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WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE NIGHT OF THE CYCLE AND THE LEAP

The game of baseball is unique compared to other professional sports given the fact that there aren’t many breaks in the schedule.  This would mean that on any given day anyone can beat anyone despite their record or place in the standings.  It also means that on any given night something historic or unusual can happen.  Last night we had a piece of history in the lore of the Washington Nationals, and something unusual courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Nationals’ Trea Turner slides into third for a triple to complete the third cycle in team history.

Last night was an interesting evening at baseball’s version of the Frozen Tundra.  Gametime temperatures were in the low 40’s at Coors Field in Denver, with wind gusts making it feel much colder.  There was a threat of snow and a frozen rain delay during the game between the home standing Colorado Rockies and the Washington Nationals.

The frigid air made for some interesting baseball.  “Coors Field at it’s finest” Nats manager Dusty Baker told the Washington Post.  Washington would score the first seven runs of the game, the Rockies would score the last seven.  The result was a Nationals 15-12 victory.

But the score and the conditions weren’t what made last night historic.  Nationals shortstop Trea Turner drove in seven runs, Daniel Murphy knocked in five.  Turner’s RBI total placed him in a second place tie  for the most in a single game in Washington’s history.  That still isn’t the historic significance of this night.  In addition to his RBI explosion, Turner hit for the cycle.  He becomes the third player in the team’s history to accomplish the feat, Cristian Guzman and Brad Wilkerson are the other two.  Bench coach Chris Speier also hit for the cycle as a member of the Montreal Expos who are the current day Nats.

Now let’s move on to the unusual.

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Blue Jays Chris Coghlan leaps over Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to give Toronto a 3-2 lead.

In a 2-2 ballgame at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last night, Toronto Blue Jays center-fielder Kevin Pillar hit a screaming fly ball into right field.  Chris Coghlan, who entered the game as a pinch hitter was on first.  Coghlan came all the way around on the play and was heading for a collision with Cards catcher Yadier Molina.  What happened next was absolutely amazing!  Rather than try to jar the ball loose from Molina, Coghlin went airborne!  He leaped over the St. Louis catcher and flipped his way onto home plate to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.

The game would go eleven innings, resulting in a 6-5 Toronto victory.  Without a doubt, Chris Coghlan gets this week’s play of the week, and could be a finalist for play of the year!

Finally, I need to be old school for a moment.  On the heels of Trea Turner’s cycle last night I have to turn my attention to another exciting rarity, the no-hitter.  To me there is nothing more exciting in baseball than watching a pitcher go deep in a game without either allowing a baserunner or giving up a hit.

With the focus on pitch counts in today’s game I’m really concerned that a complete no hit ballgame may be on its way to extinction.  Locally I have seen this happen twice. Marlins pitchers Dan Straily and Wei Yin Chen both had no-no’s in progress when they were taken out because they had reached their pitching limit.  C’mon, really??? What would have happened if Turner was pulled because he had too many at-bats last night?  If a pitcher has something special going, let him try to finish it!

Time for a program note.  After tonight’s blog, Wednesday Night Baseball will be on hiatus and will return on Wednesday night May 17.  This will allow me some time to spend with my new granddaughter as well as my daughter and son-in-law.  The Sunday blog will publish as usual this weekend.

 

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WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-ON THURSDAY!

I would like to begin tonight’s blog with an explanation of why Wednesday Night Baseball is being published on Thursday this week.

At 4:57 Eastern Time yesterday afternoon my daughter gave birth to a 7 pound 8 ounce baby girl!  I am pleased, and thrilled, to announce the arrival of Madeline Grace Beauchamp into this world!  She is the first-born to my daughter and son and law.  She is also our first grandchild!  Mom, dad, grandparents, great grandparents and baby are all doing fine!

Now on to some baseball.

I want to start out by discussing the suspension of Pittsburgh Pirates star Starling Marte.   The Buccos star outfielder was given an 80 game suspension for testing positive for PED use.  The Pirates were planning on holding a Marte jersey giveaway on July 2nd, but have canceled it due to the suspension.  The jerseys were supposed to be given to kids.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is the latest player to be suspended for half the year over PED use.

 

First off, when will players learn that they will eventually be caught?  Look at the long line of stars that have been  caught over the years.  We all know that Barry Bonds, despite hitting more home runs than any other player in MLB history has been essentially black-balled from the Hall of Fame because of his steroid use.  Same is true for Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.  It remains to be seen what will happen when Alex Rodriguez is eligible in 2021.  Is it really worth losing half a season and have that black mark on your career?

Secondly, if you are a Pirates fan, and you have a son that idolizes Marte, how do you break the news to him?  How do you tell your son, who might be playing Little League ball that your star idol was caught cheating?  We went through this here in South Florida with Dee Gordon’s 80 game suspension last year.  I honestly don’t know the answer, but it puts the game in such a bad light.

Besides the Marte suspension, the story of the week has to be the New York Yankees.  After beginning the season on a road trip that took them to Tampa Bay and Baltimore the Bombers were 2-4.  The Yankees won the finale in Baltimore, and opened up for business in the Bronx on Monday afternoon.  The Yankees won their first six home games by sweeping three game series’ against the Rays and the Cardinals.  They also won the opener of a weekend series with the White Sox on Friday, before losing on Saturday.  With the road win in Baltimore, the Yanks won eight straight, seven of them at home and finished the homestand 9-1.

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The New York Yankees go 9-1 on their opening homestand.

 

Following the dramatic turnaround, the boys from the Bronx  are in second place in the American League East.  They trail the first place Orioles by 25 percentage points.

Here’s hoping for an eventful upcoming week in the Majors.  Barring any more births, this proud Grandpa will see you Wednesday!

 

THE EPIC THAT IS STANLEY CUP OVERTIME

On this holiest of Sundays I would like to extend my wishes for a happy and healthy Easter and Passover (which is still in progress) to all who are celebrating.  This time of year conjures up thoughts of colored eggs and bunnies.  The smell of matzoh ball soup and brisket fills Jewish kitchens, matzoh and kosher wine are on display at the local supermarket along side the spiral ham.

To the hockey fan, holiday week in April coincides with the battle for hockey’s holy grail! The fight for the Stanley Cup began this week.

What is unique about the sport of hockey is the slight change in the rules once the post-season begins.  During the regular season tie games are decided by a five-minute overtime period in which each team is only allowed to field three skaters and a goaltender.  The first team to score wins the game.  If the game is still tied after the five minute session the game is settled via a tie breaking shootout.  Each team takes turns having a skater go one on one with the opposing goaltender for a minimum of 3 rounds with the winner scroring one more time than the other team.

So here is the slight but powerful change in the rules.  In the Stanley Cup Playoffs there is no 3 on 3 for five minutes, and shootouts go out the window too.  What the system is replaced with is one simple rule, next goal wins.  Teams continue the game the way it was meant to be played, the overtime rules are the same as regulation.  Five skaters an a goaltender for each team just like the first three periods.

Unique to the rules in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the fact that the game can end in ten seconds or half the night!

During game 2 of the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, Brian Skrudland scored nine seconds into overtime as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2.  To date this is the shortest playoff overtime in NHL history.

There have been many long overtime games in NHL history.  Two Cup winners that come to mind took place in 1996 and 1999.

Game 4 of the 1996 Finals, in my opinion, was the greatest display of goaltending I have ever seen.   Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche and John Vanbiesbrouck of the Florida Panthers went toe to toe.  At the end of regulation the game was in a scoreless tie.  At 4:31 of the third overtime, Vanbiesbrouck would flinch.  Uwe Krupp beat the Florida goaltender to clinch a four game sweep and win the Stanley Cup.

Game 6 of the 1999 Finals was tied at one at the end of regulation.  The Dallas Stars had a 3-2 series lead over the Buffalo Sabres.  Dominik Hasek (Buffalo) and Ed Belfour (Dallas) put on a similar clinic as Roy and Vanbiesbrouck did in 1996.  The Sabres tied the game with 1:31 remaining in the second period.  The game winning (and Cup winning) goal remains one of the most controversial goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.

Stars’ Brett Hull scored the winning goal at 14:51 of the third overtime period.  What was questionable about the goal was the fact that Hull had a skate in the goal crease when he shot the puck past a sprawling Hasek.  It was ruled that Hull had control of the puck, but not posession of the puck, when he entered the crease.  Following the 1999 Finals the league sent out a memo clarifying the rule.

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Brett Hull scores the game winning goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.

With today being Easter Sunday, I have to talk about the game known as the Easter Epic.   This coming Tuesday and Wednesday marks its 30th anniversary.

The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were paired in the first round of the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The series went to a seventh game, and what a seventh game it was!

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Pat LaFontaine is mobbed by his Islander teammates after ending the longest Game 7 in playoff history.

 

Game 7 was played at the old Capital Centre in Landover Md.  The game began on Saturday April 18, 1987 and concluded just before 2:00 am on Easter Sunday.

After two periods of play the Capitals held a 2-1 lead.  As an Islanders fan I wasn’t feeling too good about things at that point.  The score remained the same well into the third period and it appeared Washington was headed to the next round.  That all changed with just over five minutes left in regulation!  Bryan Trottier’s backhand shot beat Capitals goaltender Bob Mason to tie the score.  What happened after that was legendary!

Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudy made 73 saves, Mason made 54.  Pat LaFontaine’s slapshot at 8:47 of the fourth overtime beat the Capital’s goaltender to win the game and the series for New York.  Mason was screened and never saw the shot.  The puck hit the post and caromed into the Washington net.

There have been so many dramatic moments over the years during these extra sessions.  The mystique of not knowing when the game will end is clearly one of the biggest drama in all of sports.

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-GREAT TIMES AT WRIGLEY FIELD

All but one of Major League Baseball’s thirty clubs have now staged their home openers. Sun Trust Park in suburban Atlanta awaits to be christened on Friday night.  Julio Teheran will open the Braves new home against the visiting Padres.

Out of the twenty-nine season premiers that have been staged so far there was one that was over a century in the making.  Before Monday night’s home opener at Wrigley Field, the Cubs held a ceremony for the first time in 108 years!  They raised the World Series Championship flag and paraded the World Series Trophy!

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Chicago Cubs take turns raising the 2016 World Series Flag at Wrigley Field Monday night.

 

So how do you put the finishing touches on a championship 108 years in the making? Well, the Cubs literally did it themselves!  Members of the squad went into the bleachers and took turns raising the championship banner up the flagpole.  Let it be known for all time that the curse is over, the drought has ended.  The 2016 World Series Championship banner now hangs amid the iconic scoreboard and team flags.  The W’s and L’s for years to come will hang in the shadow of the biggest Cubs flag of them all.

Oh and by the way, the Cubs hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.  Yes, the same Dodgers that were on the wrong end of history last October, when the Cubs headed back to the Series for the first time since 1945.

How did things end on this magical night on the Near North Side of Chicago?  It ended with a walk-off single, courtesy of Anthony Rizzo!  It ended with a 3-2 Cubs win!  It ended with the “W” flag hanging next to what is now its big brother!

The Cubs will receive their championship rings tonight.

Besides the heroics at the Friendly Confines, there were other highlights during the first week and a half of the 2017 season.  New York Mets left-fielder Yoenis Cespedes launched three home runs last night in Philadelphia.  The Mets tallied 20 total hits in a 14-4 route of the Phillies.

The Phillies had an explosion of their own on Saturday night against Washington.  Philadelphia erupted for twelve runs in the bottom of the first inning on their way to a 17-3 victory.

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This week’s defensive gem belongs to Miami’s center-fielder Christian Yelich.

 

On Saturday night at Citi Field in New York, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich robbed Cespedes of what would’ve been either a home run or a double.  This is my defensive gem of the week.  Miami defeated the home standing Mets 8-1.

That’s it for this week.  I’ll be back next Wednesday for more!

IN THE AIR THERE’S A FEELING OF PLAYOFFS

Ahh! The fresh air of spring!  The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, baseball has gone into day in and day out mode!  This can only mean one (or actually two) things…..Arena sports playoff season is almost upon us!  With the regular season in both the NHL and NBA coming to a close this week there is so much to be settled.

The National Hockey League will close its regular season today.  The National Basketball Association closes for regular business on Wednesday.  The Stanley Cup Playoff schedule will be announced late tonight, same for the NBA when all is done on Wednesday.

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Toronto Maple Leafs clinch the final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference last night.

 

Last night, as my wife Robin and I cheered on our Florida Panthers in their home finale, there was so much scoreboard (or should I say smart-phone watching) going on.  Coming in to last night there was one final spot to be decided in the Eastern Conference.  The Toronto Maple Leafs needed a win to secure the final spot, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning were right behind them.  Oh and by the way there was a basketball game going on down the road in Miami with playoff implications that we were keeping an eye on.  More on that later.

As we were leaving the BB&T Center I got a text from a friend of mine saying simply “Leafs in.”  When we left the building following the Panthers 3-0 victory over Buffalo the game between the Leafs and Penguins was in a 2-2 tie.  The Islanders had already beaten the New Jersey Devils and the Lightning were off.

Although the field is set in the NHL’s Western Conference the first round pairings are still up in the air.  The top seed already belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks.   The Hawks will be taking on the number 2 Wild Card winning Nashville Predators in the first round. Nashville finished their season last night with a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg, while the Calgary Flames (#1 Wild Card) lost their season finale in San Jose by the score of 4-1.  Calgary and Nashville finish the season tied at 94 points, Calgary won the Wild Card battle by a tiebreaker.

The last piece of business in the NHL is the top spot in the Pacific Division.  Coming into play today, the Anaheim Ducks have a two point lead over the second place Edmonton Oilers.  Edmonton holds the tiebreaker between the teams.  Both teams finish at home tonight.  Anaheim will host its Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in their season, and home finale.  The Oilers will finish against the Vancouver Canucks (also on home ice).  The Kings will be gunning for the Ducks and would love to play spoilers in a very heated crosstown rivalry.

Not to be outdone by the NHL, there is so much going on in the NBA as their season heads for a close.

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold a half game lead over the Boston Celtics for top seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Cavs have three games remaining, the Celtics have two left.  The last two playoff spots in the East are still up for grabs.  As of this morning the Indiana Pacers have a one game lead over the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.  Chicago and Miami have identical records, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

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The Celtics are giving Lebron and Company a run for their money.

 

The last playoff spot in the Western Conference is still up for grabs.  The Portland Trail Blazers are currently in the driver’s seat, with a game and a half lead over the Denver Nuggets.  Portland has two games left, Denver has three remaining.

This week should be interesting in both sports.  The Stanley Cup playoffs will open, the NBA regular season comes to a close, and then the real fun starts!

IT’S BASEBALL SEASON! PART II

Since I last left you, all thirty Major League teams have opened their season.  Yes, the rite of every April has come to pass for half the league.  Over the next week and a half those who began play on the road will celebrate their home openers.  Then we will have the grand old game every day until October, and then most nights until early November.

Sunday was the American League’s preview, tonight it’s the Senior Circuit’s turn.

Pitching is going to be the theme in the National League East.  The Washington Nationals boast arguably two of the best individual arms in the game with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  The Mets might have the best starting rotation in Majors.  Noah Syndergaard leads the rotation, followed by fellow long-haired stud Jacob deGrom.  Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler follow behind the long blonde tandem.  The big question mark in Flushing is the elbow injury to Steven Matz.  For now, Robert Gsellman will take Matz’s spot in the rotation.

The Mets biggest off-season moves are the players they kept.  Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker were both re-signed.  As for the Nats, Adam Eaton was the big addition, Wilson Ramos, the most notable loss.

In Miami the biggest and most stinging loss has to be Jose Fernandez.  Not only the devastating loss of a player, but the loss of an energetic leader and the face of the franchise.  The big question in Little Havana is will this team, and franchise for that matter, rebound after the tragedy at the end of last year?

The Marlins decided to fill the void left by Fernandez’ death by building a communal pitching staff.  Edinson Volquez, who was acquired as a free agent was the Opening Day starter.

The sleeper in this division could very well be the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phils are stocked with a lot of young talent that might not know they’re supposed to lose.  The only attraction in Atlanta this year will be its new billion dollar ballpark.

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After 108 long years the ultimate “W” flag will fly over Wrigley Field!

In the Central Division, the big question is can the Cubs, fresh off their first championship in 108 years, repeat as champs?  Two main pieces of the championship puzzle have gone elsewhere.  Closer Aldoris Chapman decided to return to the Bronx, and centerfielder (and leadoff man) Dexter Fowler went to the dark side in St. Louis.  Former Royal Wade Davis joins the pitching staff, and former rival John Jay looks to replace Fowler in center.

The Cardinals’ pickup of Dexter Fowler and the loss of Matt Holliday were their two most significant changes.  There weren’t any major moves in Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. In Cincinnati, The Reds continue to be in full-out rebuilding mode.

Out west last year the Dodgers and Giants battled into the final days of the season.  The Dodgers really didn’t make any major moves.  The Giants added closer Mark Melancon, and parted ways with Angel Pagan.

The rest of the division, is just that.  The rest.  It’s going to be a two-horse race in the National League West.  The Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are all in rebuilding mode.

So now it’s prediction time!

Eastern Division:

New York Mets

Washington

Miami

Philadelphia

Atlanta

 

Central Division:

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis

Pittsburgh

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

 

Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco

San Diego

Colorado

Arizona

 

Wild Cards will go to Washington and San Francisco.

National League Champions:  Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Champions:  Cleveland Indians!

Yes, folks I’m putting it on the line.  Another drought will end!

See you next Wednesday for a wrap up of the opening week of Major League Baseball!

 

 

 

IS YOUR BRACKET STILL ALIVE?

Here we are heading towards the close of the second weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  The field has dwindled to six, it will be down to the Final Four by days end. So the question now is who’s still alive?

I will say from a personal standpoint that I am living and dying with Kentucky at this point.  Like most Duke and Arizona were bracket busters for me.  Out of my  predicted Final Four only Kentucky remains in the dance.

Image result for Florida buzzer beaterUniversity of Florida’s Chris Chiozza hits a buzzer beating 3 point shot to oust Wisconsin.

So far the highlight of this year’s tournament has to be Florida’s Chris Chiozza’s buzzer beating three pointer in overtime.  This shot knocked Wisconsin from the tournament and propelled the Gators into the Elite 8.

The biggest bracket busters in the field have to be South Carolina, (who has dispatched both Duke and Baylor) and Oregon (who ended Michigan’s unlikely run and knocked off Kansas last night).  Oregon won the original NCAA Tournament in 1939, that was the last time the Ducks were in the Final Four.

 

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Local newspaper headline from 1939, the last time the University of Oregon went to the Final Four, they were National Champs.

Who plays Cinderella at this year’s Ball?  Two very big matchups await us this afternoon.  Will a buzzer beater reverberate around the swamps of Gainesville once again?  Will we be looking at a possible Carolina battle?  Will the Pacific Northwest rise again in the person of Oregon or Gonzaga?

Who will be left boasting around the office water cooler tomorrow morning?  Who’s got Gonzaga?  Did anyone pick Oregon?  Who’s with me on Kentucky? Who’s got the Gators? Are one or more of the Carolina teams still around?  If they are do you have either one of them winning the championship?

The American College Basketball Festival continues today and will come to a thrilling climax next Monday night.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC FINALS

When the United States and Puerto Rico take the field at Dodger Stadium it will be a classic in the making.  Besides the fact that this game is a rematch of an earlier nail biter, the story lines go deeper than the game of baseball.

The USA is the Mother Ship, Puerto Rico is the Territory.  Puerto Rico has representation in the US House of Representatives, yet it has its own flag.  And here is the biggest political kicker, a referendum is scheduled for June of this year to decide what direction the island will take.  The two choices are either apply for statehood, which will possibly make this the last competition between the two entities, or declare its independence as a nation.

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman will take the mound for Team USA this evening and will be opposed by Seth Lugo of the New York Mets.  Stroman could have been part of Team Puerto Rico, but opted to play for the Americans.  As a result, Stroman’s mother has been the subject of harassment on social media by many Puerto Ricans.  This will make for an emotional start for Stroman.  This again, could go way beyond the game of baseball.

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Marcus Stroman will start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic Finals.

Seth Lugo will return to the Mets camp in Pt. St. Lucie, Florida following the WBC to finish competing for the fifth spot in their rotation.  Tonight, he takes the pride of the territory that either wants to join Big Brother or break away from it on his shoulders.  Yes, this is the biggest start of Lugo’s career, notwithstanding a start on the World Series stage at Citi Field.

Who will be the Classic’s MVP?  Yadier Molina has been arguably the driving force in Puerto Rico’s 7-0 record and a place in the Finals.  Adam Jones and possibly Christian Yelich are candidates from the United States.

So the grand old ballpark set in Southern California’s Chevez Ravine could see another chapter written in its hallowed halls.  Perhaps a ballpark that has been home to Sandy Koufax, Tommy LaSorda, Don Sutton, and Don Drysdale to name a few, can add one of the all time biggest international games to its resume tonight.  Too bad old Vin won’t be in the Dodger Stadium press box to tell everyone in the USA and its extended family in the Caribbean to pull up a chair this evening.  Enjoy the game wherever you may be!

BRACKETOLOGY-AN AMERICAN OBSESSION

This weekend is arguably the second biggest for sports fans on the calendar.  Although Super Bowl weekend is still king,  the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball Championship is, in my opinion, number two.  When else is it almost appropriate to have the early basketball games minimized on your work computer on a Thursday and Friday afternoon?

For the kids competing in the 68 school event, it’s anywhere from a once in a lifetime chance at fame, to an NBA audition.  What makes this time of year even more intriguing, is the fact that millions of casual fans have an interest in each and every game.

What had begun as a simple office pool in the 1980’s has caught on and become an obsession in America!  The advent of the internet has helped fuel the fire on this.  It is now so easy to log on to any of the hundreds of pools and click away at your predictions.  I began competing in pools when players actually hand wrote there predictions and the moderator of the pool used a photocopier and kept track of the standings by hand!

There is a genius to this. If it wasn’t for my picks, would this sports fan who is originally from New York and lives in South Florida, have any rooting interest in a game involving Duke or Kentucky?

Like most Americans. while I was eating lunch on Thursday I was sitting at my desk watching the first game of the day.  I had Notre Dame going another couple of rounds and continued to watch as Princeton stayed with them.  The Irish would win by two points and had me whispering “Yes!” as time ran out.  I’m not a fan of either school, but Notre Dame was supposed to continue on to the Sweet Sixteen in my world.

Yesterday afternoon the bubble burst for many when Wisconsin took down number one overall Villanova.  A mere hours later Florida State’s loss to Xavier busted more brackets.

Here’s the genius in all of this. If you fill out one of these pool worksheets it gives watching the tournament new meaning.  You have a rooting interest in every game!  Thursday and Friday of the first weekend has everyone interested in all of  the games being played.  This weekend   everyone from the most seasoned  college basketball fan to the receptionist in the office all have a shot at winning.  Everyone is interested during the first weekend of wall to wall basketball games.

During Barack Obama’s term as President, basketball fans looked forward to the unveiling of his bracket on ESPN.  Many are disappointed that President Trump declined to do so this year.  This just shows the enormity of what March Madness has become.

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President Barack Obama fills out his 2009 Presidential Bracket

The question in workplaces throughout the United States and beyond, tomorrow morning will be “how did you do this weekend?”  or “did your bracket get busted by Wisconsin beating Villanova?”  There can be even more questions by day’s end today as number one seeds North Carolina and Kansas are in action.

Just for the record, I’m still alive and well despite Villanova losing yesterday.  I had them losing to Duke in the Elite Eight.  As for Florida State, I had Xavier winning that game.  My Final Four you might ask?  Three of them see action today.  Kentucky, Louisville and Duke all play today.  Gonzaga is safe and sound and in the Sweet Sixteen.

Enjoy the rest of this once a year basketball celebration.  Take out your brackets and take notice as these kids play for a National Championship.