Idon't know what defines a sports "fanatic," but I'm pretty sure it's not the person who only watches one football game a year -- the Super Bowl -- or one baseball series a season -- the World Series.

Or the comparable championship events in each given sport.

To be a real sports fanatic, it seems reasonable to me, that someone has to put more effort into it than that.

So, except for the sports of baseball, football, golf and the Olympic Games, I probably don't qualify as a sports "fanatic."

I don't sit in front of a TV and absorb all things sports 16 hours a day. I don't spend more than 15 minutes a week watching ESPN, unless it's one of those ESPN magazine shows that does something in depth on a sport or an athlete or a program.

I read the sports pages every day, but only to catch up with what's going on in a variety of sports. And then only in minimal detail.

I watched the last 10 minutes or less of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday, and even then only by accident. I just happened to be clicking through all the channels and caught a glimpse of the end of the race. The cars were all bunched up and jockeying for position, so I stayed there to see who won.

Well, David Ragan, whom I'd never heard of before, managed to squeeze through the pack in the last lap or two to win. It was only his second career win.

It was actually a pretty exciting ending to the race, but again, it was a total accident on my part. It's not like I planned my entire schedule around the Talladega race.

I'm thinking a real NASCAR "fanatic" might have watched the race for three or four hours, from start to finish, budging from his/her chair only to replenish snacks or take a bathroom break. Watching the last 10 minutes does not a fanatic make.

Same goes for the Kentucky Derby last Saturday. I truly love horses. I consider them the most majestic creatures God has ever created. But if it weren't for the Triple Crown of horse racing -- and the three races that make it up -- I probably wouldn't watch a single horse race all year.

In fact, if it weren't for the Triple Crown, I'd be content to get my horse fix by watching cowboy movies on Encore.

But I did watch the Kentucky Derby. I've watched that race every year for probably 20 years, at least. And then I wait two weeks to watch the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, held right down I-83 in Baltimore. And if the same horse wins that race -- or even if it doesn't -- I wait three more weeks for the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

There have been only 11 winners of the Triple Crown in the long history of horse racing. The last came in 1978, when Affirmed won it. And that's 35 years ago.

I think the infrequency of Triple Crown success is what keeps dragging me back to it each year.

The only other horse race I watch, and irregularly so, is the Hambletonian, which features 3-year-old trotters (Standardbreds) running in harness on the first Saturday in August. And even then, I might only watch if one of the favorites has a connection to Hanover Shoe Farms.

Again, I don't think that makes me a fanatic.

Yet, that's what a friend called me Saturday around 6 p.m., when he rang me up on the telephone. And I quickly told him I couldn't talk to him because I wanted to watch the Kentucky Derby. It was about to start, and I didn't want to miss it.

"Oh my God," he said, "I didn't know you were a horse-racing fanatic."

"I'm not. Did someone die, or is someone close to dying?"


"Well, then I'll call you back after the race," I said. And while some folks might consider me rude for doing it, I hung up the phone to watch the race.

If that qualifies me as a "fanatic," then so be it.

But I don't think so.

Still, Orb was pretty impressive winning the Derby. If I were going to bet on the Preakness, I'd bet on him.

It's time for another Triple Crown winner, I think. And Orb carries himself like a champion. So for all the horse-racing fanatics out there, this could be the year.

Though I don't consider myself a fanatic, I admit I'm keeping my fingers crossed, too. Just for the heck of it.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick