Sunday, July 23, 2006

King football triumphs again

DETROIT -- OK, I give up. I won't fight it anymore. Football is the real national pastime.

Pull up a seat a minute and I'll tell you why.

We just had to get the taste out of our mouths. Losing is never fun.

When the Detroit Tigers lose like they did yesterday (9-5 to the Oakland A's, after blowing a five run lead), you gotta get rid of the feeling. Purge it. Take solace in the fact that the Tigers still have the best record in baseball.

So today we drove over to Lansing to catch the team with the most delicious name in minor league baseball -- the Lansing Lugnuts.

Ain't that great? Their logo is, yep, a smiling lugnut.

It was a beautiful day. Mid-seventies (nice respite from the East Tennessee heat), sunny, "perfect day for baseball," as the guy in front of me says just before the first pitch.

Mid-way through the second inning, the guy behind me becomes chatty. We talk baseball a few minutes. Reminisce about the last time a guy hit two grand slams in one inning. (Fernando Tatis.)

"Yeah," he says. "My brother is the starting pitcher for Peoria. He also plays for Notre Dame. He was a first team All-American last year."

"What did you say his name was again?" I asked.

"Jeff Samardzija."

Flash back to last year. South Bend, Indiana. The Golden Dome. Notre Dame is handing it to Tennessee. One of the biggest culprits? The wide receiver with the long hair -- Samardzija.

His brother flashes a big grin and says Jeff has signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Chicago Cubs. He really wants to play baseball, but his brother says he'll go wherever the contract is biggest.

Today Jeff makes his first minor league start. He looks good, giving up only two hits in five innings, but he surrenders three runs in an eventual 4-0 loss to the Lugnuts.

Jeff's brother is proud. He goes to as many Notre Dame games as he can. Today he's driven up from South Bend along with his wife and parents for Jeff's start. Several fans sport Notre Dame and Cubs hats.

Minor league baseball is where it's at. You're close to the action. You pay about $10 for good seats. You don't have to then fight a mob to get to them.

You get to see fun sights, like the kid who nonchalantly catches a foul ball in the upper deck, holding his glove out over the balcony, easy as you please.

And sometimes you run into the brother of college football's best wide receiver. Even here, in the midst of the greatest game of them all, football reigns supreme.

It's OK. I'm ready for the home opener against Cal anyway.

Just keep Jeff Samardzija far, far away from Rocky Top.

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