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7-Footer Michael Durr Changes Mind, Reopens Recruitment

It was just last Thursday that I wrote this story about associate head coach Chester Frazier leaving Virginia Tech and returning to his alma mater, Illinois. In that story I noted how amicable the decision was, the great respect Frazier and head coach Mike Young had for each other, and how no one could begrudge him going back to the school he played at a decade earlier.

Despite all that, I did express some concern. “Why?” some people asked. I had two thoughts, but only answered with one. The first was when you lose a really good assistant, you have to replace them with someone just as good, and there’s no guarantee that will happen. In all my years in the corporate world, you were very good and very lucky if you just hit on 50 percent of the people hired that ended up being as good as expected. It’s just the nature of the hiring process.

What I didn’t say about what concerned me was this sentence in the story about Frazier: “His fingerprints are all over just about every one of the key recruits the Hokies have landed, and he’s liked by just about everyone.”

If you’ve had a hand in all the key recruits, that means just about all the key recruits expected you to be there when they arrived. If you were a deciding factor and you’re not there, there was a possibility that players could back out of their commitments, since whoever is the replacement isn’t going to know all the recruits.

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One Taught Me Piano, The Other Made Me A Musician

In doing my usual scrolling through Twitter this morning, I noticed a small tidbit wedged between the thousands of Mother’s Day messages: Today is also Billy Joel’s birthday. He’s 72.

In my world, I will confess, the two events together have personal significance.

I grew up in a house where you were going to learn to play a musical instrument whether you wanted to or not. We lived in a modest house, but it had two pianos, a large dual keyboard organ better than most you’d see at the neighborhood church, and a bunch of guitars, violins and other stringed instruments.

They were not there for decoration, either.

My mother was a self-taught music teacher, so at the age of 5, I was ordered to get up at 6 AM, practice for two hours, then get dressed and walk down the block to school. Another hour of this occurred right before dinner, and punishment was immediate if you chose (or tried to choose) not to practice. It was not a coincidence these practice sessions occurred right before a meal.

This went on until I was 13. To be honest, I hated it. My mother wasn’t very good at piano (she could teach but she could not play very well herself) and as we all go through that stage of our lives when we challenge authority, being forced into a piano-playing gulag for several hours a day seemed to be extremely worthy of being challenged. I tried a few times, but ended up meeting a large wooden spoon my mother kept around for cooking and discipline. I relented.

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Soap Opera Appears To Be Continuing For MASN, FP

As the broadcasting soap opera continues involving whether F.P. Santangelo is in the booth from one night to the next, I have to confess a hunch I had last night.

UPDATE: My hunch was wrong. The Athletic is reporting the reason is because of a sexual misconduct allegation against FP. Here's the link to the story by Brittany Ghiroli.

Friday’s Yankees game was the first time the band was back together, as Bob Carpenter was doing play by play after over a week's vacation, FP was in the color commentator seat, and Dan Kolko was the sideline/dugout reporter. It all felt normal, as everyone was in the right seat, and the fact that the Nationals were simulating batting practice against Yankee pitchers just made for a nice, pleasant broadcast.

But there was a brief moment where I had to wonder. FP was launching into one of his typical stories, but started it with “now that Dan Kolko is a major league play-by-play man…” He and Carpenter typically have great chemistry to the point they can almost finish each other’s jokes, but in this case, Carpenter didn’t say a word. It’s like he wanted no part of this topic, and after a brief second of silence, they moved on to something else.

I don’t know what issues have kept FP off the broadcasts, and when I wrote this a week ago, my prime concern was that he might have had some health issue. The fact he was back and on the air earlier this week in the three-game series with the Braves kind of eliminated that concern, because he looked fine.

This would then sort of suggest if it’s not health, it’s an internal issue at MASN. After being admonished by one poster on a Washington Nationals Facebook Group for apparently not keeping up with prior posts on the subject, I went back and looked through earlier mentions.

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Wondering Where All These Stories Are Coming From?

Yesterday, we posted five stories on this site, covering topics such as the Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Virginia Tech basketball, and Doug Doughty’s College Notebook, which is the longest-running weekly sports feature in the state. I even had two more stories I could have run, but I figured I’d save something for the next day.

Given where this site was six months ago, I’m justifiably proud. And just a little bit shocked how far the site has come in such a short period of time.

It all has turned, at least for now, because of reaching out and trying to help someone.

To give you some of the backstory, I started the site 15 years ago. Back then, everyone started sites with visions of glory, huge traffic and advertisers, and we were all going to be rich writing stories in our spare time on the sofa. That, of course, was temporary until the day we could quit our day jobs and be sportswriting ninjas who never shaved or even wore pants half the time.

That never happened, and at some point my focus changed. For a while, it was to write about local sports to fill the void of many weekly newspapers disappearing (the site is named after the local high school sports district), but I learned a hard lesson about parents of kids in sports: some are never satisfied.

Even though I was cranking out stories, statistics and live scores on Friday nights, parents who read a site that never charged a penny still thought it was OK to email me and tell me what an awful thing I was doing by not paying more attention to their offspring. In 2012, I even shut the site down for a few months I was so fed up with it.

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With Frazier Gone, Hokies Need To Make Another Big Hire

I’ve long since given up worrying about which player is arriving or which player is leaving when it comes to Virginia Tech athletics. I’ll wait until the particular sport starts its season, and then worry about who is on the field or court at that time.

But today, Virginia Tech’s basketball program lost associate head coach Chester Frazier to Illinois.

THAT, I'm worried about. 

The move makes a lot of sense for Frazier, and it is a very amicable parting. Frazier played at Illinois a decade or so ago, so he's getting a chance to go home. No one can begrudge that, and everyone associated with the program is happy for him.

But Frazier filled one huge void when Mike Young was hired as head coach, and he made the transition so seamless, you could make the case that Frazier has been as important as Young in turning the Hokie basketball program.

If you remember back when Young was hired, the biggest concern was recruiting. Could Young, an older coach, connect with younger recruits and get them to come to Blacksburg, people who look a lot like me wondered. Young almost immediately hired Frazier, and I remember being extremely impressed because the hire was not a fellow assistant he had a history with that would make Young more comfortable in his new surroundings.

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Here's To Hoping Oshies Got To Share One Last Memory

It’s been three years since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, yet in all the celebration afterward, one moment was permanently etched in my memory.

It involved TJ Oshie, holding the Stanley Cup over his head, then handing it to his father to do the same. They locked eyes like they were really trying to make it a memory they would never forget. Only afterward, when a tearful Oshie told the media his Dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s, did I understand.

I lost a father-in-law to Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and if you’ve never had to deal with it affecting a loved one, you’re lucky. They call it “the long goodbye,” but it’s just an awful disease. None of us can escape the circle of life, as at some point we all know our days on earth will come to an end.

But when that happens, there are certain things everyone should get to experience. Like the ability to say goodbye to that loved one. To share old memories. To be able to tell that person how much they meant to them. To thank them for the help they gave, or ask forgiveness to lift the weight of some deed in the past. To squeeze the hand of someone who has long been a mentor and tour guide in this thing called life, and gently let go.

Whether it’s the blink of an eye, a squeeze of a hand in return, or just a nod, all give closure. Only with Alzheimer’s it doesn’t happen, as the person returns your stare…and doesn’t know who you are.

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Is It Just Me, Or Is Anyone Else Worried About FP?

Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but the way MASN handled its broadcasters this weekend for the Washington Nationals games sure seems odd.

The games are normally done by Bob Carpenter on play-by-play and F.P. Santangelo doing color commentary. A little over a week ago, it was announced Carpenter would take a few days off and that Dan Kolko would step in and be Carpenter’s replacement doing play-by-play. Santangelo would continue in his role doing commentary, and the two did the two-game series with Toronto.

Friday, however, when a new series started with the Florida Marlins, it was Kolko on play-by-play and former Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell doing commentary. That struck me as immediately odd because usually when a play-by-play guy takes a break, you want and need the commentary guy there to give some continuity to the booth. Putting two new guys together is almost unheard of. Many times they move the color guy over to play-by-play and bring in a former player to do commentary temporarily.

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Upon Further Review, NFL Draft A Positive Step For Hokies

If you’re a “glass half full” kind of person and looking for something to be positive about regarding Virginia Tech football, take a closer look at the recently completed NFL Draft.

I come at this from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time in sales, which recruiting basically is. To be successful, I learned over a few decades, you need to have a story. Something simple that you can tell quickly, is easy to understand, and makes potential buyers feel like “OK, tell me more.”

Want to do a quick test on whether a product has a chance to be successful? Ask the person selling it. He or she will quickly either say “I can sell that,” or if you’ve come up with something that might be a borderline lemon, you could hear “that’s a stretch. They’re not going to believe that.”

Which brings us to Virginia Tech football.

If you go back into even the most ancient of Hokie archives, there has always been one recurring topic recruits want to hear confirmation of. While my younger friends will tell you it’s the money spent on salaries or the crystal cathedral facilities you have, I’ve found that while they can be important, the burning question almost everyone wants to hear a good answer to is “if I play at your school, will it help me make it to the next level?”

It was the biggest question for Michael Vick and his family when he was debating between the Hokies and Syracuse in the 1990s. Could he play in Blacksburg and still be seen on television enough to attract the attention of the pros, the advertisers seeking celebrity endorsers, and the movers and shakers of the world? 

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A Fitting Ending To A Long-Deserved State Championship

I have to admit, there was something very satisfying about the way Stone Bridge’s state championship game with Highland Springs ended today.

Yeah, a title was awarded, but if you've followed Stone Bridge football for a long time like I have, it felt more like a journey had finally ended. A trophy was not only awarded, but a debt from the past had been settled. The curse had been broken. The slate was clean.

Let me first confess before explaining what I'm talking about that when it comes to the original three Ashburn high schools, I’m a shameless homer. Since I live about one mile from Broad Run and about a mile and a half from Stone Bridge, I’m even more of a homer. And since my daughter graduated from Stone Bridge, I’m even worse with the Bulldogs.

You might as well say “Doh” and call me Mr. Simpson.

So when people talk about how long it’s been since the Bulldogs have won a state championship in football, I remember all of it clearly. I’ve watched just about every title game that Stone Bridge has been in, and I remember the blowouts as well as the close ones. My daughter’s senior year, the Bulldogs even ended up playing my high school – Lake Taylor in Norfolk – in Charlottesville and Stone Bridge had the ball and momentum on its side in the final moment.

But only a few yards shy of what would have been the winning touchdown, the Bulldogs fumbled. Which began a string of "what could have been" memories when it came to Stone Bridge.

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Your Greatest Source Of History May Be On Old Devices

I think when we all started becoming aware of the internet in the late 1990s, there were three things we believed: It was a safe place to go surfing (it wasn’t), when we deleted something it was gone (it wasn't, as the internet is in pen, not pencil) and that researching stuff that happened in the past was going to be a lot easier.

Search engines, we believed, would find everything ever posted on the internet. As I used to tell my friends, the answer to all of life is on the internet. The hard part was figuring out how to phrase the question.

Two weeks ago I realized even that’s not true. I’m not talking about censorship or anything similar (although in the future, that’s probably going to be an issue too). But while writing about the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007, I mentioned on social media that a lot of college football teams wore Virginia Tech decals on their helmets for their spring games.

To illustrate this, I posted pics from Ohio State and Penn State’s spring games, and got several comments from people saying “I never knew that.” My reaction was that there were many more who did similar things, so I went to Google to find examples.

My search to do so failed.

After trying all sorts of phrases, the only two I came up with were the two I had posted myself on social media. Those same two were also in a story Virginia Tech did concerning the April 16 anniversary, and they showed up as well. But the rest that I distinctively remembered couldn’t be found.

Some of that made sense because in the early days of the internet, there were millions of items to be indexed, but now over 20 years later, that number was probably hundreds of billions. To search that many – despite how much Wizard of Oz gibberish the Einsteins of Silicon Valley utter about algorithms and magic potions –  would probably still mean the farther you go back, the longer it’s going to take. Which means the search engines are going to return more recent data rather than let you sit there for 10 minutes waiting for results.

It then dawned on me that the next best source for such history was sitting in my own house.

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It’s Early, But It's Feeling Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

You may have to get down on your knees and put your ear to the ground to hear it.

But it’s there. A slight, gentle tremor among Washington Nationals fans. A buzz of concern about manager Davey Martinez.

It’s not said aloud because it’s early. Plus he was the manager during the miraculous run to the World Series in 2019. To speak ill of his managing skills would be disrespectful of that.

But it’s there.

Martinez is a loveable guy that everyone would like as a friend and a neighbor. In 2018 he went 82-80, and many of us scratched our heads at times as to how a team that went 97-65 the previous year barely had a winning record with essentially the same amount of talent. The roster changed as it does every year, but you swapped Jayson Werth for Juan Soto, and the team still had Bryce Harper.

Then 2019 came and the same baffling bullpen decisions caused the team to start off 19-31 in the first 50 games. The rumbling about Davey grew louder until the team rallied around him and they somehow made the playoffs. He used starters out of the bullpen at key moments and everyone from superstars to role players came up with timely hits at the right moment. It was one of Washington Sports’ greatest moments as they brought home a World Series.

Last year was an asterisk. The team got off to a slow start, missed the playoffs, and with the COVID pandemic, how could you possibly evaluate the season fairly? If it were a round of golf, it was a mulligan. The 2021 season would be a more reasonable opportunity to tell.

After yesterday’s loss to Arizona, the team is now 5-8. The last two years the team started 19-31. For you math scholars out there, 19 out of 50 is a winning percentage of .38. Winning 5 out of 13 calculates to a winning percentage of .384615. Take that percentage, multiply it times 50 games and round it to the nearest whole number and you get….19-31.

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s looking like Déjà vu all over again.

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