A Big Week in Sports: Spring Training, NFL, Hockey, NBA, NCAA Tournament

It just occured to me that this may be the most sports intensive week of the year. Where no major championships are on the line, virtually every major sports enterprise is in the news.

First, the NCAA tournament selections will occur tomorrow and fans are eager to see if their team, mine being the Minnesota Gophers, will make the “Big Dance.” Thirty one of the sixty-eight selections are automatic and go conference champions like Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Liberty of the Big South, and Harvard of the Ivy League. The first action is the play-in round with the bottom four automatic teams playing the bottom four at-large teams for tournament spots. The methodology for selecting the at-large teams is a convoluted statistical system that picks teams based on difficulty of schedule, big wins and stuff like that. I think is sounds very random. Because of that, my Gophers may just make it.

Second, we are near the end of baseball’s Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. As for Spring Training, it is an interesting period but its relevance will disappear on April 1 when the real season starts. As for the World Baseball Classic, I must admit this event is gaining some traction with the media and, it is assumed, fans around the world. With Puerto Rico’s defeat of the USA team, my own interest in the outcome lagged, but my interest in the event increased as this will be a more important event as time goes by.

Third, the NFL has the ability to remain in the forefront of media reports with its free agent period and coming league meetings. The NFL and Vikings ability to dominate the local media is an indication of its overall dominate position. The Vikings dominate by trading a disgruntled receiver, Percy Harvin, and then dominate by signing a free agent ex-Packer, Greg Jennings. Of great interest is the proposed rule change suggested by the Commissioner to make illegal helmet-first contact by a running back outside the “tackle box, ” that area of the field between the tackles and extending a few yards downfield. This is a major change in the way the game is played but is necessary given the concussion problem. This would make my high school football coach, Eddie Willamoski, angry as he thought the way to play was to plant your head in a tackler’s chest like a battering ram.

Fourth, the NBA is heading for playoffs with the unbeatable Heat leading the way. That doesn’t get much play here as our Wolves are well out of it. This has been a very discouraging year for the Wolves, who started well. The loss of All-Star Kevin Love has been devastating, but the loss of a single player should not doom a team that is otherwise solid. so there is a lesson there.

Lastly, hockey is dominating the local news with the Wild in second place in the NHL’s Northwest Division. So the team is playoff bound. Such is the local interest that the NHL is covered on page C8 of the Star Tribune. The big hockey stories are about the University of Minnesota Women’s and Men’s teams that are advancing in the WCHA Tournament. Of these teams, it is the Gopher Women who get the most interest. The women are 38-0, that’s right, 38-0 this year, and are the most dominant team Minnesota has ever had since the First Minnesota stopped Wilcox Confederates at Gettysburg in 1863. It is my favorite team and I think they will continue to win for a long time. Considering in-coming freshmen, this team will improve next year.

We can look forward to the frenetic NCAA tournament starting next week and extending until The Final Four April 6-8. The NHL and NBA playoffs will come with most interest local, as baseball takes over until the World Series, and the NFL season captivates us until the Super Bowl. That will take us into the new year and it all starts again. It is a wonderful time to be a sports fan. Go Gophs

Aaron Hicks and the Spring Training Phenom Problem: Sunday Ramblings for March 10, 2013 -Updated 4/15

The baseball season opens in three weeks. This mean, actually, that we are barely into spring training, but are also into that most troubling of periods where the “Phenom” arises that messes up roster plans.  One such Phenom is Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks who hit three homeruns in his first three at bats in a game earlier this week. I don’t think the Twins want to open the season with Hicks in the Majors, but they may be forced to do so for two reasons. First, after two 90+ loss seasons, the team is desparate for stars, especially homerun hitting stars. It is trying to hold on to a large season ticket base in still new Target Field and it needs to give the fans hope for the future that keeps them in the park. Second, if the Twins send Hicks to the minors to start the season, they will be accused of intentionally limiting his service time so that his access to salary arbitration is limited. This will make the team look cheap, something it wants to avoid.

There are good reasons to move Hicks to the minors and the first is that he has not really been tested at the Major League level The pitchers this week, especially those like Cliff Lee, are just fooling around.  The rookie pitchers are pounding it, but the veterans are more worried about form than results. If Hicks opens in the Majors and then fails, he may take a year to recover. That is a very real danger. However, if he goes to the minors for April and part of May, is doing well, and the Twins need a centerfielder, he can then come up and will probably do well. At least, the risk of his failure is less.

Remember that baseball is a mental game played by the physically gifted. It is the mental part that must be cared for as the physical takes care of itself.

This Hicks scenario is being played out throughout the game for the next few weeks. Teams are hoping the Phenoms come back to earth and the nurturing can continue.
UPDATE 4/15: Hicks is batting .047 with 2 hits in 47 at bats as of today.

Academy Awards, Spring Training

This is a Sunday Ramblings post in which I will just talk about news of the week. First, this is Oscar night. I was recently told that I have to submit a ballot for the party tonight. This ballot will detail my personal views that I try to enhance with what I think may be the political views of the actual voters. So my pure list, just my thoughts for best picture is Zero, Dark 30, Argo, Lincoln, Django. Zero is a great movie including captivating scenes of a real killing. The characters are wonderful, the action intense, and the same can be said of Argo.  Then Lincoln and Django deal with mid 19th century action, some real as in Lincoln and some totally improbable as in Django. Lincoln focused on our greatest presidents efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed. The characters were very well done and Thaddeus Stevens was brilliantly depicted. Django I liked for the action and it’s absurdity was its appeal. Come on, a Dentist/Bounty Hunter does all this stuff with whom? I pick Argo to win just because it is a cleaner story and does not involve torture and guns, which will numb the already numbed brains of the Academy.  Lewis wins best actor and Jennifer Lawrence wins best actress. Those are the awards that count, let’s see what happens. Politically, Lincoln, for reasons described before, may win everything.
This is also the time of Spring Training and the NFL Combine. For those of you who believe Spring Training is important, it is for the opportunity to get players in shape to play, but 90% of the team rosters are already set so don’t get excited when a fellow who played in the minors hits. 380 in the Spring. If he is not on the roster now, he won’t be in April. There are numerous reasons for this, the first is that Spring Training is the worst possible time to evaluate a player’s talent. First, he may be hot, in shape etc. and his opponents are minor leaguers or major leaguers not playing seriously. The games don’t count and the pitchers he faces are more concerned with throwing their sliders over the outside corner than they are with getting him out. Don’t get excited, in other words, with Spring success.
The NFL Combine is hard to figure out other than an effort by that league to take some headlines from baseball. If the teams haven’t decided who to draft by now, they don’t deserve their jobs. The same rules that apply to baseball spring training evaluation extends to combine evaluations. It is merely another NFL show to fill time after the Super Bowl.
On the political front, we are argung about this sequester issue. The sequester is being pumped up as the worst event in the history of the republic by the administrationn (who proposed it anyway). This is simply not true. It is a reduction of future exependitures that is a very small fraction of the total to be spent. The media, and I am starting to think there are no great intellects there anymore, simply repeats absurdities. This is lamentable, and it won’t change soon. The issue is how much damage will be done before the deal turns, as it surely will.
Finally, from Argo, is the famous quote, “If I am going to make a phoney movie, It will be a phoney hit.” I just love that attitude. Cheers, Clark