The deeper meaning of opening day
When baseball’s opening day rolls around each year, it not only brings the game back after five months, it comes with the same clichés we’ve heard over and over and over again throughout the years.
A little sample:
“Winter is over! Let the warm weather begin!”
“The smell of hot dogs, the sight of green grass - there’s nothing better.”
“The boys of summer are back!”
While fans in New York and Philadelphia going to games this weekend will beg to differ about the end of winter, those sayings above do ring true. However, there’s a little more to the start of the season than the stadium doors opening for the first time this year.
The Mets, barring a major trade or a promotional day that no one can resist, will play in front of only four sellouts at Citi Field in just the park’s third season. (The home opener next Friday and the three Yankee games they’ll play host to.) According to reports, the Mets have sold less than one million tickets to date. For comparison, the Yankees have already sold more than three million. The Mets’ roster, front office, and most importantly, their finances are in complete disarray and unless the team is sold, a bright future is not on the horizon in Flushing.
The Red Sox are improved and may very well win the American League East. But don’t count the Yankees out, though. The AL may be at its weakest in recent years as the Angels, Tigers, Rays – three perennial contenders in the past five years – do not look strong. At the very worst, I see the Yankees in Wild Card contention at the trade deadline, and with their minor league system the strongest it’s been in 20 years, they’ll have the parts to trade to fill any holes that may open.
The Pirates will contend in the National League Central Division. OK, that’s a lie. I just wondered what it felt like to actually write that sentence.
Over in Los Angeles, Yankee fan favorite Don Mattingly will have his hands full in his first year as Dodgers manager. The Dodgers, like the Mets, are dealing with ownership and financial issues that have restricted roster moves. The early word out of LA is that Mattingly’s more hands on with the players and more detail oriented than Joe Torre was. Can you be any less?
Sure, the Phillies have an epic starting rotation, but their lineup is not exactly scaring anyone. Just look at the one they trotted out Friday against the Astros: Jimmy Rollins batting third, the ancient Raul Ibanez fifth with Chase Utley out for foreseeable future. If I’m Ryan Howard hitting cleanup, I’m not exactly excited having those hitters surround me. I still think the Phillies will make the playoffs, but the NL East is not set in stone. The Braves, with Jason Heyward poised for a breakout season if healthy, will be a force.
The Cubs are obviously are not winning the World Series (really stretching there), but they will be better. Lou Piniella, on the brink of retirement, clearly mailed it in the past two years and seemed more interested in check cashing than winning or developing talent. The players on this team responded to manager Mike Quade when he took over last season and with the addition of Matt Garza to the rotation, the Cubs have a great chance to capture the wide open NL Central.
Because it is some rule of early season columns, I guess I have to pick a World Series winner. For the record, I’m going with the Braves over the Twins. Not exactly revenge for 1991, but something nonetheless for Brave fans.