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Yours In Baseball Forever But College Basketball Nice, Too

This past Tuesday Feb 24 I made my first trip ever to the Xfinity Center formerly known as the Comcast Center on the University of Maryland campus in College Park.
I guess I hadn’t seen the Wisconsin Badgers live since my days in graduate school
in the late 1960s. But I follow them closely on TV, the web, and in print.

Though I haven’t forgiven the athletic department for dropping baseball in the 1980s (Wisconsin remains the only Big Ten school without varsity baseball), basketball and football have become contending programs. It all dates back to then-UW president Donna Shalala hiring Barry Alvarez as football coach. In a few years, starting in 1994, Rose Bowl appearances became frequent. (Alvarez is now athletic director.)

The hiring of Bo Ryan as basketball coach in 2001 has led to similar excellence on the hardwood. Last year they reached the Final Four and lost narrowly to the Kentucky powerhouse in a semi-final. Returning most of last year’s team, the Badgers entered Tuesday night’s game with a chance to clinch the Big Ten regular season title.

However, the Maryland Terrapins were too much for the Badgers this night.
They took control of the game in the middle of the first half and roared to a 31-20 halftime lead. Though Wisconsin led by 7’ foot center Frank Kaminsky did manage to tie the score at 47 in second half, they never reclaimed the lead. They could not stop the talented Maryland guards, high scorer Dez Wells and freshman wunderkind point guard Melo Trimble, when it mattered.

I was pleasantly surprised by the fan-friendly Xfinity Center arena. The architects have recreated the compactness and good sightlines of the storied Cole Field House that fortunately still stands less than a mile away on the campus. (It is hoped that old Cole will be turned into an indoor football practice facility.)

The yellow-gold clad Maryland faithful provided a great home court advantage to the Terps who have lost only one game at home all season. At the top of the steps heading into the main entrance of the arena, there is a little bronze statue of Testudo the Terrapin icon.
Dozens of fans rubbed the head of Testudo before they entered.

It sure brought plenty of good fortune this night. The Maryland fans' vocal support and their booing of the Badgers created an electric atmosphere that after the game Badger forward Sam Dekker paid homage to. (An improving junior, Dekker could turn pro after the season, a decision that Badger fans don't want to think about until April.)

That's it for my basketball report. Spring training has begun and in this winter from hell in the Northeast the sights of players getting ready for the season are particularly consoling. I head for the NINE Baseball magazine conference in Phoenix in less than two weeks and will be reporting back from some of the highights there.

With so many changes to so many teams, it's ridiculous to make predictions this early. I do think that the Dodgers with a new and aging double-play combination in Jimmy Rollins and Howard Kendrick are not the high-90-win lock some experts are predicting. But that's why they play the games, to see who is best.

So in the meantime, always remember: “Take it easy but take it.”
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