Friday, June 12, 2009

Free Kicks: Finals Edition

Hey, thanks to Windsor and Falco for their great MLB Draft coverage, and for Windsor for covering for me on the last Free Kicks. While it has little to do with our region, some attention must be paid to the NBA Finals and the surprisingly exciting Stanley Cup Finals. Let's line up for the kick...

There’s No Magic in Orlando
There is a pattern emerging with the Orlando Magic. In all of their heartbreaking losses- LeBron James’ clutch three, Big Baby Davis’ jumper, and Derek Fisher’s tying three pointer- the Magic have failed to guard the ball handler closely in the waning moments of the game. They have been lackadaisical when the game needed their resolve. Up by 5 with a little over a minute to go, they fail to hustle down the court, costing them scoring opportunities and allowing the Lakers to come back. And once it was in overtime, didn’t you just know that the Magic wouldn’t take this game? This is a team that has had so many thrilling ends to games simply because they don’t close out their opponents. Teams with inferior talent (as the Magic do to the Lakers) must take advantage of any opportunity to steal a game. Up by 12 at the half, the Magic sat back against the best team in the NBA and watch them turn the game into a dogfight. This series could easily have been 3-1 Magic, but I won’t be crying that they were jobbed. The better team has won these games because they knew how to close it out, and didn’t let up at the end of the game. I have been pulling for the Magic, but they won’t lose this series because they weren’t as good as the Lakers- they will lose it because they aren’t as mentally disciplined.

The Motor City takes on the Steel City in Game 7

I know many sports fans out there have had excuses for not watching the Stanley Cup Finals- the NBA Finals have conflicted with them, there is no Baltimore-area team in the finals, and well, people just don’t care about hockey. However, a Game 7 is always special in hockey. You can see more evidently than any other sport when the energy is ratcheted up, when the hits are harder, and when players are laying themselves out on the ice to make a play. Besides, do you really want Pittsburgh to take home another title at the expense of a city that has seen more than its share of hardship (even athletically, comparing the Super Bowl Champion Steelers and 0-16 Lions). As far as the game itself is concerned, the Red Wings and Penguins are both battered, but the Red Wings are older and more injured at this point in the season. They have been told for over a month that they are on their last legs, that the Penguins are on a roll- a team of destiny after going 15-2-3 towards the tail end of the season to go from out of the playoffs to the #4 seed in the East.

However, as far as the game is concerned, the Red Wings have two key advantages. They don’t look tired at home, where they last won 5-0 and have one of the wildest crowds in the NHL. They are also the more experienced team. Going down 2-0 in the 3rd period to the Penguins, Detroit didn’t get down and their coach didn’t panic. After scoring to make the game 2-1, the Wings nearly scored twice in the last 2 minutes to tie the game. They didn’t, but they also didn’t make unwise decisions or start throwing bodies all over the ice. These players know how to handle themselves in the playoffs. While the Penguins did beat the Ovechkin-led Capitals at Washington in a Game 7 on their way to the Finals, the Red Wings have a much better supporting cast than Washington did. In fact, they are a supporting cast; not led by the singular superstars that can go hot or cold at a moment’s notice. I trust teams, not superstars- give me the Red Wings to repeat.

There’s Something Unique about Baseball

Only in the MLB Draft do you see such camaraderie, such personal and familial ties when it comes to drafting players. It seems that all the sons, brothers, and friends of current and former greats find their way to that very same team. Two years ago Eric Perlozzo, son of former Oriole Manager Sam Perlozzo was selected in the 35th round of the draft by Baltimore. This season, the 12th round saw the selection of Steve Bumbry, son of Orioles legend Al Bumbry. The Virginia Tech grad doesn’t have the numbers of his father and will likely never make his way to the major league roster, but it is intriguing the way that baseball teams are so eager to hold onto their roots, even through generations.

It isn’t just the historic bonds that tie certain families to certain players. The selection of Joe Flacco’s brother, Mike Flacco, in the 31st round speaks to the regional and local bonds that make baseball towns so special. Football teams, basketball teams and the like may have a slight public relations pressure to sign the local kid, but only in baseball are there enough rounds and enough picks to sign players almost solely for that reason. It strengthens the family that forms around the team, and harkens back to the roots of the sport that made it such a locally oriented team and experience. Perhaps I am too nostalgic, but perhaps sports could use a bit more nostalgia.

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