FOUR BITS: Hernandez, Nelson, Young, Yeguete

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who underwent minor shoulder surgery back in April, was originally supposed to miss a few weeks of action before rumors popped up that he could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Instead, according to reporters in attendance, Hernandez was already back on the field catching passes (non-contact) during organized team activities this week. In other words, he should be healthy enough to be fully cleared for practice during training camp over the summer. With teammate Rob Gronkowski looking like he will not be able to start the season on time, Hernandez has the opportunity to once again be a big-time playmaker for New England’s offense.

2 » Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson is also working his way back from an injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that kept him out the entire 2012 campaign. Nelson, signed by Cleveland in early April, will be competing for a roster spot during training camp and told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he will be good to go by the time it opens on July 26.

3 » Florida Gators senior basketball players center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete often participate in charitable work both on behalf of the school and on their own. The duo, which are close friends off the court, recently befriended a three-year-old named Kaedyn Ballew who was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 10 months old. This story from the Florida Times-Union takes a look at the friendship forged between Ballew, Young and Yeguete and how it has extended well past the players’ initial visit. “Some [people] are impressed by our size,” Yeguete told the paper. “Kaedyn is not. He thinks that he’s stronger than us. He’s really confident. That’s pretty cool.” Ballew, who has been given a 50 percent chance at a full recovery, hopes to watch the Gators play in person next season while eating “nachos with lots of cheese.”

4 » OGGOA mistakenly overlooked the start of the 2013 MLB, forgetting to put together a short preview of former Florida baseball players on big league rosters. Therefore, here is a listing of the five Gators playing in MLB on Opening Day and how they have fared just over two months into the season.

Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles): GP (27), W/L (3-0), SV (1), ERA (1.78), WHIP (1.11), K/9 (1.04)
Catcher David Ross (Boston Red Sox): GP (18), AVG (.189), OBP (.283), SLG (.453), OPS (.736) – Hit .125 in May.
Left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde (Los Angeles Angels): GP (3), W/L (0-0), ERA (11.57), WHIP (2.14), K/9 (0.95) – Sent down to the minors.
Second baseman Mark Ellis (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (35), AVG (.270), OBP (.319), SLG (.352), OPS (.671)
Left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (27), W/L (1-2), ERA (2.75), WHIP (0.71), K/9 (1.04)

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FOUR BITS: Ellis, Haslem, Tebow, Leak

1 » Former Florida Gators baseball player Mark Ellis, currently a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his left leg after injuring it during the seventh inning of his team’s game on Friday. Ellis, who was upended on a takeout slide while trying to complete a fielder’s choice groundout, “was sent to the hospital, and testing showed elevated pressure in several compartments of the lower leg,” Dodgers trainer Sue Falsone told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “There was trauma to the area where everything kind of swells up, so you have to open up the fascia and basically release that pressure. They will keep an eye on it and most likely close that wound up on Tuesday.” ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted Sunday that Ellis “might have lost his leg” should the doctors have “waited another 4-5 hours to make [the] cut to relieve [the] pressure.” He has been placed on the 15-day disabled list and should return to action in his 11th MLB season. Ellis, Florida’s all-time hits leader for the last 13 years, was surpassed by senior right fielder Preston Tucker on Thursday.

2 » Former Gators power forward Udonis Haslem had his best game of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and arguably his best quarter of the season on Sunday, going 5-of-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line for 14 points (third-most on the team) to go along with four rebounds. Haslem, who went 4-for-4 from the floor in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter for the Miami Heat, suffered a gash over his right eye earlier in the game that required nine stitches following the contest. “Sometimes we need other guys to step up and tonight was my turn. Next time it might be somebody else,” he said.

3 » Considering he is a NFL player, it should come as no surprise that New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow will be in the new Madden NFL 13 video game. However, what may be interesting to some fans is that the game will also have a “Tebowing” celebration in the newest version of the popular title, according to creative director Mike Young. “Tebowing is in for #madden13,” he tweeted on Friday evening. It is unknown exactly how the move will be incorporated into the game (whether it will be an automatic celebration for Tebow’s character, a gesture that can be executed by the player or something that randomly occurs) but more information should be available once the game’s release date draws closer. Tebow was believed to be the finalist out of Denver for the Madden NFL 13 cover voting but was removed from the process after being traded.

4 » In his first game as starting QB for the AFL’s Orlando Predators, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak went 25-for-42 for 357 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Orlando lost to New Orleans 68-61 and fell to 1-8 on the season.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Leak, Tucker, Jaguars

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte, set to be one of the primary faces/athletes representing the United States in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics was announced as the fourth male to ever grace the cover of American Vogue magazine when the June cover was released on Monday. Lochte appears on the cover alongside women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo and tennis phenom Serena Williams. The three men that were previously featured on the cover of Vogue – Richard Gere, George Clooney and LeBron James – each appeared alongside a female model “Cindy Crawford, Gisele, and Gisele again, respectively,” the magazine notes.

2 » Traded to the Orlando Predators recently after falling out of grace with the Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida quarterback Chris Leak will start his first game with his new team on Friday. Leak, who has already appeared in two games for Orlando as a backup and has amassed 78 yards and three touchdowns on 9-of-17 passing, hopes to turnaround the season for a team that has started a paltry 1-7. The Predators hope Leak can be the team’s starter for a long time and have plans for him to be a franchise player as long as he succeeds.

3 » Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker will begin his final regular season series in the orange and blue looking, in part, to set the school record for career hits. Smacking a single on Tuesday, Tucker tied former Florida outfielder Mark Ellis for the career mark with 319 hits; one more and the record is all his. UF is set to face Auburn in a three-game road series Thursday-Saturday before beginning postseason competition.

4 » As part of an outreach program that will attempt to generate “excitement and energy” for the team heading into the 2012 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be visiting Gainesville, FL with a “Jaguars Caravan” including players, coaches, cheerleaders and other team representatives, according to The Gainesville Sun. As part of the event, which will take place on June 6 at Tioga Town Center from 6-8 p.m., Gators fans will be able to see some familiar faces in former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville’s head coach), current Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and former Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor.

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FOUR BITS: Jenkins, MLB, basketball, CWS

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was kicked off the team by head coach Will Muschamp following multiple brushes with the law, has officially signed a scholarship with the North Alabama Lions, where he will play under head coach Terry Bowden. “I talked to everybody that I could possibly talk to at Florida, who had a relationship with him,” Bowden told ESPN.com. “From Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to Jeremy Foley, they all said he is a guy who made a mistake. But it does not represent his character or his time at Florida. They all thought he deserved a second chance.” North Alabama actually represents Jenkins’s fourth chance.

2 » A pair of former Florida baseball players are in the process of being removed from the disabled list by their respective MLB teams. Oakland Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis (hamstring) came off the 15-day list Wednesday and will continue to serve as a utility player with the squad. Texas Rangers relief pitcher Darren O’Day (hip) has been out much longer after having surgery in late April. He was placed on the 60-day list and will likely rejoin Texas on Tuesday.

3 » With the NCAA recently coming down hard on the Kentucky Wildcats for celebrating head coach John Calipari’s “500th” victory, the Gators have decided to adjust their men’s basketball record books due to sanctions levied against the team for the actions of former head coach Norm Sloan. “According to the NCAA infractions report, Sloan paid child support to keep one of his players out of jail and paid transportation from Gainesville to Boston to allow one of his players to work as a counselor at a summer basketball basketball camp,” The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway explains. The player in question is presumed to be Vernon Maxwell, who has his final two seasons with the team erased from the media guide. Florida has placed asterisks next to NCAA Tournament games and adjusted their books .

4 » Already 4-1 against the No. 6-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores this season (2-1 on the road, 2-0 at neutral sites), No. 2 Gators baseball will once again take on their Southeastern Conference East division rivals in the semifinals of the 2011 College World Series on Friday at 2 p.m. Florida (52-17) is one win away from advancing to the Championship Series, while Vanderbilt (54-11) would need to defeat UF twice in order to move forward. OGGOA will have complete coverage of the upcoming CWS game, including a full preview, throughout the day on Friday.

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Gators to begin MLB season; softball’s draftees

With Opening Day for MLB beginning at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday, the Florida Gators boast six former players on rosters across the league.

2B Mark Ellis – Oakland Athletics
A nine-year veteran, Ellis is Oakland’s opening day starter at second base. He will bat in the lower half of the order seeing as he finished the 2010 season batting .291 with five home runs and 49 RBI in 436 at bats.

1B Matt LaPorta – Cleveland Indians
Praised by the coaching staff for his defensive prowess in the infield, LaPorta is still trying to improve his hitting at the professional level. An offensive force coming out of UF, he only batted .221 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 46 walks in 376 plate appearances in 2010 but will start for Cleveland this season.

RHP Darren O’Day – Texas Rangers
A force for Texas during the playoffs, O’Day struggled with his command this spring. He made a team-high 72 relief appearances last season and will likely be the primary reliever in 2011. O’Day finished 2010 with a 6-2 record and 2.03 ERA in 62.0 innings.

RHP Bryan Augenstein – St. Louis Cardinals
Augenstein pitched in seven games (two starts) for Arizona in 2009. He will likely be St. Louis’ long reliever out of the bullpen in 2011.

C David Ross – Atlanta Braves
A nine-year veteran like Ellis, Ross will be the back-up behind home plate for star catcher Brian McCann. He played in 59 games for Atlanta in 2010, batting .289 with a pair of homers, 28 RBI and 20 walks in 121 at bats.

OF Ryan Raburn – Detroit Tigers
Played at UF as a freshman before transferring.
In his seventh professional season, Raburn will be Detroit’s opening day starter in left field. With the Tigers supporting a large number of outfielders on their roster, Rayburn may not start every day but will be given as many at bats as possible. He ended the 2010 season batting .280 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 371 plate appearances.

Three of Florida’s senior softball players were drafted in the 2011 National Pro Fastpitch Draft on March 18. Left fielder Kelsey Bruder and first baseman Megan Bush were picked in the second round, while second baseman Aja Paculba was selected in the fifth. Bruder (No. 5 overall) will play for the USSSA Pride in Orlando, FL where former Gators outfielder Francesca Enea was picked last year and won a title in 2010. Bush (No. 6 overall) is joining the Akron Racers in Akron, OH, and Paculba was picked by the NPF Diamonds of Hermitage, TN. Florida head softball coach Tim Walton also leads the Pride and won the league’s title in his first season.

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