Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Most Boring Sports Day Ever

No cheap seats this weekend. Just a big sofa, a lot of chips, and a lot of soda. It's the single most boring day of the entire sports year, yet so many people -- myself included -- will sit in front of their TV's for about six hours on Saturday, waiting for their favorite team to steal the guy who is supposed to be "the future" from his relatively humble college life. Yes sir, the NFL Draft is upon us. Where thousands of self-respecting football fans stare fixedly at their televisions and wait for NFL Commish Roger Goodell to read a name from a piece of paper.

Now, my most favorite of professional football teams, the Washington Redskins, are supposed to be picking sixth overall in the 2007 edition of the draft. Of course, this is all dependent still on how desperate the 'Skins are to get linebacker Lance Briggs from the Chicago Bears and how desperate the Bears are to get rid of Briggs. So far, both teams are saying that whatever deal they were going to strike is off, but things change at this time of year. After all, everyone seems to be saying that the Redskins will be taking a linebacker at that sixth pick anyway, so why not get Briggs and have the Bears replace him with that draft pick.

Of course, while everyone else is saying that the sixth pick will be used for a linebacker, I choose to disagree. I don't believe that the 'Skins need a linebacker from the draft, especially since the acquisition of London Fletcher from the free agent market and last year's drafting of Rocky McIntosh from Linebacker U (Miami). The team's big problem area from the 2006 season was putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run. Thus, it would be a prudent decision to pick up a defensive lineman. My choice: Amobi Akoye, DT, Louisville. If Akoye isn't there: Alan Branch, DT, Michigan. Akoye is the highest-rated tackle in the draft, so that would make him an obvious choice. That would also make him an obvious choice for one of the five teams picking ahead of Washington. Still, picking Branch from the very solid Michigan defense would be a fine alternative.

What all the pundits think and what all of the team managers think are two completely different things, so no one outside of the front offices knows exactly what's going to happen. I would imagine that, once all seven rounds have been completed, everyone will be scratching their heads over something the Detroit Lions or New York Jets have done, and there will be that one steal-of-a-pick that no one thought would be going wherever he is going. Then, for the next three months, the guys on ESPN will be dissecting every aspect of this weekend and how it will make or break the season. Why the draft is such a big deal is beyond me, but it's an important part of the sports year, so we'll all watch it, talk about it, and get on with life. Oh, how I can't wait for September to come...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Spring Is In The Air...Just Not Here

Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, spring is upon us despite what Mother Nature wants you to believe. The Cheap Seats yesterday were the free seats on the metal benches of Memorial Stadium, as the Indiana Football Hoosiers held their traditional spring football game. Unfortunately it was cold, it was rainy, and towards the end of the game it was windy. As such, the 5-10,000 people that generally show up to the Cream and Crimson Game decided to stay home and watch anything other than themselves getting pneumonia. Still, the 1,000-or-so people that made an appearance seemed to enjoy the game thoroughly and they were shown some promising things by this Indiana team.

We start, of course, with the offense. When you look at the roster, it's immediately apparent that the offense will have to be this team's strength this year. With redshirt sophomore Kellen Lewis starting under center this year, Josiah Sears and Marcus Thigpen contributing from the backfield, and James Hardy, Ray Fisher, Nick Polk, and Terrance Turner running down the field to catch the ball, this offense is actually fairly loaded. Lewis, of course, contributed yesterday by running the ball out of the pocket in true Michael Vick style. Lewis' speed will provide some exciting plays this year and will befuddle many a defense. The 6'7" Hardy will most likely be the main target again, as he was in a fine rhythm with Lewis for most of the game yesterday. The running game from the actual running backs does seem like it might cause problems again, but Thigpen has a full season in the backfield under his belt, and that experience should help him.

The defense is still not quite up to Big Ten standards, but they seem to be improving. Play in the secondary, last years' weak point, will once again revolve around Tracy Porter. Porter, who will be a senior next year, is still very quick and very athletic and will make a difference in a few games. He could've used the help that would have come from Jerimy Finch, who declined the Hoosiers' scholarship offer to jump on the Florida bandwagon, but I think the secondary will still be alright. The rest of the defense may be somewhat nondescript, but they are solid and did a fine job of stopping the run and keeping the offense on their toes.

I'm still not entirely sure how many wins this team might pull down in the regular season, but this year will be their best chance in a long time to find their way into a December game. The Big Ten's traditional powers, Ohio State and Michigan, do not appear on the schedule this year. There are four non-conference games against teams that IU should beat: Indiana State, Western Michigan, Akron, and a November date with Ball State. The biggest tests will be at Wisconsin, who I believe will contend for the Big Ten this year, and at home against Penn State, who have re-established themselves as something of a power. The Penn State game will be the Hoosiers' best chance at an upset, as the game will be played in front of a nice, big homecoming crowd, and the Hoosiers have not lost a homecoming game in four years. When I look at the schedule, I see seven, and possibly eight wins for this team: the four non-conference games, vs. Illinois, at Northwestern, vs. Minnesota, a possible upset against Penn State, and the Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket against Purdue. Look for the Hoosiers in Tempe, AZ, Orlando, FL, or San Antonio come the last week of December.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Greatest Sports Day Ever

There were too many Cheap Seats to choose from yesterday, so I just parked myself in front of the TV and watched it all play out. Yesterday could've been great on its own for the simple reason that it was opening day of the Major League Baseball season. My TV was set to ESPN or ESPN 2 for nearly the entire day as the Yankees blew out the Devil Rays in The House That Ruth Built, the Braves took a thrilling 10-inning win in Philly, the Royals shocked Curt Schilling and the Red Sox in front of a sold out Kaufmann Stadium, and the Twins raised the air-inflated roof in Minneapolis with a solid win over the Orioles.

Oh, but it did not end there! As the day of baseball was winding itself down, it came time to crown ourselves a champion in the world of collegiate basketball. Now, while I have quite a distaste for both of the teams that competed for the crystal basketball (both teams completely screwed over my bracket, after all), I had to lean a bit towards the Florida Gators, since they're not the team that I dislike from my own conference. Plus, an OSU victory would mean I'd have to listen to my roommate complain about his friends from the Buckeye State lording the victory over him. Luckily for us, Florida decided to pull off the repeat for the first time since Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils pulled it off in 1993.

So ended the greatest sports day I have ever been through. True, the basketball championship and baseball's opening day have coincided for several years now, but I've never really been as excited about it as I am this year. I'm still not entirely sure why, but I'm not going to complain about it. I just wish I could've been at one of the two events. Alas, I'm 500 miles away from my favorite baseball team, and my favorite basketball team has been sent home until October 14.

As for that favorite baseball team, they didn't really fare all too well in the midst of yesterday's festivities. Still, I see no need for a huge panic to be incited in the Nation's Capital (though the writers at the Washington Post don't seem to understand that...go ahead, click on the post link and see what they have to say). After all, the Nationals will only take the field 161 more times over the next six months. A 9-2 loss to a pitcher like Dontrelle Willis is nothing to be overly worried about. True, Nook Logan and Christian Guzman, who are supposed to be two of the bigger contributers this year, managed to receive minor injuries. Still, the Nats have been dealing with this kind of adversity since the days playing in front of 2,000 people at Montréal's Olympic Stadium as the Expos. Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden have been promising to deliver a great product, but it will take a while to undo the hurts caused to this team by Major League Baseball's shabby ownership.

On a side note, I will be attending yet another baseball game come Saturday evening. For my third trip to the diamond this year, I'll be watching the Indianapolis Indians take on the Columbus Clippers (Nationals farm club...can you say conflict of interest?) at beautiful, BEAUTIFUL Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. I'll have photographs for you at the beginning of next week. Until then, happy Passover, Easter, Etc.

Monday, April 2, 2007

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Not Christmas, silly! Baseball season has arrived! As such, that means it's now time to have a look at my most favorite of baseball teams, the Washington Nationals.

We're going to start today's post from the cheap (yet really good) seats at Cooper Stadium in Columbus, OH, where the Nats played the Baltimore Orioles in preseason exhibition action. Cooper is the home stadium of the Nats' newest farm club, the Columbus Clippers, and it looks to me like the partnership has gotten off to a great start. First of all, I can't remember a time when the New York Yankees, Columbus' old Major League affiliate, actually came to Ohio and played a game. Of course, the Yankees don't have the same commitment to their farm system that the Nationals do. The Nats' loyalty to their top farm club was shown through and through by bringing not only the team, but the three main cogs in the managerial gears, President Stan Kasten, GM Jim Bowden, and part-owner and overseer of day-to-day operations Mark Lerner. In fact, Lerner himself threw the first pitch to Nationals catcher Brian Schneider:

The game itself showed that there is yet some promise in this Nationals team. The most notable performance was by starting pitcher Shawn Hill, who has only pitched a few real games in the big leagues. Despite a rocky second inning, the youngster threw seven solid innings, giving up only three runs and striking out six batters. Hill is expected to be one of the top pitchers of the Nats' future, right behind the ace of the lineup, John Patterson.

There were also some fine performances by newcomer Dimitri Young (who has definitely lost weight from his days in Detroit), second-year National Felipe Lopez, and the always-reliable Ryan Zimmerman. Young, despite being called out on strikes on a couple of questionable calls, did well to fight off Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera and he made a fine diving play at first base to snare in a grounder. Lopez, who also had a couple of nice defensive plays, also showed potential at the plate. In two at-bats, he rocked the ball to deep center, but couldn't get the ball past the fence. If he can just speed up his swing a little to pull the ball, he would have had a five-RBI game on Thursday.

Despite the solid showings by the opening-day starters, I think the best performance came from the backups in the eighth inning. While much of the Nats' offensive production in the eighth can be attributed to the atrocious performance by Orioles reliever Danys Baez and a number of fielding issues by his defense, the Nationals still managed to pull back from a 3-0 deficit and tie the game. That definitely shows a lot of heart coming from the bench, which is where teams need their best efforts coming from late in games.

Much like the bench, the Nats' bullpen put up a solid performance, allowing a total of two hits and striking out three batters. The two hits came off of closer Chad Cordero, but he also had two of the strikeouts, which means he looks to be ready to face a tough situation when the time comes.

All in all, while the Nationals do not look particularly stellar, they may just be able to pull off a few surprises this season. The four victories over the defending NL East champion New York Mets in spring training are something that this team can hang their hat on as they begin the regular season in about an hour. As we go into opening day, I don't see this team going to the playoffs or anything. But I do think this team can surpass 70 wins this season and finish maybe fourth in the East ahead of the Florida Marlins. I will close off this entry with some more pictures from the ballpark in Columbus.