Some random thoughts on the games being played (and those playing them):
Hats off to the Central Hockey League champion Memphis RiverKings. Coach Doug Shedden has clearly built a minor-league powerhouse in Southaven, having now won two straight Presidents Cups. With a certifiable star in Don Parsons (MVP the last two years, 14 goals in 14 playoff games this season), our 11-year-old hockey franchise is something to be proud of. The DeSoto Civic Center will never be mistaken for the Montreal Forum or Joe Louis Arena, but when Kahlil Thomas drilled the championship-winning goal five minutes into the second overtime(!) Friday night, the 6,158 fans in attendance went certifiably Cup Crazy. If youre looking for a sign of the hockey bug spreading in the Mid-South, you need look no further than the walk-up line for tickets Friday night, a line that snaked outside the arena well after the opening face-off. Fear the turtle, indeed.
In watching the NBA playoffs, dont you get the impression the Eastern Conference bracket is the professional equivalent of the NIT, with the Western Conference representing the NCAA tournament? I mean, there are four teams from the West that would whip the Eastern champ in five games, max. You have to wonder how this accident of geography developed. With free agency and a draft lottery, youd think talent would spread evenly across conference lines. Somehow, though, the six best players in the league have landed among five Western Conference clubs (Kobe and Shaq in L.A., Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Chris Webber in Sacramento, Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas). With ONeal being the senior member of this Six-Pack (at age 31), dont expect the balance of power to swing east anytime soon.
Runs are going to be hard to come by for the 2003 Memphis Redbirds. Which is all the more reason to appreciate the front of Birds pitching rotation. In Nerio Rodriguez (seven shutout innings against Omaha Friday night), Steve Stemle (nine innings of 1-hit ball against Colorado Springs last week), and the much-hyped Jimmy Journell, Memphis should keep games tight, even with a less-than-imposing batting lineup. With Jason Simontacchi and Garrett Stephenson struggling in St. Louis, one of these three may be getting a big phone call.
It would have been nice to read John Caliparis press release swearing his devotion to Tiger Nation during the Final Fours weekend media blitz . . . as opposed to after the dust had settled and his candidacy for the Pittsburgh job (among others) proved more tenuous than first believed. Taking a knee and proclaiming ones love is easy once you recognize no one else in the room is winking at you.
How many Memphis golf fans were rooting for Len Mattiace during the fourth round of the Masters? What a story that would have been, Mattiace claiming the games most hallowed prize a year after winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic as a complete unkown. A prime example of how difficult it is to get ones name to the top of a major leader board . . . and how astonishing it is that Tiger Woods has managed this eight times before his 30th birthday.
I couldnt help but chuckle at the comedic brawl between the Cardinals Tino Martinez and Arizonas Miguel Batista on Easter Sunday in St. Louis. Either these kind of fisticuffs have to end once and for all . . . or the players have got to learn how to throw a punch.
Seriously, heres a thought on ending the madness. Instead of these silly warnings that an umpire will give a pitcher who is judged to be intentionally throwing at a hitter, why not penalize the team behind him? If a batter is hit by a pitch that is considered by the plate umpire to be intentional . . . give the batter two bases. See how many pitchers will plug a guy if this immediately puts the batter in scoring position.
As for the hitters who charge the mound, not only should they be booted from the game . . . but the batter due up next is out as well. This sophomorish gamesmanship has to end before someone really gets hurt. And wrist-slapping suspensions arent the answer.
We sports journalists rely more on cliches than anyone this side of Hallmark. But there are times we have to stifle ourselves. During the Cardinals-Braves telecast last Thursday, WTBS broadcasters Joe Simpson and Don Sutton -- a pair of veterans who should know better -- described St. Louis pitcher Woody Williams dancing through landmines as he escaped Atlanta scoring threats. Considering the international climate in which were all living these days, we simply have to be more creative in describing the games we watch.