The grass, freshly cut, the smell of sizzling hot dogs, the dulcet tones of John Fogerty and the rest of the baseball playlist playing over crappy transistor radios—we're going to have to wait on all of that. Current forecast is for snow showers, conclusive proof of a season unable to make up its mind, and bunting-endangering winds. It all makes FSN HD and grocery store concessions sound like a pretty good set-up, even if you won't be able to hear the roar of the beer-vendor and smell the tell-tale scent of clydesdales in the spring.
But it's baseball; when Jeff Francoeur, ex-hero, ex-goat, all-time perpetrator of the this-time-it's-different fallacy that pushes its way into our mind every March and leads us to today with hopeful, gullible fan-hearts, whirled the bat around and hit a long home run on the first pitch he saw, I was ready to get started. The slate's clean; Jordan Schafer, who until last night was best known for a HGH bust, leads the league in home runs.
Last year the Top Birdo used this space to explain his criteria for a successful 2008. In order: get carp back healthy; have a good draft; get one cost-controlled position player other than rasmus established as a league-average-or-better contributor.
Maybe this time, Brett Wallace, and Ryan Ludwick, respectively. Two out of three weren't too bad; the Cardinals stayed in contention for a long time, lots of unexpected contributors stepped up, and the farm system managed the wide gap between "on the rise" and "top notch." It was a good year.
As ever, staying in the race is the paramount requirement for a successful season. Baseball lasts a long time, and its famous feats and numbers are, for the most part, bound to the regular season. This is not a sport predicated on a one-day commercial blow-out; they're the boys of summer, not the boys of fall. More than any other sport, baseball is remembered for what goes on in the regular season as much as what happens in there's-only-one-October. I want the Cardinals to take command of the Wild Card, or run down the Cubs, but the NL Central is a tough place to be in 2009, and if it comes down to the end of September with things close enough to worry about I'll be—well, acceptably disappointed. What else do I need to declare 2009 a success?
1. Get Carp back healthy. He'll be on the payroll in 2011. If he's not a factor—ERA around 3.50, innings pitched around 200—his contract is going to stand over the Cardinals' next few years like Ozymandias's trunkless legs of stone; it's tough to win with a tenth of your payroll turned into a decaying symbol of mankind's hubris.
2. Establish Colby Rasmus. Last year he was the exception, but this is it for Rasmus the Boy Wonder; he's on the team, and he needs to force himself into the Cardinals' long-term plans, where he belongs. The roster is set up to give him a chance to do that—if he doesn't, the number one spot on this list next year will be figure out what's wrong with Colby Rasmus, which nobody wants.
3. No regrets. The Cardinals, another year into a brave, post-Jocketty world, didn't land a big free agent; they didn't trade out of their outfield glut; they made no Grand Statement. In 2009 that course needs, in some way, to be validated. Is that 90 wins? The playoffs? The pennant? It's not losing in ways we knew they'd lose. The 2009 Cardinals need Lohse to succeed because they banked on it, need Kawakami and Uehara to prove unnecessary because they banked on that, need Ben Sheets not to show up in May wondering what all the fuss was about and win the Cy Young for the Rangers. Come June and July the Cardinals could be sunk by injuries, or wrecked by inexplicable regression, but I don't want us to have told Moz so.
It's Opening Day, unless, as last year, the weather says otherwise. As of this very moment, I declare the season a success. Game Thread around game-time, if I figure it out.