From First Pitch to Beyond the First Round?
For Caron Butler, it was just the beginning, the first step of many that he hopes will conclude with him and the Washington Wizards still playing basketball this time next season (as in the second round of the playoffs, at least). He threw a baseball across the plate at Nationals Park on Tuesday, putting behind an embarrassing piece of his past that had been eating at him for two years.
"I want to be playing basketball now, but it starts with the baby steps. And one of the things I really wanted to do was get back on the baseball field and redeem myself," Butler said yesterday after successfully throwing the ceremonial first pitch, an accomplishment he celebrated with a cap toss most MLB pitchers reserve for a no-hitter or a World Series clincher. "Now the next step is getting in the gym and working hard on my craft and redeeming ourselves from last season."
Before making his redemptive toss, Butler traveled to Las Vegas to watch Manny Pacquiao destroy Ricky Hatton in the second round on Saturday with that powerful left hook. Butler is a serious boxing fan, and while many observers have proclaimed the super lightweight title champ Pacquiao the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Butler isn't ready to go there. If Floyd Mayweather comes out of retirement to fight Pacquiao, Butler is siding with Mayweather.
"Pacquiao is a monster, but Floyd Mayweather is still the best fighter," Butler said. "Ricky Hatton had a long layoff. He hadn't been fighting fighters of that caliber. Mayweather did a great job because he's a thinker out there. He's a natural boxer, fights smart, and I think he would beat Pacquiao."
Butler said he's been doing light workouts at home since the Wizards' season ended three weeks ago. But he will pick up the intensity next week, when he plans on traveling to Los Angeles to start strength and conditioning drills and hang out with his former teammate Kobe Bryant.
Butler said he flew down to Miami last week to spend time with with another former teammate, Dwyane Wade, and watch Game 3 of the Heat's first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. He also sent a congratulatory text message to the new league's most valuable player LeBron James, another player Butler said he plans on working out with this summer. "I'm trying to stay in contact with all the people I need to, so I can be ready," Butler said.
Another person Butler has been exchanging text messages with in recent weeks is new Wizards Coach Flip Saunders. Butler said he and Saunders sometimes communicate "at 1, 2 in the morning." On Monday, Butler said he sat down with Saunders, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Vice President of Player Personnel Milt Newton for an hour-long discussion about the upcoming season.
"Everybody is on the same page -- we want to get a championship," Butler said. "It's going to be a redemption year for the Wizards organization. I'm just happy to be a part of it. I'm not thinking nothing less than a championship. That's my goal, a championship."
Butler supported Grunfeld's decision to hire Saunders, who has reached the conference finals four times and has seven 50-win seasons. "He's a wonderful coach," Butler said. "He's got a great history. You look at his body of work, what's he's done in Minnesota and obviously what he did with the Detroit Pistons. All of his teams have been to the [conference] finals. All we want is the opportunity to get there and anything is possible."
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