Bob Sparks - SaintPetersBlog

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

Magic take FSU’s Jonathan Isaac with first round pick

The Orlando Magic have chosen Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac with their first-round pick in the NBA Draft. Some pundits thought Orlando would go with shooting guard Malik Monk  of Kentucky, but Isaac brings many attributes that can make him a star in the league.

Isaac, a native of New York City, but a product of IMG Academy in Bradenton, was pleased to be selected by the Magic.

“Man, it means everything,” he said about his opportunity to remain close to home. “Maybe I would have loved to be drafted by a New York team so I could come home, but it is kind of home for me. I’ve been living in Florida for 9 years, so it feels great.”

Isaac does not possess the shooting touch of some of the other top picks, but he is long and athletic. At 6 feet and 10 inches, but only 210 pounds, Isaac understands perfectly that he needs to beef up to play forward in the NBA.

“I’ve definitely got to get stronger,” he said following his selection. “That’s the first thing I’ve got to focus on. “I’m going to gain weight, but the first thing is I’ve got to get stronger.”

During his one season playing for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Isaac averaged 12 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game. He was a 35 percent three-point shooter, but with the distance a bit longer in the NBA, he will need to work on his shot to maximize his offensive game.

Isaac became the third Florida State player to be chosen in the first round. Dave Cowens was the first pick of the Boston Celtics in 1970 and George McLeod was the top pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1989.

Isaac was the 6th consecutive freshman chosen in this year’s draft, a record. He will get his first taste of professional basketball beginning July 1 when the Orlando Summer League begins.

With their second pick of the first round and 25th overall, the Magic took center Anzejs Pasecniks from the Spanish pro league. They traded the pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for a future first round pick.

Seminoles season ends in Omaha again; Gators in good position

The Florida State baseball season ended with a loss in Omaha, Neb. on Wednesday night, just like it has 21 other times before. This time it was the LSU Tigers sending the Seminoles home from the College World Series with a 7-4 victory, meaning FSU Coach Mike Martin will have to wait another year.

Unlike their first meeting, where LSU scored two late runs to snatch a 5-4 victory, the Tigers jumped out early and kept Florida State at arm’s length. A 5-run second, capped by a three-run homer by first baseman Jake Slaughter, knocked out starter Cole Sands and brought in Andrew Karp.

FSU began to chip away with a solo home run by first baseman Drew Mendoza in the bottom of the second. In the 6th, DH Quincy Nieporte nearly had a three-run homer, but settled for a long sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Karp kept FSU in range with 5 innings of three-hit, no-run relief. He struck out 7.

But in the 9th inning, Mendoza threw high to catcher Cal Raleigh in an attempt to nail Kramer Robertson at the plate. That led to two LSU insurance runs.

LSU starter Jared Poche’ gave up back-to-back homers to Nieporte and Raleigh to start the 9th and bring FSU within 7-4. Poche’ gave way to closer Zack Hess, who struck out the side.

The final strike of the season, delivered to Tyler Holton, was at least 6 inches outside, but that summarizes the Seminoles frustrating history at the College World Series. The first game loss to the Tigers on Saturday also contributed to the ongoing the narrative.

Florida State finishes the season with a 46-23 record and the ACC Tournament, NCAA Regional and NCAA Super Regional Champions. After struggling through much of the season, they won 19 of their final 24 games and made a trip to Omaha few, if anyone, would have imagined four weeks ago.

LSU now goes on to face Oregon State in the top bracket of the tournament. The Tigers must defeat the top-ranked Beavers twice to advance to the championship series. Oregon State has lost only four games all year and thrashed the Tigers 13-1 in the first meeting on Monday.

In the bottom bracket, the Florida Gators await the winner of Thursday’s Louisville vs. TCU elimination game. Whoever wins that game must beat the Gators twice, beginning Friday, to prevent them from heading to the championship round.

 

Seminoles stay alive in College World Series; Gators to face Louisville on Tuesday

Florida State will fight on. Facing elimination at the College World Series against Cal State Fullerton on Monday, the Seminoles survived the Titans 6-4 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

After a solo home run by first baseman Drew Mendoza put FSU ahead 3-1 in the top of the 6th, the Seminoles gave up the lead in the bottom half. Titan shortstop Timmy Richards’ two-run homer capped a three-run inning to give CSF a 4-3 lead.

The play of the game occurred in the top of 7th. With Taylor Walls on first, Dylan Busby launched a drive to left-center field that Scott Hurst caught, but dropped when he slammed into the wall.

With the inning now changed dramatically with runners on second and third, an intentional walk preceded two run-producing walks to Quincy Nieporte and Cal Raleigh, giving FSU the lead at 5-4. An infield single by Matt Henderson completed the scoring.

Drew Parrish started for the Seminoles and held the Titans to one hit through five innings. He left after giving up the homer to Richards, giving way to Chase Haney, who got out of the inning.

The FSU bullpen of Haney, Alec Byrd and Drew Carlton held CSF to one hit over the final 3.1 innings. Haney earned the win.

With the victory, Florida State’s fifth straight while facing elimination in this postseason, the Seminoles move on to a rematch with LSU on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. The Tigers beat FSU on Saturday.

The winner of  FSU vs. LSU goes on to face Oregon State while the loser goes home. That game is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.

On Tuesday, the Florida Gators will try to take control of their bracket when they face the Louisville Cardinals at 7:00 p.m. The winner of that game will need only one more victory to reach the national championship game.

 

Gators blank TCU in College World Series; FSU faces must-win on Monday

The Florida Gators used strong pitching from Alex Faedo and a couple of timely hits to defeat the TCU Horned Frogs 3-0 Sunday in the College World Series. The win is a much better start in Omaha for Florida than last year when they lost both games and went home early.

Faedo was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Tigers in the recent MLB Draft. He looked every bit the part of a first rounder with the way he handled the Horned Frogs.

In 7 strong innings, he held TCU to only two hits and struck out 11 in a dominating performance. His only true jam came in the third when he struck out Zach Humphreys and the dangerous Evan Skoug after the bases were loaded with the help of an error.

“(Skoug) is a great hitter so I just knew I couldn’t give him anything good to hit,” said Faedo. “I feel like I’ve been in that situation before so I just needed to slow the heart rate down and get the job done.”

The offense was just enough to win. Christian Hicks and Nelson Maldonado had run-scoring singles while JJ Schwarz added an RBI groundout in the first inning.

“We’re going to be saving runs,” Faedo deadpanned. “We’re going to score just enough to get a W.”

Michael Byrne finished the final two innings for the combined shutout allowing three hits while striking out four. The Horned Frogs were blanked for only the second time all season.

The Gators move on to face Louisville in the winner’s bracket. The Cardinals beat the Texas A&M Aggies 8-4 on Sunday afternoon.

Brendan McKay, the Tampa Bay Rays’ top draft choice went five innings to get the win for Louisville, but he allowed four earned runs in 5 innings. The Gators and Cardinals square off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Florida State Seminoles will try to hang around Omaha at least a while longer. They will face the Cal State Fullerton Titans in an elimination game beginning at 2 p.m.

 

Louisville can bring up Penn State when appealing NCAA penalties

For those who have the stomach to read the NCAA’s report on what happened with the Louisville men’s basketball program between 2010 and 2014, put your head on a swivel. One’s head will instinctively shake.

It is a detailed account of strippers, prostitutes and teenagers all in the name of luring them to play basketball for the Louisville Cardinals and Coach Rick Pitino. The Committee on Infractions panel presented a meticulous case against those involved and why Pitino bears  responsibility, even if he was unaware of what was transpiring.

One of the penalties prescribed was forfeiting games over those four years, which includes their 2013 NCAA championship. This part should be, and must be, reversed.

To be sure, what happened over that four-year period is beyond reprehensible. Louisville admitted that one of Pitino’s staff members (identified by accuser Katina Powell as Andre McGee), arranged sexual trysts for teenage recruits, including four 17-year-olds and at least one who was only 16 at the time. Graduate assistant Brandon Williams was also implicated.

At least two players on the Louisville 2013 championship team roster were also involved. Those identified to ESPN by Powell and two of her daughters (who were among the “escorts”) were star player Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell.

They are now on probation, they lost scholarships and their recruiting practices are limited. The also made it difficult for McGee to get a job in college basketball for 10 years and Williams for one year.

For his part, Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2018 ACC schedule. Then NCAA accepted the school’s self-imposed post season ban in 2015-16.

All of these make sense. It is a little bit tougher when the committee ordered the school to give up its share of revenue earned from playing in the 2012-2015 NCAA Tournament. The justification? The participating members of the basketball team became “ineligible” because they received “impermissible benefits.”

This is the logic also used in forfeiting all wins over the period, including the 2013 championship. Impermissible benefits are usually reserved for cash under the table, cars, no-work jobs, etc. While such actions carried out with legal age young men may be morally wrong, it’s hard to keep a straight face in hearing sexual favors described as a benefit when determining eligibility.

“Not only was this unjust and over the top in its severity,” Pitino said at a news conference, “but I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.”

Why should anyone outside of the Cardinals’ fan base be worked up about this? Two words:

Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky perpetrated horrific treatment of young boys while serving as an assistant coach to Joe Paterno at Penn State. Sandusky is rightfully in prison and the NCAA ruled Paterno and the university were negligent as the atrocities continued. According to court testimony, Paterno knew about Sandusky’s behavior.

The Committee on Infractions slapped PSU with a $60 million fine, cut scholarships, instituted a post-season ban and forced Penn State to vacate their wins from 1998-2011. They were also forced to return bowl game money.

But when Penn State and supporters fought back (rightly or wrongly), the vacated wins were restored by the NCAA in January, 2015.

Think about that. No wins are vacated following criminal behavior that ruined lives.

What Louisville did was wrong, repugnant and also qualifies as child abuse in some of the cases. But when compared to Penn State, they should have every reason to believe they will win on appeal to either the NCAA or in court.

State, feds agree to extension for red snapper fishing

Most anglers thought the red snapper season for fishing in federal waters came and went almost two weeks ago. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S Department of Commerce and the State of Florida, recreational anglers now have 39 additional days to go after the prized catch.

The previous season lasted only three days, from June 1 until June 4, leaving fishing enthusiasts and members of Congress highly frustrated. The new arrangement calls for rolling back available red snapper days in state waters while extending the opportunities in federal waters.

“We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida.”

The 39-day additional season begins Friday and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day, September 4. Also included is Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4.

“Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Ft. Walton Beach Republican from the First Congressional District. “I’m glad the Trump administration has agreed to extend the federal red snapper season.

The federal government establishes quotas for red snapper fishing. Based on whether that quota was exceeded or under-fished in federal waters, the season is adjusted accordingly.

“We pressed Washington for an expanded season and Washington listened,” said Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican from the Second Congressional District. “This decision provides relief this season while we work to fix what’s broken in recreational management of the red snapper fishery. I’m glad the Commerce Department is letting common sense prevail for Florida anglers.”

Rays part of American League’s parade of “parity”

The late Pete Rozelle was known to strive for “parity” during his days as NFL Commissioner. Perhaps the first 26 games of the Buccaneers’ franchise, when they went 0-26, influenced his mindset.

Rozelle and the NFL tweaked schedules to help more teams reach 8-8 and make it harder for teams to regularly go 14-2. While the elite teams mostly remained elite for a reason, the end result saw most teams in the playoff hunt as the seasons reached their final stages.

Baseball, at least in the American League, displays the kind of parity Rozelle sought for football. With 40 percent of the season now complete, nearly every American League team can still claim a chance to earn a wild card playoff spot.

The Houston Astros are the class of the league with a 46-22 record and an 11-game lead in the American League West. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are 13 and 9 games over .500, respectively.

After that, the league is a parade of parity.

Only two other teams, the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels, are over .500. Tampa Bay enters tonight’s game in Detroit with a 35-33 record and the Angels are 35-34.

A total of 8 teams are at either .500 or within four games of .500.  Even last year’s representative in the World Series, the Cleveland Indians, have managed to only earn a 31-31 record.

The Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox are the “worst” teams in the league with winning percentages of 42 and 44 percent.

The National League is somewhat similar, but has some bigger gaps. Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona and Washington are all at least 13 games over 500. The Milwaukee Brewers are the only other team to have won more than they have lost.

Shockingly, the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs are one of 10 teams with losing records. Fortunately for them, they play in the mediocre Central Division where they are only two games behind the 35-32 Brewers.

The Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants are all more than 10 games under .500 and the only teams that should be looking ahead to next year.

The Rays try to stay above the break-even mark in Detroit, where they begin a four-game series starting Thursday night against the 30-34 Tigers. Alex Cobb starts on the mound for the Rays, while Justin Verlander tries for his first win in a month for Detroit.

Rays take Louisville’s Brendan McKay with 4th pick of MLB Draft

Most draft experts expected the Tampa Bay Rays to choose University of Louisville two-way player Brendan McKay in the first round if he was still available. When it was Tampa Bay’s turn to select with the fourth overall pick, McKay was still there and Tampa Bay quickly scooped him up.

He has unique two-way talent. In 2017, he hit .343 with 17 home runs and drove in 56 runs. As a pitcher, he won 10 games, lost three and sported a 2.34 earned run average. In addition, he struck out 140 batters and walked 33 in 104 innings pitched.

When not on the mound, McKay is a first baseman, which is reportedly where the Rays plan to deploy him. With that being the case, he will have one more pitching assignment ahead. Louisville will play in the College World Series that begins Saturday.

McKay, a junior, is a highly decorated player. He was named National Player of the Year, by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball newspaper. McKay is also a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy as the nation’s best college player.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, citing MLB.com analyst Jim Callis, reports McKay turned down an offer from the Minnesota Twins to be the number one overall pick in the draft. Minnesota moved on to select California high school shortstop Royce Lewis.

Stuart Sternberg and the Rays had better be prepared to pay up. Despite being the fourth pick, Callis tweets “don’t be surprised if (McKay) lands highest bonus in @MLBDraft” beating the record of more than $6.7 million hauled in by current Chicago Cub superstar Kris Bryant.

The selection of McKay marks the third time in the last 10 years the Rays have selected a college player with a top-five pick. The other two were Evan Longoria and David Price.

 

Seminoles advance to Omaha with record-setting rout; Gators game suspended

There was no drama in Game 2 of the Tallahassee Super Regional on Sunday. A day after Florida State ended the first game with a walk-off win over Sam Houston State, the Seminoles throttled the Bearkats 19-0 to earn a spot in the College World Series.

While Florida State never led on Saturday until the last batter of the game, on Sunday they led after the first batter. Taylor Walls hit the third pitch of the game for an opposite field home run to left to make it 1-0. It was 4-0 after the first inning.

The game was delayed more than 7 hours by rain, which is appropriate because it was raining runs for the Seminoles. A 6-run fourth made it 15-0, allowing the Florida State athletic department extra time to begin making travel arrangements to Omaha, Neb., site of the World Series.

The margin of victory broke the NCAA record for a Super Regional game. The previous record was 18 runs when Louisville blasted Oklahoma 20-2 in 2007.

Walls had two homers on the day, while Kyle Kavanaugh hit his first career homer to conclude the scoring in the 8th. A day after designated hitter Quincy Nieporte hit into a triple play, on Sunday he bombed a three-run homer in the second inning. In addition to collecting 13 hits, the Seminoles also received 12 walks and Bearkats’ pitching hit three batters.

On the mound, Drew Parrish had another outstanding effort. He allowed only two hits and struck out 9 in five innings of work after he struck out 12 in a no-decision against Tennessee Tech last weekend. Cole Sands and Andrew Karp pitched the final four innings to preserve the combined shutout.

The Seminoles will face the winner of the Baton Rouge Super Regional in Omaha, either LSU or Mississippi State. The College World Series begins Saturday.

In Gainesville, the Florida Gators must wait another day to see if they will join FSU in Omaha. They lead the best-of-three Gainesville Super Regional 1-0 against Wake Forest, but Sunday’s game was suspended for inclement weather.

When the game resumes on Monday, Wake Forest is batting and holding a 5-4 lead.

 

Florida State’s Matt Henderson douses Taylor Walls with Powerade after an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game against Sam Houston State Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Walls had two home runs and four RBI. Florida State won 19-0, and advances to the College World Series. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
Florida State catcher Cal Raleigh jumps into the arms of pitcher Andrew Karp (19) as teammates celebrate after an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game against Sam Houston State Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida State won 19-0, and advances to the College World Series. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
At right, Florida State head coach Mike Martin hugs his wife Carol as their granddaughter Lexi Buchanan watches after an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game against Sam Houston State Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida State won 19-0, and advances to the College World Series. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

FSU/UF both win in Super Regional walk-offs

Almost everything that could go wrong was going wrong for the Florida State Seminoles in Saturday’s first game of their Super Regional series against the Sam Houston State Bearkats. They had early fielding bunts, hit a batter with the bases load, hit into a triple play and was picked off second to end a big rally.

Despite the adversity and trailing throughout the entire game, Florida State hung in, clawed back and eventually escaped with a 7-6 walk-off victory. It was a game they likely would not have won a month ago.

Coming into the game, FSU was well aware that Sam Houston State uses the bunt as a significant part of their offense.

“If they bunt it,” sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh assured, “we’ll field it, we’ll throw it to first base and we’ll get them out.”

Despite knowing what was coming, the Seminoles twice misplayed, gave up a bunt single or were victimized by a suicide squeeze on the first four bunts put into play. Heading into the third inning, Florida State trailed 5-1.

Starting pitcher Tyler Holton muffed the Bearkats’ first bunt of the day, which paved the way for a three-run first inning, helped along when Holton hit Jaxxson Grisham with the bases loaded. The next three Sam Houston bunts produced two singles and a suicide squeeze, leading to a 5-1 deficit for Florida State heading to the bottom of the third.

From this point, Holton gathered himself, as did the rest of the Seminoles.

In the third, Florida State had a run in with runners on first and second with none out and trailing 5-2.  Quincy Nieporte grounded into a third-to-second-to first triple play, snuffing out a promising rally. After SHSU stretched the lead to 6-3 in the seventh, the Seminoles made two quiet outs in the bottom of the seventh.

At that point, shortstop Taylor Walls attempted FSU’s only bunt of the day, but he beat it out for a hit. After a walk and run-scoring singles by Jackson Lueck, Nieporte and Raleigh, the game was tied 6-6. The inning ended when Nieporte was picked off second base.

While the bullpen duo of Chase Haney and Drew Carlton shut down the Bearkats the rest of the way, the Seminoles made quick work Bearkats’ closer Nick Mikolajchak in the ninth. Walls singled leading off and Busby was hit by a pitch. Lueck then sent the home crowd home happy with a drive into the right-center field gap that sent Walls home with the winning run.

“I’d tell you one thing, we’ve got 27 guys that won’t back down,” said FSU Coach Mike Martin. “They won’t look at each other like ‘what the heck is going on?’ They will just battle.”

The victory puts Florida State one win away from a place in next week’s College World Series. The two teams meet on Sunday and a third game, if necessary, will be played Monday.

The odds favor FSU advancing. Since the Super Regionals became part of the NCAA Tournament, the team winning the first game goes on to win the series 78 percent of the time.

In Gainesville, the Florida Gators beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2-1 in 11 innings to take a 1-0 lead. Senior Ryan Larson singled up the middle with the bases loaded and two outs to send home the winning run.

The Gators were looking good in the top of the ninth, leading 1-0 with closer Michael Byrne on the mound. Deacons catcher Ben Breazeale led off the inning with a homer to tie the game.

Florida loaded the bases in the 11th without benefit of a hit. Wake Forest closer Griffin Roberts walked Jonathan India and hit JJ Schwarz and Nelson Maldonado. After a strike out, Larson delivered the Gators’ first walk-off win this season.

The game was delayed in the fourth inning for almost four hours due to rain.

Game 2 is Sunday and a third, if necessary, will be played Monday

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