Tag Archives: bryce harper

Why Bryce Harper Deserves Our Undivided Attention

I am pretty sure I could write pages and pages about why I love The Natural—its solemn nostalgia and ability to reawaken every part of me that loves every part of baseball—but I will try to contain myself to the subject outlined so subtly in the title.

Perhaps you are wondering what this man has to do with our title figure, Mr. Harper. Patience, I ask only for patience.

Roy Hobbs is not necessarily a fallen hero; he did no wrong but circumstances outside his control doomed him to fall short of the potential recognized by himself and others. We can never know if he would have fulfilled his Williamsesque prophesy, to walk down the street and hear people say: “there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was,” but I am confident he would have. In sports, I see largely ordinary men do extraordinary things. I know they are ordinary because they get hurt like us (Tony Canigliaro); they aren’t ready like us (Billy Beane); they fall from grace and from the public eye, never to reveal just how deep their talent runs (Josh Hamilton).

Both the Rays and Hamilton seemed destined for greatness following the 1999 draft.

The film came out in 1984, when Josh Hamilton was three years old. He quickly became as close to a real-life Roy Hobbs as we will ever experience. Blessed with physical gifts as both a pitcher and hitter, there was not speculation about Hamilton’s potential: it was simply known that he would become one of the best players in the world, never mind that he was just 17 when drafted in 1999. The most “sure thing” prospect since another teen draftee, Ken Griffey Jr., Hamilton was believed to be able to make it in the majors as a pitcher or hitter (very Hobbsish), and would likely do so soon after the start of the new millennium. He was Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper picked up a bat, godly in his talent and titanic in his potential. Then he showed the world how human he was.

Imagine how much THIS would be worth if he was real.

Hamilton fell victim to injuries and drug addiction. Instead of bursting onto the scene with precocious teen talent, Hamilton struggled to find his way to the majors, finally making his debut in 2007. He was supposed to be the best in the league on his way to “the best there ever was” by then, well on his way to cementing his place among baseball’s immortals.

Hamilton has shown his talent over the last six years, even taking home an MVP in 2010, but one night stands out to me, a night that only young boys and Hollywood could have imagined. In 2008, the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium (in New York—the Hobbs comparisons become eerie) allowed the baseball world to feast its eyes on talent unlike most ever witnessed. Hamilton swung 38 times in the first round. He hit 28 home runs, including 13 in a row at one point.

Hamilton put on a type of show unseen since Barry Levinson’s magical 1984 film.

People can’t even do that in wiffleball or video games. Hamilton—or Hobbs—is the player you create in a virtual world because you will never see him in ours, the slugger you pretend to be in your daydreams and fantasies. I didn’t just want to be a major leaguer; I wanted to be THE guy, the player with unlimited talent and even more potential—Nomar in 1997 or Pujols in 2001 or Ted Williams back in 1939.

Whoops. Not this Nomar.

Hobbs makes me smile, but Hamilton breaks my heart. Hobbs ensures that he will be remembered forever, rising from the depths as he lifts a team and city from comparable doldrums, as he carries the Knights to the pennant in dramatic fashion. People may not say “the best there ever was,” but they would certainly say “there goes Roy Hobbs.” I do not know for certain if Josh Hamilton will reach that point, and that kills me. That magical night at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2008 reminded every person witnessing of the deep well that contains Hamilton’s ability, a place that will perhaps never run dry but has certainly been greatly depleted. Hamilton is a hero to many, not only a great baseball player but also a human being who got his life back together having faced a crippling addiction. But I don’t think he will ever be a hero to himself, because he knows how good he could have been. One must hope he has an Iris Gaines of his own, reminding him of the present and future, lest he forever mire in the missed opportunities of the past.

Hamilton does a lot of looking off into space, as if forging in his mind what could have been. Must be a pretty picture.

I realize now that I failed in my attempt to focus on how Redford shapes the film, but I think this says a lot about his performances and about me as a viewer. He embodies Sundance and Johnny Hooker and Hobbs and all of his characters with seductive magnetism, reminding us of the lives we dreamed of as kids and still remember dreaming of as we age but fail to grow up. Redford’s appeal transcends gender or sexuality or time, I believe. In The Natural, who wouldn’t root for a country boy with a homegrown swing and self-made bat? Who can help but root for the Knights, decked out in the regalia of a time when greedy owners and their corporate ambitions could be overcome by the divine prowess of a single man?

We often place superheroes’ expectations upon the shoulders of our superstars, calling upon them to bring in fans or sponsors or to save fading leagues. Rarely are we granted the privilege of experiencing a Roy Hobbs, but even rarer is the chance to witness someone with that talent who does not lose his years to gunshots or drug addictions.

Watch – witness – Bryce Harper as often as you can while you can. Naturals are in limited supply.

Let’s hope whatever that picture is he’s seeing becomes a reality.

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Filed under Baseball, batter v. pitcher, NBA, Random Thoughts

Handicapping the Oscar Races For Baseball Fans

With the Oscars taking place in just a few short days, we do what comes naturally: make comparisons between nominees and MLB players that may or may not make sense. Everyone does it. If not, everyone will do it.  They put the start of spring training and the Oscars in the same week for a reason…Right?  You’re welcome, internet.

...and you're welcome, Amurrrica.

…and you’re welcome, Amurrrica.

The Actors

 Hugh Jackman

 Oh, Hugh again. Jackman’s Jean Valjean searches for security, for liberation from Javert’s merciless pursuit in Les Miserables (the second word is silent, or at least the pronunciations are trending that way). Jackman has cemented himself as a bankable action entertainer and awards show host, but he is still seeking to earn his place among the finest actors (see the elder three in this category). Perhaps this performance has pushed Jackman from action star to layered big screen performer, but for now he is…Mike Piazza. The ladies love him. Everyone knows who he is. He performs at the highest level of anyone in his position (catcher for Piazza, film actor/host/stage actor for Jackman) and does so with a prominent geniality.

this is not recommended athletic attire.

Bradley Cooper

Baseball-appropriate facial hair? Yes.
Oscars-appropriate facial hair? Maybe.

I cannot argue with Daniel Day-Lewis taking home the award on Sunday night (the essentially unanimous prediction), but Cooper’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook is one worthy of the award in most years and worthy of our praise right now. His real, raw, riveting portrayal of a man struggling to find himself amidst psychological chaos has, for this viewer at least, pushed Cooper into that same group that Jackman hovers around the edges of. Having made his mark in comedies like The Hangover, look for Cooper to reach superstar status as an Oscar-level performer in the next few years, perhaps beginning with the promising work The Place Beyond the Pines, coming this year starring Cooper and Ryan Gosling. Having showed off his versatility and ready to establish himself as a consistent, superstar performer, Bradley Cooper is…Andrew McCutchen, the standout who is primed for another elite season.

Denzel Washington

Not Jay Pharoah

This is Washington’s 6th Oscar nomination. Wow. One of the most likable and consistent actors in the world for the past two-plus decades, Washington probably won’t take home the trophy this year, but he has long since established himself as more than just a pioneer for minority actors. Washington will go down in history as one of the greatest actors of this or any generation. With 2 Oscars, 2 Golden Globes, and numerous other memorable performances, Coach Boone/Frank Lucas/Det. Alonzo Harris/Mr. Shuttleworth is a surefire “Hall of Famer” for our purposes. He is… Derek Jeter. Sometimes you want to hate him (or his characters), but you just can’t because he is so doggone consistent and effective. Knows how to win on the big stage and constantly delivers, even as he gets older and older and should be breaking down.

Main difference? Denzel does not have a scent.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Oscar-producing machine.

This is Day-Lewis’ fifth Oscar nomination, and he will likely be taking home his third trophy. Having won for his stimulating performance in There Will Be Blood in 2008, a victory this weekend would give Day-Lewis two wins in six years, a remarkable stretch in this field. He will never be the most bankable star in Hollywood, but Day-Lewis has proven over the past two decades that his ability to disappear wholly and beautifully into a character is second to none. He brought Lincoln to life just as he did for Daniel Plainview, Bill “The Butcher,” and many other figures over the course of his career. He’s got a little to a lot of craziness in him, and we can’t always understand him, but his overwhelming talent cannot be denied. Daniel Day-Lewis is… Albert Pujols – the machine pumping out award-winning roles, homers, what have you. We can’t always understand what he’s saying, but he quietly goes about his business and constantly exceeds high expectations.

Run-producing machine.

Joaquin Phoenix

crazy, exhibit (a)

With his role in The Master, Phoenix reminded moviegoers that he is more than a certifiably crazy person. Don’t get me wrong; he is still seemingly absolutely loony. That being said, this role was perfect for him: An unstable man in an unstable world trying to find meaning. This is Phoenix’s third nomination. His performances in Gladiator and as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line were worthy performances but could not overcome more worthy nominees in Benicio Del Toro and Philip Seymour Hoffman doing an uncanny Capote, respectively. A man with a wealth of talent and a impressive body of work, Phoenix’s actual identity has often taken the forefront over his incredible performances. He is…Manny Ramirez. Heck, he’s probably peed in weirder places than the Green Monster. Their offstage, off-field actions often overshadow their Oscar, HOF-worthy work on the screen or field. Eccentric and inane without question, and always entertaining.

crazy, exhibit (2)

The Actresses

Jessica Chastain

Oscar nominations back to back years? She aight. Zero Dark Thirty is a relevant and well-timed work, and the same can be said for its budding star. Seemingly in every movie out there since The Help, Chastain, like Mr. Cooper above, is on her way to reaching superstar status. She’s already taken home a Golden Globe for her role, and she and Lawrence seem to be the frontrunners in this category. A late bloomer who has loudly announced their sticking around, Jessica Chastain is…R.A. Dickey, another performer whose story and work could not have come at a better time. Chastain’s work comes in a film as relevant to American livelihood as any out there. Dickey’s work was a wonderful respite from the talk of steroids and suspensions.

Jennifer Lawrence

I would like to kiss her on the mouth.

Confession: I may be a bit biased here, as I would like to maybe marry Jennifer Lawrence. Moving on. She won’t be going away for some time with The Hunger Games continuing as well as what is sure to be a full offer sheet for at least a decade. Jennifer Lawrence is only 22 (within range for me!). Already a nominee in 2011 for the delightfully titled Winter’s Bone, Lawrence absolutely came alive as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. She and Cooper lit up the screen, and without Day-Lewis, a sweep for Playbook would seem likely. Nevertheless, I am excited for Lawrence not just because she is my future wife, but also because she has decades before her filled with stunning performances like the ones she has turned in for the past few years. With undeniable talent, youth, and a wonderful passion, Jennifer Lawrence is…BRYCE HARPER. Is she a great interview? That’s a clown question, bro. Would I marry him? See last answer.

Yikes.  Still might kiss him on the mouth.

Naomi Watts

 

Nominated in 2004 for 21 Grams, this is Watts’ second Oscar nomination. In all likelihood, she won’t win this year, and she shouldn’t, but her performance as a desperate survivor in The Impossible is worth the OnDemand fee. A solid Hollywood star who isn’t quite among the elite performers of her time, Watts is still a respected veteran. She is… Aramis Ramirez. Yes, the resemblance is uncanny. And yes, they are both boringly effective, producing solid work that may not be remembered years from now without some prompting.

I wish we could provide context for this.

Quvenzhané Wallis 

Wallis is electrifying in Beasts of the Southern Wild, as you have probably heard. You probably also know that she was only 6 during filming…I was starring in critically panned home movies at that age…I haven’t made much progress since. Still only 9, who knows what’s in store for Wallis, and who cares to be honest. For her sake, I hope she lives a normal childhood and goes about life as she pleases…naaaahhhhhht gunna happen. I’m not too worried about her though. With an infectious spirit on and off the screen, I think Wallis will be a Hollywood force somewhere along the road. Given her age, innocence, and unknown future, Quvenzhane Wallis is… Aroldis Chapman, still blissfully immature but brimming with talent and energy. We don’t know what the future holds for them, but we know their work will be done with a room-filling smile.

Emmanuelle Riva

Riva is really old. Sorry, but it is the truth. Having the oldest nominee ever and the youngest in Wallis in the same group is something special that will surely produce laughs or even tears on Sunday night. Riva has been in about a million French films, most of which I haven’t heard of, but her performance in Amour is heartfelt and beautiful, and I’m glad to see her recognized in this talented group. She’s old as balls but dammit she’s got talent. Emmanuelle Riva is…Torii Hunter. She’s done a lot of work we may not remember, but it’s all been pretty good. Little known fact, she also robbed Barry Bonds of a homer in 2002. She loved playing Triple Play, the greatest video game of all time. Also, maybe Torii is a French name or something. Thankfully, she’s far less active on Twitter.

Keep your opinions to yourself. Just rob homers.

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Filed under Baseball, Dance, Fantasy Baseball, JUAN URIBE, MLB, Opinion, Oscars, Posted, Random Thoughts

Baseball’s Doing Something Right: Why the MLB Draft System Works

As the NBA allows for “one-and-dones” to exist, slowly eating away at the stability and integrity of college basketball, there is a contemporary professional sports league that does it right. Believe it or not, that league is the MLB, home of our nation’s fading pastime. While talented teenagers bolt from schools towards NBA millions, we cannot fault these athletes—many of whom come from low to middle-class backgrounds—for forsaking a college degree to sign lucrative contracts as young as possible.

The current system forces NBA-ready players like Kyrie Irving and Nerlens Noel to go to college for a year, both jeopardizing their health or draft value (notice why I chose these two?) and cutting away at the academic integrity of the schools they attend.

Recognize Irving in this uniform? No? Maybe because he wore it only a handful of times before getting injured during his freshman year. Suffice it to say Irving would have made out just fine in the NBA without his 8 GS at Duke.

Nerlens Noel, the latest victim of the NBA’s flawed eligibility rules, may have to wait a little longer to hear his name called at this year’s NBA Draft.


Meanwhile, the system also pushes student-athletes who are not ready to perform at the next level into the NBA, players such as throwback Omar Cook of St. John’s fame (1.7 PPG and 0 NBA starts) and Kosta Koufos (4.6 PPG in 86 starts), a man probably drawn out of school due to the precedent set by more talented Ohio State teammates. (Side note: I attended the 3 OT Celtics-Nuggets thriller ten days ago—Koufos started the game but was nowhere to be found on the court for the last 20 minutes of game time.)

Koufos spends a lot of time wearing this warmup, questioning his decision to leave Ohio State after just a year. Certainly a player who, under MLB rules, would have played 3-4 years in college before going pro.

One could go on and on with names like these, including a whole slew of Memphis grads (Shawne Williams and Dajuan Wagner to name just two), and the busts far outnumber the studs, the Durants and Irvings of the world. If the NBA and NCAA hope to strike a balance between fostering talent and allowing superstars to shine bright early, while also maintaining the integrity of the entity “student-athelete,” perhaps they should take a hint from their less popular, less flawed baseball buddies.

Baseball is very in touch with its policies and its players. Just ask Chris Coghlan.

While MLB has its share of struggles regarding young talent burning out, their system does a far better job of balancing encouraging superstar talent with pushing teenagers to develop for four years in college.

According to MLB.com, the main categories of eligible players to be drafted by Major League teams are:

  •  High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
  • College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
  • Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed

To summarize this summary, a high school senior can enter the MLB Draft upon graduating, but a player who enters college is not eligible for the draft until he has completed his junior year or is 21 years of age. This way, raw talents are encouraged to develop their game at the college level. Many players still immaturely choose the draft, but for the most part only the top talent each year is pushed to declare straight out of high school. No draft system will ever be perfect (if one was, drafting would be really easy…), but MLB’s is fascinating in that it makes athletes and their families do something we often dread: think. The three-year timeframe between graduating high school and being 21 does put a heckuva lot of pressure on prospects, but this tough choice tends to push players toward college rather than declaring straight out of high school.

Just ask Mr. Pedroia if he’s thankful for his time playing at ASU, where he was teammates with two other All-Stars: Ian Kinsler and Andre Ethier.

The numbers don’t lie. Only 5.6% of high school baseball players play NCAA baseball, and well less than 1% get drafted to the MLB straight out of high school. On the other hand, 10.5% of NCAA players go on to play professionally! Now there are differences between the NBA and MLB, one must admit. Terms for guaranteed money vary in the leagues, but each league guarantees their contracts, unlike the NFL, which allows for teams to essentially get rid of players at their whim. MLB also differs from the NBA in that its draft is huuuuuuuuuuuge – more than 1,000 players are drafted each year while the NBA’s draft has two round and less than 70 picks.

Similarly, however, an estimated 1.2% of NCAA men’s basketball players get drafted to the NBA while about .003% of high school varsity players will eventually play professionally. For the NBA, a system with options declaring right out of high school or after 3 years of college  solves ANOTHER problem- the minor leagues!  Seeing a kid or 2 or 3 years in college as they refine their game is a helluva lot better than a one and done going to the NBDL and vanishing from the face of the Earth!

Xavier Henry should have spent some more time in this uniform. Does wasting away in the D-League or on the Hornets’ bench really seem like a better option than developing under the tutelage of Bill Self? Bet you forgot who Xavier Henry was.

Every professional sport will have players who attempt to make it big before their minds or bodies are ready (Freddy Adu, Ryan Leaf, Demarcus Cousins it would seem), but as of right now the NBA is failing its pool of young talent and therefore its fanbase with regard to its handling of development of players.

Baseball’s system allows for the proper maturing of talent – whether it be mentally or physically.  Sure, there will always be freaks like Bryce Harper or Dave Winfield, but the majority of athletes in ALL sports need time to season their brains to the professional level.  Listen to a veteran talking about a rookie sometime – in any sport – they never talk about the things we drool over before drafts, verticals and bench press and Wonderlics; they talk about mental preparation.  If the NBA adopted the MLB policy, certainly there will still be bozos like DeMarcus Cousins who bolt before they are ready but the point is teams would then have the knowledge that a more refined, if slightly less naturally athletically gifted, player can have a positive impact quicker and more efficiently than those who failed to transition properly.

Stephen Strasburg was just one of many stud prospects who could light up a radar gun. His time at San Diego State allowed him to become the most surefire superstar of this generation.

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by | February 19, 2013 · 2:06 PM