Sunday, April 01, 2012

Chapter 91.3: The 2012 Season

As a Mets fan, it's hard to be excited about this year. If my team surprises people, we might -- emphasize might -- do well enough to compete for that new wildcard slot as a third-place team. But I seriously doubt we'll come anywhere near third place.

To make matters worse, the Phillies still look strong, though I have some questions about whether we're starting to see the downside of Roy 'Doc' Halladay's Hall of Fame-bound career. He's still strong, as are the Phillies, but it's possible that Doc'll struggle to reach 19-20 wins. Of course, when Cliff Lee is your second-best pitcher and Cole Hamels is in a walk-year, your team's management shouldn't worry about too much about its pitching staff. However, the Nationals have quite an exciting team and could push their way into wildcard contention. While the Braves are strong and the Marlins are much improved, I think both teams will have some struggles to overcome -- especially in Miami, where I expect Hanley Ramirez to chafe under the thumb of Ozzie Guillen until he gets to return to SS, after Jose Reyes's hamstrings explode again.

So what's a Mets fan to do? Well, I think the New York area will have quite a season, seeing as how the other team in town -- the one with a bunch of MLB hardware and records stored in its museum -- will be hard to beat. I think the question marks in the Red Sox rotation, coupled with the strength of the Tampa Bay Rays, will make that additional wildcard an interesting race to watch. Even the Blue Jays could compete. So a Mets fan can root against the Yankees. I know I will.

But no matter what people around here might say, there's more to major league baseball than what happens in New York and in the Eastern Divisions.

Out in the mid-west, some excellent baseball should be brewing (though not in Brewers town, where someone left the door open). I think the Cardinals have a bunch of question marks about their pitching staff, but the division will likely come down to them or the Reds, who have some of the best young hitters around. In the American League, the Tigers remain the class of the division, both in terms of pitching and now moreso in terms of hitting, but I'm looking to see if the Royals can surprise people -- especially with Eric Hosmer establishing himself as the latest superstar to get his start in KC. The Indians might also surprise people, but I fear the White Sox and Twins are on the downswing.

In the AL West, the Angels are the team to beat, despite the Rangers being the two-time defending AL champs. With Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, the Angels have strengthened both their offense and their pitching staff. While I expect the Mariners to be better than they were in 2011, I don't think they'll be sniffing post-season play. And are the A's still in Oakland?

The NL West ought to be very exciting. The Giants still have the best pitching staff west of the Mississippi, but Clayton Kershaw is the reigning Cy Young Award winner. With potential MVP Matt Kemp in the lineup and stability in the owners' office for the first time in years, perhaps the Dodgers can redefine what Dodger Blue means. Not that the Diamondbacks will let that happen easily. And even though it's hard to take a team that has a 49-year-old in its starting rotation seriously, the Rockies have a lot of talent and know-how. Yes, it's been five years since their magical 2007 run, but this team has been through a lot and still has much of what it needs to make their presence known.

As a baseball fan, it's a good year to live out West.

My predictions:
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Angels
wildcards: Rays vs. Rangers

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
wildcards: Diamondbacks vs. Cardinals

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chapter 91: Gary Carter, Safe at Home

Growing up, baseball was an enormous part of my life, and my favorite team was the New York Mets. Some people wore their team colors, but everyone understood where my loyalty was just by talking with me for a little while. I tended to speak about baseball all the time. Every tale of summertime had a pickup game in it. When my friends and I could think of nothing else to do, there was always a ball to toss around. And if it was raining, well, we had baseball cards.

I started really collecting during the summer of 1978. Most remember that as the season when the Yankees came back to meet and defeat the Red Sox. I remember enjoying Craig Swan mowing down the opposition and winning the ERA title. As a Mets fan, we had few things to root for. Ed Kranepool's pinch hits. Lee Mazilli and John Stearns sparking a rally. A visit from the Reds and Tom Seaver to remind us how things used to be.

But things changed in the 1980s. First, in 1980, there was a brief moment during the summer when the team reached .500, which is basically mediocrity. But for a kid like me, it meant things were looking up. We might break even this year. Then next year, if we win just a few more games, we could be in the playoff hunt. I wasn't interested in girls yet. Baseball was my true love.

I remember being thrilled when Keith Hernandez was traded to the Mets in 1983. He had been a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and a Most Valuable Player in 1979. This guy was a star. After the solid 1984 season, when Davey Johnson led the team to a surprising second-place finish, the Mets acquired Gary Carter. Now we had a superstar. Carter was the best catcher in the game. Sure, he was entering the second half of his career, but he was still solid. And the Expos were a strong club in those days. He had been part of a winning organization.

Much has been said about the Mets teams of the mid '80s, and little of it kind. They were brash. Loud. Cocky. And they won.

Carter was the class. He was the stability. He was what a catcher had to be: strong, confident, encouraging, dependable. He played the way I always hoped to play.

When I learned yesterday that the Kid had died, I was sad. To be honest, I expected it would happen soon. I'd read the stories about his brain cancer and how his most recent treatments had failed. I knew his mother had died from leukemia when he was a boy. And from what I'd read, he knew it wouldn't be long, too. He was a God-fearing man and was ready to head home. After all, he was a catcher. And home is where we belong.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Chapter 90.5: Turning on the Hot Stove

Ok, I have about three minutes to squeeze in a blog post (which is often the case, and a big reason why there are few posts here lately.) Anyway, I was just chatting with a work friend, who like me is a baseball fanatic.

He asked where I thought Luis Pujols would end up. I told him I expected that he'd remain in St. Louis, but I could also see him heading out to Anaheim, despite their young first baseman Mark Trumbo. "What St. Louis needs to ask itself," I said, "is whether signing a 31-year-old Pujols, who may be on the downward side of his career, or Jose Reyes, who is 28 but prone to injury." I don't think they have the capacity to sign both to the contracts they will command on the open market. Basically, do you sign a top-notch shortstop, a position very hard to fill with quality, or a Hall of Fame first baseman, a position that is easier to fill.

My friend talked about how Pujols might be willing to offer a "home-town discount." Of course, for a guy who's already earning upward of $20 million a year, a hometown discount is still more than $20 million a year! And I don't think Reyes could command that.

For the record, I don't think my Mets will resign Reyes. I also don't know that he's definitely staying in the National League. But his market will not be as large as some people seem to think. The teams that might be able to sign him mostly have a solid shortstop in place or are unlikely to be attractive to Reyes, who I woudl expect wants to go to a perennial contender.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chapter 90.2: Volunteer Spirit

In a couple weeks, our nation will recognize the tenth anniversary of one of the most horrifying attacks on its soil. I live not too far from New York City. These days, I work in Manhattan, a quick subway ride away from the area now known as Ground Zero. Ten years ago, it was just "the trade center" and it describes a larger area than most non-New Yorkers realize.

Those who know me well are aware that I'm an emergency medical technician (EMT) and have been for more than half my life. So, 9/11 hit me differently than it did for a lot of other Americans. I lost a friend that day and remain very thankful I didn't lose more. But this year will be a little different. Not only is it the tenth anniversary of that fateful day, but I'm also assigned to my squad duty that day. I don't expect anything tragic to happen to mark the day. But if it does, I have my training and experience to fall back on as well as the assistance of many able fellow volunteers.

You don't have to be an EMT to serve your community; it's my way, I don't expect it to be everyone's. But I hope that if you're able you'll find a way to volunteer your time, either on that day or on other days. Regardless of what your political positions might be, volunteering is mostly about helping to better your community or society. We're still months off from New Year's Resolutions, but maybe you can resolve to squeeze in a bit of volunteering into your life. You may find it's a wonderful way to improve not only your community but your perspective. Good luck. Stay safe.