Ancient baseball titan and NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick of the Washington Nationals did a very cool thing during Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday night and then followed it up with a very good, team-wide dugout dance party.
On Monday, the United States of America turns 240 years old. In celebration of the freedoms and rights we assured ourselves by Brexiting before it was fashionable, many people across this nation will take advantage of their day off by, presumably and in no particular order, consuming equally astronomical amounts of beer and processed meat, wearing comically large, themed sunglasses indoors, firing off possibly illicit explosives, sporting the stars and stripes as poolside attire, getting into arguments over Wiffle ball and not once, not ever mentioning professional football’s relationship with CTE, all while blaring Rick Derringer’s “Real American”.
Among these and the many other truths the writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence held to be self-evident in July 1776 lies the freedom to watch a cherished pastime in a live, nationally-televised broadcast. Though its life as a television spectacle started as a midsummer novelty, meant to alleviate the tedium of baseball highlight after ever-loving baseball highlight, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has quickly entered the lexicon of Great American Things™.
Today is July 1, which means Bobby Bonilla gets a check cut for $1,193,248.20. Or just a direct deposit. Or maybe the New York Mets will just passive-aggressively Venmo him at 11:57 pm tonight with some subtle apology, as if they almost forgot. “Ah guys, you know what, I almost forgot that Bonilla thing was due today.” Either way, that’s a lot of guacamole for someone who’s been out of the league for fifteen years.
On paper, this is what the 2016 New York Mets look like. They’re just numbers, sure, but in the era of sabermetrics, these are some damn good numbers. These numbers represent the skills and know-how that, we hope, will bring us glory this fall. These are the players who carry the promise of greatness, the clubhouse that could win it all. All of our hopes and dreams, summed up in two innocuous spreadsheets – fourteen players, nine positions, 140 statistics.
Do you feel the tables mocking you? Those perfectly ordered, neatly typed grids? Those consistently high batting averages and promising ERAs?
Do you have nightmares about Daniel Murphy in a Nats jersey? Is Chase Utley’s arrogant smirk burned into your retinas? Do you shudder when you think about having to watch Royals players receive their rings – while our team stands just yards away?
No? Okay, maybe it’s just me.
Verb; The instinctual response of fans and writers to small changes in a sporting team’s fortunes, especially in regard to those of the New York Yankees.
The New York Yankees will not win the American League East. This is not an overreaction to the events of the last week. The team which currently sits five and a half games behind them should be favored, and Yankee fans should be worried about which member of their depleted rotation will start the AL wild card game when Toronto celebrates its first division crown since 1993.
The setting sun of life gilds with its rays
The unforgotten but far distant days,
The days when youth and hope walked hand in hand.
If the Major League Baseball All-Star Game had a place in American History curricula, 11-year-old me would be a figure taught alongside Boss Tweed. The democratic nature of electing the Midsummer Classic’s starting lineups was intoxicating to the dorky kid who watched coverage of the 2000 Florida recount every day after school. I was a conniving little bastard and when it came to finding ways to stuff the ballot box, I took my lessons less from old Joe and Jane Stadium Usher, who’d hand out ballots at the ballpark than I did from Chicago’s Daley clan.
No strategy was beneath me. Paying friends a few quarters to punch out the bags of ballots I’d bring home from a trip to Candlestick? Check. Fabricating email addresses to run up totals in the early days of online balloting? Yep. I was a foolhardy kid who thought that my dirty tactics made a difference in who’d trot out to represent their league each summer, and I took that shit seriously. It probably would’ve been good practice for a career in politics.
Over the years, the dynamics of voting in players for the ASG have changed. Over the years, online ballots have eclipsed voting at the ballpark as the preferred way to select the game’s starters. Teams now solicit fans to pull out their smartphones, click an app a few times, and presto, send the hometown nine’s best to the game. The speed of voting online has made it more effective than even the most mischievous fan could manage via the old-fashioned, Bush v. Gore-inducing, punch card manner.
Let’s give the Boston Red Sox a round of applause for the team’s collective acting performance following Michael Pineda’s first pine tar incident. Give them all Oscars, Emmys or those little participation trophies your cousin gets for being in the school play. The entire team pretended like it was no big deal and goaded Pineda into pulling the same stunt again, making certain the second time that the New York pitcher was promptly removed from the game. Genius. Evil, but genius.
That was my assessment of the situation, as I watched the home plate umpire wipe pine tar from Pineda’s neck like a mother trying to clean a newborn child that has yet to master the art of inserting a spoon into its mouth. I’m a devout Yankees fan, but game had to recognize game, and Boston seemed to have turned its mind game up a notch when they convinced Pineda it was safe to lather his pitches with pine and let ‘em rip. But that’s not how the larger baseball community saw it.
It’s seriously 10:30 am on Opening Day. Can I get this post done before the first pitch happens in 2.5 hours?
If my math is right, this is the 145th season of Major League Baseball. It’s literally the only thing older than my father in law. You’d think that a league that’s been around for so long would be able to get the season opener right, but today is simply Opening Day. Last weekend, the Opening Series was in Australia (that’s not a misprint). Last night was Opening Night in San Diego (which involved a team that was in the Opening Series). Today is Opening Day. Have I lost anyone yet?
Anyway, baseball is soldiering along, senseless starts be darned. Because there’s really nothing that could keep me from watching, I came up with some storylines worth keeping tabs on from now through October. That’s right, baseball is gonna be around for a while. I’m not sorry if that’s not your thing.
Any observer who doesn’t immerse himself in the intricacies of baseball’s free agency and player development structures should flip on his TV to quickly get up to speed. There’s a well-known expert on the choices that GMs face, and he can be seen daily if you know where to look. While MLB Network frequently has knowledgeable contributors from Baseball Prospectus, and even ESPN can trot out a great mind here or there, the fastest way is to find Howie Mandel prodding hapless Joe and Jane Game Show Contestant to throw away their guaranteed returns in hopes of hitting it big.
The current state of the free agent market, especially with regard to mid-tier, mid-career or older starting pitchers, presents largely the same choice a Deal or No Deal contestant would face. If you’re excited by the idea of securing the decline years of a never-was-great hurler for the annual price of what the Rays will pay David Price this year, you are probably a local radio show caller or an out-of-work GM. Barring that, you are understandably intrigued by the possibility of the unknown riches which lay in the cases that have yet to be opened during today’s episode of the hot stove game show.