Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday's Starting Five

1. Pete Seeger. Born in 1919, Seeger has been there and overcome that. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, he is "the stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself" and the guy who "sings all the verses, all the time—especially the ones we'd like to leave out of our history as a people." Seeger came of age during the Great Depression, championed workers' rights in his youth, served in World War II, brought the banjo and Woody Guthrie to a new generation, connected the singers of Union songs to the singers of Civil Rights songs, and taught the rest of us the words. In the 1950s, he refused to name names when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to plead the fifth amendment when asked about his political beliefs and affiliations (Seeger had been a card-carrying member of the Communist Party until the realities of Stalin's iron-fisted rule were exposed). He later stood against the Vietnam War and stood up for the environment, which is why he founded the Clearwater organization dedicated to cleaning up the Hudson River. On Sunday, Seeger's 90th birthday, there was a charity concert held by Clearwater at Madison Square Garden. Or there was a birthday party masquerading as a charity concert (although the money really did go to charity). The proceedings included Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Tom Morrello (of Rage Against the Machine), Ben Harper, Joan "F&%KING" Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco, Warren Haynes, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens, Bela Fleck, Oscar the Grouch (for reals) and two dozen more performers. And they were all there for Pete, an original and inimitable legend whose place in American cultural history is really undersold. Especially on sports blogs.

2. Carl Crawford. There was a time, not too distant from this day, when Crawford was the top pick in many fantasy baseball drafts. Back before Hanley Ramirez was also playing ball in Florida, back when Crawford was the guy with wheels and power. He hit .301 in 2005 with 15 triples, 15 home runs and 46 steals.Yesterday, in a rematch of the 2008 ALCS, he looked like that guy. Crawford stole a MLB record-tying six bases while going 4 for 4 from the plate. He scored two runs and drove in another. He also drew a walk.

3. The Denver Nuggets. With record-setting ease, they dispatched Chris Paul and the Hornets. Perhaps no team has flown more under the radar this season than Denver. And, it's not for lack of star power. This team has lottery pick talent in four of five starting spots. They have one of the most gifted scorers in the game and they've got a point guard who has previously been named NBA Finals MVP. And, they had the second best record in the Western Conference this season. In the opening game of their second round set with the Mavs they won going away, 109-95. In part because of the dominance of the Lakers and in part because no one really trusts Carmelo Anthony in a big spot, this team hasn't been given nearly the credit it deserves. Aside from the Lebronaliers, they have been the most consistently dominant team thus far in the postseason.

4. The Atlanta Hawks. Last year's Chicago Bulls are an entrant in this year's second round. By taking out Dwyane Wade and company in an all-South matchup the Hawks have earned the right to face off with the Lebronaliers starting this week. It's likely a death sentence but this club has now improved in successive seasons. Last year they squeaked into the playoffs. This year they won a first round series. And, next year? Well, they'll be hard pressed to make the leap into the penthouse echelon in the East (Cleveland, Boston) but they may be able to join Orlando in the upper echelon. As long as the rift between Coach Mike Woodson and Josh Smith doesn't break the team apart in the offseason.

5. Barcelona FC. Even with a safe-ish looking lead in the standings, "El Classico" is never a game to be taken lightly. And, clearly Barcelona didn't take Sunday's clash with rival Real Madrid lightly. The Catalans thrashed Real, 6-2. And, they did it in the Spanish capitol even after falling behind in the fourteenth minute. Thierry Henry equalized shortly thereafter and the visitors demolished their hosts and crushed their title hopes. Henry finished the game with two goals and Lionel Messi netted a brace of his own as the rout was on. Barca is now seven points clear of Madrid with just four matches left to play in the La Liga season. They can now focus solely on the Champions League.

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