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We are now halfway through the Major League Baseball season, and it is time to hand out some midseason awards. This has been the year of the pitcher. Earned run averages are lower, home run totals are down, and there have already been 4 no-hitters (2 perfect games). Now that the steroid era has come and gone, I think we will see more and more dominating games from pitchers.

As for teams, the Detroit Tigers are making a push at another central division crown. At the break, the Tigers are a half game behind the Chicago White Sox who went on a tear throughout June and July. The Padres, Braves, and Reds have surprised everyone by taking hold of first place in their respective divisions, showing no regard for the favorites in the National League. Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Brennan Boesch are playing like veterans and keeping their teams in the hunt. It truly has been an eventful first half.

Now for the awards…

AL MVP at the break – Miguel Cabrera, 1B  Detroit Tigers          

Miguel Cabrera is having one heck of a season. He has led the Tigers to a 48-38 record and has come up with big hit after big hit. Not only is he helping Detroit in the win column, but he is also in the hunt to be the first winner of the triple crown ( leader in HR, RBI, and AVG) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera leads the majors in batting average at .346, is second in home runs with 22, and leads the majors in runs batted in with 77. He is also the league leader in OPS (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage) with a 1.074. Miggy can do it all. Almost half of his homers (10) have come in the 7th inning or later, showing that he has ice in his veins with the game on the line. Cabrera has proved that the Tigers are “his” team, and that he will do everything that he can to take them deep into the playoffs. As of right now, no one is playing better than Cabrera. Also, I am not sure that I would trade him… for ANYONE. He is only 27 years old, is now a solid defensive first baseman,  and everytime he comes to the plate, I think he will hit a double or a home run. He is just that good. He can take the ball to right field and has amazing plate discipline. About 2 months ago, I made a bet with a friend (Billy Ward) that Cabrera would win the triple crown. I thought it was a longshot, but I knew that if anyone had a chance, it was Cabrera. We made a $5 bet and Billy gave me 5-1 odds (stay tuned for results of bet).

NL MVP at the break – David Wright, 3B New York Mets    

This was a tough choice. Joey Votto, of the Cincinnati Reds, has had an amazing first half and has brought the Reds back into the playoff race for the first time in years. Adrian Gonzalez has led the Padres to a huge turnaround, giving them a 2 game lead in the NL west over the Colorado Rockies. But, David Wright has done everything the Mets have needed, and more. Wright is batting .314, with 14 homers, 65 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. He plays superior defense and is the definition of a 5-tool player. With the injury to Carlos Beltran and struggles of Jason Bay, the Mets have needed David Wright to play like an MVP, and he has. He brings it every game, and with Beltran coming back this week, the Mets should be in the mix with the Braves and Phillies in the battle for the NL East crown.

AL Cy Young at the break – David Price, SP Tampa Bay Rays      

The American League hasn’t quite had the same success in the pitching department as the National League, but David Price has come into his own. In only his second full season, Price is now the unquestioned ace of the Rays staff. He is 12-4, with a 2.42 ERA, and has kept the Rays in the hunt for the AL East crown. At only 24 years old, Price is only going to get better. He proved in the All-Star game that he has electric stuff, consistently hitting 98 and 99 on the gun. If he can continue to pitch the way he has in the first half, the Rays will be giving the Yankees and Red Sox all they can handle come October.

NL Cy Young at the break – Josh Johnson, SP Florida Marlins          

It is hard to argue with the season that Ubaldo Jimenez is having (15-1, 2.20 ERA), but Josh Johnson is heating up, and Ubaldo is cooling down. Ubaldo’s ERA has gone from a 1.15 to a 2.20 in his last 4 starts, which isn’t bad at all, but Johnson has been a little better. Johnson sports a 9-3 record with a 1.70 ERA. That is not a misprint. Johnson has the best ERA in the majors and has been a force on the mound. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches, there are not many pitchers who can command a game the way that Johnson can. He is another youngster, only 26 years in age, but hasn’t let that have an effect on his confidence. In his last 10 starts he has given up a total of 7 runs, with a record of 6-2. And anyone who watched the All Star game on Tuesday knows what he brings to the table. He can hit 98 on the gun and keeps runs off the board. If the Marlins have any chance of coming back in the NL East, it will be behind the stellar pitching of Josh Johnson.

AL Rookie at the break – Brennan Boesch, OF Detroit Tigers      

When Brennan Boesch was called up for a game earlier in the season, all I could think was, “Here is another guy we will bring up for 20-30 games this year, just like a Don Kelly or Ryan Raburn. Why can’t we just find a guy who will play everyday in the outfield?”. Well, 3 months later, Boesch is that guy. He leads all rookies with a sterling .342 batting average, and has 12 HR and 49 RBI as well. He has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball. The best compliment I could give him is to compare him to Todd Helton, who is one of the best hitters of the last 30 years. They are both lefties and have a kind of “helicopter” swing. Boesch is a very aggressive hitter, but has been able to work the count and draw a crucial walk from time to time. The Tigers needed someone to step into left field and play every day, and Boesch has done that, filling a huge void in the their lineup. He is now batting 5th, serving as Miguel Cabrera’s “body guard” in the lineup. Boesch completely came out of nowhere, and wasn’t even a top 10 player in the Tiger’s farm system. People have said that he will slow down, or show some signs of wear and tear, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of cooling off (knock on wood).

NL Rookie at the break – Mike Leake, SP Cincinnati Reds        

Jaime Garcia has been providing some huge help to Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in the Cardinals rotation, going 8-4 while posting a 2.17 ERA, and Jason Heyward has burst onto the scene in Atlanta, but Mike Leake has given the Reds a reliable starter who can go 7+ innings. This is something that they haven’t had in a long time. No one expected the Reds to be anywhere near first place when the season started. Mike Leake has quietly helped Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, and Brandon Phillips turn this team around. He is 6-1 with a 3.53 ERA and 12 quality starts, failing to go 6+ innings only once. That is a very underrated stat when looking at a pitcher. Leake has been saving the bullpen for the later innings of games and the Reds always have a chance to win. To continue with the comparisons (Boesch-Helton), Leake pitches like Greg Maddux. Obviously, he is nowhere near the pinpoint control that Maddux exhibited throughout his career, but he attacks hitters the exact same way. He works the corners, throws strikes, and forces ground ball after ground ball. He has shown some signs of slowing down, but hopefully he can help to keep the Reds in the playoff hunt.

AL Manager at the break – Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox      

Not too long ago, Ozzie Guillen was rumored to be losing his job as manager of the Chicago White Sox. Now, the White Sox sit atop the AL Central after going on a tear the last 5-6 weeks of the first half, finishing with a 25-5 record. The White Sox looked to be out of the race after April and May, but now have the south side fans excited for the second half. Ozzie may be loud, opinionated, and stubborn at times, but he has done a great job with a lineup and rotation that isn’t that good. Guillen is getting the most that he can out of his players, which is what he needs to do if the White Sox will have any chance come September. Starting pitcher Jake Peavy is out for the season, so that may become a problem, but the White Sox have had pretty good outings from the rest of the rotation. Hopefully the All-Star break cooled them off a little…

NL Manager at the break – Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves            

Bobby Cox has announced that he will be retiring at season’s end. Hopefully his final season will continue into October, because no one deserves it more. Cox has been a great manager, leading the Braves since 1978, compiling 5 NL pennants and one World Series Title in 1995. This season, he has led the Braves to first place in the NL East, with a 4 game lead over the New York Mets at the break. This is surprising due to the fact that he doesn’t have his three headed monster in the pitching rotation (Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz), Chipper Jones isn’t getting any younger, and the roster is full of young, inexperienced players. Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Billy Wagner have provided the Braves with the necessary experience, but all of them are at the end of their careers. It seems as if the players are “playing for Bobby”, because they know it is his last season. Whatever the case may be, the Braves are red hot, and Bobby Cox is the man at the wheel.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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The Summer of 2010 will be remembered in sports history as the year Spain won the World Cup and “The Decision” was made. ESPN gave LeBron James hours of publicity and speculation leading up to his choice. Analysts and former players guessed at where he would go and whom he would play with. The talk started months, even years ago. Last Thursday, Lebron finally gave everyone an answer, and no two people were happier than Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (well maybe Pat Riley).

Lebron James had the ball in his court and he made his decision. His choice changed the landscape of the NBA as we know it for at least the next 6 years. The Miami Heat completely unloaded their roster and landed three of the top 10 players in the NBA. People have made a huge deal about him being on television for the past week. All I heard from tv personalities and close friends was, “All of this hoopla for one guy?” and “I cant stand seeing Lebron on ESPN every second, when will this end?”, but what did people expect? This guy is changing the game with his passing, rebounding, and scoring. He plays like Magic Johnson, and he will always have you walking from the television after watching one of his games saying, “Wow, he is amazing”. I guess everything was a little overkill, but why not just change the channel?

So, was this the right choice? In the end, Lebron James did what he thought was best for himself. And for him, that was having the best chance to win. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to people, seeing as Lebron made this clear one month earlier in an interview with Larry King. Lebron said “I want to go somewhere I can win a championship. Not just one, but multiple championships”. He decided that winning a championship(s) was the most important thing to him. How can we fault him for that? Isn’t that what playing the game is about? He decided that he had a chance to join two amazing players and win. A lot.

People always talk about records and stats. It is how analysts, scouts, kids, and even some guys drinking beer at a weekly poker game define a player. Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, Wilt’s 100 point game, Gretzky’s 215 point season, Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown passes, and so on. Those records are amazing. Good for those guys. They are phenomenal athletes, but why not focus on team records? The Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games in the 1971-1972 season. The Boston Celtics went 50-1 at the Boston Garden in 1986 (regular season and playoffs). The Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in the 1995-1996 season. Why not set some team records?

I cannot fault Lebron for choosing to join the Heat. He has succeeded in striking fear into the Magic, Celtics, and Lakers. Scratch that. The entire league is probably saying, “How are we going to beat them?”

What is the difference between Kobe getting Gasol, and Boston getting Garnett and Allen? Well, Lebron is taking less money (as are Bosh and Wade) to join a team and win a championship. It is completely his decision. That is the difference. He is deciding to be a team player. Kobe couldn’t win one without Shaq, so he cried, and literally begged to be traded for months (to a contender), until he was handed Pau Gasol for a bag of cracker jacks. The Celtics got Garnett, because Kevin Mchale (GM of Timberwolves) wanted his old team to regain their championship form (I’m just kidding, but maybe…). As much as people want to think that players like Russell, Bird, Magic, and Jordan won by themselves, they are wrong. They all had very good players around them.  Maybe he wants to win 5 championships and then focus on the record books while joining another team, I mean he is only 25.

Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a letter to Cleveland fans about the departure of the aforementioned James. In the letter, Gilbert attacked Lebron for supposedly “quitting” on the team during the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. “He quit,” Gilbert said. “Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar.” He continued by saying, “It’s not about him leaving. It’s the disrespect. It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I’ve been holding this all in for a long time.” This seems eerily similar to a “Text from Last Night”. This is a website started by a fellow University of Detroit Jesuit Alum, Ben Bator. Basically, the site posts funny/stupid texts that people sent each other the night before (pretty humorous, check it out).  The only thing is, Gilbert’s letter seems like it should be in the category of a “Drunk Business Memo from Last Night”. He guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a championship before Lebron. I mean honestly, was he sober?

This was so classless it was hard for me to read. Dan Gilbert is a fellow Michigan State Alum, and longtime friend of Tom Izzo, so obviously I didn’t want it to be true. As for raising your children? What does that have to do with this? If anyone wanted to use it as a learning experience for their children, it should have been the perfect example. Kids are taught to be “team” players, to work with others, and to share. Oh and you know what else you teach kids? Two wrongs don’t make a right. If Gilbert actually thought Lebron was in the wrong, couldn’t he have just taken the high road and said something along the lines of “Hey, you win some you lose some. Today we lost.” Lebron James took less money to play with two great players and work as a team. The work as a team part is yet to be seen, but he showed last Thursday that he wants to give it a try. He went to Dwyane Wade’s team. He didn’t want to leave Cleveland, but the opportunity cost was greater in Miami and he was a FREE AGENT. Isn’t that the way economics works? The NBA is a business isn’t it?

Also, I do not understand why Gilbert starting saying Lebron “quit on the team” the minute after he announced he was leaving. Wasn’t he offering him a max contract up until that decision? Would he have said anything at all if Lebron had stayed? I doubt it.

For the record, I am not a big Lebron James fan; but I do respect him. I think he should work on his shot, and take less 3s and outside turnarounds until he becomes more consistent from long range, but hey, that just me nit picking. Also, I think he could have handled the whole situation better. There is no need to put yourself on display for the world to see and hear your decision about what team your going to play for, even if it was ESPN’s idea. All he needed to do was say what team he was going to join, and ESPN still would have put him all over Sportscenter.

The reason I am defending Lebron is because of what he did. He wants to win and he realized where and who presented him with the best chance. I have heard people saying that they want to see him fail and lose, because they don’t like him and don’t think it is fair. Other people say that you can’t win with just 3 players. I say they win it with Sue Bird and Diana Turasi as the 4th and 5th players, but that is just my humble opinion. Now they have brought back Udonis Haslem, and are on the verge of signing Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Sounds like a championship team to me. Being a Pistons fan, I am annoyed because I don’t think we have a chance of getting out of the East for a good few years, and because I would have loved to have those 3 players on my team. Wouldn’t anybody?

The reason I want to see the Heat succeed is because I think it would make athletes realize that taking paycuts and opening room for other players is what teamwork is about. Some people have huge egos and need to be the highest paid athlete at his/her position. I don’t get it. If you know you are good, do you really need the highest paycheck to prove it? Tom Brady took a hit to his salary so the Patriots could sign other players. Didn’t they finish with an undefeated regular season?

Maybe this whole Miami thing won’t work out. Maybe the Heat will lose in the playoffs. Maybe they won’t win a championship at all. I don’t know. But maybe, they will succeed and people will realize that you can’t do it on your own in professional sports. It is about the team.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

AL Central

Chicago White Sox:

The south-side Chicago team is looking to bounce back after finishing 4 games below .500 and 3rd place in the “grind it out” central division. Last year was only the second time in the past ten seasons that the Sox failed to win at least 80 games. This group of players is a mixture of young and old, with some new players coming into the fold, while a group of veterans still remains.

The pitching staff is led by Jake Peavy, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres late last season. Peavy gives the White Sox an elite arm in the rotation, a go-to-guy, something that they have not had in a while. One could argue that fellow starter Mark Buehrle has been that man, but I  don’t think that he is as dominant as Peavy, who when healthy, can win 20 games. Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Freddy Garcia round out a solid rotation that should be the reason the Sox sink or swim. Bobby Jenks anchors the staff as the closer, and is looking to regain his old form with a sub 3.00 ERA.

As for the hitters, you will want to keep an eye on Gordon Beckham. This second year player out of Georgia had a great rookie campaign and will be looking to build off of that this season as the regular second baseman. He has the pop in his bat to hit 20-25 home runs. The return of Carlos Quentin and how he will respond to his injuries will be a big question entering the season. He looks solid so far, and had a good Spring, but the season is still young. Quentin, Alex Rios, and Alexei Ramirez will all need to bring their games up another level this season if the Sox have any hopes of making the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians:

It seems like just yesterday, the Cleveland Indians were winning division title after division title, led by Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. In reality, those days are long gone, and it seems as if the chances of a division title anytime soon vanished with the departures of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

The Indians have a mediocre pitching staff, at best. That is being nice. Fausto Carmona has looked solid, but his ERA the last two seasons has been 5.45 and 6.32, so I don’t like the track record. The rest of the staff is young and inexperienced, and will have a tough time getting the heart of any lineup out, especially with Kerry Wood on the DL.

The hitting isn’t too much better, but has some bright spots. Grady Sizemore had a poor season last year, but should bounce back. He is the type of player that will fix his mistakes and work hard to get better. I am looking for him to have a strong season with 20-25 home runs, 85-90 RBI, and 35 stolen bases. Asdrubal Cabrera is another solid player who provided some speed and pop at the top of the order last season, and should continue to improve with a full season under his belt. Shin-Soo Choo provides the power that this lineup needs, as he hit 20 home runs and batted .300 last season. The Indians will need his bat, and that of the highly touted Matt LaPorta, to be connecting right out of the gate if they have any chance at winning this division.

Detroit Tigers:

The Detroit Tigers are ready to prove that they were worthy of representing the AL Central in the playoffs last season. After letting a large division lead slip away in the remaining weeks of last season, the Tigers are out to prove that they belong with the best, as they did in 2006 when they captured the American League Pennant and a World Series birth.

The pitching staff is anchored by ace Justin Verlander, who bounced back from a horrible 2008 with a CY Young-type performance in 2009. He led the AL in strikeouts, won 19 games, and was a workhorse pitching 240 innings. Jim Leyland will need that again if the Tigers look to capture the AL central crown. Newly acquired Max Scherzer is a solid pitcher who can rackup the K’s as well. He may not be able to replace Jackson and the innings and ERA that he provided, but he will be a reliable arm in the rotation. Last season was Rick Porcello’s coming out party, and I expect more of the same from him this year. Not too much of a change in his ERA (3.96), but an increase in innings and maturity. I think that he can win 17 or 18 games in this league, I just don’t know if that will be as early as this year. Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis are the question marks of this rotation and will need to provide quality starts for the Tigers to make a run at this thing. Closer Jose Valverde brings experience to the bullpen and should help the Tigers win the close games they notoriously let slip away.

The batting order is not as solid as it was in years past. Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez aren’t getting any younger, and Adam Everett and Geral Laird provide little, if any, power or average at all. With that said, the Tigers do still have Miguel Cabrera who is in the best shape since his early days in Florida and can hit the ball a country mile. He will have another solid season and look to keep his 30 HR 100 RBI streak alive, as well as batting over .300. The addition of Johnny Damon will bring experience and leadership to the Tigers, that I believe will prove invaluable in late game situations and down the stretch. He is a solid hitter and fielder, but his weakness is his arm. Hopefully all of his other intangibles will make us forget about that. Brandon Inge provides one of the best gloves in the game at the hot corner, but needs to pick up his average to go along with his surge in power. Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are the young guns of the group and may make or break the Tigers season. Jackson is a young speedster out of the Yankees farm system and has an eerily similar style of play to that of former Tiger Curtis Granderson. If Jackson and Sizemore can come close to replacing Granderson and Polanco, the Tigers will be in great shape come August/October.

Kansas City Royals:

The Kansas City Royals have been the doormat of the AL Central for the last 10+ seasons. They have not made any big changes in those years and have had problems signing players who want top dollar contracts. Their situation is similar to one the Tigers were in a few years back, before Mike Ilitch decided to start spending some money on his players. If the Royals can’t realize that they need to do this, they won’t be contending anytime soon.

The Royals pitching staff is led by Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke. He is  strikeout machine and knows how to keep runs off the board. He finished last season with an ERA of 2.16 and continues to get better. Look for him to be the lone bright spot on this team. Joakim Soria provides a strong arm at the end of the bullpen, but the question will be how often they are able to get to him when Greinke isn’t making the start.

As I eluded to earlier, the Royals have not gone out to get top free agents or draft picks. They did sign Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and Jason Kendall, but none of these players are in their prime, and none of them provide a bright future. I don’t understand why they signed these players other than the fact that they play hard, and want to win (which is a big difference than actually winning). Billy Butler is going to have a breakout season in home run totals, as he should convert at least 10 of his 50+ doubles into round-trippers. Butler should lead this lineup, but he can’t do it on his own.

Minnesota Twins:

The Minnesota Twins were the comeback kids last season, tracking down the Tigers, and beating them in a one game playoff to advance to the postseason. Every year the Twins seem to be down and out, and every year they crawl back into the picture. Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball, and gets more out of his players than most, which is why you can never count the Twinkies out.

The pitching staff is young and ready to perform. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn all provide young, healthy arms that should build off of solid 2009 performances. Francisco Liriano is the wild card of the group, and if he regains any of his old form, the Twins could make a run. The loss of Joe Nathan is huge, though, and may be the reason the Twins aren’t playing in October.

The offense is one of the best in the division, and added Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and J.J. Hardy in the offseason. American League MVP Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau lead the offense and provide a power and average duo that is unmatched in this division, and maybe throughout the league. Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel are also solid pieces to this lineup. They know how to generate a run and can play small ball with the best of them.

The one adjustment the Twins will have to make is leaving the Metrodome. As much as other teams hated playing in the dome, with the lights and white ceiling, the Twins loved it. They thrived at the Metrodome and used the noise and atmosphere as fuel during late season runs. I’m not saying that it won’t be loud and packed at their new ballpark, just that it will be different. It could play a huge role in the way they play this season.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1. Detroit Tigers                     90-72

2. Minnesota Twins              87-75

3. Chicago White Sox           85-77

4. Cleveland Indians            70-92

5. Kansas City Royals           68-94

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

The 2010 college lacrosse season has begun, and with it came huge expectations for the Spartans of Michigan State University. Led by 2nd year coach Duane Hicks, All-America goaltender Dean Hall, and a well-balanced attack, State started the year in the top 20 of the national rankings and have not looked back.

The Spartans made a trip to Tallahassee to start the season. They won games against Georgia and Boston College in convincing fashion before losing in the finale to host Florida State 8-5. This was only a minor setback for this young team, as they looked to bounce back from the loss with wins against ranked opponents Simon Fraser and Oregon.

The Spartans found their game back at home in East Lansing playing Simon Fraser and won 12-9, setting up a crucial game against the #7 ranked Ducks of Oregon.  The Ducks had just lost to the #1 ranked Wolverines of the University of Michigan, in a hard fought overtime thriller 5-4, and were not ready to lose back to back games after such a long trip. State entered the game ranked 13th nationally, but were ready for the challenge Oregon presented.

The Ducks jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the first, and it looked as though the Spartans would be fighting for respect the rest of the way. They did not score until the end of the quarter, and still the game seemed out of reach. The second quarter was a different story as the Spartans completely outplayed and outhustled their opponents, and capitalized on scoring chances with goals from Junior captain Connor Bush and Freshman Michael Baily. The game was now up for grabs and the Spartans had the ducks reeling going into the half.

Senior Captain Dean Hall was an Honorable Mention All-American last season

The third quarter didn’t offer much scoring and the teams entered the 4th and final quarter tied at 5 apiece. The 4th quarter was very intense and started getting chippy between the teams. Michigan State did a great job of possessing the ball, working for ground balls, and protecting their net. Michael Baily finished his great game with 2 more goals and Patrick Nemes and Mike Degenhardt each added a goal of their own, as the Spartans defeated the Ducks 9-7. Michigan State outscored Oregon 9-3 after going down 4-0 to start the game. When asked about what the victory meant for his team, Senior attacker Michael Manetta said, “we really came together as a team, and it was a huge confidence builder. This win will definitely secure a spot for us in the national tournament, and give us a step in the right direction as we enter league play”. Michael Baily and Connor Bush were the stars of the game leading the team in goals and assists, but there were many key contributors to this comeback victory. Led by Senior captain Derek Baynton, State won over 65% of the faceoffs and also picked up seven more ground balls than Oregon. Josh Nemes, Mike Degenhardt, Spencer Martin, Tom Haubenreich and Patrick Nemes all did a great job of controlling the ball in the offensive zone, eating up the clock and generating scoring opportunities. The Defense was anchored by Senior captains Dean Hall and Matt LaCasse. LaCasse stifled any attacker’s chances at getting to the goal, and if they did, Hall was there to make the save. He posted a 63.2% save percentage against one of the top teams in the country and generated numerous breakouts with his excellent passing ability and field vision. Coach Hicks was happy with the win, but knows their work is not done. “A lot of people look at the rankings. The only ranking I’m worried about is the one at the end of the year,” Hicks said, “We have some tough games coming up and teams are hoping to make a name for themselves by beating Michigan State. No matter who we play, ranked or unranked, we have a huge target on our chest. Now, we’ll have to be more focused than ever.”

Saturday the Spartans easily defeated league opponent Central Michigan 16-8 to up their overall record to 5-1 and their league record to 1-0. They are currently ranked #8 nationally and are primed for a stellar finish to the young season. Their next game will be against the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, Saturday April 3rd. The win against Oregon was huge for the Spartans as they try and make their way into the national tournament in Colorado. If they can play the way they did against the Ducks, I like their chances.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

The 2010 NCAA tournament is upon us, and it is again time to print off a bracket and make your picks. I always have fun filling out a tourney bracket, but rarely make the right picks in the end. Even though this happens, I always glance over my bracket after I have completed it, and convince myself that it is actually the way it will happen. Why wouldn’t I, though? I mean I’m not going to pick the team I think will lose. So, after finishing, I am thoroughly convinced that I have the winner and may miss a game or two. Tops. This is the beauty of the NCAA tournament and is where the madness comes from “March Madness”. Year in and year out there are upsets. The mighty will fall. So who will be this years George Mason? Let’s take a look at each region with some picks, sleepers, and upsets as well. You can take this as advice if you want, but you may be better off having your girlfriend or mother filling out your bracket blindly, because most of the time, you and I won’t be right. That’s what makes these next few weeks so great.

March 18-21

This is the first weekend of the tourney and is one you do not want to miss. Although the games will get more and more intense as the tourney goes on, some of the best games are played on Thursday and Friday afternoon in the first round. Some examples are #13 Vermont taking down #4 Syracuse in 2005, Bryce Drew and #13 Valparaiso shocking #4 Mississippi at the buzzer, and #15 Hampton sending #2 Iowa State home packing before their tourney run was even under way. These are games that you do not want to miss. They will provide excitement and an intensity that may be surprising, as all of the lower seeds are out to prove that they belong with the big boys. Some even make a long run. George Mason anyone?

Midwest Region (DEATH)

So Kansas is the #1 overall seed. Ok. They had a great season and won the Big 12 regular season and tournament. It makes sense. So why are they in the hardest region I have seen since I started filling out brackets in the 2nd grade? And why don’t they have the winner of the play-in game? I am all about the Rock Chalk Jayhawk jazz, and have probably picked Kansas to win it all about 5 times, but if you are thinking about picking a team to win it all from this region, you may want to think again. This region is loaded with talent. That college in Ohio has the 2 seed, Georgetown is the 3, Maryland is the 4, Michigan State is the 5, and Tennessee is the 6. Why? I do not know. Obviously I am biased towards Michigan State, but why would they get a 5 seed being ranked #12 in the final polls and without ever slipping below #15 nationally? I understand they lost their last game to Minnesota, but Purdue lost to them by 20! Where is the respect for MSU and Tom Izzo? Do they not realize what they do in the tournament? They win. And I think they will pull it together and do the same in the sweet 16 against Kansas, just like last year. Maybe I’m being a homer on this one, but MSU beat the Jayhawks twice last year. They basically have the same teams. I know Kansas added Xavier Henry and MSU lost Walton and Suton, but I think Izzo has their number (enough of my MSU rant, Greivis Vasquez could send the Spartans home early).

Tennessee is the only team in the country that knocked off two of the number one seeds (Kanas & Kentucky), Georgetown is loaded with talent, and Maryland shared the ACC regular season title with Duke (also the team from Ohio won the Big Ten). This makes for a region with no easy games (and one that makes no sense).

UPSET SPECIAL: (10) Georgia Tech over (7) Oklahoma State

Not much of an upset being the 10-7 game, but an upset nonetheless. Derrick Favors is a physical Freshman that can create his own shot and bang down low with the big men. If Georgia Tech can look to isolate him more, they will win this game.

SLEEPER:  (5) Michigan State

Not much of a sleeper when you spend the season in the top 15, but they are a 5 seed. The Spartans have the talent to make a long tourney run, and I think a matchup with the Buckeyes in the elite 8 would benefit them greatly having played in their conference. Look for MSU to make a longer run than most may think.

Players to Watch:

Greivis Vasquez (Maryland): Vasquez is the ACC player of the year and has all the tools to lead the Terps to a solid tourney run. He has a great inside and outside game, able to post up and hit the trey ball. Definitely someone you will want to take a look at in this first weekend.

Greg Monroe (Georgetown): Monroe led the Hoyas to a 3 seed in his Sophomore season and is a presence down low. Not many players can hang with him on the block, especially in this region. A matchup with Ohio State in the sweet 16 would be fun to watch.

Draymond Green (Michigan State): Green is the heart and soul of this Spartan team and has the ability to post up, hit the open jumper, and rebound the ball with the best of them. He is also probably the best passing big man in the country averaging 3.1 apg. He always finds the open man and is very fundamentally sound.

Evan Turner (Ohio State): One of the top players in the country, Turner is a coaches’ dream. He can hit from long distance and slash to the inside. He also leads his teams in points, rebounds, assists, and steals (led big ten in points and rebounds). Turner can do it all and is worth watching even if he plays for the Buckeyes.

Final 4 Team: Michigan State

I know this is a bold pick, but I think that the Spartans can make a run at this thing. They did it last year, and have the same core players. I could be wrong on this, but being a Michigan State senior, it sure would be great to be right.

West Region

This region seems to be the exact opposite of the Midwest. Where is the competition for Syracuse? They might as well not play until the elite 8, where they would face Kansas State or Pittsburgh, and I don’t see them having a problem with them. Gonzaga is a formidable 8 seed and may prove to test the Orange and push them to the brink, but I think they will come out on top. Pitt and Vanderbilt are weak 3 and 4 seeds. I thought that the tournament directors would have realized this after Pittsburgh’s early exit last year and Vanderbilt losing to Siena in the first round as a 4 seed a couple years back. Although this region doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the others, this may provide for some upsets and great first round games. Let’s hope.

UPSET SPECIAL: (12) UTEP over (5) Butler

Butler has had a terrific season and have solid talent in Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward, but they do not match up well with the speedy Miners. UTEP has held opponents to 38% shooting and 30% from three point range, which is Butler’s strength. I think that Derrick Caracter and Randy Culpepper will take over this game and send the Bulldogs packing.

(13) Murray State over (4) Vanderbilt

Murray State has a very balanced team and will be looking to upset the Commodores for their first NCAA tournament win since 1988. This may be a stretch, but don’t sleep on the Racers, they have the talent to compete with Vanderbilt and their SEC studs.

SLEEPER: (6) Xavier and (12) UTEP

Both of these teams have a chance to make it to the sweet 16 and can make a run at this region. Xavier had a big win late in the season over Richmond, and are led by Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford. Don’t think they can’t beat Pitt in the second round.

Players to Watch:

Wes Johnson (Syracuse): Johnson averages 16 points and 8.5 boards per game and has stepped up his game to lead Syracuse into the national title hunt after they were picked to be nearly last in the conference in the preseason. He is an athletic scorer who will make plays in crunch time and lead his team to victory.

Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga): Bouldin is not well-known in households throughout the country, but he should be. He does everything right and plays like a coach is on the floor. I was lucky enough to watch him play at the Breslin Center earlier this year. When you watch him on TV, take the time to watch him set screens off the ball and help on defense. His fundamentals are incredible and he knows how to lead a team.

Randy Culpepper (UTEP): Culpepper will be the reason UTEP is still dancing (or not) by the end of the weekend. He is a stellar guard and a pure scorer. Very fun to watch. Make sure not to miss the UTEP/Butler game, as it should be one of the best in the first round.

Jimmer Fredette (BYU): What a name, huh? Jimmer is an excellent scorer and distributor averaging 21 points and nearly 5 assists per game. he also has great range, shooting nearly 45% from 3 point range. Look for him to keep the Cougars in the game with the Miners, even though I think they will be on the losing end of that game.

Final 4 Team: Syracuse

The Orange have too much talent and not enough roadblocks. They should make it to the semifinals with ease, but will have a tough matchup with whoever comes out of the Midwest. Will the cakewalk make for an unprepared team come final 4 time? We will have to wait and see.

East Region

Not quite the Midwest, but full of solid teams and exciting games to come. A possible second round matchup of Kentucky and Texas, two teams that reached #1 in the polls, is very enticing. Also, a regional final between the Wildcats and Mountaineers of West Virginia. This region is loaded with talented players and should provide for great entertainment throughout the tournament. Bo Ryan will have his Badgers ready, and could have them making a run to another sweet 16. Don’t forget about Marquette. They pounded it out with the beasts of the Big East, and took hold of a 6 seed even though they lost Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for them, but Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler have kept them on the map.

UPSET SPECIAL: (12) Cornell over (5) Temple

Cornell is not just another team from the Ivy League. They are have played with the big boys. Earlier this season, they made the trip to Lawrence, Kansas to take on the #1 ranked Jayhawks and lost by 5 after leading much of the game. The Big Red were fighting till the end, and even caused Sherron Collins to hit his chest and say “this is my house” after an “And 1”. Any team that can make the star player on the #1 team in the nation do that is scary come March. Did Collins forget he was playing Cornell at home, or did he realize how good they really were?

SLEEPER: (4) Wisconsin and (6) Marquette

Two good teams with great coaching. Buzz Williams has shown he can hang in the Big East and Bo Ryan is one of the best in the Big Ten, if not the country. Both of these teams will be ready to play this weekend.

Players to Watch:

DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky): A presence on the low-block, Cousins will battle with the best in the nation. He comes into the tournament averaging just over 15 points and 10 boards per game. Probably a lottery pick if he leaves after this year. Keep an eye on this load of talent.

Devin Ebanks (West Virginia): Ebanks is a lenky 6’7” forward that can change the complexion of a game. He is a matchup nightmare and has a smooth game despite his long frame. He uses his long wingspan to create turnovers on defense and to get to loose balls. Make sure to keep an eye on this up and coming superstar.

Lazar Hayward (Marquette): Hayward is the leader of this young team, and brings a polished game as well. Able to play inside and outside, even though he prefers to play on the perimeter. He has great range and coming into the tournament averaging 18 points per game is a pure scorer. Look for him to make some noise in the tourney.

Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest): Aminu has truly come on as a Sophomore averaging a double-double with 15.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg. He works hard on the boards and has the ability to blow past his defenders with his quick first step and long stride. Wake Forest’s tournament hopes rest on his shoulders.

Final 4 Team: West Virginia

I think that West Virginia is ready for the main stage and will beat the young and inexperienced Wildcats of Kentucky (should they get that far). This would be a great matchup and may decide the national champion. Kentucky has great talent, but I think the rough Big East schedule will prove invaluable to the Mountaineers and they will grind out a win to reach the semis.

South Region

Another tough region in my opinion (still nothing like the Midwest), even though analysts are saying Duke has an easy road to the semis. I believe Louisville is a possible second round opponent, coached by Rick Pittino, who beat Syracuse twice this season. The Cardinals have what it takes to win and I would not be surprised to see an upset there. Villanova, Baylor, and Purdue round out the top 4 seeds and bring a lot of athleticism to this region. Make sure to watch 13 seed Siena take on Purdue, and 10 seed Saint Mary’s battle it out with the 7th seeded Richmond Spiders (Spiders? Come on). Both of these games should be great and provide a little excitement in the first weekend ahead.

UPSET SPECIAL: (10) Saint Mary’s over (7) Richmond

A great matchup here, but I think the Gaels will beat the Spiders (how’s that for some school names). Although, Richmond has an RPI of 22, I think that Saint Mary’s will prevail. Their huge win against Gonzaga in the WCC final showed the tournament committee that they belonged and this first round matchup suits them perfectly.

(13) Siena over (4) Purdue

This is a great matchup and one that I myself probably will not pick until the last possible moment on Thursday (when brackets are due). Purdue is hurting with the loss of Robbie Hummel, but still has a solid team and a great coach in Matt Painter. Siena is as balanced as they come, but have not had the challenges that Purdue faces in the Big Ten. This will be a great game and since it is a tossup in my book, it has to be an UPSET ALERT.

SLEEPER: (13) Siena and (9) Louisville

Both of these teams can make a run for the reasons mentioned above. They have the talent and coaching to make things interesting in the South Region.

Players to Watch:

Scottie Reynolds (Villanova): Reynolds is as good as they come. He led the Wildcats in scoring averaging nearly 19 ppg and also in assists with 4.5 per game. He can connect from long range, and is the definition of a general on the floor. This team will go as far as he leads them.

Ekpe Udoh (Baylor): After transferring from Michigan, and sitting out last season, Udoh has matured into an athletic big man with no visible ceiling for his talent. He is averaging 14 ppg 10 rbg and 4 bpg. 4 blocks?! This guy can jump out of the gym and causes a big problem for any team in Baylor’s path.

JaJuan Johnson (Purdue): Johnson is Purdue’s best player in my opinion and he mans the low post better than anyone in the Big Ten. He averages 15 ppg and 7.3 rpg and connects on over 50% of his shots. He will be a big factor in the Siena game, and will have to show up to push the Boilermakers to the second round and beyond.

Ronald Moore (Siena): Moore is a scrappy guard and the leader of this Siena team. He only averages about 7 ppg, but leads the nation with just under 8 apg. He is a great passer and can make plays to get his teammates the ball. He doesn’t have the scoring of a guy like Scottie Reynolds, but he makes up for it with his play-maker ability and leadership.

Final 4 Team: Villanova

Scottie Reynolds leads this balanced team, and I think they will be able to make it out of this region. They stumbled down the stretch, but Jay Wright will have his team ready. I think the Wildcats still have what it takes to contend for the national title.

So here is my Final 4:

(5) Michigan State vs. (1) Syracuse

Winner: Syracuse

The Orange have enough talent and an easy road to the Final 4. I don’t doubt that the Spartans could win it all, but that’s saying they made it out of the tough Midwest, which isn’t guaranteed.

(2) West Virginia vs. (2) Villanova

Winner: West Virginia

A Big East showdown in this national semi loaded with talent and great coaching. Both teams are very balanced and have what it takes to win games down the stretch. Should be a great game if these two do actually meet to advance to the national championship.

National Championship

(2) West Virginia vs. (1) Syracuse

Winner: West Virginia     73-68

West Virginia has what it takes to make this national title run, and if they can put it all together, I think they will be cutting down the nets in a few weeks. Bob Huggins is known for having problems leading talented teams deep into the tourney, but I think this year will be different.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

Not more than 2 years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics, a floundering franchise longing for the glory days of Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Detlef Schrempf (yes, Detlef Schrempf). The team was sold and moved to Oklahoma City, but it seemed as if more than just a change of scenery was necessary. 2007 draft picks Kevin Durant and Jeff Green brought hope to the fans of Seattle and laid the foundation for a team that was lacking direction and leadership. One year later, Russell Westbrook was drafted and Thunder fans were realizing that their team had a chance to compete in the star-studded Western Conference.

Now, after failing to win 30 games in either of the past two seasons, the Thunder have 41 wins with 17 games still to go. Since January 27, they are 17-3 and have taken over the number 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, just one game back of the Utah Jazz. Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and Kevin Durant have led this team past any expectations people had for them in the preseason. People thought that they would be good, but this soon? I’m not sure if anyone outside of that locker room had any faith that the Thunder could contend. Westbrook, a second year player out of UCLA, has turned into a solid point gaurd who can score and distribute averaging 16.8 ppg and 8.0 apg. Green has been a major part of the turnaround and is starting to come on strong, averaging 14.6 ppg and 6.5 rpg. He is contributing with his scoring, but his defense is the real story. He is a versatile defender who can handle the 1, 2, or 3 on most teams, providing the lockdown D that is necessary to make a long playoff run.

The man at the center of this franchise’s turnaround, is none other than Kevin Durant. Green and Westbrook have been solid sidekicks and are integral parts to the Thunder’s success, but Durant is the bees knees. This guy can flat out play. In his third season out of Texas, Durant is beginning to take over the NBA, seemingly scoring at will and leading his team to victory after vicory. And playing in the Western Conference, wins do not come easily. The Thunder do not have a market fit for a superstar, but Durant is making due. He is not playing in LA like Kobe (or Shaq did). He isn’t playing on Eastern Time like Michael Jordan or Lebron James. He isn’t playing in sunny South Beach like Dwyane Wade. He is playing in Oklahoma City, where college football and baseball take center stage. Sure, Durant gets his highlights on Sportscenter, but you never catch the full game. It is hard to truly appreciate his complete game when all you see are a few jumpers and some dazzling dunks.

Durant has led his team from cellar dwellers to title contenders, and that, along with other reasons, is why I think he should be the frontrunner for the MVP award. Statistically Durant is averaging 29.8 ppg 7.5 rpg and 2.8 apg. He is a scoring machine. Earlier this season, Durant had a streak of 29 straight games with at least 25 points, the longest since Michael Jordan had a streak of 40 during the 1986-87 season. There are guys in the NBA that don’t even score 25 points in one game in a season, but to do it 29 straight times? That is amazing. Durant is so special because of the way that he scores, not just how much he scores. He is listed at 6’9’’ and has the wingspan of somewhere between 7’3’’ and 7’4’’ putting him in the company of most centers. This wouldn’t seem odd if Durant was posted up on the block all game and played in the paint. Instead, Durant takes defenders smaller than him off the dribble for pull up jumpers, drives to the hoop with the ease of Lebron, and comes off screens shooting 3-pointers like Ray Allen (well, maybe not just like Ray Allen). How is anyone supposed to defend that? He has the body of a power forward and is shooting 38% from 3-point land. This unique talent, coupled with Westbrook, Green, and James Harden are why the Thunder are surging in the West.

Statistically, Durant is having a spectacular season, but there are more than just statistics when looking for an MVP (Most Valuable Player). Obviously Lebron is hard to argue with. He is a walking triple double, and has put the Cavs on his back since his first game in the league. He does however have a better supporting cast than Durant, which is the same with nearly every superstar in the league. Let’s take a look at some MVP candidates and the rest of their teams. Lebron has Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, and Shaq. Kobe has a dream supporting cast consisting of All-Star Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest. Dirk has Caron Butler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion. Dwight Howard has Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson. Carmelo has Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, Nene, and Kenyon Martin. All of these MVP caliber players have an amazing support system, much better than Durant’s in OKC. This isn’t to take away from the talent and strength of Westbrook and Green, but honestly who would you rather have? Durant is doing more with less, than any player in the league. He has become a leader, put his team on his back, and has shown he has what it takes to take over a game. He truly is the Most Valuable Player on his team and in the NBA. I wonder if Portland fans are kicking themselves thinking about a threesome of Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge. But hey, it’s not their fault they drafted Greg Oden. Who knew he was going to get hurt and miss almost 2 full seasons? He did say he was a chameleon and wanted to win like 15 championships or something too…

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

Over the past few years, baseball names and records have been tarnished by the use of steroids. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the “Bash Brothers” of Oakland, are the cover boys for this notorious fraternity of juicers. The list includes the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and of course the Home Run King* himself, Barry Bonds. These players launched long ball after long ball, mesmerizing fans with their strength and ability to put a run on the board with one swift swing of the bat. Now that these players and others have admittedly used banned substances, whether it be to overcome an injury or get a leg up on the rest of the league, one question comes to mind. What about Junior?

Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the major league scene at the age of 19, following in his father Ken Sr.’s footsteps, and was dubbed “The kid”. Griffey had it all. The glove, the bat, the speed; he truly was the prototypical 5 tool player that had every GM in baseball drooling from the mouth. I also took notice of “The kid” and began mimicking his swing every day in my backyard. I would sway my hips back and forth, holding the bat close to my body, while my dad would wind up for a pitch. I would wake up every morning during the summer and race to my tv room just to watch the morning edition of Sportscenter. I didn’t get to see many of his games, and he played on the west coast for Seattle, so the only thing on my mind was seeing the Mariners highlight. All I wanted was a homer or game-saving catch from Griffey. More often than not, he came through, and I would trot out to my backyard and pretend to be a superstar just like him. Of course, it was impossible to truly replicate Griffey. He had the most beautiful swing in the game of baseball. It was so effortless, but powerful at the same time. He made hitting home runs look easy, as if he wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

I remember going to a game at Tiger stadium in June of 1999. The Tigers were playing the Mariners and we had pretty good seats about 15 rows up behind the Tigers dugout. My brother, sister, and Dad went to get refreshments while the Mariners were coming up to bat, but I could not leave my seat for fear of missing a Griffey at bat. He came up to bat, and I do not think my eyes blinked. I was captivated. My favorite player was no more than 100 feet from me. He sauntered up to the plate, dug his feet in, and locked eyes with the pitcher. Then, with 2 men on and a 1-1 count, he launched a missile over the head of Brian Hunter and into the empty bleachers of center field. Tiger Stadium was not a spacious ball park down the lines, but dead center was 440 and that is exactly where Griffey went. I was blown away and got exactly what I had come for.

The kid wasn’t all offense though, which is demonstrated by his 10 gold gloves as the best center fielder in the American League. Griffey frequently made spectacular plays, setting the standard for outfielders in the 1990s. His outstanding range made for countless diving catches and home run saving web gems.

The issue at hand though, is the home runs. Griffey ranks 5th all time on the home run list with 630 and is first among active players. He led the American League in long balls in 1994 and 1997-1999, was voted to the All-Century team, and was named the American League Player of the Decade. He also won the 1997 AL MVP award. Plagued by injuries throughout his career, who knows how many he could have, had he been healthy. That’s not even including the lockout of 1994 in which he had 40 home runs through 111 games.

While Griffey pounded out massive home runs, other players stole the spotlight towards the end of the 90s.  In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa re-wrote the record books with 70 and 66 home runs, respectively. Griffey hit 56 home runs that year while getting hurt late in the season, but no one remembers, even though he was the only one that was clean out of the three. Bonds, who was the National League Player of the Decade, began juicing in spite of Mcgwire and Sosa, feeling he was being outplayed by inferior players. Bonds, a good friend of Griffey’s, knocked out 73 home runs 3 years later and hung around long enough to beat out good ole Hank for the career home run mark.

But what about Griffey? When asked about steroids, he replied, “Somebody will be bigger, stronger and faster than you, growing up,” Griffey said with a shrug. “So why worry about it? As long as you don’t let them outwork you, and you can look yourself in the mirror, then that’s all you should worry about. Never worry about what somebody else is doing.” Ken Griffey Jr. played the game the way it was supposed to be played, and did not cheat to better himself or get a leg up. He was the most pure home run hitter of the past few decades, maybe even of all time. Had Junior stayed healthy, I have no doubt that he would be the current home run king.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a moment to look at the numbers. Griffey missed 729 games in his career for various reasons, whether it be injuries (most prominent reason), the lockout year, or even days of rest. That is the equivalent of 4.5 MLB seasons. Let’s say Griffey played in roughly 550 of those 729, and assume he stepped to the plate 3-4 times per game. If we factor this with his career average of 15.4 AB per HR (which includes his late years), we can assume that he would hit a home run once every 4 games. So, if Griffey had played about 550 games he would have an additional 138 home runs, give or take a few, to leave him with a total of 768 for his career. That would leave him 6 home runs ahead of Bonds and 13 ahead of Hank Aaron, with this season still to go. It is unfortunate that Griffey had the misfortune of injuries, but he did not turn to steroids to stay in the game. He fought through those injuries and can hold his head high with his 630 home runs and counting. If only he had Cal Ripken’s bone structure…

The only thing the media can talk about is the players who cheated to go yard. No one mentions Ken Griffey Jr. anymore, and he seems to have been lost among the rest of the players of the past 20 years, receiving less attention than the known roiders. Albert Pujols seems to be the only player who could come into play for this argument of “pure” home run hitters, but he is still about 270 home runs behind Griffey. As the 2010 baseball season approaches, Junior comes in 7 pounds lighter than last season and ready to add to his home run total at the ripe age of 40. He may not be “The Kid” anymore, but he still has that same perfect swing. This will probably be his last season, and I would hope that ESPN and the media will give him the credit he deserves as the last pure home run hitter of the steroid era. This is our last opportunity to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play, and as one of the greatest to ever play the game, I think we should be taking a little more notice.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010