Opening day is here...

Opening day is here…well, sort of. The Braves play the Nats tonight on the WWL but, of course, the official opening day is tomorrow – when most teams get started. The A’s and Red Sox have already played two in Japan so maybe last Tuesday (Wednesday?) was opening day. (Aside – would you believe that the A’s and Red Sox open AGAIN w/ each other tomorrow?) Don’t let the fact that this intro is dripping w/ sarcasm fool you – I love baseball and there’s almost nothing better than opening day. This is the day we’ve all been waiting for – or is it tomorrow, or was it some day last week when baseball was on at 4 in the morning or something? For 6 months we’ve sat through football games and baseball games, maybe hockey if they still have that on TV, just to get to this point. We’ve rattled on and on about moves that were made and should’ve been made. There’s no other sport whose fans so look forward to the season beginning than baseball. Don’t believe me? Does the NFL or the NBA have anything approaching baseball’s "Hot Stove League?" They have their offseasons and drafts, free agency, etc. but it doesn’t have a title, for crying out loud. There are parades and the introductions of the teams. When I saw my son put on his first t-ball uniform a couple of weeks ago (the Mets, yuck) I thought – "We’re getting close!" I don’t know when he has to play the Cardinals. I don’t know who I’ll root for! Dammit, I just love opening day.

On another note, Friday I was listening to NPR on my way home from work and there was an interview w/ a guy named Stefan Fatsis who has written an essay for a newly released book called Anatomy of Baseball . Fatsis’ essay is about his baseball glove – how it feels and smells, etc. You can listen to the interview here. I encourage you all to do it – it’s tremendous, a tear-jerker. Isn’t there something about our baseball glove? I still have mine from when I was a kid and on the few occasions during the year when I make it out to play some softball, I still use it. In the essay, Fatsis says something like "there is no inanimate object with which he’s been more intimate in his life." At first, I thought – "that’s really strange." The more I thought about it, it’s really true. There’s just something about MY glove.

I pride myself on being fairly selfless, willing to share, etc. but whenever I do go to play softball, there are always some women, and often a few men, who don’t have a glove. Whenever they need to warm-up or if they’re on the other team, or if they’re on my team and I’m sitting this inning, they often need to borrow a glove. Though it shouldn’t matter to me (and I work w/ these people), I’m always hesitant about letting them borrow MY glove. What if something happens to it? What if they forget who they borrowed it from? What if they give it back to someone on the other team? What if, somehow, they taint it so that it doesn’t catch anymore? This is the glove I played with when I was a kid.

Remember how hard we all worked to break in our gloves? We spat in them and rubbed dirt in them. I’ve banged my fist in my glove a million times and it just feels great each time I do it. I can tell that it’s MY glove. I used to sometimes throw it on the ground, not just drop it, and then walk on it a few times to make sure it was good and broken in. Could one of my co-workers undo all that hard work? In the interview, Fatsis relates the story about how he sent off his glove to someone who restores baseball gloves. When he got it back, it just wasn’t his glove. It was absolutely beautiful – the leather was incredibly restored; it looked like a brand-new glove. But it wasn’t HIS glove. His, like ours, was dirty and imperfect. It had that perfect cup in the middle that allowed every ball to be sucked right in. There were no spit stains or dirt stains anymore. It just wasn’t his glove anymore.

I love my glove. It’s perfect. Feels perfect on my hand, fits like a … nevermind. But it does. There’s something just not right about wearing somebody else’s glove. It’s like wearing another man’s pants. I’ll do it if I absolutely have to (to avoid being arrested, for example) but that’s just about it. I just wouldn’t trust another man’s glove. There’s just something about the way it feels on your hand and how you know that every ball is going to bounce right into it. You know how the glove cradles the ball as it enters the glove and releases it for that throw to first. It just feels right on your hand and no other glove has that. It’s a beautiful interview. I encourage everyone to listen and you can also read the transcript of it from the link. I think I’ll buy the book.

Note to self: watch "Field of Dreams!" I love that movie and there’s no better time to watch it than as opening day approaches. Notice how Kevin Costner uses HIS glove to go out and have a catch w/ his dad. Dammit! More tears!

Finally, speaking of tears – Rico Washington has made the team. Good for him. It’s important to understand that this isn’t exactly a victory for youth over experience. Rico will be 30 around Memorial Day, but he’s paid his dues and, even if it’s just for 15 days, I’m glad he’s going to get to put on the uniform and, even better, experience opening day at Busch! Because he’s 30, and has been in AA and AAA since 2000, he’s no longer really considered a prospect. In 1999, he was the #6 prospect in the South Atlantic League after busting 13 HR in 287 AB’s w/ Hickory. It’s not as if he can’t hit. His career minor league OPS is .802 and last year he pounded a .910 OPS in 168 AAA AB’s.

His major problem appears to be defense. He’s sort of a jack-of-all trades, master of none, sort of fielder. He was drafted as a C and moved to the infield in 2000. He bounced to the Padres organization and was signed as a minor-league free agent by the Cards prior to the 2006 season. Since moving from behind the plate permanently, he’s played some 1B, some 2B but spent most of his time at 3B. Minor league fielding numbers (aside from fielding %) are very hard to come by but his career fielding % at 3B is .944, and at 2B is .956. He’s not going to win any gold gloves. Still, I’m somewhat surprised that he’s just now getting his first crack at the big leagues. He’s had some very successful years at AA, but never seemed to really put it together at AAA until last year.

It won’t surprise me if shows off some hitting while w/ the big club. He won’t be overmatched. I hope I can say the same this year for Adam Kennedy. Still, he’s basically a 4-A player. He reminds me some of a right-handed hitting version of Marlon Anderson. He could hit the ball but was an absolute butcher whenever and wherever he played in the field.

As for projections, BP hasn’t done any on him. In fact, as far as I can find, no one has. BP did do its minor league translations last year for him, and everyone else, at every level. Those done last year, based on his AA numbers create a major league equivalency of a .717 OPS and .246 EqA. Not bad for a utility infielder. Those done based on his AAA numbers are even better -- .816 and .281, respectively. Sounds high to me but still…Curiously, his regular translations are also his peak translations. In other words, this is what Washington might reach in the big leagues at his peak. It’s still not bad. I’d be pretty content if Adam Kennedy had a .717 OPS (last year it was…wait for it…5! 7! 2!) .572! A .246 EqA wouldn’t make either Chase Utley but would be a 41 point improvement over Kennedy’s 2007. The point is, if Kennedy hits the way we might expect Washington will hit while he’s up, he’ll have a much better year. Don’t be surprised if Washington provides a little punch at the plate – and that he punches a few balls in the field as well.

Anyway, I’m really proud for the man. Even if he spends 15 days w/ the club, he’ll have sated a dream he’s had since he could walk and one he probably thought would never get here. I hope he gets to pinch-hit tomorrow. I hope the crowd gives him a standing-O. They’ll probably turn to each other and say, "Who?" Unfortunately, it’s probably a sound we’ll here quite often in Busch this year. Still, opening day is here and, guess what, we may not get another chance to say this again – The Cards are tied for 1st! 

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