Baseball, Derby prep races signal Spring is here!by J.W. Miller on 02/25/13
My spring officially sprung this week. No, I didn't see a robin in the yard. In fact, I have never seen a robin on my postage stamp estate. I guess the pelicans eat them, and if they don't then my beagle hound dog would. To me, spring is sprung by certain key sporting events such as ones that occurred this week. The opening of Major League Baseball's exhibition games and the first major stakes races of the year are the two events that most tickle my springtime barometer into giggles of glee. Who Dats might also throw in the NFL Combine meeting in Indianapolis, which heralds the annual Spring Cotillion better known as the college draft, but the Combine is held inside and springtime means enjoying the outdoors! Hit delete!
More on baseball later, but the Risen Star Stakes at New Orleans' historic Fair Grounds Race Course is the real Groundhog Day for local touts. Racing fans come out of their burrows Saturday for the season's first major race which, along with the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfsteam Park, officially opened the gates on another Kentucky Derby season. And how! Two upsets, one minor and the other of record proportions heated up Derby prep action in grand style. In the Grade 2 $400,000 Risen Star Stakes, Ive Struck a Nerve, trained by home state boy Keith Desormeaux, stunned the racing world by winning the race as a 135-1 longshot. At Gulfstream, the heavy 3-5 betting favorite, Violence, failed to maintain his undefeated record when Orb ran him down in the stretch to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Those races marked the beginning in earnest of the "Race for the Points" officially known as the "Road to the 2013 Kentucky Derby." For the first time, Kentucky Derby prep races are measured in points that each 3-year-old thoroughbred receives for coming in first, second, third or fourth in designated races. The horses with the highest number of points will be in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Saturday's races were worth 50 points to the winners, a pretty good start for Ive Struck a Nerve and Orb.
Elsewhere in the springtime atmosphere, exhibition games began at major league complexes in Arizona and Florida. Local interest is focused on Surprise, AZ, where former UNO and Jesuit star Johnny Giavotella is trying to secure a starting spot with the Kansas City Royals. We will watch Johnny's progress and report on him from time to time. Of course, we card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation enter the current season with some relief accompanied by major concerns.
I am relieved that the Bobby Valentine experiment was sacrificially ended after one season. The 2012 season was a looming disaster from the start, but it took on its true proportions after the All-Star break. Dissent outnumbered victories, and GM Ben Cherington, or whoever is making the final decisions, decided hara-kiri was the only way out. They bade the remainder of the season farewell by sending Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers. Gonzalez was the only real loss but the price for trimming $250 million in salaries. The Sox did not make a big counter-move, instead bringing in some good character guys who can work with franchise lynchpins like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz. Ryan Dempster should be a solid pickup and will be the No. 3 starter behind Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. However, I still do not see a closer who would prompt the Dropkick Murphys to dedicate a song to him.
But, hey, it's springtime. The Sox are undefeated, the Saints will draft a future All-Pro (I love ya, Who Dats!) and joy is in the air. After all, this is the time of year when hopes are sky-high and delusional thinking keeps reality on the shelf for a little while longer.