Monday, April 2, 2018

Chase Down the Rising Sun: Shohei Ohtani Faces the Hype

Twenty-three year old Shohei Ohtani took the mound for the first time in a Major League stadium on Sunday. His slender, six-foot-four frame seemed relaxed despite the situation. For years, Ohtani had been a star in Japan. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, he was something resembling an urban legend. A pitcher who can hit towering home runs seemingly at will. A power hitter who can flirt with 100 miles per hour and then bring a sinker and a slider that moves as if it's possessed. The yoke of expectation that comes with the label of the next Babe Ruth is enough to break anyone. Ohtani just wants to play baseball.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Great Quelling of Winter: The New Modern Game and the Road to Opening Day

Baseball in the twenty-first century is a wild creature. It has been a force of stability in a time of unprecedented tragedy and a gravitational center for some of the greatest sins in modern sports. At the turn of the century, statistics and analytics were in the dark ages compared to today.

Then Billy Beane and his Oakland Athletics were catalysts for a sea change that lead to other teams pushing the boundary further.

The Tampa Bay Rays, once the runt of the litter without the means to financially compete with their world-class division mates, figured out how to game the system by integrating Wall Street strategy to their front office.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, long-suffering for something as simple as a winning season, used a watershed of defensive analytics to reverse their fortunes if only for a few years. The Second Wild Card Era began, and with it came opportunities for more chaos in October.

The 2014 World Series featured two Wild Card teams, one of which would not have made the postseason if not for the rule change adding a fifth playoff team to each league.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Power and the Glory: Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara and the Reaping of the Harvest

In 2001, Barry Bonds hit seventy three home runs. Roger Clemens won the Cy Young without completing a single game he started. The Seattle Mariners won 116 games in the regular season, on the wings of twenty-seven year old rookie Ichiro Suzuki. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series in seven games, capping one of the most dramatic postseasons to date. Less than two years after being the 402nd pick in the 1999 draft, Albert Pujols made his debut for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is how it turned out:
Standard Batting
Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
200121STLNL16167659011219447437130136993.329.403.6101.0131573602191765379/DAS,MVP-4,RoY-1,SS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/4/2017.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Anno Catuli: Opening Day and the Rebirth of the Spirit of Summer

It is an elegant game, played by brutes and bastards. It gives space to breathe only to reciprocate with moments that stop the heart. It creates a wealth of memories, often nothing to do with any given pitch. Though the Major League season extends far beyond the warmth of July and August, we will always romanticize our game as such: Baseball has, was, and will always be the great human summer. It never requires unbroken attention. In fact, the game almost requires you to stray. It is a conversational pastime. What draws us back year after year is not just the final score and the plays that caused it. We tie our senses to the familiarity of a ballpark. The pristine-cut grass, too green to call it merely green. The gentle rumble of a few thousand separate conversations, turning to a roar at the crack of a bat striking a ball in that unmistakable way we all know. There is no requirement on our part. No reason beyond fulfilling that core desire to return to summer, where the halcyon days of youth can be recounted. Baseball has been a professional game now for nearly one hundred years. The rules have changed, players come and go, generations pass on the childlike wonder of watching adults play a game. One thing stands true and has for longer than any of us have been alive- no matter the weather, the opponent or the amount of confidence in one's team, Opening Day gives light to optimism. That everything will be alright in the end. That with the first sound of a ball whipping into a glove, winter has been defeated and all the sentimental fondness we have for summer days at the ballpark has won, yet again.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Eagle of Medford: Marcus Stroman and the United States of America

Marcus Stroman lists his height in his twitter bio. Five feet, seven inches. He declares 'breaking stereotypes' there too. He's the most likable pro athlete from Duke University since Grant Hill. Last night, he pitched for the United States in the World Baseball Classic Final. Two years removed from tearing his ACL, Marcus Stroman tossed one of the most brilliant games in recent memory. He did it on a stage that needed a virtuoso, signature performance from an American. He did it against one of the greatest lineups the world could muster.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The World Baseball Classic Comes of Age

The fourth iteration of the World Baseball Classic has been a godsend. The passion and flair usually reserved for Latin American nations has spilled over to the usually stoic Americans and Japanese. The drama of upsets and close games and close plays has brought baseball out of hibernation a month early. Emotions are high, and most importantly- people care. Players care. For all of the formality of the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2009, and even the entertaining climax of 2013, the World Baseball Classic of 2017 no longer feels like a niche interest chore. It has arrived as a true platform for the growth and progression of the game.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Chosen Ones: Scott Burcham, Team Israel, and the Opening Shot of the World Baseball Classic

In the pre-dawn of early-March, not much baseball of consequence is played. Most, if not all of Spring Training is asleep. On the other side of the planet, baseball did matter. The World Baseball Classic, the MLB-funded baseball version of soccer's World Cup, was starting in South Korea. The home team, one of the planet's great baseball powers, was matched up with tournament newcomers Israel. It was supposed to be a relatively easy game for Korea. With a roster comprised of mostly fringe Major Leaguers and Minor League hopefuls with Jewish heritage, Team Israel was meant to pick up their participation medals and go back to their Spring Training camps. All preconceived notions of how this WBC was going to go were soon tossed out of the window. The game was knotted at one, and Scott Burcham stepped into the box with runners on first and third

Chase Down the Rising Sun: Shohei Ohtani Faces the Hype

Twenty-three year old Shohei Ohtani took the mound for the first time in a Major League stadium on Sunday. His slender, six-foot-four frame ...