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Hokies Add The 7-Footer They've Both Wanted And Needed

At first, the story of Virginia Tech’s off-season was more about the players leaving the basketball team via the transfer portal.

Now, Hokie fans are starting to see who is going to take their place.

Not soon after the season ended, Jalen Cone and Joe Bamisile entered the portal, with Cone landing at Northern Arizona University and Bamisile going to George Washington. Today, the portal went the other way as the Hokies got a commitment from the big man they’ve both wanted and sorely needed, 7-foot, 250-pound Michael Durr.

Durr is a transfer from the University of South Florida, the same place the Hokies acquired Zach LeDay back when Buzz Williams was coaching. He was a 3-star out of high school, and in three seasons with USF, averaged 5.7 points and 6.2 rebounds his freshman year, 6.7 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore, and last season had 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

He is a true center, which Virginia Tech hasn’t had in a long time. Keve Aluma has played the center position, but his style of play is more suited for the 4 position, which this commitment frees Aluma to move to. Both Aluma and Justyn Mutts have been very effective scoring under the basket, but the Hokies haven’t had a true rim protector who mixes it up underneath. This fills that need.

After Virginia Tech lost in the first round of the NCAA’s, many – including me – have pointed out that the team seriously needed two things: a point guard who could score and a true big man. The Hokies have gotten a commitment from Storm Murphy to address the guard situation, as the 6-foot 180-pound guard who averaged 17.8 points per game last season for Wofford now joins proven scorers Hunter Cattoor, Naheim Alleyne and Tyrece Radford to give Virginia Tech quite a backcourt punch.

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The Story Of Jack Hemingway and "Fact Man"...

Ernest Hemingway seems to be trending these days due to the Ken Burns series running this week on PBS. On Twitter, my friend Rick Snider (@Snide_Remarks) described the series as “both brilliant and boring and both things can be true” and at least for me, that’s a perfect description of the man himself.

Burns has done a great job in capturing Hemingway, but one of my greater memories in life is having a front row seat of Hemingway’s life with someone who knew the subject better than anyone: his oldest son.

At the time back in the mid-1990s, Jack Hemingway (who passed away in Dec. of 2000 at the age of 77) and his family decided they wanted to license a furniture collection based on the works of his father. They came to my company, Thomasville Furniture, and as it turned out, we had a collection already designed that we were debating what to do with. It was an eclectic mix of materials and styles from factories in the Phillipines, Viet Nam, China and other places in Southeast Asia, and a story could easily be woven about Hemingway from these pieces.

Thomasville said yes, and a few days later, the president of the company (who loved Hemingway) came to my office with a big box of books. “Listen, I’ll be honest,” he started off in a tone that suggested I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear. “You’re a writer and you read a lot. Someone has to go through and read everything Hemingway has written so we can develop stories around each individual piece. Nobody else will do this right. So until this is done, this is your job, and I’ll get you anything you need.”

We had a huge showroom built into our offices, so invoking the “anything I need” clause, I went there, picked out the softest leather sofa I could find, a couple of nice pillows and had them moved to my office. Then for the next month, I sat on that sofa with my feet up and read the works of Hemingway. People would walk past my door and think I was taking a nap at times, but I didn’t care. The boss said become a Hemingway expert.

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Nats' Opener: It Was Real. And It Was Spectacular.

Man, that felt normal.

Tuesday’s season-opening 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves wasn’t so much about the dramatic walk-off RBI by Juan Soto – although that didn’t hurt at all – but was more about how it didn’t feel a single bit like those 60 games last season.

In comparison, those contests were plastic. Today was fine Corinthian leather. Last year felt like spring training games that didn’t count, while today – from the minute Max Scherzer gave up the first of four solo home runs – it felt real. There was a tension, an excitement, a feeling that whatever happened today counted.

Most of it was having live fans in the stands, as you can tell yourself piped-in crowd noise is almost as good as the real thing until the cows come home. But it’s not until you hear the murmuring and crescendos of sound made by living, caring human beings, sitting in a stadium eating overpriced food and beverage, that you realize the difference.

The vibe extended to everyone. You could hear it in the voices of Bob Carpenter, FP Santangelo and Dan Kolko as they broadcast the game. They were as excited as we were, like kids opening their Christmas presents a few days late, but still just as giddy when Trea Turner hit a two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4.

For the first time since the World Series of 2019, you could also feel the rivalry. Last year each game was between two teams respecting each other’s social distance, worried more about both teams leaving the field as healthy as they entered. Today, that old feeling of “I really don’t like these guys” made a comeback, and it added an intensity that led grown men to moan “C’mon Suero, don’t throw the ball down the middle like that again” in the privacy of their own homes.

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Nationals Start Season Tuesday, Doubleheader Wednesday

The Washington Nationals finally added some clarity to when their season would begin Sunday by announcing that Monday's game with the Atlanta Braves will be postponed, but barring any further developments, the Nationals will be starting their season Tuesday at home against the Braves.

The Nationals released an official statement Sunday night saying the most recent round of test results of Nationals personnel included no new positives, and that all of the club's eligible personnel will be able to participate in baseball activities at Nationals Park on Monday. 

UPDATE: Nats announced today that game time Tuesday would be 4:05 PM, and that they will play a doubleheader of 7-inning games on Wednesday starting at 12:05 PM. 

 

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On An Easter Sunday 46 Years Ago....

Since today is Easter, I find myself thinking of another Easter Sunday I experienced 46 years ago in the spring of 1975.

I honestly can’t remember a lot of the details to it. But I was a freshman at Virginia Tech and did not have a car. This meant on holidays if you wanted to go home, you needed to hitch a ride with someone, because there was no cost-effective way to go from Blacksburg to Norfolk. Easter fell outside the spring break that year, so it was really just a 3-day weekend, and I decided to remain on campus.

Whether it was Blacksburg, Norfolk or New York City didn’t really matter in terms of what to do that Sunday morning. It was still Easter, so I got up and went with a friend to a local church. Not surprisingly, it was crowded the way Christmas and Easter always are, and being college kids, we dutifully pursued and found seats just about as far in the back as possible. No need getting too far up front and risk having people you’d never met come up to you and try to start a conversation.

But as the service concluded, that strategy failed. A nice woman asked the two of us what we were doing for Easter lunch, and rather than say “going back to the dorm, eating mystery meat at the dining hall and then taking a 3-hour nap” I just said “I’m not sure.”

She, however, WAS sure about what we would be doing.

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Since Nats Fans Have Time On Hands, Try Making THIS

Since Nationals fans have some time on their hands waiting for the team to play their first game – and they’ve eaten all the hot dogs and snacks they had planned to use last Thursday – here’s a chance to go big while trying to create some ballpark food at home.

The last time I was at a game in person was the 2019 World Series, and while that first home World Series game – as well as the other two – were all losses, a dish my wife brought back from the concession stand was a win. As you see to the right, it was a basket of tater tots covered in pulled pork barbecue. The pic is of my wife’s meal, where she even added Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Being a purist, I just had the BBQ and tots.

I realize pairing meat and potatoes has been around since the beginning of civilization, but it never occurred to me to put these two together and it was outstanding. I’ve made it a few times at home, and I’ve discovered you can change the personality of the dish easily by just changing the sauce. One time I’ve done a sweet barbecue sauce, another time I’ve used buffalo wing sauce or Old Bay hot sauce, and there was a time I just ate it without sauce. Same texture, much different taste.

So since we can’t be at Nats Park to pay the concession stand $20 for this dish, here’s how to spend $10 and recreate the dish for yourself and about a dozen friends. I tried to take a picture of every step of the way, and it’s in the slide show below. What I’m explaining should match up to a slide, so if you’re a visual person who must see me stabbing the pork shoulder with my steely knife, the slideshow is for you.

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Avoid The Lines: Build A Concession Stand In Your Home

Thursday is opening day for the Washington Nationals, as well as just about every other team in Major League Baseball.

Because of this, I have some investment advice for you.

Let’s face it, going to a major league game and truly enjoying the experience involves a couple of factors. One is obviously good baseball.

But another is the food, as I cannot go to a baseball game without getting a hot dog at the stadium. A hot dog, a cold beverage and a bag of salted in the shell peanuts constitute the holy trinity in the cathedral of baseball, and it is a mandatory purchase, where you can expect to pay at least $20 for those materials at a concession stand at Nats Park.

The hot dog, to truly be a baseball hot dog, has to be cooked a certain way to create its unique taste. At home, you’re probably going to fry it in a pan, boil it if you’re not all that serious about hot dog taste, or microwave it if you’ve given up on life in general. But a true baseball hot dog is cooked on steel rollers, constantly cooking it to maximize the melting of all that fat and other ingredients in there that will probably shorten your life.

You probably see these machines on the counter behind the staff taking your order without ever giving thought to “hey, I should get one of those.”

The other part of the ballpark experience is a steamed bun. Properly stationed in a contraption allowing a low level of steam to soften the bun into a heavenly pillow sliced in the middle to allow this juicy all-beef concoction to rest comfortably, and you have the food of kings.

I invested in these two devices years ago, and it may have been a better investment than Microsoft, Apple or Amazon when it comes to living life to its fullest. When the Nats or Hokies play, I put a few Nathan’s natural casing Coney Island style hot dogs on the rollers, some buns in the steamer, a little chili and sauerkraut in two small crock pots I set on low, then chop up some onions and leave out some condiments. It’s an all-day concession stand in my kitchen without having to pay $8 a hot dog.

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This Is One Opening Day I'll Never Be Able To Forget...

Since it is a dark, gray day, and Opening Day is later this week, allow me to share a memory.

It is of an Opening Day 9 years ago that had me filled with excitement. It later turned to one of my darkest memories, and something I think about every year. In light of what’s been going on with younger people during this year-plus of being out of school and staying at home due to COVID, I think about it even more this year.

I’ve been blessed with friends who are baseball fanatics. I like baseball, don’t get me wrong, but these friends absolutely love it. One friend, whose name was Paul, insisted that I always go with him to Opening Day. From the first year the Nationals came to DC until 2012, he never asked whether I wanted to go. He just said he’d gotten the tickets and what time he was coming by the house.

He was that way with the last game of the season, too. Missing either in a season was like a religious person missing church on Easter Sunday. It was important to him, and you had to be there.

Every year on the drive to at first RFK, then Nats Park, the conversation was the same. We’d ask each other if this year would be the season the Nationals finally broke through and made the playoffs, and despite evidence to the contrary, would convince ourselves the answer was “yes.”. We’d endured the beginning of some bad 100-loss seasons in the past, but we always rationalized about the next season and how changes made in the offseason would somehow mean this coming season was OUR year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 was no different. We convinced ourselves this would be the year the Nats made the postseason, and like every year, we believed it. Because of traffic that day, we’d spend 7 hours together between riding in the car to the stadium and watching the game while debating all this.

It ended up being a very good game. Paul was not a fan of Jayson Werth, and after riding him all day every time he came to the plate, Werth repaid the criticism with a single in the bottom of the 10th to move Ryan Zimmerman to second. A ground out moved both over a base, and with two outs, Zimmerman would then score the winning run on a wild pitch.

We all went home happy.

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Rest In Peace, Coach Schnellenberger

If you follow sports for a long enough time, you end up with 4 or 5 moments that seem to stay permanently etched in your memory. Some are due to last-second heroics, while others are just the confluence of several interesting people at a particular point in time.

The passing this morning of legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger brought back one of those for me. At the time, Schnellenberger was at the University of Miami before it was “The U”, and he was in the process of creating that transition for the Hurricanes.

He took over Miami in 1979, and in year 2 got his team to a bowl game, beating this group of upstarts from Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl to finish 9-3. Three years later, “The U” was born, as Miami and Schnellenberger went 11-1 and won a national title by beating Nebraska.

The year before winning the national title, Miami faced Virginia Tech for the second time in three years in Blacksburg. It was a warm September afternoon, and Miami was favored due to a high-powered offense led by quarterback Jim Kelly. The Hokies were a typical Bill Dooley team, with a strong running attack led by players like Tony Paige and Cyrus Lawrence, and a stout defense with the likes of Bruce Smith and Padro Phillips.

Miami did win that day, 14-8. But some things also happened I doubt anyone expected.

The moment I remember took place shortly after the game. Back then, there were no formal press conferences or restrictions on who you could talk with after a game. If you wanted to ask a question of a player, you went in the locker room and asked.

For Miami, the visitor’s locker room was just under the East stands down near the corner of the South end zone. The question of the day regarded an injury to Kelly, who was sacked midway through the game by the Virginia Tech defense and had to leave the game. Since he didn’t return, we all wanted to know how bad the injury was.

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Jalen Cone Latest Player To Enter The Transfer Portal

When I heard the news Monday that Joe Bamisile had entered the transfer portal, my first thought was “I’m surprised it wasn’t Jalen Cone.”

Today, it was.

Cone tweeted that he was leaving, saying “I don’t even know where to begin…Virginia Tech has become my second home. I have built relationships that will last a lifetime and learned so many things here. I’ve gained new family and made memories that will never fade. There is no place like Blacksburg and nothing can replace it.

“I want to thank the staff for giving me tremendous opportunities and helping me through this journey. I want to thank my teammates for always pushing me, the great memories, and becoming my brothers for life. To the basketball program as a whole, y’all can never be replaced. To the students and people of Blacksburg, thank you for believing in me and being the best fans ever.

“After prayer, giving it long thought and conversation with my loved ones, I’ve decided to reopen my recruitment and enter the transfer portal.”

It would appear Cone looked at the same stats Bamisile did when looking at potential minutes he might get next season. A week ago, Virginia Tech had 9 guards on its roster when including transfers and signees, and assuming Wabissa Bede doesn’t come back and Bamisile leaving, the number was still 7. Cone’s departure moves it down to 6, assuming the Hokies don’t acquire anybody else from the transfer portal.

Cone played in 15 games this season and started four before missing the final four games of the season due to an ankle injury. The handwriting was on the wall for him, however, in watching the NCAA Tournament game against Florida, just as it was for Bamisile. In that overtime game, 95 percent of the minutes played went to just six players for Virginia Tech, and four of them were guards:  Bede, Hunter Cattoor, Tyrece Radford and Nahiem Alleyne.

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If Fans Could Choose, They'd Sign 50 Players From Portal

At some point, the whole deal with the transfer portal in college athletics is about to turn comical.

Originally created as a clearinghouse to help graduate transfers with a single year of eligibility left find another school to team up with, the effects of COVID have now given college sports true free agency. Everybody got an extra year of eligibility, and everybody got the opportunity to go somewhere else without having to sit out a year.

It has created a combination of Sam’s Club, Costco and Amazon for college football and basketball programs: A one-stop shopping place for everything a coach could possibly want.

Which could be both good and bad.

I have no issue with everyone moving about. My first year at Virginia Tech, I majored in engineering, and while it was a fine endeavor that taught me how to drink so much coffee I could study until 3 AM, I decided after that year it wasn’t for me. I tried business for a quarter (this is why fellow Hokies call engineering “pre-business”) and then found what I enjoyed and was good at: Communications.

Back then, the program was in its infancy, so had I possessed the money or wherewithal, I could have chosen a school like Syracuse or Northwestern to further learn my craft, and no one would have cared. I wouldn’t have had to sit out anything, or be lectured on commitment, etc. I’d have just gone on and lived my life.

Being a relatively poor guy from an Italian family who was told “you can go anywhere you want, but if it costs more than $3,000 for all four years, that’s all we’ve got and the rest is on you,” I stayed in Blacksburg. I’m glad I did, but I had that option, and I think everyone should have it.

Athletes now do. That’s the good news. They have options.

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