Friday, April 15, 2005

A Capital Improvement - Baseball's Back in D.C.

I was there to witness history last night.

Major League Baseball finally returned to Washington, D.C., after 34 years of waiting and wondering. The excitement and the energy from the fans helped propel the Washington Nationals to a 5-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was incredible, to say the least.Not since the Washington Senators were shipped out to Texas and became the Rangers in 1971 has the Nation's Capital been home to a Major League team.

It was a matter of considerable consternation. Up until this year, Washington had the Redskins in the NFL, the Wizards and the Mystics in the NBA and WNBA, the Washington Capitals (if they ever play again) in the NHL and D.C. United of the MLS - but no baseball team.

The city has changed so much in the last 30-plus years that it was definitely time for this great city to have its own team to cheer for and watch, and last night, more than 46,000 were in attendance to see it for the first time at RFK Stadium.

The sellout crowd, including myself and my friend Bob, cheered loudly for each member of the Nationals team and coaching staff. We yelled and clapped for Washington's Mayor Anthony Williams, who led the charge to bring the Expos here. We booed even louder at D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp, who continuously tried to stall the deal.

We saw snipers on the upper parts of the stadium and more security than the average baseball fan has ever witnessed. We laughed when 75 percent of the stadium booed the heck out of President Bush and we were amazed at the new configurations of antiquated RFK Stadium. We were just two people in a sea of red, white and blue that gave a much deserved ovation for Hall of Famer and Nationals' manager Frank Robinson. It was a terrific night, and the best part is, it will happen 80 more times this summer.

And how can you top the opening act? Livan Hernandez and Vinny Castilla led the Nationals to a 5-3 win with their great pitching and clutch hitting. Livan took a 1-hitter into the 9th inning (the only hit didn't even make it out of the infield) and Castilla hit a double, triple that drove in two runs and then a hit a monster two-run home run. Just a single away from hitting for the cycle, but the D'Backs reliever drilled him in his fourth at bat, which led to more boos and a stare from Vinny.

The players looked and acted like they were finally home after several seasons in Montreal were they were the league's nomads, playing in many of their "home" games in Puerto Rico. They now have a place to call home and in a city that loves them whether they win or lose.

This summer will be my sixth since moving to the area and it is sure to be the best in Washington, D.C. - because baseball is finally home.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

College Football Taking Steps in the Wrong Direction

Has the NCAA college football management council ever watched the NCAA basketball tournament? Have they ever seen how exciting each and every game is and how many people are thoroughly enthralled by it? Why are these idiots talking about adding a 12th football game to all Division I schools for the 2006 season? Why not eliminate a regular season game and limit teams to ten games and then have the top 16 teams in a playoff format? If they want to add a game…make it a worthwhile game, the first round to the 'NCAA College Football BCS Championship'. I threw in the BCS because unfortunately, they’re not going away anytime soon.

As it exists now, both Division I-A and I-AA football teams play 11 regular season games - except in years when there happens to be fourteen Saturdays from the first acceptable playing date until the last playing date in November. Only twice in the last seven years, 2002 and 2003, did they qualify for the extra game. Without the new legislation the next time it could happen is 2008.

So if you’re the lucky (and good) two teams that make it to the Championship game you’ll get to play a total of 14 games…just one more than the 13 that a good school will play if they add a 12th game before the bowls.

This will provide the millions of college football fans the opportunity to see who the real champion is. They can continue to have their silly BCS power rankings, ranking the top 16 teams in the nation. The Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship games can play at the host site of the big bowl games – Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl etc. All they would have to do is rotate who gets what game. Inevitably you’ll have several upsets and a bunch of thrilling games that will grab the public’s attention and make it a popular tournament. We can even have a seeding committee every year…so that we can talk about how stupid they are. I can hear it now, “How did Florida State get the #5 seed?” or “There’s no way that Texas Tech should be in this tournament.”

This new idea was given tentative approval by the management council at its off-season meeting on Monday and will be sent to the NCAA Board of Directors for a final vote on April 28th. Interestingly enough, the 12-game proposal for college football was one of more than one hundred ideas considered by the council on Monday.

To me college football has all of the potential to be even more exciting than college basketball. Right now, it’s just not. There is finality with college b-ball, but it seems like every other year we’re left wondering if the #1 team really is the best.

Will they ever learn? Probably not…

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

This Tiger has Earned His Stripes

Tiger Woods did it again on Sunday – winning his fourth Masters Green Jacket at Augusta. He again proved to the world that he is in fact, the greatest golfer walking on this planet. Defeating Chris DiMarco on the first playoff hole on Sunday didn’t just win him another major tournament, it took him another big step towards the number that he’s been staring at for several years…18. Eighteen major titles by Jack Nicklaus is what Tiger is eyeballing like an animal on the prowl. Tiger took home his ninth major at the age of 29 and Nicklaus didn’t win his ninth until he was 31. Will Jack’s record be broken by the great Tiger or will he fall short? I’m going to predict that he’ll win 20 majors.

Woods has a better game than Nicklaus ever had and is using equipment that golfers of the past wish they could’ve played with. But the next time you happen to watch Tiger play, take a good long look at him. He’s a physical specimen. I remember watching John Daly and Colin Montgomery when I was a kid and thinking, “these guys don’t look like athletes.” They were great golfers, but would you fear playing them in one-on-one basketball with $50 on the line? Even Phil Mickelson looks like he has more fun at the concession stand than playing eighteen holes.

My point is - Tiger is so driven to succeed that he does everything and anything to win. I love that. He works on his game, changing his swing a little more than a year ago because he wasn’t satisfied with his results. Tiger lifts weights so that his already booming drives go a few extra yards farther. He challenges himself to be better at specific parts of his game that other pros loathe at, like his short game. He’s the Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Hank Aaron of golf. I think from reading and watching interviews with Jack Nicklaus, even Jack realizes it. Jack was the greatest golfer ever in my eyes until Sunday. Sure the Golden Bear still leads Tiger by a solid nine majors, but Woods has another fifteen years to reach out and grab the throne. Fifteen years multiplied by four majors a year and you’re looking at sixty shots to win nine more…it’s going to happen. Not mentioning the fact that Tiger owns Augusta. The course is so perfect for his game. Not too long and I’m sure he dreams about walking down the fairways in his sleep. He obviously is pretty darn comfortable playing there after winning it four times in less than a dozen tries.

Tiger’s competition has gotten tougher and guys like Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco and Retief Goosen are sure to win some majors over the next decade but can they all be on top of their games all the time? That’s what it will take to consistently defeat Woods. And sometimes it won’t be enough. DiMarco played one of his best rounds of golf last weekend and still couldn’t beat Tiger as he lost on the first playoff hole. Imagine this, and how mentally draining it must be for the rest of professional golf – you play one of the best rounds of your life on the center stage and you still don’t win…that’s why Woods is the greatest. When he’s on his game – there’s no one in the world that can stop him…not even Jack Nicklaus in his prime.

"Realistically," Nicklaus said, "he might very well be a better player than I was....Records are made to be broken, and it would be great if he breaks mine. I just want to be around to shake his hand if he does it."

Yeah Jack – I hope you’re there too. Because as great of a golfer as you were and still are, it’s time for the world to realize that we’re seeing a master in Tiger Woods.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Wrong Guy to Speak Out

Why would Jermaine O’Neal come out with his ridiculous comments about the NBA age limit? Why would he be the guy to say what several other NBA studs are probably thinking? Maybe he should've let Kevin Garnett speak for him or just let it slide. I agree with much of what he says, but he’s always just a little off with his delivery. In fact, almost everything he has done since he entered the NBA (too early) as a high school kid has been not that great.

In case you missed it, Jermaine said this to several reporters when discussing the NBA’s idea of putting an age limit of 20 years old in the collective bargaining agreement that expires at the end of this season. "As a black guy, you kind of think that's the reason why it's coming up. You don't hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it's unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18, why can't you play basketball for 48 minutes?"

Again, I tend to agree with what he says – but why did he start it with, “As a black guy…”

Does he really think that the reason the NBA is doing this is because they want to hold black kids back from entering the NBA? If that was his thinking, than he’s again proving that he should’ve went to college. David Stern is trying to do a favor to kids like Jermaine who should go to college for two or more years. Stern is trying to give these kids an incentive if they decide to enter college rather than sit on the bench like O’Neal did.

Let’s not forget that Jermaine rode the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers for his first four seasons. Never getting more than 13 and a half minutes of playing time per game and in his third season it dropped all the way to less than 9 minutes a game. The Blazers then shipped him east to the Indiana Pacers where his playing time almost tripled, but he still averaged less than 13 points per game. That would’ve been a great rookie season had he went to college for four years. Hey, that might have been a great second season had he been in college until his junior year. Clearly, he needed the playing time and should’ve gone to college. Being from the southeast, he had a bunch of great schools that he could’ve picked from…let’s just say Wake Forest, North Carolina, Duke, South Carolina, Clemson, NC State – I’m sure any of them would’ve taken his game and helped him turn into a great NBA player…just a guess though?

Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire are four of the best examples of the reason that a high school basketball player should have the right to decide if they want to forgo college and turn pro. These guys have been nothing but spectacular in the NBA and are four of the best basketball players in the world. Sure, they all had a few bumps in the road and may have started slow but they were ready and they deserved to be at the highest level.

The NBA Draft in many ways has turned into a draft of potential. NBA execs and team presidents are hoping that they draft an 18-year old kid that will be great some day, but not necessarily in one or two seasons. The list of kids that should’ve went to college first goes much deeper than Jermaine O’Neal. What about kids like James Lang? I’m sure the Hornets wish they could have that pick back, huh? Kendrick Perkins is already out of the league. Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop should’ve both went to college for at least two years, but instead they both went to the NBA were they have done nothing. Kwame Brown needed two or three years for his game and his maturity, I’ll guarantee that the Wizards would agree.

I’m absolutely positive that we’ll all see several kids over the next decade that will dazzle us like LeBron has, but it should only be a few (if not one) every year because they’re all not ready for it. And for Jermaine O’Neal to suggest that this has something to do with racism, that’s stupid and unfair to the NBA. I have a few words for him – grow up and be happy that you were making millions long before you ever deserved them.