Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Couldn't Say It Better

I suspect many of us have been wrestling with how we feel about Tiger Woods' impending return to tournament golf.

And then I read this piece by New York Times contributor Robert Wright, which so perfectly crystallizes the discussion that I feel you really must have a look.

In short: Wright compares Woods with the fictional Roy Hobbs from Bernard Malamud's The Natural. It's significant that Wright looks at the Hobbs of the novel, not the one portrayed in the movie version of the book. You do rememebr how the book ended, right?

Read the piece. Tell me what you think.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Too Many Choices

Everyone knows the Giants are loaded with pitching. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Wilson. All great arms, and the reason the Giants have postseason hopes despite an offense that was, well, rather anemic last year.

But everyone in Giants-land also knows the team needs more offense, and offseason acquisitions Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa (plus the re-signed Bengie Molina) are expected to help push more runs across the plate.

But even with these names in the mix, this does not appear to be one of those teams where manager Bruce Bochy can make 162 copies of his lineup card and just fill in the pitcher's name. He'll be juggling like mad, all year long.

Part of the "problem" is the batch of younger players who won't go away. As I write, there are four guys I'd really like to see in an Opening Day lineup. Conventional wisdom suggests at best, two of them will make it. Here's my Fab Four, and my case for each:

  • Eugenio Velez Unconvential, even aggravating at times. But you can't deny his speed and ability to disrupt a game. He's made remarkable strides over the last year. Since Freddy Sanchez won't be ready for Opening Day, pencil Velez in at second base.

  • Nate Schierholtz I'm no shrink, but it looks like a matter of confidence with this guy. Give him the right field job and commit to staying with him through a few slumps. He has the tools.

  • John Bowker I spent a few days in Scottsdale this spring, and everything Bowker hit was loud. He arrived in San Francisco with a bang two years ago, then won the PCL batting title last year. He's ready. Put him in left field, now.

  • Buster Posey This kid's a ballplayer, and more minor-league games won't improve him enough to justify keeping him out of a big-league lineup. Start him at first base, put him behind the plate to spell an aging Molina, flip him with Pablo Sandoval (Posey at third, Panda at first) once in awhile. In Arizona, I watched Posey play first base like he'd been there all his life. I'll bet he could take an outfield shift from time to time.

"But wait," you're saying. "What about DeRosa, Huff, Freddy Sanchez, and all the money the Giants are paying them?" Well, folks, those guys are getting paid anyway. The goal here is to win. Sanchez remains physically incapable of playing, Randy Winn's departure opens up right field, there's no real incumbent at first base, and the Giants haven't had an everyday left fielder since You-Know-Who.

I actually think this is all good news for Giants fans. Capable veterans like Huff, DeRosa and Sanchez are pretty darned good insurance. I say: let the kids play, and give them some room. This team has the pitching to contend in the NL West, so there's little downside to rolling the dice with those young players. Come on, Giants: the future is now!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

End Of The Dream

You can only go so far with a dream, and for the remarkable group of seniors who played their last basketball game for Cal in an NCAA second-round loss to Duke, it's really, really over.

Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Jerome Randle, Jamal Boykin, and even lesser light Nikola Knezevic brought great honor and excitement to the Cal hoops program. Before anyone forgets it (and the CBS-TV announcers repeatedly did), this group won the first conference basketball title for the Bears in fifty years. The fact that they lost the Pac-10 Tournament title to Washington doesn't erase what everyone in the conference knows: Cal earned the title this year.

Any hopes the seniors had of a magical, improbable finish at the Final Four probably vanished when the selection committee set Cal up on a path to collide with Duke. The bigger, brawnier Dookies simply overwhelmed a Cal squad that wasn't very muscular to begin with, and got less so with the suspension of Omondi Amoke before the start of March Madness.

The Duke game must have been nightmarish for Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who watched an opponent play the way his old Stanford squads often played: hit 'em hard, hit 'em often, and assume most of it won't get called. Montgomery is honest in admitting that he prefers that style of basketball, but had to do something few coaches are really able to do: let the team dictate the style of play.

Montgomery allowed Randle and Company to play their way. It wasn't enough, in the end, to win it all. But these young men left their mark in Berkeley. They'll be missed, but they won't be forgotten.

Monday, March 15, 2010

L'Affaire Ovechkin

The National Hockey League has a dilemma: its most exciting player may also be its dirtiest.

"The Great 8", two-time MVP Alexander Ovechkin, is a reliable highlight-show participant. His spectacular goals are one reason for that. Sadly, his dangerous plays are another.

Ovechkin's latest transgression: a needless hit from behind on Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell. Ovechkin was tossed from the game, but Campbell's season is over. His collision with the end boards, courtesy of Ovechkin's hit, resulted in a broken collarbone and broken ribs.

Look, I love Ovechkin's passion and energy. He's one of those athletes you have to watch, because something amazing is often just moments away. But there's a line, and Ovechkin crosses it far too often. Just this season, he was suspended for two games after authoring a dangerous knee-to-knee hit on Carolina's Tim Gleason. And who can forget the knee-to-knee shot on Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar in last year's playoffs?

There's already talk that some arcane NHL rule will allow league disciplinarians to skate around what's obviously required here: an Ovechkin suspension. The guy is a repeat offender and deserves harsh punishment. Doesn't matter how many goals he scores: dirty is dirty and it has to be stopped.

My suggestion: an open-ended suspension. Ovechkin can play again as soon as Brian Campbell, his latest victim, can suit up. Maybe that'll make hockey's greatest/dirtiest player think twice next time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Just back from a quick Cactus League trip. Saw the Giants 3 times in 4 days (and would have gone 4-for-4 except for the rainout that cost us a trip to that lovely ballpark in Surprise).

I'll talk more about what I saw and heard on this week's KCBS Sports Fans podcast (which, by the way, is now the "Award-winning KCBS Sports Fans podcast", since the good folks at the Associated Press TV-Radio Association have named us "Best Podcast" in a region that includes a dozen western states plus the always-unpredictable broadcasters from Guam. We humbly thank the Academy for its vote).

But here's all you need to know about how cool spring training is: as I got on the bus from the rental car center back to the airport last night, a woman spotted my Giants cap and said, "This is the year, right?" And we both laughed and said, "Well, why not?"

Why not, indeed? Anything's possible in early March.