The rise and fall of Ian Kennedy's 'Nerfbeard'
I now know the joy of giving life and the pain of having to destroy my creation for the betterment of mankind... or at least the Diamondbacks.
Ian Kennedy has shaved his beard. And for good or bad, I can't help but feel responsible.
It all began in the summer of 2011, that magical season which began with abstract hopelessness and ended with a division title. A 27-year-old pitcher, who'd won 10 career games, was named Arizona's number one starter. We all scoffed at the idea that the freckled right-hander with the Sunkist orange beard could be a staff ace, but then the wins started piling up. By midseason I'd grown impressed with the pitcher's doggedness and mesmerized by his Cheez-it colored facial scruff. It reminded me of something, something every American boy can relate to.
No, not sunsets. No, not an autumnal drive along the byways of Maine. Not even Fanta.
Then, it struck me. Nerf. Yes, that's it! Ian Kennedy's perfectly trimmed orange beard was indisputably Nerf-like. And not that crappy new-fangled plastic-coated Nerf ball, either, but the old school, fuzzy, 4-inch polyurethane foam, it-will-sting-your-eyeball-if-direct-contact-is-made Nerf orb we all played Nerf hoop with. And so a name was born.
Throughout history, few men have had their facial hair become bigger than them.
Dr. Fu manchu
Blackbeard the pirate
Anthony van Dyck
But then, not every curiously orange bearded man goes on to win 21 games and finish fourth in Cy Young voting. I mean, not even Brian Wilson's iconic black beard earned him a nickname.
Of course, I realize Nerfbeard didn't become a household nickname -- far from it. But Nerfbeard did have its own Twitter handle. Nerfbeard has been referenced repeatedly by Matt Vasgersian during MLB Network's baseball coverage. And as mad scientist/father, I would swell with pride to read the occasional "Nerfbeard" signage a fan would hold up for the cameras at Chase Field.
But those days may be over. And I only have myself to blame.
While filling in for Ron Wolfley on Doug & Wolf last Friday, Doug and I interviewed Ian Kennedy about his struggles this season. Kennedy expressed how he felt good on the mound and couldn't put a finger on why his ERA this season is over 5, otherwise he'd fix it. So, I made a bold suggestion.
"Have you considered shaving the beard for luck," I asked.
After one more disappointing start, a public butt-chewing from his manager and a three-day layoff from baseball, Ian Kennedy did the unthinkable. He took up a razor, and he murdered Nerfbeard.
Just walked into AT&T Park, where the Dbacks are working out, and came upon a beardless Ian Kennedy. pic.twitter.com/tzUe7FexM6— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) July 18, 2013
This certainly doesn't mean that Kennedy can't grow his scruff back, but for now a whisker-less #31 will attempt to turn his fortunes around and perhaps save the D-backs' season.
The beard is no longer weird. The beard is gone.
I certainly didn't hook electrodes to Kennedy's face. I didn't piece together Nerfbeard using whiskers taken from numerous human cadavers. And to my knowledge, Nerfbeard never terrorized torch-wielding villagers in the middle of the night, because I overlooked the emotional toll the monster might endure. But none of that changes the fact that I now know personally what it's like to give life to terminal biomaterial, and with one off-handed suggestion condemn it to destruction.
I can only hope that this ends well.
Chuck Powell, KTAR.com & ArizonaSports.com contributor