For those interested in seeing the future of professional baseball, there likely will be no better showcase this year than the Southern League All-Star Game — and certainly not one you can see live in Jacksonville.
Suns manager Andy Barkett’s team is not having an amazing year, though it certainly is better than the debacle faced by the Jacksonville Suns’ parent club, the Miami Marlins. Nevertheless, Barkett helms the South Division All-Stars this year, and six Suns were chosen for the squad, including four pitchers — starters Adam Conley, Sam Dyson and Jay Jackson, and reliever Michael Brady. Dyson is sidelined with a back sprain and on the disabled list.
Jake Marisnick joins the squad from the Suns’ outfield. Kyle Jensen, had he not been promoted to New Orleans already, likewise would've been an All-Star. Jensen has Major League ability already, and it’s only a matter of time before he's showing it in the National League.
Suns fans know what to expect from these players. They know, for example, of Marisnick’s power — something fans in Miami might well be seeing in a couple of months after September call-ups, and something that might be seen in the bottom of the first inning at Bragan Field, as Marisnick will be leading off for his squad. They know how left-handed pitcher Conley can strike out virtually anyone at any time, and the efficiency of Dyson, who might not be related at all to the vacuum cleaner company, but who keeps the base paths clear of runners more often than not. They know that batters hit a bit more than .200 against Jackson, and they know that Brady closes games virtually every time out.
Beyond the local heroes, there are some must-see players on the South squad. For starters, a trio of .300 hitters — Montgomery Biscuit Kevin Kiermaier, Justin Greene from Mobile and Mississippi’s Jose Martinez. On a circuit where pitchers generally prevail, a .300 average is …
Most sports fans in Northeast Florida first became acquainted with Aaron Hernandez when he was a tight end on that incredible University of Florida offense a few years ago. Hernandez, Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow made Gators games must-see TV.
Yes, he tested positive for marijuana, but folks who know the history of "Gainesville Green" know the temptation and the ubiquity of the so-called sticky-icky in the 352. Yes, there were mutterings about so-called character concerns before he was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round. But these were minor cavils. Hernandez looked like a steal of a draft pick at the time. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick looked even more prescient. Fast-forward to today, and the revisionist history of the "long view" takes hold.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King battled with some Twitter followers about the wisdom of the Hernandez draft pick recently, in the wake of Hernandez being scrubbed from the Patriots roster and NFL history. Could he still be called a good pick? Yes, King argued, given his statistical contribution to the team before the guy was arrested on murder charges.
And — in my opinion, at least — King's right. As interested observers of the Jaguars' process, we've seen almost two decades of drafts here, and two years of starter-level "elite" production is more than can be hoped for from your standard fourth-round pick. No one could have rationally foreseen the accusations of murder and evidence destruction in which Hernandez became ensnared. In part, it's because what the NFL calls "character concerns" so often have nothing to do with anything beyond a bad result on a urinalysis for cannabis (the only reliable substance testing, given how long it stays in the system).
Rather than look at real-deal character issues, the league and its media adjuncts (ESPN and other broadcast partners) reduce the whole matter to how clean a player's urine is. For further …
The NBA season ended with a thrilling seven-game series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. At any given time, a half-dozen future Hall of Fame players were on the floor. Up until the last game, it was impossible to figure out which team would win the series. The Heat were pronounced dead and LeBron called a fraud seemingly every day until the end; the Spurs, the underdogs, avoided such castigation.
Will the Heat be an official dynasty, like the Lakers and Celtics of bygone eras? Who really knows? Much changes in the NBA on a yearly basis. It's easy to imagine a key injury or two driving the Heat back to the pack. It's equally easy to imagine other franchises rising to take the Miami club's place.
Some franchises are closer to that goal than others. Two that don't seem especially close to championship glory — at least at this time — will meet in an October preseason tilt in Jacksonville: the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans. This will be the Magic's third preseason trip to Northeast Florida and the first since 2008, just eight days after the team opens training camp in Orlando. In discussing the initiative, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown was his usual restrained self.
"When the 2013 NBA preseason begins, Jacksonville will be getting a piece of the action," Brown said in a news conference. "We're very excited to be working with the NBA again … one of the strongest and most recognized brands in the world."
Brown said the game allows Jacksonville to show the world that it's a great destination for sports and entertainment.
"We want this to be a spotlight that helps fans everywhere get an interest in Jacksonville and in Jacksonville's story, because we have a great story to tell," he said, referring to a revitalized Downtown, parks, beaches and a "re-energized job market."
After his remarks, Magic representative and former star Nick Anderson and Jacksonville University hoops legend Artis Gilmore added a few …
Ric Flair and Roddy Piper — two of the biggest names from 1980s wrestling — participated in "Celebrity Wife Swap" June 30 on ABC. I haven't watched the show before, but I gotta tell you, it was horrifying must-see TV.
You wouldn't know, for starters, that Flair's son Reid had died recently from a heroin overdose — because it wasn't mentioned. In the show, Flair was raising his girlfriend's kids with her. Those old school wrestling fans might remember his current girlfriend playing the Fifi the French Maid character in WCW a couple of years back.
Flair's life these days is basically the pro wrestling version of Jake LaMotta. He can't really work in WWE anymore, as his myriad health conditions preclude him taking an active role with the touring troupe, yet he spends like he's living in 1983 and making big bucks as the world champ. Spa visits, bar visits, fancy restaurants every night — it's like he believes his own promos from his prime and he can be all about "that life" in his dotage.
The most powerful parts of the episode involved figures from Flair's past. His first wife, Beth, spoke with Piper's wife during a segment, which basically spotlighted that Flair's extended midlife crisis started after the dissolution of his marriage to her. Piper, likewise, tried to tell Flair to slow down late in the show, but the Nature Boy wasn't hearing it.
It amazes me, on some level, that Flair is still alive, much less still able to afford the lifestyle he maintains currently, even as he is not employable in any significant way in the "sport" he once defined. I never thought I would be transfixed by "Celebrity Wife Swap." But it's hard to turn away from the trainwreck that has been the life of Flair in recent years.
Earlier this month, Jaguars owner Shad Khan voiced an interest in the Shipyards property. Not a moment too soon. For virtually the entire century thus far, there have been plans for the Shipyards — plans that have not come to fruition.
"I've said all along, Jacksonville has great potential. Developing the north bank of the riverfront would go a long way toward achieving our potential," Khan said in a statement. "A new life for the Shipyards would be good news for the Jaguars, EverBank Field, the Sports Complex and all of Downtown Jacksonville."
Indeed it would. As Jacksonville grows, it still faces the challenge of igniting Downtown, making it more than just a place to work, visit a club, go to a Monster Truck rally or see a concert at The Florida Theatre. To become the city that city planners, major stakeholders, many residents and visitors envision, we have to maximize the potential of underused parcels of land and resources. Certainly, Khan — comfortably ensconced on the Forbes 400 — has the resources and wherewithal to do that. And he has the motivation.
Consider the constant grousing in recent years about the Jaguars gameday experience. There are some who complain about the traffic to and from the game (and many of those folks have never tried to see the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium or the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, two spots where the commute can be prohibitive for a variety of reasons). I remember a sports blogger who said Shad Khan should build a stadium on the Southside because it would be better situated for Jags fans making the trek from Nocatee and other outposts. Such complaints lack merit and seem provincial. However, there are other, more legitimate issues with the Jaguars gameday experience.
Consider what there is — or isn't — Downtown. After a Sunday game, traffic patterns and local habits dictate that people are going to get the heck out of Downtown back to their suburban sanctuaries …
When checking Facebook chat, I was surprised to see a green light by the name of the greatest wide receiver of his era. I was more surprised that he responded when I asked "how are you being treated in prison?" with a simple "I'm out."
Since it was reported that Jimmy Smith would be in jail until 2018, I wondered how he got released. A one word answer followed: "God." Instead of being locked up, he added, he's under "house arrest like Charley Sheen [sic]."
Smith didn't chat for much longer. When asked about Aaron Hernandez, the former Gator tight end who is involved in a murder investigation in Masschusetts, Smith said, "it's crazy."
Hopes are that a longer conversation will follow at some point, but if this is true, and Smith is out of jail, it is great news. This column argued that six years in prison would constitute a death sentence for Smith some weeks back.
"Smith likely will emerge from prison more broken than he went in — and likely will have no trouble scoring dope inside. But prison, when it comes to drug cases, is less about rehabilitation and more about fueling the creaky, amoral machinery of the drug war. Six years might as well be a death sentence. The greatest Jaguars player of all time, arguably. Clearly, that greatness comes with a price to be paid for a long time."
Hopefully, justice showed Smith some mercy. About time someone did.
The first rule of "Fight Club" was that you don't talk about it. However, boxing fans from around the region are talking about pro boxing coming back to the area in a major way for the first time this century, courtesy of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."
As of press time, the undercard is still taking shape. The main event is an intriguing battle between two middleweights — Los Angeles' Sergio Mora (@TheeLatinSnake) and Grzegorz Proksa of Poland. Both of these fighters are working their way back into contention after the kinds of losses that move fighters away from the big paydays, so there is a career-defining sense of urgency in this battle.
The 28-year-old Proksa is on the comeback trail after WBA and IBO title-holder Gennady Golovkin wrecked him in New York last September. Since then, he has had one fight — a six-round exhibition against a tomato can with 20 losses — so it is that his fight in Jacksonville could well be make-or-break for his career.
"The fight with Mora is set, the contract is ready, and I can't wait until June 28," Proksa told World Boxing News earlier this month. "This is a great opportunity for me as I have always wanted this kind of fight.
"Sergio Mora is a greatly skilled boxer and to fight with him is a big honor for me. He was on level what I want to be, so I need to win to get closer to my goal after I lost against Golovkin."
That loss was huge, exposing Proksa for the first time in his career. He couldn't really connect against Golovkin and ended up succumbing to a TKO. The left-hander had no answers, as Golovkin pummeled him throughout the fight. To hear the Pole tell it, though, there were extenuating circumstances.
"I want this second fight with Golovkin as I took the fight with just five weeks to go without a proper camp," he told World Boxing News. "I just wanted to fight for a world title, but I lost, and it has learnt me a lot. The Mora fight is now a chance to get back and I am going to prove …
On a day when the biggest Jaguars news involved Maurice Jones-Drew copping out of answering questions about the "unfortunate incident" at the Conch House, there was far bigger football news for folks who call this area home.
The national media had counted Tim Tebow out. We here in Northeast Florida, who have watched him from his days as a wunderkind at Nease High School to his days as a dynamo with the Gators and onto his days as a pro with the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, knew better. Or at least some of us did.
Some of us didn't. Pete Prisco had been dissing Tebow on Twitter for weeks, for example. I had filed a column speculating that Tebow could run for Congress — because his NFL career was "over" and all.
That column will never see the light of day, even though it seems like a viable option once Tebow's playing career is over. And — praise Bill Belichick — that isn't happening.
Multiple reports say that Tebow will be with the Patriots and in camp by the time you read this column. For those of us who have made a mini-career out of documenting Tebowmania, it couldn't happen at a better time.
To be sure, questions remain. The first of which, though not a pressing one necessarily: Who in Tebow's inner circle was it that "privately admitted" to media sources that Tebow's career was "done"? And will that person be in the inner circle going forward?
Other questions are more pressing — if you place any stake in the idea that Tebow will be a quarterback with the Patriots, under the tutelage of Tom Brady (an idea buttressed by the fact that the Pats cut backup quarterback Mike Kafka to make room for No. 15).
The question of Tebow's ability as a quarterback is still an open one. In the weeks leading up to his signing, reports from the media gave much anecdotal evidence of Tebow's failings as a quarterback — not just in the games, but even in practice, where he allegedly hit his coach in Denver, John Fox, with …
The dreadlocks are back.
I note that because to the best of my knowledge — I was the only commentator to note that Maurice Jones-Drew cut his dreads within days after being drafted by the Jaguars in 2006. My theory then (and now): Jones-Drew was making a naked grab for endorsement dollars in a market that's never been wholly receptive to the stylistic flourishes of Jaguar players. Despite cutting his dreads, Jones-Drew overcame my initial concerns about his lack of size and mid-career questions about his ability to come back from injury to become one of the best running backs of his generation (despite whatever happened at the recent Reggae Sunday at St. Augustine's Conch House).
Problem is, that generation is about over. Jones-Drew is 28 years old — young for politicians and grandmothers; old for ballet dancers and NFL running backs. His age is especially significant when one considers how many on the Jaguars offense ran through him during Jack Del Rio's time as coach (seems an epoch ago, even though Del Rio's been gone only one season). Jones-Drew had a lot of work in that offense, which focused on the running game in a quarterback-driven league that stacked the rules in favor of passing offenses. As we know, the results of that work have been awesome on the stat sheet, but not so much in terms of that all-important win-loss column.
The Jaguars have only won one playoff game in Jones-Drew's career with them, after the 2007 season. Referees assisted on that 31-29 victory over the Steelers, I'd argue, by missing holding calls on what turned into the best highlight-reel scramble of David Garrard's career. Even in that game, with a reduced role at tailback, Jones-Drew tallied almost 200 all-purpose yards and earned co-MVP honors along with Garrard. The future seemed so bright, we had to wear shades. Since then, though, nothing in terms of playoff victories and national relevance.
And no one's forecasting much better for the upcoming season, …
The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League have not had the best May. Three consecutive losses have stalled the team's early season momentum and have led to the benching of quarterback Bernard Morris. The third loss, to San Jose at home, preceded a backstage brawl involving officials, players and coaches after the game, hinting at larger problems with the franchise going forward. It feels counterintuitive to say a team at 6-3 as of this writing is in disarray, but clearly the Sharks are having problems.
And these problems go beyond game day scrums and quarterback changes. Consider the curious case of Douglas Michael Kleiner, a 49-year-old white male who, until recently, served as the Sharks' director of sports medicine. Kleiner was arrested and charged, according to the police report, for trafficking in controlled substances, practicing or attempting to practice medicine without a valid medical license, delivery and distribution of schedule III opium or derivative, and dispensing prescription or medical drugs without a license. The timing could not be worse.
This year has been a downer for those who seek to skirt the law regarding distribution of prescription medicines. Gov. Rick Scott's administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have gone after pill mills in the way politicians so often take law-and-order stances: so they can be seen as "doing something about the problem" — which they are, in a narrow sense. However, as long as Big Pharma can make ridiculous profits from patented medicines, the true source of supply will never abate. It's easy to bust a pill mill or a team trainer; good luck going after Pfizer or Ranbaxy.
Some observers might assert a causal link between the team's underperformance of late and its pharmaceutical supply — which included favorites like hydrocodone, valium and testosterone — being interrupted. I think it would be a bit reductive to go that far without further evidence. What is clear, …