Tommy Hicks: The best sports week of the year

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Welcome to the best week (plus a couple of days; OK, maybe four days) in sports. It happens during this week every year and it brings several sports, lots of emotion and, for those of us who can’t afford tickets to these events, lots of great action on our TVs.

You better have your remote handy, and it is best of you have one of those voice options that can quickly find the game/event you’re wanting to see. At the very least you need a remote with a “last” button that will take you back to a previous program.

And make sure you have batteries, just in case.

Consider that in the next few days the Major League Baseball season begins (actually today, Thursday, March 29, for the Atlanta Braves), on Saturday the semifinal games of the Final Four will be played and the new NCAA champion will be crowned on Monday, then hold on for what should be one of the most competitive and fun-to-watch Masters in some time.

Have you heard? Tiger’s back. No, we mean his game is back, if recent outings are a true indication. And he’s got a lot of folks happy to have him back, where he joins a crowded list of favorites to win the year’s first major championship.

Bring it, bro. We’re ready.

Let’s start with baseball, where the Braves will be starting their second season at SunTrust Park and have been picked, at least by USA Today, to finish tied for third in the National League East race, behind No. 1 pick Washington and the New York Mets, picked to finish second. The Braves are actually picked to share third with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Those races start right away as Atlanta hosts the Phillies for three games (March 29-31), has an off day on Sunday (April 1) before starting a three-game home set against the Washington Nationals. No reason to enter the NL East race cautiously or slowly.

How will this Braves’ team fare? Certainly, there are some bright spots, but at best the team remains a mystery. Sure, there are reasons for optimism, but there is also the common sense belief that this team has a lot to prove — and accomplish — if it is going to contend for a playoff spot. Freddie Freeman is just one guy, though he has some help.

What seems certain, at least as things get started, is this will be a fun to watch, to see if it exceeds expectations and develops a chemistry that can carry it into contending status in the division and perhaps further. Play ball! It’s that time again.

Next up is the closing of what has been a very entertaining NCAA Tournament. There are a couple of tops seeds — though the overall No. 1 seed, Virginia, became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the tournament — in Villanova and Kansas. And they play each other Saturday in the semifinals. That will be a test of wills and tradition.

On the other side of the bracket there’s Loyola-Chicago (Sister Jean’s favorite team) and the Cinderella of this ball as a No. 11 seed, set to take on No. 3 seed and traditional power Michigan, which has fought and clawed its way to the national semifinals. Whichever teams win the semifinal games, it sets the stage for what should be a very cool title game — for sure a No. 1 seed will be involved and its opponent will be a Michigan team that has found its way late in the season or the team that is going on guts and chemistry and out-and-out solid play.

And just when you need a moment to catch your breath, it’s Masters time. So who ya got? The list of favorites is as extensive for this beloved tournament as at any other time. Consider that, yes, Tiger Woods is back, and he has played some of the best golf of his career at Augusta National. If he’s healthy and his comeback gains more momentum, he is a serious threat to win. Just ask the folks in Vegas, who have his as the favorite.

Still, the list of others is a long one. Bubba Watson is coming off a win and he’s playing well lately. Dustin Johnson is always a contender, especially with his length off the tee and his continuingly improving short game. Rory McIlroy has a recent win and he loves the majors. Sergio Garcia, the defending champion, has been playing well too.

And what about Justin Thomas, maybe the hottest player in the game right now and with the game that can win in Augusta? Don’t discount his friends Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, nor overlook Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka or Jon Rahm. And while that list is long, it may not even include the player who will put on the green jacket on Sunday.

Yep, this is the best sports week of the year, without question. Just sit back and enjoy.

Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at