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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Something Every American Should Do Once

I recently had the opportunity to attend what I consider to be one of the great sporting traditions of America. Please take note that I did not say "in America", but "of America".

I don't think that we take enough pride in our uniquely American traditions anymore. In sports we have baseball and we have football. These are both great sports which have peaked at different times paralleling the change in the personality of our country.

There is no doubt that in our society, Football is king. Superbowl Sunday is the last holiday of that vaunted holiday season we call "Bowl Season". Many families are more likely to spend time together for that game than they are for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Football has put his heel on the throat of professional baseball and is squeezing the life out of the "Great American Pastime".

Personally, I think that is a shame, and it saddens me to no end. I do not mean that as any kind of statement about football. I love football, and I follow it as much, if not more, as anyone else. It is an invigorating sport to play and watch and follow. It is primal, and full of adrenaline, and ...... simple.

Baseball has killed itself by trying to be what football is. Baseball is a thinking, patient man's sport. You work the details, you apply the pressure, and you push until the opponent slips. Unlike in football where you push until the opponent breaks. Baseball is not a battle, it is subtle and beautiful, creating a breed of uniquely confident and self-sufficient individual, rather than an aggressive, vengeful bully. Now, we all know what has happened to baseball. Society wants to see aggression, not tension. They want explosions, not drama. That being what the people want, combined with incredible greed, professional baseball has undercut itself. Between strikes and rampant substance abuse, they have choked off their own life blood: the support of the fans.

There is one place where the baseball purist can go, every year, to refresh their passion for the sport.....Omaha Nebraska.

College Baseball is the bastion for the players who love the game enough to put in the time. They play for free, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and the fans of their teams show theirs just as readily. People travel from all over the country to buy General Admission tickets and stand in line....in the hope that they will be able to get in. People plan their vacations around it EVERY YEAR, whether their hometown team is playing in the championship or not. They are friendly with the fans of the other teams, remembering years past, and last night's big play. Laughing over BBQ and Beer. They cheer for good sportsmanship and effort. They make heroes of the 5th year senior who lays down the sacrifice bunts and will never be paid to play the sport that he loves.

It is what sports should be. Good natured rivalry combined with joyful revelry under a midwestern sun.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Couple thoughts on the playoff teams

1. Good for Orlando. Everyone outside of Florida wrote them off as second round losers. Down go the Celtics, oh well, LeBron and the Cavs will smash them. Down go the Cavs, well the Lakers have the championship now. Just a thought here. The lakers have thrived on the matchup problems that they cause. I am having trouble finding those in their favor for this series. The Magic are a good team, and if they shoot the ball well, they can pull another.

2. The Lakers are going to be good for awhile but.......they have got to find a stopper. Kobe could be that guy but as he ages, you really don't want him to have to expend that much energy on the defensive end every night. They need to find a Shane Battier type of player. A guy who can guard 3 positions at minimum while be at least a reasonable asset on the offensive end.

3. Lebron, 2 words. STOP CRYING.

The man played another hell of a series, but he needs to realize that it takes more than a great team and great effort sometimes. Sometimes it just has to be your time. Oh, and sometimes it takes having an effective wing scorer to matchup with Rashard Lewis.

4. Denver is such an intriguing team. Overall they are young, athletic, and talented. They need to start thinking about what they are going to do after Chauncey is done though. They need that point guard who will keep the horses on the road when he is done, and it wouldn't hurt to have him coming off the bench. This is a good draft for point guard and they might be able to pick him up. Stephen Curry would be a dream player for them. I will be shocked if he is still there though.

5. Boston needs to find a couple of players in this draft. Their studs are getting old in a hurry. A few more years is probably all they can hope for before they really start breaking down. They have some nice young players, but finding a young wing needs to be a priority.

6. Houston should scare the hell out of the rest of the western conference next year. They took the Lakers to 7 after trading their starting point guard and losing their all-star center and shooting guard. Be afraid, be very afraid. This team is going to enter next year with a ton of confidence, and they earned every bit of it.

7. The Hawks need another year of maturity. Seriously, that's it. They can run and shoot and defend with anybody in the league. They have some guys who are absolutely match-up nightmares, but they need a steadying influence and some maturity.

8. The Mavs are getting old in a hurry. They need a quality draft this year to restock their bench with future starters. Jason Kidd is on the way down, if not out, and Dirk's tires have a lot of wear. Biggest need right now is a post scorer. It doesn't have to be a Center, just someone who can be a legitmate threat down low.

9. The Pistons are still a decent team, but they lost their identity when Chauncey left. The Iverson/Billups trade hurt short term, but it should be a boon long term. They are going to have cap space when it matters, and if they can pick up the right player to compliment a solid nucleus left over from their championship teams, they could be right back in it. That said, that nucleus is not as young as it once was, so they better make their move now.

10. The Jazz need someone to shut up the crowd. A clutch performer with range, I am talking ice water in the veins begging for the ball when it matters, shove a dagger in their hearts assassin. Without it, they won't win on the road, and they are going to have a tough time getting home court throughout in the western conference.

Time to learn to win on the road kids.

11. The Bulls are a young athletic team that is just loaded 1-3. They need size though. They need a guy who can step into the rotation day one as either an offensive or a defensive threat at 4 and/or 5. In there case, defense would be better. After all, when you have the fastest point guard in the league, you better be able to rebound.

12. New Orleans is a nice team, but there are way too many holes. It will be interesting to see how their young players develop, but they really need to get some depth on the front line regardless. When they lost Tyson Chandler, it change the whole complexion of their team to not have his presence on defense and as a rebounder. If they can't get a quality post player, best available for depth will do.

13. Philly was a surprise playoff team this year. They are an up and coming team with a superstar who barely played. They should look at best available at 2,3, and 5 this off-season. If Brand is healthy next year and can be productive with disrupting the team, this team will be a force in the east. Man, that was weird to type.

14. The Spurs are old. They need to find a way to bring in as many young, quality, players as possible, and they need to do it right now. If they don't, they may be out of the playoffs next year.

15. Last year's personnel moves have revitalized the Heat. D-Wade, Beasley, and Chalmers has the potential be a very good trio. If they can add a solid combo guard who can score the ball off the bench, they will go 9 deep solid with good size and balance. If Beasley becomes what he is expected to be, the Heat could get scary in a hurry. If you don't believe me, check out his stats during the home stretch and playoffs when he got more minutes.

16. I hope the rest of the league is ready for what the Blazers are about to do. They are loaded with young talent and Jarryd Bayless hasn't even hit the rotation yet. If Oden can be average on offense and stay on the court for 70 games a year and the playoffs, the Blazers will be a force to be reckoned with