I figure many of you, being sane and intelligent people, probably missed the official start of baseball season--live from Japan, at 6 a.m., Red Sox-A's--but I had to write about something, and damned if I have anything left to say about spring training. My viewing didn’t go quite the way I planned, as I fell asleep on the futon sometime during the second inning and woke up hours later to the grating laughter of Mike and Mike. Fortunately my TiVo knows me better than I know myself.
It wasn’t the game’s fault--this one was highly entertaining, even if the end result, 5-4 Sox, wasn’t ideal. Cliff gave the play-by-play yesterday. Depending on your tolerance for Schadenfreude, watching Daisuke Matsuzaka completely and utterly lose the strike zone in the early going was either fun or somewhat wince-inducing--this was supposed to be his big homecoming, after all--but either way, he made an impressive recovery, and the Sox won a tough one, albeit with a little help from the A's.
Yes, it turns out Oakland isn’t messing around with this whole “rebuilding” thing. I thought I’d been paying pretty close attention to baseball transactions this winter, but I’ve never even heard of a bunch of these guys. I've certainly heard of Emil Brown, though, and in the 10th inning, he proceded to demonstrate how they do things in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. I have a lot of faith in Billy Beane's diabolical schemes, but this particular season . . . well, it could be a rough summer for the Bay Area.
These days, my joy at Opening Day is usually tempered a bit by the knowledge that with it comes Joe Morgan’s ESPN announcing; but we’ve been spared this year, as Steve Phillips and Gary Thorne made the trip instead. I haven’t heard much of Thorne before, I don’t think, and I actually enjoyed him. His use of “Sayonara!” as a home run call was pretty unforgivable, but his perkiness seems to be entirely genuine, and I just couldn’t dislike him, especially since he seemed as punchy as his pre-dawn audience as he rambled on about coffee and cherry blossoms. At one point, he was openly wavering on whether to address himself to East Coast fans just waking up and eating breakfast, or those “west of the Mississippi” who might be arriving home “after the bars close.” I'm still not sure what he ended up deciding, but either way, it was entertaining.
Even Steve Phillips, who regularly rubs me the wrong way on Baseball Tonight, seemed so happy to have baseball back that I couldn’t hold a grudge. Though I did scoff--out loud, just on general principle, even though no one was there to hear it--when he said of Matsuzaka, during his early struggles, “the look in his eyes for his last pitch was the best he’s had yet. He’s competing now, it looks like.” Really? Is that the same "look" you saw in the eyes of Mo Vaugh, Roberto Alomar, and Armando Benitez (twice)? Unfortunately for Mets fans, Scott Kazmir’s eyeballs apparently don't convey that much competitiveness.
Also joining the telecast, considerably earlier in the day than I prefer to see him, was the Commisioner himself. Having just finished up an exciting and historic trip that brought Major League Baseball to China for the first time ever, Bud Selig was his usual charismatic self, brimming with enthralling stories from his travels in Beijing:
“I remember standing on the field with Joe Torre, who I’ve known for about 50-plus years, and he looked at me and I looked at him. And he said, ‘Did you ever think we’d be standing on a field in Beijing, about to play Major League Baseball?’ And I said, ‘No.’”
A born raconteur, that man.
There’s been much debate recently over how much the additional travel and jetlag will affect the Red Sox. (No one appears to care very much whether or not it will affect the A's). Over at YFSF, Paul makes a convincing case that the trip to Japan has historically had little if any impact on a team’s performance. He’s probably right, though when I flew home from Taiwan last summer I was a zombie for well over a week. Regardless, and despite what you might have heard earlier this spring from Theo Epstein, the complaining has already commenced. I'd say karma's a bitch, but alas, the Sox did win the game.