Around the Horn

March 27, 2011 | Paul Hoke

I’m sitting at my computer on a chilly Sunday afternoon, with the Orioles-Red Sox spring training game playing on the TV in my kitchen.  As I sat here, trying to think about which sports topic to opine on, I figured that this would be a great time for another installment of Around the Horn, because I have opinions on several different topics at the present time.  So, here goes:

—  Given the fact that the Baltimore Orioles preseason game is on, I figure I’ll start off with the Birds as they finish up Spring Training in Sarasota, and are gearing up for the season opener next Friday in Tampa Bay.  I’m actually excited about the start of the baseball season for the first time in a long time.  I think, on paper at least, the Orioles are a team that is potentially 15-20 wins better heading into 2011, then they were in 2010.  Buck Showalter made some headlines last week with comments he made in a Men’s magazine regarding Yankee captain Derek Jeter and the Boston Red Sox.  Many people are cringing at the comments, and Nestor even blogged about it, telling Buck to shut up.  Me, I love it.  I wish he would’ve gone even further and said that even as Major League Baseball continues to cater to the Yanks and BoSox, their two biggest draws, teams like the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers have overcome the odds and played their way into the last few Fall Classics.  I love what Buck said, and i think some are being hypocritical because if this was #52 or #55 from our Purple Birds and it was aimed at the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning, everyone would howl with delight and pump our chests in approval.  Finally, we’re seeing some life from our baseball team and their manager.  Keep it up!  I would even love to see Vlad Guerrero say, in Spanish of course, in his best Rex Ryan voice, “I didn’t come to Baltimore to kiss the rings of New York and Boston!”  Get fired up, boys, it’s the perfect time for Why Not Part 2!  Oh, and by the way, Red Sox fans…the Orioles have still won more World Series’ since 1918 then you.

—  I really haven’t been following the NFL labor unrest recently, because to be honest, I really don’t care.  I love football, and bleed for my Baltimore Ravens, but the last thing I want to see, hear, or read about, is what a bunch of rich, spoiled millionaires want from rich, spoiled billionaires.  And all to play a game.  Look, I know the inherent risks of playing a game that requires you to beat the hell out of yourself and your opponent for 60 minutes a game, for 16-20 games a season.  But these guys all signed up for this.  And they are paid quite nicely too.  I think the 53rd guy on the roster makes $400,000 a season, and sees the field a grand total of about 2 minutes a game.  Two weeks ago, I locked up a guy who fought, spit, and kicked at me, and oh by the way, had a crack pipe in his pocket, and as a consolation prize, had HIV and Hep-C.  But that’s my job.  It’s what I signed up for, and I knew the risks going into it.  AND…it’s what I’m paid to do.  I don’t make $400,000 a year doing it, but I make enough to pay my mortgage, my car payment, and whatever else my wife says it’s ok to buy.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  We remain in the throes of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, gas is almost $4 a gallon, the unemployment rate is around 10%, Japan is one more tremor away from joining Atlantis at the bottom of the ocean, everyone in the Middle East has lost their minds, we’re still fighting a global war on terror, and our President and Congress can’t agree on what color the sky is anymore.  So forgive me if I don’t care when Drew Brees or Peyton Manning whine like 5 year olds for the NFL owners to “open their books” because these idiots can’t agree on how to divide $9 billion in the Revenue of The Golden Goose.  Please.  I got an idea, bring back the military draft, and make the NFL rosters the first wave of recruits.  I bet they would come to an agreement with the owners REAL quick when their Sundays could be spent like this, instead of on the football field…

And these brave young men and women who make sure we sleep safe and live free each and every day, aren’t making $400,000 a year either.  God Bless our soldiers and their families.

—  The Washington Capitals continue to soar towards the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with another impressive outing by young goaltender Braden Holtby in the Caps 2-0 win in Montreal last night.  It was just what this team needed after the pathetic 2-0 loss in Ottawa the night before, where I think half the team slept through most of the game.  Like I told my dad, this Holtby kid may just be the longtime answer in goal.  Everytime he takes the ice, he impresses the heck out of me.  Even as he splits time with Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, as well as splitting time between Hershey (ick) and Washington, he’s 10-2 with a 1.79 goals against average, and there is just something different about the Caps defense when he’s in.  And I don’t read too much into the injury concerns surrounding captain Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott.  The Capitals remember all too well what happened last season after securing the #1 seed and then surrendering a 3 games to 1 lead to the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.  It seemed as though they ran out of gas after Game Four and never refilled the tank.  Ovie in particular was a non factor in those final 3 losses, and it seems like they are content to just play out the string in the regular season, and bring the big guns back, well rested, to make a run at Lord Stanley’s cup.  My only real concern is Mike Green who is still shelved after taking a puck to the head earlier this season.  If this team is going to make a deep run, they need Greenie.  The defense has been good recently, but the playoffs are a different animal.  He’s a leader, and an offensive minded defender who can score from the point.  Dennis Wideman has been a nice addition, but he’s not Green.  With John Carlson’s development, teaming him up with a healthy Green would be money.  They currently sit #2 in the Eastern Conference, and if things hold this way, they will be playing the New York Rangers in Round 1.  That matchup scares the hell out of me, but I have faith that this year, the Caps will learn from past mistakes..and Unleash the Fury.

—  Every year, March Madness consumes us.  The third Thursday and Friday of March are quickly becoming holidays in this country, much like Super Bowl Sunday.  Every year I fill out a bracket based on my level of college basketball knowledge, and how certain teams appear to be playing at certain times.  And, every year we’re treated to some of the finest basketball played at the highest level.  It never matters that usually by the Sweet Sixteen, my bracket has been busted by a Butler, a Richmond, a Morehead State, and a VCU, that games are exciting, fast paced, and are played the way the game should be played.  This year, I picked Kansas to beat Ohio State in the NCAA title game.  Kentucky saw to it that Ohio State didn’t make it, and as I write this, VCU is trying to do the same to Kansas.  I always root for the higher seed, no matter what my bracket looks like.  Look, we all know that the top 10 teams in the NCAA are essentially quasi-professional.  So to watch as a Morehead State picks apart Louisville in the second round, makes the tourney for me.  My hatred for the Pitinos, Caliparis, and Calhouns of the world also fuels my desire to see the mid-majors tear through the favorites on their way to the Final Four.  And the best part about the tournament is that every year, without fail, we’re treated to moments like this…

Sorry Glenn, but it was an amazing finish.

—  Tonight is my fantasy baseball draft, and I’m psyched.  After years of bad luck, and bad drafts, I think I’m ready to bring home the 2011 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball Championship.  Next week, I begin the Yahoo Fantasy Hockey playoffs as the #4 seed, so I have to continue this run of success with my baseball entry, “Big Dog 4031”.  Unlike most fans, I only ever operate one fantasy baseball team.  I’m not that bright, so having to concentrate on more then one team would result in subpar performances from my teams, and I can’t have that.  My fantasy fans deserve better from their owner.  And who knows…in the land of fantasy baseball…anything is possible.

—  This isn’t sports related, but I felt it necessary to mention that last week, one of the last legends from the Golden Era of Hollywood passed away.  Elizabeth Taylor died at 79 years of age from complications associated with being an icon for 6 decades.  Say what you will about her marriages, drug abuse, and the way she lived her final days, Elizabeth Taylor was in fact, a legend, a two-time Oscar winner, and one beautiful woman.  She was no Rita Hayworth, my personal favorite, but for 60 years, Ms. Taylor was what we came to expect from 1950’s Hollywood.  Besides Marilyn Monroe, she may have been the most iconic figure from 50’s-60’s Hollywood, and she will be missed.  Rest in Peace, Ms. Taylor, you earned it.

—  On Friday night, the Baltimore Blast hosted the Milwaukee Wave in the MISL Championship Game.  They lost, 17-6.  I have been a Blast fan for years, and have always enjoyed going to their games.  The names Whitman, Ronson, Stankovic, Manning, Mobilio, Cooper, and Stamenkovic are as much a part of my youth as the names of Ripken, Murray, and Weaver.  Even when the original Blast team dissolved after the 1992 season and returned as the Spirit (1992-1998), I remained a fan because the game of indoor soccer is the kind of fast paced, hockey-style action that actually makes soccer watchable.  I even tried my hand at playing indoor soccer about 10-11 years ago.  Needless to say, I wasn’t very good.  But the game itself is a lot of fun.  Wasn’t a fan when they added the 2 and 3-point shots, but anything that keeps a game from ending 0-0, is a plus.  And yes, even though I follow the English Premier League, I still can’t completely come to grips with soccer because at times, it’s kind of a waste of 90 minutes when no one scores.  Either way, our Blast lost in the title game, and haven’t won a league championship since the 2008-09 season.  However, when you consider the fact that our other teams, not named the Mariners, haven’t won a title since the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl Championship, the Blast have been extremely successful, and deserve a standing ovation for once again representing Baltimore.  We miss you Denison!!  I know it’s a different sport, but rooting for the Blast makes me think of this fight song….

…for Baltimore, and Maryland, every Skipjacks (Bandits, Spirit, Blast) fan will shout…FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!!!!

Another episode of Around the Horn has come to an end, and in keeping with tradition, I leave you with one of my favorite songs of all time.  I thought long and hard about how I wanted to end this, and I gave a lot of consideration to the Bealtes’ classic “The long and winding Road” because this was the longest ATH I have crafted.  But to be honest, I’m not a fan of that song, so, I leave you with this…..

As always….enjoy.

Go Caps!!!!!