With apologies to the great rock band Chicago, “Does anybody really know what time it is . . . Does anybody really care?”
Monday, April 6, was Opening Day for Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox, in Philadelphia for their season-opening series, shut out the Phillies, 8-0.
Monday was also Closing Day for college basketball. Kentucky-slayer Wisconsin took on tradition-rich Duke in Indianapolis for the NCAA Championship, and Duke rallied from nine points down in the second half for a 68-63 victory.
Wait a minute! It was not quite Closing Day. Connecticut and Notre Dame will play tonight, April 7, in Tampa for the NCAA women’s championship.
Whew, that will do it for the six-month “winter” season in college sports, right? Not quite. Providence College, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota and Boston University will skate in the Frozen Four Thursday at TD Garden in Boston with the winners facing off Saturday for the NCAA men’s hockey championship. Minnesota wrapped up its sixth NCAA women’s title on March 22 with a 4-1 victory over Harvard.
Forget about professional basketball and hockey. We’ll be well into June before those interminable seasons end.
Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? When it comes to sports, one season rolls seamlessly to the next. Off-season training regimens, mini-camps, clinics, AAU programs and showcase tournaments keep athletes, professional, collegiate and high school, on the go all year.
The Red Sox launch their 2015 campaign with a lineup that bears little resemblance to that which started the 2014 collapse. General manager Ben Cherington acknowledged failed experiments like infielder Will Middlebrooks and outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. and signed the experienced outfielder Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval for this season. Ramirez, in his second stint with the Red Sox, hit two home runs in the opener, his second a broken-bat grand slam in the ninth inning.
Boston's pitching staff is a giant question mark, or do you really like Clay Buchholz as your ace? He did pitch well on Monday, scattering three hits and striking out nine while walking only one in seven strong innings. We'll see how often he is so effective. And there will be the inevitable questions about Dustin Pedroia’s physical condition and David Ortiz’s age. Pedroia started strong, however, belting a pair of home runs off Philly starter Cole Hamels.
The beauty of big-league baseball is the 162-game schedule, a season with more peaks and valleys that the White Mountains. Yet there are certain givens: someone will start fast and tail off; someone else will struggle in the April chill and get hot as the weather warms; others will still be seeking that magic come September.
On the subject of the Red Sox, the Pawtucket Red Sox will play this season under a cloud of uncertainty. Will they move to a new stadium in Providence in 2017? Will they seek a home in Worcester? Will the City of Pawtucket devise a plan so attractive that the new owners of the club will consider staying there? Too many questions remain unanswered about the stadium proposed for I-195 land in Providence, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the free parking at McCoy Stadium.
In the men’s basketball final, I liked Wisconsin over Duke. The Badgers had outplayed undefeated Kentucky in the final minutes of the semifinal Saturday night. Held scoreless for seven minutes, they closed with a 12-4 run. Frank Kaminsky, the star of the team and everybody's player of the year, can score, rebound and bury the trey. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats. Coach Bo Ryan did not panic when his team suffered through that long scoring drought, and he did not lose his cool when one of his players got mugged down the stretch and the officials, even after a review, did not call a foul.
But Wisconsin, playing its first final since 1941, wilted under Duke's defensive pressure in the second half and had no answer for freshman Grayson Allen, who came off the bench and scored eight consecutive points to stop Duke's slide, and freshman point guard Tyus Jones, who slashed to the basket for layups and buried a late three-pointer that was a dagger to Wisconsin's heart.
I had not discounted Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s teams always play defense, and freshmen Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor can light up the scoreboard and sweep the glass. But they got into early foul trouble and were not the significant factors they had been all year. Allen and Jones sparked the rally that produced Krzyzewski’s fifth NCAA title.
UConn is the overwhelming favorite to win its third consecutive women’s championship Tuesday night. The Huskies have not been tested in this tournament; they won their first three games by an average of 47 points and defeated Maryland by 23 in the semifinal. Notre Dame escaped with a one-point victory over South Carolina in the other semifinal. UConn beat Notre Dame in the 2014 final.
If UConn wins, coach Geno Auriemma will tie John Wooden, the coach of the UCLA juggernauts of the 1960s and 1970s, with 10 national championships, the most in college basketball.
I'm saving hockey for another day.