With Spring Training just about upon us, here's a note about a season opening game. The Chicago White Sox will host the Cleveland Indians on the
night of April 2. Even if Al Gore is 100% correct about the dire consequences of global warming, the chances are that folks will need to be bundled
up in layers of clothing for that night. But tickets are a hot commodity. If you go to the various Internet ticket brokers and check the prices,
you'll see that good seats are going for $450 - $525 already.
Some highly recognizable names in baseball will be in different places this season - or may be out of baseball entirely. Mike Piazza will be in San
Diego on a one-year deal; Frank Thomas has a $500K deal with incentives in Oakland. At least, they have jobs. Kevin Brown has a chronic back problem
with a chronically acerbic personality; he is still looking for work in baseball doing something other than selling caps at a kiosk. Sammy Sosa has
had one offer all winter; the Nats have offered him about the same thing that Frank Thomas is getting in Oakland. But Sosa has not signed and the
story now is that he may retire because he feels it is beneath him to have to beg for a guaranteed position in baseball given his history.
Sammy Sosa is done, finito, washed up, over - - you fill in your own descriptor here. His productivity had waned in Chicago, he had some injury
problems that limited his play two years ago, and then he got a 'fresh start' in Baltimore. The injuries continued to show up and his stats were
unimpressive at best. He hit .221 (barely his weight) with 14 homeruns, 45 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .376. Many times, his free-swinging
style made him overmatched in the batter's box. And it would be generous to say that even with all the years he's been playing baseball, he has only
a rudimentary understanding of 'the strike zone'.
There were rumors he might go to Japan to play this year; that seems unlikely since the Japanese teams have been in Spring Training for a while now
and Sammy's agent hasn't been piling up frequent flyer miles across the Pacific Pond. So, he's left with the Nats offer almost on a take it or leave
it basis. Sosa has a reputation for being an imperious presence in a clubhouse and if he shows up in the Nats' camp playing the way he did in
Baltimore last year, he will be on the 'B' squad and playing in lots of morning games. That would be a huge ego bruise. It may not be worth a mere
$500K for him to sustain that bruise. After all, his last contract was in the range of $85M.
It ought to be interesting to watch the Oakland A's this year. During the off-season, the A's added by not subtracting; normally, the A's have to
dump a quality player or three during the winter to keep their payroll under control. This year, they didn't do any salary dumping and don't have to
find a way to replace quality players. Could this be the prelude to the A's making a run at a World Series appearance? I don't know. But the
strange juxtaposition of events here is that the A's have also closed the upper deck at McAfee Coliseum; the A's will now play in the smallest major
league park with a capacity of fewer than 35,000. If they actually make the playoffs or the World Series, will they open the upper deck for those
games? Could they sell them out?
While the A's were adding by not subtracting, the Baltimore Orioles were subtracting by adding. Kris Benson has a lifetime record under .500;
theoretically, he will be prominent in the Orioles rotation. That's a dicey proposition at best - but it gets worse. The Orioles also inherited Anna
Benson in the deal. Good luck with that.
Maybe the Angels were so fixated on winning the lawsuit brought against them by the City of Anaheim that they failed to notice that veteran starters
Jarrod Washburn and Paul Byrd left town. Neither of those guys is a Cy Young candidate, but they take their turn every fifth day on a pretty reliable
basis. Are they really going to be replaced by Hector Carrasco and JC Romero? Another of the Angels' 'big deals' for the winter was the acquisition
of Steve Finley for Edgardo Alfonso. On the Richter scale, this qualifies as a hiccough.
Maybe the San Diego Padres didn't notice, but the super-annuated SF Giants stunk last year. The Padres stumbled home to win the NL West but clearly
needed to build over the winter. So they added Mike Piazza who is 37 years old, clearly on the downslope of his career and someone who wants to play
catcher on a regular basis; they added Vinny Castilla who is 38 years old and hit .253 last year in 142 games; and they added Doug Mirabelli who is 35
years old, plays catcher and hit .228 last year. I don't get it. Are the Padres about to announce a major sponsorship deal with Geritol?
The UConn/Villanova game was an excellent contest. Here is something I really appreciated. The turnovers in the game were - in large part - caused
by some competent defensive effort on the part of the defenders; there weren't many 'unforced errors'. If you happened to stay tuned to ESPN to watch
the Kansas/Oklahoma State game afterwards, you got to see 27 turnovers in the first half alone and far too many of them were merely ineptitude on the
part of the players handling the ball. I was watching that game with #2 son and I'll clean-up his description of the Kansas/Oklahoma State game for
those readers with 'sensitivities'. He said it was like watching a porn flick where all the participants were septuagenarians.
Finally, you may have heard Woody Paige do a version of this line on Around the Horn yesterday, but I believe that the original line belongs to Dan
Jenkins - one of the folks who made Sports Illustrated what it used to be in the 60s and 70s. Jenkins was talking about cross-country skiing and
suggested that it wasn't really a sport:
'It's how a ..bleeping.. Swede goes to the 7-Eleven.'
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...