I Don’t Like March Opening Days

opening-day1-1553746313

Opening Day in baseball is a lot of things. It’s the start of a new season, obviously, but it’s also a sign of spring, a celebration of Americana, and a wellspring of hope for baseball fans all across the world. It’s also way too early.

March 28th isn’t a baseball day. It just isn’t. The Final Four hasn’t even been set yet and I’m watching sentient side of beef Luke Voit and the Yankees face the Orioles, who might have the worst roster I’ve ever seen in professional sports. That’s an “it’s late April/early May and the stuff I actually want to do today hasn’t started yet” activity, not late March. It’s too cold for baseball. It’s not hot dog weather, it’s not sitting outside for four hours doing nothing weather, it’s not lawn mowing weather, it’s just flat out not baseball weather. What’s the point of having Opening Day this early and on a Thursday? So it gets lost in the NCAA Tournament shuffle? Sick marketing strategy.

I’m just not ready for baseball. Maybe it’s more of a me thing, but I feel like this season really snuck up on me. Like Nate Eovaldi just put the team on his back for a million innings yesterday, now it’s time for a new 162? Getting old stinks, man. I used to be so on top of this stuff. I had every sport’s opening day circled on my calendar months in advance, had every storyline memorized, knew where literally every player in the league went to elementary school, the whole thing. Now I’m being semi-surprised by baseball’s Opening Day, the most sacred of all opening days. Those two Japan games had me feeling like the Mr. Krabs meme. Whatever, get me to July when there’s nothing else going on and I’ll be back. But what I do know is that the Red Sox won the World Series last year and are bringing back the same team this year. And this season figures to have some dormant teams in the playoff mix. The Phillies, Reds, Padres, and Mets could, at the very least, not be awful this year, and might flirt with being good. Maybe this is the year the Angels actually put a contender around Mike Trout. Doubt it, but that’s the allure of Opening Day. Anything can happen. Except, apparently, starting on an appropriate date.

Advertisements

Farewell Ichiro

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the 2019 MLB season actually started yesterday when the Mariners and A’s began a two-game set in Tokyo. That sentence doesn’t exactly move the needle for the American mainstream. But something monumental happened early this morning: Ichiro Suzuki, future Hall of Famer, played his last Major League Baseball game.

It’s tough to know where to start with Ichiro, especially for people who don’t remember his prime. I guess I’ll start with his numbers since they’re the only part of him that’s easy to quantify. He came to the MLB at age 27 after getting 1,278 hits with a .943 OPS in Japan and immediately won Rookie of the Year and MVP. His first 10 seasons in the league he made the All-Star Game every year, got over 200 hits every year, won a Gold Glove every year, won two batting titles, lead the league in hits seven times, and collected 2,244 hits and 383 steals. He was a beast and one of the best two-way outfielders in history who was underappreciated in his prime because he played in Seattle for a team that didn’t win a lot and in the early-to-mid 2000s we still didn’t really understand that counting wins and losses against a baseball player was kind of dumb. In 2004 guy set the record for hits in a season, won a Gold Glove, and lead the American League in WAR and finished 7th in MVP. Huh? Listen, the last eight years or so weren’t great, but the fact that he was still playing at all into his 40s is amazing. He’s the all-time hit leader if you combine his Japanese and MLB stats, and that’s really all you need to know. He’s a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Famer.

But if he was just another great player, he wouldn’t be Ichiro. Ichiro was just cool, man. Everything about him was cooler than everyone else around him. Fastest guy in the league? Cool. Absolute rocket arm that could gun people down at age 45? Cool. Unreal highlight catches? Cool. His sunglasses were cool. His stance was cool. The Mariners Ichiro number 51 jersey was cool as hell. Was he also a fashion icon?

ichiro

6

dxt4oowv4aalt4u

ichiro140326b

I’ll let you decide.

Ichiro, at least for me, is kind of the last remnant of a time I’m finding myself oddly nostalgic for (despite spending many, many words defending the current era). Ichiro came into the league two years before Moneyball was released and put us on the road to solving baseball. It was a time when speed mattered, guys actually put the ball in play, and teams had different styles of play. A time when the Three True Outcomes weren’t a widely-known concept. Don’t get me wrong, I love today’s game. But are steals and balls in play really that bad (don’t tell anyone, but I’m starting to feel this way about the NBA, too. I don’t need every game to be a Rockets game)? I wouldn’t say Ichiro wouldn’t be able to succeed in today’s homer-centric league, he’s too talented of a baseball player not to be able to adapt to any era. But his career would certainly be different, and I think it would be worse.

One of the best player profiles I’ve ever read was Wright Thompson’s piece on Ichiro from last year. He described Ichiro’s relationship with his father and how, even though he resented the endless drills and practicing, he became addicted to the craft. There’s a Japanese concept called kodawari (yes, I’m a mild weeb, but you already knew that) that’s, in essence, an extreme focus on and dedication to achieving perfection in whatever you’re doing even though you know perfection is impossible. To see Ichiro demonstrate this so clearly and come so close to finding perfection with something he doesn’t even really like is fascinating to me. Part of me wonders if we’ll ever really see Ichiro again, but something tells me he’s going to enjoy his retirement too much to come back to the game. Thnks fr th Mmrs, Ichiro.

How is there a Torii Hunter, Jr. in Spring Training Already?

b9328486009z.1_20170715194105_000_g73j0rk2j.1-0

I was perusing my MLB At Bat™ mobile application this weekend just getting ready for the upcoming baseball season and catching up on Spring Training storylines when I was slapped directly in the face by what has to be a false flag headline. I’m paraphrasing here, but it said something along the lines of “Torii Hunter, Jr. Powers Angels.” I immediately knew this to be incorrect, since there is no possible way that Torri Hunter, former All-Star centerfielder who retired in 2015 already has progeny in the professional baseball ranks. But, sadly, I then remembered that I already knew about THJ because he played football at Notre Dame. Following a minor breakdown where I was questioning my own transience, I began to accept this preposterous fact that Torii Hunter, who had his first MLB at-bat in 1998, had a son that was fighting for a major league spot (he’s only three and a half years younger than me, though, so maybe I’ve still got some time to make the show).

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about athlete’s sons (and daughters, too. It’s 2019, after all) and what leads to them being good or not. This isn’t an original thought, but the quality of the offspring is almost always inversely related to the parent’s ability, and Torii Hunter might have been a little too good to produce a quality major league baseball player. MJ’s kids? Stunk at basketball. LeBron’s kids have yet to make the NBA. Roger Clemens’s kids are all coaches now. They can’t be too bad, though. The sweet spot is role player to quality player. Dell Curry’s kid is good. Bobby Bonds and Ken Griffey, Sr. both had sons make the major leagues. Pat Mahomes, Sr. has a professional athlete son. The lone exception seems Vlad Guerrero, Jr., but they always say the exception proves the rule, which is a concept that makes no sense whatsoever because if a rule is something that is always true, how could the existence of something that proves the rule isn’t always true actually prove that the rule is always true? But yeah, thinking about which athletes would make the best kid. Here are my top nominees:

cvf6vnjznw1wjw26pjme

Robert Swift– I’ve said it before, but the time Robert Swift showed up one day with two full tattoo sleeves was one of the most shocking moments in NBA history. He sucked but had prototypical NBA size. If he can pass down that size and his son learns the 2019 big man skill set, we could be looking at the ginger Porzingis. The biggest hurdle may be finding a willing partner.

23561900-standardjpg-dfbc37950e425093

Matt Stafford– If you can’t imagine Matt Stafford, Jr. having a 6,000 yard season at Oklahoma State in 2042 then we just aren’t watching the same sport.

furyk-640x360

Jim Furyk– Couldn’t tell you why, but I imagine Furyk’s son as a real mean outside linebacker.

Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards

Malcolm Brogdon– I’m gonna go a different direction, here. Malcolm Brogdon’s daughter is going to be a five- or six-time WNBA All-Star (yeah, I saw Captain Marvel on International Women’s Day, nbd).

593f196ceedd1.image_

Juan Pierre– Juan Pierre’s kids are going to be absolutely nasty at baseball. Just disgustingly filthy. A 50-50 season might be on the table.

tom_brady_patriots

Tom Brady– Come on, you think Tom’s seed isn’t magic?

Red Sox Win the World Series

Folks, it’s the seventh inning and I’m already typing this up. That’s how much the Red Sox have dominated the Dodgers. That’s how much they’ve dominated the entire league all season. The Boston Red Sox are World Champions once again.

The 18-inning loss would have broken most teams. Going down 4-0 the night after losing an 18-inning game would have broken every team. Every team except this Red Sox team. The ate the adversity and spit right back in the Dodgers’ face. Blowout in game 4. Blowout in game 5. One of the most anticlimactic championships I’ve ever experienced. And friends, I’ve experienced a lot of them. Five from the Patriots, four from the Red Sox, one each from the Celtics and Bruins, and two from UConn basketball while I was attending the school. Four if you just factor it all in. Imagine rooting for another group of teams? I can’t.

What a season. What a postseason. So many new Boston legends born in the blink of an eye. Steve Pearce the G.O.A.T. David Price bashed the haters’ brains in. I would die for Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, and Nate Eovaldi. Brock Holt might be the most reliable player on the team. If you told me how many future MVP Raffy Devers would win I wouldn’t believe anything under six. Mitch Moreland singlehandedly saved the season. No one will remember how much Mookie and J.D. sucked at the end since they both went deep and now we can just think of them as two of the top three MVP vote getters. Every time I think of Chris Sale’s speech I’m ready to run through the thickest brick wall ever constructed. If 2004 and 2013 never happened, this would be my favorite baseball team ever.

The only question that should be on anyone’s lips is this- Are the 2018 Boston Red Sox the best team of all time? 108 wins. 11-3 in the postseason against two 100-win teams and the loaded Dodgers. Second-most total wins by a title winner ever. Best offense, best defense, and apparently best pitching in the league. I’d put them against anyone in history. Maybe I’m just caught up in the hype. Although, after all these rings, the winning doesn’t feel quite as special as it used to and the losing feels worse. Good thing I don’t do much losing.

I Won’t Let People Forget About Nathan Eovaldi

I’m going to keep this brief since I’m courageously battling a cold/flu hybrid and staying up until 3:30 surprisingly didn’t help, but last night Nathan Eovaldi submitted a classic Forgotten Playoff Moments game, and I refuse to let him fade into obscurity.

Now, assuming the Red Sox still win the World Series, the likelihood of of him going the way of Chase Utley in 09 are reduced. But the fact that he was the losing pitcher in the longest playoff game ever doesn’t help things. Eovaldi dominated this game. As much as Walker Buehler (remember him?) owned the Sox, Eovaldi owned the Dodgers. 6 innings, one earned run, five strikeouts out of the bullpen when he’d pitched both games before? That should be legendary. Instead, he’ll just be a trivia answer.

Eovaldi put his nuts on the table and dared anyone to do something about it. Eventually, attrition won out. But those twelve hours in between when he entered and when the game ended? It should go down in playoff lore. It was one of the best pitching performances these eyes have ever seen. It reduced Rick Porcello to tears, for crying out loud! This game could have ended a million times before it actually did, but Eovaldi did all any person could have done to keep it going. When he was on the Yankees, I hated Eovaldi passionately. My least favorite player since Joba Chamberlain. I thought he sucked and was grossly overhyped. Now? I would die for him. That’s what playoff baseball does.

An Open Letter to Yankee Fans

yankees-ejection-2

Last night, the Boston Red Sox finally put the Yankees out of their misery. Eliminated them in four games (in Yankee Stadium, no less) to advance to the ALCS. This, of course, means that the Yankees will no, in fact, win the World Series this year. And that makes me sad for Yankee fans everywhere. I know I’ve been hard on this unlikable group of chain wearing, jersey unbuttoning, roided up, greasy, fake-Italian mouth-breathers who can only count to 27 and have an average IQ lower than Mariano Rivera’s postseason ERA, but I’d like to take a moment and give them a message of hope and inspiration:

Good luck in 2019.

MLB Playoffs Start Tonight

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox

Alright, I know my baseball coverage has been lacking this year, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. Some mixture of business and lethargy kind of hamstrung a lot of stuff I was planning to do during the summer, and baseball kind of got lost in the shuffle once football started. Nothing brings me back to the Pastime, though, than the postseason. The air gets a little crisper, the leaves turn, and buttholes clench tighter and tighter with every pitch, each one having the possibility to decide an entire season. I’ve discussed the baseball playoffs before, but there’s nothing quite like true unpleasantness of playoff baseball to remind everyone why baseball is great. It makes sense, trust me.

This year, there is a clear imbalance the leagues. The American League had three teams win 100 games and another that won its division by a thousand games. The National League had a bunch of good, not great teams. Christian Yelich, who will likely be named NL MVP, wouldn’t finish in the top five of American League voting. Even the A’s, surely the consensus pick for the weakest AL playoff team, would be favored against whomever wins the NL. I mean, no offense to the Braves, but they’re hosting a playoff series while the Yankees are in the Wild Card Game. That tells you all you need to know.

The biggest question, in my biased opinion, facing the league is who can beat the Red Sox? They put together one of the best seasons in franchise history and looked to be the best team in baseball for much of the year. The only problem is the bullpen is hot garbage outside Craig Kimbrel, and they had a troubling inability to beat the Indians, Astros, and Athletics. In case you forgot, those are three of the four playoff teams in the American League. Uh-oh. The Sox did comparatively well against the Yankees, but you’re asking for trouble if you want to face Judge and Stanton in a playoff series. The American League is an unforgiving gauntlet that will force teams to dig deeper than they’ve ever dug before and exhaust every possible option. Whoever wins the pennant will truly earn it. That’s kind of why I’m worried about the Sox. I love this team. It’s easily been my favorite iteration since at least 2013. But there’s just way more questions than there should be about a 108 win team. What happens if Chris Sale isn’t healthy and/or still isn’t great in the playoffs? What happens if the Yankees win the Wild Card and David Price has to pitch against them? Who pitches game 3? Who pitches in literally any inning besides the ninth if things get hairy? I know the offense will show up, and I know the defense will show up. But the pitching, AKA the most important thing in October, is very shaky. That, as they say, is bad. I’ve had a sinking feeling that all these wins would lead to an early exit with the wrong matchup. I’m confident the Sox will win their ALDS. But the Astros and Indians form a collective bugaboo that I’m not sure they can overcome. I’m just glad Alex Cora’s at the helm this time around.

The National League, despite (or, more likely, because of) the lack of juggernauts, is even murkier. The Braves are the only team I would be surprised to see in the Fall Classic, and even then they have enough elite talent to carry them through three weeks. The Cubs and Dodgers should probably be viewed as the two favorites, both because of the talent level and playoff pedigree, but the Cubs might not even survive tonight. The Brewers would be the logical successor to the Cubs position as NL Alpha, but their pitching is in even worse position than the Red Sox, and that’s saying something. The Braves are probably just happy to be there and have their eyes on the coming years. The Rockies, the proverbial Team Playing Well at the Right Time, are red hot and posses the rarest of commodities: pitchers that perform well in Coors Field. But they scored nearly 100 fewer runs on the road than they did at home, and they’re going on the road to play the Wild Card game. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are doing their darnedest to take baseball into the Super Team era, but all of their flashy acquisitions kind of didn’t do that great, and most of their superstars took a step back this season. Do you trust Max Muncy to carry the team? I don’t. Every single NL team has strengths and crippling weaknesses. Who do I think will win? Probably the Dodgers. It just feels like they have the deepest lineup and the deepest pitching. I’d love for the Rockies or Brewers to pull it out, but I just can’t see it.

So, yeah, playoff baseball is finally here. I’ve got a feeling this year’s gonna be something special, folks. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy grind out every second of the games.