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Baseball Is Back

April 11, 2013

April has always been a great sports month. We have the NCAA Basketball Tournament coming to a close. We have the Masters Golf Tournament. And we have the beginning of the major league baseball season.

There could be some changes upcoming in baseball. I have a feeling the demise of the New York Yankees will lead the changes. The last time the Yankees had a losing season was back in 1992. I think they might have one this year. In other words, the Yankees appear poised to spread joy throughout the baseball world by stumbling painfully close to the bottom of the AL East standings. Why will this take place you ask?

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez might be out for the year. First baseman Mark Teixeira might miss the season, too. Shortstop Derek Jeter will probably start on the disabled list (and will also turn 39 in June). Center fielder Curtis Granderson will miss at least the first month. CC Sabathia is recovering from minor elbow issues. Andy Pettitte is 41. Hiroki Kuroda is 38. Mariano Rivera is 43 and coming off a torn ACL. Ichiro is 39.

You would think that the Boston Red Sox would benefit most from the fall of the Yankees. But I would not count on that, either. They are coming off an awful last-place season and aren’t looking all that much better. Enthusiasm is so low in Boston that the long, the very long, Fenway Park sellout streak is expected to end next month. Just in case you were curious, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox ended a season in last and next-to-last was in 1966. I do not think this will occur, but the potential is there. If New York and Boston both sink from relevance, the national media may discover that the game is actually played in other cities. And that would be a good thing for there are other great stories and great players.

Knowing there will be more as the season progresses, let me start with these stories.

Behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman  and Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals could unite even Republicans and Democrats by bringing a World Series to Washington DC. Moving north of the border, after adding R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson  and many others to a good base, the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to bounce right over the Yankees and the Red Sox in the American League East. Out west, San Francisco is coming off two world championships in three years, and Los Angeles has the game’s highest payroll. The great Giants-Dodgers rivalry could be back and surpass the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.

Back in 1968, the Detroit Tigers reunited a run-down city. The city needs help again. With Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, strikeout king Justin Verlander and power-hitting Prince Fielder leading the way, the Tigers will attempt to repeat history and could easily return to the World Series.

The Anaheim Angels are also loaded with stars like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Jered Weaver. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman could make Cincinnati home to the Big Red Machine II. Remember how good the Reds were back in the 1970’s? And nearby, with the Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin) and Jason Heyward, Atlanta could return to the World Series.

This is going to be a great season, filled with marvelous stories that entertain and enthrall us. Unless, of course, we are instead bombarded with stories about what’s wrong with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Cardinals Earned NCAA Hoops Title

The NCAA basketball finale gave us everything we wanted. A close game between two talented teams who played extremely hard. Sometimes title games leave a lot to be desired. They could be ugly. It could be a blowout. It could provide a disappointing ending. We do get bad World Series (i.e. last year). We get bad Super Bowls. We get bad title games, too.

But this was not that. We saw a great basketball game.

Louisville from the Big East beat Michigan of the Big Ten, 82-76, late Monday night in Atlanta before a record crowd of 74,326 to make Pitino the first Division I coach to ever win national championships at different schools. Louisville got its third title and first since 1986, as the night Pitino got his second title and first since 1996. Incidentally, the he won the title just hours after officially being elected to the Hall of Fame. What a day for Pitino.

The title game was a 40-minute roller coaster ride.

It started with the National Player of the Year, sophomore guard Trey Burke, picking up two early fouls. This led to Michigan coach John Beilein to turn to Spike Albrecht, a rarely used freshman who had never scored more than seven points in any game this season. Naturally, he dropped 17 points on Louisville in 16 first-half minutes and was one of five freshmen the Wolverines used on the court together during a sequence that featured 26 straight Michigan points from first-year players. In other words, we had a new Fab Five.

And Michigan was up 33-21 with 3:56 left in the first half.

Then along came Luke Hancock of Louisville. The transfer from George Mason countered Albrecht’s incredible effort with his own incredible effort by scoring 14 consecutive points for Louisville to cut Michigan’s lead to 36-35.

Louisville won the NCAA title

By the time the game was over, Hancock had hit five shots. The 6-foot-6 wing was 5 of 6 from the field, 5 of 5 from 3-point range and 7 of 10 from the free throw line. He finished with 22 points, three assists, two steals and one Most Outstanding Player trophy. And he is not even a starter. That is how loaded the Cardinals were.

And that talent took over in the second half. It came down to experience as the talent level was basically even. Michigan entered the tournament as the youngest team in the draw. They played over their age but it looked like Louisville finally wore them down. Burke was amazing down the stretch while attempting to keep Michigan in the game. He will be a high draft choice in the NBA this summer and will be the next great guard at the professional level.

Burke and Michigan could have beaten them. This is one year where I would love to watch a series of games decide the title. Monday’s game was that good. If it was the NBA, I think the series would have gone seven.

Personally, I finished strong in my bracket. I had Louisville all along and had Michigan in the Final Four. It was a great tournament and the 2013 version only added to the legacy.


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