Really Stunk it Up So Far

IF IT’S A PANTHER, DON’T ANTHER How could it have possibly gotten worse this year for Carolina football fans? Consider: Your answer to replacing fading RB Lamar Smith is fading RB Stephen Davis. Your answer to ongoing QB woes is perpetual backup Jake Delhomme.

Your team grabs TWO offensive linemen with its first two picks, and the biggest talk around town is whether the PUNTER will be re-signed. I’d donate my season tickets to a charity auction if I thought they’d bring anything. They’d better hope soph RB DeShaun Foster comes around and DE Julius Peppers stays healthy, or a return to 1-15 is looking possible.

DESERT STENCH The worst team in the NFL no longer resides in Cincinnati. Arizona Crudinals, how do I pity thee? Let me count the ways: (1) Downgrading from Jake Plummer to Jeff Blake. You don’t think it’s a downgrade? Consider: Could Blake start for Denver? Could Blake start ANYwhere else in the league? See what I mean? (2) “Hi, I used to be Emmitt Smith.” (3) Giving up the 1.06, the 2.05, and the 4.05 to get the 1.17 and 1.18 was bad enough on Draft Day One. They then selected a WR from a college program that doesn’t pass the ball often, along with the first-ever first-round pick from Wake Forest, the losingest team in college football history. They could’ve traded all the way out of the first round and gotten equal talent. (4) Unless the rookie WRs (and summer FAs) are starters this year, Blake will be throwing to Jason McAddley & Kevin Kasper. Horrifying. SAVING GRACE: Selecting underrated Anquan Boldin at 2.22 (will probably be at least as good a pro as 1st-rounder Johnson) and getting a real steal at 3.06 in ILB Gerald Hayes.

RANCID CHEESE Packer backers must have had their faith severely shaken when the first-round choice was named: Nick Barnett, OLB, Oregon St. Hey, I had that guy graded as the SIXTH-best OLB in the draft. They passed up Boss Bailey for Nicky boy? Way, way, way reach. It’s almost as bad a move as reeling in Eric Crouch, the least deserving Heisman winner in recent memory, and giving him a shot at QB. Sure, it don’t cost nothin’, but Wisconsin, this is just embarrassing. Who’s next, Ryan Leaf? Well, at least they punted Terry Glenn to Dallas…..

SPINNING PATRIOTIC WHEELS New England gave up safety Tebucky Jones, freeing some cap space and getting a few picks…..which they promptly wasted. They looked goofy in the 1st round, trading up to get DT Ty Warren, who would’ve been available much later, and used one of their 2nd-rounders on his Texas A&M; teammate, WR Bethel Johnson. (Name any worthwhile wideout to come from that storied program. Go ahead, do some research. I’ll wait.) Finally, after a ground game that was just short of abominable last season, the Patriots have chosen to let it stay as is. This is the result of a weekend that saw the team make several deals, moving up and down within the draft and stockpiling picks for next year. If this offseason is any indication, Bill Belichick may be in the rumor mill by late season to not be around to take advantage of those extra picks in 2004.

THE TARNISHED GARNET & GOLD The Niners have been on the right track for three years in a row…..and let it crumble to dust in three months. The loss of Coach Steve Mariucci and “consultant” Bill Walsh is inestimable.

The NFL re-entry of Dennis Erickson and escalation of Troy Donahue, a couple of fine college coaches, fills these shoes about as well as my little toe would on its own. While the draft garnered a few decent selections (including the almost-Irrelevant steal of QB Ken Dorsey, a good fit in SF), concern over the contracts of their receiving corps overshadows any mildly positive news. Inability to answer contract questions has also broken up a good D-line. At least the 49ers’ FANS won’t join the exodus to Oakland…..will they?

CHAMPS MAKE LIKE CHUMPS Yeah, yeah, so Chucky Baby is a QB guru. Enough already! He’s got two Johnsons, Shaun King, two recently-former Bears QBs, and now he can’t pass up way-overrated Chris Simms?! This is a sickness, Jon. Get help. Call 1-800-DRAFT-RB now. Oops, too late. Oh, and they’ve brought back Jacquez Green. Huh?

Barry Good Decision

There’s been a lot of hoopla recently over Barry Bonds’ decision to drop out of the World Baseball Classic. But, you know what? I don’t care.

Good for him! In fact, I think more players should follow his lead. I’m sure Brian Sabean, the Giants’ ownership, Barry’s teammates and all of San Francisco’s fans are absolutely thrilled about his decision. And, why shouldn’t they be? Who really cares about some trivial, over-hyped, money-grubbing event like the WBC? As a Mariners’ fan, I can assure you that I don’t want Ichiro playing (and heaven forbid if Felix is allowed to participate!).

I mean, can you imagine the backlash if a MLB player gets hurt during this exaggerated advertisement disguised as “competition”? I know that WBC supporters are thinking, “What’s the difference between getting hurt at the WBC and getting hurt during Spring Training?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Spring Training is just that…training! Players are training for the toll that a 162-game season will take on their bodies.

The WBC is supposed to be a competition. However, it’s flawed because MLB players won’t be playing at 100%. To me, any competition that wants to be taken seriously shouldn’t have any restrictions placed on its competitors (outside of the standard rules for the game taking place!).

However, during the WBC, pitchers will have pitch-count limits. How competitive is it really going to be when Buck Martinez has to pull Brad Lidge because Lidge has reached his limit of 20 pitches. Furthermore, the goal of the WBC is to determine which country is “the best” at baseball.

But, how can that be fairly determined when the best players are dropping out? And, why does it even matter in the first place? You’ve got players playing for countries they may have never even been to (Mike Piazza and Italy) and new American citizens playing for Latin countries (Manny Ramirez). Face it…the WBC is a joke. It’s worse than the All-Star Game.

Yeah, I’ll probably end up watching some WBC games, just because I love baseball so much. However, I won’t be rooting for an individual country as much as I’ll be rooting for all of the players to stay healthy – so they’re able to play when the games really matter!

UPDATE: Uh…yeah. What he said! Jayson Stark is the man.

Interview With Micah Owings

While reading Baseball America today, I suddenly remembered that there was an interview I never posted on this website. I feel really bad about it but, in my defense, May was a very busy month for me because I had just graduated school and had started a new job. Anyway…back to business.

Micah Owings was kind enough to answer some questions for me via e-mail and I’m sorry I didn’t post this earlier. For those who don’t know, Owings was a standout two-way player at Tulane. Last year he hit .355/.470/.719 for the Green Wave and was just as dominant on the mound, going 12-4 with a 3.26 ERA, 135 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 129.2 innings. After being named the Conference USA Player of the Year, Owings was drafted in the 3rd Round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs decided to use Owings’ talent on the mound – and it appears that they made the correct decision. In 22 innings at Lancaster of the California League, Owings dominated hitters – posting a 2.45 ERA with 30 strikeouts and a mere 4 walks. Micah’s brother, John Mark, is in the Braves’ orginazion.

First off, can you please talk about yourself a little bit? Tell everyone where you grew up, a little about your youth baseball career and what made you choose college over signing with the Rockies out of high school.

I grew up in Forsyth County, a small town in north Georgia where I played ball on rec. teams for my Dad until I was 11. Some of the greatest joys of my life were playing for my father while I was growing up! He decided that it would be best for me to begin travel ball at age 11, so that is what we did. I spent every summer since traveling all over to play this game that I have always loved. In high school I transferred my junior year to Gainesville High School, another town about an hour north of Atlanta. After winning two state titles and playing with my younger brother at Gainesville, it was time to go pro or off to college. I chose college because I felt that was where God was leading me. It was not an easy decision to give up a lot of money at a young age but I thought it was the best thing for me to do!

What made you transfer from Georgia Tech to Tulane?

Many reasons led up to my decision of leaving Ga. Tech and my home in Atlanta. Most are personal but the main reason was that I felt that God was telling me to move on and open another chapter in my life.

Which do you prefer: Playing infield or pitching?

That question comes up quite often and I wish I had a good answer. I enjoy playing the game and doing whatever I can to help my team win. I have been blessed in certain areas both ways and love each!

What has been your most memorable moment in your baseball career?

First of all, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of many great teams. I am a part of two state titles, two summer World Series championships, and an ACC regular season and tournament championship. Above all my most memorable moment would have to be growing up just tossing in the yard with my Dad and brothers. That is really where my love for the game began so it is a very fond memory.

What player have you played with or against that makes you say, “That guy is going places!”?

This is a tough one because I have played with and against so many great ball players. However, two come to mind…Matt Murton – I played with him my freshman year at Tech and he is now in double-A with the Cubs, and Brian Bogusevic – whom I am currently playing with at Tulane. Both of these guys are tremendous players and great friends of mine!

On a related note, who is the best hitter/pitcher you’ve faced?

The best pitcher that I have ever faced is Kyle Sleeth from Wake Forest who is now in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. The best hitter that I have ever faced is probably Stephen Drew from Florida State.

What part of your game would you say needs the most work?

I would have to say that I can improve in every area of my game and work hard all the time at doing so. Don’t really want to disclose my true weaknesses if you know what I mean.

What is something specific that you are currently working on?

Just doing whatever I can to help our team continue to win ball games.

How much time does your commitment to baseball take each week? How do you keep up with classes? Will you finish your degree?

I’d say fifteen to twenty hours a week…approx. 2 or 3 hours a day six days a week. It is tough sometimes to get motivated to study after a long day at practice or a game, but something that I have to do to play. I do plan on getting my degree.

What is your conditioning regimen during the season and during the off-season?

In the off-season, I tend to hit the weights and conditioning a little harder…about five days a week including two upper body lifts and two lower body lifts with an ab/conditioning day in the middle. In season is a little lighter but just as important. I usually get three lifts a week in to try and maintain my strength through the duration of the season. Have to be careful lifting in season because we play so many games.

Is it difficult to maintain a healthy diet while you’re in school?

At times it is, but I eat my share of whatever is in front of me. I just have to stay away from the sweets more.

Do you have any superstitions? If so, how did they develop?

I like to think of my superstitions more as routines – Things that I do on a regular basis. If they qualify as superstitions, I do not tell anyone, but they are welcome to try and pick up on them.

Can you please talk about your experiences on the 2003 USA National Team?

It was one of those things that I will never forget! I got to play with some of the country’s best college players and for some of the country’s best coaches. Not to mention, every game we had the country’s initials across our chests! I am sorry every kid does not get to experience it, but I feel very fortunate and blessed!

Who is your favorite MLB team?

I don’t really have one anymore. I grew up a huge Braves fan and I guess I still am because my brother is in their organization.

How often do you talk to your brother, and what advice has he given you about, not only the game of baseball, but also what you can expect for life in the minor leagues?

I talk to my brother about every day. Unlike me, he decided to sign out of high school and it has worked out great for him! We are two different people and he decided that he was ready for pro ball. He played in the Gulf Coast League for the Braves rookie team last summer after he signed and is currently in extended spring training in Orlando. He had a rough injury at the end of the season that has set him back a little. I have spoken with other friends of mine that have played in the same league and moved up the last few years, and they have said it is the hardest place to play. Jon Mark has a tremendous drive and I have the utmost respect for him. He realizes that he is where God wants him but works daily to do whatever he can to make a move to the next level. He said it gets pretty rough at times but loves the game.

Which is your favorite baseball website?

Ok, I will tell you that is www.hittersbats.com. This is the interesting site about baseball bats the guys behind the site not only gives you the advices but also guide you the techniques in baseball. I’m really impressed with this blog.

Who is your favorite baseball player?

Growing up, I always loved watching Greg Maddux pitch and Frank Thomas swing!

What will be the first thing you buy if you get a signing bonus?

I will have to think about that once it comes…right now I am trying to help my team win a National Championship! however, may be i will buy a BBCOR bat of 2019 if i got bonus. This always in my mind. haha.

If you make it to the big leagues, what player would you most like to hit against?

Partial to this answer but I would love to see what Randy Johnson’s 100 mph fastball looks like from the left side…notice how I said looks!

And finally, please tell me something interesting/unique about yourself.

I have been blessed with a great family that I love very much. “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength” -PHIL 4:13

Best Offseason Moves So Far

Every year we get to be bigger fans of certain NFL franchises. Offseason moves in drafting, free agency, coaching hires, etc., earn respect around the country. In no particular order, here are my faves in the first fresh post-draft wave of vibes, taking into account that naturally the people involved with the teams know some things we don’t:

BUNGLING BEHIND THEM? It’s gotten old, thinking “this could be the year” for Cincy to stop sucking. But hey, this really COULD be the year, thanks to the convergence of two monumental events: GM Mike “Duh” Brown gave Marvin Lewis his first shot at the big chair and then got out of his way.

That made way for one of the best drafts by any team this year, including the pre-draft signing of QB Carson Palmer (hel-lo, Mr. Brown, did somebody keep you away from the negotiations too?) and stone-cold steals for CIN atop the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th rounds. (For scouting on individual players, see separate lengthy article on the second half of this page.) The only downside for Bungledom this offseason has been the loss of underrated LB Takeo Spikes, just when he got a coach who could take him to the next level.

NORSE WARS IN THE WAR ROOM Yeah, the first-round snafus are comical in Minnesota for the last two drafts. Fortunately, the team can point to results and say it just doesn’t matter, as the 2002 flub (fumbling away DT Ryan Sims to KC) was made up for by this year’s 1.09 pick of DT Kevin Williams, who’s just about as talented. OK, so they should’ve gotten him at 1.07, and there is a good chance of a holdout as they squabble over whether Williams gets 1.07 money or 1.09 money, but let’s move past the fly in the ice cream and look at the cherries on top.

The Vikes got the steal of the draft when LB E.J. Henderson of Maryland fell to them at the 40th overall slot. Folks, this kid has top 10 talent. There’s been concern about a back injury he suffered about 8-9 months ago, but I saw him play in postseason and nobody can doubt he’s 100%. Add two more steals with WR Nate Burleson in the 3rd (could easily be starting in Week One) and RB Onterrio Smith in the 4th (Bennett insurance and likewise could easily drop Moe Williams to RB3) and you have a fine draft. Don’t forget value picks in 6th & 7th, and some decent FA role players picked up. Good job by Mike Tice as he tries to get this club back on the same page with one another.

LION FANS EXCITED There looked like a bigger crowd in Ford Field for the draft than for most of last year’s games. They were definitely more pumped than at any time last season, except perhaps for the home opener.

They must’ve gone home happy, with local hero Charles Rogers staying home and the steal of OLB Boss Bailey atop the 2nd round, not to mention a great pick at 3.02 in Texas DE Cory Redding. Also, while I was proven right to think safety Terrence Holt was overrated in the winter, he’s good value as a 5th-rounder.

But these new Lions are less important than the Mooch, with SF favorite Steve Mariucci taking over for his former QB coach, Marty Mornhinweg. Not only is this an upgrade in personality and experience, it maintains consistency with the complex offense young QB Joey Harrington has been learning. To top it off, DET added FA Shawn Bryson at the RB position, increasing the possibilities to sort through and find an alternative to James Stewart.

SOUTHWESTERN GRILLED TUNA It’s time to stop beating up on Jerry “How’s My Face?” Jones. He did well in last year’s draft, and, with Bill Parcells at his side this year rather than the perpetually lost Dave Campo, built on that experience this season.

He got the best CB in the draft at 1.05, improved a horribly weak center position atop the 2nd, snared two huge steals in the 3rd & 4th at TE and LB, and resisted the temptation to take any RB who wasn’t a clear upgrade over who’s already on the roster. I don’t think this team could’ve done much better at any point this offseason, including the tough decision to part with Emmitt Smith and look to the future.

ARE THE POE RAVENS BACK? Baltimore head coach Brian Billick has earned a bad reputation among football writers for often seeming arrogant and aloof.

He also has a Super Bowl ring, although many would say that’s thanks to Marvin Lewis more than his own coaching abilities. But for right now, let’s give him his due…..although, again, there are those who would say he’s benefitting from the front office genius of Ozzie Newsome.

Perhaps it was Newsome who insisted the Ravens take sliding DE Terrell Suggs over QB Kyle Boller at 1.10, but you bet it was Billick who wouldn’t let it drop. While Boller himself dropped, Newsome worked a deal to bring both on board, giving his coach a stronger arm to work with than current starter Chris Redman. That will make for a QB controversy, which is the downside, of course.

But with Suggs they have a surefire star, and later the Ravens got some nice value with a pair of underrated safeties and a developmental TE, plus they strengthened a weak receiving corps in free agency with veteran Frank Sanders (yes, it’s sad, but he is an upgrade). The Ravens are starting to bounce back.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION? Look at the Steelmen as having made their best offseason move by letting Kordell Stewart wash his hands in the Three Rivers on his way out of town. Permanently. No, I’m not a Kordell hater, but it should be clear to anyone with eyes that you can’t trust him as your QB. He’s not ready to give up on being a starter in the NFL, but he’s best off the bench. Get that out of your locker room.

The addition of Jay Riemersma at TE is helpful (if they’ll throw to that position for a change), and a nice but understated draft brings them two terrific defenders in safety Troy Polamalu and DE Alonzo Jackson. Late QB pickup Brian St. Pierre could develop into a nice spot starter as well.