Spring training is a glorious time for baseball.
Everyone has hopes and dreams of pennants and titles. Except the Rays. And the Marlins. And possibly the Pirates. But everyone else! Yes, the mountaintop is just a climb away.
As a fairly optimistic person, spring training is one of my favorite times of the year for that very reason. We can hope that Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Cole will be the new murderer’s row, just like Koufax-Drysdale-Podres staffs or the hated Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz teams. We can dream of three legitimate MVP candidates in the field at one time.
But do you know what my favorite part of the spring is?
STOP THAT! STOP THAT! NO MORE SINGING!
Houston already won the World Series. Everyone’s favorite second baseman, Jose Altuve, won the MVP. What more can we want? What more can we hope for? At best, we’re just hoping against a slow and inexorable decline that time has in store for us all.
Grim stuff, eh?
Already, Houston has lost World Series hero and culturally insensitive first baseman Yulieski Gurriel to a hand injury. What’s worse is that it’s a hamate bone injury. I’m no Dr. Brooks Parker, but IIRC, that’s the “zapper,” the thing that can take away a hitter’s power for a while even after it heals. Derek Fisher had a similar injury before he was drafted, which is one of the reasons why he slid to Houston.
The glow from Houston’s first World Series title still leaves me from feeling too worried about this season. Sure, the window won’t be open forever. Yeah, maybe Dallas Keuchel is leaving after the season. Maybe we only have two more years to see George Springer swing out of his shoes.
Such is the push and pull of the spring. Nothing really matters but it all matters. The World Series hangover is real, but I still want things out of this season. I want Carlos Correa to break out in a big way. I want Alex Bregman to continue to be delightful and take the next step to becoming one of the best third basemen in baseball. I want Kyle Tucker to turn into Ted Williams 2.0, complete with cursing and generally cranky attitude. I’d love that.
Instead, this spring brings a different kind of feeling for Astros fans. At least for me, it’s things like “crush everyone in their path and hear the lamentation of their women.” Or “make Rangers fans cry again.” Or “embarrass the Yankees on a national stage again.”
But more to the point, it’s a curiousness about what the story of this season will be. In every season before this one, there was a driving need to win it all. How else would all those hours and years of commitment to this team pay off?
When we root for a team, there’s an implicit bargain entered into by fans. For every night we spend staying up too late to watch a West Coast game, we want a payoff. We want to see our emotions and attachment rewarded.
We want to see them win.
It’s even worse for those of us dumb enough to write about this team throughout the wilderness years. I spent more time wishcasting the future of Matt Dominguez and Lucas Harrell than I’ll ever care to admit.
The title not only validated all that time and energy, it validated how I saw the game of baseball. I heartily believe in the analytical side of the game. Numbers don’t replace how I watch a game, they enhance it. Houston winning it all helped prove that this rebuild, with it’s piggyback pitching rotations and pitch framing and all the rest, wasn’t a bad idea. It all worked.
This year, we can all appreciate the season for its ups and downs. What if Houston blitzes the AL West again? How cool would that be? But, just as intriguing, what if we get an honest-to-God pennant race? One that comes right down to the wire, like the Astros experience in 1999. That would be cool.
Maybe this season I can take a step back to survey the bigger picture. Maybe I can appreciate the poetry and power of the game. Maybe I can dwell on the breathtaking spectacle and the quiet moments in between.
Baseball is a glorious game. The Astros won the World Series. I hope I can appreciate all that in 2018.