Hello again everybody...
Welcome back to another work week. I hope your weekend was enjoyable, because mine sure was.
The Twins took two of three from the White Sox. The Diamondbacks took two of three from the Pirates. I got to attend the final Wild game of the season. And there was a little golf tournament going on.
Oh, and I should mention: HAPPY TWINS HOME OPENER DAY EVERYBODY! I've been waiting for this day for years, and words fail to describe how excited I am. Tune in locally to FSN North, or nationally on ESPN at 3pm central time.
Lots to talk about and opine on, so let's not dawdle...
”A man may be so much of everything that he is nothing of anything.”
- Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784), English author
Or as Don Shelby often puts it, “my knowledge base is a mile wide and an inch deep”.
Time for some...
1. Mickelson won the Masters and Tiger finished fourth... and I barely watched.
Going into the tournament, I really wasn't sure how much I would watch, or more importantly, how much I was going to want to watch. Turns out I didn't want to very much.
Part of that was the newness of the baseball season. It's been so long since there was daily baseball to partake in, that I felt more interested in recharging those batteries than watching golf. I realize that I'm in the minority in that regard, but there you have it.
But my obsession with baseball wasn't all there was to it. The over-arching story to the entire tournament was Tiger's return. And the disappointment I've felt over the manner in which he's conducted himself since Thanksgiving left me wondering how I'd react watching him play again.
Now that he's back, I realize I've lost a lot of the wonder I used to feel watching him play. Sure, there was still a thrill to be felt early in the tournament when Tiger hit a big draw around some trees and rolled it within five feet of the cup - one of those shots it seems only Tiger can hit. But that thrill was immediately replaced by eye-rolls and head-shakes as he continued to conduct himself with the same arrogance and aloofness he had prior to his troubles. I used to give him a pass on those flaws due to his historical greatness. I don't give him that pass anymore because when it became time for him to show some genuine humility and understand that he couldn't rigidly control things the way he used to, he failed.
And he continues to fail. Witness his post-tournament interview with CBS's Peter Kostis. Kostis asked the kinds of questions everybody and their sister knew were coming, and how did Tiger react? With short, snippy, annoyed answers. Exhibit A was when Kostis asked how Tiger would sum up his experience this week after being gone for five months. Tiger's response was a curt, “well I finished fourth.” Never mind the tremendous "welcome back" he received. Forget any feel for the moment. Exhibit B followed shortly thereafter when Kosts inquired about some of the negative emotions Tiger showed early in his final round. Tiger snapped back, “people are making way too big a deal out of that.” Apparently when he made a point of saying he was going to show less emotion - both positive and negative - on the course, the media weren't supposed to follow up on it. It was an opportunity for Tiger to at least attempt to show that he's learned lessons from everything he's gone through, and he whiffed completely.
As I'm sure you can tell, the sense of disappointment I felt going into the tournament hasn't changed much at all. Maybe over the course of time that will abate, but for now, when Tiger says he doesn't know when he'll play next, I couldn't really care less.
As for Phil Mickelson's win? Eh. Good for him, but I've never really been much of a fan. So his quest for a third Green Jacket wasn't going to get me to watch much either.
The 2010 Masters... a buzzkill unlike any other.
2. Mike Modano might have played his last game in the NHL... and if he has, I'll be able to say I was there.
I likely would've attended Saturday night's game at the Xcel Energy Center anyway, being that it was the final game of the Wild's 2009-2010 season. But the fact that Modano is rumored to be hanging up the skates after the season made it a must-see.
The game itself was pretty exciting - Dallas won 4-3 in a shootout - but the play wasn't as important as the atmosphere. As is usually the case when the Stars come to town, there were a plethora of green and white North Stars sweaters throughout the stands. But their appearance Saturday night didn't have so much a feel of “you never should've left us” as it did of a celebration of a special player's career.
Regular readers know I still harbor a lingering bitterness over the North Stars leaving town and going on to win a Cup in that hockey mecca of Dallas (insert sarcasm here). And since Modano was the face of the franchise when they left, some of that bitterness got transferred to him. But Saturday night, when they showed a video-montage of “Modano as a North Star” highlights and the crowd went insane, I didn't feel bitter at all. It was a really cool moment, and the Wild staff and fans deserve a tremendous amount of credit for creating it. The crowd was going crazy, the players were banging sticks against the boards along the benches, and Modano was standing on the ice soaking it all in with watery eyes. I texted a friend that my goosebumps had goosebumps.
That wasn't the end of it. As the end of the game neared, Star Tribune beat writer Michael Russo sent out a tweet warning folks to stay in their seats after the game because Modano had something special planned. It was no surprise to anyone that he was named “First Star of the Game” even though he failed to notch a goal or an assist. When a legendary player is set to retire, he gets that kind of treatment. What was a surprise to many, was when Modano came out to skate a few circles while wearing a North Stars sweater. Apparently most of the Team of 18,000 isn't on Twitter, because the crowd was considerably thinned at that point, but the folks that were there made a whole bunch of noise when they saw him. Yes, there were more goosebumps.
One of the best parts of my job is the access it grants me to various sporting events. So thanks to my employer, I was able to attend the post-game press conference where Modano spent a few minutes talking about how much fun it was to have those moments with Minnesota hockey fans. He still wouldn't commit to retiring - he wants to take time over the summer to decide - but it was clear that he was working hard to soak in every moment in case he decides to hang them up for good. He showed humility, class and a genuine appreciation for the people who helped him have the stellar career he's had - in short, everything Tiger's failed to do (I know, I know... I really should let it go).
Thanks for all the memories Mike. I hate that you had to leave, but I'm glad you got to finish where you started.
3. You didn't think I was going to go a whole column and not talk about baseball, did you?!
A full week is now in the books, and while that's still not nearly enough time to make any kind of serious judgments, it's still been an interesting tale of two leagues.
If you look at the standings in the National League, things have gone by the book. Philadelphia leads in the East. St. Louis leads in the Central. San Francisco is tops in the West. Florida and Arizona are tied for the Wild Card lead. None of those teams are big surprises.
When you look at the American League, however, things are a little topsy-turvy. The Tigers lead the Twins - who'd be the Wild Card - by a half-game in the Central. That's not Earth-shattering news. But the Toronto Blue Jays are tops in the East? And the Oakland Athletics have a game-and-a-half lead in the West? Yeah, those are a bit surprising.
So the question is, are these surprise teams for real, or is this an early-season aberration? Obviously only time will tell, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it's more of the latter.
Pitching has been the common thread for those clubs. It shouldn't be a surprise that the four teams I mentioned are all in the top five in team ERA, and all but the Twins are in the top five in Opponents Batting Average. They say that pitching doesn't slump. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but there aren't the kinds of roller-coaster swings with pitching that you often see with hitting. So if those clubs remain consistent offensively, their pitching will keep them in a lot of games.
All that being said, I'm not worried that the AL is going to crush my predictions. The first Peek at the Picks isn't slated til near Memorial Day - the unofficial “quarter-pole” of the season. If those same three teams are leading their divisions at that point, then I'll start to get a little twitchy.
That's going to do it for today. Wednesday marks the start of the NHL playoffs. It's difficult for me to get too worked up over them with the Wild having been eliminated, but we have an annual tradition here at Writing for the Cycle when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. That column heads your way in two days.
Until then, thanks for reading!