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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Favre, All Stars, Cy Young Winners and Other Surprises

Jim Cryns on Sports

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Sports related surprises include finding a Honus Wagner baseball card in your dead grandfather’s bible. You might discover a deflated Johnny Unitas autographed football in a trunk in the basement, nestled next to your father’s vast collection of vintage Playboy magazines.

That’s what makes sports great: surprises. We’re surprised the Brewers were able to send three players to the All-Star Game. We’re astonished we have a baseball team who, in the thick of the season, acquired a reigning Cy Young Award winner. We’re surprised we’re talking about Brett Favre in July after he told the world he was done with football.

Surprises keep you young with anticipation, on your toes. That’s a good thing.

The Rams, who bring their road show to ConcordiaUniversity next week, had a few surprises of their own in a productive 2008 draft. The team will begin practices at Concordia on July 25. The team’s selections in the draft may provide a future sense of awe and wonderment, diamond in the rough players who will kick up some serious turf as they hit the ground running.

In the first place, it’s a coup the small college was able to lure the team to Mequon, a small burg north of Milwaukee. It’ll be good for business, tourists and the like. I didn’t realize summers were sweltering in St. Louis. Apparently a jaunt a couple of states north seems to be the remedy. Any way you slice the humidity, it’s good for the state.

How have the Rams improved through the draft?

The Rams’ organization collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the team and Keenan Burton agreed to a deal. Burton is as physical as Mike Tyson on a first-date and has a proven ability to find an opening. Burton is capable of giving the Ram’s a wonderful option under 25-yards, an impressive resume with possession situations.

Burton was invited to the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and proved to be a top performer in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle events at the combine.

Another jump out of the cake surprise will be defensive end Chris Long. Long is the son of Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, who taught his kid everything he knows, including how to be smug on camera. Expect Long to fight through the double teams which will be sent his way, a skill where he could use a little practice. He’s got a lot of size, power, ego, but lacks the top-end speed which would qualify him for elite status.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery was the Rams’ second round pick. It will be interesting to witness just how ingrained Avery will become in the offense when all is said and done this season. QB Marc Bulger told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the offense must find ways to use Avery other than just a deep threat because defenses will have “an answer for that.”If Avery develops a sound understanding of the playbook, he will be worth his weight in gold.

It may not have the same emotional effectiveness as a fan bending onto one knee and proposing to his girlfriend in front of the Jumbo-Tron, but the appearance of the Rams at Concorida is a surprise all its own.

Out With the Old

While many of us were watching the All-Star game and all its festivities, Gary Vanden Berg, the Brewers chief groundskeeper, was busy ripping up the infield at MillerPark, installing a bluegrass infield because some of the players didn’t like the action on ground balls. The old infield was torn out Sunday, right after the afternoon game. Vanden Berg says the new infield looks like a pool table, without the pockets.

In Chicago the Cubs organization renovated their field last fall and winter on a much grander scale. The ground crew removed 7,500 tons of dirt and installed a state-of-the-art drainage system. During the excavation, the crews found part of a goal post used during Bear games at Wrigley Field, old Watergate tapes and Jimmy Hoffa.

Quick Glance at Favre

I’m not going to spend much time on the Favre soap opera except to say, put it to rest already. I’m reading Bob Harlan’s book, Green and Gold Memories. He says how much respect he has for Favre and how the quarterback would never put himself ahead of the team. Yeah? I’m not sure how well he knows this guy. There was no bigger admirer of Favre than I was, and I’m not even a fan of the Packers. I enjoy them, but I’m not a fanatic. Here is a guy that could walk across Lambeau Field if it were covered in water. I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have his feet soaked if he tried it today.

Also in the book Harlan says Mike Holmgren was always in charge and get to the bottom of things with the team. Perhaps that’s what McCarthy should do. Come out and say what’s best for the team. Are they a better team with Favre, regardless of how much preparation they’ve made for Aaron Rodgers, or are they better starting over. Make up your damn mind and act like a head coach regardless of the player. You’re going to upset people no matter what you decide to do, so make a choice you can live with.

I Hart New York

Kudos to the Brewers and their three All-Star representatives. I was concerned about Ryan Braun in the Home Run Derby. I was convinced he was going to destroy a wrist and put a halt to pennant chances, but he performed well.

How about Josh Hamilton. I don’t usually watch the circus-like festival the day before the game, but I’m glad I caught this kid’s performance. He put the hurt on 28 baseballs sending them deep into the bleachers in the first round of the Derby, a new record. And I do mean smashed. Hamilton unloaded 500 foot tattoo-jobs into the upper decks at Yankee Stadium, bouncing off the signs on the rear walls of the stadium. He hit the ball so far I was waiting for it to come back around the other side of the stadium with stickers all over it from different countries. Remember the cartoons? Anyone? Bueller?

Hamilton seemed to do it without much effort, taking sweet easy swings. His former coach threw him the watermelons that sailed high over the center field and right field walls. Hamilton’s story is rather unique. A former first round pick, he spent three years out of the game in a cocaine-induced stupor with a Crown Royal chaser. Hamilton filled his nose with a $3.4 million dollar signing bonus. Now that’s one hell of a party. Much to his credit, Hamilton came back with the Rangers and is in the midst of a mind-bending year, leading the league in RBI’s, and has apparently turned his life around.You don’t need an old lady in a turban and a crystal ball to see an ESPN movie in the works. All things considered, given a choice between the cocaine and the feat he pulled off the other night, I’d take the 28 home runs in a rapid-heartbeat.

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