Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Art of Being Random

Feel Good

No one would ever accuse me of being a Red Sox fan, but I couldn’t help but root for Jon Lester Monday night as he tossed a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals. Nine innings, 130 pitches, nine strikeouts, two walks, no hits and one hell of a good story.

This isn’t like Justin Verlander’s no-hitter last season, where I pumped my chest over a product of my alma mater’s baseball team reaching the pitching pinnacle. There was a collegiate pride in that instance, but with Lester there’s awe and inspiration. Because this time last year, Lester was so weak from chemotherapy and radiation treatment that he couldn’t even pick up a baseball.

But Lester worked his way back, returned to the Red Sox and won the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. And now the fourth no-hitter in the last two seasons.

Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, Lester underwent treatment and returned to the Red Sox organization for spring training in 2007. I saw him pitch a game for AAA Pawtucket against the Norfolk Tides last summer, and I have to admit it was a great feeling to watch a guy battle through what was once a death sentence to continue his career.

As much as I respect Tennessee’s Chris Lofton for playing last season after recovering from testicular cancer, I respect Lester the same way for what he has accomplished. To beat cancer – in any form – and return to the mound and perform as well as he did … remarkable doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Boston refused to deal Lester in the offseason, when Minnesota wanted him in a proposed deal for Johan Santana. Lester, who is 3-2 this season with a 3.41 ERA, has proven the Red Sox’ faith in him right, and anyone with a heart can’t help but get goosebumps when thinking of what he accomplished.

We’re so negative and cynical in today’s sports climate – between steroids and Spygate and betting scandals – that when a feel-good story comes along, we have to embrace it and enjoy it for as long as we can.

Because these stories are too few and far between anymore.

Not Convinced

David Stern once called Tim Donaghy a “rogue individual,” claiming the embattled NBA referee was the only one betting on basketball games. Now that the story has resurfaced with Donaghy’s admission that he bet on more than 100 games he worked as an official, I can’t help but feel as if Stern is wrong in his assessment.

It could just be my cynicism in today’s landscape, but I have a hard time believing Donaghy was the only referee betting on NBA games.

That’s like saying the 86 baseball players named in the Mitchell Report were the only ones using performance-enhancing drugs. Most level-headed people know that’s not the case.

I believe steroid use was far more rampant than those 86 players, just as I believe the New England Patriots aren’t the only NFL team to tape opposing team’s offensive and defensive signals. I have no evidence to back up either claim, but logically, I have a feeling these problems are much deeper than those who have been caught.

I feel the same way about the NBA ref betting scandal. I applaud Stern for jumping in front of the controversy in such a way that the sports media didn’t talk about it ad nauseum the way we’ve discussed Spygate, but the reality stands: if Donaghy did it, how can you possibly convince me no one else did?

Sid the Kid

Gary Bettman has to be ecstatic. For Sidney Crosby is in the Stanley Cup finals.

Will that translate into better ratings, when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on Detroit in Game 1 on Saturday? Hard to say; we thought LeBron James would help the NBA Finals’ ratings last year, and they didn’t – and the NBA is in much better shape than the NHL.

But Crosby’s presence has to help, right? Right?

If I’m the NHL, I certainly hope so. This league needs as much to go right as possible, given how it’s still struggling from the lockout of two seasons ago. The TV package has resulted in low ratings and an eventual fade from the public consciousness, and the potential star power of Crosby is just what the NHL needs to get itself back on the national sports map.

I don’t know if Sid the Kid is the second coming of The Great One, but for Bettman’s sake, I hope he can at least make hockey relevant again.

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