Sun’s out, guns out!
After spending a couple of days this week slogging around our Nation’s Capital in a snowing, sleeting mess, only to return to the great state of California and find temps in the low-30’s waiting for me, I am so ready for Grapefruit League and Cactus League games to begin!
There really is nothing better than Spring Training Baseball.
Palm trees, cactus, rookies with absurdly high uniform numbers, and the welcome sound of hardball smacking into the leather of a catcher’s mitt. Sign me up, after a winter of embarrassingly bad New York football teams bled into a historically bad, no-effort tank job from the perennially terrible Knickerbockers. All that losing has primed me for the 2019 baseball season, and not a minute too soon.
With the wonderful news that the Mets took their spring opener over the Braves today, the season has officially launched. Shortly thereafter, I received news that the Yankees had also won their opener, and the parallel rooting interest I (and many other bitter Mets fans) take into each and every baseball season also kicked off anew — a passionate desire to see the Bronx Bombers lose (yes, even in the preseason).
Building on that surge of adrenaline, I figured it was time to launch a Spring Training post–
To honor the optimism of every team thinking they have a chance (okay, maybe not every team, but come Opening Day, every team will share a tie for first place for at least one day).
To give me the chance to get my photo of Big Klu in his sleeveless uni into a post (it’s been burning a hole in my pocket since I downloaded it a few months back).
To provide me a forum to air grievances brewing throughout the winter months that are unrelated to unconscionable Hall of Fame injustices.
So without further ado (I always hate when banquet hosts use that phrase to intro the next speaker), Let’s Play Ball!
*Newest Mets phenom Pete (don’t call me Peter) Alonso homered to deep center in his first spring AB earlier today. If he and Tim Tebow were to hit fifth and sixth and receive regular playing time in New York this season, between the two of them they’d fan over 500 times. Yet somehow I’m perfectly okay with that thought. That is the optimism of February baseball.
*If I was a Padres fan (are there such things?) would I be fired up about the Manny Machado signing? My guess is that the 35 and 100 he puts up this year will do about as much for the Pads as those similar stats did for the O’s these past few years. Well played, Manny. You got paid and managed to find one of the few places you could go, loaf without consequence, and never feel an ounce of pressure from the home crowd (okay, “crowd” may be a bit of an exaggeration).
*Does anyone else find it interesting that the Giants’ spring training stadium in Scottsdale lies right off of Drink Water Street? Also on Drink Water Street, directly across from the stadium? The local hospital’s stroke unit. Hmmm…
*Has Bryce Harper really earned the right to be called a superstar? His MVP year in 2015 was his only truly outstanding statistical year. His Nats teams never won a single playoff series. And he’s going to get north of $300 million from somebody (my guess is the Giants). How psyched must Mike Trout be about that?
*However, in fairness, Harper did give me one of my all-time favorite quotes, when he responded to a question from a reporter with, “that’s a clown question, bro.” Yeah, give him the $325 over 10.
*Will Ichiro get his 5000th hit (counting Japanese stats) on his 50th birthday? He’s probably the best hitter on the tanking Mariners roster heading into 2019. Every year for the past few years I’ve thought he retired, but then there he is, slapping another single the other way.
*I still say Patrick Corbin will be this year’s biggest bust. Too bad he’s not in pinstripes.
*I remain furious with the Indians over their pitiful postseason showing last season (particularly since they were my dark horse pick to win it all — the team with the best regular season record never wins, right?). Is anyone in the AL Central capable of challenging Cleveland’s coasting ass this year? Oh well, I suppose we pencil them in for an ALDS loss to the Astros again this October? Yawn.
*Do I go in on a partial season ticket plan for the A’s, and thus seal their fate as a 90-loss squad this season? Or do I resist the weekly pleas from their pleasant and persistent ticket sales reps, and give Oakland a chance to nab the second wild card again? Decisions, decisions.
*The Yankees won 100 games last year, and right up until Gary Sanchez just missed the dinger in what would be the final AB of their season-ending Game 4 loss to the soon-to-be champs Red Sox, I expected the Bombers to figure out a way to advance. And now they seem like an even stronger team heading into 2019. Shit.
*Daniel Murphy quietly signed on in Colorado during the offseason. If he stays healthy he will hit .375 with 60 doubles and 135 RBI’s this year. Ah, the magic of Coors Field.
*The Cubs and Dodgers seem to be everyone’s front runners in the National League. Lots of talent on both clubs for sure, but it already feels like another year where the NL plays junior varsity to the Astros, Sawx, Bombers and the rest of the varsity AL.
*If I had to pick one team to threaten the Cubs and Dodgers this year in the NL, it would be the Cardinals. They will love Paul Goldschmidt in St. Louis.
*The Braves should have done more this offseason (Josh Donaldson seems washed up to me), and I expect them to come back to the pack in the tough NL East…
*Paving the way for the New York Baseball Mets to win the division with 91 wins.
*The Phils’ Gabe Kapler remains my choice as first manager to get canned this year. Over/Under of Memorial Day? I’m taking the under.
*I’m not interested in a timer for pitchers or a DH in the NL (all pitchers should hit, dammit). I’m already sick of the whining about collusion from the Players Association, and those who cry out calling for a computerized balls and strikes system are simply misguided zealots.
*Will the Red Sox really let Craig Kimbrel go unsigned and enter the season in defense of their title with no established closer?
*Very little written over the winter in the NY papers about how potent the combination of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will be, compared to this time a year ago. I’m afraid that means we could be in for a year that rivals Mantle/Maris in ’61. Just sayin’.
*If Shohei Ohtani hits .280 with 25 dingers and 80 ribbies this year, to go along with an .800 OPS (while not throwing a single pitch as his arm heals up), will we consider his season a success or failure?
*Will every MLB team use an “opener” at least once this season? Did we even know what an “opener” was a year ago at this time?
*Will Tim Tebow get his first taste of major league pitching this year? Hell yeah, he will (I mean, heck yeah — sorry, Timmy).
*If you had to pick one big-name manager that won’t make it through the entire season, despite having a team capable of winning it all, would you go with Joe Maddon, Aaron Boone, Terry Francona or Dave Roberts?
*I’m taking Maddon, but if he were a bigger name, I’d have to go with Mickey Callaway. Nothing like being the manager inherited by the new, aggressive GM, who’s first order of business is to publicly proclaim you the team to beat in the NL East, huh Mick? Hope you have another fast start planned.
*Preseason predictions (just for fun, so put down your keyboard, Chief Redbird — I mean, c’mon, Harper isn’t even signed, let alone Kimbrel and Keuchel, and you just know there will be some roster-altering injuries in the next 30 days):
AL East: Yanks
AL Central: White Sox (with Harper hitting third, protected by Jose Abreu? Hmmmm…)
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, A’s
NL East: Mets
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Brewers, Braves
AL Champ: Yanks
NL Champ: Mets
Subway Series Winner: Do you really have to ask?