Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

AP: NJ senator pushes online bet (err, poker) bill

January 5, 2012

Screen shots such as this may be seen once again in NJ
..... only legally this time.

Our friend Wayne Parry at the Associated Press delivered this piece Tuesday and it is worth re-printing.

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Rushing to take advantage of a U.S. Justice Department ruling that in-state Internet gambling does not violate federal law, a New Jersey lawmaker is pushing for his colleagues to pass a bill legalizing online gambling within the state’s borders.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told The Associated Press on Monday he’ll try to get a bill through the Legislature and on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk by next week. The goal is to make New Jersey the national leader in online gambling, now that the federal government says in-state bets do not violate the law.

“We can be the Silicon Valley of Internet gaming,” said Lesniak, a Democrat from northern New Jersey. “It’s the wave of the future. It’s going to come and we can be in the lead on it.”

Last month, the Justice Department opened the door for cash-strapped states and their lotteries to bring online gambling to their residents, as long as it does not involve sports betting. The department said the federal Wire Act only prevents gamblers from wagering on sports outcomes online, and said other in-state bets would be OK.

Nevada is already moving fast to capitalize on the ruling. Late last week, the state’s gambling regulators approved rules that allow companies in the state to apply for licenses to operate poker web sites. Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns four of Atlantic City’s 11 casinos, and Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns half of the city’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, have already submitted proposals to be licensed in Nevada.

New Jersey tried to become the first in the nation to approve Internet gambling last year, but Christie, a Republican, vetoed the bill in March, fearing it would violate federal law and lead to a proliferation of back-room Internet gambling dens across the state.

A spokesman for the governor could not say Monday whether Christie would sign the bill if it passes. A spokesman for Senate leadership said it won’t be clear until Tuesday whether there’s enough support to move forward quickly on the bill, and a spokesman for Assembly leadership said leaders would listen to Lesniak’s request before deciding on a course of action.

Lesniak introduced a new bill in August that he says contains safeguards to address Christie’s concerns, including fines of $1,000 per player per day for anyone running an illegal Internet betting parlor, and $10,000 for advertising such illicit operations.

Bettors would have to be New Jersey residents at least 21 years old, and physically be in the state. Lesniak says existing software could verify those requirements.

So far, the bill is not scheduled for a vote on Jan. 9, the last day of the current legislative session.

But Lesniak said he is trying to secure approval from Assembly and Senate leaders to have it approved in committees this Thursday, then finally approved on Jan. 9 and sent to Christie. He said he expects to determine on Tuesday whether sufficient support exists to fast-track the bill through the Legislature in the closing days of the session.

“I got it through last year with overwhelming support,” he said.

Robert Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the trade group is scheduled to discuss the matter Tuesday night. Last year, he said that money currently going to offshore online betting operations could benefit New Jersey.

Trump Entertainment Resorts announced plans last year to set up an Internet gambling operation as soon as it becomes legal to do so.

The bill says only the Atlantic City casinos could offer Internet gambling in New Jersey, requiring the computer servers to be physically located in Atlantic City to comply with state law mandating that all New Jersey casino gambling occur there. Gamblers would have to set up online wagering accounts with the casinos.

The bill also contains a provision intended to gain the support of the state’s horse racing tracks, reinstating two-thirds of the subsidies the casinos had to pay to the tracks until last year. The casinos once had to pay $30 million a year to the tracks in return for keeping slot machines out of the tracks. Lesniak’s bill would require that Internet betting licensees pay $20 million a year for three years to help increase race purses and help the tracks through a difficult period.

Lesniak said if the Internet bill becomes law, giving the casinos a new revenue stream, that would not necessarily make New Jersey lawmakers more likely to approve slot machines for horse tracks.

“Those are two separate issues,” he said.

Internet gambling revenue would be taxed at 10 percent instead of the current 8 percent on traditional casino revenue.

The bill also would allocate $100,000 a year from online gambling proceeds to fund programs for compulsive gamblers. People with gambling problems would be able to set limits on how much they could bet or lose within a specific time frame.

Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

DoJ Clears Major Online Poker Hurdle

December 24, 2011

Great job by Brian Pempus of Cardplayer Magazine and www.cardplayer.com, who reported Friday that the United States Department of Justice released a legal opinion that offered clarification on the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 — a federal law which has complicated efforts to legalize Internet poker.

Online grinders such as American and WSOP Europe Main Event champion Elio Fox could back at the virtual felt by May of 2012.

Essentially, the DoJ is now saying the Interstate Wire Act applies only to sports betting – not online poker.

Here is the rest of Pempus’ reporting on the interpretation, which from a timing standpoint falls in line with a reported deal between the DoJ and the proposed buyers of Full Tilt Poker, along with Nevada’s recently approved rules for allowing online poker within its borders.

Sources at Wickedchopspoker.com speculate Nevada residents could be legally playing online poker as soon as May 2012.

According to Pempus and Cardplayer.com:

“… the 13-page document dated Sept. 20, 2011, says the correct interpretation is that the law only prohibits sports betting.

The Wire Act was once interpreted as outlawing all forms of gambling across state lines, and was used by the DOJ in its prosecution of the operators of online poker sites.

One of the causalities of the Wire Act was Anurag Dikshit, co-founder of then PartyGaming, who reached a $300 settlement with the DOJ in 2008 for violating its provisions. The Internet gaming company subsequently left the U.S. market, but is now eying a return via a partnership with Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts.

German Pius Heinz may soon be able to put some of the $8.7 million
he won for his 2011 WSOP Main Event title back in play
online against American players.

Despite Nevada making substantial progress toward intrastate online poker, the memo was in response to New York and Illinois seeking to use the Internet for lottery sales. In fact, there is no mention of poker in the opinion from Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz.

Nonetheless, Anthony Cabot, attorney for Fertitta Interactive, said that the “significant decision” gives states the right to legalize a wide range of games for the Internet, without violating the Wire Act.

“It clears a legal point that has been out there for a long time, as to whether or not states can go forward and legalize games of chance or poker, within their own borders,” he said.

According to Cabot, since web poker is legal in Nevada and will occur intrastate, it’s completely legal under the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act — a 2006 federal law banning financial transactions for gaming activities that are deemed illegal.

If poker on the web is legal in a given state, the UIGEA, which was a tool in charging the offshore operators in poker’s Black Friday, would not be implicated.

When asked if this all gives Nevada brick-and-mortar casinos the ability to eventually operate interstate, Cabot cautiously said it does.

“It is now conceivable that states can get together and try a compact, which is an agreement between the states to offer wagering,” Cabot said. “That has happened in the past, with regards to non-Internet based wagers, for example the state lotteries. Now, this will obviously require some negotiations between the states as to how you handle tax matters and those things.”

The American Gaming Association, which has been behind federal web poker legislation and not a state-by-state patchwork, responded to the announcement from the DOJ, saying it “validates the urgent need” for Congress to act.

The AGA declined to comment at this time on whether interstate online poker could now happen without a federal measure.

As for a jurisdiction with Internet gaming on the horizon, both Cabot and Whittemore don’t see Nevada speeding up the implementation of online poker as a result of the DOJ’s new position. “Nevada is going as fast as it possible can already,” Cabot said. ”

In more simplistic terms, it appears December 23, 2011 was a very good day for online poker.

****
Speaking of Heinz, my homegamers scoffed at my assertion that the talented and now very rich German pro paid ZERO taxes on his more than $8.7 million for winning the Main Event.

Here is proof, courtesy of pokernewsreport.com.

Full Tilt Poker gets investors to pony up $150 million to repay players, but site still shut down

July 1, 2011

Phil Ivey's intervention may have saved Full Tilt & allowed the
beleaguered company to repay players approximately $150 million, but
not everyone agrees with the poker superstar's motives.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Full Tilt Poker and its Irish parent company, Pocket Kings, reportedly reached a deal with European investors June 30 to begin repaying online players some of the $150 million that were in their accounts when the web site was seized by the FBI April 15.
The U.S. government also is seeking to recover $3 billion from Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker as part of the indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York in April.
PokerStars had paid back an estimated $120 million to its players.
Scandal-plagued Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet, not surprisingly, has not refunded a nickel.
Full Tilt professional and partial owner, Phil Ivey, flew to Ireland last week to participate in the negotiations.

Ivey, who filed a lawsuit against Full Tilt Poker owner, Tiltware LLC, and boycotted the World Series of Poker being held in Las Vegas because of the lack of progress in paying back players in the aftermath of ‘Black Friday,’ is expected to withdraw his lawsuit.
Ivey still has time to enter the WSOP Main Event, which is scheduled to begin July 7.

In review, here is the statement Ivey released June 2:

“I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm.
I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible.”

California-based Tiltware was the first to slam Ivey’s motives, and they were not alone (check out Mike “The Mouth” Matusow’s comments below).
Tiltware contends Ivey owes the company millions and is merely looking for a way to get that debt relieved.
Here is Tiltware’s statement in full:

“Contrary to his sanctimonious public statements, Phil Ivey’s meritless lawsuit is about helping just one player – himself. In an effort to further enrich himself at the expense of others, Mr. Ivey appears to have timed his lawsuit to thwart pending deals with several parties that would put money back in players’ pockets. In fact, Mr. Ivey has been invited — and has declined — to take actions that could assist the company in these efforts, including paying back a large sum of money he owes the site. Tiltware doubts Mr. Ivey’s frivolous and self-serving lawsuit will ever get to court. But if it does, the company looks forward to presenting facts demonstrating that Mr. Ivey is putting his own narrow financial interests ahead of the players he professes to help.”

Fellow Full Tilt pro Matusow agreed with his (former?) bosses, and had this to say about Ivey’s alleged motives during the “Hard Core Poker Show” June 3.

“People understand what’s going on. At first they didn’t get it, they all thought Phil Ivey was their hero, but now they realize he’s a fucking piece of shit. Phil Ivey doesn’t give a shit about you, me or anyone else. He is a cutthroat gambler and couldn’t care less.
Everybody can see right through it, the real reason behind the lawsuit is pretty obvious … I don’t want to get into it at all, but it’s a pretty self-centered act from a self-centered person who made anywhere between $50 million and $100 million over the past five years into his own pockets, so you know, good luck to him. He’s trying to take people down with him.”

They don’t call him “The Mouth” for nothing, kids.
Wow.
Even with the $150 million infusion of capital, Full Tilt is not out of the woods yet.

Wicked Chops Poker has all the details of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) decision to suspended Full Tilt’s gaming license, which has led to site being shutdown for “scheduled maintenance.”
Yeah, right.
FTP was still available to most players outside the United States, and for “play money” users in the states.

Wicked Chops posted part From the AGCC release:
“The decision to suspend these licenses follows a special investigation prompted by the indictments unsealed by US Attorney General’s Office in the Southern District of New York on 15 April 2011, during which grounds were found to indicate that these licensees and their business associates were operating contrary to Alderney legislation. The nature of the findings necessitated the taking of immediate action in the public interest.”

Princeton grad Matt Hawrilenko on ‘Black Friday’ and the future of online poker in the U.S.

June 19, 2011

Over the past 10 days, Matt Hawrilenko has two WSOP cashes. He finished 16th in the $10,000 7-Card Stud Championship, and 13th in the $10,000 Limit Hold'em event.

Matt Hawrilenko was barreling toward Canada, and the 2004 graduate of Princeton University was just a few hours from circumventing the long arm of the United States Department of Justice.
On April 15, feds operating in the Southern District of New York shut down the world’s three largest online poker sites – Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker – and an estimated $500 million in player assets were frozen in overseas accounts.
American players that depended on the legal gray area of online poker to earn a living were out of work.
They call it “Black Friday.’’
The 29-year-old Hawrilenko, a paid sponsor of Full Tilt and one of the game’s most respected pros, committed no crime and he certainly wasn’t running off to Canada, where online poker remains legal, to avoid prosecution.
Rather, Hawrilenko was headed north of the border to run a half-marathon with his wife, Emily, when news of the online poker apocalypse hit the wires.
“It’s funny,’’ said Hawrilenko, who earned $1.8 million online over the first three months of 2011 alone, and has two cashes of more than $20,000 each at this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. “I was on my way to Montreal when I received the e-mail from my good friend (and poker mentor) Bill Chen, so that was pretty ironic. Playing online in Canada and just about every other country is still legal, but I am fortunate in that I already had one foot out the door and started planning for my life after poker.’’
Although no players were charged in the 52-count indictment, the poker sites and its chief executives are accused of a variety of crimes, ranging from bank fraud to running an illegal gambling operation.
The U.S. government is seeking $3 billion in penalties and up to 65 years in prison for some of the 11 defendants named in the indictment.


An entire economy “virtually’’ wiped out

Many of Hawrilenko’s friends and colleagues in the estimated $30 billion industry were blindsided by the government’s actions, particularly since the movement to legalize and regulate poker had picked up steam over the past two years.

Princeton University graduate Matt Hawrilenko is one of the top Limit Hold'em cash game players in the world.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Sen. Barney Frank (D-MA), have supported measures to legalize online poker since 2009.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill March 3 that would have allowed New Jersey to become the first state to offer legal and regulated internet poker.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-NJ), but Christie determined the bill would violate New Jersey’s constitution and it faced “several significant legal obstacles.”
So, for now, everyone’s hand is in the muck.
“Suddenly, many players and a lot of my friends had no source of income,’’ Hawrilenko said. “Literally, on that Friday, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. There are several things I have wanted to accomplish outside of poker for a very long time and this will give me the opportunity to do that.’’
Hawrilenko may be vastly underestimating those “layoffs.’’
According to industry website onlinepoker.net, between 10 and 15 million Americans were playing online poker for real money every day, with most of them competing on multiple tables against as many as nine opponents at the same time on a standard ring game.
All of the sites still are offering “play money’’ games for U.S. customers, and real money games for customers outside the states.

UPDATE: Courtesy of forbes.com

“The (Nevada) state Assembly passed a stripped-down Internet gambling bill calling for the state to develop a licensing process for online poker businesses, a month after the U.S. industry melted down amid federal indictments.
Members of the Assembly unanimously passed the measure, which calls on Nevada regulators to design rules that would only take effect after the federal government legalizes online gambling.
It now goes to the Senate, and the sponsor said he expects it will pass on that side.”


“Poker is a real job’’

Long before the big crash came the ultimate free roll.
Since ‘Career Objective’’ on the resume Hawrilenko handed to his prospective employers at the Susquehanna International Group (SIG) did not read:
“Use the substantial resources and backing of this company to launch my professional poker career,’’ it is safe to say Hawrilenko stepped into employment utopia.
“The company was founded by poker players,’’ Hawrilenko said of SIG, a technology powered financial trading firm based in suburban Philadelphia.
“I am at the company three months and all of a sudden I am flying out to Las Vegas on one of the partners’ private jets and they are staking me to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event,’’ Hawrilenko said. “So, that was pretty awesome.’’
It was on that plane ride when Hawrilenko began talking poker analytics and strategy with Chen, also an employee of SIG and himself one of the most respected high stakes poker players in the world.
“Bill has a real mathematical approach to the game, and it seemed as if we had similar ideas and came to some similar conclusions,’’ Hawrilenko said. “We found ourselves arriving at the same place, albeit in slightly different ways. We found that we could take a more academic approach and achieve success at the highest levels bit by bit. So, yeah, that is when I realized I could really make some money.’’
Not just some money.
Life-changing money.
“That first year, I made a fair bit more playing poker than I did at finance,’’ said Hawrilenko said. “By the second year I was making a lot more at poker than at finance. At that point we were pretty confident our strategies were successful. I actually stayed at the job a bit longer (three years) than I could have due to the success I was having at poker.”
Did Hawrilenko ever entertain thoughts of returning to his real job at SIG?
“Poker is a real job,’’ he said. “Anyone can play, but there is a lot of knowledge and skill that goes into playing it well.”

Minimum investment, maximum return

Even before Chris Moneymaker, an accountant and poker amateur from Tennessee, launched the co-called “poker boom’’ by stunning a field of mostly professionals to win the 2003 WSOP main event, Hawrilenko already was on his way to riches on the virtual felt.
All with a mere $100 deposit online.
“It’s been a pretty good rate of return,’’ he says.
Under the online handle “Hoss_TBF,’’ Hawrilenko started at the smallest stakes ($0.25 and $0.50) and has gone on to earn several million dollars in high-stakes ($2,000 and $4,000) cash game earnings, along with an estimated $1.7 million in live tournament winnings since he began building his bankroll as a junior at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Hawrilenko also was a varsity wrestler at Princeton.
“I started playing a little before Moneymaker,’’ Hawrilenko said. “Princeton was a great experience because you are surrounded by all these people who are smarter than you, and better athletes than you, and it kind of pushes you to be better. Between wrestling and my studies poker was really just a hobby at Princeton. I played with friends and online a bit, but towards the end of my senior year, when most of my school work was out of the way, I started playing online more and more. It was at that time that I won an (online) satellite (tournament) for the WSOP Main Event and that’s pretty much how everything got kicked off.’’
With his math-based and highly analytical approach to the game, taught to him by the likes of Chen and Jerrod Ankenman, Hawrilenko already had millions in cash game earnings when he won his only WSOP bracelet in 2009.
Hawrilenko captured the $5,000 buy-in, No-Limit/6-Handed tournament (Event 56), giving him his largest live tournament pay-day of $1,003,218.
The native of Hanover, Mass., capped a big year in 2009 by reaching the final table of the WSOP Europe Main Event in London, finishing eighth for $141,814 after entering Day 4 as the tournament’s chip leader.
“Winning a bracelet is on every poker player’s list, but what validates the work is how you do at the cash games,’’ Hawrilenko said. “The bracelet is a way to prove to your Aunt and Uncle and people on the outside that you’re not a schmuck, or just a degenerate gambler.”
Just how did his parents take the news that the son they helped put through one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world was intent on using his degree in Public Policy as a full-time poker player?
“My parents were awesome and so supportive,’’ Hawrilenko said. “They know that I have always been a pretty good decision-maker, and it’s not like the poker thing came as a shock to them. I had spoken to them for quite a while about it. If anything, they may have been surprised at how long it took me to make the transition.”

Matt Hawrilenko after winning his only WSOP bracelet in 2009

The online shutdown did not send Hawrilenko into retirement.
Not yet, anyway.
For the seventh consecutive year, Hawrilenko is in Las Vegas competing in this year’s 42nd annual WSOP in several bracelet events.
The 2011 WSOP is underway and ESPN has added an additional 34 hours of broadcast coverage to this year’s events, including an unprecedented, same day look at players’ hole cards on a 30-minute delay.

The Government’s Case

Internet gambling has officially been illegal in the U.S. since passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by Congress on Oct. 13, 2006.
However, the actual playing of online poker was not the primary target of the D.O.J. on “Black Friday.’’
Rather, the focal point of the indictments was the alleged unlawful processing of debit and credit card transactions to fund, withdrawal and transfer money in players’ accounts, a total some industry experts estimate at $500 million.
Passage of the UIGEA stopped banks and credit card companies from sending money to gambling websites.
“The case that poker players have been trying to make for years is that the UIGEA is a bad law,’’ Hawrilenko said. “There is widespread confusion about it. Playing poker is legal in the U.S. for the individual (with the exception of the state of Washington), but the law restricts the type of transfers that can be made between banks and online gaming websites, which makes it a lot more difficult for individuals to put money online.’’
Once the domain names of the poker sites were seized April 15, the deposits of all U.S.-based players were frozen, including unspecified sums in Hawrilenko’s accounts.
PokerStars has begun paying out its players.
Full Tilt and Absolute Poker have not.

The FBI also issued restraining orders on a total of 75 bank accounts in 14 nations.
The original complaint alleges, among other things, that some of the payment processing techniques used by Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker constituted money laundering and/or bank fraud.
The sites still are free to operate in other countries, including Canada.
One of the accused, payment processing executive Bradley Franzen, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, accepting funds in connection with unlawful Internet gambling and conspiracy to commit money laundering during a May 23 hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Franzen, 41, originally pleaded not guilty and faced up to 30 years in prison after turning himself into the FBI on April 18. He later signed a plea deal and has agreed to testify in any “Black Friday’’ trial.
Also on May 23, a federal grand jury in Baltimore returned indictments charging two companies and three defendants with conducting an illegal gambling business and money laundering. Another 11 bank accounts and 10 sites were seized.
As for the April 15 indictments, federal prosecutors explained that since most U.S. banks would not process payments related to internet gambling, the companies and their payment processors circumvented federal law by making payments appear to be transactions for other types of merchandise, such as household products and jewelry.
“As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.

The future of online poker

As a sponsored professional of Full Tilt, Hawrilenko is not permitted to speak on the particulars of the government’s case, but he does have an opinion.
“We will see poker regulated and legal; probably within the next five years,’’ Hawrilenko said. “There are just too many tax dollars in play. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot speak to the particular details of the indictments, but what I can say is I know many of the top executives at Full Tilt and PokerStars. From everything I have heard they are good, ethical people who are generous to their employees and responsive to their customers.’’
“What is particularly grating to poker players is that over and over, you see anti-internet gaming legislation as a provision in legislation designed to legalize brick-and-mortar gaming, but a bill like this has been rejected twice in the last two years in my home state of Massachusetts. It just feels like a particularly hypocritical double-standard.’’
As of April 15 online poker in its current form has been forever altered in the United States, and the industry has no choice but to wait for state and federal regulation guidelines before another dollar is won or lost.
Recently, Washington, D.C. and states such as Nevada and Florida are working on legalizing and taxing online poker within state lines.
“These sites have all been working very hard for years to get online poker legalized so they can set up shop and pay taxes here,’’ Hawrilenko said. “That is what we all want.’’

“Knowing when to fold’em’’

Among other endeavors away from the tables, Hawrilenko is a research assistant of clinical psychology at Clark University, with a goal of earning a Ph.D. and becoming a professor.
Hawrilenko and wife, the former Emily Kroshus, also a Princeton graduate, are involved with a number of charitable organizations.

Hawrilenko and his wife, Emily, also a Princeton University graduate, recently participated in the San Francisco Half-Marathon.

In lieu of gifts at their wedding, the Hawrilenkos asked guests for donations to their charities, including the Richard Dawkins Foundation and KIMbia Athletics, which was founded by elite runners to support schools in Kenya.
“I am just so happy I had other things going on and had already started working on my transition when “Black Friday’’ went down,’’ Hawrilenko said. “I have worked hard, but I have also been very blessed to have the success I have had. One of the main goals I have is to one day go back and enjoy poker again without having to worry about a bank account.’’

A more newspaper-friendly edition of this profile can be found in today’s Times of Trenton and nj.com

Larry O’Rourke (1965-2011)

June 16, 2011

Photo courtesy of Ed Koskey Jr./The Morning Call

Longtime Trentonian and Allentown Morning Call sportswriter, and my very dear friend, Larry O’Rourke, whose tireless and courageous battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, inspired all those around him, died Wednesday night.
Larry was 46.
Surrounded by his mother, Joyce, and father, Larry Sr., Larry braved unimaginable suffering since first exhibiting symptoms of the insidious disease and sharing fears of his pending diagnosis with myself and colleague Nick Fierro in December, 2007 while we were in New Orleans covering the Eagles.
I cried all the way back to my hotel that night.
I cried even harder at 9:48 Wednesday when Nick shared the grim news via text message.
Today, realizing his torturous pain had ended once and for all, I took a deep breath … and even managed a smile.
Respected for his intelligence, friendly nature, gift of gab and dogged determination of life and his profession, Larry’s reporting helped put the Thunder on the map before his coverage of the Eagles for The Morning Call became revered throughout the region.
A dear friend to many, Larry helped raise thousands of dollars for ALS and brain tumor research.
An avid golfer, reader, war historian, talker, drinker and unabashed fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals, O’Rourke was remembered with a moment of silence prior to last night’s game against Harrisburg at Waterfront Park.
I will remember him for however many moments I have left on this Earth, for he has inspired me in ways I hope I adequately expressed during my last visit to the Poconos last fall.
Goodbye for now, Larry Legend.
You are already missed.

Services: Funeral mass 11 a.m. Monday at St. Ambrose R. C. Church, 201 Randel St., Schuylkill Haven, Pa. 17972. Burial will follow at the Annuncian BVM cemetery in Shenandoah Heights. Viewing hours 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Hamilton Funeral Home, Inc. 116 S. Liberty St., Orwigsburg, PA 17961.
In lieu of flowers the family would prefer donations be made to: ALS Research at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, 30 Hope Drive, Hershey, PA 17033.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tnonline/obituary.aspx?n=laurence-david-orourke-larry&pid=152031132

Cashman talks prospects, Hughes in Lakewood

April 28, 2011

BareBones and Josh Norris of Minor Matters, far left, catch up with Yankees GM Brian Cashman Wednesday in Lakewood (Photo by David Schofield)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spent a third straight day evaluating some of the top minor-league position players in the Yankees’ organization Wednesday.
No, Cashman was not scouting Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where top prospect Jesus Montero and 2010 Eastern League Most Valuable Player Brandon Laird are stationed.
Nor was Cashman in Richmond checking out Thunder catcher Austin Romine, or at Class-A Tampa getting the lowdown on infielders Walter Ibarra and Luke Murton, who are hitting .362 and .338, respectively.
With $6.45 million in signing bonuses tied up in three of the top four hitters in the Single-A Charleston lineup, Cashman again traveled to FirstEnergy Park to monitor the Yankees’ considerable investment in 2009 first-round draft pick Slade Heathcott, second-rounder J.R. Murphy and 18-year-old Dominican catching phenom Gary Sanchez, who alone accounts for $3 million of those bonus checks authorized by Cashman.
“You just want to see tools, both internationally and in the draft’’ Cashman said. “Obviously, there are high-end caliber guys here and they need to get their reps in. If the GM is down here seeing them play it lets them know we are connected all the way to the top and that is important. It’s also important for them to know I am following their progress, watching the box scores and reading the player development reports on a daily basis. I care about putting these guys in the best possible position to succeed.’’
Although Cashman had to be thrilled with the results of his center fielder Heathcott (.370, 2 HR) and catcher Murphy (.347, 3 HR) yesterday, when they went a combined 5-for-9 with three RBIs against 2010 Phillies first-round pick Jesse Biddle (0-3, 7.16 ERA) and three Lakewood relievers, the GM clearly was soured by the medical predicament of starter Phil Hughes.
Cashman said his 18-game winner from last season, on the 15-day disabled list with what was initially diagnosed as a “dead arm,’’ went for more tests yesterday after a pair of MRIs Tuesday.
Hughes also is being checked for a possible circulatory disorder, but whatever the ultimate diagnosis Cashman sounded as if he is planning for life without Hughes.
“They are trying very hard to find out what is going on,’’ Cashman said. “It’s always concerning when you don’t have somebody pitching active for you. He’s not active and it does not look like he will be for awhile.’’
In parts of five seasons with the Yankees, Hughes is 31-19 with a 4.46
ERA. He has logged 379 1/3 innings, with 176 1/3 coming last season, after being treated with kid gloves in the minors, particularly with the Thunder in 2006.
Cashman fired former Trenton manager Bill Masse after comments to The Times questioning the organization regarding its cautious handling of Hughes, a talent Masse felt needed to be stretched out more than what the Yankees were willing to do at the time.
Cashman denies the conservative approach to Hughes in the minors could have somehow contributed to his current medical dilemma.
“No,’’ Cashman said. “No chance. We have a general pitching program and obviously it gets specified for each individual. It can be altered because everyone is different physically. They might have different issues, and other things we have to avoid, so you adjust accordingly. Our doctor will continue to run tests and when he collects all the information he’ll be in a better position to diagnose something … if he does find something.’’

Yanks system still thin on position players

April 17, 2011

Brett Gardner and Derek Jerer, right, are the only Yankees
starting position players drafted in-house.

This story is also available in Sunday’s editions of The Times of Trenton.

The contributions of homegrown players Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams helped the Yankees win five World Series Championships from 1996 to 2009.
This season, with Brett Gardner off to a dreadful (.150) start and Eduardo Nunez on the bench as a utility infielder, All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano is the only everyday position player developed by the Yankees’ farm system.
Gardner (3rd round, 2005) and Jeter (1st round, 6th overall, 1992) are the only Yankees starting position players actually drafted by the organization.
Years of neglect in the draft and far too many resources directed toward high-priced free agents in the waning years of George Steinbrenner’s stewardship of the franchise were to blame for the dearth of major league-ready talent in the minor-league system.
From 1997 to 2005 the Yankees drafting and player development was among the worst in baseball, with only 10 position players produced and those players combining for less than 900 major league at bats.
Cano became a full-time player in 2005, but he was an undrafted amateur free agent from San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic.
In 2006, general manager Brian Cashman began overseeing the player development system and things began to change, albeit slowly.
“It is an area that has lagged somewhat,’’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the lack of top-tier position players at the higher levels of Yankees system. “But Nunez is there now and Gardner is one of the better young outfielders in the game. The young catchers we have are some of the best in the business, and we’ve got some quality young guys lower in our system right now.’’
The Yankees boast four minor league catchers they think will one day play at the highest level in Jesus Montero at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Austin Romine with the Thunder and Class-A backstops Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy.
Romine is the top-rated and highest-round player (second round, 94th overall in 2007) selected by the Yankees on the Double-A Trenton roster, but with the exception of center fielder Melky Mesa (undrafted/amateur free agent) no other Thunder position players are currently on anyone’s major league radar.
Designated hitter Cody Johnson (24th overall/2006) and outfielder Brian Anderson (15th overall/2003) are former first-round draft picks, but they were selected by the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, respectively.
Newman insists help is on the way, with players such as Sanchez, Murphy and recent first-round picks Slade Heathcott (OF) and Cito Culver (SS) still very early in their development.
“There is a wave of position players behind Double-A and Triple-A, and some of those guys that we’ll run through (low Class-A) Charleston this year are pretty impressive,’’ Newman said. “It’s really hard given the draft to take pitching and position players at the same time. There is no doubt we have devoted a lot of time, scouting hours and money to pitching over the years. We’ve done the same with position players the last few years and that was not really done by design. That’s just where the talent was.’’
And talent, not necessarily draft status, is what it is all about, according to Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“That’s it,’’ he said. “Numbers are attached to everything you do in this game but talent is the bottom line. This is not about being smart, or about a kid’s draft status, it is about being good or bad. Can you play the game? The guys that can play are the ones that are going to go to the big leagues. It’s as simple as that.’’

New age of media for Yankees farmhands

April 3, 2011

Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero surrounded by media at the 2008 Futures Game

This story also appears in The Times of Trenton and at nj.com/thunder.

Churning out some of the biggest prospects in baseball is nothing new for the Yankees.
The eruption of new media and social networking tools now documenting their every move is.
The image of minor-league baseball played in ramshackle structures depicted in films such as “The Natural” and “Bull Durham” is gone, replaced by fan-friendly, revenue-generating ballparks and an expanding media capable of covering the game’s players like never before.
Imagine downloading video of Yogi Berra taking practice at Newark of the International League in 1946?
How about a YouTube clip of Mickey Mantle shagging fly balls at Municipal Stadium for the Kansas City Blues in 1951?
Or perhaps sending a Facebook friend request to Derek Jeter during his days at Albany-Colonie in 1994?
How times have changed.
It is common knowledge that some of the most renowned and respected sportswriters in history looked the other way when players (Mantle and Babe Ruth immediately come to mind) ran afoul after hours.
Today?

Yankees general Brian Cashman and VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman help prospects deal with the explosion of media covering the organization.

ESPN and sites such as TMZ and Deadspin can be at the scene before the squad-car door closes.
“It is a blessing and a curse,” Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the ever-expanding role of the media. “Most of us here have been doing this a long time, but things are a little more intense now because of the explosion of the different media sources and an increased emphasis on prospects. Believe me, our players understand the difference between what is hype and what is real, and if they forget they will be reminded.”
Helping prospects such as Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos deal with the hype connected with their ascension through the Yankees’ farm system has become part of the development plan.
Since 2007, the Yankees have made their young players take media training on the first day of spring training and, while helpful, Newman says that is really just a couple of days of videos, mock interviews and some guest speakers.
Living it every day over the course of a 142-game season, alongside the media and all their new tools stationed at affiliates such as Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is a far more realistic classroom.
“When you play in New York you are going to deal with a lot of those things anyway, so if you can get started learning at an early age that helps,” Newman said. “Guys that go through our system tend to handle that stuff pretty well. I remember when (Yankees All-Star second baseman) Robbie Cano first came up and started poorly, a headline in one of the tabloids said: “CANO CAN NOT.” So, they get that, too. They get the hype and they get vitriol, and they have to learn to deal with it.”
Some top-tier prospects, such as Betances, take advantage of their time in major-league camp to get advice from veterans that have been through the media pressure cooker in New York.
“I definitely have gotten some feedback from CC Sabathia and Mariano (Rivera) about how to go about your business,” said Betances, the likely Thunder starter for Opening Day Thursday at New Hampshire. “Staying focused and working hard is what it’s all about. You know it’s there, but you try not to worry about all that other stuff.”
Waterfront Park will be buzzing for the Thunder home opener April 14 against Harrisburg, but more than a week earlier the 2011 club will take part in media day as reporters, bloggers, Tweeters and internet scouting services will be on the field obtaining and relaying instant information from the latest crop of Yankees farmhands and Trenton coaches.
“The landscape of sports media has changed dramatically since I started in 2003,” successful blogger and “Thunder Thoughts’ beat writer Mike Ashmore said.
Ashmore’s blog is one of the most widely read sites in the minor leagues, closing in on 1 million hits since its inception.
“Twitter didn’t even exist. Now, it is arguably the best source for information around. With so many online outlets, whether it is blogs, or websites and so on, getting it right and getting it first – and it isn’t always in that order, sadly – has become much more important.”

Ex-Princeton Star Chris Young Meets The Mets

February 13, 2011

2007 N.L. All-Star and former Princeton star Chris Young reports to the Mets this week.
(Photo courtesy of Princeton Sports Information)

This feature also appears in The Times of Trenton and on nj.com

Signing a free-agent contract with the Mets during the most tumultuous period in the franchise’s history may not appear to be a wise career move.
However, The Sporting News did not have to rank Chris Young eighth on its recent list of 20 smartest athletes for anyone even vaguely familiar with the former Princeton University two-sport star to see that he is no dummy.
The fact Young scored 1,300 on his SATs and completed a Princeton thesis entitled: “The Integration of Professional Baseball and Racial Attitudes in America: A Quantitative Study in Stereotype Change’’ represents only a small part of his range.
In September of 2000 at the age of 21, Young signed a $1.65 million contract after being drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The contract was $1.1 million more than the Pirates initially offered and equaled in cash value the deal agreed to by the team’s first-round pick, Sean Burnett.
Only number eight, you say?
At the time, the 6-foot-10 Young also was arguably the top basketball player in the Ivy League and a certain NBA draft pick. But when Young officially signed with the Pirates he immediately was ruled ineligible to play his senior season at Princeton.
The NCAA eased its rules regarding amateurism in 1974, but the Ivy League never did follow suit and its bylaws stipulated that once Young signed professionally with the Pirates he no longer was an amateur and his athletic career at Princeton was over.
“No regrets whatsoever,’’ Young says. “I was forced to make a decision at the time regarding an eligibility system that is archaic with rules that serve no purpose. I was put in a position to make a decision and there is no doubt it was the right decision.’’
Since making his major league debut with the Texas Rangers in 2004, the right-hander Young is 48-34 (.585) with a 3.80 ERA and has earned more than $16 million over his career.
Only eighth? Really?
In December, Young signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract ($4.5 million if incentives are reached) with the Mets and will report to spring training in Port St. Lucie with the rest of the team’s pitchers and catchers Thursday.
While no one can dare question Young’s intelligence, hitching his star to a struggling Mets franchise embroiled in scandal may eventually test his patience, not to mention his sanity.
The Mets and owner Fred Wilpon are facing a potentially devastating lawsuit of between $300 million and $1 billion filed by a trustee representing the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
The suit claims Wilpon, Saul B. Katz, Sterling Equities and its partners, including Mets chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, not only knew of the Madoff scam but profited from it.
If trustee Irving H. Picard can prove those claims on behalf of the victims, he could seek to recover $1 billion and the Wilpons may be forced to sell the club and its Citi Field lease, valued by Forbes at $858 million. Other experts put the valuation much less after factoring in the Mets’ debt load and what the Wilpons have borrowed against the team over the years.
“What is going on (with ownership) has no impact on me or what I need to do,’’ Young said. “I need to focus on myself, being healthy and prepared to go out and do my job. The situation is unfortunate, but it will have no bearing whatsoever on how I am going to perform this year.’’
Coming off three injury-plagued years, which included an Albert Pujols line drive off his face in 2008 and persistent trouble with his right shoulder, Young was limited to just four starts with the San Diego Padres late last season and has made only 36 starts since being named a National League All-Star in 2007.
“The injuries were frustrating, but I can’t control the past,’’ Young said. “Every time there was a setback it was another opportunity for me to persevere. Hopefully I can put this whole bad stretch behind me and it will turn out to be just a tiny blip on my career.’’
With a strong finish to 2010 to build on, a healthy Young said he has been guaranteed by general manager Sandy Alderson and new manager Terry Collins that, barring further injury, he is guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation.
“They made that clear and that is why I signed with the Mets,’’ Young said. “It’s not up for debate. Unless I am hurt one of those spots is mine regardless of spring training performance. That said my goal is to not go in there comfortable. I am ready to work. I’ve been able to strengthen the shoulder between my physical therapy program and accelerating my throwing and I am excited for spring training. All things considered the Mets were the best fit.’’

Pope begins carving new path to the majors

December 18, 2010

Justin Pope is the Thunder all-times saves leader with 58 (Photo by Beverly Schaefer)

This feature also can be found in Saturday’s Times of Trenton and at nj.com

Justin Pope was prepared to call it a career after ending the 2008 season on a high note with 10 saves and a 2.23 ERA for the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate in Reading.
“But because I finished so strong the Phillies said they wanted me at Triple-A (in 2009) and that they had big plans for me,’’ said Pope, the all-time Thunder saves leader with 58. “My heart was telling me to shut it down, but I decided to re-sign. Then, with a week left in spring training, they released me.’’
Although just 6-foot and 180 pounds, Pope’s right arm was so promising the St. Louis Cardinals selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2001 draft _ 10 spots before David Wright went to the Mets in an amateur talent pool that included Joe Mauer (No. 1), Mark Prior (2), Gavin Floyd (4) and Mark Teixeira (5).
Only Pope, a first-team NCAA All-America at Central Florida University, never made it to the major leagues. In fact he appeared in just 28 games above Double-A.
With his appointment to the Thunder coaching staff Wednesday as one of manager Tony Franklin’s three assistants, the 31-year-old Pope has been afforded the opportunity to start his big league journey anew.
“My time as a player is over,’’ Pope said. “But I can honestly say I can look myself in the mirror and I am more than happy with how my career went. Everybody wants to get to the big leagues, but I didn’t and I am perfectly okay with that. I have a new goal now and that is to get there as a coach, but along the way help other guys get there by maximizing their abilities.’’
The Yankees saw coaching potential in Pope as far back as 2007, so they dangled the carrot before sending him back down to Trenton from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre late that summer in a move that effectively ended his chances of reaching the major leagues.
“While rehabbing an injury with the Phillies in Clearwater (Fla.) back in 2008 I started to find myself enjoying just watching the game and thinking about things I would do in certain situations,’’ Pope said. “Not just watching, but really observing. That’s when I knew I wanted to coach and I didn’t want to play anymore. That’s when I made the call to the Yankees.’’
Although former Thunder players such as Kevin Reese and Andy Cannizaro have returned to the organization in a scouting capacity, and Eric Schmitt has positioned himself as the right hand man of minor league boss and Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, Pope is the first to return as a Double-A coach.
After cutting his teeth with the Yanks’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2009, Pope was dispatched to short-season Staten Island of the NY-Penn. League in 2010.
“I love baseball; I’ve played it my entire life and I knew I wanted to stay around the game,’’ Pope said. “The Yankees offered me a coaching position after the 2007 season, but I said ‘no’ because I wanted to play for one, maybe two more years and get it all out of my system. I didn’t want to look back and regret anything.’’
Pope still is not sure what role he will have on the Thunder staff.
With the popular and successful Tommy Phelps in charge of the Trenton pitchers, Pope is looking to become a sponge and digest all aspects of the game _ everything from outfield positioning, to hit-and-run scenarios and lining up cutoff men.
“One thing I did try to do as a player was pay attention to the whole game,’’ Pope said. “There is always something to learn in baseball. The day you stop trying to get better, or stop learning, is when people go right past you. If I am going to get where I want to go as a coach I have to learn and get better every day. It is so many little things.
“I really enjoyed my time in Trenton, so when they told me that is where I was going to be I was ecstatic. It’s a great place to play and I have always been really comfortable around Tony, even during my short time there in 2007. I just feel really lucky and very fortunate to be back and working toward a whole new set of goals.’’


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