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I didn't tune in in time Sunday to watch the initial drama unfold during Major League Baseball's Continental Opening Night (as opposed to this season's actual opening . . . morning . . . in Japan last week . . . with the Red Sox rallying to beat the A's in a game that started before sunrise back here in the States). Forget Opening Days - baseball seasons now begin with Opening Chronicles.
President Bush had been tapped to toss out the first pitch at brand spankin' new Nationals Park in D.C. Sunday evening as the home team took on the Atlanta Braves. But it occurred to someone on his staff a couple days ago that Washington's starting catcher, Paul LoDuca, was identified as a steroid cheat in the Mitchell Report. LoDuca then started the spring by reading one of those vague apologies in which he takes responsibility for nothing in particular but is nevertheless very, very sorry. So who would catch this momentous first pitch?
As it turned out, Nationals manager Manny Acta stepped up, caught Bush's heave and by all accounts, executed a successful grip and grin to cap it all off.
By the time I settled in to watch, the innings were flying by. After coaching youth baseball for the last few springs and summers, I've gained a new appreciation for the degree of difficulty of some of the stuff the MLB's finest do in the field with little apparent strain. But on this night that wasn't what was going on. The weather was cold (game time temperature was in the upper 40s), the pitching was solid and hitters on both sides were producing only a steady stream of weak ground balls and pop ups/shallow flies.
Sometimes baseball is quirky in clever little ways and sometimes it is just flat-out weird. The Nationals scored a couple two-out runs in the initial inning, and then went without a base-runner for eight innings - from the last out in the first until there were two outs in the ninth). It looked as if the home team's pitchers would make that lead stand up until Mr. LoDuca couldn't quite flag down an errant Jon Rauch pitch in the top of the ninth. The Braves' game-tying run scored on what was ruled a passed ball.
After two quick Nationals outs in the bottom half of the frame, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman stepped up and launched a solo home run into the second row in deep left-center to end it. Bring it on, baseball!
And about that basketball tournament . . .
* As boring as it is to have all four No. 1 seeds advance in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, it could be worse. If you cared about the women's tournament you would find yourself heading into an Elite Eight in which not only have all the No. 1 seeds advanced but so have all the No. 2s.
* Stephen Curry hit all sorts of exquisite jump shots during Davidson's (student population by the way - 1,700) rousing run. But his best shot was a lay-up. As the regional semifinal was slipping away from Wisconsin in a hurry during Friday's regional semifinal, Davidson's Curry drove toward the basket, started to put up a layup attempt, but then was shoved. As the whistle sounded, Curry somehow managed to reach back under the backboard, to the other side of the basket, and flipped the ball up off the glass with some spin. It zipped right into the net.
A foul was called, the basket counted, Curry made the free throw and Davidson was on its way . . . to a tough loss to Kansas in the regional final. The guard apparently announced later Sunday that he will return to college for his junior season. Players with a lot less game than Curry will make the jump to the NBA this year. But if for no other reason than to try to find some way to toughen up that unbelievably baby-ish baby-face (and I thought B.J. Armstrong looked young when he played for Iowa), a return to college hoops is in order.
* One more baseball note - Paul Sullivan's "100 Questions For 100 Years" in the Sunday Trib commemorating the Cubs' century of futility was awe-inspiring. Sully is a great beat writer who has been all over a great sports beat for a long time. So he'll probably be accepting a buyout any day now.
* On the heels of a solid 4-3 victory at St. Louis Saturday, the Hawks recorded another thrilling home victory Sunday. They rallied from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to take the game with the Blue Jackets into overtime and then into a shootout, during which they prevailed thanks to Patrick Kane's backhander. They've gone 4-1-1 in their last six games and . . . have made up very little ground. As of late Sunday, Vancouver held the last playoff spot with 88 points, four more than the Hawks with only three games to play.
* The Bulls are . . . another week closer to the off-season.
Jim Coffman appears in this space every Monday. He does so out of love.