The West’s Recipe for Success—Team, Team, Team!

628x471Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of watching team after team from the West turn their franchise around and become true contenders.  In today’s sports world of multi-million dollar contracts, free agency, social media, and player branding, its easy to see how the term “team” can get lost under all that noise. But, in my opinions this lost concept of team, is what has given teams out here their competitive advantage.

Lets first look at the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  Ive been a fan of both teams my whole life and have gone through some pretty tough years.  Back in the early and mid 2000’s, the Giants and A’s had huge payrolls with player like Barry Bond, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito.  Today, both teams operate on a much leaner payroll budget, yet they are producing more wins then in the 2000’s.  Why is this?

For one thing, these teams have made it about the coaches and players.  Both teams now have great managers in Bruce Bochey and Bob Melvin—who have both had success in the past. What sets these managers apart is the focus and attention they place on team goals. NOT the goals of a few individuals, but goals that the whole teams can wrap their heads around.  Bochey and Melvin also focus on comrade and take time during the seasons to build team chemistry.  Last seasons, the A’s had a less talented team then the Texas Rangers, but surprised everyone by taking the AL West.  As for the Giants, they went on to become world champions.

This team focus phenomenon isn’t limited to just baseball—football has shifted in this regard as well.  With coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll—both with collegiate backgrounds—the NFC West has seen a huge shift in they way they build their teams.  Now, team building is all about filling the role that’s is specifically needed for your team, not just who is the best available player while your in the market.  Both the San Fransisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are young, team oriented franchises, which have seen recent success, and will continue to see more in the future.

seahawks-win-nfc-west-620The point here is this, (take note Dallas, New York, and Philadelphia), kids today are too talented and there is too much parity in both the MLB and NFL to simply buy a championship.  Building championship teams starts by getting the right GM and the right head coach—obviously you need an owner willing to bare through the aches and pains expected with this type of team building process.  After that, it’s up to these guys to install the right players and the right mentality in order to become successful.  I think this model for team building will continue to gain traction as it already has.  Huge payrolls teams around the country are starting to take note of the West receipt for success and I anticipate more teams will eventually follow this model.

What do you guys think? What’s been the West receipt for success in recent years?  Feel free to commenst below and until next time, see me on Twitter @JCConway1

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San Francisco and Seattle Have the NFL’s Best Rivalry–Believe it!

121017-sea-sf-600Three years ago, if I were to tell you that the NFC West would be one of footballs best divisions, you would have called me crazy—and you still might.  Unlike three years ago, the NFC West is now a beast of a division with some of the leagues most talented young teams.  Just as the NFC West continues to emerge as the NFL’s best division, so too has the rivalry between San Francisco and Seattle emerged as one of football’s greatest rivalries to watch.

Lets get one thing straight, these teams really don’t like each other—not one bit. This distain for one another is felt by both the players and the head coaches. It has been well documented that Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll are not the biggest fans of one another. This bad blood goes all the way back to Harbaugh’s days with Stanford and Carroll’s days with USC in the Pac 12, where Jim opted for a 2-point conversion even though his team was up by 27 points. Since then, things haven’t gotten any rosier between the two.  In fact, in last years game up in Seattle—after a Seahawks blowout–in was reported that Jim and Pete exchanged a few pleasantries in the parking while Jim’s team entered the team bus.

628x471This rivalry isn’t just all about the coaches, however. In my opinion, it’s about the players.  Both teams love to hit the snot out of each other and fortunately for both teams and fans alike, the Seahawks and 49ers claim two of the leagues most prolific defensive staffs.  Every time these two teams get together the result is the same—really really hard hitting.  These two teams know how to lay the wood and one cant help to think while watching these games that someone is going to eventually leave in a body bag. As a football fan, one cant ask for anything more then what these two teams produce in terms of hard nose, hit you in the mouth, hitting.  It’s a true pleasure to watch.

Adding fuel to this fire is the newfound rivalry between Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.  Both have similar quarterbacking styles, both have proven to be big-game players, and both have a bright future.  But who is better?  Ill leave that up for you to decide. But what I will say is that both add a dynamic threat to their respective offense and both are capable of producing the kind of legendary games fans expect from a good rivalry—see Troy Aikman and Steve Young. This rivalry is the best because of defense, but even more promising when these two young generals are on the field.

As always, I would love to hear what you think.  What is your favorite rivalry game to watch?? Feel free to leave comments below or find me on Twitter @JCConway1.

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The Forgotten Teams of the NFC West—Draft Preview:

St+Louis+Rams+v+Arizona+Cardinals+LdYbngOt72rlEveryone who watches football knows about the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.  What do you expect when these teams have taken the division crown for the last three years? The Niners and Seahawks are clearly on the rise, but how do the other teams—the forgotten ones—plan to make their way back to relevancy and reclaim the division title?  If you watch the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals last season, you know there is much work to do.  Fortunately, for the Rams I don’t think they are far off, while the Cardinals have to put in serious work to get back to the Kurt Warner glory days of the past.

Lets start with the Cardinals.  Last year with a new quarterback in Kevin Kolb and high hopes, the Cardinals managed to start the season off 4-0.  They even beat a super bowl contender early on in the New England Patriots.  Sounds great, right?? Well, not really.  The Cardinals finished the season loosing 11 out of their last 12 games.  So what do the Cardinals need to do make sure they don’t have another dismal season like last year?  For starters, they need a quarterback.  Kevin Kolb and the multiple backups that took his place after injury last season are clearly not the answer.

The Cardinals need a franchise quarterback–someone that can win games for this team for the next 5-10 years.  This years draft picks are not ripe with quarterbacks, so I don’t suggest they break the bank in finding a quarterback there.  Chances are they will have better luck finding a veteran quarterback in free agency that can carry them through a few rebuilding seasons.

Most importantly however, the Cardinals need to focus their draft picks on the offensive line.  Watching the Cardinals last season, it was clear that they couldn’t keep other teams away from their quarterbacks.  In fact, they were one of the most sacked teams in all of football last year—that’s why none of their quarterbacks could stay healthy.  The offensive line is the foundation of any good offense.  Without it, quarterbacks cant see the field or get into a rhythm, and thus, the whole offense stalls.  The Cardinals need to address their offensive line struggles and make this their top priority in this year’s draft.

As for the Rams, its simple, get more playmakers around Sam Bradford.  Branford is a stud, and he will continue to get better under the helm of Jeff Fisher.  This offseason, the Rams got rid of two key playmakers in Danny Amedola and Steven Jackson.  If Rams want Branford to succeed they need to surround him with talent. If they do this, I expect to see a break out season for the Rams.  In my humble opinion, the Rams were a few playmakers away from being a winning team in 2012—lets see what they can do with more talent in 2013.

What do you guys think? Where do you see these teams headed in 2013? Who should they get in the draft? I’d love to hear your comments.  Until, next time follow me on Twitter @JCConway1.

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False Hustle – The “it’s way too early for that” Left Coast League State of the Union.

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Here we are – a whole week into the 2013 season – and the MLB has not disappointed. We’ve seen history (that’s you, Chris Davis), Number One’s that got absolutely destroyed and youth that is ushering in the new breed of super-stars already having an impact on their organizations and respective fan bases. Good things are happening in the game with more to come.

This is the point when teams start to establish an identity, when our pre-season predictions begin to gain traction or fall along the way. But to anoint certain teams or individuals with batting titles or a pennant would be a disservice to the game of baseball and all of its glorified randomness. Such an exercise always proves futile, but I won’t let being wrong deter me from making some bold statements concerning teams Anyways, we are 7/162 into the season – its time to evaluate some underrated ball clubs in the Left Coast Leagues.

The A’s are riding a 5-game win streak that is due in part to their young pitching who – so far – has held off a decline in performance that many industry experts had expected to occur. The staff has an ERA of 3.23, good for 9th in the league, and gotten impressive power performances from Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, two-thirds of a talented outfield that could produce 90 home runs this season.  They swept the Astros and split their home opener with Seattle, so the real test could be coming up in a series against the Angels in Anaheim. This could prove to be the marquee matchup during the season if both teams prove to as good as advertised. Oakland could be poised for another AL West Title if the Angels can’t find a solution to their pitching problems.

For the NL West, we have the feel good story of the Colorado Rockies who sit at 5-1 atop the division standings. Led by a staff that has an ERA of 2.80, 1st in the league  and the powerful and talented combination of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez who are showing the Rockies’ front office why they signed them to long-term contracts. They go against the reigning World Champs in San Francisco, which might be the farthest thing from Coors field in terms of hitting dynamics of a park. Where the ball flies in the thin air of Denver, the ball dies because of thick, dense ocean air that makes AT&T a power hitter’s graveyard. How this effects Colorado’s lineup remains to be seen, but we can expect diminished offensive ball game and spirited series where the teams competitive spirits come out in full.

It’s a long season and we are in the very beginning of a six-month journey that will feature many turns and twists. Will these two teams continue to thrive or will they buckle under the stresses of a 162 game schedule? Do you guys have an opinion on the Left Coast so far?? Feel free to leave comments below.

San Francisco Knows How to do Baseball

IMG_1477San Francisco knows how to put on a show—that’s for sure.  I was lucky enough to attend today’s San Francisco Giants games against the St Louise Cardinals–the team the Giants beat in the NLCS to go to the World Series last year.  It was ring day and the ceremony was done with class, mixed with a little bit of awesome. As I watch player after player receive their rings, I couldn’t help but to feel a strong sense of pride being a Giants fan.  It was a perfect ceremony and I couldn’t have been more pleased to share that movement with thousands of Giants fans at AT&T Park.

For those of you who have been to AT&T, Park you know that its one of baseballs best parks.  The scenery is beautiful, the food is delicious (garlic fries are a must!!), the field is well kept, theres not a bad seat in the house, and there are plenty of amenities to keep people content.  Now, I’ve only been to a few ballparks in my day, but in my opinion, the Giants have the best facility in all of professional sports.

Bold statement, I know.  But where else in professional sports can you hit a ball into the Pacific Ocean? I mean that’s just America at its finest.

 In addition to being a great place for Giants players to play and fans to watch, AT&T was a critical ingredient in the recent success for the Giants franchise. Towards the end of the 80’s attendance at the iconic Candlestick Park were dismal, and if not for the construction of AT&T Park, the Giants were considering leaving San Francisco.  AT&T saved the Giants from leaving the Bay area and helped build one of baseballs largest and most loyal fan base.   Even when the Giants have bad years, AT&T is constantly packed.

San Francisco truly owns a gem in AT&T Park and I recommend going to a game anytime you’re in The City.  Do you guys have any stories from AT&T Park? I’d love to here them.  Feel free to drop comments below.  Until then, enjoy this beautiful picture of the festivities and check me out on Twitter @JCConway1IMG_1478

Will the NFC West Be the NFL’s Best in 2013??

nfc_west_teamsJust over a year ago the NFC West was considered the NFL’s worst division. Today, the NFC West is a force to be reckoned with and it is continuously getting better. Look at how the West did last post season.  One could argue that Seattle and San Francisco were the most dangerous teams in last year’s tournament. No one wanted to face Seattle—especially at CentryLink in Seattle, and the 49ers did their thing at home and on the road giants 2 great teams.  Now that the NFC West has officially arrived, how will the division do in 2013??

In my opinion, this division will be the best in all of football this coming season—take that NFC East!!  There are multitudes of reason why I believe this, but I only want to focus on a few key indicators. In short, the West will be the best because of defense, coaching, and young talent.

Just about every team in this division has a solid defense.  Obviously, the 49ers have one of the best defenses in the league and the Seahawks is not far behind—but many people overlook the Cardinals and Rams defensive staff.  All teams have a talented line-backing core and attack opposing quarterbacks with a vengeance.  Furthermore, Seattle has one of the best defensive backs crew in the whole league—Richard Sherman is annoying but he’s a talented ball payer. Flying out West to play any of these teams is a tall task for opposing offenses.

As far as coaching goes, the NFC West has a mix of young enthusiastic coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, as well as savvy veteran coaches like Jeff Fisher from St Louis.  Both coaching styles get the most out of their athletes and players seem to respond to their coaches more than others around the league. Unlike the blockbuster, mega payroll teams like the Giants, Cowboys, and the Eagles, the NFC West coaches focus on team, team, team—and then after that, they focus on team a bit more.  The team atmosphere that is becoming pervasive in the West pays off in close games and gives West Coast teams an advantage—winning close games could provide an edge in wild card and division races and increase the chances of two NFC West teams playing in the playoffs .

Finally, the NFC West is home to some of football’s most promising star athletes.  Kaepernick, Wilson, Willis, Fitzgereald, and Bradford are some of the best in the bizz and will continue to mature and make their teams better.  The credit here is due to the general managers and scouting operations within each team.  Over the past 5 years the NFC West has made serious strides in evaluating the right players, for the right situations, on the right team.  This will continue to payoff and help build even stronger foundations for NFC West teams in the future.

What do you guys think?? What division will be the best in the NFL this season??

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Which Rivalry is Baseball’s Best??

travel_a_05manwaring-Offerman_576Today is opening day, which officially marks the beginning of the MLB baseball season.  For me, it’s one of the best days of the year and it can never come soon enough. ESPN did not disappoint today and the first two games they aired were classic baseball rivalries between the Yankees and Red Sox and the Giants and Dodgers.  As a baseball fan it doesn’t get better then these two matchups.  This got me to thinking, however, as to which rivalry game is best for fans to watch.

A quick trip down memory lane gives this question a historical perspective that I think both matchups deserve.  The amount of games these teams have played against each other is simply amazing.  The Dodger and Giants, going back to their New York and Brooklyn days, have played each other a total of 2,373 times—yeah, that’s close to 15 full baseball seasons for those of you who are counting. The Yankees and Red Sox come in at a similar number with a total of 2,118 games played. This is a ridiculous number of games, and even though the Giants and Dodger have played slightly more, the difference is marginal at best and I don’t think efficient enough to decide which matchup is the baseballs finest.

Some might say that the rivalry with the most Hall-of-Fame players is the best in baseball.  However, I don’t believe this is a good indicator in differentiating the quality of these matchups.  Both have rivalries boast numerous Hall-of-Famers.  The list is too long to go down name by name, but to mention a few—Ruth, Mays, Robinson, Koufax, DiMaggio, etc etc.

I think what matter most in answering this question, is which rivalry is most relevant today.  Some would say the Yankees and Red sox are obviously the most relevant.  They’d point to the ALCS matchups in the early 2000’s—which I wouldn’t argue with because those series were some of the best I’ve ever seen. Ultimately though, I think the Giants and Dodger are most relevant in TODAY’S league.  I say this because when comparing the Dodger and Giants vs the Yankee and Red Sox, it is clear that San Francisco and Los Angeles have the better teams.  The Yankees are predicated to be at the bottom of the AL East this year and the Red Sox finished dead last in the division last season.  On the other hand, you have the Dodgers, who some consider to be one of this years best teams (from a talent perspective) and the Giants, who won it all both in 2010 and 2012.

In the end, I think these two rivalries are among the best in all of professional sports and the distinction between which is best is left up entirely to whomever is watching.  Simply put, fans can’t loose with either of these games.   What do you think?  What is baseballs best rivalry today? Feel free to leave comments below.  Until next time, check me out on Twitter @JCConway1.

Picture Credit: http://www.wrapupp.com/mlb/giants-and-dodgers-renew-rivalry-tonight-1677/