A Sunday morning look at the wide, wide, world of sports.....
The NCAA tournament hopes for the Robert Morris University Colonials came crashing down at the Sewall Center yesterday with a 69-60 loss to Mount St. Mary's, and believe me, the nine point spread doesn't reflect the totality of the Mount's win. RMU took a lead early and the Mount tied the game at 15. Then the Mount took the lead and never again lost it. Late in the second half, their lead went to over twenty points. A too-little-too-late Colonial surge in the final minutes made the final score look closer than the game actually was. Actually, from the very beginning, this game just didn't feel right for Robert Morris. Poor Shooting + Tenacious MtSM defense = A Bad Day for the Colonials.
On the bright side, as regular season Conference Champion, the Colonials do get an automatic bid to the NIT, so they got that going for them, which is nice.
The Pirates seem to be pretty much under the radar this Spring Training, and maybe that's a good thing. If there are low expectations, then there's no where to go but up, right?
In taking a look at the averages in this morning's paper, however, let's ignore the fact that Jerry Sands, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez are all hitting below .200, because Spring Training stats are meaningless, and instead look at the stats of Starling Marte and Jose Tabata, because good Spring training stats offer Hope, right?
Marte is following up a torrid winter League campaign and is hitting .421 (8-for-19) this spring. Tabata is hitting .333 (6-for-18) with four doubles, a home run, and five RBIs. Both of these lines are encouraging, but the more intriguing story to me is Tabata.
After a disappointing season that saw him injured and sent back to the minors in 2012, he seems to be a forgotten guy, one who will be, at best, the fourth outfielder for the Pirates. He is still, however, only 24 years old, and maybe being out of the spotlight has removed some pressure, or maybe he just gets it that this could be his last chance to make it with the Pirates, but what if this hot Grapefruit start isn't just another spring training flash in the pan? What if this is the year that he breaks out and becomes the player that everyone hoped he would be? How great would that be?
The biggest sports story in the city today however involves, you guessed it, the Steelers, and their releasing of James Harrison. He's 35 years old, he's been injured, and he was making too much money. He was also, probably, still the team's best linebacker, but that third factor - "making too much money" - is what spelled the end for Harrison as a Steeler. As all NFL teams do, they decided that it was time to reduce that contractual obligation, but Harrison balked, so bye-bye, James.
A one time Defensive Player of the Year, and the author of one of the greatest plays in Team and Super Bowl history, that 100 yard interception return for a touchdown, Harrison was also, how can I say this, a thug on the field, a guy with numerous illegal hits, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to his dubious credit. There are lots of guys in all sports who you like when they play for "your team" but you dislike intensely when that play for the "other team." Steelers fans will realize this the first time Harrison, playing for another team, goes helmet-to helmet with Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.
The Pitt Panther hoopsters begin the Big East tournament this week in New York against much nostalgic weeping (literal and figurative) because this will be the end Pitt's association with the Big East Conference. Hey, it was great run, but please let's stop with the gnashing of teeth over this. Last I looked, the conference to which they are headed has a pretty good reputation as a basketball conference, doesn't it? I would think that games against Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and Wake Forest will soon be the equal of games against Georgetown, Connecticut, and Villanova. Plus, Pitt will still play Syracuse, so we'll still have Jim Boeheim to kick around.
Of course, the "Big East" will survive as a basketball-only conference consisting of, for now at least, the seven Catholic universities in the conference, and this, Ironically, is what the Big East started out as in the first place way back when. I heard sportswriter Bob Ryan on the radio the other day saying that he absolutely loves this, and that the fact that this is occurring at all is the extension of a huge middle finger by college basketball to the "Football Is Everything" culture of college athletics. Great line.
I have been trying to watch the World Baseball Classic, but it's hard to get into. Maybe if the USA advances that will make it pick up the interest quotient. On the other hand, it seems that the WBC may best be remembered for that Pier Six brawl between Canada and Mexico yesterday. If that is the case, perhaps the concept needs to be re-thought.