As a transplanted Northerner, I am used to being in snow up to my … well, ankles, knees or parts slightly higher at this time of year. After a brief visit to Lewisville four years ago, when the temperature approached 70 degrees in January, I returned to waist-deep snow in Michigan, vowing to be back in 30 days. Twenty-eight days later the moving van pulled up.
So, last year when people asked about the “Big Blizzard of 2014,” the standard answer was that back home we called those days “Wednesday and Thursday.”
But while the weather changes, the sports seasons do not. January always meant, first and foremost, getting ready for baseball spring training. Both as a child getting ready for a family vacation south to the Florida Keys, and as an adult preparing to go to work, it was time to think warm thoughts! Florida or Arizona was awaiting.
College sports have always been preferred to the professional version, but around Detroit you could get plenty of both. Two Big Ten universities are within one hour, and the myriad of smaller schools made access pretty easy.
The Michigan and Michigan State football teams can play with anybody down here, and their basketball runs are still great fun, but, man, I wasn’t prepared for hoops in the Triad. You guys take it seriously! We were fortunate enough to catch the Duke-Wake Forest game, and that was a really good time, despite the loss.
A quick aside here: Because of my profession and background, I analyze coaches, managers and programs with a pretty jaundiced and cynical eye. In my humble opinion, Danny Manning is a very good coach and Wake Forest men’s basketball will be an outstanding program again.
I was impressed before practice ever began when he threw out the first pitch at a Dash game. Not just because he threw a basketball like most of us would throw a baseball (giant hands!) but because 1) it was the Fourth of July weekend, and he was helping out a local minor league team and 2) three and a half hours later, when the fireworks started and we walked out after the broadcast, he was still standing in the outfield concourse talking with fans and shaking hands. He gets it!
All four professional teams were represented in the Motor City, as well, and I was fortunate enough as a youngster to play on a Little Caesar’s championship team, sponsored by “Mr. I” Mike Illitch. He was a mediocre middle-infielder in the Tigers organization and now owns the Tigers and Red Wings. He also substantially financed a great deal of the amateur sports in the city and still does to this day.
Still haven’t gotten into the Panthers, Bobcats or Hurricanes too much, but I imagine at some point I will pick up a free T-shirt from something and start to follow more because I have gear. Kind of the philosophy on tickets, too. If I can’t find a way to get in free, I will watch on TV and say I was analyzing the analysts.
I remain a Lions fan, even though they are the only current franchise to never make it to the Super Bowl. I was in San Francisco for a Super Bowl team, followed by a move to Chicago where the Bears won it all, and Michael Jordan played for the Bulls. We trained at the same facility, so we got to watch practices up close, and those championships. What amazing athletic displays he put on!
But winter and spring were really just the time to get ready for baseball, and still are. Wake Forest is practicing for the February 13 opener already. I have great respect for Tom Walter and his program. He gets it, too. And the Dash are only about 87 days away.
I have been giving some lessons to young pitchers, and the sound of the ball exploding into a mitt reverberates in my head at bedtime. That and the sound of a good swing and a miss, which is even better! This weather hasn’t really been conducive to the Hot Stove League, but we crazies carry on.
So enjoy the little events like the Super Bowl and March Madness that will tide us over until the flowers bloom and the weeds come out in the front yard. It won’t be long!