Annual basketball tournament provides welcome relief from grind of camp
By Maureen Mullen
Special to MLB.com |
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At a certain point in Spring Training, the days start to run together. The routine develops a degree of monotony. Players are itching for something different. So, the timing of the NCAA basketball tournament is just about right.
"It is," said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. "This point of Spring Training it gets a little long. So it's something to kind of come to the field every day, have something to talk about: 'Hey, what about Stony Brook that just upset so-and-so.'"
Dozier is not a hoops nut. The first game he watched this year was Saturday night when North Carolina beat Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. He won't be glued to the tournament until the Sweet 16 round, he said, but he'll pay attention throughout.
"It's the first time in many years that there's not a clear number one team," he said. "I like it like that, when there's not a Duke or a Kentucky that's going to run the table."
Right-hander Alex Meyer, though, is a certified hoops junkie. As a 6-foot-9 native of Indiana who attended Kentucky, it's practically in his DNA.
"I'll be watching as much of it as I can," said Meyer, who played basketball through his senior year of high school. "I'll be following it and paying pretty close attention to it this year."
"I want to say Kentucky just because that's where I went to school," he said. "But I think Michigan State's the team to beat. I think Denzel Valentine's the best player in the country and [coach Tom] Izzo this time of year always has the team playing right. They got close last year. I think this year could be it. A lot of people are going to say Kansas is a really good team. North Carolina has been a good team all year. But I still think Michigan State is going to be the team to beat."
The Twins will have a clubhouse pool going, and there is sure to be some good-natured trash talking over busted brackets, ousted alma maters, or illogical picks based on longstanding loyalties.
Perhaps the smack talk has already started, though. Left-hander Brian Duensing, who's now with the Royals, ran the pool when he was with the team. Who's going to take care of it now?
"Two pitchers because they got all the time in the world to do things," said Dozier with a laugh.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.