It snowed here in Washington this past weekend. This morning it was cold and rainy when I woke up and, even yesterday when the temperature warmed into the 50s at midday the sun was long gone by 5 o’clock.
That’s why they call it December. Of course it won’t even officially be winter for 12 more days. After that, ever so slowly the days will start to get warmer.
No, I haven’t decided my future is as a weather blogger.
It’s funny what happens to me this time of year when I go out in the lousy weather, especially in the morning when I walk down the driveway to pick up the newspapers. I think about baseball a lot. I don’t really care about all the rumors that get thrown out that, if you believe them, Roy Halladay would have been traded 47 times since last July. When Halladay is actually traded, tell me and I’ll be interested. But the real news—trades, free agent signings, radio and TV guys changing jobs even—I love to soak up.
It isn’t that I don’t love college basketball season. I do and I really enjoy walking into a hot gym brimming with noise and anticipation prior to a game on a cold night. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I get a bigger kick out of games like George Mason-George Washington or Navy-Penn than the big time games. The other day Dick Vitale called me about something I’d written a while ago on the blog and he said to me, “I just don’t see you at games very much anymore.”
He’s right. It isn’t that I don’t go to ACC games or Big East games—I do. To be honest, part of it is that I’m just too damn spoiled after all these years to sit in the end zone at Maryland or Georgetown or someplace upstairs at Virginia. A lot of the big time schools—most in fact—have moved the media off press row in order to put in “Spike Lee,” seats and put some more cash into their pockets. I don’t question their right to do it, I simply don’t enjoy it. As I said, I’m spoiled. Plus, I just get a kick out of seeing teams battle who don’t think of the NBA or playing on national TV as a birthright. It’s just more fun—at least for me.
But even though I love college basketball season and tracking the teams in the non-major conferences closely to see who has a chance to play postseason, I still find myself regularly counting the days until spring training.
It isn’t as if I’m one of those baseball guys who heads to Florida or Arizona on February 15th and rents a condo for six weeks. I did do most of six weeks in Florida—with two trips to Arizona thrown in—back in 1992 when I wrote “Play Ball,” my first baseball book. It was fun, but I was also shuttling north for basketball and to get home a couple times. It was also before I had kids.
Nowadays, I usually spend one week in Florida and make it what I call a combo trip. Last year, for example, I stopped in Gainesville to see a Tennessee-Florida basketball game, spent three days at The Honda Classic in Palm Beach and threw in three baseball games before I had to go home to do a basketball tripleheader: Patriot League semifinal in Washington, then a fast trip to Richmond for The CAA semifinals that night.
You see, my life doesn’t suck.
This morning I picked up the paper and read with interest that the Yankees had given up three highly-rated prospects to get Curtis Granderson. Because I like Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski and—like a lot of people—have a warm spot in my heart for Detroit, I really hope some of the five prospects the Tigers got in the three team (Diamondbacks) deal pan out. The best baseball story of 2009, with due respect to the eight playoff teams, was the Tigers return to contention at a time when the city so desperately needed something to feel good about.
The best baseball line of the year as reported by (I think) Lee Jenkins in Sports Illustrated was what Leyland said to his players in spring training: “Fellas, this is not the year to not run out a ground ball.”
Here in Washington there was another big winter meetings story: The Nationals signing Pudge Rodriguez. A lot of baseball people questioned it because Rodriguez is 38 and has slowed down a LOT since the years when he earned his place in the Hall of Fame. The Nationals, not exactly big spenders on the free agent market most of the time, coughed up $6 million in a two-year contract for Rodriguez. The standard thinking in baseball is that he could have been had—should have been had—for one year.
One of the critics was radio analyst Jim Bowden who called it “another bad signing by the Nationals,” citing the bad signings of Dmitri Young and Paul LoDuca as examples. The irony of that comment being that Bowden was the one who made those two signings when he was the Nats GM.
I think signing Rodriguez was close to brilliant. His on-field numbers can’t begin to tell the full story of his potential value to the team. The Nationals have a 25-year-old catcher named Jesus Flores who, if he can ever stay healthy, has a world of potential. Flores is really smart and will no doubt learn every single day he’s around Rodriguez. Plus, the Nationals have nothing but young starting pitchers, including No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg and who better to nurture them than a guy who has 13 Gold Gloves?
Great move as far as I’m concerned even if the Nats overspent. Did the Yankees overspend on Mark Texeira and CC Sabathia last winter? The Nats can afford to gamble $6 million, I think.
The other news that caught my eye was that Peter Gammons is leaving ESPN to join the MLB network. I think this is a big deal but it may just be because I’ve admired and liked Gammons for so long. He was one of the first true reporters to make the fulltime jump to TV and he brought real resonance to ESPN’s baseball coverage. Tim Kurkijian and Buster Olney are the real deal as reporters too but both would tell you they learned from Gammons—as did we all. Without Gammons, ESPN is a step closer to being just a bunch of ex-players reading off teleprompters and telling us the obvious. Obviously this is a coup for MLB TV.
Right now as I sit here looking outside at a slate gray sky, it is 68 days until pitchers and catchers report; 82 days until exhibition games begin and 84 days until my planned Florida trip. I’m actually fired up.
You see, as you get older it is funny the memories that stick with you. Three years ago, I had to drive to Bucknell on a Saturday for a first weekend in March basketball game. It was a noon game, so I was in the car heading home by about 2:30 and as I fiddled with the radio I picked up an Orioles-Mets exhibition game. I remember steaming down Rte. 15 in Pennsylvania as David Wright hit one out against an Orioles prospect named Hayden Penn.
I have no idea why I remember that moment but when I do, thinking about the snowy road, the stop for coffee in Harrisburg at Dunkin’ Donuts (okay, I may have had a donut too) and seeing in my mind’s eye Wright’s shot carrying out of the ballpark in Port St. Lucie, I smile.
Even now, with all that’s gone on in the game through the years, baseball makes me smile. Even in December.
Several people asked yesterday about sending me questions to ask Bill Hancock from The BCS on Friday at dinner. I have warned Bill that I may be coming armed with questions from college football fans. So, ask away and I’ll see what Bill comes up with on Friday night. For the record, he doesn’t drink wine. He drinks beer—with ice. Which may explain a lot.