Play Ball! Five Opening Day FAQs And Answers
1). Why a Thursday start? We've gotten used to a Sunday Opening night, followed by a full slate of openers on Monday.
You know those images of baseball players wearing cold-weather headgear, sitting in dugouts as another World Series game is delayed because of rain, sleet or snow? Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is tired of that image. Last September, MLB announced, with the support of the players' union, that the regular season would begin "earlier and mid-week to avoid playing World Series games in November."
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who is on the committee that recommended the early start, says, "I'm thrilled to death. It makes a lot of sense. I want this to sound right, but the sooner we play the postseason — with football going on and the weather — the better we'l be."
Now of course football (at least the NFL) may not be competing for sports fans' attention — unless it can solve its nasty little work stoppage. And the earlier start means possibly running into weird spring weather. But the consensus is that it's better to cancel now and make up games during the season rather than have the post-season schedule turned upside down.
And really ... headgear? Not a great look.
2). Opening Day — only 162 games to go. Early predictions?
Let's shock the world and NOT talk about the Phillies and Red Sox like everyone else. At least not talk about them first. Instead; can the Bay Area get a little more love? Last year's surprising World Series champion, the San Francisco Giants, is a team that appears to have picked up where it left off. The Giants roared through spring training, posting the best record among Major League teams.
Ok, it was spring training. But still.
The Giants should have an even better starting pitching rotation than last year, now that they'll have Madison Bumgarner for an entire season (he spent the first few months of last year in the minors). And San Fran could have consecutive rookies-of-the-year. Last season, it was the preternaturally calm and collected catcher, Buster Posey. This year, there's a lot of hyperventilating going on — with good reason — about first baseman Brandon Belt.
3). So what about those Phillies and Red Sox?
They're loaded. The Phillies, of course, picked up left-handed ace Cliff Lee who, Giants fans will remind you, was made to look mortal in the World Series against San Francisco's hot bats (he was with the Texas Rangers last year). Still, Lee's addition makes for a Murderer's Row rotation in Philadelphia — with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and, don't forget, Joe Blanton. He's a No. 5 starter in Philly — but a top-3 guy on many other teams.
Some caveats though: Second baseman Chase Utley is struggling with an injured knee; closer Brad Lidge is hurting; power hitting Jayson Werth is gone to Washington; and the lineup in general is looking a little old. If these caveats turn into real problems, look for the young, deep Atlanta Braves to make a big push in the National League East. Heck, look for them to do that anyway!
The Red Sox appear to be cream-of-the-crop material in the American League. Slammed by injuries last year, the Sawx missed the playoffs. Now, stalwarts Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin "Yuke" Youklis are healthy. Boston made like the Yankees in the off-season, signing great talent for big bucks — outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzales. The A.L. East will be a higly publicized tussle — with the Red Sox and Yankees the main event yet again.
4). What teams could pull a San Francisco-like sneak attack in 2011?
Looking across the Bay from the Giants' AT&T Park, which is such a lovely thing to do, the Oakland A's have a young, talented pitching staff which could take that team far. And laugh if you want, but there's some murmuring about the Florida Marlins. Yes, they perennially have rotten attendance figures in their stadium designed for football. But 2012 looms brightly on the horizon — a new stadium is set to open. Ownership says it will have a "Field of Dreams Build It And They Will Come" effect, and all will be sunny with south Florida baseball.
The murmuring is that maybe THIS year, the Marlins will get a jump on the good times. There's talent and — maybe — timing.
Florida won the World Series in 1997, then dumped talented, expensive players and essentially disappeared. The team didn't make the playoffs until 2003, when the Marlins popped up and won the Series again. Since '03, the team has suffered another playoff drought. Meaning — perhaps — the time is now for their every 6 or 7 year title?
5). Two iconic teams in the two major media markets are struggling with ownership issues. Will that affect what happens on the field with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers?
The Dodgers have been dealing with the messy divorce of owner Frank McCourt and ex-wife Jamie. A judge ruled she was part owner of the team. Recently there have been questions about Frank's money. He tried to borrow $200 million, and it was nixed by Commissioner Selig. McCourt says he doesn't plan to sell the team. We'll see.
The effect on the Dodgers? General Manager Ned Colletti had a fairly active and successful off-season. He was able to retain some key players; he signed a few new ones. The question is, will L.A. have the money during this season to make some personnel moves to help the team return to its 2009 status as one of the league's best?
The Mets have been disappointing their fans since long before the startling recent news that owner Fred Wilpon was being sued by a trustee for victims of the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme. Wilpon invested heavily with Madoff over the years. The lawsuit claims Wilpon knew about the fraud. Wilpon insists he didn't.
A lot of money is at stake — hundreds of millions of dollars — and we may already be seeing the effect on the Mets. The team didn't go after high-priced players this past offseason.
Money and fraud. Not the words baseball fans like to hear. Especially on THIS day. When the only word that matters is, "maybe." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.