Friday, August 10, 2007

Beckham Finally Plays!

The long-awaited debut of soccer superstar David Beckham finally took place last night in our nation's capital. Beckham, who signed a contract estimated at $250 million dollars for the L.A. Galaxy this past January, took the field in the 72nd minute of game against the D.C. United at RFK Stadium before a sellout crowd of 46,686. Still healing from an ankle injury he suffered in June, Beckham played the final 23 minutes, but didn't score as the Galaxy lost to the United 1-0 on a soggy, humid night. Beckham is hoping to play the entire half of this Sunday's game against New England and then in his first full game on August 18th in New York.


Beckham's debut was far from the only big story in sports last night... These next two athletes I'm going to spotlight have perservered and really are the true epitome of why some of us love sports so much. After posting a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in only 175 innings in his rookie season of 2000, many people were looking at Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals as the league's next superstar pitcher. Only 21 years old at the time, the rookie had some dazzling stuff on the mound. Unfortunately, he did have a bit of a wild streak, and this evidenced itself in the Cardinals 2000 post season as he uncorked a total of nine wild pitches. His confidence was clearly shaken by that humbling experience. In 2001 he only threw 24 innings for the Cardinals, striking out 27 batters, but also walking 25!!! With an ERA of 7.13 and a WHIP of 2.08, Ankiel was sent down to the minors where his pitching struggles would continue for several years.

In 2005, Ankiel (who hit .250 with two home runs in 68 at bats his rookie year), reinvented himself. He became an outfielder and had a fairly successful beginning, hitting .259 with 21 home runs and driving in 75 at two minor league levels. An injury to his patella tendon cut short his 2006 season... this setback seemed to only drive Ankiel more as he tore through the Pacific Coast League to the tune of 32 home runs and 89 RBI's to go along with a .267 batting average this year. It was only a matter of time before Ankiel finally got his second chance at the big league level.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Ankiel would be called up by the Cardinals. Yesterday, he was in the Cardinals starting lineup and batting second against the San Diego Padres. The crowd cheered wildly as his name was announced and when he came to the plate for the first time. Just being back in a major league uniform was a huge triumph for him. Wouldn't it have been just perfect if Ankiel hit a home run in his first game? Well, in his first three at bats, he struggled, flying out to right and striking out in his next two plate appearances. Nonetheless, the Cardinals were leading 2-0 against the Padres when Ankiel came up with two runners on in the 7th inning. Ankiel worked the count to 2 and 1 against Padre reliever Doug Brocail. Then, in what can only be described as a moment reminiscent of Kirk Gibson's unbelievable pinch-hit home run for the Dodgers against the Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series, Ankiel took a Gibson-like swing at a pitch down and away from Brocail and effortlessly lofted the ball into the right field stands for a three-run homer!!! I can only imagine how the fans must have felt - I got goosebumps just watching it replayed on Sportscenter! The Cardinals would go on to win 5-0, but this game will long be remembered for something more important than that - the triumphant return of a kid with a big heart. And just my luck, the Dodgers now travel to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals which means I should get a chance to see Ankiel's triumphant return for myself!

Speaking of the Dodgers, not only did they finally score thanks to a Jeff Kent sacrifice fly in the first inning to end their 28 inning drought, but they also finally won a game!!! Rafael Furcal hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning in Cincinnati to stop the Dodgers six game losing streak as they won 5-4. Takeshi Saito closed things out for his 28th save of the year.


John Daly's life has been through more peaks and valleys than you would probably experience in a lifetime of cross-country drives. A winner of two majors and a fan favorite due to his "grip it and rip it" style of play, people can relate to Daly because he comes across as just a "normal" guy. The stocky Daly doesn't look like a professional athlete, and to make manners worse, he also likes to smoke and gamble. Ever since he burst onto the scene back in 1991 at the U.S. Open at Crooked Stick where he made it in and WON the tournament as the 9th alternate, Daly has been someone who can never be ignored in big tournaments. He also won the 1995 British Open and even led this year's British open early in the second round before having a disastrous back nine. No one doubts that he has the game to still be competitive, but with all of the turbulence that seems to always be swirling around his personal life, it's almost always a bit hard for him to stay focused for four days.

Due to his popularity, Daly attracts amongst the largest galleries on the PGA Tour. It can be argued that only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples are the only bigger draws in a tournament. Daly worked his magic again yesterday, shooting a 3-under-par 67 in the 2007 PGA Championship at the Southern Hills Golf Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The heat and humidity the whole weekend is supposted to be oppressive, with a heat index measured at 104 yesterday. Daly sat with the clubhouse lead for much of the day, but would have to settle for ending the day in second place as England's Graham Storm shot a 5-under-par 65 late in the day for a two stroke lead. Tiger Woods got off to a strong start, reaching 3-under par at one point, but he struggled on his final nine holes, carding a 1-over par 71. Phil Mickelson also got off to a good start early, but similarly struggled on his final nine, shooting a 3-over par 73. Sergio Garcia is in the hunt after shooting an even par 70, while Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh each shot 5-over par 75's and will need to score better today if they hope to make the cut. For a look at the leaderboard you can click on this link: 2007 PGA Championship Leaderboard Live coverage of the tournament begins at 2PM ET/11am PT on TNT and continues for six hours.


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