July 31, 2005

Viva la Murph

You probably weren't watching the other day when some rookie Braves outfielder homered in a late July game, and if you were watching, you probably didn't think much of it -- the Braves' roster is swarming with rookies this year (they started seven rookies in one game against Texas back in June). If you were tuned in though, you might have laughed for a second when the rookie went back to the dugout after his homer only to find that his teammates were completely ignoring him instead of coming out to give him the customary high fives -- a little piece of rookie hazing -- and instead of getting remotely flustered or caught off-guard by the prank, the rookie seamlessly proceeded to give a number of convincing high fives to the air, pretending as though he was getting props from his teammates even though he wasn't. A moment later, they all got off the bench to congratulate him for real, clearly amused and impressed by how deftly he had reacted to the prank.

That was just a brief moment in the game, but it perfectly summarized Jeff Francoeur's first three weeks in the big leagues. He may be a 21-year-old straight up from Double-A soon to be figured out by big league pitching, but at this precise moment, the kid looks like he belongs. Consider: a standing ovation from the hometown fans before he homered in his first big league game (Francoeur went to high school in the Atlanta area); 6 homers, 16 rbi's and a .405 average in his first 42 at-bats. And perhaps the greatest sign yet -- while most of his teammates refer to him as "Frenchie" in a nod to his last name, Braves' clubhouse leader and fellow southern gentleman Chipper Jones refers to Francoeur as "Murph," because the kid reminds him of Dale Murphy. Dale Murphy may have been a Mormon and somewhat of a goofball, but the man could play ball.

It may not be sweeping the nation, but Francoeur Mania is completely out of control in Atlanta. One friend of mine (who will remain nameless) is professing a full-blown man-crush for Francoeur. On Sunday, the native son was a front page story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is particularly incredible considering...actually, never mind -- the AJC puts rubbish on its front page all the time. The point is, there's a new Murph in town, a dynamic right-handed hitting outfielder who can run, hit, throw, melt fire hydrants with laser beam vision and, most importantly, will be the face of the Braves franchise for the next decade and beyond. (The comparison breaks down when you realize that Francoeur isn't a Mormon, but you can't have everything.)

There's little doubt in my mind that Francoeur is due to hit a rough stretch sometime before the summer's out -- he has yet to draw a single base on balls, not necessarily a great sign -- but right now the Francoeur Experience is a pretty sweet ride. And don't think a rookie slump will be the end for Francoeur. Just like his deft reaction to the prank from his teammates, it doesn't seem to take this kid long to figure things out.

Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

I won't pretend to be the first person to make this statement, but nevertheless, you heard it here first: Knicks' PG Nate Robinson is going to be one of the most exciting players in the League for years to come. If you're not familiar with Nate, picture basketball's equivalent of a midget flying off a trampoline -- this guy is Earl Boykins with insane hops. And if you're not familiar with Earl Boykins, well, you need to watch more basketball, because watching 5-5 guys like Boykins light up players a foot taller is downright inspirational. By extension, seeing a 5-9 guy like Robinson throw down a ferocious tip dunk is enough to make you stand up and throw your beverage against the wall without even realizing what you've done.

If you're not yet on board the Nate Robinson bandwagon, perhaps I can entice you with some inexplicably grainy footage (what year is this, anyway? Was this filmed with my family's circa 1982 VHS camera?) of one of his dunks in a recent summer league game.

I know the season's a long way away, but I for one am looking forward to seeing Mr. Robinson in action. I don't consider myself among the many Stephon Marbury haters out there, but I don't think it'll be long before there's a full-blown point guard controversy in Gotham. Robinson's one of those players who changes the pace of the game with his energy, while Marbury has all the skills to be the game's best point guard but doesn't seem capable of consistently making his teammates better. I hope Stephon and backcourt mate Jamal Crawford are busting it this summer, because Nate's gunning for their minutes already.

And speaking of hope, I'm not yet getting carried away about the Knicks here. Even with Larry Brown coaching, I'm not sure this team will be very good. But for the 20 minutes or so a night that Nate's running the show, this team will be something else to watch. And with all the NBA's problems these days, that's almost all you can ask for.

July 30, 2005

What's in a Name?

With so much talk about Alfonso Soriano leading up to tomorrow's MLB trade deadline, I recently felt compelled to check out the man's career stats on baseball-reference.com. When I got to the page, I made a rather stunning discovery.

Soriano's middle name is Guilleard.

I've got no problem in general with unusual names, but what the hell kind of middle name is this? It sounds like the name of a medieval knight -- Sir Guilleard, The Brave! But while the image of Alfonso Soriano atop a giant steed wearing a helmet and hefting a gigantic sword amused me greatly, it wasn't a satisfactory explanation as to where this bizarre name came from. Seeking answers, I went straight to the most reliable (read: convenient) source I could find.

Google turns up 158 hits on Guilleard, with 8 of the first 10 going straight back to Alfonso Soriano and another one taking me to Arlene Guilleard, a
Communications Studies major at SUNY Oneonta, Class of '07. Not much help there.

Digging further, I found more of the same. Just about every instance of Guilleard on the Internet was simply a listing of Soriano's middle name without any explanation. The closest thing to Guilleard in the Oxford Dictionary was "guillemot," which is listed as "a narrow-billed auk of the genus Uria or Cepphus, nesting on cliffs or islands." Well, that at least explains something. Wait -- no it doesn't.

Alas, with the search exhausted, it seems I'm back where I

started -- picturing Alfonso Soriano atop his horse on some ancient battlefield, dodging arrows from enemy quivers and slicing his enemies' throats with his trusty broadsword.

I guess things could be worse.

So it Begins

If you were a frequent visitor to my previous site (www.instant-replays.com), you may have noticed one glaring problem. (And no, I'm not talking about the fact that I'm an unabashedly obnoxious Atlanta sports fan, often make completely wreckless predictions and have a tendency to tiptoe into the obscene or bizarre without much warning; as far as I'm concerned, those are strengths.) The main glaring problem with the old site was the inability to interact with you, the readers (I threw in an "s" there just in case there really are more than one of you out there). See, the old web host I used didn't allow for user comments, and this made for fairly one-sided conversation that was satisfying in its one-sidedness because I didn't have to deal so much with people disagreeing with me, but boring at the same time for that same reason.

Throughout my two years of posting on instant-replays, my closest advisor frequently spoke of this thing called "blogging." And I often (by "often," I mean "occasionally") fielded questions from readers who asked, "Is your website a website or a blog?" The answer, invariably, was that I didn't know. And for a long time, I didn't really care.

But now I get it. Like a man marooned in the desert wandering the sands in clothes made of burlap left only to drink the salty nectar from cactuses, my Internet sportswriting persona is in search of human contact. So if I make you laugh, make you think or, better yet, get you riled up about sports, take a figurative swing in my direction and let the discussion begin.

Oh, and by the way, please forgive the site's current appearance. I've been out in the desert for a long time.