#1 – Buck’s Orioles Growing on Me Like a Well Kept Beard
Regardless of the logistics and profitability (or lack thereof) in televising spring training baseball games, it would seem that a team that owns a network should be able to do such things, and while I’m aware that it’s not a practice carried on throughout Major League Baseball, I’m also aware that the league only began televising their own draft last year, so just because they aren’t doing it now doesn’t mean that there is no market for it or profit/benefit in it. At this time of year as our thoughts turn to warm weather and baseball, it would be nice to turn our TVs there too.
I’m not sure whether the decision not to televise comes down to it actually costing the team or just not providing enough profit to justify it. In either case, I’d have to imagine that if televising spring training (home) games served no other purpose they’d at least do a better job at generating fan interest than those silly in-house commercials that they produce and run all season long trying to convince folks who are already watching the games to watch games. To that end I’d presume they could justify it as pseudo-advertising if nothing else.
Needless to say I was happy to get a chance to lay eyes on the team first hand in their game against the Yankees on Monday, and although I love a pitchers’ duel as much as any baseball purist, no runs scored on either side was a bit disappointing. The game itself served as a reminder, perhaps (counter) to my initial point that in spring training there are too many individual agendas at play (pitchers working specific pitches, batters not subscribing to particular game situations) to make for interesting or at least competitive games.
The highlight of the night for me though (narrowly beating out Reynolds laser the other way) was the in game interview with Buck Showalter. At one point, when asked to opine on the notable upgrades to Ed Smith Stadium he said something to the effect of “another excuse eliminated”. For long suffering Orioles fans, this is music to our ears.
What it says to me is that Buck is aware that the team has a perception problem that will linger for as long as they continue to buy into it themselves. It was a nice insight (a nugget if you will) into Showalter’s approach in trying to change the clubhouse culture. Reports by the Baltimore Sun indicating that Showalter had gotten the club to loosen its stance on the facial hair policy is another excuse eliminated I think. While it seems like a small thing, if the team has a perception problem and knows it, then there’s no reason to add to their challenges with frivolous policies. It may seem like a small thing, but much like the hair on the chin’s of Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero, Showalter is growing on me, and lots of other fans too I’d imagine.
#2 – Brackets Already Busted
If you haven’t yet fully come to assess the potential effects of the expansion of the NCAA Tournament field to 68 teams, you’d better get a hold of it by Sunday night, as it’s going to impact your bracket pools this time in ways that the addition of the 65th team never did.
The first four play-in games to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week in Dayton Ohio will not be made up of the worst 8 teams in the field as I think most people still suspect. Instead the 4 lowest division winners (seeds 65-68) will be pitted against each other in Dayton with the winners of those games advancing to the 16-line in the tourney and being destroyed by #1 seeds. As with the 64 vs. 65 game in years past, this can be seen as a foregone conclusion and may not even merit picking, a policy that most pools have seemingly adopted.
The other two games in Dayton though will feature the 34th – 37th at large teams and matching them up against each other. The winners of those games will be inserted into the field presumably on the 11th or 12th lines depending on actual seeding. That means match-ups on the 6 vs. 11 and the infamous 5 vs. 12 lines in the first round have just gotten a lot tougher to pick.
Will pools adopt a system where the play in winners are considered wildcards and can be advanced as such or will all of your pools have to be in before Tuesday night? How much harder does it become to pick a 12-seed to upset a 5 if you have a 50/50 shot at determining who that 12-seed will even be? You can bet that folks you know who always pick at least one 12-seed in the first round will now be compelled to do that in the regions where play-ins determine the 16-seeds and the 12-seeds are predetermined.
I think I’m most interested to see if the NCAA will play the 4 lowest overall seeds all on Tuesday and the other (more interesting) games on Wednesday. Since a 16-seed has still yet to beat a #1, that would at least give everyone an extra day to get those brackets in. While the NCAA can’t and won’t publicly condone gambling, there’s no doubt that they owe a lot of the popularity of their event to the popularity of the pools that accompany it. It will be interesting to see if they play the lower seeds first and at least (in some way) acknowledge what they’re doing to bracket players everywhere who I am afraid aren’t yet ready for this.
#3 – Do Over for VCU
I got to talk to Tim Gardner from USA Today on Monday’s show (available in the Buy-A-Toyota.com Audio Vault) ahead of the CAA championship and the prospects therein, he indicated to me that both George Mason and Old Dominion had done enough for the committee regardless of the outcome of the title game to get themselves into the field of 68. He went on to say that if VCU won the game the CAA would likely see its first ever 3-team bid into the tourney.
VCU didn’t win, but they made a valiant effort. In the end the result was 70-65 Old Dominion with the Monarchs sewing up the CAA’s automatic bid and likely leaving VCU home for the dance. The end however isn’t what everyone seems to be talking about. The game started with a peculiar VCU turnover, they quickly got the ball back and buried a three-pointer. After forcing another quick turnover VCU guard Ed Nixon slipped on his way in for a lay-up, leading to a turnover and a three-pointer at the other end. Play was then stopped due to the excessive slipping going on under VCU’s basket, and a barrage of towel wielding employees went about wiping what was described by the game’s announcers as a film off of the floor at that end. The announcers blamed it on the fog machine used for pre-game intros and blamed the conference for not testing it as they were on a neutral floor for a conference title game.
It turns out that it wasn’t the fog machine. Yahoo sports reported that the film on the floor was actually baby powder, left there from Old Dominion’s mascot “Big Blue’s” attempt at a pre-game LeBron James impersonation. Although the score was 3-3 at the time of the stoppage, and could have played out in a number of conceivable ways from there out, the two turnovers and resultant 3-pointer the other way possibly as a direct result of the floor issues could have cost the Rams as much as 9 points (lost and given up) to that stage of the game…on account of the ODU mascot.
With 3 extra berths available in the field this year, VCU deserves one; it’s the right thing to do. Who are they going to rob one from the 5th place SEC, ACC or PAC-10 finisher? Put them in the field in Dayton with a shot at the 12 spot if they advance. That would make me feel a little better about the mess they’re already projecting to make of the brackets this season. And VCU’s resume isn’t terrible; they beat UCLA early and an underrated Wofford team in December. They’re 2-1 against a strong George Mason squad and 1-2 after Monday’s loss against Old Dominion. Give them a redo, and get the mascots and cheerleaders away from the court, before they really cost someone a game.