Monday, February 27, 2012

Miracle in Milwaukee: Braun a Free Man

Brewer fans anxiously awaited the verdict on Ryan Braun's appeal of a positive drug test for over a month. They got the answer they were looking for.

Braun is no longer suspended for 50 games. He is no longer a violator of Major League Baseball's anti-doping policy. In my opinion, the Brewers just became the favorites to win the National League Central. But we'll get to that debate (as well as a season preview) at some point next month. Right now it's time to take a look at why Braun ended up becoming the first player to ever have a positive drug test at the MLB level overturned. The most scrutinized aspect involved in Braun's defense was that his sample of pee wasn't immediately turned in to baseball by the man who was handling it. In fact, it reportedly sat out on his kitchen counter...not even in a refrigerator...for almost TWO days. Now I'm not saying that miraculously an inordinate amount of testosterone can accumulate in a cup of urine over a two day period, but there are a few things wrong with this picture. For one, this goes against the testing process of the MLB. The sample was NOT brought directly from wherever Braun peed in a cup to a FedEx building, which would then proceed on to the testing center. And two, do you think this guy maybe had sabotage on his mind? He had multiple FedEx locations near his house where he could have gone to drop off Braun's sample, INCLUDING a center that was open 24 hours. Strange.

You know what else is strange? The testosterone level in the sample was said to be three times higher than any other test since testing had been instituted in 2003...and FIVE times the level needed to warrant a positive test. Considering Braun has been tested before numerous times, I find it hard to believe that somehow this time his testosterone level was so much higher. So why did this test say differently? Well...I think Braun's sample was tampered with. You can say what you want about me being a homer, having a closed mind on the issue because I'm from the state of Wisconsin, but I just think these are issues that outsiders are ignoring. Because I'm from Wisconsin and such a die-hard Brewers (and Braun) fan, I may be more likely to defend Braun, but I'm also more likely to look at every aspect of this issue. These are legitimate arguments! Naive bloggers and every other semi-sports fan with a keyboard and a monitor in front of them are going to make sure their opinion is heard, and most of them don't have their facts straight...and it's annoying. For instance, this dipshit who thinks the sample just sat in a refrigerator all weekend. And Mr. "I write for the Daily Illini" who apparently is good enough to write garbage opinion pieces like this that believes the only issue at hand is the most publicized one...the mishandling of Braun's sample.

By now, I hope you've seen Braun's press conference. If you haven't, here it is. To use a cliche, he knocked it out of the park. You can say that lawyers wrote this speech for Braun, but this was from the heart. Sure, he might have been told not to say certain things, but this was pure Ryan Braun, and anyone that can't see that probably doesn't have a soul. Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision to overturn Braun's positive test? Well, Braun vehemently stated that he didn't put any illegal substance in his body, and Ryan Braun is not a man to shy away from the truth. This is what probably made this entire process so difficult from him...Braun wasn't allowed to hardly speak at all while the appeal's process took its course, as badly as he wanted to. Wait, let's take a step back. Remember when ESPN broke this story in the first place? I'm not going to blame ESPN, who's journalistic tactics I don't see eye-to-eye with, for somehow getting the information about Braun's positive test, but whoever they got that news from breached the confidentiality of the process. I believe Braun when he said he bet his life that this substance didn't enter his body, and that he would be the first to admit if such had happened. He won because the truth is on his side.

Something I forgot to mention earlier...once Braun was notified of the "positive" test, he offered to take any test, including DNA (which would have without a doubt shown if he was clean or not), and baseball said NO! Why? Forget that Braun is one of the most talented players the game has today, but why deny anyone that opportunity? If baseball is so angry about the decision to drop Braun's suspension, they have no one to blame but themselves. They allowed a part-time collector to handle the urine test of one of baseball's greatest, and then denied Braun's right to a second test. That makes little to zero sense to me.

I can go on and on about the reasons supporting Braun's case, and you can watch his press conference to hear them all, because Braun hits them all. It's a beautiful speech, that's all you can really say about it. At times, Braun raises his voice, but he catches himself and maintains his composure. For anyone to watch that speech, learn about the details surrounding this case, and continue to believe Braun is 100 percent guilty boggles my mind. The last issue I'll address is the timing of the positive test, which was Oct. 1 - just as the playoffs were getting underway. People can argue that Braun's body was wearing down, that he wanted an extra boost to try and help get the Brewers to the World Series, so he took synthetic testosterone. In my mind, this is something Braun didn't need to do, nor is it something I believe he would consider doing. He had an excellent run to end the regular season and looked as physically prepared as ever for the next task; the playoffs. I just don't see it. Besides, could something so awful really happen on MY birthday??

Yes, Braun's name was dragged through the mud. Yes, he may never be looked at the same as a baseball player or a person. But because of the way Braun handled things, because of the way the process played out and because I believe in Ryan Braun, he will always remain the same in my eyes - an incredible baseball player who plays the game the right way, handles himself the right way and someone I will continue to idolize for the rest of my life.

Is it April 6 yet?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

With no more football, enter basketball

I don't know how any of you felt about it, but that Super Bowl we just witnessed was awful in just about every aspect until it entered the final three minutes. Terrible commercials. Terrible halftime show (I'm still waiting for LMFAO to perform). A National Anthem performed correctly. And of course the actual game which lacked exciting, meaningful plays. In fact, there was only one play that got me off my seat (well, not really) and it's pretty apparent which play I'm talking about. Anyway, the Giants beat the Patriots...again...and anyone who places bets on sports (I'm getting there) would have been stupid to take New England in this one. Nevertheless, the moment after the Packers managed to hold off the Giants in week 13 38-35, I knew the one team I didn't want to face in the playoffs: the Giants. It happened, and there's no doubt in my mind that it should have been the Packers on that podium with confetti falling down on them on Sunday.

So football is over and if you haven't already done so, it's time to either turn your attention to basketball or hockey because it's not quite time to start tailgating in the Miller Park parking lots (however, here's a link to get you thinking about the upcoming baseball season). Since there isn't a professional hockey franchise in the state of Wisconsin, I'm not going to talk about hockey. And since there still hasn't been a decision made on the Ryan Braun situation, I can't discuss that, either. That only leaves one point of interest, and that's basketball. Soon it will be time to preview the Brewers and think about what the heck the Packers need to do with that putrid defense, but for now, the state of Wisconsin has two nationally ranked division I college basketball teams and a professional basketball team sitting in the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. That's right - the Wisconsin Badgers, Marquette Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks would all make the postseason as of right now. I can guarantee you this much...two of those teams will certainly extend their seasons in 2012. Still too early to tell with the Deer.

Before you get excited over this prospect, let me dampen your spirits a bit. Not one of these teams is going to win a championship this year. Call me a negative Nancy, but all three of the major basketball teams that we follow in this state have notable flaws that championship teams simply don't possess. You can even look at the Packers...that defense was simply not good enough to win a Super Bowl and the prolific offense led by Aaron Rodgers helped cover that fact up for 18 weeks. Finishing near the top of their respective conferences may look good in the eyes of fans and the selection committee for Marquette and Wisconsin, and they might even get through a round or two of March Madness. But here is a major flaw(s) for each team that will prevent further success.

Marquette (20-5, 9-3): Slow starts, No inside presence

Coming into the season, for once their was promise down low with Chris Otule rapidly improving as a big man and Javante Gardner ready to back him up after dropping 20 pounds. Otule went down with an ACL injury and now Gardner has a nagging ankle injury that has kept him out of the last three games, leaving Jamil Wilson, who is 6'7", as the tallest Marquette player. We saw it years ago when the Warriors played Stanford and the Lopez twins, and it looks like we're heading down the same path - Marquette's athleticism fails to overcome the extreme height differentials it has with other tournament teams. Couple this problem with Marquette's tendency to always fall behind early in games and it's going to be difficult for this team to make it past the sweet 16 even though they are second in the always tough (but this year down) Big East.

Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4): Too reliant on the three

Aside from Jordan Taylor, there really isn't anyone that can carry the Badgers this season. Guys will occasionally step up, and thank goodness they have, because Taylor hasn't had the privilege of having Jon Leuer to lean on and hasn't been as good as expected. Speaking of not having Leuer, there is almost no inside presence with the Badgers either, which is probably why Marquette was able to beat them back on Dec. 3. This leads the Badgers to rely too much on the three point shot, which is something I did and look where I am now. This isn't to say Wisconsin can't get hot and string together some wins in the tourney, but it's just not something we're used to seeing and the Badgers just don't seem to be built for March Madness.

Milwaukee (10-13, 8th in East): Defending the paint, consistency

When Andrew Bogut (shockingly) went down with an injury earlier this season, all hope appeared to be lost for the Bucks. But Brandon Jennings has emerged as a legitimate All-Star candidate and Drew Gooden has been surprisingly effective filling in for Bogues. Other than that, there isn't much going for the Deer. It's a team mainly composed of role players and Gooden, who really isn't a true center, is being counted on to replace Bogut's rebounding numbers. This isn't realistic, and while guys like Ersan Ilyasova have helped fill that void, teams are out-rebounding the Bucks. Meanwhile, some nights Milwaukee has been able to defend well and other nights, like tonight against the Suns for instance, it's been God awful. Inconsistency has never resulted in overall success and unless the Bucks go out and find a legit big man (maybe in a trade for Stephen Jackson) and become more consistent on both ends of the floor, this team will likely find themselves out of the playoffs.