Play Ball, from David Lillienfeld

February 20, 2015 |

 There are indeed spirits afoot, and no, they are not related to Rocky's ghost.

The spirit is one of the spring, a time of renewal, a time of warmer weather, a time when snow melts and the grasses up north start to green as the boys of summer begin to slough off the slumber of winter.

in short, it is spring training time, a ritual going on for more than a century (actually 120+ years). And not only has this rite of spring been going on for a while, it's never been something exclusively American (or at least taking place in the 48 contiguous states), as the Dodgers once-upon-a-time trained in Cuba (extra credit points for the when and for what reason).

Orioles pitchers and catchers report today. (Same for the Cards, Scott.) Let's summarize some notables from the winter: First, the Os did not lose their general manager. On the other hand, that general manager doesn't appear to have done much for a second straight winter. Judging the results from last year, though, it may be hard to argue with his method.

Many O's stalwarts, like Nick Markakis, are gone. They will be missed. The pitching staff remains weak. There are three potential all-stars who missed either all or large segments of last year; will they perform this year? Mochado and Weiters are both question marks in whether they get onto the diamond, and Crush Davis needs to get his 2013 groove back if the Os are to stand a chance at the post-seaon in 2015.

So the Os are a question mark for the season. That's been the case for a while, and one hopes that maybe, just maybe, next winter will be more productive than this past one has been.

In the meantime, some predictions:

First, the Yanks are going to demonstrate that while money isn't everything, it's well ahead of whatever's in second place. That said, there's no reason not to think the Royals might repeat. Time will tell the tale. Regardless, come next January, New Yorkers will likely pay more attention to the Yanks off-season moves than to anything the Knicks may be doing.

Second, the Padres will improve this year. It's hard to see how they couldn't.

 The Cubbies. Ah, yes, the Cubbies. The Cubbies did a lot to rebuild/retool the team in the past 12 months, even as the beloved Ernie Banks passed from our time. However, I will go out on a limb and—to the disappointment of those baseball fans on the north side of Chicago and Cubs fans everywhere else—the Cubbies will not only not win the Fall Classic, but they will not even be in it! I say that with some sense of certainty. Why? Regression to the mean. Except in the case of the Cubbies, going back more almost three-quarters of a century, have not been in the series, and hence, the variance for that regression line is zero. Zip. Maybe this year will be the outlier, but I doubt it. (And for Cub fans everywhere, that may well be the best indicator that the Cubs will clinch the series in four. But we'll see in eight months. Or is the post-season long enough now that it's nine?)

So, in the spirit of spring:

"Spring is here, spring is here
Life is skittles and life is beer
I think the loveliest time of the year
Is the spring, I do, don't you? Course you do
But there's one thing that makes spring complete for me
And makes every Sunday a treat for me

All the world seems in tune on a spring afternoon
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park
Every Sunday you'll see my sweetheart and me
As we poison the pigeons in the park

When they see us coming
The birdies all try and hide
But they still go for peanuts
When coated with cyanide

The sun's shining bright
Everything seems all right
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park

We've gained notoriety
And caused much anxiety
In the Audobon Society
With our games
They call it impiety
And lack of propriety
And quite a variety of unpleasant names

But it's not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon

So if Sunday you're free
Why don't you come with me
And we'll poison the pigeons in the park
And maybe we'll do in a squirrel or two
While we're poisoning pigeons in the park

We'll murder them amid laughter and merriment
Except for the few we take home to experiment

My pulse will be quickenin'
With each drop of strychnine
We feed to a pigeon
It just takes a smidgin
To poison a pigeon in the park.”

Those being the immortal observations of Tom Lehrer, who had only 102 performances in his brief and non-stellar musical career. Even so, enough material for one Broadway (I think it made it that far) show and one off-Broadway show, both of which ran, I think, for some time, gives some reason for pause.

Play ball!


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