By Matthew Taylor
Baseball fans count the days until pitchers and catchers report. Basketball fans count the days until March Madness. Fans of both sports simply multi-task.
You can place me in the latter category. If you are as well – and you likewise happen to be a Baltimore-area native – you can’t help but be excited by the success of the locals.
Mount St. Mary’s clinched an NCAA berth last night, winning the Northeast Conference tournament final over Sacred Heart, 68-55.
The UMBC Retrievers will play for an NCAA bid this Saturday at noon on ESPN2.
Now as for the Terps ….
So are spring training games to be taken seriously or not?
First, the Yankees got all lathered up about the fact that the (don’t say Devil) Rays’ Elliot Johnson ran over catcher Francisco Cervelli in a spring training game, breaking Cervelli’s right wrist in the process. Cue the self-righteous commentary.
Says Joe Girardi: “It’s just disheartening. It’s spring training, I just don’t understand. I told all my players to play hard, but when you do something like that you take your chances that you will get someone hurt.”
He adds: “I want you to play hard. I want you to hustle, but to me it’s not the time to do it.”
But retaliation won’t happen because it’s just spring training, right? We’re not taking things seriously.
Girardi: “To me, it’s a non-issue right now. We’re beyond that. Sometimes opinions are going to vary.”
Adds Shelley Duncan: “There’s going to be no evil intent to carry over, but what it does just adds a different type of fire to your gut when you play that team. You understand how they’re playing the game and what their mind-set is.”
Fast forward to Wednesday’s re-match, featuring a retaliatory hit batsman followed shortly thereafter by Shelley Duncan’s spikes high slide and baseball’s obligatory bench-clearing shoving match.
Says Duncan (with a straight face, no less) of the play that Rays Manager Joe Maddon termed “borderline criminal”: “I’m pretty sure the spikes weren’t that high. They were pretty much going straight at the glove. I’ve done it before. Never had a reaction like that.”
(Judging from the photo to the left, Rays shortstop Akinori Iwamura must keep his glove in his crotch.)
Girardi, meanwhile, “was unapologetic, adding that he would have to see a replay to determine if the play was dirty.”
For good measure, Duncan turned the knife a bit on Thursday: “I saw it a couple times. I still don’t understand why they were as upset as they were,” later adding, “I go out there and I try to play the game the right way.”
Okay, so let me get this straight: spring training games are to be taken seriously, and you should always “play the game the right way,” correct? Looks like we’re finally on the same page: spring training is a serious time.
Or maybe not … “Comedian Crystal lives dream, plays for Yankees.”
When it’s all said and done the Yankees – Rays spring training brouhaha ultimately benefits Tampa Bay. The “bad blood” storyline has to be good for at least one game of the week and endless SportsCenter “analysis.” Bonus points if someone actually notices that the Rays are playing better baseball along the way.
Haven’t baseball players learned anything from politicians? Make nice with the media and they’ll love you; shun them and they’ll vilify you. Ain’t that right, Peter Schmuck? (“Throwing in the towel on Cabrera.”)