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Baseball's Back Already?

I have been busy lately, as I might have mentioned a couple times. I'm really bored with being busy at this point, so I've decided to cut it out. It helps that those pesky applications have finally been sent in, because, as you've no doubt heard, the life of a college student at a small liberal arts school in Maine is already busy enough. That may seem like an ironic statement, but Your Humble Stathead has been juggling the aforementioned applications, being president of one of the largest clubs on campus, the worst psychology project in the world, all that other classwork stuff that I wish would just go away at this point, and I suppose there's a life outside of that framework left in here somewhere. I'm graduating at an odd time, I might add - the school is going through a transitional period where part of the administration seems to be trying to change it's hedgehog concept (and by the way, the economy doesn't help small public colleges). I'm not trying to make all of you empathize with the likable protagonist known as NHZ, I'm just telling you that yesterday the baseball season really snuck up on me. More so than any season I can remember since I was maybe seven years old, living in Maryland, and thought batting average was second only to Cal Ripken Jr. in awesomeness. Time's flown by lately.

My "oh hey, the season's here" moment occured when I returned to the suite that I live in up here in the cold recesses of north nowhere, to find one of my roommates--the obnoxious libertarian one with well-defined eyebrows--playing "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" on his laptop.  Just in case you care for some reason, it's a fun game. His concentration level was pretty impressive at the moment, so I skipped the greetings and turned on ESPN. A few moments later, the fact that the baseball season started in about twenty minutes really hit me. The magic words were John Kruk's, as the BBTN talking head picked Cleveland to win the World Series and I nearly choked on my Chicken Quesdilla Hotpocket. And yes, those taste every bit as good as they sound. I had other things to do, really, as this semester is pretty heavy on crappy little reading assignments, but instead I watched most of the Braves-Phillies game. You know it's opening night when you can tolerate John Miller, Joe Morgan, and Steve Phillips without yelling at your television screen. It was baseball, and it's back, and that's all that mattered. I'm a fan of multiple sports--I follow football very close as well, hockey sometimes too, and I play ultimate at college (insert your own pothead joke here)--but baseball has always been my favorite by far. It's the only sport that I spend an unhealthy amount of time watching, even if the games that are on involve teams I don't care about at all.

The Braves won the game, 4-1, in one of the first of gosh knows how many games I'll watch this year. The BP annual, as last year's edition did gosh knows how many times, came off the shelf in the second inning when I was trying to remember who in the heck this Jordan Schaefer--who took Brett Myers deep--kid was. Derek Lowe, who it's hard to believe is still an effective pitcher if you're a Sox fan who remembers his penultimate season in Beantown in 2004, pitched an absolute gem against the defending champs. My "that's definitely a home run" eye obviously isn't in mid-season form yet, as I still swear Greg Dobbs's drive against Lowe in the sixth had the distance. Mike Gonzalez was very shaky but picked up the save, reminding us all how important it is to have a Closer. And so the 2009 baseball season was here, complete with Joe Morgan's first two boneheaded tangents (Charlie Manuel is just as important as Chase Utley; Gary Sheffield is still awesome and should've been signed).

So I got back to thinking on the Royals, which is something I've been doing a lot lately but haven't really had much of a chance to expand into something more than vague ideas about the team's chances in 2009. It's no secret that Moore and Kansas City have had a very strange off-season, and it's equally obvious that the AL Central could be won by pretty much anyone this year. As with many of the members of this community, I'm encouraged by the idea of the Royals hanging in the picture due to the progress some of the young veterans should make this year, and, at the same time, frustrated by the prospect of watching Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez taking the mound as starters on a team that really had no reason to revamp a pretty solid starting group. I'm excited to watch what I'm hoping will be the year that Alex Gordon moves into "plus" territory, and I'm aghast--though not entirely POed--that Tony Pena Jr. managed to make the opening day roster. I'm hoping that finally, in what's my third season of participating on this blog in some capacity, that I can make it down to Kansas City for one of the games. And I'm hoping, PLEASE, that the game I make it down for this summer will be Greinke-Lee rather than Ponson-(insert Orioles starting pitcher other than Jeremy Guthrie here).

It's going to be a fun year for the Royals, I think. We won't be without our frustrating moments to be sure, as some of the veteran chaff brought in on a wave of replacement level excitement are sure to draw our ire. With the large contrast between the abilities of the young core of this team and the wholly unnecessary free agent acquisitions, the 2009 Kansas City Royals remind me a lot of the movie version of Watchmen. Mayeb it's a stretch, but hang with me here. KC has a lot of positives (young veteran position players, strong front of the rotation, S-O-R-I-A nailing down victories), a lot of negatives ("potential" is still just that for some player we thought would be stars by now, back end of the rotation, overpaid average at best acquisitions), and the end result is pretty mixed, but still exciting. "Watchmen" had its positives a very cool narrative structure, a totally rocking performance by Jackie Earle Harley as Rorschach, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's becoming "the Comedian," and Malin Akerman's curves. Its negatives being the pedestrian performances by most of the main actors, Dr. Manhattan somehow becoming boring, Richard Nixon's make-up, and Malin Akerman's acting. End result, very mixed, but still worth the price of admission. Particularly if you live in Maine where the movie theaters only charge five bucks (whoops, that's not really part of my simile).

Dropping the superhero stuff and talking just beisbol, it seems to me that the division is so weak compared to even the recent past of 2007 that I'm surprised that there's any kind of consensus on the favorite for the Central, projection systems notwithstanding. If Cleveland is the acknowleged favorite this year, than "why not us?" just became a question that deserves a clear answer instead of being dismissed as false hope. As with the movie adaptation of everyone's favorite superhero story, the ride will be exciting and have its positives. It's a little disappointing, I suppose, to be writing that the team has a chance because the division stinks. But I look at it this way; if we happen to win a division title by accident this year, while at the same time building towards a legitimate 90-win team down the road, then the possibility of that is much more fun than beginning the year with "wait 'til next year" as the team's unofficial slogan again.

Watchmen won't have a sequel (or, uh, really shouldn't and I'll ignore it if it does) The 2009 Kansas City Royals will. In the meantime, I'm on the edge of my seat. What's up with this rain? Gosh that's annoying.