I feel tremendously lucky to be able to write about baseball for a living. I don’t mean to suggest that my life is entirely awesome. It’s messy just like anyone else’s. And believe me, choosing to write about baseball for a living, at least at this level, is about as close as someone living in a metropolitan area can come to making a vow of poverty. But it all becomes worth it on days like yesterday.
A good day at my old gig was writing a media plan that was accepted by a client. A good day at my new one involves watching parts of six games of baseball.
My normal routine is to wake up early and read online for an hour from home. Any link or story that I find to be worthwhile, I’ll keep open in a Firefox browser window that has more tabs open than a broken soda machine from the eighties. Yesterday, I wanted to skip the link dump portion and post the Getting Blanked Guide To Opening Day, but I still had too much work to do on it, so I quickly threw together a bunch of links and left for the office.
I’ve only been at The Score since September, and have no experience in any other newsroom setting. The first thing you realize when working at a sports network is that everyone is more knowledgeable than you at every other sport. Up until recently, I sat beside my friend Sean, who during the MLS draft, was giving a running analysis of the players being picked. He wasn’t reading numbers and positions off a website. He had on hand knowledge, stored in his own memory banks, about NCAA college soccer players. The place is unlike any office in which you’ve ever had experience working.
Walking in yesterday morning, those that know me smiled and asked about my excitement for the day. The questions were probably unnecessary given the fact that I was wearing a baseball jersey and bouncing around like a kid who’s already eaten his stocking candy and is about to move on to the presents under the tree. I eventually sit down at my desk to finish up my Opening Day piece, occasionally getting interrupted by people with fantasy questions or to go see what Drew is laughing at in the cubicle next to mine.
By the time I’m finished it’s an hour until the first pitch of the 2011 season. I’ve got time to grab a quick lunch with Scott Lewis, the editor of The Score’s hockey blog. We grab some corned beef sandwiches, talk about his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates and even indulge in a lunchtime beer. It’s Opening Day after all.
By the time we get back, baseball is underway. I sit at my desk, surrounded by HD televisions watching the Tigers and Yankees, while on my computer monitor, the Braves and Nationals are playing. I keep my TweetDeck open, and try to riff off other people’s observations while watching brief moments from the first two games that seem to be going by faster than Brett Gardner runs.
My first observations of the year are that watching Jayson Heyward at bat reminds me a lot of watching Barry Bonds take on a pitcher. They’re different hitters entirely and completely different people, but the cautiousness with which Livan Hernandez approaches Heyward is more blatantly obvious than any other pitcher hitter duel I saw yesterday. And for good reason. In the top of the second inning, Heyward hits the first home run of the 2011 season.
Over to the Yankees game, I watch Brett Gardner sacrifice bunt Russell Martin over to second base with none out in the bottom of the third inning, screaming about run expectancy to anyone who will listen. Derek Jeter then walks, Martin steals third base and looky there, Mark Teixeria hits a three run dinger that makes the Gardner sacrifice completely unnecessary.
The Tigers eventually tie it up, but more impressive to me is Justin Verlander facing Jorge Posada in the bottom of the sixth. Detroit’s starter falls behind three and one in the count, throws a changeup that moves like a wiffle ball and the Yankees former catcher whiffs on it to make the count three and two. He then goes back to the exact same pitch, showing that it was no accident, making Posada swing and miss again. They were the most brilliant two pitches I saw all day.
Back to the Braves and Nats, Derek Lowe was cruising, but most memorable was Washington’s play by play crew who continually praised the Nationals defense on the most routine of plays. I’m not sure if it was so bad last year, that routine plays will be praised this year, or if that’s what you talk about when you don’t have anything else positive to say.
The Nationals only chance to get back in their game comes in the bottom of the eighth, with Desmond, Werth and Zimmerman due up. Jonny Venters comes in for the Braves and induces three quick ground outs from the most fearsome part of the Nats’ lineup. They’re done. The Braves eventually win 2-0.
Meanwhile, in New York, Curtis Granderson, by far the most likeable Yankee wins the game for his team with not only a home run, but also an over the shoulder catch in center field that would make Willie Mays roll over in his grave if he were dead. Joba Chamberlain looks good, before Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera do exactly what you’d expect. The Yankees win 6-3, and the Jays will start the season a half game back of the lead in the AL East.
I’d been keeping tabs on the Brewers and Reds after stills of Pete Rose looking like an extra from Golden Girls began circulating on Twitter.
Milwaukee had dominated for most of the game, leading off the first inning with back to back home runs from Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez and never looking back. Joey Votto hit a home run in the seventh, but it looked like the type of home run that good players just hit, and hardly a rally cry for the Reds who had allowed the Brewers to get another run in the top half of the inning.
With Milwaukee up 6-3 on the Reds, closer John Axford comes in to shut ‘er down. Instead, the first three batters he faces get on base. Axford, then strikes out Jay Bruce, before Jonny Gomes hits a pitch to deep center that the Cincinnati commentating booth go nuts over. The ball eventually falls into the glove of Gomez as Brandon Phillips tags up and the score becomes 6-4. Ramon Hernandez is the next batter, but with two out it’s unlikely anything is going to come from the catcher. He demolishes those expectations much like he destroys Axford’s fastball to deep right field, winning the game for the Reds on a walk off home run.
And this is why I love baseball. It’s so infuriating to me that anyone would think that leaning toward statistics in baseball somehow limits your appreciation. The odds of Ramon Hernandez hitting a walk off home run against John Axford are fairly high. When that happens, someone who knows how unlikely it is appreciates it even more. Just because we might refer to stats when we analyze a play, it doesn’t mean we’re cheering for the most likely outcome.
I barely remember my walk home, but it does happen, because I get back just in time to see both Jeff Mathis and Jeff Francoeur hit home runs in the Kansas City and Los Angeles opener, again with the statistical anomalies. Despite a valiant attempt from the Royals, the Angels hang on to win the game 4-2.
I had barely paid attention to the Cardinals and Padres game until the ninth inning when Ryan Franklin blew his first save opportunity of the season by giving up a home run to Cameron Maybin with two out. In extra innings, Albert Pujols grounded into his third double play of the game before the Padres worked over Bryan Augenstein in the top of the eleventh, scoring two runs. Heath Bell was his usual dominant self collecting the save with a three up and three down inning, as if to show Franklin how it’s done.
After an hour intermission, and dinner consisting of a left over rotisserie chicken (appropriate don’t you think), I was able to watch the Giants / Dodgers opener in its entirety. As much as everyone assumes that designated hitters don’t play in the National League, a quick look at San Francisco’s lineup last night reveals that they had three in the lineup. Unfortunately Pat Burrell was in left field, Aubrey Huff was in right field, and Miguel Tejada played shortstop.
If anyone ever wanted to make an argument against the value of a pitching win, last night’s loss for Tim Lincecum should be the shining example. He was first let down by the Giants anemic offense who were dominated by Clayton Kershaw, then let down by his fielders whose two errors allowed an unearned run to be scored in the bottom of the sixth, and finally let down by his bullpen who gave up a run in the bottom of the eighth which, if it didn’t happen, would’ve made Burrell’s too little too late solo home run in the top of the ninth, neither too little nor too late.
What it all boils down to is that if Kershaw pitched for the Giants last night and Lincecum threw for the Dodgers, there’s no doubt in my mind that Lincecum would’ve been the winning pitcher and Kershaw would’ve been the losing one. So, how exactly is it fair to assign wins or losses to those players, when they can’t be held responsible for the actual results?
This is just some of the agony, ecstasy and fun you set yourself up for as a baseball fan. And working at a sports network this year is going to allow me to experience more of it than I’ve ever been able to before. I’m sure it’s going to be interesting to look back at this little diary entry from my emotional coma in November.
Thanks to Mocksession.com for the video.