Monday, October 13, 2014

Not A Corner Cut

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Sept 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I was indirectly introduced to New York’s latest alleged baseball phenomena during an autograph and memorabilia show in Baltimore.  I was wearing a Joe DiMaggio jersey, a symbol not of Yankee fandom but of a love for baseball history and the iconic players of yesteryear.  The misleading attire left a fellow attendee and promoter convinced he had a prospect.  Catching a rare glimpse of pinstripes through the sea of humanity – how many Yankees jerseys could have been in the Baltimore-based crowd? – the guy approached me with great energy, pamphlet in hand and, while searching for his breath, explained that the next great Yankee would be signing autographs the following weekend a little farther up I-95.    

I was polite. I acted interested, thanked him and said I might see him next weekend.  I lied.  The fellow was beaming with excitement.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him the soul-crushing truth: that I wasn’t a Yankee fan and that I had never heard of this kid he was billing as the next Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, Ford, Berra, etc, etc, etc.  Besides, only a Yankee fan would have known him.  It was early 1995, after all, and Derek Jeter hadn’t yet played his first major league game.

But he would.  He would play over 2,700 games for the Bronx Bombers during a 20-year career that saw him collect over 3,400 hits, record a career batting average over .300, win five World Series Championships, secure a ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame and, yes, earn his place among those Yankee immortals.  Mr. Promoter, wherever you are, please accept my apology.  You were right.

As Jeter’s final season wound to a close this summer, the accolades showered upon the Yankee great admittedly grew excessive.  With gifts being presented at every major league city, it was a victory tour of such proportions that it inspired a few chiding critiques of Jeter’s “forgotten-in-the-revelry” shortcomings.  Was he a great player?  Absolutely.  But, as the Jeter-realists pointed out, he never won a batting title, hit 30 homeruns in a season or was voted league MVP.  In short, he wasn’t Ruth, Gehrig or DiMaggio. 

Okay, that’s fair - not many players are – but if Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio set the qualifying bar for celebratory farewells…we’ll never have one.  Further, nitpicking over Jeter’s shortcomings, lamenting what he wasn’t or didn’t do, threatens to complicate all that he was: the best shortstop of his era, humble, incredibly clutch and genuine in a time when many were not. 

I love quotes.  I enjoy the thoughts posted on Guy Distributing’s sign just off the main drag in Leonardtown.  I dig bumper stickers, even if I disagree with the propaganda.  The dry erase board outside my professional abode often contains a few scribbled words of wisdom.  I’m in constant search of inspiration, a miner of life-fuel, I suppose.  But then again, aren’t we all?

Near my desk I have a collection of personal thoughts I’ve compiled over the years.  They are quips that keep me grounded, motivated and connected to my personal foundation.  One reads, “Son of a bricklayer.”  It is an ode to my dad, to hard work and to the trade that helped provide me footing in this world.  When I see those words I am reminded of the importance of grinding day after day, of doing things the right way and of not cutting corners. 

I see those traits in Derek Jeter.  Not blessed with any overwhelming physical attribute, Jeter wrung every ounce of performance from his body.  To his critics, those that say he lacked elite defensive range and didn’t amass sufficient statistical superlatives, I would suggest that is part of his appeal.  Playing in the steroid era, suppose he would have sought some pharmaceutical “help” (like so many of his peers), say just enough to hit a few more long balls, to raise his average a bit and to prolong the prime of his career?  Would he then have been comparable to Ruth, Gehrig or DiMaggio?  We’ll never know – Jeter was simply the best he could be.  That deserves unqualified applause.  

Then…A Father Comforts A Downtrodden Sports Fan

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Oct 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It’s been a rough few weeks.  I approach my television with trepidation.  The Internet, a one-time fountain of fun, has been reduced to a crisis reporter.  I avert my eyes from ESPN’s scroll and avoid emails from a TMZ-obsessed friend.  I don’t want to know what’s next, but I can’t escape reality.  I’ve been shocked, confused and angered.  And now?  Well, now I am just terribly disappointed. 

Best I can tell, this emotional spiral started with Ray Rice; but it’s fuzzy.  Pinpointing the moment a long-term relationship began to sour would be easier.  This I know for certain: I started feeling rotten after Rice received a token two-game suspension for beating his wife.  The public outcry was swift and visceral – and right.  In an effort to appease the swelling mob with an ounce of executive flesh, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted fault and increased the penalty for domestic violence.  A temporary calm was achieved.

Then, the other half of the Rice video – the half containing the disturbing crime – was released, and with it the willful negligence or indisputable incompetence (it’s a toss up) of the league’s prosecution was on public display.  Then, determined to intensify the situation, the Baltimore Ravens fumbled their announcement of Rice’s release.  Then the NFL hired a former FBI director to launch an independent investigation.  Then Indiana Pacers forward Paul George tweeted (always a dangerous move) a defense of Rice that “argued” a man hitting a woman in retaliation of said woman hitting said man is not domestic violence.  Really?  Then San Francisco 49ers announcer Ted Robinson was suspended two games for criticizing Rice’s wife, Janay Rice.  Then boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., a dude that’s done time for domestic violence, minimized Rice’s actions by essentially saying far worse occurs in homes.  How comforting.

Had enough yet?  No?  Okay…

Then a tape leaked of Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry, son of former Washington Bullets GM Bob Ferry, making disgusting, racist remarks about the African heritage of NBA player Luol Deng.  Then Charm City, as if to say “don’t forget about us in this extraordinary professional-sports-dumpster-fire-competition”, veered back into the pathetic pattern when Orioles slugger Chris Davis was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use.  Then Adrian Peterson, all-world running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted for child abuse.  He was deactivated from last Sunday’s game and faces an uncertain personal and professional future.

Aaaaand then… 

Stop.  Please.  I’m under the covers with my eyes closed, hands over my ears and I’m humming loudly.  Don’t make me burn all electronic devices, lock all doors and call in sick to work indefinitely.  I will.  That’s where I am.  I’ve had enough.  This has gotten so bad that a sexual assault allegation against Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder’s stubborn mishandling of his team’s embattled (slowly dying) moniker barely registered.  Great? 

My kids have reached ages necessitating the sad exchange of some of nature’s embedded innocence for the harsh realities of our flawed species.  The age-appropriate discussion has included stranger danger, sex offenders, criminals and mean people with bad intentions.  They are all out there; we all have to pay attention and remain vigilant.  But not to worry, I say.  Such people are the exception.  The world is mostly comprised of good people who consistently do the right thing.  Mostly.

It was a necessary conversation, one whose underlying emotion - disappointment – was rekindled by the aforementioned rash of disturbing sports stories.  They’ve left me ashamed to be a sports fan and disheartened as a man.  Part of me wants to suspend my support of pro sports altogether, to find a new hobby and to turn my kids away from the games I love.  But then my own pitch counteracts my overreaction.  Not all sports personalities cheat, harbor racist thoughts, commit domestic violence and beat their children.  Not all athletes are bad - in fact, the preponderance are good.  The occupants of the sports world are a reflection of the occupants of the real world.  That’s the counseling my inner sports fan received from my inner father.  It worked – for now.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tampering With Nature

As published in The County Times (www.countytimes.somd.com), September 4, 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Before jumping into this week’s piece, here’s a revelation: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads The County Times

When this column last appeared, it condemned Goodell’s paltry two-game suspension of Ray Rice for beating his wife.  Well, last week, Goodell acknowledged the error and announced that domestic violence would net a six-game suspension for first time offenders and a lifetime ban for a subsequent offense.  Better late than never, Mr. Goodell.  And thanks for reading (and heeding) The County Times.


The athleticism, cannon arm and charisma aside, he had me after his 4.4 second, 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.  Apparently former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan fell in love too – head over heels in love. 

Owing the sixth pick in 2012 NFL Draft, a consequence of a 5-11 season and the uninspiring quarterback duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman, the ‘Skins didn’t just need a quarterback, they needed a reason not to dread the upcoming fall.  Instead of waiting in line and selecting a blasé player like Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill, the ‘Skins cut a huge trade with the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection.  The price was steep: three first round picks (2012-2014) and a second round pick (2012).  The prize was a shot of organizational adrenaline: Robert Griffin III.

My goodness it worked initially.  Griffin was sensational in 2012.  His run-pass threat had defenses reeling and the pistol formation and the read-option offense became part of the NFL’s staid lexicon.  In Griffin’s debut, the ‘Skins scored 40 points in an upset win over the New Orleans Saints.  By November, “RGIII, RGIII, RGIII” chants were routine at FedEx Field.  And in week 17, a hobbled but heroic Griffin led the ‘Skins to a division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.

It was fool’s gold.  A week later in the playoffs, Griffin’s abused right knee, a joint he had injured weeks earlier, collapsed in grotesque fashion.  It was a franchise pivot point.  Shanahan’s incompetent handling of the injury and of the team’s greatest asset essentially cost the coach his job a year later.  As for Griffin, his career derailed; the magic of 2012 vanished.  He limped through a moribund 2013 season and has looked, depending on your perspective, either tentative or lost thus far in 2014.    

The Rams’ story, despite the Griffin bounty, is even worse.  They are better, but the team representing the gateway city has posted two inconsequential seven-win seasons since the trade.  Further, QB Sam Bradford, the guy who justified them passing on Griffin, tore his left ACL last season and again this preseason.  He won’t play again until 2015; his future in St. Louis – and the NFL - is in serious doubt.

I’m not suggesting that Griffin and Bradford would have been better off in St. Louis and anywhere but St. Louis, respectively.  What I am saying is that the ‘Skins-Rams trade hasn’t worked.  It still could, but the prospects are dim.  At this point it looks like a forced action between an anxious, quarterback-desperate team and another with such a talent void that quantity was more alluring than quality.  Instead of letting the draft come to them, the ‘Skins decided to tamper with nature and make the Rams an offer they couldn’t refuse.  Both teams secured the prize they wanted – a quarterback for Washington and a slew of players-to-be-named-later for St. Louis – but are still seeking a foundation for consistent success.

In the late sixties, Paul McCartney penned the iconic song “Let It Be.”  It is an elegant reminder that “in times of trouble…there will be an answer” if we keep the faith and stay the course.  It is hard to argue with that advice.  The worst of times are often best navigated by simply putting one foot in front of the other – first moment by moment, then hour by hour and eventually day by day.  Similarly, the best things in life (defined as you see fit) are often attained not through contrived actions or stubborn defiance but through a series of completely organic events.  The gist is that optimal answers aren’t acquired; they are revealed.  In their “times of trouble”, the ‘Skins and Rams seemingly overreacted to the moment and re-engineered reality; perhaps each would have been wise to simply “let it be.”   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fashion Faux Pas

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in August 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Unless you’ve been visiting methane sinkholes in Siberia, you know Ray Rice’s story. 
In February, the Baltimore Ravens running back assaulted his wife in an Atlantic City casino’s elevator.  The specific details are unknown, but the disturbing, viral video, one that depicted Rice dragging an unconscious woman from said elevator like a sack of dirty laundry, told the terrible story.  Rice, the tough, manly and now cowardly football player, raised his fist or elbow or knee or whatever and beat his wife so violently that she lost consciousness for a protracted period of time.  Rice’s act was disgusting and built a powder keg of raw public emotion; the NFL’s handling of it set the emotional bonfire ablaze. 

Since taking over as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has issued heavy-handed justice for player misconduct.  He’s been as strict as the nuns that taught me in grade school and his punishments have reminded me of dad’s when I couldn’t plead my case to mom first.  As the NFL investigation progressed, the world watched and waited for Judge Goodell’s decision.  His verdict wouldn’t just be about Ray Rice, it would provide hard evidence on the NFL’s position on domestic violence, particularly as compared to other player “crimes”, such as positive tests for banned substances (situations that routinely result in four game suspensions or more).

So this was a big deal – among Goodell’s most important decisions.  His verdict was delivered with a foam gavel: Rice would be suspended for two games.  The outcry was swift, loud and has been rightfully persistent.  It feels inconsistent with Goodell’s commitment to protecting “the shield” (the NFL’s iconic logo) and, more troubling, dismissive of violence against women. 

I’m not presenting anything here you likely didn’t already know.  You are probably equally disappointed in the NFL; you may even share my outrage.  But the league has spoken.  Rice, the same guy that knocked out his wife, will represent the NFL and the Ravens starting in week three of the 2014 season.  Nothing is going to change that.  What remains in question and beyond the bounds of the NFL’s substantial influence is our – the general population’s – processing of Rice’s penalty and eventually on-field presence.  Thus far, the returns have been disappointing - at least locally.

At a practice held on July 28 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Rice was cheered like a prodigal son returning from an unjust detainment.  That bothered me, initially, but I’ve grown to accept this quick, within-the-family indication of support.  If Rice is to pay his penance and restore his character (this was his first blemish), and if some good is to come of this terrible mess, he will need the city behind him. 

Here’s what I can’t accept: wearing his jersey. 

While dinning recently, Rice re-entered my thoughts when a young man clad in a Rice jersey-shirt settled in at an adjacent table.  My curiosity raced.  What compelled this guy to commit such an obvious fashion faux pas?  Does he have a wife or a girlfriend?  A sister?  He at least has a mother.  I have all of those (just a wife, no girlfriend…for the record) and when I critique Rice, I think of them.  Did he consider his jersey’s message or was he just concerned with beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall? 

I suppose the fan’s tendency is to segregate sports from the real world and broader causes.  The problem for that unsuspecting Rice fan is that I’ve made a column out of highlighting the undeniable link between the two.  Rice isn’t just a football player: he’s a symbol for a team, a city, the NFL and…society.  And right now that symbol says that domestic violence isn’t such a big deal.  Well, it is and offenders deserve more than a two-game suspension.  No one - not athletes, not politicians, not executives, not clergy – should have their greatness cheered and their transgressions ignored.  Ray Rice is a great football player with a fresh scar on his character.  Wearing his jersey now, after little more than an obligatory apology, feels like misplaced blind faith in an athlete with amends to make as a man.  

In The Now

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

When will this end?  Let’s get this over with.  I can’t wait until…

Raise your hand if you’ve used one of those expressions.  Be honest.  A few hands are still down.  Come on.  There you go.  All hands are up now, as expected.  To test whom I’m dealing with, put your hands down if you haven’t used them with an FCC-banned wrinkle word inserted for emphasis.  Whoa…all hands are still up.  It’s good to be among my kind of people.

My hands?  They are raised in spirit.  I can’t type with my guilty mitts raised to the heavens.

Guilty?  Yes…of looking ahead.  I, like you my fellow time-continuum sinners, have wished away all sorts of frustrating moments, time-sinks and undesirable situations.  I have frequently longed for a Star Trek transporter, a time machine - like Doc Brown’s DeLorean or the Omni from that 80’s “classic” T.V. show Voyagers - or at least a fast forward button. 

As a kid, road trips couldn’t end soon enough and I pestered my folks with the timelessly irritating question “are we there yet?”  I wished away every age and school year.  Age nine was cooler than eight; life at 10 was sweeter still.  Fifth grade was big-time, but once sixth grade hit, fifth graders were barely worthy of my acquaintance.  I loathed attending my sisters dance recitals.  I think of them today when I see kids combating boredom with fancy electronics gadgets.  I had a transistor radio and Southern Maryland’s one FM station within range of the primitive device.  Bitter?  Me?  Absolutely.

I learned my “respect time” lesson slowly.  I kept seeking the occasional tomorrows into adulthood: the next Friday night during a long work week, a diaper-free life while toiling through the early years of fatherhood or simply the promise of a good night’s sleep and an agenda-less morning.  But as my opening test indicated, I’m merely a member of a present-disrespecting, future-obsessed mob.  Even the sports world lacks immunity. 

ESPN’s Darren Rovell recently interviewed Maryland native Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP.  The main topic wasn’t Team U.S.A or the FIBA World Cup (the present); it was a distant future.  On the heels of LeBron James’ return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, speculation about Durant’s future has begun in earnest.  The wet dream of Washington Wizards fans – this one included – is that Durant pulls a LeBron, clicks the heels of his Nike’s three times while declaring, “there’s no place like home.”  Stoking the “Durant to D.C.” fire, the Wizards have compiled a nucleus of young talent, improved dramatically and have structured its player contracts to support a major financial offering to Durant.  They even hired Durant’s high school basketball coach!!!

Here’s the problem: Durant’s under contract with his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, through the 2015-16 season.  So what are we to do for the next two NBA seasons?  Ignore the Wizards?  Dismiss the continued development of John Wall and Bradley Beal, one of the best young backcourts in the game?  Should Thunder fans temper their enthusiasm or succumb to “Summer of ’16” anxiety during the next two years with Durant, campaigns that likely will include deep playoff runs and perhaps a NBA championship?

Shouldn’t the answer be an emphatic “no”? 

From age and parenthood I’ve learned that moments are unique and fleeting and that the greatest joys are often found in the journey, not the destination.  Sports frequently remind us that the future is uncertain: see Robert Griffin III’s instantly franchise-altering collapsed knee and, more recently, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s broken leg.  So while it’s good to dream, it is awful presumptive to assume Durant and D.C. will be a fit in two years.  As John Mellencamp advised in his classic “Jack & Diane”, “hold on to sixteen, as long as you can, changes come around real soon make us women and men.” Adapted for “Durant 2016”, the message is this: don’t dismiss today for an un-promised tomorrow.  Or, more simply, stay in the now.  Although, I still wish I would’ve had an iPad at my sister’s dance recitals.  Some moments are too painful to bear.

Cynicism’s Tonic, Inspiration’s Source

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Youth is positive and innocent.  It sees mostly the good – in the world, people and sports.  I was 13 when my athletic hero, Maryland’s Len Bias, died of cocaine intoxication.  It hurt, but I attributed his death to a mistake made by a kid digesting a suddenly complex world.  Drug use and Bias didn’t coalesce in my mind.  His dunks, All-American honors and two ACC Player of the Year awards were what I’d remember; the drug use and his death were terrible and tragic footnotes.

I am much older now and my perspective, on Bias and sports in general, has changed.  My unchallenged youthful optimism has been partially compromised by cynicism – scars left by an imperfect world.  Bias still holds a place in my heart, but I remember a basketball program run amuck and an athletic department brought to its knees as much as the on-court brilliance of my favorite player. 

There were more insults.  Pete Rose happened.  I got his autograph shortly after his book My Story was released.  It was a fraud’s tale.  I lived through the steroid era: first in track and field, then in baseball.  Remember Tim Donaghy?  He was an NBA referee…until doing time for betting on NBA games.  The head football coach at the University of Central Florida, George O’Leary, lost the same job at Notre Dame in 2001 after lying about his football accolades and listing a Master’s degree he never earned on his bio.   

I could go on, but that’ll do.  I am cynical, not jaded - there is too much good in the world of sports for that.  And I got a dose of goodness last week from an unlikely source: an awards show.

The Emmys, Oscars, American Music Awards, etc. - I revile these things.  They are contrived, style-dominant and substance lacking.  Every now and then someone like Esperanza Spalding shocks the world and wins a Grammy for Best New Artist, but award shows are mostly self-indulgent ego strokes, beauty pageants for the most popular movies, television shows, actors, songs and musicians.  And then the 2014 ESPY Awards (ESPN’s Oscar’s for the sports world) stilled my cynical heart. 

There was plenty of pandering to the popular but these ESPYS offered three substantive moments not soon forgotten.  The first ever Pat Tillman Award was given to Josh Sweeney, a Marine who stepped on an IED in Afghanistan in 2009 and lost his legs.  No matter…he scored the gold-medal-winning goal in sledge hockey at the Olympics this winter.  In a word: resilient. 

The annual Arthur Ashe Award was given to Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player.  His speech included this quote from Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.”  Needless to say, Sam is doing what he can to tear down stereotypes and thwart prejudice.  In a word: courage. 

The third poignant moment was ESPN’s recognition of one of its own, long-time “Sportscenter” anchor Stuart Scott, with the Jimmy V Award.  I knew Scott had cancer.  I didn’t know he was diagnosed seven years ago or the depth of his medical challenges (which he very bluntly described).  I also didn’t know he was the father of two beautiful daughters, a fact that put a knot in this father’s throat.  His speech was proud and defiant, but also vulnerable and resigned.  He spoke, as Coach Valvano once did, of never giving up and of living life on his terms.  But he also admitted to needing others to help him fight on days when the disease temporarily broke his will.  It was a brutally honest glimpse into the world of a cancer patient.  It was, in a word, unforgettable. 

At the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993, Coach Valvano, stricken with cancer and just two months before his death, announced the founding of The V Foundation for Cancer Research and encouraged us to do three things every day: laugh, think and cry.  The 2014 ESPYS and the moving stories of Josh Sweeney, Michael Sam and Stuart Scott, checked all those blocks, several days henceforth, and left me, in a word, inspired.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Available and Opinionated

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in July 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Boys will be boys.  And so will young men, it seems.

Somewhat lost in the at-or-near first place Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals is the absence of both teams’ young phenoms – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – from the lineup for large chunks of this season’s first half.  Winning masks all warts.  It’s like beer for not-so-pretty-faces.

Machado didn’t make his 2014 debut until May 1, the result of offseason knee surgery.  On June 8, he threw a 21-year-old fit after a pitch from Oakland A’s reliever Fernando Abad buzzed by his surgically repaired knee.  Machado purposefully let his bat helicopter onto the field after an empty swing at the next pitch.  The benches cleared and a lot of bad breath and choice words were exchanged.  It was, shall we say, an unattractive moment.  The temper tantrum cost Machado five games, a suspension he served last week.   

Not to be “out-controversied”, Harper, continuing his reckless play, ripped up a thumb sliding into third on April 25, had surgery and missed two months.  But he’s back now – with an attitude.  The day after playing his first game since April, Harper, as reported by The Washington Post, popped off about his position in the batting order and the team’s defensive alignment.  He didn’t like batting sixth and wanted to play center field, not left, despite being on ice for two months.  Harper also offered to anyone and everyone that Ryan Zimmerman should have continued in left field and defensive stalwart Danny Espinosa should have remained at second base.  The intended or unintended message behind Harper’s loose-lipped commentary was this: I’m better than the guys hitting in front of me and Denard Span (one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball) should be on the bench. 

Youth often lacks proper physical and verbal temperance.  Harper is good, but his hype still leads his production.  He has never hit 30 homeruns, had 100 RBI or flirted with a .300 batting average in a season.  Harper’s never been a serious MVP candidate and currently has had as many surgeries as All-Star Game appearances (2).  After being called up in 2012 at age 19, Harper stayed healthy and played 139 games.  Last year, that number fell to 119 as he battled knee issues, a consequence of a collision with an outfield wall.  Through last Sunday, Harper’s posted for just 28 of 87 games in 2014.  The song apparently, as Led Zeppelin might say, remains the same.

And this guy has an opinion on how a major league team should be managed?  This reckless and bumptious youth has the audacity to challenge, and maybe undermine, first year manager and long-time major leaguer Matt Williams?  Clearly Harper needs to be humbled, put in his place, served a slice of humble pie and prescribed an aggressive course of ego-arrest.  He needs a timeout chair, to stand in the corner and have all his electronics taken away.

Or does he? 

I love this cast of Nationals.  They are classy, easy to like and the best professional sports team in Washington, D.C.  But sometimes they are too nice.  The camaraderie is too great.  Their gentlemen factor is too high.  They represent themselves, their families, MLB and the nation’s capital too well.  You’d introduce your daughters to these Nationals and loan them expensive yard equipment.  Those are commendable qualities, but in the world of ultra-competitive athletics, they can lead to “the S-word”: soft. 

The Nationals can be a little soft, okay.  They don’t handle adversity particularly well and haven’t psychologically recovered from a playoff collapse against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.  They need an edge, someone with nerve and daring.  They need a bold voice that agitates, challenges and re-draws comfort zones – even if the voice isn’t obviously qualified to do so.  They need Bryce Harper.  Most teams – sports or otherwise – need a Bryce Harper.  The Bryce Harper’s, if properly harnessed and balanced, create healthy discomfort; and in healthy discomfort there is growth and, often, greater success.  At the highest levels of competition, good guys don’t always finish last, but they rarely finish first…and isn’t that the point?