Sports try to ‘out-eclipse’ each other

John Gilbert

 Duluth East reliever Dylan Cole pitches to Cloquet in 7-4 Greyhound victory at Wade Stadium. Cole hit a double and triple to support starter Bjorn Lind’s 4-inning 1-hitter with 10 strikeouts. Photo by John Gilbert.

The magic word for the week is “Eclipse.”

Since I was a little kid, growing up just outside Duluth, I’ve been fascinated by every eclipse that came along — partial, total, lunar, solar. You give me an eclipse and I’ll be fascinated by it. 

I wondered, in fact, why each eclipse wasn’t a bigger deal. Then along came this year, when it seemed like everybody went properly bonkers over the solar eclipse that drifted across the U.S. at an angle toward somewhere off the west coast of Mexico. I was preparing to be fascinated by this one, but Mother Nature intervened. 

It turned grey early and on Monday — the big day — it never stopped raining in Duluth. And all the best plans were rendered useless.

Luckily, we still have sports coaxing us to play the eclipse game. We’ve already seen how the women’s basketball Final Four could eclipse the legendary and iconic men’s Final Four, blowing it away in televised viewership as well as in conversational focus among just about everybody, all over the country. 

There was no darkness, as there was if you were in the right place when the moon completely blocked the sun from the Earth’s view on the early afternoon Monday. Instead, it was the obvious.

The overwhelming popularity generated by Caitlin Clark as she fired a steady stream of record-setting shots into opposing baskets all the way to Sunday’s NCAA championship game, and the nearly comparable achievement of Hopkins star Paige Bueckers, as she led Connecticut all the way into the semifinals, where the Huskies had a final chance to win it with 3 seconds left until interrupted, rudely, by one of the worst calls in sports history. 

Bueckers stepped into the clear on the right sideline behind a poorly executed pick set by a teammate and had the chance to fling what would have been the game-winning 3-point shot — or the almost-game-winning 3-point miss. But she never got the shot away, because the ref blew his whistle and called an illegal pick on the teammate who had tried and failed to set a pick.

Game over, and Clark’s Hawkeyes went on to the final.

Clark was held to 6 points in the first half by the brilliant defense of UConn, although she connected better in the second-half rally. 

In the final, the brilliant Clark had regained her touch and scored an incredible 18 points in the first period, when the Hawkeyes jumped to a startling lead against unbeaten and No. 1 ranked South Carolina. 
But in the second half, the Gamecocks — which seems like a rude thing to be calling a collection of brilliant young women athletes — totally eclipsed Clark and wound up beating Iowa by 12. Clark wound up scoring 30, but that means that after scoring 18 in the first quarter, she was stifled with only 12 points in the last three quarters!

The popularity and attractiveness of the women’s semifinals and final not only eclipsed the accompanying semifinals and final of the men’s Final Four with which they shared last weekend, but it completely dwarfed the men’s final, where you had to be more than 7-feet tall to capture any interest for Purdue or Uconn. 

Maybe the best indication of the difference in impact and how the women’s tournament eclipsed the men’s is that the men’s semifinals and final were on TBS (TBS?), while the women ’s semifinals were on ESPN, and the final was on both ABC and ESPN.  And the women’s ratings were approximately twice the number of the men’s.

And now, for those of us in Minnesota, and maybe in Boston, Denver and Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend’s showpiece at Saint Paul’s Xcel Energy Center has a chance to eclipse even those lofty basketball shows held in Cleveland (for the women) and Glendale (for the men).

In the Frozen Four, No. 2 rated Boston University faces No. 3 ranked Denver at 4 pm on Thursday, followed, at 7:30 pm, by No, 1 Boston College against No, 10 Michigan. 

True, we’d like to have had UMD, or Minnesota or St. Cloud State, in the Frozen Four, but without question, the four representatives who made it will make for a wide-open show, and any of the four could win it in the championship, which will be at 5 pm Saturday.

Boston College ripples with talent and speed, and NHL draft choices. Boston University, which has been chasing BC all season, is also skilled and very quick, and they will pair up against two of the West’s most enduring historic powerhouses. Denver resembles a pro team, with the size and strength of a proved AHL club. And Michigan, which has proven itself by rising up after a spotty season to show its outstanding skill level. If the Wolverines don’t always play with total team dedication, they have enough individual skill to win it all.

Tough doubleheader
With this being our winter-without-snow, we knew that the high school baseball teams would all seek out and play whenever they could find a dry field. That concept alone boosts Wade Municipal Stadium to the forefront, because with artificial turf covering the infield and outfield, there is no risk that lingering snowmass or rain is a problem. Just plow or shovel it off, and let’s play!

When I saw that Cloquet was scheduled to play at Duluth East earlier this week, I figured I’d run over and check it out. But they weren’t at East’s Ordean Field, so I headed for Wade, guessing that they might be there. Sure enough, they were. 

East had ace Bjorn Lind starting on the mound, and he was brilliant squelching Cloquet on one hit through the first four innings, and striking out 10. Dylan Cole relieved him with the score 6-0, and had a bit more trouble hitting the plate regularly, walking a bunch and giving up the shutout. 

But he finished the game, for a 7-4 victory, and while Lind moved to shortstop and made several sparkling defensive plays, Cole went 4-for-4 with a double and triple.

I had to run off to another appointment, but I noticed the Marshall team arriving about the time the East-Cloquet game was ending. 

What I didn’t realize was that Cloquet was playing Marshall to complete a pretty exhausting doubleheader, next on the Wade turf. This time, the Lumberjacks ran into Tanner Carlson, Marshall’s ace, and he threw a five-inning no-hitter at them in an 8-1 victory. Max Berriford had a double and triple.

Teammates for Life
It is indeed an honor for anybody inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and now, thanks to the efforts of the Eagles Nest Wellness Center in Sauk Rapids, Minn., there is an opportunity to make sure that deserving hockey folks who are not in the Hall might be recognized forever by friends or relatives for their contributions to the sport, and recognized in their own corner of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.

For example, former Boston University winger and 1980 U.S. Olympian Mike Eruzione recently paid the $500 fee to have his former college coach, Jack Parker, placed in this special category called “Teammates Forever.”
The money made from the project is split, with 20 percent going to the Hall of Fame, and the other 80 percent going to the Nest wellness center, which is part of the Eagles Healing Nest, a camp-like center at the veteran’s military facility at Sauk Rapids, where veterans — and former hockey players and officials — can go to spend time getting away from the normal stresses of daily life and find time to mellow out and get treatment, if necessary, for mental health awareness.

Several prominent former NHL players have been vital in creating the Nest, following the suicide of Mark Pavelich a few years ago. 

Pavelich found peace and enjoyed his final years living at the Nest, and while his former teammates at Eveleth High School, UMD, the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, and the NHL’s New York Rangers all were shocked by their popular teammate’s demise, they have been generous in helping create and support the facility which can allow healing.

Home show
Visiting the Home Show every year is an annual tradition for my wife, Joan, and me. We enjoy wandering past all the displays and checking out new ideas in improving your home, garden and yard. There also are interesting displays, such as a large wire cage identified as the Parakeet House, where little kids and adults can climb in and play with the hundreds of parakeets who are more than willing to cover your body with colorful fluttering.

It’s a great way to spend two or three hours on an afternoon, and they have very good food in the concession area. I always enjoy the lawn and garden implements, such as the New Holland lawn tractors being shown by Lulich. My favorite was a rugged small tractor with a plow on the snout and a pair of large lawn-mowing blades underneath. The perfect thing for this weird winter, when winter came in the spring after winter itself stayed away all winter. 

You could take this New Holland tractor out, plow your driveway, and then veer off and mow your lawn.