“Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.” –Sean Doolittle, Nationals
Is there any reason why we, as a barely functioning society descending into chaos, deserve this “reward?” My feelings heading into the 2020 baseball season are an equal mixture of pure wonder, curiosity and the fetishization of a shit show. 60 games during a pandemic doesn’t really prove anything and is akin to a beer league or a wiffle ball tournament, and I believe that’s where the “wonder and curiosity” stems from. The “shit show” on the other hand should be fairly explanatory to any purist with a semi-open mind, as the winner of the World Series of Corona will be seen in hindsight as *Asterisk Champions (although slightly more legitimate than the Astros nefarious and refutable crown, but this time Manfred will supply a keg for the after party)
There will be cardboard cutouts in the stands and guys wearing masks sans spitting and licking with piped in crowd noise to simulate a good time; and why not throw a few drunk guys in the bleachers for maximum “realness?” How wonderfully psychedelic! How absolutely kitsch! Do we get pizza and snow cones after the game too? And I think we should all take a moment to thank whatever god we worship that at least one tradition–cup readjustment–isn’t going anywhere. Although ass slapping might still be up in the air because there still isn’t any proof the virus does or doesn’t spread through swamp-ass. Perhaps the players can celebrate with a slight nod and half-smile, akin to seeing your ex-girlfriend in a public setting as your current lover stands there, oblivious to the fact.
There is trepidation because of the naked truth that a few players (namely pitchers) that aren’t physically or emotionally ready will be absolutely GOD AWFUL and will single-handedly take away their team’s chances depending on how many times they trudge to the hill. One dreadful closer or set up man (think Jim Johnson in 2014) and your season is kaput, over, doneski, ancient history, yesterday’s news, finito. As you may or may not know, hitting is traditionally ahead of pitching for the first few months of any season. This means there will be many games that will be high scoring, good ol’ fashion “western shootouts” with pitchers in the interview room being quoted through gritted teeth, “I just couldn’t get my breaking shit over.” Remember that debacle in London last year? Get used to it, because there are going to be quite a few fireworks shooting off with the spark drizzle ready to inflame any random dumpster in the general area.
Hot button issues aside, athletes are not deities that are fundamentally different from us, but human beings that live in time and space. It will be interesting to see how they handle the psychological pressure of competition blended with mortality. Both will grip the continual psyche of all of the players in one way or another as the pelota flies out of the yard and the cash registers sing “God Bless America” while grandma quietly gives up the ghost in the next room.
It’s not important that I bring to task a Spring Training update; personally I find them to be tedious, but I suppose I must write something considering that this humble dissemination has over 2,500 followers and people actually read the thing for crissakes.
After last years embarrassing one game playoff loss to the Devil Rays, the following remarks swirled in my mind: pointless, not again, now what?, same old shit…who in the hell is Yandy Diaz? The ever graceful and future ace Sean Manaea blamed himself for the loss although it was a team effort as the offense was anemic and made to look bush-league. Watching the game was every bit the “Babylonian” experience. This squad, however, isn’t a “soft reboot” as the youngsters have aged a year and have playoff experience with the following players expected to have a breakout year: Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano. Little was added or subtracted this off-season because of the aforementioned. The template for most prospective playoff teams is a daily set lineup, (depending on L/R matchups, of course) and this team doesn’t have many question marks. Bob Melvin should only have to do a bit of airbrushing here and there.
No Spring Training review is complete without a contrarian view and the second base/bullpen situation must be addressed here. Second base: Franklin Barreto has proven to be impotent, still can’t lay off the slider, and has spent more time in Nashville than Johnny Cash. He has two things going for him: he is young and the A’s front office refuses to get fleeced in the Josh Donaldson trade. Sheldon Neuse should get a look at the position as well because of the big season he had in the desert for Las Vegas. Bullpen: This was definitely a weakest spot as the ‘pen blew more than 25 saves last year with most of the guys being question marks except for Petit and Hendricks. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of non-roster guys made the team. Melvin will be working with patchwork and will be criticized many times this year for how he handled it whether it be his fault or not.
I see no reason why this team can’t pull together, win a roll of the dice in the playoffs and haul the “piece of metal” as Ron Manfred so elegantly called the WS trophy. I think the Nats of 2019 proved that miracles can still happen when you have strong pitching and a lineup that works together without one self-absorbed prick mucking up the works.