Lang’s World: Ten pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond 3.8.18

Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM
Mar 8, 2018 11:30 AM ET

Twenty-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect Ronald Acuña has the same type of remarkable upside Lang Whitaker once saw in Jason Heyward, the previous phenom who came up through the organization before he was traded to St. Louis. (Credit: Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

1. Acuña Matata

The sun may still mostly be playing hide and seek with us, especially for our friends in the Northeast, but the good news is winter is losing its fight with spring. And there was no surer sign of this than a few weeks ago, when pitchers and catchers reported for work at Major League Baseball spring training camps across Florida and Arizona. Baseball season is starting, and with it I am feeling my annual renewal of hope. Will this be the year that my team, the Atlanta Braves, surprises everyone and exceeds expectations and buoys our spirits with a run to the World Series? If we’re being honest, probably not. The Braves are still rebuilding, with a pitching rotation that is, to be generous, in need of developing. We have a legit star in Freddie Freeman , an All-Star caliber outfielder ( Ender Inciarte ) and some young players with promise ( Ozzie Albies , Dansby Swanson ). And then there’s Ronald Acuña . The outfielder from Venezuela recently turned 20 years old, and for many Braves fans (such as, well, me), Acuña is our best hope. He has been ranked the number one prospect in baseball by several outlets, and was just named the youngest MVP in the history of the Arizona Fall League. He’s the kind of young slugger we haven’t had in forever, since maybe Freeman and Jason Heyward were coming up. And it’s tantalizing to have a guy like that on the roster again. If he’s even on the roster to start the season. Yes, he’s our best young player and he probably, definitely deserves to be in the majors. But he’ll likely begin the year in the minors so as not to accrue too much service time, which will make him more affordable for longer for the Braves. I hesitated to invoke the name of Jason Heyward there because it wasn’t that long ago that I visited Braves spring training in Orlando and saw Heyward, our former next hope. He was a kid from the Atlanta suburbs who was going to be a five-tool player, who could hit for power and average, and he not only made the Braves’ opening day roster, but he blasted a three-run homer in his first at bat which definitely felt prophetic. And here’s where the narrator says, “But it wasn’t.” While Heyward was a fine player for the Braves, and while we saw occasional flashes of all five of those tools, he was never able to wield them all at the same time. And after five years with the Braves, Heyward was shipped off to St. Louis in exchange for some young prospects. The trade of Heyward before the 2014 season was the beginning of the Braves’ rebuilding campaign, and here we are four years later just turning the corner and climbing out. I do not know if the Ronald Acuña story will end differently than Heyward’s time in Atlanta. We hear similar stories frequently, regardless of sport. Prospects come along and give us prospects for the future. The present doesn’t happen out of nowhere. Some make it and some don’t. I fully understand that it’s unlikely the Braves will win a pennant this season. But I’m hopeful they will. And for right now, at least, that’s enough to keep me hanging on and tuning in.

2. Green Thumb

So the way it works, at least in theory, is like this: You put the seeds in the soil, you make sure the soil is watered and gets a couple hours of sunshine each day, and then those seeds magically turn into plants. As someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen and , for a while now I have secretly longed for a garden of my own. As it turns out, growing your own herbs and plants is impossible when you live in an apartment surrounded by concrete. But now that I’ve moved to Memphis and have a house and a yard and access to sunlight, getting into gardening is something I’ve thought about a lot. And so after plenty of research, I am starting small, attempting to harvest a few herbs I can use in my cooking. I understand the odds are against me, that it’s more likely than not that, as a rookie gardener, I am more likely to kill these plants than I am to make these plants flourish and bloom. But along the way, I’m hoping that by spending some solitary time outdoors and trying to nourish these leaves to life, I will also learn as much about myself as I do about these plants. Plus, hopefully get some fantastic rosemary in the bargain.

3. The Dude

Last week on the , I was playing “Fill In The Blank” with Chris and producer Jon Roser . We were talking about the Academy Awards, when someone asked which male acting performance stuck out as the best of our lifetime. We threw around a lot of dramatic turns from people like Daniel Day Lewis , Denzel Washington and Philip Seymour Hoffman . But one of the first that leapt to my mind came from Jeff Bridges in one of my favorite all-time movies, “The Big Lebowski.” This week marks 20 years since the release of the cult classic, and I know there are a lot of people who have never seen it, which is their loss. I also know I probably should not have looked at The Dude as an aspirational figure, but that was my choice. I thought about embedding a clip here, but you really need to sit and watch the movie from start to finish. So this seems like a good reminder to take a few hours this week to have a White Russian, , and abide with The Dude.

4. American Chopper

About seven years ago, after just over a decade of working full-time at SLAM magazine, I started working from home. Which meant I no longer had to go into an office each day, which meant that the daily schedule to which I’d become so accustomed no longer applied to my life. And so instead of getting up and heading out into the world each morning, one day I woke up nearly adrift. I made a cup of coffee, grabbed my laptop, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV to create some background noise. Knowing what I know now, turning on the TV while I was trying to work probably wasn’t the best idea. In order to be fully focused on being productive and, you know, making some money, I should have purposefully minimized my distractions. But the TV was there, taunting me by not being turned on, and I managed to convince myself that it would really be helpful for productivity if I just turned on some sort of background programming. At the time, the main piece of programming on the Discovery Channel was reruns of “American Chopper.” I had seen a few episodes previously, but each afternoon Discovery had like a five-hour block of “American Chopper” reruns. And over the next few months, I spent countless enjoyable hours with the Teutul family, watching them fight and make up and build cool motorcycles. Eventually, the Discovery Channel decided to diversify their viewing options and they stopped showing nothing but “American Chopper.” And before long, the Teutuls feuded so much that the TV show came to an end. But now, they’re back! Last week, I happened to stumble across the return of “American Chopper,” and the whole gang is reunited and in a more mindful place as they attempt to reconcile and live and love together. Maybe we won’t see as much screaming and yelling, but I’m OK with that, as long as we can keep Junior and Senior (and Mikey) around.

5. Lang’s World Reading List

I have never been much into gambling, because I have spent plenty of time in Las Vegas and have seen how nice all those casinos are. Simple logic suggests that the money to build those opulent temples must come from somewhere, and I don’t want the majority of that source to be my wallet. The same goes for why I stay away from the lottery. There’s a reason lotteries stay in business: they continue to make more money than they lose. But what if you overlook the simple math and realize there’s an inefficiency at play? That’s exactly what happened to a retired Michigan man and his wife, who noticed a chance to turn a profit from playing the lottery. Jerry and Marge Selbee discovered a flaw in the way one particular lottery was set up, and they went about investing in that lottery as if it were a bank. What happened next? It’s all in for HuffPo from the always great Jason Fagone . Carve out an hour of your day. And wish you had been friends with Jerry and Marge.

6. Classic Video

After resurrecting the , I thought maybe we should bring back some sort of classic video each week. Earlier this week, I was telling someone about the episode of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” that featured Marshawn Lynch as a special guest, and it caused me to go over on the YouTube and find the highlight reel from that show. This was maybe my favorite hour of broadcast television last year.

7. Game Time

Bored at your desk? Try playing some for a while!

8. Can They Kick It?

Rockets center Clint Capela tends to do most of his work under the radar, perhaps understandably eclipsed by brighter lights such as James Harden and Chris Paul . But this weekend, Capela made some noise with his feet by breaking out a . I especially love the way the claws peek over onto the midsole.

9. Animal Takeover

Just because we live in a world with ever-evolving technology, it doesn’t mean everything in this world has been completely discovered. For instance, a previously undiscovered colony of 1.5 million penguins was recently discovered somewhere near Antarctica. This is surprising for several reasons: First, there was another colony of penguins a few miles away that was struggling to survive. Second, and perhaps most important, an international team of scientific researchers was able to discover this , thanks to, wait for it, poop stains! If these penguins want to stay hidden, they clearly need to adhere to the “if it’s brown, flush it down” maxim.

10. Go Forth With Song

Not gonna lie, I was kind of dragging into the office on Wednesday morning, feeling tired and ready to get over the hump day. And then as I left Starbucks to walk into the palatial HQ, this song popped up on my shuffle and had me fired up by the time I sat down at my desk… The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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