Beware those two dreaded months
Although “Beware the Ides of March” meant something completely different to the Roman ruler Julius Caeser in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser, it is a fair warning to baseball and football lovers (like me) around the country. (Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March – March 15, 44 B.C.E. In Shakespeare’s play, a soothsayer warns Caesar who is already on his way to the Senate (and his death), “Beware the Ides of March.”)
With one more NFL game to be played, Super Bowl XXXVIII, those dreaded months of February and March that I fear the most have officially begun. I’m not so close-minded that I would make a sweeping generalization here, because I understand that these could be the months that some sports fans look forward to the most: For college basketball fans, there is March Madness. In the NHL and NBA, the playoff races are heating up, and so on.
But for me, a lover of baseball and football, the ides of March symbolizes the time of year I start itching for MLB opening day to hurry up and start already! For all you NBA, NHL, tennis, soccer and golf fans (whatever tickles your sports fancy) who want to assassinate me, like Caeser, please hear me out. (For the sake of limiting the boundaries of this article, I will focus my arguments on the four “major” sports: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL).
My numero uno argument for the two sports I love is that I played them the most during my life. Through personal experience, I can relate to the strategies and emotions involved. Basketball is a close third, because I have played a lot of basketball, and I know the game pretty extensively. But just so I don’t sound repetitive, as I have written about playing baseball and football before, here are my other arguments against pursuing the NBA and NHL:
— The playoff system: Granted this argument could be used against any of the four sports, but the NBA and NHL playoff formats are especially ridiculous. There are 29 NBA teams, and 16 make the playoffs, a whopping 55 percent! In the NHL 16 of 30, or 53 percent, of teams make the playoffs! If you add the fact that certain teams dominate the spending market these days, the regular season can be rendered almost meaningless. In the NFL, 12 of 30 (40 percent) are honored with a chance to go to the Super Bowl (now we’re at least getting reasonable). Baseball represents the least amount of teams in the playoffs, with 8 of 30, or 27 percent.
Besides the pathetic argument of boredom against baseball (it’s such an easy cop out, just like I could say basketball or hockey is boring, even though I don’t think it), I’ve heard so many people say, “The regular season is so long. The playoffs are the only exciting thing about baseball.” But when the playoff system argument is thrown in, the 162-game regular season schedule in baseball has its relevance, when only one wild card and three division winners earn playoff births in each league. Rewarding a quarter of the teams a playoff berth seems much more reasonable than awarding over half the teams that opportunity. So, now you realize the importance of all those three-game and four-game series from April to October.
The NFL is unique in that it rewards a bye-week to the two division winners in each league with the best regular season record. Although I don’t entirely agree that a playoff bye is advantageous, it does give the NFL playoff race some added excitement beyond just competing for the highest seed.
— The commercials: I like watching baseball over the other three sports because commercial delays are more predictable. Timeouts do not exist in baseball, so a spectator knows that a commercial is coming after the conclusion of an inning or a pitching change, assuming no injuries occur. In the most dramatic innings – the eighth and ninth – a batter is going to stand in there and face a pitcher without the interruption of a commercial. In football and basketball, how many commercials do you have to sit through in the waning minutes of the game? I’m very uneducated about watching hockey, but I assume it’s the same because of the game clock. Baseball is the only sport that doesn’t have a game clock. If you think baseball is boring, at least you can be bored watching the game, rather than watching a television advertisement. Think about it, folks.
On the bright side, I guess it’s good that I can enjoy an offseason void of agonizing over the (SF) 49ers and Giants. But for a true sports fan like me, there is never an offseason. What am I going to do, wait until April to write my next column? Here are the things on my mind as the inevitable February month approaches . . .
Super Bowl Prediction
Patriots 17, Panthers 16. Pats kicker Adam Vinatieri kicks a 45-yarder to win the Super Bowl in the closing seconds for the second time in three years. Vinatieri is officially declared “South Dakota’s Finest.” Tom Brady throws two touchdown passes in an efficient 219-yard passing effort to earn his second Super Bowl MVP at the age of 26. Not bad.
You’re killin’ me McGowan! You’re killin’ me.
I have two months to accept it, but I don’t like the offseason work of San Francisco Giants General Manager Peter McGowan. McGowan has been called a genius more times than stupid (especially considering the deal that sent Jeff Kent to the Giants for an aging Matt Williams prior to the 1997 season), but give me a break. In 2004, assuming the roster now remains the same until April, the Giants will field a worse (if not worse, younger and more unproven) team than the one that lost in the divisional playoffs to the Florida Marlins. The Giants said goodbye to some quality players like pitchers Tim Worrell, Joe Nathan and Sidney Ponson, shortstop Rich Aurilia, and catcher Benito Santiago.
The Giants made some OK additions (catcher A.J. Pierzynsky, pitcher Brett Tomko), but they are lacking some serious star power on a team that nearly won the World Series two years ago. I guess Barry Bonds’ big head will leave no room for other big heads in the Giants’ dugout.
Oh, and good job re-signing J.T. Snow, an injury-prone .263 career hitter who has only one 100-RBI (104) season with the Giants back in 1997. I don’t care what he’s done in the playoffs, because the Giants are 2-4 in postseason series with Snow in the lineup.
Not to worry Giants fans, but stock up on the tranquilizers because the “Nenth” inning is back in 2004, courtesy of closer Robb Nen. At this rate, my gut feeling is the Giants will be lucky to make it back to the playoffs. Whatever the case, I’ll be there every excruciating step of the way.
For the love of . . . well, winning
By no means would I take credit for being a Golden State Warriors fan if they ever do break out of a serious NBA championship slump of 19 years, but with a current record of 18-25 following nine straight losing seasons, the Warriors are an easy team to root for – in the sense that a higher power might have to intervene if they ever want to win again.
Unfortunately, the Warriors are known more for brainless player management than for winning (Wilt Chamberlain, Chris Webber, Tim Hardaway, and Latrell Sprewell head a gigantic list of players the Warriors have dropped). Boldly, I said the Warriors would end their playoff drought this season. And I’m sticking to it, because in principle I have to.
The Warriors have 39 games left on their schedule to make a playoff run. Remember, 8 teams in the Western Conference make the playoffs. The Warriors have been plagued by injuries this season, most notably point guard Nick Van Exel and forward Troy Murphy. Center Adonal Foyle had been injured most of the year, but he is back and better than ever (I have absolutely no proof to back up that statement). In all seriousness, a healthy Warriors roster would be decent, behind center Erick Dampier, forward Cliff Robinson, and guard Jason Richardson.
Come on, dream a little dream with me and cheer for the Warriors. My reputation is riding on it.
Matt Brown is sports and outdoors reporter for the sierra sun.