Rick Cleveland

Does it get any better than this sweet spot on the sports calendar? Not a chance!

Danny Willett, of England, gives a thumbs up after winning the 2016 Masters in Augusta, Ga.
Danny Willett, of England, gives a thumbs up after winning the 2016 Masters in Augusta, Ga. AP

If you’ve played golf or baseball, you surely know about the sweet spot.

In baseball, it’s when you swing the bat and hit the ball, and you can’t even feel the concussion. You hit the ball flush, right in the middle of the barrel of the bat and the ball just jumps off the bat. Ted Williams knew all about the sweet spot.

Same deal in golf. You swing that driver and catch the ball perfectly on the club face, right in the center, in the sweet spot. If you’ve never felt it, it’s hard to describe. If you have felt it, you want to feel it again and again. It’s the sweet spot. Heaven on Earth.

We are entering, as March winds down and April arrives, this sports fan’s sweet spot on the calendar. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this.

We’re slap dab in the middle of March Madness, winding down to the Final Fours of both the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. For drama — the late Jim McKay’s “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” — it surely doesn’t get any better. While TV ratings for some sporting events lag and ESPN’s revenue suffers, the NCAA Tournament’s ratings continue to soar.

We are winding down to a men’s Final Four, which will be played April 1 and 3 in Phoenix.

So what are you supposed to do on April 2? Funny you should ask. That’s the start of the Major League Baseball season. You know, hope springs eternal and all that. Last year, the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year drought and won the World Series. The 2017 season will have a hard time topping that, but we’ll see.

Later that week, we get The Masters, always the first of golf’s four major tournaments. Every sports fan has his or her favorite event to watch. Mine is Sunday at Augusta National. The sport itself has changed so much over the years. For one thing, sweet spots are larger on these high-tech golf clubs. The players hit the ball so much farther. But Sunday at Augusta never changes. Something will happen such as what happened to Jordan Spieth last year. Somebody’s heart will be broken. And somebody — Danny Willett, anyone? — will seize the day. I can’t wait.

But there’s so much more. In Mississippi, spring means college baseball. In no other state do baseball fans converge on college ballparks as they do in the Magnolia State. You can look it up.

At Ole Miss, for instance, the 14-6 Rebels drew more than 25,000 fans last weekend for a three-game weekend series with Vanderbilt and won two of the three games. Scott Berry may very well have his best team ever at Southern Miss. It’s certainly the most powerful. The 16-4 Golden Eagles have slammed 26 home runs in 20 games, including seven in a three-game road sweep of nationally ranked Louisiana Tech last weekend. State, 12-9, is off to a slower start, in large part due to injuries to pitchers. But the Bulldogs’ season is still a puppy. There’s time. Hope springs eternal, don’t you know.

We are also getting to that time on the sports calendar when NBA games begin to really matter. The 82-game monstrosity and monotony of a regular season is winding down. Pretty soon — April 15, to be exact — they will start playing for keeps. They will play — and play harder — for a few more weeks and then the Golden State Warriors will be crowned champions. You read it here first.

Now, I know many in this state will argue fall is the real sweet spot for a Mississippi sports fan. That’s when football takes center stage, baseball winds down to the World Series and basketball season launches.

Nevertheless, I’ll take spring. On this, I side with the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, who besides serving as baseball commissioner, was the president of Yale and a Renaissance scholar. He once wrote of baseball: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone ...”

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated sports columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mspress.org

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