Messi’s Tax Case Proves We Need To Support Our Local Minor League Teams

Lionel Messi was sentenced to a jail sentence of 21 months in Spanish prison on July 6, 2016, although it is unlikely he will ever step foot behind bars.  It’s not what you are thinking though.  I know when I first saw that he would not be jailed, I thought it was because he was the superhuman Barcelona and Argentine football star who was getting away with it because of his prestige.  Spanish law says that if you are sentenced to a prison sentence of under two years for a tax crime you can serve that time through probation.  Voila!

According to Forbes magazine, Messi makes $81.4 million dollars a year.  He has been an endorser for Pepsi, Adidas, Proctor and Gamble and Banco Sabadell – a Spanish bank – just to name a few.  The Spanish tax court claims that he avoided paying taxes from 2007 to 2009 on some endorsements by having his father, Jorge, who he claims he let handle his money, set up shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland as well as dumping money in Belize and Uruguay.

Sadly this case of tax fraud has been dragging through the courts since 2013 when the courts first decided to charge Jorge.  In 2014, the courts decided to step up against Messi by telling him that even though he claims he didn’t know he had to pay taxes because he didn’t understand the Spanish system that even when you go to school you understand you have to pay taxes.  The Messi duo did pay $10 million in taxes on endorsements in 2010 and 2011 and penalties on the back taxes.

What bothers me the most, is that this seems like another example of someone who is making millions of dollars trying to evade the system.  How can he use the excuse that he’s not from Spain so he doesn’t know he has to pay taxes?  Or that he let someone else handle his finances?  In February 2016, Javier Mascherano, another Barcelona player, was given a one year sentence for not paying his taxes.  His legal team didn’t want to pay $312,000 for overdue taxes.  I mean really?

Just the other day Andrew Luck, quarterback of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, signed a contract, 6 years-$140 million, which guarantees him $87 million no matter what.  He received $47 million of that as soon as the ink dried on his signature.  From July 1 to July 4, NBA free agents signed contracts around $3 billion dollars, you read that right, $3 billion dollars.  Guys who fill out the bench are getting paid millions – Cole Aldrich signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for $22 million over 3 years.  He averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds through 60 games for the LA Clippers last season.  Can you imagine?

Comedian John Oliver recently made a mockery of the New York Yankees and their Legends Suite tickets behind home plate on his HBO television show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”  For the opening week of baseball season he gave away two tickets to the fan who would go to the game and act the craziest.  These seats in the Legends Suites and Champions Suite that make up the lower section near the field cost upwards of $1,600 a game face value.  If you watch a regular season game in the middle of the season you will see these seats empty because average fans can’t afford these seats.  Tickets on the field at Rogers Centre in Toronto, putting you as close to the action as you can get, are $297 according to the Blue Jays website.  That’s a huge gap in cost.  It may be affordable for someone who wants to experience baseball, not that it’s cheap.

Many fans have been priced out of the professional sports experience altogether between the ticket cost, food cost, parking cost and souvenir cost.  With the amount of money that is going into salaries it makes sense why many choose to sit at home and watch it on television.  The best seat is at home right?

Although if you give it a chance, you may find going to a minor league game can be the best place to be.  The New York Yankees AAA minor league team the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders tickets are anywhere from $10-$15.  The park is small, 10,000 people capacity, and the stars of the future play there as well as Yankees who are rehabbing on the way back to the majors.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins experience is similar, they play in a 8,300 capacity arena and the tickets can be anywhere near $30 a ticket.  It is a small arena and you are right near the action, plus there were a ton of the young Pens who won the Stanley Cup that spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

It’s hard to be a sports fan and feel sorry for guys like Messi, I know I don’t.  It’s strange to see guys that barely average 5 points a game get over $20 million dollars considering the era I grew up in.  In 1997, Dee Brown was the highest earner on the Boston Celtics at $3.5 million dollars.  Aldrich’s contract would put him in the Top 20 of NBA contracts in 1997.

It’s tough to see a guy get $87 million guaranteed and not wonder where all this money is coming from.  That money is all coming from the fans who buy shirts, hats and video games.  We can also choose to support our local clubs, the ones that we can afford to go see.  The ones that don’t get the national attention but are the ones that we should be giving our attention.  The ones that put back into our local economies with jobs, donations and community programs.  It’s time to start choosing wisely.

So You Think You Have The Confidence of Carey Price?

It’s ironic that Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price made me reflect on hockey.  An injury to the franchise player on November 25, 2016 was initially thought to be just a “week or two” thing.  Price hasn’t seen a game since that day and isn’t sure he will before the end of the season or the playoffs, if the Canadiens make it – things aren’t looking good for him or the team.

Skate backwards twenty-plus-years to when I played roller hockey in the sunny Southern states with a group of loyal compatriots and thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing.  I could go side-to-side, change direction in a flash, skate backwards, I could go pretty fast and I damn sure wasn’t afraid to stop on a dime.  There was also the roller hockey side – I could dish, I could put the puck where I had to (ok, the roller hockey ball). I was also “that kid” out there with the ice hockey gloves, yeah I know, but I went to Pennsylvania for a wedding and made my dad go to a hockey store. Hell I even played goalie pretty damn well – my one memory is stopping a penalty shot by using my forehead to block the ball.

We weren’t organized and didn’t put money into much, just sticks and the ball when we could.  We didn’t care about wearing masks and this was before Bryan Berard  and Marc Staal had eye injuries (sorry guys!).  We didn’t know any better either, we just did it for the typical “love of the game.”

We didn’t have any ice either – the NHL was just realizing that Northern “snowbirds” were screaming for hockey in Florida so they were installing two franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami.  A kid we went to school with, thought he was going pro (we might have been a little jealous), toted around a hockey stick and ice skates because he went to a rink that was an hour and a half away to play ice hockey. None of us could afford to either drive that far away or buy all that ice hockey equipment, nor would our parents take us.  Okay we were a lot jealous.

We did have a local hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Hampton Roads Admirals, that our pro ice hockey kid learned from.  That’s where I learned my love of ice hockey, that and our local cable channel Home Team Sports that showed almost every Washington Capitals game.  Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin taught me a lot about the game because they were the only ones I had to learn from.

Locally the Admirals were coached by John Brophy, the same John Brophy who melted down on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80’s.  Good times.  He did his fair share of melting down in the ECHL.  It was quite comical.

But we played probably ten games max of roller hockey at a tennis court on the edge of town.  A nice barely used tennis court, well-lit and out of the way but the Southern sun made it ridiculous to use during the day, so we played at night.

Until one summer night when some guys came out of nowhere with trouble on their mind.  I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much to me – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds max with skates on.  It was probably 9 or 9:30 at night and we had the lights on skating and I notice them, that’s always been something that I was good at was noticing my surroundings, and I noticed these guys coming up that obviously did not have skates.  One goes up to the breaker box for the lights and I’m planning my exit the whole time.  No one else had any clue what was about to go on.  Lights go out and I’m gone like the Russian Rocket.  I don’t know if I’ve ever skated or ran faster in my life.  Ten minutes later it was over and we hauled ass out of there never to return.

We still wanted to play and we tried to play at the tennis courts at the high school in town but the one night we tried someone called the cops on us – citing the trespassing sign.  I got tossed in the back of a cop car with skates still on my feet along with my fellow hockey players.  Imagine that, instead of bringing drugs or weapons to school we were playing hockey on the tennis courts!  Priorities.

After that, the most roller hockey I played was in my driveway with a goal I built from two-by -fours and a net I bought at a sporting goods store.  I skated so many times in the same circle that I wore the wheels down on an angle and I worked on a slap shot that broke the window of my parent’s garage door at least twice.  But I had nowhere else to go “for the love of the game.”

Finnish flash twenty-plus-years to Carey Price, “I want to be out there playing the game I love.”  Price continued, “that’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence, I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”

I followed hockey for those 20 plus years, even though I was introduced to hockey by the Admirals and Capitals (and early 80’s with Macgyver’s Calgary Flames hat) I was always a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  Being a Buffalo Bills fan I guess it’s something about the area – or maybe it’s something about lovable losers, I can say it I’m a fan.  I wrote Doug Gilmour when he was at the Leafs and was sent back an autographed picture.  I still have it to this day.  I always admired the goalies, don’t ask me why but Jocelyn Thibault has always been my favorite player (I’m ducking – I know I know but Felix Potvin was never far behind).  These days Henrik Lundqvist gets the nod, and I support Jayson Megna since I’ve seen him skate at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  Which brings me full circle.

So after seeing hockey live, I decided maybe it was time to get back on ice skates and roller blades and see what I could do.  Looking up ice rinks it turned out that the one near Wilkes-Barre Scranton was the closest one.  My daughter wanted to skate too, at 10 years old she decided it was time for her to learn to play hockey.  Ice hockey.  So now, we’re both learning.  We both have to learn to skate – I have to “re-learn” and she has to start the process.  For me, it’s getting back and believing in myself, that I can do it.  For her, it’s believing that her skates won’t fail her, that she can stay balanced. Carey Price talked about it, the confidence – you have to have it.

There’s something about that rink, along with the smell of the ice – you know?  You look at it and first maybe you are thinking “ok it’s not so bad, all these guys and girls are doing it.”  But then you step on it and you fall.  Then you fall again.  When you are a kid it’s not a big deal you have all these years ahead to learn.  But as an adult you are thinking “I should know how to do this,” especially if when you are younger you knew how to roller blade like a champ.  But this is so different.  The ice will eat you up.  There’s nothing like getting on that ice.  It’s so intimidating.  Especially if you see other people out there skating with sticks and pucks and they make it look so damn easy.

Guys or girls your age or younger.  I skated from one side to the other and considered it an achievement until I saw a young lady skate backwards faster than I skated forward.  How the hell do you do that?  And don’t get me started on bending my knees.  How do I stay so bent?  And puck handling?  Try to shoot the puck and fall on your face.  It’s ridiculous.  I just feel like a failure.  Then I watch someone else zing them in.  Then I try to pick myself up the ice and slip again.  It’s a natural thing isn’t it?

Or go watch the NHL and they make it look so easy and get paid half as much as baseball players.  Hell, that’s not right.  I’ll never complain about a hockey player being terrible.  I’m terrible.  Don’t pay me.  Pay me to stay off the ice.  I’m awful.  They say you just have to keep going back and training and training.  I get how people with so much talent wash out now.  I understand.  If you lose confidence it’s going to eat you up.  It’s tough.  I gotta get back on the skates – I think?

Tryin’ To Reason With Trade Season

Tryin’ To Reason With Trade Season

It’s only been a few days since the NHL Free Agency Period began but it feels like my head is spinning with all the trades and signings like no other season that I can remember in recent history.  It’s like when Jimmy Buffett sang about Hurricane season in his song “Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season”:

And Now I must confess,

I could use some rest.

I can’t run at this pace very long.

Yes, It’s quite insane,

I think it hurts my brain.

But it cleans me out and then I can go on.

We’ve seen contract buyouts and strange contract drops, LA Kings releasing Mike Richards for who knows what.  The Rangers signed my two favorite Scranton Pens, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna to deals.  However they shipped out Talbot and Hagelin.

T.J. Oshie went to Washington in what I think will be a major deal for them.  Not because I think it will make them into an instant contender but because I think they will miss Troy Brouwer.  I think his heart and determination will be missed hugely.  Their signings of Niskanen and Orpik were huge gets from the Pens.  The backline was greatly improved and the Pens never recovered after losing those two.  Yes the Pens had great depth in Scranton with young studs, but they were a long way away from being ready to play at the NHL level and this has severely limited their ability to go far.  More on that in a bit.  I’m not entirely convinced either that T.J. Oshie is Washington’s missing link either, or that Washington had to do much.  Washington had the Rangers on the brink, in fact as I’ve stated before, Ovie turned a corner in the playoffs.  Ovie had me a believer.  They built something last year and I think Brouwer was a part of that.  Watching the Road to the Stadium Series special you could see what Brouwer brought to that team.  I’m thinking this is going to affect chemistry more than many might believe.

Brandon Saad went to Columbus from the Blackhawks yes, but Anisimov is going to be a monster in that Chicago system.  I know he’s going to play well as that third line center who can dominate and score.  He’s not the young winger that they are giving up but Chicago is good at finding people to replace and retool.  They are good at working within the confines of the cap.  If they had to give up someone they got a great piece in return.  They got many pieces in return.  The obvious pieces at the top are what are keeping them there.  The two big guns and their top D men.  You can talk all you want about what they’ve given up here, but that D depth is huge.

I know there were a few other trades that made headlines for a few days, Dougie Hamilton from Boston to Edmonton, Milan Lucic to LA and Robin Lehner to Buffalo but the biggest deal for me was the Phil Kessel deal to Pittsburgh.

The Maple Leafs were looking to go in a new direction with a change in management and a need to shake things up after years of not making the playoffs.  A new coach has come in and time has shown that Kessel isn’t working in the Leafs uniform.  For such a talented player he’s been traded multiple times already, it’s unfortunate.  Lots newspapers and blogs have said that the Leafs got the short of end of the stick because all that they got in return was Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling,  Kasperi Kapanen, a 2016 third round pick and a conditional first round pick while giving up Kessel, Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixon.  The truth is folks, Scott Harrington is a young consistent D man who played the power play at Scranton and picked up points while being solid at his own end.  He will shake out to be on the 2nd D line, which isn’t a bad pick up.  He’ll be solid and contribute.  Kaspi has a world of potential.  If he comes into his own he will be a top tier player.  The Pens organization had designs for him.  He was celebrated when he made his debut in Scranton in the playoffs.  This kid has serious star power.  As for the picks, if done properly, we all know what can be gotten in the draft.  Do I think the Leafs got robbed?  Definitely not.  I think the Leafs have done themselves a world of good.  They’ve gotten younger and gotten assets to build with.  They are working for the future.  Kessel wasn’t part of that future.  The Pens have to wonder with all the money tied into the top tier players if they have the depth to compete, especially considering their goalie situation and the defense needs some serious work.  From my perspective, I believe the Leafs made themselves way better.

But what do I know?  I can’t reason with trade season.

Feathers – My Appreciation of a Bird Named Tux

So in case you don’t live in the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pennsylvania area, have never seen Hulu’s Behind The Mask series or don’t pay attention to minor league hockey you’ve probably never heard of Tux.  Tux is a giant penguin who represents the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, or better yet I should say he is their mascot.  What a fine mascot he is!

I have seen Tux before the series began, so I know that Tux and his friend Chad Spencer are very good at entertaining people.  Tux makes people happy to be at W-BS Pens games, no matter what the score is.  

When you first get to know Tux you learn he has this “voice.”  It’s hard to describe, but at the same time it’s perfect for what you’d think a giant penguin would sound like.  Chad invented a device that makes Tux talk and it is amazing.  I am really impressed with his huge knack for finding ways to innovate.  He comes up with skits, in fact in one episode if you look really hard and kind of stretch the screen you can see me, when he is working on some pie.  He always comes up with ways to get the kids to smile, like a battery-powered paint roller with toilet paper on the end that he can cover you in tp with.  He finds the kids in their seats and they smile.  They hear his voice, see him waive and think of him as the love able penguin he is.

But what’s amazing to me is that not everyone in the area knows Chad and Tux are on Hulu.  The arena doesn’t promote the show like one would imagine, you’d think they’d have big banners or ads inside saying “catch Tux on Behind The Mask.”  I would think the Pens would be proud to announce it, hell if I ran the team I’d be proud to have a guy like Chad.  Speaking of which there’s the talk of him leaving to go to the pros, whether it’s the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB.  If I ran a team I’d lock him up in a contract and tell him he was next in line for my pro job then find a way to get him to the pros.  He’s too good of an entertainer and a person.  The area much less the team is lucky to have him.  I do hope he gets his shot at the pros but I hate it, I don’t want him to leave.  

Tux is such a great mascot with Chad I don’t think he can be replaced with anyone else.  I think they may have to get a new mascot after Chad goes, if he does.  Hopefully the Pens take care of Chad and do right by him, he deserves it.