Thursday, March 1, 2007

5 Stories I'll Be Watching

Ahhhh spring in Boston. That means its snowing out right now (2-4 inches expected). I'm not kidding. And I moved here why?

Today was the real beginning of spring training when teams begin playing each other. We get our first looks the new additions, the young unknowns, and the veterans ready for another year on the battlefield.

As teams prepare anew for the yearly dance, let us prepare as well for some of the more interesting plots of the new year. These stories will capture our attention as the year progresses and represent some of the reasons that baseball is our national pastime. For this post, I am going with all positive concepts so there will be no mention of steroids, Sen. Mitchell, or Barry Bonds. No, just as the teams get to look at the sunrise of this year with hope and optimism, so do we.

1. Young Superstars
Baseball is currently blessed with an abundance of young talent. Players with such gifts as to conjure images of Griffey, Clemens, and Ripken. Yes baseball can sit back and relax with the knowledge that the game is in good hands. Names like Mauer, Cabrera, Pujols, and Papelbon have elicited excitement among fans new and old. And they are plentiful. There are more names on the list like Markakis, Sizemore, and Wright. Soon Clemens, Pedro, Ramirez, and Maddux will be off to the Hall of Fame and our allegiance will turn to many of names I've already listed.

I think that other than winning a championship, there is nothing more excited, more breath-taking, more awe-inspiring than watch a young talented player make the leap into greatness. Seeing the combination of hard work, skill, talent, and drive come together to form a magical specimen of athletic excellence represents one of the aspects of sports that hooks us for life.

Update - Young Ryan Howard was mistakenly left off this list. He opitimizes the excitment of a young superstar. Big E for me.

2. 20 Game Winners
There are two types of football fans: those who like offensive and those who like defense. If asked about my favorite sports stars of my life, many defensive players are listed. When translated to baseball, defensive becomes pitching. Some fans love games that 1-0 and some find them boring. I happen to think that a good pitching battle is the beat theatre that baseball can provide. Two athletes up on the stage, battling each other despite never facing each other. Two managers using all of their resources to sway the game toward their favor.

To that end, seeing a pitcher reach the goal of 20 wins in a single season is a victory for all those who relish the pitching battle. Last year there were no such occurrences. No pitcher was able to reach that mark. In fact, in the last 3 years, we have been allowed to enjoy only 7 20 game winners. Let us hope that this year proves more fruitful for pitching.

3. Albert Pujols
When everything comes together correctly, and injuries are avoided, and the baseball gods are smiling, we get a player like Albert Pujols. His numbers don't even seem real. At this pace, Pujols will be said in the same breath as Mantle, Mays, and Frank Robinson. At such a young age to have accomplished so much and to seem so motivated to do more is a gift to us all.

Let us soak in every moment of his career. The man with tree trunks for legs will be fodder for our grandkids. Records could be shattered at this pace. But that line has been muttered before. When I grew up, we all assumed that Junior Griffey would hold every record in the book. We hoped for it. We felt a part of it. It was not too be. But maybe, just maybe, Pujols will give us that feeling again.

4. The AL East
Right behind winning a championship and maybe above watching a young player become great, is realizing that an underdog is going to overthrow the established, veteran team. The AL East happens to be occupied by two teams that expect to win every year. The fan bases are mirror images of each other at this point. The ownerships act the same. Its win it all at any cost (not saying that in a negative way).

But trouble brews below in the depths of the division. The Blue Jays have been building a contender for a couple years now. The Orioles are finally on the right path with some young talent and an upgraded bullpen. These two teams should be rooting for each other now. If either one causes upheaval in the division, it is a victory for baseball not just one team's fan base.

Sure, having Sox-Yanks is great for people who live off of 90 and those broadcasting from Bristol. But variety is the spice of life. We need change. Times always change, they need to. Is this the year that the Evil Empire and the Nation fall? Who knows. But we'll be watching to see if it does.

5. Records
One of baseball's magic qualities is its ability to provide something new every year. There is a possibility that every time you watch a baseball game, you will see something that has never happened before in the long history of our pastime. Will someone hit 5 hrs in a game? Will someone strike out 21 people? Can a team win more games than any team before it? How many grand slams will be see this year? How many stolen bases?

What will we see this year that we have never seen before? What unforeseen magic will baseball give to us? I don't know, but I will be watching for it....


The Agency said...

HoC, as an ex-DC'er now in Philly, let me throw Ryan Howard into the young superstars hat. I know I can't wait to get to a couple games this year in that sandlot of a park here. I have a running bet with some friends that even I could get one over the wall down the line at CBP. And as for the legends, its only a couple months till Cal gets his plaque in the HoF. I know I'll be there to cheer for him one last time.

Hustler of Culture said...

Wow, big miss on my part. You're completely right, he is absolutely in that conversation.

In fact, I'm going to update the post...