The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers Report

Today is the day.

Sports fans reckon today as the real New Year's Day. Today is the four sweetest words in all of sport, the words that indicate that spring is on its way, that all things are once again new and filled with hope.

Pitchers and Catchers Report.

Now, granted, not every team has its spring report date today. The Cleveland Indians, however, open their camp for their catchers and their pitching staff – including reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.

What's important is that the season unofficially starts today. And, fans of every single team in the majors hopes that it's the beginning of a long ride that doesn't end until late in October with a trophy and a victory parade through downtown.

The hope that springs eternal with the beginning of Spring Training is badly needed in times like these. Hope is hard to find when the economy is so bad, people are losing their jobs and scandal rocks the sports world.

Teams are feeling the crunch of the poor economic times – some more than others. The oldest NL franchise, the Cubs, is up for sale as its parent company declares bankruptcy. Meanwhile, another team – the Mets – are dealing with the fallout not only from their new ballpark's naming rights holder, but with the financial swindling by a financier of the team.

What should be a year of celebration – two brand new ballparks in New York City, the final year of a monstrosity in Minneapolis – has turned into a tour de farce. Steroid scandal has reached from Roger Clemens and his "dirty needles" to Barry Bonds and his charges of lying to congress. And as camps open, the story suddenly has a new face: Alex Rodriguez, whose reputation had already taken a hit over the off-season from name calling by his former manager, Joe Torre.

There should be expectation in the air, as the second World Baseball Classic is upcoming. Unfortunately, uncertainty in south Florida over a new ballpark could mean their last year in a stadium that was never meant to be a baseball field. And even as they celebrate an American League pennant across the peninsula in Tampa, there are questions over the Rays future. Can they hope to compete when they share a division with two teams that try desperately to outspend each other annually? Is a new ballpark in their future? Or are they going to be the ones that leave for greener pastures?

While the City of Brotherly Love basks in the glow of the Phillies' second world championship in franchise history, the city of Oakland is wondering how much longer it will have the A's as its own. Their owner, Lew Wolff, has been actively pursuing a new ballpark down the road in Fremont – though that has been fraught with hurdles that make about as much sense as the BALCO grand jury's actions.

Excitement is brewing in Milwaukee after their first playoff appearance in over a quarter century – but there's also a fear that they may not be able to replicate that feat with the loss of their mid-season acquisition CC Sabathia. The question as to whether Braden Looper can be an adequate replacement for Ben "Ouch" Sheets got kicked off the sports pages when – once again – Brett Favre told everyone he was retiring. "And this time, I mean it."

Still – it is the true first day of spring, the day that pitchers and catchers report. For at least one day, anything is possible. Teams can see ways that they could be this year's Rays or Phillies; young rookies look more promising, while aging vets are trying to recapture lightning in a bottle

Let the games begin. We've got eight more months before the World Series gets underway.