The Final Four are set. The Masters is less than two weeks away. The Knicks have eight games left before they get rocked in the first round and come to grips with playing for next year.
That means that Major League Baseball is just around the corner…and I can’t seem to get fired up about it. The season opens this year on Thursday, March 31st…I believe the earliest start date ever. The winter-like temps that fans and players will have to endure (snow is in the forecast for the Yankee home opener) is being done strictly for economics…of course. MLB will in all likelihood add two more teams to the post season in 2012, meaning an extra round of play-off games and MORE MONEY in the fat and in some cases overextended owner’s pockets. Whatever.
I used to be a huge baseball fan but my interest has declined steadily over time. Interesting because baseball is an old timer’s game…and I am 7 months away from fitting into the 55+ demographic. In theory, I should be one of those guys camped in the lounge chair falling asleep to the nightly cable coverage, right? I mean, if you like baseball, you can find a game to watch any night or day of the season. Not me.
For more than 30 years, my team has been the Cleveland Indians. Loveable Losers in the city often called ”The Mistake on the Lake”, my Tribe is a small market club that has come upon hard times. Boy, are they hard to root for. Talk about breaking your heart, day after day, night after night, year after year. Oh, we had our heyday. The 90′s version of the Tribe, built by GM John Hart, saw the club reach the World Series in 1995, the first time in 41 years….only to go down to the pitching stacked Atlanta Braves in 6 games….5 of which were decided by just one run. In 1997, we returned to the title series, only to lose in the 11th inning of the 7th game to the Fish….the Florida Marlins. Heartbreaking. Those teams had a true mix of young and experienced talent…..with Carlos Baerga, Ozzie Vizquel, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, a young Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Matt Williams and Kenny Lofton in the field….partnered with Charles Nagy, Orel Hersheiser among others, on the mound. Those were great seasons and fun times but my interest now is purely emotional….let’s face it (sorry Boz), they really have no chance at even sniffing the post season today.
I think the apex of my MLB interest was 2004. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and not working….talk about living the life! I had adopted the Dodgers as my team. Earlier that year, FOX sold the club to Frank and Jamie McCourt and the sale created a whole new level of optimism and excitement (if only Los Angelenos knew then what was in store!). To this day, I believe there is no finer ballpark in the country than Chavez Ravine. Its beautiful when empty….and beautiful when full. Great tickets were easy to come by thanks to well connected, generous friends and my own corporate connections. On those nights when you decided to go last minute, upper level seats with great views weren’t just available, they were reasonably priced and the crowd was respectful and knowledgable. I took my two kids many nights and never cringed at things others in crowd said or did. Dodger games were clearly delightful.
That 2004 Dodger team was full of characters who achieved greatness when they needed it, winning the division for the first time in a long time. My boy Whitey secured a luxury suite the night closer Eric Gagne set the record for consecutive saves when he notched number 84 late that season (Gagne was eventually named in the Mitchell Report as an HGH user whose career essentially ended due to “multiple injuries” in 2005). Third baseman Adrian Beltre, in the walk year of his Dodger contract, lived up to his name by Belting multiple clutch doubles and dingers in the September stretch drive. Re-tread starter Jose Lima, rescued off the Kansas City Royals scrap heap in spring training, gave fans mound antics that reminded me of Mark “The Bird” Fydrich and entertained us with “Lima Time” every fifth day. Nothing but fun.
While the Dodgers got taken to the cleaners in the first round of the post-season, the American League play-offs were nothing short of thrilling. The Yankee/Red Sox rivalry took center stage as the Sox came back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to sweep the final four games and go on to their first World Series title since 1928, with another sweep, this time of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Since primetime games begin and end at a reasonable hour on the West Coast, I found myself glued to the entire Red Sox/Yankee and then Red Sox/Cardinals series….not just me but my entire little family to boot. The Red Sox team was colorful and talented and immensly fun to root for…and that’s some statement from a guy who grew up in New York. And root for them we did!
I returnded to NY in 2005 and that signalled the beginning of the end. I tried to follow the Dodgers….but the daily NY Times never had the box scores of late night West Coast games. I actually bought the MLB Extra Innings package from Cablevision, thinking I would be able to watch them play on any given night but once again, the time difference did me in. I just couldn’t stay awake and after about one month, gave up trying. Its downright dangerous to be a Red Sox fan around here. If you like living and you like the Sox, you better lay low. I’ve never been accused of being quiet, so this was not gonna work for me.
That left me with the local NY teams. Bummer.
I can’t root for the Yankees. Don’t get me wrong….I admire and like many of their players. How can you not root for Jeter? I have liked Nick Swisher since he broke in with Oakland. Posada has always delivered….Mariano is the best in the game and Andy Pettite, despite his Houston sojourn, will always hold a place for me as a big game winner. On today’s team, A-Rod has kind of found his place, Cano can be lazy but he can also hit and I like Texeria’s work ethic and demeanor. But I can’t stand the team.
My lack of support centers around the way the front office deals….period. All that money and the buying of superstar after superstar. They are built to win day in and day out. What’s the achievement? When they lose, they stink. When they win…who cares? That’s what this highly paid group is supposed to do. Un-watchable. Un-readable. Un-rootable.
Its no better across town. For a while it was fun. The Mets have always been second class citizens here….they are to the Yankees what the Clippers are to the Lakers…..a few steps behind. What was once an exciting young team with potential has developed into a group of underachievers. Jose Reyes can be as exciting as anyone with his speed, glove and the pop in his bat. Too bad he is so inconsistent. And when Jose struggles, they all do. David Wright, the face of the club, needs to move on. He just doesn’t step up when they need him and when he is interviewed, its just a long, boring, monotone, cliche full and flat response to any question asked. WAKE UP! Carlos Beltran’s story is just sad…Scott Boras duped GM Omar Minaya to sign him for superstar money after a sizzling post-season run with the Astros (remember, Boras gave the Yankees a last call option to sign Beltran at a discount to the Mets offer…only to have GM Brian Cashman say, “No Thanks”) and he now bears the brunt of fan resentment for the team’s poor performance. Add to all this a new stadium built for pitching, not hitting, and a roster of pitchers that is underwhelming, especially when outside of the home park, and you have the makings of a long slow slog ahead for the Mets. And don’t forget that the owners are on the verge of a $1.0 billion lawsuit and they compete in their division with the well run Phillies, re-energized Braves, the Marlins who seem to own them and an improving through the draft Nationals team. Bad times ahead for the Mets, for sure.
So where does that leave me? Searching, that’s where. I’d consider taking my chances and outright rooting for the Red Sox cuz they’re solid, the whole Fenway scene is a celebration and I love when they beat the Yankees. Maybe the Oakland A’s, since Billy Beane has been so good for so long with so little and those green and yellow uniforms with the white spikes and the elephant logo are kind of spankin’. You could even twist my arm on Buck Showalter’s Orioles since they are nearby and frequently have cheap seats available. If my Wahoo Wonders in Cleveland get off to a hot start, I’d consider that season worthy too.