This is without a doubt my favorite four-week stretch of the year. We’ve got the end of March Madness, Opening Day, The Masters, the NBA and NHL seasons finally rounding the clubhouse turn, and the NFL draft just coming up over the horizon. It’s an all-you-can-eat gorgefest of the best in sports.
But there’s also too much going on to focus on any one of them, so this week I’ll do something different: empty the notebook of random thoughts that don’t warrant their own column. In other words, I’m going to shamelessly rip off Dan Shaughnessy’s landmark “Picked Up Pieces” column, minus the ancient sports mentions and outdated pop culture references to “Animal House” and old Springsteen songs.
• For the second year in a row, Butler was the story of the NCAAs. And anyone who remembers Super Bowl XX can relate to a Cinderella team that pukes all over its dress at the ball. So I don’t want to say anything disparaging about such a great season for a great program. But I will point out that if Jack Ruby had shot that badly, Oswald would’ve lived to talk about the second gunman.
• I like to think that before the UConn game Saturday night, John Calipari gave the Wildcats a pep talk that included the following: “We’ve worked hard. We’ve played well. We’ve beaten who we had to beat. And now we’ve made it to the Final Four. And no one ... no one ... will ever take that away from us! Oh … right. Never mind ...”
• This is probably a beef that only pertains to college basketball writers and guys like me who write up the results sheet for their office March Madness pools. But now that the Huskies have won their third championship, is it too much to ask that spell check stops automatically changing “UConn” to “Uconn” on us? It hurts the productivity of those of who are trying to be unproductive.
• I’m sorry, Butler. But that was the kind of ugly that turns ordinary men into Batman villains. I never thought I’d live to see anything worse than the Kathy Bates hot tub scene in “About Schmidt.” I stand corrected.
• The prohibitive favorite for crazy comment of the night was Charles Barkley, and he came through by halftime: “This game is as ugly as the women I used to date before I started making money and dating good-looking women.” I just assumed every leader of NOW was frantically opening the Word file saved as “angrypressrelease.doc” and filling in Sir Charles’ name. But not a peep out of them. Presumably they were making up “Fair Play on the Fairway” signs and heading to Augusta? Do they still do that?
• Speaking of which, does anyone in America have as good a thing going as Jim Nantz? While I’ve been repairing storm damage and watching my oil bill multiply like a Mormon family on TLC, his last two months have gone: Super Bowl, March Madness, then straight on to The Masters. I suppose the only one beating Nantz at the Game of Life is his ex-wife.
• I love The Masters and everything about it. But without question my favorite part is the opening montage. That treacly, saccharine, absurdly pretentious piece of Intro to Creative Writing-level bad poetry that Nantz treats us to every year. “Augusta National. The Cathedral in the Pines. The places so familiar to us. Amen Corner. Rae’s Creek. The dogwoods and the azaleas in bloom. And here, the ghosts of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and the legends past seem to whisper through the pines. Hello, friends, and welcome to Butler Cabin ...” Watch for it. And set your DVR so you can watch it again. Because you just don’t hear that kind of talk watching NASCAR.
• Why can’t CBS bring Barkley along to Augusta? I mean, he’s done golf on TV before. Sort of.
• I’m still trying to wrap my brain around Mike Vrabel getting charged with felony theft at a casino. I’ve still got a ton of respect for Vrabel. Enough to think that if he did do it, he broke into the vault and stole $150 million with the help of a multicultural band of eccentric but clever misfits. You know, the way it was meant to be done.
• There’s been some speculation that the beef with the casino was a “misunderstanding” about the number of drinks that were on Vrabel’s tab. Assuming that’s true, here are my first thoughts:
As a general rule, if you’re too drunk to count your drinks, you might want to avoid the blackjack tables.
Vrabel is one of the named plaintiffs in the players’ lawsuit against the owners. And I’m not sure this helps the cause at all. Or I missed that part in Norma Rae where a striking Sally Field gets hammered and gets arrested for beefing with a casino waitress.
It’s comforting to know Vrabel’s friends are as cheap as mine. Athletes truly are just real folk.
• I understand that during the lockout, teams are supposed to have zero supervision or contact with players of any kind. That said, since there’s also no drug testing, I hope the Patriots have put a tail on Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez.
• With the Red Sox off to a bad start, part of me wishes I could be like those outraged numbskulls who keep calling 'EEI at all hours enraged at everyone and demanding answers. I guess it’s because they just seem to be so happy in their work. I mean it. There’s something liberating about having so little sense of perspective that you can insanely overreact to everything before the Sox have even played a home game that I can’t help but admire in some way. Sure they’re crazy and misinformed and probably downright dangers to themselves and others. But at least they’re passionate.
Take, for example, the guy I heard call The Big Show who suggested/demanded that Terry Francona move Dustin Pedroia down to the ninth spot in the order because he’d give them a good “second leadoff hitter.” That’s a statement that couldn’t have been more deranged if he’d made the call from a room filled with bottles of his own urine. But on the other hand, I’m sitting here saying “Gee, so far they just haven’t hit or pitched well,” and that’s not much of a conversation starter. So again, the crackpots are really what drive the engine of sports talk. God bless 'em.
• My favorite moment of the season so far had to be the first Cleveland game with the Sox losing by two in the eighth. J.D. Drew pulled up on a foul ball and let it fall in the warning track dirt rather than risk running into the padding. And on cue, Don Orsillo read an ad for a health care plan. Coincidence, or is that company sponsoring every move Drew makes this year? Because Don Draper would be proud.
• Still, Drew can look at Shaquille O’Neal and say, "Now THAT’S a guy who can’t stay healthy." Who would’ve guessed that the Harvard Square human statue thing was the most we’d see him move all year?
• If the Celts ever suspend their “only one O’Neal in uniform at a time” policy and play Shaq and Jermaine in the same game, get a picture. It’ll be a collector’s item. Like that one of Ted Williams shaking hands with Babe Ruth or that Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers Red Sox one from the '70s.
(Note: OK, I allowed myself two Shaughnessyesque ancient sports references. Fine, you caught me. Now back off before I start quoting “Glory Days.”)
• In case you missed it, MLB cracked down on the Yankees for having a club employee sitting behind home plate signaling pitch speed and selection to the on-deck hitters in violation of the rules. On Barstool Sports, I’m looking forward to the public outcry, demands that Joe Girardi be suspended, the congressional investigation, and the team getting fined $750,000. But after reflecting on it for a couple of days, I’ve decided I’ll just be satisfied with the world saying that all of their World Series are tainted now.
• And if only one fan brings a “27*” sign to the series at Fenway this weekend, I’ll know I’ve done my job.
• Lastly, if I can make a shameless plug here, on Opening Day I’ll be taping an episode of “Fanthropology” in the streets around the ballpark. Look for me and look for the video on WEEI.com. I keep thinking one of these times I’m going to end up getting a punch thrown at me doing these things, a risk I’m willing to take. Especially if it’s by a Butler player, because at least I know he’ll miss.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @jerrythornton1