The Phillies’ Latino Uprising

The Phillies’ emerging Latino core (from left): Odubel Herrera, Hector Neris, César Hernández and Maikel Franco. Illustration by Gluekit, photos by AP

For teenage big-league hopefuls at the brand-new baseball academy the Phillies opened (with the Minnesota Twins) in the Dominican Republic this January, the box score from the home team’s April 26th victory over Miami had to provide inspiration.

Vince Velasquez got the win. Joely Rodriguez, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris provided solid relief work. Maikel Franco slugged a grand slam, and Freddy Galvis hit a solo dinger. The Phils’ fifth straight victory had a distinct Latin flavor. Read more »

Now Is the Time to Build the Temple Football Stadium

Temple Owls fans celebrate a touchdown against the Tulane Green Wave at Lincoln Financial Field on October 10th. The Temple Owls won 49-10.

Temple Owls fans celebrate a touchdown against the Tulane Green Wave at Lincoln Financial Field on October 10th. The Temple Owls won 49-10.

Those who remember Peter Liacouras’ infamous early-’80s prediction that Temple’s football team would play in the Sugar Bowl by the end of the decade still chuckle when the grandiose proclamation arises. If you don’t remember the state of the program back then, picture a few thousand (if that) fans lolling around commodious Veterans Stadium while the object of their intent staggered about the concrete turf.

The Sugar Bowl? Those teams probably wouldn’t have been allowed near a sugar bowl at a coffee shop.

Nearly 35 years later, Liacouras’ vision for his school’s football program doesn’t seem so ridiculous. This week alone has produced the single greatest avalanche of publicity in the team’s 121-year history. ESPN GameDay comes to town Saturday. The Owls’ game against Notre Dame Saturday night will be televised on ABC and is arguably the biggest college football event in Philadelphia since the 1963 Army-Navy game, which was played 10 days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Sports Illustrated ran a full feature on Temple, not some one-pager in the front of the book.  Read more »

In Philadelphia Sports, It’s 1972 All Over Again

Illustration by Gluekit

Illustration by Gluekit

Housing values are soaring in Point Breeze, Grays Ferry and Kensington, of all places. The restaurant boom continues along East Passyunk Avenue. Millennials are piling into the city like someone is giving away participation trophies. All this energy and optimism is new and deeply confusing for people who view Philadelphia through an older, more cynical lens.

It’s no doubt a comfort to this veteran crowd, then, that the city’s major sports franchises are still reliably floundering. Sure, the Eagles have won 10 games in each of the past two seasons, but the team did miss the playoffs last year for the third time in four seasons. Similarly, the Flyers have whiffed on the post-season twice in the past three years, and the Phillies are suffering from a crippling hangover after their binge of success from 2007 to 2011. And at least those three teams are trying to win. The Sixers attempted to lose ’em all on purpose over the past two seasons — and were out-tanked twice.

It’s the grimmest time to be a Philadelphia sports fan since 1972. Read more »

The Sixers and the Media: Tanks for Nothing

Illustration by Gluekit

Illustration by Gluekit

This is Bob Cooney’s sixth season on the Sixers beat for the Daily News — he’s a puppy compared to his legendary predecessor, Phil Jasner, who lasted almost 30 — but he’s a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident, and he’s amazed at what he’s seen from the franchise this season. Earnest players and coaches are no match for a front office that has deliberately turned the team — which just three years ago was one win away from the conference finals — into an NBA laughingstock. Read more »

Penn Charter’s Reece Whitley May Be America’s Next Olympic Star

Whitley (with Coach Keelan) is fast enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympic trials. Photograph by Jared Castaldi

Whitley (with Coach Keelan) is fast enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympic trials. Photograph by Jared Castaldi

When the grueling pace of kindergarten life overwhelmed him, Reece Whitley would escape to the bathtub. Two hours of soaking soothed his tired mind and prepared him for another tough day of coloring and story time. Even if the water cooled or his skin pruned, Whitley stayed in. “I just liked the feel of the water,” he says.

Whitley still loves the life aquatic, although those restorative soaks have been replaced by punishing swimming workouts. The Penn Charter freshman is one of the hottest young swimmers in the nation, owning a stack of age-group records and already posting fast enough times in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke to qualify him for the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha. At this past summer’s Junior (18-and-under) National Championships, 14-year-old Whitley finished third in the 200 and won the 100-meter “B” final.

Read more »

Philadelphia Is Full of Winter Weather Wimps

Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

There is a scene in The Ten Commandments in which Anne Baxter’s scheming Nefretiri slinks around Yul Brynner’s Rameses II and ridicules him for letting the Israelites — and her beloved Moses — leave Egypt.

“Do you hear laughter, Pharaoh?” she hisses. “Not the laughter of kings, but the laughter of slaves on the desert.”

After Tuesday’s small burst of powdery precipitation and the region’s accompanying hysteria, a similar tableau could have unfolded in many area homes, as local denizens trembled under a two-inch swaddle of snow.

“Do you hear laughter, Philadelphia? Not the laughter of major cities, but the laughter of Buffalo, Milwaukee and Providence.”

Read more »

St. Joe’s Basketball in Limbo: The Hawk Will Never Die?

Nov 28, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Saint Joseph's Hawks mascot. The Hawk, during the second half against the LSU Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports. LSU Tigers defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 82-65. Photo | Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You see them at St. Joe’s hoops games: old-guard fans who go by names like Owen, Ernie and Dr. Ed. Rich the CPA. The Twins. Hilf and T. They remember John Smith’s last-second game-winning layup against top-ranked DePaul in the 1981 NCAA tournament. The great ’85-’86 campaign, when Saint Joseph’s went 26-6. And, of course, Jameer Nelson and the magical 2003-’04 run to an undefeated regular season, a number-one ranking, and a trip to the Elite Eight.
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Great Job, Birds. Now Get to Work: A Guide to the Eagles Postseason

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Photo | Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how disappointing Saturday’s 26-24 loss to New Orleans might have been, there is absolutely no denying the fact that the 2013 Eagles were successful, exciting and fun to watch. As much as it will pain fans to see the Saints travel to Seattle Saturday, they will look back on this season fondly — once the grief subsides.

The NFC East champions were a juggernaut in the second half of the season, winning seven of their last eight. They found a quarterback around whom they can build, received an historic performance from LeSean McCoy and learned that good health — particularly on the offensive line — can be pretty valuable as the season goes on.

Now comes the real work. Despite posting a 10-6 record, the Birds were a highly imperfect team and enter the off-season with considerable work to do if they want to have playoff success in 2014. Failure to improve could lead to the type of collapse that occurred in Houston, where the Texans went from division champs to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Here, by position group, is an Eagles postseason breakdown of what’s needed to allow the team to become a true Super Bowl contender.

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All the Pressure Sunday Will Be on Cowboys

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles

Anyone who says that at mid-season — when the Eagles were staggering around at 3-5 — they knew the December 29th game in Dallas would be a winner-take-all scrap for the NFC East title is a big fat liar. Back then, the Birds had just managed 10 total points in two ugly losses to Dallas and New York. They appeared rudderless. The idea of a title game in False Face Jones’s North Dallas palace was laughable.

But something happened over the ensuing two months. The Eagles’ offense blossomed under Nick Foles, and the D grew up, too — last week’s matador display against Minnesota notwithstanding. Now, the team stands on the precipice of completing a remarkable turnaround after last season’s desultory 4-12 curtain-closer to the Big Red era. All it will take is a win in Dallas next Sunday.

The beautiful part of this matchup is that all the pressure will be on the Cowboys.

Read more »

How the Sixers Learned to Stop Winning and Love the Tank

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Turner battles for a loose ball. Photo | Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Things were pretty scary in Sixerland there for a while. The home team was sitting at 6-8 and in first place (gasp!) in the NBA Atlantic. The Eastern Conference looked like a bad CYO league (Indiana and Miami excepted), and the idea of a prime spot in the 2014 draft was disappearing faster than the Bucks’ dignity.

When the Sixers dropped a 106-98 decision to Indiana on November 23rd, nobody could have figured that it would be the beginning of a glorious stretch that would see the team lose 10 of 11 and collapse into the lower depths of the NBA. As of Monday morning, the Sixers owned the third worst record in the league and seemed to be heading for even more misery and despair — kind of like the Cowboys.

Read more »

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