A month ago, the Xavier University baseball team didn't conjure a first thought, let alone a second. A lot of baseball happens in Cincinnati. College baseball happens very quietly. But around noon on May 25 Xavier reached quite a unique distinction when it was officially announced as a qualifier for the NCAA baseball tournament, and the Muskies will play Friday at 3 p.m. against Kansas State at the Houston Regional. Over the past month, XU put together a splendid run, winning 17 of 20 games with prodigious batsmanship and a knack for winning close contests when they didn't bludgeon opponents to death.
Most locals consider Cincinnati to be a “baseball town.” Everyone hears family members and coworkers go on about just how great the Big Red Machine was or how exciting 1990 was when the Reds went wire-to-wire in first place and swept the Oakland A’s to win the World Series. Though it’s still relatively early, this year’s Reds are an exciting team that shows signs of being able to contend for a playoff spot.
Anyone in America can watch every game in the NBA playoffs. But try finding the NHL, even if some playoff series features the league's two best players battling fiercely to the bitter end in Game 7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, featuring Sidney Crosby, played in the NHL's Eastern Conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals, starring Alex Ovechkin.
At some point, we'll have to value the steroid era players against history. The list of greats from recent years with steroid taint (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez and others) are Hall of Famers who will at least raise serious questions about their worthiness because of drugs.
One month into the 2009 season, the task of assessing the Reds for their staying power in the National League playoff race remains a work of wild guessing. They have no stars and few track records, and the first month leaves us neither hot nor cold. But we can be reliably certain of one aspect concerning the Reds: Their plan to build a ball club around pitching shows its value again and again.
Forbes Magazine recently released two lists that should interest local sports fans. Estimating the financial values of college basketball programs, Forbes ranked Xavier as the 17th most valuable and Arizona as the sixth most valuable.
The magazine also offered its list of the nation's most miserable sports cities.
Does LeBron James want to be the greatest basketball player of all time? If he can pack away an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers this spring at age 24, he's well on his way. Does James want to be a true multi-national, multi-platform billionaire media personality? He can be as rich and famous as he wants, especially if he jumps over to Europe for a couple or three years, takes the long green and really dominates the Euroleague just as easily as everyone knows he would.
Those of us looking for progress from the Reds came through the first week of the season with mixed feelings. But it ended nicely, as if a momentary crisis were averted. Meanwhile, the NCAA hockey championship game ended in a bitter disaster for Miami, as the RedHawks' apparent title went up in two goals worth of smoke with one minute left against Boston University.
The Reds are a young, talented club with big upside in a couple years. They're the envy of many clubs for their young pitching, which could become dominating. They have a couple of young, left-handed hitters to replace the old ones they let go. They've been getting younger for a while now, and if getting younger means getting better they might start getting better soon.
A very large institution, University of Kentucky basketball isn't one to dwell on bad times, savor them for character building lessons, beg for mercy or just sit there and take it. Ordinary struggle for other programs is trial-by-fire at UK. Anyone else who thinks they have the biggest or baddest program is shamed into silence by watching UK at a moment like this.
Cincinnatians Jason Cornell and Jeff Huisman have returned from the 2009 World Air Hockey Championships in Las Vegas, presided over by United States Air Hockey Association Commissioner Michael Rosen. I spoke with Rosen after the championships concluded March 15.
LAS VEGAS — As we walked in to the Convention Center at the Riviera, the stale casino smell that permeates Las Vegas reeked of a place 20 years overdue for a makeover. Ironic, in a sense, but almost a fitting setting for the championship of a sport that's been around for several decades but hasn't yet hit the mainstream.
We made such a fuss a few weeks ago when Xavier lost three straight on the road in the Atlantic-10 Conference. We started wondering if the same team that could lose to tournament rejects on the road could beat tournament teams on neutral sites. What got into us? What made us forget that the regular season is such a colossal waste of time?
It wasn't Billy Packer's job to make you feel good, warm your innards with a sweet story, make you smile with a well-turned phrase or confer the dignity of royalty on persons within the game. Too many broadcasters think that's their job and, worse, they're usually bad at it. Packer unfortunately won't be part of the CBS coverage of the NCAA Tournament, having left quietly last July for reasons that have never been fully disclosed.
The older one gets, the more college sports make the head shake. It’s not the money or the corruption. It’s not the academic compromises involved in putting on athletic shows. All of that’s been around forever, and it’s part of the guilty pleasure involved with following college sports. But the kids. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from the kids, because they don’t know what they’re up against.