24 February 2009
The smell of hot dogs cooking on their rollers. The pristine green grass, perfectly manicured, sodded, and lovingly graced with chalk lines. The roar of an excited crowd four months removed from the thrill of gameday. The feeling of that ragged and worn-down glove - the one with the laces half coming undone - gripping a brand-new ball. The electric tingle that shakes the stadium as the National Anthem finishes and the umpire announces two words to start the season: "Play ball!" These sensations signal the renaissance of Spring Training baseball in early March, the rebirth of a sport doomed to relinquishing the public attention span for four months to football, basketball, and hockey. A renewal of the American pastime which has announced the arrival of springtime after the white death of winter since 1857, though the game's origins stretch back centuries to the French clerics of 1344. As you may be able to tell, especially if you've been a regular reader of my rantings and ravings since this blog's inception one year and one week ago today, I love baseball. I love watching the progression of the game; how each game always becomes unique despite starting with the same basic rules as a never-changing shell. I love the excitement of scoreboard-watching, even as early as mid-April to get a sense of how the Major Leagues' 30 professional teams are going to do this year. I even love the Fantasy Baseball aspect of the modernity of the sport, even though I've ended up dead last or next-to-last every season I've played! As of tomorrow, the first Spring Training games of the 2009 MLB season begin in Arizona and in Florida, the homes of all 30 teams until late March, when they head to their home stadiums. And until MY team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, heads to the BOB (it will never cease to be the BOB no matter which corporation owns it!) to try to dispel the notion that the only teams in the league worth watching are those on the East Coast. As a brief outlook to the 2009 D-Backs season, consider the following: 1. Pitching: The Diamondbacks still have both Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, along with Doug Davis. This alone makes them one of the better pitching teams in all of baseball. The Webb-Haren one-two punch is reminiscent of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001, when the team won the World Series. Speaking of Johnson, though, he has left and joined another NL West team, the San Francisco Giants, leaving some big shoes to fill for the new fourth man in the rotation, Jon Garland. Back from the minors, again, is Max Scherzer, the kid who garnered 13 strikeouts in his first MLB pitching start - a record, by the way - for #5. If the game were all about pitching, I'd imagine we could win the pennant every year. Unfortunately, it's not. 2. The Infield: The biggest, and saddest change in the infield is the deal that just happened on Friday. The D-Backs traded Orlando Hudson (2B) to the LA Dodgers for their first-round pick (17th overall) and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. For you non-baseball junkies, that means we could get some really good players, or not. In Hudson's place will be sophomore player Felipe Lopez, supplemented by Augie Ojeda. Granted, Lopez does a lot better on the road than at home, which could be beneficial to the team, which struggled on away games all last year, but on the downside, we just lost a multiple-Gold Glove award-winning second baseman, who was kind of a staple on the team. The rest of the infield is stacked just like last year, Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero as catchers, Stephen Drew at shortstop, Mark Reynolds at third, and back from microfracture knee surgery, Chad Tracy at first base. 3. The Outfield: Well, this is the tricky part. On the one hand, theoretically Eric Byrnes is healthy again and could play his regular left field position, but that would boot out Conor Jackson, who really impressed fans in the last half of 2008 out there. Of course, Jackson could always play his "regular" first base position, but then Tracy is warming the bench. They've got one too many good players for all their positions! Good thing Bob "Mad Scientist" Melvin, the D-Backs manager, is there to make the call. He's probably going to keep switching up the roster every night, giving Tracy 3rd base on Mark Reynolds' nights off, going with Jackson at first those days or letting Tony Clark keep his skills sharp, and swapping out Jackson and Byrnes in left from time-to-time. Frankly, I'd rather see us trade Byrnes altogether for another solid 2B or setup man in the bullpen, but that's pretty unlikely. The outfield is finished off by Young back in center field and Justin Upton back in right, supplemented by Alex Romero just in case something does happen injury-wise. If anyone is interested in getting a group together to go see a few games, maybe split the cost of one of those DBacks 10-pack ticket deals or something, shoot me an email and let me know! PLAY BALL!