Christian Walker producing as D-backs await Jake Lamb’s return

PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks went from one .300-hitting first baseman to another.

A year ago, it wouldn’t have been surprising to learn that in 2019, Arizona would have the NL’s doubles co-leader playing well on both sides of the ball, hitting .295 with a .949 OPS as of May 10. The surprise might’ve been that that player is Christian Walker, not Paul Goldschmidt.

Nearly 40 games into the season, several of Walker’s key offensive numbers are better than Goldschmidt’s, as is his WAR. Ironic, for a player who was stuck behind Goldschmidt in the Diamondbacks’ system and was expected to share first base with Jake Lamb when this season began.

When the injured Lamb returns from a quad injury, which could in the near future, manager Torey Lovullo will be adding a corner infielder when he has two productive ones already: Walker and Eduardo Escobar.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a huge challenge for me,” Lovullo said of balancing playing time when Lamb returns. “But what it means is we’re getting a really good player back in Jake Lamb. And now we have an extra bat, and extra guy, an All-Star that’s back in our lineup that’s going to help us win some baseball games.”

Lovullo has time to figure out what he’ll do, and nothing is set in stone. But the manager said Friday that as he looks at it now, Lamb could play some at third and Escobar could go to second base.

Walker earned the right to keep his spot.

“Definitely the back end of a lot of hard work,” Walker said when asked about his strong start. “Lot of reps, a lot of hours. But also, a sense of confidence that’s given to us from the staff. And it’s just in the atmosphere here: Everybody’s here for a reason. Everybody has a job, everybody has a role. Have confidence in yourself, trust yourself and go out and play.”

It’s probably not a coincidence that the increase in productivity has come in the same season as his increase in playing time (he’s already far exceeded his career high in plate appearances).

“I think there’s an element of just knowing that day-to-day, I’m going to be out there,” Walker said. “You always have tomorrow. Takes some of the pressure off of each individual at bat.

“It sucks that Lamb went down. I know me and him were really excited to tag team first base and I think that would’ve been a great situation. But moving forward, we’re looking forward to having him back in the lineup and I think the team still has room to grow.”

In 2017, Walker was in his first year with the D-backs organization after spending his whole career with Baltimore up to that point. That first season with the Reno Aces, Walker hit .309 with 32 home runs and 114 RBI.

But his production in 61 career major league games before this season amounted to a .170 batting average, six home runs, nine RBI and a .683 OPS in 99 plate appearances.

“I definitely had a lot of belief in myself, a lot of trust, a lot of confidence,” Walker said. “But it’s hard to stack yourself up against this competition until you get a certain amount of time against it. I still don’t think I’m there yet. I still have a lot of room to grow, a lot of reps to earn. And I’m just honored to be getting this opportunity.”

Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury era starts in earnest for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — For the Arizona Cardinals entering the new era of quarterback Kyler Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury, the talk is over, just as the new head coach told his (likely) starting quarterback before drafting him first overall. Now opponents have got to deal with them.

The pleasantries are over with. Now it’s time to work.

A relationship years in the making — Kingsbury recruited Murray out of Allen High School in Texas — began on the field in earnest on Friday as the Cardinals took to the practice fields for rookie mini-camp. In a 25-minute window of the practice open to the media, Murray stretched before the team broke off into position groups.

Kingsbury mentored Murray in basic throwing drills, posing as a mildly enthusiastic pass-rusher before the quarterback began throwing to receivers.

The Cardinals coach admitted he spent most of his time focusing on his quarterback.

“Not bad,” the head coach said of Murray’s first day throwing. “Some familiarity with the system helps. He can really throw it, got a presence about himself. I like how he operated.

“He’s been born and bred to do this. He’s kind of living it out right now, and (the attention) may affect other people but it doesn’t seem to affect him.”

Through just a few meetings with reporters, it’s clear Murray’s mannerisms remain even-keeled and calm. He reminded that there’s not much worth in analyzing the first day working with an entirely new group of coworkers.

Things take time.

“Besides my feet hurting, I feel pretty good,” he said, adding that he’d been wearing a pair of cleats that hadn’t broken in.

What wasn’t as new was his familiarity with the offense. Murray said Kingsbury’s spread offensive system, one branch from the Air Raid tree of many, is similar to the offense run by Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley.

“Today I was pretty comfortable, surprisingly comfortable as far as communication, stuff like that,” the rookie said. “I think that’s helped me out a lot.”

Receiver Andy Isabella was more heavy with his praise.

“Just the way it was thrown, the way it got there, the way it was perfectly placed,” Isabella said. “It doesn’t even look like he’s trying. It’s coming at 100 miles per hour but it’s coming perfect spiral.”

Murray’s goal was about “making everybody comfortable” in Kingsbury’s offense.

“Obviously you’re going to mess some stuff up,” the quarterback said. “Guys aren’t used to his system, what he calls, what he runs and stuff like that, but knowing that with time, it’ll get better.”

The question is: How soon will Murray be ready?

Days after the draft, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim raised eyebrows when he decisively answered whether he expected Murray to start.

“We didn’t draft him one overall to ride the pine,” Keim said on The Rich Eisen Show.

Two days later, Kingsbury seemed less certain, telling The Jim Rome Show, “We’ll see.”

Murray isn’t worried about those expectations. In fact, he didn’t even think the story of Keim’s very sure expectation was true.

“I didn’t believe it when he said it. I kind of saw it but didn’t see a credible source … I didn’t believe it but he told me the other day,” he said.

“I’m just here to work. Obviously would I love to start? Of course.”

Arizona Cardinals sign 5 rookies, fill out 2019 draft class

The Arizona Cardinals signed five rookie draft picks to four-year deals on Friday, completing their 2019 NFL Draft class after signing six on Thursday.

Wide receiver Andy Isabella, fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler, safety Deionte Thompson, offensive lineman Lamont Gaillard and defensive lineman Michael Dogbe were the remaining selections left to be signed.

First overall pick Kyler Murray, second-round pick Byron Murphy, defensive lineman Zach Allen, sixth-round selection KeeSean Johnson, offensive lineman Josh Miles and tight end Caleb Wilson were all signed to four-year deals on Thursday.

Isabella was the team’s third player selected in the draft, picked No. 62 overall via the Miami Dolphins in the Josh Rosen trade made on day two. The 5-foot-9 wideout led all NCAA receivers with 1,698 receiving yards last season and tied for fifth-most TDs with 13. He tied for the fastest 40-yard dash time among wide receivers at the NFL Combine, clocking in at 4.31 seconds.

Butler recorded 1,318 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for Iowa State in 2018, his junior season.

With the Cardinals’ lack of depth at wide receiver and head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, Isabella and Butler will have a chance to compete for targets from Murray right away.

Suns fan takes opportunity to dunk on Lakers fans during ‘protest’

Ah, what a time to be alive when the Lakers of Los Angeles are more incompetent than the Phoenix Suns.

When the Phoenix Suns signed Monty Williams to a five-year deal while Williams was in talks to become the head coach of the Lakers, the initial reports were the Lakers hadn’t offered Williams the job yet.

Did Williams really choose the Suns over the Lakers? Surely not! Well, it turns out he did. Plus, the man the Lakers reportedly were planning to hire anyway (Tyronn Lue) is no longer in talks with the organization.

That, on top of Magic Johnson’s bizarrely wonderful departure and missing the playoffs with the best basketball player in the known universe LeBron James, has the Lakers in a strange state of disarray.

The result of that was a “protest” staged by fans outside of Staples Center Friday, and we had to use air quotes on that bad boy because not many folks showed up.

This essentially gift-wrapped a golden opportunity to Suns fans to dunk on Lakers fans.

This dude took that opportunity.

“I’m out here because to finally see a front office in more disarray than the Phoenix Suns — especially when it’s the Lakers, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring joy to my heart,” the gentleman said, noting it was fun to watch.

Indeed.

The 5: Last top 5 picks for Phoenix Suns in NBA Draft

Tuesday is the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery, the day the Phoenix Suns will find out where they are set to pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Currently positioned with the third-best odds, the Suns could drop all the way to seventh.

If Phoenix remains in the top-five, though, it will be its fourth straight year doing so. That will extend the franchise record of doing so from their third year in a row last season.

Here’s a look at the last five selections by the Suns in the top-five.

1987: Armen Gilliam, No. 2 overall

We start all the way back in the 1980s to the selection of Gilliam in 1987.

Going No. 2 overall one spot behind David Robinson (ouch!), Gilliam was All-Rookie First Team in 1988 with 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.

Gilliam was traded by the Suns in 1989 to the Charlotte Hornets for Kurt Rambis. He went on to have a 15-year career in the NBA.

2013: Alex Len, No. 5 overall

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Touted for his potential versatility out of the post offensively and athleticism defensively, it became apparent in a hurry Len wasn’t anything more than a traditional NBA big man.

The hurdles Len had to work through his first four seasons in Phoenix were that he was a poor finisher at the rim, an above average rebounder and adequate defensive presence around the rim who had no individual offensive skills.

What did that turn into? Well, in his fifth and final year with the Suns for the 2017-18 season, he shot a career-high 56.6% from the field and played the best basketball of his career.

But the past frustrations and inconsistency, along with the selection of Deandre Ayton in the NBA Draft, all but wrapped up his time in Phoenix.

Len signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks last summer and averaged a career-high 11.1 points per game this season. Along with that scoring uptick came a newly-armed 3-point shot he hit at an impressive 36.3% clip on 2.6 attempts a game. Perhaps that’s the last little wrinkle to Len’s game that makes him a solid NBA big man.

2016: Dragan Bender, No. 4 overall

From bringing the ball up at summer league to playing minutes at small forward under Earl Watson, it’s been an adventure during Bender’s tenure as a Sun.

At a certain point in that tenure, it became clear that Bender’s confidence and aggression issues were the primary road block in his quest to be a positive contributor.

That led to the Suns declining the fourth-year option on his contract for the 2019-20 season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

As it turns out, Bender worked through some of those concerns and had by far his best season, minus the whole 15% dropoff in his 3-point shooting. Showing he can finish more around the rim and be more consistent, the question now becomes if the 21-year-old is brought back as a rotation big for Monty Williams and if Bender would even take the opportunity to do so.

2017: Josh Jackson, No. 4 overall

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

It’s been a frustrating two seasons for Jackson, where a lack of a defined role and a constantly shuffling coaching staff can be blamed just as much as his overall development.

The biggest issue for the 22-year-old has been his decision-making as a ball-handler.

When taking into consideration how often Jackson uses possessions and how many times that results in an assist or turnover, there are only three other players this decade who put up similar numbers, per Basketball-Reference. That’s not good!

In his career, Jackson has more turnovers (319) than assists (302) and his efficiency (41.5 FG%, 29.4 3P%) has not been able to cancel that out to create an effective player.

As far as defensively, Jackson has shown the promise that made him so desirable out of Kansas, but it once again comes down to his erratic play and inconsistencies.

Jackson, however, is still young and is the player on the roster who would benefit the most from stability.

2018: Deandre Ayton, No. 1 overall

Ayton met the hype of the franchise’s first-ever top selection as a rookie.

He averaged 16.3 points a night and his 10.3 rebounds per game led the team and all rookies.

Showing elite efficiency at 58.5% shooting from the field and 74.6% from the foul line, Ayton’s 60.8% true shooting percentage is the best-ever by a rookie averaging a double-double.

Ayton became only the 35th rookie in league history to average at least 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. He’s only the third to do so since 2000, joining Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin.

He is firmly positioned as the team’s 1B long-term building block right alongside 1A Devin Booker.

Should You Allow Your Child to Join Youth Football Leagues with Sublimated Football Uniforms?

Watching football with a cold beverage and a bowl of snacks after work with friends or family members like your children can be a lot of fun. Watching National Football League (NFL) teams running around the field in their sublimated football uniforms either on defense or offense usually makes your day. And then one day, your kid walks up to you and says he wants to join a youth football league. You’ve watched the game and enjoyed it but how can you be sure that you’re willing to allow your child join the league and play the sport with a team? Well, you need to sit down and seriously consider the pros and cons of your child playing football and joining a youth football league like Pop Warner.

For one, joining a football league is the best opportunity for your child to learn the basics of football, as well as get the intense workout and physical conditioning he will need in order to survive playing the game. It’s also the best opportunity for your son to learn a few important lessons involving the reality of the game. Many children grow up watching the fascinating and exciting game of football with their friends and families and they usually believe it’s just as easy they see it being played on TV by professional footballers in sublimated football uniforms who have paid the hard price for being good players.

So, your child is unaware of the physical demands of football, the intensity of competing on the field against another team and it is until he experiences it that your child can decide if he’s really ready for a life of playing football as a sport. Youth football leagues also allow children who are interested in football to understand the importance of commitment. After all, they will have to dedicate at least two hours, 3-4 times weekly to practice, training and drills with the team before going out on the field in sublimated football uniforms to compete against other talented youth football teams.

american football pros and cons

Should you let your kid play football?

Without a doubt, there are undeniable pros and cons to playing football. There are major factors parents and school advisors need to consider before sending their children or students off to the field in their custom football jerseys ready to touch and tackle.

Football Pros

One of the more obvious pros of football is the athletic feature. Any activity that gets your child moving and working the body will improve your child’s overall health. Football involves a variety of intensive training which strengthens both the body and the mind. The players participate in long distance running, sprints and sometimes weight lifting.

Football, like any sport, requires a lot of discipline. If your child cares about their performance and their team’s victory they will do whatever it takes to succeed. A football team doesn’t succeed by just showing up to the game and playing their best, but they have expectations from their coach and their teammates which they feel the need to fulfill. This positive social pressure encourages the students to be focused and reliable when it comes to what they care about. This discipline will undoubtedly spill over into other categories in their lives.

And lastly, football is one of the most valued sports in the United States. This love of football brings the team and the school community together. Imagine a team and their fans all wearing their custom football jerseys and cheering on their team to victory. This sense of unity and excitement encourages teamwork, leadership and a sense of community for the students and families.

Football Cons

Now, onto the ugly stuff, the injuries. It’s no secret that playing football is a dangerous sport and can lead to many injuries, from a black eye to Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). There are even unfortunate events where a football game has led to death.

The force of a tackle can lead to several head injuries and concussions. CTE is a degenerative disease which is mostly an outcome of serious and numerous head injuries. Some of the most common CTE symptoms include depression, memory loss and dementia.

This is why it’s important to start training the students into safe tackling. The rules from little league all the way to the NFL are changing because the growing risks are undeniable, and the cases against football have been increasingly more severe. It’s always important to stay educated and stay safe!