Special to Page 2
It happens every year, as sure as a dignitary noodle-arming a ceremonial first pitch under the bright April sun. As sure as a pimento sandwich costing two bucks and fifty cents amid the scented Georgia pines or as sure as Teddy Pendergrass' opening lyric, "The ball is tipped/And there you are," turning an otherwise cheesy elevator tune into a "Shining Moment" that locks you up.
In other words, "Happy Cooler Day, everyone."
As an American, a sports fan or a human with a pulse, I hope that you appreciate this day, a day that forces us to ask, "Why is this day different from any other day?"
First, a brief history. In November 2000, I joined Page 2 on Day 1 and wrote the "Water Cooler," a weekend wrap-up of sports meant to be more comical than serious. As it evolved, so too did the column's realization that the first Monday in April represented not just the ultimate "Cooler Day," but also the "Greatest Day in American Sports."
On no other day did all of the following occur:
• Opening Day of baseball season.
• NCAA Tournament championship night.
• Monday of Masters week.
• And, by springing forward an hour, an extra hour of daylight that symbolizes our springtime bliss.
• Bristol Bob: Cooler Day music
• Gallo: Page 2 MLB preview
• Complete MLB coverage
If the sky is emerging from hibernation, surely our sports soul follows suit on this new day.
Let's also clarify a nagging issue surrounding the purity of Cooler Day. The trend toward opening the MLB season on Sunday night for viewers is bogus, false and wholly unacceptable. Sunday night TV openings are between TV execs and Madison Avenue, not between you, me, a hot dog and a day ball game.
You, me, a hot dog and a day ball game are cool. We're on the same page.
Sunday night openings? Hey, call your local cable operator to discuss the philosophical ramifications, however I offer no defense of it.
So, back to Cooler Day.
How best to celebrate? Well, after calling your relatives to wish them "HCD" (Happy Cooler Day), e-mailing friends to wish them well, and after sending cards to loved ones, the logical next move is to call in sick from work. This is particularly pressing if you live in San Diego (Padres host Barry Lamar Bonds), Milwaukee (Brew Crew host the Bucs), New York (Metsies at Shea), Philadelphia (Jimmy Rollins can't get to 37 without you), Colorado (hey, it's big league ball, sort of), Los Angeles (Dodgers by day, Bruins on TV by night), Houston (watch the NL flag go up), Texas (where the Red Sox begin Year 2 of their drought), Baltimore (a Raffy-free zone), Kansas City (see Colorado) and Seattle (never mind the drizzle, it's ball season!).
Note that we've left Oakland out of the equation. Despite my avowed fondness for Billy Beane, Eric Chavez, Ken Macha and the Swingin' A's, there is no excuse for Opening Night . What is this, the Soviet Union?
It's Opening Day. Back to the plan.
If your sick call to work was accepted, then we're all set. If you're unemployed, all the better. If you can't get out of work, or live in a town without big league ball or an Opening Day later in the week, don't despair. There's always Lunch Hour, which you turn into a two-hour effort at your local tavern near work with ball on TV, involving a couple of cold ones, a hot dog from the nearest street stand and a breath mint for when you get back to work.
And if that doesn't work, you're still not out of luck. There's always ball on the radio at your cubicle, and then a ceremonial Firing-o'-The-Grill when you get home for the NCAA hoops final. The unveiling of the Weber grill, which has sat for months under its gloomy protective tarp, is a rebirth not unlike the peeling of the tarp on the Little League diamond that has wilted under winter ice since Thanksgiving.
Meats will be grilled. Greg, Seth and Clark will break it down. Jim Nantz, courtside, will say, "Hello, friends," oozing a sincerity that makes you wish he was your neighbor.
The ball will be tipped and there you are.
After all, Cooler Day is "One Shining Moment." Have a good one, everybody!
A Quick Cooler Day Weekend List of Five:
1. Luc! It Is His Destiny!
Why sports fans continue to sleep on the phenomenon that is UCLA freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a mystery. That's oom-bah ah moo-tay if you didn't know, and his very name and game has forced formerly dormant and laissez-faire Bruins fans to raise their level of play.
He works hard, plays hard, talks no trash, grabs every rebound he sees and, perhaps best of all, is a prince in his Cameroonian village and bears one of the most poetic names in recent sports memory. Luc, a cult figure, has spawned a T-shirt industry, including the popular and seen-around-Indy "MOUTE KICKS BOUTE," and a T-shirt with Luc's mug and the mug of his fellow Cameroonian and UCLA freshman Alfred Aboya, with the slogan: "CAMEROON CRAZIES" on the back. Well-played, T-shirt makers.
2. When Your Dad is Yannick Noah
you have no choice but to hang loose and be cool.
Joakim Noah: Florida fans have to love this guy. Has an athlete ever carried a better pedigree than to be the son of the last French-born French Open champion and a Swedish model? I mean, beside the future kids of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.
Let's be honest: Tiger and Elin's kid won't be as cool, because few cats are as cool as Yannick Noah. I was at the Final Four on Saturday night, and during the George Mason-Florida tilt, my pals and I found ourselves analyzing Yannick's situation. He was dressed in what appeared to be a European soccer jersey, and sporting shades -- indoors. Avec dreads, of course. Very cool cat. Hard to dislike.
Tiger's kid will be brilliant, great-looking and an excellent athlete. But there's a reason Tiger was nicknamed "Urkel" at Stanford. Yannick Noah was never nicknamed "Urkel."
3. Women's Golf? Women's Golf!
It's pretty much official now: When Michelle Wie is in the hunt to win a major, she lifts the LPGA Tour from a place on the sports radar formerly nestled between Pro Bowling and Bass Fishing and into the world of must-watch legitimacy. While nursing a post-win-over-LSU hangover Sunday in Indy, I couldn't even take a solid nap at the hotel, because the drama at the Kraft Nabisco was too rich. Yes, friend, the LPGA Tour! Preventing a hangover nap! Who'd have thunk it?
Despite her new addition of what appear to be Foster Grant sunglasses meant to be worn by sleazy Hollywood agents, the Big Wiesy remains one of the sports world's most compelling figures. She finished a shot out of the playoff, and there will be idiots out there who continue to criticize her for not winning.
I say to these idiots:
A. She's 16 years old.
B. She just notched her fifth top 10 at an LPGA major, and her third top three within the past year.
C. She's 16 years old.
D. Any questions?
Idiots annoy me. To not get Michelle Wie, is to not get it.
4. More Final Four.
A moment to pause and praise Final Four fans. I realized at some point on Saturday that if I were ever challenged to convince a European soccer fan that we do, in fact, have atmosphere worth savoring in American sports, I'd take them to a Final Four.
Pep bands, cute cheerleaders, alums singing and chanting, passion on the floor, no piped-in music -- let me repeat -- no piped-in music, a little bit of face paint, clever T-shirts and raw emotions. Yep, Final Four has 'em all.
I've been to almost everything now. Still no Kentucky Derby, but just about everything else: NBA playoffs, World Series, Super Bowls, Masters, you name it. They're all beautiful for their own reasons. Well, except for the Super Bowl. There's not much that's beautiful about the Super Bowl. It's about as dry and corporate as it gets. But for the most fun, the most energy and the best atmosphere, it's the Final Four -- particularly in a school's rooting section.
Yankee Stadium in October, by the way, is a very close second.
5. A Final Wish.
Happy Cooler Day! Eat, drink and be merry. It's springtime, it's ball, it's hoops and the Masters is just three days away. Life sometimes sucks: taxes, work, traffic. But on Cooler Day, life is beautiful.
Here's hoping you have a great one.
E-mail Brian Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.