Once again, the picking time has come, and not a moment too soon. You can feel it in the air as a warm breeze, folding gently in the sun around bare arms and scarf-less necks. We’re picking strawberries and summer plans. We’re deciding whether it’s warm enough to wear flip flops and whether we’re going to study or play outside. Some picking is relaxing — like picking grass when you’re bored or picking your favorite ice cream flavor. But for some it’s filled with stress and angst, like picking teams for the NCAA March Madness Tournament, which is nearly over, or the selections of the NFL draft — which happens in 30 days or so.
I actually missed the initial pick for March Madness, and now, as it draws to a close — the semifinal round is scheduled for March 31 — I have decided to throw in my two cents. Despite my limited knowledge of the game, the players and the nature of the tournament itself, and the fact that many people may be reading this column for advice, I am willing to risk it all. I pick the Bruins of the University of California at Los Angeles.
I’ve always liked UCLA. I bought a shirt from UCLA once and continued wearing it for many years after said purchase because it was the right cotton weight and, in Louisiana, a rare sight. People asked about my connection to the school, and I was partial to saying that although I had no substantial reason for wearing the shirt, UCLA was where it’s at. I stand by that assertion. And “it” can signify many different things. In this case, I suppose I’m talking about basketball.
I don’t really follow the Madness to any convincing degree, but a friend of mine is quite upset that the semifinal round will be played between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds of each division. It takes the fun out of the pick, he says. But to me, it seems logical. If they’re supposed to be the best, let ’em play! The Bruins deserve a championship. I mean, who is Florida to stand in their way? I guess I would be singing a different tune if I’d actually stepped up and filled out a bracket.
Here’s what I don’t get: how one might go about winning an NCAA March Madness Pool. The last time I even attempted was maybe sophomore year of high school, and even then I picked by the seed numbers or the team name — Gonzaga was always a favorite for obvious reasons (“z”s are rare and therefore more fun to pick). Maybe the trick is to know all the stats of all the players — but who truly knows all the stats? Therefore, we must resort to a more reasonable means of selection. Maybe next year I’ll draw names out of a hat.
And as for the NFL Draft! I suppose guesses can be made, but, from my perspective, nobody knows how a college player will react to the big leagues. It’s always a gamble. Maybe I’m just upset because my New Orleans Saints have the 27th draft pick and will be scraping the bottom of the barrel for the goods. Last year, Reggie Bush was a gem and a real boon for the team. This year, who knows what? Certainly not me.
Truthfully, it’s hard for me to get worked up about things such as professional and collegiate athletic selections of any sort. The game changes every year, and a team’s favor will eventually pass with the season. But, while the faces always change, I take comfort in the picking system in place and will eventually find a way to live with the outcome, whatever it may be.
Lately, in New Haven at least, the weather has been too pretty and distracting to worry over such things. On days like today, I’m not concerned about who is playing but whether there’s a spot in the bleachers where I can sit, grab a cool drink and maybe a hotdog and effectively spectate. Or not. I wouldn’t even have to watch the game. I could just go with some friends and a cooler and be just as happy not knowing the score.
I think I enjoy myself most in the spring, not because of sports themselves, but because of what I call “bleacher culture” and the outdoors. I think that going to see a game when it’s nice and warm out and grabbing a great spot in some under-crowded bleachers is about the most lazy-fun that a person can have. With the sun and the concession stand nearby, it’s like going to the beach without all the sand and water. While those whom it concerns are picking athletes and teams, I’d rather pick a good seat in the bleachers at some athletic event. It doesn’t really even matter which team, what sport, or where it’s being played (as long as it’s outside). The “when” is springtime, and the “how” is well.
Baseball is a springtime sport that has always been of some interest to me. I remember playing for maybe a season or two, at one time in the past. My skills were best used in left field, they said. It was Little League, so I didn’t get too much action all the way back there. But from that vantage I had a fantastic view of the entire field and could most efficiently absorb the day into my canon of experience. I look back fondly on those years.
There were many things to be done in left field: watch the clouds, run around, and think about the sno-cone that I would get to consume after the game as a reward. One time, I put my baseball mitt on my head like a helmet, threw both hands into the air and rotated my clenched fists in wild circular motions like I was a jet and the left field was my runway. I can’t remember if the team won in the end, but I always had fun being there.
During this picking season, as we get worked up and tired out by the games and decisions and selections that seem so important now and that need to be made, lazy-fun time emerges as a well-deserved respite and a priority. As for me, on the sunny days, I’ll be the guy with the sunglasses in the back of the bleachers with the towel, the snacks, and the stereo. Even if my team’s losing, I’m certainly not.
Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. His column appears on Wednesdays.