August has always been my least favorite month for mainly one reason: the incoming specter of pencils, books and teachers' dirty looks. Now that I've graduated from college, August has lost most of its dread-inducing qualities, allowing me to properly enjoy the final full month of glorious summer for the first time since I was four.
(Notice that I wrote "most," not "all" regarding this month's dread inducers. Remember, we have five months of wall-to-wall football coverage to look forward to!)
In honor of the underappreciated eighth month, I present eight things to get excited about during the following 27 sultry days of August. "Dog days" no more!
1. Pirates' post-Bay progress - As was predicted here on The Polish Prodigy, Jason Bay was part of a three-team deal that sent Manny Ramirez out of Boston. Alright, so maybe I didn't so much predict it as I reported the rumors circulating around MLB on Trade Deadline Day. What I did do was admit that trading the two-time All-Star leftfielder could really kickstart a legitimate rebuilding process if he were traded for the proper pieces. While we won't truly discover the quality of the deal for five or more years, I believe that Pirates fans have to at least be optimistic about the four-player yield. Andy LaRoche is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball and seems pumped about playing on the same infield as his older brother. Bryan Morris is by all accounts I've read/heard a projected top of the rotation starter, even if its still very early in his pro career. Craig Hansen still needs to work on his consistency, but he has the stuff of a future closer; this is good because Matt Capps is better suited as a setup man. Brandon Moss has already established himself as a legit major leaguer and now he'll get the number of starts and at-bats to reveal his potential. Yes, I'm bullish on the Bay deal, and any serious follower of Our Buccos should be excited about the new blood in the organization.
2. Steelers' preseason games - No, not to watch them, silly. I'm talking about making fun of the psycho "Super Steelers" fans who will throw a fit every time Big Ben throws an incompletion during the exhibition season. Just watching the overreaction makes the interminable length of the NFL preseason completely worth it.
3. Getting outside - In the Northeast and Midwest, August is usually the last month of reliable warm weather, day and night. This means that whether you enjoy cool, hazy mornings, bright, hot afternoons or warm, pleasant evenings, the eighth month is ideal for getting active outside. Just pick your favorite time of the day and go for it, but make sure to watch out for those powerful late-summer electrical storms. I'm lucky - I happen to like those, too.
4. Thanking the Yankees - While Xavier Nady tears it up in the Bronx, making you like a proud father and a jealous sibling at the same time, know that the three pitchers the Pirates picked up from the Yanks could lend some instant credibility to the starting rotation. Jeff Karstens already reintroduced us to the joy of the quality start as he shut down the terrific Cubs offense through six scoreless innings this past Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The other two former New Yorkers, Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutcheon, could be up with the big club very soon depending on the upcoming fortunes of Yoslan "La Pinata" Herrera and Zach Duke. Either way, it's nice to know that John Van Benschoten will likely never start another game in Pirates black and gold. He is now officially a member of the Indianapolis Indians bullpen.
5. Hit the road - Hey, I know gas prices are at about twice the palatable level and that a long drive in a sweltering petroleum-guzzler doesn't sound like a particularly enriching experience. So why not take a short sports-oriented trip that will neither hit your wallet too hard nor make you miserable. My family and I just spent a day on the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center in southwest Ohio for one of the premier ATP events of the year: Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati. Every summer, the classy suburb of Mason offers both a men's and a women's hardcourt tournament in the run-up to the U.S. Open. We attended the men's event and were lucky enough to see Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal square off with world No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Also, training camps for the NFL's Bengals (Georgetown, Ky.), Browns (Berea, Ohio) and Steelers (Latrobe, Pa.) are within two hours driving time from West Virginia, if that's your thing. Finally, a quick hop to downtown Pittsburgh's Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum is a must-do for any fan of the area's pro franchises, colleges and high schools.
6. In case you didn't know - Brett Favre's back!!! Just messin'...
7. PGA Championship - Once again, Tiger will not be in the field for the season's final major. No matter. Much like the recently-completed British Open, the PGA will be interesting if only because of the quality of the course it's played on. I'm certainly not saying scoring conditions at Oakland Hills in southeast Michigan will be as punishing as those at Royal Birkdale. However, none other than Ben Hogan considered the track outside Detroit the most difficult he ever encountered; that's gotta count for something. Simply put, don't count on any of the qualifying club pros to hang with the big boys this week. Tee times are set for early Thursday morning...should be fun.
8. U.S. Open - Just two weeks after the world's best golfers have their last shot at major tournament glory, the premier tennis pros take their cracks in Flushing Meadows , New York. Anyone has a shot at the big trophy: new No. 1 Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray (winner in Cincinnati), hometown boy James Blake, heck, maybe even Andy Roddick has a chance at repeating his 2003 Grand Slam breakthrough. The women's side should be just as competitive and wide-open, if not more so. Take the electric atmosphere of the Big Apple and combine it with the best talent in the world and you get the most captivating event in individual sports.