3/28/07 – Almost Time For “Play Ball!”

With baseball’s Opening Day rapidly approaching, let me focus on some baseball matters today. Unless the Cubs’ latest certified phenom, Felix Pie, makes the team and gets a starting role, the Cubs look to start a line-up on opening day with eight position players who did not come from their organization. I understand that there is a tsunami of player movement in baseball today but not even one starter signed with the Cubs because a Cubs’ scout saw him play and then developed his skills through the Cubs’ minor league system? For those of you keeping score at home, that’s not a good thing.

The SF Giants are trying to position themselves as an environmentally aware team. They are installing – and perhaps the installation is already completed – 600 solar electric generating panels at the park. They say this demonstrates their commitment to the rational use of energy. Sounds good until a little science kicks in. The output of those panels is nowhere near sufficient to power the lights at the field – let alone all the other electricity that is consumed there; in fact, the output might be able to power two individual residences. But the only reason all of this happened in order to create a perception of consciousness/care/concern on the part of the team; and in this case, the Giants hope that perception takes hold.

Maybe it’s actually true that “chicks dig the long ball”, but pitching is what provides winners in baseball. And quality pitching is one of the commodities that is in drastically short supply with 30 major league teams. Lately, one of the standard stories during spring training is a team’s search for a “solid fifth starter” in their rotation. There’s usually a grizzled veteran in contention for that spot with a youngster or two from the club’s farm system and maybe even a relief pitcher who is getting a look in a new role for the team. It makes for great copy; it also provides a diversion; it allows fans to ignore the fact that in most cases there aren’t four solid starting pitchers in front of the guys who are “fighting for the last spot in the rotation”. But spring training is about hope and optimism – not reality. Reality usually sets in sometime around June 10.

Look at the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals’ projected rotation. It has two retooled relief pitchers in the #4 and #5 slots. Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper will start games this year. In Looper’s case, maybe the Cards have had enough of him coming into games in tight situations and throwing kerosene on the fire. Whatever. These are the defending world champions we’re talking about here and that is the status of their projected starting rotation. Yowza!

In NY Mets’ general manager, Omar Minaya, was asked about the solidarity of the Mets’ starting rotation. Minaya said, “The guys we could have had as free agents, they’re not better than the guys we have here.” That’s vote of confidence if ever I heard one. And when you think of the Mets’ pitchers, you think of Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez – even though Pedro is injured and probably won’t pitch until the 4th of July. That’s not bad until you get down into the rotation and see names like John Maine, Oliver Perez, Chan Ho Park and Mike Pelfrey. Unless I was hallucinating during the off-season, Dice-K, Barry Zito, Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens were “available”. And Omar Minaya likes his quartet better than that one? He may the only Earthling who does.

Curt Schilling will never carry the label, reticent. In one of his rambling commentaries, he reportedly said that he would go to the bullpen if that was what it took to get Roger Clemens to sign on with the Red Sox this season. That makes for good copy during the six weeks of spring training. But I’d like everyone here who believes that to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to come over to my house this weekend for a 12-hour high stakes poker game. And bring your homeowners’ equity line of credit checkbook too…

A longtime friend – in fact we played on the same Little League team together; he was actually a good player and I was not – noticed that the Phillies will need a strong performance from the right arm of Freddy Garcia this season if they hope to make the playoffs. He saw an omen in the Eagles’ season last year when another guy named Garcia stepped in, used his right arm effectively and led the Eagles to the playoffs. Who knows; it could happen…

In the golf world, the big news of the moment is “loogiegate”; Sergio Garcia spitting into the hole after he removed his ball. Yes, it is nasty and yes, it demonstrates that Sergio Garcia does not live by the adage that you should always behave as if your mother was standing right next to you. But let’s not go off on too great a rhetorical flourish here and say that this behavior needs to be stopped in its tracks because you never know where it could lead. Excuse me, but “loogiegate” is already a step back from where boorish behavior on a golf course has already been. I forget the details but in a tournament within the past year or so, they had to move the pin placement on one of the greens because someone had defecated in the hole. Sergio Garcia demonstrated that whatever class he may possess, it’s all second-class. But let’s not make “loogiegate” out to be the worst thing to happen on the golf tour since its inception.

On a positive golfing note, the LPGA has taken the lead once again in terms of solid public relations. Recall that the LPGA recently and rightfully granted permission to a young woman to use a cart and haul oxygen around with her to play in LPGA events because of her serious medical condition. Now the LPGA has defined a list of prohibited performance enhancing substances and it will test players in LPGA events next season. I believe that reduces to three the categories of competitors who are not subject to testing:

    Pro Poker Players

    Pro ‘rasslers

    PGA Tour golfers

Finally, since most of this was about baseball, here’s a note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times related to some concerns in the Mariners’ camp:

“First it was the health of his closer, and now a sudden crop of fielding gaffes has given Mariners manager Mike Hargrove two things to stew about.

“In other words, Putz and boots.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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