Play Ball!

Play Ball!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Being a sports fanatic has its good times and bad, and I for one have probably had more lows than highs, but I dont know if there is any better time than Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Ive often wondered if I would feel the same way if I lived in say, southern California. Part of the allure of the beginning of the baseball season is that it tells us that the long winter is over. Im not sure if the long winter endured by the inhabitants of Los Angeles has them longing for re-birth. That endless string of seventy degree days must be a grind! But in the Midwest, and the east coast where I was born, the beginning of the season has more significance and meaning. Opening Day is a starters gun that signifies that its time to go back outside again. Being cooped up in the house can drive you nuts. (Especially if youve been watching too many Bulls games!) The arrival of the boys of summer means that it cant be too far behind.

People always ask me which sport is my favorite. If theyre asking about the four majors and golf, I dont know if I could say that I care for one a whole lot more than the others. I have an affinity for each one. They all bring up different memories and connections. Baseball though, has probably been around the longest. It for me, as well as just about everyone else, is a memory of childhood. Being as old as I am, I did not grow up (some say still havent) with ipods, Wiis and computers. (Did have the Atari Pong though!) What we did in my neighborhood was play sports outside at the park down the street from the time we got up until we were forced to come in. When we started playing baseball, it meant two things: It was nice out and school was almost over! (Go figure I loved it so much!) As I got older, I was able to play in little league. Getting my first uniform is something I remember to this day. ( No. 3? Dad-Same as Babe Ruth. Me- Whos that?) The parade at the beginning of the season was the social event of the year for any kid under twelve. The league I played in had announcers for every game and a scoreboard that electronically showed balls and strikes. That was known as state-of-the-art for the late sixties. Not to mention the concession stand had the best hot dogs and french fries I ever remember. Mom always loved the mustard stains on the uniform pants. Those times to me were like a Rockwell painting, forging the foundation of my love for the game, on every level.

The thrill of Opening Day has never waned. More than any sport, the beginning of baseball signifies more than a season to be played. Its about the summer to come and the summers that have passed. Its more than games. Its the sounds, the smells and the feel. No matter how many times the team that I love breaks my heart, (sound familiar?) I cant wait to come back for more. To be able to watch on TV, go to a game or to just follow my rotisserie team with a zeal that borders on psychotic, is all I need. Baseball is that friend that will be there everyday, with so many stories to tell, some good, some bad, but all worth knowing. Baseball will be the soundtrack of my summer, the background noise of my life for the next six months and if Im lucky, a little longer than that.

Morning Update: Bulls win season opener; World Series returns to Wrigley

Morning Update: Bulls win season opener; World Series returns to Wrigley

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Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

College teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder made plans to go to dinner after Thursday’s game in Chicago but for a few short moments they weren’t just competitors but unexpected combatants, getting tangled up in the second quarter.

There looked to be some harsh words exchanged after Butler took a charge on an unsuspecting Crowder near three-quarter court, with Crowder putting the basketball in Butler’s chest while Butler was still on the floor, causing players on both teams to convene for some tense moments.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got involved and then before Butler could blink, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo joined the proceedings, as pushing and shoving ensued before technical fouls were assessed to both teams after an officials’ review.

If one wondered whether these Bulls—a team that touts itself as young with so many players having three years or less professional experience—could play with some bark and bite, perhaps the season opener provided a bit of a positive preview for the next 81 games.

Nearby, an unbothered Dwyane Wade took a practice 3-point shot, much to the delight of the United Center crowd, as observers witnessed the first sign of tangible proof the Bulls have intentions on regaining a bit of an edge on the floor.

Wade joked and took it as a sign of respect between the two teams.

“It looked like it, right? Yeah. It was a little something out there,” said Wade when asked if there was some chippy play. “Every time we play them it’s gonna be like that. Two teams finding their way in the Eastern Conference. We know we gotta see each other a lot. They never give up. They can be down 30 with 15 seconds left and they’re still gonna fight.”

The Bulls have externally preached toughness from the start of camp. Although Wade didn’t participate in that meeting of the minds, he isn’t exactly running away from such matters.
And Rajon Rondo is competitively ornery enough to have his voice hard no matter the setting.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s been a big theme of practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We want to play with physicality and toughness. I think it was evident on the glass tonight.”

Yes, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 19, but that could’ve been a by-product of the Bulls’ crashing the offensive glass on a porous shooting night. And yes, the slightly tense moment between Butler and Crowder probably won’t be an expected occurrence.

But when’s the last time one had multiple examples to dissect to discern this team’s level of toughness—or lack thereof.

“That’s something to show that the guys are out there fighting for each other,” Hoiberg said. “That they were playing with an edge. It happens with this game. You have to be competitive.”

Competition boiled over slightly, but considering the NBA isn’t exactly UFC, one doesn’t have to do much to display a little physical resolve.

“The fact that nothing escalated was good,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that those guys are out there and playing for each other and have each other’s back, that’s a huge thing right now.”

Too many times last season, it seemed the Bulls would submit in situations like those. Not that they were particularly soft, but it didn’t appear they had the collective will to fight for one another if an altercation arose.

Half the time, they looked like they could barely stand to be in the room with each other.

“It’s people’s will to win. Not saying a bad thing about anybody from last year,” Butler said. “To tell you the truth, I study the game and put in a lot of work but Rondo studies the game a lot. Every time I’m in the gym, he’s in the gym. That lets me know, these (dudes) are going to war with you. Every day. When I hit that deck, Rondo was right there. I wanna play with guys that’s gonna play hard, that’s gonna fight.”

And it didn’t take long for Butler to realize he has at least a couple teammates willing to jump in the foxhole with him.