RICK CLEVELAND: This is a great time of the year for a sports fan

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

JACKSON

OK, for the second straight season, Southern Miss was the highest rated team, RPI-wise, to not get selected for the NCAA Tournament field. Ole Miss did not even get chosen for the NIT. Mississippi State wasn’t considered for either.

Woe is us.

But wait – you ask me, we’re approaching the best month in the annual sports calendar.

In the spring, variety is the spice of the sporting life.

True, we don’t have any Mississippi teams in the so-called Big Dance. That doesn’t mean we can’t watch it. There will be upsets. There will be drama. And, in the end, they will hand Rick Pitino and Louisville, shockingly a No. 4 seed, the championship trophy. Remember, you read it here first.

(An aside to reader: OK, you tell me. They gather a dozen or so college basketball experts, give them unlimited use of computers, which compute gobs and gobs of data, and then they come up with a result that has Louisville ranked outside the 12 best teams in college basketball? Can’t they just turn on the TV and watch? Experts? I think not.)

But here’s the deal: You don’t necessarily have to watch college basketball and March Madness to love this next month on the sports calendar.

Exhibit A: The Masters. (Cue the Azaleas, dogwoods and birds chirping.)

All kidding aside, the back nine at on Sunday is as good as it gets in sports. I’ve covered Super Bowls, World Series, Final Fours but nothing raises the hair on the back of my neck like when they make the turn for home at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon.

Exhibit B: Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Yes, it has changed over the years. Used to, they’d always open the season with a game in Cincinnati. No more. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will open the season this weekend in Sydney, Australia, at a converted cricket grounds. The first pitch is set for 3 a.m. (CDT) Saturday. They’ll play again the next day and Hyun-Jin Ryu, from Incheon, Korea, will be on the mound for the Dodgers. He wears jersey No. 99. Naturally, he’s a left-hander. Obviously, this isn’t your daddy’s traditional baseball opening series. And that’s not even counting the fact that you can watch a Korean southpaw, wearing jersey No. 99, pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney, Australia, on your cell phone, which no doubt was made in China.

Is this a great planet or what?

Local flavor

Locally, college baseball is now in full swing with conference series underway. Of Mississippi’s teams, Ole Miss appears to be playing the best baseball early, but we’ve got a long, long way to go.

Spring practice is upon us in football, which is exciting for coaches and… and… and, well, that’s about it. Don’t know about you, but I’ve never gotten real worked up about that traditional Maroon vs. White rivalry. On the other hand, there’s always recruiting, which never stops.

Speaking of never stops, we haven’t even mentioned the NFL, which has gone from the Super Bowl, to the combine, to free agency signings and is headed directly into the draft, which runs May 8-10. That will just about run us into the preseason, during which you can buy $200 tickets, pay $50 for parking, eat $6 hotdogs, washed down with $9 beers, to watch practice games. And people will do it. Oh yes, they will do it, and they’ll do it in official, NFL-licensed $99.99 jerseys, jerseys that will become obsolete a few months later when Joe Pro signs a $60 million contract with another team, quite possibly your arch-rival.

Is this a crazy planet, or what?

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.