Opening Day sonnet

March 31, 2008

Baseball Opening Day finally here
Wait since Fall Classic an eternity
Finally fans at parks can have a beer
Watching Barry Zito face Brad Penny

Opening Day means hope for every team
Pirates, Royals, Rays all tied for first place
Last year’s Rockies show everyone can dream
Of getting hot, winning close playoff race

Do Red Sox repeat and make dynasty?
Not when Angels beat them in October
Cubs wait for Fall Classic for century
But Mets beat them with bats and best pitcher

Baseball back in our daily life is good
Happiest time of year since childhood

***

Opening Day lends itself to poetry. Since Babes Love Baseball beat me to haikus, I wrote a sonnet.

What a way to start the season (post-Japan edition). Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer in a pitching duel, shortly after the Braves had tied it up by scoring on a passed ball.

It’s good to see baseball back again. Though what will likely be remembered more than Zimmerman’s walkoff or the game being the first at the new Nationals Park was the reception President Bush got when he went out on the field for the ceremonial first pitch.

We’re only hours away from the real Opening Day — 12 hours away until that first full day of baseball, and I can’t wait.

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All four #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four for the first time in the modern format of the tournament.

That’s too bad.

The tournament is much more fun when there’s an underdog that keeps on advancing. We almost had that in Davidson, but they fell just short against Kansas on Sunday. But maybe that means the Final Four games will be played an extremely high level and be fun to watch.

We can only hope.

When you think of the great college shooters in the past few years, you think of guys like Redick, McNamara, Lofton, and Abrams.

One guy who is never mentioned, but who defininitely should be is UCLA’s Darren Collison.

 

There are a couple of reasons why Collison doesn’t receive fanfare for his shooting ability, in my opinion. One of the big things is that Collison doesn’t jack up nearly as many threes as the other guys, making his shooting ability less noticeable. Another reason is the fact that his other attributes (speed, defense, leadership) overshadow his shooting in the minds of fans.

Perhaps the biggest reason is the weird looking hitch in his shot that many people thought needed to be changed when Collison came into college. People see guys like Chris Lofton, J.J. Redick, Shan Foster shoot and think ‘man, that’s so pure.’ Yet someone who had never heard of Collison would cringe at first sight of him launching a three-ball.

But if you like percentages, Collison beats everybody. Collison has knocked down 104-214 (48.5%) of his three pointers over the past two years and is currently shooting a sick 53% from behind the arc (53-100) this season. By comparison, Redick shot 41.2% in his final two seasons at Duke (his first two seasons were slightly worse), Lofton and Abrams have both shot exactly 40% the past two seasons, and McNamara was a career 35.4 % 3-point shooter in college, never passing 40% for a single season.

Like I said before, I realize that all of the other names I’ve mentioned shoot more three’s than Collison does, but 214 attempts over two seasons is still statistically significant. And if part of the reason that Collison’s percentage is so much higher than the other guys is because he shoots less threes, well, doesn’t that suggest that perhaps, Collison’s shot selection is better? You never see Collison taking rushed, wild threes, and that is something that should be looked upon favorably, not held against him.

Hitch and all, Collison is also an 87% free-throw shooter this season. The man can clearly shoot with the best of them in the college game. 

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You can’t luck your way into the Final Four. It takes a great team playing at its best to do it.

And that’s what UCLA did, beating Xavier 76-57 to advance to the Final Four. The Bruins dominated. They played great defense, played great offense, outrebounded and outshot Xavier.

They put to rest all those complaints that they were just getting lucky and weren’t that good, heard after their previous two wins, and the Bruins look ready to take on Memphis or Texas in the Final Four. Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute each had double-doubles — it was good to see Luc back in his usual form. Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook each had good scoring nights, and while Josh Shipp didn’t play great offensively, he definitely helped on defense.

To look at the big picture, it’s the third-straight year UCLA has made it to the Final Four. To make it to the Final Four three years in a row is even more incredible. Think of how many great college basketball teams there have been over the last few decades that didn’t accomplish this.

UCLA’s not done yet though. Here’s to two more wins in San Antonio.

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The one Sunday Night Baseball game a year I look forward to the most is always the first one. It’s always the day before the rest of the league opens up, which means that fans like me who are obsessed with baseball have this one Sunday night game to wet our appetites before we gorge on a full Opening Day. (Even when there are games in Japan like this year, they’re at 3 a.m., so few were able to see them).

Tonight’s game features the Washington Nationals against the Atlanta Braves. That might not look too thrilling to some of you, but since it’s been 145 days since the last real baseball game, it may as well be the biggest game ever.

The Nationals have had quite a bit going on lately. They played their first game ever in the new Nationals Park yesterday (an exhibition against Baltimore). Nats320 has a bunch of pictures of the new stadium here with reaction from players and management. (I got the photo above from Nats320 as well – one of the excellent Nationals blogs.)

So in their first regular season game at the new park, who the Nats throw out as their Opening Day starter? Odalis Perez — yes, he’s still in the league. He hasn’t had a good season since 2004, but he has reportedly had a good spring. As Federal Baseball found, even Perez is surprised he’s the Opening Day starter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Usually I’m calm and collected when watching a UCLA game. If they’re losing, I always think they’re going to come back. If they winning, the thought of the Bruins possibly blowing the lead seldom enters my mind.

But I’ll admit, I was getting nervous when the 21-point halftime lead got whittled to four, with Darren Collison fouled out and Russell Westbrook had four fouls. Though as the Bruins almost always do, they re-grouped and won the game, advancing to the Elite Eight to play Xavier.

I know UCLA will be a trendy upset pick against Xavier (and if UCLA wins, we’ll hear about why they’re going lose in the Final Four). They haven’t exactly looked amazing during this tournament run. But I still believe in them. We’ve all seen UCLA dominate before, and when they’re not on their game, we’ve all seen them find ways to win in the end. Why should we think differently the rest of the touranment?

One of the odd entertaining things about the game was on the sidelines. I’ve professed my love for mascots here before, and Big Red of Western Kentucky has to be one of my favorite random ones. He looks like a giant blog, a cross between the Kool-aid man and the Cookie Monster. Below is the classic SportsCenter commercial with Big Red:

Since I can’t get enough of Big Red, here’s a bonus video of him trying to pick up ladies:

Western Kentucky needs to continue to have good basketball teams, so we can see more Big Red.

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