Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
In keeping with an annual tradition upheld by virtually all sports columnists, I present my Things to be Thankful For, 2012 edition. It comes too late for Thanksgiving, but it’s just as well, since these aren’t going to be the heartfelt, serious things most people are thankful for around the holiday season. Instead, these are things that maybe you take for granted, possibly because they fall well below the threshold of Things That Are Really Important In Life:
Russell Wilson. At least, I should have been more thankful last year when the phenom played his one season at the University of Wisconsin, guiding the Badgers to a Rose Bowl berth. It’s mind boggling to me that a quarterback from UW, of all places, just became the first rookie in NFL history to exceed 125 in passer rating in three straight games. He continues to write a compelling story, and with the Badgers mired in a bit of a down year (though still reaching another Big Ten title game), I feel like maybe I wasn’t fully aware of Wilson’s greatness.
The yellow line. It’s getting to the point where we don’t remember what watching football was like before the first-down yellow line on televised broadcasts. It’s something so simple, but it completely enhanced our viewing experience – think of all the times you’ve watched with anticipation as a player neared that line with the football. Football watching was bit of a guessing game before its advent, and I think you can actually say it’s the primary reason why the in-stadium experience isn’t as good as the at-home one.
The CC Sabathia trade. I loved 2011 baseball season, when the Brewers reached the National League Championship Series, but is it strange that I still feel like 2008 was the thrill I’d been waiting a lifetime for? Cleveland recently outrighed Matt LaPorta off the 40-man roster, and he was the centerpiece of a trade that brought the Brewers left-handed starter CC Sabathia (who was key to that rampage toward the National League Wild Card).
The Indians still have some serviceable pieces from that deal, notably outfielder Michael Brantley, but it’s getting harder to argue that the trade was anything short of a monumental victory for the Brewers front office. Two of my favorite sports moments ever will be Sabathia’s first Brewers game at Miller Park against the Rockies, and of course the playoff clincher in the season finale against the Cubs.
I do feel like Doug Melvin gets adequate credit for the job he does in helping the Brewers remain competitive, but I always take my opportunity to remind people how amazing his tenure has been. There are still some silly doubters out there.
The Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout. While many people travel around the country in a post-Christmas frenzy, I find myself watching some of the best boys basketball the state can offer at Concordia University in Mequon, comfortably apart from the jam-packed fieldhouses that suit games of this talent level. Mark Miller, whose passion for high-school basketball has inspired front-line coverage for the sport in Wisconsin, has been the driving force behind this annual showcase for years.
Paginators. The work we do covering prep sports wouldn’t look nearly as good without the work of our office pagination staff, notably Matt Colby in Lake Country sports. The dude is a magician when it comes to assembling our work into eye-catching packages.
Miller Park. After more than a decade of use, it’s easy to see how valuable this stadium has been not just to the comfort of the fan experience, but to the baseball product as well. In Pittsburgh, a franchise that ran a (miserable) parallel course to the Brewers for years, the organization still has trouble drawing fans unless the team is in the deepest throes of the pennant chase. There was a time The Pirates thought they would set an attendance record this year (2,436,140), but they fell short by about 350,000 once the squad fell out of contention. The Brewers, meanwhile, have been well north of that number every year since 2007, cracking 3,000,000 several times.
A combination of fan base passion and better baseball (Pittsburgh now has 20 losing seasons) can explain the disparity. But considering two beautiful parks that were opened a year apart, I have to think the climate-controlled ballpark allowed Milwaukee to keep its stadium jammed in the early and late part of the season. That creates an environment attractive to free agents and also serves the bottom line.
Teams in domes like Toronto, Seattle, Houston and Tampa Bay were in the bottom third in attendance this year, but I still feel the lack of a dome would completely preclude this market from being 11th in MLB attendance in 2012.
Portable chairbacks. Take that, bleacher butt.
Green Bay football. It occurred to me watching the New York Giants whomp the Packers on Sunday night that I actually couldn’t remember the last time Green Bay was flat-out blown away. It just doesn’t happen to the Packers, and that’s a testament to Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and obviously many others. Losing badly is definitely disappointing, but be glad that you only have to see it once in a very great while (knock on wood).
Milwaukee basketball. I barely watch Bucks games, but I’m part of a dormant fan base just waiting for a chance to explode if the Bucks consistently win games. I look to 2010 (and perhaps 2001) as evidence of what winning pro basketball can do for this area and how completely hooked its people are willing to become. Monday night’s remarkable comeback against the Chicago Bulls should have been a spark for the fans of a team that has exceeded expectations in the early going. There are so many who trip over themselves saying how “glad” they would be if the Bucks left town. Perhaps we don’t need the Bucks like we need the Brewers and Packers, but there is still a lot of juice for local NBA.
Pictured: Russell Wilson (AP photo) and Miller Park (Tom Lynn/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).