Most underrated things in sports
A couple of weeks ago, I listed the most overrated things in sports, things such as the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500 and ESPN's Around the Horn. The e-mail reaction ranged from disagreement to downright anger. Mostly, I was criticized for being too crotchety, too mean-spirited, too negative. So just to prove that I'm not always the grouchy old man who yells at the kids when they hit a Whiffle ball into his yard, I give you some things I truly love about sports but are not appreciated as much as they should be. Here are the most underrated things in sports.
When you think about it, a pit stop in auto racing is really just a timeout. In every other sport, a timeout is a chance to run to the bathroom, make a sandwich or change the channel to see what else is on. But in auto racing's little timeouts, we are glued to the screen, waiting to see if someone drops a tire or starts a fire. And even if you have watched a million races, you can't help but shake your head and say to yourself, "Man, I can't believe they change all four tires and fill the car with gas in 11 seconds.'' You know you do.
They always take a backseat to the championship, but the semifinals are usually better. Conference championship Sunday in the NFL is more fun than the Super Bowl. The League Championship Series in both leagues are better than the World Series. Saturday at the Final Four is better than Monday night. You can have the finals. I'll take the semis.
Sort of a mini-Home Run Derby without having to listen to Chris Berman yell "Baack, baaack, baack.'' Kids can catch homers off the bats of stars: A-Rod, Big Papi, Ichiro, below, and so forth. Look at it this way: You go to a game and maybe you'll get to see A-Rod or Manny swing the bat three or four times. Maybe they'll get a hit. If you're really lucky, they'll hit a homer. But show up early for BP and you might see them crank six, seven, eight homers in a row. And then you still get the game afterward. Also, add to this list the PGA driving range — golf’s version of batting practice.
Football is full of dipsy-doodle plays, from the flea-flicker to the reverse to the hook and lateral to the old Statue of Liberty. But no play sticks it to the other team more than the fake punt. When you think about it, it's really quite mean. The defense has held the opponent. The opponent is giving up, essentially saying, "Okay, you stopped us, we're going to give the ball back to you. Go way down there and we'll kick it you.'' But then the offense lies and keeps it, giving the cameraman back spasms as he tries to find the ball. It is impossible not to yell out: "It's a fake'' when you see what is happening. Anything that gets you to yell out at the screen is a good thing.
Ten track and field events combining speed, power and endurance over two grueling days, and in the end you have the "Greatest Athlete in the World.'' Time was, decathlon champs were lauded as such: Jim Thorpe, Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson, Bob Mathias. Today? Bet you can't name the current decathlon champ. It's Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic. Doggone it, he should be a household name.
High school state championships
Doesn't matter what sport. Could be football or girls volleyball. Could be a humongous 6A powerhouse or a tiny 1A underdog. To see a bunch of kids, most of whom truly play for the love of the game and practice in between biology tests and student council meetings, celebrating a championship is a special sight. They practice and play for months, often cramming in homework late at night on the bus while coming home from a game that maybe only their parents watched. They are celebrated for only a few days. But they have memories that will last a lifetime.
The crack of the bat, the ball scooting into the gap, the runner racing around the bases and turning on the jets as he gets ready to round second base. Your eyes dance between the runner, the ball, the outfielder and the relay man, trying to judge which will arrive at third base first — the ball or the runner. Simply the most exciting play in baseball. (Well, it's a tie with stealing home.) Anyway, the triple might be more fun than a homer because it is so few and far between. For example, the Rays had exactly 1,500 hits last year. Only 36 were triples.
Underrated because most consider it fourth in golf's Grand Slam, behind the Masters, U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. But this is the best. Crummy weather, an international field, links courses, the place where golf was invented and the fact that you have to get up really early to watch on TV makes this special.
Arguments and ejections
Slow grounder. The shortstop bobbles the ball. The runner is busting it to first. Here comes the throw. The runner is … out! And here comes Lou Piniella — mouth foaming, arms flailing — flying out of the dugout. You know the next three minutes are going to be beautiful. It could be any sport and any coach, but it's fun to see a grown man turning into a cranky, spoiled 2-year-old while wearing a tailored suit or pristine uniform. You might see anything — thrown bases, thrown chairs, thrown hats, kicked dirt, stomping, spitting, finger-pointing. It's hypnotic.