Capitals

Caroms, quirks and odd bounces in sports in 2012

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Caroms, quirks and odd bounces in sports in 2012

Maybe if they were 22 years old - throwing down drinks in a bar and their faces painted in school colors - this would make sense.

But they were far from 22 and their complexions had long lost the glow of youth. And, most assuredly, they were not in a bar.

They were two basketball fans, both past the age of Medicare eligibility, and they took their game seriously. They also happened to be patients in a dialysis clinic in Georgetown, Ky.

According to authorities, the confrontation came five days before Kentucky played Louisville in the NCAA semifinals. Wildcats vs. Cardinals can make for dicey conversation and the men began exchanging words.

Dialysis assists kidney function, keeping the body chemically balanced by removing salt, waste and excess water. In this case, however, not much was done to contain the buildup of bile.

The 68-year-old Kentucky fan receiving treatment extended a finger to the Louisville fan, and it was not to signify that the Wildcats were No. 1. The 71-year-old Louisville fan responded by punching him in the face.

Police were summoned to the clinic. The Kentucky fan chose to not press charges.

His pain and blood pressure perhaps eased by the weekend: Kentucky beat Louisville 69-61 and went on to win the national title.

Dialysis units were not the only odd spots where sports traveled in 2012: Two sumo wrestlers - one 6-foot-8 and 625 pounds - were cast in a Canadian opera production of ``Semele''; Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas became home to a Victoria's Secret outlet; Lance Armstrong was stripped not only his seven Tour de France titles but of his 2006 honorary degree from Tufts University; and one-time NFL star Chad Ochocinco and House Speaker John Boehner wound up Twitter buddies.

Great heft was not limited to opera. At the London Olympics, judo fighter Ricardo Blas entered the 220-pound-and-over division at 480 pounds, nearly double that of most competitors. It was noted that Blas - the heaviest man at these Olympics - weighed more than the entire Japanese women's gymnastics team.

The London Games also brought an outpouring of joy from the mother of Thailand's Pimsiri Sirikaew, a weightlifting silver medalist. A bacchanalian romp, however, was not in Amornat Sirikaew's plans. She told Thai media she would mark her daughter's triumph by joining a monastery.

Looking to get in on the Olympic fun was a New Zealand farm group that wants sheep shearing as an Olympic sport. It was not immediately clear if winners would forgo gold medals for cashmere sweaters.

Other countries, with seemingly more urgent needs, went in strange directions. Haiti, the Palestinian territories, Togo and Eritrea joined the International Ski Federation, a step that did not exactly strike fear into the Swiss and Austrians. Turkmenistan, where scorching heat can reach 120 degrees, was ordered by presidential decree to create an ice hockey league.

Politics and sports invariably find themselves as tag-team partners, and this year was no different.

Ochocinco, getting ready for the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, was watching the state of the union address on TV. He was puzzled by the frowning man seated behind the president. When told it was the speaker of the House, Ochocinco (who has since reverted to his original name of Chad Johnson) consoled Boehner on Twitter: ``If all else seems bad in life, just remember I love you kind sir.''

Kindness was surely not on the mind of Donald Trump when he took on all of Scotland. The real estate magnate turned presidential candidate was incensed that a ``horrendous'' wind farm is to be built off the Scottish coast by his luxury golf resort. In a seething letter, in which he invoked his Scottish-reared mother, Trump wrote to First Minister Alex Salmond: ``With the reckless installation of these monsters, you will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than any event in Scottish history.''

After Germany's loss in the semifinals of soccer's European Championship, one of its lawmakers rebuked the players for not singing the national anthem with proper gusto, a performance he deemed ``shameful.''

Like politics, religion crossed paths with sports inn 2012.

Manchester City, preparing for its Premier League title defense, headed to a village in the Austrian countryside for rest and training. But one thing Man City did not count on - bells from a medieval church that rattled the players from sleep at 7 a.m. Egon Pfeifer, the priest at St. Oswald Church, held his almighty ground. He said the bells would keep ringing ``even if the queen of England wants them to stop.''

A divinely named baseball team in Minnesota shed its ecclesiastical ties for one night. Two atheists groups were in town for a conference and sponsoring a minor league game. So the St. Paul Saints rebranded themselves for one night as ``Mr. Paul Aints.''

This was also a year of odds-defying moments.

Caleb Lloyd was sitting in the left field seats at a Cincinnati Reds game one spring night when he caught a home run ball hit by Reds pitcher Mike Leake. The next batter, Zack Cozart, also homered to left. And there, as if out of the mist of ``Field of Dreams,'' was Lloyd yet again - ready to stab it, with one hand.

``I was like, `Oh, my gosh, that's just crazy,''' he said.

As was the case Down Under: two amateur golfers in Sydney making consecutive holes-in-one. The odds of two golfers from the same foursome acing the same hole? The National Hole in One Registry website says it's 17 million to 1.

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles also made a stop in the Twilight Zone. He went 0 for 8 and struck out five times as a designated hitter in a 17-inning victory over Boston. But with the bullpen depleted, he wound up being called to the mound, the first time he pitched in the pros. He threw two scoreless innings and got the win.

``I was like, `Sweet!' I get to try something different today,'' he said. ``Because hitting ain't working.''

Lots of things weren't working for one team at a girls' high school basketball game in Indiana - Arlington lost to Bloomington South 107-2. Bloomington South coach Larry Winters said he wasn't trying to humiliate an opponent. He told the Indianapolis Star he didn't want his players to stop shooting because that ``would have been more embarrassing.''

But for real embarrassment - some might say perseverance beyond all dignity and reason - check in with Russ Berkman. He's from the Seattle area and he won a lottery for passes to a practice round the day before the Masters. His dog had other ideas. Sierra took to the four tickets like a shank of veal and ate them.

What to do? Berkman told KJR radio his girlfriend insisted there was but one course of action. So he got Sierra to cough it all up, and Berkman then began the unsavory task of piecing together 20 shreds of tickets coated with dog vomit.

He reassembled almost three-quarters of them, photographed his handiwork and explained what happened to Augusta National. The club reprinted his tickets, and the Masters was on.

A happy ending for Berkman, although Sierra may have seen it differently.

---

Associated Press writers Bruce Schreiner in Louisvillle, Ky., Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and freelancer Ben McConville in Edinburgh, Scotland, contributed to this report.

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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