Walcoff: Heaping helpings of spring sports in store 

Like an all-you-can-eat restaurant, spring’s sports calendar serves up a smorgasbord of exciting events. Unfortunately, that also means teams and players had better ramp up the “wow” factor or risk being passed over like that cold bratwurst at the end of the buffet.

Tiger’s return to golf for today’s first round of the Masters gets top billing for obvious reasons. But it’s amazing how many fans cheered Woods during his practice rounds at Augusta National. As long as it doesn’t involve murder or pedophilia, America can’t resist a good comeback story.

The Giants home opener Friday afternoon against the Braves also gets high marks not only because Barry Bonds and old friends return for the 10th-anniversary celebration of AT&T Park, but the 2010 team looks pretty good.

Forget splash landing home runs — San Francisco now hopes to win with pitching and timely hitting. First impressions of newcomers Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa are encouraging. Edgar Renteria looks markedly better following offseason elbow surgery. But early red flag on Aaron Rowand, who is miscast as a leadoff hitter.

Even if the Giants fail to make a playoff run, they still have enough prime attractions to be a big draw with a fabulous ballpark, the Freak and the Panda. They could lose 90 games and fans would still want to see Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval, probably the most eccentrically gifted teammates in baseball.

Unfortunately, across the Bay, the A’s are almost devoid of the “wow” factor. As promising as their young pitching staff is, sadly the face of the franchise is still Billy Beane. What’s more painful, the typical sight of 30,000 empty seats at the cavernous, old Oakland Coliseum or watching the likes of Travis Buck and Daric Barton try to hit at the big league level?

Next door at Oracle Arena, even in the waning days of the NBA season, crowds continue to flock to see the Warriors who may be bad, but at least they’re not boring. Maybe new ownership will give basketball-crazed Bay Area fans a team worthy of their support.

The Sharks begin their pursuit of a Stanley Cup next week at HP Pavilion. But, given their history of underachieving in the postseason, it’s more hope than expectation that San Jose will be wowing the hockey world deep into the playoffs.

In the NCAA Tournament, Cal and St. Mary’s had brief holds on the headlines, but reality hit both teams pretty hard in the form of eventual champ Duke and Baylor, respectively.

The Stanford women came close to capturing top billing, but picked a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. Tuesday’s championship loss to UConn not only did little to attract new fans, it probably confirmed the cynics’ view that the women’s game is light years behind the men in proficiency and athleticism. The Cardinal will be hard-pressed to get another huge national TV audience. The wow factor is gone.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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