Bubble Teams and Dirt Tracks: A Look Back at the Weekend

Seth Greenberg is not a happy camper.

Because I haven’t been able to burden you with my opinions since Friday, and because I don’t feel like unpacking yet, here is my recap of the weekend.

Where to begin with this weekend. For those of you who came across this post and immediately jumped to the conclusion that this is a rambling extension of ESPN’s never-ending March Madness bracket coverage, I’m sorry but that will not be the case. While I will later pretend that Selection Sunday made me an immediate expert on the 2010 college basketball season, right now is not the time for that.

Instead, this will be your official analysis of Selection Monday, the long underrated festival of seeding for the women’s NCAA tournament.

Just kidding.

On Saturday, I made a last minute trip to Joker Marchant Stadium in scenic Lakeland, Florida, for a spring training game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. Over the course of a rather average, split-squad spring training game, I saw Johnny Damon hit a home run in his first game against his former employer, and Alex Rodriguez trot into a double play like his ex-wife Cynthia was waiting at first base with papers.

I also decided that Flying Tigers (the name of the Tigers Single-A Florida State League club) is one of the greatest team names ever, and made it a personal goal to see a game between the Lakeland Flying Tigers and the Charlotte Stone Crabs this summer. From our left field berm seats, my mom decided that Ryan Raburn is cute.

The pride of Charlotte County.

A late game realization that my Tampa Bay Rays would be journeying to Joker Marchant Stadium the following day assured my return to Lakeland 21 hours later.

Those who read my last two week-in-reviews understand that this was not a prototypical spring break for your humble correspondent. This year I simply returned home to Tampa and failed to even see a beach the entire week. So to stick with my trend of the unconventional spring break, I did not spend my last Saturday night of college’s favorite holiday at a beachside bar or on a sunset booze cruise. Instead, I went to East Bay Raceway, Hillsborough County’s very own dirt race track that is affectionately dubbed “The Clay by the Bay.”

It was opening night of the 2010 season at East Bay which meant two things: 96 cars were signed up to race in six different divisions, and the people-watching at East Bay, already a well-noted people-watching locale, was better than ever. There were drunken rednecks, mischievous kids and enough pregnant 16-year-olds to overflow a “Juno” casting call. There was even a couple celebrating their twelfth anniversary in the wooden bleachers and a young boy in front of us that resembled a character of Bill Engvall stand-up comedy lore.

“You know I love them corndogs!”

The crowd was so entertaining that it was at times difficult to focus on what was actually happening on the track. There was a “fan participation race” where a man nearly crashed his Chevy Blazer twice and a wreck in a late models race in which a car basically climbed the wall in front of us. All of these races took place with a giant puddle resting in turn four that made each installment seem like a scene from “Dukes of Hazzard.”

Toward the end of the night, friend Corey Frauenfelder turned to me and said “this better make Sports Casualties on Monday.” There you go, Corey.

This picture was not taken at East Bay, but it could have been.

Saturday night’s late Sportscenter was an array of conference tournament basketball mixed in with brief nods to spring training baseball. That was until the worldwide leader reminded me that there was a boxing match on Saturday night between Manny Pacquiao and somebody else. Don’t ask me to go back and look up the guy’s name. If he wants people to recall his name he should try throwing some punches.

Sportscenter’s coverage of the event was typical of most every boxing match that they have recapped in the last several years. A couple of photos, maybe a very short video clip or two if viewers are lucky. That is when the comparison came to me.

Boxing is kind of like Cuba.

Major boxing matches are kept in a form of secrecy that discourages anyone that doesn’t purchase the pay-per-view from knowing too much about the fight. Fights are reported from briefly and mysteriously as if the matches are taking place in enemy territory and being covered by an undercover source. Never has an event with an audience of 50,000 been cared about by so few.

Somebody snuck a camera inside. Get them!

Much like Cuba, there used to be some intrigue to this mystery, but now people have just grown indifferent. There’s cooler places to vacation than Havana, and UFC is more entertaining than boxing.

Sunday was final auditions for selection into the NCAA tournament. Apparently the selection folks were at the same baseball game that I was attending and missed Mississippi State near victory over Kentucky.

As I said earlier, I will not pretend to be a sudden expert in the arena of college basketball. There have been years when I could talk for days about Selection Sunday, but this is not one of those years. This is why instead of necessarily discussing individual teams, I feel the need to address theories. In specific, I want to talk about bubble teams.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg is angry that his team didn’t make the tournament field, and he is letting every media outlet possible know about it.

Seth, I thought you were great at South Florida and I enjoyed getting dominated by kids twice my size at your basketball camps as a young child, but you’re wrong here. “Bubble team” isn’t just a moniker thrown upon a team for no reason. Teams are bubble teams because they didn’t do enough during the season to assure themselves a spot in the tournament. I have much more respect for a No. 3 seed arguing that it’s not a No. 2 than somebody that can’t take care of business trying to whine about getting snubbed.

Now not heavily included in the hours of ESPN rants about filling out your brackets was the unusual nature in which the Florida Gators made the tournament. No, this was not even covered in ESPN U’s “Bracket All-Nighter” that featured commentary from a pizza delivery man and a half-naked Wild Bill of Utah State fame. That’s not a joke.

Guess which one is Wild Bill.

As a Florida student, I am supposed to sit back and rejoice over the fact that my Gators are in the tournament. After all, I’m not just a student at Florida, I’m also a lifelong fan of Gator athletics. However, I just simply can’t get behind this particular squad getting into the tourney for a couple of reasons.

I simply don’t believe that they have earned their place in the tournament. In fact, I believe that you would be truly hard-pressed to find someone who actually believes that they do belong in the field. The Gators have a limited number of quality wins and finished the season at a dragging pace. Hardly a combination that makes a team effective in March.

However, in most years I wouldn’t care. My teams have taken plenty of victories that they didn’t deserve in the past, and I have never minded one of them. So why does the same not hold true for this year’s edition of Gator hoops?

This team is unlikeable.

This is not breaking news. Ever since the “Gator Boys” and their dual national titles left, Gator basketball teams have played with a sense of entitlement that they do not deserve to carry. They have run a substantial part of Gator athletics into the ground, taking hoops from the most dizzying heights of Gainesville pride to the depths of half-empty arenas.

Last offseason’s departure of Nick Calathes to Greece may have been a perfect metaphor for this team. Given the interest, most any of the players on this team would jet for foreign dollars. It’s hard to see any form of orange and blue tinted passion in anybody on the current roster.

An ocean away, his presence is still felt.

Rant over.

Happy March Madness.

-Bryan

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Bubble Teams and Dirt Tracks: A Look Back at the Weekend

  1. More Cuba/Boxing parallels: both run by corrupt governing bodies; heyday in late 40s/early-50s; natives insist that it will be great again (Brian Kenny/my neighbors, respectively).

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