Imagine that you are a baseball fan living in Washington, DC. You waited almost 34 hopeless and hopeful years for a big league team. You waited while teams moved, teams were born by expansion, teams were almost contracted but none ever came back to that old baseball town.
And then, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the Montreal Expos avoided the contracters' noose and survived. And one fine unbelievable day, the Expos became the Washington Nationals. And just like that the Nation's Capital seemed to have a big-league team again. Well, it had a team that played other major league teams on a regular basis, 162 times a season in fact. But who among us could really call what is being put on the field in DC a major league team? Take a look at these guys and you start thinking of the 1962 Mets or the 2002-2003 Detroit Tigers--a bad team of historic proportions. The only saving grace is Ryan Zimmerman at third base. First baseman Nick Johnson could almost be in that category but he's injured and gets hurt with regularity. And as a result Dmitri Young is going to be the first baseman and what a frightening prospect that is.
If you want proof of how bad these Nats should be, take a look at Sports Illustrated's baseball preview for the Nats: projected starting pitchers have a total of two big league victories last season. The next few seasons are sure to test the dedication of those fans who waited those empty years for a big league team to call their own. It seems they're still waiting. But like the rest of us they find reason to hope and they do have an opportunity to see big league teams in their road uniforms at least.
Imagine that you are a fan of the New York Yankees, easy to do at this low-rise blog, and you wake up one morning to find that Carl Pavano might be the Yankees Opening Day starter. That's C-A-R-L P-A-V-A-N-O, he of the season and a half on the disabled list; he of the distracted recuperation from a series of mysterious ailments; he of the Porsche wrapped around (beneath?) a garbage truck late one night in West Palm Beach; he of the failure to communicate with his team that he had the accident and was injured again. That Carl Pavano.
When Chien Ming Wang popped a hammy last week at training camp the Yankees decided that rather than upset the presumably set rotation of the now injured Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Kei Igawa the team would just move Pavano from the fifth starter, one who we could have not seen at all till late April, to Opening Day. Sure, Joe Torre, it's just one game. You believe that? Didn't think so. Opening Day is a time for hope and dreams and not Carl Pavano. But there he may be. If you're a Yankee fan do you hope that Pavano holds up through the first start so you're blessed to watch him again and again or do you hope that his one true skill--getting hurt--shows itself so you don't have to think about him. Guess which way I'm leaning. But is Pavano as Opening Day pitcher any reason to lose hope in the Bombers? Nah.
Imagine that you're a fan of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (I know there are some; I've seen some Nation profiles that verify this fact) and you see the team wearing that spiffy uniform patch marking the team's 10th anniversary season and you remind yourself that your team has now gone nine full seasons AND NEVER WON MORE THAN 70 GAMES. The players change and still the DRays lose; the manager changes and still the DRays lose; ownership changes and still the DRays lose. You Devil Rays fans must know that your team won 41 home games in that dump of a stadium and still lost 101 overall (now that is hard to do); you probably also know that your team lost virtually half the games it held leads in.
And you may be filled with dread that the talent on this team (and there definitely is some) will give up the ghost and that ugly barn in St. Pete rather than wait for a pitcher, any pitcher to come along who can lead the pitching staff to the promised land or at least to 71 wins. How will it feel to see Scott Kazmir fulfill his left-handed promise on a team that has lost Carl Crawford or Rocco Baldelli? Could happen. But you must hope that it doesn't. It can't. Pretty please?
Imagine you're a fan of the Detroit Tigers and you look at your team's pitching staff that includes Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Joel Zumaya and Francisco Rodney and you think, "man we could be good for a long time." And that is what these last days of March are really about. Hope and promise; anticipation and a bit of dread; a long, long time from April to October.
And so we tingle with excitement about Sunday night's opener that rematches the Mets and the champion Cardinals to resume what ended so brilliantly last fall in the NLCS. And then days of openers, home and road and a first real look at your team.
It's baseball, ladies and gentlemen. Baseball.