March Madness captivates the interest of many, many American sports fans.
Even Major League Baseball clubhouses.
In Bradenton, the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, some players are college basketball fans, while others are on the casual side.
Regardless, the unequivocal method to filling out a bracket is that there isn’t a method.
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“You just get lucky and hope for the best,” Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “I think this is one of (the) years of unpredictable basketball ... I don’t think there’s any dominant team out there. Maybe at the top echelon. But anybody can beat anybody, and that’s what’s exciting about March Madness.”
Mercer is a huge Oklahoma State fan. The Cowboys were a team that saw their bubble burst on Selection Sunday despite several notable victories (Kansas twice, West Virginia on the road and Florida State on a neutral court). Lakewood Ranch resident Dick Vitale expressed his dismay that OSU was left out in favor of Oklahoma, a team the Cowboys defeated twice in three meetings this season.
“I definitely thought they should have been in there, too,” Mercer said. “It stinks, obviously. Winning that many games in our conference, and our conference is supposed to be the best in the nation, and not sneaking in, it definitely stinks. But I think we’re heading on the right track. We’ve got a new coach and we have something to build off of.”
Still, Mercer said he’s going to watch this year’s tournament.
A team he has an eye on is Michigan State under longtime head coach Tom Izzo.
“They’re always prepared and I think they can beat a lot of teams,” Mercer said.
Tyler Glasnow, a former Pirates minor league pitcher of the year that once came through Bradenton with the Marauders, is following Virginia, the tournament’s top overall seed.
“My girlfriend’s cousin plays for Virginia, Jay Huff,” Glasnow said. “So I’d have to go with them. I don’t have a team that I grew up watching or anything.”
Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings also tabbed Virginia, because they play such great defense. Stallings is a former Tennessee all-state basketball player, but chose baseball as his path. His father, Kevin, was recently fired as the Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball coach.
Stallings attended North Carolina, and the Tar Heels are the defending national champions.
“They were obviously really good, but they weren’t dominant the whole year,” Stallings said.
The same seems true this season.
“Playing field seems to be getting a lot more even, I feel like, these days,” Stallings said. “So it’s fun to watch.”
Former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist said he played Little League baseball with Jonny Flynn, a former Syracuse University star and NBA player, in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Siegrist said he follows Syracuse and he’ll fill out a bracket, but hasn’t paid much attention to college basketball this season.
“I don’t know how I am going to approach it,” Siegrist said. “I have no idea. ... It’s usually wrong anyway, so I don’t think any approach is right.”
Siegrist said he enjoys watching unranked teams battle ranked teams.
Regardless of the method or intensity behind the bracket choices, March Madness brings together Pirates players.
And they’ll be watching much like the rest of America.
“All of the TVs will be on; everybody competes to get that top bracket and see how it goes,” Mercer said.