Good week for the Mailbag. A mixed ‘bag that included questions on baseball, NFL, college sports, the Women’s World Cup and even one on my favorite sports venues. No Jack Eichel questions this week. Presumably, Sabres fans have calmed down and conceded that he’s not going back to college.
So let’s get on with it. It’s never too soon to submit questions for next week’s column. You can send them to my Twitter account (@TBNSully) or my News email address (email@example.com).
George Marks asks: Going into Wednesday’s game, the Pirates had thrown shutouts in five of their last six games. Francisco Cervelli was behind the plate for them for 56 straight shutout innings. Is that a record? And do you still think they miss Russell Martin?
Sully: Full marks for that question, George. As you know, I love baseball trivia (my 25th annual quiz will be coming shortly, by the way). Cerveill’s streak was the longest by a Pirate since Ed Phelps caught 56 straight scoreless innings in 1903. You remember Ed Phelps, right?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the most in baseball since Gus Triandos of the Orioles caught 52 straight scoreless innings in 1957. Elias could not determine the longest such streak by a catcher in history.
Cervelli is a great story. The Yankees traded him to the Pirates during the offseason for reliever Justin Wilson. The Pirates needed a catcher when Martin signed a five-year, $82 million deal with Toronto. I was dubious about Cervelli as a full-time catcher, even though he had hit .301 for the Yanks as a backup in 2014.
I did think they would regret losing Martin, a great handler of pitchers who might have been the Bucs’ MVP last year. But Cervelli has been a revelation, as one of my old buddies keeps reminding me. He’s hitting .319 with a .396 on-base percentage.
But it’s his defensive play that has some fans calling him the Pirates’ MVP. According to StatsCorner.com, Cervellis leads all MLB catchers in runs saved through framing pitches. I wonder sometimes about all these exotic new baseball stats. But it’s hard to argue with five shutouts in a six-game stretch.
@jarkmacobs asks: Am I an idiot for buying Bills season tickets?
Sully: I’m always a skeptic when it comes to the local teams. I think expectations are too high for the Bills this season. No team with quarterback issues can be expected to win 10 games. As for the Sabres, it still amazes me that people were on a waiting list for the worst team in franchise history.
But I can’t knock anyone who buys tickets. Buffalo fans are an resilient lot, with an infinite capacity for belief. They might be setting themselves up to get their hearts broken – again – but you can be sure they’ll enjoy the ride. Bills fans are well-schooled in maximizing the game-day experience, win or lose.
Now that the Pegulas have bought the franchise and ended fears of the team leaving town, I think a lot of fans are simply relieved and ecstatic about having a team, whether it disappoints them or not. That, and the hiring of Rex Ryan as coach, have pushed season-ticket sales to their highest level in franchise history.
So if you’re an idiot for buying, you have a lot of company. What’s the worst that can happen? That they’ll miss the playoffs for a 16th straight season?
@EmperorMax09 asks: Any thoughts on the women’s World Cup and its growing popularity? Wasn’t too long ago when it was relegated to ESPN 57.
Sully: I think it’s great. The women’s World Cup is great drama and while it’s not nearly as popular as the men’s game, it’s definitely growing. The U.S.-Nigeria game on FOX had 5 million viewers, the third-highest ever for a women’s match after the 1999 (U.S.-China) and 2011 (U.S.-Japan) Cup finals.
Local interest in evidently high. Tony Christiano, a partner in Mes Que, the soccer bar on Hertel Avenue in the city, said the place has been busy for the U.S. women’s games, though it isn’t the madhouse it was for last year’s men’s Cup.
“It’s been jamming,” Christiano said. “Everybody’s singing and chanting and enjoying it.”
I’m looking forward to the U.S.-Colombia match in the Round of 16 on Monday. It’s the knockout stage now, and there’s a chance this will be the last World Cup for Rochester’s legendary Abby Wambach.
OldUBGrad asks: How about Khalil Mack being ranked No. 49 on this year’s list of the top 100 NFL players? After one year, Khalil is already seen as one of the top 4-5 linebackers in the NFL, and a lot of people are predicting a monster year. Just think if the Bills had picked him instead of Sammy Watkins.
Sully: What are you trying to do, get me to revisit my criticism of the Watkins deal? It’s a good point, though. It’s amazing that Mack is so highly regarded after just one season. Put him on the Bills defense, which is a bit thin at linebacker, and it would be almost unfair.
Just look at that list of the NFL’s top 100 players, as voted by their peers. Four Bills defensive players are on it: Mario Williams at 42, Marcell Dareus at 55, Jerry Hughes at 63 and Kyle Williams at 72. Wow. And to think, when the Bills lost at Oakland last December, Mack was the best player on the field – as a rookie.
@MeyersMusings asks: Put down the pen and notebook and answer this as a fan: What is your favorite stadium to watch a baseball game? College hoops?
Sully: I grew up a Red Sox fan in New England. So obviously, it’s Fenway Park. I never use the word ‘stadium’ for it. But PNC Park in Pittsburgh is a close second. I’ve taken my son to four games there. Walking over the Clemente Bridge after a game was one of my fondest experiences as a fan. I’m taking my son to Fenway for the first time this summer.
College hoops? I haven’t seen many of the iconic on-campus gyms. But it’s hard to beat the Reilly Center when St. Bonaventure is relevant.