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MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays

Roy Halladay returned to Toronto, just for one night, to deliver the first pitch before the Jays’ home opener on Friday. The smitten crowd showered the former Jays ace with a rousing, heartfelt ovation as he rushed out to the mound, acknowledged the roars, tipped his cap to the visiting Yankees, and threw a cutter to Mark Buehrle, the ceremonial catcher and Halladay’s opposite number for many a beat writer’s dream – the two hour pitchers duel.

It was sort of surreal to watch from a distance, in the auxiliary press box furiously trying to find highlights of this monster home run Giancarlo Stanton pounded at nearly the same moment as the speakers boomed Halladay’s name in Toronto. The Blue Jays best player for a decade then did what he always did – he wasted no time. To blink was to miss it, a hacky analog for his brilliant career.

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MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels

Whether you’re ready or utterly unprepared, the 2014 baseball season is effectively upon us. Transport trucks are pointed north, loaded down with equipment and no small amount of hope for the upcoming season. Some teams approach the upcoming campaign ready for a six month assault on the playoffs, confident in their assembled talent. Others look up and down their roster and see potential, if not this season than perhaps in the future. The Astros players also look forward to many nights spent in expensive hotels.

There is no predicting baseball or anything else that involves round balls striking round bats. The good teams will win more games than the bad teams. Predictions are for suckers and you won’t get one out of me. Despite the uncertainty (YCPB!) there are some things I believe to be true. Truer than most, anyway. These Things I Believe about the 2014 baseball season.

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New York Yankees CC  Sabathia reacts after Tampa Bay Rays Wil  Myershit grand slam home run in MLB game in New York

Home runs are visceral. Home run to bring ‘em out of the seats. Home runs spark a reaction.

Batters experience the happy side of home runs – the glory and the accomplishment. The current style (going on 20 years or so) for home run celebration is the bat flip. Toss your bat aside with maximum flair or “pimp” your home run. Opposing team doesn’t like it? Get me out.

Here Wil Myers displays some bat flip technique belying his youth and inexperience. This is an elite bat flip.

The other side of the coin is the defense. The pitcher and catcher, scheming together to concoct a plan of attack, only to see the batter go deep. The anguish of a mistake or a bad pitch call.

In the GIF above, we see two pretty typical reaction from both parts of the battery. Both turn to watch the flight of the ball, hoping for the best. As confident as Myers in this shot, the battery holds out hope that the ballpark might keep it. (Video)

Sometimes, after a ball leaves the bat, the outcome is not in doubt. It is here we see the greatest variety in reaction – not unlike the grieving process. The type of reaction often relates directly to the potential distance a home run will travel and/or the significance of the moment.

Scouring the archives, researchers for theScore discovered six stages of home run acceptance. Here are the six stages of home run acceptance.

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Angels

If talk is cheap, Spring Training workout talk is “wheelbarrow full of devalued currency” worthless. Everybody is in the best shape of their life, everybody is primed for a big season, everybody is ready to leave last year in the past.

When it’s Mike Trout who starts making noise about improving over 2013 and being in the best shape of his life, people tend to notice. In a pre-camp State of the Franchise address with Angels media, Trout expressed a desire to bring his stolen base totals up after swiping a mere 33 bags in 2013.

Stolen bases aside, the question of Mike Trout’s future performance is a very interesting one. Specifically: how much better can he get? And on the flip side of that question, what would it look like if he got worse?

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It is just about the time on the calendar where any and all Mike Trout love flows like wine. When the Angels brass call him into their Tempe office and slide a piece of paper across the table.

What will the paper say? Will it feature another borderline insulting minimal raise or will it detail the richest contract in baseball history? Either way, fire up your outrage machines, the topic du jour is Trout’s pay packet.

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels

The Texas Rangers are a uniquely positioned baseball club. Few teams appear as dedicated to winning as the Rangers, a club that used its considerable wealth to engineer the Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder trade, taking on a very significant amount of salary to upgrade their offense.

In addition to spending on players like Prince Fielder (not to mention extending Kinsler (twice) and signing shortstop Elvis Andrus to a longterm deal), the Rangers have a deep pool of prospects to draw from, should they opt to spend some of that prospect capital in search of a difference maker. And yet, other than the Matt Garza trade, the Rangers seem more interested in holding their prospects than moving them (until, of course, they do move them en masse.)

Despite spending as they do and taking such definitive steps to improving their team on a regular basis, the Rangers haven’t quite reached the top of the mountain. They came as close as any team can without winning, reaching the World Series in two consecutive seasons. Then came the famous collapse of 2012 and, to a lesser extent, 2013.

The Rangers are in tough in the AL West against the bewildering A’s and the free-spending Angels. Both their World Series close call and 2013 pre-playoff game show just how much a single game matters. Which makes me wonder about their willingness to role with their as-yet-unproven young players.

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels

The baseball system of arbitration isn’t perfect. It’s unique among the professional North American sports, ensuring pay raises for players who occasionally haven’t “earned” them. Not that it doesn’t have value, as it puts money in the hands of players in a pretty serious way.

The entire system is quite sophisticated, and the countermoves and expectations born of an intimate knowledge of this system makes for some peculiar moves. Teams and front offices game the system as best they can, operating under the assumption that sometimes it gets a given player’s compensation wrong.

It’s weird to see two players in quite different situations slated to receive similar arbitration rewards. The cloak-and-dagger reward math (seemingly cracked by Matt Swartz of MLBTR) informs future decisions, as clubs make value judgements based on what a player will earn in arbitration – rarely a true indicator of his value on the field.

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