The Future Is Now For Bryce Harper

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By DERON SNYDER

“Suffice it to say, this isn’t the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind. This isn’t the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce.”

That was Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo during Friday’s conference call, announcing Bryce Harper’s promotion. Rizzo would’ve preferred more Triple-A seasoning for the phenom before his much-anticipated arrival — presumably for a series at Nationals Park — but Washington’s combination of injuries and anemic offense forced a change of plans.

Harper flew from upstate New York to Los Angeles for two weekend games against the Dodgers. He landed with a mere .250 batting average in 72 at-bats for the Syracuse Chiefs, and just 129 minor league games overall. A self-described “scouting and player development guy at heart,” Rizzo would never agree that April 28 was the right time for Harper’s major league debut.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing.

But based on what we know about the 19-year-old prodigy, it might be perfect timing.

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Cowboys Draft Pick Smart to Blow Off Wonderlic

By DERON SNYDER

Every February, shortly after the Super Bowl, the NFL invites more than 300 college players to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. Once there, the players are weighed, measured, poked and prodded and undergo a battery of tests and drills in front of representatives from each team. Two months later, the vast majority of players are divvied up in the NFL draft, which took place last week.

One of the biggest stories this year is the Dallas Cowboys’ move up to select former Louisiana State University cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick. Claiborne was considered the best defensive player in the draft but gained a measure of infamy in early April when his score on the Wonderlic test — administered each year at the Scouting Combine and intended to measure basic intelligence — was leaked. He reportedly scored a 4 out of 50.

But it turns out that Claiborne might be smarter than his score indicated. He told reporters that he didn’t take the test seriously because he didn’t see the relevancy. “I mean, I looked on the test and wasn’t nothing on the test that came with football, so I pretty much blew the test off,” he said.

To many observers, Claiborne’s score made him a laughingstock and a symbol of college sports’ brokenness. Whether admissions policies, coursework and grades are up to par for college athletes is one thing. But everyone agrees that Wonderlic scores are virtually meaningless in predicting a player’s success or failure in the league. Some have even suggested that the NFL is stupid for mandating the test, which wasn’t designed for football players and doesn’t discourage NFL teams.

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Zero Tolerance For Cowards With Keyboards

By DERON SNYDER

When the Boston Bruins beat Vancouver last season in the Stanley Cup FInal, some Canucks fans reacted with riotous acts.

When the Washington Capitals beat Boston in a first-round series Wednesday night, some Bruins fans reacted with racist tweets.

The former incident resulted in about 170 injuries and $5 million in property damage. The latter incident’s toll can’t be calculated with body counts and hard numbers.

But the stream of vile and vulgar comments directed at Caps forward Joel Ward via Twitter — simply because he’s a black man and scored the game-winning goal – surely costs us something as a society.

There’s no way to read the offensive tweets — most of which can’t be repeated here or in polite company — without paying a price. You might lose some faith in your fellow man. You might lose the illusion of “post-racial” America. You might lose a piece of your mind or soul.

But unless you have a soft spot for white sheets and swastikas, you’re going to lose something.

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Deion Sanders Puts Personal Drama on Blast

By DERON SNYDER

Earlier this month it was Washington Redskins wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. He went on an epic Twitter meltdown, unleashing a stream of expletive-laced tweets about his estranged wife and his cousin NFL cornerback Lito Sheppard. One example from the since-deleted account read: “Ain’t nobody [bleeped] my wife but for anybody saying any slick [bleep] better watch ur girl and not let me get hold to her.”

Gaffney briefly was the top trending topic in the world. He later claimed that his account was hacked and asked for privacy.

But there’s no doubting the authenticity of the latest outrageous tweets from an NFL personality. Hall of Famer and NFL Network broadcaster Deion Sanders not only live-tweeted an alleged assault by his estranged wife, Pilar, but he sent out a picture of him and his sons filling out a police report.

Sanders’ first tweet on the incident Monday night was straight out of reality TV: “Pray for me and my kids now! They just witnessed their mother and a friend jump me in my room. She’s going to jail n I’m pressing charges!”

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Capitals Buckled Up For Fun In Game 7

By DERON SNYDER

The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins haven’t provided much merriment through six games of the tightest playoff series in NHL history. There have been few laughs or light-hearted moments. Instances of glee have been fleeting, followed by more high anxiety and tense nerves.

I have never gone whitewater rafting, but I imagine this series is comparable to that sort of “fun,” the thrill of maneuvering through rapids while on the edge of your seat, the threat of danger never far away. This ride comes to an end Wednesday night for whichever team makes the crucial mistakes at inopportune times, crashing and capsizing and catapulting into the offseason.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter said his team should enjoy Game 7 at TD Garden. Judging by the Caps’ demeanor Tuesday at the Kettler Ice Complex, the players have bought in.

“This has been a blast so far,” defenseman Karl Alzner said after practice. “It’s one of the more fun series I’ve ever played in … Everything’s been so tough all the way through, it really keeps you into the series, and I think everybody’s enjoying themselves quite a bit.”

Everybody except the fans. Games 2, 4 and 5 resulted in Caps victories, but they were draining affairs that produced relief more than anything. There weren’t many happy emotions in Games 1, 3 and 6, either, delivering the same drama without the payoff. The pain was only deepened when two of the losses occurred in overtime.

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Metta World Peace Shows Violent Side Again

By DERON SNYDER

It was vicious and brutal, violent and brazen. It was indefensible, incomprehensible and intentional. And no matter how much Metta World Peace (aka Ron Artest) has mellowed during three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, the elbow he threw Sunday harks back to his past transgressions.

After a nice dunk during the Lakers’ home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, World Peace began celebrating on his way back up the court. He pounded his chest with his right fist as Thunder guard James Harden bumped him ever so slightly while headed in the opposite direction. World Peace drew back and unleashed one of the ugliest, hardest elbows you’ll ever see, hitting Harden flush in the side of his head.

Harden dropped to the ground as if he had been shot. World Peace, who squared off as Thunder players rushed to confront him, was ejected from the game and awaits a league ruling on his likely suspension.

“During that play, I just dunked on [Kevin] Durant and [Serge] Ibaka,” he told reporters afterward. “I got real emotional, real excited. It’s unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow. I hope he’s OK. The Thunder, they’re playing for a championship this year. I really hope he’s OK, and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden. It was such a great game. It was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time. That’s it for today.”

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Surgery Repairs Dwight Howard’s Reputation

By DERON SNYDER

It seems like only yesterday that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was among the NBA’s most popular superstars. A lovable giant with an electric smile and fun-filled personality, Howard was one of the league’s “good guys.”

But then this season turned into a drawn-out soap opera, As Dwight Turns, with Howard vacillating between wanting to stay and wanting to leave. He made a last-minute decision at trade deadline in late March, deciding to stick around for at least one more year, with no guarantee that the scenario won’t be repeated next season.

Instead of a decrease in drama after Howard signed the necessary paperwork, the adventure continued and the dysfunction escalated. Two weeks ago embattled coach Stan Van Gundy confirmed reports that Howard told management that  he wants the coach fired. Then Howard tried to save face in a TV interview but did himself no favors by admitting that he has requested Van Gundy’s firing in the past.

Howard went from being the face of the NBA to being a lower body part on the opposite side. The bottom fell out Thursday, one week before the playoffs begin, when an Orlando TV station reported that Howard won’t play for Van Gundy anymore. Other media outlets shot down the report, but the damage was done in the court of public opinion. He was ripped for being a quitter and would-be coach killer.

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NHL Punishment Doesn’t Always Fit The Crime

By DERON SNYDER

Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” — Things I Don’t Understand:

• Why Nicklas Backstrom missed Game 4.

The Capitals’ top center admittedly cross-checked Boston’s Rich Peverley at the end of Game 3. But the infraction was no worse than some Bruins shenanigans that have gone unpunished. Besides, Backstrom’s reputation is squeaky-clean, which should count for something. The NHL said Backstrom’s reaction was “excessive and reckless.”

But the ruling reeks of excessive subjectivity and reckless disregard for fairness.

• Why Jordan Zimmermann gets no love.

Whatever the Nationals’ No. 3 starter did to the hitters, he should apologize and offer retribution. Because he’s getting virtually zero support. Zimm has yielded three earned runs in three starts, 21 innings in which the Nats have scored twice. Last year, the team averaged 2.6 runs while he was on the mound.

Here’s hoping they kiss and make up soon.

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Salute, Don’t Scorn, Kentucky’s Starting Five

By DERON SNYDER

According to its mission statement, the University of Kentucky is “dedicated to improving people’s lives through excellence in education, research and creative work, service and health care.” Judging by the success of its men’s-basketball players, the school is doing an outstanding job accomplishing its mission.

The Wildcats won the NCAA national championship earlier this month. On Tuesday the entire starting lineup — freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, along with sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb — entered the NBA draft in a nationally televised news conference.

The talented teammates, who demonstrated near-perfect unity on the court en route to a 38-2 season, displayed the same cohesiveness by departing in unison. “We made it work,” Jones said. “We all wanted to be there and do it together like we’ve done everything else together.”

Young, exceptional players can be tough to mold into a team, especially if their individual ambitions supersede the collective goals. But the Wildcats were selfless to a flaw, sacrificing personal stats and deferring to one another in a way that’s rare among their generation. And the results were breathtakingly beautiful, old-school basketball to satisfy the grumpiest purist’s soul.

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In Jacksonville, Bachelors Are Being Singled Out

By DERON SNYDER

The first inclination might be to mock the Jacksonville Jaguars upon learning they’ve added marriage to their formula for evaluating free agents. Apparently, new owner Shahid Khan, general manager Gene Smith and rookie coach Mike Mularkey want men who are good husbands as well as good players.

“If you’re happy at home with your wife at home, I think the energy level is higher,” Mularkey told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s very important to me. There’s a lot that goes with being married. I just believe the happier you are with your wife, the happier you are on the field. I really believe that.”

When the initial impulse to mock the Jags subsides, it might be followed by smirking or outright laughter. Some of the game’s greatest players are single or less-than-ideal spouses. And it’s impossible to know the real status of a marriage, as facades can conceal turmoil.

That said, it’s understandable why teams in markets such as Jacksonville might prefer players who are married and supposedly settled. Slower, sleepier outposts have less to offer singles in search of nightlife activity. Players who have all the action they want at home might be more content with the limited options, as opposed to bachelors who might become frustrated.

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