Strike 1: Two weeks into Spring Training and the Hype Train is already going full steam ahead for Colorado Rockies prospect Zac Veen.

“Call him up now” posts are all over social media.

Slow your roll, folks.

Veen has been outstanding during the early days of spring training. Through eight games he’s hitting .353 and is stealing bases right and left. He’s exciting to watch and his potential is intoxicating. He’s just not ready yet.

Go back and check your timeline. This same exact scenario happened just a year ago, when then-prospect Ezequiel Tovar was lighting up Salt River Fields early in Spring Training. Tovar was (is?) the next big thing for the struggling franchise, and his spring success accelerated calls from Rockies fans to have him start the season at Coors Field instead of returning to the minor leagues. Tovar had an up and down showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he went to Double-A and hit .318 for Hartford last season, before being called up to Triple-A. Slowed by an injury, he only played five games for the Isotopes, but hit .333 and showed the Rockies brass what they wanted to see.

Tovar wasn’t ready for the big leagues a year ago at this time, even after a great showing early in camp. He still had a lot to prove in the minor leagues. The rule of thumb teams use with almost every prospect is that they want to see some level of dominance at a particular level of minor league ball before that player is moved up a step. Tovar met that bar during the season, and he got the call. As it should be.

Now, after having gotten his debut out of the way last September, Tovar is penciled in to start at shortstop for the big league team.

Last year, Veen tore up Single-A Spokane. He hit .368 with 11 homers and 60 rbi in 92 games. Then he was assigned to Double-A Hartford where he proceeded to hit .177 over 34 games with a single home run. Truth be told, the Rockies brass were not unhappy to see their top prospect scuffle. They knew it would help his development to have to bounce back from a bad stretch. They were even more pleased to see him win MVP of the Arizona Fall League, where in 21 games he hit .333 and stole 16 bases.

So now Veen is with the big league team and doing what Tovar did a season ago in Scottsdale. Sooner rather than later he’ll be assigned back to Hartford so he can prove to everyone that he can do great things in Double-A, just like Tovar did. Then he’ll move on to Albuquerque sometime around mid-season, and hopefully show he’s better than Triple-A pitching as well.

In late August or early September of the coming season, fresh off a successful season at the top two levels of minor league baseball, Veen will arrive at Coors Field. Hopefully he’s as ready for that moment as Rockies faithful already are.

Strike 2: It’s overused, overstated, overplayed and over overdone. The “Nobody gives us any respect” card that’s tossed out by everyone from Georgia football players to Travis Kelce (both after winning championships, btw) is an overblown, tired and hollow refrain. Few take the banter seriously anymore.

But really, seriously, the Denver Nuggets get no respect. None.

“The Western Conference is wide open” said one four-letter-network talking head, echoing the refrain heard all across the NBA.

Think about that for a second. Imagine if the Los Angeles Lakers had a six-game lead over everyone else in the west. Would they be getting lumped in with seven other “contenders,” or might they be the acknowledged front runner and clear cut favorite to reach the NBA Finals?

Much has been made lately about the disrespect directed toward Nuggets two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic, the favorite to win his third straight MVP award. Ludicrous claims that he “pads his stats” and the vile insinuation that he has only won the award because he’s white. Joker is above all that, and continues to perform like the best player in the league night in and night out.

Meanwhile, his team continues unabated toward the top spot in the west and the home court advantage that comes with it. Denver has been almost unbeatable at home, 29-4 going into Monday night’s game against Toronto, so having that edge could mean everything as they proceed deeper into the postseason.

Despite these easily readable facts, the Phoenix Suns are the betting favorite to win the west.

Talk about getting no respect.

It would be easy to try to play the disrespect card (again) and use it as some sort of motivational ploy, but it’s been so overdone you wonder if it has any impact anymore. What head coach Michael Malone needs to do is to get his new-look bench unit hitting on all cylinders. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson hasn’t exactly lit it up since joining his home state team – he’s shooting just 27% from the floor – and has combined with new backup center Thomas Bryant for just 11 points per game, which is less than former Nugget Bones Hyland was averaging by himself. Still, very few observers would rather have Hyland in a Nuggets jersey than the veteran Jackson. It’s just a matter of using the final 18 games of the regular season to help Jackson find his groove and stop forcing things.

The Nuggets playoff success won’t be due to being emotionally charged because of the lack of respect they’re getting. Winning in the postseason will be about being the better team when it matters the most.

Strike 3: For you diehards, football season isn’t over. You’re still getting to watch pigskins fly every weekend on your big screen with the in-progress return of the XFL and the start of the USFL season in just over a month.

Let’s overlook the fact that both leagues took a pass on putting a team in Colorado. Perhaps they noticed that we’ve had seven straight years of less than top grade football around here, and figured we’d had enough?

Even without a team in Denver, will either, or both, of these spring football leagues survive over time?

Currently rosters are stocked with players who have already had their shot at the NFL. What’s missing is guys that haven’t yet.

Consider this: It’s probably not a surprise that there’s more interest in the recently concluded NFL combine – the “Underwear Olympics” for NFL hopefuls – than there is for the actual games being played by these two eight-team leagues. Shouldn’t they take that as a sign that their current approach isn’t going to sustain?

There’s one way and one way only for the XFL and the USFL to survive. It needs to happen in three steps.

First, they have to merge. They can’t be competing with each other for the limited spring audience.

Second, and more importantly, they need to start trying to compete with college football for their on-field talent. The spring leagues should start drafting and signing highly touted players out of high school who either can’t hack it at a major university or don’t have any interest in doing so. Yes, this would have been easier before Name, Image and Likeness payments became available to college athletes, but the majority of college football players still aren’t getting paid big bucks by sponsors, and would choose a steady paycheck over trying to find sponsors to pay them. And it won’t be too much longer before courts determine that college athletes are employees of their schools, and then they’ll have to start paying taxes on everything, including scholarships.

That would make going pro right out of high school – even if it’s not the NFL right away – a lot more attractive.

The final step would be for the merged XFL/USFL to make a deal to become the farm system of the NFL. These high school prospects could play a couple of seasons in the spring before declaring for the next NFL draft.

See how this could all fit together?

College football is in a state of flux. The rudderless NCAA doesn’t know how to keep its membership together and in order. It’s a perfect time for the XFL/USFL to announce they’re going to become competitors for the service of the top talent coming out of high school. If they do that successfully and start putting standout prospects on the field instead of groups of has-beens and never-were’s, then pro football in the spring will start to gather momentum and new eyeballs.

And then maybe they’ll put a team in Denver.