Sidelines: This week in sports

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Major League Baseball is finally back! Well, sort of. The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics completed a two-game mini-series in Tokyo, Japan to officially open the regular season. The thing is, there is an entire week between the conclusion of that pair of games and the “official” MLB opening day on March 28. I get that the MLB is focusing on capitalizing on the global market, and good on them for doing that, but what’s the point of making these games apart of the regular season? It seems unnecessary. For one, the North American fans — unless they were getting up at 5:00 a.m. on a weekday — miss the first two games of the season from their favourite team. It also sucks a lot of life out of the event since there’s still spring training games going on across the league. Because of this, it kind of forces things to slide under the radar of many baseball fans because they are still in spring training mode. Realistically, it’s still a spectacle for Japanese fans either way because of how unique it is to have MLB teams in town and it’s also the perfect opportunity for the teams to get experience in a major-league like atmosphere before they kick the season into gear. Think Blue Jays in Montreal. They’ve played two “exhibition” games at Olympic Stadium just prior to the regular season opening up for the past few years now. The fans love it, it’s an exciting event, yet nobody cares that it’s not a part of the 162-game regular season schedule. It seems unnecessary for MLB to make these neutral-site games worth anything, however, what the games did provide is a special homecoming for one of the sport’s all-time great hitters. Ichiro Suzuki played the final two MLB games of his career in his home country, and received an emotional ovation from his team as well as the fans on numerous occasions over the course of the series. Ichiro announced his retirement after walking off the field for the last time and finishes his career with 3,089 MLB hits, enough for 22nd in history. Many people don’t like to acknowledge the professional career he had in Japan prior to coming over to MLB when talking about the all-time hits leaders, but combined, Ichiro racked up 4,367 hits. That’s 111 more than all-time leader Pete Rose did in his MLB career. See you in the Hall-of-Fame, Ichiro.

The first two rounds of March Madness are in the books, with just 16 teams left standing after an exciting first few days of action. For the most part, a lot has gone as we would have assumed. The top seeds and favourites remain standing but there were a few nice upset stories worth mentioning, too. #12 seed Liberty and #13 seed UC Irvine picked up their first wins in their respective program’s history. While #12 Oregon got past #5 Wisconsin to round out the notable lower seeds that picked up wins. Oregon is the only seed above #5 left in what has been a very “chalk” tournament to this point. Man, how different things could’ve been though. UCF was an unlucky bounce on a put-back in the closing seconds away from taking down Duke. The coach’s son Aubrey Dawkins went off for the Knights and Tacko Fall is absolutely insane to watch but it wasn’t quite enough. Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett came through when it counted most. What a game that was, hopefully there’s more like that one to come.

 

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