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The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

March 27, 2008 under Cheap Seats

It has become the greatest event on our yearly sports schedule.  The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament sends even the most casual fans into a three week frenzy of bracket watching.  Last Wednesday, not many of us were aware that Western Kentucky had even won its conference tourney.  As they lace up their sneakers tonight, however, most of us now know that the Hilltoppers’ leading scorer is senior guard, Courtney Lee.  Every year, even with all of the whining on Selection Sunday from the teams that were left out, a Goliath like Tennessee finds itself hanging on for dear life against Davids like American and Butler.  Any of the so called experts that think the tournament accommodates too many of the smaller conferences should test his theory this week in an open forum on the campus of Davidson College.
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As the curtain rises on another baseball season, it’s hard not to notice some conspicuous holes in the rosters of our two local teams despite all of the money each has spent.  In Flushing, general manager Omar Minaya may very well have assembled the National league’s best pitching staff but, it remains to be seen how often the Mets will be able to put a healthy lineup on the field behind those hurlers.  Over the bridge, on River Avenue, the Steinbrenners put their $200 million dollar Yankees into the hands of three young pitchers and a manager with only one year of experience.  It will be interesting to see how either team reacts to a slow start.
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It was ironic to listen to Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach, Seth Greenberg, moan about his team’s exclusion from the tournament.  Do you think the Hokies’ fortunes may have been changed had they bothered to recruit Davidson guard, Stephen Curry?  After all, Curry’s father, longtime NBA sharpshooter, Dell, is one of only four Virginia Tech players to have his number retired.
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After three months, six tournaments, five days and a rain delay, Tiger Woods finally lost in 2008.  Only 32, Woods already has 64 Tour victories; just 18 shy of the all-time record.  You have to go all the way back to Babe Ruth to find an athlete dominating his sport the way Tiger is right now.  Even more amazing is that he is just entering the prime of his career.  Jack Nicklaus raised some eyebrows a few years back when he predicted that Tiger would win 10 Masters’ titles. At this point, 10 looks like an understatement.  Good luck to the rest of the field next month in Augusta.

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I guess Bobby Knight is finding out that this media gig is a little tougher than he always thought.  On ESPN’s Selection Special, Knight, when asked his opinion of those bubble teams who may have been unjustly left out of the tourney, instead went on a two minute rant about how the field should be expanded to 128 teams, leaving the others on the panel dumbfounded.  It is interesting, however, to see the contrast of the sweater-clad General seated next to Digger Phelps, a man so dapper that he switches his highlighter pen to match the color of his tie.  Memo to Knight:  Wearing the sweater instead of a suit does not in any way diminish your hypocrisy.  You have spent your career railing at the media but now, when a network is willing to throw some cash in your direction, it’s all of a sudden not such a bad deal?

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The term, “March Madness”, has taken on a completely different meaning for St. John’s hoop fans as their beloved Johnnies have failed to make the Big Dance since 2002 and have managed to log just one appearance in the Big East tourney
during the four years that coach Norm Roberts has been at the helm.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that so many rosters in both the conference and national fields are populated with kids from New York City.  There was a time when prep stars from the Big Apple put other schools on hold as they waited for St. John’s to call.  Longtime coach, Lou Carnesecca, used to joke that his recruiting budget consisted of a roll of subway tokens.  Not anymore.  This year alone, two Mc Donald’s All-Americans, Sylvan Landesberg of Holy Cross and Rice’s Kemba Walker, have declined invitations to play their college ball in Queens.  If Coach Roberts continues to swing and miss in his own backyard, his fifth season with the Red Storm could be his last.

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How could we open a Baseball season without making bold predictions for the coming year that seem well thought out in April and become laughable in October?  Well, here goes.  In the Senior Circuit, Joe Torre will create enough stability in the clubhouse to forge a productive union between veterans and young players and propel the Dodgers to the West division crown.  Francisco Cordero becomes the final piece of the puzzle in Cincinnati as Aaron Harang, Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips help Ken Griffey return to the postseason.  A season long nail biter will develop in the East with the Mets riding their superior pitching to a narrow victory over the Braves, who grab the Wild Card. In the AL, the Mariners take advantage of injuries to the Angels’ pitching staff and steal the West title.  The Tigers and their new third basemen, Miguel Cabrera, will hardly be tested as they coast to the Central title.  In the East, the Red Sox ride a healthy David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to their second straight East title while the Yankees barely hold off the Blue Jays for the Wild Card.  In the Fall Classic, look for the Tigers over the Braves.  As for awards,   start engraving the MVP plaques with the names of Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur in the NL and the aforementioned Cabrera in the AL.  Cabrera may actually win the Triple Crown.  As for the Cy Young, Johan Santana celebrates his first year in New York with his third while Jonathan Papelbon is recognized for carrying an injury riddled Red Sox staff to the crown.

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With all of the focus on college basketball, I’ve been a little distracted.  Are the Knicks still in the NBA?

The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

March 21, 2008 under Cheap Seats

“Where’s my hat?”  It was the only question on the mind of University of Pittsburgh point guard, Levance Fields, as his teammates celebrated their Big East basketball title all around him.  Fields was referring to the “Conference Champs” caps that had been handed to each member of the Pitt contingent after they had avenged their loss to Georgetown in last year’s conference finals.  The Brooklyn born Fields missed the distribution of the championship apparel, as he had a little business to attend to behind the Panthers’ basket where his family and friends had sat all week cheering for their hometown hero.  Another city kid, Ronald Ramon of the Bronx, led the boys from steel town in the scoring column against the Hoyas and seemed to make every important play for Pitt all week long.  They had both achieved All-City status as High School players, Fields at Xaverian and Ramon at All Hallows, and now, they had come home to lead their school to a title in their own backyard.

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The Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden remains one of the biggest events on the New York sports calendar.  Since 1983, all of the big names and big teams have congregated at The World’s Most Famous Arena to give us a glimpse as to why this conference is the best and most competitive in the country.  Which is why it is so frustrating for New York college hoop fans that, even though the tourney takes place on its home court, the Red Storm of St. John’s has spent three of the last four years on the outside looking in.  Adding to the fans’ angst is the fact that so many teams come to the Big Apple led by players who grew up here.  In looking at the history of the basketball program at St. John’s you would be hard pressed to find one of their all time great players who wasn’t from the five boroughs.  Longtime coach, Lou Carnesecca, used to joke that his recruiting budget consisted of a roll of subway tokens.  So, what happened?   Former coach, Mike Jarvis, completely shunned the two city High School leagues and guided the program into its most embarrassing era off the court, leaving current mentor, Norm Roberts, a huge mess to clean up as he started his career in Queens.  But, it’s been four year with Roberts at the helm and the prep players keep leaving the city.  This year alone, two McDonald’s All Americans, Kemba Walker of Rice and Sylvan Landesberg of Holy Cross fled to UConn and Virginia, respectively.  If the Johnnies can’t start to convince some of these kids to play in Carnesecca Arena, Roberts fifth year could be his last.

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Lost in all the talk of March Madness is the incredible run of Tiger Woods.  In the last seven months he has played in ten tournaments, winning nine and finishing in a second place tie in the tenth.
In 2008, he has won all five of his starts.  Last Sunday, with Bart Bryant sitting in the scorer’s tent hoping for a playoff that would never come, Woods snaked a winding 25 foot birdie putt into the cup on the 18th hole for a one stroke win.  Bryant, upon hearing the roar, just turned his head and laughed, as if to say,
“This isn’t a fair fight.”  At 32, Tiger has recorded 64 Tour victories, just 18 shy of the all time record.  Good luck to the rest of the field at Augusta next month.

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Today at noon, the NCAA basketball tournament tips off, sending even the most casual fans into a frenzy of bracket watching and office pools.  Thankfully, it also signifies the end of the annual four day whining festival carried on by the coaches and fans of those teams who felt they should have been invited to the dance but weren’t.  They make absurd points about quality losses, (is there such a thing?), strength of schedule and who might be hot going into March.  Here’s an idea.  Win!  Don’t give us excuses as to why

your squad is 17-11 in a tough conference.  Spare us the details of how tough your out of conference opponents were if you couldn’t beat them.  Look, instead, at the Georgia Bulldogs who came into the SEC tourney as the lowest seed, having won only one conference game in the last month.  Throw in a doubleheader they were forced to win because of a tornado that damaged the Georgia Dome and the deck was certainly stacked against them.  Yet, they ran the table and got a bid.  You want in?  Win your games.

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I guess Bobby Knight is finding out that this media gig is a little tougher than he always thought.  On ESPN’s Selection Special, Knight, when asked his opinion of those bubble teams who may have been unjustly left out of the tourney, went on a two minute rant about how the field should be expanded to 128 teams.  Huh?  It is interesting, however, to see the contrast of the sweater-clad General seated next to Digger Phelps, a man so dapper that he switches his highlighter pen to match the color of his tie.  Memo to Knight:  Wearing the sweater instead of a suit does not in any way diminish your hypocrisy.  You have spent your career railing at the media but now, when a network is willing to throw some cash in your direction, it’s all of a sudden not such a bad deal?  While on the subject of ESPN analysts, is it possible that Len Elmore knows more about the Notre Dame basketball program than the fact that Kyle McAlarney was suspended last year because of marijuana possession?  We get the point, Len. You don’t have to make it during every game.  Or, if you do, maybe you could compare his situation to that of your colleague, Doug Gottlieb, who fled South Bend after his freshman year amidst allegations of credit card fraud and seemingly didn’t have the guts McAlarney had to return and face the music.

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Finally, for those of you filling out your brackets and looking to eliminate teams who won’t make the Final Four, here are my picks.  North Carolina, Georgetown, Stanford and UCLA with UCLA besting UNC for the title.

The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

March 13, 2008 under Cheap Seats

Now that Spring Training has finally started, it’s a pleasure to, once again, be discussing the actual on-field events of baseball.  I had almost “misremembered” how much fun it is.  Fun, however, is probably not the word Mets GM Omar Minaya is using as he spends each day visiting his starting outfield in the hospital or trainer’s room.  Moises Alou (hernia), Carlos Beltran (knee) and Ryan Church (concussion) all must have Minaya wondering how prudent it was to ship Lastings Milledge to the Nationals.  Maybe Johan Santana can play the outfield on his off days.  Seriously, the Amazins need to place a call to the Angels and inquire about Juan Rivera.  A rising star who sat out last year with a broken leg, he currently resides on L.A.’s bench due to an overcrowded outfield. ….  Across town, while it’s true that the Yankees did well to resign their core of Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, they have essentially done nothing to improve a team that trailed the Red Sox from wire to wire in ’07.  In fact, the case could be made that they are weaker at some positions, especially defensively.  AL baserunners are licking their chops at the thought of taking extra bases on Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui as at least one will have to man left field. ARod, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano can’t be too happy about throwing across the diamond to Jason Giambi who, like Michael Jackson, wears a glove on his left hand for no apparent reason.  With the Blue Jays improving, it will be interesting to see just how much of daddy’s DNA was inherited by Hank Steinbrenner, especially if they finish third.  Those rookie pitchers had better produce. …  The Jets went on a free agent spending spree last week, committing more than 70 million dollars to four free agent linemen.  Seven time Pro Bowler, Alan Faneca, garnered the biggest contract in league history for an offensive lineman, inking a deal for $40 million to fill a hole created when the club refused to give Pete Kendall a $1 million dollar raise last year.  With that kind of sound, economic policy, is it any wonder that season ticket holders face increases every year?  None of this will matter, however, if Gang Green can’t find a quarterback.  Am I the only Chad Pennington fan left standing?  Memo to Eric Mangini:  Chad’s your man. …  The Big East Men’s Basketball Championship opened at the Garden yesterday, with St. John’s on the outside looking in for the third time in the four years that Norm Roberts has been at the helm. Further frustrating fans of the Red Storm is the fact that many of the participating teams are led by New York City players that St. John’s failed to sign or decided not to recruit.  There was a time when all of the Big Apple’s players put other schools on hold as they waited for a call from Lou Carnesecca.  Hasn’t anyone noticed that the Johnnies’ fall from the top of the conference started at the same time that they stopped getting city players?  Now, most of the blame for that lies with Mike Jarvis, who guided the program into its most embarrassing era ever and completely disregarded the hoops hotbed that was merely a subway ride away.  But, Roberts, who should be credited for bringing  high character people into the fold, has made little progress in mending fences with CHSAA and PSAL coaches and players.  With St. John’s watching McDonald’s All Americans Sylvan Landesberg (Virginia) and Kemba Walker (UConn) leave the city this year, season five of the Roberts era might be the last…   Nate Robinson scored 46 points for the Knicks last weekend in an overtime loss to the Blazers.  Amazingly, many Knick fans were heading for the exits while the hometown team was down three in the last minute and still more left as the overtime began.  A sad statement for what was once the signature franchise in the league.  The Blazers, by the way, are one of four teams who have improved themselves after unloading disgruntled “stars” on the Knicks.  The Bulls, Nuggets and Suns have all benefited from the same generosity.  Looks like there might be more to putting a team together than just assembling talent…  Finally, there’s this question for all of the deliriously happy Giants fans as they continue to revel in the glow of their Super Bowl title.  Does Eli Manning still stink?


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