Blog Archives

College basketball starts anew

It isn’t an official holiday in Lawrence, Kansas, but I’m certain many, many, many people are finding excuses to skip work or classes at the University of Kansas.

The Jayhawks begin the college basketball season tonight when they host Tennessee State.

Yahoo. (Sarcasm)

I really don’t care much about college basketball. I will watch if there’s nothing else on, or I’m in a location where it’s on all the televisions and I have no choice but to watch–unless I want to blindfold myself. Otherwise, no thank you.

I don’t know why I fill out a bracket during the NCAA tournament. I guess it’s just to do something fun. I really don’t give a darn who wins.

LSU has been awful at men’s basketball for the better part of the last 20+ years, save for a trip to the Final Four in 2006 and scattered NCAA tournament appearances.

I don’t expect one of those scattered appearances to occur in 2018.

LSU is picked 14th–DEAD LAST–in the Southeastern Conference. By contrast, Missouri, which finished tied for last in the SEC with LSU last year and lost to the Bayou Bengals AT HOME, is ranked in the preseason polls and is expected to make the NCAA tournament, thanks to new coach Cuonzo Martin and a stellar recruiting class, led by Michael Porter Jr., widely regarded as the nation’s top prep player of 2016-17.

The. Bayou Bengals have a new coach, Will Wade, who came from VCU, where he conintued the Rams’ run of success began by Shaka Smart, now at Texas. Wade has brought needed enthusaism and discipline to a program lacking both under Johnny Jones, but Wade has a tougher task ahead of him than what Dale Brown did when he came to LSU in 1972.

I hope Wade succeeds. I want my alma mater to do well, like most graduates want to see their schools thrive. But i can’t see it happening this year or next. LSU must be patient with Wade. It has to give Wade at least four years to get this thing on the right track. I’m not saying beat Kentucky every time. The top half of the SEC year in and year out would be a major improvement.

Kentucky is the favorite in the SEC. As it should be. Until someone can consistently knock off the Wildcats, the title will remain in Lexington. John Calipari has adapted so well to the “one-and-done” phenomenon. You may hate the guy, but nobody can deny he can fuse together a whole new group, get them to play cohesively, send them off to the NBA, where most will be high draft picks, then start all over again.

When I frequented Ivar’s, the sports bar near the LSU campus where I spent hundreds (maybe thousands) of days, one of the first things I noticed was a bumper sticker behind the bar. It read:

Kentucky Pervert–a man who enjoys sex more than basketball.

Very tue. It’s not just that way with the Big Blue, but at Louisville, Western Kentucky, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky, too. Basketball, horse racing and bourbon are all Kentucky traditions, traditions which should be cherished. It makes the Bluegrass State one unique place.

Kansas will win the Big 12. Again. For the 14th consecutive season. Arizona will win the Pac-12. Duke the ACC. Wichita State should roll in its new conference, the American Athletic Conference, but how much of an upgrade from the Missouri Valley is it really? The Big Ten should be interesting, but look for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans to come through.

Wichita State fans have been begging and pleading to play Kansas (and Kansas State) in the regular season. Bill Self refuses to bite. Cuold a Shockers-Jayhawks match take place in San Antonio at the Final Four? Maybe.

Let the games begin. Just don’t expect me to be watching too much.

Thank you, Kentucky

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Last post from Kentucky. I am at a gas station/White Castle off Interstate 64, about 35 miles from the Ohio River and the Kentucky/Indiana state line. 

LSU lost to Kentucky yesterday 10-2, giving the Wildcats the series two games to one. Not much of a game. Kentucky scored four in the first, three in the third and three more in the fourth, and that was that. The Wildcats still lead the SEC East and are just one game behind Mississippi State for the overall SEC lead. LSU is now 10-8 in the league, which means it is more than likely headed for the one-and-done round of the SEC tournament. The top four teams–as of now, State, Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas–will have a bye to the double elimination portion of the bracket. 

I’m going to miss Kentucky. Had a very good time. I enjoyed visitng with Bill Franques, who honestly put up with my crap much longer than any human being should put up with me. I really put him through the wringer more than a few times. He probably has taken more from me than anyone except my parents, and this includes Peggy, Caitlyn, Robb, Dawn, Liz, Lisa and even Crista. He’s a great man for doing so, and I’m very glad we still keep in touch. 

I picked up some White Castle in Shelbyville. Can’t get that in Kansas or Kansas City for that matter. St. Louis is the closest location to where I am. I can get Zaxby’s in KC, which I might do tonight when I get to my usual spot, the Fairfield at KCI. 

Okay, time to hit the road. Next stop, Indiana. 

Last go at the Cliff

We are less than an hour from the final game of the LSU-Kentucky baseball series. It’s a rubber game, as the teams split their doubleheader Friday, with the Wildcats winning the opener 12-5 and the Bayou Bengals the nightcap 4-3.

This is LSU’s final game at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The field has been here since 1969, but the stadium itself opened in 2002 as part of a renovation. The 2018 season will be the Wildcats’ last at Cliff Hagan, as they are moving into a new stadium off campus the next season. LSU and Kentucky probably will not play next year, but if they do, it will be in Baton Rouge. The next time LSU will come to Lexington will be either in 2020 or 2021.

Bill told me the likely SEC East road trips next year are Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Tigers go to Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the West. That leaves Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State at home. plus Missouri and either Florida or Kentucky.

With no game yesterday, it was more like a typical Saturday I would spend in Kansas City. I treated Bill to lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, then went about the rest of my day on the other side of town. I went to the other B-Dubs in Lexington and played three hours of trivia. I left at 7:30 and decided to call it a night.

It’s chilly in Lexington. The sun is not out, and the mercury is struggling to climb above 55 (13 Celsius). There’s a good wind blowing from left to right, which means the ball will carry very well to right field, which is already very short (310 down the line, 350 to the power alley).

Tonight is a working and packing night. Tomorrow I’m on Interstate 64 and Interstate 70 to Kansas City. If I’m there by 7 pm CT, I’ll be happy.  Other than returning the rental car to KCI, it’s pretty much normal in KC (read: trivia at B-Dubs and maybe Minsky’s) until I have to go to Hays Thursday.

Ten hours at a baseball park

As Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris sang in the mid-1980s, I have made up for lost time.

I can safely say that I have now had more than my fill of Cliff Hagan Stadium after not traveling to Lexington during my years working with LSU’s baseball program.

Seven hours, 34 minutes of actual baseball, plus the hour before the game and the hour between games.

It isn’t the longest day I’ve spent in a college baseball stadium–the regionals at LSU far surpass that–but it’s one of the longest days I’ve spent in a facility during the regular season.

For the record, Kentucky won the first game 12-5, and LSU the second 4-3. The Bayou Bengals were down 3-0, but rallied with three in the fifth to tie, then scored the winning run in the eighth on an RBI single by Antoine Duplantis.

Tomorrow’s game is the last of the series, and the last for LSU at Cliff Hagan, period.  LSU and Kentucky probably won’t play in 2018, and if they do, it would be at Baton Rouge. The Wildcats are opening a new stadium in 2019, the earliest LSU could return to Lexington, but I don’t look for that to happen until 2020 or 2021.

Finding an LSU road series to attend in 2018 will be difficult. Arkansas goes to Baton Rouge. If LSU plays Missouri, that will be in Baton Rouge too. Texas A&M is too far. So are Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia. Ole Miss? Maybe. Vanderbilt? Maybe. Tennessee? Less likely. However, I may be able to convince my dad to go to Nashville or Knoxville if my brother and his family could make it.

The games were the easy part of yesterday. The hard part, of course, was the flat tire on the Cadillac. The trade is going to work out better, since the Expedition has more room for my baggage to carry back to Kansas City. I’ll stow everything in the hotel room there and retrieve my Chevy at KCI for the drive back to Hays (I have an appointment with Crista Thursday at 10).

The bad part about the long, long, long games? Finding something to eat after.

There was good food in the press box at Cliff Hagan, but I was trying to be the good Catholic, so I passed on the entrees and stuck to chips, cookies and brownies. I did get a pretzel and a bag of peanuts at the concession stand, but passed on anything heavier, hoping the games would end before 11.

Nope.

My body was acting like it was still on Central time. I’m convinced Central time is better than Eastern. TV shows come on not too late, but not too early. The news at 10 p.m. might be late for some, but it beats 11! Sunday NFL games kick off at noon. Perfect hour. Buffalo Wild Wings opens at 11, when college football games kick off on fall Saturdays.

By time I got back to my SUV parked behind the right center field fence, it was already 11:15. Then I got lost and went through downtown, right past Rupp Arena. I finally found my way back to Interstate 75, where I went to Man O’War Boulevard to look for a grocery store.

If you’ve never been to Lexington, you would do real well to have a map handy. Interstate 75 goes right past the northern edge of town and then turns southeast. The University of Kentucky, Keeneland race track, and the airport are all well south of the interstate. This is in stark contrast to Louisville, where Interstate 64 passes right by the KFC Yum! Center, the city’s main arena, and Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Triple-A Louisville Bats.

I’ve also seen interstates cut right into downtown Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Atlanta and Birmingham, among other places. In Nebraska, Interstate 80 bypasses downtown Omaha to the south and Lincoln to the north, but both cities have spurs directly into downtown. And Interstate 49 has made Alexandria, Louisiana almost disappear from the map. If you stay on I-49, you’ll never know you went through Alexandria. By time you realize it, you may be in Shreveport (northbound) or Lafayette (southbound).

I found the supermarket, stocked up, then stopped at one of the few establishments open very late, Taco Bell. Since it was after midnight by this time, I didn’t feel so bad about eating meat.

By time I got back to the hotel–which is not in the best part of Lexington–it was 12:30.

Today is the off day. I now recall during the SEC tournament having an off day on the Friday after winning the first two games, then having a whole day to burn in Birmingham. Same thing in Omaha during the College World Series.

Time to jump in the shower.

An (almost) four-hour tour

The first game of the doubleheader is over. Finally.

Kentucky defeated LSU 12-5 in a tidy three hours, 51 minutes. The second game will now start at 7:05 ET/6:05 CT. The Wildcats will end the night atop the SEC East regardless of the outcome of the second game.

LSU never led. The Tigers scored twice in the second to tie the game, but by time they scored again, the Wildcats led 7-2.

Kentucky second baseman Riley Mahan went 5-for-5 with three RBI, while Luke Becker, who entered the game as the designated hitter in the fifth, hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the seventh that shut the door on the visitors.

It has been a warm and muggy day. Reminds me some of my days in Louisiana, but nowhere near as oppressive. I knew it was coming; heck, the humidity gets bad once you get past Salina on Interstate 70.

I’m trying not to eat meat on all Fridays, even though Good Friday was last week. So far, so good.

Other than the tire dilemma, it’s been good. I can’t concern myself with the outcome of the games. I have no control over them, something I should have learned a long, long time ago.

Flattened

I’m finally at Cliff Hagan Stadium for today’s LSU-Kentucky baseball doubleheader.

The morning was an ordeal. 

In the hotel parking lot, someone pointed out to me my left rear tire was flat. Then Bill noticed it when he came to bring me my media pass. 

I deicded to try to put air in the tire. The two gas stations closest to the hotel did not have air machines. A station a little further down Newtown Pike did have an air pump.

Bad idea.

First, it was in a neighborhood which took me back to my New Orleans and Baton Rouge days, as well as a few places I’ve seen in Kansas City, notably around the Truman Sports Complex. 

The air machine was not good. I didn’t know how to work it. I panicked. Big time. 

I finally said screw it, drove back to the hotel and then called Avis to tell them about the problem. Someone came out to put the spare tire on, then I had to drive to Blue Grass Aiprot on the southwest edge of town to exchange cars. I traded the Cadilliac XT5 for a Ford Expedition. Not bad. 

I made it to the stadium just before 1. I’m parked behind the right field fence. It will be a long walk back, but it won’t be for quite some time. 

I should have been able to handle the tire better, but it’s resolved and I’m back on track. Thank God. 

This will be a welcome respite from my life in Kansas, if only for three days. Need it every so often. 

Time passages

It’s almost 7 a.m. in Lexington, meaning it’s almost 6 back in Kansas. Changing time zones can mess up your clock when you’re not used to it.

I’ve changed time zones a few times going the other way when I’ve gone to Goodland or Sharon Springs, which are on Mountain time. Goodland, Sharon Springs (Wallace County), Weskan, Tribune (Greeley County) and Syracuse high schools have to start games an hour earlier in most instances so their opponents don’t get home very late. For instance, if Hugoton played a football game at Goodland and it started at 7 p.m. Mountain instead of 6, the Eagles wouldn’t get home until 2 a.m. in all likelihood.

Anyway, there will be baseball and lots of it at Cliff Hagan Stadium today. LSU vs. Kentucky in a doubleheader starting at 2 ET/1 CT.

It turns out Kentucky needed a waiver from the Southeastern Conference to play a doubleheader today. SEC rules do not allow for a doubleheader on day one of a scheduled three-day series. Fortunately for LSU and Kentucky, Wildcats coach Nick Migione and athletic director Mitch Barnhart prevailed upon SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to allow the doubleheader today in light of the forecast for tomorrow, which calls for a 90 percent chance of rain, with rain of up to one inch falling.

Kentucky comes into the series 10-5 in the SEC, leading the East division by two games. LSU is 9-6 in the league, two games behind leader Arkansas, although the Bayou Bengals won two of three from the Razorbacks in Fayetteviile two weeks ago. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, and a series win on the road against a strong team would do wonders for my alma mater.

UPDATE: Now 9:10 and I’m ready to roll. I won’t need to be at the park until a little after noon. But I’ve got things to do in town.

Mother Nature conspires with Ernie Banks

LEXINGTON — I’m 821 miles from Russell. I’m 593 miles from my hangouts on Barry Road in Kansas City, Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa and Minsky’s Pizza. I’m in a state I’ve never been to, and one of the only two cities in the Southeastern Conferernce I had yet to visit until now. 

Yet here I am, sitting at the bar at a Buffalo Wild Wings, playing Buzztime trivia. 

It can mean (a) I’m a creature of habit; (b) a very boring person; (c) very dedicated to Buzztime; (d) somoene who doesn’t like adventure; or (c) all of the above.

My schedule for the weekend has been altered. I think it’s a good alteration. 

When I got off Interstate 64 in search of the Kentucky capitol (not a state capitol; Kentucky is a commonwealth) in Frankfort, I found I had a message from Bill Franques, LSU’s longtime baseball publicist and the man I am really here to see this weekend (along with Lexington and UK campus, because as I said before, I’ve never been). 

Instead of playing single games Friday, Saturday and Sunday, LSU and Kentucky will play.a doubleheader beginning tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT. Tomorrow’s game was originally scheduled for 6:30 ET. 

The National Weather Service has forecast a rainy weekend across all of Kentucky for a week. Now, the meterologists are saying it will be a gullywasher Saturday, with up to an inch of rain Saturday.

For some reason, Kentucky scheduled Saturday’s game for 6:30 instead of the daytime, which would have been much better to wait out a rain delay. Maybe with all the rain that is expected, it wouldn’t have mattered. 

Instead of playing a makeup doubleheader Sunday, the coaches decided to move the second game up a day. 

Southeastern Conference rules forced the hands of LSU coach Paul Maineri and his Kentucky counterpart, Nick Mignone. 

If the doubleheader were scheduled for Sunday, both games would have to be seven innings, not nine. The rule is in place ostensibly to allow the visitng team to catch its flight after the Sunday game. 

I understand the idea behind the rule. Airline tickets are non-refundable that close to the flight, and no team wants to be stranded at the airport or face an extrmely long bus ride home.

In the case of this weekend’s series in Lexington, the travel rule is totally unnecessray. LSU flew charter to Lexington and can leave whenever it needs to. 

I don’t see why the SEC cannot waive the seven inning game rule on Sundays if the visitor is traveling by charter flight or bus and both coaches agree to play two nine inning games. The NCAA Division I baseball committee has demanded teams play as many nine ining games as possible, yet the SEC won’t allow flexibility when it is available. 

Also, I don’t see why a team cannot stay over and play Monday if they receive permission from its school administration. Or in the case of Mississippi State vs. either Ole Miss or Alabama, travel back to Oxford or Tuscaloosa and vice versa? 

I would be in favor of all series staritng on Thursday so teams would have Sunday as the built-in rain day. But I understand not wanting to miss two days of class. 

Tomorrow will be a long day at Cliff Hagan Stadium. First game at 2, clear the stadium after the game, then start the second game at approximately 6. 

Saturday is now an off day, with the Sunday game still scheduled for 1 ET. It doesn’t affect me, because I’m not leaving until Monday anyway. 

I’m on Eastern time for the first time in almost 12 years. There was no sign on Interstate 64 in Indiana marking the change from Central to Eastern, but I set my watch ahead when I crossed the Wabash River, and then my iPhone and iPad adjusted when the GPS inside detected the line had been crossed. 

The drive from St. Louis to Lexington took seven hours, including stops at the Indiana state line, the Pilot travel center I blogged from, and then the Kentucky capitol. The hotel I’m staying at is full for the weekend, as is every other hotel in Lexington because of the horse racing season at Keeneland, the second largest horse track in Kentucky. Unless you’ve been living under rock, you can guess #1. 

If SIX weren’t the Buzztime game tonight, I probably would have skipped. But I love that game and didn’t want to go two weeks wihtout playing it, so here I am. I won’t stay after SIX. My body is still on Central time, but I have to deal with the reality of Eastern time, so I’ll get to bed and be ready for tomorrow. 

Kentucky’s highs and lows 

Both Kentucky schools lost their bowl games today. 

Louisville, of course, lost to LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and Kentucky fell to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl (or TaxSlayer Bowl if you want to be technical about it). 

That means Western Kentucky has bragging rights in football, not only because the Hilltoppers won their bowl game, but because Western did something its bigger brethren in the Commmonwealth did not–win its conference. Now why don’t Louisville and Kentucky play Western every year? Louisville saw fit to play Charlotte and Marshall,and Kentucky played Austin Peay and a couple of other palookas. Why not keep the money in the Commonwealth? 

How many people actually care Louisville and Kentucky lost today, outside Louisville and Lexington (and maybe scattered people in Frankfort, Covington, Ashland and Paducah)? NOT MANY. 

Basketball soothed the pain on the gridiron for folks in the Bluegrass.

Not only did Rick Pitino’s Cardinals defeat Indiana in Indianapolis, but Duke, the most hated team in every corner of Kentucky, lost at Virginia Tech. 

Duke has never been a favorite of either Kentucky or Louisville. Both the Wildcats and Cardinals own national championship game victories over Duke–Kentucky in 1978 when Jack “Goose” Givens scored 41 points in the Wildcats’ 94-88 win, and Louisville in 1986, when freshman “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison lifted the Cards to a 72-69 victory over a Duke team led by Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas. 

However, the Kentucky-Duke hatred reached a new level the evening of March 28, 1992.

That’s the night when Christian Laettner, one of the dirtiest players who ever graced a basketball court, stepped ont eh chest of the Wildcats’ Ammu Timberlake in the East regional final at Philadelphia. Laettner did not even receive a technical foul for being a gigantic asshole, and he hit the game-winning shot in overtime. 

I have never been a Duke fan. I especially couldn’t stand the Blue Devils when Laettner played. The officials who work Duke games are intimated by Kryzewzski, but with Laettner, it was a whole different level. It’s a wonder how Duke lost games. The free throw dispartity was so lopsided. Not even Dean Smith could catch a break most of the time. 

Duke and Virginia lost today. Good. Two programs which deserve each other. 

I’ve never visited Kentucky. I would like to. Maybe in April when LSU plays baseball in Lexington. 

Trip before the trip

The night before I go on a trip to Kansas City, I usually like to pack and get my laundry done so I’m ready to go the next morning, even if I’m not totally refreshed. 

Tonight, I changed my routine. 

Instead of sitting in the basement in Russell, I ventured to Salina to Buffalo Wild Wings. I stopped at Dillon’s on Ohio Street–the same Dillon’s where my car wouldn’t start the afternoon of January 29–for some stuff I can’t get in Russell or Hays, then headed to South Ninth Street. 

I’m staying until at least 8:30, so I can play ma favorite Buzztime game, Six, which is Wednesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 8:30. I’ll be in Kansas City tomorrow to play it. 

I can’t leave for Kansas City until my appointment with Crista is done tomorrow morning. That starts at 9, so I figure to be out of Hays by 10:15. It will be 30-45 minutes longer, but I can’t miss an appointment with Crista, even if things are going well. 

It will be my last trip to Kansas City for this month, probably a little longer. Next weekend is Easter, and the day after Easter, my parents are leaving for Nashville, where my sister-in-law will be giving birth. 

I didn’t do a blessed thing after getting home from Kansas City Sunday morning. I watched the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday evening, although I did not watch much of either First Four game last night. Then again, neither game was particularly competitive. Florida Gulf Coast demolished Farleigh Dickinson 96-65, and Wichita State easily ousted Vanderbilt 70-50.

The Commodores’ loss leaves TWO Southeastern Conference schools, Texas A&M and Kentucky, amongst the remaining 66 teams. Three teams in the NCAA tournament for a power conference is pitiful, espeically in the 68-team era, which began in 2011. I can remember more SEC teams in the field in 1989 (five), when the SEC had only 10 teams. 

The SEC has long had a reputation in basketball of Kentucky and nothing but weak sisters, and this year has proved the axiom true, save for Texas A&M, which won a share of its first conference championship since 1987 when it is was in the now-defunct Southwest Conference. 

Two more First Four games tonight: Holy Cross vs. Southern (yes, the one in Baton Rouge), and Michigan vs. Tulsa, which doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the NCAA field. If the Wolverines choke this game, then they should be forced to walk up Interstate 75 from Dayton to Detroit, then west on I-96 back to Ann Arbor. Tulsa is a joke. A JOKE.