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It's baseball time!

by Lloyd Jones

The start of the baseball season means winter is officially over in my world. Cookouts, fantasy baseball and the transition to shorts are on the horizon. It's spring, the best time of the year and it's also time for my annual predictions for the diamond.

I'll readily admit I never saw the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series last year. I picked the Washington Nationals to lift the crown — boy, was I way off base.

It was supposed to be a transitional year for the Red Sox or a bridge year to get to the younger players but still fielding a somewhat competitive team for the fan base. Everything clicked for the Sox last year — the team stayed relatively injury-free; the pitching and hitting came through in the clutch. It seemed like every night someone came up with a walk-off hit.

The big key was team chemistry and the great job John Farrell did in his first season at the helm.

Can the Sox do it again? Absolutely. Will they? That, I'm not so sure about.

Jacoby Ellsbury's departure hurts because Boston doesn't really have a true leadoff hitter. Then Shane Victorino is starting the season on the DL and could be out for a bit.

I've been a huge Grady Sizemore fan over the years and am thrilled to see him back in the Show after losing four years with a plethora of injuries. If he can recapture some of that MVP-form he had in Cleveland, he'll give the local nine a huge shot in the arm.

I'm super psyched for a full season of Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base. Both are goring to produce and could become the faces of the franchise for the next decade.

The Sox will win the division followed by a vastly improved Baltimore team; Tampa Bay; New York Yankees; and Toronto.

The Orioles are going to score a lot of runs this season (Adam Jones and Chris Davis will be in the MVP discussion) and their pitching is improved with Ubaldo Jimenez at the front of the rotation.

The Yankees should also be solid offensively, but their infield is loaded with a ton of uncertainty. Derek Jeter is everything good in sports and deserves to be in the post-season in his final year, but who knows if his body will hold up or what they'll get out of Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts?

C.C. Sabathia will pitch better; Masahiro Tanaka will be very good — 18 wins good; and Michael Pineda will be the third best starter on the team.

The Rays have very good pitching, but I'm not sure they'll score enough. They'll need Evan Longoria to stay healthy and teams may pitch around him unless Will Myers can provide protection in the lineup for him.

Toronto was a popular choice to contend for the division title last year after all of their off-season trades, but flopped. This year everyone is writing the the Jays off. The pitching staff looks like a lot of No. 4 and 5 starters while defensively the Jays look shaky, too.

In other divisions, Detroit will run away with the AL Central followed by Cleveland, Kansas City, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota.

The LA Angels will win the AL West thanks to another monster year from Mike Trout while Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton vie for comeback player of the year. Texas will be in the hunt followed by Oakland, Seattle and Houston.

Wildcard teams will be Baltimore and New York.

AL Champ: Boston.

In the National League, in the East, the Washington Nationals are going to stay healthy this year and display a crackerjack rotation with Bryce Harper bashing 35 home runs.

Atlanta lost two starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery in a 48-hour span and that proves to big of a hurdle for the Braves to overcome. Miami, the New York Mets and Philadelphia round out the division and finish a distant third through fifth.

The NL Central should once again be exciting with St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all contending. St. Louis looks solid everywhere on the diamond and has the deepest starting rotation ad when the Cardinals get to the eighth inning with the lead Carlos Martinez will get the ball and he'll throw thunder, and then in the ninth closer Trevor Rosenthal will come with the lightning.

The Reds will be fun to follow if only to see what speedster Billy Hamilton does. If he can get on base with any regularity he's going to steal over 90 bases this summer.

The Pirates have been my team since the days of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell and the Cobra — Dave Parker. Now, they've got the Redstone Rocket — Jeff Locke. Jeff is starting the season on the DL, but I predict he'll win at least 12 games for the Bucs when he returns.

I'd feel better about Pittsburgh's chances if the front office had gone and found a first baseman in the off-season. Travis Ishikawa was the Opening Day first baseman. Sorry, he's no Joey Votto or even Matt Adams for that matter. The Bucs need to sign Kendrys Morales.

It'll be St. Louis followed by Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs.

In the NL West, the LA Dodgers are have lots of talent and are willing to spend if they need to during the season to acquire more talent. The Dodgers will cruise to the title followed by Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego and Colorado.

NL Wildcards: Cincinnati and Atlanta.

NL champs: St. Louis.

World Series champs: St. Louis.

Individual awards: AL: MVP — Mike Trout; Cy Young: Justin Verlander; Rookie of the Year: Bogaerts.

NL: MVP — Jason Heyward; Cy Young: Zack Greinke; Rookie of the Year: Hamilton.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 31 March 2014 04:54

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Skiing: Skiers rally during Cynthia's Challenge

By Marty Basch

As the lights turned the slopes of King Pine from night into day, bands of skiers in bright orange shirts commanded the trails.

Up and down they would go first under a muted moon and then in the spectacle of the sunrise.

But it was on Friday night that Stacie Verrill noticed the kids wearing those event T-shirts stopping and watching her daughter ski down the slopes tethered to another skier.

"The kids would watch and stop," she said. "They'd say, 'That's Cynthia. That's who we are here for.'"

They did indeed come out, 145 people for the Cynthia's Challenge ski-a-thon to raise $35,000 for a service dog for Cynthia Verrill, a 12 year-old sixth grader at Effingham Elementary afflicted with a a rare, multi-system genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 04:33

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Skiing: They're coming to the Cup

By Marty Basch

Time was Sunday River was known as the home for those legends of freestyle. Those old dogs doing groovy old tricks on the bumps of White Heat.

Now the legends come to the T72 terrain park to launch themselves high into the air from an amazing array of man-made sculptures.

They're young — the most celebrated are twenty-somethings, some newly so — and have turned the River into a home for the legends of freeskiing.

And the newly anointed kings are coming under the mentoring eye of the godfather of freeskiing, Simon Dumont.

All he did was call each of them personally.

Sochi's men's ski slopestyle sweepers — Joss Christensen, Nick Goepper and Gus Kenworthy — are about an hour away from the valley March 28 to 29 at the pro-am slopestyle Dumont Cup.

Bobby Brown will be there. So is Alex Schlopy. Torin Yater-Wallace, too.

Plus, Tom Wallisch is a judge.

Dumont's going to be there too.

Don't know the names? Christensen won Olympic gold, Goepper silver (and is a two-time Dumont Cup winner) and Kenworthy—the Russian pet dog adopter—bronze. Brown and Yater-Wallace are also Olympians. Wallisch almost was, and is a Dumont Cup winner.

Then there's Dumont. His Olympic ski halfpipe dream fell short as despite winning a slew of Games medals, his career has also been plagued by injuries. His latest, a torn ACL in his knee, grounded his Olympic chances.

Over the years, he's injured his hands, wrist, other knee and more. It's worn him down and he announced his semi-retirement recently. He'll now pick and choose when and where he'll compete.

But the Cup is his show, and he wants to grow it big.

"I'll be announcing," he said on the phone the other day. "I want to make a great show out of this. These athletes are super hungry and I want to show how cool this sport is."

Dumont grew up in Bethel buts lives in Denver these days. He's been spending time rehabbing in Park City, Utah following surgery on the knee he hurt during a January practice run.

What's next for him?

"I've been doing this job professionally since I was 13 and I want to see what else I like in life," he said. "Skiing is still huge in my life and I'll try to make a sick ski movie. That's in the game plan. But I've got some other things up my sleeve."

For now, Dumont's focused on the Cup. There's a $20,000 purse for the pros. Dumont wants to see that grow. Amateurs win prizes from sponsors of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals platinum-rated slopestyle event.

The event is going to streamed live at freeskier.com.

Qualifiers will be held in two sessions on Friday, March 28, from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Then 40 amateurs will be selected via a bib toss to advance to the semi-finals held the following day. On Saturday, March 29, from 10 a.m. until noon, the 40 chosen amateur skiers will compete head-to-head with the professionals. At 12:30 p.m., another bib toss will determine the 20 amateurs advancing to the finals. Each finalist will have three runs to showcase their skills. Judges will then determine the top three overall winners as well as a standout amateur from the two-day competition and the athlete with the highest point total will be awarded the 2014 Dumont Cup.

The Cup is spectator-friendly.

"There's going to be plenty of opportunity for spectators to watch the action up close and personal," emailed the River's communications manager Darcy Morse. "Ski/snowboard access is recommended for all spectators, as this year's course is mid-mountain and accessed from either the Chondola or North Peak Express. What spectators will find once they get here is that the right side of T72 will be open to allow for prime viewing of the entire course from start to finish. This means that spectators will be able to take advantage of our superpipe wall platforms for an elevated view, or the superpipe exit area for ample elbow room and killer view of the finish area."

Need an autograph? The session is still in the works, but typically, they've followed the awards ceremony.

But seriously, can an amateur beat these pros this year?

"You never know who is going to win," Dumont said. "That's the thing about this sport. The talent pool is amazing. There' s strong European contingent coming. The East Coast has some incredible talent. You never know."

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 March 2014 04:38

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Skiing: Grueling challenge, great cause

3-14-14-basch-100k-vertical-challengeParticipants raised more than $158,000 during the 11th annual 100K Vertical Challenge at Wildcat for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Hampshire. (PHOTO COURTESY OF WILDCAT)
By Marty Basch

Maybe 15 runs into his ski day, Mark Holmes was riding the lift dressed in about seven layers of clothing making him more prepared for subzero readings rather than the temps flirting with 20.

He had to stay warm because that's where he'd be all day, riding that lift maybe 50 times and taking the same exact run, all in the quest for skiing 100,000 vertical feet in a single nine-hour day.

"The thing that I like about this is that on any given day, the patrol would be pulling our tickets for what we're going," said the Wildcat Ski School technical director from Shelburne. "But today they are encouraging it."

Holmes is the man behind the 11th annual 100K Vertical Challenge at Wildcat where skiers and riders attempt to ski that benchmark number and raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Hampshire.

On Monday, skiers had a roped off trailing, traveling more than 2100 vertical feet per run. Complete the task in 48 runs with a cap of 50. That's about 11 minutes, 15 second per up the Wildcat Express Summit Quad and then down the course. The lift ride was about seven minutes.

Instead of the full Lynx as in year's past, skiers rode the lift to schuss down Upper Catapult, cut to Middle and then do Lower Lynx because of a season-long snowmaking pump problem on Upper Lynx. The adjustment added maybe 20 seconds to the run, according to Holmes.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 March 2014 03:43

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Weekend Warrior: It’s the most wonderful time

"We waited all winter for spring skiing to get here...is it ever going to come?" It has indeed been a long, hard winter...and the recent single digit temperatures hopefully are the last we'll see of the "polar vortex." The good news? There's plenty of cover on all the ski trails and if it ever warms up it's going to be a spring to remember for skiers.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 05:48

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