Keeping Score: Where the tail wags the dog

Friday, October 06, 2017

Good morning!

Booking an overnight trip to parts unknown can be an adventure. A week ago Thursday, the Ohio University football team’s charter flight landed at Barnes Airport in Westfield.

“Where did you stay?” I asked the Ohio police officer who’d accompanied them to play the UMass Minutemen.

“The Bradley-Sheraton,” he answered.

“Bradley Sheraton, the airport… Bradley Sheraton?”

He nodded. “We just wanted to stay some place close to the stadium.”

Bobcats’ media relation’s director Anthony Reynolds confirmed the team’s roundabout itinerary. “We don’t like staying in the same town where we’re playing. We wanted to be somewhere around Springburgh.”

Or Springfield.

Okay, so that’s 25 miles south to Windsor Locks, Conn., and then 45 miles north to Amherst. No wonder Ohio scored only seven points in the first quarter of their 58-50 win. They needed to find the right end zone.

I’d taken a walk around to the visiting locker room to get a look at their diminutive and whiskered head coach Frank Solich — Fearless Frankie — the first Husker to rush for 200 yards in a game.

Solich recruited and coached 1983 Heisman winner Mike Rozier and was was twice named the Big 12 coach of the year. At Ohio, his teams have been to five straight bowl games. He strode purposefully between his two big captains like a grizzled blacksmith ready to pound out another horseshoe. His scowl disappeared for a moment, and he smiled at the appreciative crowd of Ohio fans who’d made the trip.

Freshman Will Evans was the last out of the locker room, wearing a white game jersey embroidered with green lettering, holding a U.S. flag in one hand and a state flag in the other.

“It’s pretty awesome, we do it every game,” said Reynolds.

It was a gray September day with a north wind,  and the 7,696 fans gave scant notice to the UMass starters being introduced on the video board behind the south end zone. The players primped and preened, flexed their muscles and kissed their biceps. One of them smirked and hiked his jersey to show off his tattooed torso.

These were once the highly prized recruits that we’d read about on signing days.

I carried a cup of clam chowder up the concrete steps and saw Mike Noonan standing in the last row of Section 12 peering at his iPhone. The Red Sox were three outs from clinching the AL East, and he was waiting to post the feat on Facebook. “If I don’t, my friends will think something’s happened to me,” he said.

The 64-year-old Noonan has been to over 1,000 games at Fenway Park, including 50 straight Opening Days. He’s beloved in Hampshire County, in part because he sells his extra seats for face value.

The din of rap and hip-hop music on the PA system made it hard for us to hear each other. Noonan leaned for me to yell into his ear, then would straighten and yell back at me.

On Monday, I called to complain about the music (I’m a season ticket holder) and spoke to Chris Tucci who works in marketing and data analytics. A personable sort, Tucci’s worked at Purdue and Illinois but returned to his alma mater after Ryan Bamford was named athletic director. He thinks the sky’s the limit for UMass athletics.

The hip hop music, he said, was to help UMass get good talent. “It’s for the players. It helps recruiting and it helps with the team. It’s all about trying to get the kids here,” he explained.

“And how’s that going?” I asked. “You’re 0-6.”

“All six losses were under ten points,” he reasoned. “Recruiting always comes first. We don’t want to be lesser.”

Somewhere on the UMass campus there’s an empty bottle of Kool-Aid. It helps believers like Tucci forget the Minutemen have lost 14 consecutive FBS games and are on the verge of six straight losing seasons.

Hip-hop equals gridiron success? So be it. I’ve got two weeks to find me some sound muffs.

The 2017-18 UMass hockey season got underway last night in Tempe, and Donnie Moorhouse and Brock Hines were both there to call the action.

This is Hines’ 25th year behind the mic and his 10th with Moorhouse doing the play-by-play. (The games are broadcast on WHMP 96.9 FM/1400 AM in Northampton, and WHMQ 107.5 FM/1240 AM in Greenfield.)

Hines got a glimpse of the new edition last week at the Mullins Center during a 1-0 exhibition win against Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario.

“The defense looked solid,” said Hines. “Sabres draft choice Ivan Chukarov is here for his third season and Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro are as advertised as the fourth and 49th overall picks. They rushed the puck and got back into position.

“The redshirt senior forward from Providence — Nick Rufo — caught my attention, and the new goalie Matt Murray looked techinically sound.”

Second-year coach Greg Carvel is striving to restore UMass to its level of play in 2006-07, when the Minutemen made it to the finals of the NCAA regionals. The program subsequently collapsed and has endured 11 consecutive losing seasons.

“We’re still a season away from not relying on the if’s and buts,” said Hines. “I peg it at ninth (in Hockey East) ahead of Maine and UNH, but UConn and Merrimack have to pull their weight. If they don’t and everything else falls into place, getting home playoff ice is a real possibility.”

Deposed UMass athletics media honcho Molly O’Mara tweeted some shots at her former employer this week. O’Mara was dismissed this summer, and her tweets implied she’d endured working in a sexist environment. “Not funny. No laughs. We’re people. When will it be assumed we worked hard to get where we are and know what we’re talking about? Flooded with memories of some saying I was good at my job, and others saying I was good at my job … for a female.”

SQUIBBERS: This is what happens when the team with the most home runs plays the team with the fewest, like a V-8 against a four cylindar, a Caddy versus the Little Nash Rambler. Beep. Beep. … Bob Kostas and Jim Kaat were so mind-numbingly bland on Thursday’s MLB Network broadcast, they made Joe Castiglione sound like Vin Scully. … The two most annoying commercials on the air are the guy singing Sweet Caroline in his Hyundai, and the smug American Express pitchman who gloats of catching home runs from a kayak and networking on his carbon bicycle. Let’s earn enough rewards points to shove a pie in his face. … The five American League teams in the playoffs are the only five that finished over .500 this season. … CSN host Michael Felger on why David Krejci dropped the gloves with Flyers’ second overall pick Nolan Patrick a week ago:  “The kid was chirping and running his mouth on the ice, so Krejci went over and beat him up.” … Filip Chytil is the first 18-year-old to be on the New York Rangers opening day roster since the immortal Manny Malhotra in 1998. … Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, recalling Bill Parcells urging him to take chances: “Like my coach always said, ‘Don’t be afraid to go down in flames.’” … Tossing the football with my grandson Chase, I asked him if his parents had taken them to the Big E. He shook his head and said, “No … Stop & Shop.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.