On Monday, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament ended with two No. 1 seeds, North Carolina and Gonzaga, playing for the national championship.

This followed two of the better national semifinal games in the last couple of years. The best golf tournament in the world will be played this weekend at the Masters. It will be a sad time on the first tee ceremonies without the presence of the great Arnold Palmer, who passed away this past year. Palmer had been a fixture at the Masters both as a player and ambassador for the sport of golf since the first time he played in the event in 1955.

Opening day in baseball is probably one of the most anticipated events during the sports year. Every baseball fan watches opening day with high hopes for their favorite team to have a big year. The Kansas City Royals fans are hoping to get back to another playoff run before all their homegrown talent hits the free agent market in 2018.

It is amazing how negative all the pundits and gurus are about this year’s Royals team. I read a couple of baseball publications on a winter trip that had the Royals predicted to be the worst team in Major League Baseball for the 2017 season. The best I have seen from anyone in the preseason prediction world is the team will finish third in the American League Central, just four games over .500. This is basically the same team that won the American League pennant in 2014 and the World Series in 2015.

The 2016 season was tough for the Royals. They suffered several key injuries and experienced a poor year by several key players. The team seemed to have a difficult time getting over their championship hangover. It would be nice to see this year’s version gain that hungry dog philosophy that drove them in 2014 and 2015.

The starting rotation could be better than in 2016. Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy could be solid No. 1 and 2 starters who can pitch at least 180 innings during the year. Jason Vargas, Nathan Karns and Jason Hammel can be very effective if they stay healthy at the end of the rotation.

The one area that may be the biggest Achilles' heel this year is the bullpen. Kelvin Herrera is an all-star closer. The rest of the bullpen has potential. The left handers in the bullpen could be the biggest positive surprise. Matt Strahm, Mike Minor and Chris Young may be the group to make the Kansas City bullpen solid again. Hopefully right-handers Young, Peter Moylan and Joakim Soria can compete with their left-hand teammates. Soria had a terrible 2016 and probably cost the team at least five to 10 wins.

The starting lineup looks solid in 2017, but the loss of Kendrys Morales will be felt in run production. Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler have the potential to provide some pop. Moss is a professional big league hitter. Let’s hope Soler is not a guy who looks good coming off the bus but does not do much when it is showtime.

The infield will be solid with Mike Moustakas at third, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, Raul Mondesi at second, and Eric Hosmer at first. They should be great defensively, and Mondesi will offer more speed offensively. The catching position is very solid with Salvador Perez, the best defensive catcher in the American League, and a solid backup in Drew Butera, who had a very good year last year.

The outfield will start the season with Alex Gordon in left field, Lorenzo Cain in center field and Paulo Orlando in right field. This should be a good defensive outfield. Cain must stay healthy or the team will be in trouble both offensively and defensively. Alex Gordon was simply terrible in 2016. He had a good spring training but Gordon is the heart and soul of the team and he must rebound from last year for the team to have any chance to make the playoffs in 2017. Paulo Orlando is a better hitter and outfielder than Jorge Soler right now and it may be a blessing that Orlando gets the jump on Soler to start in right field.

The one guy that will start the season in the minors will be Whit Merrifield. Whit however will be back as soon as the team can work out how to get him back to the roster. He is the best all-around bench player in the entire organization. Cheslor Cuthbert will play a positive role as a backup for Moose and serving some time as a DH. Terrance Gore will be effective coming off the bench to be a pinch runner and they say he has improved a great deal defensively. He can win you one or two games during the year with his speed.

It seems like the Royals are bound and determined to stick with former No. 1 Draft choice Christian Colon. He can play third, shortstop and second and the organization seems loyal to him. He needs to be much more productive offensively. Spring training really does tell the story of the up and coming season.

We all hope that the Kansas City Royals can capture that magic and chemistry they had for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Hopefully by the first of July any non-believers in the Royals will be eating their words. Play ball!

• KU fans critical of Bill Self – look at the Hall of Fame coach’s body of work over his career. Don’t be complain – be thankful. Just a thought!

• Kansas State fans may need to show some patience. Do the names Frank Martin and Dana Altman ring a bell?

• My quote of the week comes from Mickey Mantle, a New York Yankees Hall of Famer: “To play ball was all I lived for. I used to like to play so much that I loved to take infield practice. Hitting – I could do that all day. I couldn’t wait to go to the ballpark. I hated it when we got rained out.”

Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at t.crone@comcast.net