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April 3 2000: Opening Day Thoughts

Here it is, my first Opening Day in years and years. Maybe it’s that baseball itself is so much more popular this year than it was during some of the doldrum years (the strike, etc…) or maybe it’s that I’m just so much more aware of it… or maybe it is both… but Baseball Is Everywhere. I was in Washington, DC this weekend, and the Washington Post, one of this great nation’s papers of record, has its Baseball Preview Section. Washington, DC doesn’t even have a baseball team. While in Union Station, waiting to get on the train back to Boston, I couldn’t help but notice the prominent, front window display of baseball books in the B. Dalton bookstore there. Turned on the radio this afternoon and they were “talkin’ baseball” on Talk of The Nation on National Public Radio. The Three Shortstops are on the cover of GQ again this week, not a coincidence in timing, I’m sure.

Seems I’m not the only one who couldn’t wait for the season to get here, and now, here it is! It’s our last chance to stop and reflect on last year’s glories, to make our predictions and picks for this year, and to make our final good luck wishes on before the starting gun goes off.

Of course, the question paramount in my mind is, will Yankee magic work again? The bench is not as strong as it used to be (no Chili Davis or Darryl Strawberry), several star players are aging and injury prone (Cone, Clemens, O’Neill, and what is up with Bernie Williams’ shoulders?), we’ve got doubts about some of the youngsters rising to the occasion (Ledee, Posada, Spencer). If it’s going to work, it’s going to be because the whole will turn out to be greater than the sum of its parts. This is true, too, of the Red Sox. I’m looking forward to an interesting saga with the battle between these two teams in the AL East.

Last year, the Sox were able to get the jump on the Yanks several times during regular season play. Was 1999 they’d finally field a better team than the Yanks? It looked possible for a while, didn’t it. But while the Sox scrabbled and fought their way through the Indians, the Yanks were gelling into their post-season juggernaut, steamrolling the Texas Rangers with brutal efficiency. It was almost the same story when they met the Braves, who had had to beat down the resurrected Mets again and again, until finally emerging bloody and victorious to face the cool, uncrackable Yanks.

Right now, on Opening Day, you can look back over Spring training and see the Yanks beginning that gelling process again. After the messy, loose start to the grapefruit season, the Yanks went on a tear of wins at the end, as the pieces fell into place. Even as each player began to find his groove, the team began to find their winning rhythm. Oh, they didn’t win them all, breaking the win streak by dropping to the Houston Astros in the first two games ever played in the new Enron Field, 6-5 and again 6-5 the next night. But they clobbered the Giants in the new PacBell Park. And tonight, it’s on to Anaheim.

So, the Yanks look crackable on paper, for the abovementioned flaws and deficiencies, for the potential disasters that lurk. But if they carry the momentum they built up at the end of the spring, if they can continually remake the team in their minds, every time a new challenge arises, then they will win it. They won’t be unbeatable–but no team is unbeatable on any given day. I mean, even in the year they won 125 games, they still lost, what, 62? You’re always going to lose at least 1 out of 3.

The Sox, and others, have to hope it’s the right 1 out of 3.

I don’t like to make predictions about division winners and individual performances, because I’m afraid of jinxing. No, really. And also because I know I’m going to be caught up in whatever happens, whether the season is suspenseful or supreme, whether as predicted or a complete surprise, whether good or bad.

Play Ball!

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