Some jump through hoops to watch them in March

March 13, 2004|By ROB KASPER

IN THE MIDDLE of March, in the middle of the afternoon, I feel myself slipping away from responsibility. I am drawn to a "dispensary" that has a big-screen television beaming college basketball games.

I am not alone. Yesterday afternoon, a day on which the wheels of industry were supposedly churning, the ESPN Zone in downtown Baltimore was filled with people watching the action of this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament on a mammoth 32-foot-by-16-foot screen. If you checked the calendars of people hanging out there I bet many of the entries for yesterday afternoon read "court appointment."

This is the beginning of what I call my slacker season. Basketball tournaments that crown regional collegiate champs throughout the country are beamed into pubs Saturday and Sunday, an occurrence that puts most weekend home-repair projects in serious jeopardy. Next week the big dance, the NCAA tournament, starts televising basketball games during office hours and national productivity levels suffer.

Moreover, right in the middle of next week St. Patrick's Day arrives, a day anyone with a drop of spirit in them - Irish or otherwise - regards as a holiday of obligation.

Faced with such challenges to the American work ethic, I went looking for advice on how to cope. I got it from some of the guys staring at the big screen.

They told me the keys to keeping things productive on the work front and pacified on the home front are smart scheduling, clever combinations of tasks, and owning many TV sets.

To get free time to watch hoops on Fridays I need to "front-end-load" the workweek. That is what Chris Wright told me. He, along with Todd Weller, his friend and fellow financial analyst for a Baltimore financial firm, had "front-end-loaded" their workweek, enabling them to devote all of yesterday to viewing the ACC tournament. They started out watching games at the ESPN Zone, then planned to shift to Weller's Howard County home.

Weller, a diehard fan of the Maryland Terrapins, said he learned long ago that his concentration can suffer when the Terps are playing basketball, so he arranges his work schedule to avoid work/Terps conflicts.

Matt Ordendorff and his colleague from Constellation Energy, Donald Brown, offered tips on how to get through weekend duties. They had already figured out how to combine their passion for basketball with their weekend domestic duties.

Ordendorff said he was going to do some drywall work on his home in Hampden. Keeping him company during this labors, he said, would be a TV set broadcasting basketball games.

Brown said he is in the process of moving to Baltimore from Raleigh, N.C., and plans to spend the weekend "packing boxes with a TV [showing the games] in every room."

Any thoughts Brown or Ordendorff had of playing hooky from work yesterday afternoon vanished when their boss, Cary Claiborne, also showed up for lunch at the ESPN Zone. With him were two other fellows who work in the finance department of Constellation Energy, Chip Cunningham, a fan of the Colorado Buffaloes, and Jack Thayer, a fan of the Missouri Tigers.

"If we have a few more people show up we could have a staff meeting," Claiborne, a Duke fan, mused.

Cunningham said he had heard a rumor that if a person were so inclined he could watch basketball games via the Internet, on a computer at work. He stressed that this was only "theoretical" knowledge and that society as a whole was better off if guys watched games with their buddies during lunch.

Armed with a strengthened sense of moral conviction, I left the televised delights of the ESPN Zone and headed back to the office. But first I took a detour a few blocks east to the James Joyce Pub.

With St. Patrick's Day approaching I needed a place I could dodge responsibility for half a day. I was told that the pub, with its many booths and cubbyholes, was a great place to hide. It looked good to me, in a theoretical sense.

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