JUST THINKING... I woke up this morning with a few things on my mind . . .
  • Hats off to the UAB Blazers as they head for the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. This program -- the brainchild of Gene Bartow, you'll recall -- is the sole survivor among Conference USA’s six dance participants. And their upset of top-ranked Kentucky is a somewhat gratifying plot twist. Soon-to-be-former members of C-USA, Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, and DePaul will all be watching the Blazers from their dorm rooms.
  • My first submission for “What to do with The Pyramid?”: youth rec center. Gut the pointy building, add some floors, and create the kind of playhouse the local YMCA can only dream of being. Basketball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools, an ice rink (why not?), miniature golf, weight rooms, batting cages, gymnastics equipment. Funding such a beast would be the tricky part. The city would have to charge moderate fees for access (though no exclusive memberships), security, and maintenance. With discount offers to the city school system, this could turn into a different kind of investment in Memphis’ future than the one Sidney Shlenker envisioned, way back when (in the late Eighties!). Let FedExForum be the plaything of the adult and affluent . . . and give The Pyramid to Memphis kids.
  • Yankee-haters can unite to their hearts’ content over George Steinbrenner’s latest coup. When Alex Rodriguez became a Bronx Bomber, “all that is wrong with baseball” became the mantra of columnists from Seattle to Dallas to the Big Apple. But don’t blame The Boss. Want a target for your vitriol over the top-heavy national pastime? Try the players. Major league baseball’s players union -- arguably the most powerful such entity in America -- has fought tooth and nail against a salary cap (any salary structure, really) for years. They want an “open market,” which in today’s baseball’s lexicon reads “Boss George’s Market.” The best players want to be paid the most money BY WHOMEVER CAN AFFORD IT. If only one franchise can bear the weight of nine-figure salaries, so be it. It’s the players who have shaped modern baseball into a two-tier system where the best talent eventually “graduates” to New York or Boston. Until these short-sighted athletes Ñ and their agents Ñ recognize a fundamental rule from Sports Biz 101 (that competition in athletics is . . . GOOD), baseball will remain a Yankee world that other franchises merely revolve around. A salary cap (and floor) is a must.
  • There’s been lots of discussion on pro football’s newest “dynasty” in New England. Here’s my question: how can a team be considered a dynasty when, between championships, it missed the playoffs entirely? What would Lombardi say?
  • Despite St. Louis making Albert Pujols the franchise’s first $100 million man, Cardinal Nation seems to have its collective chin rather low as Opening Day nears. Considering the significant pitching upgrades made by division rivals Chicago and Houston, there are reasons for concern. But here’s some conventional baseball wisdom: conventional wisdom in baseball means bupkus. This time last year, the Cardinals were said to have the best lineup since the '27 Yankees, that the NL Central would be theirs by August. The lineup struggled to drive in runs all season, and the Cards finished a weak third (behind Chicago and Houston). So take that into consideration before anointing the Cubs and Astros unbeatable. Pitching is a more reliable variable than hitting, but it’s an element of the game that can explode with one elbow twinge. Houston’s Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller and the Cubs’ Kerry Wood have wrestled with injuries before. If they all reach 200 innings, the Cardinals may be playing for third place. Big if. And here’s something to look forward to with all the new blood among the division’s pace-setters: Roger Clemens in the batter’s box. Houston and St. Louis have had an intense rivalry for the better part of a decade now. There’s sure to come a moment when the Rocket delivers some chin music to Pujols, Jim Edmonds, or Scott Rolen. The beauty now, though, is that he’ll have to step in and face Matt Morris or Woody Williams. I, for one, can’t wait to see it
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