Opening Day Fills Fans With Euphoric Emotions: Baseball Is Back

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April 5, 2009.

 

One-hundred and fifty-eight days of withdrawal between Brad Lidge’s strikeout to win it all at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark on Oct. 29 and the opening pitch in the very same stadium. 

 

It starts tonight at 8 PM ET where the reigning champs play host to the Braves.

 

It begins in Philadelphia, but where will it end?

 

Magic begins. Miracles happen.

 

The sound of the wood bat striking a 98 mile per hour fastball. The feel of your hand inside a freshly-oiled glove.

 

The days start getting a little longer. The weather a little warmer. Springtime is here.

 

25 men, nine coaches, a front office and an entire stadium full of fans all pulling together. 

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Baseball is America’s sport. America’s pastime.

There’s a feeling of optimism within each of the 30 teams today.

 

A fresh start. A new chance.

 

An opportunity to prove that their transactions over the winter have put them in position to be the best team in baseball. This could be the year.

 

The pennant will be raised in Philly. The Rays will try to prove last year wasn’t just a fluke. The Yankees are in a new home, and will try to make a comeback after not being invited to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

 

Will money prove to win championships? Or can Kerry Wood’s new home take the Indians to the top? Will Francisco Rodriguez be the answer to the Mets’ late season chokes?

 

The dirt has been watered. The lines are chalked. The smell of the freshly cut grass lingers in the air. Pine tar is spread up the first 17 inches of the bats.

 

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Tell Fenway Park to strike up “Sweet Caroline” after the sixth inning again and “Tessie” after a win. Wrigley fans can join in the infamous “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” singing during the seventh-inning stretch.

Maybe year 101 will be the lucky year for the Cubs to finally break their curse.

 

Each jersey is pressed. Each light and each seat in the stands has been checked as the scoreboard lights up for the first time.

 

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Contracts are finalized. Lineups are penciled in. But the road to the postseason is anything but certain.

Summer nights will soon settle in where there is no better place to be than at the ballpark. Fans of all ages will soon fall asleep to the voices of Peter Gammons, Harold Reynolds, and Kurt Ravech on Baseball Tonight.

 

The boys of summer.

 

Inside the stadium, concession lines will form as hot dogs are cooked. Ketchup, mustard, and all of the condiments of your choice.

 

Sunflower seeds, peanuts, and crackerjacks.

 
 

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Fans willing to shell out $11 for a hot dog and soda, and not ashamed to do so–just for a chance to witness something great. The chance to see someone great. The chance to witness history.

A towering 450-foot home run. Hustling around first base and sliding into second for a double down the line. Taking one step too many and getting caught in a pickle which turns to be a 1-3-6-1-4-3 out to end the inning.

 

Stains on the jersey from a diving catch deep in the outfield. Collisions at the plate.

 

Infuriated managers. Ejections.

 

Catchers giving pitchers signs. Pitchers shaking off the catcher’s sign.

 

A suicide bunt to score the tying run. A grand slam. Hitting for the cycle.

 

Extra innings. Game-winning walk-off hits. Fireworks. Excitement. Celebrations.

 

Grown men dog piling on top of each other.

 

 


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Joy.

 

Baseball brings euphoric emotions to each of its fans.

 

Dreams begin for children today. Dreams for their team. Dreams of playing someday.

 

Dreams for adults. This game allows them to become kids. Fathers and sons enjoying their first glimpse of the new season while playing hooky from work and school.

 

We witnessed extraordinary events in 2008: two no-hitters, Manny Ramirez’s 500th career home run, Ken Griffey Jr. hitting his 600th, a phenomenal showing by Josh Hamilton in the Home Run Derby, the longest All-Star Game, and two historic stadiums hosting their final games.

 

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What will be in store for 2009?

Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run? Randy Johnson’s 300th career win?

 

An unassisted triple play? The game’s 18th perfect game?

 

So button up your jersey. Tighten your newly-polished cleats. Adjust your cap and get ready. The boys are back in town, ready for a 162-game dogfight for the chance to be crowned the world’s greatest.

 

Baseball is back.

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

 

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Don Baylor’s Coaching Brings Power To Colorado Rockies’ Lineup

 

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Opening Weekend is upon us at last.

 

But baseball season right around the corner brings uncertainties for each ballclub.

 

Heading into his club-leading eighth season at the helm of the Rockies, manager Clint Hurdle has reached the end of his contract.

 

Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort have made it clear that Hurdle’s performance will be judged critically and that no Opening Day contract extensions will be awarded like in 2007.

 

During the offseason, the Rockies cleared out a majority of Hurdle’s coaching staff and brought in veterans like Jim Tracy (bench coach) and former Rockies manager Don Baylor (hitting coach).

 

A couple wrong moves by Hurdle and one of these guys could be getting a promotion.

 

Baylor led the Rockies for their first six years of existence before being fired for Jim Leyland, who had just led the Florida Marlins to their first World Series championship two years prior.

 

Leyland quickly fled, and then Buddy Bell managed for two years and a few games, and then Hurdle replaced him less than a month into the 2002 season.

 

Baylor, whose career coaching record in Colorado stands at 440-469 (.484), has the highest winning percentage in club history.

 

His tenure with the Rockies includes the team’s first trip to the postseason, a 1995 Wild Card berth, and a Manager of the Year award.

 

In his final season with the Rockies, he guided them to a fourth-place finish and a 77-85 record. With this statistic, it doesn’t bother me that he was replaced soon after.

 

What does bother me, however, is the fact that the Rockies have bettered that record just twice in the 10 seasons since, and just one time under Hurdle’s reign.

 

Despite his sub-.500 career record, Baylor is the best manager the Rockies have ever had. He has been so instrumental to the club that he was even selected to be an honorary member on Hurdle’s staff at the 2008 All-Star Game because of his influence to the ballclub.

 

Baylor has brought a noticeable amount of change to the Rockies clubhouse this spring. The team’s offensive numbers are showing evident improvements, with several players giving Baylor the credit.

 

The team’s offense shows a lot of potential with power in the lineup from the top all the way through. It even seems a little bit like the Blake Street Bombers–the offensive powerhouses of Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker during the late 1990s under Baylor’s managing.

 

Even without Matt Holliday in the lineup, the Rockies have known power coming from Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins. Todd Helton is showing that his back is healing just fine, while Ryan Spilborghs’ spring says that he can be a multi-tool center fielder, including a powerful bat. Troy Tulowitzki’s determination should help him bounce back from his sophomore slump, while Chris Iannetta’s numbers could top the chart among the league’s catchers. Seth Smith will get some outfield starts and even off the bench the Rockies are loaded, with names like Ian Stewart (hopefully not off the bench), and Jeff Baker.

 

Our pitching may be inconsistent, but the offense should be explosive. Maybe ditching the humidors and bringing back the days of the Bombers isn’t such a crazy thought.

 

Back in Baylor’s days as manager, he would hold The Don Baylor Show, a segment of the postgame show after Sunday afternoon games. Three kids in attendance were able to go on the show and ask the skipper a question for him to answer.

 

I once was lucky enough to get on the show. If I had the opportunity today, maybe I’d ask Baylor to bring back the power at Coors Field.

 

Baylor has been missed. Could his presence in the clubhouse result in the Blake Street Bombers 2.0?

  

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Colorado Rockies Have Dynamic Duo Late In Games

Huston Street and Manny Corpas will pitch in the 8th and 9th innings

It was a difficult decision.

 

One that couldn’t be made until four simple days before Opening Day.

 

But nonetheless, it’s becoming a reoccurring decision for the Rockies organization lately.

 

I’m talking about the Rockies’ closer–the ninth inning guy that goes in with more pressure on his shoulders than anyone else.

 

Much like a pinch hitter, the closer enters the game after sitting for the first eight innings, waiting for his opportunity to shine.

 

When he does it right, he’s seen as a hero, a firefighter, and he’s given the accolade of a “save.”

 

When he doesn’t do it right, he’s often booed, and seen as the reason the team’s failure.

 

The Rockies named Huston Street as the club’s 2009 starter (at least for now) Thursday afternoon. Street was awarded the position over Manny Corpas, who won the hearts of Rockies’ fans during the playoff run in late 2007.

 

Corpas was lights out after taking over as the Rockies’ closer when then-closer Brian Fuentes blew four consecutive saves opportunities in late June.

 

The native of Panama had an ERA of 1.02 after the switch, and successfully saved 19 of his 20 opportunities. His only blown save was in the World Series.

 

After posting these numbers, Corpas was given the opportunity to close the 2008 season. However, once again, a series of struggles early in the season caused manager Clint Hurdle to revert back to Fuentes, who closed the remainder of the season before filing for free agency and signing with the Los Angeles Angels.

 

Corpas then seemed to be the Rockies’ 2009 closer, and even when Street was acquired from the Athletics in a trade for Matt Holliday, many fans believed he would still win the spot.

 

In roughly the same amount of innings pitched in spring training, Corpas allowed fewer hits (seven to 11), fewer earned runs (one to six), more strikeouts (five to four), and a lower ERA (1.00 to 5.23).

 

However, Street’s statistics can be read misleadingly due to the fact that he was still overcoming a quadriceps injury in early March. Take away Street’s first two appearances, and in his final eight, he gave up just one run, a single hit and zero walks.

 

Many fans are upset and have multiple speculations on why Street was given the role over Corpas.

 

One theory is to make the controversial offseason trade sending Holliday to the Athletics look better.

 

The three players the Rockies received in return for Holliday include Street, starting pitcher Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Smith and Gonzalez will both be starting the year in Colorado Springs playing Triple-A ball, while some say that Street was given the closer role so that at least one of the players featured in the trade would be seen as a major factor in 2009.

 

Another possibility is Street’s experience.

 

In his four-year career, Street is 21-12 with a 2.88 ERA. In addition, the former A’s closer has 94 saves on his resume. Street has missed time each of the last two seasons, however, due to injuries.

 

Despite the front office’s decisions sometimes, I do believe that this team’s intentions are to put the best group of players onto the field each day and to win ballgames.

 

Both pitchers will still get plenty of experience, with Corpas currently being the set-up man and Street closing it out.

 

The way I see it, the Rockies have two solid late-inning pitchers that are both capable of closing ballgames. Whether it is Street or Corpas that gets it done, having both pitchers in the final two innings of a game should be a very valuable asset to the club and very intimidating to opposing teams.

 

And for you Corpas supporters, having him not being named the opening day closer might not be that bad of a thing. If history says anything, he may regain his role. The last two years, the backup has been the one that ends up closing games by the end of the year.

 

It’s a long, 162-game season. Things can change. But either way, the Rockies have a reliable duo that they can count on.

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Huston Street Claims Rockies’ Closer Role

One of the biggest questions facing the Colorado Rockies coming into spring training has been answered.

 

Manager Clint Hurdle will announce this afternoon that Huston Street has beat out Manny Corpas for the club’s closer role.

 

The decision brings much controversy among Rockies’ fans.

 

After Street’s slow start to spring training, many believed Corpas would claim the spot.

 

Street’s spring stat line is not impressive. In 10.1 innings pitched, the former Oakland Athletic has allowed 11 hits, seven runs (six earned), surrendered two home runs and walked two in addition to a hit batsman.

 

Corpas, the Rockies’ opening day closer in 2008 until losing the role to Brian Fuentes partway through the season, pitched 9.0 innings this spring, allowing seven hits and just one run.

 

Many fans believe Corpas deserved the ninth inning position. In roughly the same amount of innings pitched, Corpas allowed fewer hits (seven to 11), fewer earned runs (one to six), more strikeouts (five to four), and a lower ERA (1.00 to 5.23).

 

One theory of why Street was given the position is to make the controversial offseason trade sending Matt Holliday to the Athletics look better.

 

The three players the Rockies received in return for Holliday include Street, starting pitcher Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Smith and Gonzalez will both be starting the year in Colorado Springs playing Triple-A ball, while some say that Street was given the closer role so that at least one of the players featured in the trade would be seen as a major factor in 2009.

 

I don’t buy the theory, and believe that both Street and Corpas will be valuable assets whether pitching in the eighth or ninth inning.

 

In addition, Street’s statistics can be read misleadingly due to the fact that he was still overcoming a quadriceps injury in early March. Take away Street’s first two appearances, and in his final eight, he gave up just one run, a single hit, and zero walks.

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report

 

Colorado Rockies Can’t Focus On Tough April Schedule

It seems like the most recent trend in Colorado sports is to complain.

 

We all are aware of the Jay Cutler saga, but now the Denver sports pages are beginning to be filled with articles about how the Rockies got the short-end of the stick in scheduling in 2099.

 

It’s true, April will be a tough month for the Rockies.

 

Twelve of their first 15 games are on the road, something that does not come easy to the team.

 

They will have to travel to Arizona on two separate occasions, face the defending NL West champs in Los Angeles, and battle against the Cubs, who posted more regular season wins (97) than any National League team in 2008, at Wrigley. Their lone home series is against the defending World Series champion Phillies.

 

It seems like a rough start, sure.

 

And to add to the Rockies’ misery, the team is known for slow starts.

 

Through 30 games last year, the Rockies were already in last place, 10 games out of first, with an 11-19 record. The year before, the same year they made it to the World Series, it was the same situation, sitting at 11-17 going into the second day of May.

 

The Rockies can not use a tough schedule as an excuse for another lousy start, however.

 

Truth is, manager Clint Hurdle needs to use the difficult opponents as extra motivation for his team to be ready from the start, or for him to get his bags packed.

 

Yes, the opening schedule is tough. But that can’t be used as an excuse or a crutch.

 

My school’s football coach recently wrote, “I’ve always said the schedule is like the weather. For the most part, it’s out of your control. You can’t worry about it.”

 

The team opens up conference play against last season’s three top Mountain West Conference teams, all of them ranked at the end of last season, and two of them in the top 10.

 

In baseball, each team plays 81 games at home and 81 games on the road. If the Rockies draw a tough early schedule, than it will lighten up later on in the season.

 

All that the Rockies can control is the product they put out on the field.

 

** This article is also featured on Bleacher Report **

Rockies’ Helton Returns To Old Form This Spring

Thumbnail image for Todd Helton is ready to return to the lineup in 2009

 

September 18, 2007

 

Bottom of the ninth, two strikes, two outs.

 

With the Rockies barely clinging to any chance of a playoff run, Todd Helton did what was necessary.

 

The veteran let loose with a dramatic walk-off home run, arguably one of the most emotional home runs in franchise history, to keep the team in the playoff hunt.

 

He lifted his teammates onto his back and carried them through the next 20 games (19 wins), clinching the Wild Card and sweeping their way to the World Series.

 

 

September 18, 2008

 

One year later and Todd Helton’s season was already finished as he began to prepare for offseason back surgery.

 

Over the winter, nearly every fan from Colorado was at Helton’s neck, bashing him and saying that he couldn’t come back. “He’s too old,” “the surgery is hard to overcome,” “he needs to retire and give back his money,” were all responses.

 

March 8, 2009

 

Todd Helton returns to the lineup with a towering 450-foot home run in his first at-bat since the surgery.

 

Perhaps the greatest player to ever don a Rockies’ uniform, Helton has shown that he is back this spring.

 

A lifetime .328 hitter with 310 career home runs in 12 seasons, Helton’s aging back began to wear on him in 2008, causing him to miss nearly half of the season and hit below .300 for the first time in any full season of his career.

 

Despite the concern of whether his surgically-repaired back can withstand an entire season of play, Helton has shown his critics that he is back to his old form and ready to compete again.

 

In 12 games this spring, Helton has hit .515 with an on-base percentage of .568 and a slugging percentage of 1.000. In 33 at-bats, the veteran has converted 17 into hits, including four doubles, four home runs, and 14 RBI.

 

Helton is among a list of players with four home runs this spring training. However, of those players sitting ahead of him, only three players have hit a home run more often than Helton. The smooth-swinging lefty has hit a home run once every 8.25 at bats this spring.

 

Helton and the Rockies beat up on the Diamondbacks Monday afternoon in the Rockies’ final home spring training game.

 

The first baseman was the root of the explosive offense, going 4-4, and raising his batting average above .500. He currently ranks fourth among all players this spring with more than 10 at-bats.

 

Helton is here to prove that he can return to his old form.

 

Let’s hope that he can carry the Rockies to the playoffs again. This time, though, please, don’t put all the weight on your new back.

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Colorado Rockies Remain Aggressive on Bases

Colorado Rockies remain agressive

They’re not a team made up of speed, but they’re showing aggressiveness.

 

“What you don’t want to see is to have this type of program in spring training and then drop back to Plan B in the regular season,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to stay aggressive and look to pick up 90 feet whenever we can, with whoever is on base.”

 

In 2008, speedy Willy Taveras led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. It stands as quite an accomplishment, especially considering he posted just a .308 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter.

 

His offensive struggles kept him from a spot with Colorado in 2009.

 

Hurdle made it an immediate emphasis this spring to be more aggressive and steal more bases.

 

As of Sunday, four Rockies rank among the MLB’s top 50 this spring in stolen bases. The team as a whole ranks second in the MLB with 36 bags, behind only the young Rays with 38.

 

This doesn’t mean that they are the quickest team out there. The Rockies have been caught stealing 18 times, which is tied for first.

 

What it does mean is that they are being aggressive and attempting to steal more bags than any other team.

 

Despite ranking among the top teams in 2008 with 141 stolen bases, the Rockies were not a team full of speed. The team’s top two players based on stolen bases are no longer with the team (Taveras and Matt Holliday). Out of the rest of the team, only four players successfully stole more than two bases–Clint Barmes with 13, Scott Podsednik with 12, Ryan Spilborghs with seven, and Jeff Baker with four.

 

The Rockies had one player with speed, but not an entire team that could catch an opposing pitcher off guard.

 

Speed can be an essential element to the game.

 

In 2007, Taveras and Kaz Matsui led the charge for Colorado with a strong 1-2 punch. With the two players at the top of the lineup, it became a key component to scoring early runs.

 

There were multiple games where Taveras would get on base to start the game, steal second and then either score on a Matsui base hit, or move over to third on a groundout. This would bring the heart of the order to the plate with just one out and a runner 90 feet away from scoring.

 

Other times, the top of the order was even successfully able to steal both second and third base during the same at-bat, allowing the runner to score on a base hit or sacrifice fly and giving the Rockies the lead two batters into the game.

 

Team speed was something that the Rockies missed last season, and in result, their offense never got going.

 

Let me reemphasize that 2009’s team is still not a team made up of speed.

 

No player on the current team has stolen more than 15 bases in a single season and the team leader for most career stolen bases is Todd Helton, who has a modest 36 in 12 seasons.

 

What this team is, however, is a team that’s willing to take that extra step while leading off in order to get a good jump off of a pitch or maybe two bases on a base hit.

 

If the Rockies keep up their spring pace, they will successfully steal 216 bases in 2009. That stat would rank first among any team this decade.

 

I think Hurdle is on track with being aggressive on the bases. There might be times where it hurts the team, but I think that in the end, it will pay off.

 

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan once said, “Whether you steal or not, you’re changing the rhythm of the game. If the pitcher is concerned about you, he isn’t concentrating enough on the batter.”

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report