It’s here. No more countdowns, no more crossing dates off the calendar, and no more staring at pictures. Pitchers and catchers are reporting and baseball is back.
There are a lot of pleasant memories in my life—things from my childhood and growing up on a farm. School or vacation memories. Places and events and birthday parties, times spent with friends. Lots of great music.
But I’m telling you right now, stack them all up (and they go well into the hundreds if not thousands) in a list—and the best of them pales in my mind to the absolutely real baseball times that come rolling back forty and nearly fifty years later.
The glove itself—the smell of worn-in leather, the soggy long leather thong that you chewed on between plays, and later when you got older the different smell that neatsfoot oil gave off as you rubbed it into the pocket of your mitt after school.
Your first pair of stirrup socks and the first time you put them on. The first time you actually put on a baseball uniform with pants, as opposed to the team t-shirt you wore in Pee Wee ball. The worn out fitted green cap from the year after fourth grade when I played on the Twins, with the vinyl band inside, that I wore for three years until the band was cracked and broken and the hat—blood and sweat and dirt stained—didn’t fit anymore.
The feel of the ball as you rolled it from hand to hand, gripping it, turning it over, simulating various pitch grips or just flipping it into the air. One summer, I think it might have been 1968 and my first little league season, I think I carried a ball with me everywhere I went.
The smell of fresh cut grass, whether on a hot Saturday afternoon or a humid dusky evening in a sultry Indiana summer. Kicking at it between pitches until you wore out a dirt hole, staring in at a far off batter from Centerfield while you pounded your glove.
Strapping on catcher’s equipment for the first time, and striding to the plate—clicking and clacking all the way—like you were a knight headed to the joust.
The tears welling up and the sting the first time you got hit by a pitch. The hot flash of adrenaline the first time you drilled one into the gap. Being out of breath when you slid into third base and thinking your head was going to explode your grin was so big.
That out of body experience of running as hard as you could to a point you only generally aimed at, thrusting your glove out, and feeling the ball thwock into the pocket as you fell to the ground, your arm raised in the air…only then realizing that you had actually caught the ball and you had no idea how.
The smell of popcorn or hot dogs in steamed buns. The free coke you got at the concession stand after every game. Large if you won, small if you lost.
Do I even have to say it? The crack of the bat. The pop of a fastball hitting the catcher’s glove.
The first time you entered into a major league park and realized Bob Gibson was a real human being…even more impressive and intimidating that he was in pictures. Seeing Lou Brock or Ted Simmons or Joe Torre for the first time. There was no cable television when I was a kid, and you got The Sporting News once a week—so it was a big deal to see these guys in person.
Speaking of The Sporting News, learning to score a game and read a box score. The first time you wrote 6-4-3, or 2B, or colored in the diamond when someone scored. The horrible struggle to comprehend and figure out an earned run average. Why was batting average so much easier?
The roar of the crowd the first time you saw the home team drive in a run and win in the bottom of the ninth. The dejected look of the visiting outfielder as his gait slowed and he watched the game winner sail over his head and into the stands.
I’m sure you have your own list. To paraphrase Terence Mann from Field of Dreams, “…memories…so thick you have to brush them away from your face.”
Get ‘em out. Every single one. Baseball is back, spring is upon us, and hope breathes eternal. Play ball.
(Due to technical difficulties...I had to help Hoov post this blog. Great blog Hoov! I am just sorry that lame ass Spruz would not allow me to post his pictures)
It’s been a rough week to be a Ravens cheerleader. Earlier in the week, Molly Shattuck - once the oldest cheerleader in the league at age 37 was charged with rape and unlawful sexual contact on a 15-year old boy. I’m not sure what happened - apparently someone at school heard stories and called her out - but from what I can gather, at one point she had him and her kid staying at a beach place, he left, said he’d be back, but never returned. It’s just really creepy that her kids go to the same school and that she somehow decided it would be good hunting ground.
Then during Sunday’s game with the Titans, a cheerleader went up, up, up into the air, and obviously came down, but it seems the rest of the squad forgot to catch her. Predictably, she lands on her mellon and gets carted off the field. `
Of course, it doesn’t end there for teams named after birds. The Seahawks live mascot took off and landed on someone’s head. Then again, the Seahawks crushed the Giants...and even though the Ravens won, they’re still behind the Browns. That’s got to hurt.
My team didn’t even play this week and still came out winners - The Bills and Dolphins both threw their games away. The lowly Jets actually won, but in so doing they helped the Pats by taking down the Steelers. The Pats really couldn’t have gained more ground if they did play. I’m trying to figure out who could’ve seen the Jets beating the Steelers - Big Ben had something like 10 touchdowns in the last two weeks and then gets completely shut down? Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, former Falcons and Eagles QB Mike “The Pitbull” Vick became the first quarterback in NFL history to run for 6,000 yards. I just don’t know how desirable it is to have your QB running all over the place. Evidence? He’s 61-52. Obviously, a lot influences whether a quarterback wins or loses, but if your guy is running for 6000 yards, he’s not getting rid of the ball - and if he’s not getting rid of the ball, he either can’t see an open receiver (or more to the point, anticipate when a receiver will be open) or doesn’t trust his backs. It’s an advantage to be mobile, but I wonder if in his case he’s relied on it more than he should have. At any rate, turns out he’s quite the teammate.
The other New England team - the Revolution - took a 4-2 aggregate goal lead (4 away goals, which are important) into the second leg of their playoff series with the Columbus Crew. As long as they lost by no more than 2 goals they were set to advance to the conference finals against the New York Red Bulls. They dispatched the Crew 3-1. Bring on New York. In the meantime, New England midfielder Lee Nguyen is getting called up to the US National Men’s Team.
It is the most wonderful time of year! No, I am not referring to Christmas. Instead, I am referring to the NFL playoffs which for a handful of teams truly begin this weekend. While I am not going to even attempt to provide an accurate run down of all the potential playoff scenarios it is evident that for the Cardinals, Eagles, Cowboys, Dolphins, Ravens, Bears, Lions, Packers, and Chargers a loss most likely spells a blue, blue Christmas. That is a lot of teams needing a win in the final week or weeks to even have a chance at a wild card appearance. However, out of this assorted group of struggling teams only the Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, and Bears have a chance to secure a division. Potentially, this means that two 8-8 teams could end up hosting a first round playoff game. This brings me to my point of protest. This season, like the many preceding it, has plenty of teams with better overall records then the certain division winners even if those teams win out. For example, if San Francisco wins out they would have to travel to Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Detroit, or Philadelphia even though they posted a better win-loss record by as many as two games. A similar situation can occur to New Orleans or Carolina because the losers of this weekend’s head-to-head inevitably cannot win the division. Meaning that after such an impressive season the Saints would be subject to winning all their remaining games on the road, a task which has recently been a much tougher task than anticipated. Kansas City will also find itself in an eerily similar situation, a frankly I was hoping to see a return of playoff football to Arrowhead! Therefore, the question needs to be asked if the NFL should address its playoff seeding and rid of divisional titles guaranteeing home games for Wild Card teams?
You can probably gather my opinion simply by judging the tone of this post. However, in a more general sense the best of the worst teams should not be rewarded simply because they limped and lucked their way into the playoffs. Is this the NFL’s way of ensuring that all the playoff games remain as close as possible? Is this their way of enlisting more drama as we can occasionally get the improbable upset of a 7-9 Seahawks team vs. an 11-5 Saints team? If so then I suppose the NFL has a minute point, but that does not mean I have to agree or like it. Instead, I feel that the opposite is true a higher percentage of the time. Simply put reward the teams with the best record not the teams who struggle the whole season and end up in the playoffs because they play in a weaker division.
Happy Friday, Gabbers. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I don’t indulge much in mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pies, bread, etc. usually for health reasons, but on Thanksgiving I say “To Hal with it” and indulge for my annual orgy of hideous parades on television, vast quantities of food, and of course football. This week, since I plan to be in a food coma most of the afternoon, I figured I’d get started a little early with the Sports Spectacular this week and have a plan and all that crap. Since I wasted my Thanksgiving rant LAST week, this week I’d switch gears and focus on some free agency and hot stove baseball.
First off, the Dodgers did not take long to get involved. They signed former Oakland/Arizona starting pitcher Dan Haren to a one-year $10 million deal. A lot of cash, but a decent move. No longer a Cy Young pitcher, he is solid (when healthy) and is a good back end of rotation veteran. Courtesy of Jonah Keri of Grantland.com:
In Haren's final 15 starts of 2013 (plus a one-inning save), he threw 87⅔ innings, amassing a tidy 3.29 ERA with 84 strikeouts, 18 walks, nine homers allowed, and an opponent's’ line of just .228/.271/.355.
Of course, that deal looks great when you see the Royals throwing money at back end of the rotation starter Jason Vargas from the Los Angeles/Anaheim/California Angels. Four years and $32 million is a lot of money for a franchise in Kansas City with a lot of holes to fill. Yes, Kansas City got over .500, but Vargas does not buy a championship.
The Royals already made one questionable pitching decision last year when they dealt prospect outfielder Wil Myers to the Tampa Rays for pitcher James Shields. I am usually the first to shout out that stockpiling pitching is a must decision, but not at the expense of young power hitters. In less than a year, Myers has established himself as one of the most exciting young prospects and jumped right into the middle of the Tampa lineup. Shields is a decent third starter.
If the Royals were a contender loaded with young power hitters locked up long term and a starting pitcher away from contending and Myers was in single-A, then maybe (MAYBE!) you make that deal. But that was just an effort to be relevant by the Royals that will hurt for years and years to come as Myers becomes a perennial all-star and Shields remains...Shields….turning 32 years old this season. .
Speaking of the Rays, they kicked off the catching signings with re-signing 39 year old Jose Molina to a two year contract. It amazes me that the catching situation in MLB is so weak that an almost 40 year old catcher with little hitting ability, any inability to actually run the bases (he’d drop dead of a heart attack if he ever hit a triple), but can still call a game gets a multi-year deal. That said, I was hoping Boston would sign him.
Last year in the playoffs, the Red Sox made it clear that the catching position was to be emphasized for defense, receiving skills, and handling the pitching staff. Catching has become such a complex and specialized part of the pitching process, that teams really do not need to chase offense at the position. For Boston, the pitching staff enjoyed having the veteran behind the dish and it showed with great performance after great performance. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had some decent power numbers for a catcher, but Boston did not tender him an offer and made him a free agent in the prime of his career. The only guess there is that the Sox want to find a complementary veteran to split duties with Ross, or believe Salty will be available cheaper later in the winter.
Speaking of catchers, the big move was the Yankees jumping in with big money for Braves catcher Brian McCann. McCann gets what will likely be six years for $100 million. For the Yankees, they filled a black hole they created last year (for no logical reason) with arguably one of the best free agent on the market. Think of it this way: if Joe Mauer or Buster Posey were free agents, what would their market look like? Then look at McCann’s numbers next to theirs...suddenly, McCann looks like a bargain.
McCann’s lefty power makes him a threat at Yankee Stadium (see Curtis Granderson’s inflated home run totals at home) and although he is 30 years old--which is kind of old for a catcher with wear and tear and all--he’s the youngest starter on the roster right now. McCann would be a terrible fit in a market like Boston which is tough on lefties (unless they have David’s Ortiz’s power) with Fenway Park’s 380 ft power alley in right, but no other stadium inflates his power numbers like it will in New York.
Of course, for all the Yankees do in free agency, all eyes are on Robinson Cano and how much he can get out of the Yankees Steinbrenner family vault. One infielder on the move was Jhonny Peralta who went to St. Louis for four years and $52 million. Seeing Peralta in the postseason following his suspension showcased his value, while the Cardinals had a black hole there with Pete Kozma and his automatic out.
To make room, the Cardinals traded David Freese away to the Angels and got back an intriguing center fielder in Peter Bourjos. Bourjos is a great defensive player who has been hampered by injuries. He’s just 27 years old and is still three years from free agency. His bat is the issue (besides those injury issues) but can be dynamic on the basepaths if he finds his way on base.
For the Angels, Bourjos was excess in their high price outfield. David Freese is a good fit for them as a great fit for third base (speaking of black holes!) and since there are no good third basemen available in free agency, this move makes sense for them. Of course, they need pitching first and foremost in Los Angeles/Anaheim/California and with Vargas already lost in free agency they need some help. So the first (of likely many more) is grabbing relief pitcher Joe Smith to help the bullpen (which needs lots of love). Expect the Angels to make some noise in the pitching market throughout the winter.
The big trade of the offseason, of course, was the Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder megadeal. I love those straight-up all-star for all-star trades. The Detroit contingent at the Gab has covered the trade already so I won’t belabor it much, but I like these win-win trades when both teams fill a need and get rid of a player they don’t want. The Tigers dump a player they did not want back and had a huge investment in to a Rangers team desperate to replace some missing power. With that power back, the Rangers also get to play both Elvis Andrus and prospect Jurickson Profar everyday in the middle of the infield.
For the Tigers, it is almost $140 freed up long term getting rid of Fielder after his putrid post-season. Miggy Cabrera moves back to first base (that cheering sound is the Tigers pitchers who do not have to deal with his glove at third base). With Omar Infante a free agent, Kinsler slides into a position where at his worst he is an upgrade over Infante. Now with some extra cash, the Tigers can look to grab an outfielder as well.
That about sums it up for now in free agency. Sorry about the no football this week, but anyone interested in my mad NFL ramblings online this week can check me out here:
You can laugh at me talking the NFL each week now on the (Internet) Radio show “NFL Shotgun” Find it every Monday night at 9PM eastern time with the NFL guys from H4TV and feel free to call in and add your thoughts and opinions to the show. Find it here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sportsbar1/2013/11/26/nfl-shotgun
Cover32.com with a Patriots recap and Patriots Thanksgiving:
Thank you as always for indulging me and allowing me to share my thoughts and opinions here with such a great group of sports fans at the Gab. I am certainly thankful for that. Have a great holiday weekend and hope we call get time off to relax and eat vast quantities of leftovers and watch sports all weekend long! Have a great weekend, all.
I know most people don’t talk about NFL Realignment since the teams haven’t changed in a while, but I just think it would make sense. I think there are a lot of fans who end up watching weird games because many of the divisions don’t fit well on the map. I don’t think anyone will listen to me, but I thought it was nice to think about. Let me just start out with a map of how I think it should look, and I’ll have some discussion below.
Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.
I also made an alternate version that puts the Texas teams in the same division with the Saints and Falcons while placing the Missouri teams in the NFC West: http://i.imgur.com/QysTKW0.gif
The Saints and Falcons, rivals since the Saints’ first season in 1967 (which was the Falcons’ second season), stay together. It makes a lot of sense to break up the current AFC South. A division stretching from Jacksonville to Houston to Indianapolis for the sake of keeping everyone in the same conference was silly. If it’s not immediately obvious, I’ll explain why the Dolphins were left out below, but I thought at least two of the Florida teams should stay together. Tampa Bay has already been playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans.
I know the first three teams are used to playing the Cowboys, but I think they’ll get over it. It just makes too much sense in my opinion to have Baltimore playing Washington and Philadelphia in particular.
I can only really talk about my own experiences as a Saints fan in how I look at such changes. I did have a bit of nostalgia for the regular 49ers games over the weekend, but it just didn’t have much to it beyond football. Atlanta, on the other hand, goes a lot deeper. If you’re in New Orleans, you probably know people in Atlanta or from Atlanta. There is a lot of overlap of the two fan bases, not only in moving from one city to the other but also in places like Alabama. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, that instantly added a lot of fuel to the rivalry because even though it’s not as close as East Coast cities, St. Louis is still considered a nearby big city and there was a lot of interplay between Rams fans and Saints fans.
Anyway, you get over playing an opponent just because you’re used to it. I think with the logical passions that would develop in the actual geographic area, the Cowboys would be forgotten fairly easily.
As for the Ravens, I think the fact that Cleveland and Cincinnati were not natural rivals added to the intensity of the rivalry with the Steelers. But if you remember, that developed fairly quickly. It hasn’t even been 20 years since football returned to Baltimore.
The NFC North (Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit) should remain the same.
A lot of people in Texas don’t seem to have noticed they have another team yet. Maybe by having the Texans play the Cowboys, people will realize this. I thought it was a really good fit to combine the two Texas teams with the two Mountain time zone teams. The Cardinals are technically in the Mountain time zone all year, but I do realize they’re two hours off for the first couple of months of the season since most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Other than habit, I don’t see how it makes sense to have two teams in Texas and insist they play in two different conferences and also to have two teams in Missouri and insist they play in two different conferences. Since Texas makes a lot more sense with Arizona, I decided to put that pair in this division.
Basically, you have the two Ohio teams, and then you add a team from either side of the state. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati have been playing one another as long as I remember. I clearly remember the Houston Oilers being in that division. Other than trying to break up the AFC East or NFC North, there is no other place that makes sense for the Colts.
I just mentioned the old AFC Central (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston), but I couldn’t think of a better name for this one. St. Louis and Kansas City are naturals, and Tennessee and Carolina are more leftovers, but that could be a good rivalry too. Tennessee does border North Carolina. I also toyed with trying to put everyone but Kansas City in some kind of Southern division, but ultimately either the AFC North or one of the Eastern divisions was going to need a Southeastern team, so I went with the Dolphins since they’re already in the AFC East. They’re all in the in-between zone between the North/Midwest and the Deep South.
Like the NFC North, this one remains the same. I already explained why I decided to leave Miami here. It’s the only spot on the map that doesn’t make any sense, but I couldn’t see any logical way to change this.
The 49ers preceded the AFL by only about 10 years, and the rest were all AFL teams. I know the 49ers have been in the NFC the whole time, but Seattle would be back where they belong, in my opinion. The 49ers and Seahawks are already familiar with each other from recent years, and I think it would be fun seeing the rivalry between the Seahawks and Raiders renewed. Chargers/Seahawks won’t get anyone excited, but San Diego will still be playing Oakland, and San Francisco would be an added bonus. I think that would make up for the loss of Denver (a good ways away from San Diego anyway), and Kansas City was never the best fit with the West Coast teams.