Training Camp Questions

July 28, 2006

The consensus number one issue heading into Steelers Training Camp has to be the health of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben cam full circle in just a matter of months, going from Superbowl hero to motorcycle accident victom who’s career was in doubt. His recovery will go a long way toward determining wether or not the Steelers have a shot at repeating. You know the Steelers love to run the ball, but now The Bus is parked in the garage. So, the pressure will be on Willie Parker to duplicate his 12-hundred yard performance from last year. Duce Staley needs to show he can be an effective short yardage back, and Verron Haynes needs to stay healthy and productive. Number one draft pick Santonio Holmes certainly has a lot to prove. He needs to show that he can be the deep threat Big Ben is looking for and more importantly, stay out of trouble. And then there’s Bill Cowher. The Steelers head coach has been rather evasive about his future. One has to wonder if this will be his final season in Pittsburgh and if he can motivate his players to go for another Superbowl run. We’ll have plenty of training camp talk on this week’s McDonald’s Action Sports Sunday. I’ll be joined by Mike Prisuta of the Trib, Tony DeFazio of the Pittsburgh Sports Report, and Mark Madden of ESPN Radio 1250. See you then!

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Jose Bautista’s hot-dog act should have been punished by Pirates manager Jim Tracy. Bautista tried to get cute with a fly ball in centerfield Saturday night against the Marlins and wound up dropping the ball and allowing two runs to score. In my mind, that’s inexcusable. Tracy should have yanked Bautista from the game that very moment, and he should not have been allowed to play yesterday. Now, to Bautista’s credit, he DID play a solid game on Sunday, making a couple of nice catches and showing a lot more hustle. But, Tracy should have made an example out of him. You can’t Cadillac it out in the field when you play for the team with the worst record in all of baseball! What Bautista did is a slap in the face to players like Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson; guys who try hard each and every night and do their best to put a positive spin on an otherwise dismal season. Bautista is a young player with a lot of potential, I’m sure he’ll learn from this. But, it’s Tracy’s job to take control and let it be known these kinds of errors will not be tolerated on the field! Otherwise, what the heck is he there for?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This topic was hotly debated on “Action Sports Sunday.” Click here to watch the exchange between Jon Burton, Mark Madden and Joe Bendel.

It’s not easy getting to know Major League Baseball players and let’s face it, you never really KNOW them. But in the five-and-a-half years I’ve been in Pittsburgh, there are few athletes I’ve grown to like more than Jack Wilson. The Pirates shortstop is one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet. I’ve watched this kid go from a skinny wide-eyed kid back in 2001 to a productive, confident player today. Wilson is a true leader, a guy other players are drawn to. I keep hearing rumors that the Pirates organization doesn’t like him, and I just can’t understand why! In my mind, he’s the perfect young veteran to help mode and shape this team. That being said, it would make sense for the Pirates to trade Wilson, move Freddy Sanchez to short, and Jose Bautista to third, but only if they can get value in return. Wilson’s a marketable player, he plays gold glove caliber defense, and he’s a former All-Star and Silver Slugger winner. And get this: HE ACTUALLY WANTS TO BE HERE!! If the Pirates do trade Wilson, I certainly don’t want to see another Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez-type deal otherwise it would be a mistake on all counts. Let’s hope the Bucs can find a way to keep Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Black and Gold!

Thoughts On Big Ben

July 18, 2006

I think what makes Ben Roethlisberger a cut above the rest is his swagger. I can remember his rookie season at training camp. The way he walked, talked, and conducted himself told me that he was a confident quarterback who believed in his ability. That swagger, that borderline cockiness is what fuels his fire. I certainly hope his motorcycle accident doesn’t hinder that. Ben seemed very contrite and thoughtful, and accomodating as he finally meet the media for the first time last week. All that’s well and good, but in my opinion, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t come to Pittsburgh to make friends, or necessarily be a nice guy all the time; he came to win football games which he’s done. I like the fact that he says he’ll continue to be a free spirit and stay with his go-for-broke attitude on the field. It’s the best way for both him and the Steelers to stay contenders for another Superbowl title. Welcome back, Ben!

All Star Experience

July 14, 2006

What a great All-Star week! From the record crowds at Fan-Fest, to Home Run Derby, to the red carpet show in the Clemente bridge, to the game itself, Pittsburgh did a great job playing host to the mid summer classic! The players I spoke to really liked the city and they loved PNC Park. All this wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy. Say what you will about the guy, but he did a nice job convincing Bud Selig to award Pittsburgh an All-Star game just 12 years after the last one. For me, the best experience was being on the field before the game while the players were taking batting practice. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more unique atmosphere, there were all kinds of baseball legends there, some hollywood folk, plus I got to see the best players in the game up close and personal. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. Way to go, Pittsburgh: ‘Ya done good!

Freddy Sanchez

July 3, 2006

How about Freddy Sanchez? Is this guy a great story or what? The guy was born with a clubbed foot (his self-made nickname is “Clubby”) and doctors once said he’d never be able to walk correctly let alone play baseball. This kid has overcome so much. You have to remember, he was basically an after-thought going into the season. Now, he’s the starter at third base for the Pirates, he’s leading the NL in hitting and he’s an All-Star. And you know what’s best? Success hasn’t changed him one single bit. He’s still a polite, humble kid who wants to win ballgames more than anything. Now, that may not happen for a while with our Battlin’ Buccos, but if they can get more players like Freddy Sanchez, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel afterall. Congrats, Freddy! You deserve it!