For the uninitiated and uninterested, a typical sports conversation can be a vast desert of unfamiliarity. You have the beating sun of obscure names, the scorching sand of esoteric statistics, the poisonous snakes of jargon acronyms, the tumbleweeds of brutal clichés, and the cacti of terrible metaphors. Let Hamsterdam be your guide to these conversations you will encounter this week.
The biggest sports story is the college basketball tournament, which has been whittled down to the Final Four. You have a full week of hoops conversations ahead, as the semifinals will be held this Saturday and the championship a week from today. This year’s Final Four is rife with quality storylines, so it’s a good idea to brush up. Two of the teams (Kentucky and Connecticut) are traditional basketball powerhouses; they pack out arenas, have superstar coaches, and consistently send top talent to the NBA. The winner of their matchup will be Goliath, with the role of David going to either VCU (a real school) or Butler (also a real school — and last year’s David).
Some worthwhile things to say:
- “This year’s March Madness has really lived up to it’s moniker, eh?” This is a good sentence to say if you are Canadian, but it also will make it seem like you actually enjoyed watching a killer slate of thrilling games.
- “Brad Stevens — he’s such a great coach, but let’s not forget his dreamboat looks.” Stevens is the head coach at Butler and has led a tiny school with a tiny gym and tiny players* to major success in the biggest stage in college sports two years in a row. Then he flashed his winning grin, let America look deep into his piercing eyes, and captured the heart of the nation.
*Actually his players are all normal-to-largish-sized, now that I think about it.
Later in the week the 2011 Major League Baseball season will begin. This year is the start of something new: rather than the traditional Opening Day — featuring the entire league playing on the first Monday in April — this season will start on Thursday, March 31st with only a half-slate of games. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports details the motivations for this change (spoiler alert: television and money), which takes some of the tradition and pageantry out of a sport that basically invented tradition and pageantry.
Despite the scheduling quirk, the 2011 season should be compelling, with a number of talent-rich teams competing for the World Series. You might be asked to go on record with a grossly early prediction for the championship, so here are some good picks:
- Philadelphia Phillies: The Phils have stockpiled four extremely talented pitchers (casually call them “The Big 4” to sound like a true ESPN watcher), but there are some questions about their hitters and their overall team health. They’re still a heavy favorite and a safe pick.
Boston Red Sox: To the chagrin of everyone everywhere, the Red Sox appear to be loaded this season. They added two great offensive players and some extra relief pitchers. Pink hats will be abundant once again this season. Ugh.
- Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants: Both of last season’s World Series teams look to be strong contenders again, as neither has to worry about dealing with another great team in their division. If you enjoy mind-altering substances more than you enjoy organized sports, these are good teams to pick — both have high profile stars with notable drug histories.
- New York Yankees. Yeah, they’re good. Again. Yawn.
- Baltimore Orioles: Just kidding. Don’t say that.
- Milwaukee Brewers: The Brew Crew already had an explosive offense, and then they added two great pitchers. They should be a good sleeper pick and you will impress people when they turn out to be a juggernaut, even if you just picked them because they celebrate everything about Midwestern American gluttony. Seriously. Their mascot slides into a big mug of beer, they have a sausage race, they let Prince Fielder play for them, and they’re called the Brewers, for chrissakes. God bless America.