Magic of March is beginning
March has arrived. The madness is upon us.
It is more than a catchphrase about a huge college basketball tournament. It is a month of sports magic, an orgy of the extraordinary. The late, great Jim Murray used to say that the biggest threat to the existence of a sports columnist was the month of February. He wouldn’t say that now, and he certainly never said it about March.
We still have our staples at Staples, of course -- the Lakers, the Kings and the Blake Griffins. They have months to go, and by April, Griffin may be canonized.
Golf’s regular male traveling road show has headed east, but its elders will keep the putts rolling in a Champions Tour event at Newport Beach Country Club. Where have you gone Freddie Couples, after giving us such a good show at Riviera? Well, it turns out, nowhere except to Newport Beach.
The women will help fill the void for golf fans with events at Pacific Palms in Industry and the Kraft Nabisco in Rancho Mirage.
Tennis will bring its own traveling show to Indian Wells, and they will sell nearly 350,000 tickets over two weeks. That’s a lot of racket about a lot of rackets.
The Kraft is an LPGA major and the BNP Paribas is the next best thing to one in tennis.
If all this makes March a circus, then boxing, the sport that epitomizes the word, won’t be left behind.
Oscar De La Hoya’s choice for the next best thing in the sport -- who’s got next after Manny Pacquiao runs out of stiffs and interest -- will fight at the Honda Center. Saul Alvarez is a redheaded Mexican, and he will fulfill De La Hoya’s predictions if he learns to speak English and knocks out a bunch of guys.
A week after that, Miguel Cotto will fight Ricardo Mayorga, and opposing promoters will be Don King and Bob Arum. Who cares what happens in the ring? The over-the-hill promoters are much more interesting than the over-the-hill boxers.
March is even the beginning of high tide for horse racing. The traditional Santa Anita Handicap, with a $1-million purse, is another chance for John Sadler’s Twirling Candy to chew up another good field.
Then there are our Dodgers and our Angels. Spring training has begun. It is the annual never-ending, overdone ode to sports hype. It is the longest buildup to the longest season in sports, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. We should no longer feel conned. That happened more than 60 years ago, we bit and the hook remains in our mouths.
On Sunday at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, the Dodgers’ modern-day Vero Beach, the two Southern California teams played a game. There were 6,000 people who had nothing better to do. It was chilly, bright and sunny. The poor people in snow banks in the East and Midwest would kill for this.
The Dodgers played all their big guys, the Angels almost none of theirs. It lingered for a couple of hours, the fans lounged and ate hot dogs, and 50 players in blue and 50 players in red leaned along the dugout railings across from each other to watch the game. A day off from the heavy cardio work, apparently.
The Dodgers won, 5-0. The Angels started veteran left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir. He gave up three runs and five hits and was ecstatic. Asked afterward where he would place his performance on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best, he said, “Oh, a 7 or 8. It felt that good.”
The only thing that saddened the day was that a Boy of Summer had died in the spring. The word spread quickly. The legendary Duke Snider, 84, Dodgers center fielder, who still leads the franchise in home runs and runs batted in, had passed away. It was left to Vin Scully, who now transcends nearly all Dodgers eras, to find the perfect words, as he always does.
“It is ironic to say it,” Scully said, “but we’ve lost a giant.”
Eras pass, and only masters of words, such as Scully, can preserve them. In the press box, there was discussion about how many current players on either team knew who Snider was.
In the stadium, the rhythms of spring didn’t miss a beat. It is little else, so it better be fun. The game ended, the scoreboard gave permission and they poured out of the stands. The kids ran the bases to the sounds of “Footloose.”
Almost nothing of great import happens in baseball in the month of March and there are millions of words written about it.
The centerpiece of the month, of course, is the college basketball tournament. They make a bracket, we get a team, the hard-core fans go to Las Vegas and the Lord’s name is taken in vain millions of times in reference to men with whistles.
A month ago, we had a UCLA team deemed “awful” and “crummy” by at least one local professional typist, who shall remain anonymous except for the initials T.J. Now, the Bruins are neither awful nor crummy, and even look as if they could make a tournament impact.
Who knew? But it’s March, when stuff happens. Lots of it.
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March isn’t all about the NCAA basketball tournament, the NBA, the NHL and baseball spring training. Here are a few other events taking place this month:
PGA Champions Tour
Newport Beach Country Club
LPGA Kia Classic
Pacific Palms Resort
LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship
March 31-April 3
Mission Hills Country Club
BNP Paribas Open
Indian Wells Tennis Garden
Saul Alvarez vs. Matthew Hatton
Honda Center, Anaheim
Miguel Cotto vs. Ricardo Mayorga
WBA light-middleweight title
MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Santa Anita Handicap
Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia