All in on Sam Presti & the Thunder season

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OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti speaks to the media in the weeks leading up to the 2022-23 season.

As my friend and debate partner in all things OKC Thunder, Steve Buck has often accused me of being anti-Sam Presti.

It’s an accusation that I loudly protest even as I have questioned the Thunder’s apparent philosophy of losing games on purpose, otherwise known as tanking. Teams tank because losing positions them for better draft position as they work to build their roster.

As my friends at church would say, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Steve has described it to me as a “player development” philosophy rather than actual tanking, which the NBA frowns upon. In 2018, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for admitting on the Dan Patrick Show that the Mavs lost games on purpose. 

In comments made on the Dan Patrick Show,, Cuban said that “once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.”

I’ve never heard Sam Presti say anything about losing on purpose. But I have heard him discuss “commitment to the process” and “not taking shortcuts.”

We saw how that played out as the Thunder went 24-58 in 2021-22, often keeping key players with minor ailments on the injury list and out of the lineup for long stretches. The team even cut a player late in the season who was playing above expectations, which threatened the team’s commitment to ‘The ProcessTM”

Frustration mounts for me when it’s apparent the Thunder are ‘exploring the roster’ with no interest in winning the game night after night. That’s what we’ve seen the last couple of years.

So, what have we heard from Presti leading up to the Oct. 19 season opener against the Timberwolves? Here are some sample comments from the Thunder GM over the past few weeks.

“What we’re looking for is overall improvement over a long period of time,” Presti said in a media appearance. “That’s not the most sexy, exciting thing that I could say to you.

“I’m not trying to mislead anybody, but it would be easier to try to find something that’s more catchy or exciting. But we just want a long-term, overall improvement. That doesn’t mean each season has to go the same way.”

As I did in a post a year ago, I’m asking the Thunder to play to win every game. I’m sure neither the franchise nor its sponsors enjoyed the nights last season when the Paycom Center was less than half full. 

It’s pretty apparent to me that people are not going to commit time or money to a team they perceive as not trying to win, even if there is a long (emphasize “long”) term goal of capturing the next unicorn in the draft.

My perception is that the fans come last in this tanking or “player development” scenario that’s played out over the past couple of years.

That’s a position that my friend Steve takes issue with.

“Strongly disagree on your last point,” he told me this week. “Presti wants to give a title to the city; isn’t that for the fans? It is fair to say he is not distracted by outside noise; he is focused on the long game.

“And he is accountable to Clay Bennett and he has likely set the goal of winning titles”

There’s a whole debate over whether fans would be more excited by a team that’s competing late in the season for the final playoff spot or if they would rather wait on an NBA title that may never come. 

That’s pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.

I’m definitely in the camp that wants the Thunder to play to win every night and be in the chase for a playoff spot, even if it’s the play-in game.

That would make the long, cold winter much more interesting for all of us.

But back to Steve’s original complaint. I’m a huge fan of Sam Presti. I am awed by his acumen for judging talent and finding diamonds in the rough at whatever position the Thunder are drafting. I love the way he welcomes new players to OKC and gets them involved with the community.  I love the way he represents the Thunder and OKC itself.

As Dan Patrick said last year, “Sam Presti is the best GM the NBA has seen in a long, long time.”

A last comment from Presti on the upcoming season: “Let’s wait for it to play out before we decide that’s what it’s going to be.”

I’m all in on that.

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Thunder tip off in an early 2021-22 season game

Farewell to the Edmond-OKC commuter bus

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The Edmond Citylink bus parked at the Festival Marketplace downtown.

Attention, Edmond-to-downtown Oklahoma City bus commuters: I come bearing bad news. The Edmond Citylink bus service to downtown OKC is ending on December 30.

I know this is not big news to most of my NW OKC-Edmond neighbors. There’s a certain stigma to taking public transportation in a well-to-do community where the automobile is king.

But all my adult life I’ve wanted to live in a city where public transportation was close enough to me that I could easily take it to work if I chose.

Never happened.

Once, I lived in a house near NW 50th and Hudson in Oklahoma City, and the city bus passed right by my residence. But the hours of my job in downtown OKC began in mid-afternoon and didn’t end until midnight or later.

So, there was no bus option to get home.

Then I married and, together with my wife, moved to far northwest OKC near Edmond Road and Western. There was no public transportation options within miles of my car-centric neighborhood.

Then I learned about Edmond’s Citylink bus service that connects downtown Edmond to downtown Oklahoma City. It’s called the Expresslink bus.

By now, my work was located in the Research Park at NW 8th and Lincoln just east of downtown. Turns out, the Expresslink bus went right by the Research Park.

So, looked at the schedule and figured out that I could drive 3 miles to the Edmond Festival Marketplace, park my car and catch the free 7:15 am bus that would let me off right at the Research Park entrance.

Did I mention that it’s free?

So, it cost me nothing to ride and saved gas expense and wear and tear on my car. I could step out of my office and walk just a few yards to catch the bus back to Edmond at the end of the day.

Perfect. I caught the Expresslink bus off and on for several years.

Then my professional life moved to a work-from-home situation. I’ve only taken the Expresslink bus one time in the past three years or so.

I’m off the bus now, so to speak, but still found the recent news disheartening that Edmond will end the Expresslink bus at the end of the year.

Most of the time, when I rode that route, there were 12-to-18 people who rode with me on the 7:15 am bus.

Among Edmond residents who often took the Expresslink bus downtown was my friend Dan Lovejoy.

“The bus is nice,” Dan said when I asked him about why he took the bus instead of driving into OKC. “It’s not much slower than driving – and I can work or rest on it. It forces me to leave on a schedule and not stay too late.”

Many — or most — riders boarded the bus as an alternative to rush hour driving, as Dan did.

“One distinguishing characteristic of successful public transport is — do people who don’t have to take it actually take it?” he said. “On Edmond Express at least, people rode it who didn’t have to ride it.”

Today, Dan drives an electric vehicle, which cuts down fuel costs. He also has a job in which he works at home a couple days a week, so he’s not taking the bus on a routine basis.

“I wonder if there are a lot of folks like me who just aren’t commuting much any more,” he said.

Citylink hearaing

I’m convinced the pandemic has had a major impact on Expresslink ridership. Many people like Dan are able to work from home at least a couple days a week.

I emailed Christy Batterson, Edmond Transit Program Manager, to inquire about ridership numbers, but she did not respond.

The transportation news isn’t all bad, however. There’s a silver lining in far distant clouds.

Edmond is part of the Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma, which has long-range plans to operate a commuter rail service from Edmond to downtown OKC to Norman.

That’s a pretty exciting prospect, not only for a rail fan like me, but for potentially hundreds of Edmond commuters who could take the train in to downtown OKC each work day.

Of course, it all depends on overcoming the stigma of boarding public transportation in Edmond, Oklahoma.

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Fun at the ol’ ballyard with game on the clock

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That’s Houston Astros star Jose´ Altuve batting for Sugar Land against the OKC Dodgers on Friday night.

I saw something Friday evening at an Oklahoma City Dodgers game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that I’ve never witnessed before: A 9-inning professional baseball game played in 2 hours and 14 minutes.

And it was a fun, action-filled game between the Dodgers and the Sugar Land Space Cowboys that was won by OKC 3-2.

Thanks to new rules that mandate no more than 14 seconds between pitches — 18 if runners are on base — the game moved incredibly fast.

There seemed to be no complaints by players or managers over the mandated fast pace. However, there appeared to be a Sugar Land player called out at one point because he wasn’t ready for the pitch in time.

I was able to witness the Dodgers game thanks for my friend Steve Buck and two of his children. Steve had an extra ticket and invited me at the last minute.

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Steve Buck, along with Kenzy and Isaiah Buck at the Dodgers game Friday.

We had a blast and got to see the most exciting play in baseball — a triple — hit by Dodgers outfielder Drew Avans. The next time up Avans surprised the Space Cowboys by laying down a bunt and getting an easy single out of it.

We saw OKC’s Jake Lamb hit a 2-run home run in the third inning. We saw future baseball hall of famer José Altuve bat for Sugar Land on a rehab assignment. Altuve got a couple of singles, but also was called out on strikes.

Steve and I began to notice the incredible pace of the game after about three innings, which had taken maybe 40 minutes of playing time. We were headed into the fifth when the game reached an hour of playing time.

We saw three OKC pitchers hold Sugar Land to only single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, and nothing more. Then we watched Sugar Land’s Zac Rosscup shut down the Dodgers over the last 1.2 inning and noted that Rosscup has not given up a single run this season over 9 innings. Nothing but zeros.

We celebrated the seventh inning stretch by singing badly, then Googling the history of the seventh inning stretch because we wanted to know how it started. If you must know, it was started by President William Howard Taft at a game in Pittsburgh in 1910.

You can look it up yourself.

Even though we were tracking the swift pace of the game, the final three outs came so quickly in the 9th it caught us by surprise. We headed to our cars at 9:19 pm on a game that started at 7:05.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through games that started at 7:05 and by 10 pm were only in the 7th or 8th innings.

It was a refreshing change, and appears to be more than a short-term trend.

FreedmanFor reference, here’s an article I found that shows just how much the pitch clock has impacted the length of games throughout the minor leagues.

Dodgers radio announcer and communications director Alex Freedman later tweeted that the Dodgers and Sugar Land games averaged — AVERAGED — 3 hours and 34 minutes last year. So far this year, the first five games have gone 2:51, 2:23, 2:58, 2:14 and 2:32.

Big difference.

I’m hoping that Major League Baseball will embrace the pitch clock ASAP.

Average time of MLB games this year so far: 3:07.

Cattlemen’s: A birthday tradition like no other

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A sidewalk selfie outside of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse on the occasion of my birthday.

“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

This quote is attributed to baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra after he was once asked about eating at a famous restaurant in New York City.

Yogi could have been speaking about Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Oklahoma City in 2022.

Credited as being the oldest restaurant still operating in OKC and which once allegedly changed ownership at the roll of some dice, Cattlemen’s remains incredibly popular and busy.

Lunch at Cattlemen’s on my birthday with my wife has been a family tradition of ours for more than a decade.

So, today, on the occasion of my 69th trip around the sun, we made our pilgrimage to the mecca of OKC restaurants.

Located in the Stockyards City area adjacent to the Oklahoma National Stockyards, Cattlemen’s was playing to a full house this afternoon.

Of course.

And we didn’t arrive until 1:30.

But since there were only two of us, we were escorted to a table after a wait of only a couple minutes. Larger groups waited outside on the sidewalk.

The meal was awesome, as always, but what I really go for is the giant yeast roll that comes with the steak. It is my downfall. Oh, and the basket of melba toast that comes out with the salad.

Our waitress was so accommodating and took our photo as we sat at the table, then we followed up with a selfie on the crowded sidewalk outside.

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Paula and Jim inside Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

As we were pulling out of the lot behind the restaurant after enjoying the meal, we looked around at the many western-themed businesses in the Stockyards City area.

“There wouldn’t be all these businesses without Cattlemen’s,” Paula said as she looked acoss the intersection of Agnew and Exchange.

You’ve got that right. Cattlemen’s definitely is the engine that drives the Stockyards City economy.

It IS too crowded. But people (like us) keep coming year after year. And it’s worth the wait.

An OKC Field of Dreams and ghosts of baseball past

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A group of OKC adults turned the Northeast High School baseball field into their own ‘Field of Dreams’ for an afternoon

Moneyball is one of my favorite movies. It shows the impact that using computer statistics to drive player development had on Major League baseball and the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s.

The movie features a host of memorable scenes, including one where Oakland outfielder David Justice asks new first baseman Scott Hatteberg what he feared most at the position.

Hatteberg had been a catcher all of his professional career, and to that point had never played even an inning at first base.

“A baseball hit in my general direction,” was Hatteberg’s honest reply to Justice’s question.

That’s exactly how I felt Sunday afternoon as I stood in right field at the Northeast High School baseball field.

I was there at the invitation of my friend, Russ Florence, who invited a group of fellow adults to “have a catch” with him.  A lifelong baseball fan, Russ began his informal monthly “catch” several months ago.

It was sort of a Field of Dreams-come-to-real-life opportunity for those of us who once played the game or have followed it all of our lives.

The baseball dreamers who came out Sunday included several guys my age or older, a few younger and a couple of women who showed more agility than most of their male counterparts.

I dug my old baseball glove out of the closet and joined about a dozen others at the Northeast field.

Unfortunately, the experience revealed exactly how the passage of time has robbed me of athletic ability, real or imagined.

Once upon a time, I thought of myself as a pretty good baseball player. Now that was in Little League in College Station, Texas, followed by Pony League as a 13- and 14-year-old.

Here’s how it went five decades later on a warm November afternoon beneath a bright blue sky.

First, we warmed up by playing catch with a partner about 40 feet away. I put most of my throws into the ground in front of him or several feet to his left.

My shoulder ached after about 15 minutes. My glove hand screamed with pain from catching baseballs in the heart of the mitt.

Then came the real embarrassment. I stood in right field as Russ hit flies and grounders to players stationed at infield and outfield positions.

He hit one in my general direction.

My feet felt like they were in quicksand as I “ran” toward it. I could not bend over far enough to even make a stabbing attempt at a catch.

I hung my head in shame. No one seemed to notice.

Russ hit about three other balls in my direction. I managed to catch one on the bounce barehanded, but caught none before they hit the ground. I decided if a ball wasn’t hit within three feet of where I was standing, I had no chance.

But the day wasn’t a total loss. I had the opportunity to visit with some old — and new — friends. The weather was pleasant watching from the dugout, where I spent much of my time.

“It really scratches an itch for a lot of people,” Russ told me afterward. “None of us is as good as as we once were — or as good as we THINK we once were. I’m glad you were there.”

Thank you, Russ, for inviting this ‘ghost’ of a former player to experience your OKC version of the Field of Dreams.

Even if it brought home a sobering reality of aging.

Don’t let your facts get in the way of my beliefs

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A set of Encyclopedia Americana from the 1960s.

When I was a kid, we had a big set of Encyclopedia Americana in our house that was my go-to Google-of-the-day for every bit of fact finding and trivia that drew my interest.

Once, when I was a teenager, my dad and I had a disagreement over some fact about a foreign country or its people, I can’t remember which.

However, my dad was spouting an opinion as fact that I was certain was wrong. So, I grabbed an encyclopedia, looked it up and read the part to him that proved that he was wrong.

“Now you’re taking it too far,” he said, clearly irritated.

Translation: don’t let your facts get in the way of my entrenched beliefs.

Anyway, I’m writing this because we’re seeing people in our society make up their minds and cling to ‘alternative facts’ when clearly there is no evidence to back them up. Or there’s evidence that shows that it is wrong and they still cling to their beliefs.

The dispute over vaccines, for instance. People would rather take their Uncle Jimmy Joe’s word that the COIVID-19 vaccines are making thousands of people sick or, worse yet, killing them, than accept statistics kept by health care professionals and scientists that show vaccines are incredibly safe and effective.

I’m pretty sure it’s really an issue motivated first and foremost by political beliefs. Red state. Blue state.

But we all stake out our territory on different issues and refuse to budge even when we’re smacked in the face by reality. I’m sure I’m guilty, as well.

And that leads me to an issue that really disturbed me this week. One of my neighbors whom I like and enjoy hanging out with in his driveway, stated as fact that a high-ranking OKC city official gets a cut from every concession sold at Scissortail Park because he made a donation to its construction.

I ask him to offer some proof. “They reported it on Channel 9,” he said.

If it had been reported on TV or in the newspaper, and there was evidence to support the allegation, the story would be huge and talked about by everyone in the city. The official would likely lose his job.

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Scissortail Park in early November

Instead, it’s told as fact by a retired OKC resident who is skeptical about the whole MAPS program and Scissortail Park, as well. He doesn’t need actual proof, because he heard the story told as fact from others who share his point of view.

I even ran the allegation past a respected reporter for The Oklahoman that I trust and who told me that “none of it is true.” I’m taking his word for it, because, if true, it would have been a giant Page 1 headline.

The disturbing aspect is that my neighbor repeats the story to anyone who will listen, and in my far north OKC neighborhood there are a lot of takers.

I think some of it has to do with the fact that our neighborhood is so far out of the city’s core that people like my neighbor don’t see the benefit that MAPS and Scissortail Park have brought to our city.

As I walked back home after the encounter the other day, I couldn’t help but think of my dad and his long ago wrongly held opinion-as-fact. Even the Encyclopedia Americana couldn’t budge him off his belief.

Sad to say, that’s how it is with a lot of American society today.

Scenes from a park

OKC skyline seen from the footbridge across Scissortail Lake

I’m embarrassed to admit that Thursday was the first time I have visited OKC’s new Scissortail Park since it opened last year.

I had stepped on the grounds just a few weeks before it opened to shoot some photos of the new convention center under construction, but had not returned.

However, the park drew my son and me downtown late in the afternoon to shoot some photos of the OKC skyline and scenes around the park.

We arrived about 7:30 pm, and had no worries about social distancing. There were no crowds for us to negotiate, because we saw just a few families strolling on the grounds.

So, we parked in the boathouse area along Hudson Ave., and walked into the park.

Convention Center just east of the park

I noticed two things in what turned out to be a fairly brief visit.

First, the downtown skyline vistas are awesome. You have unobstructed views of skyscrapers immediately north of the park. And it’s spectacular.

Second, this is a great place to walk for exercise. There are sidewalk/trails around the lake and throughout the park that invite you to walk or even ride your bike. We saw quite a few families strolling in the late afternoon light, along with a few bikers. Plenty of dogs on leashes, too.

Our walk took us across Scissortail Lake on the footbridge and then around the south edge of the lake back to the boathouse.

Although the park is a good 16 miles south of our house, I plan to return ASAP and walk a lot more of the grounds.