Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Youthful Exuberance
By Ben Valentine

In sports no matter what they say, you just can’t win.

Every day we hear talk of million dollar athletes who don’t play for the fun or thrill of the game anymore. People constantly complain about players who are standoffish to the media or to the fans and how dislikeable they are because of it. You know the guys who won’t sign autographs without charging for them, the guy who shuns his admirers and seems ungrateful to be making millions to play a children’s game. In other words, everything people criticize Barry Bonds for.

Enter Mets rookie Lastings Milledge, with two outs and down to his last strike with the Mets down by one in the bottom of the tenth inning against Armando Benitez last Sunday.

Milledge, barely legal at the age of 21, had doubled earlier in the game. It had been a bit of a struggle for the kid since his call up. He had just one hit and had made a few mistakes in the field already. He had shown flashes of his talent, but he looked raw. And down in the count 1-2 to the hard throwing Benitez, it looked as if he’d be the guy who ended a disappointing series loss to the Giants. But then in a flash it changed; he took a 96 mph fastball over the left field wall and into Giants’ bullpen. Tie game. The Mets had another life.

And Milledge was ecstatic.

Rightfully so; it was his first big league home run and couldn’t have come at a better time. So after the Mets were retired to send the game to the 11th, Milledge headed back to his position in right. However, he took an unusual route to get there. On his way out, he slapped the hands of every Mets fan who offered it along the right field line. It was a display of youthful exuberance, something Milledge has been known for in the minors. He was sharing his excitement and happiness with the fans. So what do people do?

They complain of course.

Now Milledge was showing up his opponents. He was being overly flamboyant. Many called on Willie Randolph to talk to the kid and teach him baseball etiquette. That being said, it’s not like Randolph needed any urging. That’s not how they do that in professional Yankee land, or as I like to called it the conformist capital USA.

You just can’t win, can you?

There was nothing wrong with what Milledge did. In fact sports might be a better place if more players actually showed that type of emotion and comradery with the fans. Just imagine what that ten year old kid on the first base line felt like when a big league baseball player slapped his hand. That’s something that he’ll tell his friends and if Milledge does indeed live up to the hype, something he’ll tell his grandchildren about one day. It’s an experience you’d never forget. Just ask yourself how you’d have felt when you were a kid and your favorite player slapped your hand. Or just ANY player… (They’d probably be one of your favorites for all time)

And yet, now we’ve got to take into account the feelings of other million dollar athletes… after constantly hearing they’re coddled too much. And to top it off, you’ve got his manager on his case too.

“There’s a certain etiquette, there's a certain way of going about your business that people who don't play the game don't understand,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said when he was asked about it after the game.

I guess not Willie. I guess I will never get why celebrating your first ever big league home run that ties an extra inning game against a top not closer with the fans is some how insulting to Benitez, Barry Bonds or any one else on the San Francisco Giants.

And people wonder why Bonds says the game isn’t fun anymore.


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