Big Man Blues And Baseball

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes a column twice a week for premium subscribers on Auburn, SEC and collegiate athletics.

If you look around, you don't see many fat old guys. There's a simple reason for that. Most fat guys don't get old. Since I'm already fat and rapidly getting old, and since I can't do anything about getting old, I came to the conclusion it was time to do something about the fat part.

Maybe it was the day I spent with Auburn swimmer Margaret Hoelzer that convinced me. Along with Huntsville Times photographer Robin Conn, I spent a day following Hoelzer around in her daily activities. It started with her early-morning workout. As she emerged from the locker room, she was running late for class. And the class was on the other side of campus, mostly an uphill walk. Keeping up with a 20-year-old, world-class athlete in a hurry was a challenge. It was time, I thought, as I gasped for breath when we finally arrived, to do something about it. She was kind enough to pretend she didn't notice.

For more than two weeks now, I've been on the Atkins Diet. Probably, most of you have read about it. Basically, you can eat almost anything you want as long as you stay away from carbohydrates. That sounds easy. It's not.

And then there's the gym. For some reason, when I go for my daily work on the treadmill and in the pool, I seldom see anyone suffering like I do. Why is it that I am always next to someone who never even seems to breathe hard? I guess it's the same law of nature that decrees I always live next door to someone with the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood. One day, as I sweated and groaned, the lady next to me was going even faster and was having a lively conversation on her cell phone at the same time.

I go to the pool to swim my laps, only to see 70-year-old men who are just getting started when they've done the same amount that makes my arms feel like they weigh 200 pounds apiece. When they look at me and smile, I'm not sure if it's with sympathy or contempt. Or maybe they just think it's funny. I've been trying to get my son to go with me, but he always has a reason he can't. I think he's embarrassed.

When you are on a diet, suddenly you notice things you didn't notice before. It's like every TV commercial is taunting you. I had a dream the other night that I got a big box of cookies in the mail. I can look at a plate and imagine it's filled with pizza or maybe chocolate cake. Heck, I'd just like to have a piece of bread.

I have some goals in this process. The most obvious one is to lose enough weight to reduce the risk factors that go with being overweight, thus giving myself a chance to live longer. I want to be able to climb stairs without gasping for breath, the look in the mirror and not be appalled. I want to go to the store and buy the same clothes anyone else can buy. Maybe one day I might even be able to talk on my cell phone while jogging on a treadmill. But my number one goal is to never again be greeted by some well-meaning person who says, "Hey, big man."

BIG YEAR FOR BASEBALL

Half the Southeastern Conference season remains to be played, but Steve Renfroe has put together a championship contender in his third season as head coach. If there was ever any doubt about that, it was answered with last weekend's series win at Mississippi State. Renfroe's first two seasons weren't bad. After an 0-9 start in SEC play in 2001, the Tigers went 15-6 down the stretch and got into the NCAA Tournament. They were there again last year. Those teams were good. This team has an opportunity to be great.

The remarkable thing about it is the weakest part of the team, to date, has been the starting pitching. In most cases, trouble in the starting rotation means trouble winning. But Auburn's bullpen is so good that it scarcely matters. It took some guts for Renfroe to put Levale Speigner, a senior who had been an SEC starter for three years, in the bullpen. But it has paid off. Cory Dueitt has come back from an off-year. Freshman Chris Dennis has made it clear why he was signed over some other, better-known pitchers. And Steven Register has been as dominant as any closer who's pitched for Auburn.

The Tigers play good, often spectacular, defense. They get big hits when they need them. There is an excellent mixture of experience and youth. If the starting pitchers gain more consistency and go deeper into games, this could be a team that not only could challenge to go to Omaha for the College World Series but could win it all. Until next time…


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