Kizhan Clarke isn’t afraid to wrestle the top guys in his weight class. The 149-pounder from Gibsonton, Fla. has made that clear over recent weeks.
“I love it,” Clarke said. “When I face the toughest guys it’s just time for me to have no worries, it’s time for me to prove myself and prove to the world who I am. That’s my whole mindset when I’m wrestling the top guys.”
A redshirt junior for American University, Clarke is 30-3 on the season. He has the most wins of any ranked wrestler in his weight class, but he still finds himself behind guys from powerhouses like Iowa, Oklahoma State and Missouri when it comes to the rankings.
Polls don’t matter when it comes time to step on the mat, though, and Clarke has proved that. In a match against North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor recently, Clarke took the No. 2 wrestler in the country to overtime before ultimately losing 5-3. Despite the loss, he saw that as progress on his way to the top.
“If I can keep stepping up on that ladder a couple more steps, I could beat him,” Clarke said. “I was there with him. I’m there with a top-two guy. I feel great about that.”
At the Midlands Championships last month, Clarke placed fifth in a crowded field that included multiple top-10 wrestlers. He picked up wins over two ranked wrestlers at the tournament, including No. 10 Kanen Storr of Michigan. The tournament is one of the toughest in-season competitions due to the amount of quality competitors, but Clarke says it’s not exactly a preview of the NCAA Championships.
“I think it’s more of a stepping stone. It’s a place where you kind of see where your weaknesses fall and where you need to work on,” he said, adding that his losses against Iowa wrestlers showed him some of his own weaknesses. “So I’ve just got to keep it going, keep it going. That’s all I see it as is just a stepping stone. I plan on seeing those guys at nationals.”
One of Clarke’s best performances this season was in early November at the AU Round Robin. American hosted VMI and Maryland in a round-robin style tournament at Bender Arena. Clarke went 5-0 on the day, picking up two tech falls on his way to a perfect outing.
After the event, Clarke outlined his three biggest goals for the season: making it to the NCAA Championships, winning a national title and going undefeated on the year. With his three losses, the latter is now out of reach, but he’s set on accomplishing the other two goals.
“I feel like it’s still attainable,” Clarke said about making it to the NCAA Tournament in March. “Making nationals is a small goal but it’s a goal I haven’t achieved yet, so that’s definitely still a big goal in my mind.”
He came close to achieving that goal last season. Wrestling at 157 pounds a year ago, he had to place in the top six at the EIWA Championships, but a 10-7 loss in the consolation bracket sent him to the seventh-place match.
This year he’s the highest-ranked EIWA wrestler at 149 pounds, and the season he’s having certainly seems like it would end with an NCAA bid at the very least. Clarke is so set on making it to the tournament, that he has a wager going with his coach.
“I have a bet with my coach that if I make it to Nationals I’m cutting all my hair off,” he said So I look forward to that. I’ve been growing this thing out for like two years now. So I’m looking forward to just cutting it all off and going to nationals.”
While a trip to the NCAA Championships would be his first, he’s not willing to settle for just making an appearance. He wants to take the title.
“National champ is definitely still a big target,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal whenever I step in the room, whenever I’m in workouts, whenever I’m at home planning what to eat. That’s always the first thing on my mind. First thing on my mind is a national championship.”
Once he gets to the NCAA Championships, he’ll be used to the tournament format. American competed in six tournaments during the first half of the season, four of which Clarke won. He took first place at the Battle at the Citadel, AU Round Robin, Navy Classic and Patriot Open this season. His first setback came at the Midlands Championships, but even a fifth-place finish at that event is impressive.
Despite his success at tournaments this year, Clarke prefers wrestling in a dual meet environment.
“Man, I love duals. I love duals more than anything,” he said. “It’s just one match, you have your whole team there to support you, you’ve got all these people here just to cheer you on and it’s a great feeling.”
He pointed out the contrast between duals and tournaments, saying that he likes the energy he gets from everyone in the arena focusing on one match, whereas in a tournament, there can be eight matches going on at once with everyone focused on something different.
That’s a good attitude to have with the remaining dates on American’s schedule. The Eagles travel to Bethlehem, Pa. this Friday for a match against Lehigh before taking on Columbia on Sunday.
“Their crowd is ridiculous,” Clarke said of Lehigh’s fans, before finishing his thought with a little bit of fire. “And I’m ready to piss them off a little bit.”
Other notable duals left for AU include hosting Navy and travelling to George Mason.
Then there’s the big one. The Eagles end the season on the road in State College taking on Penn State. But, as you can probably guess, Clarke isn’t fazed. He’s looking forward to going into a hostile environment and making the home fans upset at the end of the night.
“I’m ready for those duals,” he said. “Top guys, like I said, I love wrestling the top guys. That’s what I’m there for. So I love wrestling those duals, specifically.”
Let’s face it, it’s time to accept the fact that baseball is over for the year. It left us a great parting gift in an exciting World Series that culminated in the Astros’ first championship in franchise history, but it left us to face the cold winter alone.
Not all hope is lost, though.
In the absence of the game being played, we still have the wonderful world that is baseball Twitter. Twitter is full of accounts that are dedicated to the great sport of baseball. Some are informative, some more entertainment-oriented.
Putting together the list I am about to present to you took lots of time and effort. This list rivals the Forbes list in terms of prestige. To help you get through the endless offseason, here is my list of essential baseball Twitter accounts you must follow this winter.
MLB Home Run (@MLBHR)
In a time where home runs are hit seemingly every other at bat, following an account that alerts you of every home run may sound a bit annoying. But in order to stay up to date with all the dingers hit across the league (a league record 6,105), this account must be in your following list.
Baseball Countdown (@Count2Baseball)
Like I said, the offseason is long and grueling. It drags on through the cold, dreary winter months and makes you think there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But Baseball Countdown lets you know there is a light there. Every day you’ll be made aware of the number of days until baseball returns. And right now, that glorious morning is just 105 days away.
Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref)
Have you ever wanted to know who hit the most home runs on a Wednesday in June in the old Yankee Stadium while wearing blue socks? Well, Baseball Reference probably can’t give you that answer, but they have a vast database of baseball facts and information that can be useful to any fan of the game. If you’re watching a game and want to know anything about any player on the field, this is the account to follow.
Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ)
So you like baseball, pop culture, and comedy. Look no further than Cespedes Family BBQ. The account is run by two recent college grads who landed jobs with MLB – I’d like advice on how they did so, by the way – and pretty much give their commentary about anything interesting or funny in the world of baseball.
Old Hoss Radbourn (OldHossRadbourn)
If you’ve ever wanted to be inside the mind of a player from the late 1800s, give Old Hoss Radbourn a follow. Radbourn was a real player in the 1880s who is best known for finishing the 1884 season with 60 wins. His alter ego on the internet is filled with lots of anger towards the modern world, with some baseball commentary thrown in occasionally.
I know the offseason won’t be fun, but stick to this list and follow all of these accounts, and you’ll survive.
I’d like to start this week’s column by congratulating the Houston Astros on winning their first World Series championship. They had a terrific season and put up some of the most amazing offensive numbers of all time.
I’d also like to congratulate myself for correctly picking the World Series matchup.
On the first episode of the podcast on April 1, I chose the Boston Red Sox as my 2017 World Series champions. When the Houston Astros traded for Justin Verlander at the August trade deadline, though, I tweeted this out:
I knew the Astros had a good team, but adding Verlander all but sealed the deal in my book. There was no way this team was not going to win the Fall Classic.
After picking six of the seven playoff matchups correctly (including calling that the World Series would go seven games), I feel I’m qualified to give advice on making predictions. So it is with great pleasure that I give you The Art of Predictions.
1. Be Bold: In reality, no one ever really knows what will happen, so it doesn’t hurt to make a bold pick. Hey, if you’re a major publication like Sports Illustrated, you might even pick a team that just went 51-111 to win three years from now. Why not?
2. Change It Up: I’ll be honest, at the beginning of the season I didn’t even think the Astros would win their division. I picked the Rangers to win the AL West (yes I know, that was a dumb pick). But once they traded for Verlander, I couldn’t ignore the ‘Stros. So don’t be afraid to change your picks when something major happens.
3. Follow Trends: When making a prediction, keep recent trends and momentum in mind. For example, home teams are 20-22 (now 20-23) in World Series Game Sevens, so it was likely the Dodgers would lose this series once it went to Game Seven. On a recent episode of the Start Jumping podcast at Virginia Tech, Trey Lyle and I predicted Iowa State to beat TCU, citing their recent string of upsets over ranked teams. Trends are usually helpful when it comes to predictions. However...
4. Beware the Unpredictable: Although trends are helpful, anything can happen, especially in baseball. Five of the last seven World Series Game Sevens have been won by the National League club, but this year's was different, so it was smart to go against the trend. It's important to keep in mind the unpredictable nature of sports, and once they get into the playoffs, the unpredictability is multiplied tenfold. *cough* March Madness *cough*
And, if all else fails...
5. Be Random: I'm in a weekly NFL pick 'em league with my friends and family, and somehow I'm beating my roommate, who is a football fanatic. I have little actual football knowledge, but I have a 50/50 shot at getting each game right. So if it comes down to it, flip a coin and you should be just fine.
I'm not guaranteeing anything, but by following these tips, you can make the Vegas sportsbooks bankrupt in no time. You may even end up like this lucky guy.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find something to do until next baseball season starts.
Imagine being really good at your job. You go to work everyday, you produce, and you exceed any expectations that anyone had for you this year. Then your boss calls you into his office and tells you you’re fired.
That’s the situation Joe Girardi is going through. The New York Yankees fired Girardi Thursday after he took a young team – a team that wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs – to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
If you’ve followed along with the two columns I’ve written so far, you know that my first column was about the idea of Joe Girardi being fired at the end of the season. I took a firm stance on Girardi’s side, citing his World Series championship, his postseason appearances, and his overall winning record as reasons to keep him as the Yankees skipper. Apparently the Yankees front office doesn’t agree with me.
The issue of managers being fired despite having good track records goes deeper than Girardi, though. Two other playoff teams have fired their managers already this offseason. John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox and Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals were let go after their teams were eliminated from the postseason.
John Farrell had been the Red Sox manager since 2013 and won a World Series in his first season at the helm. Boston missed the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, but won back-to-back AL East titles in 2016 and 2017. However, the Sox were eliminated in the ALDS both years. It is my guess that the lack of postseason success is what ultimately led to Farrell being let go.
Dusty Baker only spent two years with the Washington Nationals, and won back-to-back NL East titles. Like Farrell, though, Baker’s team was not able to get past the Divisional round in either year.
So now there are three playoff teams searching for a new manager for the 2018 season, and that’s where I have a problem.
Managers are not always the one to blame for poor performance, but they’re usually the easiest to blame. You can blame the players, but in order to fix that problem, you have to try to make trades or acquire new players through free agency. The front office could be to blame, but the general manager is not going to fire himself. So the easiest person to blame and replace is the manager, even if the lack of success is not their fault.
It takes time to put together a winning team and bring home a World Series. Out of the last 30 World Series winners, the average manager was in his fourth year with the team. But these days, the front office wants to win and it wants to win now.
On last Wednesday’s episode of the podcast, Billy Parvatam said the Nationals are “a very arrogant organization,” citing the number of managers they have had throughout their 14-year history – it’s seven, by the way. For a team that has never won a World Series, firing a manager who has just taken you to back-to-back division titles does seem pretty arrogant. It also makes this job look less attractive to potential candidates.
As the Nationals new manager, you go into the job knowing that anything less than a championship will get you fired. If you aren’t able to bring the Nationals a World Series trophy within two years you’re gone. That’s not a job I would want.
The Yankees and Red Sox jobs are more attractive, but they’re moving towards World Series or bust territory. Girardi was able to keep his job for a decade despite winning one championship. Farrell lasted four more years after his sole championship. If this trend continues though, these teams are going to expect a lot more out of their future managers.
Welcome to the new era of baseball. Bring us a World Series, or pack up your things and leave.
Yasiel Puig has been the star of the show this postseason for the Dodgers. The 26-year-old right fielder has a slash line of .414/.514/1.169 in the 2017 playoffs with a home run and six RBIs.
He has also drawn the ire of some observers of the game.
Puig has been somewhat of a polarizing figure since he came into the Majors in 2013. His showboating antics have caused some writers and commentators to question his work ethic and describe him as “insufferable.”
Here’s the thing though: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating.
Ever since bat flips became common among home run hitters, baseball fans and media have been divided, with those opposed to the celebration claiming that it goes against the unwritten rules of baseball. But those rules are outdated and need a change.
The most commonly cited “unwritten rule” is that you don’t pimp a home run. If you hit a ball out of the park, you just jog around the bases without showing any signs of celebration.
In a sport where the winning team in a playoff series goes into the locker room after the game and sprays champagne all over the walls, you can’t celebrate an individual accomplishment. In a sport where the winning team celebrates among themselves on the field after a game and never shakes hands with the opposing team, you can’t celebrate and individual accomplishment.
If you decided to be flashy after knocking a ball over the outfield fence, you’re liable to be hit by a pitch on your next at bat.
Think about that for a second. If you flip your bat after hitting a home run, the pitcher is very likely to throw at you when you are at the plate next. Because you did something to celebrate that did not affect the pitcher at all, the pitcher is allowed to cause physical harm to you, maybe even putting your career at risk.
But that’s just part of the unwritten rules.
Every other major sport allows its players to celebrate when they do something good. Football fans love when a player celebrates after scoring a touchdown, and the league recently relaxed the rules to allow for more elaborate celebrations.
In NASCAR, the winning driver stays in his car and does burnouts on the track after the race is over, and no one ever complains.
In soccer, players run all the way across the field after scoring a goal.
In hockey, sirens sound and lights flash after the home team scores a goal.
But if you even think about tossing a bat after crushing a home run, you’re the worst kind of person in baseball and you’re ruining the game.
Players who partake in bat flips and other antics are simply having fun. Jose Bautista’s bat flip in the 2015 ALDS was an act of pure emotion and it fired up an excitable Rogers Centre crowd. Puig has had the same effect on Dodgers fans this postseason, helping them get pumped up as the game goes on.
There was a point in Yasiel Puig’s career when his immaturity caused him to be sent down to the minor leagues, but he has since come around and proven his worth to this Dodgers team. In a season where he played the most games of his career while knocking out 24 home runs and helping the Dodgers to an NL pennant, it’s safe to say Puig’s antics are no longer an issue to anyone who understands how outdate these unwritten rules are.
Joe Girardi is a good manager; that much should be clear by now.
Just three days after receiving heavy boos from the home crowd at Yankee Stadium, Girardi guided his team to a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians to advance to the American League Championship Series. Any doubts about Girardi’s managerial abilities should be gone at this point.
The Yankees pitching was the difference maker in game five of a hard-fought American League Divisional Series. Starter CC Sabathia lasted 4.2 innings while only allowing two runs on five hits. Relievers David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman combined for 4.2 innings of shutout, no-hit baseball against the best team in the league.
Yankees fans will have to search far and wide to find a way to criticize Girardi following Wednesday's win.
Girardi was faced with heavy criticism after failing to challenge a hit by pitch that clearly hit the bat of Indians pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall in game two of the series. The Yankees had an 8-3 lead at the time, but the hit by pitch loaded the bases for the Indians. Shortstop Francisco Lindor decided to clear the bases with a grand slam on the next at bat and the Indians eventually came back to win the game and take a 2-0 series lead.
Many Yankees fans and media personalities questioned Girardi’s decision making with some even calling for the skipper to be fired after the season.
Maybe they need a reminder of what Girardi has done since he took over the Bronx Bombers in 2008.
The Yankees won their 27th World Series championship under Girardi in 2009 and have made the playoffs six times. They have won three AL East titles with Girardi at the helm. This year’s ALCS will be his fourth with the team. Girardi’s 21 playoff wins are fourth all-time among Yankees managers. In a town where winning is expected, he has certainly provided his fair share of that.
Those questioning Girardi’s managerial skills can take a look at last night’s game for some reassurance. Sabathia had not given up a run until the Indians scored two in the fifth inning. Recognizing the crucial situation they were in, Girardi immediately pulled Sabathia in favor of Robertson, who only allowed one baserunner in 2.2 innings.
The only time Yankees fans had any reason to worry was when Aroldis Chapman, who has had trouble finishing games this season, was left in the game in the 9th inning. Everything worked out, however, and Chapman retired the side.
Perhaps Yankees fans reacted too harshly following the game two loss, and who could blame them? After not being projected as a postseason team, the Yankees had the first Wild Card spot locked up for most of the season. Fans didn’t want to see their team eliminated any earlier than necessary. So when Girardi messed up in game two, they panicked. And in a league where winning back-to-back AL East titles can get John Farrell fired, you never know what to expect when it comes to managers.
For a team as accustomed to winning as the Yankees, eight years without a championship feels like a lifetime, but Girardi owned up to his mistake and they’re moving on to the next round with a shot at a title.
No one can be sure what the ALCS brings, but one thing is certain: Joe Girardi knows how to win and has done a lot of it in New York. Firing him for one mistake would’ve been unfair, but he has more than made up for it with a comeback win over the league’s best team.