Archive for May, 2009

Braves should show more patience with Francoeur

These are disheartening days for the Braves. For Jeff Francoeur in particular. For those who came to Turner Field to cheer him, but now who jeer him. When Mark Bowman, of MLB.com, wrote that this might be a pertinent time to consider locating another employer for him, oh, did that set off a firestorm! A flurry of conjecture.

Trade Jeff Francoeur? Homegrown hero? Onetime Sports Illustrated cover boy? Where did it all go?
Let me take you back to those Camelot days, when the Braves’ roster was plump with bright young prospects. There was a pod of them, all seeming to ripen at the same time. A sort of an informal Boy Scout troop of them, who went to each other’s weddings, and celebrated their togetherness like club members.
Remember their names, for some are long gone. Francoeur, Brian McCann, Macay McBride, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, and two Canadians, Pete Orr and Scott Thorman.

McBride, traded to the Tigers, is recovering from arm surgery at Toledo. Orr and Langerhans are …

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International golfers reap harvest of U.S. championships

In case you haven’t noticed, an increasing number of our big-time golf championships have been slipping away across the seas.

Of course, that was the trend in the early years of professional golf in the USA. Scots and Brits came over in droves in the 20th century, when we were neophytes, and it wasn’t until 1911 that one of our native-born lads was able to capture the national championship, John McDermott. When a mere caddie, Francis Ouimet, whipped both of England’s best, the great Harry Vardon — whose grip you might use — and Ted Ray, in 1914, that set a golfing rage across our states.

Lately, though, those pertinent intruders have been stealing off with some of our most precious titles, brought brusquely to mind when Henrik Stenson, a Swede, won The Players Championship, right behind Sergio Garcia, who took the prize home to Spain a year ago.

If you’ll begin checking down the list from 1994, seven of the 15 U.S. Open championships have crossed the seas. It began with Ernie …

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Stage set for Tiger drama on Sunday

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The afternoon was dwindling away, and so was the USA’s hand in The Players Championship. The leaderboard was a mixture of nationalities — German, South Korean, Swedish, (Louisianan), English, another Swede, South African, (St. Simons Islander), and Australian, but the shuffling was still to come. Alex Cejka, the overnight leader from Germany, was still holding steady at the top and would remain so as the shadows lengthened, but he was growing increasingly unsteady the closer he came to the holes where so often this championship is decided.

Through it all, though, one name kept edging up the board after Tiger Woods had long ago finished — and was at his leisure. And Woods had done it with a modest round of 70, just two under par. Cejka is a 37-year-old import who has won 11 times around the world, but never in this country. He escaped from Czechoslovakia when it was Communist, and he was nine years old, in the company of his father, of course. After a …

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Players Championship has haggles that won’t go away

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — This is a golf tournament, The Players Championship, that has more angles than a Hercule Poirot movie. One year it’s the wind. Another year it’s the rain and the wind, and another year it’s the hard greens, or the rough. But since the powers of the PGA Tour have been able to switch the dates from soggy March to glistening May, happiness has taken hold. No more over-seeded greens, no more mud balls, which Tiger Woods deplored. “We caught mud balls all the time [in March],” he said, drawing from his memory bank.

But, just like the fleas on a dog and gnats in the summer South, two nagging haggles aren’t going away. The Players will never become a fifth major, no matter how gracefully it ages. One of the leading world-class players, Geoff Ogilvy, from Australia — and probably the best player not American — referred to it in a news conference the other day as “the best tournament in the world, not a major,” and never blushed. Nor did it set off a raging …

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Woods back at Sawgrass, site of much frustration

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: that Craig Perks has won as many Players Championships as Tiger Woods. So has Jodie Mudd, before he switched from tee times to horses. So has Mark Hayes, and Mark McCumber, and Fred Funk, not a world challenger there.

Perks, a genial New Zealander, never won any other tournament and never came close afterward. He followed Woods in the winner’s  circle in 2002, and there you’ll find his name, sandwiched between Tiger’s and Davis Love III’s. And this is the PGA Tour players’ own course, their home campus, so to speak.

Strange, when Woods shows up on the Sawgrass course, his game seems to have gone in another direction. The past six times he has played here, he has finished out of the top ten, quite uncharacteristic of the man generally considered to be the best player in the world. He sat it out last year for knee surgery. This year he’s back, but his game is in recovery.

It’s simply strange that on this stage, a …

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Braves’ talent on the farm has dried up

 

Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami is the Braves' latest addition over a product from the "farm." (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami is the Braves' latest addition — not from the "farm" system. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Once upon a time, as fairy tales usually begin, the Braves were a baseball team that was home-bred, carefully incubated in the farm system, and nurtured all the way up to the major league level. There they won championships and pennants and played in the World Series, one of which they won. And they left their names scrolled on the walls of the ball park where they played, and in team and league record books. Then something began to change after the season of 2005, and the once-flourishing franchise has been groping ever since.

Now, the Braves’ “farm” system reaches from Venezuela to Japan. Deals are made, faces change, and only this season have they reached deep into their jeans to play a hand in the free agent rat-race. A payroll that once was held around the $80-million level, by order of the McScrooge ownership, has now zoomed to about $97 …

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