Premier Competition Back On The Mound

Baseball’s premier competition returns this week as MLB’s Opening Day sees the boys of summer start the season at a time when it is most

certainly not summer weather in most of the country. While the league actually started last week with the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners playing a series in Japan, there is still something about the romance of Opening Day that endures even as baseball wanes in popularity compared to some of the other big time sports.

This is the earliest opening day in baseball history, so early in fact that it clashes with the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. It will be very interesting to see the TV numbers between the two events to see just where baseball ranks with the average American viewer in 2019.

The premier competition in the game also has the biggest stars in the game and it is the offseason contract battles that have defined the start of this MLB season in a way that has never happened before.

Competition to be the premier player with the highest salary is real. Athletes love to have that kudos of being the best paid on their team, the best paid at their position, and, in rare cases, the highest paid player in their league.

In this MLB offseason we saw a couple of deals pushed over the line with frankly staggering numbers attached to them.

One of the benefits of playing a sport with no salary cap is that the ceiling is only going to rise when it comes to contracts for premier players. That is why in the space of just a few weeks we saw Bryce Harper sign a 13 year $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and then Mike Trout ink his name on a deal worth a cool $430 million over 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels.

Throwing that kind of money at just one player on your roster is obviously a monumental risk. Baseball is a team sport where one player can have an immense impact on a game, but it is not a premier competition like the NBA where a single player can effectively take over a game (and certainly not a non-pitcher). If the Angels and Phillies fail to put the right pieces around their investments, then these contracts could easily come with no championships attached.

Trout, in particular, is an interesting case. Wins against replacement (WAR) is a new(ish) metric used in baseball to determine a players individual worth. In 2018, Trout played at a level that was worth around $79 million to his club, suggesting that the deal he signed was an absolute bargain for the Angels. No player in history has posted a better WAR than Trout through age 26, but when his deal expires as a 38 year old player it is hard to see Trout still being a viable option.

It would be amazing if either Harper or Trout could beat Father Time. Even if they cannot, both have the opportunity over the next half a decade or so in the premier baseball competition in the world to win championships and make their contracts worthwhile.

Story By Steve Wright

Larry Fitzgerald is a one of a kind player in the NFL.

In a league where players are often seen throwing tantrums to force trades, specifically at the position of wide receiver which Fitzgerald plays, Fitzgerald is a team-first player of the highest order. He is one of the NFL’s true good guys and he is one of the premier players in the Arizona Cardinals locker room.

Fitzgerald has an ability to never make things all about him, even when he could. He has shown an unusual level of loyalty to the city of Phoenix and the Cardinals franchise in a professional era where every player out there seems to be about claiming the biggest contract in history at their position.

Now, in his later years, Fitz couldn’t command that type of money. In his prime, however, he could easily have held the Cardinals franchise to ransom for his talents.  He never did.

Fitzgerald could also have easily moved on from Arizona to play for a team more immediately capable of winning a Super Bowl. While he has had some quarterbacks in his career that would be classified as good (along with Kurt Warner who was great), he has also been at the mercy of throws from the likes of Brian St. Pierre, John Navarre, and Rich Bartel.

In all, between entering the league in 2004 and the end of the 2018 season, Fitzgerald had caught at least one pass as a Cardinal from 18 different quarterbacks.

The mentors in Fitzgerald’s life, specifically members of his family, gave him such a solid foundation as a person that his football career won’t define who he is. This is a guy who has made the Pro Bowl 11 times, has caught over 100 passes in a season five times, and has had nine 1,000 yard plus receiving seasons.

Yet despite all those numbers, and despite the Hall of Fame bust that will eventually come Fitzgerald’s way in Canton, OH, it is his off field work that has made him beloved in Arizona.

Fitzgerald was selected as a speaker at the Arizona funeral for Sen. John McCain, an amazing example of how the state sees him as one of their premier players when connecting with the community. He is known in NFL circles for his amazing level of sportsmanship on and off the field, while his charity work is up there with any current or former player.

One such endeavor has been the First Down Fund. This well named charity funds positive activities for youth in the community amongst other goals. In a league sometimes lacking for role models, Larry Fitzgerald is a player that every NFL fan can look up to and be proud of.

Ichiro Trained For A Long Future With HOF Results

When you think of great baseball players in the post-WWII era there are many names that spring to mind.  One of those is Ichiro Suzuki. The Japanese great announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on Thursday night in Japan, ending a career that was legendary in status on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

Ichiro went out on his own terms as the 45-year-old Seattle Mariners franchise defining player said goodbye against the Oakland A’s in the Tokyo Dome.  There was no better venue and no better opponent for Ichiro to retire against as a player whose sports training methods had seen him outlast so many of his peers finally decided to call it a day.

The tearful hugs from teammates and the general adulation of the fans towards Ichiro say everything about the player.  He is a premier player whose star shone brightly wherever he plied his trade, playing with a quiet and respectful reverence for the game that other superstars could learn from.

His sports training methods kept him in fantastic shape throughout his career, with his unbelievable eye for the baseball and the quickness of his swing being among the best in the history of the game. Ichiro is the only player that would even think to swing at a ball that had already bounced before the plate, let alone be able to strike the ball away for a single as if he was playing cricket.

His list of accolades is impressive. Ichiro played 19-years in MLB and compiled 3,089 hits in the process. This was after he starred in Japan and collected 1,278 in that league. The combined 4,367 hits is a professional record that will take some serious effort to break given Ichiro’s ability to hit and his longevity thanks to his sports training methods. Ichiro was also a 10-time Major League All-Star.

The hair today is more silver fox than Japanese poster boy as it was when Ichiro entered the majors at the beginning of the millennium. His famed swing slowed down with age, as it would for anyone, but the spirit to play the game never waned. Even in his last at bats Ichiro looked as engaged and involved in the game as he did when he was trying to prove to America that a Japanese position player could play alongside the very best in the world.

Ichiro is a likely first ballot Hall of Famer.  He is a player who changed the way that MLB was thought of not only in Japan, but also all through Asia.  His next move could just as easily be into acting (he is such a huge draw in Japan) as it could be into coaching or an assistant role. Whatever he chooses to do next, Ichiro had a career for the ages as a Premier Player of Major League Baseball.

Three March Madness Upset Predictions

The greatest annual sports tournament of them all tips off this week. March Madness is exactly that, with the first set of Thursday through Sunday games that take out the field of 64 teams down to just 16 being must-watch TV for any self-respecting sports fan.

It is a time of underdogs and Cinderellas. It is a time where the small schools from even smaller conferences get to rub shoulders with the Premier Players of the sport on a neutral venue. It has always been said that anything can happen in the first couple of rounds of this sports tournament, with the shocking loss of No. 1 seed Virginia to No. 16 seed UMBC, the first ever 16 over one win, finally proving that statement to be true.

If you are filling out a bracket, and you should be doing so, here are three upsets to watch out for over the course of the opening two days:

No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette

There are two premier players in this matchup that each has the ability to decide which team wins. Markus Howard of the Golden Eagles is a fantastic player in his own right, but the Racers are that rare mid-major team with an absolute superstar on their roster.

Ja Morant is a sophomore who is going to be a top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He averages 34.6 points and 10.0 assists per game, showing the ability to either put his team on his back or to be a selfless distributor from the point guard spot depending on what is required.

It is also of note that Marquette has lost five of its last six games after spending some of the season in the AP top 10. That is not ideal form entering this major sports tournament.

No. 14 Yale over No. 3 LSU

The Ivy League champion is always a team that seems to cause problems for its opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament despite usually settling around this seed line.

Ivy Leagues champs are 4-6 in their last 10 first round tournament games, with Yale looking to have a good shot at taking down the No. 3 ranked Tigers here. The season was rolling along for the SEC regular season champs until they were unsettled late in the year by Coach Will Wade being linked to a recruiting incident. That saw Wade suspended from the team and the Tigers just didn’t look like the same ball club in the SEC Tournament as they were bounced by Florida.

No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada

This is an interesting game as the Wolf Pack has a team with so much experience that it feels like their players have been in college for a decade.

Florida underachieved for its talent level all year before getting hot late and playing itself off of the bubble and into this sports tournament. The Gators then took out LSU in a clutch win before only narrowly falling to an Auburn team that has every chance of making a deep run this March in their own right.

This might be as simple as the fact that Florida is the better team in this matchup but they have been playing in a conference that has been so tough this year that their wins have gone under the radar.

 

NFL Brandon Copeland Invests For A Better Future

We hear stories all the time about pro athletes finding a way to lose tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions, of dollars that they have made during their career. Therefore, it’s always interesting to hear about an athlete that understands how to manage his finances.

New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is one such player and it is his knowledge of the real estate market that has helped set him up for life after football. Copeland was not a player who entered the NFL with high expectations or one of the huge contracts that comes with being premier player. While the 6-foot-3, 263 pounder certainly has the size to play as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid in the league, the perceived lack of competition that he faced while playing at Penn saw Copeland go undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft.

After initially spending time on the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens, Copeland landed a job with the Detroit Lions in 2015, before moving on to the Jets for the 2018 season. All that bouncing around is part of what made real estate investing so appealing to the Ivy Leaguer.

Copeland’s collegiate experience was one that seems to have set him up well to avoid the money pitfalls of most athletes. The Wharton School graduate spent a pair of summers while in school interning at an investment bank. He also spent his 2017 off-season working on Wall Street. All of those moves were made so that Copeland could learn more about investing, more about real estate, and more about how to use money to make money.

It is real estate which is one of Copeland’s key focus areas when it comes to saving and investing. He opened a company in the real estate sector with his wife in 2018, a decision they came to together after spending time and energy flipping houses for profit. By expanding that hobby into a company, Copeland is able to take care of all aspects of house buying, selling, renovating, and flipping.

Despite his money smarts, it is actually some of Copeland’s relative failures that have pushed him to where he is today. A number of money mistakes in his early 20s, mistakes he share with a teammate with the same issues, have seen the linebacker go back to the classroom to teach a class called Life 101 to students. His class details how he lives on 10 to 15 percent of his NFL salary with the rest of his money dropping into long term investments like real estate.

While we may not all have the disposable capital of an NFL player, we can all learn something from Copeland and his journey. Invest smartly now, using long term strategies, to live better in the future.

Cleveland Browns games are now must see sports events

That is a difficult story title to type given the futility of the Browns franchise since they reentered the NFL in 1999. Yet when a team goes out and makes one of the biggest trades we have seen in the NFL this decade, the league and its fans sit up and take notice.

The Browns have not had many (any) must see sports events in a long, long time. This is a franchise that has had a high watermark of 10-6 once this millennium (2007) and that has had exactly two winning seasons, the other being a 9-7 record in 2002, since they came back into the NFL. Even last year, a year that had many Browns fans thinking that the team was headed in an upward direction, finished with a losing record as Cleveland took third place in the league with a 7-8-1 record.

That record though was massive for a team that had combined to go 4-44 over the previous three seasons. It is amazing what the perception of having a franchise level quarterback can do for a team, with Baker Mayfield stepping in under center and making a threat to win in every game.

This is a team that had not had a franchise quarterback in the almost two decades since its rebirth. Cleveland was a place where sports events didn’t matter and where NFL talent went to die. That is if they even accepted a trade or signed a free agent contract with the bumbling franchise in the first place.

That perception, though, changed in 2018 and now Mayfield and the rest of the exciting young talent on the Browns roster has been joined by perhaps the best (and certainly one of the most high profile) wide receivers in the entire game.

Odell Beckham Jr. is now a Cleveland Brown.

Beckham, who will be expected to be a LeBron James level of transcendent star in Cleveland, is 26 years old and entering the prime of his career. Even with a battered and worn down Eli Manning throwing him over his first five years in the league, Beckham has been one of the premier players of the game.

In his first five years in the league, the new Brown has the second most catches, the second most receiving yards, and the fourth most receiving touchdowns of any player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Beckham isn’t just one of the best and most promising players of this generation, he is one of the best of any generation.

The Browns can now roll Beckham out alongside best friend and fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry as their sports events now have one of the best passing and catching units in the entire league. This means that for the first time in decades (and maybe ever) the words ‘Cleveland Browns’ and ‘Super Bowl’ can be said in a sentence without a drop of irony, which has to be good for the league.

Premier Players Jason Witten

When Jason Witten retired from the NFL at the end of the 2017 season, he did so as one of the premier players in the league.

His retirement came as a shock to some, even though Witten had done pretty much everything you can (other than win a Super Bowl) during his 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.  The daily grind in the NFL is as tough as it comes in sports and Witten had done more than enough to sail off into the sunset and to be eventually called upon for a Hall of Fame jacket fitting.

The funny thing with professional athletes though is that no matter what the body says the itch to continue to play remains.  That is why after a one year hiatus in the ESPN broadcasting booth, Witten announced his plans to rejoin the Cowboys for the 2019 season.

The news is exciting both for Cowboys fans and for fans of good announcing on Monday Night Football. While Witten was far from the worst analyst you have ever heard, and he would be more highly thought of if Tony Romo wasn’t an announcing genius, he was stuck in a situation that didn’t make the most of his announcing talent.

Now, though, we get to see if one of the best tight ends in the history of football can again be one of the premier players in the game after not playing football for 12 months.

Anyone associated with the Cowboys will tell you that Witten possesses those natural leadership qualities that the team seemed to lack in 2018.  If he can still find a way to be effective on the field as a player who turns 37 in May, then there is no reason to think that his comeback will be anything other than a success.

Playing football still tugged at Witten last season.  He is a player with unfinished business and it is now once again his job to go out there and prove that in the NFL premier players never lose their skills.