Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: The Syracuse Fan's Survival Guide to the ACC (2013)

By Mike Waters and Mark Bialczak

All of the realignment taking place in college sports these days probably has caused a jump in sales in road maps. Who can remember what teams are where these days?

Mike Waters and Mark Bialczak took on that difficult assignment in recent months. The figured out who would be in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-14 (who can say where we'll be in the future?), and wrote a guide to all of the schools individually. Presto! They have a book.

It's called "The Syracuse Fan's Survival Guide to the ACC," and it's simple and straight to the point.

Each of the schools - including Louisville, which is following Syracuse into the ACC in a year - gets a chapter. The headings are the same: school history, program highlights, athletic legends, stadium/arena, Syracuse connections, gameday tips, hotel & restaurant information.

Every school gets the same treatment, and that includes Syracuse. It's not a bad idea, since some people who follow the Orange live outside of Syracuse and are just as likely to travel to an SU home game as any other. It's all done in a factual, relatively good-natured manner.

It's not said anywhere, but one point comes through loud and clear here. The Atlantic Coast Conference is not a bus league. Syracuse is several hours away from its closest conference members, Pittsburgh and Boston College. Most of the schools are a much larger distance. Care to zip from Syracuse to Florida State for a game? It's a 1,200-mile jaunt. The college landscape sure has changed these days.

College sports fans are known for "traveling well," that is to say they are willing to go see their favorite team on the road. It will be interesting to see how the move to the ACC affects Syracuse in that sense. Fans who could drive to Connecticut or Rutgers now need to hop on a plane, which adds to the cost considerably. Will it be worth it to many? We'll have to see.

For those that are going, "The Syracuse Fan's Guide to the ACC" seems like a good item to pack. The information is a good starting point for planning a trip to a new rival. The audience is limited, though, and there is a lot of white space here. Therefore, it's tough to give it more than three stars unless you fit into the right demographic. But, the concept is a good one, and it probably wouldn't take much extra work to write a similar book for the other ACC schools.

Three stars

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Doc (2013)

By Dwight Gooden and Ellis Henican

Two of the last three sports books reviewed here have more to do with addictions than sports. That's just a coincidence, I think. But the subject is always attractive to readers.

After all, people like Dwight Gooden and Bob Probert were both in the top of their respective fields - playing baseball and hockey in the best league in the world - but couldn't handle the accompanying pressures. This obviously is the dark side of fame and glory.

Without a doubt, Dwight Gooden had both of those two qualities (fame and glory, that is) in large quantities. He let it all slip away, or more appropriately, shoved it up his nose. "Doc," like any of these stories, is not pretty to read.

If you weren't around at the time, it's tough to describe  Gooden's prime fully. He took off with the impact of a rocket, and a large one at that. Gooden arrived essentially out of Class A ball and was the rookie of the year for the New York Mets in the National League in 1984. In 1985, he won the Cy Young Award and might have been the best young pitcher in history. That's quite a statement, but he was that dominating.

Gooden was good enough to help pitch the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986. But the night after New York won the title, Gooden headed to some projects to celebrate with an all-night cocaine blowout. He didn't even make the parade in Manhattan the next day, which makes for a compelling first chapter.

Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, both so young and so talented, were supposed to be the cornerstones of Mets' teams for the next decade plus. They couldn't keep it up and lapsed into similar problems. In Gooden's case, he showed flashes of brilliance in the years after 1986. But he never could kick his habits completely, and wandered in and out of rehab as well as the judicial system for the next quarter-century or so. It's not a pretty picture, and Gooden gets points for telling it honestly.

If you need any reminders of how addictions work, consider what Gooden essentially gave up. His career wasn't what it should have been, although a heavy workload at a young age didn't help his long-term prospects on the diamond either. He went through a few wives and girlfriends, and didn't have a strong relationship with his children. Finally, after a number of false starts, it took an appearance on "Celebrity Rehab" to force him to face his demons. At this point, he's been clean for a couple of years. No doubt, the book is part of his effort to face up to his past actions.

It's the obvious question at this point: How does Gooden's book compare to Probert's? They struck me as quite similar, as the stories and behavior go down the same path. Gooden probably is more likable, and thus it's easy to root for him to get better. However, it's tough to know if those observations are tinted by the fact that Probert didn't get that happy ending to the story, while Gooden has the chance for one.

Don't kid yourself - this is not a baseball book. He's already written a couple of those. I don't think there are a lot of bombshells here, although Gooden makes it clear that he doesn't appreciate some of Strawberry's remarks and actions regarding Gooden's behavior over the years.

But "Doc" does feel like the whole story of his issues, told in a straight-forward way. Gooden comes across well enough. He was simply unable to handle everything that was thrown at him at such a young age. The book probably works better if you closely followed Gooden's career. But my guess is that anyone will come away after reading the book with hopes that Gooden has conquered his demons and will be able to move on to a happier life from here on out.

Three stars

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