May 3, 2012

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Bryce Harper Takes Center Stage in Washington

By: Matt Bowen

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals was anointed MLB’s next phenom when he left high school to play college baseball at the age of 16. At 17, he proved that was a worthy decision when he batted .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBI as a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada. His numbers were so impressive that he won baseball’s most prestigious award for a college player, the Golden Spikes Award. Even better, a month before he won the award, he was selected No. 1 in the 2010 MLB draft.

Now just 19 years old, Harper is present in the Washington Nationals lineup and is here to stay. In his first game on April 28, Harper took Hollywood by storm as the Nationals took to the road to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was special as it featured the games’ best player, Matt Kemp, and the games’ most talked about 19-year-old.

Bryce Harper made his debut against the Dodgers earlier this season.

Harper looked his age early-on in that game as he took in the sights and sounds of the game with eyes as big as baseballs. He didn’t disappoint either, smacking a double off the center field wall and later brought home an RBI with a sacrifice fly. In the end it was Kemp who let Harper know who is top dog as he belted a walk-off homer in the tenth. Regardless, Harper had a most impressive MLB debut.

Considering the times, Harper has more hype surrounding him than any other player in history. This goes for all four major American sports. The MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL have never had a kid create this much buzz. To be under such an intense spotlight, Harper is handling himself quite well.  After all, he’s only 19. While most 19 year olds are trying to discover themselves in their transition to adulthood, Harper is thriving in a dog-eat-dog world. 

When the Nationals announced that Harper would be making his MLB debut, there were plenty of skeptics saying he’s not ready, only hitting .250 at International League’s Syracuse and too young. The organization didn’t care as they threw Harper in to see if he could swim. So far he looks like Michael Phelps on an MLB diamond.

In just four games Harper is hitting .385(5-for-13) with two runs scored and two RBI. The thing that stands out the most is not his bat, but his arm as Harper has made a couple of dazzling throws from the outfield. Fans should find a way to watch this budding Hall of Famer play ball. Yes, he’s only 19 and that’s a very bold statement considering he’s played four games in the big leagues, but this kid is downright spectacular.  Just wait until the day when his body matures. Only then will we begin to see what Harper can truly accomplish.

So far, his life is reading like a story book as every diehard MLB fan is drooling at this kid’s raw talent. If he’s within a tank of gas from your town, take the time to be awestruck.

April 5, 2011

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Finding Fun in a Lost Season

By: Rick Jarrell

A losing season doesn’t have to be a complete loss for the fans

Being an NBA fan can be a fun and exciting experience, especially if your favorite team has a chance to make a run at a title. Recent draft picks, player acquisitions, or a new coaching regime can turn a team around in the blink of an eye. But sometimes these triumphed moves don’t pay dividends as expected, and the season becomes a long, drawn out exhibition. It doesn’t mean you have to suffer, though! There’s still value to be gained from a lost season if you follow these guidelines.

Take Advantage Early

One of the benefits of professional sports is the new slate every team gets at the outset of each season. No matter the previous season’s outcome, a new season brings optimism that this could be the year. What if all the offseason moves come together like a puzzle and bring the city a title? That rejuvenating feeling, though, is often temporary. Chances are your team’s hopes and dreams of a championship will not come true – but all is not lost!

Take advantage of the new season before it sours. Attend a few games early on. Catch the games on TV while they’re still competitive. Buy merchandise while it doesn’t feel like a waste of money. Support the team while it’s more pleasurable than grueling. Because we all know those waning months of a season going nowhere can be torture to a fan, as well as to the players and organization. Look at the Cleveland Cavaliers this year:  after LeBron James’ departure, experts predicted this season to be abysmal for the Cavs. Those experts were right, but the team had their moment in the sun with a surprising 4-4 record in the first eight games of the season. Enjoy the early blast off before the season is forced down to Earth.

Rebuilding Doesn’t Mean Quitting

When the season does begin to take a turn for the worse, instead jumping ship, try to accept it. The rebuilding phase is an inevitable part of a professional sports organization (unless you’re the Lakers or Celtics, that is). Instead of grading the team on wins and losses, assess the development of the individual players. Pretend you’re part of the front office. Analyze the potential of the current players and make decisions on who should be part of the future, and who should be shipped out. The group assembled may not be great at the moment, but there are pieces on every team that could become superstars or major role players with the right surroundings.

Have you ever spoken to someone who remembers seeing Michael Jordan play as a rookie? And how cool it sounds? And how jealous it makes you (and by you, I mean me)? While there will probably never be another Jordan, a superstar in the making may be developing right in front of your eyes. Don’t miss the opportunity to see players like John Wall, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love mature into their full potential. And if there isn’t a future superstar on the current squad, there could be another Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, or Robert Horry in the making.

Promotions and Giveaways

It’s natural for a fan to lose interest once the losses pile up. The opening game sellout can turn into a comparatively vacant area if the team doesn’t start performing quickly. At the end of the day, however, the NBA is a business. The unsold seats represent lost revenue for a league struggling financially as it is, so they create various promotions and giveaways to re-entice fans.

Check to see what your local team has to offer and put together an outing. This year alone, the Washington Wizards have done ticket giveaways, family fun packs, pregame theme parties inside sections of the Verizon Center, and pregame bar-hops around the arena, to name only a few promotions. And similar promotions exist all around the league. Even if the game doesn’t go as pleased, the surrounding events make it for a solid group outing.

When Stars Comes to Town…

Although your favorite team may be wasting away like rotten vegetables, that doesn’t mean there isn’t good basketball to be seen. Every team in the NBA plays each other at least twice a season. When the schedule comes out, make a note of when the top teams and players are coming to town. Get tickets early or wait for a deal later in the season. Snag some last minute promotional giveaways.

The Wizards have been in rebuilding mode for a few years now, and it hasn’t been the most fun for the fan base, but I’ve been able to see Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, and Derrick Rose in person without breaking the bank. I’ll admit those three games weren’t exactly competitive, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

There’s Always Next Year

The misery will only last so long. It sounds cliché, but there’s always next year (or the year after that for those teams in serious disarray). Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a lowly 23-59 – another lost season for the franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. But last season, they surprised the NBA by making the Western Conference playoffs and pushing the Los Angeles Lakers, in between their two back to back titles at the time, to the 6th game of the first round – a series widely accepted to be a cakewalk for the best team in the league. The Thunder had a solid young core, not unlike many others around the NBA. Next year your team could make a similar jump.

Plus, the way the NBA is currently arranged, the more losses a team accrues, the higher the odds they’ll earn a top draft pick. A deep playoff run is favorable, but the consolation prize of a potential star isn’t bad.

Transform your anger and frustration from seasons past into excitement for your new draft pick, offseason acquisitions, or coach. Because this could be the year that your “what if?” comes true in the form of a championship – a truly just reward for the years of misery.