Dexter Fowler started slowly in 2018, but there was no reason to believe his season would be the disaster it was.
Especially after his two-strike, two-out, two-run home run propelled the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs in 14 innings at Busch Stadium. Fans cheered loudly and he wore a bright smile as he circled the bases triumphantly and then took a curtain-call bow for the crowd.
To say Fowler went on to have a disappointing season after that evening would be a classic understatement. He played in just 90 games, mostly because of various injuries, including a fractured foot he suffered on August 3, but also because he had basically been benched by manager Mike Matheny.
His .180 batting average, eight home runs, 31 RBIs and 40 runs scored were hardly a match with his $16 million salary. The fans let him know it through boos, attacks on social media and sports radio trolling. It took its toll.
Fowler was mentally struggling just as he was physically. He admitted that, at times, he was depressed and disgusted with himself for not overcoming his feelings. His relationship with Matheny was toxic, with both men bearing some responsibility.
Unfortunately for Fowler, soon after the Cardinals wisely axed Matheny and he began playing better he suffered the foot injury in Pittsburgh. His team responded under then-interim manager Mike Shildt and almost reached the postseason. Fowler was an afterthought heading into the off-season.
It’s a cliché – but hope does spring eternal and Fowler will start in right field today (March 28) when the Cardinals open the season in Milwaukee.
He’s healthy, apparently happy and has put last year’s gloom behind him.
“I figured, man, God has a plan for me. Right, wrong or indifferent, you learn from it and you keep going,” Fowler told Tim Brown, Yahoo Sports MLB columnist.
“You know, winning cures everything. Just have fun. Be around the guys. When you’re around good guys and good atmosphere I think everything else takes care of yourself.”
Soon after the season ended John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, made it clear - to many fans’ dismay - that the Cardinals weren’t giving up on Fowler.
The Fowler has saw during Spring Training is one that has given him renewed confidence in the expensive free-agent he signed a year after he led the Cubs to a World Series title in 2016.
“His attitude and approach have been great. And I think the Dex that we expect to see from a production standpoint will be there,” Mozeliak said.
“His personality has always been something of a strength for him and I think you’re going to continue to see that be an asset for him as he moves forward.”
Of course, Fowler is far from a fan favorite and if he doesn’t hit well and hit early this season, there will be immediate pressure to replace him in the starting lineup.
Fowler, who is still owed more than $49 million by the Cardinals, hit just .200 in Spring Training. He did pop two home runs and played a respectable right field.
Tyler O’Neill hit .230 and led the team with five home runs. Depending on Marcel Ozuna’s suspect right shoulder in left field, O’Neill could find himself in right field should Fowler struggle.
For now, Fowler is fine. Let’s see where he is when the anniversary of his dramatic game-winning home run against the Cubs gets here on May 6.
Three’s a charm
Of the 16 teams that reached the Sweet 16, three of them have a black coach.
Leonard Hamilton and Florida State survived a scare in the first round Vermont. Then laid a whooping on Murray State and top NBA prospect Ja Morant.
Hamilton has proven to be a top-notch coach throughout his career – and he and his representatives can also negotiate a great contract.
He earned a $225,000 bonus for reaching the Sweet 16 and has earned $675,000 in bonuses this season. He makes $2.25 million as a base salary. Should the Seminoles reach the Elite Eight, Hamilton will pocket another $250,000. A Final Four showing is worth $275,000, a finals berth is another $150,000 and a national championship will garner him $500,000.
Standing between him and the bonuses is West Regional top-seed Gonzaga, which Florida State plays tonight (March 28) in Anaheim, California.
Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars take on Kentucky in one the Sweet 16’s most anticipated games. Trouble has followed Sampson throughout his coaching stops at Oklahoma and Indiana – but he’s back in the NCAA’s good graces and has many pundits picking his team to topple favored Kentucky.
Sampson used some of his press conference time following his team’s first-round win over Georgia State to lobby the NCAA to help family members see their sons play in the tournament.
“I’ve had families ask me, ‘Can I sleep on my son’s floor, in his room? Think about that now. That’s my life. That’s not unusual for me. ‘Can I sleep on his floor?’ Because they don’t have the money to pay for a room,” he said.
“When you look around at how big this industry has become, why can’t we figure that out?
“I’m not saying give them this, or give them that. I’m saying that when young men get to the NCAA tournament, let’s find a way to get their parents and their brothers and sisters a plane ticket and a hotel room. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”
I’m sure his plea is falling on deaf ears at the corrupt and out-of-control NCAA.
Most basketball fans, including me, had no idea who the third black coach in the Sweet 16 is until about three weeks ago,
LSU interim coach Tony Benford took over for coach Will Wade after Wade was caught on an FBI wiretap allegedly discussing cash payments for prospective recruits. He led his team to a last-second win over Maryland to reach a matchup with perennial power Michigan State.
The Wade suspension pales in comparison to the first shock LSU received.
The Tigers’ were days from the first practice of the season when popular junior forward Wayde Sims was shot to death following a party in Baton Rouge on Sept. 28
“They've been through a lot,” Benford said following the Maryland win.
“We know the story of adversity these guys have gone through, losing obviously Wayde at the beginning of the year. And then obviously with Coach Wade not being here with us. I give it to these guys. They have taken ownership of this team.”
Benford, who has gone from unknown to a “Cinderella Story,” said Sims’ murder became a catalyst for LSU’s success long before the head coach was suspended.
“They dedicated the season to Wayde Sims," Benford said. “That really made these guys a tighter-knit group, brought them closer together, more trust and respect for one another.”
Benford was North Texas University head coach for five seasons – and compiled a less-than-stellar 62-95 overall record. He was fired in March 2017.
During his 27-year career, Benford was an assistant coach at Nebraska and Marquette. While at Marquette, he coached future NBA stars Jimmy Butler, Wesley Matthews and Jae Crowder.
Benford played for Texas Tech in the mid-80s and earned All-Southwest Conference honors in 1985-86. He led the Red Raiders with 14.4 points per game, and hit three straight game-winning shots in an eight-day span against Houston, Arkansas and Rice.
“That was about 100 pounds ago,” he recently said with a laugh after being ranked No. 8 on the list of “Best Players Who Are Now Coaches,” in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
The Reid Roundup
Paul Goldschmidt is in the money before he even reached St. Louis for the Cardinals season opener next week. He signed a $130 million contract, which will run through 2024 … Cards pitcher Carlos Martinez was officially placed on the injured list with rotator cuff concerns. Oh oh … Playing mostly in Texas and the South, Harris-Stowe State University’s baseball team is 14-16, including a 6-5 win over Lindenwood University-Belleville last Saturday. Infielder Chase Goldwater leads the team with a .409 batting average … Murray State’s Ja Morant showed he is the real deal during his team’s two games in the NCAA Tournament, which included an upset win over Marquette … Florida State will play against Gonzaga tonight (March 28) without forward Phil Cofer. His father passed away after a lengthy illness last Thursday ... It’s clear that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won’t miss running back Le’Veon Bell or receiver Antonio Brown. “We can’t do this with hostages, we need volunteers, we need good players, good guys that want to be here. If guys can’t check those boxes, then it’s probably best for all parties involved we go our separate ways.” … The bracket I posted here last week is a disaster. My apologies if you were unwise enough to think I knew what I was talking about.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.