Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MARCH MADNESS

March Madness for me means more than just watching the NCAA tournament; March Madness is the restless feeling of looking at dirty snow, brown grass, and muddy puddles and dreaming of the crew cut blades of vibrant green grass stretching across the outfield. The desire to smell leather comes from the thought of feeling the leather fielders glove fitting comfortably on my hand, and the feel of the rubber grip on a bat as I hold it in my hands and rotate my torso in a slow-motion swing, and the sun setting in my eyes as I stand in dusty infield.

March Madness is the overwhelming need to hold a small, spherical ball in my hand and lurch forward and hurl it in an entirely unnatural motion: overhand, three-quarters, and feeling the muscles in my arm protest as they stretch and extend into positions unknown for the past six months.

March Madness is holding the bat in my hands, alternately tightening and loosening my grip on it as I rock back and forth on my front and then back foot, finally settling on a weight distribution of 40-60 from front to back. The straining oblique and back muscles as the lower half of my body is at a ninety degree angle to the pitcher and my top half rotates toward the one holding the ball until I am staring directly forward with both eyes.

March Madness is why on the first day of spring, not the equinox, not the calendar day of spring, but, appropriately on Easter Sunday (a day of rebirth), the first day that the snow had melted enough to be able to be out on the grass, and warm enough to be outside without a jacket on, I was not inside on the couch watching a fantastic day of college basketball, but rather in the yard pitching waffle-ball batting practice to my son, daughter, and my nieces; floating my hanging curve over the middle of the plate and jumping and lurching for the ball like a monkey out of its cage for the first time after they hit it past me. Chasing the ball down from under cars, out of the road, and plucking it out of snow banks and mud puddles; pausing only for dessert and breaks to take the little ones to the potty, it was a day where you could look back at it and think: this is what life is all about.

Happy spring. Let’s play ball.

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MARCH MADNESS, PART TWO

Two great pieces of news out of Fort Myers, FL, spring home of the world champion Boston Red Sox: One, Tim Wakefield’s latest line, six innings and one run. That is super news since without Shilling and Wade Miller for the first two weeks of the season, having Wakefield on the top of his game is a huge advantage for the Red Sox. Second, the health of Trot Nixon this spring is a huge lift to the team. Manager Terry Francona has already stated his line-up will have Trot hitting second and Edgar Renteria batting fifth or sixth.

This is a great idea.

Let me explain: Nixon, with Johnny Damon on base ahead of him, is going to get a lot more fastballs to see with the threat of Damon stealing second base. Renteria in the five or six gives him more RBI opportunities, but more importantly, rather that being on-base with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez coming up to bat, Renteria has a better chance to get the green light to use one of his many abilities to steal a couple of bases with Kevin Millar, Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller behind him rather than risking being thrown out and the bat being taken out of the hands of their two big hitters.

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MARCH MADNESS, PART THREE:

What a weekend for college basketball. So much for the theory that the college game is diluted by having teenagers and underclassmen turning pro and leaving the college game bereft of talent. I did not catch all of the games, but those two on Saturday: Louisville storming back after coach Rick Pitino finally made some adjustments before the half on defense to keep West Virginia from firing off wide-open threes; and that Illinois comeback was simply incredible. I simply don’t know how the Final Four and championship games can top this past weekend.

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THE DOLDRUMS

Ugh. What happened to the Green this weekend? Following up a mid-week clunker against the Knicks, the Celtics blew two shoulda-been-playoff-games this weekend against Chicago (likely first round opponent) and Detroit (team ahead of them in the standings). The Detroit game was especially galling due to Antoine Walker tossing up bricks from international waters like the old number eight. I also think Doc Rivers made a mistake not going to the bench early in the overtime period. Detroit basically lined up their starting five for the entire game. The Celtics bench is deep and young, and those young legs could have run Detroit into the ground in the first couple of minutes of overtime and given the starters a chance to rest a few minutes and then come out gunning. Maybe Doc Rivers doesn’t trust the kids in overtime against the defending champions, but I’d sure as heck given them a shot at a great learning and potentially confidence building experience.

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