St. Petersburg Times staff writer Rodney Page looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
Aside from maybe the Super Bowl, no sporting event gets more same-day hype than the Kentucky Derby. There was more than seven hours of prerace coverage Saturday on Versus and NBC. All this for a race that lasts two minutes, mind you. Versus' coverage started at 11 a.m. and showed the preliminary races between some riveting segments. There was one about how to make a $1,000 mint julep (it includes ice from Tasmania made from water that has never touched the ground, dried and toasted sugar, and Woodford Reserve bourbon). And supermodel Marisa Miller talked to Maria Menounos about hats and how to pick a Derby winner. She took Pants On Fire because of the horse's female jockey, Rosie Napravnik. "And I like the name. It's all about the name and color at the end of the day."
NBC took over at 4 p.m. and guess who popped up 40 minutes into the show? Miller! She was being interviewed by … Menounos. They talked about hats and how to pick a Derby winner. Miller took Pants On Fire (again) because of the female jockey. Hey, it isn't easy filling more than two hours.
But when the crowd sings My Old Kentucky Home, things start to get exciting. Tom Hammond did his usual thorough job of introducing each horse and jockey during the post parade. When the race started, it was a little strange not hearing Tom Durkin call it. Larry Collmus took over for Durkin this year and, maybe it was just my TV, but Collmus seemed drowned out by the in-house track announcer. It was a little hard to hear his call.
As for the other hosts, Bob Costas was his typical smooth self. Donna Barton Brothers has to be the best horse-riding interviewer on TV. Gary Stevens was the most credible of the analysts, having ridden in the Derby many times. And he was in the movie Seabiscuit. Case closed. But as good as they all are, Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia picked Animal Kingdom.
Kentucky Derby coverage seems to follow the same formula every year. Show a few feel-good stories, make some predictions, find some celebrities and run the race. This year it was good, but not great. And we learned Miller looks nice in a hat but doesn't know anything about picking horses.
Sad news arrived Saturday with the passing of Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros. CBS sprinkled its coverage of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., with memories of Ballesteros and interviews with players who knew him. Players wore black ribbons in his honor. There was also footage of his more notorious shots, including one from the parking lot at the 1979 British Open. And in Sunday's final round, there was an emotional moment of silence when players stopped to remember Ballesteros. The Golf Channel had segments on Ballesteros, as did ESPN. Even Bob Costas took a moment during Kentucky Derby coverage to talk about Ballesteros. The Spanish golfer was considered Europe's Arnold Palmer, and in a strange way his death on Saturday, while golf was being aired worldwide, allowed him to get the tribute he deserved.
This wasn't NBC's fault, but it missed out on some Sunday afternoon programming when the Bruins swept the Flyers in the second round of the NHL playoffs. If the Flyers had won just once, NBC would've had a coveted weekend game. Instead, Ch. 8 showed an episode of a classic cars show, Fins and Chrome. On a relatively slow Sunday, it would have been nice to watch playoff hockey.
Evidently there is widespread panic in New York that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter just might be washed up. At almost 37, Jeter was hitting .256 with only three extra-base hits in 117 at-bats before Sunday. New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica defended Jeter on ESPN's Sports Reporters, while Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan blasted Jeter. "Yankees fans are tripping over themselves getting off the Jeter bandwagon," Lupica said. "I may be the last guy in town who thinks hitting .250 isn't the same as what the Red Sox saw from Carl Crawford. Do I think Derek Jeter is going to hit .350 again? No. Do I think he is the same player he was at 27? No. But this is a proud guy. Hitting .250 doesn't mean he's washed up."
Yes it does, Ryan said. "I think this is a disaster," he said. "(Three) extra-base hits, 11 infield hits and most of them are dribblers. There's no punch left in the bat. You can't avoid it. That's the fact."
Jeter hit two homers against the Rangers on Sunday. That's a fact.
There were a couple of interesting TV moments in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday. Viewers called and e-mailed PGA Tour officials saying they thought Padraig Harrington, who has had some rules problems in the past, teed off in front of the tee markers on the 13th hole, which would be a penalty. But after looking at video, officials determined it was inconclusive. "I can see how on TV it might look close," Harrington told CBS's Peter Kostis. "But after looking at it, it's inconclusive. For once I'm not going to be a martyr and take it."
Meanwhile, Rory Sabbatini finished at 14 under and shared the lead. He also faces a suspension after getting into a shouting match with playing partner Sean O'Hair a few weeks ago. Kostis wanted to interview Sabbatini, but he would only do it if they didn't talk about the suspension. To CBS's credit, it refused the interview. Players can't dictate the questions, and good for CBS for not airing a watered-down interview.
Rays go national
A sizable part of the country got to see the Rays-Orioles game on Saturday, mainly because the Red Sox game was in a rain delay. The Fox "B" team of Kenny Albert and Mark Grace did a solid job. National broadcasters have to do their homework because the game is being shown in the local market. We know all about the Rays, and it appeared Albert and Grace do as well.
Albert even said: "(Orioles pitcher) Jeremy Guthrie was very good on opening day in defeating the Rays down in St. Pete."
He said St. Pete! A national broadcaster said St. Pete! Hallelujah! But an inning later Grace ruined it by saying "B.J. Upton had a walkoff in Tampa last week." Oh well.
One of the better moments of the broadcast came in the fourth inning, when James Shields, who pitched Friday, talked with Albert and Grace. Grace kind of stumbled through the interview, but with the count 3-and-2 on the Orioles' Mark Reynolds and a runner on second with one out, Grace asked Shields what pitch he would throw. "I'd go with the changeup," Shields said. Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson threw a changeup and struck out Reynolds. "You've got to go with the changeup when you have a base open like that," Shields said. Good insight.
And Fox hit a home run again in the sixth when it showed a segment with the Orioles' Adam Jones miked for batting practice. "Every time I swing hard, I ground out to short," Jones said to bench coach Willie Randolph. Moments later, Jones grounded out to short. Those segments added to a game that turned into a Rays blowout.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Like him or not, it didn't seem right for the Lakers' Phil Jackson to end his coaching career by getting swept in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
2. Playoff hockey is awesome, but when the home team is playing, it's like standing on the edge of a mountain for three hours.
3. Okay, I give. Rays outfielder Sam Fuld really is a superhero.