Youthful Revolution

By on June 17, 2013

Across sports they say, “It’s a young man’s game.” No matter the sport youth is valued ahead of experience, wisdom and even talent in some cases. Sports are for athletes in their physical prime, of course we get that. But if you look across the four major American sports, there are many athletes south of 25 who are already superstars and some of these icons can’t even legally drink yet.

 

There are always moves to get younger in the NFL. Many times there are veterans, still very capable and able to contribute, who are given the boot in favor of younger talent. To a lesser degree there will always be the Brett Favre /Aaron Rodgers saga, but the one we really saw develop and will continue to watch play out is Indianapolis’ decision to let go of Peyton Manning and give immediate playing time to Andrew Luck.

Andrew Luck (Stanford University Athletics Photo)

Drafting Luck was not the question as it was obvious he’d be the future of the Indianapolis Colts franchise. The risk was releasing Peyton Manning and making the 23-year-old play right away. Luck responded well, as did the team, and the Colts made the playoffs losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Still, Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest QB of all-time so you’d better be pretty damn sure you’re right to let him walk away for nothing in return. Rather than staying with Manning, who in 2012 proved he still has plenty left in the tank, the Colts invested in a guy who isn’t old enough to rent a car.

 

The Colts were not alone in choosing to play a young QB. In fact, five rookies started from game 1 in 2012 and there were 13 starters 25 or younger at the start of the year. I guess the exception to this rule is Cleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden who will enter his second NFL season this year and isn’t that youthful at 29. But for many NFL franchises the philosophy is to err on the side of the cheap, young guy. Take a chance on him and you can get rid of him easy enough if he doesn’t pan out. It’s the business of the game.

 

The NBA has many superstars, few megastars and one LeBron James. That is understood. But of those many superstars more and more are likely closer to my age (20) than yours (no offense). Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook (three of those aforementioned megastars) are all 24 years old, but you already know who they are. Let me introduce you to a couple guys you may not know yet.

 

Kyrie Irving aka “Uncle Drew” came onto the scene as a freshman at Duke in 2010. Although he missed a good part of that year due to a foot injury he stepped on the court in the NCAA Tournament and scored 28 points in a Sweet-16 loss to Arizona. A game earlier in the year against Michigan State showed his ability to break down the stiffest defense when he scored 31 on 12 shots and shot 16 free throws. Now 21 years old and entering his third season for the Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie has embarrassed defenders in the NBA like this. He can finish at the rim, he has range, can run the offense and clearly has handles. If you were to mix Allen Iverson ability with Grant Hill humility and personality, you have Kyrie Irving.

 

Another name you’ll learn pretty quickly (but you should already know unless you don’t watch basketball or live under a rock) is Stephen Curry (25). He had his second coming out party all over the Denver Nuggets averaging 24 points per game in the first round playoff series while dishing out 9 assists per game. If you recall, Curry was introduced to the world in the NCAA Tournament at Davidson leading the team to a Sweet-16 appearance. Curry is a deadly three-point artist as he now owns the single-season three-point record. But his game is more than just spotting up and hitting corner threes, he’s a pure point guard who creates for his teammates and has a variety of dribble moves with a solid mid-range game and is ambidextrous. Fun to watch!

 

Hockey is always a toss-up from my perspective. You’d assume a sport as physical as hockey would be impossible to play for an extended period of time, but then see 17-year-veteran Jarome Iginla (35), 16-year-veteran Zdeno Chára (36) and 19-year-veteran Jaromír Jágr (41) all giving productive minutes in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, we saw what youthful exuberance could do for the game. Former Hart Trophy winner and the 2013 Lindsay Award winner (players’ MVP) Sidney Crosby (25) is electrifying and fun to watch when he’s on top of his game. Along with “Sid the Kid” Crosby, the 2013 Hart Trophy winner (league MVP) Alex Ovechkin (27) is a player who lit it up from day one. But of course, you already know Crosby and Ovechkin all too well.

 

A couple of guys you may be learning about through the past few playoff runs from the Chicago Blackhawks are Jonathan Toews (25) and Patrick Kane (24). Each of the young guys finished with 23 goals, tied for 5th in the NHL this season. Playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in their 5 years not only makes this young dynamic duo talented, but also very successful. Each is a part of a team looking for its second Stanley Cup championship since Kane and Toews joined the NHL club. If Chicago is able to hold on to those two for years the Blackhawks may be poised for a few more title runs.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (photo by USPresswire/Kim Klement)

Of course, I would probably offend Rocket and everyone in the Bay Area if I didn’t mention the hometown prodigy, the 23-year-old Steven Stamkos of your Tampa Bay Lightning. Once again Stamkos finished near the top in points with 57, second place in fact just behind teammate Martin St. Louis (who is not quite as young). Still, outside of Tampa Stamkos doesn’t get quite as much love as Crosby and Ovechkin because he’s played on Lightning teams that haven’t been able to find postseason magic aside from that incredible run Boston ended in game 7 of the 2010-2011 Eastern Conference Finals. With guys like Stamkos, Toews and Kane there’s some young talent to watch in the NHL.

 

In baseball there used to be a thought that you wouldn’t bring a guy up from the minors to the majors until he’s matured and ready. Several guys have refuted that old school thought. I would be beating a dead horse by talking about Mike Trout (21), Stephen Strasburg (24) and Bryce Harper (20). You already know them. Trout is a five-tool player in search of the sixth, Strasburg has Nolan Ryan-like stuff and Bryce Harper is the next Pete Rose … yawn. A few guys you need to know are Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin, Yasiel Puig and Domonic Brown.

At 24 years old Matt Harvey is a man among boys in the New York Mets’ rotation. Although the Mets’ staff is 21st in baseball with a 4.16 ERA Harvey is third in the NL with a 2.04 ERA. Harvey is 5-1 in his first full season and without a doubt the ace of the rotation. With Harvey it’s no wonder why the Mets were willing to part with R.A. Dickey (38) who is struggling in Toronto this year. Harvey has 102 strikeouts in 14 starts and is on pace for more than 250. Harvey has taken a bite out of the Big Apple and the young buck has enjoyed it to this point.

 

Patrick Corbin (23) is a guy who I, an avid baseball fanatic, hadn’t heard of until I went through the pitching stat leaders. In his second year the 23-year-old lefty is tearing up the desert. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ phenom has posted a 2.28 ERA and a 9-0 record in 13 starts. For Tampa Bay Rays fans, he’s basically the Matt Moore of the West.

 

The L.A. Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig (22) is a prodigy. Enough said. He was called up June 3. He went 2-4 that night. Next night he had three hits, two homers. Then he did this. Cue “The Natural” theme because this kid makes it look too easy. He’s played in 12 games. Seven of those were multi-hit games. Dude is unreal.

 

The last guy you really need to watch for is Philadelphia Phillies’ late bloomer Domonic Brown (25). He’s had 3 years of experience before this season, but due to injury and ineptitude he’d been here in Clearwater playing for the Threshers, the class-A affiliate of the Phillies, as much as the major club. But Brown, who came in to the year with 12 homers and 52 RBI in his career, is tied for the NL lead with 19 homeruns and also has 48 RBI. Brown had a hot streak of 10 homeruns in 12 games to end May and begin June. In a lineup with potential Hall of Famers Ryan Howard, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins the most dangerous hitter may be Domonic Brown.

Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies (Eddie Michels Photo)

There are a ton of guys I left off. Honestly there are too many young impact guys like Manny Machado (20), Aroldis Chapman (25), Matt Moore (23), Chris Sale (24), Jason Heyward (23) and countless others to fit into one article. My honorable mention goes to Jose Fernandez (20) of the Miami Marlins. He was the 14th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft. He has a 3.11 ERA and a 4-3 record, but the reason I bring him up is because he’s a local product. Fernandez went to Alonso High School in Tampa where he was a part of two state championships.

Chris Sale struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays batters to set a strike out record at Tropicana Field back in May 2012 (photo by US Presswire / Kim Klement)

Sports without a doubt belong to the young man, but it’s sometimes surprising just how young that man may be. Competing with grown men and making millions of dollars can be too much for some guys, but for everyone mentioned in this article the stage has not been too big for the young guys.

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