I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Americana 2009: My annual list of baseball parks to visit

Since an unexpected opportunity arose today to take a trip to the Baltimore/DC area, I decided that today I would finalize my list of baseball stadiums to visit this year. To review, last year I visited:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland, OH
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinatti Reds, Cincinatti, OH
  • Shea Stadium, New York Mets, Flushing, NY
  • Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Bronx, NY

I planned on visiting a couple more, but at least I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before they closed. This year, hopefully with a little bit more disposable income, I’ll be able to visit the following stadiums:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH. Sort of goes without saying, but I hope to attend quite a few games at Progressive Field this year (and hopefully the Indians will be a fun team to watch at home this year).
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD. Since my mom will be taking a trip to the Baltimore area in May, the opportunity seems perfect to visit one of the more important stadiums in baseball. Camden Yards was only built in 1992, but more importantly was the first stadium to go for the retro, one-purpose feel, as opposed to the multi-purpose doughnut stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Orioles haven’t been competitive for years, but the park is consistently ranked high in terms of customer experience and from my early scouting, tickets are a good value.
  • Nationals Park, Washington, DC. Until Yankee Stadium and Citi Field open in April, this is the newest park in baseball. Similar to the Orioles, the Nationals aren’t very competitive so it’s likely that prices will be reasonable. I haven’t been to DC since 8th grade (which seems hard to believe, it feels like I was just there recently), so that’ll be fun too. This park would be lower on my list, but since I’ll be around there in May, it seems like a good opportunity to knock it off.
  • Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. I’ve always been a casual fan of the Cardinals (mostly because of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa) and St. Louis is a great baseball city. Prices here are less reasonable, as the team is competitive and the people of St. Louis are baseball-obsessed. I’d like to visit in July sometime, for an ultra-American, ultra-traditional summer’s night of baseball.
  • Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, MO. As long as I’m out in Missouri, might as well see the other great baseball stadium. Renovations are being done now that should make Kaufmann Stadium even better than before. If possible this is a team I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians play on the road, since the Indians have a high chance of winning and the Royals fans are said to be the nicest in baseball (I guess you can’t really afford not to be, at that point).
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA. To think, if the recession had happened a couple years ago, PNC could have bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field and we could have had TWO PNC parks. This is probably the best value out there, at least for me – the stadium is only three hours away, the team hasn’t been competitive in nearly twenty years, and the people in Pittsburgh are a bit preoccupied with their football these days. I’m targeting an August visit for this park.
  • Fenway Park, Boston, MA. I’ve been to Fenway Park once, but it was when I was less interested in baseball and I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I could have. Also, I was there in June last time – this time, I’m going for a September game. As far as tradition, it doesn’t get much more traditional than Fenway in September. It’d be really nice to get a divisional showdown between the Sox and Rays or Sox and Yankees (yikes, that just sounds dangerous), but any game in September would be good.

Overall I’d be pretty happy if I knock these stadiums out this season, but if I don’t get them all that’s okay too. For 2010, I’ll definitely look to visit New York again and see the new stadiums, and then I’d like to go out west to Colorado, Texas, or maybe even California.

Anyone want to share gas money?

And just like you, I’m wondering why…

I know, I know, I’m slacking in my non-baseball-related posts of late. The good news for you is that hopefully that means I’ll have quite a bit more to say than usual! (According to my calculations…)

  • …alright, so maybe there’s still some baseball stuff. But come on, we’re only a week into the season and there are some huge things happening already!
    • My favorite story thus far has been the Kansas City Royals, who are 6-2 and in the lead in the AL Central. This is a team that is perennially picked to finish last, and until a few years ago, with good reason. Lately though, the Royals are becoming less and less pathetic, and it’s my belief that if they were in the National League, they’d be a playoff team.

      And heck, they might be a playoff team this year. The 2008 Royals remind me very much of the 2004 Indians: young, inexperienced but quality pitching, a career DH who does nothing but hit (Indians: Travis Hafner, Royals: Billy Butler), and a budding franchise player who might blossom into one of the game’s all-time greats (Indians: Grady Sizemore, Royals: Alex Gordon).

    • I picked up Brian Bannister for my fantasy team a couple days ago; that kid looks like he’ll be good.

    • Another interesting story in the central is the surprisingly bad start by the Detroit Tigers. They started the year with the second highest payroll in the major leagues, and they won their first game yesterday.

      I’ve said all winter that good pitching will always beat good hitting; and if you don’t have good pitching, you better be outslugging your opponents all the time. The problem is, if your offense goes into a funk (like the Indians did last summer, like the White Sox did last year, like the Yankees did last year), and your pitching is bad (unlike the Indians, like the White Sox and Yankees of ’07), you’re not going to win many games. Not only that, but the Tigers opened the season against the aforementioned Kansas City and Chicago, both of whom are off to hot starts.

      I fully expect the Tigers to win a lot of games this year, but I don’t think they’ll get out of the first round of the playoffs.

    • Actually, a lot of teams predicted to do bad are off to great starts, including the Baltimore Orioles (who I expect to regress pretty soon) and the St. Louis Cardinals. I read a book last summer about Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals, and I refuse to believe he’ll have a bad team. They may not win the division or make the playoffs (although anything is possible in the NL Central), but they’ll win some games.
    • The Red Sox and Yankees revive their rivalry tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Count me interested. It’s always fun to watch these teams play because their fans are so obnoxious and when two teams of obnoxious fans get together, hilarity ensues. Plus, they’re two great teams with two great offenses and watching them play will feel a lot like postseason baseball. Unfortunately it appears ESPN will be covering the Cavaliers and the Bulls tomorrow night.
    • The Indians have signed Fausto Carmona to a 7 year contract for up to $43 million, with $15 million and 4 years guaranteed. Fantastic move by the Indians, especially with C.C.’s free agency looming near. Carmona was dynamite last year and I have no reason to think he’ll be any worse this year. You might not find a cheaper Cy Young candidate in baseball.
  • And in non-baseball related news, The Office is back tonight! I have some theories about the rest of the season, which I might post tomorrow after they’re all proven wrong tonight. It’s really weird actually being excited to watch tonight, because I kind of got used to it not being on.
  • Has anyone visited MikeHuckabee.com recently?
  • I would write a quote of the day, but I can’t do this one justice by just writing it, so enjoy:

Hope everyone’s enjoying the weather, and enjoy The Office tonight!

The season started?

So, we’re still in the offseason…

April Fools!

Sorry, that was completely lame, I know. Let me get on to the real business, the brilliant analysis that you, my faithful readers, yearn for after a very exciting Opening Day in the Major Leagues.

Let me start by saying that our pitching (particularly the bullpen, particularly Rafael Perez) had better be better than they were today. And I’m sure they will be, but parts of today felt like 2004 and 2006 when it felt like no lead was safe.

From the second batter of the game, you could tell things weren’t quite in sync with our pitching, and the third batter of the game, Jim Thome hit his first home run of the season, a prototypical, 415-foot blast to right center. He hit another one later in the game, and I’ll say this: Thome looks good this year. Both home runs were hit off of Sabathia, a lefty, off of whom he had never got a hit (and then later in the game he hit a liner into the left-center field alley that Jason Michaels was barely able to run down). Thome looks about 5 years younger, somehow, and after watching today I’m looking for him to put up big numbers.

The Indians answered back after three consecutive singles by Martinez, Peralta and Garko, and after Cabrera hit into an RBI fielder’s choice, Franklin Gutierrez hit a curveball into the bleachers for a field goal. All of those players, particularly Gutierrez, I think will have good years and build upon what they started last year.

Later in the inning, Victor Martinez injured his hamstring sliding into second base. He walked off of the field okay, but hamstrings are tricky, especially for catchers, and I hope that injury isn’t one that takes him out of the action for very long.

Some mild controversy arose in the eighth after the White Sox hit consecutive doubles against Rafael Betancourt (who was really the only Indians pitcher to consistently throw strikes today). After an intentional walk loaded the bases, there was a play at the plate where Peralta’s throw home was wide, forcing Kelly Shoppach to make a sweep tag of Joe Crede coming home. I saw the replay – it’s hard to tell if the tag ever landed. But more importantly, Gerry Davis (the home plate umpire) was in no position to make that call correctly. Nothing he could do about that, but from his angle it would have been easy to say the tag hit Crede. The very next play, Jim Thome hit a broken bat grounder to second (the only ball he didn’t hit hard today) which Asdrubal Cabrera threw to Peralta to start the double play. Peralta was able to get one, but got tripped up around second because White Sox baserunner Orlando Cabrera attempted a red-card slide tackle. No question that was interference. I heard in various places that the White Sox TV broadcasters were screaming about how they got hosed on that call, but after looking at the replay I don’t think you can make that argument (even Ozzie Guillen conceded after the game that it was interference).

And in the end, Casey Blake (hear that Cara? CASEY BLAKE.) hit what turned into the game-winning double high off the wall in left, driving in three. After that interference call rightly went the Indians way in the top of the eighth I kind of knew the Indians would find a way to pull it out, and Casey Blake got the job done.

In the ninth, Joe Borowski didn’t get me any ERA fantasy points, but he did get the save, and that’s really all he needs to do. The save is just that – you’re saving your team from losing.

There were other games going on throughout the majors, I’ll touch on them a bit:

  • Brewers @ Cubs: I had this game on in my commercial surfing lineup. Anyone else notice how dark Wrigley looked today? That’s the darkest I’ve ever seen a baseball stadium in the day. I think it’s because they don’t turn the lights on at Wrigley for afternoon games. Kosuke Fukudome’s three run home run tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. The Brewers won, 4-3.
  • Mets @ Marlins: Some math for you: Good Pitcher + National League = Great Pitcher. Hence, Santana was dominant today against one of the worst lineups in the major leagues. Ho-hum.
  • Royals @ Tigers: Top to bottom, there is no getting around the fact that the AL Central is the best division in baseball. This is evidenced by the fact that the Royals, the projected last-place finishers by pretty much everyone, are actually a pretty good baseball team, and managed to beat the Tigers today. Alex Gordon hit an absolute bomb in this game.

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • I used to think that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak would never be broken and was a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly. Apparently, it’s not. A really interesting article says that in pretty much every simulation of Major League Baseball for the last century, someone had a hitting streak of similar length, and one went as high as 109 games!
  • Quote of the Day, speaking of Joe DiMaggio:
    There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.

    Joe DiMaggio, CF, New York Yankees

For those of you who enjoy my political musings more than my baseball musings, I’ll be posting something from the political arena hopefully later today. Until then, go Tribe and boo Red Sox!