Originally created 04/02/02

The boys of spring step in for heroes of the hardwood



ATLANTA - If you like big times in the big city, Monday was the biggest of them all. The ultimate sports segue of sorts.

Beginnings and endings. Firsts and lasts. How-do-you-dos and see-ya-laters. All whittled down to an 11-hour time frame and a four-mile radius.

The Atlanta Braves, with 10 consecutive division titles in tow, opened the 2002 baseball season with a 7-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 51,638 fans at Turner Field.

The Maryland Terrapins, making their first NCAA Championship game appearance, capped the 2001-02 college basketball season by beating the five-time champion Indiana Hoosiers 64-52 in front of 53,406 fans at the Georgia Dome.

Gary Sheffield and Vinny Castilla welcomed themselves to the Braves organization with line-drive homers to left that indicated the "Launching Pad" may be back.

Juan Dixon and Dane Fife said goodbye to college hoops with an in-your-face senior showdown on the NCAA's grandest stage.

With 161 games to go, Greg Maddux could afford to sit out his scheduled pitching start to rest his sore buttock.

With one game before it was done, Hoosier guard Tom Coverdale hobbled on his sprained ankle like there was no tomorrow.

It was an almost seamless transition of seasons, the squeak of sneakers on hardwood floors giving way to crack of leather on hickory bats. The sport of Louisville Cardinals yielding to men wielding Louisville Sluggers.

(Before you get picky and note that the impertinent NBA has three more months to overstay its welcome, let's make it perfectly clear that nobody around here really cares.)

Intoxicated with emotion and/or stronger spirits, Hoosier fans made April fools of themselves all over Atlanta on Monday. At least it seemed like everyone spilling from hotel lobbies and into the streets in downtown were Indiana fans. Maryland wears red, too.

Some fans drank it all in. Swelled by folks bearing logos of Maryland, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, the announced attendance was the largest regular season crowd in Turner Field history and the third largest in Atlanta Braves history.

The only bigger Braves audiences were on April 8, 1974, when 53,775 witnessed Hank Aaron surpass Babe Ruth with his 715th homer in the home opener, and Aug. 9, 1966, when a Dodgers lefty named Sandy Koufax attracted a throng of 52,270.

Ty Scheibler of Lawrence, Kan., came to town with his wife, Amy, and friends Mike and Jerlyn Monroe to see their Kansas Jayhawks play in the Final Four. The Scheiblers will return home with a souvenir foul ball to give their 12-year-old son, Preston.

"We'd trade his ball and our John Smoltz bobblehead doll for the 'Hawks to be in the championship game tonight," said Monroe, whose streak of 12 consecutive opening days with the Kansas City Royals ended on foreign turf.

The Scheiblers and Monroes stuck it out when most of their Jayhawk faithful sold out to the Terrapin and Hoosier vultures offering big money for their Georgia Dome seats.

"We came all this way, we want to be able to say we saw the championship game," Scheibler said.

From beginning to end, there was plenty to see on a perfect sports Monday.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.