Well, the Wild are down 3-1 in their playoff series (translation: see you next year)... the Brewers and Twins are slightly sub-.500... NFL is too far away... and the NBA Playoffs barely register locally. So what to look at?
No, literally. Our backyard at Clear Channel Eau Claire overlooks Carson Park. Between now and the next time any state team (Wisconsin or Minnesota) plays a meaningful game again, we'll be fortunate to have high school baseball and softball, the DIII softball championship, and baseball from the Eau Claire Bears, Cavaliers, and Express. Not to mention the fine football product of the Eau Claire Crush and Chippewa Valley Predators.
Not only our backyard, but perhaps yours as well. There's several big running and biking events in the next few months (the RCU Charity Classic and Nature Valley Grand Prix come immediately to mind in June), the USA Kubb National Championships (you'll hear from those guys tomorrow), and whatever your kid, friend or relative is doing in the younger student-athlete sports around town. You literally have to go about five steps out your door to find the nearest little league game in town.
Part of why I enjoy Eau Claire so much is that it's not too hard to find a sport to play or watch.
So, instead of cursing at the TV when the Wild get dropped tomorrow night in Chicago or blowing up at the middle relievers of your favorite mediocre baseball team, find something local to enjoy.
UW-Eau Claire's Leslie Huntington talks about the softball team's challenges with the weather this season and preparing for the NCAA Tournament this week.
[Click here for audio]
Sport Motors Harley Davidson Operations Manager John Berman tells us a HUGE show comes to town tomorrow for the Can-Am Spyder Roadster North American Tour! Check it out all week in Lake Hallie.
[Click here for audio]
Miss yesterday's interview with Mike Sullivan and Minnesota Wild/Eau Claire native Jake Dowell?
[That's right, click here for some audio]
Getting this out there early--make sure you get to Carson Park today. It's 80-ish, beautiful, and our local baseball teams are teaming up to help fund cancer research. Eau Claire North and Eau Claire Memorial are two fantastic high school programs that can put on a show of their own without the benefit on the side, but seeing as how the entire Eau Claire community is united by baseball, it's not surprising that away from the scoreboard they're working together to raise money and awareness to find new treatments for a terrible disease.
The double-header starts at 4pm today.
LATER THIS WEEK:
Wednesday - ESPN's Doug Glanville
Thursday - Eric, Aaron, and the gang from USA Kubb
Friday - Scott Kilgallon, UWEC AD; Jory Fleischauer, Paul Menard Empire founder
Bob Bradovich all week from WQOW TV 18
The Minnesota Wild got a big OT win last night over the Chicago Blackhawks. Instead of being down 0-3 and facing certain elimination, they now just trail 1-2 and have a legitimate chance of winning the series--if they win tomorrow night. Mike Sullivan attended the game and got this exclusive interview with Jake Dowell, native of Eau Claire:
I'll have more in this space as the week goes by. Here's what's coming up on The Watercooler this week (it's busy!):
Tuesday: Leslie Huntington, UWEC Softball; John Berman, Sport Motors Harley Davidson
Wednesday: ESPN's Doug Glanville
Thursday: Eric, Aaron, and everyone at USA Kubb in studio
Friday: UWEC's Scott Kilgallon, Jory (founder of the Paul Menard Empire)
All week: WQOW TV-18's Bob Bradovich
I have a fantastic trio of guests today-- author Joe Niese, who wrote Burleigh Grimes: Baseball's Last Legal Spitballer; Jude Feld of the Horse Racing Radio Network (they'll be calling the Kentucky Derby this Saturday on 880 WMEQ); and Bob Bradovich, WQOW TV 18 sports director.
But today, I just want to remind you that the worst spring season weather continued with a SNOW STORM on May 2nd. For serious. SNOW. And lots of it. Welcome, apparently, to northwestern Wisconsin.
Another batch of winter weather--just seven weeks before the start of "summer" here in Wisconsin. Perfect timing, in the smack dab middle of WIAC outdoor sports' playoffs and piles of area high school track meets and double-headers. I think we need to put a dome over all of Western Wisconsin for when the weather is this stupid.
-The Eau Claire Express signed a couple of Eau Claire products to the team. This is something they've done since day one, and it's funny how those guys end up being crucial parts to the team's success. Expect to hear a lot more about the Express as we'll actually be giving them a weekly Sunday morning radio show later this month, and we're airing their games on Mix 98.1 this summer.
-The Minnesota Wild dropped their game last night to the Chicago Blackhawks in OT, continuing a theme of tough, heartbreaking losses to Chicago during the regular season. Minnesota will need to win those close games to advance, because Chicago is going to paste them in at least two games this series. Game 1 was their mulligan. The Wild can't lose like that again if they want to survive and advance.
-The Milwaukee Bucks dumped Jim Boylan after an impossible season that saw the Bucks end up as the warm-up squad for the Miami Heat machine. The Bucks roster is so horribly constructed that Phil Jackson couldn't triangle his way to a second-round playoff appearance. Boylan will be the first of many to go as Milwaukee hits the reset button on the franchise--with the future of the team in doubt, do you really expect any more knucklehead long-term contracts as the owner tries to sell the team?
-They're not even the dumbest NBA team we cover: The Minnesota Timberwolves actually lucked their way into a very talented roster, yet managed to destroy any future for the organization since Kevin Love is as good as gone when he opts out from his extension, and Ricky Rubio won't be sticking around any longer than required either.
-Finally, the Twins are at .500 while the Brewers lost today. Both teams are meeting or slightly beating expectations to this point.
Coming Thursday: Mike Penna, HRRN: Kentucky Derby broadcaster (the Derby will be on 880 WMEQ at 4pm); Bob Bradovich; local author Joe Niese, who wrote about Burleigh Grimes (book now available on Amazon and in local bookstores).
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing author Pat Williams, NBA Executive, who wrote a book called How To Be Like Jackie Robinson (you can buy the book by clicking here--highly recommended by me). Later this week, local author Joe Niese will be on to talk about his book Burleigh Grimes: Baseball's Last Legal Spitballer (and again you can buy it here--hot off the press!). I love interviewing authors because they are passionate about whatever they chose to wrote about, have done more than enough research on that subject, and it gets the word out about their product. I also really like reading--I speed-read a 300-page book in about an hour and a half (about two pages per minute is the average--even faster if there's lots of pictures!).
- The Brewers did something no team has done since before my dad was born. Back in 1958, that is. They homered five times and tripled thrice. That's the kind of offense you want after getting shut out the night before.
- We bumped Twins baseball tonight for Wild hockey in the playoffs. Send complaint mail here, but honestly, there's 150 regular-season Twins broadcasts and only 4 guaranteed Wild playoff broadcasts. Weigh the pros and cons of April baseball vs playoff hockey for the first time in half a decade.
- Guests later this week: Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, Brewers and more. Wednesday has Bob Bradovich and (probably) someone else, just haven't confirmed it as of now
Plenty to get to on a Monday show, and with only 35 minutes on the air, I doubt I'll get to it all. Let's start with the Minnesota Wild!
That's Jake Dowell getting the start for the Wild against the Oilers on Friday. As you probably know, Dowell is an Eau Claire native and has bounced around between Houston and the Wild all season (in fact, as I write this, he was sent back down today). While the Wild were crushed 6-1 on Friday night, they got into the playoffs with a win the next night in Colorado, and now face the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Playoffs (all games on 1400 WBIZ). Here's another shot of Dowell in the game (I apologize for the size and blurriness; I was taking them with my phone from where I was sitting):
* * *
The biggest story in the headlines today is about Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay player in American pro sports. The Washington Wizards center breaks a barrier that was stupid to exist from day one. Why should anyone have to hide the fact that they're gay for 34 years out of fear of repercussion? That's absurd. I'm happy that society is finally catching on and becoming more tolerant of the differences between people, but there's still a very large segment of the population that will see or hear this story and have unpleasant thoughts about Collins. It's not my place to advocate anything political; the simple fact is that sexual preference is not a reason to discriminate against anyone, and that discrimination still exists in society, ESPECIALLY in sports. So, it's great that Collins told his story, but it's really sad (and stupid) that it IS a story in 2013.
Obviously, not everyone is going to support him telling the world about his sexual preferences. In this space, however, I'll note my full support not just for pro athletes, but for college and high school athletes (and students) to be comfortable with who they are. If you're in school and are having trouble either "coming out" or are dealing with idiots after letting everyone know your sexual preferences, or maybe seeking medical/health advice, here's a great resource page with a list of organizations that can help.
* * *
Much ink has been spilled on how the Packers, Vikings, and others drafted in the NFL Draft last week already. I'll just say this: the Packers got quantity while the Vikings went for quality, just in terms of draft position. The general theme is that the Packers are trying to stir up competition on the roster, and the Vikings are adding pieces for a title run. Questions still linger for both (Packers defense, Vikings QB), but both accomplished their goals for the most part in the NFL Draft.
* * *
Finally, the Milwaukee Bucks. That was a fun playoff run, huh? Now we may be witnessing an absolute deconstruction of a playoff team (ha!) as Ellis, Reddick, and Jennings may be elsewhere next season. Personally--I'm all for the bottoming-out of the roster. After giving away Tobias Harris for a JJ Redick rental (stupid stupid stupid), the Bucks have one--just one--building block: Larry Sanders. Harris and Sanders are a good foundation to lay supporting players on top of. Any one of Ellis/Jennings/Redick would have been a great third option in the lineup, and the Bucks could get a lottery pick and a shot at a legitimate #1/#2 option to compliment the rest of the roster. Unfortunately, as the roster has been constructed for the past several years, it's plugging one hole in a sinking ship just to have another one open up. You can only place the cork so many times before you let the thing sink.
This NBA Draft appears to be fairly light on impact, but the Bucks have actually drafted extremely well in the mid-to-late first round (Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, Brandon Jennings) recently. They lack depth because they were absolutely dreadful before that, and were only relevant in the mid-aughts because they got a 2nd round steal in Michael Redd. It's been a nice run draft-wise, but they'll need to crush one out of the park in order to move forward. Free agents aren't lining up for 7 months of Wisconsin winter, and the guys on the move don't sound that thrilled about the prospect of staying here.
It's here! The 4th Annual NFL Draft Party. Stephen Kelley of WQOW TV-18 joins me for yet another edition of this popular event. His mock draft features some sweet old-school logos and analysis. Since Bob Bradovich is out sick for the second time in almost 20 years at WQOW, we recorded earlier today (and the audio for just that segment is right here).
Here's my take: I think the Packers will draft a safety. There are guys late in the first round who can step in from day one. Who these could be, just look at any of the top 2-4 safety prospects. Green Bay could also defer to a later round or trade out--safety is not a difficult position to find starters at in the NFL. They've found guys in the 2nd-4th rounds in the past. I think the other place they look at is interior line. While they have some guards locked up for a long time, they may look at center or at a guy who can play all over the line. That may come later as well. I don't think they pick a running back in the first round. Finally, I doubt Green Bay will even pick in the first round at all--somebody is going to want a guy who slides late (maybe not a QB) out of the top 15. I'm thinking WR or one of those stud guards.
The Vikings, meanwhile, can do pretty much anything they want. They could trade up to target a guy high. They could trade one of their first-round picks and move back with more draft picks. Or, they could grab a pair of impact guys in one of the deepest parts of the draft--the late first through third rounds--and immediately improve two spots. I think one of them will be a CB, and the other will be a WR. The Vikings are solid up the middle except at MLB, but they're not very good on the edges. CB/WR are big needs, and the impact guys will probably be gobbled up by the time they are on the clock tomorrow.
I think that two QBs go in the top 15--Geno Smith and Ryan Nassib. I think that the RB streak continues. Despite mocks early having few WRs go in the first day, as many as 5 could be drafted. My favorite WR in the draft is Stedman Bailey out of WVU. Tavon Austin is very good, but Bailey is my favorite player not from Wisconsin in this draft. Lineman on both sides will dominate the first two days (yawn), linebackers like Manti Te'o or Jarvis Jones will be the headliners but not the best ones at their position this year, and defensive backs will be the most important (read: boom or bust) position this year. I also don't think anybody will take a kicker in round 3 again.
-The Brewers lost last night. Panic! No, really. Calm down Brewers fans, you're bound to lose a game or 80 between April and September.
-Milwaukee battles the Heat tonight at home. Losing means it's over...despite one more playoff game remaining. Winning means it's not quite over, but it's probably over. And word is Larry Sanders has a bum wheel. Sorry, LARRY SANDERS!
-Teams return to the diamond and track today. Get the highlights from WQOW TV 18 right here after the 6 and 10pm sportscasts tonight with Stephen Kelley.