March 21, 2009 4:22 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
It's the NCAA Tournament, and Bally's got a front row seat! Our little orange friend got so close to the first round action that the refs almost snatched him off the press row table and put him into the game! Not that he'd complain about that!
Bally has never been to the Metrodome, but he's seen it plenty of times on TV! He's in awe of the size of it, as you can see. "Doesn't it look like a big apple pie?" I asked. He paused, thought for a moment, then replied, "It's a lot uglier than I ever imagined." Hey!
This picture doesn't have Bally in it, but it's Dayton's Flyer Pep Band, led by the inestimable Dr. Willie L. Morris III! The best damn pep band in the land's motto is "Go Crazy or Go Home," and on Friday UD definitely chose the former. Dayton beat West Virginia, and will play in the second round! Gooo Dayton Flyers!
Here's Bally with another Hoops Nation celebrity, Northeast Conference associate commissioner Ron Ratner. We love the NEC, and are still trying to work out a picture of Bally with Tim Capstraw, our favorite mid-major TV announcer. The champions of Mr. Ratner's league, the Robert Morris Colonials, didn't do as well as Dayton did, losing to Michigan State. But Bally cheered just as hard for them!
People ask me, "What's makes the NCAA Tournament any different from the regular season?" I reply, "Blue curtains. Lots of blue curtains. And long corridors too." The NCAA Tournament can be sorta spooky.
There are a lot of signs at the NCAA Tournament. This one is outside the press conference room, and it's there whether there's an interview going on or not. As a result, this area is very quiet all the time.
This is the media "work room" here at the Metrodome. It's not really a "room," because it's separated from the court by blue curtains and temporary stands. Which makes it a very noisy and inefficient place to "work."
Forests sacrifice themselves to make the NCAA Tournament happen. All eight teams at our pod have their own stack of media guides, which were printed at the beginning of the season. And each has a "postseason media guide," which has all the stuff that happened during the season, like stats and newspaper clippings. This is one of the shorter stacks, because the power-conference schools have big thick postseason guides due to the fact that more people write about those teams. This, as you can see, is the North Dakota State media information packet, and the cover has one of Bally's favorite players (double-MMBOW Ben Woodside) on it. Bally will always have Bison Fever.
In the Twittercast yesterday, I mentioned that I fastened something to the court underneath the curtain. I can tell you now that it was a small (3 inch-by-2 inch) printed-out picture of Stephen Curry that I taped to the floor while security wasn't looking, to help the Bison pull off the big upset. It was clear that the tactic worked, as Woodside scored a very Curry-like 37 points on 13-for-23 and hit some fallaway jumpers in the second half that were very very reminiscent of a certain shooter's form. But unfortunately, it worked so well that a guy on the other team had the game of his life too. The magic was dissipated and unfocused, and for that I apologize.
Either way, let it be said that Stephen Curry was indeed represented at the 2009 NCAA Tournament after all, and that his impact was strongly felt.
One thing you can always find in the media area at the NCAA Tournament is a giant bracket.
This is definitely Bally's favorite corner of it.
Another big thing about this event is the food. With the help of the NCAA's corporate champions in the processed food and beverage industry, sportswriters are kept fat and docile with a wide array of carefully arranged foodstuffs. Yessssssssssss. By the way, where's Bally? I can't find him!
One of the only things that isn't branded in the media hospitality room is the popcorn. Bally loves popcorn!
With no mid-major schools in the state of Minnesota, there's never been a reason to come here. It's very meaningful for us to be in Minneapolis this weekend, for a lot of reasons. Before I was capable of clear memory, I spent many days in this area, just south of the asphalt slab this site used to be. Being a Minnesota Twins fan all my life instilled early lessons about the importance of being resourceful and efficient beyond one's financial resources, maintaining consistency in the face of all obstacles, and never whining about long odds.
The media dining room is pressed against where the baggie usually is, the same right field patrolled by Tom Brunansky and Randy Bush and Michael Cuddyer in days past. Yet another blue curtain separates it from exposed FieldTurf, and I snuck out to the place where Kirby Puckett made That Catch in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series after he told his teammates, "Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us." Chris Wright probably said something like that before he took over yesterday's Dayton-West Virginia game, 300 feet and 18 years away.
There's another important connection, one that I haven't discussed in any great detail -- but one I should. Without Batgirl, there is no Mid-Majority.
Batgirl was Minnesota native Anne Ursu, an immensely talented author who has written wonderful books for adults and children, a woman for whom the universe lacks sufficient acreage to contain her imagination. In April of 2004, she started a Movable Type blog about her Twins. It's nearly incomprehensible in an age when "sports blog" means ill-informed opinion and dick jokes, but Batgirl imposed a separate, gentle, superior reality on baseball -- a stunning literary achievement in any medium.
Batgirl Photoshopped pictures, constructed Lego re-enactments of key plays, and wrote her own off-field narrative structure (Johan Santana was a volunteer firefighter, struggling fifth outfielder Lew Ford was a comic book nerd). Everybody had a nickname, and the site became so popular that the two realities blurred: some of the real Twins players accepted and used their Batgirl names in real life.
She also knew when to stop. Three years after the site started, in May of 2007, Batgirl retired. In the weeks and months that followed, her fans left over 500 brokenhearted comments. All of her archives are gone now (well, not really); this history, like anything digital, is fleeting and quickly forgotten by nearly everyone.
I found the Batgirl site within a month of its inception, and became a commenter known by my initials. I won an early haiku contest. Anne asked me if I was a writer, and when I responded that I was a software engineer, she expressed shock and told me I needed to change careers immediately. She was so kind to me.
Overwhelmed with inspiration, I began my own site that November. I asked Anne what she thought of it, and she admitted that she didn't care too much for college basketball. So I tried to make this the kind of place that fans and non-fans would enjoy. Then, Anne was the first person I told when I was invited to join ESPN.com five months after I had started from scratch, and she happily responded in all caps.
Anne and I fell out of touch, because that's what happens with invisible friends, but I work every day to try to make this site something more than a pale imitation of what she created. I loved Batgirl the way that some of you love this site. Most of the time, I fail to meet the impossible standard she set... but every so often, I know that the work here strikes the perfect balance of passion, gentleness and edge. It's a feeling as if the site is floating, transcending its digital prison. I felt that way every day for three years reading Batgirl.
It's crucial that all writers show the proper respect and homage towards their forbears, and exhibit humility befitting an art that requires teaching and inspiration to evolve and continue forward. Without Batgirl, I'd still be writing software, not columns and essays. That's really all there is to it.
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