An open letter to Vince McMahon

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Dear Mr. McMahon,

I greet you as that out of professional respect and not in homage as your WWF/E persona, which I imagine is you “turned to 11” in some ways.

Today you’ll announce the reformation of the XFL. The league will reportedly relaunch in 2020. While news on franchise locations may be scarce until months from now, I wanted to plant this seed in your head.

The former Laurel Valley High School site in New Florence (or St. Clair Township), Pennsylvania.

While the old field may look out of place when trying to shore up deals in much larger markets, Laure Valley sits on the eastern ridges of Westmoreland County, making it part of the Pittsburgh market. While the school is about 60 miles away from Heinz Field, it’s right off Pennsylvania Route 711, making it easily accessible those with functioning vehicles.

Now the facility itself isn’t impressive, but it has hosted some great football moments in the past. I’m sure there’s still chatter of the goal-line stand to beat Bishop Carroll in 1997, or the swing pass touchdown in the fourth quarter to beat United two weeks later.

If you’re worried about capacity, don’t. It was estimated that 3,000 people were there on that Saturday afternoon to watch the Rams beat the Lions.

Yes, I did say “Saturday afternoon.” See, the stadium doesn’t have lights, meaning that all games kicked off in the afternoon. What better way to celebrate the rough-and-tumble image of the XFL than to settle things in daylight. Like men.

If you’re worried about the playing surface, rest easy. There hasn’t been a varsity-level football contest on that field since 2009 – a 32-0 win over Blairsville. While youth football has been played on the site since the high school was voted to be closed in April 2010, the grass has hardly taken a beating in the years since.

It’s housed conference and district champions. Heck, the 1978 team was deemed to be the top small school team in Pennsylvania by a poll in the years before the PIAA held a tournament to determine such things. Champions have played on this field and they can play there again.

As for a game-day experience, think nothing of it. The Laurel Valley boosters routinely had one of the best concession stands in the area and I hear you can get a public-address announcer pretty cheap. Or at least the guy who announced games during the final eight seasons of the program’s existence.

While we’re partial to “Rams” as a nickname, I’m sure the community would support anything that the WWE/Alpha Entertainment/XFL machine produced.

We hope to hear from you soon, 

– Shawn

#TBT: Send it in, Jerome!

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Usually when asked to explain why I chose to rest my college rooting interests on the University of Pittsburgh – or Pitt, as the locals call it – I harken back to a time when Craig Heyward straight-up ruined lives as a running back for the Panthers.

Heyward was the nation’s leading rusher and all-American on a Panthers team that went 8-4 in 1987, the first year that I really started noticing sports in general. That 10-0 win over Penn State maybe solidified that love. Who knows?

This isn’t about “Ironhead,” though. This is about the moment that left zero doubt in my mind that I’d give my heart to an athletics program that would constantly leave me wondering why I’d do such a thing.

Enter Jerome Lane. Exit a backboard at Fitzgerald Fieldhouse that didn’t see the end of a win over Providence on Jan. 25, 1988.

Heck, it barely made it through the start.

(OK, let’s just wrap our heads around the fact that 1988 is already “30 years ago” … OK, now I feel super old)

Nevertheless, with Sean Miller – yup, the current men’s basketball coach of Arizona – leading a 3-on-2 break, a dish to Lane on the right of the led to this …

Schoolchildren should be required to reenact this dunk in class plays. If only for the sheer absurdity of a small child replicating Bill Raftery’s “SEND IT IN, JEROME!” call on that day’s ESPN broadcast.

To a then-7-year-old version of myself, this made basketball awesome. Pitt was already “neat” as I probably said … OK, maybe I said “it” while championing the school because rhyming was pretty darn cool to the second-grader who was destined to one day break a backboard himself.

(Update on that: So, I claimed a couple Nerf hoops with ferocious dunks in my youth, but never got to break an actual backboard that would have mattered. I was blessed with height but zero jumping ability. It led to a couple full-court sprint dunks with a volleyball that I could palm, but never a legit dunk with a basketball and actual opposition)

As far as the Pitt basketball team that year. This was a team that had been ranked No. 2 in the nation twice by the AP Poll. A stunning overtime loss to Vanderbilt in the second round wrapped the Panthers NCAA Tournament run. It was the first of many way-too-early exits I’d endure as Pitt fan. 

Watching the Lane dunk on loop this morning, it still feels to me that I made the right call.

RBI Baseball is making its case for more of your playing time

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Since its return to the gaming landscape in 2014, RBI Baseball – an MLB Advanced Media property – has taken a few steps to nudge its way into the baseball-niche market of gaming, dominated by MLB The Show.

In some cases, RBI was perfect as it was. For the gamers who don’t have the time to hammer out minute details like organizing an organizational roster down to Class A or manage every single pitch, RBI scratched that baseball itch with quick games and just enough realism that it was worth the reduced price when compared to the $60 titles.

In the fifth year since the relaunch, RBI is taking some serious hacks at becoming a game worthy of your consideration, even if you PlayStation 4 owners preordered MLB 18 The Show months ago.

RBI Baseball 18 will release in March, though an exact launch date will be made available at a later time.

If you’re without a PS4 and gaming on an Xbox One, Nintendo Switch or on mobile iOS or Android devices, RBI is your only choice. If the gameplay takes its anticipated step forward with the announced features meshing with its accessibility to gamers of all ages and skill levels, this year could mean that RBI will feel like more of a requirement and not an obligation to baseball fans who are sans PS4.

(OK, so there’s Out of the Park Baseball for you text-simmers out there, but that’s a choice for PC and Mac gamers and not for the console crowd)

As per a release sent out by MLB Advanced Media – the entity which took over the complete production of the series following four years of overseeing the process – here are a few things that are being touted as reasons for you to take a chance on RBI.

*** RELEASE COPY ***

RBI Baseball 18 Cover

Among the new features* for fans in 2018 will be:

· Franchise Mode: Take control of a favorite MLB team! Make trades, sign free agents or call up rookies across multiple seasons. A new player progression system allows players to develop, improve, and ultimately retire.

· Home Run Derby Mode: Challenge a friend in local head-to-head play or the CPU in the ultimate slugfest. See how individual skills stack up against friends and the rest of the world on the leaderboard.

· Authentic MLB Players: Completely redesigned player models, including more than 300 digitally modeled likenesses, along with hundreds of new animations and unique player-specific animations to deliver a whole new in-game experience.  

· Better Ballparks: Witness the enhanced lighting, textures, revamped 3-D crowd system and get closer to the details with new dynamic camera angles and specially crafted cinematic sequences across all 30 MLB ballparks.

· MLB Legends: Add some of baseball’s best legends to your Franchise mode and play as any of the more than 100 retired MLB players.

· Online Multiplayer: Jump into ranked and friendly exhibition games with friends and players around the globe.

· Soundtrack: Listen to new tracks and music from more than a dozen popular recording artists.

· Roster Updates: Keep a season up to date with rosters throughout the 2018 season, including within Franchise mode.

MLB LEGENDS AVAILABLE IN R.B.I. BASEBALL 18:
Mel Harder, Bobby Doerr, Lou Boudreau, Dom DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Bob Feller, Monte Irvin, Phil Rizzuto, Red Munger, George Kell, Bob Lemon, Pee Wee Reese, Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Richie Ashburn, Red Schoendienst, Robin Roberts, Bobby Richardson, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Hoyt Wilhelm, Frank Howard, Al Kaline, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Billy Williams, Brooks Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jim Fregosi, Catfish Hunter, Dock Ellis, Minnie Minoso, Willie Horton, Gaylord Perry, Johnny Bench, Fergie Jenkins, Bucky Dent, Rod Carew, Mike Hargrove, Rollie Fingers, Tom Seaver, Tony Perez, Bruce Sutter, Phil Niekro, Reggie Jackson, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, Jose Cruz, Mike Schmidt, Darrell Evans, Frank White, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, Ken Griffey Sr., Mike Scott, Bert Blyleven, Gary Carter, Willie Randolph, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Mike Boddicker, Kelly Gruber, Dale Murphy, Goose Gossage, Rick Sutcliffe, Kent Hrbek, Willie Wilson, John Kruk, Ozzie Smith, Lenny Dykstra, Lee Smith, Rick Honeycutt, Paul Molitor, Terry Pendleton, Joe Carter, Wade Boggs, Mark Langston, Orel Hershiser, Harold Baines, Eric Davis, Brady Anderson, Matt Williams, Greg Vaughn, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Jeff Bagwell, Kenny Lofton, Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, Eric Gagne, Troy Percival, Jim Edmonds, Jorge Posada, Chipper Jones, Johnny Damon, Jamie Moyer, Derek Lowe, Roy Oswalt, Paul Konerko, Jason Giambi

*** END RELEASE COPY ****

OK, Dock Ellis enough to sell this legends thing to me. Though I see a few names in this list that stretch the definition of “legends” quite a bit. All of this commentary from someone who last played competitive baseball in the 1990s, and never as a professional.

The release is fast to point out that the * means that some features will vary by platform. But that’s OK. Because as long as Franchise Mode is standard on the Switch version of the title, it would be worth the $29.99 retail price for consoles to make it a part of my gaming library. MLBAM will soak you for $6.99 if you opt to purchase this game on your supported iOS or Android phone or tablet. 

While RBI will likely never become the robust title that MLB The Show has provided, it does provide an alternative – or option – for gamers.

Want to know more? Visit http://www.rbigame.com/

Tuesday Take: You’re an Eagles Fan Now

Championship Sunday in the NFL featured great intrigue on both sides of the league as they prepared to battle it out with a trip to Super Bowl LII on the line.

On the AFC side, you had the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and Blake Bortles heading to New England to face the vaunted Patriots, looking to make a tenth Super Bowl appearance and eighth since the turn of the millennium.

Jumping over to the NFC, a resurgent Case Keenum had the Minnesota Vikings one win away from being the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. The only thing standing in the way of history were the Philadelphia Eagles, led by backup quarterback Nick Foles.

Sunday could have been a day of firsts and maybe one of the most unlikely Super Bowl matchups of all time had the Jaguars done the impossible and the Vikings simply rattled Foles.

In typical NFL style, the worst possible outcome occurred in both contests.

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Heading into halftime of the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars dominated the Patriots for two quarters and led 14-10 but the second half told a different story. Trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does and led a furious rally to prevail 24-20 and claim another AFC Championship.

Taking the opening kickoff in Philadelphia, the Vikings marched the length of the field without much resistance from the Eagles defense and raced out to a 7-0 lead. Not much else went right for the Vikings after that. Their second drive ended in a pick-six by the Eagles defense, then Nick Foles took over and gashed the best defense in football for 352 yards and three touchdowns to send the Eagles (ironically) to Minnesota for a showdown with the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

This is the outcome no one outside of Philadelphia or Boston wanted but is the one we will have to live with regardless. A Patriots team gunning for it’s sixth Super Bowl title since 2001 and the consensus most hated team in America versus the Philadelphia Eagles trying to win their first Super Bowl but just as easily hateable in their own right.

If you are a Pittsburgh fan like us here at The Bat Flip, you can attest this is the worst case scenario matchup you could ever imagine. At least the second worst behind a potential Cowboys/Ravens matchup on the game’s biggest stage.

For Pittsburgh fans hating on the Patriots has become a tradition since Brady and Belichick began their death grip on the league by beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in 2001. Hating the Patriots is second nature to us at this point. In many ways, we hate them more than the Ravens, Browns, or Bengals.

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There is no lack of hate for the Eagles as well but for a much different reason. If you were asked to name the top rivalries in the NFL, Steelers/Eagles probably aren’t even in your top 50. They don’t play in the same division or conference and in reality, they only face off once every four years, usually in a meaningless early season game. The two sides have never met in a Super Bowl either. This hate is simply from sharing the same state. You inherit this hate when you’re born into the others fandom. Hating on Philly is ingrained into the very culture of Pittsburgh sports, regardless if a rivalry exists or not. Pittsburgh fans just don’t want to see Philly fans happy for any reason and vice versa.

Late on Sunday night when the dust had settled and the Super matchup was set, many Pittsburgh fans took to social media to declare they were not going to watch a Super featuring the Patriots and Eagles. They weren’t going to force themselves to pick a side between two teams they despise.

Well, I’m here to tell you something: you are going to watch the game and you are going to pick a side. That side will be the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is not a hard debate. You can clamor all you want about in-state rivalries and hating to see Philadelphia succeed. The hard truth is, the alternative is so much worse. Watching Brady and the Patriots raise a sixth Lombardi Trophy is not something you should ever be able to stomach. They are the Empire from Star Wars brought to life on a football field. Their success turned an already arrogant fan base into one of the most completely insufferable groups of people in this vast country. Nothing Philadelphia does will compare, even if their fans have the tendency to act like uncaged wild animals at times.

Remember how you felt in 2008 and 2012 when Eli Manning and the New York Giants pantsed the Patriots? You can feel that again if the Eagles can win one more game. Seeing Tom Brady fail on the biggest stage, a stage he has owned for most of his career, borders on the erotic. An Eagles victory on February 4th and we can all feel that collective sigh of relief once again. We won’t have to spend another offseason hearing all about the Patriots.

So, in the time between now and Super Bowl Sunday think about all of this. Think about all the times Brady and the Patriots have personally hurt you or ripped your sports-loving heart out. Really think about how easy this decision really is. Do you want to hear the talking heads on ESPN and NFL Network spend the next eight months bloviating about the greatness of New England? I didn’t think so.

Fly Eagles Fly.

(Note: Philadelphia hate can resume at approximately 11 PM on Sunday, February 4th).

You Have to See this Bat Flip

We are still a few weeks away from Major League pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective spring training sites but that does not mean baseball is completely dormant during these long winter months.

Head south into the Caribbean and you can find baseball being played regularly thanks to the tropical climate. One of the most popular leagues currently running is the Dominican Winter League in the Dominican Republic and on Thursday night, dropped what end up being the best baseball highlight of 2018.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, former major leaguer Juan Francisco of the Tigres del Licey stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. With his team already leading 2-1, Francisco extended the lead by four with a grand slam over the right field wall.

The home run is impressive in itself and sent the home crowd into a frenzy as it sailed over the wall, but the real highlight is what the camera missed as it tracked the ball in the air.

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Yep, that’s Francisco staring that bad boy down for a solid six seconds before casually tossing the bat in the air to begin his trip around the bases.

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I mean, look at the height on that toss.

The only way to fully appreciate the moment is seeing the video sent out by the club’s official Twitter after it happened.

I suggest watching the whole thing just to soak in the crowd reaction but if you want to skip ahead to the stare down/bat flip then go to the 23 second mark. The way Francisco watches the ball sail over the fence then casually tosses the bat nearly into the stratosphere is stuff of legend.

There is another replay at the 41 second mark of the video where you can view his teammates reaction from the dugout along with a better view of the height he got on that toss. It’s quite impressive.

Bravo, Mr. Francisco.

Baseball needs more of this and if you could not already tell by the name of the blog, this is something we highly endorse at all times.

FlipCast Episode 8.5: The One Eulogizing the Steelers

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Find it here on Podbean.

Subscribe on iTunes.

In this episode: Robbie and Shawn lament about a season with a lot of potential and a lot of flaws for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The pair also tosses out a few opinions on what may be coming for the Steelers in the coming season(s). Somehow they keep it work-safe.

FlipCast Episode 8: The One With a Bonus Podcast

The FlipCast (4)

Find it here on Podbean.

Subscribe on iTunes.

In this episode: Robbie and Shawn chat about the division round of the NFL playoffs, the upcoming championship weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ run of trades and what that will mean. The gang also chats about the Pittsburgh Penguins and creates a hashtag for a Nintendo franchise in need of a Switch port.

Tuesday Take: There is no wrong way to react to the McCutchen trade, but you already knew that

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Gerrit Cole on Saturday. That news was a jolt to the system and the harbinger of what became a pretty terrible weekend for Pittsburgh sports. 

Andrew McCutchen on Monday. That was a crushing blow to morale. 

If the decision to move Cole on Saturday caused a flare-up of frustrated fan reactions, Monday’s news that McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants created a Vesuvius-like eruption of emotions.

Simply put, McCutchen was the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates from Day 1 of his major-league career in 2009. That face saw the depths of the team’s never-ending rebuild and an all-too-short peak of relevance from 2013-15 when the Corsairs made three consecutive trips to the postseason. While many others contributed great things in that run, McCutchen was the Pirates.

Even during McCutchen’s statistical decline – with a productivity resurgence late in 2017 – the Pirates were his team. In an outfield with young talents like Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, McCutchen was the guy who had been on the ship when it was sitting in the bottom of the ocean and was the biggest cog in its resurfacing.

If you’ve followed the Pirates from 2009-on, there’s likely a favorite Andrew McCutchen moment … Or about 22.

I’ll leave two of mine below. Explanations as to why would only get in the way of the moments.

McCutchen’s contribution to the Pittsburgh Pirates extends beyond his career numbers of a .291 batting average, 203 home runs, 725 RBIs, a WAR of 40.0, the 171 stolen bases, a Gold Glove in 2012, the 1,346 times that McCutchen took the field wearing a Pirates uniform. McCutchen meant more to the Pirates than his 2013 National League MVP, though he meant everything to the club over nine seasons.

He meant everything to Pirates fans as the outlook went from hoping for relevance in his early years to wanting Octobers to never end during his peak.

Those three seasons provided the most electric summers in Pittsburgh during my lifetime. In that span, the Pirates showed the world that Pittsburgh can be the most enthusiastic market in the majors. There are still chills running through me when recalling the Pirates’ wild-card win over the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. It was a night that made every failure from 1993 to 2012 worth it. There were heroes other than McCutchen on that evening. But it was McCutchen’s call to arms on Twitter for PNC Park to be blacked out with the overflow crowd summoned to wear black that created the visuals long burned into the minds of Pirates fans.

When Cutch commanded, fans listened.

McCutchen was the first name linked to the Pirates when the club won 94 games in 2013, 88 in 2014 and 98 in 2015. The kid from Fort Meade, Florida, not only got the significance behind the role of being the face of the team’s return to prominence, he embraced everything about ingraining himself in the community beyond the ballpark overlooking the Allegheny River.   

Maybe that’s why the reaction has been what it’s been. Andrew McCutchen was the reason many fans in Pittsburgh – and beyond the world – believed in the Pirates again.

Now … He’s a Giant. It was a move that happened on Jan. 15. With 78 days between the moment of the news breaking and the Pirates’ home opener on April 2.

There was never a chance to properly say goodbye because while a trade involving McCutchen was a possibility in the previous offseason, it never came to fruition.

It happened on Monday, in the cold of winter with no chance to send McCutchen off the grass at PNC Park with the kind of applause where (good) broadcasters get out of the way and let the emotion of the moment tell the story.

In the end, there are few wrong ways to react. Even in the most irrational ways.

There are fans that are enraged, viewing this as another salary dump for a notoriously-frugal franchise. In many cases, the refusal to dump large sums of money into the major-league payroll is a sign that ownership cares more about the bottom line than anything else. A large percentage of the enraged – many who are likely just beaten down from the 20 years of losing – have taken to swearing off trips to PNC Park as a way of sticking it to the franchise and its finances. Those voices will be the loudest in the giant living room created by social media, and that’s fine.

Some are heartbroken. The heart and soul of the Pirates will no longer occupy a spot in the outfield at PNC Park, save a visit in mid-May and any other time that McCutchen makes a trip to Pittsburgh through the remainder of his career. Anything short of a tear-jerking applause when McCutchen steps into the batter’s box in 2unfamiliar colors in May will be stunning. it will also get very dusty in whatever room I happen to be in when that moment happens. 

A sect will also point out that the trade doesn’t reduce the Pirates’ chances of winning a World Series in 2018. It’s harder to find a number lower than absolute zero. It’s just the reality when it’s taken into consideration that the club bet on its farm in 2015 en route to maintaining the successes of a 98-win season. It didn’t pan out. The window slammed shut without warning. This move simply boarded that window as the Pirates search for a new one to pry open with different tools. 

As the club sheds some of its biggest trade pieces, the returns cannot replace the impact that McCutchen held in the community. It’ll be an impact visually represented by fans still wearing McCutchen jerseys, t-jerseys, shirts emblazoned with his image or kids emulating his mannerisms, stance, and apparel preferences.   

Trying to replicate McCutchen’s on- and off-field impact would be foolish. The added swagger from McCutchen was his and his alone.    

But like McCutchen and the Pirates will do in their respective ways, it’s time to move on while appreciating what his time with the club meant.

Thank you, Andrew.