2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • U.S. Soccer: “We cannot win this World Cup”

    Wed, June 25, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not on that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.” —Jurgen Klinsmann

    I appreciate almost everything about Jurgen Klinsmann, and that includes the head games he played with the U.S. men’s national team and its competition before the World Cup even started.

    Because that’s what his statement was about, head games. The savvy German was playing them with his own roster and its competition in the World Cup.

    I loved his statement. You probably hated it. I know my colleague David Ramsey hated it.  

    What was Klinsmann doing, anyway?

    “When you think about it, it’s eighth-grade psychology stuff,” Colorado Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni told me. “By saying what he said, it puts all the pressure on him (Klinsmann). It takes all the pressure off the players. And the other teams are seeing that and saying, These guys don’t even believe in themselves! Let’s get ‘em!”

    This is why Klinsmann is smarter than media, smarter than America’s sudden soccer fans, smarter than the rest of us. Just as he unpredictably inserted John Brooks into the Ghana match (and Brooks scored the winning goal), just as he named Clint Dempsey the team captain (even though Dempsey is hardly a hard-working piano mover), just as Klinsmann railed against FIFA (to garner empathy from FIFA officials for the Germany match)….

    … he laid the groundwork for a successful tournament by claiming the U.S. can’t win it.

    The whole time, Klinsmann has been one step ahead  of the game. Yet the U.S. soccer community seems to believe any success will be in spite of Klinsmann, not because of him.

    Why is that?

    As I wrote today, it would be lovely for the U.S. to advance out of Group G. Not simply because it would allow for more American soccer in this World Cup. But so Jurgen Klinsmann can look into the camera and say: 

    How ya’ll like me now?

    Because to this point, after two matches, the U.S. has played above its heads, in large part because of its coach’s controversial decisions. Four points after two matches? Take it and run.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Rockies: Not fair, Clayton Kershaw

    Thu, June 19, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    The Rockies have seen this before. Not to this extent, but to a similar extent.

    Clayton Kershaw was on the mound when Michael Cuddyer’s 27-game hitting streak came to a screeching halt last season. I wrote about it here; the best pitcher in baseball ended the longest hitting streak in baseball.

    So the Rockies know it’s a a problem when Kershaw is on his game. But the Cuddyer-hitting-streak game was merely a warmup for the left-hander’s masterpiece on Wednesday. He no-hit the Rockies.

    But he didn’t simply no-hit the Rockies. He struck them out 15 times. He walked none. He looked like my dad pitching to my Little League team, if my dad didn’t like kids, and he wanted to embarrass them.

    This seems like a decent time to remind everyone the Rockies selected Greg Reynolds with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft. Of the next six pitchers off the board, three were Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer and, yes, Kershaw.

    I wrote last season that Kershaw made the Rockies look like they were batting in the dark.

    On Wednesday, they were batting in the dark without a bat, or a hit.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Rockies: Tyler Matzek leaps from Colorado Springs to Denver

    Wed, June 11, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Rox.Matzek

    How old do you think Tyler Matzek is?

    27? 28? He must be on the Jess Settles plan. In college terms, Matzek seems like the senior who was granted an extra three years of eligibility, simply so fans can say: That guy’s still around? He must have three degrees by now. 

    Wasn’t Matzek drafted with Tulo in 2005? Didn’t he take bullpens alongside Jason Jennings?

    Guess what: Matzek is 23. I know. 23! And he’s back on the mound at Coors Field, tonight against the Braves.

    “It’s taken a little longer than I expected,” Matzek said Tuesday. “But I made it, so I’m happy.”

    When Eddie Butler was placed on the DL on Monday, Matzek got the call-up from Colorado Springs. The lefty will be the third call-up to start for the Rockies in the past six games. Injuries equal opportunities.

    “It shows that our future is really strong,” Matzek said, and while the Rockies performance lately suggests that’s open for debate, this is no doubt a chance for the young arms in the Rockies’ system to leave a mark.

    Butler will be really good, either in Colorado or elsewhere. Christian Bergman was good in his MLB debut on Monday, even if he didn’t get the win to show for it. Matzek? I thought he profiled more as a middle reliever for the Rockies, and that would be just fine. They could use one. 

    “He doesn’t get hit hard,” manager Walt Weiss said.

    The Rockies drafted Matzek five years ago. He’s now 23, even if it seems like he’s been around forever. 

    Note: Klee’s on vacation from Thursday-Tuesday, so we’ll get back on the blog then. Have a great weekend.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Peyton Manning won’t put a ring on it

    Tue, June 10, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos.Mini.2     Broncos.Mini

    The Broncos received their AFC championship rings Monday night.

    Will Peyton Manning (above, right) ever wear his?

    “Probably not,” the NFL MVP said.

    Add it to the trophy case. But not the jewelry drawer.

    After the first day of mini-camp on Tuesday, Manning said he addressed the team at a banquet that honored their AFC title. Broncos great Tom Jackson also spoke, according to the quarterback.

    “It feels like college when it comes to the alumni,” Manning said of the Broncos often welcoming their former players back into the fold. Steelers great Rod Woodson (above, left) isn’t a former Bronco, but the Hall of Famer observed practice and chatted with John Fox as part of the Bill Walsh minority internship program.

    Other news from mini-camp included the Broncos signing first-round draft pick Bradley Roby. The Ohio State product promptly celebrated his first contract by laying out wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a pass play. Sanders and Roby were breaking to the ball, and Sanders got the worst of it. Sanders popped up and raced back to the line of scrimmage. Me thinks the Broncos have big plans for Sanders, so it’s good he popped up.

    The Broncos defense won the day. 

    Peyton Manning won a ring, but he won’t wear it. Not that kind of ring, at least.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Rockies: Nice work, Christian Bergman

    Tue, June 10, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Bright spots for the Rockies?

    What bright spots?

    OK, here’s one: Christian Bergman. His MLB debut Monday showed promise. So did his slider, which seemed to have the Braves on their heels. He tossed 89 pitches over six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits. He struck out four and walked too. He wasn’t scared.

    “The only thing that would have made it better is if we came out with a win,” Bergman said in the clubhouse after a 3-1 loss to the Braves.

    Bergman entered Coors Field with long, flowing locks and confidence for days. He said he’s been overlooked in the Rockies’ farm system, and that type of self-confidence is important when you’re dealing with Coors Field.

    Then he went right at hitters. In the first, he had Justin Upton playing a guessing game and struck out the Braves left fielder with a nasty slider that caught Upton looking. Bergman also accomplished this unusual feat: with a bouncing single up the middle in the third, he got his first major-league hit before he gave up his first major-league hit

    The only times Bergman got in trouble was when he pitched high in the zone in the fourth. Still, he made sure to let everyone know he was OK then, too, and I like that about him.

    “I think there was one ball hit hard (by the Braves in the fourth),” he said. “It’s hard to find any fault in that.”

    Bergman clearly wasn’t intimidated by Coors Field, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since he built a 2.04 ERA in the Springs. The baseball shuttle service from Colorado Springs to Denver will continue Wednesday when Tyler Matzek returns to the Rockies rotation. He’ll take the spot once reserved for Eddie Butler — another one of the 11 call-ups this season — who was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday.

    Bright spots?

    The Rockies are going to find out — sooner, rather than later — if these lauded young arms are what they think they are. For one night, at least, Bergman showed he’s got the right stuff, the best of which is self-confidence.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NCAA football: Buffs season hinges on Rocky Mountain Showdown

    Mon, June 9, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    One game doesn’t make a season. 

    But a close look at Colorado’s football schedule suggests the Buffs can be bowl-bound — if they beat the Rams.

    On Aug. 29, CU and CSU host the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field. (I had figured the annual rivalry game would be moved to campus sites by 2014, but it appears that move will happen later.) CU has beaten CSU in three of their past four, five of their past seven and eight of their past 11.

    Despite a slide into national irrelevancy, the Buffs still have the upper hand in the in-state rivalry.

    To reach a bowl game next season, CU must maintain that upper hand. You rarely will find a more favorable non-conference schedule for the Buffs. It includes two neutral-site games and a home game. CSU (in Denver), UMass (in Foxboro) and Hawaii (at Folsom Field) are all winnable. The Buffs should be able to sneak out three wins in Pac-12 play, right? That would give them six wins and make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007.

    The Rocky Mountain Showdown is always a big deal. It should be, anyway. The next edition is a very big deal to the Buffs’ bowl hopes.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NBA Finals: LeBron James’ absence shows his greatness

    Fri, June 6, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    There’s a long list of misconceptions in the NBA. Kevin Love is a franchise player. The NBA fixes things so big-market teams reach the Finals. The Spurs have great individual defenders (have you seen Tim Duncan defend the pick-and-roll, or Tony Parker stop the ball?). Carmelo Anthony isn’t a winner.

    These are things we accept, because we are told they are true. They’re not. 

    Today we’re told that LeBron James’ legacy — ugh, loathe that word — took a hit when leg cramps banished him to the bench for the final 3:59 of Game 1 in the NBA Finals. In fact, it’s the opposite.

    All it showed was that no team in the NBA playoffs relies more on one player than the Heat rely on James. Without him, the Heat are quite average, nowhere near the team that has reached four straight NBA Finals.

    When James went to the bench, here was the score: Spurs 94, Heat 92. With James on the bench, the Spurs ended the game on an 11-3 run.

    Now go back to Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. 

    With Tony Parker on the bench for the entire second half, the Spurs still beat the Thunder. With Parker on the bench, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 11-6 in overtime.

    Is this a comparison of James to Parker? Of course not. It’s a comparison of the respective rosters. 

    Take a key player out of the Spurs’ lineup and the Spurs chug along. Take the key player out of the Heat lineup and the Heat crumble. Outside of James and an aging Dwyane Wade, the Heat roster is just OK. The Spurs’ roster is far more complete, as shown when a key player is removed and it continues right along winning.

    The Spurs are all about Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, Green, Splitter, etc. The Heat are all about James.

    When James’ career is over, I suspect he trumps Michael Jordan as the greatest of all-time. His absence at the end of Game 1 doesn’t smash that theory; it again shows his value and supports that theory.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Nuggets: Nuggets host NBA draft workouts at Pepsi Center

    Thu, June 5, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Nuggs.Harris.2     Nuggs.Harris

    Meet Gary Harris.

    He’s 19. He was a wide receiver in high school. He was a shooting guard at Michigan State. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 but looks more like 6-2/6-3-ish. He’s a supreme athlete but isn’t particularly skilled with the ball, not for a future NBA guard who is 6-2/6-ish. When Harris was a 10th grader, I watched him in a high school team camp in the Midwest. He had facial hair and a smooth jumper back then, too, and he looked like a kid who some day would become an NBA guy.

    And on June 26, Harris will be selected somewhere in the middle of the first round of the NBA draft. He will be an NBA guy.

    The Nuggets have the No. 11 pick, and that’s too high to take Harris. But if they were to trade down from No. 11, they would take a long, hard look at drafting him. 

    But that’s not because they hosted him for a predraft workout.

    “Honestly, you don’t learn a lot from these (workouts),” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly told me today. “If they don’t shoot well, they don’t look very good.”

    That’s why the Nuggets scouting department, led by Connelly, spent a significant percentage of the past basketball season on the road. They watched Harris and Indiana’s Noah Vonleh in the Big Ten. They watched Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson in Pac-12 games. They watched Julius Randle and James Young at a Kentucky practice, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins at a Kansas practice.

    Anyone that could be available at No. 11 (or higher, or lower), they watched, in person.

    For a scouting junkie, there’s one positive about the Nuggets falling from the playoffs and into the draft lottery:

    Good players will come through town for predraft workouts. And I like watching good players in workouts.

    But the workouts themselves?

    Joel Embiid, the center from Kansas, put on a stunning display during a recent workout in Los Angeles. That’s one reason I expect Embiid will be the No. 1 pick to the Cavaliers. 

    But the Nuggets won’t base their draft decision on these workouts. They’ve seen all these guys enough. 

    So while the Nuggets met Gary Harris today, they already knew what he can and can’t do.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Rockies: Pitch in to help the Rockies (but with who?)

    Sun, June 1, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    The day was coming, but that’s not why I wrote this column for Sunday’s Gazette. That column was to hopefully shed some light on what Rockies player development is looking for when it’s time for a pitching change. 

    It’s time, past time, so what are they looking for from the Jon Grays, Eddie Butlers and Tyler Matzeks in the farm system? What will it take to make the leap to Coors Field? Why hasn’t it happened yet?

    Because a pitching change is coming. It must be. Another faulty starting-pitching performance — another one from Jhoulys Chacin — must invoke a decision to shake up the rotation. Waiting for Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood to get healthy — the Rockies’ preferred approach — is waving the white flag in June.

    If the Rockies did dig into their farm clubs for a starter, right now, I think their choice would be Tyler Matzek or Christian Friedrich. Not saying that is or isn’t my choice; that’s just the impression I got from the Rockies. They’d prefer if promising starters Butler and Gray got another full season in the minors before bringing them to Denver. 

    The day to do something already had come. That’s why we wrote that column Sunday. 

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette