|ESPN.com: Dick Vitale||[Print without images]|
• I am not Peter Gammons, but in the American League the Tampa Bay Rays have been an amazing story. Last week's sweep of the Red Sox sent a message loud and clear that this team is for real. There was so much excitement and enthusiasm at Tropicana Field. After over a decade of being a season ticket holder, it was really special to see this team coming through in a crucial July series. It is still early, but I believe the Red Sox and Yankees are going to have to work hard to win the AL East this season. Tampa Bay is the real deal with its solid pitching and clutch hitting. • Think about this my friends: what about a World Series featuring the Rays and Chicago Cubs! Look at the standings and it is not as crazy as you think. Lou Piniella, former Tampa Bay manager, would face his former team! • We are closing in on the mid-season, so I wanted to give my thoughts on some baseball awards. Evan Longoria has made such a difference in Tampa with both his glove and bat. I give him the first half nod over Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox for AL Rookie. Longoria has produced in the clutch so many times already, and he did not get the call to the majors until the first month of the season was over. • My AL MVP for the first half is former Tampa Bay player Josh Hamilton. Over 80 RBI, he has done a remarkable job for Texas, keeping them over .500. Hamilton has done a terrific job swinging the bat, putting up solid power numbers while hitting over .300.
• My NL MVP is switch-hitter deluxe Lance Berkman of the Astros. He has had a big-time year even though Houston has struggled. The NL Rookie of the Year at the midway point is Edinson Volquez of the Reds, the pitcher who was in the deal that sent Hamilton to Texas. Giovanny Soto, the Cubs' outstanding catcher, is in the mix as well. • My mid-season manager picks: Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay edging Ron Gardenhire of the Twins in the AL. In the NL, I go with Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals as St. Louis has stayed in contention despite numerous injuries.
• I am not surprised to hear that Brett Favre is considering a return to football. It puts a lot of pressure on the Packers, on coach Mike McCarthy, and future quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Here's a kid who was told he was going to be the starter, has prepared and worked hard, and now this happens. We will see whether Favre comes back. • The Washington Wizards and Gilbert Arenas hooked up on a six-year, $111 million dollar deal. Where are all the experts now, those who questioned Arenas when he was a second-round draft pick? We analyze, analyze, analyze these kids when they come out of college, but sometimes you can't measure the heart and determination of the athlete. Arenas has played with a chip on his shoulder to show the evaluators made a mistake by letting him slip out of the first round.
• Seattle lost its NBA franchise this week, and when I think back about the likes of Lenny Wilkens, Jack Sikma and Freddie Brown, it seems kind of sad. Oklahoma City fans are happy, but it is a tough blow to a city like Seattle to lose its team. There were plenty of loyal fans out there. Sports are a business my friends.
• I was really surprised when the Atlanta Braves sent Jeff Francoeur down to the minor leagues. Here was a guy who was supposed to be a superstar, and in fact put up pretty solid numbers with 29 home runs in 2006 and a batting average around .300 last year. This season has been struggle city, batting just .234. He should get a chance to straighten things out in the second half.
• There was an amazing performance at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. Dara Torres made her fifth Olympic games, performing at an incredible level at age 41. She won the 100-meter individual medley, edging out Nathalie Coughlin. Wow! Then there was Michael Phelps, who put on another show at the trials. I can't wait to see what he does in Beijing.