Five For FRiday: BASEBALL!

Perhaps more than any other American sport (meaning: any sport), baseball allows itself a wealth of subplots and underlines that inform its 162-game season throughout any number of dips and valleys.  With spring training in full swing, FR here highlight the plots that intrigue them most as the season approaches.

Travis: Bobby Valentine’s Inevitable Failure

If the Red Sox couldn’t keep it together with a genuine managing mind like Terry Francona, what makes anyone think they’ll be able to with piss-poor analyst and truly-out-of-touch-with-modern-baseball-innovations Bobby Valentine? I can’t wait to see him get torn apart by the way-too-picky Boston media and fanbase, and have to retreat to the comfort of unfairly maligned beer and fried chicken.

Nathan: Manny in Oakland! 

Manny Ramirez is sort of like…well, he’s sort of like Manny Ramirez. He’s also on the last leg of his career, playing now for Billy Beane in Oakland. The pick up is perfect for the A’s, because Manny has been placed in the discount bin after his second drug testing violation. If he’s a bust, he will have at least come on the cheap; if he manages to produce even a little, then Oakland get some bang for their buck. Despite his seeming lack of common sense and tact, I sort of like Manny and hope that he does well.

Tyler: Okay, okay, Blue Jays, Blue Jays, let’s (LET’S) play (PLAY) BALL.

The Toronto Blue Jays were my introduction to baseball, I born in Canada to expatriate parents, attending games at Exhibition Stadium and SkyDome (fuck a “Rogers Centre”) with my dad.  Best either of us can recall, PoppaWeav and I were present the day Ernie Whitt hit three home runs and the Jays set a Major League record by blasting ten home runs in one single game.  This fandom led to attendance of an All-Star Game, ALCS matchups, and–Lord above–two World Series tilts.  Joe Carter’s trophy-winning home run in October of 1993 remains a high point of my lifelong baseball fandom.

Thus, though said fandom long ago recentered on the Cincinnati Reds (more to come in a minute), I still pull for the Jays as my second-favorite team in MLB.  This year, smart offseason moves in the rear-view, fresh wild-card opportunities in the offing (still don’t know how I feel about those, but whatever), the ‘Birds seem primed for their first real run to the postseason since that glorious ’93 campaign.  Could it happen?  Maybe, maybe not.  The Yanks, SAWX and Rays lie in their way.  It’s lovely to know, though, ineffectual GMs and lousy contracts in their past, my first baseball sweetheart might finally be back on track to greatness.  Add in the awesome, awesome, T-memory-evoking throwback set of new unis?  Yeah, you got me back, Jays.  And I got yours.

Travis: The Angels Collapsing Under Expectations

The team that’s become Yankees West can’t possibly live up to the expectations brewing in Southern California, where nearly every Fox Sports broadcast, be it for the Lakers, the Clippers, Ducks or Kings, takes a moment to herald the arrivals of Alhols Pubert and CJ Wilson. Anything short of a World Series sweep will leave Angels fans (who I guess exist) wondering wha’happen.

Nathan: Marlinsanity? 

Ozzie Guillen? Carlos Zambrano? Heath Bell? Mark Buehrle? Jose Reyes? That thing that’s out there beyond the center field wall? Those uniforms? And now they got someone who wants to be called Giancarlo?

I don’t know if we need to call it Mar-lin-sanity, but the above questions do refer to the 2012 Miami Marlins, and the Miami Marlins have suddenly become the most insane franchise in all of sports. I hope this thing explodes like an atom bomb.

Tyler: Gooo Cubs gooo…gooo Cubs gooo

Two years in Lakeview, including one year three blocks from Wrigley (not to mention a temp gig hawking charity raffle tickets at the Confines themselves) cultivated in me a hatred of the Chicago Cubs and their fans possibly more potent than mine for the St. Louis Cardinals, which is damn considerable, as I went to college in St. Louis and the Cardinals crushed my Reds at near every opportunity those four years.  But, seriously.  You’re not going to win, people.  I respect Theo Epstein, and God love your stadium, save for the attendants (don’t get me started on the time I avoided being drenched in vomit by mere seconds, seated in the nosebleeds for Cubs-Reds).  But I hate you.  Maybe, just maybe, fingers crossed, OMG!, you might find a route back to contention in seasons to come.  ‘Til then?  I celebrate your ineptitude.  May the Goat have mercy on your souls.

P.S. – For the record, I miss very little about Chicago.  One of the Windy slivers for which I long?  Billy Goat burgers.  Mmm, baby.  I’d kill for one this instant.

Travis: Three NL Central Teams Finishing Ahead of the Cubs

I’m not sure of the order, but the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds will once again finish ahead of the Cubs, and I will enjoy it.

Nathan: The ShitSox

There is no team in all of baseball that I hate more than the Chicago White Sox.

This means that I inevitably pay close attention to them every season, looking for every chink in the armor. Last year it was so fun to the the ShitSox get swallowed up in their own mediocrity while the Tigers pulled themselves within two games of the World Series.

I hope Robin Ventura drives his new team into the ground and then burns US Cellular Field to the ground in a drunken stupor.

Tyler: Hamburger Fielder, Burrito Cabrera, and your 2012 Detroit Tigers

Due to the machinations of aging Tiger owner Mike Ilitch, Detroit’s storied squad will this season be anchored in the infield by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.  I say “anchored” because the combined tonnage of these two talented hitters may well be the heaviest load of girth ever to occupy opposite ends of a diamond.  Fielder’s contributions should be as expected, as he’ll be manning his career-long position, but the prospect of hefty Cabrera returning to the hot corner, four years and roughly fifty pounds (God only knows) since he last took the spot…oh boy oh boy, oh boy oh boy.  The Tigers are a hell of a team, their stadium is one of my favorites in the league, and they rank as one of my “I kind of always root for them, for whatever reason,” not least because I live for the moment in Ann Arbor and friend of FR Josh/fellow FR writer Nathan are both Michigan-grown fans.  (Plus, Justin God Verlander is an absolute stud.)  But.  The prospect of roly-poly Miggy chugging down the line in search of a sneak drag bunt, those leadfoot steps shaking the rivets of Comerica Park?  Oh man.  It is gonna be a spectacle.

Travis: The Tampa Bay Rays

A smartly-run organization with a manager who looks sort of like boxing trainer Freddie Roach, succeeding in a division where they often edge out either the Sawx or the Yanks? Count me in again, when their pitching will be even better than last year.

Nathan: Eastern Redemption?

The Red Sox and the Braves both collapsed down the stretch last fall. Had they just put together a few more good games in September, the 2011 playoff picture would’ve been completely different, and Cardinals fans wouldn’t have anything to be happy about.

But they didn’t come through and now we have the Rally Squirrel in an immortal place in sports history. Ugh.

In the wake of their disgraceful Septembers, the Sox and Braves took opposite paths.

The Sox brought in Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona in one of the most gutless managerial firings I’ve seen in a long time. Also, they seem to think that banning booze in the clubhouse is going to solve all their problems. The Red Sox are no longer a baseball organization but a PR machine! They had become the great anti-Yankees over the past decade, but they are now the BoSox are starting to take on the worst traits of their rivals. Please, Rays and Blue Jays, do us all a favor and become good enough to knock both of those teams out.

The Braves, on the other hand, were quiet as a bunch of Indian mice; their most notable offseason move was giving the pink slip to Derek Lowe. For the time being, everyone is looking at the Phils and the Marlinsanes in the NL East. I’m rooting for the Braves, because they are a smaller market team and they’re playing it sensible. I think sanity will prevail this year. Plus, it would be cool if Chipper Jones had some success in the twilight of his career.

Tyler: Cardinality

I do hate the Cardinals–though, not as much as I now hate another NL Central rival (see above)–but their situation this season intrigues me on a pure baseball-fan level.  Returning World Series champions, minus the best player in baseball, the best pitching coach in (possibly) history, the most infuriating-yet-effective-maybe manager that’s destined for the Hall Of Fame even though nobody really likes him and dongtastic sports author Buzz Bissinger wrote a book about him?  I want my team to plow through (see below), but the saga of this squad raises my baseball antennae.

Not that I don’t want them to go, like, 0-162.

Travis: 12 in 12?

The subplot for the season ahead I’m most looking forward to is a total homer choice. The Cardinals will attempt to defend their unlikely World Series title, after losing Tony La Russa (which might actually help, depending upon who you ask), Dave Duncan (which will definitely hurt) and Albert Pujols (which will obviously hurt, but probably won’t hurt so much when they’re not paying him more than $20 million at age 40). The Cards have added Carlos Beltran, allowing Lance Berkman to play first, and will get ace Adam Wainwright back. Will they repeat? It seems unlikely, but not nearly as unlikely as it seemed they might win the World Series heading into September, 2011.

Nathan: Miguel et Prince

Will this be the best 1-2 punch in baseball? As a Tigers fan, I can only hope so.

I have little doubt that Cabrera and Fielder will threaten the sanity of many major league pitchers when they step up to the plate. What I worry about is seeing these two guys bending over to reach for a baseline drive. The image that comes to mind is of people in those fake sumo suits. If you fall over, you don’t get up too fast. Hopefully they will allow a few sloppy singles here and there on defense, but compensate by blasting the ball around as though it had been made for a tennis court.

I’m not particularly good at predicting sports of any kind and the Tigers are too close to my heart, but maybe this is our year? Maybe?

Dreaming about winning the World Series – that’s not really a subplot, is it?

Tyler: THE CINCINNATI REDS

Pardon my absence for a moment as I wipe gobs of drool from my ten-day stubble.

Anyway.  I love the Cincinnati Reds the way some people love God.  I took a hiatus from baseball in the mid-’90s, my OG Blue Jays distant and falling apart after my family moved to Cincinnati, The Dastardly Strike souring everything about my childhood love of the game, my obsessive tendencies turning to Marvel Comics and horror movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching at the time.  Around ’97, the Jays picked up Roger Clemens, and America Online began to occupy hours of my time; these events dovetailed and re-piqued my interest in the beloved sport of my youth.

The next year, ’98, the Reds (in whom I’d had little interest thus far) reeled off a schizophrenic stretch of massive losing streaks followed by incredible winning streaks, to the point where (I believe) ten wins in a row earned them the hardy-har moniker “The Little Red Wagon.”  (Fucking Cincinnatians and their everpresent obsession with their ’70s heroes.  MOVE ON, people.)  I got curious.

Then came ’99.  Oh, 1999.  The 1999 Cincinnati Reds saved my oldest, bestest friendship.  Friend of FR Mike and I spent the summer working with, agonizing over and bouncing back-and-forth between a girl.  All sixteen, full of angst and adolescence, our near-lifelong friendship reached a breaking point of drama that would have been rejected by Dawson’s Creek staff writers as “a touch too melodramatic.”  But then the Reds started winning.  Mike had adopted baseball and the Reds a couple years before myself, and my resurgent interest was shifting back into gear.  Plus, the man, the myth, the legend.  Dmitri Young.

In between bouts of dipshit girl-dumb misery, my boy and I formed “The Dmitri Young Fan Club.”  We made a banner.  We went to as many games as possible.  We watched all the rest.  The season went down to the wire, including a clutch, amazing, awesomecrazyastounding game-winning home run in the final week of games by Hall Of Fame second baseman Calvin “Pokey” Reese.  Due to a rain-delayed debacle, the 162nd game led to a one-game playoff against the Mets wherein an exhausted Redleg squad went down meek against the arm of Al Leiter.  I cried harder than I’ve ever cried over sports, or probably anything.  But I was hooked, hooked forever.

No need to talk about the ’00s.  (Oh Junior, my Junior.)  The Reds in recent years have regrouped, including an NL Central division title in 2010, the clinching of which represents possibly the greatest moment of my life to date.  We foundered last year, injuries, sophomore-slumpage, mononucleosis.  But wizened GM Walt Jocketty had one hell of an offseason.  Mat Latos.  Ryan Madson.  Sean Marshall.  Ryan Ludwick.  (Okay, one of these things is not like the other.)  The pump is primed.  The rivals are weakened.  The fanbase is amped.  Fuck a playoffs; the World Series is in our sights.  I’ve never been more ready for a baseball season in my life.

Hell yes.

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