Area sport fans are ready for spring. Spring training reminds us that the baseball season is just around the corner.

It was a step back with the news that All-Star catcher Salvador Perez had suffered a serious elbow injury that will keep the team leader out for the entire season after Tommy John surgery.

It places a damper on hopes that the team will be improved in 2019. The organization has been in the process of building a team that is in line with the philosophy of the 2014 and 2015 teams.

The focus is to build a strong defense with speed, which fits their home ballpark. Another emphasis would be to rebuild a strong bullpen equal to the caliber of the World Series teams.

Kansas City does not have the budget of a big market and is unable to attract expensive high-paid starters. Ninety percent of baseball depends on pitching. The only road to success for a team like the Royals is through a bullpen.

The injury to Perez is a double-edged sword. He is a key hitter in the middle of the lineup. He has the offensive ability to hit 25-30 home runs and drive in 85-90 runs every year by hitting in the power 3, 4 and 5 spots.

An even bigger problem is the lost experience he represents behind the plate. The pitchers – particularly the younger pitchers – on the staff need to have an experienced and proven guy. A young staff relies heavily on an experienced catcher who knows the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters. In addition, Perez has taken a lot of teams out of big innings with his arm and his ability to block pitches in the dirt. The biggest loss for the team is his leadership ability. He is a leader on and off the field.

• The NCAA Division I tournament is in full sight with the upcoming end of the season conference tournaments all over the country. The national tournament teams are set for the most part with a few teams that will still qualify based upon the outcome of their individual tournaments.

Next week will prove huge for schools not in the Power Five conferences. A lower level Division I school that qualifies for the tournament can have a positive financial effect on their schools’ athletic budget – a couple of big tournament wins could provide a windfall.

Conferences like the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and the Pac-12 will have their usual 3-7 teams in the tournament, which would split the conference revenue. The smaller school conferences with only one or two teams in the tournament and who can win a game or two can make a big difference in the entire conference.

That is what makes March Madness such a success. Everyone loves an underdog. Big dogs come into the tournament many times with the idea that the first game against a non-power five team will be a cakewalk. Every year a Cinderella team rises up to become the country’s favorite team to follow.

The usual teams will be high seeds this year; Duke, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Virginia and North Carolina. The key to the success of the tournament relies on one lower level program that might have that one day in the sun. Even though most of the tournament teams are already a lock, there is a team, unknown to the average college basketball fan, that will make a big splash and pull the upset.

The trick to a successful bracket pick is to be lucky enough to choose the right small school team for a big upset victory. You also have to pick the right Power Five schools to be able to overcome the upset-minded teams. Even if you are not a basketball fan, you have a shot to be a winner because the upset is what keeps the NCAA Tournament alive!

• Will the Chiefs be able to trade Justin Houston? Houston has been a valuable player for the Chiefs throughout his career, but he is not part of the future plans for the team. He is still a good bull rusher but is unable to tackle in space and is totally lost when put in pass coverage. He was one of the lowest ranked outside linebackers in the league against the rush. When a team ran screen or a reverse his way, he looked like he was mired in cement. He will be a Chiefs Hall of Famer, but his time has come.

• My quote of the week comes from Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry: “Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence by seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.”

– 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.