Balls: Tell him goodbye: Simmons was Giants legend 

In many ways, Opening Day is the best day of the baseball season, so full of hope and optimism and joy. But without Lon Simmons, the green grass won’t smell nearly as good here today.

The longtime 49ers-Giants-A’s broadcast legend passed away at 91 years of age Sunday morning, peacefully, we’re told. He had prostate cancer among other health problems in recent years. Per his request, no services are planned.

“Like many fans, my earliest Giants memories were listening to Lon and Russ on my transistor radio,” Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said upon learning of the lousy news. “Hearing his broadcasts ignited my and thousand of others’ passion for Giants baseball. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

Indeed, that would become Simmons’ legacy. Along with longtime partner Russ Hodges, he schooled the Bay Area on Major League Baseball after the Giants arrived from New York prior to the 1958 season. By the next year, more than 600,000 transistor radios had been purchased in the area, and soon Simmons and Hodges would be as popular as Mays, McCovey and Marichal.

“A restaurant, they’d have baseball on,” the Society for American Baseball Research quoted KSFO’s Stu Smith in a story two years ago. “With most games in the afternoon, it flooded offices, bars, cable cars.”

For all or part of six decades, Simmons was the definition of a Hall of Fame broadcaster, which he officially became in 2004, when he received the Ford Frick Award. He had a great passion for sports and the exhaustive knowledge to match it. Yet the guy wasn’t so serious that he couldn’t poke fun at himself. Then there was that voice, the booming baritone that would cry, “Tell it goodbye!” when a Giants or A’s player went deep.

And what 49ers fan could forget this one: “[Steve] Young, back to throw. In trouble, he’s gonna be sacked — no, gets away. He runs, gets away again! Goes to the 40, gets away again! To the 35, cuts back at the 30, to the 20, the 15, the 10 ... he dives — touchdown, 49ers!”

After all these years, it’s not easy to tell Lon Simmons goodbye.

THIS IS COLLEGE BASKETBALL? The wicked witch of college basketball is dead — of course, Balls readers knew Kentucky would lose to Wisconsin days in advance — but that doesn’t mean we’re done with freshmen who represent themselves and their future agents more than their universities and sport.

While Kentucky bad guy John Calipari has turned one-and-done into an art form in recent years, let’s not forget that Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski has done a pretty fair job himself. The main difference is, Coach K has been a bit more discreet about his desire to rent McDonald’s All-Americans every year. The core of Duke’s latest Final Four team consists of three freshman — Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow and Tyus Jones — and Okafor and Winslow have one foot out the door already. You know, like Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker before them. Okafor is the favorite to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft this spring. So high has Winslow’s stock shot up in NCAAs, he may be taken as high as fifth overall.

Kentucky has a pair of soon-to-be lottery picks in freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, and the number will increase if Devin Booker and/or Trey Lyles decide to bolt after one season.

Most people call it the NCAA Tournament. Balls calls it the Freshman Lottery Pick Showcase.

REST OF THE STORY: Thirty-one rowdies were arrested near the Kentucky campus after their team lost in the NCAA semifinals on Saturday night, according to news reports. Police in tactical gear resorted to pepper balls (no relation) to break up one fight.

In other news, Calipari was spotted in a getaway car bound for Cleveland shortly after midnight.

WARNING: TREAD LIGHTLY: There were reasonable doubts that the Warriors’ Shaun Livingston was up to no good when he reached between the legs of Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki in an attempt to poke the ball away Saturday. Unfortunately, the NBA police didn’t consult Balls before they suspended him for one game.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was so upset, he removed Livingston for consideration on “Shark Tank” casting.

Either way, coach Steve Kerr’s team would be wise to be on its best behavior from here on out. There are growing whispers around the league that the Warriors have gotten a bit too full of themselves, and their every move will be nitpicked by desperate opponents, fair or not.

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