Nine-time Division III champs, Mount Union lined up this year as the preseason no. 1 in the Ohio Athletic Conference, and they are the heavy favorites to win their third straight national championship. Running-back Nate Kmic should once again carry the load for head coach Larry Kehres. And wide-out Pierre Garcon is challenging the school's career touchdown record. How Kehres keeps getting kids to trek to tiny Alliance for college -- and how he keeps turning them into winners -- is beyond us. But whatever it is, he should never stop doing it.
Whether it's injuries, inconsistency, or just plain suckitude, the Tribe can never seem to stabilize its rotation, but thanks to C.C. Sabathia, the problem's now only four arms deep. He's earned his "ace" label, with double-digit wins each of the last seven years. Over that time he's averaged nearly 200 innings pitched, with just one short trip to the disabled list. This year was his best since his rookie year, rolling off 12 victories in the first half of the season, earning his second All-Star nod, and shaking off a rough July to finish with a career-high 19 wins and 209 strikeouts. And he still has the flattest hat brim in the league.
A smart and savvy Stanford grad, Ryan Garko played catcher in the minors, but at the Jake he guards first like another home plate. He yoga-stretches off the bag to snag throws, dives into shallow right to pounce on sure singles, even hits the dirt for the close plays. Garko also has led the team in hitting at times, like first basemen are supposed to do. So Victor Martinez stays behind the plate, and Casey Blake sticks around to amuse the female fans. At first, the Tribe has its chief.
In just 46 games for the Lake County Captains, Jared Goedert slugged 16 homers, drove in 51 runs, and reached base in nearly half his at-bats. He was named a South Atlantic League All-Star, and was promoted to High-A Kinston, where, after a brief stay on the injury list, he continued to punish opposing pitchers. And he plays third base too, which means that a certain hot-corner inhabitant -- that's you, Casey -- may soon have to learn how to pitch.
Last year was a rough go for young Fausto Carmona. He won his first major-league start, then struggled and was sent back to Buffalo. The Tribe brought him back as a middle reliever and, when Bob Wickman was traded, thought he'd step in as the new closer. But he blew his first three save chances -- badly -- and lost five straight decisions before Buffalo beckoned again, this time to turn him back into a starter. In 2007, the switchback paid off -- Fausto's sinker was untouchable, he flirted with 20 wins, and he was among the league leaders in earned-run average. So now we say to you, Mark Shapiro: Stop screwing with this guy's game.
Left guard Eric Steinbach has good welding, having missed just one game in four years, and is versatile, having filled in at left tackle and center. For the last three seasons, he helped clear space for a 1,000-yard rusher. Up the middle, he's a human street-sweeper, and, when he pulls outside, he's a Pro-Bowl-caliber pancake maker. Best of all, we stole Steinbach from the rival Cincinnati Bengals, which makes the move twice as smart.
Brady Quinn is the long-awaited cure for the Browns' ongoing bout with QB-itis. He started for four years at Notre Dame -- the last two for Charlie Weis, the offensive guru who turned Tom Brady into Joe Montana. Plus, his pinup good looks are straight box office for the ladies, who need some fall fantasy beefcake after Grady Sizemore dumps them each September. He looked sharp in the preseason, and the Browns have wisely kept him and his pearly whites away from the Steelers' and Raiders' defenses.
Technically, Kelly Pavliks a Youngstown native. But with all this Cleveland+ stuff going around not to mention that last years Best Boxer, Ray Austin, lasted just two stinky rounds with Wladimir Klitschko, making us look even more foolish than usual were reaching into some extra zip codes here. But the Ghost is worth it. In 31 pro fights, Pavlik, the top middleweight contender in the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization, has yet to lose. In May, he took on the International Boxing Federations top contender, Edison Miranda, floored him twice, and had him helplessly trapped against the ropes before the fight was stopped. This month, the Rust Belt tough guy knocked out Middleweight Champ Jermaine Taylor with all of Northeast Ohio behind him.
Remember a few years back when Larry from Lakewood was calling WTAM, demanding that Mark Shapiro get fired? Neither does Shapiro. "You can't get caught up in the praise when you do something right or the criticism when something goes wrong," the Tribe's GM said last week. He's exploited the inefficiencies of the baseball market better than any GM in baseball, and the small-market Tribe has its key core of players signed relatively inexpensively through 2011. Besides C.C. Sabathia, of course, whose contract expires after 2008. But for now, we're trusting Shapiro can pull that one off too.
History may remember this past April 28 as the day our long-suffering NFL franchise turned the corner. First, Browns GM Phil Savage passed on Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Instead he took Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, thereby saving the team the trouble of drafting a left tackle for the next dozen years. Then, with Quinn in a first-round free fall, Savage traded for Dallas' first-rounder to land Quinn, scratching quarterback off the list too. Then he traded up again to grab UNLV cornerback Eric Wright, another high-ranking talent. It was like three great drafts in one. See you soon, January.
The Cavs rely on LeBron too much, can't score, and can't figure out how to ditch dead-weight contracts. But they still made it to the finals. Why? Because of Head Coach Mike Brown. Brown overcame underwhelming performances by several overpaid players, and he got an NBA team to buy into his "defense first" philosophy, which they used to shut down the Eastern Conference. In a league filled with run-and-gun, high-scoring offenses and look-at-me-score personalities, Brown got the tough part down first in establishing a lock-down defense. When you're bowing to the Chosen One, don't forget to wave Coach Brown's way.