Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Out of The Void

Even though snow fell here in Cooperstown this morning, baseball is here, and we are at long last out of The Void. That is what I have always called the off-season, that dark, bleak stretch of emptiness between the last World Series out and the first pitch of the next regular season. The baseball season is comforting because it is an everyday companion; during the winter, deprived of that intriguing and constantly surprising company, there is little comfort. Rogers Hornsby, when asked what he did during the winter, replied, "I stare out the window and wait for spring." I feel the same way. Even writing and reading about baseball during the winter, as enjoyable as it is, is no substitute for the daily parade of ballgames that starts with Opening Day and continues for the next six months.

Catholics deprive themselves of something dear during the 40 days of lent, but baseball fanatics are required to give up the games for roughly 150 days every winter. It is a strong test of our religion, but with the arrival of Opening Day, the deprivation endured once again, all is forgiven, all is new, and there are fresh happenings ahead to delight and distract us. We are out of The Void and able to renew that love affair with the game that is so great that it survives the people who run it.

The new season is only two full days old (I don't count the two-game barnstorming trip to Japan or the new-tradition solo game Sunday night), and already there have been many dramatic turns. To wit:

1) Pedro Martinez tweaked his hamstring last night and might be out indefinitely, spoiling the hard work he put in to bounce back from rotator-cuff surgery. For the Mets, it might be a case of "Santana and Maine and pray for rain."

2) Kosuke Fukudome made a glorious splash in his debut for the Cubs with a three-run game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, instantly endearing himself to the Wrigley Field crowd. Then it was business as usual for the Cubs, losing in extra innings.

3) In that same game, two high-profile pitchers trying to re-establish themselves after serious injuries both got bombed. With the game scoreless to the ninth inning, Kerry Wood surrendered three runs to the Brewers, whose new closer Eric Gagne promptly gave it right back when Fukudome took him deep. The jury will be out for awhile on Wood and Gagne, not to mention other big-name hurlers who will remain sidelined early in the season, including Curt Schilling, Mark Prior, and John Lackey.

4) Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa got tossed out of a game for arguing balls and strikes and subsequently went nuts, neither of which is out of the ordinary. It does reinforce the notion of Joe Torre and Bowa as the "good cop/bad cop" act of major league baseball. After two years in New York, they have taken their act to Hollywood, and it took only two games for Bowa to audition for his new audience.

5) In an era when relief pitching is suspect, we've already seen teams blow substantial leads in the late innings, which is always fun for the spectator, whether he's at the ballpark, watching on television, or following the action on a computer screen. The Pirates blew a 9-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth at Atlanta, but won in 12 innings. The Indians blew a 7-2 lead to the White Sox but prevailed 10-8. The Nationals let a 6-2 lead get away in Philadelphia before scoring five runs in the ninth to win 11-6. Whatever your team is, get used to those hair-raising finishes where the lead you thought was safe evaporates, and where every win seems like a miracle.

That's the smorgasbord of baseball pleasures awaiting us this and every season, as we emerge from The Void and let the daily devouring begin.

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