I love baseball. It is with a heavy heart that I realize “my” national pastime is no longer “your” national pastime. Sadly, except for a few hot pockets around the country, Major League Baseball is almost an afterthought for a vast majority of the fans.
This fact once again slapped me in the face during the last several days. The opening of Major League camps and the start of spring training games once dominated our sports pages and water cooler talk. Now they are back-of-the-section reports.
The headlines are now about how fast some wide receiver from Wyoming ran the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine; or how many times a defensive tackle bench pressed 225 pounds; or what some highly-touted quarterback said in a 15-minute interview.
If its football, its big news. We’ve gone football crazy – and at the expense of baseball.
I’m not criticizing fans. You have a right to like what you like and ignore what you choose to ignore.
And I have a right not to be happy about it.
But, of course, we are football crazy and I’m in the business of writing about the sports you want to read about. Therefore, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the next big thing in football: the NFL free agency signing period begins next Tuesday.
When it comes to NFL free agents fans need to understand that all of the free agents are players their current teams didn’t want or thought they weren’t worth the money they demanded. More often than not when your team lands the big-name free agent it’s getting a star passed his prime or one who never was as good as his reputation.
The key to success in free agency isn’t landing the biggest fish; it’s finding the talented young players who have yet to reach their potential or haven’t been given the opportunity to show what they can do.
The biggest sin if free agency is overspending. Just because a team has money to spend doesn’t mean it ought to throw it away to create a buzz.
The Jaguars have many needs and tons of money to spend. There are free agents who’ll be on the market who can help. Just because you may not have heard their names doesn’t mean GM David Caldwell and staff are failures.
The English language has many words that conjure up disgusting images, perhaps none more so than the n-word. It would be a better world in my opinion if all of these words could somehow will erased from our minds.
That, of course, isn’t going to happen. Some would argue attempting to do so would be a violation of our freedom of speech. Maybe so. I’ll let experts of the Constitution debate that one.
For the rest of us we’ll have to be content with the fact that while most of us are fair-minded and decent people, there are always those among us who are filled with hate, ignorance and prejudice. We’ll never be able to rid the world of all of them no matter how many rules and laws are passed.
It is with that understanding that makes me disagree with the NFL’s attempt to punish players and coaches who utter the n-word during games. There are some obvious problems. Is a 15-yard penalty too light? Too severe? How will game officials always know who uttered the word? Will black players be treated differently than white players? Should they be? Will all other disgusting words be tolerated? Is that right? Is it fair?
The best thing for the NFL to do in my opinion is to continue to stress to all players and coaches how bad an image they portray to the public if they choose to use such words. The NFL needs to convince players and coaches they can be a positive voice in educating fans by not uttering such words. And players and coaches can show their fans they’re bigger people by ignoring the disgusting utterances.
I think a better approach is best summed up with an old saying: stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
I’m finally truly concerned about Tiger Woods.
One of two things is going on with Tiger and neither is good. Either his 38-year-old body is breaking down after more than 30 years of competition and long hours of practicing or he has a low threshold for pain.
Every athlete in every physical sport has aches and pains. Every reasonably active person starts experiencing aches and pains once they reach their late 30s. Its Mother Nature’s way of making sure we know we’re not kids any more.
Tiger withdrew after 13 holes of the final round in the Honda Classic, citing his reoccurring back problem. No sport is tougher on the back than golf. He was 5 over for the day and miles back of the leaders when he called it a day, less than 24 hours after shooting a third-round 65. Tiger has withdrawn from several tournaments in recent years because of a variety of injuries, but back problems top the list and send up the brightest of red flags.
Is the problem Tiger’s back won’t allow him to make his normal swing or is it his “fear” of pain? Only Tiger knows. Just to be clear, having a low threshold of pain isn’t a criticism just as having a high threshold isn’t a testament to one’s toughness. It really isn’t something anyone can control. It simply is what it is.
Like everything else in Tiger’s golfing life, his back/pain problems are blown out of proportion compared to other golfers because his every swing is captured by the TV cameras. We see every time he winces; every time he stretches to ease the pain. We also see when he unleashes one of his majestic swings.
It must frustrate Tiger as much as it confuses fans that in spite of his physical problems he continues to show his golf greatness. The man did win five tournaments and was the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2013. But there was a time when his “bad” golf was better than most players’ best days. Now the bad Tiger is, by Tour standards, simply bad.
I’m certainly not making light of Tiger and his possible back issues. I’ve lived with severe back pain for more than 15 years. I’ve undergone three spinal surgeries (not to mention two knee replacements). It is because of my own experience that I know Tiger is never going to be totally pain free swinging a golf club, and that’s doubly true if he has major back issues.
Whichever is true in Tiger’s case isn’t the real issue. The real issue is if Tiger can’t consistently perform at the top of his game because injury or nagging pain then he’ll never be close to the Tiger we once knew.
And that means he’ll never top Jack Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 major championships.
As the calendar turns to March my attention turns to March Madness. And the way things are shaping up in college basketball this could be the most unpredictable dose of Madness I’ve ever seen.
I think Florida has the best team, but the Gators certainly aren’t dominant. If the championship was determined by a series of best-of-three matchups I’d really like the Gators’ chances, but in a one-and-done format not nearly as much.
What if Michigan State gets healthy? I always have high expectations for Tim Izzo-coached teams and these Spartans, when healthy and in sync, may be better than Florida. Like Michigan State, when Arizona is healthy the Wildcats are scary good.
Kansas is loaded with two lottery picks. I’m talking about lottery picks who could go 1-2 in the NBA draft.
Just how good is Virginia? The Cavaliers lead the ACC and plays great defense.
Is Wichita State for real? What about San Diego State and St. Louis? Does Creighton have enough help for Doug McDermott?
All are labeled mid-majors and we’ve certainly seen in recent years – think Butler, Gonzaga, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and UAB – how that label is misleading
I haven’t even mentioned Duke or North Carolina, which is on fire after a miserable start. Then there’s the defending champion, Louisville. We certainly can’t forget those other Big East powers, Villanova and Cincinnati. And I haven’t forgotten about Syracuse, which started out 25-0.
Could the Kentucky freshmen put it all together?
And, yes, I know you’re screaming at me right now because I’ve left somebody out who could well make a late run.
Indeed, Madness is looming.
Some things need to be done now, not later. Take the Jaguars first-round draft pick and retirement of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.
Right now – I’m talking about the 2014 season – the Jaguars’ biggest need is pass rusher. Oh, the Jaguars need a lot of things -- quarterback, linebacker, interior offensive linemen, receivers – but none is as glaring as their lack of a pass rush.
There’s an obvious reason why quarterbacks of all types have enjoyed record performances in recent years against the Jaguars. One joke is quarterbacks don’t have to shower after playing against the Jaguars because they’re never knocked to the ground. It isn’t funny, of course, if you’re a Jaguars fans.
And that’s why you can expect the Jaguars to draft a pass rusher with the No. 3 pick in the May draft. Fortunately for the Jags it’s a good year to need a pass rusher. Jadeveon Clowney tops the list, but Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack are nearly rated as highly.
All of this becomes moot, of course, if there’s a quarterback available the Jaguars project to be an elite player. Personally, I’m sold on Johnny Manziel but for the here and now Chad Henne will do.
As for Jeter, I’m almost as big a fan of him as anybody, but he’s not doing the Yankees any favors with his long-season farewell tour. At 39 and coming off of a major injury that sidelined him for most of the ’13 season, Jeter is now no more than an average player – if that.
Sure, he’s in the discussion as the greatest shortstop of all-time and he’s definitely one of the greatest Yankee players ever.
But that was then and this is now.
The Yankees will, no doubt, feel compelled to play Jeter as much as possible during his final season out of respect. The fans – home and away – will clamor watch him one last season. Even though most figured this would be his final season, Jeter created a circus atmosphere and forced the Yanks’ hands by announcing his impending retirement when he reported to spring training.
In doing so he’s hurt the Yankees chances of winning this season.
His statue should go in center field at Yankee Stadium now, not next season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., stock car racing’s biggest celebrity, won the Daytona 500, stock car racing’s biggest event. It doesn’t get any better than that except, of course, for the fact it was a nightmare of a day with the longest delay in racing history thanks to rain, lightning and even tornado warnings.
A 6-hour, 22-minute delay started after only 37 laps. Fans were ordered out of the speedway. No doubt millions of TV viewers changed channels. NASCAR was determined not to call the race and have a Monday finish. That happened just two years ago and resulted in thousands of empty seats, miserable TV ratings and a solid punch to NASCAR’s image. The sport never completely recovered the remainder of the year.
But instead of NASCAR officials and fans bemoaning a miserable start to new racing season. Junior saved the day – maybe the year – when he took the checkered flag with some of his best driving, holding off a horde of challengers.
Junior’s honest to goodness excitement was a truly feel good moment. Sure, many would-be fans didn’t see the finish live because of the long delay, but in this age technology just about everyone has seen the finish thanks to replays on ESPN, FOX Sports and the Speed Channel. Even most news channels have shown the finish thanks to Junior’s popularity and the significance of the race.
His victory was so applauded that for the time being no one seems to care where Danica Patrick finished (40th) or how rookie Austin Dillon performed (9th) driving the No. 3 car.
Those are PR-created storylines. The fans’ love affair with Junior is real even if it hasn’t been earned. Junior’s career has been good but not great but he is the beloved son of Dale and he’s carried the Earnhardt name since his daddy was killed in ’01.
Junior’s winning on such a miserable day will, no doubt, cause a few raised eyebrows. Admittedly, I’m among the most cynical NASCAR observers, but even for a sport famous for dialing up miracles, this one felt genuine.