The Evster and Enrico head over to the Frozen Four

The Evster and Enrico head over to the Frozen Four

Late Thursday afternoon, Enrico scored two free tickets to the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center. Knowing I'm a huge hockey fan -- and have literally never had plans on a weeknight -- he asked me to tag along. The following is a minute by minute report of what took place.

Pregame: We are coming at you LIVE from the Wells Fargo Center -- or at least Enrico is -- I am currently hopping on the subway at 5:05pm because I'm an actual person with an actual job and not some laissez-faire blogger who can just take off in the middle of the day to watch a hockey game. Seriously, who starts a game at 5pm? Joining me on the subway platform are a whole lotta white people dressed in their favorite schools' sweaters as well as one ticket scalper who is wearing a black and gold Adidas track jacket and matching black and gold shell tops. He is BY FAR the coolest person waiting at this subway station and is also really, really drunk.

Tonight's first matchup features five-time national champion Boston College, winners of three of the last five NCAA tournaments, and alma-mater of the world's biggest dorfburger, Sammy Davis Enrico Campitelli Jr. Other notable alums include: Mike Mamula, John Kerry and Elisabeth Hasslebeck's husband. Their opponent tonight: the Union College Union, an actual school that I'm not making up. Union is located in action-packed Schenectady, New York, has a student body of 2,100 big ones and offers a major in Post-It notes. Notable alums include Chester A. Arthur (who you may know as the 21st President of THE UNITED STATES), my wife's Aunt Lena, and no one else ever. Clearly I'm pulling for them to beat big bad BC.

1st Period: I finally arrive at the arena just as the first period is ending and meet Enrico in the concourse to get the scoop on what I've missed. BC is up 1-0 thanks to a goal by South Jersey's own, Johnny Gaudreau, who Enrico tells me is nicknamed Johnny Hockey. I have no idea if Enrico's messing with me or not, but I will obviously be calling him Johnny Hockey for the duration of this post.

Tiring of listening to Enrico talk about the various cold and sinus medications he's currently taking, I approach a Union fan wearing a "Bodie" jersey to ask who the hell Bodie is. I figured it had to be his son because why else would a grown man wear a college kid's jersey, but the kind, older gentleman tells me that Bodie's his favorite player and an absolute "dynamo" on the ice. This piques my interest so Enrico and I hurry back to our seats for the start of the 2nd period.

19:57 left in the 2nd -- Three seconds into the game, a BC player falls while trying to skate backwards. I'm beginning to think that this might be the shittiest sporting event I've ever attended.

19:06 left in the 2nd -- Bodie gets the puck for the first time, shimmies by one defender and lets rip the lamest, sorriest wrist shot I've ever seen. The BC goalie catches it without hardly moving, the closest thing I've seen to Cliff Lee's basket catch in that World Series vs. the Yankees. I'm honestly embarrassed for that old man.

17:21 left in the 2nd -- GOAL! Ohhhhhh baby! Union ties it up as my main man Bodie Miller blasts one into the net! Holy Boldie! After almost two minutes of end to end action, Grandpa's favorite player lets fly an absolute rocket that the BC goalie didn't even see. We're all tied now, 1-1, and Enrico is not happy! The public address announcer then tells us that Bodie's first name is MATT, something that I was not expecting, nor will I be calling him.

15:54 left in the 2nd -- As the game goes back and forth, I ask Enrico if he played college hockey, would he wear a caged mask or a see-through visor? Enrico  says he doesn't know, which I find to be a totally unacceptable answer, so I keep probing him and say, "Duuuude, stop being such a Boston College bro and answer the question," and finally Enrico says "the see-through ones because they look cooler," proving that Enrico has no idea how cool cages are. I then tell Enrico that I'd worry about the see through ones getting all fogged up but before I can finish my sentence I notice that he's checking Instagram and not even coming close to paying attention to me. I pray for 16 more Union goals before the next intermission.

12:10 left in the 2nd -- Enrico tells me that Johnny Hockey leads all college players in points this year and is "probably gonna win the Hobey Baker award, that's the trophy they give to the top college player." So I tell Enrico, "I know what the goddamn Hobey Baker award is," and he quickly responds by telling me to, "Go F yourself."

A quick google search reveals that Hobey Baker was born in BALA CYNWYD, PENNSYLVANIA -- bet ya didn't know THAT! -- the same hometown as the dopest blogger on The 700 Level. We also learn that Baker died in an airplane crash during World War I, at the way too young age of 26. This makes us sad, but not that sad because we got free tickets to a hockey game and that makes us better than other people.

10:30 left in the 2nd -- Ohhhhhhh, Johnny! Johnny Hockeyballs shimmies his way past two defenders but then gets too cute as he tries to give it up on a 2 v. 1. This leads me to think about Johnny guest starring on Too Cute: Kittens!, my wife's favorite show on Animal Planet, and one that I highly recommend watching. They're too cute!

9:15 left in the 2nd -- DO NOT BLINK FOLKS 'CUZ YOU JUST MIGHT MISS SOMETHIN. And just like that Union is BACK IN COMMAND. A guy named Daniel Champion or something makes it 2-1, Union. Unfortunately, I did blink and missed the whole thing. Actually, I was watching kids dance on the jumbotron, but whatever, if it's any consolation, Enrico missed it too, once again checking out pictures of chicks on Instagram.

4:07 left in the 2nd -- BOOM BABY! GOAL BC, 2-2! This time it's a defenseman, #6 to be exact, but I have no idea what his name is because this is literally the first college hockey game I have ever been to.

When in doubt, Rico, what do you do? "Put it on net," my blogging editor says, because we are the two smartest hockey fans in the world. What a ballgame!

Hockey game!

2nd Intermission -- All knotted at 2, it's time to take a stroll around the WFC and buy a $7 slice of pizza from Lorenzo's. As we walk around, I try to take secret snappers of a bunch of unsuspecting fans.

Here are some of my best:

Bjugstad??? That can't be a real name. Also that visor is incredible. I have no idea what Mr. and Mrs. Bjugstad were looking at by the way. I think it was a funnel cake stand.

Not sure if you can tell, but these grown men are wearing eagle hats with beaks on them. The dude on the left, who is also wearing a flag cape totally caught me taking a secret snapper and was like, "Heyyyyyyyy," but I just kept walking away really fast and I don't think he really cared anyway I mean he was wearing a hat with a beak on it.

 

This is just a dorf I saw earlier in the day outside City Hall.

Start of the 3rd period -- Deadlocked at 2 apiece, Enrico and I settled back into our seats for the final session. Enrico was a nervous wreck at this point, living and dying with every shift despite the fact that he had not seen one BC hockey game in the last four years.

17:15 left in the 3rd -- Okay, a guy just got blasted in the head and I was the only person who started screaming. He seems to be fine, he's currently trying to smash another guy's brain into the boards, but if I were him I would go straight to the bench and call my mother.

15:00 left in the 3rd -- Penalty on somebody! I have never understood what is legal in this sport and what is not, but the referee is putting his wrists together in an X formation and signaling that something just happened. I think it was probably Boarding, but Enrico disagrees and thinks it's Cross Checking. I tell him that's ridiculous and he agrees and changes his guess to Interference. He's correct! Two minutes for Interference on BC.

13:29 left in the 3rd -- GOAL FOR UNION! 3-2 in favor of the underdogs! The goal was scored by the same guy as the last one and the Union fans are going crazy. MANY of them are also wearing visors and they keep chanting, "Let's go U! Let's go U! Let's go U" which sounds a lot like Michigan's "Let's go blue!" chant. Whatever, these guys deserve to go bonkers. This is literally the only good thing that has ever come out of Schencekedeitdy besides A GODDAMN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and Aunt Lena's potato latkes.

13:11 left in the 3rd -- OH NOW WE'VE GOT SOME BOARDING. Some guy on Union just smashed a guy into the boards and the BC player is DOWN on the ice. A nearby Union fan screams, "Get up you faker!" and I am not making that up. Enrico is calling for a 5-minute major and the PA announcer comes over the loud speaker and tells us there's a game misconduct! Wowzers! Plus a 5-minute power play for the Eagles!

E-A-G-L-wait I'm rooting for Union.

9:08 left in the 3rd -- Three minutes into the power play and BC cannot get it going. Plus, I now realize that their big guy, #12, a guy who I've been calling "Bates" aka "Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey" all game long is actually named "Hayes."

8:07 left in the 3rd -- GOAL, UNION! Holey moley, only five seconds after they killed off the power play, some dude on Union goes one on one with the keeper, gets stoned, then his teammate puts back the rebound to put them up 4-2! Enrico is devastated! BC calls timeout! The Union fans are going berserker as "Party rock is in the housssse tonighttttttttttt" blasts from the loud speakers. This song is so stupid/amazing. This could be the best night of my life.

4:14 left in the 3rd -- It's looking bleak for BC. The Union crowd continue to dominate the Wells Fargo Center. This is like a home game for Union, like UCONN at the Garden, but nothing like that because the arena is half empty and Shabazz Napier is not STRAIGHT OKIE DOAKIN' FOOLS ALL NIGHT.

2:12 left in the 3rd -- BC has pulled their goalie and Bodie is talking trash to all of the BC players during a stoppage. He kinda seems like a major prick. Plus, all of the lovable Union fans are starting to get really annoying with this "Let's go U!" stuff. I'm pretty much ready to start pulling for BC.

1:45 left in the 3rd -- GOAL, BC! "We ain't dead yet!" screams my trusty editor, right after some dude shoots a laser into the top shelf netting part of the net where the shelf would be if they decided to build a shelf in that net. 4-3 Union. Do you believe in Miracle Whip?!

1:09 left in the 3rd -- It's a GOALNADO, folks! This time, Union pop one in, off of an easy rebound into an open net. You can kiss the Eagles goodbye, it's 5-3 and Enrico looks salty.

:17 left in the 3rd -- OH YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Another goal, this time for BC and we're back to a one-goal game. 5-4. Could turn out to be meaningless, but it was another top shelf wristaroo.

HORNNNNNNNNNN!!

It's all over! It. Is. All. Over.

Despite a last second shot on net, Union College -- an actual place -- pulls off the major upset over the Boston College Campitellis. They will now advance to play the winner of the Minnesota-North Dakota game, which will get going in a half hour, and I will no way in hell be blogging about.

Three long hours later -- Game 2 was a total snooze fest, but did feature a GOPHER ON ICE and SPINNING CHEERLEADERS.

No goals were scored until 4 minutes left in the final period, but then Minnesota scored two come-from-behind goals including a LEGIT BUZZER BEATER to send them into the finals. In all my years of watching college hockey, I have never seen a more incredible ending to a game.

Even more incredible because now I can go home and go to sleep.

Prediction for the Final -- Minnesota 18, Union 3, Enrico 0.

Follow The Evster @TVMWW.

Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

CLEARWATER, Fla. – You hear it a lot at this time of year.

This is a big year for (fill in the name).

The 2017 season will be a big one for a lot of Phillies. This team remains an active construction site building for a better day, and the front office is sitting upstairs making a list of who fits into the future and who doesn’t.

So it’s a big year for Freddy Galvis to see if he can improve his on-base skills and hold off J.P. Crawford.

It’s a big year for Cesar Hernandez to see if his strong second half in 2016 was a young player really getting it, a sign of good things to come or just a three-month hot streak.

It’s a big year for Tommy Joseph as he tries to build on a nice big-league debut and hold off hard-charging Rhys Hoskins.

But when it comes to establishing oneself as a long-term part of this team’s foundation, Maikel Franco might have the biggest challenge of all among Phillies position players.

Yes, Franco belted 25 homers and drove in 88 runs last year, and those were surely impressive totals for a player of his age (23) hitting in a lineup where he was a marked man with little protection on a team that did not put many runners on base — that .301 team on-base percentage ranked 29th in the majors.

Despite huge upside, Franco’s game has some shortcomings. He is a free-swinger with poor on-base skills — he had a .306 on-base percentage last season and saw just 3.56 pitches per at-bat, ranking him 34th in the majors — and if you’ve been paying attention to what has come out of general manager Matt Klentak’s mouth in his 16 months on the job, you know that he values players who “control the strike zone” — both at the plate and on the mound.

Klentak and his lieutenants in the front office also place a premium on defense and Franco, despite good hands and a rocket arm, does not grade out near the top among major league third basemen, mostly because of his range, in advanced metrics. He ranked 12th out of 18 qualifying third basemen in runs saved (minus 6) last season.

Proof of this front office’s affinity for on-base skills and defensive acumen can be seen in center field and in that $30.5 million bulge in Odubel Herrera’s wallet. Herrera got on base more than 35 percent of the time his first two seasons in the majors and he grades out well in the advanced defensive metrics used by this team’s decision makers. All of this, along with his youth — he’s 25 — and projected upside led the front office to give Herrera a five-year contract extension this winter. Call it a statement of the type of player that this front office is looking for.

Franco can improve his flaws, particularly at the plate. He’s already hard at work trying to do so with new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

But why is it so pressing that he does? Why is this year such a big one for Franco?

Because he is entering his third season as a regular and the front office probably needs to know that the improvement is coming. Even as they construct their roster and prepare for the 2017 season here in spring training, this front office has its telescope out and is peering at future free-agent markets. Club president Andy MacPhail basically said that last week. In 2017, Maikel Franco has to convince this front office not to put Manny Machado in its sights. The superstar Baltimore Orioles third baseman will hit the free agent market after the 2018 season at the tender age of 26 and if you think his projected megadeal will be too rich for the Phillies then think again. Owner John Middleton has promised to spend big again when the team is ready to win.

In December at the winter meetings, Klentak was asked about some of the astronomical numbers being attached to the talent-rich free-agent class that is coming after the 2018 season. Could he see paying players $200 million, $300 million, $400 million when the time comes?

“I won’t put a dollar figure on anything,” Klentak said that day. “Markets develop the way that they develop and player values change over time. But I don’t have any doubt that this franchise will make significant investments when the time is right.”

Investing in a player like Machado could make long-term sense for the Phillies because he has the type of rangy body that often holds up past 35 and he could take his bat to first base when he’s older and done at third. Yes, it would take a long-term deal, probably at least seven years to get Machado.

Franco can throw cold water on this admittedly premature postulating by making improvements at the plate this season.

If he doesn’t show enough improvement or make the front office believe that it will eventually come, he could be a trade candidate and the Phillies could plug at third while they wait to make their run at Machado.

Franco knows his shortcomings and is working on them.

You could see it in batting practice Monday as he consciously tried to drive balls to right-center.

You could see it Friday as he stood in the outfield and talked hitting with new teammate Howie Kendrick. Kendrick mimicked a hitter driving the ball up the middle. Franco then did the same thing and nodded.

“I love to hit and sometimes I get excited,” Franco said. “I am concentrating on being more selective and using the middle of the field, not trying to do too much.”

Stairs has assigned Franco and Galvis to the same batting practice group as Kendrick.

“Howie has that gap-to-gap approach and I want Maikel and Freddy to see that every day,” Stairs said.

Stairs is convinced that if Franco stays with the approach he will “give away” fewer at-bats and become a tougher out in 2017 “and then you will see the on-base numbers come up.”

Franco needs to make these improvements if he’s going to have a long-range future with a team that is building through the concept of controlling the strike zone.

It’s a big year for him and the looming shadow of the ‘man’ in Baltimore makes it all that much bigger and intriguing.

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Swisher has arrived as a New York Yankees guest spring training instructor and Alex Rodriguez is on deck.

Swisher worked with outfielders Monday during his first day, which came three days after announcing his retirement as a player.

"I never have to worry about an 0 for 4 again," Swisher said with a smile. "It's great to be back."

A-Rod is set to make his initial appearance Tuesday.

"He's going to work with our players," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "Dispense knowledge that he has about how to play the game when he talks to the young kids, some of the expectations about how to deal with it. All the things Alex did well."

Rodriguez and Swisher were also guest instructors with the Yankees instructional league team last fall (see full story).

Giants: Cueto to miss start of spring training to be with ailing father
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Johnny Cueto remains in his native Dominican Republic helping his ailing father a week after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

The Giants plan to reach out to him to see how he is doing and whether he thinks he will pitch for his country in the World Baseball Classic.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy is not worried about Cueto's preparation. The right-hander has been throwing and working out regularly at the club's academy. Bochy says the World Baseball Classic is "starting to cause a slight concern."

Cueto signed a $130 million, six-year contract before last season. He went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and five complete games in 32 starts last year (see full story).

Red Sox: Moreland not worried about replacing Ortiz
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland knows he's likely the only new player in Boston's lineup since David Ortiz retired at the end of last season.

He's just not listening to those who say he needs to replace Big Papi's lofty production.

"I try not to hear it because there's no replacing that guy," said the 31-year-old first baseman, who signed a $5.5-million, 1-year deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.

"I think it's going to be more of a team effort," he said. "Obviously we picked up two big arms as well, and it's a very balanced club."

After playing his first 6+ seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, Moreland is with a new organization for the first time in his career. So far, he said, the move has been smooth (see full story).

Mariners: Paxton expected to have a big year
PEORIA, Arizona -- Forget the batter's box, pitching mound or anywhere else between the chalk lines of a baseball field.

According to Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais, the location of one of the biggest obstacles blocking a player from consistently excelling isn't on the diamond.

"A lot of it with that last hurdle is between your ears," Servais said at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Servais believes starting pitcher James Paxton cleared that bar last season, and the Mariners are expecting the 28-year-old left-hander to be a major contributor in 2017 for a team that looks to end Major League Baseball's longest current postseason drought.

"He is one of the guys ready to take the next step and be a real anchor in our rotation," Servais said.

Paxton is preparing to improve on his 6-7 record and 3.79 earned run average of 2016. He enters spring training locked into a spot in the starting rotation. That puts him in a different position than in a year ago, when he was battling for a spot (see full story).