What the Browns don’t understand

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry taunted an opposing player after scoring a touchdown Sunday, then wouldn’t apologize for it. Nor did his head coach expect him to.

Therein lies the problem with this underachieving team.

As an outsider to the Cleveland area (we moved here almost six years ago from out of state), I find it fascinating – and sometimes hilarious – to see how fans react to the local professional sports teams. I learned very quickly that a synonym for Cleveland is “Browns Town.”

No kidding.

Never mind that the Browns haven’t won an NFL championship since 1964, before the Super Bowl era began. Most of those years across the past half-century, the team hasn’t even been competitive. And 20 years ago, the then-owner moved the team to Baltimore. Many passionate Browns fans still haven’t forgotten that. (Cleveland got an expansion franchise three years later.)

Never mind that there are two other major professional sports teams in Cleveland, both of which actually are (or were) pretty good.

No, this is Browns Town. Clevelanders would rather freeze their fingers off at First Energy Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie than battle mayflies for a week during the summer heat at Progressive Field. The Q, or Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse or whatever they call it these days, has no such outside limitations. Doesn’t matter.

Team sports

Anybody remember who the three Indians starting pitchers were who began the season in the minor leagues, but all played pivotal roles in the baseball team’s push to the postseason (which fell just short)? Didn’t think so. Zack Plesac, Adam Plutko and Aaron Civale provide a bright future for the Indians.

No superstar resumes there, just quality athletes who did their jobs very well.

The Cavaliers basketball team reached the NBA finals four consecutive years, winning one title, all with LeBron James as the cornerstone. When he left before last season, the team fell apart. But the Cavs gave this city the sports championship it was starving for.

I think the Browns are trying to re-create the Cavs’ success using the Cavs’ formula. I’m not a fan.

Basketball, football and baseball are team sports. In basketball sometimes you can get away with stacking a team full of superstars – or, in the Cavs case, one really big superstar – and challenge for the title.

Strong leadership

Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich

But which NBA team has had the most success over the past 20 years? The San Antonio Spurs have won five championships in that time frame – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2014. They had the same coach for all five: Gregg Popovich.

What’s up with “Pop?” Alone among coaches in the ego-driven NBA, Popovich actually runs his team. He demands that the players fit into his system, not the other way around. Even superstars like David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker – current or future Hall of Famers, all – bought into Popovich’s system. They thrived as individuals, and flourished as teams.

As an alum of Michigan State University, I enjoy following the Spartan basketball program. Coach Tom Izzo – the head coach for 25 years, and an assistant to Jud Heathcote before that – has reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four eight times in those 25 years, more than any other coach.

What’s Izzo’s secret? He doesn’t recruit the five-star one-and-done players that Kentucky and Duke sign. He goes after the next level of players – excellent athletes, perhaps a little under the radar, then keeps them three or four years and develops them. His teams, most years, are veteran teams with a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

He pushes them hard, in practices and during games. He’s not berating them; he’s pushing them to become better players. And better young men.

Tom Izzo, Cassius Winston

They know that. Which is why they submit to his authority.

Izzo knows when to be soft, as well. Over the weekend, the brother of his star player, Cassius Winston, was hit by a train and killed. About 24 hours later, the team played a game.

“I guess if I was to be honest, I expected him not to play, but everyone grieves a different way, and we left it 100 percent up to Cassius,” Izzo said. “His brothers are the world to him. I’ve never seen a kid over my years that was as close with his brothers. Zachary grew up around the team so much. He grew close to all the guys.”

Winston played, and played well in an easy non-conference victory.

Winston is a senior, beginning his fourth season under Izzo’s tutelage. In his first three seasons, he averaged 6.7, 12.6 and 18.8 points per game. That’s the Izzo way. Keep improving, keep getting better, become a leader.

Izzo’s passion for basketball is well-documented. He screams at referees during games. He screams at his own players during timeouts.

Channel the passion

But unlike Jarvis Landry of the Browns, Izzo’s passion is not about himself. He’s challenging his players to reach their full potential, to go beyond what they think they are even capable of. For their own good. For the good of the team.

That is what the Cleveland Browns do not understand.

What is the culture of the Browns? How does an organization develop a winning attitude?

Browns Football

Owner Jimmy Haslam has to decide this, then hire and draft employees who will buy into his system. Head Coach Freddie Kitchens doesn’t know what the culture is. Jarvis Landry is allowed to run the team, basically, and set his own culture.

Landry needs to grow up. He is part of a team, and it does not revolve around him.

Passion is a good thing. I’m not suggesting he muzzle his passion.

However, he must channel that passion into positive plays. Taunting an opponent, which cost his team an extra point (it could have cost his team the game), is unacceptable. Landry must fuel that passion between the white lines, while the clock is ticking. Catching passes. Blocking for his teammates. Doing whatever else his coaches ask him to do to help the team win.

My wife and I raised three boys. They could have gotten into all kinds of mischief. But we didn’t let them get destructive. We didn’t crush their spirits; we re-focused them in positive directions.

Sports offers a great outlet for male aggression. But it has to be done correctly. You’re not helping your team if all you do is cause penalties and do things to get ejected from games. Channel that energy. Work with your own talent. Get better at what you do. Make yourself better, and make your team better.

A winning plan

The Cleveland Browns will never come close to winning a Super Bowl until they understand this. Fans can scream and offer advice til they are blue in the face, but none of it matters, really.

Cut the noise. Focus on what’s important.

Develop the individual. For the good of the team.

If the individual won’t play that game, keep him off the roster, no matter how much talent he has. Find players who will.

Just ask Gregg Popovich or Tom Izzo. Both are winners, for a reason.

An unexpected blessing

You have a story. So do I.

Our pastor began his Easter Sunday sermon by saying that.

Jesus has a story, he said. The apostle Peter also has a story.

I won’t re-tell his sermon. It’s excellent. You can listen to it here, if you’d like:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLHjQKzbevhK_vJCFUmIKGdsdIoyrmQ2b3&v=-hH6-6wxwWM

 

Our youth pastor recently began an after-school basketball ministry on Thursday afternoons, and I’ve been helping him with that. Not that I’m any great shakes at basketball – I’ve never played in any kind of organized league – but it’s fun.

After playing for a bit and working up a sweat, our youth pastor, Joe, stops the games for a breather and a devotion. He asked me to lead the devotion last week.

Rather than give a Bible lesson or (even worse) a sermon to a group of teens and early 20s ballplayers, I decided to tell a story. Because we all have stories.

My wife and I had just joined a church in Saginaw, Mich., and when I discovered they had a slow-pitch softball team, I decided to sign up. Baseball is my favorite sport, so I thought I’d give softball a shot.

My very first game turned out memorable. As the new guy who few people knew, I played right field. Our church fielded two teams that year, and the first game was against our church’s other team. So just about everybody knew each other.

Early in the game, a batter on the other team hit a short fly ball to right-center field. I can catch this, I thought, so I went running in towards the ball.

Slow-pitch teams field four outfielders. Our fourth outfielder was a high school tennis player, a good athlete with a strong body. He was playing behind second base a little toward left field. He raced after the ball too.

Not knowing each other’s skills, we didn’t account for each other. Both of us ran as fast as we could toward the fly ball. Joel caught it. I crashed into his body, hard, and crumpled to the ground. I didn’t get up.

My teammates quickly gathered around me and realized I needed to visit the emergency room. I was loaded into the van of one of the players on the other team (who remains a good friend to this day), and John transported me to the ER.

I had a broken wrist and a fractured cheekbone.

Nurses placed me on a hard table in the emergency room. Since it was after hours, they had to call an orthopedic surgeon from home to treat me.

It took some time for the surgeon to arrive. My pregnant wife was handling the paperwork for my unexpected visit. For a few minutes, I was left alone on the table, in more pain than I’d ever felt before.

At that moment I felt an unnatural calm come over me. I knew other people were praying for me but I didn’t know who they were. I knew that I would be all right.

I discovered later that at that moment, one of my teammates had put me on our church’s prayer chain. That’s a group of people, mostly elderly ladies, whose primary mission is to pray for people who have an immediate need. Even though I was new to the church and most of them didn’t know who I was, they prayed for me anyway.

I felt their prayers. For real, I did.

God works like this. In my most painful moment, God showed up, because people on Earth asked God to show up.

The surgeon arrived and after a few painful X-rays, he put my wrist in a cast and scheduled an appointment at his office in 10 days to check on progress. Thankfully no bones were displaced in my face, so he just authorized some pain medication and let my cheekbone heal on its own. I had quite the black eye and the pain in my face lasted a couple of weeks before it healed.

My wrist didn’t heal quite so smoothly. I eventually had surgery on it.

Needless to say, these injuries put me on the disabled list for the rest of the summer. I still attended as many games as I could. I went out for the team the next year – indeed, I played for about 25 years, and have many wonderful memories of the people I played with.

My only concession? I shy away from contact to this day, especially around my head. One injury like that was enough for me.

But even in that unexpected, painful moment, God showed up and did something special, something that I still remember and will continue to remember for the rest of my life.

When those ladies prayed for me, God could have healed me miraculously, but He didn’t. Instead, God gave me the strength to get through the pain – and the healing process, including the boring rehab.

God frequently doesn’t take away our pain, suffering or sorrow. Instead, He gives us the strength and whatever else we need to endure it.

This builds our character – and gives us stories we can share with others who might be enduring a similar struggle.

When we are in our darkest moments – when the storms of life are coming on strong – that just might be when the living God shows up. When I was hurting the most in the emergency room, that’s when God gave me assurance that I would be all right.

As long as the living God is my guide and I follow His direction, I’ll be fine. There may be more pain and heartaches along the way – I’ve attended several funerals already this spring, for example – but God will give me what I need to get through it.

As He will you.

Going after the easiest target

I’ve been ambivalent on the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. Some native Americans find it offensive, but protests are infrequent and not strong. Many fans of the baseball team support the logo.
The Indians announced the other day that they will drop the Chief Wahoo logo from the team’s uniforms starting next year.

The team will continue selling merchandise featuring Chief Wahoo after that time to protect its trademark. Otherwise, anyone could use the logo for any purpose they desire.

I have an Indians T-shirt with Chief Wahoo on it. I’ll continue to wear it.

I’m not making a political statement. I’m supporting a baseball team.

Perhaps one reason I’m ambivalent is that Indians owner Paul Dolan also hasn’t taken a strong stand on the logo. He agreed to drop it from uniforms next year only after persuasive talks – over several years – with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The fact that Cleveland will host the 2019 All-Star Game forced Dolan’s hand, I’m sure. Baseball doesn’t want to offend anyone. Manfred doesn’t want to see protests outside Progressive Field during baseball’s marquee event (outside of the World Series), so he convinced Dolan to avoid that possibility.

Manfred, like the rest of us, has seen what divisive issues have done to the National Football League in the past couple of years. A simple kneeling during the National Anthem has taken on a life of its own, and cost the league viewers and untold goodwill.

Whether the kneeling was correct, politically correct or wrong doesn’t matter, at least to baseball. The issue became divisive, and the NFL is the lightning rod.

Baseball wants to avoid that scenario at all costs.

But not all team logos, including native American logos, are treated equally. Not by a long shot. We’ll stick to professional sports here.

The Redskins

Exhibit A, and you knew this was coming: the Washington Redskins and their Indian head.

Washington Redskins v Oakland Raiders

Most people are not ambivalent about the Redskins name and logo, calling them racist. Why do activists not push harder to change them?

It’s simple: politics.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder adamantly supports the Redskins name and logo. Opponents would face a loud and protracted fight against him.

The Indians became a much easier target.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in response this week to the Indians’ announcement, said he won’t pressure Snyder to change anything about the Redskins.

Goodell repeatedly cited a Washington Post poll in which the majority of native Americans surveyed said they do not find Washington’s team name or logo offensive. He added that the league doesn’t “hear this very much from our fans” on the issue and said Snyder is unlikely to change the name.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins/2018/01/30/roger-goodell-sidesteps-redskins-issue-shifts-focus-owner-dan-snyder/1078238001/

Seriously?

The league must not be listening very hard. Or, more likely, with Snyder’s strong position, opponents are looking for more winnable battles.

So, they turned to the Cleveland Indians, where the opposition (team owner Dolan) was lukewarm and the league is less combative.

Are Chief Wahoo and the “Indians” name truly more racist than the logo and “Redskins” name of Washington, D.C.’s football team?

I’m not buying that.

The Blackhawks

Here’s another one: the Chicago Blackhawks. Its Indian head, like Chief Wahoo, is decades old.

Chief Wahoo’s origin is murky; the Blackhawks logo is not.

Some say the Indians were named after native American Louis Sockalexis, who played for the team in the 1890s. Others say that’s not the whole story.

Joe Posnanski, executive columnist for MLB Advanced Media, offered this commentary on Oct. 13, 2016:

 

Best I can tell from all the research, there were two major factors in choosing Indians.

  1. Native American names were all the rage in 1914 because that was the year of Boston’s Miracle Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and then somehow won 70 of their last 89 games to win the National League by 10.5 games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The nation was whooping for the Braves, and so a Native American nickname made a lot of sense.
  2. Cleveland did have that Sockalexis connection from the 19th century when the team was often called the Indians. This from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The fans throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders “the Indians.” It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record. It has now been decided to revive this name.”

People will argue forever about whether the Indians name was created in a cynical ploy to both mock and cash in on Native American culture or if it was a way to honor a pioneering Native American baseball player who, for a short time, thrilled people with his play. People will forever argue if the Chief Wahoo logo, which apparently was inspired by the “Little Indian” cartoon that would run in the newspaper, is a harmless caricature or a racist one. The split is fierce and passionate.

 

The Blackhawks’ logo has a much simpler history.

blackhawks

According to the New York Times, the Blackhawks’ founder was Maj. Frederic McLaughlin, whose family owned Manor House Coffee, a popular brand in the first half of the 20th century. McLaughlin named the team after the Blackhawk division, a unit he helped lead as an officer in the Army. It was formed during World War I, but the war ended before the unit, or McLaughlin, saw action. The unit was named for a Sauk and Fox American Indian leader who fought against the United States government in the War of 1812 and in 1832.

The team’s immensely popular Blackhawks Indian head logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL.

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/sports/why-is-the-chicago-blackhawks-logo-okay-but-washington-redskins-racist/

The national stage

Does that history play into today’s controversy, or lack thereof in the case of the Blackhawks’ logo?

If native Americans truly find these professional sports logos offensive, why not protest all three with vigor?

The Chief Wahoo argument gained steam in 2016 when the Indians reached the World Series, giving the issue national prominence.

The Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, so they’ve had a high profile for the past decade. Why has their logo not been a topic of national conversation?

The Redskins, as a team, haven’t played in the Super Bowl since they won it in 1992. Should they become relevant again on the field, would the name and logo debate gain more intensity?

I just see these three team logos treated very differently.

Perhaps all of them should be retired. In the meantime, I wish activists would pursue the worst offender, and not the easiest, first.

Sexual harassment: Let’s define it

Harvey Weinstein. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. Garrison Keillor. And so many more, some known and many who have yet to apologize.

All have been accused of sexual harassment or worse.

This crime knows no boundaries. Democrats and Republicans. Rich people. Plenty of rich, powerful people. Hollywood types. Media moguls.

I have a question, which I haven’t heard anyone – except for one close friend – ask.

What, exactly, is sexual harassment?

Don’t tell me it’s in the eye of the beholder. That’s a cop-out, and no answer at all.

We need a definition that all of us, and I mean all of us, can agree on.

In no way am I excusing true sexual harassment. If a man touches a woman’s private parts, for example, that’s completely unacceptable and should be prosecuted to the extent of whatever laws there are.

What about a hug? If I give a woman (who is not my wife) a one-armed side hug, I have been taught that that’s OK. If I give her a full-body two-armed hug, that is not OK.

What if a woman gives me a full-body hug, then charges me with sexual harassment?

See the dilemma?

That’s why we need a national standard for sexual harassment.

Women and CPR

I saw an article recently that said women are less likely to receive CPR than a man is if she is having a heart attack. I wonder if the harassment issue plays into that.

What if I, even accidentally, touch a woman in the wrong place while trying to save her life? I’ve had CPR training, and they teach us to unbutton the victim’s shirt to improve the chances for success.

Would that cross the line? If I do that and the woman dies, could her family file charges against me?

I’m serious.

In today’s atmosphere, her family might be successful.

Again, I’m not condoning abuse. What Dr. Larry Nassar did to numerous female U.S. gymnasts in the name of medicine is inexcusable. Throw the book at him. Make an example out of him so that, hopefully, no one ever does that again.

Where’s the line between those two extremes? As a man, how do I know when I cross it?

Again, don’t tell me that if I have to ask the question, I’m guilty. That’s a cop-out.

And you’d probably be right anyway, as I’ll show in a minute.

Temptations and Hollywood

Temptations are everywhere in our sex-saturated society. Of course, that’s no excuse. Not every man touches a woman inappropriately after seeing a sexually-explicit television ad or an R-rated movie.

I see a TV ad these days with men in underwear and the voice-over announcer says, “Don’t wear your dad’s underwear.” You can hardly watch a football game without a closeup of the cheerleaders, often looking up. Prime-time TV shows joke about sex like it’s no big deal, something that everyone does, whether they’re married or not.

If everyone does it, why are men being punished for doing less? Every TV actor and actress likes it, including the women, according to the script writers.

Right?

If sex is mainstream in front of a camera, what’s the big deal off-camera?

Of course, it’s a big deal. Hollywood is not real, even though real people are saying and doing very real things. But we know better, don’t we?

So, where’s the line?

Keillor vs. Lauer

Garrison Keillor’s situation troubles me. According to an article in today’s newspaper, he “apparently put his hand on a woman’s bare back when trying to console her.”

“She recoiled. I apologized,” Keillor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an email. “I sent her an email of apology later, and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it.
“We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

Minneapolis Public Radio terminated his contracts over that.

What did Keillor do wrong? He admitted his mistake immediately, and the woman accepted his apology.

That’s not good enough any more? What’s her purpose in hiring a lawyer?

To fire a popular radio figure, ruin his reputation and end his 40-year career?

The article doesn’t say anything about seeking monetary damages. Indeed, none of female victims in today’s high-profile cases are seeking financial damages.

If Matt Lauer used his position of influence to take advantage of women, his reputation should be ruined.

Garrison Keillor didn’t do that, apparently.

So, why do they suffer the same fate?

All men are guilty

If I touch a woman’s (covered) shoulder during a light moment, is that harassment? If I give a hug or pat on the back for emotional support or encouragement, is that harassment?

Don’t give me the “eye of the beholder” argument. You might change your mind later, as Keillor’s accuser did. If the standard changes, how can I possibly follow it?

Men are visual. We are wired that way. If you’re going to file a lawsuit against me for who I am, I stand no chance.

If you charge me with looking at you weird, I’m most likely guilty. Every male who ever lived, including me, has done this at some point. That doesn’t mean I’m going to act on that or that it’s even something I’m going to dwell on. That temptation often passes.

But for a second, I’m guilty.

That’s why we need a standard for sexual harassment. Where we seem to be headed, every man on Earth is guilty.

If you’re looking for a skeleton in my closet, you’ll probably find it. We men do our best to hide such things, but if you look expecting to find something, you will.

Here’s a thought. Each of us has good things in us, too. If you try to find the good in me, you might just draw that out instead.

Let’s define it

Again, I am not defending sexual harassment or abuse.

I’m just asking:

What is it?

Let’s come up with a definition we all can agree on.

Did Garrison Keillor cross that line?

If he did, then I daresay nearly all of us men are guilty.

What is the endgame here?

Respect?

Certainly, women need respect. To be honest, you haven’t had it in a long time. Look at our movies, TV shows and ads, magazines – and on and on. You’re portrayed as little more than sex objects across the landscape.

Why, women, do you put up with that stuff?

We should have had this discussion a long time ago.

Let’s define harassment.

Then, let’s follow that definition.

In every area of our lives.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, let’s think this through.

Then do something about it.

A sports vacation to see the world’s best

No Federer, No Murray, no Djokovic? No problem.

Three of the Big Four in men’s professional tennis pulled out of last week’s Western & Southern ATP World Tour Masters 100 tournament in Mason, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, which many top male and female players use as a tune-up for the U.S. Open in New York City early in September.

All three are nursing injuries, Federer his back and Murray his hip. Djokovic’s elbow injury has sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

Even without those three stars, my oldest son and I saw some awesome world-class tennis during the two days (well, one and a half, really) that we attended the tournament.

The fourth of the Big Four, Rafael Nadal, a Spaniard who now is the world’s No. 1 male player, was supposed to play Thursday night and again Friday night (assuming he won Thursday, of course).

We never saw him play on Thursday. Neither did anyone else. The entire nighttime slate got rained out. Even some of the Thursday day matches didn’t get completed.

Rain, rain, go away

As the rain drizzled and sometimes poured down, my son and I hung out underneath the Center Court stands with dozens of others. We met a couple from Louisville who drove up for the Thursday night and Friday day sessions – it’s less than two hours to Mason from their home. They arrived just in time to see rain.

All of us were hoping to see some action on the court. We did see some action, just not from the players.

rain4

rain7

As soon as the rain stopped, ball boys and girls came out with squeegees to begin drying off the court. They were followed by their peers and operations staff with huge dryers that made conversation inside the court area difficult. Others grabbed towels and got down on their knees to wipe off the lines, which are slippery when wet.

rain8

Before the job was finished, however, the rain started again. The operations manager in charge of the situation sagged his shoulders and motioned everyone back into hiding.

 

This process was repeated twice more as the rain kept falling, then stopping, then re-starting. Finally, a few minutes after 11 p.m. (the night session was supposed to start at 7 p.m.), the public address announcer informed those of us remaining that the weather was not cooperating, and all matches would be rescheduled for Friday.

The men

Nadal 2
Rafael Nadal. Below left: Grigor Dimitrov. Below right: Nick Kyrgios.

Nadal, like quite a few other players, was forced to play two matches on Friday. He won his afternoon match easily, but got smoked by Nick Kyrgios of Australia – who also had to play two matches on Friday – in the most surprising result of the tournament.

Kyrgios was hitting serves upwards of 140 mph, the fastest serves my son and I saw, and hardly missed a one. He didn’t miss any other shots either. Or so it seemed.

 

After the match, according to The Associated Press, Nadal wore a ribbon honoring the victims of a van attack earlier in the day in Barcelona that left 13 people dead.

“A tragedy,” Nadal said. “The feeling that you’re not safe nowhere – that’s terrible … To all the victims, the families, friends – all my support.”

I’m hoping that didn’t distract him on the court.

In the men’s final, which I watched on TV on Sunday, Kyrgios played Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, a steady, consistent player – the opposite of the emotional, roller coaster ride that Kyrgios takes his fans on. In the Round of 16, we saw Kyrgios hit a shot while running off the court to the right; he kept going and high-fived a half-dozen fans in the first row after winning the point. Earlier, he conceded one point by hitting a ball between his legs that his opponent, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, hit back for a winner.

Dimitrov won the title, 6-3, 7-5.

The women

For star power, we enjoyed watching the women’s draw. All the top women played in Mason, and most were still around when we showed up for the Round of 16 matches on Thursday. The one disappointment was Venus Williams, who lost her Wednesday match.

Muguruza1
Garbine Muguruza. Below left, Madison Keys. Below right, Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The eventual winner, Garbine Muguruza of Spain, played arguably the two best matches of the tournament – and we saw them both. On Thursday, she defeated American Madison Keys in a three-set thriller. Keys actually had a couple of match points, but Muguruza won those points and then won in a third-set tiebreaker.

On Friday, she defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in another three-setter that took 2 hours, 45 minutes – the first of six matches in 12 hours played on Center Court on Friday, thanks to Thursday night’s rainouts. Muguruza won 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. Both played at the top of their games.

We saw many of the best players in the world playing their best tennis. What a treat.

Halep 2
Simona Halep
Pliskova3
Kristina Pliskova

After those two scintillating matches, the semi and final were almost routine for Muguruza, who earlier this summer also won the prestigious Wimbledon championship in Great Britain. In the semi-final, she defeated the female world’s No. 1 player and defending Western & Southern Open champion Kristina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2, then in the final dispatched Simona Halep of Romania, 6-1, 6-0.

Halep would have taken over the No. 1 spot in the world had she won the tournament. It wasn’t to be.

An event worth repeating

My son and I are turning this into an annual event. We attended the Thursday and Friday sessions last year as well, and enjoyed it so much we went for an encore performance this year.

This time, we stayed at a motel three-quarters of a mile from the tennis center, so we didn’t even have to fight the traffic to get there. We walked. Great exercise as we passed cars trapped in the grassy parking lot waiting to exit (the grassy field was less muddy this year, which means they improved it).

 

During a late-afternoon Thursday rain delay, we left the tennis center to grab dinner at a local restaurant (much cheaper than the food at the center, which wasn’t bad, actually), then returned for the night session that didn’t happen.

It’s an awesome tournament. The grandstand and the side courts are small enough that fans can get close to the players (close enough for a high-five, for those so inclined). We could hear them talk to themselves, and see the expressions on their faces.

Kyrgios was the only player we saw throw a racket in frustration (he didn’t break it).

We saw Nadal’s patented fist pump after he broke Kyrgios’s serve (he only did it the one time).

Tennis is a game of sportsmanship and respect, for the opponents, the judges, the chair umpire and even for the ball boys and ball girls. All the support officials played their roles very well. I enjoyed watching the ball boys and girls roll the balls to the proper side of the court, depending who was serving, quickly, efficiently and unobtrusively.

The players could challenge line judges’ calls, but the original calls were rarely overturned. They have some great eyes to see exactly where a 100-plus mph ball lands.

Tennis does replay right. Fast. They show the evidence to the fans as well as the players. In or out. Play on.

We most likely will be back in 2018. Come join us, if you can. It’s worth the trip – and for those of us in the Midwest, not nearly so far or so crowded (or so expensive) as the U.S. Open in New York City would be. Although I’m sure that’s an experience too.

Professional tennis is a big hit. Even with the rain.