Sunday, March 25, 2012

When You Give Your Heart And Soul

Soccer is one of the most demanding sports to play competitively. The physical condition that soccer players must have is considered to be more important than the skills that they possess to play the game. With the proper training, the vast majority of soccer players are capable of running up and down the field and finishing games normally, but unfortunately, quite few players do not.
Over the years, we have seen players like LA Galaxy’s David Beckham with the ability to average traveling distances on the field of thirteen miles per game. He has always worked out hard to stay in shape and perform well, and thankfully for him, his body has been able to keep responding to the demands of the game, regardless of his age. Other players do not have such luck, and sometimes they do not find it out the easy way.
When Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the soccer field last weekend against Tottenham while playing a FA Cup game due to a heart failure, not only his heart stopped beating, but also his teammates’, opponents’, fans’ and family’s. This scary moment brought memories of similar unfortunate and tragic incidents in the world of soccer, and we definitely did not want it to repeat again.
Despite the consequences that this unfortunate incident may have on the soccer career of Muamba, he, as well as us (the fans of the sport), has to be grateful that life has given him a second chance to enjoy his time on earth. And, if he ends up not being able to shine as a soccer player anymore, he has plenty of other activities to excel in. He is young and many opportunities will come in handy for him.
As individuals, we need to accept the limitations that life gives us sometimes, especially if they are life-threatening to us. Of course that for Muamba this will not be an easy task, as he fought all his life to be a soccer player. So now that we prayed for him to recover from his heart attack, we should continue praying for him to resume his soccer career normally and without any more inconveniences. But if that were not to be possible, we should pray for him not to get discouraged and find another passion of his in life, just like many soccer players have after being diagnosed with a heart condition or something similar to that matter. It has been hard for them to accept the heart breaking news, but they have continued on to become spokesmen, soccer commentators, coaches, agents, etc. The best example I can think of is Ruben De La Red, who had to retire from soccer at the age of twenty five after he suffered a heart ailment when playing for Real Madrid in 2008. After his retirement, De La Red became part of the coaching staff for the younsters of Real Madrid.
I am sure that late players like Dani Jarque, Marc-Vivien Foe, Antonio Puerta and Phil O’Donnell, would do anything to still be around their families and friends. For example, I clearly remember that when Espanyol's Dani Jarque passed away, he was expecting a baby girl with his girlfriend… It is no question that he would have loved to have a second chance in life to welcome his daughter into this world and his family, and to watch her grow.

But why do these incidents occur? Don't players must pass their physicals to be clear to play for their club teams? Don't players have healthy diets? This incident continues to happen more often than it should (or at least, what one would imagine). And while some research is being conducted to evaluate and fully understand these unfortunate circumstances, many answers have not been found to prevent these scary and tragic moments from happening.  
The most known case of prevention is the one of Anthony Van Loo, who was diagnosed with a heart condition a couple of years ago and was only allowed to play professional soccer again because his doctor implanted a defibrillator in his heart that would automatically shock his heart, in case that he were to suffer another heart attack during a game, which he already has and it worked perfectly.
Despite this encouraging and hopeful news, the fact is that a better method of checking for heart failure and other conditions needs to be implemented into the game. It is not only scary for players, but also unfair for them to be giving their hearts and souls out on the field thinking that they are completely fine, when there are no guarantees that their hearts and souls ares are going to be given back to them, in the event that they suddenly drop down on the field without any warning or apparent reason.
Are some factors being ignored or not taken a careful look by the medical trainers and doctors of the teams when soccer players have their physical examinations done? The reality of the matter is that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible. When it comes to the lives and the safety of these soccer players every single factor should be considered. Basketball, tennis and cycling are very demanding sports, too, but we rarely see the athletes of these different disciplines vanish on the pitch, suddenly.

                                                                                                                   - Y gracias por no fumar!

Fan's messages and wishes for Muamba written down
 on Boltons jersey. Picture from 

Me in front of the statue of Dani Jarque at RCD Espanyol Stadium.
Picture from my own collection.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Get Your Engines Ready

The Formula 1 2012 season began this weekend in great fashion with Jenson Button’s victory at The Grand Prix of Australia. It was a great race full of excitement and disappointments, such as Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado’s crash in the final lap of the race when he was fighting over the fifth place against Fernando Alonso. Overall, the race reassured the prediction of many experts, who anticipated the superiority of the McLaren and Red Bull cars over the rest of the teams', based on the results and timings that all the different teams displayed in the pre-season.
However, the real story here does not really revolve around this first race, but around the fact that this 2012 season F1 is having -for the first time in its history- six champions racing each other for this year’s title. Current championship holder Sebastian Vettel (2-time World Champion) of Red Bull Racing, Fernando Alonso (2-time World Champion) of Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen (1-time World Champion) of Lotus, Jenson Button (1-time World Champion) of McLaren, Lewis Hamilton (1-time World Champion) also of McLaren, and the legendary Michael Schumacher (7-time World Champion and record holder) of Mercedes. And they are ready to show the world who is the champion of the champions this year.
This is definitely the most exciting feature of this 2012 season, as fans are eager to see where their favorite champion pilot stands on his chances to win it all, regardless of their previous accomplishments or age. Clearly, all six of them have the same desire of being proclaimed champions once again and coming out victorious of as many races as possible. Nonetheless, this sport does not only put the skills of the pilots to the test, but also the cars that the teams’ engineers design, develop and prepare with and for the pilots during the off/pre-season. Other factors to consider are the smartness of the pilots and engineers when choosing the strategies that they are going to be using for qualifying sessions and races, the ability to balance aggressiveness and carefulness when overtaking opponent pilots, and luck, of course.
This season, each one of these champions is going to have to be very thoughtful about every one of these factors, given that a simple mistake can be very costly and seal their fate in their pursuit for the championship. Particularly, for a couple of pilots this could be a delicate and serious matter, since it may well be their last chance to participate in the competition. For instance, well known German pilot, Michael Schumacher, came back from retirement a couple of years ago, mainly because he missed the competitiveness of the sport too much and wanted to give one more shot to win it all one last time. Though he is now 43 years of age, he should not be taken for granted as he is the only pilot with seven World Championships in the history of the sport, and his Mercedes car seems to be improving race by race.
Finnish pilot, Kimi Raikkonen, also came back to F1 this year after spending some time racing at the FIA World Rally Championship and NASCAR. This ex-McLaren and Ferrari pilot now races for Lotus and even though he may be a little rusty, he is definitely ready for the challenge. Spanish pilot, Fernando Alonso, is considered to be one of the most hardworking and dedicated pilots in the industry. But he is not getting any younger, and after so much hard work not paying off as well as he would like to for him and his Ferrari, there is a slight possibility that he may be getting frustrated and impatient with his team for not providing him the competitive car he has been waiting for.
The two English pilots of McLaren are always in the run for the championship. On one hand, Jenson Button is expected to deliver excellent results this season, since he beat teammate Hamilton last year. He just got his first win of the season, and McLaren truly hopes Button continues to deliver great performances and positions himself at the championship contingency this season as early as possible. The team spent a lot of time and money on the new McLaren car during the off season and (the car) is predicted to achieve the highest goals in the competition. On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton is a young talented pilot with a lot to offer as he has experience and potential, but his occasional bad decision making and unnecessary penalties during races tend to overshadow his great performances, sometimes. These negative characteristics must disappear from Hamilton this season, due to the fact that his contract with McLaren is expiring this year, and the team would probably be in the hunt for someone who could replace the strong charactered pilot for the 2013 season, if Hamilton does not show more maturity, display good results and handle the pressure well.
Without a doubt, the safest bet to win the 2012 championship is Sebastian Vettel. This 24 year old German pilot has already set records of his own for being the youngest pilot to win a F1 Championship (2010), and also for being the youngest double F1 World Champion (2010 and 2011). In addition to it, over the last couple of years, Vettel’s Red Bull Racing team has provided him the car with the best technology, suspension and aerodynamic, equipped with the famous French made-Renault engine. These efforts have evidently demonstrated the commitment that the team has for its pilot and vice versa, as the car proves to be very consistent and dominant year after year; and fortunately for the team, Vettel has taken great advantage of their efforts by showing incredibly positive and record-breaking results.
Folks, we are in here for a treat. This 2012 F1 season promises to be very exciting, competitive and full of emotions, so let´s just sit down and enjoy the battle for this year´s championship. And if I were you, I would not count out surprising results from unexpected championship contenders. Do not forget that it has been a very long off-season, in which teams have made big improvements to the cars, Pirelli gradual changes to its tires, and FIA interesting variations to its regulations in order to try to close the gap between the most competitive teams and the least competitive ones.

- Y gracias por no fumar!

Start of the Grand Prix of Australia. Picture from

The six champions. From left to right: Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher,
Button, Vettel and Hamilton. Picture from

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Is Rondo The Real Deal?

With the NBA trade deadline right around the corner, the Celtics organization is taking a very serious approach regarding the utilization of the talent and leadership capability of Rajon Rondo for the future of the team. And, with rumors around the league implying that the Celtics are debating whether to move point guard Rajon Rondo to another team or not, Celtics fans must be asking themselves if Rondo has what it takes to be the new leader and face of the Celtics franchise.
To address this matter, we have to remember that the NBA, like any other professional sport is a business, and team owners have to make decisions -in what they believe- will best benefit their teams. One of the first interrogations that owners need to figure out is Rondo’s preparedness to step up and take over the leadership and star role over Paul Pierce in the Boston Celtics in the near future.
There are positive and negative sides about this matter. On the positive side, Rondo has recorded some important triple-doubles for the Celtics. Also, he has proven to be tough to put out when it comes to injuries; a very good point guard when surrounded by great players like Garnett, Allen and Pierce; and is familiar with Doc Rivers’ coaching style, system and philosophy. But how much longer will Doc be the Celtics coach for? Let’s keep in mind that last year he said he wanted to retire, which is why he signed a one-year contract for this season.
On the negative side, Rondo has shown to be a very inconsistent scorer, even though point guards do not have the obligation to be great scorers. But the thing is that he has been six years in the league now and does not seem to have a spot where he rarely misses from (i.e. Garnett’s typical solid mid-range shot beyond 14-feet away from the basket), and even from the free throw line he scorers 62 percent of the times. So basically, Rondo is a great passer, but a poor shooter, which makes him very predictable. Is that what we really want?

In addition to it, unfortunately for the Celtics, the big three is not getting any younger. As a matter of fact, they all are at the end of their great careers, and are not as effective as they were back in 2008 when they won their last Championship. This factor adds up even more pressure on Rondo's productivity, as the team depends and expects more from him on the court.
In my opinion, Rondo’s characteristics would be acceptable if he played for an average team, but when you play for a team which goal is always to be a title contender, you need someone who does more than to record triple-doubles from time to time. You need someone more consistent, dynamic and versatile at the point guard position. I mean, when Rondo takes mid-range shots, the opponent team does not even cover him close -most of the time- because chances are that he will miss the shot, which he usually does. And that allows the opponent team to double team the Celtics’ hottest player on the court at that particular moment, so it ends up being a disadvantage for the Celtics.
I like Rondo and I think he is a great athlete. The fact that he was talented enough to choose among varsity basketball, baseball and football when going to college, speaks for itself. But I believe he is the basketball version of Mark Sanchez in football. A good quarterback who has gone as far as he has gone in the NFL mostly because of the super star teammates he is surrounded by, but does not have what it takes to carry the team on his shoulders… especially when the team needs him the most.
If the Celtics’ goal is actually “all about (Championship) number 18”, they need to start thinking objectively and realistically to comprehend that with the way the Heat and the Bulls are playing this season, it is hard to believe that the Celtics do have a chance for one last run with Rondo and the big three this year. Also, they need to realize that they already have a couple of good pieces to rebuild the team, such as Bass, Pietrus and whoever they get for Rondo; and to understand that it may take a while before they celebrate another Championship at the TD Garden.
But if it were in your power to dictate what to do with Rondo this season and the future of the Celtics’ organization, what would you do? Would you trade Rondo for an experienced power forward/center like Gasol? who would probably give you up to five years of good basketball before he gets too old for the game. Would you trade Rondo to the Nets for point guard Deron Williams? who would definitely improve the offense of the team. Or, would you keep Rondo as a Celtic and rebuild your franchise around him?
I just hope I am wrong on this matter. And, with any luck, the Celtics will have a great run in the playoffs, and who knows? Maybe bring Championship number 18 home!!! But if it does not happen, remember that patience is the key to succeed in life sometimes, and this may simply be one of those times.

                                                                                                                       - Y gracias por no fumar!

- KONY 2012
Rajon Rondo.
Picture from

Sunday, March 4, 2012

“The Captain” Calls It A Career

Every baseball fan is appreciative of their favorite teams’ players. Particularly, of the ones who are big time players with their bat and glove, as well as, without their equipment. To determine these types of players, fans do not only focus on the players' statistical contribution to the team, but also the personal one. And, to Red Sox fans, recently retired Jason Varitek might have worn number thirty three on the back of his jersey, but was ‘numero uno’ in their hearts.
Over the last couple of years, Red Sox fans (me included) witnessed the productivity of Jason Varitek slip away little by little. In a way, we knew that the end of his baseball career was getting near, but we did not want to admit it. And I think Red Sox Management was aware of it, too, which is why they brought Victor Martinez in 2009, but unfortunately that did not work out for very long. Nevertheless, Varitek never stopped helping his teammates, or participating in as many activities as he could, as he was a great mentor to team catchers and a team leader, overall.
Professionally, “The Captain” was a switch-hitter catcher who caught four no hitters (MLB record), hit one of the four home runs in a row against the Yankees at Fenway Park in 2007 (MLB record), won two World Series (2004 and 2007), was selected to three All-Star games, received a golden glove and silver slugger award, and most outstandingly, he taught Alex Rodriguez of the archenemies Yankees not to mess with any of his Red Sox mates.
In addition, three very interesting facts about Varitek are that his fourteen years in the MLB were with the Red Sox; his pre-game preparation was always admired and appreciated by his teammates, especially by his pitchers, as it helped them throughout the game and to become better pitchers; and he once played one entire game with ‘one eye’ due to an eye infection that he was experiencing that day, which caused his vision to be blurry from his right eye.
Players with the caliber of Jason Varitek are not easy to find, and I assure you that it is not going to be easy to fill his shoes. I guess that what I am trying to say is that there have been many great Red Sox players, but just a very few of them have been as complete as “Tek”… the mentor, the leader, the captain. You will be missed on the field #33!

- Y gracias por no fumar!

Jason Varitek.
Picture from
Rodriguez (left) and Varitek (right) going at it.
Picture from