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03 April 2009

The Three Kings

There are special people that play a certain important position on all major sports teams that are usually the centerpiece for that team. It is the position that pretty much makes or breaks their own team. If they play terrible, it affects the outcome of the game significantly, if they play incredible, it could make that said team look like champions, if only for that night. In hockey, it is the goaltender, in football, the quarterback, and finally, in baseball, I believe the catcher. I also believe that we are blessed with some of the best in their game for all our major teams in these positions.

We have Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers, Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins, and Ryan Doumit for the Pirates. These three guys are proving to be the rock that our teams can build off of. It is often said that a team can only go as far as these players let them. It all depends on the talent level in those positions. After looking at the whole picture, it looks like we can go far. In the case of the Pirates, unfortunately, they need more than just a great catcher to get this team rolling. The Super Bowl Champion Steelers are set with their franchise quarterback and the Eastern Conference Champion Penguins are set with their franchise goalie though.

I believe that there are also different types of these players on every team. For instance, we have the ugly players statistically, but these guys know how to win. We know that if the game is on the line, Fleury will make a key save, Roethlisberger will make a key throw, and even Doumit is starting to get that key hit. I do have to say that Doumit is still the low man on this great totem pole we have in Pittsburgh. Until he takes us to the next level, he will remain there.

Ben Roethlisberger was drafted 11th overall in 2004 by the Steelers, their first pick in that respected class. He was supposed to ride the bench his first year, but in the second game of the 2004 season, the starting quarterback, Tommy Maddox injured his throwing elbow against the hated Baltimore Ravens. So the Roethlisberger era began. He never looked back either. He comprised the best rookie season in NFL history by winning the next 15 consecutive starts and playing us into the AFC Championship game, where we lost to the then Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. It was a tough loss, but as the season video put it, it was an incredible run. Following this great season was record after record for Roethlisberger. He is the fastest player to 50 wins in NFL history, as well as one of two NFL quarterback to register three perfect passing games in the regular season. Two Super Bowl victories later, he is the pride of the organization. The great part is that he is only 27 still. He still has a lot of years and a lot of winning to do.

Marc-Andre Fleury has a different, but similar career to Roethlisberger. He was drafted first overall, the Penguins first pick in that draft in 2003. He immediately started games in his rookie season at age 18. In hockey, a player usually is sent to the minor leagues to hone his skills against lesser opponents. Fleury didn't have this luxury. He started good, but had a terrible team in front of him. It wasn't until a few more centerpieces were drafted that the team started looking like a team in front of this gifted netminder. Like I was saying earlier, these players can't do it on their own, but the team can't make it without them. Fleury and the Penguins have made the playoffs in the last two years and will make them this year again, I have confidence. They made the biggest splash since 1992 last year when they made their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Fleury has been sensational in the second half of his last three seasons, just when we need that extra boost. In March and April, like I said in another post, he is a combined 35-10-5 for the past three years. That is saying something.

Ryan Doumit is still on the outside looking in at this position. Just like Fleury was in the beginning of his career, he is a good player in a good position, on a very bad team. Doumit was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2nd round as the 59th overall selection in 1999. He spent some time in the minors as all players usually do and finally cracked the starting lineup in 2005, primarily as a backup. After an injury plagued 2006-07, he got a full season under his belt last year and really showed what he was capable of. He batted .318, knocking in 15 homers and 59 RBI's. For a catcher, these are great statistics. He is looking forward to getting the Pirates over .500 for the first time in 16 years, one shy of the major league record. I can see that happenning this year.

The Pittsburgh players have a reputation of being hard nosed players, as well as very hard workers. These three particular athlete exume this personna and give us all hope for the future. They have long and illustrious careers ahead of them to add to their already staggering numbers. Hopefully a few more championships as well.

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