Monday, May 19, 2008

FROM MY SEAT: A Brown Crown

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

• Mark this down, sports fans: on June 7th at Belmont Park in New York, Big Brown will become the 12th Triple Crown winner in horse-racing history, and the first in 30 years. If you watched Saturday's Preakness Stakes, you saw the same dominance I did. At the peak of his game was an undefeated colt having his way with a field of 13 horses, and actually gaining ground over the last quarter-mile of a tour de force in Baltimore. Any concerns about Big Brown handling the longer test that is the Belmont Stakes -- a mile-and-a-half, a quarter-mile longer than the Kentucky Derby -- are now the equivalent of dirt clods in the path of a horse whose greatness happens to be on display in a year of otherwise less-than-inspiring thoroughbred three-year-olds. The one concern Big Brown's handlers might have is weather. With only five races to his credit, how Big Brown might handle a muddy track is a variable his fans hope doesn't come into play.

Ten horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to lose the Belmont since Affirmed edged Alydar in all three in 1978. (Four of them -- Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones -- finished second at the Belmont.) Big Brown's destiny belongs with horse racing's ultimate pantheon. And for some perspective on how long this 30-year drought has been, consider the following:

- The longest previous Triple Crown drought was 25 years, between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973.

- In June 1978, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady were 2 years old, Albert Pujols wasn't born, and LeBron James . . . well, his mom wasn't even dating.

- In 1978, it had only been 70 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

• Every baseball player has a mother. Many have sisters and most have wives or girlfriends. Which makes Sunday's Paint the Park Pink the most heartfelt promotion in 11 years of Redbirds baseball in Memphis. Those pink jerseys may have clashed with the red hats and helmets, but all for the right cause. If only 10 Mitchell Boggs strikeouts and a Joe Mather home run could beat breast cancer the way they did the Oklahoma Redhawks.

• It's become clear that Chris Duncan is the odd man out in a three-man battle among former Memphis Redbirds for two corner outfield positions with the St. Louis Cardinals. Ryan Ludwick has clubbed a team-leading 11 home runs and forced Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa to find him a spot in the middle of the batting order. Skip Schumaker has made himself an asset with his speed, defensive skill, and role as a leadoff hitter; he delivered his third walk-off game-winning hit of the season Sunday. All of which leaves Duncan -- a natural first-baseman or DH -- in a position where his trade value is a larger consideration for the Cardinals than his development as a leftfielder. How ironic it would be if Duncan ends up being packaged with Anthony Reyes in a deal to bring St. Louis a middle-infielder with pop. (Adam Kennedy's slugging percentage through Sunday was .315. Cesar Izturis was slugging .301.) Less than two years ago, Duncan and Reyes were unlikely rookie heroes for a world-champion Cardinal team.

• Through Sunday, 11 NBA playoff series had been completed and the higher seed had won all 11. This remains the perennial distinction between pro basketball and the college game, where in the latter upsets are the norm come the postseason. How ironic that we Americans who pull for the underdog are left relying on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs for a "Cinderella story" in the NBA's big dance. The Western Conference's third seed, San Antonio will face second-seeded New Orleans in a decisive Game 7 Monday night.

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