Play hard and go home

I have grown up with the belief there are two kinds of athletes: those who try hard and those that don't.

Too many times have I seen an athlete stumble because they were given a free pass because of what they had done in the past. Yes some athletes have enough talent to masquerade as trying hard but they might not know how to overcome adversity when they're staring right at it.

I envied players who went all out all the time. Players such as Craig Biggio, Mark Lemke,Len Dysktra, Dale Murphy, Pete Rose and Ozzie Smith. I wanted to play hard because I saw so many others playing hard.

They had to work hard and met every challenge head on. When Biggio was asked to play second base and later the outfield, secretly I'm sure he grumbled and moaned. But he made the moves and not only continued to play at an All-Star level, he won multiple Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers awards. He put his team first over his personal achievements. There is no doubt in my mind that will be rewarded some day in Cooperstown.

When spring training games started over the weekend, the Atlanta Braves were playing against the new-look Detroit Tigers. Yes the Tigers won both games but something in Saturday's game struck me. Here is the lead from the Associated Press story:

"Brandon Inge lost his job at third base when Detroit moved Miguel Cabrera across the infield to make room for first baseman Prince Fielder. Instead of sulking, he volunteered to play second base."

Inge could have gone all star athlete on the Tigers and demanded to be traded. He could have, but he didn't. He put his team above himself and even if he doesn't make the team out of camp as their starting second baseman, he's a better man for trying. And from now on, a part of me will be rooting him on.

When former Augusta GreenJacket Hanley Ramirez found out the Miami Marlins were going to acquire Jose Reyes to play shortstop, he balked at the notion of being told to move to third base. He felt it was his right to be the shortstop regardless of his past run-ins with former managers (who can forget when now Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez benched him for not running hard after a ball he kicked into left field?). I want to know when players thought it was OK to play half-hearted most of the time? If I was the owner of the Marlins, I would have told him to either play or ride the pine because there's no place for your attitude on my team. 

I'll never forget when a very young Andruw Jones gave a less-than 100 percent effort in center field and was pulled mid-inning by Bobby Cox. What happened? Jones got the point: you play hard or you get benched. He went on to have a solid career with the Braves, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves while hitting 368 home runs during his 12 years in Atlanta.

There are countless players around the league that don't have the talent that others do. Who knows what lies ahead for Inge in Detroit or Ramirez in Miami, but they better remember if you play hard, you will get rewarded.

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