Rest In Peace, Stuart Scott

Masha
This was not the blog I’d planned to return with. I had another drafted to re-enter the sports world. And then the news broke; Stuart Scott had passed away this morning. So today is all about someone I’ve come to see as a friend, someone who reached through that glass wall and touched my emotions. Farewell, Stuart, an exceptional example of sports announcing that made people like me come to love sports even more.

Now there is a hole in my SportsCenter. I’ve been missing Stuart for the last several months and knew that he was fighting what was probably his final battle against cancer. But denial is a powerful salve, and with the commercials, I received enough reassurance that he was winning that battle. The announcement this morning didn’t surprise me, but I didn’t expect to find myself in tears. And yet I did. ESPN has put together a lovely tribute to him, of course. Many people are posting tributes to twitter and other blogs. I was not the only person Stuart touched through his words and personality. But I do feel like I need to add my voice to the thundering accolades for Stuart.

For me, Stuart was one of the few “non-plastic” beautiful talking heads on ESPN. Boomer and Stuart were the guys who were having fun; I felt like they talked about sports the way we would sitting on their couch, or sitting in their kitchen. I felt let in to Stuart’s life, in a way I felt with few of the rotating “young men” announcers that found themselves beside Stuart. Stuart had the ability to make me feel like he was announcing just for me, that the jokes, language, and joy he announced with was all for my benefit and my benefit alone. Like an inside joke that was only between us. I’m guessing the outpouring of grief today is because he made all of us feel that way.

And so now there is a hole in my SportsCenter. It will not be filled. Stuart will forever be in my heart. Rest in Peace, my friend. “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Perfect, just perfect

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Masha

Perfect. An impossible achievement, to be perfect. It’s something we all dream about; perfectionists can destroy their lives trying to be perfect. But we all try for it, working at being mistake-free and, as the dictionary says “entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings.” The perfect woman/man – doesn’t exist. The perfect career – doesn’t exist. The perfect trip – we’ve come close a couple of times, but there’s always something weird that happens to destroy it – mostly at airports. The perfect car – doesn’t exist; there’s always those strange little gremlins that steal into the machinery and do something goofy.

So when you’re Geno Auriemma and your ladies basketball team comes to you at the beginning of the year and say they want to strive for a perfect season, you laugh. You marvel at the innocence of late teenagers/early twenty-somethings who believe that it’s a reasonable goal. You tell them it’s unreasonable. You might even give them a hard time about it – because sometimes that’s what coaches do – they give you a hard time to see if you can rise to the occasion. But you’re Geno – you shake your head and do what you’ve always done – you coach for perfection. You yell at them if they do something stupid – even if it’s at the end of a game where you’re ahead 20 points, you yell. Because that’s what you do.

Boy, did UConn respond last night. They responded to all the yelling. They responded to their coach. After an undefeated regular season, the UConn Huskies rolled through the ladies tournament like a house on fire. They were matched by Notre Dame, another undefeated team. And in one of the most compelling match-ups in the ladies tournament final, we had two undefeated teams meeting each other. Someone was going to lose. Someone was going to reach the peak of the mountain, the unachievable – they were going to have a perfect season.

Just to make sure they put an exclamation mark on the perfect season, UConn blew Notre Dame out of the water. It wasn’t that the Fighting Irish played badly, although much like Kentucky the night before, many of the shots that had been falling all tournament were bouncing off the rim, narrow misses by the narrowest of margins, but misses nonetheless. The Irish looked outmatched. They lost to perfection.

So congratulations to Geno Auriemma, who, with the win, passed Pat Summitt in total wins. Pretty good for 29 years of coaching. Oh, and the men’s UConn team won too – they just weren’t perfect.

 

Hope Springs Eternal

Wrigley Field, June 2013

Wrigley Field, June 2013

Pat

I do very much love this time of year. We have the NCAA basketball tournaments wrapping up with the final four. Everybody’s brackets are busted, you know they always are. That’s what makes the tournament so great. It is always unpredictable and that is why we like to try to predict it. My wife is killing me on her brackets as usual. I am always all logical about my picks and that never works.

But the most wonderful thing about this time of year is the opening of Major League Baseball. Everybody is even and we start the long journey which is the MLB season. You can talk to fans of every team in baseball that can tell you why their team is going to do it this year. As they say, hope springs eternal. And it does for most baseball fans who, even if they may not pick the Cubs to win it all this year, are hoping for a much improved team moving towards a winning season so that sometime soon they can pick their team to win it all. The season is so long that you can probably name fifteen or more teams that you like to go to the World Series. That’s why the Cardinals eleven Championships since 1900 is the most in the National League. Once a decade average doesn’t sound that successful but it truly is.

I must admit there is one thing that has changed in April that I wish wouldn’t have and that is the NFL Draft. They have moved it about thirty days later into May. I guess I can wait but  I always looked forward to it just after the opening of Major League Baseball.

Masha

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that Pat is a Cardinals fan and I am a Cub fan. Despite attempts at breaking away from the Cubs and embracing some other team (Rockies have been the most recent attempt), I still remain a Cub fan. And it’s a direct reflection of the title for today’s blog. Hope springs eternal. Much like walking away from a slot machine that hits big for the person right after you, walking away from the Cubs now seems like a bad idea. New owners, Theo Epstein’s magic, and a rebuilding farm system all contribute to a team on Opening Day that’s dramatically improved. Oh, I know, they still lost. But they looked better. Really, they did. Go Cubs. *sigh*

The madness has passed for another year…

 

Final Four, San Antonio 2004.

Final Four, San Antonio 2004.

Masha

I don’t know why I care. I don’t usually watch college basketball. I was never a big fan of basketball growing up – I was terrible playing the game, the Utah Utes were not a major force while I was at university, and the Utah Jazz had not become a reality during my childhood. We don’t watch pro basketball on a regular basis, partially for reasons Pat explained yesterday. So in terms of sports fandom, basketball just isn’t there for me.

But I do care. I love March Madness. I loved it even before Pat and I were invited to attend the Final Four in San Antonio many years ago. But that did it – attending the games live was an amazing experience and we were very lucky to be invited. The games were nail-biters. There were Cinderella teams that made an impact on the Final Four. All the excitement and drama of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was on display for everyone’s enjoyment. The hoopla surrounding the event shut down downtown San Antonio. The Riverwalk was full of jerseys and team mascots. It threw me over the line of sanity and brought me into full raging, rabid, bloodshot-eyed madness. I was the person you couldn’t call on Thursday – that’s right. I didn’t answer the phone because the games were on. I listened to the commentators. I cried when teams I picked won. I cried when teams I picked lost. I was mad; Mad Hatter, white-rabbit, over-the-top mad.

I dutifully fill out my bracket each year. I study the teams as though I’ve been watching the games all season. I base my decisions on all the noise coming from ESPN, FoxSports, and this year, NBC Sports Network. I study the injuries. I look at the coach’s records. I listen to their interviews. I listen to the players and watch their faces for any nerves. I predict Cinderella wins. I scribble in favorite’s losses. I build a bracket each year that I believe will reach perfection.

And I wait. I wait for the hammer to fall and crush my bracket to smithereens. And of course, I am rewarded with the arrival of the Mercers and North Dakota States. I watch as my bracket app fills with red rather than green. I watch my points and percentages go down. My PPR drops like a rock. And I marvel that at this tournament, in this setting, the little guy really can defeat the giant.

That’s what makes this tournament so riveting, even for those of us who are not invested in college basketball. The shockers. The incredible, last-second wins by a team who just barely made it into the dance and who should be down by 25 points to the big-budget, perfect-record team. It makes my heart warm that Underdog really does exist, at least in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

 

HOW I RELATE TO SPORTS

Can't understand how he stays on his feet...

Can’t understand how he stays on his feet…

Pat

I can’t believe it took me ’til age sixty to figure out why I love some sports and why I am not as interested in others. Through all the years, I just never got very interested in hockey and I finally realized that since I have never even been on a pair of ice skates, I really could not relate to how difficult it is to do what hockey players do. Likewise, as a kid I had asthma and couldn’t really play basketball. Running up and down that court just didn’t work for me so played very little basketball as a kid. Later in life I played some pick-up two-on-two or three-on-three games a local gym and enjoyed it as part of my work-out schedule. I wasn’t great at it, but I picked up outside shooting and ball movement. I’m 5′ 11″, not optimum for basketball, but neither were the guys I was playing with.  So that is probably why I enjoy college basketball way better than the pro game.

I did play baseball and football and was pretty good at both. Later I got into tennis and golf.  These are the main sports I love. I totally understand what it takes field a ground ball and make the throw. How hard it is to hit a baseball. I also get all the strategy involved in the game of baseball. When to steal a base and when the pitcher needs to come out due to pitch count. The same goes for football. I have run a pass route and defended a pass receiver, studied the game enough while playing it to understand play calling both offensive and defensive. So when I watch I do understand what they are doing and understand how difficult it is to do. Golf and tennis is the same. I have played them enough to get what they are doing and why.

So that is why Baseball, Football, Tennis and golf are my favorite games to watch and follow.  I am still playing golf and I hope to play more tennis when my ailing knee gets stronger.  Believe me, I do understand how hard it is to make that perfect golf shot. I make very few of them but really enjoy it when I do. I truly understand how good those pro golfers really are. So if I understand what it takes to play a sport and understand and enjoy the strategies of the game, I love the sport. That’s what it has taken me sixty years to understand.

Pre season picks – 6, American League West

Pat

The final division to pick is the American League West. It may be the toughest one to pick. I feel that almost every team in this division has improved from last year. I don’t see the Mariners improving enough to take the division, but I do see them having a better season and making the West division very competitive. I’ve got the Rangers taking the division with the Angels and A’s fighting for Wild Cards. Only one of them will get the wild card. I would pick the Angels. The Mariners will finish a close fourth while making positive progress to becoming a good baseball team.

The Astros will finish last in this division, but they too will make progress toward being a much better club than they are now. This will be a very fun division to watch in 2014.  Everybody will improve making the divisional games very competitive. As bad as the Angels looked last year, I see Albert Pujols having a much better year and this whole club coming together to go after a wild card. I find it amazing that Billy Ball is alive and well in Oakland.  It is fun to see this team compete every year.

Masha

I agree that the Rangers will take the division this year, but I think the Mariners will improve enough to knock the A’s out of contention. I believe the Mariners will take the Wild Card. The Mariners have made some astounding moves over the off season, Robinson Cano is just the tip of the iceberg. And I believe Lloyd McClendon is a good enough manager to pull this talent together. Mike Scioscia will be fired by the Angels after yet another disappointing season full of injuries; with apologies to my cousin the Angels fan…

Blurred Bracket Lines

Unknown 

It has begun. My eyes are red and sandy from staring. My caloric intake is all substances within easy reach of the couch. My thumb is sore from switching back and forth between TNT and CBS. I’m sounding a bit like Charles Barkley. What does it all mean? March Madness is in full swing.

As I stare at my bracket, currently sitting at 99.8% and hanging on a win by Duke (not a guarantee from the way I’m seeing Mercer play…), the lines are blurry. Didn’t see Oklahoma coming, but called all the other upsets, so I’m feeling pretty cocky right now about my bracket – I just can’t see it very well! And as a sidebar, I’m beating Pat’s bracket pretty handily… just saying.

Pat

Yeah, she always kicks my butt on our brackets.  As much as I love March Madness, I just don’t watch much college basketball during the regular season.  So my bracket is based on who I like or who I want to win rather than who is really the best team.  But, from what I am seeing right now this is going to be a tournament of upsets.  WOW!

Pre season picks – 5; American League Central

Brad Ausmus announced as Manager of the Detroit Tigers. Photo by Paul Sancya, AP.

Brad Ausmus announced as Manager of the Detroit Tigers. Photo by Paul Sancya, AP.

Pat

The American League Central is next and should be an interesting division this year.  Cleveland and KC would love to knock Detroit off the pedestal in the AL East. I think all  three of these teams are contenders this year. Detroit has been winning the division but not getting to the World Series. They would love to get there this year, and could possibly do it. Cleveland is a solid team under Francona and will contend for the division this year. KC looks strong with very strong pitching and have improved offensively with Infante at second.

I’m not sure how much of an effect a new manager is going to have on the Tigers. It’s a veteran club, so I think I am going to pick the Tigers to win this division once again. But I do think it will be a tight race with KC coming in second and contending for a wild card. Cleveland is also going to contend in this division, which will make these divisional games a lot of fun. I do think the Twins will improve this year, but not quite enough to contend and I believe will end up in fourth with the White Sox bringing up the rear. It will be a great division to watch and I think KC and Cleveland with battle down to the last game for a wild card.

Masha

We don’t agree as much on the American League outcomes as with the National League. I think the Tigers are a great team, but will see some transitions with aging players and a new manager. Brad Ausmus should be great, but it will take some time to gel; I think they’re going to miss Leyland for a while. Now, Terry Francona at the Indians is moving into his second year there and I think this is their year to shine. So I have the Indians at the top, KC and Detroit battling it out for second and third, Twins in fourth, and, sorry Robin, White Sox at the bottom.

This is a great division because there are some exceptional managers here. Ron Gardenhire has always impressed me in the past by doing a lot with very few dollars. The Twins have struggled the last few years, but it may be time for a break out year; it’s time to shine in that new field. Tito has a particular way of managing and it could be the softer side of Francona will work well for the Indians – that’s  a team that could rival some of their big years in the 80s. Ned Yost has always been a strong manager, although I’d love to know why he was fired from the Brewers with a few weeks left in the season in 2008. There has to be a great story there – I’ve made up a few myself. But he and George Brett seem to have something cooking in Kansas City and I think it’s just about ready. They had a huge, late-season surge last year and just barely missed the playoffs. I think they’ll do it this year.

Jim Harbaugh’s new training method?

Jim Harbaugh and Siku the Walrus at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California.

Jim Harbaugh and Siku the Walrus at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California.

How do I not post this? Among the things I thought I would see Jim Harbaugh do, push-ups with a walrus never crossed my mind. Hysterical… Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere. 2200 pounds – that’s how much the walrus weighs, so it’s also brave/stupid? And one last thing – walrus breath has to be amazingly, um, fishy?

Pre season predictions 4

images

Buck Showalter introduced as Orioles Manager in July 2010; courtesy Fox Sports

Pat

Here we go with the AL spring training picks for the 2014 season. I am not really sure who the strongest division in the American League is, so I will just go ahead and start with the AL East. In the past, this division was always considered the strongest in the AL, with the Yankees and Red Sox spending lots of money and everybody else chasing them. This year, the West looks pretty strong. I can’t see the Red Sox repeating this year and the Yankees will  probably play better than they look although I can’t see them really contending for the division. The Rays have contended the past several years with a tiny payroll, a testament to Joe Madden.

But this year I see the division going to the Orioles. I think they finally have the confidence under Buck Showalter to seal the deal in the AL East. I know this crazy, but despite a terrible home stadium and bad fan support, I have the Tampa Bay Rays taking second place and contending for a wild card spot. Third is the Red Sox, a game or two back of Tampa Bay still possibly contending for the second wild card. Then comes the Yankees in fourth, a couple of games behind Boston. I see only three or four games between first and fourth in the AL East.  Then of course bringing up the rear is Toronto a few games back of the Yankees, improving some but not enough to contend.

I see the Red Sox falling due to age and injury. I can’t see the pitching holding up without major injuries and the offense is aging and their youth not quite ready to take the reins. The Yankees’ pitching can’t hold up and without A-Rod they have a couple of very good players and a bunch of journeymen, not enough to contend in this division.

Masha

OK, I have to say it – there is no way the Orioles take the division, not if history tells us anything. Let’s take a look at Buck Showalter’s history as a manager. With the Yankees, he fell apart in the third year – and they won the World Series the next year; with the Diamondbacks, he fell apart in the third year – and they won the World Series the next year; with the Rangers, he fell apart in the fourth year, (sorry Texas, no World Series). Yes, he wins the Manager of the Year awards; he’s a good short-term manager. But he was hired by the Orioles as manager in July  2010, and I’m thinking this is the year his curse sets in. So, I don’t agree with Pat; the Orioles don’t win the AL East. I believe the Red Sox and the Rays are going to fight it out, with the Rays coming in second. Then Orioles third, Yankees fourth, and, Oh Canada, Toronto last.