What's in a name? Just a harmless bit of fun

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WALLA WALLA - Names can be a lot of fun.

Especially so in the world of sports, where there seem to be so many athletes with unusual and intriguing monikers.

Just ask Chris Berman of ESPN. He's made a living by attaching his own quirky takes to the names of our sports heroes.

Jim "Saturday Night" Lefebvre, Jose "Blame It On" Rio and Kevin "Alka" Seitzer are three of his more well known creations. Jose "Cask Of" Amalfitano, Gregg "Appa" Maddux and Dan "Man From" Gladden are just as clever.

But his best, in my humble opinion, are Nomar "Mr. Nice Guy" Garciaparra, Oddibe "Young Again" McDowell, Dave "No Man Is An" Eiland and the classic Scott "Supercalifragilisticexpiala" Brosius.

But it's not always necessary to accentuate names to make them interesting. Sometimes they just stand on their own quirkiness.

I was watching a baseball game the other night when my wife Margaret cruised through the living room. Kevin Slowey happened to be pitching for the Twins and Margaret took one quick glance at the TV and remarked, "That's a lousy name for a pitcher."

"You're right," I responded. "But he's not alone."

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I told her, there was a pitcher for the Phillies and the Pirates by the name of Bob Walk. And there's a reliever on the Rays staff right now named Grant Balfour.

That was as much information as Margaret needed and she disappeared down the hall. But my mind kept working.

The Marlins' Burke Badenhop, I surmised, is no doubt grateful that he is a pitcher and not an infielder. It's a wonder how someone like Mike Minor ever made it to the majors as a member of the Braves pitching staff. And there's a pitcher in the Twins system soon to make Berman's list: Anthony "Grand" Slama.

On the positive side, Derek Lowe of the Braves and Brett Sinkbeil of the Marlins are a couple of right-handers who make their livings by getting batters to beat the ball into the ground.

But, I thought to myself, this name game isn't exclusively for pitchers. Or, for that matter, baseball players.

Boston third baseman Adrian Beltre is slugging home runs again this season, probably because he's no longer playing half of his games in Seattle's spacious Safeco Field. Meanwhile, the Mariners can only hope that future first baseman Justin Smoak will provide them with some much-needed firepower.

Marlins infielder Dan Uggla really isn't, you know. Nor is Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. And Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs will probably never be asked to hock beer at Coors Field in Denver.

I love the name of Mets rookie first baseman Ike Davis, even though he's not from Yakima. Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp (it's a nickname) is a second generation cereal promoter, following in the footsteps of his father, boxer Sugar Crisp.

And you would like to think that Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley is a gamer, but not so. He's played in fewer than half of the M's games this season for one reason or another. I sometimes wonder if he has a clue, but the truth is he doesn't have a monopoly when it comes to underachieving athletes.

Without a doubt the most misleading name in the entire National Football League is Richie Incognito. Because at 6-foot-2 and 324 pounds, the Dolphins center is anything but.

On the other hand, Vikings rookie offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (6-8, 343) and Bills defensive tackle John McCargo (6-2, 307) are precisely what their names suggest.

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler and even Rams tight end Todd Heap seem more suited to play defense than offense. But Colts linebacker Pat Angerer is properly positioned, as are linebackers Brandon and Takeo Spikes of the Pats and 49ers, respectively.

And where else would the Bills' Reggie Corner play besides cornerback? At the same time, doesn't it strike you as odd that Colts center Jeff Saturday plays most of his games on Sunday?

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sounds like a character straight out of the HBO television series The Sopranos, or maybe The Godfather motion picture trilogy. And Browns quarterback Colt McCoy's name suggest he might feel right at home in a rodeo arena.

Speaking of rodeo, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is perhaps the most fertile ground of all for digging up cool names

I've been covering the Frontier Days Rodeo for years, and each year I've pondered the same question. Who really is the fastest team roper? Speed Williams, Jhett Jackson or Turtle Powell. But it's also possible Cash Myers collects the most money, or perhaps it's Buster Record Jr. who turns in the fastest times.

And another question. Is Matt Marvel, the saddle bronc rider from Winnemucca, Nevada, really a comic book super hero?

If you're looking for a name that's a bit more dignified, how about Oklahoma bulldogger Stetson Graves? And if a cowboy fashion statement is to your liking, try on Stetson Vest, the calf roper from Childress, Texas.

Some other rodeo names that conjure up vivid images of the Old West are Cody Cassidy and Cody James, Clint Cannon and Howdy Cloud, and Cimarron Boardman, Cutter Parsons and Twister Cain. And maybe best of all, Steve Dollarhide, the saddle bronc rider from Wikieup, Ariz.

Here's one from the How Can This Happen? Department: Omak bull rider Shawn Best II. Didn't Shawn's parents realize the day they named him that they were relegating their son to a lifetime of being second best?

And finally, there's Clint Bruised Head, a steer wrestler from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon. With a name like that, how could Bruised Head be anything other than a bull rider?

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