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RubberDucks release "Extreme" platter

Mar 31, 2015 -- 6:15pm

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

AKRON – The following isn’t meant to be served on a fine china plate in a restaurant where you waited six-months for reservations. The food made available at Canal Park in Akron, OH for the 2015 RubberDucks season is intended for hot summer days and breezy nights under the ballpark lights. Meals and snacks dealt on paper trays and inside full-sized baseball helmets. All conjured up by baseball fans, for baseball fans. Hearty food that ‘hits the spot’ and can only be washed down with an ice- cold craft beer.

Days away from first-pitch, the Akron RubberDucks unveiled their “Extreme Food” menu for 2015 – showcasing new items to local media – offering a first time taste test.

“Not only are the new items extreme,” Director of Food and Beverage Brian Manning said of the new entrees. “They are unique and have a wide array of flavors that our fans are sure to enjoy.”

After sampling each new menu option – and possibly devouring seconds – every portion was graded comprehensively, to tip-off fans on which concession stand they should sprint towards when the gates open.

Grading Scale

Grand Slam – Short of actually hitting a grand slam, purchasing this food will be the best thing that happened to you at the ballpark that day.

Home Run – When you bring this item back to the seats, friends and family will celebrate.

Triple – It’s good, it really is good, but coach needs a little more effort.

Double – Wishes it was just a little bit taller, wishes it was a baller.

Single – Should have eaten an extra hot dog during the tailgate party.


Disclaimer: You don’t have to be a “food expert” to recognize and appreciate good taste.


Extreme Menu

The Don Corleone Sub

When you’re hungry, size matters. And, with a namesake like Corleone, you know the offering has to be something hard to refuse. An 8-inch long sub sandwich stacked high with ham, salami, pepperoni and provolone cheese – this sub is definitely a very tasty option. Manning noted the balsamic onions and pepper relish are key in pulling this smorgasbord of a sandwich together. Don’t forget that it is also 6-inches wide.

“Expert” analysis: The Don Corleone will fill you up, that’s for sure, and the taste is spectacular. However, with the massive size and $20 price tag, we have to question whether it is a realistic option.

Grade: Triple.

Grand Slam Walk-Off Wedge

Not your average ballpark food option – the RubberDucks are offering a healthy, full head of lettuce salad – with a baseball twist. Served in a full sized baseball helmet – you still experience the baseball tradition of sunflower seeds and pretzels, because they’re in the salad!

“Expert” analysis: This is fantastic idea. Salads are healthy, nutritious and an extremely underrated snack for a hot day. But, how long do they last in the heat? How many different options of dressing will be available?

Grade: Double

Duck Wings

It’ s only fitting that the RubberDucks serve “Duck Wings” to their fans – and let me tell you, they don’t taste anything like a tire. Spicy, tender and juicy wings with a horseradish dipping sauce, fresh duck wings are the way to go.

“Expert” analysis: It’s not on everyone’s pallet to enjoy a little kick with their wings, but if they do, these are a no brainer. The hardest part about this option is convincing the kids that they’re not eating the mascot.

Grade: Home Run

Not Your Routine Poutine

Fries. Gravy. BBQ pulled pork. Bacon Bits. Green Onions. And, to top it all off, Wisconsin Cheese Curds! This poutine should become a part of every baseball lover’s routine immediately.

“Expert” analysis: Before you go to your seat. Before the National Anthem is sung and the first pitch is tossed – get an order of poutine, or three. In no means am I a poutine connoisseur, but, like a 100 mph fastball, this blew me away.

Grade: GRAND SLAM (A walk-off grand slam with your team trailing by three in Game 7)

The RubberDucks are also opening a craft beer stand, offering 12 oz. portions of craft brews from all over the Midwest and surrounding regions. And, for those who miss White Castle Burgers in Northeast Ohio – you’re in luck. The Ducks and White Castle struck a deal that will offer their trademark slider burgers at each game.

Johnny is here to stay

If you made it to a game last year, you probably tried the “Johnny Footlong.” A footlong all beef hot dog named after Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Topped complete with Texas Jack Chili (paying homage to Manziel’s home state), shredded Pepper Jack Cheese and Sriracha Sauce, to go along with his spicy personality of course.

If you didn’t get the chance to dig-in, you’re in luck. On the field performance and off the field issues aside, the RubberDucks and sticking with the Johnny named dog.

“I think at this time it doesn’t make sense to change (the name),” Manning said. “Obviously he is still very young and his NFL history is just one year in. I think there are still a lot of positives that can come from his time with the Browns.”

The RubberDucks first home game is Thursday April 9th with first pitch at 6:35 pm.

 

 

Wildcats advance, 38-0

Mar 29, 2015 -- 1:37am

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

CLEVELAND – John Calipari didn’t climb up the ladder to ceremoniously cut down the net after the Kentucky Wildcats held on to advance to back-to-back Final Four appearances, beating Notre Dame 68-66.

While walking to the media room for an interview, Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Karl-Anthony Towns cradled the trophy, but was firmly told by a member of the Wildcats basketball staff, ‘that’s not why you came here.’

Kentucky is 38-0 on the year, and two games away from cementing their legacy as one of the best college basketball teams ever assembled.

Conference championships, Sweet 16’s, Elite 8’s and Final Four’s, to them, are just stepping stones on the path of a National Title or bust season.

Led by Towns' 25 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, the Wildcats took one step closer to immortality, and punched their ticket for a Final Four rematch with the Wisconsin Badgers in Indianapolis.

38-0

The shot clock was off with the game tied at 66 before Andrew Harrison drove to the basket, drew a blocking foul, and knocked in two-free throws with six seconds remaining to give his Wildcats the lead.

Notre Dame – with no timeouts, advanced the ball up the floor and launched a three-point prayer as time expired, no good.

Celebration ensued as Calipari and the Wildcats were presented with the Midwest Regional Championship Trophy.

The team went into an uproar while holding the hardware. 

Photo/Getty 

Their championship shirts read, “cut the net,” and the Cats did just that. 

Willie Cauley-Stein did a quick on-the-court interview.

After the dust settled and players took pictures with family members, fans and incorporated in an array of selfies – it was back to business as usual – fulfilling postgame interview obligations and media appearance, but not without having a little fun along the way. 

(Photo/Getty)

Faces in the crowd

You can also see Ashley Judd in the background of this photo, crying tears of joy. 

And last but certainly not least, it’s just not an event in Cleveland without Browns head coach Mike Pettine and LeBron James in attendance. 

 

 

You can't die until we beat you

Mar 26, 2015 -- 7:00am

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

CLEVELAND – One thing is for sure.

When the final buzzer sounds – regardless of the scoreboard – West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins will walk to half court, extend his arm, and shake hands with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

That much is guaranteed.

It isn’t because it’s protocol. It’s not because countless cameras will be eyeing the two throughout their teams’ Sweet 16 matchup in Cleveland. It’s because there is a genuine friendship between them – a bond that began at Walsh College, and survived in the back of a Pittsburg ambulance.

“I can still remember the first time I met him,” Calipari said before his Wildcats took the practice court at The Q. “He had just got the Walsh College job. I was working a basketball camp and he went up to recruit and I went up and introduced myself.

“That was way back, he was 23 or 24 years old and became a coach.”

Decades later, Calipari looks back and reminisces about the days when he and Huggins were the “young guys” of collegiate coaching. Although those days are gone – the two are now established household names who maintain a healthy respect and continued friendship off the court.

“The great thing about (Calipari) is every time I’ve ever asked him to do something for a charity cause or whatever, he’s done it,” Huggins said of their relationship.

And vise versa.

Huggins recalled a time where Calipari asked him to fly in and speak at an event. After Huggins addressed the crowd, educating them on how to beat his trademark 1-3-1 pressure defense, Calipari came out and asked him to tell everyone the story about his cousin, Mark.

Not as willing to tell the story to the media, Huggins gave the abbreviated version of the time in 2003 when he suffered a heart attack at a Pittsburg airport.

“I started sweating profusely and I’m walking to the terminal,” he began to describe. “I’m sweating like crazy and I started getting short of breath so I thought I better get into the airport. I made it as far as the sidewalk and I passed out.

“To make a long story shot, they scooped me up and put me in the ambulance. I’m in and out of consciousness and they’re pumping morphine into me and there is a guy in the back with me. I kind of came to and I asked, ‘how much further we got to go’? He radios to the drivers and said, ‘what’s the ETA?’”

Huggins remembers stumbling in and out of consciousness but vividly telling the man, “Listen, I’m not some 90-year old lady, I know when I’m hurt, I’ve had quite a few things happen in my life and I’m not going to make it much longer."

The 22-minute estimated time of arrival was not an option for Huggins as he slipped back out of consciousness.

Now there’s no exact timeline of when the call was made, but at some point in the back of that ambulance, the man tending to Huggins made a phone call to his cousin, John.

“He calls me,” Calipari recollects. “And said, what should I do? I said, ‘save him,’ I haven’t beaten him yet.”

Granted that wasn’t the only reason Mark yelled “abort, abort, abort,” in the back of that ambulance and started to care closer for Huggins, but it’s the reason he gave him when he woke up.

“I noticed when I came back to he was paying a lot better of attention to me,” Huggins finished. “I came to and was fairly coherent at the time and he said, ‘coach, I cant let you die. I am John Calipari’s cousin and you can’t die until we beat you at least once.”

Reflecting back, Huggins uncomfortably laughs at the scenario, and the small world that led to Mark saving his life and strengthening the bond between the two future hall of fame coaches.

Since then however, Calipari has gotten over the hump and beaten Huggins, but just twice. In ten head-to-head matchups, Huggins and his pressure defense have come out on top a total of eight times.

“I’ve always respected what he does coaching his basketball teams,” Calipari added. “How hard they play, how physical they play and how they rebound. There are almost things that you’ll see and say, ‘that’s his team.’ They play, they compete and they play to win, they don’t have any fear.

“I’ve always respected that.”

Regardless if Calipari’s perfect season with the Wildcats continues into the Elite 8, or whether another Huggins coached West Virginia team plays spoiler to UK like they did in 2010, the handshake will be genuine. The respect will be mutual. And their bond will continue to grow stronger and stronger.

“Over the years we’ve got to be very close,” Huggins added. “We kind of grew up kind of the same way, in the same area, and have a lot of things in common that way.”
 

 

 

NCAA basketball: Sweet 16 practices

Mar 25, 2015 -- 5:06pm

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

CLEVELAND – Madness.

If you want to get a meal in downtown Cleveland over the weekend, there’s a good chance you’ll need a reservation. Driving down East 9th street – much less finding a parking spot – don’t even think about it. Hotel rooms – with no guarantee that your favorite team or alma mater would even make it this far – have been booked for months.

The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the 2015 NCAA tournament are upon us.

Wichita State. West Virginia. Notre Dame. Kentucky.

Four teams enter The Q arena with the same goal – winning two games and emerging as the Midwest Regional Champion, punching their first class ticket to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Nearly 36 hours before the first game tips-off, all four teams took the floor for 50-minute practice sessions that were open to the media and general public.

Disclaimer: “Practice” may be a bit of a loose term; teams competing this weekend are participating in private live sessions that are closed off to everyone except team personnel – what we were able to see was more of a shoot-around walk-through atmosphere, allowing players to stay loose and acclimate themselves to a neutral court.


Wichita State

Takeaway: The Shockers separated guards and big men on opposite ends of the court – performing individual shooting drills – bigs worked on hook shots in the lane, and short range jumpers while guards shot long distance three’s and mid-range pull-up jump shots.

Coach quote of the day: Head coach Greg Marshall when asked about the similarities between Wichita State and Kentucky.

“They wear shorts, tank tops and sneakers. We do the same. I’m not sure what kind of hair gel coach (John) Calipari uses, probably similar. His suits might be more expensive.”

How they got here: The No.7 seed in the Midwest Region, Wichita State beat Indiana 81-76 in their opening round game, then knocked off in-state rival Kansas  78-65 to advance.

Player to watch: Forward Darius Carter – Akron native and cousin of Cavaliers' forward LeBron James. Carter averages a team high 5.3 rebound per game.

“I know LeBron pretty well, and he’s influenced me from just seeing how hard he works. Showing that good things can come from Akron, OH. He’s just a role model. He’s a very hard working and good guy.”

Practice note: Every player shot a half-court shot to end practice, some were close, others ended up in the stands – the Shockers should hope their game against Notre Dame doesn’t come down to a half-court heave.

Notre Dame

Takeaway: The Fighting Irish defined the term “shoot-around” for their 50-minute session. Coach Mike Brey harped on the importance of rest and recovery for his players, citing that his practices haven’t ran longer than an hour and 15 minutes since the middle of January.

Coach quote of the day: Coach Brey on spending time with his family after his mother passed away this week.

“My brother and sister and my parents all live within about a 10 minute radius. I got to spend the day watching hoops with my dad, brother and sister and we sat there and scouted Wichita State. I turned to my brother and said, ‘you’ve got Kansas,’ My sister and my dad, ‘you’ve got Wichita State,’ and please give me the notes afterwards.”

How they got here: After beating Duke and North Carolina in the ACC tournament, the Fighting Irish earned the No.3 seed. Notre Dame scraped by Northeastern in their first game, then beat Butler 67-64 to make it to Cleveland.

Player to watch: Guard Jerian Grant – leads the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game.

“I have been to Wichita a lot actually. My grandparents live there, about five minutes down the street from campus, so I’ve definitely been there.”

Practice note: Nike sponsors the three other remaining teams in this tournament, but not Notre Dame. More than half the team showed off their very bright Steph Curry signature Under Armour sneakers.

West Virginia

Takeaway: The opposite of Notre Dame’s philosophy, West Virginia is a team that practices, and practices and then conditions some more just to make sure. A 50-minute walk through is a breeze compared to their usual three-hour long practices during the season. The Mountaineers run a pressure defense throughout each game, making it imperative to be at the peak of their conditioning at all times.

Coach quote of the day: Head coach Bob Huggins on his teams’ pressure defense and if it can hold up against Kentucky.

“I don’t know. I hope so. It’s going to be a long day for us if it can’t.”

How they got here: The No.5 seed, West Virginia beat Valparaiso in their first round matchup, then advanced by upsetting the fifth seeded Maryland Terrapins 69-59.

Player to watch: Forward Devin Williams averages a team-high of 8.2 rebounds per game, nearly three of those coming on the offensive glass.

“We could be tired later, you know when we’re done doing what we got to do. You know, it’s what we want. So at the end of the day, it ain’t no tired. It’s go hard or go home.”

Practice note: Free-throws! Mountaineer big men spent a substantial amount of time at the free-throw line, forced to make five-in-a-row before earning the opportunity to shoot from other areas of the floor.

Kentucky

Takeaway: It goes without saying, but every college basketball fan is dialed in, examining each and every move that the Wildcats make. Each time they take the court, perfection is on the line. Nine McDonald’s high school All-American’s suit up in blue and white for coach John Calipari every night, and it has been extremely successful thus far.

Coach quote of the day: Calipari on his long-standing friendship with Huggins.

“Well, he and I used to be the young coaches. We were the young guys and we turn around and now we’re the old guys. I don’t understand that. What happened? But, that’s what happened.”

How they got here: Undefeated. Breezed through Hampton and Cincinnati in their first two tournament games.

Player to watch: The platoons. The line changes. The five-man rotations that Calipari isn’t afraid to sub in and out at any given moment.

“Coach Cal does a good job. He doesn’t promise you anything when you come here. So from the bat you just have to start off working hard and that’s just what you have to do.” – Dakari Johnson

“We have good kids and teammates so you kind of fall in love with your team.” -- Marcus Lee

Practice note: Length of their players. Numerous dunking drills. Drop step dunks from the block with ease. Kentucky is bigger and longer than every other team in the country. They know it, and they want their opponent to know it as well.

Schedule

Notre Dame vs. Wichita State at 7:17 EST 

Kentucky vs. West Virginia at approx. 9:47 EST 

Let the games begin.... 

              

 

 

ESPN Cleveland and Ford Sports Zone at the Auto Show

Mar 09, 2015 -- 10:41am

Mock Draft Thursday

Mar 05, 2015 -- 7:43am

By Jason Gibbs | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

As part of ESPN Cleveland’s Path to the Draft, and in preparation for Tony Grossi’s Mock Draft every Friday, here are the best and the worst of what the so-called “experts” are predicting the Browns to do on Thursday April 30th along with analysis of the players they think the Browns will draft.

MEL KIPER JR. – ESPN

-        Posted March 3rd

#12 – Louisville WR DeVante Parker

“I've said before the Browns had one of the strangest, yet really good drafts in recent memory with their 2014 class. They have a total question mark when it comes to their first two picks (Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel), but not only did they add an extra first-round pick for 2015, they nailed pretty much every pick beyond that first round. What they didn't do was get a high-upside talent at wide receiver, and Parker has as high a ceiling as you can find in this class. He can beat defenders to the ball with his size, leaping ability and catch radius, and he's underrated as a threat to add yards after the catch on short throws. With Josh Gordon potentially done in Cleveland -- at a minimum he's gone for 2015 -- Parker looks like a no-brainer here.”

#19 – Florida St. DT Eddie Goldman

“When Phil Taylor got hurt last year, the Browns really suffered, particularly when it came to stopping the run. It's a pretty good example of why you can be only as good as your depth on the defensive line over a long NFL season. The Browns have an extra pick, and given they already added a weapon in the passing game with their earlier pick, this is a good time to add one help on the defensive line. I can see a guy like Malcolm Brown or Jordan Phillips entering the conversation here, but Goldman is a player who already was pretty good in 2014, even when you feel like he's just scratching the surface of his potential. A healthy Browns defense with some added help up front and a healthy Taylor has the potential to be pretty darn good in 2015.”

LANCE ZIERLEIN – NFL.com

-        Posted March 3rd              

#12 – Louisville WR DeVante Parker

“Teams never like to be forced into a need pick in Round 1, but the Browns might have to jump on Parker here for fear of missing out on Josh Gordon's replacement.”

#19 – Washington NT Danny Shelton

“Shelton is a massive nose tackle with the potential to shut down the running game. Bud Dupree could be tough to pass up at this spot, but Shelton helps to solidify the middle.”

PETE PRISCO – CBSSports.com

-        Posted March 3rd              

#12 – West Virginia WR Kevin White

“After passing on a receiver last year, they have to get one this time. This long receiver would be a big help.”

#19 – Louisville WR DeVante Parker

“They passed on a receiver last year, so give them two this time around. With Josh Gordon gone, they need help.”

DANE BRUGLER – CBSSports.com

-        Posted March 1st

#12 – Kentucky DE/OLB Bud Dupree

“With the top three receivers off the board, the Browns' draft radar turns to defense and Dupree, who can give the Browns a pass rush threat off the edge, replacing free agent Jabaal Sheard.”

#19 – LSU OL La’el Collins

“After going defense at pick No. 12, the Browns look to offense with this pick, addressing another weak spot for the Browns on the offensive line. It doesn't always look pretty with Collins, but gets the job done and projects best at right tackle or guard.”

DAN KADAR – SBNation.com

-        Posted March 2nd             

#12 – Louisville WR DeVante Parker

“General manager Ray Farmer doesn’t seem to care for wide receivers high in the draft, but how do we really know he’s not laying a smoke screen? He’s only been in charge of one draft, so it’s ridiculous to jump to conclusions about his drafting tendencies. In Cleveland the need at the position is too great and Parker is too great of a talent to pass up.”

#19 – Texas DT/DE Malcom Brown

“Even if the Browns don’t take a defensive lineman with their first pick in the draft, they should have plenty of options with the No. 19 choice. The thing to follow here is the buzz around Brown. It’s building as the draft approaches because he’s an athletic big man with light feet. Those type of defensive tackles don’t often last long in the draft. If he’s there at 19, the Browns should pounce.”

WALTER FOOTBALL – WalterFootball.com

-        Posted March 4th      

#12 – Texas DT/DE Malcom Brown

“Cleveland was atrocious against the run to close out the season. Part of the reason for that was incompetent play from the defensive line. It didn't help that Phil Taylor, who struggled early, missed the second half of the year with a knee injury. He has literally been a huge disappointment. The same goes for Ahtyba Rubin.”

#19 – Stanford OT Andrus Peat

“The Browns have expressed a desire to fortify their offensive and defensive lines, so they can take care of the former with this selection. The front office wanted to upgrade Mitchell Schwartz last year, with plans to move him inside. Here's a potential new starter in Andrus Peat, who could easily go as high as No. 9 to the Giants.”

ROB RANG – CBSSports.com

-        Posted March 2nd            

#12 – Louisville WR DeVante Parker

“As the only team with two first-round picks, the Browns have a lot of flexibility but also plenty of needs, including potentially at quarterback. Chief among Cleveland's other concerns, of course, is at wide receiver. Parker is a remarkably fluid athlete with great size (6-3, 209) and speed.”

#19 – Texas DT/DE Malcom Brown

“The Browns finished dead last in the NFL in run defense a year ago and have allowed more than 2,000 rushing yards in 14 of the past 16 seasons - a recipe for disaster in the black and blue AFC North. The 6-4, 320-pound Brown is a stout run defender who add bulk and strength to an otherwise undersized front.”

Here’s what stood out about Rob’s mock draft. It’s not necessarily who he had the Browns taking, it’s who he had the Eagles taking with the twentieth pick of the draft (the pick right AFTER the Browns pick). At pick number 20 he had QB BRETT HUNDLEY of UCLA going to Philadelphia. Would the Browns dare take a quarterback in the first round not named Winston or Mariota? Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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