Miguel Montero is the most fundamentally sound player on the Arizona Diamondbacks' roster. Because of injuries to other players around the National League, he was an All-Star this year, but he deserved it. How many times have we seen the guy get a clutch hit for the D-Backs through his five full seasons with the team? That was a rhetorical question — meaning it's a lot. His on-base percentage is .346. Plus the guy has been the field general over a bunch of young pitchers this year, with amazing results. As a defender against the steal, he's improved vastly. A banner game for Montero this season came on July 23 against the Colorado Rockies, when he hit a home run, a double, and drove in five runs. He couldn't lose that day; he even walked in a run. He's had to fight off injuries, but if he can stay healthy, he will be one of the reasons that the Diamondbacks can go deep in the post-season. A solid .280 hitter for most of this season, he finished the year with a career-best 17 home runs. Miggy's a quiet guy, leaving the limelight to more flamboyant players like Justin Upton. He just does his job.
Stephen Drew went out for the season with a gruesome broken ankle (his toes were pointed backward) after sliding into home plate in a July 20 game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Drew's a good hitter for his position, with a lifetime .270 batting average, and a guy who can hit for power. He's slammed 70 home runs in six seasons (including the shortened season in 2006, when he came up from the minors, and this year) — 21 in 2008, 15 in 2010. For Babe Ruth's sake, manager Kirk Gibson had him batting cleanup some of the time. But where he has been hugely missed by the Arizona Diamondbacks is in the field. Drew, from Valdosta, Georgia, isn't the best shortstop in the major leagues — that would be Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins — but he's in the top 10, especially when it comes to fielding. He's up there with New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter as a defensive shortstop. Jeter, in the 3,000-hit club, surpasses Drew with a .312 lifetime average, but consider this: Jeter has averaged 13 errors over 17 seasons and Drew has averaged 11 over six. The impossible grabs he made this year, saving the D-Backs runs and ensuring wins, truly were phenomenal. Drew may not have ever turned backflips, like the Wizard of Oz (Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith) once did, but he is a magical glove man.
Ryan Roberts is a hustler who makes his teammates better. His manager, Kirk Gibson, calls him a "gamer," which, coming from the ultimate gamer, is a huge compliment. Finally a starter at third base this season (he's adept at all infield and outfield positions), he hit 13 home runs and batted a respectable .245. But what we want to talk about here are the 30-year-old's tattoos. Many big leaguers hide their tats beneath long-sleeve T-shirts, but not Roberts. He has at least 30, including one that crawls up the left side of his neck. His arms and hands are sleeved with them. It's said he's running out of skin for tattoos, and in preparation for a possible career as a tattoo artist when he's done with big-league baseball, he's even personally put two on himself: imprints of his young daughter's feet on the tops of his own. He says his "only the strong survive" tattoo has kept him plugging away at the game he loves, even after limited playing time and a demotion to the minors in previous seasons. In what must have been either a nightmare or a religious experience for his mother, he got his first tattoo when he was 18: a cross with a crown of thorns. A family man all the way, guardian angels representing his grandparents adorn his shoulders, and the elaborate aforementioned neck tat signifies "family" in Chinese characters. The tattoos we know about don't seem to symbolize anything fearsome, but all that ink must scare opposing pitchers to death. His nickname among teammates and fans: "Tatman," natch.
There was a different vibe in the Arizona Diamondbacks' clubhouse this season, and it's because of new GM Kevin Towers. The former San Diego Padres GM, who finished his first regular season with the Diamondbacks, has put people in place — manager Kirk Gibson, along with clubhouse leaders like veteran pitcher Joe Saunders — who have turned things around for the franchise. Now, instead of looking at years of dismal, last-place finishes, Arizona fans have reason for hope. This year's team contended all season, after having finished at the bottom of the National League west in 2010. Towers was a proven winner in San Diego. In his two decades with the Padres, his last 14 helming the front office, Padres teams appeared in one World Series — losing to the New York Yankees in 1998 — and won four division titles. (Ironically, the only other time San Diego was in the Series was in 1984, when Gibson's Detroit Tigers beat them.) Now, here's an interesting twist: Towers came to Arizona after he was fired by Padres CEO Jeff Moorad, who disparagingly called him a "gunslinger." (Towers does favor cowboy boots.) Moorad headed the Diamondbacks before he bought the Padres in 2009. Once the D-Backs' pathetic 2010 season concluded, GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch — definitely not "gunslinger" types — were summarily fired. Guess what Moorad did? He hired both boobs for front-office jobs in SD. The result of all this was that Arizona won the NL West, and the Padres (true to Byrnes and Hinch's form) were in last place. Towers for the dismal duo definitely is a trade we endorse. Shoot 'em up, Kevin.
Kevin Kolb is the great hope of the Arizona Cardinals. After struggling last season with a trio of inept quarterbacks, the Cardinals dished out big bucks — a $63 million ($23 million guaranteed), five-year contract — and traded away their best cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and a second-round draft choice to the Philadelphia Eagles for a guy they hope can bring back the glory days of Kurt Warner. (Though in this deal, the Cardinals also lost their second-best receiver in the off-season when Steve Breaston went to the Kansas City Chiefs.) Here's the skinny on the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Kolb: He's got a great arm, which means he has no problem airing it out downfield or to zigzagging receivers.He's not just a scrambler but a guy who can leave the pocket and pick up yards on the ground. He's 27 and reaching the prime of his career (considering his limited playing time). Drawbacks are that defenses can read him more often than coaches would like, he takes too many chances resulting in interceptions, he tends to run the ball at the first sign of trouble, and he can sail passes over the heads of receivers. He was drafted 36th in the 2007 NFL draft out of the University of Houston and completed 194 passes out of 319 attempts for 2,082 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 interceptions. This was mostly as a backup, first to Donovan McNabb and then to Michael Vick. He had been the Eagles' starting QB until he was sidelined in the last season's opener with a concussion. Insiders believe Kolb can be great now that he's playing every Sunday. He passed for 309 yards and a TD in the Cards' opener against Carolina. We've heard that star Cards wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald pushed for him, which can only mean that Fitzgerald believes the new kid will return him to greatness. Which would be good for all of us.
Calias Campbell is inspirational. He's a leader on the field from his defensive end position and a monster, even by NFL standards. Campbell stands 6-foot-8, weighs at least 300 pounds, and is the most intimidating player on the Cardinals' defensive line. Which is saying a lot, since the fearsome 6-foot-4, 290-pound Darnell Dockett, also a team leader on defense, plays beside him at defensive tackle. The second-most exciting play in football (to a long pass to an acrobatic receiver) is a quarterback sack. Even on last year's losing Cardinals team (the Cards were destroyed by so many teams that their self-esteem got diminished), the two were quarterback smashers: Campbell had six sacks (among his 60 tackles) to go along with Dockett's five (among his 52 tackles). The two played college football in Florida for two of the nation's premier college football teams, the University of Miami Hurricanes (in Campbell's case) and Florida State University Seminoles (in Dockett's). Campbell's in his fourth pro season, and Docket's in his eighth, and the two are the heart of an Arizona defense that should be tough this year, even with the loss of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
What's he thinking? What does he mean when he says that? What was "that look" about? Is he smiling? Is he frowning? Inscrutable is what Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt is. He's a guy who wouldn't need to wear a hat and sunglasses to be a poker champion. Coach, why even hold the clipboard in front of your face when you change a play from the sidelines? When your lips are moving, we can barely tell that your lips are moving. The former offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers led the Cardinals to an improbable Super Bowl berth in 2008 (they had the game won until a Steelers receiver made a toe-dragging catch falling out of bounds in the end zone to seal the deal for his team, 27-23). Whisenhunt had pushed his team away from its perennial losing ways that season. The Cardinals' NFC West championship was the team's first division title since 1975, when they were the St. Louis Cardinals. One of the best times of our life was watching the Cardinals beat the mighty Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC championship that season. The Whiz then pushed his team to a 10-6 record the next year before losing in the second round of the NFC playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Whiz, what happened last year? Sure, Kurt Warner retired, and you didn't have a viable quarterback, but couldn't you have pulled enough of your patented trick plays out of your red cap to win a few more than five games? Whiz, are your lips moving?
Taitusi "Deuce" Latui was involved in the most-publicized gaffe in local sports last football season, when he was seen joking around with then-Cardinals starting quarterback Derek Anderson. Because Anderson was clowning during a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, fans and sportscasters took exception, and Anderson — who was supposed to be the answer to the Cardinals' QB woes — was all but run out of town. Anderson was released by the team this summer, but Lutui's still around. Though Latui has improved over the past few seasons to become a solid offensive guard, his weight always was a problem for Coach Ken Whisenhunt. He weighed 370 pounds when he played in college at USC (the largest player ever to don a Trojans jersey) and his off-season weight ballooned that high as a Cardinal. Last year, this mountain of a man's sense of humor came through when he referred to himself as the Lindsay Lohan of the team because of all the publicity his tubbiness had generated in the media. The tomfooling Tongan, who was a popular player at Mesa High School pre-USC, has been a joker all his life. It's not that Deuce doesn't take football seriously; it's that he doesn't take daily life seriously. He has a tendency to dance maniacally around the locker room. They call the NFL the No Fun League (because coaches are always on players' asses), but Deuce Lutui's out to change that.
And we mean this in a good way. We love Mark Grace, one of the nicest guys in local sports. The man never has been an asshole to the media, like a lot of professional athletes in this town (initials: Randy Johnson). He's always humble, grateful for his opportunity to play major-league baseball, first for the Chicago Cubs but especially for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he was an integral part of the team's 2001 World Series championship, homering in game four. He led off with a base hit in the ninth inning of Game 7 that enabled a come-from-behind victory to shock the mighty Yankees. Grace now is a color commentator for D-Backs broadcasts, and we enjoy his insight. He's paid to love the home team, for sure, but he isn't afraid to call out Arizona players when they mess up. So when we heard that he'd been busted for driving under the influence of alcohol, we felt for him. Not that he didn't deserve it: He admitted to drinking Macallans that evening, one drink about five minutes before he was pulled over in his Jaguar. Not that anybody should drive while intoxicated (his blood-alcohol level allegedly was more than the legal limit of 0.08), but the cops report that Grace was nothing but all-smiles polite. When the arresting officer asked the former first-baseman how he thought he'd done on a field-sobriety test, Grace reportedly responded, "Not well enough." No cursing, yelling, threatening the cops — like one professional athlete (hockey player Brett Sutter) did here recently. Gracey's honest to a fault.
Marcin Gortat's known in the NBA as "The Polish Hammer." From the looks of him, he's a goon you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. At 6-feet-11 and 240 pounds, he's scary-ugly, a guy who has terrified opponents of the Phoenix Suns since his arrival last December from the Orlando Magic. When the trade for him and two lackluster veterans was announced last season, we wondered about the Suns' sanity. They gave up the most prolific scorer on the team, Jason Richardson, for Gortat, a backup center for the Magic. The other two guys the Suns acquired, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus, were unlikely to improve the team's fortunes (and indeed they didn't). The Hammer, though, became just what the Suns needed: a tough defender and hardcore rebounder (almost 10 boards a game last season). Can Gortat return the Suns to contention? No, not averaging 13 points a game to go along with his defense and rebounding. Not with the present team that features ancients Grant Hill and Steve Nash, a franchise that gave up superstar Amar'e Stoudemire because owner Robert Sarver didn't want to pay him. But we really enjoy watching the friendly (only when he's off the court) Pole kick ass, and we pray for a miracle during the upcoming season — that is, some young studs to surround him and reduce Nash's playing time. Provided there's even a season at all. The players and owners are in contract talks.

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