Sports

Mother of all TV dilemmas for sports fans

This might be my favorite week on the sports calendar, when the last act of the men’s college-basketball season coincides with the first pitch of the Major League Baseball season.

From free throws to relay throws, from hook shots to hook slides, from 3-point jacks to three-run jacks – from winter to spring – the transition of the seasons is a seamless wonder.

Blessed are the schedule-makers. It is the best of times, and, well, the best of times.

There’s only one problem: The NCAA championship game tonight, between Butler and Duke, is scheduled to tip off at 6:21 local time. About an hour later, the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez will have thrown his final warm-up pitch in preparation for his start against the A’s in Oakland.

I love watching games, but watching two games at the same time? I don’t love that as much. It’s not unlike the glut of bowl contests televised simultaneously on New Year’s Day: The more I see them, the less I want them, which explains why my new New Year’s ritual is to forget about college football for a few hours and watch hockey.

Since it’s 2010 and there’s some technology at hand to solve the dilemma of having to choose between Butler-Duke and Mariners-A’s, I suppose I could record one of the games, sparing myself at least a half-hour of commercials. But I don’t know how to work the tape on my TV. Heck, I don’t even know how to turn off the closed-caption device that translates such Clark Kellogg observations as “the big fella got away with a travel, Jim” into “BIG FELLER GOT A WAY WITH A TRAVEL GYM.”

Besides, tape delay negates the immediacy essential to the viewing experience, and for those who don’t think that’s a big deal, I’ve got five words guaranteed to make you cringe: The Winter Olympics on NBC.

I suppose, too, I could hunker down on a bar stool at a local tavern with several TVs, the basketball game to my left, the baseball game to my right. This also is not without its problems. Watching two games at the same time is difficult enough, let alone trying to keep up with the bar-stool conversation that inevitably changes lanes into such trivia-question stumpers as: What do Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. all have in common?

So tape-delay is not doable, and neither is glancing at two TVs in a bar while wondering what The Babe, Tom Terrific and the Griffeys have in common. What to do? What I’ve typically done when challenged with dueling interests: Watch one game on TV with the volume on mute – a rare instance of the closed-caption-jibberish-that-takes-up-half-the-screen being handy – while listening to the other game on the radio.

This is what I did last year, when the Mariners opened against the Twins in Minnesota while North Carolina was beating Michigan State in the NCAA championship game. And while my prevailing memory of the evening was Ken Griffey Jr. hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield with no outs in the second inning – the grounder advanced Adrian Beltre to third with one out, allowing him to score the first run of the season on Jose Lopez’s sacrifice fly – at least I’ve got a prevailing memory.

The Mariners have played five season openers in direct conflict with the NCAA championship game, forcing fans to decide between the most significant event of the college basketball season and an event that represents 1/162th of the baseball season. Logic insists that’s a no-brainer, but after five months of hot-stove baseball conjecture, logic is out the window.

You’d think Major League Baseball would arrange a schedule in which its season openers didn’t collide with the NCAA championship. An opening day exclusively devoted, for instance, to day games. Is that too radical a premise?

Then again, baseball figures it has first dibs on the first Monday in April, because it had been opening its season for roughly 60 years before the NCAA, in 1939, decided to hold a championship tournament.

So Ichiro Suzuki is set to step into the batter’s box tonight at 7:05 in Oakland, in the same stadium where they faced the A’s in 1988 (while Kansas was beating Oklahoma), and in 1989 (while Michigan was beating Seton Hall, in overtime, at the Kingdome).

Seattle was home for a 1992 night-game opener – Rangers 12, Mariners 10 – that didn’t feature as much scoring as Duke’s 71-51 victory over Michigan. (It just seemed like it.) Since moving into Safeco Field, the Mariners have achieved a satisfying compromise with potential NCAA title-game conflicts: mid-afternoon games that enable fans at home to watch baseball, and then basketball.

But the 2010 schedule doesn’t have the Mariners opening at Safeco Field. It has them opening at Oakland, likely with five minutes remaining in the first half of a Butler-Duke showdown that has all the trappings of a classic.

I’ll be watching one and listening to the other, attempting to keep my narrow mind focused on two games at once, removed from the distractions of bar-stool trivia.

By the way, here’s what Ruth, Seaver and the Griffeys have in common: Each was born with the first name of George.

Happy April 5. Let the games begin. More specifically, let the suspense of the baseball game begin after the conclusion of the basketball game, and I don’t even want to acknowledge the possibility of overtime.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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