Splash, Flash, Alacazam, and Other Opening Day(s) Thoughts

The Miami Marlins’ opening at their, shall we say, splashy new ballpark had only two things to spoil their fun. Thing One: Kyle Lohse getting thisclose to throwing a no-hitter at the Fish while his St. Louis Cardinals—as in, the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals—won, 4-1, with thirteen hits. Thing Two: Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman daring to call out Marlins Ballpark for its South Beach garishness and its apparent pitcher-friendliness:

I wasn’t real sure we were playing a baseball game, to be honest with you. It seemed more like an SEC football game for a while. But they did intend for us to play baseball. I found out about 15 minutes before first pitch. There were a lot of shenanigans. The thing about it is, if I was building a new ballpark . . . one of the things about baseball that people gravitate toward is nostalgia. That’s why people love Wrigley Field. They love Fenway Park. You can kind of step back in time. What they tried to do here is step forward in time. A lot of the things you normally associate with baseball . . . you don’t see cheerleaders at baseball games. They were there tonight. You don’t see flamenco dancers. They were there tonight. You don’t see DJs and bands during the game. You saw that tonight . . . I’m not sure baseball fans embrace that kind of change.

Miami Vice meets Super Bowl Sunday?

Personally, I can live without that luminous lime green along the outfield fence. And no, I don’t go to baseball games to watch hybrids between Miami Vice and Super Bowl halftimes, either. (Somewhere from the Elysian Fields of heaven, that must be A. Bartlett Giamatti reaching down to give Berkman a quick embrace of fraternal solidarity.) I didn’t exactly like the swimming pool behind the outfield fences at Bank One Ballpark in Arizona when it opened, either. And don’t get me started on Marlins Ballpark’s  aquariums behind the plate. This isn’t a ballpark, this is Disney World through the eyes of whichever Floridian retirees had a hand in the old and unlamented Studio 54. It makes you wonder how they managed—when renovating a stadium that just so happens to be in the backyard of the original Disneyland–to avoid going that route and making an even better ballpark out of it than it was in the first place.

There. It’s out of my system. Now, for the part that matters the most to baseball and the play thereof: Marlins Ballpark, as Ken Rosenthal aptly notes, sure does look like the East Coast’s version of Petco Park—dimensions that mean hitters begin recalculating their batting stats downward before they take their first cuts. (Indeed, Miami star Gio Gonzalez watched helplessly as two lofts which might have been home runs anywhere else fell for outs in his new home playpen.) The yard is 418 feet from home plate to center field, 392 to right center, 386 to left center, which isn’t exactly the Polo Grounds but isn’t exactly friendly confines, either.

It’s huge . . .  the biggest ballpark in the game. If they don’t move the fences in after this year, I’ll be surprised. I’ll go with two years with the over/under on that . . . People have tried this big ballpark deal and it never works. Detroit moved the fences in. [The Mets] moved the fences in. There’s a reason why it’s 330-375-400. That’s a fair baseball game. You try to get too outrageous, you end up with something that I think will be detrimental to their ballclub.

—Lance Berkman.

Garish and a graveyard for hitters. Thus the early reviews, though Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen isn’t exactly worried yet. “We can’t judge a ballpark on one day,” said the Blizzard of Ozz, in what may yet be recalled as one of his least incendiary commentaries of 2012. As for yours truly, if you think Marlins Ballpark is a garish graveyard you sure don’t remember what it was like to watch, never mind play baseball in the Astrodome when it opened for business in 1965-66.



* THE UPCHUCK OBLIQUE—Add Colorado Rockies reliever Josh Outman (now, there’s a name for a pitcher!) to the roll of baseball’s least likely injuries. Something in his dinner disagreed with him, and the poor guy—who was a promising Oakland starter until having to undergo Tommy John surgery—vomited his way into a strained oblique and a sentence on the disabled list. The best comment comes from Big League Stew’s David Brown, though he probably wasn’t looking for a punch line (really?): If he had the intestinal fortitude to overcome [Tommy John surgery], he’ll get through this. If he finds airline barf bags hung from the top of his locker by his prankish teammates and he manages a hearty laugh, you’ll know for dead last certain that he’ll get through this.

Honouring the Kid: the Carter family, abetted by former teammates Tim Teufel (far left, in uniform) and Bob Ojeda (second from left, in suit) . . .

* THE SWEET MEMORIAL—The Mets paid tribute to Gary Carter in very fine style Thursday before going out and, behind Johan Santana and four other pitchers, shutting out the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, opening 2012 at Citi Field. First, the Mets’ field personnel wore uniform jerseys with Carter’s number 8 during batting practise. Next, Carter’s widow, Sandy, and the couple’s three children unveiled a symbol on the left field wall, a black home plate with “Kid” and number 8 in white, similar to the patch the Mets will wear on their uniforms in Carter’s memory this season. Finally, the Carters were escorted to the mound by Carter’s 1986 Mets teammate (and current third base coach) Tim Teufel, where they stood to watch a video tribute to Carter before each throwing ceremonial first pitches. “Nice tribute,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez was quoted as saying of the doings. (What would be really nice? How about the Mets retiring Carter’s number?) It wasn’t too nice for the Braves, though, who sent a Chipper Jones-less Opening Day lineup out to work for the first time since 1996, and who endured Santana looking like his old self for five innings in which he allowed a mere four baserunners while striking out five with somewhat less than his A stuff. (Amazing what knowing what you’re doing out there can do for you when you’ve lost some hop on your fastball.) The Mets built the game’s only run on a walk to new acquisition Andres Torres, a double by Daniel Murphy, and an RBI single by David Wright. Ramon Ramirez (a walk, two hits, but four outs), Tim Byrdak (two punchouts, no walks or hits, two outs), Jon Rauch (three hitless, walkless, K-less outs), and closer Frank Francisco (punching out Jason Heyward to end it after three previous hitless outs) finished the shutout Santana started.


* KEYSTONE KNOCKOUT—The Philadelphia Phillies opened against the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday, Roy Halladay didn’t allow a hit after the first inning, and the first round of the battle of the keystone state went to the Phillies, 1-0. That’s what you call turnaround: Halladay was the victim when the Cardinals dumped them out of the postseason last fall with a 1-0 division series win. Want to talk about winning one the hard way? Carlos Ruiz had three hits on the day for the Phillies and none of them counted toward the lone run, but his seventh-inning sacrifice fly (scoring Ty Wigginton) off Erik Bedard sent the run home. Bedard, by the way, had a very good outing for the Pirates, surrendering just that run while scattering six hits and striking out four against one walk.


* AT THE LAST MINUTE—The Boston Red Sox thought they had a shot when they tied it up with two in the ninth. The Detroit Tigers must have thought that meant their doom, with Jose Valverde blowing the save as David Ortiz sent home Dustin Pedroia with a sacrifice fly and Ryan Sweeney tripled home pinch-runner Darnell McDonald. Only nobody sent Austin Jackson the memo: Jackson’s bases-loaded bottom-of-the-ninth single sent home pinch-runner Danny Worth. Thus was spoiled a neat little pitching duel between Boston’s Jon Lester and Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Incidentally, Prince Fielder’s regular-season debut for the Tigers produced a sac fly in the eighth. 3-2, Tigers, the final, but you’d have to say the Red Sox didn’t exactly go down without a fight—merely without much of a bullpen, with closer Andrew Bailey on the DL. Which already portends the beginning of a long recovery, with a mere pen light at the end of the tunnel, or so one might fear, from 2011’s season-deflating nightmares.


* NO DEAL—John Lannan probably had every right to be shocked when the Washington Nationals sent him down to the minors after he’d been, among other things, the team’s two-time Opening Day starter in the last couple of years. But the Nats aren’t inclined to honour his trade request just yet in spite of sending him down in favour of making Ross Detwiler their number five starter. General manager Mike Rizzo admits there has been interest in Lannan from other clubs, without specifying which clubs. Lannan is due to earn $5 million in 2012, by the way. He rolled a respectable 3.70 ERA in 2011 and is probably remembered best for keeping Barry Bonds hitless the day after Himself tied Hank Aaron on the all-time bomb list. The Nats, by the way, survived a ninth-inning triple by Ian Stewart off new closer Brad Lidge, throwing out pinch-runner Joe Mather and holding off the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, at Wrigley Field. The bad news: They couldn’t get Stephen Strasburg the W despite Strasburg going seven strong, surrendering only one run and five hits with five punchouts. Unfortunately for the Nats, Ryan Dempster (ten punchouts in seven and two-thirds) was a little stronger . . .

* OPENING MARATHON—Sixteen innings it took for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians to settle things. Which was done when J.P. Arencebia swatted a three-run homer in the top of the sixteenth, the Indians couldn’t overthrow that in the bottom, and the Jays came out with a 7-4 win. It went to extras in the first place thanks to a three-run Toronto ninth. The Indians blew a golden chance to win it in the twelfth, loading the pads on two walks and a base hit, before Toronto manager John Farrell threw the dice, sent Omar Vizquel in from left field to back up the infield, and saw it pay off when Luis Perez lured Asdrubal Cabrera into an inning-ending double play.  That was half an inning after the Jays blew their own chance to win it earlier, when they loaded the pads—an intentional pass to Juan Bautista loading them—only to see the threat end on a fly to left.

Did you know? The Indians were part of the previous Opening Day record marathon, fifteen innings against the Detroit Tigers to open 1960. (That game tied the record set by the Philadelphia Athletics v. the Washington Senators in 1926.) The game was notorious for another reason: it happened just days after then-Indians general manager Frank Lane outraged Cleveland fans by trading popular, slugging, RBI-machine outfielder Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for singles-hitting Harvey Kuenn. Colavito had a terrible Opening Day (four strikeouts) while Kuenn went 2-for-7 (with no runs scored or sent home to show for it, incidentally) as the Tigers won it (Al Kaline singled home what proved the game winners in the fifteenth), but the net results of the deal Cleveland still can’t forget were: Colavito going on to help the Tigers lead the American League in runs scored, thanks to his career-high 45 bombs, 140 RBI, and 129 runs scored, while Kuenn—whose higher batting averages appealed to Lane far more than Colavito’s lower-average, high-run productivity—suffered an injury or two, managed to hit .308 on the season with little else to show (after leading the American League in batting in 1959), and would be dealt away (to the Giants, for pitcher John Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland) after the 1960 season.

(Lane wasn’t exactly a stranger to swapping popular or even Hall of Fame talent simply because he didn’t much like the men involved, as was the case with Colavito: when he was GM of the St. Louis Cardinals earlier, he tried to swing a deal in which he’d send Stan Musial to the Phillies for Robin Roberts, a deal quashed when owner Gussie Busch heard the proposal leaked on radio. We can only surmise why he wanted to unload Musial, a man who had few if any known baseball enemies, even as he was itching to dump Colavito because the outfielder accused him of reneging on previous promises during a contract dispute.)

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