Lake Show and the C’s.

Plenty of History.

Is this what the NBA wanted?  I suppose Kobe vs. LeBron would have been more appealing, but as far as consolation prizes go, the two most successful franchises in NBA history is a decent spot to land.  Surely we would rather watch this than Lakers/Magic part II, right?  I guess the question I am getting at is, how many truly national sporting events are there anymore?  Are sports becoming even more regional?  I’m saying this as someone who is completely invested in the Stanley Cup Finals, but has little to no interest in the NBA Finals.  I would expect Boston and LA fans to have the exact opposite opinion.  Hockey?  Maybe in Chicago and Philly they care, but that’s about it. Is the NBA so much better?

How many basketball fans are out there?  Or hockey, or baseball, or even football for that matter?  I’m not talking about fans of the team, or fans of a particular player, I mean fans of the sport.  In order of preference I’d rank the big four this way for me personally, 1. Baseball t2. Football t2. Hockey 4. Basketball.  For me this means I’d take a Phillies World Series over anything else, I like going to baseball games, I probably watch more baseball than other sports, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I watch random baseball.  You’d never catch me with the MLB package.  I know a couple of people who have it, and they happily watch almost any game that comes on.  This impresses the hell out of me.  I don’t know that I could do that.

The other sports are not much different.  You can just toss the NBA aside, but hockey has a large gap between the team I follow and my interest in the sport in general.  I never played hockey, don’t watch it at any other level aside from the NHL (and Olympics every 4 yrs), and I certainly don’t tune in for random games on Versus, yet the Flyers are probably my second favorite team.  Football is the easiest sport for me to watch without an interest, but I find there are less games each year that have my attention.  Is this a personal maturation?  Have I found other things to do with my time, or has there been a little bit of a shift in the sports culture?

Ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals are up, and I imagine Boston/LA will do far better than last year’s NBA Finals, but I wonder how many people will watch the series simply to watch basketball.   I think the general, non-affiliated fan is a dying breed.  Maybe there is too much coverage these days.  Back when TVs were pieces of furniture you’d be lucky to catch a baseball game or two a week.  If it happened to be two teams you didn’t care about, well tough sh*t.  You watched anyway just to watch baseball.  Now, you can see every single Phillies game on television, and even if you had the heart to watch them all, how much other baseball could you stomach?  Combined with all the other forms of media, we become hyper focused on the hometown teams.

I guess I am just wondering if the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals are events the country really cares about. They seem more like celebrations for the two cities involved while elsewhere people hardly bat an eye. Why watch Lakers/Celts when I can watch the Phillies blow another one, or listen to people talk about them blowing another on the Phillies TV station? Long story short, I don’t care about the NBA Finals.

The Confluence of Hype.

Harper Likes Eye Black; Hitting Bombs.

I think it was last week the Nationals announced they’d made a decision on the first pick in the MLB Draft.  They didn’t reveal the name, but the consensus is that Bryce Harper will be the first name called on Monday.   Harper’s total domination of the junior college level using a wooden bat has only cemented his status as one of the best power prospects of all-time.  In what is a top heavy draft, filled with some great teenage talent, Harper stands alone as the once in a generation type power hitter.   Just for sake of comparison, the two other teenagers expected to go in the top-5 are Manny Machado (a Miami area shortstop) and Jameson Taillon the latest in a line of Texas power arms who is coming out Woodlands High School.  I assume you’ve never heard of either of those two guys, and rightfully so.  They’ve never been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Harper’s hype is almost unmatched, ESPN put together a list of hyped prospects of the past.  Their careers have produced mixed results.

The odd thing about that list of hyped prospects is the guy that Harper might replace at the top could someday be his battery mate.  Stephen Strasburg was taken last year by Washington and was considered possibly the best college pitching prospect ever.  He was said to be MLB ready, commanded a record bonus, it wasn’t something you see every year, but here we are one year later and the situation is repeating itself.  Same team, different prospect, but more hype.  Strasburg, who is several years older, will get to make good on his hype long before Bryce Harper.  In fact, he’s scheduled to make his first start on Tuesday, the day after the Nationals will likely take Harper number one overall.  Could Harper possibly be flown in to be in the building to see Strasburg’s debut?  I think Harper is occupied with the Junior College World Series, but that would certainly be an interesting sight.  The Nationals future crossing paths for the first time.

I hesitate to overstate the importance of these two days for Washington.  Strasburg’s debut carries much more weight that any draft pick, even Harper, but for a scuffling franchise, any time you can bundle positive news like this it is a good thing.  With all due respect to Ryan Zummerman, the Nationals are a team that could use a face, a signature player.  It could be Strasburg, or perhaps they will have to wait a bit longer for Harper to emerge.  If he becomes the face, hopefully he gets over his affinity for eye black.  How long will we have to wait for the verdict on all this hype?  I imagine even the most aggressive predictions would have Harper in the Minor Leagues at least until 2012 or 2013, and it probably depends on if they can get him signed and on a roster this summer, if he misses this half-season 2012 is most certainly out the window.

So, its a waiting game for Nationals fans and all baseball fans in general, but for a couple days next week when Harper is selected and Strasburg takes the mound for the first time it’ll possibly be a little glimpse into the future. And we’ll all be able to speculate what might happen when all this hype collides.

Worst. Call. Ever.

Ties and 3 Steps Short go to the Runner.

Count me among the masses that had never heard of Armando Galarraga before Wednesday Night.  And count me among those who didn’t know a thing of his perfect game bid until after the game ended as well.  The circumstances, though, might make this one of the most famous umpiring blunders in history, and jt could even be the impetus for major change in the sport.  I think I can say without hesitation that Jason Donald (Cliff Lee trade, what?) being called safe at first with two outs in the ninth was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen an umpire make in any situation.  Factor in Galarraga going for a perfect game, though, and it becomes a highlight that will live for years.  Tim Kirkjian said it was a call that the umpires get right 100,000 out of 100,001 times.  The numbers may even be larger than that.  The logical conclusion everyone is coming to is, where’s instant replay?

I’ve been anti-instant replay in baseball for a long time.  I don’t love it in any sport actually, but the fact is, if you have the ability to watch replays it is hard to make the argument against using them.  The ultimate goal should be to get the call correct, and yet we deal with the nebulous notion of human error being part of the game.  It’s something I believe in, actually.  Baseball isn’t supposed to be perfect.  The strike zone is a sometimes non-definable entity.  I’m ok with that.  Calls get missed, and I’ve never lost too much sleep over them.  The fact is, umpires in baseball do a pretty good job.  The kind of thing that happened Wednesday night doesn’t happen very often.  The name you are going to hear in the aftermath of this is Don Denkinger.  His missed call in the 1985 World Series was the gold standard before this one, but that was 25 years ago.  Is one catastrophic call a generation enough to fundamentally change the game, possibly break up its natural rhythm?   I’m not sure.  I feel badly for Galarraga, but was there a three ball count he got a decent call on earlier in the game?  I don’t know.

***

The infield hit heard round the world will probably push news of Ken Griffey Jr’s retirement off the front page of most baseball news outlets, and that is a shame.  Griffey deserved at least one day to himself, but he unfortunately chose the night of the not quite perfect game.  I wrote an entire post about athletes who should retire last month, and Griffey was on that list.  Unlike the situation with Jamie Moyer where I motivated mostly by frustration and malice, I felt Griffey needed to retire for his own good.  The fact is, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen vintage Griffey and there is probably a group of young baseball who don’t even know what all the fuss is about.  But as we slowly creep out of the steroid era and the careers of the artificially inflated come to an end, it would be a mistake to forget Griffey. You can’t prove his innocence, but at least for now it seems like he was one of the very few guys who took the higher road.  Perhaps he loses some of the spotlight, but it will come back ten fold when he cruises into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot while his contemporaries wait for the sports writers to finish debating their morals.

***

How about Flyers Kitten*?  She’s 2-0.  I told you we were officially thinking of changing her name to Kate Smith.  The Flyers won in overtime Wednesday night, avoiding what would have most likely been an insurmountable deficit.  They played another strong game, another excellent third period, but I was wondering if they were going to get clipped at the end again.  Was this going to be the most competitive sweep in playoff history?  They persevered though, surviving multiple replay decisions (ironic on this night), before Claude Giroux put the last goal on the board.  If you skip over game three, the parallels to the Boston series are still pretty strong.  We’re hoping that bodes well for game four.   I don’t know what people outside of Chicago and Philadelphia are thinking, but my subjective view is that it has been a hell of a series so far, and I’m looking forward to more of it.

*In case anyone was wondering, Flyers Kitten has no interest in becoming Phillies Kitten in an effort to get them out of their slump.  So, if you have any other ideas, we’d love to hear them.