There are people I know, people I respect, people I love that have no appreciation or respect for the game of Baseball. Honestly, I struggle to understand why. For some, it may be the whole notion of “Sports” in general. I can see that. I can understand an opposition to the whole male machismo thing. I will counter with the ballet of the sport. It is not just a rough bang-it-out game. There is poetry in the way a center fielder spots the ball and then makes a remarkable catch that robs a hitter of what would otherwise be a guaranteed 3-Run Homer. That is something worth admiration. There is the grittiness of a tired pitcher, now in a triple digits pitch count, shaking off the catcher’s call for a sinker, going instead for the fastball that he knows will get that elusive final out to end the inning. There are heartbreaking, inspirational moments. This game re-invents itself every night.
Someone once said that America will be remembered for exactly three things: 1) The Constitution, 2) Jazz and 3) Baseball. I like that. All three exist from a purely improvisational level. Each admits that they are not in a “final” form and that the current generation always has the ability to amend the rules. This is Democracy in action. If this is what we are to be remembered by, I think these are three pretty damn good things to hold up as examples.
Spring Training is done. Both players and fans are getting ready for the return of Major League Baseball today. This morning all thirty teams have identical records and are all are tied for first place in their division. By tonight half the teams will remain in first place, the rest will be dwelling in the cellar. Such is the nature of the game.
While this may seem on the surface that all teams are equal, they are not. In the American League Central, there are only two teams that really have chances to contend past the last game of the season-the Minnesota Twins and the team from Cleveland. If we are honest, it is important to state that the other teams, the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are at least a few years away from what anyone would seriously consider “a contender.” The AL Central Division champs, Cleveland ended the season 17 games ahead of Minnesota. When you consider that the Twins went on to play one of the post-season Wild Card Games after such a gap speaks volumes about the distance between these two teams and the three below.
Not that long ago in 2010, I remember writing in my Baseball Journal how difficult it must be to be a Royals fan on the first day of the season. How depressing it is to know that by the time the 162nd game was played, your team would be 22 games (or
more) out of first place. I ate those words when I saw my beloved Minnesota Twins quickly switch places with the jubilant Royals, as that team was carried to the Promised Land by a stellar core of players. This is a fickle game and today’s hot teams quickly burn out.
For Kansas City, their decline now is to be fully expected. After a remarkable set of seasons with a tight group that included Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar, the team reached Baseball’s highest pinnacle with their World Series Championship in 2015. It was a remarkable season, and they deserved to win. All four of these players went into free agency at the conclusion of the last out of last season’s World Series. Of them, Kansas City was only able to retain Moustakas and Escobar. Both of these to only a 1-year deal, but while Moustakas’ deal could extend to another one, but there is a sense of finality to their championship era. Hosmer will likely be a San Diego Padre to the end of time, signing an 8-year deal worth a reported $144M. Cain didn’t come out to badly either, penning a 5-year/$80M deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. At least he stays a Midwest guy…
On top of all this, the Royals have endured some truly difficult, tragic times. Flame-throwing Pitcher Yordano Ventura threw the 2015 Royals Opening game, going on to post a 13-8 record while contributing to their Championship. Less than two years later, he was dead. Killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic on January 22, 2017, the right-hander was eulogized by his teammates last season by wearing “ACE30” on their sleeves. The world will never know what his full potential might have been.
While some are grim and some expected, the Royals have been badly damaged by these player losses. It will be awhile before they climb the mountain again. I fully expect them to be at least 25 games back when the smoke clears. $10 bucks says that Moustakas is trade-bait by the end of July.
It will be great to see former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire managing in the American League once again with the Detroit Tigers. Hands down, the best story from Spring Training this year happened early on. Still in the process of learning all the names of the young players on his new team, Gardy mentioned to a couple of them that they shouldn’t be offended if he called them “Buddy” because he didn’t know their name. He assured them, he would look for it on the back of their jerseys as they ran away if he was impressed by their play. Naturally, the entire team took to the field the next day with “Buddy” emblazoned on their back.
The most interesting thing about the off-season was the glacier pace of the free agent market. As the chill of winter settled in, the market froze as well. There were a number of big name targets that teams salivated over. The most prized was pitcher Yu Darvish. Thanks to two astoundingly bad starts in Games 3 & 7, Darvish remains the primary culprit for the Dodgers surprising loss in the World Series. From a market point of view, it certainly damaged his value. But Darvish is a competitor, and he now has something to prove. He needs to get back to the dance and give it another crack. If nothing else, baseball is a story of redemption. Baseball sat back and waited to see where he might land. Any other potential acquisitions were just contingency deals and nothing would move until he landed.
The December Owners Meetings came and went and still Yu sat. He did the same in January. There were acquisitions here and there of course, but most of the big deals to be had were held up until someone would set the price that all other free agents would be marked against.
Baseball has been beset over the past few years with mega-year, mega-buck contracts that have been assembled by agents. Of all of these, super agent Scott Boras is the one most responsible. Sure, their job is to get the biggest, longest contract for their client as possible. They also take a percentage of the total, so it is in their personal, best interest to get these massive nine-figure deals in place.
The problem with this is that rarely these deals work out well for the team. Sure, they get a superstar like Alex Rodriguez, Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, or Albert Pujols but who really pays the player? When you go to see Miguel Cabrera play for Detroit this year, know that he will receive $191,358.02 for EVERY game that he plays through 2023. Certainly some of your increased ticket price at Detroit’s Comerica Park will be going directly to the Triple Crown winner’s bank account. Detroit is so deep in the hole; they will be lucky if they are a potential contending team by the time his deal is over.
It wasn’t until February 10th that word came out that Darvish had finally signed with a team for the upcoming season. My first thought when I heard of his 6-year contract worth $126M (with incentives that could reach $150M), I was ready to call whoever the General Manager was a nervous idiot for selling the entire farm to pick up the magic beans. When I heard it was Theo
Epstein and the Chicago Cubs, I had to reconsider. Here is the thing, in my opinion; Theo Epstein is the most valuable person in baseball, on the field or off. He obviously knows something that mere mortals do not. Look, this guy goes to Boston and works up a team that breaks The Curse of the Bambino to win their first World Series in 84 years. After winning a second one in 2007, he packs up his bag of tricks, goes over to Chicago and engineers a team that wins their first World Series in 108 years! To do it once is incredible, to do it twice makes him superhuman. Not a bad set of accomplishments to have under your belt by the time you hit 44. By the time I was that age, I was successful in finally being able to get my shirts through the wash without the white ones having a pink hue to them. It’s all about goals. I need to rethink mine…
So, spring training is wrapping up. While I enjoy watching them, these games are purely fake and false. I have seen crap teams post winning spring training records only to have their heads bashed in during the months of April & May and left hanging like shredded meat as they play out the string in August. That is not to say that there aren’t some real consequences that come with the “light” play that takes place during March in Arizona and Florida. Just this past week, the Dodgers have lost 2017 All-Star Third Baseman Justin Turner to a broken left wrist when he was hit by a pitch. In the time since I started writing this column,
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner suffered a fractured left hand after getting hit by a liner that came back to him. If this is the hand that you use to throw the ball, this is bad news for you and your team.
This is when the truly foolhardy tend to make their predictions on the season. This is something that only the stupid fully engage in, so I must certainly dive deep into the morass. Remember, it is only recently that I discovered the secret in keeping my white shirts white…
First, there are going to be a lot of fun things to look for. Now, I hate the New York Yankees with a rare passion. The only team I dislike more is the Chicago White Sox. Despite this, I have tremendous respect for the long history of the Bronx Bombers. I just don’t like the arrogance and over-spending to pick-up every good player and spit them out after squeezing the last fragment of baseball out of them. I look forward to seeing Stanton in the same line-up with AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge. Provided Judge doesn’t suffer the dreaded sophomore slump, this pair should be reminiscent of the classic pinstriped pairing of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. There were 6,105 Home Runs hit in 2017. This is the most ever in a season, topping the previous single-season record set in 2000. Together, Stanton (59 HR) and Judge (52 HR) were responsible for nearly 2% of that total. Two guys. Now on the same team. That could get interesting.
My favorite team is the Minnesota Twins. Has been since I was a little kid going to games at the old Metropolitan Stadium. Over the past 20 years, it has grown into an obsession. Ever since Target Field opened in 2010, I have kept a journal and written about every game the Twins have played. Each year gets a pristine Moleskin journal and a set of 192 pages to track out the season. I record all my various observations and emotions while at Target Field. My take on the disastrous 59-103 2016 Twins Season had the tendency to read like a drawn out suicide note at times. Such is how this game is played. You win some, you lose some, and sometimes it rains.
I want to say “This is OUR year for the Minnesota Twins.” Using logic, I would be wrong. While I do think the team will do well, I don’t see us beating the Cleveland team to take the division. We will tighten the 17 game gap, but won’t overcome it. A likely scenario will put us, once again as the second Wild Card team and then trudging to either Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium for a “win or die” final game. As I see it, that is the BEST-case scenario.
So, if I had to make a call right now, I would say that the 2018 World Series would pit Cleveland against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs will win it all in Game 6. That’s my call. Would I put money on it? No way. This is Baseball. Anything can happen. I like making a guess and then seeing how it all plays out. Making a call before the season helps give me an angle that I can watch how all the 30 teams may perform as part of the larger story of the season. From my emotional heart, I believe my Twins will go all the way. This is our year. Logic be damned. I love my team beyond logic. I hope you feel the same about yours.
So, we start the 2018 season with high hopes. All fans, regardless of the team they support, believe that this “just might be the year.” Hope is an important, necessary thing. We all need it. Some will say that Baseball is nothing more than a “necessary distraction” from the struggles of the day. The more I consider it, I have to disagree. Baseball is a metaphor for life. The hopeless, the lost, the wounded can all find a moment of triumph. It is a team sport that is built from individual achievement. The Florida Marlins have been hapless year in and year out, yet a player like Giancarlo Stanton stands out for his remarkable abilities at the plate. This is a game that is about more than just who wins or who loses. It investigates the “whys” of the win as well as the loss. It is about the unusual. It is also about the sly, rouge-like sense of humor built into the very core of the game.
In the end, this is a child’s game, played by men. It is meant to be fun. It is meant to be meaningful. It is to be enjoyed, and passed on to the next generation. It ties each one of us together. Most of all, this is an American game. So, grab a beer and a dog and join me in the stands. I can only report what I see. I can only give the misguided opinions I have, but regardless- PLAY BALL!
“The true harbinger of spring is not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of the bat on the ball.”
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. He hardly ever misses a Minnesota Twins home game at Target Field, and when the team is on the road he watches at home with his pal Brubeck. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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