I just applied to become a full-time baseball nut. MLB.com is going to send someone to NYC for a full baseball season, where they will watch baseball all year (every game to some degree, every day), blog about it, vlog about it, tweet about it, yell about it, talk about it, be interviewed about it, and…well, you get the drift. I’m stoked. A full, non-stop, ridiculously busy year of baseball. To which of the baseball Gods do I need to beg and plead? Anyway, there was a two-part essay, and I thought I would share it here.
The first half, in 500 words or less, was a bit about myself and why I dearly love baseball so. This is what I wrote:
The day that I die, I will bequeath to this world a heart with one seam and two hundred and sixteen stitches. As it is, I’m quite certain that when I was born—I arrived one week early in late June of ‘72—I did so in a desperate need to avoid closing out the first half of the season in utero. No self-respecting baseball fan wants to be born during the All-Star break. I grew up on a diet of Reggie, complemented that as I aged with sides of Garvey and Cey, spent the glorious span of summer reliving the celebrated games of years past with a whiffle bat and tennis ball, and ultimately found there was no greater joy, no greater love than settling into an uncomfortable seat with a hot dog in one hand and a program in the other. I came alive as spring rolled in, overcoming what most people now refer to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I always just called the Offseason Blues. I lived in Florida. It wasn’t cold. There just wasn’t any baseball, and the internet wasn’t even through Rookie League yet.
I wrote my first short story when I was twelve. It was a heroic tale about a young boy who twisted his ankle while walking to the championship game. It was a horrendous injury, one that left him certain there was no way he would make it to the game, much less play when he arrived. It was heart-wrenching. I poured my soul into that story, and cheered the boy on when he mustered the courage to fight through the pain, make his way to the field, and bring home the deciding run when all seemed lost. I was convinced this was the greatest tale ever told, and no moment in life would ever best it. Four years later, Kirk Gibson hit his limp-legged shot into the seats in the ’88 World Series off Dennis Eckersley, and I wasn’t entirely sold that he hadn’t intentionally stole my thunder. Of course, it was historic, and I became less interested in vengeance with every fist-pump, every painful step he made around the bases. I let it slide, and decided I should at least make do with the chops I’d been given. I might not have to limp (though I could if I needed to impress the girls), but I could string the words together to someday write the best baseball story ever written.
There are no words to adequately express my love for the game. Now two books into a career as an impoverished author, I’ve decided the only reason I want to make Trump-town cash as a writer is in order to own a franchise. I never evolved as a player—though I’ve had quite the career in my mind—but I live and breathe this sport. I have to be involved in it every day, every year, and relish every moment of every game I see. I’m Gonzo. Baseball is my chicken.
Right. Part two asked what I believed this year’s big story would be. And so sayeth I:
Albert Pujols and his forthcoming pile of Genie’s gold is going to be in everyone’s ear this year, whether he wants it that way or not. The Yankees are going to sob loudly in their room after being jilted at the Prom by the two-headed stud-monster of Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte. Adam Wainwright is the latest in what now totals over 150 Major League pitchers who have had, or are scheduled to have, Tommy John surgery. Young phenom Bryce Harper is on the trail to projected glory, soon to join a promising future in the nation’s capitol.
All of which will create a generous buzz between now and October. And yet, we’re going to spend this year talking about four pitchers and what they mean to the history books, what they mean to the game, and what they mean to a franchise racing against time for one more run to glory. In Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee, the Philadelphia Phillies have a quartet striving to equal, or perhaps best, the pitching staffs of the ’93 and ’95 Braves, and the ’71 Orioles.
In Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee alone, the Phillies have 3 of the top 5 pitchers in highest career winning percentage, with a minimum of 100 starts, in baseball history. They have two (Halladay 2.67, Lee 2.98) of the four pitchers over the last 3 seasons with sub 3.00 ERA’s and 600+ innings. And Cliff Lee, well, all he’s done over the past three years is rank 6th in wins (48), 7th in ERA (2.98), and 5th in IP (667.1). Toss in his stellar record in the postseason (7-2, 2.13), and his run in the second half of 2009 with Philly (7-4, 3.39, 4-0 in the playoffs), and you have reason to believe the Phillies have the making of something historically special. If that doesn’t sparkle your fireworks, and if the idea of pitching in a notably hitter-friendly park makes you squeamish, it’s important to note that of the top 6 ERA’s in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies now own 3 of them (Oswalt 2.10, Halladay 2.21, Lee 2.52).
The Phillies head into 2011 with the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Roy Halladay (ahem, no-hitter in the playoffs, ahem), a pitcher in Lee who only walked 18 men last year while striking out 185, Roy Oswalt, who only went 7-1 with a microscopic 1.74 ERA after being traded mid-season, and Cole Hamels, who may be a bit sporadic and reminds one a touch of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, but had an ERA last season of 3.06 with 211 strikeouts in 208.2 innings.
There may be questions about the Phillies age, whether or not their bullpen can save a frog from jumping, and whether or not they can stay healthy enough, and score enough runs, to win a championship, but one thing is rock solid certain. Everyone is going to be talking about how this rotation stacks up against history.
I WANT THIS JOB!