Sport and Spectacle.

"Run for the Roses," a Top-5 Sports Slogan.

I lamented last weekend’s lack of viable sporting options.  Well, in a country as great as the US of A, such lulls don’t last.  We’re right back in the saddle (see what I did there) this weekend.  The stinking, god forsaken Mets are in town.  The golf tournament is ten times better (Tiger might miss the cut, what?), playoff hockey is back on Saturday afternoon, and oddly enough it is that hockey that will provide the perfect lead-in for the biggest event of the weekend…The Kentucky Derby.  That’s right, the one day a year that the country as a whole comes together to watch some horse racing.  The Run for the Roses, the most exciting two-minutes in sports, whatever you want to call it, it’s a good time.

People love the spectacle.  And, that is what separates the event, allows it to still have a presence in a time when horse racing in general isn’t terribly popular.  It’s a little bit like the Masters in some ways.   Take the guys in green jackets away from Augusta National and they look ridiculous, ditto the ladies in hats at Churchill Downs.   I’ve had a fair amount of experience with horse people.  Not necessarily racing, but just horse people in general.  It’s an interesting lot.  I think there’s probably some untapped reality show potential out there, but bottom line, people are curious, so they watch.

And deep down, hibernating in the core of America, there is still that potential to get completely captivated by an animal.  I think my Derby post last year was mostly about Secretariat, and I posted the links to the Sports Century episode.  I’ll be honest.  I could watch race horse documentaries pretty much all day long.  They are riveting.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  People, for the most part, are soft.  If some “super horse” emerged from the pack, you’d see a bandwagon forming pretty quickly.  Not like Secretariat, but it would get a ton of publicity.  A horse like Barbaro might have been on his way years back before the accident at the Preakness, and there was a little blip last year when Rachel Alexandra was challenging the boys.  Bottom line, if a horse makes a run at a Triple Crown, people are going to be interested.

I hear the weather is going to be a nightmare down there tomorrow, which is a shame.  Mostly for the people packed into the infield.  What a mess that will be.  The hat wearing Southern gentry should be all right in the grandstands.  The stark contrast of the crowds between the infield and grandstand is another interesting issue about horse racing, but we’ll save that for one of many diversions into socio-economic theory.  Good news is, there will be plenty of nice weather elsewhere around the nation.  Get the people together, throw on some seersucker, a frilly hat, mix up a mint julep, and catch the race.  It’s the American thing to do.  Have a good weekend.  Oh, should I pick it?  Ok, I’d throw a little exacta box around Sydney’s Candy and Ice Box.  If you want the long shot, how could you avoid Homeboykris at 50-1?

Checking the Pulse of the Flyers Bandwagon.

Flyers Prepare for the B's. Not the C's. The B's.

At the beginning of the playoffs I warned Flyers fans to be cautious.  Take a wait and see approach.  That is what my game plan was.  I thought they might have a shot to beat Jersey, but I assumed the Capitals and their daunting offense would be waiting in the second round.  Bad news.  Well, the combined efforts of a choking team, my jinx, and Jaroslav Halat sent the Capitals to an early summer vacation.  Mix that in with the other upsets and the Flyers end up facing the Boston Bruins in round two.  A much more favorable opponent on paper.

So, the question is, do we completely throw ourselves into Flyers mania?  The standard Flyers fan move at this point is to assume the Bruins are pushovers and start contemplating the Eastern Conference Finals.  That’s the tempting thing to do, people are already doing it, but that leaves you open for the signature Flyers nut shot.  If you remember, this is what I’ve been trying to avoid.  So, in the spirit of superstition, or self-preservation, I’m going to try to remain a half-step back away from the action. At least for one more series.  After all, it worked against Jersey.  If they somehow get past this series, I’ll probably end up there with everyone else, happily awaiting the latest disappointment.  Couple things to look at in this series…

1.  It should be a close series.  The Bruins don’t score a lot of goals, and they don’t give up a lot either.  The Flyers are down some key offensive personnel.   They’re going to play a lot of close games, decided by special teams and goaltending.  A long series, at least six games feels more likely than a short one.

2.  Hey Look, it’s Mark Recchi.  Recchi, whose age I can’t even speculate about at this point, led the Bruins in points in the first round against Buffalo.  Recchi had a couple of stints with the Flyers, the most recent ending when it looked like there wasn’t much left in the tank.  He keeps reinventing himself, though, and here he is.  But, while it’s a nice story, and he’s playing decent hockey, if Mark Recchi is one of your biggest offensive threats in 2010, your offense is a little lacking.  To reiterate, not playing the ’85 Oilers here.

3.  The goalies will probably decide it.  Were Brian Boucher and Tuukka Rask expected to outplay Marty Brodeur and Ryan Miller in the first round?  Probably not, but they did, and they are the major reason why these teams meet in the 2nd round.  Rask took the starting job in Boston and never let it go.  Boucher became the goalie by default, but played his best in the five games against Jersey.  Bruins probably have a slight edge in this category, I just can’t quite fully trust Boucher.

4.  Who’s going to score for the Flyers?  You look at the four lines with Carter and Gagne missing, and it doesn’t inspire a lot of faith in the offense.  Richards/Carcillo/Giroux is going to have to continue to be a top performing line for the Flyers.  The pressure on Mike Richards is immense, so far he’s handled it well.  There’s a shot Gagne comes back at some point in this series, but Danny Briere has to play well, and the Flyers will likely need another contributor, whether it continues to be Giroux, or if JVR can step up, or Hartnell can wake up, someone has to score.

5.  Who to hate?  Well, the logical choice is Zdeno Chara.  Added bonus:  He’s a former Senator!  Anyway, Chara is the giant 6′ 9″ defensemen.  You can’t miss him out there.  He’s always a target for me.  Other than that, the B’s aren’t a team that inspires a lot of hate.  They’ve been under the radar for a while, so it’s nothing like facing Jersey, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, even Toronto or NY.  I guess if you want a backup plan, you can spit some fire at Miroslav Satan.  He has residual Buffalo hatred still on him.

That pretty much gives you the rundown.  Series starts Saturday afternoon.  National TV baby!  Get fired up.

Lidge Back Among Other Things.

Hey, Mr. Gasoline Can, Blow a Save for Me.

The Phillies have blown four saves this year.  I attempted to look it up, and four is the number I came up with.  Seems a little low.  Then I thought, four a month, six months, twenty-four blown saves…I guess that sounds about right.  The struggling bullpen will get a little boost, at least on paper with the return of Brad Lidge this weekend.  So much for Antonio Bastardo sticking as a left-handed reliever, he’s headed to Lehigh Valley.  Lidge has been pretty effective, especially as he closed out his rehab assignments, and has gotten his fastball into the low nineties.  What we learned last year with Lidge, though, is that it’s mostly about command.  His fastball is ok at 92 mph if he can locate.  That’s a big if right now, but a lot of fans would feel better if Lidge could provide some stability in the pen, especially since the non-Halladay’s are averaging about 5 innings a start.  I think it’s a good bit mental for Lidge, which is why I suggest he change his music to “Still D.R.E.” the renowned Dre and Snoop track.   Sick beat, appropriate lyrics, I’m mostly serious about this.

Another pitcher Phillies fans should have a keen interest in will also return on Friday.  Cliff Lee will finally make a start for the Mariners, and we can really get the hindsight and second guessing cranked up.  With the way Hamels, Moyer and Kendrick have pitched, every good start from Lee is going to feel like a dagger.  And if he starts off with a good one a few days after the Phils dropped 125 milly on Ryan Howard, I assume a couple of people might completely lose it.  Will I?  I’m not sure.  There’s potential there, but not yet, not in April.  If Lee finishes out this season in the 16-6 neighborhood there will be a lot of eye-rolling, purposeful exhaling, and vitriol from me.  I’m a little torn, I don’t want Mother Lovin’ to fail, but I don’t know if I can take a full summer of being haunted by him.

Unrelated Golf….Sports Illustrated rolled out its annual player’s survey today.  A lot of interesting stuff.   Especially on the topic of Tiger. Tiger, by the way, started poorly at Quail Hollow with a 74.  He’s still hitting it all over the planet, and as I said, you can’t do that and get away with it like you can at Augusta.  But, getting back to the survey….  The real bombshell is that 1/4 of respondents believe that Tiger has used HGH or some form of performance enhancing drug.  This obviously trumps the affairs a million times over as a sports story.  Of course, almost the exact same percentage said their perception of Tiger has been tarnished.  So, perhaps Tiger has turned a quarter of the Tour into enemies, or maybe the scandalous life of Tiger Woods could get even more scandalous.  Who knows.  Interesting 2-minute read, though, if you haven’t seen it.  Some good non-Tiger categories as well.

My Most Hated Teams.

That Finger Has Probably Been in some Shady Places.

Little article at ESPN today about some study that declared the Indians as the most despised team in baseball.  Clearly someone who has ever seen a baseball game was not in charge of this research.  The Indians are probably disliked by their own fan base, but on a national level?  No one cares about the Indians.  They’re the Indians.  So, I thought we probably needed a more accurate list of hated teams.  Or at least one that makes sense, to me.  The criteria for this was (along with 4 or 5 minutes of intense thought), a) how much do I like the sport, b) rivalry issues, c) the team’s success, d) the team’s tendency to acquire players I hate, and finally e) intangible hate.  Let’s get going…

Baseball First.

1.  The Yankees.  It’s funny that for the first 2/3 of my life the Yankees were basically an afterthought.  Then I went to college, and experienced the Connecticut Yankees fan, maybe the worst incarnation.  That planted the seed, followed by them winning every year, the incredibly awkward Mets/Yankees World Series, Scott A-Trocious and all those mutts, the sense of entitlement, and of course last season.  Welcome to the top spot.

2. The Braves.  Tomahawk Chop.  Mutt starting rotation that thought they were on the PGA Tour, 10 straight division titles (9 collapses), white trash closers, the fact that no one realizes Larry Jones is kind of a dirt bag, fans who can’t be bothered to sell out playoff games, Leo Mazzone getting credit for anything (Nice job in Baltimore LEO!), Bobby Cox arguing everything, really…if you paid ‘em a little attention you’d hate the Braves.

The Rest:  Mets, Dodgers, Cardinals.

Football:

1.  The Cowboys.  Moose Johnston, an unprecedented run of unlikeable head coaches, the notion they are somehow “America’s Team,” a lot of their players end up being wildly overrated (Michael Irvin, I’m looking at you), their fans are everywhere and are complete front-runners, Tony Romo as a quarterback, Tony Romo as a man, watching them lose is one of the great pleasures in sport, they take away from the always loved Southern accent, throw in the non-baseball specific Yankees stuff, and that’s about it.

2.  The Colts.  What’s the opposite of a Bucket List, because put visiting Indianapolis on the top of that.  The dislike is 90% Manning related.  His face, his hand signals, his innumerable back-breaking interceptions, the troubling fact I thought he was funny on SNL.  I dislike all dome teams.  I hate the notion they made one good draft pick and all of a sudden they are the model organization for all-time.  What about the previous dozen years when you stunk?  And, this didn’t impact me in any way, but that whole leaving Baltimore thing…shady.

The Rest:  I hate almost every NFL Team…Giants, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Jets, Redskins…that’s probably the next echelon.

Hockey:

1.  The Devils.  Thanks for ruining hockey with your garbage defensive system.   From Ken Daneyko to Patrick Elias I’ve hated almost every single player they’ve ever had.  Scott Stevens was a criminal.   I hate all teams that were ever associated with the Meadowlands complex.  I hate them the 2000 Conference Finals, their uniforms are awful, they ruined Putty for me.  Long list.  Long.

2.  The Senators.  I’ll keep this short, because this one is odd and no one cares, but I hate the Senators.  What is Ottawa, anyway?  I’m joking, but really they’re an expansion team with a fake history.  Daniel Alfredsson, et. al.  I generally consider them to be an unworthy adversary, and have you ever seen a Senators fan?  I know they’re up there in Canada, but really…even the handful of people I know from Canada hate the Senators.

Others:  Rangers, Pens, Red Wings.

Basketball:

1. The Lakers.  The only team I’m paying attention to right now, just waiting for them to lose.  They fit the hated player rule to perfection.  Brian Shaw, Rick Fox, Bob Horry, Gasol…I could go on for days and days.  I think Kobe’s a fraud.  Phil Jackson and his faux-intellectualism can take a walk.  I got a book for you to read, Phil, its called:  Try coaching a team that Sucks.  Purple and Yellow?  Really?  I really hate this team.

Random Golfers I’ve Hated over the Years, Just for Ghits and Shiggles…

Seve, Chris DiMarco, Mark O’Meara, Nick Faldo, Sergio, Bernie Langer and Tom Lehman.

Mets: World Champions of April.

Nice Wrist Band.

I wasn’t feeling too good about the Phillies.  Even with their comeback win on Wednesday afternoon, things weren’t looking great.  Another blown save, another lackluster 8+ innings out of the offense, and the only thing that kept the Giants from sweeping was some well-timed over-managing from Bruce Bochy.  To put it lightly, the team isn’t exactly clicking on all cylinders.  They’ve slipped out of first place for the first time since May of last year, and with a relatively tough stretch of games coming up, I was starting to wonder exactly what kind of team we had here.  The series with the Mets didn’t really catch my eye.  They might be “hot,” but we’re still talking about the Mets.    No, my thoughts were all Phillies-centric until I stumbled upon this little gem at ESPN New York under the headline, “Bring on Philly.”  Here’s the intro to the article:

The steamroller otherwise known as the New York Mets has a full tank of gas and is pointed toward Philadelphia.  The Mets played like a first-place team Wednesday afternoon — which is what they are, remarkably, after punctuating a historic 9-1 homestand with a 7-3 win over the Dodgers.

Been a while since you did anything worthwhile, eh Mets?  My goodness.  A steamroller.  A four games over .500 steamroller.   What are the Rays, a nuclear submarine?   The whole concept of these ESPN city websites annoys me, especially when they are linked on the main page.  Oh, more New York news?  Great.  The fact that it was a Mets story though, and after a hot week they’ve pumped themselves up into this contender set me off a bit.  I’m not so concerned about the Phillies anymore, I’m more concerned about putting the Mets and their atrocious fan base back in line.

I have many memories of Mets fans.  They used to invade the Vet in droves back in the day when they had the greatest group of coke heads ever assembled to play baseball together.  Way to fall ass backwards into one championship with Dwight Gooden and Straw, well played. Something to really be proud of.  Anyway, back in those days, the Phillies fans didn’t have much to get excited about.  That fateful year, 1986, was supposed to be encouraging, because the Phils finished in 2nd place, something like 26 games out.  Very heartening.   If they could have gotten a bounce or two for a month straight…things might have been different.  So, this distaste for Mets fans is deep-seated, and still a little bit of a sensitive issue.  Since the tables have turned, we want them to stay that way.

So, if I may be blunt.  Simmer down Mets.  If you want to be crowned the champions of April, go right ahead and make yourselves a construction paper tiara.  Hot in April, pigs in September.  It’s more fun this way.  Last year, when you were god awful from the opening bell, it just wasn’t quite the same.  So, keep telling yourself that Jeff Francouer isn’t going to get ice-cold, and that Mike Pelfrey is a new man, and that Jason Bay is worth anything approaching his contract.  Your enthusiasm is adorable.  It really is.  Maybe you can take the bags off your head.  And when you get re-adjusted to the light, maybe you’ll realize you just had a couple of weeks of hot pitching.  Nothing else.  The Padres won eight in a row too, but I guess that was more of a bulldozer move.

All I can say is welcome, Mets, god dang it, welcome.  And thanks for reigniting some positive thoughts about my own team.  I may even be pulling for Jamie Moyer on Sunday.  See if he can send you back to Queens and your shiny new stadium with the most humiliating of defeats.  Enjoy first place while it lasts…all the way into May if you’re lucky.

The Outrageous Lock of the Century.

Frauds.

This time of year brings one of the great phenomenons in sport.  The elimination game blowout.  Hockey feels like the poster child for this fascinating occurrence.  It happens in other sports as well, but my memories are clouded by the Flyers hanging around in a series only to get absolutely demolished 7-0 in the clincher.  It happened last night.  Detroit cruised into Phoenix, and on the road put a 6-1 beating on the Coyotes.  Is that the best you can do Phoenix?  A five goal spanking at home?  It’s just a ruthless and brutal thing for fans to swallow. Deep down you know you are inferior, you spend a week and half convincing yourself you have a chance, and then a total letdown.  You probably set-up your whole day to watch game seven, and before the pizza even cools off, it’s 3-0 and you know it’s over.

This does happen in other sports.   Not that Stewart Cink is a dominant force, but it kind of happened in the British Open last year.  No one really thought Tom Watson was going to win the playoff, right?  It happens in the NCAA tournament when an underdog squeaks into overtime, only to get throttled in that 5-minute session.   It can happen in baseball when you run out of pitching, or most any sport, I guess.  The part that interests me the most is what role does the loser play in this?  How often do they pack it in?  How many times does that underdog get down a quick couple buckets in overtime, and resign themselves to their fate?  Did the Coyotes lose all their life after the first couple goals last night?  Was there a feeling like they were cheating fate by even being in the seventh game.   It’s just odd that you can play a full series so closely matched, and then get the lopsided finish.

Another thing it made me think about was betting these games.  At first glance it looked like a good opportunity.  A tightly contested series, but you get that feeling one team is just certainly going to win.   We have the scenario playing out for the second straight night in the NHL.  The Capitals are the number one seed and they are at home.  I expect them to completely blow the Canadiens off the ice tonight, much like the Red Wings dispatched Phoenix.  I decided to check the line.  The Habs have won 2 straight, they have given the Caps all they want.  Perhaps there was a decent price waiting.  Think again.  Vegas is all over this, obviously.  Washington is (-310).  310!  In a game seven.  That sort of clinches it right there doesn’t it?  The Caps are most likely the lock of the century.*

*This is what is known as attempting to put a big giant hexola on the Capitals.  I firmly believe Washington will win tonight, but this combined with my mini-hex last week when I said the Habs were finished, may be enough to put them over the top.  The benefit, of course, is that the Flyers would face the scrappy Bruins as opposed to the explosive Caps in the 2nd round.  I’ll take that.  Even if I have to put up with sudden Bruin fan, JCK.  The man who spent our entire college career claiming that the Bruins and hockey both sucked.  Hard.  But, playoff hockey is magic.  Maybe they should just cancel the regular season, play 4 mini-Stanley cup playoff series, then the four winners face off in the ultimate hockey playoff final four.   I’m on board, and so are all the bandwagon jumpers and chest painters, like the frauds pictured above.

Tiger Back Again, Still Getting Babied.

Creative Silk Screening Not Allowed.

The PGA Tour bounces back from the forgetting Zurich Classic with the Quali Hollow Championship this week.  This is one of the lucky events where the players decide they like the date and the golf course.  Long story short, players you have heard of actually show up. Among them will be Tiger Woods, who appears to be falling back into a regular schedule.  His comment about “reevaluating” after the Masters was probably a creative way of saying he didn’t feel like answering any questions.  The buzz around Woods has already dropped exponentially from my vantage point.  This is his first event away from the controlled confines of Augusta National, but I get the sense that any real Tiger backlash has lost momentum.

Just to be sure decorum is maintained, Quail Hollow is planning on enforcing a strict behavior policy.  If you purchased a ticket you also got a friendly reminder that offensive or derogatory signs, t-shirts, shouts, whatever…would not be acceptable.  You’d have better luck with flash photography, it seems.  Obviously, this is a reminder necessary only because of Tiger Woods.  There’s no sign man at PGA Tour stops.  I don’t think Tiger needs to be verbally heckled, but a creative t-shirt or two could have been amusing.  Given this kind of material, the creative types usually rise to the occasion.  No dice, though, Quail Hollow is going to keep everyone in check, and rightfully so.  Like I said earlier in the week, gotta keep Tiger happy.  Don’t want him throwing a temper tantrum and banning your event from his schedule.

Even without Woods, the event brings in a pretty nice field.  The biggest name missing is probably Ernie Els, who leads the Fed Ex Cup Standings, but life will go on without Big Ern.  Phil Mickelson plays for the first time since the Masters as well, and 2008 champion Anthony Kim should get some attention as well coming off a win in Houston and a strong finish at Augusta.  Even Fred is playing!  Slow, golf clap for Freddie.   Freddie scored Michael Jordan in the pro-am today.  Take a suck of that, Tiger.  Tiger might not want to be photographed with his Airness of Vegas these days, but really if I’m MJ, I’d rather play with Fred every time.

I’m interested to see what kind of game Tiger comes up with this week.  Tiger won’t be able to perform as many miraculous acts of escape as he did at Augusta, and so we should get a better idea of where his game is at on the whole.   Tiger’s building up to a serious run of events, a series where he’s had a lot of success.  Aside from the this week and the Players you have the Memorial, the US Open, Tiger’s own AT&T National.  This is the time of year when Tiger has usually left the field in his wake.  We’ll see if that happens this year.  And, speaking of the AT&T National that is going to be played at Aronomink over in Newtown Square, Tiger did officially commit last week.  Information about the event and tickets can be found HERE. Daily passes for practice rounds starting at $20, weekly badges from $200.   Just cancel the T-shirt order.

Phils Need a Slow Burn.

Utley's Streaky Nature can be Frustrating.

No one goes one for three every game.  You get hot, you get cold, it’s the way baseball goes.  The Phillies take this to an extreme.  The first ten games they couldn’t make an out, the next ten brought a quick descent to reality.  It’s easy to see the Phillies have flaws.  The pitching, my goodness, that’s a whole other story, but what the Phillies define themselves with is their offense.  It is supposed to be feared, American League like, everything else.  Sometimes this is the case.  The only problem is, there are stretches like we’re experiencing currently where the Phils can’t get out of their own way.  Runs become scarce.  Pitchers like Todd Wellemeyer and Ian Kennedy, who haven’t gotten anyone out all year, suddenly find a groove.  It’s incredibly frustrating.

I know the Phils have faced slightly better pitching and are missing Jimmy Rollins in the lineup, but they have to be better than this.  You hear baseball people occasionally say, “he’s a guy that can get hot and carry a team.”  This isn’t really true, of course.  Jayson Werth has been the lone bright spot for about a week, but there was only one game where that was enough.  The Phils probably need at least two of the big guys to be hot at the same time to be competitive.  If they hit three, look out.  That’s not they way you win long-term, though, or win when it really matters.  Look at the Series last year.  Chase Utley was on fire, they got a couple long balls here and there, but other than that, not much was happening.  Ryan Howard struck out a ton, and they went home in six.  Not that it was all the offense’s fault, but that is where the lion’s share of the talent on this team is located.

I was hoping this year would bring another consistent season out of Shane Victorino.  I thought that combined with the arrival of Polanco, a hundred percent Chase Utley, and a faster starting Jimmy Rollins could keep the Phils out of stretches like the one we’re witnessing right now.  It hasn’t happened.  Victorino has gotten off to a slow start, Rollins is hurt, and Polanco got a month’s worth of hits in 10 days, and then shut it down.  In some ways, Utley is the most disappointing.  You just expect so much out of him, and you look at the numbers at the end of the season, and he appears to be the picture of consistency.  Those totals hide slumps, though.  Some longer than others.  Last year we witnessed a month-long struggle for Chase.  I don’t want to beat up on Utley, but if everyone is convinced that he’s hands down the best player on the team and a perennial MVP candidate, shouldn’t we be seeing less 7 for 33′s like the one he’s on right now(with no homers)?

I don’t think the Phillies are ever going to figure this out.  They need a little more balance.  This is why I don’t think it would be the end of the World to let Jayson Werth go.  He’s another streaky offensive player.  Perhaps a more consistent if less dynamic player and some pitching help would be a better use of that money.  Take some of the heat off the offense for a change.  The good news is the Phillies are still in the sub-standard National League, where there appears to be an aversion to getting more than a few games over .500.  We are supposed to have loftier goals these days, though.  If the Phillies want to win, win everything, be a consistent contender, and one that doesn’t need to time the streaks right to win the World Series, they might benefit from a little tweak in philosophy.   Don’t worry though, Tim Lincecum on Wednesday.  They’ll probably bust right out of it.

Looking for Honest Opinions.

Here’s a video of Bobby Valentine saying that Marlins’ starter Josh Johnson is going to “come out of the closet,” for last night’s game. Valentine clearly has no idea what this phrase usually refers to, and lets us know by adding the generic, “if you will,” to the end of it. I don’t think he knows what that means either. It’s perfect timing for this, because last week I was watching Baseball Tonight and couldn’t believe the crimes and atrocities Bobby Valentine was committing against the English language. Bobby V may speak Japanese thanks to his run as a successful Japanese League manager, but stick him in front of the camera and English becomes a burden. The question I’m asking is, would you rather have trained TV people doing these shows, or listen to the experts, who are usually former players or managers?

I suppose the insight that a former manager or player can provide is valuable to the program, but there are so few of them who do a good a job in front of the camera. It makes life difficult for the host. They have to draw information out of these guys, keep them on topic, offer concise summaries of what they just rambled through, and keep a straight face when Bobby V drops a pearl like he did last night.

For me, the former players don’t add much. These shows are primarily news and highlight devices for me. I don’t watch Baseball Tonight to learn how to play baseball, or watch NFL Countdown to understand a certain blitz package. Seeing the former players in shirt and tie running through slow-motion plays on tiny fields doesn’t do much for me. It’s amusing when Michael Irvin’s tie comes up about three buttons short of normal, because his knot is the size of a grapefruit, but I don’t sit there and say, “Oh, bump and run coverage. Now, I get it!”

I think part of the problem is, the shows are too long. Too much dead time to fill. Three hours of NFL Countdown, and even with 12-15 games to talk about, you can run out of topics pretty quickly. That’s when the send the former players over there for the dog and pony show. For me, the more interesting content usually comes from the reporters. Kurkjian, or John Clayton, whoever. These are the guys that are connected, working, can’t rely on a .280 career average to get them their job. They usually have the news and insights.

I also don’t understand why ESPN feels the need to hire everyone. How many people do you need for Baseball Tonight? I suppose these guys can’t work full weeks, being former stars and all, so we get this mixed bag of Aaron Boone, Kruky, Orestres Destrade, Fernando Vina, Hershiser, Nomar, whoever. If they want to give guys a shot, that’s all right. There are occasional diamonds in the rough, but it feels like we have to cut through a lot of garbage to get to them. Be a little more selective, ESPN. Do a test. Dig up an old interview, see if the person is coherent. Something.

Obviously, you can tell that I’m not a huge fan of former player sitting in the studio taking up space. I’m open to hear arguments about why you like them, if that is the case. There are a couple of guys that I think do a decent job, I just wish the networks did a little bit better job of weeding them out, especially before they hit the air.

Hanging on the Lip.

One More Rotation.

(I’m going to diverge from the usual anecdote here.  No tales of being regrettably drunk, or witnessing misdemeanors.  Felt like writing this, hope you will oblige the change of pace with the promise we’ll be back to pedaling nonsense in no time.)

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If the thirteenth hole at Merion wasn’t right next to the clubhouse, I suppose it might look a little out-of-place.  The conditions remain pristine, the bunkering  is a high handicap’s worst nightmare, but considering the tests that lie ahead, the hole is fairly docile.  A par-three that can only stretch into the 130 yard range, it is the type of hole that makes you wonder exactly how Merion is going to deal with the 2013 U.S. Open.  I didn’t have such concerns the first time I came across the golf course.  By the thirteenth tee I’d progressed from terrified to merely walking on eggshells.  I’ve had nerves on the first tee of every significant round of golf I’ve ever played, but I never felt anything like I did that day.  Slapped across the face by golf history, it took me several holes to settle down, and even then I was keenly aware of myself.  An odd feeling to have on the golf course.

As the round moved on, my results had sprayed across a wide spectrum.  I birdied the first hole, and hit the flag stick on ten, which led to another birdie.  I’d say I was fated to play well if I hadn’t nearly clipped a member of the grounds crew with a screaming hook off the 5th tee.  There was also the moment where I stood in the 11th fairway after a perfect drive, and surveyed the green where Bobby Jones had won the Grand Slam.  Looking at the tiny target, I wondered how on Earth am I not going to hit this in the water?  I then hit it in the water. A couple of holes later we stood on the tee of the diminutive 13th.  The hole was 126 yards that day.   When I heard that number from the caddy, my first instinct was to think that it was a good yardage.  A real good one.

I hit a couple of golf shots that people who watch a lot of golf tend to find odd.  I have one where my tee shot skims along the grass of the tee box before chasing out there about 260-270.  That always gets an odd look followed by the question, “Did that hit the ground?”  Yes, it did, and I can’t really explain it.  Another one of my favorites is just a big, giant sand wedge.  Is it smart to go after sand wedge as hard as I do?  No, not particularly, but its a shot I’ve always hit and a shot I’ve always oddly believed in.  If I hit it hard enough, it’ll get there.  And, that’s what I was thinking that day on the tee.  I dropped the ball down onto the tee box, took a quick look, and hit it as hard as I could. Right away I knew I flushed it.  Perfect contact, huge divot that landed like a bag of potatoes dropped from a helicopter at the end of the tee box, and when I looked up, the ball was right on line.

Tracking the flag, we saw one hop, and then it disappeared.  Our view was hidden by one of the yawning bunkers.  There was a slight grumble on the tee as the possibility of the ball being extremely close or even in the hole was discussed.  My caddy chimed in, saying that in all his loops he’d never seen a hole-in-one.  I brushed it off, but the butterflies in my stomach returned to a first tee level.  What a story that would be, first time at Merion to ace the 13th.  The rest of the group hit, and my caddy showed outwardly the level of interest I was feeling inside about the result of my shot.  He walked quickly ahead of us, cresting the hill to give himself a clear view of the green.  He turned to face us, and held up his right hand, the thumb and forefinger spread not an inch apart.  He got over the non-ace quickly, I was fairly disappointed.

The caddy wasn’t exaggerating.  My ball hadn’t been more than an inch or two short of the hole, dead in the heart.  It was the length of putt even I can handle, and when reflecting on a third birdie, I thought a hole-in-one would have been a little gluttonous, especially for my first trip.  I tried to pay back the golf gods by neatly three putting the next green for bogey.  By the time we finished, the near ace had already lost a great deal of its luster.  An inch or two makes a big difference.  I thought about going home and tracking down a fellow golf loser or two.  They’d understand the significance, a near hole-in-one at Merion was a story that needed to be told.  I looked forward to making the calls, but as it turned out I never got to make them.

It was an odd twist of fate I think that I now remember that day more for what happened after the golf.  Not long after getting home I found myself in a veterinarian’s office.  For owners of dogs who have gone white in the face, there’s about a million other places you’d rather be.  I don’t want to say she’d been sick for a while, but she’d certainly slowed down.  Her name was Jammer, a decision I made while looking at a basketball poster before I was old enough to rightfully name a pet.  It led to a lot of gender confusion, but Jammer just rolled on oblivious to all, in line with her inimitable style.  The details aren’t really important, but that afternoon, while I was contemplating the stupid question of why the ball didn’t take one more turn, Jammer’s condition got acutely worse.

How do you know if you are a dog person?  I like to think that dog people are better adjusted to life.  They are used to things sometimes being out of their control.  They have a better sense of humor, and are generally more fun to be around.  I don’t know if these notions are true.  Perhaps I just have come to these conclusions to paint myself in a better light.  I think there is some truth to it all, though.  Regardless of the traits that make a dog person, there are moments when you feel it more than others.  Moments that ring in your very core, when it’s just you and your dog, and you know that is a relationship that helps define you.

I was overcome with the moment that afternoon.  Sitting there in the vet’s office with Jammer, who when I think about it honestly was one of the true constants of my childhood, an unflappable companion.   The bargaining I was doing at that point had nothing to do with golf, but even if I wasn’t hearing what the vet was saying, I knew what he was saying.  And from that point on, it was just the final moments when I wondered why it took me so long to realize that Jammer had more heart than I’d ever have.  I looked in her eyes and there wasn’t an ounce of fear.  If anything she looked sorry for me, sorry she had gotten sick and brought me to the vet.  Unwavering loyalty and trust, trust to make the right decision, even when it was the hardest one I ever made.

Years later, Jammer is why I remember that day.  I don’t think of it often, though I think of her frequently.  My memories drift to lighter occasions.  I have to say that I’m glad the ball didn’t go in the hole that day.  Hole-in-one stories are ones you have to tell, and I know what I’d really be thinking about when I told it.  It’s what I think of now when forced to retell the story of my first visit to Merion.  I know now, though, that sometimes it’s better if the ball doesn’t drop.  There’s more important things in life than a Titleist hanging on the lip.