Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Forward, March

March can be a grind. It’s a month that does what it wants, when it wants, and leaves the rest of us to pick up the pieces. Like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, March recklessly disregards anyone else as it whirls and swirls its way toward selfish ends. One day, it’s 70 degrees. The next, it’s snowing.

Spring begins, and we lift our hopes at the sight of crocuses blooming. But then March startles the crowds by announcing that nothing’s changing yet, and a deep chill returns. Eventually, of course, March and Old Man Winter will step aside and allow the more temperate April to take center stage. We’ll sigh with relief, only to groan a few days later when the temperature soars to 85 degrees.

You don’t feel much like spring when there’s snow on the ground. They tell you that the baseball season begins next week, but that seems like a farce. March leaves us in this netherworld, unable to plant our feet squarely on any settled ground. So, as a means toward survival and pleasure, we stay inside and turn on our televisions. We break out our brackets and watch young men glide across hardwood courts, in a dance they like to call March Madness.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament offers a surfeit of athletic drama, equaled only by a few other sporting events – the Olympics, Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby, and the World Series. To turn on your television and know for a fact that somewhere over the course of a few hours you will see a season hanging on 1.7 seconds – that’s just a sports fan’s dream. So please, let the baseball players shag some more flies and get in their morning workouts down in Florida and Arizona. No rush – we don’t need them yet.

I’ve got my eyes set on Harrison Barnes right now. I’ve been following North Carolina basketball closely since I stepped foot on the Chapel Hill campus some (gulp) 22 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of players in Carolina blue touted as the “best since Michael Jordan.” It’s become a cliché of sorts. But this time, it may be for real. UNC has won three national titles since Jordan left for the NBA Draft 27 years ago, but I’m not sure the school has produced as skilled a player as Harrison Barnes in that quarter-century. At 6-foot-8, Barnes is long, lean and lithe. He does not run; he glides. The freshman can shoot a 3-pointer as easily as he can dunk, and he can steal a ball as easily as he can pop a jumper. He will be playing basketball for a long, long time. For now, though, the Tar Heel faithful are the ones lucky enough to have him on their side.

Soon enough, Barnes’ season will be over – either with a tough tournament loss, or with a terrific title run. And then baseball will drag spring back to us, and we’ll have reason to stand outside again and think about doing some lawn work. I’ll plant some grass seed while daydreaming about the Yankees’ chances this season.

Tonight, though, the snow continues to fall. And March exudes its ever-present madness. It’s not a day to dream of pinstriped sluggers; it’s a day for freshman forwards in high tops. I’m ready for tip-off.