Friday, June 04, 2010

SPORTS>>Sometimes the parties get painful

Leader sports editor

Walter Payton has been communicating with me from beyond the grave.

Okay, that was a dirty trick to get you to keep reading. Actually, I get updates from Payton, or whoever operates his Facebook page, because I signed up to “like” Payton on mine.

I have been invited to “like” a lot of things, from politicians to chicken-wing franchises, but you have to maintain certain standards.

Why do I like Walter Payton? Well, in his NFL hall of fame career with the Chicago Bears, Payton played with remarkable skill, toughness and longevity in a time when a team had to have a standout running back to win, and Payton carried some woeful

Bears teams before the 1985 club won the Super Bowl.

And Payton, who died in 1999, usually tossed the ball to the ref.

There was none of that kneeling and crossing yourself after scoring a touchdown, which players do ad nauseum nowadays.

Payton didn’t rip off his helmet so everyone could see his face, there were no “look-at-me” dances and no pointing at the sky the way even high school baseball players do after hitting home runs now.

I think God will forgive me if I say I suspect the genuflecting has more to do with an athlete’s showmanship than it does pure faith.

How much attention does a guy need after scoring a touchdown or hitting a homer anyway? Everyone is already looking.

Kneeling in thanks after surviving a wartime bombing or a natural disaster I can see. But kneeling and praying because you scored a touchdown, or hit a homer, the very thing you’re paid to do? I don’t see that.

I think it cheapens a faith and elevates a mere game to a level on which it should not be.

But I’m not against a show of happiness when the time calls for it, and that brings me to poor Kendry Morales, the former Arkansas Traveler and current first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels who broke his leg celebrating a game-winning grand slam a week ago.

The Seattle Mariners and the Angels were tied 1-1 in the 10th inning at Angels Stadium. Maicer Izturis doubled, the Mariners intentionally walked Bobby Abreu and former Traveler Reggie Willits reached on an error at second to load the bases.

Morales, a switch-hitter batting left, came to the plate to hit his game-winner, and he calmly circled the bases like a man who has done this sort of thing before. Only when he drew close to home, where his assembled teammates waited to welcome him, did Morales let his feelings show.

He took off his helmet and leaped into the throng — a team celebration for a team victory — only someone either failed to catch Morales or he landed wrong. Morales fractured his lower left leg and the Angels now have their fingers crossed he will return this season.

It’s not the first time a guy has been hurt in a celebration, but Morales’ mishap is casting new light on all the dog piles and jumping around that follow championship victories, no-hitters and game-winning hits.

I suppose some common sense needs to be brought into the picture. These players cost a lot of money and teams have a lot of hopes invested in them.

The Angels were hovering around .500 late in the week and were third in the American League West, though they were only 2 ½ games out of first. But without Morales, hitting .290 with 11 home runs, it is going to be tougher for the Angels to maintain what has been an almost constant postseason presence since they won the World Series in 2002.

Still, it would be a shame for a slugger to be greeted with stony silence after winning a game. Hopefully a few back slaps, high fives or pats on the head will still be allowed.

Morales is a great story. He is a Cuban defector who got his first American professional playing experience in 2005, when he was promoted to the Class AA Travelers after 22 Class A games and hit 17 home runs to help Arkansas to the Texas League Championship Series.

What a downer huh? If there is ever a time to party, hitting a game-winner, especially a grand slam like Morales did, is it.

“Kendry is anything but flamboyant,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “For this to happen to a guy who plays hard and plays the game right is disappointing. We hope we never see anything like that again.”