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Senior Baseball Columnist

Hamilton, Kemp? Blah! Gibbons, Puig among summer's big crushes

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My cat, on the advice of the veterinarian, is on Zyrtec. My dog, also allergy-ridden, is on Benadryl. My backyard grill, broken in as well as my old John Mayberry first-base glove once was, is getting a workout.

Summer, as The Cars once sang. It turns me upside down.

Summer crushes

Ah, I still remember Lori stepping out of her mom's black Thunderbird to pick up her brother from those steamy preseason high school cross country practices each August before the school year started.

5. Munenori Kawasaki, Blue Jays: The guy got a standing ovation in Toronto last weekend for successfully bunting a man over. Munenori Kawasaki is so lovable, I bet even the Sabermetricians in the crowd who hate the bunt were standing and applauding. Worst moment of this season so far well may be when he was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo when Jose Reyes was activated this week.

4. John Gibbons, Blue Jays: Look, he's a modern-day Billy Martin! Love that the Blue Jays brought him back for a second tour of duty. Nobody works a bullpen with more skill, which is part of the reason why the Jays are making a strong comeback. And, unprecedented, he called a team meeting this week to inform the Jays their beloved teammate, Kawasaki, was being sent out to activate Reyes. Nobody does that.

3. Oakland A's: The great Red Smith once wrote that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for US Steel. Rooting for Bob Melvin's Athletics is like rooting for the kids running the makeshift lemonade stand on the corner. Give me 500 glasses, kids. And hold the sugar.

2. Matt Harvey, Mets: Getting more and more difficult to make the case against Matt Harvey starting for the National League in the All-Star Game. What a Mets moment this could be.

1. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: Put aside the numbers. Which are sick. You simply can't take your eyes off of Yasiel Puig wherever he is on the field. He may go deep. He may fire a pea to nail a runner at third. He may ill-advisedly try to stretch a double into a triple.

Summer catches

Catch 'em before you can't.

5. Paul Konerko, White Sox: As classy and steady as there has been in the game, and every bit as meaningful to the White Sox as Derek Jeter is to the Yankees. At 37 and in the last year of his contract and the wheels are going a little threadbare.

4. Todd Helton, Rockies: Mr. Rockie for 17 years. Enjoy him while you can.

3. Davey Johnson, Nationals: "World Series or bust," he proclaimed this spring. Everyone knows this is the final lap for the 70-year-old manager. But will it end in September instead of October?

2. Vin Scully, Dodgers: "It's time for Dodgers baseball" sets hearts a-fluttering all over Los Angeles in the summertime. My guess: "It's time for Marlins baseball" would even sound golden if uttered by Scully. The icon is in his 64th year with the Dodgers, an incredible feat. Order your MLB Extra Innings package now so you can hear the game's poet laureate at work before he retires, which hopefully won't be for another 64 years.

1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees: Like Muhammad Ali: The Greatest. Even retirees in Sacramento are tuning in to savor his final saves.

Best summer stories

Even better than a John Grisham paperback page-turner at the beach.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks: Don't be fooled by all of that "grit" talk. There's a little (maybe even a lot) of talent here, too. Have you seen Paul Goldschmidt swing it?

4. Cleveland Indians: Terry Francona, Mr. Culture Changer.

3. Cabrera's Triple Crown pursuit: Can Miguel Cabrera become the first man ever to win back-to-back Triple Crowns? Baltimore's Chris Davis will have something to say about that in the home run department.

2. San Diego Padres: In his spare time, Bud Black pulls rabbits out of hats and the Queen of Diamonds from behind your ear.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Hey Pops Stargell, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole and Co. are so close to adding another special chapter to a special franchise's legacy.

Summer songs

Car window down, stereo cranked up.

5a. All Summer Long, Kid Rock: "Splashin' by the sand bar, talkin' by the camp fire, it's the simple things in life like when and where."

5b. Toes, Zac Brown Band: "The senoritas don't care-o when there's no dinero."

4. Horizontal Bop, Bob Seger: "The music's gettin' louder, the beat's gettin' fast, summer's finally made it, yeah, it's finally here at last."

3. No Surrender, Bruce Springsteen: "We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school."

2. Knee Deep, Zac Brown Band with Jimmy Buffett: "It's a sweet, sweet life, living by the salty sea."

1. Brown-Eyed Girl, Van Morrison: "Behind the stadium with you, my brown-eyed girl." Winner and all-time champion.

Summer road construction

It's hell on traffic.

5a. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Worse than the I-405 shutdowns in Southern California this summer. Yikes.

5b. Josh Hamilton, Agels: Makes Matt Kemp look good.

4. Milwaukee Brewers: Where have you gone, Corey Hart? And Ryan Braun? And, what the hell, Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia too?

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Terrible so far, but at six back and showing signs of a pulse, they could be back in contention in this division by the All-Star break.

2. Chicago Cubs: At least they have Anthony Rizzo, who, in 161 games since being recalled last June 26, ranked fourth among NL first basemen with 27 home runs and fifth with 92 RBI.

1. Los Angeles Angels: Nothing Los Angeles nor angelic about these guys as they continue to lose ballgames and make Mike Scioscia squirm.

Your 15 minutes of fame ...

... have now been reduced to two minutes. Whaddaya want in a short-attention span society?

4. Bryce Harper: Knee injury? Next!

3. Theo Epstein: Apparently hidden somewhere deep within Chicago's Witness Protection program while waiting for the old magic to return.

2. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: Harvey, Cole, Zack Wheeler, Matt Moore, Kevin Gausman, Shelby Miller, Jose Fernandez … suddenly, Strasburg, 24 and having made only 59 career starts, is viewed like an old graybeard. What, we're now measuring players in dog years in the digital age?

1. No-hitters: Where'd they all go?

Top trade targets

Paper or plastic (or do you live in one of those communities that has outlawed plastic)? July 31 is just around the corner.

5. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins: Going, going ...

4. Matt Garza, Cubs: Maybe finally trading Garza will bring at least a little of the buzz back to good ol' Wrigley Field.

3. Cliff Lee, Phillies: But will the Phillies deal?

2. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: But will the Brewers deal?

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: We know he's gone. We just don't know if it's this summer, this winter or next summer.

Summer essentials

Hey, hey, HEY! Candlesticks always make a nice gift.

5. Bull Durham on DVD: It's the 25th anniversary. Oh my goodness, can Annie Savoy really be that old? You'd better set aside an evening this summer to see for yourself.

4. Mountain Dew: For the 18-year-old kid in all of us.

3. Hammock: For that middle-aged guy (or gal) in all of us.

2. Sunblock: But only if it smells like coconut oil. Four out of five doctors say if it doesn't, forget it and just burn. I think that's right.

1. A shade tree: Because we all need a good place to read away from the beach.

Best summer trends

Greek yogurt is where it's at, baby.

5. Michael Cuddyer's hitting streak: After breaking Dante Bichette's club record of 23, Cuddyer's now at 24 and going for John Denver's Rocky Mountain High.

4. Food trucks: I can tell you unequivocally, the Slice of Milwaukee pizza that came from the Street-Za truck in that city the other day was day-rocking delicious.

3. Young pitchers: Harvey, Wheeler, Fernandez, Gausman, Miller, Mark Fidrych … OK, just testing to see whether you're paying attention or thinking about Words With Friends.

2. Chris Davis' power show: Forget Josh Hamilton. Maybe the Rangers are sorry they let this guy go.

2a. Jean Segura's burst: Leads the NL in hits and is tied with Brewers Carlos Gomez for the lead in triples. Summer is for sequels and the Brewers have Ignitor II. Can he develop as brilliantly as Paul Molitor did?

1. Max Scherzer, 11-0: All-Star Game starter, Cy Young debate … Scherzer, for the win.

Best summer secrets

Because who doesn't love a juicy secret.

5. It stays light until 9:30 or 10 p.m. in the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest: Shhh, don't tell anyone. Or people will flee Florida and Arizona in a reverse-snowbird trend.

4. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Speaking of Florida, yes, there are at least a couple of reasons to pay attention to the (improving) Marlins. Fernandez is one of them.

3. Coconut water: Mmmmm.

2. Josh Donaldson, A's: Is it me, or does he hit one home run every evening?

1. Padres defense: Slicker than your old backyard slip-n-slide. Seriously. These guys can pick it, grab it, dive after it and contort themselves in every other direction to Hoover the baseballs into the gloves.

Best ice cream

Because it is one of the essential food groups this time of year.

5. Adele's Frozen Custard, Excelsior, Minn.: The Flavor of the Day is so good it is worth returning to every … single … day … all … summer … long.

4. Gilles Frozen Custard, Milwaukee: Favored by both commissioner Bud Selig and me. The Reese's Peanut Butter Cup custard is just about perfect.

3. Friendly's: I'll take a Reese's Pieces Sundae, please. Or a Fribble.

2. Baskin-Robbins Jamocha Almond Fudge: As timeless a classic as the toaster.

1. Ben & Jerry's Milk & Cookies: Quite possibly the finest ice cream ever made.

Summer pleasures

If these guys are playing, I'm watching.

5. Torii Hunter, Tigers: Has always combined Mary Tyler Moore's smile with a child's joy. Always.

4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: Hit man.

3. Mike Trout, Angels: How cool is it going to be, in 20 years, to say we saw him at the beginning?

2. Manny Machado, Orioles: Grace, skill and, wow, what instincts.

1. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: Human version of those 5 Hour Energy Drinks.

1a. Yadier Molina, Cardinals, and Buster Posey, Giants: See you at the All-Star Game.

Overrated

But it's hard to get angry in the summer, isn't it?

5. The Wave: Please ... just ... stop.

4. Throwing it back: If you are in the seats at Wrigley Field, where the art of tossing back a rival's home run was invented, by all means, do it. If you are anywhere other than Wrigley, sorry, it is just a cheap imitation of the original. If you don't want the ball, at least give it to the kid next to you.

3. Flying: They've squeezed the seats so close together your knees are in your chin. It takes three days to unfold and stretch back out. Miserable and inhumane. And that's before we even get to the security lines.

2. Cracker Jack: Not to sound un-patriotic, but does anybody eat this anymore?

1. Monster free agent deals: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Carl Crawford, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira. Diminishing returns, and quickly.

Underrated

As Kid Rock sings, it's the simple things in life like when and where.

5. Parking 10 blocks away from the ballpark and walking: Forget the price of tickets. Who can afford parking? Besides, who couldn't use a nice walk on a summer evening?

4. John Fogerty's new disc: Wrote a Song for Everyone, which includes collaborations with Bob Seger, Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Jennifer Hudson, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert and others, is terrific. Besides, don't you need something from Fogerty other than Centerfield after all of these years?

3. Sirius/XM satellite radio: Every game, every night, local broadcasters. You can get a feel for what's going on in Milwaukee, what the weather is in Minnesota and our pal Alex Rodriguez's latest tweets in New York. You can do all of this while sitting outside on your patio until late, ice chest nearby, chips and salsa on the table, talking with friends into the night.

2. Triples: The most exciting play in baseball.

1. Extra innings: So far in 2013, according to Stats LLC, 10.6 percent of major-league games have gone to extra innings. This continues, it will be the highest rate since 1965, when 11 percent of games went into extra innings. Keep 'em coming.

Best summer baseball memories

5. Summer rec-league softball: Anticipation of those week-night games helped make the time go more quickly while working my summer job. The last gasps of a Pete Rose wannabe (ah, those head-first slides on the dusty infields!).

4. Pickup games in the park as a kid: Does anybody play pickup games anymore? Ever? Everything is so formal and organized. I blame adults everywhere.

3. Slinging my glove over the handlebars of my old Schwinn: And pedaling. Anywhere.

2. Wiffle Ball: Love Wiffle Ball.

1. Listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on WJR: At home. In the backyard. In the ticket booth working my summer job at a state park on Lake Erie. In the car. (Sounds like the plot line for a Dr. Seuss book, doesn't it?!).

Happy summer. Soak up the sun. And make the most of these long days.

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