Friday, June 16, 2006

Sports Shorts

So the Heat came back last night to even the NBA Championship Finals after falling behind 2-0. Who woulda thunk it? Actually my nine-year old woulda and didda. Before the series began he predicted that the Mavericks would win the first two, lose the next two and win the whole thing in six. My own emotional investment in the Wizards first round loss to the Cavaliers drained my level of interest in the remainder of the playoffs, but I think he has a good case. Miami's aging frontcourt combination of Shaq and Alonzo Mourning might be an accurate reflection of South Florida's retiree demographic, but I don't see them as built for the seven-game series. Much like Morty Seinfeld in a late afternoon meeting at the J. Peterman Company, the Heat will tire and fade in cranky resignation, giving us the first NBA Champion to be led by a European-born All-Star (but not the first born outside the continental United States; I'll give that answer at the end of this post).

With tomorrow's match against Italy a virtual must-win situation, Team USA's World Cup run could be over before most Americans realize it began. The United States plays a third match against Ghana next week, but I don't there will be much interest in that contest unless the Americans win tomorrow. There has been plenty of coverage, but the team has yet to capture the public attention this time around. Wednesday morning, my son and I watched an inspiring ESPN feature about Landon Donovan's fiance's brother, who lost both legs in a horrible train accident. Seeing a man with no legs swim laps with a butterfly stroke was awesome to behold, but isn't it a bit of a reach to feature the brother of the star player's fiance? Wasn't his third cousin in a movie with Kevin Bacon? And while Gatorade's "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" commercial is a clever twist and has some great visuals, the central idea that soccer could replace baseball in the American sports conscience is still laughable. For at least two decades, we have heard about how the explosion in youth soccer will ultimately elevate soccer to elite status in the U.S., but instead we have seen the rise of NASCAR and golf and the decline of tennis, hockey, horse racing and boxing. The soccer apologists are correct that tons of kids play soccer; in our area, the fields are packed with kids from age five up to teenagers. However, the number of registered players begins to decrease at about age 10, and the teenage ranks are so depleted that teams are co-ed and have to go outside our district to find enough teams to play. Yes, there are travel teams, elite teams, and club teams that play year-round, but the broad base just is not there as the kids get older, and not coincidentally, start making their own decisions about how and where to spend their time and money (Fitzonomics! Who knew?). Before you put too much stock in that last statement, please know that Economics 101 nearly ended my stay in college.

The cloud of chemically-enhanced performance continues to hang over America's pasttime. Jason Grimsley's admitted use of human growth hormone and naming of additional players suggests that we should not be surprised if every player in the majors has used some illegal substance at some time or another. Whatever happened to the good old days, when all an aging lefthanded pticher needed to extend his career was a pulse? And Barry Bonds' joyless pursuit of Hank Aaron's record continues. Oy. I think he will break the record, but I can only hope that a more likeable slugger will overtake him in my lifetime (A-Rod? Pujols? Ken Griffey III?)

If professional golfers are complaining about course conditions, then it must be time for the U. S. Open. After Tiger Woods shot 76 yesterday, he complained that the greens were too bumpy. Too bumpy! This is a clear indication that he has fallen from immortal to human on the golf course. Who among us has not complained about an unrepaired ball or spike mark or a microscopic dust mote impeding our ball's otherwise perfect roll to the hole. Two predictions: The longer Colin Montgomerie stays in or around the lead, the louder the murmuring and heckling will get, and going out on a limb, Phil Mickelson will win another major this weekend.

Ben Roethlisberger seems to have come away from his motorcycle accident about as well as can be expected, but we won't know if he is back as an NFL quarterback until he shakes off a hard hit and completes a difficult pass on the next play. This will be the number one hyped, overdone, on the field story in the NFL this season. I expect every Steelers game to include at least one interview with a neurologist and/or maxillofacial surgeon (had to reach past my Webster's Collegiate for the Doc's Medical Desk Dictionary for that one). In local football news, the Ravens acquired quarterback Steve McNair. I guess this is a good move; he was the NFL MVP two years ago and should be a major upgrade from Kyle Boller. But can he survive behind the Raven's porous offensive line, can he make Baltimore's receivers catch all those balls they dropped last season, can he force Jamal Lewis to revert to from stumbler to record-setter?

Swimming? Swimming? Aren't the next Summer Olympics two years away? Yes, they are, but the Summer Hill Sting Rays, after two weeks of practice, have their first time trials tomorrow, which will mark the debut of my offspring in the heavily chlorinated competitive arena. They are already working on butterfly and flip-turns, two aquatic achievements that eluded their old man. I can still take them in the cannonball, though. Also, the answer to the NBA trivia question above is Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs to their first title. Duncan was born in the U. S. Virgin Islands, and was a competitive swimmer until Hurricane Hugo destroyed his municipal pool, sending him to the basketball courts.


bierword said...

What about "The Dream"? I believe Nigeria is not in the US or Europe.

Happy Father's Day and Happy Cannonballing!

Bill Fitzgerald said...

See, that's why we call it a FitzFact. Nicely done Sweet-swingin' Dave! Back at you on the Father's Day, and something tells me you might have the edge in the Cannonball

Blaine from Maine said...

Welcome back. Missed your commentary.