Friday, April 06, 2012

04/06 (Another Opening Day) Quickie

*Nats win! (See yesterday's thing.)
*Same old, same old for the Red Sox. Same old, same old for Verlander.
*Toronto's 16-inning win feels like an omen we'll look back in in September.
*Powerful: The "Rangers Fans" statue of Shannon and Cooper Stone.
*Henrik Stenson's 8 on 18 was far more compelling than anything Tiger did.
*D12 vs. SVG: Why hasn't the Magic let SVG go yet? Yikes.
*Petrino: The wins and the skeeviness are all of a piece. Arkansas knows it.
*Gregg Williams' NFL career is over. But SHOULD it be over? I say yes.
*The Caps have eked into the NHL playoffs. Can't end up worse than cruising in.
*Yesterday's best thing: That Cubs-vs-Sox New Era ad. Brilliant.
*To those celebrating, a good Easter and/or good Passover to you.
*My favorite Passover treat: Chocolate-covered marshmallow bars, frozen.

-- D.S.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cub Fan, Nats Man

The Nats-Cubs season-opener feels awkward for me.

When I was a kid growing up in the DC suburbs, I loved the Cubs. Loved. Loved loved loved. Die-hard. I was 11 for 1984's "Next Year Is Here."

I called my local cable company -- which hadn't been around very long, mind you -- to lobby them to add WGN SuperStation.

I had a Cubs hat that I wore around so much that it wore out. I took a Sharpie and wrote "8/8/88" on my baseball glove, commemorating the night the lights went on at Wrigley.

In my freshman facebook entry for college, among my interests, I listed "Chicago Cubs."

20 years ago, the idea of going to college in Chicago and being able to drop by Wrigley as often as I wanted -- which I did -- seemed like a dream.

When I graduated college, I moved into an apartment in Wrigleyville, about three blocks from the field -- close enough we could sit on our stoop and trade cans of beer for free tickets.

Somewhere along the line, I went from die-hard to not being a fan at all. There's no question that part of it came from me losing some of my passion for baseball. Some of it, ironically, came from the proximity -- being a displaced Cubs fan felt special; being in the middle of it was, weirdly, less appealing. But, looking back, a lot had to do with my interest in baseball fading -- a strange thing for a one-time Strat-o-Matic addict.

Fast-forward to 2012. I have moved back to the DC area. Baseball-wise, the biggest difference between the early-90s and now is the presence of the Nationals. Not just the presence, but the buzz -- Strasburg. Harper. Zimmerman. That rotation! That bullpen! Davey Johnson! Mike Rizzo! Thomas Boswell!

A few years ago, the Nats piqued my interest -- I had grown up going to Orioles games (for years, my dad had the "Sunday home game" ticket package), but I never had the connection to them, aside from an abiding regional love for Cal Ripken, which every kid had regardless of who they grew up rooting for.

That the Nats went from a sorry team to one of the most promising in baseball was compelling. They have a must-see ace and a must-see hitter-in-waiting. I began to follow the team, but once I actually moved down here, I started following them much more closely.

I really like baseball -- particularly the "national" stories and the intellectual approach that has taken hold of the game and its complementary analysis. (I don't mind saying that subscribing to Joe Sheehan's baseball newsletter helped my enjoyment of the game substantially.)

But now I find myself gravitating towards rooting for a team again. I'm still very sympathetic for the Cubs -- I cannot possibly turn against my 13-year-old self -- but I consider myself a burgeoning Nats fan, even a bandwagon Nats fan (then again, every DC area fan who adopted the Nationals simply out of proximity or regional allegiance is a bandwagon fan).

More importantly, once again, I consider myself a real (or "real") fan (or "fan") of a specific team, nonetheless.

Ironically, the first MLB game that I took my oldest kid to was a Cubs game, two summers ago. He loved it. The video I have of him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" remains one of my favorite moments of being a parent.

Even more ironically, he has no interest in the Nationals -- like any kid born and raised in New York, he is... much to my regret... a Yankees fan. My impulse is to try to break him of that, but who am I to manipulate his fandom like that? That's his thing.

Now, if the Nationals get good and he grows up from age 6 to age 16 watching Strasburg mow down hitters and Harper jack homers and the team win division titles (or even a World Series or two), he may change his mind.

That would certainly be taking after his dad.

-- D.S.

04/05 (Opening Day-ish) Quickie

Is it baseball's Opening Day yet? (What does it say that I have to ask for clarification?)

*The top storyline is whether Albert Pujols can get the Angels to the playoffs.
*My most must-see player of the season is 49-year-old Jamie Moyer.
*There is no chance that the sport can match last season's "Game 162" finale.
*That said, the new playoff format will keep things interesting all the way.
*If you read one thing: Schoenfield's "100 Reasons to be Excited"

*Saints/Gregg Williams: The "Go lay that mother-f---er out!" audio -- listen here -- is the most damning evidence that could be produced. I stand by my initial take: Gregg Williams is finished in the NFL. "Indefinitely" isn't "back next year" -- the league will make him a radioactive hire.

*Masters: Tiger is the main event. Rory is must-see, but Tiger is who everyone will be tracking between now and Sunday. (The best Masters read I found was this one by's inimitable Wright Thompson.)

*Should Augusta National admit women? Yes. As a private club, it's their prerogative not to, but I perennially find it interesting that the sports-media world creates the cognitive dissonance to know the exclusion is wrong yet still slather over the club. Let's not give the club too much power; if everyone stopped covering it -- and if the PGA stopped supporting it (which will never happen) -- they would admit as many women as someone tells them to.

*Heat tip Thunder: I think 99% of NBA fans -- sorry, Bulls fans -- would be thrilled with a Heat-Thunder Finals. That game had a playoff intensity -- only weeks away. (Want a great read on LeBron? Kevin Van Valkenburg -- a writer I really like -- makes his ESPN Mag debut with a good piece on LeBron's place in the NBA world.)

*Must-see video clip from last night: Blake Griffin posterizes Pau Gasol...twice.

*MLB Opening-ish Night: The Marlins park is really nice. The team may take a few more weeks (months?) to get it together. Impressive to see the Cards start so fast in the post-Pujols Era.

*MLB Opening-ish Day: Aces all over the place, including Verlander, Halladay and Kershaw. But my must-see today is Stephen Strasburg when the Nats open the season at Wrigley against the Cubs at 2:20 ET.

*NBA Draft: Jared Sullinger is in, as expected. His NBA potential, however, is much more murky. Like Harrison Barnes, he's a Top 10 pick, but not close to the Top 5 (Top 3?) pick he would have been a year ago. He is not the next Kevin Love. If he's lucky, he's the next DeJuan Blair. But I actually think Blair was the better college rebounder. The comp I always come back to is Danny Fortson, who had a nice little NBA career, but was hardly a star.

*Calipari says he's staying in college: I believe him -- he is at the pinnacle of the sport, with a system that ensures he is a championship contender every year. Why leave that? Want to see Calipari think twice about staying in college? Eliminate the one-and-done rule, which is Cal's arbitrage.

Enjoy Opening Day -- or whatever it is.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

04/04 (Opening Day-Ish) Quickie

It's the week of both men's and women's college hoops title games, MLB Opening Day(s) and The Masters, and yet yesterday's biggest story -- by far -- was the reveal of Nike's new NFL uniforms.

Curious about the mania, I was up in NYC yesterday for the event -- more on that later -- but even though I was sure it would be a big story, even I underestimated (foolishly) just how big.

(Quick verdict: I like the Seahawks turning themselves into the Oregon of the NFL... I am legitimately curious whether the tighter-fitting jerseys will make holding -- or tackling -- more difficult... $100 for the replica jersey seems high, but people will pay. On the way out of town, I dropped $30 at Modell's for a Tebow-Jets T-shirt. Because I am an idiot.)


*MLB Opening Day-ish: Wow, is MLB screwing up Opening Day or what? In an era of the NFL turning "Kickoff Weekend" into multi-day event, MLB is doing a Bizarro version -- a mish-mash of opening days (no capital-O/capital-D), simultaneously missing a window of extreme fan interest (and nothing going on on the schedule) on Monday, yesterday and today. In a week, we'll be in full swing and we'll have forgotten, but this feels like a swing and a miss. Check that: It feels like standing there watching strike three go by with the bat on your shoulder.

*Baylor goes 40-0: It's unprecedented -- not the unbeaten season, but racking up 40 wins while going unbeaten. Brittany Griner cements her legacy as the most dominating player in the history of women's basketball -- and she sounds committed to returning to Baylor next year, which would make them the wildly prohibitive favorite to repeat (and, perhaps, repeat 40-0).

*Heat clinch a playoff spot: Biggest "meh" news of the day. Like Kentucky, the Heat are "Championship or Fail." Period. Let's talk again in early June.

*Joe Flacco says "I think I'm the best" QB in the NFL: It would be weirder if he said "I think I'm not in the Top 5, but definitely in the Top 10... probably."

*Masters goofy story of the day: The guy who claims his dog ate his Masters tickets. Instead of paying attention to that, read Spencer Hall's eulogy to his beloved dog, Isis.

*David Stern wants to expand the NBA Draft age-limit to two years: No. No, no, no, no, no. Terrible idea. (To be very open: I think there should be no age limit for the NBA Draft, and instead of artificially and arbitrarily limiting the professional opportunities for the kids, the NBA should make a bigger effort to get their GMs not to screw up the picks, either the selection or the subsequent development... not that taking prep-to-pro prospects is a bad idea. In fact, it's typically a way better idea than taking a college kid.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Congrats, Quickish Readers Bracket Winners

Huge congratulations to the three folks who tied for the championship of the "Quickish Readers" group of's Tournament Challenge: "Giggs," "DResvilla" and "TeeMabry22."

I can't help but post with pride that my 5-year-old Gabe picked his own bracket this year, entirely by himself (handwritten and all) and finished in the 92nd percentile nationally. Not bad.

If you used the "National Bracket," you'd have finished in the 87th percentile.
If you simply picked all higher seeds, you'd have finished in the 82nd percentile.
If you used Barack Obama's picks, you would have finished in the 64th percentile.
I got off a multi-year schneid by finishing in the 70th percentile.

And if you used's "Survival Analysis" from Harvard Sports Analysis Collective's John Ezekowitz, you would have finished in the 97th percentile. Keep that in mind for next year.

04/03 (Kentucky) Quickie

And so Kentucky did one of the hardest and most compelling things in sports -- certainly college sports: Win it all when they were expected to win it all. In the harsh dichotomy of "Championship or Fail," they won.

But there is another reason this Kentucky team is so compelling, and it has been covered by some of the great college writers out there: It is a validation of John Calipari's "one-and-done" system that takes maximum advantage -- arbitrage, really -- of the inane and arbitrary rules about NBA eligibility set out by the NBA and exploited by the NCAA. It shouldn't be studied by other coaches -- it should be studied at Harvard Business School.

Now, here's the caveat: It might be replicable -- oh, sure, Calipari will bring in another No. 1 recruiting class or batch of one-and-done freshmen, whose next stop is the NBA Lottery -- but it's not sustainable, at least if you define "sustained" as "winning championship after championship."

*It won't include Anthony Davis, who is nothing less than the most game-changing defensive talent (freshman or otherwise) in modern college hoops history.

*It won't include Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the ultimate "glue guy" -- who also happens to be the consensus No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft behind Davis.

*It won't include that smidgen of upperclass experience -- Terrence Jones and Darius Miller and Doron Lamb (no slouches, themselves) -- that remains a prerequisite for March success.

It will, however, include John Calipari, who is as much arbitrageur as coach (although I entirely believe the sincerity of his "players-first" commitment) and who might lose Davis and MKG, but who will replace them with the best available freshmen talent.

And he now has a championship template to point them to: Defensive intensity. Offensive brilliance. But, more than anything, sublimating their "one-and-done" NBA dreams for the good of the program and for the chance to make that one year a championship year: "Title or bust."

Calipari has seen the fulfillment of a system -- a template -- he created a few years ago. It might not always result in national titles, but it puts him in the best position to win them and it puts his players in the best position to maximize their college and pre-NBA potential. That's all you can ask for.

Don't miss the Quickish coverage of Kentucky and Calipari's ultimate triumph.

-- D.S.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

04/01 (Very) Quickie

Kentucky -- Anthony Davis, specifically -- was as good as advertised. Louisville made a game of it, and though moral victories don't amount for much (especially within the boundaries of the state of Kentucky), in this case Louisville can say they played one of the great teams of the past 10 years about as closely as they could. (About those 16 missed dunks/layups....)

Kansas-Ohio State was a bit ugly, but KU earned it with that gritty comeback. Withey dominated -- folks who think Jared Sullinger is a great NBA prospect need to take that as a reality check... Sullinger might be a decent rotation player, but he's the next DeJuan Blair, not the next Kevin Love. (Not even close.) Thomas Robinson didn't have a great game, either.

I'm not sure how many fans think the title game will be close -- it'll be closer to a coronation for one of the great teams of the past decade, for Calipari's first national title team and for the validation of his system of embracing one-and-done talents.

Of the 15 NCAA champs since Kentucky's dominating '96 team, I'd slot this Kentucky team inside the Top 5 -- not quite at the level of '07 Florida, '05 UNC or '01 Duke, but better than '06 Florida, '09 UNC or '03 Syracuse (which, up until Anthony Davis, had the most talented and dominating freshman in NCAA Tournament history).

FWIW: I think '06 Florida would give '12 Kentucky a game, if only because the Gators could throw Joakim Noah and Adrian Moss and Chris Richard at Anthony Davis, but Kentucky would have no answer for Al Horford -- Terrence Jones would have been throttled. Corey Brewer vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would have been a jaw-dropping wash.

Of course, that's only if Kentucky fulfills its massive expectations and closes this out. It is hard to imagine that they won't. At that point, we have to be talking about Anthony Davis not as the best freshman of all time (displacing Carmelo and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Durant), but as the best college basketball player of the past 20 years.

-- D.S.

-- D.S.