Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hope springs eternal for the Summer Game

Chicago's Wrigley Field / One of baseball's green cathedrals,
where hope always springs eternal for the Cubs.

"Now there's three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it can rain." -- Casey Stengel

A brand new Major League baseball season started yesterday. Opening Day was celebrated at New York's Citi Field, and in Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago (for the White Sox), as well as in St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Arlington, Anaheim and Oakland. Today, it's Houston's turn to celebrate Opening Day against the Yankees.

Every team starts with a clean slate. Zero wins. Zero losses. Zero games behind -- even though two teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers, started the 2014 season two weekends ago in Sydney, Australia, all in the name of expanding the Great American Game all around the world. Meanwhile, all of the other teams remained back in Arizona and Florida playing Spring training exhibition games and getting into shape. The Dodgers played their "second" season opener Sunday night in San Diego, and they entered with a 2-0 record before losing 3-1 to the home team Padres in high drama on a home run in the late innings.

The baseball season is a marathon -- definitely, it's not a sprint -- and it lasts 162 games, stretching from March until October. Even the best teams are bound to lose at least 60 games over the course of a season and the worst teams will win at least 60 games. It's what happens during those other 42 games that makes or breaks a season. With the Dodgers commanding one of the highest payrolls in any sport, the media and Los Angeles fans will be monitoring every at bat and every pitch throughout the season, expecting the Dodgers to win their first World Series crown since 1988. 

Last year, one of my hometown teams, the San Francisco Giants, finished 10 games under .500, which, understandably, was a letdown for both the team and its fans. Yet, there's reason for optimism because the Giants have won the World Series in each of the last two even-numbered years, 2010 and 2012. And, as this is an even-numbered year, 2014 could be another year for the Giants to win it all.

Built in 1914, Wrigley Field is
the oldest ballpark in the N.L.
As for the lovable Chicago Cubs, who lost their season-opening game on Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates on an extra innings walk-off homer, they still haven't won a World Series since 1908 -- that's 105 years. The Cubs haven't even played in a World Series since 1945.

Will this be the Cubbie's year? Time and 162 games will tell their story. At least, the ivy-covered walls of the historic, friendly confines of Wrigley Field will be colorful even if the Cubs don't win many games in 2014. The Cubs' home opener at Wrigley Field is Friday, a day for North Siders to rejoice.

On Monday night, the Giants started their 2014 season on the road against the Diamondbacks on a clear, 80-degree evening in Phoenix. Lefty Madison Bumgarner, who earned his first Opening Day start, got roughed up early and left the game after the 4th inning. However, he saw his team rebound nicely in the late innings, rallying from a 7-3 deficit by scoring four runs in the seventh and adding two more in the ninth. The Giants won 9-8 on Buster Posey's two-run homer off closer Addison Reed in the ninth that broke a 7-7 deadlock and easily cleared the left-field fence at Chase Field. The ball landed well back in the bleacher seats and the "OUTTA HERE!" call by Giants TV broadcaster Duane Kuiper, himself a former Major Leaguer, was a welcome sound for Giants fans.

Giants catcher Buster Posey during
the 2010 World Series parade.
"I think we want to be a team that keeps grinding and keeps pushing," Posey said after the Giants' first victory of the season. "It was nice to be able to do that tonight right out of the chute to give us that confidence that when we get down we known we have the ability to come back."

Closer to home, the Oakland A's, my other hometown team, played their home opener against the Cleveland Indians Monday night before a loud and enthusiastic crowd at the aging and concrete Oakland Coliseum, which endured day-long rain showers that soaked the entire Bay Area, but finally subsided about an hour before first pitch. During ceremonies on the field before the game, which included fireworks, the A's were honored with a banner celebrating their 2013 A.L. West Division title. Unfortunately for Oakland and its fans, the A's lost their 10th straight home opener, 2-0. So, there was no walk-off heroics to celebrate. Tuesday night's game was rained out and the A's and Indians will play a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday. Rain or shine, hopes are high this year for the A's, and you should never count out the team's general manager Billy Beane, of Moneyball fame, from getting the most value out of his 25-man roster.

Baseball is the perfect companion for the summer as the days grow longer. It is both rhythmic and poetic -- its memories are savored for a lifetime while its losses are lamented. 

Indeed, it's a brand new baseball season and every team starts with a clean slate. One win doesn't make a season just as one loss doesn't, either. And, as fans, we'll be checking the baseball box scores every morning -- in the newspapers and online -- dissecting the rhythms of yesterday's games, with the hope that springs eternal for the Summer Game.

Play ball!

Photographs of Buster Posey and Wrigley Field by Michael Dickens © 2010 and © 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment