Spring a different animal for birds and turtles


March 29, 2001|By John Eisenberg

FACT: YOU CAN look it up. The Orioles have never had four straight losing seasons. That's right, it will happen for the first time if they finish below .500 again this year.

Opinion: Even though Duke has played 22 Final Four games to Maryland's none and terrorized the Terrapins for years, the Blue Devils are an ideal Final Four opponent for Gary Williams' team. The Terps know from their three previous games with Duke this season that they're evenly matched at the very least, so they're spared the typical first-time Final Four jitters and concerns about measuring up to, say, a top team from another part of the country.

Fact: The Terps have never finished higher than No. 4 in the final Associated Press national poll. And they have finished that high only once, 27 years ago.

Opinion: Scouts tell me Steve Blake defends Duke's Jason Williams more effectively than many would expect because of one skill in particular -- the ability to slip through the top-of-the-key screen Duke often uses to spring its dynamic point guard.

Fact: Boog Powell is opening his first barbecue stand beyond the walls of Camden Yards -- on the boardwalk at Ocean City.

Opinion: D. Wayne Lukas doesn't have an obvious Kentucky Derby horse yet as his mega-million crop of 3-year-olds has disappointed left and right in prep races, but you can bet that the trainer, who has started a horse in every Derby since 1981, winning four, will find a way to the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Fact: Jim Palmer, quoted in a column in the Reading (Pa.) Eagle/Times: The Orioles "have a lot of problems. I just wish Peter [Angelos] would go down to the clubhouse and humanize himself. I wish he would let the players know what he's about. ... He can't look at it from a totally business sense. He has to become better in dealing with people." (Brooks Robinson told the same paper a year ago that the Orioles are "in shambles.")

Opinion: The best individual March Madness performance is occurring not in the men's tournament, but in the women's bracket, where Jackie Stiles has carried mid-major Southwest Missouri State to the Final Four.

Fact: Here's the main realignment question for Ravens fans to mull: Do you want your team playing in a weak, relatively dull division (with the Bengals, Browns and Steelers) or a more exciting but much tougher division (with the Jaguars, Titans and expansion Texans)?

Opinion: The Dodgers and Yankees bring numerous stars from their old, glory days to spring training to mix with and mentor the current players and sustain a sense of pride and continuity. Why the Orioles don't do this, with their fine past, is a mystery.

Fact: "My biggest weakness is not admitting my weaknesses," Ravens coach Brian Billick told the Los Angeles Times at the NFL meetings earlier this week.

Opinion: A "kindler, gentler" Gary Williams? Please. The Terps' coach is as feisty and $#@&! as ever on the sideline.

Fact: So far, 34 Division I basketball head coaches have lost their jobs as this season comes to a close. That's more than 10 percent of Division I.

Opinion: Bob Knight is very funny in that touchy-feely commercial mocking his abusive past. Changing his ways in reality will be much, much tougher. (Oh, and thumbs up to Indiana for making Knight's classy interim replacement, Mike Davis, the Hoosiers' permanent coach.)

Fact: It snowed yesterday in Minneapolis, site of the Final Four. But not inside the Mall of America.

Opinion: I don't believe for a second that Richard Williams fixed last year's Wimbledon semifinal between Venus and Serena. (It's a tabloid that's reporting that, remember.) I do believe it's possible some sick fans in Indian Wells made racial remarks to Richard after Venus pulled out of a semifinal with Serena at the last second, with the stands already full. But the vast majority of fans were booing only because of the dubious, ill-timed pullout; Venus' knee tendinitis didn't keep her from playing in Florida a few days later.

Fact: Rick Pitino's thoroughbreds will now run under the Ol Memorial Stable banner. The new Louisville coach's former stable name, Celtic Pride Stable, didn't quite fit anymore.

Opinion: Everyone jumped on former Maryland star Steve Francis for being a typical, spoiled athlete when he refused to play in Vancouver, but he's looking pretty smart now that the red-ink Grizzlies are pulling out of Canada and Francis is tearing up the league in Houston.

Fact: Tiger Woods' next major championship will be his sixth. Arnold Palmer's career total was seven.

Opinion: Best game of the NCAA tournament so far? Stanford surviving St. Joseph's in the second round.

Fact: What to make of a winning spring? From 1998 to 2000, the Orioles were a combined four games over .500 in Grapefruit League games and a combined 24 games under .500 during the season.

Opinion: The Orioles don't have a choice at this point. They have to keep Rule 5 pick Jay Gibbons and keep him on the roster all season. Sorry, too much potential.

Fact: The XFL has made history, after all. One of its recent national broadcasts was the lowest-rated show in prime-time history.

Opinion: Maryland 90, Duke 87.

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