Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday's Starting Five

1. Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers have long since reported. Position players are already well versed in the routine of camp. Equipment managers have unpacked the fungo bats. Reporters have speculated about offseason workout regiments. The first hot dogs have been sold. Sunscreen has been applied. Blankets laid out on various berms. And this past weekend, their were exhibition games going on all over Florida and Arizona. Baseball is back. Mets pitcher Oliver Perez is being shelled and all seems right with the world. With the mild temperatures around these parts on Sunday, it seemed fitting that the Mets were playing a baseball game on television. During the few innings that I caught while working around the house napping on the couch, I managed to see something that proved Hall of Famer Bob Lemon's maxim that "I don't care how long you've been around, you'll never see it all." One of the Mets' dozens of catchers, Omir Santos, legged out an inside-the-park grand slam against the Nationals. Yup, you read that correctly. An inside-the-park grand slam. By a catcher. That happened. And, that's why just one reason to love Spring Training. Or hate it.

2. Landon Donovan. With his successful loan from the LA Galaxy of the MLS to Everton of the English Premier League just a week from completion, Donovan turned in another solid performance in his last home outing. The US star came on in relief and scored a goal and assisted on another as Everton thrashed Hull City, 5-1. Since bringing the noted star of Mexican lottery commercials aboard, the Toffees have won 6 of 11 contests and kept themselves in the hunt for European football while playing the most daunting part of their schedule. Largely ineffective and increasingly balding in recent forays into Europe, Donovan seems to have shed his reputation as a guy who could rake Costa Rica over the coals but couldn't hang with the big boys. The sprightly Donovan has played a flanking role for Everton and seemed quite at home. So much so, that fans and perhaps even management at the Merseyside club would like to extend his loan. Not surprisingly, the MLS wants him back. And the MLS gets what it wants (provided high attendance and lucrative television deals are not what they want). Regardless of whether or not Donovan makes further forays into European football, his performance in England has raised his profile ahead of the World Cup for better or worse. English players will undoubtedly be more familiar with his game when the nations meet on the pitch for the first games of our respective runs for the Cup.

3. Carmelo Anthony. Early last week, ESPN hoops maven David Thorpe wrote that Kevin Durant is better than 'Melo. A few days later, the Nuggets routed the StolenSonics. These events seem related only to people who write about sports. Ah, but I digress. With most of the country watching the Oscars last night, Anthony gave a 30-point performance of his own as Denver held off Portland, 118-106. The miners have now won three on the bounce (the aforementioned wins over OKC and Portland with a victory over Indy sandwiched in between) after dropping a trio of games before that. Not coincidentally, the team's three-game win streak has coincided with a three-game streak of 30+ point games from Anthony. It's possible Durant's ranginess and natural deep stroke give him the edge over 'Melo in the long run as the Thorpedo illustrates but I couldn't pass up on Anthony and the physical presence that he brings in the interior. I'm a big believer in Carmelo and think that his eventual/possible departure from the Rockies with the next wave of free agents could end up affecting the allocation of championships just as much as LBJ's decision this summer.

4. Matt Barnes. The wiry, tatooed small forward on the Orlando Magic (who was on Larry Brown's first Knicks club) nearly fought Kobe Bryant on a few occassions during yesterday's nationally televised rematch of the most recent NBA Finals. The Magic forward was antagonizing Bryant at every opportunity and didn't cede an inch, even as Kobe was dropping in some heavily-contested shots that might have deflated most defenders.

It's possible that some folks just tuning in to the NBA because the contest was on ABC might have wondered why Barnes was playing with such a mean streak. But let's give Barnes his due. He knew what he was doing. At least, I think he did. And he's no Jo Jo English being sent out merely to rile up a rival. The swingman played on the Golden State Warriors club that upset the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs and hit a few big shots yesterday afternoon. His three-point make with just over a minute left (coming directly after a Kobe miss from downtown) pushed the Magic lead back up to 6 and was the key bucket as Orlando held off Los Angeles.

5. Kathryn Bigelow. The director of The Hurt Locker had a heckuva night last night on the Left Coast. Facing off against the juggernaut that is/was James Cameron's Avatar in most of the prestige categories on Oscar night, she was sort of like Matt Barnes. Only if Barnes had scored 65 points and blocked that last-gasp shot by Kobe rather than just defending him quite well on the attempt. Much to the delight of Barbara Streisand, Bigelow became the first female director to take home the directing prize. And shortly after that she was back on the stage for the Best Picture win as well. Oh, and she and Cameron divorced in 1991.

Sixth Man. Ron Artest's barber

Great Mason's Ghost! Artest has the word "Defense" shaved/painted onto his head in Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese.