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Exciting finishes and finals

By Jeff Praught | Dugout Chatter

Good heavens, this is a good time to be a sports fan. Every single day, there is an exciting new event popping up on our television screens. We are seeing so many new feats and new teams vying for titles that it is almost impossible to know where to begin.

American Pharoah wins Triple Crown

I am not a big fan of horse racing, but like much of America, I was glued to the television on June 6 when the horse with the misspelled name won the Belmont Stakes by over five lengths, capturing the sport’s first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1977. I do appreciate history, and American Pharoah managed to pull off the feat that 13 horses had tried to accomplish over the last 36 years.

Because several horses had nailed down the first two legs of the Triple Crown in recent years (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes), yet failed to win the Belmont, there had been chatter surrounding the sport that the three races should be spread out more, instead of being run within five weeks. The thinking was that increased rest would make winning the Belmont easier.

But winning that prestigious honor is supposed to be difficult. American Pharoah was the only horse in the Belmont field that had run both the Derby and the Preakness. And to win wire-to-wire was just thoroughly impressive.

The horse’s next stop just may be in Del Mar during this summer season.

NBA finals

I have not watched the NBA regularly in 10 years. I am not going to anoint myself as a die-hard Warriors fan or anything. But I am watching every game this year because this finals series is truly compelling. The Warriors were the class of the league this year, behind MVP Stephen Curry, who can seemingly hit three-pointers while falling over sideways, blindfolded and holding his child. Golden State had not been to the finals since 1975.

The “Dubs” are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lebron James. There, we have a city that has not won a championship of any kind since the 1964 Browns of professional football. Lebron is the most polarizing player in the league. You either love his remarkable talent, or you loathe his words and actions, such as his public spurning of his hometown Cleveland when he left as a free agent in a made-for-television announcement called “The Decision.”

Back home in Cleveland, his fans are not burning his jersey anymore. In fact, they are watching him score 40 points per game through the first three exhilarating contests, despite having a shaky cast of teammates to support him. Both cities deserve to win.

NHL playoffs

As much as I love football and baseball, I cannot think of any better playoff atmosphere than a game seven of the National Hockey League playoffs. We have had some beauties again this year, and once again, a new team is fighting for a title: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Squaring off against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Lightning were fortunate to gain a split after being dominated in the first two games. Then they bounced back from a brief deficit with a stunning rally to capture game three. There really is no such thing as momentum in this series and I would be shocked if it did not go the full seven games. Please, keep playing. And as a Red Wings fan, please do not let Chicago win.

Other tidbits

  • Serena Williams just continues to amaze. It was not easy, but perhaps the best player of our lifetime won the French Open to capture her 20th career Grand Slam title. At age 33, she has a real chance to pass Steffi Graf (second, with 22 titles) and maybe even Margaret Court (24 titles) on the all-time list. Williams has won three Grand Slam titles in a row (dating back to 2014), including the Australian and French Opens this year. Up next: Wimbledon.
  • Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals is just stupid-good at what he does. He hit his 20th home run of the season on June 9 at Yankee Stadium. The kid is probably going to be the MVP of the National League this year, and if he is not crushing baseballs, he is making highlight reel plays in the outfield.
  • The San Diego Padres have been slogging along at .500 this year, but that is about to change. This team leads the majors in most games played against .500-or-better teams and has held its own despite the pitching not living up to expectations. The schedule gets easier over the next two months and I could see a 30-20 type of run coming that catapults them atop the playoff race.
  • The San Francisco Giants are not a hate-able franchise like the Dodgers. San Diegans cannot help but be happy for manager Bruce Bochy’s success by the Bay. But after watching rookie Chris Heston twirl a no-hitter on June 9, everyone has to wonder what is in the water up north? Does any team really deserve to throw a no-hitter in four straight years and five of the last seven? And three titles in five years? It is time to share the wealth. How about one down our way this year?
  • Congratulations to the Urban MO’s Ball Hawks flag football team, who upended the Uptown Tavern Storm 38-35 in SDAFFL’s A Division title game on June 6. Hats off also to the Babycakes Honeybadgers, who took down Rich’s Hitmen 20-13 in the B Division championship.
  • Good luck to members of the top teams in AFCSL’s D Division, who will be battling out the next two weeks in an intense fight atop the softball standings. Each of the division’s top teams play each other, with the top team earning a bid to the World Series and the 2-4 seeds advancing to a playoff, where one more team will earn a berth to Columbus, Ohio, in August.

—Jeff Praught is actively involved in the LGBT sports community, having participated in softball, basketball, football and pool as a player, and serving on several boards in recent years. He can be reached at dugoutchatter@gmail.com.

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