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Last weeks column was about a Hernandez that brought grief and shame to the Latino community, but this week we applaud Felix Hernandez, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Appropriately dubbed “King Felix” by his followers, his career was glorious and quiet while he wasted his talents pitching for an inept franchise. Felix is still a beloved member of the Mariners, but it is clear he is no longer the royalty he once was.

Felix Hernandez is pitching in his 13th season with the Mariners; a professional baseball career that he began at the age of 19. After his debut season, he joined the pitching corps at the age of 20 as a full timer, and thus began his string of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 30 starts, 190 innings, and 165 strikeouts. During his prime he was a guaranteed 200 inning/strikeout guy, with an ERA in the 2’s. Every season he would go out to the mound 30+ times, perform, dominate, and win baseball games 2-1. His team gave him minimal run support and he never complained. Contending teams would call the Mariners seeking a trade to acquire King Felix, and the Mariners would blow them off. In his 13 years, Hernandez has never played in the playoffs.

Now Hernandez has been sent to the disabled list with what is being referred to as “dead arm”. His numbers this year are not on par with his career averages, but they are keeping pace with his career decline the past two years. While fighting injuries last year, his strikeout rate fell to 7.2/9 innings, the lowest rate of his career and the first time it had been in the 7’s since he was 22 years old. While his strikeouts fell, his walks increased to 3.8/9 innings, the highest rate of his career. He also gave up 1.1 home runs per 9 innings, tied for the most since his age 20 season on 2006. In 2014 Hernandez’s ERA was 2.14, but since then his yearly average has been: 3.53, 3.83, and 4.73 this year. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) has risen into the high 4’s for the second consecutive season when prior to last year his high was 3.9. It’s obvious that his “dead arm” has died from exhaustion and what his body needs now is rest; no more baseball for King Felix.

Hernandez was one of the best pitchers of his generation. His consistency and willingness to stay with the Mariners out of pure loyalty to the team that signed him when he first came over from Venezuela is admirable. He never complained to the media, never demanded a trade, just showed up to work, worked his butt off, took his check, and went home. Someday his number will be retired in Safeco field, he might even have a bust in the hall of fame, but for now we must bow down and applaud the King as he tries to push through another season while his body falls apart.

One of the most bizarre stories in the sports world over the last three years took a final downward turn this week when Aaron Hernandez, former Patriots tight end, was found dead in his prison cell of apparent suicide. Even though his family is requesting a full investigation into his death and they are unwilling to rule it a suicide at this time, the evidence will likely prove that Hernandez took his own life while serving his life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd.

Before Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder in 2013 after his sister’s fiancé was found dead within a mile of his house, I remember him as somebody I was glad played in the NFL. He was a Latino football player, something that isn’t exactly in abundance in today’s NFL. I remember thinking he would be a good role model for young Latinos who chose to focus on football instead of other sports, but boy was I wrong. The reality was that he wasn’t a good man, let alone a decent role model. No matter his fame and fortune, he couldn’t get himself to be an upstanding human being, and that’s just too bad.

Hernandez had just been acquitted in another murder case late last week, though he was found guilty of unlawful gun possession which carries with it up to five years in a state prison. With the acquittal, though, the timing of his suicide seems very odd. He had just learned that there was a chance he’d be a free man again someday, even if that chance was fairly slim. Why barricade his door and hang himself now? It’s impossible to put yourself in his shoes, but we are all left with the question of why.

Why did Hernandez throw away a career in the NFL? Why was achieving his childhood dream not enough for him? Why did he wait until now to commit suicide? Why was playing in the NFL on a 40 million dollar contract not enough?

Hernandez formed an imposing tight end duo with current Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski provided the big plays while Hernandez was often left open underneath. Together they were two fast, physical, new age tight ends that seemed destined to make life easier on quarterback Tom Brady for the remainder of his career. Both were signed to lucrative contracts, but only one panned out and turned into the star the Patriots envisioned. Gronkowski is still a force in today’s NFL, a star beyond compare at his position. Would Hernandez have taken some of the shine off of Gronkowski’s star, or would he have enhanced it?

The sad truth is that we will never know the answers to these questions. We lost somebody who had the potential to be a leader in the Latino community, but was instead an embarrassment. Maybe he only killed Lloyd, or maybe there’s a handful of other crimes that he successfully covered up. Anyone who has ever been close with somebody who committed suicide knows there are infinitely more questions than answers.

I just have one: why?

After 74 attempts at winning a major golf tournament, Sergio Garcia finally broke through his mental barriers and won the biggest event of them all: The Masters. To don the green jacket was something that at one time seemed like an absolute certainty, but over time his star faded and he was labeled as a “choker” instead of a golfing great. Though he had moments that made fans shake their heads in sheer disbelief last weekend, he had many moments that made them jump for joy as well, and in the end it was those moments that prevailed.

Believe it or not, when the 37 year old Garcia was young he was assumed to be the European answer to Tiger Woods. His talent never quite took the next step, though, and he quickly fell by the wayside as other golfers put their tools together to further grow their stars while Garcia’s dimmed. García was finally able to put it all together, and after trading the lead back and forth with Justin Rose all day he finally wrestled it away when he needed to, on the first playoff hole after finishing tied with Rose after 72 holes.

Ignoring the fact that he went on to win the green jacket anyways, Garcia had crumbled on a few occasions on Sunday anyways, and he was lucky Rose never capitalized and wrestled the lead away for good. Leading up to the playoff hole, Garcia could’ve avoided it entirely if he had just made a 4 foot putt to win the

Masters, but he ran it along the edge of the cup and was forced o play another hole. After Rose’s tee shot found the bushes lining the fairway on the 73rd hole, Garcia only needed to make par to win the hole. It was on the lengthy birdie putt that he put the match away, burying it when he only

needed a two-putt to win. Rose and Garcia are buddies as well and were often seen congratulating one another after holes and joking back and forth. In all honesty, it was a bit odd watching two competitors getting along so well while golfs biggest championship hung in the balance.

Either way, Garcia capitalized on the shots that he needed to and mitigated the disasters that were awaiting him on many holes on the back 9 on Sunday. It’s a shame world number one Dustin Johnson was forced to pull out after taking a spill in his rental home near Augusta. He tried to tee off with his group on

Thursday but his back was too tight and he walked off of the tee box. Who knows, maybe the big hitting Johnson could have made the Masters even more interesting, but I’m guessing most fans were just fine with how everything played out.

Next up, the US Open that will be played at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. It’s not a far drive, only about 40 minutes from Milwaukee, and fans will have the opportunity to watch Johnson come back and try to take back the spotlight from Garcia.

Congratulations,

Sergio.

There is something about this team, these young Bucks, that is very different than it was earlier this season. It would be easy to bemoan the fact that Jabari Parker is injured again and fans can chalk up the season to another wasted year, but these Bucks are proving all doubters wrong. Going into the top seeded teams arena and beating them on their court speaks volumes about the Bucks and how cohesive they are as a unit right now. There is no need to rely on one player’s ability to dominate games, just the need to play good, smart basketball.

The 103-100 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night was exciting on multiple fronts. First, of showed that the Bucks can hang with the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. Second, and more importantly, it’s giving the team confidence heading into the playoffs. Getting into the second round of the playoffs is no longer a fantasy, it’s quite possible with this current squad. Malcolm Brogdon is playing exceptionally well and is making a late surge for rookie of the year. He has quietly put together a very respectable year while also showing off his maturity late in the season. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been doing their best to handle the scoring loads. When one of them is faltering Greg Monroe has proven his value by coming off of the bench and providing an interior scoring spark. This team is better than the “fear the deer” version of the Bucks from years ago, but that’s mostly because this team isn’t led by low-percentage jump shooters who think they’re better than they actually are.

Could this team, without Parker, beat the Washington Wizards or the Toronto Raptors in a 7 game series? Absolutely. Would they be able to push Boston to their limit in a 7 game series? On their best week they can hang with Boston punch for punch. The issues will come for the Bucks when their punches stop landing. The Bucks aren’t built to withstand a cold streak from Giannis, and if he goes cold the team will struggle to put up enough points to win a game. As Giannis goes, the team will go. The upside of that is that the all-star has proven himself capable of handling the stress of a team being put on his back, but for how long would he be able to carry it?

At this point whether the Bucks secure the fifth or sixth seed, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Whether they play the Wizards or the Raptors, they will need to play well, but not perfectly, to advance. What the Bucks don’t want to do is fall into a slump and drop in the standings back into the seventh or eighth seeds. Those seeds are matched up with Boston and Cleveland and nobody wants to play them right now.

Here’s the checklist: 1. Finish off the year strong and secure the fifth seed. 2. Go into the playoffs and knock off your first round opponent in six games. 3. Give the next team hell.

The part of the year college basketball fans anxiously wait for has finally arrived: March Madness is here! The state of Wisconsin has had some exciting years in previous seasons, including the University of Wisconsin nearly winning the championship with Sam Dekkar and Frank Kaminsky leading the way in 2015, and that same Wisconsin team making the Final Four the season before that. Wisconsin hasn’t been the only team dancing, with Marquette making it to the Elite 8 in 2013 and the Final Four in 2003. Marquette, though, hasn’t been back since 2013 and is on the fringe of returning again this season. Wisconsin was at one point a sure top seed in the tournament, but a recent ugly losing streak has them likely looking at a seed somewhere in the 6 range instead of a 3. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee almost got in on the fun despite a 11-24 record on the season when they made the Horizon Leagues final this week with a guaranteed tournament birth on the line, they lost to Northern Kentucky, though, in a tightly contested game. If UWM had won that game, they would have broken the tournament “record” for most losses in a season by a team that qualified for the tournament.

This years Marquette team has little chance of making a splash in this years tournament. Another year of development and it’s very likely that they could be contending for a top 3 seed, but this year they would be lucky to get a 10 seed in one of the 16 team brackets. Marquette doesn’t have the firepower or defensive prowess to hang with most teams. A Sweet 16 birth is likely the ceiling for this team, though they are more likely to lose in the first round than to make it to the second, let alone the third.

Wisconsin at one point seemed like it was going to be a dark horse in the tournament, a team that was unlikely to win but could go into any game with at least a fighting chance of advancing. A recent losing streak against unranked opponents has dampened the excitement around the Badgers, and they are likely to also have a ceiling of the Sweet 16, depending on the matchups they draw. Nigel Hayes leads the group of accomplished and young Badgers, with Bronson Koenig right alongside him. The question will be whether they can get their games right and minds focused on a one-and-done tournament when they haven’t been able to put away inferior opponents.

This feels like it will be an early ending to March Madness for fans of Wisconsin’s universities, but it should be an entertaining tournament nonetheless. Perhaps this will be the year a smaller powerhouse will be able to win the title game. More likely it will be a familiar face, but the unknown is what this time of year is all about.

Predictions: Wisconsin loses in round of 32, Marquette loses in round of 64.

Bring on the Madness.

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Anybody watching the Packers versus Cowboys matchup on Sunday night witnessed what easily might have been the best football game of this decade. From the giant lead the Packers held, to the massive comeback from the Cowboys, to the three 50+ yard field goals on the final two minutes, there was nothing more that could’ve happened to make the game exciting.

It was a battle of the old guard versus the up and comers. NFL centerpiece Aaron Rodgers against NFL upstart Dak Prescott. The Cowboys had been the best team all season in the NFC, ending up with a 13-3 record that included losses to only two teams. They had even thoroughly dominated the Packers earlier, but playoff football is a very different monster. Rodgers made several incredible plays, and in the end it was enough to maintain the grip on the game, barely.

After Mason Crosby hit a 56 yard knuckleball field goal that put the Packers up by 3 points with less than two minutes to play, it looked as if the game would end in Green Bay’s favor. Prescott and company had other plans, though, and in a matter of seconds they had marched down to the Packers 40 yard line and Prescott spiked the ball with less than a minute remaining. That spike cost them the game when the Cowboys couldn’t get another first down and settled for a 52 yard Dan Bailey kick that split the uprights and left the Packers fans with a horrible feeling that precedes a horrible playoff loss. The Packers were winning by 15 going into the fourth quarter, they couldn’t blow this game now, right? With 36 seconds left and one timeout Rodgers was determined to leave Dallas with the victory. Three plays later Rodgers had only advanced the Packers about 25 yards when he took a hard hit from a blitzing Dallas safety. Rodgers never saw it coming and his body crumpled to the ground, but the football remained glued to his right hand, amazingly never hitting the turf. Rodgers holding onto that ball during a blind-side hit was a miracle, and it will be discussed as long as football is talked about.

The next play would be even better, though, when Rodgers drew up his own play in the huddle and rolled out to his right, hitting tight end Jared Cook 36 yards downfield with two seconds left. Cool dragged his two feet inbounds just centimeters before his momentum carried his body fully out of bounds. The catch was incredible, and it put the Packers in position to win the game on a last second kick.

One timeout and two 51 yard kicks later, and the Packers left Dallas with a 34-31 victory. Mason Crosby became the first kicker in NFL playoff history to kick two 50+ yard field goals on the final two minutes that gave his team the lead. Who knows, maybe this is the team of destiny.

On to Atlanta.

Prediction: Green Bay 38 Atlanta 35

No Jordy Nelson, no problem. Aaron Rodgers and company withstood a slow start by their offense and took over the wild card playoff game against the New York Giants to the tune of 38-13. The score wouldn’t indicate it, but the game was actually much closer than Packers fans would have liked, with the game a close 7-6 in favor of the Packers just seconds before halftime. At this point, Rodgers was having a pedestrian day after a 4-11 start, Jordy Nelson was about to be ruled out for the game due to what would later be revealed as multiple broken ribs, and the Packers running game was nowhere to be found.

Enter Aaron Rodgers, the man who took over for Brett Favre and has since surpassed him in most Packers fans minds as the greatest quarterback to ever don the green and gold. Rodgers has proven himself to be the Hail Mary master, practically requiring that the play be renamed Hail Aaron after he converted his third touchdown in 12 months on the rarely-converted play. The way Rodgers throws his Hail Mary is unlike any other in the NFL right now. If you have some time, go online and find the fans video shot from the last second touchdown against the Lions last year, and you can see the height that Rodgers reaches at the top of the arc of his throw. He throws a parabola into the end zone, and he did it again Sunday to find Randall Cobb alone in the back for the easy basket catch. Just like that it was 14-6 headed into halftime and the Packers wouldn’t look back the rest of the way.

Their reward for defeating the Giants is a rematch with the NFC’s best, the Dallas Cowboys. Earlier this season Dallas embarrassed Green Bay 30-16 in a game that never felt like the Packers had a chance. The benefit of playing the Cowboys is that their offense is led by two rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Even if they are the two best rookies this year, they have still never experienced playoff football before and they’ve never had to play this many games in a season. The downside is that even though they are rookies, they play behind easily the best offensive line in the game, so any game-time jitters might not have an opportunity to take hold because they will have yards and yards of space between them and the nearest green jersey.

There is no denying that this game is going to be tough for the Packers. If this is the end of the road for the Packers this year, there will be no shame in losing on the road to the best team in the NFC, even if it will feel like the Packers once again fell short of their ultimate preseason goal. The Packers can beat this team, if only because they will have the best player on the field in Aaron Rodgers.

Prediction: Green Bay 24 Dallas 21

Raise your hand if you saw this coming. The Packers control their own destiny again, now having the ability to win their final two games and win their division. While this seemed possible four weeks ago, it was far from likely and certainly was not viewed as a probability. Since then, though, the Packers have went on a four game tear that saw them raise their record from 4-6 to 8-6. Coach Mike McCarthy has stated since the 4-6 start that 10-6 should be their goal, and Aaron Rodgers talked openly about running the table.

That talk seems like a distinct possibility now, with the final two games against stumbling NFC North foes Minnesota and Detroit looking very winnable. It is possible that the Packers wouldn’t need to win their final two games to make the playoffs, because some late season stumbling by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a little bit of luck could get them in the playoffs at 9-7. Still, the goal should absolutely be 10-6 and a division championship.

Rodgers has worked himself back into the MVP discussion after some early season snafus, being near the league lead in nearly every passing category while playing without a running back. Don’t be mistaken, as good as Montgomery has looked, and he certainly could be a running back next season, he is nothing more than this season’s Samkon Gado or James Starks at the moment. Montgomery has shown remarkable poise and patience when running the ball, which has brought old scouts out of the woodworks pointing out that they projected him as a better running back than receiver the entire time. As silly as a running back wearing number 88 looks, it is pretty fun watching him take handoffs and hit holes as if he has been doing it his whole life.

Could this team get hot and win a Super Bowl? Anything is possible, but the defense needs to shore up first, which would involve a lot of healing from injuries and a lot more consistency. Beyond that, Montgomery will need to continue his tear, and Rodgers will need to avoid further injuring his hamstring and calf. All of that put together does not lend itself to much confidence, but crazier things have happened.

The better question is where the Packers go from here once the season ends. Eddie Lacy has not proven to be durable, or even that good when he is healthy. He has shown flashes, sure, but it would be deviating from the Ted Thompson way to pay big money for a running back, and who could disagree with him. Does Montgomery attempt a full-time move to the running back position? Do the Packers draft another running back to pay rookie money and fill in the hole in the backfield? That seems the most likely option, but only time will tell.

Minnesota stands in Green Bay’s way this week, and the Packers should be able to handle them with ease and continue their march to the playoffs.

Packers 27-

Vikings 17.

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When number 5 ranked LSU came to Lambeau Field to face off against unranked Wisconsin they figured they would have no problem running up the score before flying home. LSU was the team that was returning 18 starters from their 9-3 team a year ago; they were supposed to be one of the best teams in the nation, until they played Wisconsin. Wisconsin took care of business against Akron and Georgia State before taking the next step of their daunting schedule against Michigan State in Michigan. How does a 30-6 beat down of the number 8 ranked team sound? It sounds pretty good to me.

Wisconsin, now ranked number 8 in the nation will face off against number 4 ranked Michigan, again playing on their home turf in Ann Arbor. So after going 4-0 and defeating two top ten teams in the nation, the Badgers are 10.5 point underdogs against Michigan. Double-digit underdogs are something that the Badgers are used to being, but where is the respect from Vegas? What happens if they beat Michigan handily this weekend and then travel back to Wisconsin to face off against number 2 ranked Ohio State? Will Ohio State be double-digit favorites in that game as well? I would hope not since the game will be played at Camp Randall Stadium and Wisconsin will have three wins over top ten ranked teams if they can pull out the victory in Ann Arbor. Even more telling is the fact that two of the three wins will have come outside of the state of Wisconsin, and none at Camp Randall Stadium.

Alex Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, took over for senior Bart Houston at quarterback last week against Michigan State and played better than anybody could have imagined. He went 16-26 for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The interception came at the end of the first half on a hail-mary play, so in reality Hornibrook avoided the drive-killing turnovers that plagued Houston. When Wisconsin plays a slow, methodical game based on clock control, turnovers are something that has to be avoided. Hornibrook continually proved that he should be the quarterback holding the ball for the rest of the season, and he did it against the stingy Michigan State defense.

Even better than Hornibrook has been the Badgers defense, led by senior Vince Biegel. The defense forced Michigan State into committing four turnovers, including three interceptions by lauded senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor. On the long fumble recovery, Leo Musso returned it for a 66 yard touchdown that would essentially put to end any doubts about who would win at the end.

Corey Clement continues to be the backbone of the Wisconsin offense though he has left much to be desired when being compared to Wisconsin running backs of old. He has averaged 3.9 yards per carry to go with 5 touchdowns in the three games he has played, but that number is inflated by his 5.3 yards per carry against Akron. In his two games against LSU and Michigan State he has averaged 4.1 yards and 2.3 yards per carry, respectively.

I expect Wisconsin to roll into the Big House and pick up the victory 23-17.

Robert Ruiz 8-24-16

What a month for WWE, with the company first getting dedicated mainstream coverage with the launch of their own page on ESPN, crescendoing with a full-fledged commitment to the “new era” by having Finn Balor win the new WWE Universal championship and AJ Styles earn a win over the “face that runs the place” John Cena, only to have Balor have to relinquish the title 24 hours later. A roller coaster would be putting it lightly, but lets try to pick through the Summerslam event and the ramifications afterward.

Finn Balor wrestled for over a decade as Prince Devitt before coming over to WWE as one of their newly signed “Indy darlings”. Balor had honed his craft in Europe and Japan and had earned a reputation as one of the best workers in the business. He has an integral part of the famed “Bullet Club” in Japan, eventually passing the torch to AJ Styles so that he could begin his arduous journey into the hierarchy of the WWE. He spent years in the “developmental” brand NXT, but not because he needed the time to master his technique, but because WWE was waiting for the perfect time to call him up while also letting NXT have a signature star that would bring fans to their ever growing live event schedule. Fans clamored to see Balor on the main roster, even as similarly big stars, including AJ Styles, spent little or no time in developmental prior to their WWE debut.

The audience fell in love with his “demon” character and his entrance was always a sight to see, yet he remained in NXT until just a few weeks ago, when he finally debuted as the number one contender for the newly released Universal championship. After defeating two of the company’s biggest stars in Rusev and Roman Reigns, Balor would be allowed the opportunity to face Seth Rollins for the new championship at Summerslam. The quick rise was punctuated by the surprising win at Summerslam, proving that WWE is committed to pushing the new influx of stars who made their names on the indy circuit.

All of Balor’s dreams would come crashing down, though, as he was forced to give up the championship less than 24 hours into his reign. WWE’s first Universal champion will likely be its shortest tenured for a long time to come. During the match with Rollins, Balor took a toss powerbomb into the guardrail and the impact forced his shoulder out of socket. He was able to immediately pop it back into the socket and finish the match but when he was shown in a sling the next morning it was obvious that something was very wrong. Balor had torn his labrum and would be out for 4-6 months.

So a new tournament is being held to determine who will be the next WWE Universal champion, but unless it is a big surprise there will be no replicating the reaction from the Brooklyn crowd at Summerslam. Balor had earned that title from his endless work before WWE and in developmental, but he was forced to go to the back of the line and will likely have to wait his turn while he proves to WWE that he can stay healthy. The worst case scenario might be a comparable to the other championship match at Summerslam, where Dean Ambrose was facing Dolph Ziggler. Zigger had gotten a push as the Heavyweight champion years ago, but the week after his victory he received a stiff kick to the head and suffered a concussion. He promptly lost the championship and after receiving a few more concussions, he was forced down the card and had to occupy a filler role for years as he proved that he could stay healthy. Finally, Ziggler got a push again this year, though his attempt to recoup the title proved futile and he followed up the pay-per-view loss with another loss to the new number one contender AJ Styles on Smackdown.

Hopefully Balor can come back from this injury and WWE management will see his injury as a one time thing. Balor has not been injury prone prior to coming to WWE, so hopefully his deserved push continues where it left off once his shoulder is healed.

Roberto Ruiz

Look no further than Jonathan Lucroy if you’re looking for the perfect Brewer. For seven years Lucroy represented the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee in the best way possible. Lucroy was never linked to any performance enhancing drugs, he never lied to the fans or the media, he never left town when the Brewers were still good and contending for a playoff spot. No, Lucroy was the prototypical Brewer, the kind of player I would want my kids to be. He showed up to work every day and emphasized the smaller parts of the game that rarely get any attention while also being one of the best hitting catchers in the league.

Lucroy never gathered the following or elicited the fanfare of Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder, but he was just as vital to the team during the glory years. He played through injuries, he was consistently a force at the plate, and he was always one of the best behind it. Pitcher after pitcher who came through Milwaukee raved about the pitch calling and pitch framing abilities of Lucroy, but those aren’t stats that are thrown around by the mainstream media. You’d never know that he was one of the best in the business at getting borderline pitches called strikes.

Often overshadowed by louder, more brash catchers such as Yadier Molina, Lucroy was a consistent presence behind the plate for the Brewers. He batted fifth for much of his time in Milwaukee, but also batted third and fourth enough times that it wasn’t an oddity. Being a catcher and locking down a main spot in the batting order isn’t unheard of, but being a defensive catcher who can swing a baseball bat is. It is that quality that made Molina and Buster Posey so sought after, and they made their millions and were universally loved by their fan base. Yet Lucroy never got the recognition or adoration that he deserved. It was only after all the other stars left or burned out did fans truly start to embrace Lucroy. I just hope it wasn’t too little, too late.

Unlike Braun and Fielder, Lucroy never got his payday, he still makes less than 5 million a year. He never held out for more money or demanding a bigger paycheck because that wasn’t his style. Only after he entered his 30’s and the Brewers had entered the rebuilding age did he finally make it known that he would prefer to play for a contender. He has made it clear he wishes to play in the World Series at least once in his career, but he never demanded a trade. He earned one, though, by showing up to work day after day and never once complained about his job.

I hope Jonathan knows how much many fans and media alike respected him and loved him. He personified what it meant to be from Milwaukee.

Thank you, Jonathan. Good luck in Texas.

What a difference a week makes. Just last week I was trumpeting Lesnar as the greatest thing since sliced bread, an outlier, a one-of-a-kind athlete that put all other athletes to shame. I praised Lesnar’s ability to come back to fighting after five years off and destroy someone of Mark Hunt’s ilk. I commended Lesnar for his business acumen and mentioned how much money he stood to make after merging the two worlds of real and fake fighting. I said all of thesethings right before it was announced that Lesnar had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Though it is currently unclear what Lesnar tested positive for, it has been reported to be an estrogen blocker.

What a fall from grace. He had inserted himself into the heavyweight title picture once again, could you imagine someone holding the WWE championship and the UFC championship at the same time? Lesnar famously said that “Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants” after the Hunt fight, apparently he thought that extended to failing drug tests.

One thing that always baffles me is how unwilling the public is to seeing how big of a problem performance enhancing drugs are in all sports. Fans like to think that the people that get caught are the only ones cheating, but how many professional athletes would cheat if they knew they were going to get caught? The ones who get caught were either too stupid to get away with it or their “Doctor” prescribed them something s/he shouldn’t have. Are people really that naive to think that Lesnar just happened to cheat for the first time this fight, just happened to cheat before a fight that wasn’t as important as his title opportunities or defenses? Either way, Lesnar got caught and now he will likely never make another return to the cage.

The interesting part is whether or not WWE decides to suspend him for 30 days as they always do for people who violate the wellness policy. It wasn’t a test that they administered, and I am not sure of the legalities in their contracts with talent, but I’d imagine they have to suspend him even though it would mean his absence from their second biggest show every year, Summerslam. Lesnar is a prideful man, does he even want to return to the WWE and risk getting negative reactions from the often hostile WWE crowds? Only Brock knows, I guess. The WWE fans are hard to predict, and with Brock being such a fan favorite it would be hard to imagine him getting jeered while in the ring, but at the same time it is hard to imagine a person who took steroids not get jeered while in the ring.

When asked about steroids prior to UFC 200, Lesnar said he was a “jacked white boy, deal with it”, but I guess he should’ve been more specific. Maybe “I am a jacked white boy who takes performance enhancers, deal with it” is what he is telling Vince McMahon right now.

Good luck with that, Brock.

Brock_Lesnar_in_March_2015 07-13-16

Five years away from the cage did a lot of good for WWE and UFC star Brock Lesnar, as his heralded return was a dominant one. Mark Hunt is a top ten heavyweight with heavy hands and the ability to knock any opponent down, but he was the one being manhandled by the much stronger Lesnar. After the fight Hunt would lament that he wasn’t sure how Lesnar is as strong as he is at 265 pounds, and he has a point. Lesnar is a freak of nature, a physical specimen that makes grown men around him look like prepubescent boys.

When Lesnar left the UFC five years ago on a losing streak, it was because of his struggles with diverticulitis, an ailment that left him lacking power, stamina, and the ability to take a kick to the gut. Heading into this fight, Lesnar was an underdog in large part because of his time away from the cage, the fact that the fight was announced without much lead up time, and the fact that he had left on a losing streak. When his match was elevated to semi-main event status after the Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier fight was dropped after Jones tested positive for performance enhancers, Lesnar knew his dominance would be on display for all to see.

One interesting aspect of this fight was that Lesnar is actually contracted with WWE, a form of entertainment based around “fake” fighting. Normally someone contracted with WWE would not be allowed to take part in a UFC match, but Lesnar is not like other people. Not only would Lesnar create a bit of crossover appeal, but he would also, likely, bring legitimacy to the WWE. When I say likely it is because Lesnar had to have done this knowing that he was likely to be the winner. Lesnar is not unintelligent, and he does not like looking like a fool, so if he thought he wasn’t going to win he would have never stepped foot back into that octagon.

Now the question that remains is how long it will be until Lesnar makes a full-fledged return to UFC. He is contracted at least through August for WWE, but details of his contract are scarce and he has left the WWE before to pursue other ventures. After the fight, Lesnar said that he does what he wants, and there aren’t many statements holding more truth than that. If there is one thing Lesnar has proven throughout his life, it is that he does what he wants.

With his time in WWE numbered, it would be smart for the WWE to get what they can out of him. They’ve already advertised Randy Orton as his opponent for Summerslam, but what if they book him to lose to one of their new stars the night after at Raw? Then when he decides to spurn WWE for greener pastures once again, they will be left with more than just their hands in their pockets, they will be left with a bonafide superstar that can remind everyone time and again that he beat the baddest man on the planet.

The Decision Part Two: Kevin Durant occurred this week, with the former league MVP agreeing to sign with the Golden State Warriors to help lead their super-team into the next season. With a player opt-out clause after the first season this is clearly Durant chasing the ever elusive championship ring before he plies his trade on the open market with a huge contract on the line. Right or wrong, players are remembered most for the championships that they won, or didn’t win. Michael Jordan is the best because he won so many championships (in a watered down league, but that’s another story), Bill Russell is fondly remembered because of the number of banners he hoisted, and Tracy McGrady is remembered for how many times he failed in the playoffs. If Durant and the Warriors are able to win the championship next season it allows Durant to seek the best landing spot for his family the following season without the added pressure of playoff failure hanging on his resume.

The comical part about the signing was the backlash against Durant from fans. Fans questioned everything from his integrity to his manhood, which was never fair. Fans like to put sports on a pedestal and act like every player treats every game like it is life or death. Do players enjoy winning and being considered the best in their respective sport? Of course, but we often forget that these athletes are people. Fans have no idea what transpired behind the scenes, they have no idea what pushed Durant into the arms of Steph Curry and company.  Consider the fact that Durant is moving from Oklahoma City to California for a second, consider the fact that Durant is leaving a team dominated by Russell Westbrook and his me-first mentality for Steph Curry and the Warriors mantra of being a family.

On a competitive level, Durant leaving for Golden State leaves much to be desired. Because Jordan was an ultra-competitive jerk with no friends, fans expect every great player to be like that, or at least to want to be like that. Players aren’t allowed to have friends in the business because they often get criticized for befriending the “enemy”. No matter that they are a part of a select group of people who are going to have trouble relating to anyone with a “normal” life because of their money and celebrity status.

Don’t get me wrong, everybody has a right to voice their opinion, and everybody has one. Fans choose to pay their money to enjoy the product put on by the NBA, and because of that they think that they are owed something by the players. If you devote your life to following another human being, that’s up to you, but these players owe you nothing. The team owes you a seat in a stadium, the cable company owes you a channel with NBA access, but the player owes you nothing. The player is a contracted worker who gets to decide which jobsite they would prefer to work at, don’t make them wrong for choosing a jobsite that looks more appealing to them and better works with their life goals after they have already fulfilled the contract work with the other company.

Don’t make it more than it is.

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Why, John Hammond, why? Why did you select a player whose talent is more in line with second round draft pick than a first rounder? I understand the rule of not making a trade just to make a trade, but why wouldn’t you trade down if the player you drafted was projected to be available well into the back of the first round? Is Thon Maker going to be a piece of the puzzle that brings the Bucks back into relevance? The selection of Maker is puzzling at best and horrendous at worst.

While the NBA draft was not full of talent like next years is projected to be, there were still quality players like Denzel Valentine and Henry Ellenson on the board when the Bucks made their selection. If the goal is to be a paltry team this year and try to grab a top selection in next year’s draft, I can live with that, but this team isn’t going to be a bottom of the barrel team next year. The Bucks have way too much young talent that is progressing year after year under the tutelage of head coach Jason Kidd to not be fighting for a playoff spot next season. The Bucks were the tenth worst team in the league last year but they were also one of the youngest both in terms of age and basketball experience. While a rookie available at the tenth pick is unlikely to lead the Bucks to the playoffs, there were nice pieces left to grab that could have contributed. As it stands, Maker is not expected to contribute in any meaningful way for years to come.

When the Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft he was a project player who was clearly very athletic and very young. After three years in the NBA Antetokounmpo is still only 21 years old and has progressed into being one of the most exciting young players in the league. Thon is nowhere near the caliber of player that Giannis is, even when comparing them prior to coming to the NBA. Maker couldn’t even dominate the Canadian high school basketball scene, how is he going to compete in the professional American league?

Thon Maker will be riding the bench for three years, coming in to get “experience” at the end of meaningless basketball games before being released when the team option comes up. Maybe the Bucks send Maker to the Developmental League and hope that he can develop a decent low post game there before calling him up to play in Milwaukee. But what happens when Maker can’t even compete in the D-League?

I am all for the feel good story, but this was Hammond swinging for the fences because he didn’t see any good players left. I guess if you don’t think there is any NBA level talent remaining in the draft, why not roll the dice on the guy that young know least about and is 7’1”. Who knows, I could be eating my words in 2020 when Maker is contributing for a NBA playoff team, but I doubt it.

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The wait for Cleveland is over, the King has returned from the NBA Finals with a championship trophy. Cleveland had not seen a championship trophy in over 50 years, but when LeBron James came out of high school and went straight to the NBA the same year that the Cavaliers won the NBA draft lottery, things were supposed to change. LeBron was the kid from Akron who would save Cleveland and deliver the championship that the city desired and deserved. LeBron instantly made the Cavaliers championship contenders and led them all the way to the doorstep before the San Antonio Spurs turned them away. While LeBron languished and hoped for a few more superstars to share the burden with, the Cavaliers surrounded him with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison. LeBron would leave Cleveland before winning a championship and would go on to win two with the Miami Heat.

The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, The Decision, all of these things convinced sports fans in Cleveland that they were forever doomed in the sports world. When LeBron became a free-agent again after his contract in Miami concluded, Cleveland fans did not dare get their hopes up that the King could return, even amid the swirling rumors. One Sports Illustrated article later and LeBron was “Coming Home”. Things had changed in Cleveland since LeBron’s departure; they had two number one overall picks in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson who had learned to lead the team to a .500 record but were crucially missing that last piece of the puzzle. LeBron is the missing piece to pretty much every puzzle, and his return concluded with another trip to the NBA Finals. Standing in their way ended up being the team that would put together the greatest regular season in history the following year, the team with the 2015 MVP Steph Curry. The Warriors would win that best of seven series in six games and Cleveland fans once again succumbed to the idea that their city would never win a championship.

The 2016 Finals arrived and the Cavaliers were faced with a familiar opponent, the greatest regular season team of all time, and the 2016 unanimous MVP Steph Curry. This Golden State Warriors team had gone 73-9 in the regular season and had just won three straight elimination games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. When Golden State won three of the first four games, heartbreak again seemed inevitable for the city of Cleveland. At least until LeBron put the whole city on his back and carried them past the Golden State Warriors and into the history books as the first team to ever come back from a 3-1 finals deficit and win. LeBron would average 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, leading both teams in every major statistical category. In the critical games five and six, LeBron scored 41 points each game and coupled with Kyrie Irving to ensure that there would be a game seven.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while and when I predicted the Cavaliers would win in seven games I did not expect that the series would go this way. Golden State may not be the greatest team of all time, like many expected they would be, but LeBron just may be the greatest player of all time. Sorry Chicago.

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Roberto Ruiz

Counting his time in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki passed Pete Rose for number one all time in career hits with 4,257 after his double on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the MLB record books don’t count hits in Japan as hits in the Major Leagues, so the record will remain Rose’s until there is another great young hitter that survives in the big leagues for nearly 20 years. As it stands, Ichiro is approaching 3,000 career hits in the United States, and will be the second oldest person to ever reach 3,000 hits in major league history.

There is little debate as to who was better at hitting the baseball Ichiro or Rose, with Ichiro taking that distinction handily. Even though Ichiro was 27 when he came over to the United States, he has a career average of .314 which bests Rose’s batting average by 11 points and he didn’t have the benefit of years of MLB pitching prior to his prime baseball age. Ichiro will always be best known for slapping a ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman and already being three quarters of the way down the base path by the time the ball reached the infield.

Ichiro created his own style of batting, slapping at the baseball more than driving it and using the momentum created from his swing to start him down the first base line. You see most players take a massive swing and if they make contact with the ball they have to take a moment to center their body before taking off down the line; that was never the case with Ichiro. When you average less than ten home runs a year but are amassing 200 hits a year, clearly your goal isn’t to hit it over the fence.

I will never forget the fervor created by Ichiro during my one visit to Safeco Field in Seattle. While sitting in the stands during a meaningless regular season game, the stands were packed with fans that would ooh and ahh every time Ichiro came into the batter’s box. The chant of “I-Chi-Ro!” would pound through the stadium with seemingly every fan joining in.  He ended that night 2-4 with two singles, the perfect Ichiro game.

The disappointing part of Ichiro’s career is that he was rarely ever on championship contenders. He has never played in the World Series and has only played in the American League Championship Series twice, in 2001 for the Mariners and 2012 for the Yankees. He batted .346 in the postseason and it would have been wonderful to see him playing in the World Series, but the downside of spending the vast majority of your career in Seattle is that you are rarely playing on a contender. For years, the Seattle Mariners relied on Ichiro getting on base and Felix Hernandez throwing a no-hitter to be able to win baseball games.

It’s too bad Ichiro played on the west coast until he was 38 years old because if he had been playing for the Yankees or the Red Sox his entire career his legacy would be quite different. As it stands, he will be regarded by many as the all-time hits leader, and that isn’t too shabby.

Jun 9, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball over Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the fourth quarter in game three of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports - RTX1FVBH

With a 3-1 series lead and two of the top superstars in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder were sitting pretty in the Western Conference Finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Many people, including myself, assumed that the Thunder were going to advance to the NBA finals to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors made fools of us all. Reminding us why they had the best regular season record of all time when they won the final three games to complete the comeback against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. There is no doubt that no matter who won the Western Conference that the NBA finals would be an exciting matchup, but it is a bit of a downer to get a rematch of last year’s matchup.

Kevin Durant has now played what will likely be his final game in a Thunder jersey. This series has to leave a bad taste in his mouth, especially after he got to see the best parts and worst parts of Westbrook in the same series. Some games Westbrook dominated like he was the best player in the league, but others he would literally and figuratively throw the ball away once the game got to crunch time. Billy Donovan, the coach of the Thunder, went from looking like a top tier coach to a college coach out of place in the professionals. Why would Durant stay in Oklahoma when he could go to a more prestigious team in a state that doesn’t make you pay income tax, like, San Antonio?

The real story though is the finals rematch that we all expected to happen most of the season but thought might not as of last week. Steph Curry and LeBron James get to battle it out again for NBA supremacy, except this time James is fighting to regain his spot at the top instead of trying to maintain a hold on it. Six straight finals appearances for James cannot end in only two championship rings, but that possibility is staring him in the face. James is an all-time great, he better make sure his legacy holds true and walk away with a banner to put in Cleveland.

Curry has to want this title as much as if not more than James though. His team just finished off the best regular season in NBA history and he was voted the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. It would be a shame to lose the best team ever moniker that will surely follow him around because he couldn’t overcome an aging LeBron.

This finals brings with it many questions that, frankly, I cannot wait to be answered. I can’t wait to see LeBron and Curry going toe-to-toe late into games, scratching and clawing to prove that they are the dominant entity in the NBA. The biggest question is who comes out on top?

My prediction: Cavaliers in seven.