Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sports News With the Terps and Bucs

I am anxious to continue my trip report of our recent vacation, but today was a rather noteworthy sports day, and as a result, I feel the need to say a few words about the University of Maryland Day on the Big Ten Network and the Major League Baseball trade deadline as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  My apologies if you don't care about either, but this is my blog and I care.

Let's start with the Maryland Terrapins.  I've been on the fence with their move to the Big Ten Conference from the Atlantic Coast Conference, where they were a founding member for half a century.  I get that major sports equal big money, and big money drives these types of things.  But I didn't like the move from the ACC, particularly for the basketball teams, which had some pretty fierce long-standing rivalries.  I hate seeing those disappearing from the landscape, even if I do believe there is a "Carolina Bias", though that's what makes the whole Maryland-as-the-underdog so great.  Football, on the other hand, has sort of been an afterthought to me.  The Terps just haven't been able to cross over into being an elite football team, and that's playing in the inferior (in my mind) ACC.  The Big Ten is a superior conference (in my mind) and I struggle to see how Maryland can possibly be competitive.  This whole deal screams of being a money grab.  I feel like the decision makers at Maryland backslapped the Terps alumni in the face.

Unfortunately, now, that's all water under the bridge.  The Terps are in the Big Ten, like it or not, and I'm trying to like it.  Today was a good step in the right direction.  The Big Ten Network, where the Terps will be getting some of their big payday, celebrated the Terp's arrival in the Big Ten by airing a bunch of their most stirring, thrilling victories in both football and men's basketball.

I just finished watching the incredible men's basketball victory in 1986 over the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels first loss in the Dean Dome, the new arena named for their head coach.  The game was a nailbiter.  It started out with both teams going back and forth, with Carolina jumping out to a nice lead as the first half went along, before the Terps made a run to make it a four point game at the half.  In the second half, Carolina seemed to take control, but the Terps kept hanging around, eventually tying it up and sending the game into overtime.  The Terps took the lead as overtime wound down, and the game ended with Terps point guard Keith Gatlin throwing the ball in-bounds off of a Carolina player's back, and Gatlin put the ball in the net to clinch the victory.  Maryland star Len Bias was a beast in the game, scoring over 30 points and dominating the game at times.  Coach Lefty Driesell was so much fun to watch, stomping his feet on the floor in frustration and excitement throughout the game.  It was incredible to watch, and I remember well watching it live on TV in 1986 when it was played.

I truly believe that Bias could've been as good, if not better, than the great Michael Jordan, if he hadn't been so stupid.  Later in 1986, two days after being the second player selected in the NBA player draft, Bias took a drug overdose and died in his dorm room on campus.  I had just finished my junior year in high school, and I was a big Terps fan even before I decided to attend college at Maryland, and Bias's death shocked me.  He was such a force on the basketball court.  A truly dominating player.

The other news of the day was with the Pittsburgh Pirates and their decision not to make any moves at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline.  There were some pretty big names on the trading block today, and the Pirates were linked to many of them, but they weren't able to make any deals on them.  However, most baseball experts and fans EXPECTED the Pirates to make SOME kind of move to make the team better.  They are hardly a great team, but they are a good team, and they are in the running to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.  After not making any moves to make the team better during the off-season, and losing several pretty good players, the Pirates struggled at the start of this season, and it was very apparent that management didn't seem to care.  After April, the team played much better, and worked themselves into contention again.  A few moves at the trading deadline could have pushed them over the top, but they instead stood pat.  By not making any deals, they signaled to the fans, once again, that they don't care to push the team into the elite, gambling that the players they have might catch lightning in a bottle for the second year in a row and slip into the playoffs.  This type of thinking stinks, and I'm sick of it.

The Pirates ended twenty years of losing by having a magical season last year.  Fan attendance soared, and the team fed off the excitement of the entire city.  They not only ended the losing streak, but they entered the playoffs and won their opening round game against division rival Cincinnati, before losing in the Divisional Round to the St. Louis Cardinals.  The fans expected the Pirates management to make the team even better this year, but they seemed to be content to rest on their laurels and not make any substantial improvements.  And it showed at the beginning of the season.  The Pirates owner, Mr. Nutting, has a reputation for being cheap, and he certainly hasn't shown that he's changed his ways.  Despite what he says about wanting to make the team better, there is still an internal belief that the team can compete without spending more money.  Unfortunately, the economics of baseball insist that you DO have to spend ridiculous amounts of money, or at least a reasonable amount.  They will never be able to compete financially with the Dodgers and Yankees, but they need to at least try to be competitive.

The other aspect to this is the Pirates seem to fear trading away any of their future.  They are so hung up on wanting to be competitive into the future, that sacrificing the here and now is the order of the day.  Why not try to win today?  What's the point in even fielding a team if you aren't going to try to win now?  Make a splash, trade that future outfielder or pitcher who may or may not work out, and bring in a major league sure thing and let's try to win it all this year!  I don't care about the team two years from now.  I want to win today!

But the Pirates don't agree.  They would rather keep all of the pieces of the "best minor league system in baseball" so they might win next year or three years from now, instead of taking advantage of the momentum that they've built this year and make a run at a championship.  Their reply to the fans is that they would rather stand pat and hope for the best, while all of the other teams around them and above them in the standings made moves to better themselves.

Do I sound bitter?  I am.  Twenty years of losing will do that to a person.  Oh, well.... same old Pirates.

Have a better night than me, everyone!

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