Sunday, July 31, 2016

Catching Up With The Catcher

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When Milwaukee Brewers Catcher Jonathan Lucroy decided to put the Detroit Tigers on one of his eight teams list he'd veto a trade, I doubt that GM Al Avila was losing any sleep over this.

First of all, Avila would have to deal prospects to get a guy that would last a year and a half before hitting free agency, thus this would risk mortgaging the future.

Is current Tigers Catcher James McCann an All-Star back stopper?

If you judge his offensive stats the answer would be no.

The Santa Barbara, CA native has a career average of .244 with 14 HR and 68 RBI. In 2016, he's hitting .204 with eight HR and 31 RBI.

On Sunday, the 6-2, 210, 26-year-old belted a grand slam to lead the Tigers to an 11-0 thrashing over the Houston Astros at Comerica Park.

But defensively, McCann, is rock solid and he's well respected by his pitchers.

When the Tigers faced the Miami Marlins in South Florida during their opening series, I had the chance to catch up with the catcher and we had a nice conversation.

Q: What did you learn from your first season that will carry over to your second campaign?

A: The one thing that you can't replace at this level is experience. You can play as much as you want in the Minor Leagues, get as much reps as you want, but it's really the stuff at the big league level that counts, and definitely helps, plus more of a comfort level. You understand how long the season is and not fret over the little things. That goes a long way as experience.

Q: Let's talk about the pitching staff. What was your first year like handling one at the big league level?

A: I've learned a lot more about them. We have a great pitching staff and great guys. They like to talk baseball and it makes it easier to get to know the guys. You get to know what they like to do. I've enjoyed getting to know the new guys on the staff.

Q: What's it like catching Justin Verlander (11-6)?

A: He's a great guy. He works his tail off. He leaves nothing uncovered. He's always looking at the scouting reports on every little thing that he can uncover to get an edge. He's a guy you can learn from.

Q: The Tigers found their closer in Francisco Rodriguez (29 saves). How much did you like that acquisition?

A: It was good. I've  been watching him as a kid. His success on the field speaks for itself. He knows the game like nobody else. He's extremely good at what he does.

Q: Finally, your Manager Brad Ausmus was a former catcher. What have you learned from him?

A: Brad Ausmus has had a lot to offer. He played the position 18 years in the big leagues and gives me a lot of great information.

As the trade deadline approaches, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tigers bolster their pitching staff as long as it doesn't cost them an elite prospect.

The team will get a boost when Jordan Zimmermann (9-4) returns to the starting rotation.

J.D Martinez (.286, 12 HR and 39 RBI) should be a welcome addition to the Tigers, who are now 57-48 and are in playoff contention.

Meanwhile, thanks to Lucroy, the Tigers best decision is the one they may not have to make and that's sticking with McCann for the rest of the year.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and he's a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tribute To Mr. Hockey

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO BY CANDICE EBLING (MARK HOWE)

If September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 are dates that are unforgettable dates in American History, then June 10, 2016 is a day in sports that will not likely be forgotten.

This is the day that Muhammad Ali's Funeral took place as "The Greatest Of All Time" was laid to rest.

When I read on Facebook that My Childhood Idol Gordie Howe died at 9:35 AM, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. But when I heard it on Mike and Mike In The Morning at 9:52 AM that Howe passed away, then the news stung even more.

Mike and Mike rarely talk about Hockey, but ESPN 2's producers did a good job compiling as much information in a 90 second time frame.

It's amazing that Ali and Howe, who are on My Mt. Rushmore of Idols would be memorialized on June 10, 2016.

During the past week, The Sports World has been hit by The Death Bug.

We've seen the losses of Philadelphia 76'ers Assistant Coach and former NBA Player Sean Rooks, Kimbo Slice of Mixed Martial Arts along with legendary Michigan State Hockey Coach Ron Mason pass away.

Obviously, Howe's death hits me real hard.

I went to school with his son Murray at McIntyre Elementary School in Southfield, MI. My Cousin Robin Leshman went to school with Howe's daughter Cathy.

It would be easy to write this tribute with all of Howe's records, but there wouldn't be enough storage space or memory on the website.

Every Hockey Fan knows about The Gordie Howe Hat Trick consisting of a Goal, Assist and a Fight.

In Howe's 26 NHL Seasons, he played in 1,767 games, amassed 801 goals, 1,049 assists, and 1,685 penalty minutes.

He won four Stanley Cups, six Hart Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies and was inducted into The Hockey Hall Of Fame in 1972. He also played in 23 All-Star Games.

Howe is the only player to have ever played Professional Hockey in six decades.

The statistics I've mentioned don't even include the time Mr. Hockey spent playing for the United States Hockey League's Omaha Knights, The World Hockey Association's (WHA's) Houston Aeros, and New England/Hartford Whalers, in addition to the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League, which played at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Hartford Whalers played in the NHL.

According to Murray Howe, the only city that Mr. Hockey was ever booed in was Cleveland, Ohio when Gordie played in the WHA.

Howe is described as the No.1 All-Time player by legendary Red Wings Hall of Fame Coach Scotty Bowman.

Name me a North American athlete that will have a bridge in his honor connecting two countries, the United States and Canada.

A bridge over the Detroit River connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario., will be named "The Gordie Howe International Bridge" is set for completion in 2020. At least Mr. Hockey was alive to see this honor named after him.

Like Ali, there was no shortage of memories with Mr. Hockey.

I saw him play in an All-Star Game on February 5, 1980 at The Joe Louis Arena (JLA).

I remember seeing him play at The Olympia Stadium as a child back in the late 1960's--1971. I would keep a small radio next to my bed in Southfield, MI., listening to play-by-play announcer Bruce Martyn describing every play, goal, hit and fight, etc...

Howe made his rounds around the Metro-Detroit Sports Scene.

We took a picture at the Pontiac Silverdome in the dining area, My shoulder was in a sling due to a torn rotator cuff, but I enjoyed being "Elbowed" by Mr. Hockey as Lions legendary Announcer Bob Reynolds looked on.

On the ice, Howe's opponents took many of these elbows all over their body and head; and they must have hurt.

Ali was known for "Fists To The Jaw"  and Howe specialized in "Elbows." Howe always said that Hockey is a Mans Game.

My pictures with both of these icons are worth more than a 1000 words.

During my time as a resident of Metro-Detroit, I got to know Howe's publicity people. They were kind enough to send me two autographed photos of Howe which are in My Office in Deerfield Beach, FL.

My path crossed again with Mr. Hockey in 2011 when we took a couple photos together. We talked about Hockey for a few minutes, and he remembered me writing mentions of him in Stories for The Detroit Monitor, then shook hands as he signed autographs for a Sports Memorabilia Store in Coral Springs, FL.

Gordie seemed like he was in decent health at the time.

Yet, as we get older, our bodies do break down, and Howe was diagnosed with dementia and suffered strokes.

Mrs. Hockey Colleen Howe passed away in 2009 at the age of 76 after a long battle with Pick's Disease.

Yet. Mr. Hockey had an Iron Ticker and despite these medical issues, he would continue to fight tougher than his rivals on the ice.

Howe had Stem Cell Surgery in Tijuana, Mexico., and continued to battle to the end.

I spoke with his Son Mark Howe (pictured with me at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL) while I was covering a Florida Panthers game, and he marveled at his dad's will to
maximize his days in his later years.

But to realize what an incredible family he had, Mark, Marty and Cathy would all take turns caring for their father around the country.

Without the Stem Cell Treatments in Mexico, we should have been paying tribute to Howe during the past 18 months. We owe an assist to the Mexican doctors for keeping our icon longer than we expected too.

I admire Murray for not donating Gordie's brain for research. His father lived until he was 88-years old and there is no reason to add another reason about his death. Closure is a good thing.

I wish I could have been at JLA for Howe's Public Visitation. JLA has housed four Stanley Cups, an All-Star Game and now this event as we head into the stadiums' final year.

But at least I have This Platform to pay My Respects.

I have four great photos as well as the ability to communicate with My Followers and Friends on Facebook and Twitter.

And a whole lot more memories.

Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky said he felt that Howe is "The Greatest Hockey Player of All-Time." I agree with Wayne.

I also believe that if Gretzky was playing in Howe's Era, he wouldn't have broken as many as Mr. Hockey's records. He would have gotten battered around during The "Original Six" ERA. Gretzky probably would have amassed more penalty minutes and had a few more fights to protect himself.

But that topic will be discussed at a later date.

If the NHL retired Gretzky's No.99 throughout the league, then the league should do the same with No.9. I'm glad that Gretzky is pushing the NHL to do this and I have a feeling it will get done.

The Red Wings New Stadium should have Howe's name attached to it.

But I can't see that happening in this commercial age.

I hope Red Wings Owner Mike Illitch proves me wrong because after the Ernie Harwell firing controversy years ago by previous ownership, he allowed this broadcasting icon to retire on his own terms. Illitch cleaned up a major public relations mess!

It was unfortunate that Howe died during the Stanley Cup Finals.

I hope all NHL teams find a way to make the 2016-17 Season a Tribute Year for Mr. Hockey.

We shall see.

But I'll say about Gordie Howe the same thing that I said about Muhammad Ali.

I Love You Mr. Hockey and Rest In Peace rejoining your lovely Wife Colleen.

Thanks for giving me some Unforgettable Memories that I've enjoyed and will last during the rest of My Lifetime!

I'll never forget you and nor will fans in Metro-Detroit, a place that I'm very proud to call My Hometown.

You were and always will be a legendary giant, icon and there will never be enough words in Webster's Dictionary to describe the impact on us you created.

If it weren't for You Mr. Hockey and the Red Wings 25-year consecutive playoff run, it would be tough to call Detroit "Hockeytown."

There is no doubt of the legendary sports figures in Detroit and Gordie Howe is at the top of my list.

My Top 10 includes: 1. Howe 2. Al Kaline (Mr. Tiger) 3. Ty Cobb 4. Barry Sanders 5. Isiah Thomas 6. Steve Yzerman 7. Hank Greenberg  8. Joe Louis 9. Dave Bing 10. Miguel Cabrera.

God bless in Heaven, Mr. Hockey and once again, thanks for the memories! You'll be missed forever!

But The Hockey and Sports World will Celebrate Your Death!

You and Muhammad Ali are legends and now are linked to June 10, 2016.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tigers Prospect Wynton Bernard

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
LAKELAND, FL

Throughout My 37-years in Sports Media, I've interviewed some of the most unbelievable and interesting personalities.

Some of the ones I've enjoyed are Minor League Baseball Players dating back to My start with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in 1982.

Another one crossed my path during Spring Training when we covered the Detroit Tigers versus the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday March 12 at Joker Marchant Stadium.

His name is Wynton Bernard. His smile reminds me of Magic Johnson and Torii Hunter. At age 25, the native of San Diego, CA, is one of the most pleasant people I've ever spoken to. Through the years, I've spoken to thousands.

But Bernard is not only a nice kid, he's one of the Tigers top prospects. He spent most of Spring Training with the Tigers gaining a great deal of exposure.

In five minor league seasons, Bernard has a lifetime .292 average with 112 stolen bases.

This season he started at AAA Toledo. With The Toledo Mud Hens, he hit .235 with 10 stolen bases in 45 games.

As of late, Bernard was sent down to AA Erie and has struggled with a .105 average (2-for-19) with one strikeout in five games.

Despite the setback, if he can get regain his confidence, Bernard could benefit from the struggles of former Tiger Anthony Gose, who was demoted to Toledo on May 16, 2016 .

Gose was hitting .209 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 30 games for Detroit. Unfortunately, for Gose, things have gotten worse as he's hitting. 190 in 25 games with one stolen base.

Gose's struggles could benefit Bernard's road to Detroit if once again, Bernard turns things around at the plate.

Cameron Maybin is currently the regular center fielder.

Maybin, 29, has appeared in 25 games and has a .372 average, six stolen bases, 10 walks, 17 runs, 35 hits with 94 at bats for the 32-31 Tigers. He missed time at the beginning of the season due to a wrist injury.

We'll see if Bernard is in a Tigers uniform during the September call ups when rosters are expanded, or whether he'll he be dealt by August 1, 2016 if Detroit is looking to make a trade at the non-waiver deadline.

During Spring Training, we had a great conversation and here is a Q &A Interview with Bernard.

Q: How do you like what you've experienced in your baseball career?

A: It's been kind of up and down actually. I was with the San Diego Padres in 2012 & 2013 and they unfortunately released me. So I was at a point where I had to find another job. I ended up going to an open tryout and I signed with the Tigers. I was one out of 100 guys. Since I've been with the Tigers, they've let me play everyday and it's been awesome. I started at Class A in West Michigan and won an MVP Award there and last year in AA Erie. I led all AA in hits, triples and stolen bases. It was a great experience.

Q: So should you find your way to Comerica Park, do you like the fact that a guy with your speed, and your ability to get doubles and triples is something that can benefit you in that particular environment?

A: Oh, yes, definitely! Comerica Park is so big that anytime I hit the ball in the gaps, I want to get the extra base hit for my teammates. There is nothing better than being on base with guys on second and third. Going up as a hitter, I just have to go up and give this guy a hand. It makes the game a lot easier. Doing things like that and using my speed to my ability will definitely help at Comerica Park.

Q: What have you learned from the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor and J.D. Martinez, etc... knowing you've had a chance to be on the 40-Man Roster being around these guys on a daily basis in Spring Training?


A: I like watching and I'm big on observing. Even like during the games now, I like watching other teams. I like to observe the guys concentration on all those levels. It seems like every time they go to the plate, they're locked in. And that's something I try to take to my game to. I like to be locked into every single pitch and not taking a pitch off. I just like to observe and look to see out if they're locked in and always focused.

Q: Is there any particular player in the Major Leagues growing up that you idolize or look at that you pattern yourself a little bit and duplicate?

A: There are guys I loved growing up obviously, Ken Griffey Jr, because he was a center fielder, who chased down balls in the gap. I like speed guys like Kenny Lofton. It's a good combination. I'm not a left-handed hitter, but they played center field, and Kenny stole some bases. So those are the kind of guys I looked up to that would always get on base, hit balls in the gap and that's the exciting part of baseball.

Q: What are some of the things you've gained during Spring Training?

A: It's been a combination. I was in Big League Camp last year and it's my second Big League Camp so I'm obviously more comfortable. Talking to the guys and everybody is always giving each other advice. Even if its not a Major Leaguer or two such as a guy who is younger. Major Leaguers who have been in the game are giving advice to everybody. So even when they're talking, I'm trying to pick up on their conversations, such as hitting and base running. The game doesn't change, but there is always something to learn. As long as I keep a willingness to learn, and stay confident in my abilities, I'll be fine.


Q: How would you describe the power aspect of your game?

A: I like to hit balls in the gap and that's probably where my power comes from. I try to use my legs. My legs are my power and like I said, if I hit a double to left-center field, then I'm going to try to get to third. If I hit to right-center field, I'm trying to get to third base. That's about it.

Q: Is there anything you want the Detroit fans to know about Wynton Bernard?

A: I can promise the fans that no matter what is they'll see a smile on my face. I might strike out and it doesn't mean that I'm not mad because I have a lot to be thankful for. My parents raised me to be a Happy Person. You'll always see me smiling at all times. When you see a Million Dollar Smile, that's Wynton Bernard!

Indeed, Bernard is a nice guy. I just hope he has the chance to play for the Tigers or gets a chance to play elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for Bernard in the next 90 days.

Speed is a valuable skill to possess and it reminds me of a left-handed pitcher. These players get longer looks because when you find a good player with these characteristics, they're a good commodity to have. They're always in demand.

Bernard is a hard guy not to root for. I've always enjoyed rooting for underdogs and Bernard is one.

Hopefully in the near future, his numbers will improve and the Tigers will have another asset to use in some way shape or form.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tribute To The Greatest Of All-Time

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

On Friday June 10, 2016, Muhammad Ali was laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville, KY at The Cave Hill Cemetery.

The "Greatest of All Time" will Rest In Peace with Kentucky Fried Chicken Founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

On Saturday June 4, 2016, the day after Ali died, I posted My Memorable 1982 photo with The Champ on Facebook.

I was touched, overwhelmed, and appreciative to My 90 Plus Facebook Friends with their acknowledgement of this incredible memory with Ali.

I feel extremely lucky to have spent two days with Ali as he trained for a charity fight at the Allen Park Gym in North Miami Beach, FL., in 1982. My Editor Dan Bluesten of The Hallandale Digest came up with a neat headline for my story "Is Ali On The Comeback Trail."

I had some great assignments with the Digest, but my time with Ali was No. 1.

I took this photo with him and also took My Aunt Pearl Cullen to visit "The Champ." Ali gave her a hug she'd never forget.

On June 4, 2016, My Cousin and Pearl's daughter Cindy Cullen Spyke called me to see if I was doing ok following Ali's death. She knew that Ali meant a lot to me.

As I look back at my time with Ali, when we talked, he began to develop slurred speech as Parkinson's Disease symptoms began to appear. Although Ali didn't have as many words, this photo was worth a 1000 words.

But to me, just being with "The Champ" overshadowed any speech issues.

However, when I asked Muhammad about his win over Heavyweight Champion George Foreman on October 30, 1974, he didn't mince words about what transpired of what happened in "The Rumble In The Jungle" when he described his famous "Rope A Dope" Strategy.

"I new George Foreman never went deep into fights so I just wanted him to punch himself out," Ali said. "There was no filler station for him to gas up."

Indeed, there wasn't and there would never be a rematch. Ali sent Foreman to a depressed state where George had a taste of humble pie.

The person behind my meeting Ali was his Trainer Angelo Dundee pictured with Ali below.

I used to cover a lot of boxing for The Digest. The events were held at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida and The War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.

I became great friends with Dundee as well as his brother Chris Dundee and boxing historian Hank Kaplan.

Dundee contacted me when Sugar Ray Leonard came to town and I wrote a story on him as well.

To even have the platform to be able to talk about Ali is incredible!

I have no desire to ever get into any political discussions about his viewpoints.

Ali was a True World Champion because he fought in London, England, The Philippines, and South Africa.

He never avoided a top opponent because everyone deserved a shot at the title.

I truly respect his decision to not want to fight in The Vietnam War because this conflict should have never happened in the first place.

I often wonder what the pay-per-view costs would be with his three fights with Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

If Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Floyd Mayweather would get $50 for a fight, Ali's events could be worth up to $100.

Ali was an Albert Einstein in the ring because he out classed and out smarted his opponents. Boxing was a Chess Match for Ali because he could mix knockouts with going the distance if he had to. Before the Foreman fight, Angelo Dundee never knew about his "Rope A Dope" Strategy, as he had the ropes loosened before the fight. It's hard to not respect a person like this.

Leonard used to do the same and that's why he won World Championships.

When I hear stories that Ali never refused autographs to fans, and always took pictures when he could, this was incredible!

Ali was a great promoter of his fights and his Actions Spoke Louder Than His Words. He actually could be considered an inventor of "Trash Talking" because of his ability to play mind games with his opponents.

While it's sad to see Ali is no longer with us, at least he can now rest in peace. In recent years, Ali experienced numerous health issues. Now there is no more suffering.

Back in 2002, I did have a chance to see Ali again after a Phoenix Suns contest versus the Detroit Pistons at the America West Arena in Arizona.

I walked up to Ali, he smiled and shook my hand. There would be no photo opportunities in the Suns locker room to avoid a potential violation of Media Rules listed on the back of our credentials.

Nonetheless, it was still an incredible feeling because the first time I met him, I was just 2 1/2 years into My Media Career and was 19-years old.

During our second meeting in Phoenix, I was in my 23rd year in The Media, more filled out at the age of 39. By this time, Ali's speech was much worse and he was trembling. But I didn't care because it was great seeing him again.

During the past 10 days on Facebook, I was pleased to be able to see some of My Friends share their photos and stories with "The Greatest."

It was the thrill of a lifetime to have met such an iconic person.

My mother posted a touching comment on Facebook telling me how proud she was of me as a Sports Writer, and she has My Ali photo at her home.

But for all of the World Championships he won, in addition to the 1960 Olympic Gold Medal, seeing Ali light the 1996 Olympic Torch in Atlanta was truly breath taking.

Ali's legacy and passing should be viewed as a Celebration that should bring young and old generations together. With Google and You-Tube, we're always a click away from learning about a person or watching their great accomplishments.

I must have watched the Ali-Foreman fight a few times the day after he died.

All I can say is I'm thankful that I had the chance to see him on two occasions.

Being in Sports Media for 37-years, has allowed me to meet tons of incredible people.

I often wonder how many other photos I'd have if I had a camera phone early in my career.

Thankfully, I still have great photos that I'm thankful for, in addition to many great interviews on tape for those that are interested.

I may not be a wealthy man financially, but I'm rich in memories and experiences with plenty of stories.

There is no question that Ali is at the top of My List of people I've ever met.

All I can say Muhammad is that I Love You Very Much and Thanks for All The Memories We Spent Together.

Rest In Peace Champ Because You are The Greatest of All Time!!

When I come to Louisville, KY., I will be visiting You at The Cave Hill Cemetery!!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tigers Real MVP, Kevin Rand

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

In all sports, there is an award for Coach or Manager of The Year.

There are MVP and other individual awards as well as accolades for executives.

But there is one position which tends to get overlooked or is considered unheralded in the public's eyes.

Being a trainer may not involve throwing, hitting, etc... however, these individuals are the Hidden Gems of a team's success.

Former Pistons Trainer Mike Abdenour was an intricate part to Detroit's three championships.

The man in charge of keeping the Detroit Tigers healthy is a person that I've known since 1982 when he worked with the Florida State League's Fort Lauderdale Yankees.

His name is Kevin Rand.

Rand began as a minor league trainer for the New York Yankees from 1982-1992.

He's in his 35th season in Professional Baseball, 24th at the MLB Level and is in his 14th year with the Tigers.

His year round residence is Lakeland FL. He is married and has four sons.

During his tenure with Detroit, he's witnessed the highs and the lows. His efforts have been instrumental in two Tigers World Series Appearances.

During Spring Training at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I had the opportunity to interview My Long Time Buddy as we discussed many topics.

Q: What was the 2015 Season like for you?

A: Last year was a real weird year. It seemed as though we had a tag team of injuries. We would get one guy back, then lose another. We lost Justin Verlander early in the year, then Alex Avila, lost Victor Martinez early, then Miguel Cabrera got hurt. We lost a couple of starting pitchers. Overall, it was just a strange year in that way.

Q: Was this one of the most difficult years you've ever had to deal with through the years as a trainer?

A: Yes, absolutely! We take pride in ourselves. We actually had the lowest number of man games lost the past five years, but last season we lost a lot of quality players that were getting hurt, and didn't have enough depth to cover that.

Q: One area that got saddled last year was your pitching. It started off badly at the beginning with Verlander going down at the end of Spring Training, and the list goes on and on. What was that like for your staff?

A: You're not going to replace Justin Verlander, who got hurt early that easily. We had difficulty there. Once we got him back later in the season, we lost Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris. They were two guys out of our rotation later in the year. It was definitely a challenging year for us in that regard.

Q: How tough is it for a trainer where you have players in and out of the room all the time?

A: Our job is to get everybody out each and every day. Unfortunately, last year that didn't work that well for us as it had in previous years for us. Every team is going to have their injuries, but at the end of the day, the team that's more successful is the team that has the depth to handle the injuries they have. Last year, we weren't that club.

Injuries to our pitching staff meant that we didn't have enough depth to cover those losses. We had injuries to Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and you're not going to replace those players easily. They're above and beyond some of the other players. It was a tough year.

Q: We talk a lot about depth. Do you like a lot of the moves that were made in the off-season?

A: Yes, absolutely! I think Al (Avila, General Manager) and Brad (Ausmus) did a tremendous job addressing the needs of our club. We've improved in starting pitching with Jordan Zimmermann. The trades that were made at the end of last summer, we brought in some good young arms with Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, and Michael Fullmer. We have depth there now.

We improved our offense with Justin Upton. Most importantly, we improved our bullpen which was a tough spot for us last year with Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson working the back end of the bullpen. I think we're going to be a solid club.

Our problem last year is we had guys that were put in situations that they weren't accustomed and capable to being in because of injuries. That's where you run into issues.

Q: It seemed like a lot of your pitchers weren't ready to play in the major leagues in 2015. Do you agree that because of circumstances and lack of depth, that they were thrown into the fire?

A: That's definitely accurate because of our depth. This year if one of our starters goes down, we have those young kids. We're definitely more covered than we were a year ago.

Q: How much better is Verlander this year? Is he much better physically than he was a year ago?

A: Oh yes, without a doubt. He was having a great spring last year before he got hurt at the tail end. Right before the season started that hurt us pretty well. But he's in great shape, he's having a great spring and so all are all those guys. Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera also look good. Just having those guys back along with the depth is a good sign.

Q: Is Verlander capable of throwing in the high 90's on a regular basis or do you think he might have to go ahead and slightly alter himself. I'm not talking about re-inventing himself to become a more crafty hurler like former Tiger Frank Tanana.

A: I'm not worried about velocity. I'm worried about guys pitching and making the pitches. You can throw as hard as you want, but if you don't have location, these are professional hitters and they'll hit you hard. Good pitchers understand this. Justin Verlander will make his adjustment as he needs to.  If he's going to throw in the high 90's, that's great. It's more about location and making his pitches.

Q: I know the Jordan Zimmermann signing was a huge acquisition. Everybody seemed excited about it. What was your reaction when he became a Detroit Tiger?

A: It was outstanding because Zimmermann is a proven veteran, a good pitcher, a pitcher who historically takes the ball every fifth day and competes. He's one of the elite pitchers in the game.

Q: Last year, there was unjust criticism of Brad Ausmus. Do you think a lot of people were out of line because of the numerous injuries Detroit sustained? The 2015 Tigers looked like a MASH Unit.

A: Absolutely, no question. To me, any criticism directed his way was totally unfounded. I look at it the other way. He did a tremendous job with the group of players that he had. He withstood everything and maintained his composure the entire way. You know what, we couldn't put the product on the field. The players on the field played for him, and once again, he did a tremendous job.

We didn't put the parts and pieces to compete in our bullpen. He made it work the best he possibly could. I'm excited for him and if you give him a good team this year, and we're able to keep guys on the field, then we'll be fine.

Q: I don't care how experienced you are as a manager, we've been around baseball way too long and know that no manager could have worked this way through all of last years adversity. Do you agree?

A: Yes. Managers are only as good as the players you give them. At the end of the day, you can look at all the great success stories throughout the years, and if those managers didn't have great and healthy players, they weren't very good managers.

Brad did a tremendous job with what he had. We have a better club this year so hopefully we can keep everybody out there.

There will be tough stretches where we lose some games and there are peaks and valleys. There will be no need to panic if this happens. We have a better offense and a better bullpen. But when it's all said and done, we'll be in contention the whole season.

Q: Do you have enough pitching depth to make it through 2016?

A: This year, if we have a pitcher that misses a start, goes on the disabled list for an extended period of time, we have guys that can compete. I don't think we had that last year. We're in a much better position this year.

Q: What are your thoughts about Justin Upton?

A: He's a great kid. He has lots of talent and a guy that plays everyday. I'm real excited to see him play this season.

Q: Is the middle of the Tigers lineup with JD Martinez, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera going to be scary for opposing pitchers throughout the course of a 162 game season? We all know that there will be slumps along the way.

A: It's a pretty good offense if I say so myself. We'll be a factor to be reckoned with.

Q: Finally, what should Tigers fans expect to see from this squad in 2016? We know it will be a long season and that's the great thing about baseball, where it's a marathon and not a sprint.

A: You're right about that. I think the fans will see a team that will compete and come to play every night. We're in a real good division with (World Champions) Kansas City, and Chicago has made some moves. Cleveland has improved themselves a lot. We're in a real good division and it will be a dog fight. I think it will be a fun year to be honest with you.

So far, the early returns on Zimmermann have be really good. He was named American League Pitcher of The Month For April as he went 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA in 33 innings.

Zimmermann lost a tough 3-2 decision to the Washington Nationals and his record dropped to 5-2 with a 1.50 ERA. He's 0-2 in May thus far.

Detroit's record is 15-18.

On this night, former Tiger Max Scherzer tied an MLB record with 20 strikeouts and improved his record to 4-2 for the Washington Nationals.

Fullmer was the winning pitcher in Tuesday night's 5-4 triumph. He's 2-1, and gained a much needed win for the Tigers enabling Detroit to snap a seven-game losing streak.

For those looking to see Ausmus get fired, that move would be way too premature at this point.

As Rand and I talked about, it's a long season.

Tigers fans hope that during the course of the 2016 season that Rand is Detroit's Real MVP.

They have to hope he'll continue to use his 35 years in Professional Baseball to make sure his staff presses the right buttons to keep the players on the field.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Florida Spring Training Travels 2016

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Although Spring Training is over, it's always great to see different or return to ballparks every year.

This year our Florida Travels took us to Kissimmee, Lakeland, Bradenton and Fort Myers.

On Friday, March 11, the Detroit Tigers faced the Houston Astros. Last month, I wrote a story on The Memories of Osceola County Stadium so I won't get into much detail in this post.

To re-summarize the experience, My first visit to this facility was in 1985 for the Florida State League (FSL) All-Star Weekend. This was the first year this venue was open.

The bugs weren't worked out as I had difficulty transmitting the two stories to the Tampa Tribune, thus, I wound up dictating them to My Desk Editor Rick Nelson. Thankfully, that bit of distress became an incredible learning experience for years to come.

My return on this day was much easier and there would be no technical problems and the Astros had a newer clubhouse compared to the one they used in 1985.

Next year, they're supposed to relocate to a new stadium with the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach, FL.

On Saturday, March 12, I enjoyed taking an annual trip to Lakeland to see the Tigers versus their inter-league rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I had the opportunity to see old friends like Tom Gage, Ron Myers, who runs the Lakeland Operation for Detroit and oversees the Advanced Class-A Flying Tigers, and interviewed prospect Wynton Bernard. There will be a future story on Bernard in the coming weeks as he continues his quest to make Comerica Park his future home.

What was interesting about this trip to Joker Marchant Stadium is this was the last time I'd see the venue in its' current state as you can tell by the construction in right field.

In October 2014, the Lakeland City Commission announced that as part of a new agreement with the Detroit Tigers, a $41 Million Renovation and upgrade of the 50-year-old stadium has started.

Funding will be provided in part by the Detroit Tigers, The City of Lakeland and Polk County.

The Lakeland Flying Tigers of the FSL are playing at Historic Henley Field, which is located 1 1/2 miles from Marchant Stadium for the 2016 Season.

On Sunday, March 13, we went from I-4 West to I-75 South and followed the Tigers to see the Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.

I caught up with Tigers Trainer and long-time Friend Kevin Rand, and spoke with Tigers General Manager Al Avila before the game. I was surprised at the amount of South Florida baseball connections that Avila and I had.

McKechnie Field is a very unique facility.

When the Pirates play their Regular Season Games at PNC Park, home runs that leave the park wind up landing in the Allegheny River, as boats scoop the balls up.

Here in Bradenton, it's a much different situation as foul balls fly outside the park and onto the street with on-coming traffic.

I wouldn't dare to take a guess how many foul balls lead to broken windshields or dents which damage automobiles. But you can rest assure that those who go to Bradenton are accustomed to this because in addition to Spring Training, the Pirates have an FSL team play during the summer.

But overall, this is a nice building that been renovated through the years, and the Pittsburgh Pirates staff treated us great. There were lots of palm trees in the outfield.

A few miles down the road, Pittsburgh's Main Headquarters is Pirates City and the entire complex is completely first class.

Finally, the Best Spring Training Ballpark I've ever seen to date is in Fort Myers!

On Easter Sunday March 27, we took the trip on I-75 North/Alligator Alley, and saw the Boston Red Sox face the Philadelphia Phillies at JetBlue Park at Fenway South.

Ground was broken on March 4, 2011 and it opened on March 3, 2012. The capacity is 10,823 and the Field Size is the same as Fenway Park. It's amazing that this venue has a replica of the famed "Green Monster."

When I was speaking to the Red Sox PR Department and New England Media, I told them this park should be renamed Jet Jewel Park, because that's how amazing this place is.

Due to a non-compete clause with The City of Fort Myers and Minnesota Twins, who play at nearby Hammond Stadium, Boston can't field an FSL team.

Instead, the Rookie Short Season Gulf Coast League Red Sox play during the summer months.

There were many things which stood out about our experience.

First, this was the second to last game for Red Sox Legend David Ortiz in Fort Myers. The slugger is retiring at the end of the 2016 season.

Second, I had the opportunity to see an old friend of mind from our days with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in the early 1980's. I rarely hug athletes, but Red Sox Coach Brian Butterfield was the exception to the rule.

In the coming weeks, there will be a Question & Answer Story with Butterfield so stay tuned.

The cost to build JetBlue Park was $77.9 Million, but this is a "Complete Masterpiece."

The Detroit Tigers have trained in Lakeland for 80 years which is incredible.

If the Red Sox are at JetBlue Park another 80 years, I'll be age 153 buried someplace.

Fenway Park in Boston is on My Bucket List before I die, but at least on this Easter Sunday, we both got a taste of it, thus wetting our appetite for a future trip to Massachusetts.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a Member of The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

It's Crunch Time For The Red Wings!

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
SUNRISE, FL


When we saw the Detroit Red Wings defeat the Florida Panthers on March 19, 2016, 5-3, it appeared that a win in South Florida could be a sign that they would be on their way to a 25th straight playoff appearance.

On this night, the Red Wings would overcome a 3-1 deficit and defeat Panthers star goaltender Roberto Luongo. He was out dueled by Red Wings netminder, Jimmy Howard, who won his second straight game.

The atmosphere at the BB&T Center was Electric as a Panthers Record 20,817 fans showed up against a team which does pack this arena.

There was a Red Wings flavor before the game as an Octopus hit the ice in Sunrise, FL.

Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwell returned to the Red Wings line-up. Red Wings Announcer Paul Woods mentioned to me before the game that Detroit was 6-7-1 without Kronwell in the line-up.

The Panthers fans got their first look at Red Wings rookie right wing Anthony Mantha (6-5, 214), age 21 1/2 years old. He was playing his third NHL Game.

The Red Wings had their fair share of challenges during the game as Florida was 33-5-6 when scoring the first goal of the game. Tack on another loss for the Panthers.

Florida was 15-6-4 when tied after the first period. Once again, add another loss for the Panthers.

The Panthers were 15-6-1 against the Atlantic Division, and the Red Wings defeat gave Florida a seventh loss.

This win earned the Red Wings a day off to spend time on the Fort Lauderdale beaches as it had time to get ready for a huge showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning three nights later.

Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill came away pleased with the offensive effort by his team.

"I thought we did a good job for the 60 minutes," Blashill said. "That was our biggest focus; we've talked about it a lot. Making sure we play 60 minutes and making sure we're resilient. And when you get scored on, just keep going.

"The one thing with the offense was we got to the net and we're going to continue to get to the net to be successful here. That's the only way you're going to score in this league over, and over and over again and we found a way to do it."

The BB&T Center may not be Joe Louis Arena, but it had a Red and White Flavor to it.

Blashill described the atmosphere as, "When we play here, there's a lot of fans who spend winters here. When we come, there's always a good crowd here; a good mix of both fans."

I've covered a lot of games between these two squads and I would estimate that at least 45% are Detroit fans and they're quite vocal.

Since the Red Wings important win versus Florida, Detroit has gone 2-3 in that stretch. Tampa Bay blew out Detroit 6-2. In these five games, Detroit has allowed 22 goals. This isn't the time for the goaltending to go South for the Spring and to end their long playoff streak.

The Philadelphia Flyers (38-25-13, 89 points) hold the Final Wild Card Spot. They have a game in hand over Detroit having played 76. In 77 games, Detroit is 38-28-11 with 87 points.

Even if the Red Wings were to overtake the Flyers, I can't imagine Detroit winning s series against the Washington Capitals, who are 54-16-6 with a 114 points.

Detroit's best chance of making the playoffs may actually be overtaking the Boston Bruins, who have also played 77 games. The Bruins are 40-29-8 with 88 points in the Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division.

If Detroit surpasses Boston, there potential match ups could include Tampa Bay or Florida. I can only imagine what the crowds will be at the BB&T Center if this occurs.

Detroit does face the Philadelphia Flyers in one of its remaining five games.

For whatever it's worth, if the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, 87 points gets them into the playoffs. The first team out as of this post is the Colorado Avalanche with 82 points in 77 games.

But GM Ken Holland would have to log some extra miles in the Western Conference. But we'll never know now.

So it will be interesting to see if this playoff streak is extended. Expect the next five games to be the most intense hockey that Red Wings fans will watch in a long time.

The Red Wings host the Minnesota Wild on Friday at the Joe Louis Arena. Then, three of the final four games are on the road. They'll face former Head Coach Mike Babcock in Toronto, Philadelphia at home then wrap-up the season on the road against Boston and the New York Rangers Finale on April 9th.

It doesn't get any tougher than this!

Nothing like controlling their own destiny and pile up as many points as possible. No need to scoreboard watch or no motivational speeches needed!

We'll see if Detroit enters it's Final Season in Joe Louis Arena with 25 consecutive post-season appearances.

If the Red Wings playoff streak comes to an end, it won't be the only steak that ends.

There will be no Canadian based teams in this year's tournament. It will be be the first time since 1970, a span of 46 years that this didn't happen.

So now, "It's Crunch Time For The Red Wings!"

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Memories at Osceola County Stadium

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
KISSIMMEE, FL

On March 23, 2016, the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 in what appeared to be their last game at Osceola County Stadium. If everything goes according to plan, Houston and the Washington Nationals will move into a new ballpark in West Palm Beach, FL in 2017.

On March 11, 2016, the Detroit Tigers faced the Astros and this stadium brought back some nostalgic memories as I returned here for the first time since 1985.

Back then, I was a Sports Writer for the Tampa Tribune.

I was covering the Florida State League (FSL) All-Star Weekend during the stadium's first year of operation. That weekend, I had the good fortune to meet Hall of Fame Pitcher Sandy Koufax.

This was the first year of Spring Training for the Houston Astros and their Class A Advanced Team the Osceola Astros.

What stood out about this game wasn't the score of the Old-Timers Game or The All-Star Game.

Instead, it's what happened in the Press Box.

For the weekend, I used a Tampa Tribune Computer which had "Rotary Phone Cuffs" where you stick the phone in and transmit the story through the land line. Ah yes, the technology of "Yesteryear."

After the game, I had both my stories done and attempted to send two articles. I repeat, I attempted to send two articles.

Needless to say, after six attempts, I was unable to get them to the Tampa Tribune.

Luckily, My Desk Editor Rick Nelson was able to extend my deadline to 12:30 AM with the cooperation of production.

I dictated the two stories to Rick for 25 minutes and when I saw it in print, Nelson did an outstanding job when I returned to Tampa and saw it in the paper. These stories are framed in My Office at home.

As I reminisced with my longtime friend Lynn Henning (in the photo) of the Detroit News, he said, "that had to be traumatic for you."

I told him I was the oldest 22-year old that night in a building which was working out the bugs after being open for just four months. There wasn't any gray hair and I was MUCH THINNER back then, weighing in at a whopping 135 pounds.

Before and during the game, I was sharing this experience with Astros PR Guy Chris Peixoto (25) as well as the Tigers PR tandem of Aileen Villarreal and Michele Wysocki. Like Peixoto, Wysocki wasn't even born. Villarreal, Wysocki and Peixoto actually gleamed as I was talking about this experience.

Their version of technology is far different than what many of us "old school" media types had to work with.

During my years of covering Spring Training, I've rarely attended a game with a clear cut story idea. But as we drove 2 1/2 hours North up the Florida Turnpike, and weeks leading up to this, this was an obvious story idea.

Besides, on the road, you never know what players will travel with the club and will be available.

On this day, the Detroit Tigers sent familiar names to Osceola County Stadium.

Alan Trammell was throwing batting practice, GM Al Avila was around, in addition to Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, Anthony Gose, JD Martinez, Victor Martinez, Bruce Rondon along with top prospects JaCoby Jones and Steven Moya.

Prior to the game, I had a chance to ask Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus about his thoughts and memories at Osceola County Stadium.

Ausmus, 46, is seven years younger than I am. He played for Houston from 1997-98, and again from 2001-2008.

"I had a lot of memories having been here 10 years," Ausmus said. "There were some good restaurants. There were some good and tough times."

"One thing that stood out was moving into a new facility after it was renovated. We really had a small and old major league clubhouse. When it was renovated, we really had a small and old major league clubhouse. When it was renovated, and we moved into this new building, it was a major upgrade."

On Monday, March 7, 2016, The Tampa Tribune printed out it's last paper in it's downtown 202 S. Parker Street facility off The Riverfront. The Tribune will be joining forces with the Tampa Bay Times with the production operation being relocated to St.Petersburg, FL. The editorial staff moves out in May into another Tampa Office.

My old stomping grounds will be torn down for a new apartment complex.

I worked at The Tampa Tribune  from 1984-1986. I had the pleasure of working with some of the best colleagues during my development as a Sports Writer.

My All-Star line-up includes late Sports Editor Tom McEwen, Joey Johnston, Chris Harry, Mike O'Keefe, Jim Henry, Herb Branham, Nick Pugliese, Roy Cummings, Executive Sports Editor Joe DiSalvo and Nelson.

Johnston gave me a strong recommendation to get the FSL beat, and DiSalvo gave me the free reign to do whatever I wanted to keep it interesting.

Nelson helped me get a free lance writing job with RedsVue Magazine in Cincinnati. He edited my stories for both the Tribune and RedsVue as I covered the Reds Class A Advanced League FSL Tampa Tarpons, plus all the Reds Fantasy and Spring Training assignments.

But on this 1985 FSL All-Star Game, it was A Night to Forget and a Night to Remember.

I got an on the job training lesson that you won't get majoring in a Mass Communications Curriculum in college. Boy did I ever!

Yet, when I think about the advances in technology, the words internet, wireless, net books, laptop computers, tablets and smart phones have turned technology upside down.

It's great to tell stories about the Wonderful World of Yesteryear and for the Tigers vs Astros contest, I even had the opportunity to sit in My Old Seat in the Press Box at Osceola County Stadium with the only difference being that I weighed 260 pounds, sporting gray hair and facial hair.

To this day, the best job I had in college was working at The Tampa Tribune.

On March 11, 2016, it seemed like June of 1985 all over again, only without the deadline pressure, but the technology was working as I prepared this story.

Nelson taught me to be composed under pressure and I've used that into my adult years in every situation imaginable for the most part. We all have our moments of extreme frustration, but mine are much less as they were before. Yet, once again, I'm very proud of what Nelson and I accomplished in June of 1985.

As for the Tigers vs Astros game, Cabrera hit the most exciting fly ball to not leave the stadium in front of 4,237 fans. Meanwhile, Moya hit his third home run of the spring.

When we saw the Astros last spring on Sunday March 8, 2015 at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium, Houston hammered Detroit 14-9. The Astros would reach the playoffs and defeated the New York Yankees in the first round.

With the Tigers numerous off-season moves, it will be interesting to see how this season plays out.

But as I look at Osceola County Stadium 31 years later, it's a beautiful ballpark and it's cozy 5,300 capacity is the smallest in Spring Training.

Yet, The City of Kissimmee, FL has done an outstanding job taking care of this venue.

It looked even better on this 81 degree sunny afternoon in Central Florida, watching the "Boys of Summer" reminiscing about "Memory Lane" for those that wanted to hear me at the FSL All-Star Weekend that I can now laugh about.

The Tigers lost to the Astros on this day 10-4, but that was a mere after thought.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tale Of Two Games Versus Florida Panthers

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
SUNRISE, FL

What a difference a few days makes.

Going into the Detroit Red Wings game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on Thursday February 4, I expected a playoff type atmosphere. 

For the most part it was. There were 16, 991 fans and no shortage of Red Wings jerseys as you can see here in the pre-game skate from My Vantage Point in the Press Box. There were many "Let's Go Red Wings Chants" throughout the contest to go along with an octopus thrown onto the ice at the end of the game.

However, at the end of the game, the Florida Panthers cruised to a 6-3 win and the rubber rats also got thrown onto the ice. 

This was Florida's third straight win over Detroit dating back to March 19, 2015 here in Sunrise, a 3-1 margin.

Florida won the first meeting of the season with an overtime 2-1 triumph at The Joe Louis Arena on November 29, 2015.

There was a 2:36 minute stretch in this contest for the Panthers who scored three goals to take a 3-0 lead midway through the first period.

Rookie sensation Dylan Larkin scored a power play goal with seven seconds left in the first period off the face off to make it 3-1

In his South Florida debut, Larkin would score two goals against Panthers Goaltender Roberto Luongo,  who stopped 36 shots for his ninth straight win at home and moved past Tony Esposito into seventh on the NHL's career wins list with 424.

Another milestone came from the ageless 43-year old wonder Jaromir Jagr got his 1,100th career assist and joined five other players in NHL History: Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey.

Jagr also had a goal in the game which was his 738th, putting him three behind Brett Hull for third on the NHL list. The game was Jagr's 1,800th game which includes playoff appearances.

Jagr's big night occurred against Red Wings backup goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 27 saves, but was saddled with his seventh consecutive loss. Howard's last win was on December 3, 2015 at home against the Arizona Coyotes.

But to Howard's credit, he was facing a red hot Florida Panthers squad. After the Red Wings game, Florida's winning streak reached five, all of them by at least three goals. 

The Panthers have scored at least five goals in each of their last four games; the first time this has happened in franchise history.

Florida improved to 16-0-1 when scoring at least four goals.

To explain the type of season Florida has had, on February 2, 2016, the Panthers appeared on National Television for the first time in 2 years on the NBC Sports Network as they won an impressive 5-2 contest on the road against the Washington Capitals.

I saw a first in this game. Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill pulled Howard with 8:34 left in the third period while Detroit was on the power play which resulted in a Mike Green Goal. 

Former Red Wing and Panthers coach Gerard Gallant had a hard time explaining how the team has scored five goals in four straight games.

"I don't know, you know," Gallant said. "Teams go on streaks. But we're putting pucks in the net and guys are confident. It's about putting pucks in the net, skating and being confident."

While most people come to Florida for Spring Break, the Red Wings came to Florida after the All-Star Break. The night before in Tampa, Detroit dropped a 3-1 decision to the surging Tampa Bay Lightning (29-20-4) with Petr Mrazek between the pipes.

Detroit left the Sunshine State going 0-2. 

Nevertheless, Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill Didn't Leave Sunrise, FL., with a bad taste in his mouth despite his team being down 3-0 early in the game acknowledging that this lead was too much to overcome.

"Yeah but to be honest, I thought we came out and played really well," Blashill said. I thought we played well early. I thought our battle level and compete level were really good. I thought our execution level was good for the most part.

"In the end, I was really happy with the way our guys continued to battle back and I was real happy with the effort. I was real happy with their character."

Blashill also added, " It was one of those nights from a process point I was happy with a lot of areas. That might sound funny to fans when you lose 6-3, but again anybody can come and watch the tape, and see a lot of the good things we did, and the execution was pretty good to be honest with you."

On Saturday, February 6, the Red Wings would bounce back from this loss by hammering the New York Islanders 5-1 at the Joe Louis Arena. 

Red Wings Announcer Mickey Redmond admitted during the telecast that he wasn't looking forward to Detroit facing the Panthers Monday Night.

By the end of Monday Night, Pavel Datsyuk and Mrazek allowed Redmond and Red Wings Nation to breathe easy as Detroit defeated Florida 3-0. This was a much needed win for Detroit as it seeks it's 25th straight playoff appearance.

The only numbers that mattered on Monday was Jagr reached another milestone just by stepping on the ice. The Panthers forward appeared in his 1,600th career regular season game.

Jagr was already 10th all-time in games played, but he's now 12 games behind Ray Bourque for ninth.

Red Wings legend Gordie Howe holds the all-time record with 1,767.

The other number was simply the Red Wings 3-0 shutout over Florida and Mrazek has a career-high four shutouts this season. He out played Panthers backup goaltender Al Montoya, who finished with 28 saves.

On Wednesday Night against the Ottawa Senators, Mrazek turned in another stellar performance in a 3-1 victory. The Senators lone goal occurred with 2:24 left in the third period. 

Mrazek, who turns 24, on February 14, had a shutout streak snapped at 133:29 and improved his record to 21-10-4. Going into the Ottawa game, he had a 1.97 GAA. 

This is a guy who was the 141st overall draft pick by the Red Wings in the 2010 draft.

The Red Wings return to Florida on March 19 at 7 PM and I can only imagine how intense the contest will be with playoff berths on the line.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this game.

As of this post, the Red Wings have a 28-18-8 record for 64 points and are in second place in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division. 

Meanwhile Florida is leading the Atlantic Division with a 32-16-6 mark with 70 points. .

Scott Morganroth is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association and can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pistons Points

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Nearly two months ago, I made my first trip to The Palace Of Auburn Hills in five years, while my Photographer Candice made her debut in this arena.

I give Owner Tom Gores and the rest of his administration credit for making improvements to this venue. I was touched by The Matt Dobek Media Room since he was a great friend and was very helpful in allowing me to do my job.

When the Pistons defeated the Houston Rockets 116-105, I got a glimpse as to how good this team could be as Detroit improved to 9-9 on November 30, 2015. The attendance was 14,818.

Detroit had six players that scored in double figures. Marcus Morris had 12, Ersan Ilyasova  had 13, Andre Drummond had 24 with 13 rebounds, Reggie Jackson had a game high 31 points, Aron Baynes had 11 and Stanley Johnson had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

As I look at the Pistons in general, there are several things which standout.

A year ago Pistons Nation wondered what life would be without Greg Monroe, who signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Bucks who had a 41-41 mark last year.

The Pistons are currently 24-21 as of this post and the lowly Philadelphia 76'ers come into town tomorrow night; this win total could be 25. Last season, the Pistons had a 32-50 mark and Monroe thought he could win elsewhere.

How did that decision workout out for Monroe? The Bucks currently have a 19-27 mark and during the off season, Ilyasova  was acquired from Milwaukee to replace Monroe in the front court.

After the Houston win, the Pistons would win three more home games and had a four-game winning streak.

After the Rockets game, Coach Stan Van Gundy had high praise about rookie Stanley Johnson (3).

"He played well offensively tonight," Van Gundy said. "Defensively, he wasn't very good, but offensively on the boards, he was very good. It seemed like they scored every point on him in the fourth quarter. No matter who he switched on to, they scored. But offensively and on the boards, he was very,very good."

Great players take over games. And that's what Jackson (1) did and relished the opportunity to put away the Rockets.

"I was trying to be aggressive and find an easy shot," Jackson said. "I was able to get to the line a few times, and the ball finally went into the basket for us and kind of took the lid off. I started relaxing I think for the most part I think we went into panic mode, so we need to learn and relax and be above what's going on the court, and find a way to unite and play together."

Let's turn the clock forward to the present as the All-Star Break is upon us.

How do you spell respect?

A 113-95 hammering on January 16, 2016 over the World Champion Golden State Warriors (41-4) will do it. On a night where Ben Wallace's No.3 jersey was retired, a sellout crowd was able to enjoy the past and appreciate the future.

Will the Pistons have another triumphant night on February 10, 2016 against the Denver Nuggets when Chauncey Billups has his No.1 jersey retired? We shall see.

But I will say that I expected the Detroit Tigers to have retired the No.1 and No.3 jersey's, which belonged to Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell before the Pistons retired respective jersey's for Wallace and Billups. Hopefully, Mike Illitch will get this done relatively soon. If you're proud of your tradition, then show it.

The Pistons 95-92 win over Utah last night was the first time Detroit swept the Jazz since the 2002-03 season.

This could be a great omen for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2009.

As I mentioned earlier, the Pistons won only 32 games last season. It's safe to say they'll surpass that and get into the playoffs.

Another sign of respect will occur when the Pistons host the New York Knicks at 7 pm, on February 4, 2016 as this game will be televised on TNT.

There is plenty of season left and there could be more National Appearances thus fans won't have to go to the NBA League Pass to find these contests.

There are three areas of intrigue for me as the NBA heads down the stretch.

First, will Van Gundy and his staff be active at the trading deadline as they were a year ago by landing Jackson?

Second, how much better will the bench get and what type of role will Brandon Jennings play?

Third, what type of contribution will Jodie Meeks make when he returns from injuries?

The NBA regular season is long with 82 games, but there are stories inside of stories and while the Pistons are a work in progress as well as far from the finished product, at least under Van Gundy's leadership, they're headed in the right direction.

They don't need a move to downtown Detroit to sellout. Winning basketball has always produced capacity crowds, and frankly, I hope they never leave The Palace!!!

It's a beautiful building that Gores owns and why be a tenant if you don't need to be. Plus, there would be no scheduling conflicts.

I wouldn't have a problem with two exhibition games or 2 regular season games with the Toronto Raptors or Cleveland Cavaliers. But that would be as far as I would go.

But I'll be curious to see how this season plays out, trade deadline movement if any and what the roster turnover will be after the season. One thing seems certain is that Drummond (0) will get a maximum contract.

But at least for now, things are gradually getting better as we're getting a glimpse of the future.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Broadcasters Association.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Citrus Bowl Reflections, Michigan vs Florida

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
ORLANDO, FL

Prior to covering the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on January 1, 2016, it was interesting to listen to Florida Gators alumnus that were skeptical about how this game would turn out against the Michigan Wolverines. The ones I spoke to didn't like the Gators chances in this contest.

I can appreciate what Gators fans were saying. They ended the season with a two-game regular season losing streak.  These two contests were over 14 points.

The downward spiral began on November 28, 2015 as in-state rival Florida State trounced the Gators 27-2. On December 5, 2015, the Gators lost the SEC Championship 29-15 to the eventual National Champions the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Gators losing streak reached three as Michigan crushed Florida 41-7.

To make matters worse for Florida, the FAU Owls came into their November 21 game as heavy underdogs, but didn't leave that way, as the Gators survived a scare winning 20-14 in overtime in Gainesville. It's safe to say, this wasn't a good five weeks of football for the Gators.

The only good thing that came out of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl for the Gators was the payout of this game was $4.25 Million Per-Team. For the Gators, their travel expenses were not high since campus is approximately two hours away at the most.

The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Payout is the largest of all the College Football Non Playoff Bowls.

Michigan won it's first Bowl Game since 2012.

In this game, The Wolverines had three touchdown drives of at least 70 yards and finished with 503 yards of offense against a Florida defense that entered the game ranked sixth nationally.

The Wolverines offense was ranked 17th going into the game.

Michigan played without safety Jabrill Peppers, who sat out with an undisclosed injury.

The Wolverines didn't miss him, holding the Gators (10-4) to 28 total yards in the second half. In the third quarter, Michigan (10-3) out gained Florida 160-2.

How much did Michigan dominate Florida?

The Wolverines scored on seven of their first eight possessions, while piling up more points and more yards (503) than the Gators had allowed in a game all-season.

Michigan's 41 points were the most Florida has allowed since LSU defeated the Gators on October 17, 2015, 35-28 in Baton Rouge, LA.

The Wolverine's 41-7 victory was the largest in a Michigan Bowl Game since the 1948 Rose Bowl 49-0 over USC.

While Orlando, FL is the home of Disney World "Where Dreams Come True," it's been a good place for Michigan. The Wolverines are 4-1 in the Citrus Bowl and improved to 3-0 against the Gators all-time.

The Wolverines are 8-5 against SEC teams in Bowl Games.

What else stood out about this game?

We'll start with Michigan QB Jake Rudock. All he did was throw for 278 yards and three TD's as he was the Citrus Bowl's MVP. Rudock had 20 TD's and nine interceptions for Michigan during the regular season.

I have a feeling that under Jim Harbaugh's direction, the Wolverines will be a QB Factory, which can only bolster recruiting at that position.

Rudock's career totals including his tenure with Iowa are 7,836 yards, 54 TD's and 27 interceptions.

The 6-3, 208 pound, 23-year-old Miami native is No.2 on the Wolverines single season list with 3,017 passing yards. Only John Navarre had more with 3,331 yards as a senior in 2003.

The attendance was 63,113 and the Citrus Bowl looked like the "Little Big House." It looked like there were at least 25,000 Michigan Fans inside the Citrus Bowl Stadium as you can see in these photos on the left, of fans wearing yellow to see a Michigan team which was favored by 3.5 points where the over/under was 40.

What also stood out was when we were at the Wisconsin vs South Carolina game two years ago, there were steel bench seats. Now the seats are Dark Blue chairs on the lower levels and the scoreboards are brand new. The stadium was renovated in 2014 and the Michigan vs Florida attendance of 63,113 was the highest since the remodel.

The only way you couldn't see the Buffalo Wild Wings Advertising all over the stadium is if you were blind. The Citrus Bowl was blanketed with the Black and Yellow all over the field and signs everywhere.

Other offensive players which made solid contributions included running backs De'Veon Smith 25-109 yards (No. 4 Photo) and Drake Johnson 6-58 and one TD. Rudock's primary targets included Jehu Chesson 5-118, one touchdown and Grant Perry who caught five passes for 51 yards and a TD.

Last year Michigan was 5-7 under Brady Hoke.

What a difference a year makes.

Here is what the coaches had to say after the contest.

Frank Shaw of Sports Talk Florida asked Harbaugh if this was his funnest year in Football and a little bit of a reflection post game?

"We coached a great group of guys. Really enjoyed to coach. The coaching staff was so good," Harbaugh said. "And I give them the credit in terms of coaching, but the way the staff came together, the trust that everybody had, we were real allies for each other. And everything, my family, my wife, Sarah, the way they have treated this past year and the kids and--I could go on and on."

Corey Coblit, WEYI in Flint, Michigan asked, "Would you say that after dominating Florida the way you did, this is the most complete team your football team has played this year?"

"Yes. I would--I'd say this was the best game we played all year. It was a great team win," Harbaugh added. "Like I said I don't think I've ever seen our offense play better. And our defense was magnificent.

"Credit to their Defensive Coach Greg Mattison, you know, world class football coach. And the three and outs, the stops, the play on third down, everybody playing great team defense, it was-- it was really good. And the special teams as well.

"I mean, we were darned nervous about the Florida return game. And they were good at it. And we covered the kicks. I think we only had one punt, but the kickoff covers was outstanding. We made all the kicks. We executed in every phase on the special teams and was really pleased. It was a great team win."

Florida Coach Jim McElwain took the loss in stride.

"I've got to tell you, I'm proud of that football team in the locker room,"McElwain said. "Obviously we didn't play well today, and I've got to give Michigan all the credit in the world. They took it to us, beat us up front, did a great job in the red area, kept us off balance, and I think more than everything, played with a pad level."

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I have to admit that I was amazed at the amount of Wolverines fans that made the trip. It reminded me of a Detroit Red Wings vs Florida Panthers Game at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL.  Fans from Southeastern Michigan travel well.

What did the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl do for both Michigan and Florida in the final polls?

Michigan finished 12th in the AP Top 25, and 11th in the Coaches Poll.

Meanwhile, Florida was 25th in both Polls.

It was recently announced that former Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr will be on next years College Football Playoff Panel.
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One of the things I really enjoyed during the game was seeing three past colleagues again.

My former boss Joey Johnston and colleague Chris Harry were working the game. Johnston still works for the Tampa Tribune, while Harry is working for the Gators.

Finally, my former colleague with the Detroit Lions James Petrylka Sr. was working as a spotter with the Michigan Radio Broadcasting team.
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All in all, it was a bright sunny day in Orlando and the Michigan Wolverines domination of Florida will send a message to the rest of the college football world and that a "Sleeping Giant Has Awaken." I expect Michigan to be a major recruiting presence in The Sunshine State.

Meanwhile, the Gators are in good hands with McElwain, and he's been a winner at every coaching stop. There will be no shortage of talent in a state which is rich on prospects.

As for Rudock, look to see him in the NFL next season.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

One More Memory At The Joe

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

In the past two years, the date of December 1, has provided events to remember.

On December 1, 2014, My Cat Maverick Morganroth passed away because of liver and kidney failure. I had Maverick for 13.5 years and he's the best pet I've ever owned! When I pass away, his Box of Ashes will go with me to My Final Resting Place.

A year later on December 1, 2015, I returned to Joe Louis Arena (JLA) with My Photographer Candice Ebling. This was Ebling's first and only trip to JLA.

Before the game, we drove by the construction site of the Red Wings new arena. She also saw downtown Detroit at night, and didn't realize how close the United States and Canada were as she looked across the Detroit River.

It was neat returning to JLA seeing the Red Wings after a five year hiatus. Seeing Karen Newman sing the National Anthem and eating Little Ceasars Pizza in the Press Room made me feel at home.

As for the game itself, Detroit defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 in a shootout. This was my first time seeing the 3-3 overtime in person and it was exciting to watch.

Kudos to Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland for being the driving force by implementing this rule change during the off-season.

Petr Mrazek looked excellent in the shootout to earn the win.

Justin Abdelkader scored two goals in regulation time while Brad Richards netted the game winner in a 1-0 shootout.

This was my first opportunity to see rookie Dylan Larkin in person and this kid will be an All-Star Stud. I can actually see him becoming a captain within 2-3 years and he'll be the new face of the franchise.

If there is one advantage to being high in the Press Box, it's the ability to see all Championship Banners and Retired Jerseys.

The next time I see those banners will be at the new arena, unless by chance, I'm in Detroit for the playoffs during the Spring of 2017.

There was one person missing in The Press Box.

Former Red Wings Public Address Announcer Budd Lynch died on October 9, 2012 at the age of 95.

He was the PA Announcer at JLA from 1985-2012. We would talk a lot during pre-game meals, intermissions and at DSBA functions.

Lynch began his career in 1949 as the Red Wings Radio Play-By-Play Announcer. Lynch was the longest tenured employee in Red Wings history at 63 years.

I will say that when Olympia Stadium closed in 1978, I missed that building because the 16,000 seat Red Barn venue had very few bad seats.

JLA has it's own character. Being on the Detroit River across from Windsor, Canada was great in it's own right. I saw a lot of great hockey in this building.

But on December 1, 2015, it was a night to reflect on the memories of an Original Six team that I enjoy covering. It's always great seeing my friends and colleagues.

I'm very fortunate that the Red Wings play the Florida Panthers twice a year at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL now that they're in the same division in the Eastern Conference.

Red Wings fans always travel well especially in Florida where there are numerous transplants. The Red and White Jerseys are more noticeable at Panthers games because Florida draws smaller crowds than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Holland and I have spoken numerous times about what a future stadium would look like.

He always told me that he was impressed with the Panthers Stadium. Nothing better than a glimpse of the future.

Yet, it was very neat to see a building of 20,000 fans at JLA wearing Red and White.

But as I explained to Ebling, once you've seen a game in "Hockeytown," it will be much different than when we're working Road Games.

With a 5-4 victory over the Sabres, it was great to see one more win at JLA.

I saw one All-Star Game and enjoyed covering games on New Year's Eve.

When I told Ebling that the Red Wings won four Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008, she marveled at this stadium's tradition.

If indeed this was my last time at JLA, it certainly turned out to be an evening to remember.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

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