On the heels of a satisfying March Madness romp (even if the wrong team cut down the nets), Opening Day excitement and the labor of fantasy drafts finally coming to fruition, the sports calendar is only picking up steam. Augusta tees up tomorrow. NBA and NHL regular seasons are winding down and gearing up for the playoffs. NFL free agency and draft chatter provide juicy nuggets every few days. Spring football is in full force across campuses. And the glow of the nascent baseball season still offers hope to all fans. Yes, even in Pittsburgh.
Today's "eye of the storm" respite - a day bookended by Opening Day festivities (for Tampa Bay, at least) and the start of the Masters - gives me a chance to jot down a smattering of idle conjectures, musings and ramblings.
- First things first. BRING BACK LUTHER! Nothing against Jennifer Hudson's talent and abilities, but One Shining Moment was a travesty this year, starting with Hudson mimicking the motion for "The ball is tipped." Egads! It's hard enough to fit all the worthy highlights and indelible images from the tournament into 3 minutes. But to waste precious time on Hudson is an abominable decision. CBS whiffed on including the Wake Forest buzzer-beater, as well as the best game of the tournament (Xavier - Kansas State) and any of Gus Johnson's orgasmic calls from it. How the brain trust at CBS could botch this is beyond me. This isn't a generational thing that more eyeballs need to be captured by appealing to the American Idol crowd. Put Luther Vandross' angelic pipes back in next year and focus on basketball. I'll gladly support any grassroots movement to ensure they rectify these transgressions. If we need to lead the charge, so be it. In case you forgot what perfection sounded like.
- Speaking of Gus, the man is hands down the most entertaining sports announcer living. He even gets things warmed up with the obligatory sponsor shout out at the opening tip with his cackling "This game is brought to you in high-definition by LG. Life's...GOOD!" All in all, a pure delight to listen to. I've even got my wife hooked on Gus when he's courtside. This year's winner of the Gus Johnson Call of the Tournament comes courtesy of the epic double-overtime thriller between Xavier and Kansas State. Has the technology been invented where we can listen to any broadcast feed that Gus works? Why can't he just sit in a control room with 20 screens and pipe into a broadcast when the moment calls for Gus? What would Gus be like in the Olympics?
- Switching over to the diamond, the fateful day came and passed without due mention on these pages, but it is confirmed. There is a God, and he helped ink the deal to keep Joseph Patrick Mauer a Twin for life. There aren't ample words to describe my relief and delight upon hearing the deal was struck. It's good for baseball that he didn't end up in New York or Boston.
- A quick anecdotal story at Doug's expense. I imagine some of our readers enjoy fantasy sports. Our annual Hardhitters baseball league fills the void left from the football season (NBA and NHL get the fantasy silent treatment). Any draft involving technology (the last in-person draft was far too many years ago) has included the inevitable "Doug is experiencing computer problems" moment. Most are harmless. One almost prompted Doug to quit the league on draft night. This year's moment turned out to be a nice surprise everyone found upon entering the online draft forum. The lottery draft order had been selected weeks in advance by Commissioner Doug, giving everyone time to plan and prepare around their draft position. Except Doug never plugged in said draft order into the website. Maybe there's an E.S.P. app Doug was testing on his phone. Needless to say, everyone learned of their (drastically in some cases) new draft spot a couple minutes before the start. Everything turned out fine. I lucked into the #1 pick and might need to change my team name to the Pat Williams All Stars.
- Some quick MLB predictions, since everyone under the sun likes to make them:
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera - Thought I'd say Mauer, huh? Cabrera plays with a daily memory of his unfortunate finish to last season. He answers all critics with a career year.
NL MVP: Albert Pujols - Warrants no explanation.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez - Not just because he's my fantasy staff ace. The King blossomed last year. With Halladay across leagues, the throne is his for the taking.
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay - This might be child's play for Roy, backed by an offense as potent as Cialis and getting the luxury of the pitcher spot.
AL ROY: Austin Jackson - Just a hunch, as long as he bats in the top half of the Tigers lineup.
NL ROY: Jason Heyward - The "Say Hey Kid" (credit to Lips on the moniker) looks like a bonafide star. I'm sure the rookie wall will hit at some point, but he has all the tools to become a Brave legend.
AL Division Winners: Twins, Rays, Angels
ALCS: Twins beat Yankees
NL Division Winners: Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies
NLCS: Cardinals beat Phillies
World Series: Cardinals exact revenge for 1987. Target Field has a historic first season, but isn't quite the same as "Dome Field" advantage.
- Attended my first NHL game ever a couple weeks back, witnessing Antti Niemi shut out the Coyotes in the Madhouse on Madison. Instantly hooked on the live hockey experience. The national anthem gave me goosebumps. Such an outstanding feeling to cheer wildly for America instead of standing solemn like you're at a funeral. Thank you Canada for showing us the light. The game itself is a sight to behold live. I've heard countless times how much better hockey is in person than on tv. Y-E-S, yes. I agree wholeheartedly. The passing is breathtaking. It's not hard at all to follow the puck. And there's almost constant action. Truly riveting. Can't wait to go back. Hope to find tickets for a playoff tilt.
- On a somber note, not much can be said about the Matt James tragedy other than your heart goes out to the James family for their tremendous loss. It's such a shame that a kid with so much promise and potential loses it all because of a silly and tragic accident on spring break. Alcohol claims too many young kids' lives. Brian Kelly asks the right question when he wonders what high school (and college) students are using their spring breaks for. Nice gesture to see that Kelly will find a way to honor James and considers him a part of the ND family.
- What kind of effect will the tragedy have on Luke Massa? I could see it totally wrecking his emotional psyche and he's never the same. Or I can see him use the experience as motivation to become a leader and champion in carrying on the spirit of his high school teammate and friend. I'm sure Mick Franco and the sports psychologist staff will help him navigate through this difficult time.