Gettin’ Gritty Wit It: Flyers new mascot a big hit
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, October 4
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gritty has schmoozed with Jimmy Fallon , gave a bushy bro hug to the Phillie Phanatic and saw his wild-haired, googly-eyed, fuzzy face plastered on beer cans , protest signs and even as tattoos .
Pick a time of day and there’s Gritty: “Good Morning America ,” ”Last Week Tonight ” and “Weekend Update” all put their comic spin on the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot.
Hungry? Hop in an Uber for a Philly food tour and load up on Gritty cupcakes , Gritty mac ‘n cheese fries , Gritty Italian ice and, of course, the Gritty cheesesteak (steak, whiz wit, French fries and Cheetos).
Gritty’s been loved and lampooned, swept into politics and become more than just an orange face that turned into a No. 1-trending hashtag.
There’s little need to play 82 games this season to find the NHL rookie of the year: it’s Gritty.
Even the commish admits he’s a Gritty Guy.
“If he’s supposed to bring attention to the game, I think he’s done a pretty good job of doing that,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Gritty’s been in your face (and invaded your dreams ) since his debut last week.
Gritty got off to a slow start when the Flyers unveiled him with a stock photo of a menacing mascot that made him look like more like the cold-blooded Pennywise than a lovable monster that a kid would want to hug.
Gritty can’t be blamed for looking more threatening than the Flyers’ Stanley Cup chances once he stumbled out of captivity. The Flyers say Gritty was found by the team in his secret hideout during offseason renovations at the Wells Fargo Center.
His father was a “bully,” and his unkempt beard suggests he may have arisen from the ashes of the Flyers’ long-ago home, the Spectrum. And those crossed-eyes? Well, yours would be too if you spent all that time trapped trying to find Patrick Kane’s Game 6 goal.
Mascot mythology is fun.
But the truth is, the Flyers had missed out on the in-game frivolity, the merchandise revenue streams and the community outreach programs that result from a marketable mascot. At the 2016 NHL All-Star game in Nashville, Tennessee, the Flyers’ marketing department saw the rest of the league’s mascots — like Bailey the Lion , S.J. Sharkie and Stormy — competing in various games and realized it was time to make a mascot from myth to reality.
The Flyers had tried a mascot before, but Slapshot lasted just one season in 1976.
“Our players, the Flyers’ wives, the alumni, you can only ask them to do so much,” said Joe Heller, Flyers’ vice president of marketing. “We felt that there is so much more we could do by creating a mascot program.”
Some mascots are obvious: The Panthers mascot is, well, a panther. The New Jersey Devils? Yup, a Devil. The Arizona Coyotes mascot is … wait for it … a coyote!
The Flyers were stumped.
“It didn’t seem like any animal or person would fit what a Flyer would be,” Heller said.
The Flyers didn’t have to search far for inspiration: the mascot gold standard — make that, the green, potbellied, red-tongue and big-beaked, ATV wheeling mascot standard — was launching hot dogs and dancing on dugouts across the street.
The Flyers leaned on advice from character branding consultant Dave Raymond, better known as the founding father of the Phillie Phanatic for the baseball team. Raymond played the Phanatic for 15 years and has helped franchises decide everything from character development to choosing the person inside that XXXXXXL jersey.
Raymond said the best mascots are as synonymous with their teams as their Hall of Fame players, such as the Phanatic, Brutus Buckeye or the Suns gorilla.
“I really believe Gritty is on a path to becoming that,” Raymond said.
The Flyers considered over 100 options before they settled on a sketch from freelance designer Brian Allen of Flyland Designs.
“I began the project by sketching over 20 different possible mascots, including, bats, bulls, groundhogs, dragons, tough guys, yetis, and even a flying squirrel,” Allen wrote on his website. “Once the client saw the sketches, they picked a big dumpy monster I had drawn as the starting point.”
Character Translations, in suburban Philly, created the outfit that includes 33 1/2 size skates and a size 58 jersey.
The name was decided over the summer by team president Paul Holmgren.
“(He) chimed in, ‘How great would it be if we named our mascot Gritty?” Heller said.
Just like that, a social media star was hatched.
“He’s getting a ton of attention, and I suppose that’s what mascots are supposed to do,” Bettman said. “Looking at social media, he has admirers and he has doubters, but it looks like the greater Philadelphia community and in particular the Philadelphia hockey community has embraced him.”
Yes, a GoFundMe page was set up to euthanize Gritty. And comedian Jon Oliver said Gritty “looks like the end result of the orange McDonald’s Fry Guy hooking up with Grimace.”
But Philadelphia’s new director of fun won over the city in his debut when he bit it on skates and fell on his fuzzy rear at a preseason game. Gritty’s been carved on pumpkins, made beer menus and palled around with Flyers stars Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds . He made it into HQ Trivia and has nearly 120,000 Twitter followers in just 10 days.
“I don’t think we have our arms around everything that’s out there,” Heller said.
Gritty’s going to throw his around everyone he can — and wins fans over one furry hug at a time.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
AP Hockey Writer Steven Whyno contributed to this story.
CAPA presents DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM
Friday, November 16, 8 pm
Palace Theatre (34 W. Broad St.)
This 16-member, multi-ethnic company performs a forward-thinking repertoire that includes treasured classics, neoclassical works by George Balanchine and resident choreographer Robert Garland, and innovative contemporary works that use the language of ballet to celebrate African-American culture. Through performances, community engagement, and arts education, the company carries forward Dance Theatre of Harlem’s message of empowerment through the arts for all. Tickets are $30-$70 at the CAPA Ticket Center (39 E. State St.), all Ticketmaster outlets, and www.ticketmaster.com. To purchase tickets by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000. www.capa.com
Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson off NLDS roster
Thursday, October 4
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Injured shortstop Dansby Swanson didn’t make the Atlanta Braves’ roster for the National League Division Series. His replacement is Charlie Culberson, someone familiar to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Braves announced their roster Thursday hours before the start of Game 1.
Swanson tore a ligament in his left hand against the New York Mets in the next-to-last series of the regular season. He is one of Atlanta’s top defensive players. At the plate, he was hitting .238, with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs in 136 games.
Culberson is making his third straight playoff appearance. He helped the Dodgers to the World Series last year.
Orioles fire Showalter, Duquette after dismal 47-115 season
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, October 4
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles will continue their rebuilding project without manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who were fired Wednesday after the team finished with the worst record in the major leagues.
With Duquette procuring the talent and Showalter making it work on the field, Baltimore snapped a run of 14 straight losing seasons and made the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
But the Orioles finished 75-87 in 2017 — losing 19 of their final 23 games — and this year staggered through a 47-115 season, the worst since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954.
The club issued a statement Wednesday night that read, in part: “We thank Dan and Buck for their many contributions over the past several years. Under their leadership, prior to the 2018 season and for six consecutive years, the club delivered competitive teams playing meaningful baseball into September. … Everyone in Birdland and across our organization will cherish these memories, and we all join in thanking Dan and Buck for their contributions.”
Showalter and Duquette have contracts that expire at the end of October.
“It was decided that they would not renew my contract, and I think that’s for the best,” Duquette said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I want to thank (owner) Peter Angelos for the opportunity to lead the Orioles. We had some very good seasons, and I’m proud of what we did here.”
A three-time AL Manager of the Year, Showalter ranks second on the Orioles’ career list with 669 victories, trailing Earl Weaver. He took over in August 2010 and orchestrated the resurgence of a floundering franchise.
Once hailed for making baseball in Baltimore relevant again, the 62-year-old Showalter is out of a job after a season in which the Orioles finished 61 games behind Boston in the AL East.
Before opening day, Duquette signed free agent pitchers Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner. He also spurned trade offers for pending free agent Manny Machado with hopes that the Orioles could be a contender in 2018.
It never happened. Baltimore went 8-20 in April and owned a 19-50 record on June 16. Just over a month later, before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Duquette tore apart the roster by swapping Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop and several other veterans for 15 minor league prospects and international signing bonus slot money.
“Nobody could have anticipated the season would go as it did,” Duquette said Wednesday night.
Duquette began the rebuild, but he won’t be around to see it to the finish. Director of Player Development Brian Graham will handle day-to-day oversight of baseball operations while the Orioles search for Duquette’s successor.
Showalter earned AL Manager of the Year honors in 2014 after taking the Orioles to the AL East title and a berth in the Championship Series. He was also chosen Manager of Year with the Yankees in 1994 and Texas in 2004. His career record is 1,551-1,517, including 669-684 with Baltimore.
“I just think ever since he came here, the franchise just gained a little more accountability, gained an edge for some time,” Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said before the final game of the season. “It’s the end of an era. A great manager, a great tenure. I don’t know if he’s going to coach or manage again, but he’s got grandchildren. Go golf. Relax and go sit on the golf course.”
Duquette joined the Orioles in November 2011. Baltimore reached the postseason in 2012, the first of five successive seasons in which Baltimore finished at least .500.
Duquette’s tenure in Baltimore featured the crafty signing of free agents Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo, both of whom led the majors in home runs with the Orioles. But Duquette also signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who went 32-42 over the length of a four-year, $50 million contract, and Baltimore is still paying the price for the seven-year, $161 million deal offered to slugger Chris Davis before the 2016 season.
Davis batted .168 this season, the lowest batting average by a qualifier in major league history, and he struck out 192 times over 128 games.
Duquette replaced Andy MacPhail as Baltimore’s overseer of baseball operations. Before that, the 60-year-old Massachusetts native enjoyed successful tenures with the Boston Red Sox from 1994-2001 and the Montreal Expos from 1987-93. The Red Sox reached the playoffs three times under his guidance.
The Orioles say they will hire an executive from outside of the organization to lead the baseball operations department. That person will be in charge of choosing a new manager.
Bring on Boston: Yanks rout A’s 7-2 in wild-card game
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Thursday, October 4
NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge got the party started with a two-run homer nine pitches in . By the time Giancarlo Stanton capped the mauling with monstrous drive in his postseason debut , New York Yankees fans already were looking ahead.
“We want Boston!” they chanted.
Coming up next.
“It’s going to be intense,” CC Sabathia predicted after the Yankees pounded the Oakland Athletics 7-2 on Wednesday night to win their second straight AL wild-card game.
New York will take a train to Boston for a best-of-five Division Series starting Friday night, a matchup of 100-win heavyweights.
“I think they’re ready and relish the opportunity to go up against the game’s best this year,” Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone said of his players.
Boone remains a dirty word among the Fenway Park faithful. His 11th-inning homer in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series beat the Red Sox. A year later Boston overcame the Yankees and became the first major league team to bounce back from a 3-0 postseason deficit. The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918, but Boone’s drive off Tim Wakefield has not been forgotten or forgiven.
Boston went 10-9 against the Yankees this year and set a club record with 108 wins. New York became the first team since the 2001 A’s to reach triple digits in wins and fail to finish first.
“We’ve just got to do our homework and come out swinging,” said Luke Voit, who broke open the game with a two-run triple in a four-run sixth.
Luis Severino atoned for last year’s flop in the wild-card game against Minnesota, pitching no-hit shutout ball into the fifth . Dellin Betances entered with two on and got six straight outs as part of a five-hitter and the Yankees extending their home postseason winning streak to seven.
Severino let out a primal scream after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with a 99.6 fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — to strike out Marcus Semien.
Yankees fans fretted about an all-or-nothing knockout match, thinking back to last year when Severino fell behind Minnesota 3-0 just 10 pitches in. New York rallied for an 8-4 win against the Twins, but the memory remained raw.
Severino retired his first three batters in order on 10 pitches.
“I think the first inning was huge for me, after all the stuff that people say on social media, all of that stuff,” he explained.
Andrew McCutchen walked leading off the bottom half against reliever-turned starter Liam Hendricks, and Judge hit a drive over the left-field scoreboard, joining Reggie Jackson as the only Yankees with four home runs in their first seven postseason home games.
“I was already excited from the national anthem on,” said Judge, who hit his second homer since returning in mid-September after missing seven weeks with a broken right wrist.
Short on options, A’s manager Bob Melvin opted for baseball’s latest fad: starting a reliever. Hendriks (the loser) had not allowed a home run since June 24, the night before he was cut from the major league roster.
“Got into some bad counts and they made me pay,” Hendriks said.
Voit’s two-run triple missed a home run by inches. Stanton added a 443-foot drive off closer Blake Treinen in the eighth that landed in left field’s second deck, completing a power show by the team that set a major league record for most home runs in a season. Stanton’s drive left the bat at 117.4 mph and Judge’s 116.1 mph, the hardest-hit postseason home runs since measuring began in 2015.
A sellout crowd enjoyed one of those boisterous Bronx celebrations that used to be an October staple.
“Early in the game they’re going to be loud. It’s our job to try to take them out of it,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “This is a tough ballpark to play in.”
Oakland has lost eight straight winner-take-all postseason games since beating Willie Mays and the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 1973 World Series, and dropped all four of their postseason matchups against the Yankees.
“It’s pretty hard but I’m not disappointed at all,” said big league home run champion Khris Davis, who hit a two-run homer off Zach Britton in the eighth . “I think we showed some people we can do some things and I think next year, we’re a little bit more of a threat.”
Severino was 14-2 at the All-Star break this year but slumped badly in the second half, and Boone’s decision to start the 24-year-old right-hander against the A’s instead of J.A. Happ or Masahiro Tanaka was intensely debated — the type of argument Boone used to enjoy as a television analyst who broadcast last year’s wild-card game.
Severino made the move look like genius. He threw nine fastballs in the first inning, then switched to more offspeed. He threw 36 fastballs, 37 sliders and 14 changeups in all.
“Because they’re patient and they’re dangerous, you’ve got to be able to mix those pitches and you’ve got to be able to throw strikes with all those pitches,” Boone said.
He struck out seven his first time through the batting order, but wound up walking four as he pitched carefully. Jonathan Lucroy and Nick Martini singled leading off the fifth, and Boone signaled for Betances to relieve.
This time, Severino had a no-decision to savor.
Betances retired Matt Chapman on a liner to right and Jed Lowrie on a fly to center, then struck out Davis with a slider and gleefully backpedaled off the mound .
“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time. Last year I was a cheerleader,” Betances said, reflecting on his reduced role last October after late-season control problems.
New York opened a 6-0 lead in the bottom half. Judge started it with a double — his grounder hit about a foot foul just beyond the batter’s box, then twisted fair down the line . Aaron Hicks followed with another double off Fernando Rodney.
After Treinen walked Stanton, and Voit hit an opposite-field drive to right, thinking it was a home run and raising his right arm at the plate. He chugged into third with his first big league triple and let loose with a holler.
The burly Voit tumbled across the plate, actually making a nifty slide , to just make it home on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly.
Betances (the winner) pitched a perfect sixth and David Robertson a 1-2-3 seventh. Aroldis Chapman followed Britton and finished with the final two of 13 strikeouts by New York pitchers .
Oakland was a little engine that could, coming off three straight last-place finishes and last in opening-day payroll before creeping up to 28th following midseason acquisitions to bolster its injury devastated pitching staff. The A’s managed to win 97 games despite a half-dozen starting pitchers getting hurt.
“We feel like with the group that we have here together that we’re going to get better each and every year,” Melvin said.
While he spoke, the Yankees were spraying Chandon in a soggy clubhouse filled with the sweet smell of California brut.
“This place was crazy tonight,” Stanton said. “Everything I would have expected and more.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Witness details secret payments in college hoops recruiting
By TOM HAYS
Thursday, October 4
NEW YORK (AP) — A New Jersey financial adviser-turned-bag man in a college basketball corruption scandal testified Wednesday about a clandestine mission last year to deliver an envelope with $19,400 in cash to the father of a highly sought-after prospect.
Munish Sood took the witness stand at the federal trial of three men charged in an alleged scheme to funnel secret payments to the family of Louisville recruit Brian Bowen Jr. and other hot prospects. As he testified in federal court in Manhattan, prosecutors played a wiretap of him telling his business partner, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins, about his misgivings over the money drop he was making at an office building parking lot.
This “makes me nervous,” Sood said, using profanity. “I just don’t to want this to be a habit.”
Sood, who has pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed to cooperate, testified that the payment was made in cash rather than check because “it was clean.”
The testimony came on the third day of the conspiracy trial of Dawkins, former amateur basketball director Merl Code and former Adidas executive James. All three men have pleaded not guilty in the scandal that drove Bowen out of college basketball and resulted in the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who wasn’t charged and denies any wrongdoing.
The case has cast a harsh light on an underground economy where middlemen used money from Adidas and other big athletic wear companies competed with one another to ply the families of hot prospects with money and gear, sometimes called “shoe wars.” In return, the young players were expected to attend programs sponsored by the companies and, if they went pro, hire the middlemen as agents or financial managers.
The defense hasn’t challenged the government’s claim that the payments violated NCAA rules protecting players’ amateur status. But they have disputed claims that major universities were defrauded, since the effort to steer blue-chip prospects translated into big money for their programs.
In a secretly recorded hotel room meeting from 2017 that the jury heard on Wednesday, Code could be heard explaining that the payments, which reach $100,000 or more, ran risks, since the middlemen have no recourse if the young players wash out or simply walk away from an agreement to go to a particular school.
“We’re not supposed to be giving them $100,000 anyway,” he said on tape.
Sood, 46, testified that after he met Dawkins, he agreed to use money from his business to front money that would be doled out to recruits’ families. In return, he hoped, he would win enough favor that the players would hire him to manage fortunes from signing NBA contracts.
Despite the guilty plea, Sood said he’s still running a financial firm in Princeton, New Jersey, while he awaits sentencing. He also said he still advises pro-athlete clients, including Kyle Kuzma, of the Los Angeles Lakers.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Steven Haney peppered Sood about the plea deal, expected to help him avoid a prison sentence of up to 35 years behind bars.
“You would say anything to stay out of prison for 35 years, wouldn’t you?” the lawyer asked.
“No,” Sood responded, “I’d tell the truth.”