign for “I hate this shot” is dropping the club, like Ryan Palmer just did on 16. I don't think we'll be hearing from him the rest of the day. Tiger's iron play is now betraying him, as he misses the green. Tiger really looking at this one, as he knows he needs to get up and down for par. He hits as good of a shot as he can, and makes the par putt coming back. Meanwhile, at 17, we can say good-bye to co-leader Jeff Maggert. He just dunked his tee shot short of the island green into the water. This looks like a two man race between Tiger and Sergio.
Hole 16-This is a fun stretch of holes to close the tournament. 16 is a scoring hole in a par 5, while 17 is an easy hole, but is visually intimidating. 18 is a great closing hole, with water all the way down the left hand side. It feels like anything can happen. Tiger not happy with his tee shot, as he couldn't get it to draw, and is now in the rough. Back on 15, Sergio misses a long birdie putt, and it comes down to who will play these final 3 holes the best. Tiger gets aggressive in hacking out a ball that was buried in the rough, and finds a bunker short of the green. For a moment, it seemed as if the NBC announcing team thought Tiger could find the water. If he gets up and down, he has a one shot lead. Back on the tee, Sergio splits the fairway. He should be able to go for the green in two. Tiger will make birdie, as he splashes a sand shot to within gimme distance. The thing that has separated Tiger from the rest of the field in his career is his short game. No one can scramble or putt like Eldrick. Sergio, though, isn't going away, as he finds the green in two.
Hole 17-Realistically, this is not that hard of a hole. Its 122 yards to the front of the green, and the longest it could play to the pin is 150, if that. That is a wedge for just about everyone on tour. However, when you visually intimidate the players, that is when this hole become hard. You can't miss the green. If you miss the green, your ball is wet. There is no room for error. On top of that, this is one of the biggest tournaments of the year, with one of the best fields of the year. Now try to hit that 135 yard wedge shot. No pressure or anything. Tiger safely finds the green, but now has a massive two putt to make par. Back on 16, Sergio two putts for his birdie, and we are tied once again. Somehow, Tiger has a perfect lag putt, and will make par. Its now on Sergio to try and birdie 17 to take the outright lead. And before Tiger can even tee off on 18, it feels like the tournament is now over. Sergio got aggressive, and hits the ball short, and finds the water on 17. He is going to drop at least a shot. Meanwhile, David Lingmerth just stuck his tee shot, and has a birdie putt for the tie. He is the only one who can catch Tiger, as Sergio just took himself out of the tournament for sure. He elected to re-tee, and hitting three from the tee, he finds the water once again. Roger Maltbie, who is following the final group, just called Sergio's third tee shot a “little Tin Cup” as he refuses to go to the drop area. After he finally find the tee, the sarcastic cheers erupt from the croud.
Hole 18- Tiger pipes his drive on 18. If he doesn't make par, I would be shocked. Legitimately stunned. Back on 17, Lingmerth can't convert the birdie, and you can't help but think that was his best chance to catch Tiger. Speaking of Tiger, remember what I said before about him liking a shot? Well he starts to follow his approach on 18. Easy two putt for him, and now its up to Lingmerth to try and catch him with a birdie on the last, which seems unlikely seeing as Lingmerth just found the rough. Tiger could just wrap this thing up in style, by making this birdie putt, but alas, it was not to be. He is in at -13. Lingmerth actually finds the green, but leaves himself a putt that Miller calls a “one in fifty.” In other words, this is over.
And of course, it is. And I don't just mean this tournament, I mean this golf season. Seriously, Tiger has never played well here, other than the year he won in 2001. There is no way he doesn't win major number 15 this year. What is cool about this win, is that Tiger has now won his 100th, 200th, and 300th start on the PGA tour. I guess those things have a tendency to happen when you win over 25% of the tournaments you enter. Tiger has now won 4 tournaments, and just told Steve Sands of NBC that he is “getting better.” Getting better??? Yikes. If you like watching golf, I hope you like Tiger, because you are about to see a lot more of him.
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know that this isn't the sexiest NFL draft that you can remember. However, it doesn't mean it is less important than any other draft. In fact, as Packers fans, this might be an incredibly important draft. No one seems to have a clue as to what Ted Thompson is thinking, or who he is going to draft. But his philosophy of “Draft and Develop” becomes even more important, considering what has happened this off-season.
The Packers haven't been overly active in the free agent market, which hasn't been a surprise to some, but has been the cause of outrage to others. I wasn't expecting the Packers to go nuts this off-season, just because they had to re-sign Clay Matthews (5 years, $66 million), and Aaron Rodgers (Yet to sign, but will likely get north of $23 million). This year, the NFL salary cap will be $123 million. It was also $123 million in 2009. So, its not as if the cap number is just skyrocketing right now. So working under the assumption that Rodgers only gets $23 million per year, Matthews and Rodgers will take up roughly 29% of the team's salary cap next year.
Look, the Packers needed to spend this money on these two players. Matthews is the highest paid linebacker in NFL history. Is he the best linebacker in the NFL right now? I would say no, but we all know at this point that Joe Flacco isn't the best QB in the NFL right now, even though he is the highest paid player in league history. The Packers needed to sign Matthews. He is the only proven consistent play maker on the defense right now. The team needs Matthews, more than Matthews needs the Packers. When you are in a situation like that, chances are a guy will get a little more money than he may be worth.
The Packers have to pay Rodgers as well, mostly because if you let the best player in the league just walk away, that is a little embarrassing. He will be the highest paid player, and he should be. Its worth noting that Rodgers would take up 18.7% of the cap if he were to sign for $23 million per year. (Its also worth noting that in 2010, the GDP of the City of Green Bay was $14.7 Million. So no matter what, Rodgers will make more than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the city in which he resides during the season. Crazy.) Of teams that have won the Super Bowl since 2000, the QB who took up most of his team's salary cap is Eli Manning, who accounted for 11.3% of the Giants cap in 2011. The second highest? Brad Johnson, who took up 9.6% of the Buccaneers cap space in 2002.
So whats the point of everything I just told you? No, it isn't that the Packers shouldn't pay Rodgers, because they have to. Same goes for Matthews. The point is, that when you commit that much of your salary cap to two players, you need to draft and develop. Its only in the draft where you can lock up players to decent priced contracts for four to five years. When money is tight, you need to squeeze as much value as possible out of young players who aren't making as much as the veterans.
We all knew that this day would come. Thompson has been saving up cap space for years, knowing that if he hit on players in the draft, eventually he would have to make tough decisions, and let some players walk away, while locking up others to be franchise cornerstones. Those two cornerstones are Rodgers and Matthews, while other players, such as Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, and potentially Jermichael Finley, have been or will be allowed to walk away. And the Packers can't afford to go after big money free agents, as long as they have Matthews and Rodgers locked up.
So, while this draft isn't the best, it is deep. And that is why it is important that the Packers hit on a number of their draft picks. I know some will moan if Thompson trades out of the first round. However, especially in this draft, there isn't much difference between a late first round and early second round pick. Except for the money. Thompson has always wanted to compile draft picks, and he may want to continue that strategy, to give himself more opportunities to hit on that cheap, young talent that the Packers will need to fit under the salary cap.