The beginning of spring training represents a fine time for ideas. In Seattle, manager Eric Wedge plans on batting Ichiro Suzuki third in the lineup, and Chone Figgins in the leadoff position. The rationalization for this maneuver is protecting against a void at the bottom of the order. In reality though, player performance almost always has nothing to do with where they have been penciled into the order. Sure, there may be a rare occasion when a free-swinging slash master may benefit from the noble responsibility entailed with batting leadoff, encouraged to take more pitches, but even then, a player’s tendencies usually take time and extended effort to evolve.
Of rhythmic strings and a bleeding syringe, baseball is often a paradox. The basic game is regulated chaos, carefully confined performance art often disguised in metaphor by swooning scribes drowning in reverie*. This is a show, a worthwhile exhibition, unrehearsed and unpredictable human drama preferably played out under a blazing sun. If our overall perspective were more precise, the importance of this particular athletic endeavor would be properly measured within a rational context, damn good entertainment, and nothing more. Alas… there are heroes to deify and villains to crucify, a snap response to the unavoidable entwinement of sports and reality. And while newspaper columnists breathe fire from a disintegrating perch, our heads are left spinning. There is a point they are missing, subtle and beyond their indignation, except we ourselves are unable to articulate it. All we know is… as they instruct us to wallow in pointless anger and meaningless disgust; the grief never touches the game. And that is the point.
It’s the game.
The momentum builds now, we can practically touch and taste the heightened tension, as Mike Lowell’s rage literally lifts him skyward, and Ryan Braun icily eyes down a game deciding moon shot, preening as he plays an action movie assassin. Oh yes, the merciless dog days have arrived.
God bless us, everyone.
For there are trades to celebrate, executives to excoriate, victories to relish and heinous losses so hellish… prepare for sensory overload, a hypnotic season’s mysteries unwinding by the inning. In Spring Training, the contenders and pretenders gathered, surrounding palm trees swaying, whispering the impossible. Reality intervenes in April, the distilled winter chill slicing and dicing through the Opening Day pomp and circumstance, delivering winners and losers, preparing us for the grind ahead. What has happened to the thirty elite? Who rises or falls, disappoints or enthralls?
Shall we consider:
Tea leaves. The I Ching. Extispicy. PECOTA. You name it, I’ve looked at it in my utterly insane efforts to predict the outcome of the 2007 Major League Baseball season, beginning even before pitchers and catchers reported to camp. Why on earth am I doing this? The answer, in a nutshell, is simply because I can. Do I have any hope that my predictions will turn out to be true? Not really. Still, I might be on to something here. Or, at the very least, it gives us a place to start talking about the upcoming season.