Sports

Baseball season opens today

In my opinion, this year is the Cubs’ year. This is their year to go all the way and win the World Series. I can feel it. Then again, I say that every year, and every year ends in disappointment — but that’s part of being a Cubs fan. It is part of the invisible pact one makes when placing faith in a team whose last World Series victory came in 1908. This, by the way, is the longest championship dry spell of any team in the MLB, NFL, NHL, or NBA.
Whether this will be a good year for the Cubs is still debatable, but this is certainly a good day for Major League Baseball. The defending World Series champions, the Chicago White Sox, opened the 2006 season last night when they hosted the Cleveland Indians, but the majority of the league’s games start today. With 13 games to watch, it is a good day indeed.
There are some intriguing things to keep an eye on during the 2006 season, starting with former Boston Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon’s going over to the dark side to join the evil empire known as the New York Yankees and being forced to get a haircut in the process.
Barry Bonds, currently with 708 career home runs, is only six home runs behind Babe Ruth and 47 behind all-time home run leader Hank Aaron. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2005 season, and to worsen things, he has to deal with allegations that he uses steroids, as published in Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams’ Game of Shadows, a book detailing his extensive doping program.
In the American League (AL), the Chicago White Sox hope to repeat as AL Central champions; but the Cleveland Indians, who came close to making the playoffs last year, will try to dethrone the defending champs. It will be interesting to see how the White Sox fare as they try to defend their first World Series title since 1918.
The Los Angeles Angels of
Anaheim (yeah, that is their name now) and the Oakland A’s will both be banking on quality starting pitching and solid defense to carry them to a division crown this season in the AL West.
The East figures to be another Yankees–Red Sox battle, with the two teams playing each other 19 times. The Toronto Blue Jays could challenge these powerhouses with their addition of pitcher A.J. Burnett, closer B.J. Ryan, first baseman Lyle Overbay, third baseman Troy Glaus, and catcher Bengie Molina.
In the National League (NL), my Chicago Cubs compete in the Central Division with arguably the best team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. With a brand-spanking-new stadium and the star power of Cy Young winner and starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, not to mention reigning MVP first baseman Albert Pujols, the Cardinals look to be heading to another post-season.
The NL wildcard spot is up for grabs as well, as the NL East figures to have the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies all fighting for playoff spots. The NL West was not strong last year, but the Los Angeles Dodgers had a busy off-season acquiring infielders Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, and Bill Mueller and outfielder Kenny Lofton while simultaneously changing their general manager and manager.
For those of you interested in the Pittsburgh Pirates, and only the Pirates, this season, things are on the upswing. The Pirates have a young team (and 13 straight losing seasons), but they have a new manager and a new attitude. They increased their payroll in the off-season and acquired veterans such as first baseman Sean Casey, outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, and third baseman Joe Randa. These players hope to cure the Pirates’ problem — diagnosed as an inability to score runs — so their offense will be able to support their young pitching staff. Not one of Pittsburgh’s top four starting pitchers (Oliver Perez, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, and Ian Snell) is older than 24. Talented relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez is the team’s new closer, despite having only four major-league saves in his career. Overall, the Pirates are very talented, but young, so Pirates fans should be patient with this team and trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
By my assessment, come October and baseball playoffs, expect to see the NL represented by the Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers, and the Cubs sneaking in with the wildcard. The AL will wind up with the Yankees, White Sox, Athletics, and Red Sox making the playoffs. The Cubs will throw out the Curse of the Billy Goat, win the National League pennant, and then go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series, ending their 98-year championship drought.
The world will be turned upside down when this happens; there will be utter pandemonium in the streets of Chicago, and I will fly, drive, hitchhike, even scooter if I have to, my way over to the Windy City to be a part of it. After all, every Cubs fan (unless he’s over 98 years young) has futilely waited his entire life to see the Cubs win a World Series, so it wouldn’t be wise to miss out and bank on their winning, say, three World Series in a row. Although, now that I start to think about it, it would be a lot cooler if they did.