Sunday, April 1, 2018

Seasons Worth Savoring

I can't recall when I've looked forward to a baseball as much as this one. Four days into the season, I'm savoring it already, and will celebrate by resuming the blog I have neglected for too long to mention. I have in mind a weekly round-up of the things that strike me as I experience baseball in 2018.

Another season I savored was the one just past, the one that the folks here in Oregon call winter. A year ago I lived 15 miles from Cooperstown in central New York, where on March 14, we got 43 inches of snow. That's the day I started packing for Oregon. I got out of Dodge just before the marshal, I mean winter, struck again, and by mid-November I had landed here in Salem, Oregon. I wore my old winter coat once all "winter" here, and I'm not even sure where my snow-shoveling boots are. I left the shovel behind when I moved.

I've already been to one ballgame, a one-hour drive down to Eugene to see the University of Oregon Ducks defeat UC-Davis, 4-1. The game featured a half-dozen great fielding plays, a half-dozen hit batters, not many strikeouts, and no home runs, a fine ballgame to start my season. I expect to see baseball in Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, and Portland at the very least over the next six months. Seattle? Maybe.

More than that, I've been looking forward to enjoying the major leagues from the West Coast. Unless you have lived in the Pacific time zone, you can't appreciate the difference from the East Coast. I lived in the West for nearly 30 years, so this is going back home for me in a way that moving to Cooperstown wasn't. It is a move from limited to unlimited baseball.

Take today. A little after 10am, the Mets-Cardinals game came on the radio. Yesterday, I got to watch the Mets and Cardinals on the MLB Network. I'm a Reds and Mets fan, and I'll catch as many of their games as I can on the radio. It was a pleasure to listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin call two of the games at Citi Field to start the season. This afternoon, I had one game (Angels-A's) on the TV and another (Mariners-Indians) on the radio. The Mariners are my "local" team this season, so I'll watch a ton of their games.

That's the biggest difference. It's tough to catch that late-night action in the East. There's a narrow slot for most people to watch a game--7 or 7:30 until 10 or 11. That's it. The viewing window is twice as wide on the West Coast (I get my radio coverage on on weekdays and all day long on the weekends. It's a feast, and I'm going to enjoy every bit of it.

People of my generation grew up listening to baseball on radio. When I was a kid, I could catch the broadcasts of ten of the 16 major league teams at night, and during the day, a game was often the background accompaniment to whatever else we were doing. I got away from listening to games in New York except in the car. Since I'll be doing more writing this year, I expect to have a game to listen to much of the time, more than one to watch.

So here's what caught my attention over the first four days:

  1. Things We Haven't Seen Since the Deadball Era: In 1915, third baseman Joe Schultz Sr. of Brooklyn batted cleanup on Opening Day and leadoff in their second game. Schultz is better known as the father of Joe Schultz Jr., famous for advocating the pounding of Budweiser after each game played by the team he managed, the 1969 Seattle Pilots, immortalized in Ball Four. It didn't happen again until this year, when Mets second baseman Asdrubel Cabrera, whose normal position in the lineup is second, batted cleanup on Opening Day (going hitless) and leadoff in their second game (with two doubles and a single). 
  2. The other thing we hadn't seen in our lifetimes was echoed today in Oakland, where Shohei Ohtani became the first player since Babe Ruth in 1919 to start in the "field" on Opening Day and be a starting pitcher within ten days, 85 pitches, or 142 visits to the mound, whichever comes first. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Ohtani lived up to expectations? In his debut as a designated hitter, he singled on the first pitch he saw, and he began even more impressively today. He fanned two A's and got a foul popup in the first inning, but met reality in the second inning when a fat pitch resulted in a three-run home run. I thought he might be quickly going to way of Clint Hartung and other two-way bombs, but he regrouped quickly and 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. He left with only three hits allowed in six innings, and he got the win in his debut. He'll be worth watching some more.
  3. Things We Haven't Seen Before at All: We saw the highest strikeout in one day in MLB history on Opening, as baseball's free swingers whiff their way toward a 10K/game pace. . .In the first three days of the season, we saw two starting pitchers go six hitless innings before granting their managers' requests to park their asses on the bench the rest of the game, leaving the relievers to blow both no-nos. . .We also saw the first bullpen overdose of the season, but this wasn't an overdose just for the relievers, who are weeks away from being overworked. No, the culprit was new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. It wasn't that he made 18 pitching changes in three games -- but it dizzied him more than the rest of us, to the point where he popped out of the dugout and signaled for a reliever who wasn't even warming up. Welcome back to the dugout, Gabe. Captain Hook you aren't.
  4. Things We'd Better Get Used To: All kinds of home runs. Lots of two-homer games, plus Matt Davidson, who last year struck out in 40% of his at-bats and whose 26 home runs were balanced by a .260 on-base percentage, becoming just the fourth player to belt three home runs on Opening Day. And one more thing that is a sure sign of the times: the Opening Day, tenth-inning walk-off hit that wasn't, when a safe call on an eyelash-close play was overturned by a replay committee a thousand miles away, the Tigers didn't win just yet, and finally they didn't win at all as the Pirates prevailed, 13-10, in 13 innings. 
  5. And finally, Things We'd Better Enjoy While They Last: Ichiro's return to Seattle brought joy to the hometown fans, who gave him a mammoth ovation on Opening Day. I had thought that the Mariners should simply advertise that Ichiro will bat at least once in every home game, like the daily pinch-hitter he became in Miami last season. But no, he played left field in their opening series, had a two-hit game yesterday, and made a highlight-reel catch, leaping high to rob someone of a home run, a feat somehow made to seem nearly impossible for a 44-year-old, judging from the media hyperbole. It isn't anything he hasn't done before, folks. Let's just enjoy him while he lasts. 
That's a useful mantra for any new baseball season, of course. Let's enjoy this season while it lasts. It's only 180 days plus playoffs. Wondrous things will happen every day, every week. Perplexing things too. I expect to relish every day of it. I'll let you know how that goes. 


Jim said...

I'm as excited as you are Gabe, and my Nats are off to a good start, sweeping your Reds and hitting lots of home runs. Good starts by all 3 pitchers, and adequate defense. I look forward to reading your stuff during the year.

Unknown said...

All great, mostly uplifting reasons to welcome in the new season. Of course, more traditional rites of Spring tend to bring you back down to earth like, say, one of the Mets pitchers (Swarzak) is already hurt.