I remember seeing the White Sox play on opening day in 2005. Mark Buehrle beat Jake Westbrook and the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in the first game of what ultimately would be a World Series year. My buddy Chase and I drove in to Chicago and saw the game and, on the way home, listened to pre-game of that night’s NCAA National Championship Game.
The Illinois Fighting Illini were playing that night against North Carolina, attempting to win their first title in school history.
While driving home from the game I remember thinking how great the day was. It was opening day of baseball season and the national championship was that night. Even if your favorite team isn’t involved in that night’s game, it’s still great.
No matter how popular football gets, no matter how much ad revenue the Super Bowl generates, football can’t touch a day as good as this. Workers everywhere play hooky from work to catch that day’s baseball games and that night caps off the end of the greatest sporting event in the world.
So when Monday came around I was as giddy as can be. No longer having cable in my house, I camped out in the newsroom of my student newspaper, The Daily Eastern News, to watch all things baseball.
What made things even more perfect is that there were no conflicts for the TV. The White Sox started at noon and the Cubs started at 3 p.m. The title game started at 8 p.m.
I undoubtedly have high expectations for the White Sox this season, and there’s no way I was expecting anything less than a victory against the Triple-A Indians Monday, but what I was looking for more than a victory was a change in playing style Ozzie Guillen and the Sox brass had been promising all offseason.
Early on, they appeared to have delivered. Sure, Paul Konerko and Alex Rios delivered the power, but it was things like Gordon Beckham swiping an extra bag on barely-wild pitches that impressed me. Of course, Buehrle impressed me as well. The 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER performance he threw was nothing short of everything White Sox fans have come to know over the years. His flip-between-the-legs play was something never seen before and can not be understated as to how good it actually was.
What made the White Sox victory even better is what came next.
Toward the end of the Sox victory, we flipped over to the Cubs-Braves game with a few Cubs fans in the room with me. I was sitting at my computer during the game and as soon as Marlon Byrd lauched his first inning, three-run home run, the Facebook statuses came in waves.
“Welcome to the team, Marlon!”
“Welcome to Chicago, Marlon Byrd!”
Byrd with a home run! I love baseball season.”
What made me chuckle about these statuses were the mood change no 10 minutes later. As soon as Carlos Zambrano melted down and gave up six runs in the bottom of the first, the statuses quickly changed.
“What the hell, Big Z?”
“Dammit, Zambrano. Come on, Cubbies!”
“I hate baseball season.”
I admit to taking great pride in the Cubs’ failure and the pain it puts the Cubs fans I know through. But I had to restrain myself from letting out a Nelson-style “Ha Ha!” until the game ended, knowing it was early.
When the game was finally over and the 16-5 drubbing was complete, I couldn’t help but laugh. I saw statuses overly pissed at the shalacking the Cubs had taken, and some, more reasonable that said it’s only one game and it’s a long season.
While that is undoubtedly true in both the White Sox and Cubs’ case, it was a perfect start to baseball season for me and a perfect start to the greatest sports day ever.
The night’s game had me more excited than nervous. While I wanted Butler to win quite bad, I don’t hate Duke nearly as much as others. As I Tweeted a few days before Monday’s game, I don’t like Duke, but there are far superior villains in college basketball in my eyes. I hate North Carolina and Kansas far more than I hate Duke.
So while I wanted Butler to win, my main wish going into the title game was that it was a close, memorable title game. I thought it was cool that, for the first time in a few years, a majority of the game’s players were student-athletes and not one-and-done freshmen. I heard Butler players actually went to class on Monday! How absurd is that in this day and age?
The game also had a cool, extra meaning for me because I saw two of the players in high school. Willie Veasley, a starter for Butler played for Freeport High School, which was in the same conference as my high school, and Jon Scheyer, Duke’s star guard, beat my high school in the IHSA State Semifinals my senior year.
I don’t need to recap the game. Everyone knows what happened, but let me just say this: If Mike Krzyzewski did, in fact, tell Brian Zoubek to miss that second free throw, it would have gone down as one of the biggest coaching boners in history had Gordon Hayward hit the three-pointer, and I’m appalled that I didn’t see any reporters ask him about it in the postgame press conference.
Secondly, if Hayward had hit that half-court shot, it would have become the greatest shot in the history of basketball, easily supplanting Christian Laettner’s shot against Kentucky.
Can you imagine?! Underdog Butler winning the national championship against mighty Duke on a half-court shot by their star player? Suck on that, Jimmy Chitwood.
The only letdown from the day was something I saw coming. When I heard Jennifer Hudson was replacing Luther Vandross in the “One Shining Moment” montage, I can not tell you how devastated I really was.
“One Shining Moment” has always been my favorite part of March Madness. As stupid as it sounds, I LOVE it. I’m a guy who once did an entire blog post dedicated to rating the top five “One Shining Moments” since the montage began in 1987.
There were a couple of things I expected going into the montage that I knew would happen, and they did. 1) I knew they would re-record the song to make it more pop-y, and they did. I thought they would change it, but I didn’t think they would eliminate the guitar solo. That killed me. 2) I knew they would have far too many shots of Hudson singing in the studio. They did that one other time in 2003 with Luther and it sucked. This time it sucked even more. I’d be willing to bet money that Hudson had some face time written into her contract. 3) It would still give me chills. It did. I’m a sap. What can I say?
So the perfect sports day was complete. It’s a sad time because we have 11 more months until March Madness starts again. It’s great because we have seven more months of baseball ahead of us.
I’ll leave you with this: The “One Shining Moment” from 2005, the best one of all-time.