Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spring Notes On And Off The Diamond

Trying to stay calm amidst the hype surrounding the 2011 edition of the Phillies isn't going to be easy. Publicly, Cliff Lee seems to be taking things in stride, pointing out the Fab Four, Four Aces or whatever this magnificent rotation is eventually nicknamed, hasn't thrown a single pitch yet and have already been anointed one of the best starting quartets ever!

One real sign of the times is that Chase Utley has already reported, early naturally, along with the pitchers and catchers. Infielders weren't due for another week, but Utley is a man on a mission, hoping to improve on last year's injury-plagued performance. Anyone hoping the intense second baseman might learn to take things in at a more measured pace, you know, the old marathon vs. sprint metaphor, would have to view his early arrival as a sign it's business as usual for Utley.

As marvelous as the pitching staff is, the Phillies have far too many players deemed in comeback mode to start planning any parades down Broad Street. One thing is certain: this is a team that must win this year. A few of its key ingredients will be free agents after the season. Several of its key players will be on the other side of baseball middle age at the conclusion of the season. Many are predicting the Phillies will hoist the World Series trophy late next Autumn, but before they get there a lot of troubling questions must be answered satisfactorily.

This is no sure thing.

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Were the Phillies inclined to look across Pattison Avenue for some inspiration, both the Flyers and Sixers are having fine seasons. The Fly Boys will certainly make the playoffs with many predicting they will go deep into them if not all the way. They don't really have a Bernie Parent-level goaltender, but they do have remarkable overall balance and skill.

The Sixers might not make the playoffs, but already they have had a marvelous season under new head coach Doug Collins. Collins will certainly be a candidate for coach of the year, but he may find himself a finalist for an even bigger honor, The Most Patient Man In Professional Sports.

Collins is being given much of the credit for the Sixers' turnaround from a moribund, underachieving team lacking a personality to a bunch of mid-level players working together on both ends of the court at maximum capacity and effort. The Sixers lack a true big star as well as a top-notch man in the middle, but they manage to cobble together the talent they have into a very cohesive defensive unit that on any given night can play with nearly all of the best in the NBA. To have come so far in half a season under Collins is a tribute to how well they've bought into his system and his personality.

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How far has Tiger Woods fallen? He was fined for spitting on the 12th green in a tournament over the weekend in the process of shooting a final round of 75 that dropped him way out of contention. Egads! Fined for spitting! Tournament officials claimed it was the height of unsportsman-like conduct. Paraphrasing one indignant official, "Someone putting on that green might have to deal with his ball and Woods' saliva. Disgraceful."

Imagine the ruckus is pitchers throughout MLB started complaining about their opposite numbers spitting on the mound. On second thought, who could possible monitor major league baseball players' expectorant rate?

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