Focus in with Kendziora: April/May

May 22

All articles are written by YJDP Student Sports Writers and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

April has long been a great month for sports fans. Not only does the baseball season continue to develop, but the playoffs begin in hockey and basketball, the Masters returns to Augusta National, and the NFL Draft hits New York City once again (wait…..they pushed it back to May? Curse Goodell and his desire to be a year-long story). This past month was especially noteworthy, with an incredible first round of the playoffs and the groundbreaking ban of Clippers owner Donald Sterling added on to the standard storylines. Let’s get right down to learning.

1. Adam Silver is willing to make a splash

Barely three months into his tenure as NBA commissioner, Silver faced his first and perhaps greatest challenge: what to do about Clippers owner Donald Sterling in the wake of his now-infamous remarks to his mistress, V. Stiviano. It’s tough to gauge how one will react to a spontaneous and difficult decision without experience, but in Silver’s first big ruling, he laid the hammer down on Sterling, banning him from league activity for life and imposing a  $2.5 million fine. Of course, Sterling isn’t going to back down any time soon, nor is the debate over the legality of forcing him to sell the Clippers. With this ruling, Silver established himself as someone who isn’t afraid to back down from a difficult decision, and because of that, the NBA is sure to be in good hands with him.

2. Parity is alive and well in the NBA

The first round of the NBA playoffs was widely regarded as the best in the history of the league, with five of eight series going the full seven games and another (Portland vs. Houston) ending on a series-clinching buzzer beater in Game Six. These results come despite this being the first time in which neither the Celtics, Lakers nor the Knicks made the playoffs. This season, LeBron James and Kevin Durant were head and shoulders above everyone else, so the onus was instead placed on teams to put together full, deep rosters in order to contend for a title. When teams built this way square off against one another, any one player can swing the outcome of a game with a breakout performance. The result: an incredibly entertaining first round, with more fun on the horizon.

3. Tradition makes everything better

The Masters provides an aspect of the game that cannot be replicated. It’s the only event in any sport where several generations of stars can come together in one place and play together. From the honorary starters on Thursday morning to the donning of the Green Jacket on Sunday evening, the traditions are ubiquitous at Augusta National. The multi-generational aspect to the tournament is exemplified not only in the pomp and circumstance surrounding it, but also on the leaderboard. Where else will you see 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 54-year-old Fred Couples contend for the same prize? Another advantage that the Masters has over the other majors on the golf calendar is that it is held at the same course every year, and Augusta National itself is recognized not only as one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, but a historical landmark in the world of sports.

4. 500 homers doesn’t mean what it used to

There might be a lot of reasons why Albert Pujols’ 500th homer, which came at Nationals Park on April 22nd, was accompanied by surprisingly little fanfare for such an incredible milestone. Perhaps it was because he hit it only two at-bats removed from another homer, becoming the first player ever to hit no. 499 and no. 500 in the same game. Perhaps it was because his time in Los Angeles has been injury-riddled and overshadowed by the breakthrough of Mike Trout. Perhaps it was because Pujols’ early-career dominance led many to believe he would hit far more than 500 homers in his career. However, it was most likely because so many steroid-era players have entered the club in the past decade that the prestige of the milestone has dropped significantly. 11 of the 26 players in the club have reached the milestone since 1999. Even worse, seven of these players were linked to PEDs[1]. Although the use of steroids in baseball figures to be on the decline, the numbers put up by juicing players will remain in the record books forever, hindering our ability to truly celebrate the magnitude of Pujols’ accomplishment.

5.   Some athletes simply can’t hide from the bright lights

I know you’re probably sick of hearing about Johnny Manziel; it seems like the only people who aren’t tired of him work at ESPN. Manziel, who was forced into the national spotlight during his Heisman Trophy-winning 2012 season at Texas A&M, faced national media scrutiny during the subsequent offseason for seemingly anything more notable than taking the recycling out too early. Even after declaring his intentions to leave College Station, Manziel became one of the most polarizing draft prospects since Tim Tebow. While some thought his talents made him worthy of being a top-10 pick, others had questions about how well his skills would translate to the NFL.The resulting debate lasted through his selection by the Cleveland Browns and isunlikely to go away until at least September, when the season gets underway.

Similarly, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper can’t stay out of the news even while rehabbing from an injury (which made headlines in and of itself), as evidenced by the recent media outrage that occurred when Kevin Frandsen’s appraisal of Anthony Rendon was seen as a slight to Harper[2]. I understand a lot of the qualms that fans and experts have about Harper, but what I still don’t get is why the same people can admonish him for playing too hard while acclaiming the likes of Dustin Pedroia for the same thing. Whatever the case, both he and Manziel look to be stuck in the spotlight for years to come, as both of them are a mere 21 years of age. The saga continues.



[1] The perceived “dirty” players on the list include Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield. The perceived “clean” players include Pujols, Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

[2] In Frandsen’s defense, Rendon’s .799 OPS does edge out Harper, who was at .773 before his injury. Rendon also moved from second to third base after the injury to Ryan Zimmerman, exemplifying the value of his versatility.

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