The whole truth ... and some opinion

The Baltimore Sun

Opinion: There's one certainty heading into today's NFL draft: Every team will say its first-round pick was "the guy we wanted all along."

Fact: Another sign of how far the Orioles' attendance has fallen: They drew almost 6,000 more fans per game in their last season at Memorial Stadium than they did last year at Camden Yards. And you have to go all the way back to 1988 to find a lower per-game average than this year's figure of 22,853.

Opinion: Jonathan Ogden's decision to return for a 12th season is the most important transaction of the Ravens' offseason. He was as good last season as he was in his prime.

Fact: This time last year, many observers said the NBA might as well award its championship trophy to the Western Conference's winner because it was so much stronger, but the team that eventually won was, hmm, the Eastern Conference's Miami Heat.

Opinion: Once again, the West has at least three teams (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio) that appear markedly superior to anything the East is offering, and this time, the one that emerges will finish the job in the Finals.

Fact: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told sports editors in New York last week that the league wants to improve benefits for down-on-their-luck former players and might look into establishing assisted-care facilities for especially needy retirees.

Opinion: I'll wait to see him walk the walk on that before I believe it.

Fact: Adam LaRoche, the slugging first baseman the Orioles almost acquired last winter for Brian Roberts, started the season 6-for-61 with 24 strikeouts in Pittsburgh. He did contribute a 16th-inning game-winner for the Pirates on Wednesday night.

Opinion: The lives of elite high school athletes should get a little more peaceful now that the NCAA has prohibited college coaches from recruiting them via cell phone text messages, but have no fear, the coaches will figure out a way to keep bringing the heat.

Fact: The Chicago White Sox obviously hoped Severna Park's Gavin Floyd would make their starting rotation when they obtained him from the Philadelphia Phillies for Freddy Garcia last winter, but Floyd is back at Triple-A.

Opinion: Quantifying a major league team's defensive abilities through statistics can be difficult, but this year's Orioles seem to be off to a good start. Going into last night's game, they were third in the American League in team fielding percentage and first in double plays executed, and only four AL teams had committed fewer errors.

Fact: The Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame's annual banquet is May 8 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, honoring a large class of inductees this year: pitchers Steve Farr and Denny Neagle, football players Antonio Freeman, Tony Green, Vaughn Hebron and Greg Schaum, and Highlandtown soccer legend Joe Speca, with lifetime achievement awards going to basketball coach Tubby Smith and Naval Academy fixture Dave Smalley.

Opinion: The Ravens should use their first-round pick on an offensive lineman, but only if one of first-round caliber is still available. Otherwise, they should either trade down or draft the best available cornerback.

Fact: Incredible statistic from ESPN: Shaquille O'Neal's teams are 26-0 in playoff series when they win Game 1. But Shaq's Heat lost the first game of the current series with the Chicago Bulls.

Opinion: Highly recommended new baseball books: The Entitled, a novel by Frank Deford about a manager and a star player who gets in trouble off the field, and The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America, by Joe Posnanski, a moving portrait of the former Negro leagues star who died last year.

Fact: The New York City Council has voted to ban metal bats from high school baseball games as of September, overriding a mayoral veto to do so.

Opinion: The ban might make sense if consensus evidence existed demonstrating that metal bats were more dangerous than wooden bats in the hands of high schoolers, but no such evidence exists.

Fact: Barbaro now has two full brothers: a yearling named Nicanor, who probably will begin racing in 2008, and a bay born last week.

Opinion: If I'm Roy and Gretchen Jackson, I'm never breeding Barbaro's mother, La Ville Rouge, to any stallion other than Barbaro's sire, Dynaformer.

Fact: (From the "more suitable for 'Ripley's Believe It or Not' than the sports page" file): More than 92,000 fans attended the University of Alabama's spring football game to get a look at what new coach Nick Saban is brewing.

Opinion: David Halberstam wrote too many terrific sports books to mention here, but if you want to read one to honor the death of a legendary journalist, try my favorite: Breaks of the Game, a remarkable year-in-the-life portrait of the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers that is about race, class, politics, you name it.

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