Monday, March 22, 2010

The Bells Of St. Mary's

Good morning, Fackers. Hopefully everyone had a good weekend. Between the beautiful weather in the Northeast and the great NCAA tournament action, you'd need a pretty serious excuse to not have had a good past couple of days.

Although Albany's own Siena failed to upset Purdue and was bounced in the first round, Jason's alma mater Syracuse breezed through both UVM and Gonzaga on the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Surprisingly, they weren't the only school from New York to win their first two games with ease. In the same weekend that they won the ECAC championship in hockey, Cornell handily dismantled both Temple and Wisconsin, racking up 165 points along the way. Rumor has it that Andy Bernard has been on a three day bender.

The Big Red - and the bear on its logo that would surely be mauling the shit out of you if that giant "C" weren't holding him back - were one of 9 teams to pull off upsets in the first round (not counting 8 vs. 9 match ups) and join Nothern Iowa, St. Mary's and Washington as seeds in the bottom half of the tournament who have made their way into the round of 16.

It's not hard to understand why the NCAA tournament is so popular. There are a metric ton of things to like about it. The last four days have been jam packed with exciting roundballing action and brackets get people who aren't fans of college basketball or even sports in general moderately interested in the games. In general, CBS does a good job of switching to the best game on, so watching it is sort of like having the Red Zone channel. Sometimes you get lulls in the action or two good finishes happening at the same time, but it's extremely watchable even for someone who doesn't even have a dog in the fight.

On a deeper level though, my favorite part of the tournament are the upsets. With a few exceptions, I root for the team with the higher number next to their name. The assumption might be that Yankee fans wouldn't root for underdogs but that's not really how sports fandom works.

The tournament is the perfect showcase for Cinderella stories. In no other sport are there such clearly labeled #2 Goliath vs. #15 David match ups and there is something about human nature that makes us pull for the little guy. One of the most compelling things to watch in all of sports is a huge underdog try to weather an onslaught from the favorite in the closing minutes of a game with their respective season's hanging in the balance.

It was a pretty good weekend for underdogs in the MLB as well. The Twins (who aren't really a small market team, but act like one) signed Joe Mauer to an 8 year, $184M contract. He essentially got Mark Teixeira money but based on the gap between him and the next best catcher in the league (probably Jorge Posada at the moment), has the potential to be much more valuable. Even if he can't stay behind the plate for that whole time - which is pretty likely given that he'll be 35 when it expires - if he's still hitting anything like has over the past few years, his bat alone still might be worth $23M a year.

I'm honestly happy for the Twins and Mauer. The hometown boy gets a massive deal and the team locks up one of the very best players in baseball for a very long time. It's not without risk, but it was the right thing for both sides. The deal is good for the game of baseball as well. Between moving out of that shitty old Dome and locking up Mauer long term, the Twins franchise is shining pretty brightly coming into the 2010 season.

While part of my inner Yankee fan isn't exactly begging for more competition atop the AL and would have obviously enjoyed watching Mauer play everyday instead of 10 times a year, the other part knows baseball is a better game when franchises have identifiable superstars and play in nice buildings and that it made too much sense for the Twins not to make the ultimate commitment to the pride of St. Paul. Maybe the latter is the same part of me that likes to see St. Mary's take down Villanova.