Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Eve

The United States government is going bankrupt, unemployment remains at 10%, and the NBC series Chuck* is at risk of being cancelled. But as far as I’m concerned, all is right with the world because, ladies and gentlemen, baseball is back!

* Seriously, I have completely fallen for Chuck. I’m mildly embarrassed by this; should I be?

So as I bask in the glow of the Mets' ritual Opening Day victory (32-9 on ODs since the 69 Miracle Mets), I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you.

Naming the Day
These days its unclear which day actually is Opening Day. Was it Sunday night when the New York Billionaires lost to the Boston Multi-Millionaires? Or Monday, when the other 30 teams get their mojo on? Well, here at FreeTime, we don’t complain, we propose solutions.

Let me start by saying I have no problem with change and innovation. Folks who sit around growling that the Cincinnati Reds should kick off every season at Noon on Monday because “Dadgum it, that’s how we did it when I was a boy” are trapped in a time warp. They should stick to the New York Times sports section and their lineup of octogenarian columnists who think 1950’s New York baseball should be frozen in amber and replayed over and over and leave modern baseball to the rest of us.

That said the Sunday night game has caused a bit of a linguistic problem. Monday is the true Opening Day, with 15 games played across the continent, grown men scheming to leave work early, with sunshine and American flags and hot dogs and rookie debuts and “recording artists”* you’ve never heard of singing the National Anthem.

* That would be a good name for a band, The Recording Artists. “And now, to sing the National Anthem, Columbia recording artists, The Recording Artists!”

Where was I? Right, our linguistic problem. Some have proposed we call Sunday night Opening Night, but c’mon, this isn’t theater. This is Baseball with a Capital B. Opening Day is a holiday, not a show making its debut and hoping not to be cancelled. (Okay, it was cancelled in 1994. But that was different).

We are all very comfortable with the concept of Eves. December 24 is Christmas Eve, December 25 is Christmas Day. December 31 is New Year’s Eve; January 1 we nurse our hangover and watch East Illinois State play Acorn University in the Fremulon Insurance Who Gives a Crap Bowl. Why not do the same thing for Opening Day?

From here on, Sunday Night is Opening Eve and Monday is Opening Day. My will be done. Now let’s move on to other, more pressing issues.

Sympathy for the Devil
And what a wonderful Opening Eve! The New York Stormtroopers blew a 4-run lead with their best pitcher on the mound. The Yankees are in last place!

But of course they won’t stay there. How glorious it must be to be a Yankee fan. To root for a team that finishes in 1st place nearly ever season, a team that plays in October nearly every season. A team for whom Opening Eve really is like Christmas Eve, because Daddy George has bought us the most expensive toys in the off-season.

To root for a team that has won 1/3 of all the Championships since the Hoover Administration. Think about that.

There are some 120 teams in the 4 major sports in North America. Throw in the major college football and basketball teams and we’re talking almost 200 teams with serious rooting interests.

But none of them has a sustained record of winning like the New York Yankees, not even close. The Lakers you say? Please. Ruth, Mantle and Company had 20 rings before the Lakers even moved to California. North Carolina basketball? Yanks had more titles during Clinton’s second term than the Tar Heels have racked up since Dean Smith’s first season.

But there is a dark side to all this winning. A basic human truth is that when something is hard it is more rewarding. Reading Shakespeare, drinking single-malt scotch and running a marathon are significantly harder than reading James Patterson, drinking Coors Light and watching a sitcom while eating an entire bag of Cheetos. But the rewards are far greater.

Being a sports fan offers the same rewards. Sports teams are supposed to follow some natural arc – promise, disappointment, dejection, promise again, heartbreaking loss – and then, occasionally, a championship! The sweetness of that title is accentuated by the depth of the despair.

Ask a New York Rangers fan about the 1994 Stanley Cup and you’ll hear a game-by-game breakdown of the entire playoff run. Ask a Yankee fan who they beat in the 1999 World Series and you’ll get, quite often, a thoughtful frown followed by an answer with a question mark. “The Braves? No, that was ninety, um, six. Wait, okay, Braves were 96, then 98 was the 114 wins and they beat the Pa-a-a-a-dres…and of course 2000 was the Mets! Maybe it was the Braves again. I dunno. Doesn’t matter.”

It’s like being a drug addict. The high is awesome at first, but eventually it loses its power to excite. In fact, for some portion of Yankee Nation last year’s title was like a junkie’s relief at the moment the needle goes in.

So today, my friends, as the Yankees defend yet another title, I ask for just a little sympathy.

Hope Springs Eternal
Oh, who am I kidding? It must be awesome to be a Yankee fan.

My team, the New York Metropolitans, is in one of those deep, jagged valleys that teams not named the Yankees occasionally find themselves. In 2006 they ran away with the NL East and had a lead late in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But then, well, if you’re still reading this you know what happened next. Stunning collapses in 07 and 08, and an avalanche of injuries in 2009.

But it’s April and every fan from Kansas City to Seattle and everywhere in between should be filled with hope. Here’s my quickie case for Mets hope: And yes, I know that if ifs and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas. And my case for Metsie Hope is drowning in ifs and buts. But dadgum it, it’s Opening Day!

- If Jose Reyes comes back (as expected) and Carlos Beltran comes back (who knows?), the foursome of Reyes/Wright/Beltran/Bay is pretty fearsome. Throw in a bit of Francouer power, Castillo’s .390 OBP and 20 steals, and you’re gonna score some runs.

- Only five closers have strung together 5 consecutive 35-save seasons. Two of them are over 40. K-Rod is one of the other three. He’s as close to a sure thing you get this side of the Bronx.

- Yes, the starting rotation is filled with question marks, but question marks are better than negative answers, no? John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey have all proved they can pitch on the major league level, and all are young enough to have strong seasons in them. Last year was rough and spring training worse, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these guys won 15 games with a low 4 ERA.

And if not, it'll be easier to get good seats at CitiField this year!

Carthago delendo est
Allow me to repeat a rant from last year, a point I plan on remaking in all future baseball pieces moving forward.

"Maybe I'm a little OCD, but it drives me crazy that the AL West has 4 teams, the NL Central has 6, and the other four divisions have 5 teams. Isn't that unfair? Everything else being equal, an AL West team has a 25% chance of winning the division, whereas an NL Central team has a - um, hold on, let me get my calculator - shoot, I dunno, a 17% chance. Something like that. And it's not like this is a hard problem to fix. You simply take the Brewers, who used to be in the AL anyway, and move 'em to the AL West. Voila! Six teams with 5 divisions each! Why don't they do that? Oh wait, I remember..."

1 comment:

The Independent Rage said...

Opening day is a wonderful time for baseball fans everywhere, except those that reside where I do -- Kansas City. Here, opening day is the just the initial salvo down the annual road of hopelessly bad baseball.