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Misc General General Archive The Rites Of Spring
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar



altThe thirteen weeks or so between Presidents Day and Memorial Day are the best of times for sports fans in least from my seat in the grandstand. As we collectively regain consciousness from the Super Bowl food coma, and the SI swimsuit issue has been downgraded to coaster on the coffee table, we're jolted out of our winter blahs by the sound of bat against ball from the remote fields of Florida and Arizona. And that's just the start of it.

Baseball's renaissance reminds us that it is in fact Spring somewhere, and it whets our appetites for the sports smorgasbord on which we are about to feast. Just as football widows all across the land are celebrating the end of a long season, they are struck by the reality that the excuses not to rake the leaves will again simply be replaced by the excuses not to cut the grass. (I guess I should just cop to the unvarnished sexism of that last remark, and admit that the "football widows" do indeed have their male counterparts in our wonderfully diverse society.)

It's almost unfair how much quality entertainment is crammed into this, the best of quarters in our sports calendar. Start with the happy coincidence of the onset of major league baseball's season co-existing with the thrilling climax of college basketball's year. To our great delight (your mileage may vary) the annual rites of Spring Training, Opening Day, the NCAA Tournament, and the NBA Playoffs are nicely supplemented by another set of one-of-a-kind events....The Masters, The Kentucky Derby, The NFL Draft, and the Indy 500 (and for some of us, the Spring Game)....all combining to administer the kind of numbing sports overdose that we so richly deserve after a long winter. And speaking of numbing...St. Patrick's Day is in there somewhere too.

To the calendar then.....with a little half-baked projection of what the 2009 version may look like...

February - MLB Spring Training

The magical powers of this time of year are such that even the hearts of Pittsburgh Pirates fans are filled with hope of .500 seasons. For the wealthy, the unemployed, or those who practice judicious vacation planning, (or any combination thereof) Spring Training time means sunshine, easy autographs, chatting poolside with Jeff beverages with Consigliere....the sky's the limit. At the Desert Hilton the Cavs and Bulls are on TNT.

Back here in Ohio, by late February, training camp means at least one box score every day to follow online before checking out of the office to go scrape the windshield and head home for the day. We're scouring every note from every beat reporter, looking for some worthwhile insights on the Indians....because we are slow learners. The TCF writers in attendance in Arizona may be our only chance....them and Pluto. We're looking for lights-out pitching and crooked numbers for the good guys, but we'll settle for no torn ACL's or rotator cuffs...and no Garko in the outfield. Duke and Carolina are on, with Georgetown-UConn coming up later....Manny is still unemployed.

March- NCAA's

By the end of the first week of March, the college conference tournaments are tipping off, and the MAC is cranking it up at 'The Q'. The Cavs had a tough stretch, playing 10 out of 14 on the road, but they're still insanely good at home, and Delonte West is back.

The call comes in from the guy who took you to that NCAA team auction the last few years....the one where the top seeds go for a grand, and the 16-seeds go for ten bucks...and you win about $300 for every game your teams win...the one where you took a bath on Gonzaga and the Buckeyes a couple years ago.....that one. You say you'll play the five dollar office pool like every other red-blooded American does this week, but you wish the old cartel all the best, and you tell him you like Illinois to get to the Sweet Sixteen. You hear Kiper has the Browns taking Beanie Wells...but you don't worry...'cause it's Kiper.  Hafner goes deep in Goodyear. Hope springs.

April- Opening Day - Final Four- NFL Draft

Meanwhile, the whole Arizona baseball experiment is building to the climax of the April 6 Tribe opener in Texas...the same exact day that the "18 Days of Crazy-Good Roundball" known as the
NCAA Tournament will crown its champion in Detroit. (Detroit?) Is this a great country or what? You know you can make book that some George Mason or Valpo will make a run for the Regionals, and some team with a direction in their school name will hit a buzzer-beater and become everybody's new darling.

What you get at NCAA tourney time is the peaking of most teams' basketball execution, coupled with the peaking of their emotional level, resulting in a delicious exhibition of what may be the purest form of team sport in America today. That it ends with a championship decided on the court instead of in the polls makes it also the most satisfying sporting event of the year, for the spectators as well as for the teams. And all this despite the fact that you're ready to strangle your grandmother if you hear the terms 'Madness', 'Cinderella' or 'Bracketology' one more freakin' time.

To top it off....also starting the week of April 6th?.....
The Masters . Which of course means that starting Thursday, golfers the world over will be wearing out their Refresh buttons to the tune of a million hits a minute at, and people who never watch golf on TV will be captivated for a couple of weekend afternoons by the sheer beauty and perfection that is Augusta. (And it is not true that they fired a groundskeeper last year for allowing an azalea petal to hit the ground.)

For those tuning in after watching the Tribe-Blue Jays games at Progressive Field that weekend...well, you can probably still catch the leaders navigating Amen Corner. And for those who ventured out to the baseball games in downtown Cleveland....don't worry, the feeling starts to return to your fingertips and toes after a couple of hours. The Indians are at home for nine straight games starting April 21st, and several of those dates now shape up as double-headers, with the Cavs holding home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs across Gateway Plaza. Can you say "Party on E. 4th St."?  

Todd McShay says the Browns are going with a wide receiver. What do you mean "Who's Todd McShay"? 

Adam Miller has what?....a blister?

Months of hand-wringing and fevered speculation are laid to rest in a few short hours on April 25th, as the Browns new regime makes their selections on NFL Draft day. So much preparation, ....and it's over in a flash. Sort of like Thanksgiving dinner...except you're at The Winking Lizard. Some of us have to follow the first round picks as they are flashed on the scoreboard at the Horseshoe in Columbus. Slaves to tradition that we are, we must be the first to see the 2009 Buckeyes at the Spring Game, with 60,000 of our close friends.  This year Pryor finds out it's hard to overthrow these new receivers he's got, and what is up with this wide-open attack anyway? And thank God that mean, fast SOB of a linebacker was still there at No. 5. for the Browns.

May - Derby - Indy

So we're golfing regularly again by this time, but Tribe opponents are still wearing those stupid looking pullover face-warmers. By the way, those Gateway twofers (and the E. 4th revelry) are becoming a regular happening as the Cavs are rolling through the second round of the playoffs. But on the first Saturday of the month, we all pause for another little slice of Americana..."the most exciting two minutes in sports",
The Derby

We know the name of the favorite by the time the race rolls around, and we think we could name one other horse in the field...maybe. None of which matters, of course, because they'll all be forgotten by the middle of June anyway....or sooner, depending on the mint julep count, (and also on whether the winner doubles in The Preakness two weeks later.)  And by the time SportsCenter is over that night, the most exciting two minutes will have become six, or maybe eight somewhat interesting minutes, depending on how many times we choose to watch the replay. If we didn't have a wager down, we can chalk it up to cultural enrichment. Is it sick to just be proud your country has a Kentucky Derby?

Admittedly, the
Indy 500 is not what it used to be as a signature sporting event. The classic race hasn't fared too well following the Great Divide in the Indy car world a few years back. In another time, it used to serve as the back bookend to our springtime sportsfest, a springboard into summer like the rest of the traditional Memorial Day holiday weekend.

This year though, the springboard to Cleveland's summer might just be wearing #23, as the Cavs look capable of taking their playoff run well into June. And a fast start by the Indians could signal something greater than just our annual fantasy. The rites of spring in American sport are a perennial treat even in the worst of times for the local franchises.  But there's a feeling afoot these days that 2009 might be a Cleveland spring to remember.

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