I’m back home again from Indy with a busted bracket, hangover, and little sleep. Not quite as bad as the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, but 34 years older and out of drinking shape. O’Reilly’s Irish Pub turned out to be our rendezvous spot between games. My friend who secured the hard-to-get tickets was following Illinois to their disastrous end, while my Indy buddy and I saw an assortment of teams live at both Lucas Oil Stadium and Banker’s Life. Purdue failed to please, falling to The Mean Green, as the sole representative of the state’s once-renowned round-ball heritage. IU stumbled once again and missed the Big Dance altogether. Oregon’s opponent was eliminated by Covid and the only other Beavs fan I met was due to a rest room break at a bar appropriately called The Wild Beaver. I was wearing my Oregon State baseball shirt.
The three flights in from Portland to Indianapolis went relatively smoothly but sleep was hard to come by. A 5:30 a.m. run through a nearly abandoned terminal at O’Hare got me through the night – that’s 2:30 a.m. Portland time! The first stop after the airport was The World of Beer where I enjoyed my first cold one. Former IU star Dan Dakich hosted a live radio show that was organized by another friend of mine. I tried my best to work in some of my oldest media pals into our fast paced schedule while I was in town, while grabbing some BBQ wings. The Day 2 lunch was at the Workingman’s Friend with other dudes from my past. Next, on the agenda were stops at The Yardhouse, Slippery Noodle, Harry & Izzy’s, and 10 West. For me, it was an exhausting trip down memory lane in the town where I spent 15 years of my life. I was proud that the Hoosier State could pull off this basketball extravaganza, but without the packed arenas and screaming crowds these efforts were futile.
Over the two night span, I got together with 7 fellow basketball buds and made a few phone calls to those who couldn’t be there. Everyone was curious about the unprecedented experience of all these games in central Indiana, but the crowds were disappointing and the venues seemingly empty thanks to Covid. Zip ties were used to disable seats that were strategically socially distanced. At first, it looked like you could move down to empty chairs closer to the courts, but you couldn’t sit in them. Entire sections were blocked off and the atmosphere was sadly sterile. Plus, the mask patrol was monitoring everyone on cameras and warning us of ejection. I’m sure the players were glad to have live supporters, but their voices were lost in the cavernous void. It was better to stay home and watch the action on TV, because the party crowds on the street or in the stands were sorely missing. A year ago downtown Indy was bustling with activity even on a normal day, but the tourney came off as a ghost town despite all these teams and fans in attendance.
One of my highlights of being back home again in Indiana was a bacon and maple cream long john, made by a popular donut spot. This was a late night surprise left on the doorstep of my good friend’s condo. His place is a bit far from the downtown action, so he did a lot of shuttling us around. We had a great time as always, bemusing about the miserable IU season and speculating on a new coach. March MADness took on new meaning with the anger we expressed in both 2020 and 2021. I’m home and back in the blog business, with lots of good weekend memories.
It’s March and on the last two days of the regular season I don’t have a dog in the fight. I.U. was the first to be eliminated. Their season is mercifully over. Purdue was beaten a few days ago by Ohio State. The undefeated Zags easily won their tournament a few days ago so they aren’t playing this weekend. The Beavers beat the Ducks in basketball, while the Ducks prevailed in baseball, a rare flip-flop of program strengths. My four most hated teams are battling it out for the BIG bracket title, a tournament that I.U. has never won since inception. Not much to look forward to over the next few days except the tourney draw.
When I get to Indianapolis next weekend, I will struggle with allegiance. The Ducks and Boilers will get another chance for post season glory, while the Zags should cruise through their first two games. Oregon State will only get in, despite three straight Pac12 wins, if they beat Colorado today, a team they’ve lost to twice. The number 12 has been added to their jerseys as a reminder that they were picked to finish last in the conference by the pre-season pollsters. They could win the Pac12 tourney for the first time in program history. Now that’s a fighting Dog!
The Hoosiers were the worst kind of dog, finishing with six straight conference losses, rather than peaking for a March Madness run. They face an off-season of uncertainty as Archie Miller’s fate is determined. Trayce Jackson-Davis will not be back though I don’t see much of a future for him in the NBA. He certainly got to the free throw line frequently but the rim doesn’t favor his short game and he can’t shoot well from the charity stripe. He could be a star if he stayed in college two more years, but Archie is not a teaching coach. The G-League is his certain destiny. The only guy that did hit free throws this year, Al Durham, could come back for another year – but probably won’t. I’m not at all looking forward to next year without the shooters, big bodies, or innovative coaching that can effectively compete in the BIG. Unless there is change, my hapless Hoosiers are nothing but a barkless dog without a fight!
For those unlike me that work, it’s the first day of the week. It’s often difficult for me after three full years of retirement to distinguish one day from another, but it definitely felt like a Monday. Traffic was heavy and bunched together, so I had to dodge a lot of vehicles and bikes on day 4,033 of my consecutive running streak. A train made it impossible to cross a busy intersection and many stop lights were not in sync for me. As a result, a ran 3.25 miles rather than the 3.1 standard that I’ve set for myself. With snow in the forecast, it portends to be a difficult week on the streets.
The Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning, and my wife and I are relatively current on this year’s productions. This past week we streamed both The Two Popes and Marriage Story. Today, we plan to see 1917 and get back in the habit of justifying our Regal annual pass investment. We haven’t been to a movie since Richard Jewell just over a month ago. Kathy Bates was nominated for her role as his mother. We have yet to see Parasite, Little Women, Bombshell, Harriet, or Pain and Glory. With unlimited access, there’s really no excuse for not sitting through them all in the next few weeks.
Tonight is the College Football Championship with L.S.U. battling Clemson. It seems like it’s taken forever to get here, much like the drawn-out drama of each year’s Superbowl. There’s now a chance for a redo of the very first one in 1966, then called the “AFL–NFL World Championship Game,” between the Chiefs and the Packers. Admittedly, basketball is still my favorite sport, despite the lack of success by my favorite teams. The season goes by as quickly as the action on the court, unlike baseball that seems to never end. It’s still a great sport for a nap and filled with great history. I will watch football tonight out of curiosity, since most of the Vegas money seems to be on L.S.U., while title experience favors Clemson. Once again, the BIG and PAC12 conferences failed to make the finals and “The South” continues to dominate. Good thing it didn’t happen in the Civil War! I still think it’s odd that Oregon, one of the states that was least affected by that battle, uses “The Civil War” to hype the in-state rivalry in sports and academics between the Ducks and Oregon State Beavers dating back to 1894.
We’re trying to organize a Holiday family trip to Kauai to round out our travel year. It was more “affordable” to go mid-December rather than Thanksgiving or Christmas, so it now depends on the work schedules of my step-daughters and their new husbands. We can take advantage of the Marriott Vacation Club for a record fifth time this calendar year, having also already booked condos in Orlando, Vegas, San Francisco, and Bali. With my wife’s recent retirement, this is her year to celebrate and spend some of the IRA savings she has accumulated through the years. We’ll also use Marriott Bonvoy points as part of our summer trip through Glacier National Park via stops in Walla-Walla and Spokane Washington. It will then extend into Canada and three nights at the historic Prince of Wales hotel that is not yet a Marriott property. It probably will be someday!
While I’ve been enjoying being at home, most of my baseball favorites have been sent home with their tails between their legs. The Oregon State Beavers didn’t have far to go after being eliminated from the NCAA baseball tourney on their home field. The Indiana Hoosiers at least won one elimination game before being knocked out by Louisville. Meanwhile, the Cardinals swept the division leading Cubs, taking advantage of their Busch Stadium home. It was the sixth loss in seven games for the Cubbies to fall behind the Brewers in the standings. Unlike the Beavers and Hoosiers that were sent home packing, the Cubs season is far from over. At least, they get to go home and face the Angels tomorrow.
Home Field Advantage is a proven positive this year. The Cubs swept the Cards in the friendly confines of Wrigley earlier this year, while the Cards returned the favor at Busch. They will play again next week at Wrigley to break the overall series tie and determine the Pre-All-Star-Break Champion. The Cubs are 18-10 at home and the Cards are 19-12. Both have losing records on the road. This weekend’s sweep is the first against the Cubs since early April when the Braves brought out the broom at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. Chicago will host the next 7 games and will hopefully reverse their recent skid.
On the positive side, the cross-town White Sox have been far more successful of late, winning 6 or their last 7, including a sweep of the Royals and 2 of 3 against the Indians at their home, Guaranteed Rate Field. I will always know it as Comiskey Park, even though it was U.S Cellular Park when they last won the World Series in 2005. If it weren’t for the success of the White Sox at home this weekend, baseball would have been a total bummer. It only goes to prove that “there’s no place like home (regardless of what they name it.)”