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The next MJ?

Maxx Wolfson

By Maxx Wolfson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday Jan. 15, 2002

I can't wait to see Clarence Farmer play baseball.

The energetic sophomore will trade his football helmet for a batting helmet this season and give America's pastime a try.

There is no reason that I can see why he won't be as successful on the diamond as he has been on the gridiron.

The Houston native went 2-for-3 in his first intersquad action and played center field for the Wildcats last Friday.

Farmer, who was a four-year letterman on the baseball team at Booker T. Washington High School, definitely has what it takes to be a good baseball player - speed, strength and athleticism.

The one thing that scares me, though, is his hands.

I can count at least four times during the season that Farmer fumbled an option pitch from quarterback Jason Johnson that was placed right in his hands.

Even Johnson has laughed about Farmer's inability to catch a pitch on occasion and UA head coach John Mackovic stopped running the option play late in the season.

Luckily for Farmer though, he will be allowed to use a glove in the outfield, unlike on the football field.

On offense, he will be something to watch, especially when he gets on base. If he does not get to start, he will likely be used in a pinch-running role this season, adding the bench player with speed UA lacked last season.

Here is how I picture what his first time on base will be like - Farmer hits a grounder to center field that he legs out and turns a routine single into a double when the opposing second baseman gets out of the way of his slide because he doesn't want to get pummeled by the 224-pound tailback.

Now on second base, the ball is hit to the shortstop, who tries to tag him out, but Farmer does a spin move to get around him and advance safely to third.

The next Wildcat batter singles, allowing Farmer to score easily from third base, and instead of hustling home, he decides to high-step into home, something that he has become known for this season on the football field.

But with the high-stepping and speed comes one of Farmer's biggest downfalls - his attitude.

Mackovic had to pull Farmer out of the UNLV game last season because he was talking so much smack and the referees were going to throw him out.

A bad attitude is something new UA head coach Andy Lopez will not stand. Lopez has gained the reputation of a coach who will not put up with anything from his players, and Farmer should be no exception, no matter how big of a football star he has become.

The Wildcats open their 2002 campaign in 11 days against New Mexico, so it seems unlikely that Farmer, who has been with the team for a little over a week, will see a lot of action early in the season. However, as the season wears on, look for Lopez to get him into the lineup in certain situations, especially running the bases.

Hopefully Farmer's baseball experience will go a little better than other athletes' who have dipped their hands into another sport, such as Michael Jordan's short stint with the Birmingham Barons, and give the Wildcat baseball team a much needed boost.

Last semester, I wrote a column about my friend Branden Lombardi, who has overcome a three-year-long battle with osteogenic sarcoma, a common form of bone cancer in young adults.

On Sunday night, he laced up his sneakers and was one of 100 Phoenix residents to carry the Olympic Torch through a 19-mile route in the Valley of the Sun. He was chosen for his story of inspiration.

Lombardi, who attended UA last fall and is taking a year off to recover before returning this upcoming fall, was said to have the biggest entourage of all the torch bearers Sunday night, according to the police doing crowd control.

"It seriously was amazing, something I will never forget and can't wait until the day I have kids so I can tell them that I carried the Olympic Flame," he said after his 0.2-mile stretch. "Just the energy and the feeling of importance of carrying it made the adrenaline even pump through my body just a little bit more.

"I couldn't even tell you if my feet were solid on the ground, but the feeling I had I won't ever forget."

Lombardi is continuing his work for his foundation, The Branden Lombardi Foundation, which purchases items such as televisions, computers with Internet connections, books on tape, snacks and other necessary comforts for chemotherapy patients like him. He has raised over $50,000 so far.

Even though his run Sunday night is over, this 20-year old is still running strong.

Editor's note: If you're interested, donations to the Branden Lombardi Foundation can be made to P.O. Box 93201, Phoenix, Ariz. 85070


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