sports blog by andy shenk

Updates: Week of July 9-15

In Anzhi, Cincinnati Reds, Lokomotiv-Kuban, Northfield Knights, Russian Basketball, Russian Football, San Antonio Spurs, Tottenham Hotspur, Xavier on July 9, 2012 at 5:43 PM

Baseball

Cincinnati Reds, 47-38, 2nd place in National League Central Division

Cincinnati rolled into the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak. Their 4-2 win in San Diego on Sunday afternoon allowed the Reds to post a 6-5 record on their West Coast road swing. Ever since the team won six straight in mid-June and made it to a season-high eleven games above .500, Cincinnati has fought to tread water. With a successful end to the first half, they managed to end nine games over .500, 9-11 since sweeping Cleveland and the Mets.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto leads the majors in several offensive categories: 1st in doubles, on-base percentage, and OPS, 2nd in walks, 3rd in slugging percentage, and 5th in batting average.

Cincinnati fans are getting behind the team, packing Great American Ball Park in numbers not seen since 2003, the year the stadium opened. So far, average attendance is 28,396, 1,000 more fans per game than the Reds averaged last year, and only 700 below the 2003 benchmark, 29,077. In addition, as of mid-June the Reds’ local TV ratings were top 3 in baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals flitter into town next weekend. The Reds are 1.5 games ahead of the Redbirds and will hope to please sell-out crowds with a series win over their division rivals. Pitchers Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Bronson Arroyo are the likely Cincinnati starters. A successful opening weekend to the second half of the season could push attendance and TV ratings in Cincinnati to new heights, kicking off what is shaping up to be an exciting race for the Central Division title between Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.

1) Friday, vs. St. Louis, 6:10 PM; 2) Saturday, vs. St. Louis, 3:05 PM, FOX; 3) Sunday, vs. St. Louis, 7:00 PM, ESPN

Northfield Knights, 15-4 overall, 6-4 and 3rd place in Classic Cannon Valley League (CCVL), 4-3 and 3rd place in Section 1B

The Knights are entering the home stretch of what has, thus far, been a successful regular season. From June 10 to July 7, the Knights ripped off ten straight victories. They finally lost on July 8, 8-7 to 2nd-place league rivals Cannon Falls, but not before coming back from a five-run deficit in the seventh, tying the game at seven with three in the ninth.

While first place in the CCVL is now out of reach, with some help Northfield can still steal 2nd place from Cannon Falls. The Knights will contest their final two league games this week, home to cellar-dwellers Hampton and away to first-place Miesville.

1) Tuesday, vs. Hampton Cardinals, 7:30 PM, CCVL; 2) Wednesday, vs. Minneapolis Cobras, 7:30 PM; 3) Friday, at Miesville Mudhens, 8:00 PM, CCVL and Section 1B; 4) Sunday, at Randolph Railcats, 2:00 PM

Basketball

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs boast four Olympians this year: Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Tony Parker and Boris Diaw (France). France and Argentina are drawn together in Group A, along with America, Russia, Lithuania, and Tunisia. Brazil will attempt to advance from Group B, where they are joined by Great Britain, Australia, China, Spain, and either Nigeria or the Dominican Republic.

Before the Olympic basketball tips off on July 29, however, the NBA Summer League will welcome 24 teams to Las Vegas from July 13-22. The Spurs are sending a team, to be headlined by their 2012 2nd-round draft pick, former Missouri Tiger Marcus Denmon. The complete team roster has not yet been released.

1) Sunday, vs. Atlanta, 5:00 PM, NBA Summer League, NBA TV

Xavier Musketeers

Though Xavier guard Tu Holloway did not hear his name called in the June 29 NBA Draft, the All-American point guard did accept an invitation to play on the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team.

In other news, Xavier’s 2012/2013 season begins in less than four months.

Lokomotiv Kuban

Lokomotiv pulled off their first big free-agent signing on Tuesday, July 3, by prying 23-year-old Greek international Nick Calathes away from Panathinaikos. Calathes, 6’6″ shooting guard, averaged 7.6 points and 23.5 minutes per game in Euroleague play last season. The signing came as a surprise; Calathes had been rumored to be looking at moving to the NBA to play for the Dallas Mavericks, who selected him #45 in the 2009 draft.

Lokomotiv’s official website published club president Andrei Vedishchev’s thoughts on Calathes’ arrival: “Nick Calathes is one of the most talented young basketball players in Europe. Despite his young age, he’s already managed to play several seasons at highly-successful Panathinaikos…I think that Calathes will energize the team with his champion’s spirit and desire to win!”

With the addition of Calathes, Lokomotiv is situated to challenge for some serious hardware for the first time in team history. Kuban will be competing in the Europe’s second-tier club competition, the Eurocup, as well as in the Eastern European VTB-League. Lokomotiv enters the Eurocup at the group stage and will be one of the favorites to win and qualify for the following season’s Euroleague. The VTB-League will be holding its annual summer meeting in Tallinn on Sunday, July 15, to determine the league’s final make-up, in addition to the regular-season schedule.

Ali Traore is Lokomotiv’s sole representative at the Olympics. He will suit up with Tony Parker and the French national team.

Football

Anzhi 

Anzhi left today for its second and final preseason training camp in Austria. The squad will hold two exhibition matches during their stay, before returning to their training camp outside of Moscow on July 15. Tomorrow they play Austrian club FC Kufstein, and on Saturday they will meet German Bundesliga club, Fortuna Dusseldorf in Leogang, Austria.

Anzhi’s adventure in the Europa League begins on July 19, when they will meet the winner of the first qualifying round tie between Flamurtari (Albania) and Honved (Hungary). Unfortunately, the club will be deprived of its rabid fanbase during home matches for the entirety of the 2012/2013 Europa League season. Early last week UEFA decided to ban Europa League matches in Dagestan due to security concerns. Just this morning, Anzhi announced that it will host its European opponents in the former FC Saturn stadium outside of Moscow, Ramenskoye. The club’s acceptance of the UEFA decision came after a week of energetic protest from Anzhi fans. You can read about the Anzhi’s ultimately futile efforts to overturn UEFA’s decision here: UEFA Bans Anzhi From Hosting Europa League Matches in Dagestan and Anzhi Continues Efforts to Return Europa League to Dagestan.

The reality now for Anzhi fans is that their beloved team will be playing the club’s most anticipated home matches ever one thousand miles from Dagestan. Anzhi officials have already declared that every effort possible will be made to ensure that fans can commute to the Moscow suburbs from Dagestan. General director Aivaz Kaziakhmedov, in an interview with R-Sport, described the various options being floated by the team, “We are now planning to open talks with the Russian National Railway to lay on extra trains for fans from Kazan station in Moscow. For supporters from Dagestan we will be looking into the possibility of organizing charter flights and extras trains.”

Thanks to heavy migration in recent decades from Dagestan to Moscow and the surrounding province, Anzhi does have a built-in fanbase already in Moscow. The dilemma for Anzhi supporters, however, beyond the time and financial demands placed on them by this new “home” arena, is whether to support their club at home matches outside of Dagestan. For many, the UEFA declaration of Dagestan as unsafe for European football seemed to be founded primarily on sensationalist news reports from Russia, which depict Dagestan as a near war-zone, unsafe for other Russian citizens to visit, let alone foreigners. These reports, broadcast daily on Russian TV and in national newspapers, are linked in many Dagestanis’ minds with the racism they face from the ethnic Slavic majority in the Russian Federation. Indeed, Dagestani men in Russian cities outside of the Caucasus region regularly face harassment from police because of their skin color, and are at risk of violent attacks from nationalistic, young, white Russian males.

Justified or not, the UEFA decision to prohibit Europa League matches in Dagestan is viewed by Anzhi fans as a victory for the racist elements in Russia and as an insult to their heritage and to their republic. Furthermore, Dagestanis now fear that Russian football clubs may eventually use the UEFA decision as cause to refuse themselves to play in Makhachakala for Russian league and cup matches. Such an outcome seems unlikely, but it is notable that one Zenit fan club did publish a letter of support for the UEFA decision. In explaining their support for UEFA, Zenit fans cited an incident in Makhachkala in 2011, when Dagestani police violently attacked the St. Petersburg club’s fans during an Anzhi-Zenit match. Though brutal, such violence from police towards football fans has occurred frequently in Russia. The bitter reaction from Anzhi supporters upon hearing of the Zenit fans’ letter only underscores the tension that exists in the Russian football world. Dagestani football fans desperately hope that this year’s Europa League setback is only temporary.

1) Tuesday, at Kufstein, 12:00 PM; 2) Saturday, vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf, 12:00 PM, Leogang, Austria

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs have been busy this offseason. They began by dumping coach Harry Redknapp in order to bring on former Porto and Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas. Yesterday they also announced the signing of Ajax captain and centre-back, Jan Vertonghen. Though Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric are rumored to be on the move from White Hart Lane, Villas-Boas’ arrival alone in north London will make the upcoming Spurs’ season as exciting as they come. A recent article from London’s Independent does a far better job explaining the situation for Spurs than I ever could: Spurs take a radical path as London clubs hit crossroads.

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