Anyone can understand the way I feel

As I write this post from a beautiful 90 degree day in Columbia, it’s only been three years since this:

April 7, 2007: Blizzard, meet baseball. Baseball, meet blizzard. Everyone else, meet a bunch of guys with leaf blowers to try and clear the snow away.

My, how times change.

In any case, I’m excited for Opening Day. Heck, who am I kidding? I was excited for Opening Day back in February, which explains why I wrote my 2010 season preview back on February 18. Much has happened in those six weeks since spring training has ramped up, progressed, and is now winding down to a close, so here are a few things I’m excited about as the season begins.

  • Baseball season means summer. Except in South Carolina, apparently, where summer went ahead and started without waiting for baseball season. This is heresy. I mean seriously, what’s opening day without snow, freezing rain, slushy streets and players who want to be there less than the fans?
  • The Indians won’t be that bad. (I hope.) Overall, I’m pretty encouraged by what I saw in spring training from the Indians. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner look good, and while I’m not convinced Jake Westbrook will look good against the other aces in the league, I think he’ll do okay in most of his starts. Fausto Carmona has looked solid too, and if he can keep up this form in the regular season the Indians will be in much better shape (and much better shape than I was hoping for).
  • Manny Acta wasn’t my first choice, but he’s growing on me. He’s already shown he’s not afraid to try some new things (batting Cabrera leadoff, starting Michael Brantley instead of a veteran left fielder) and he seems to relate to the players well (particularly the Hispanic players).
  • The season gets underway with a Sunday night game between the Red Sox and Yankees. Look, I bleed scarlet and grey, but the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is without question the best in sports. It’s great theater every time these two storied teams get together and this year, with the Yankees defending their 27th World Series title, it should be even better.
  • Jim Thome is no longer on the White Sox. Or the Dodgers. Or any other team that I hate. He’s on the Twins, who are my favorite team in the AL Central besides the Indians, and it’ll make it easier to root for one of the classiest guys in baseball this year. If it’s not the Indians this year, I hope the Twins win the World Series. (Unfortunately, since the Twins lost Joe Nathan for the season, this will probably be quite difficult.)
  • Ozzie Guillen has a Twitter account. I may not like the White Sox (I blame A.J. Pierzynski), but I do like Ozzie Guillen both for his management style and his Michael-Richards-but-with-less-racism “what will he say next” attitude. Joe Maddon (Rays manager) is also on Twitter, but his tweets are all about “preparation” and “getting in the right place mentally”. I have a feeling Ozzie’s will be less politically correct (and therefore more hilarious).
  • Bobby Cox is managing his last season. The all-time ejections leader is hanging it up after this season and I hope he goes out with a bang. He’s definitely a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of baseball’s best managers (even if his choice in teams is abysmal).
  • I will finally see PNC Park. PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is widely regarded as one of the prettiest parks in baseball. I’m personally ashamed I haven’t been there yet, having lived a mere three hours from the city for most of my life. This year, on Memorial Day weekend, no less, that will be corrected.

And frankly, one of the things I love about Opening Day is that for one day, everyone’s equal. There is no head start, there is no entitlement, everyone starts at 0-0. Optimism springs eternal. So while the rest of the season I’m happy with around .500 for this team, on Opening Day, we’re allowed to dream.

Will the Indians win the World Series? Probably not. But maybe. Because on Opening Day, everyone starts fresh. So maybe.

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.)

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!

Play Ball!

Well, it’s finally here: Opening Day 2008. Actually, it’s Opening Morning 2008, but nonetheless, in about 10 hours the Indians will take the field against the White Sox. But today is far bigger than a game in Cleveland: Opening Day is taking place all over the country. In New York, the Yankees will open their season against the Blue Jays one last time. In Los Angeles, Joe Torre will begin another chapter of his Hall of Fame career. In Chicago, the centennial season begins as the Cubs play the Brewers and try to end a 100-year World Series drought.

And actually, as you know, the season has already begun. First it was in Japan at about this time a week ago (timecheck: it’s 5:43 AM), and last night the Washington Nationals began a new era in the nation’s capital with a win over the Braves. The Japan games were nice – kind of a gimmick, and I did enjoy seeing the Red Sox lose – but I have to feel like the Red Sox feel like the real season begins tomorrow.

I caught most of the game in D.C. tonight, and for what my opinion’s worth, Nationals Park looks like a great baseball stadium. However, did anyone notice that the behind-home-plate camera (the one that is usually on-screen when a ground ball is hit to short, for example) was high? Kind of felt like we were looking at the action from a blimp. I guess I could get used to that if I watched those broadcasts all the time, but I wasn’t able to judge the height of a line drive and the speed of a grounder as easily as I am from a Progressive Field broadcast.

In the end, last night, Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise third basemen for the Nationals, christened the new park appropriately with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. You could kind of feel that it would happen that way once that passed ball slipped through Lo Duca’s legs in the top of the ninth, and pretty much as soon as that ball was hit I could tell it was gone. Anyway, good for them. If you don’t remember, the Indians opened at Jacobs Field much the same way, with a game winning single in the 11th inning against the Mariners (Wayne Kirby anyone?).

My first Opening Day that I cared about was in 1996, so I guess this year is my 13th Opening Day. I remember a few of them, but a lot of them seem to run together as many childhood memories seem to do. Most of these are Home Openers, so they might not have been the first game of the season, but you get the idea:

  • 1996: Opening Day was snowed out, but rescheduled for the day after and the Indians lost to the Yankees 8-0. I remember reading it in the paper the next day but don’t think I saw any of the game.
  • 1999: I remember watching this Opening Day in science class in 7th grade… don’t really remember what happened, but I think Fryman hit a grand slam.
  • 2005: I remember looking forward to this Opening Day a lot and I was pretty let down when the Indians couldn’t even score a run.
  • 2006: This was the first year I actually went to Opening Day. My friend Alex was trying to scalp our last ticket until a few minutes before the game started so I was about 10 seconds away from missing the first pitch. We had terrible seats (relatively; most seats in Progressive Field are pretty good) but the Indians won 12-6 against the Twins. Travis Hafner hit two monster home runs, Casey Blake hit a grand slam, and it was overall a pretty fun day. I think that day was also the day I got caught in my first downpour here at Case so I ended up wearing shorts (my only dry pants) to the game…it was cold.
  • 2007: I’ve been to over 50 games at Progressive Field; I don’t know that I’ll ever forget this game. Seeing snow fall through the architecture at the stadium was just surreal; and with the way the events transpired throughout the day and the weekend, you kind of got the feeling it would be a special year for the Indians.

I’ve noticed Opening Day is kind of a singularity. Everything is at 0: 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 hits, 0 at-bats, 0 runs, 0 home runs. If you tried to calculate a batting average at the beginning of the year, you’d end up calculating 0/0, which is one of those undefined values in math and you’d have to end up using L’Hopital’s Rule (and you’d undoubtedly find that the average is 1 – no matter how many times I got 0/0, the answer seems to always eventually get to 1).

I’ve been looking forward to this day for almost 5 months – since the end of the 2007 baseball season. I’ll be watching the Yankees/Blue Jays game on ESPN at 1 PM and then switching over to the Indians at 3 (and if you’re reading this Mom, I will go to class… maybe…). So in closing, good luck, go Tribe, boo Red Sox and play ball!