Last year we ranked the best pitcher bat flips of recent memory using our proprietary Joey Bats Scale. So what did our promotion of the this glorious celebration of triumph get us in the 2018 season? Nothing. We saw one aggressive bat drop from Clayton Richard and an off-camera BP bat flip from Chris Sale. Shohei Ohtani doesn’t flip bats and none of the other 17 pitchers to hit a dinger in 2018 blessed us with an addition to the Joey Bats Scale.
While there were no bat flips, I did watch every dinger hit by a pitcher in 2018, so in a completely arbitrary order, here are some of my favorites.
Steven Matz Homer With No Witnesses
I’m convinced the few people in the crowd got lost in Willets Point and wandered into Citi Field to ask for directions to Flushing Meadows Park. There is no conceivable reason anyone would subject themselves to a Mets-Marlins game in September 2018. But props to Steven Matz and the Mets for fully enjoying the moment.
Reds’ Pitchers Hitting Grand Slams
Not one but two Reds’ pitchers hit grand slams in 2018, Michael Lorenzen and Anthony DeSclafani. More impressively, Lorenzen’s grand slam came on a pinch-hit and was his 3rd (and final) dinger of the season.
A.J. Cole Does His Best Big Sexy Impression
A.J. Cole hit his first career home run last season, but that’s not what’s impressive. What matters here is that he took 30 seconds to round the bases, turning in the longest home run trot by a pitcher since Big Sexy in 2016.
German Marquez Hits a Dinger Off a Second Baseman
I am all for the recent trend of position players pitching more often in blow out games if it leads to more moments like this.
Let’s hope the DH never comes to the NL. Pitcher homers are fun, bat flips are better, and it is great to see pitchers celebrate these rare moments. Let’s hope the 2019 season brings us more pitcher home runs and more bat flips.
Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL East||Yankees||Rojo Sox (yeah I said it)||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|Red Sox*||Bandwagoners*||Red Sux*||Red Sox*||Tea Partiers*||Red Sox|
|Blue Jays||Devil Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Pajaritos||Blue Jays|
|Orioles||Cal Ripkens||hOribles||Crush Davis Express||Blue Jays||Orioles|
New York Yankees
One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.
Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox
They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.
Tampa Bay Rays
Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…
Toronto Blue Jays
There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*
Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|White Sox||Tigers||Sox||ChiSox||White Sox||White Sox|
The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.
Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)
Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.
Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.
The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.
Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL West||Astros||Colt .45’s||Stros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|Mariners||Walker Texas Rangers||Mariners||Seattle||Mariners||Mariners|
These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.
This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.
Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.
Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)
The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.
This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|Phillies*||Bravos*||Harpers*||Marlins* (yeah Jeets!)||Braves*||Braves|
|Marlins||Fish||Minor Lg Team||Mets||Marlins||Marlins|
The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)
The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.
There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.
New York Mets
Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.
The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL Central||Cardinals||Cards||Brewers||Brew Crew||Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Reds||Better Dead than Red||Cubs||Cubbies||Cubs||Reds|
St. Louis Cardinals
I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.
There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.
Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.
Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.
The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL West||Dodgers||Coors||Dem Bums||Dodgers||Rockies||Dodgers|
|Rockies*||The Choking Kershaws*||Rockies||Rockies||Dodgers||Rockies|
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.
Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.
San Diego Padres
Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.
How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)
They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.
San Francisco Giants
How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.
|AL Wild Card||Red Sox||Bandwagoners||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|NL Wild Card||Phillies||Bravos||Cards||Cardinals||Brewers||Rockies|
|Rockies||The Choking Kershaws||Phillies||Marlins||Braves||Brewers|
|ALDS 1-4||Red Sox||Rojo Sox||Yankees||Astros||Yankees||Yankees|
|Astros||White Elephants||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|ALDS 2-3||Yankees||Colt .45’s||Astros||Yankees||Athletics||Astros|
|Red Sox||Colt .45’s||Astros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|World Series||Red Sox||Coors||Dodgers||Brewers||Yankees||Cardinals|
Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)
Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.
BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB
Spring Training marks the return of green grass, warm sunshine, and the crack of the bat. Before focusing on the 2019 season, let us reflect upon our disastrous predictions for the 2018 season. We continued our time honored tradition of failing miserably to predict the future. If we are good at anything it is making consistently terrible predictions. Below was our inept attempt at predicting the 2018 Major League season.
|American League||The Winning Run||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||Actual|
|East||Yankees||Red Sox||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Red Sox|
|Red Sox||Yankees||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Red Sox||Red Sox||Yankees|
|Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Orioles||Red Sox||Orioles||Blue Jays||Rays|
|Orioles||Orioles||Red Sox||Orioles||Blue Jays||Orioles||Blue Jays|
|Royals||White Sox||White Sox||Royals||Royals||White Sox||Tigers|
|White Sox||Royals||Tigers||Tigers||White Sox||Royals||White Sox|
|National League||The Winning Run||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||Actual|
We are awful at predicting the future. Consistency is critical for an individual or team to find success in baseball. We are consistently awful at making predictions.
A division by division breakdown shows how terrible we were in a Regular Season. Each division had a possible 30 correct predictions; five per person plus five from our aggregate votes as The Winning Run. The Yankees have the most loyal fans (John, Bernie, and Kevin), so one would expect we would successfully predict the American League East. Instead the American League East was our worst division with just three correct predictions. The American League Central was better, in part because of the clear hierarchy of teams. We managed 11 correct predictions. The American League West was our best division in the Junior Circuit with 13 correct predictions. Overall we made 27 correct predictions out of 90 in the American League, a 30% success rate.
We found more success in the Senior Circuit. Derek and Jesse are both die hard Braves fans, plus Atlanta is John’s backup team. Once again the expectation of successful predictions tied to fandom did not come true. We managed nine correct predictions, not great but not horrible. The Central was the toughest in the National League with only four correct predictions. The National League West was our best division in 2018. We made 17 correct predictions (56%), our only division above 50% predicted. We made 30 correct picks in the National League, three more than the American League. Across the regular season we made 57 correct predictions out of 180, 31.66%. A .316 Batting Average is a solid season.
Khris Davis and his perpetual .247 Batting Average led the Athletics back to October. (Nhat V. Meyer/ Bay Area News Group)
A scoring system was necessary to determine who made the best predictions. Regular Season scoring was straight forward, one point for each correct prediction. First up is Derek who managed seven points in the American League; two in the East and Central, and three from the West. He received five points from the National League; one from the East and Central, and three from the West. Derek picked four division winners, including every American League division winner. He tied with a Regular Season best 12 points.
Jesse did not enjoy predicting the American League. He received just two points; one from the Central and West. He completely missed the East. He found better success in the National League with six points; three from the East, two from the Central, and one from the West. He picked three division winners, two American League and one National League. He scored eight points.
John had a mixed bag with his predictions. He scored just four points in the American League; two from the Central and West. Surprisingly he whiffed on the East and his beloved Yankees. The National League was kinder, as he scored seven points. John scored two points from the East and whiffed again on the Central. However, he produced our only perfect division from the West. John picked three division winners, scoring a total of 11 points.
Christian Yelich sparked the Brewers to a surprising National League Central Division Crown. (Dylan Buell/ Getty Images)
Bernie struggled in the Regular Season. He scored just four points in the American League; one in the East and Central, and two in the West. He did not improve in the National League scoring only two points. He whiffed on both the East and Central, scoring only in the basement of the West. He picked only one division winner. Bernie had the worst regular season with a meager six points.
Kevin followed in John and Bernie’s footsteps by striking out on two divisions. In the American League Kevin scored four points; two from the Central and West. Another one of our die hard Yankee fans struck out on the East. Kevin was equally woeful in the Senior Circuit, scoring just four points; one from the East, swinging and missing in the Central, and three from the West. Despite his struggles, Kevin did predict three division winners on his way to eight points.
Combining our predictions we created The Winning Run’s official predictions. We scored six points in the American League despite our Yankee fans striking out in the East. We scored three points in the Central and West. In the National League we also scored six points; two in the East, one in the Central, and three in the West. We picked three division winners to equal the best Regular Season with 12 points.
|Postseason||The Winning Run||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||Actual|
|AL Wild Card||Angels||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Red Sox||Yankees|
|Red Sox||Angels||Blue Jays||Angels||Indians||Twins||Athletics|
|NL Wild Card||Brewers||Rockies||Cubs||Rockies||Dodgers||Diamondbacks||Cubs|
|ALDS||Astros||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|World Series||Yankees||Nationals||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Red Sox|
In October everyone could run up the score. Scoring in the Postseason was: two points for predicting the Wild Card Game, four for the Divisional Series, eight for the Championship Series, and 16 for the World Series.
The Postseason is where legends are born and hot streaks go to die. There were 108 possible correct predictions, we made 32 correct picks, 29.62% We made two correct predictions in the Wild Card games. In the Divisional round, we made eight correct picks in the National League and 11 in the American League. In the Championship Series we made seven correct picks; four in the National League and three in the American League. In the World Series we made four correct predictions.
The Postseason separated the champions from the wannabes. A perfect October score is 104 points. No one is perfect. Derek made the worst Postseason predictions. He knew the Yankees would win the Wild Card game. He was correct the Astros would win and the Yankees would lose the Divisional Series. His predictions ended when the Dodgers won and the Rockies lost the Divisional Series. Derek made five correct Postseason predictions for only 18 points.
Justin Turner and the Dodgers could not finish their run through October to a World Series Championship. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times)
Jesse fared better in October. He predicted the Cubs would win the National League Wild Card game. In the Divisional Series he had the Dodgers and Astros winning and the Yankees losing. His scoring continued with the Dodgers winning in the Championship Series and losing in the World Series. Jesse made six correct predictions for 38 points.
John did well in the early in October before falling apart. He predicted the Astros and Dodgers winning and the Indians and Rockies losing in the Division Series. Beyond the Division Series, John only predicted the Astros losing the Championship Series. He made five correct predictions for 24 points.
Bernie found his stride in October. He was on the money with the Astros winning the Division Series before losing the Championship Series. He predicted the Dodgers winning the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Bernie made five correct Postseason predictions for of 40 points.
Kevin also hopped on the Dodgers train in October. He predicted the Red Sox winning and Cleveland losing the Division Series. Then it was all Dodgers. He knew the Dodgers would win the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Kevin made five correct predictions for of 36 points.
The Winning Run’s predictions were successful thanks primarily to the Astros and Dodgers. We knew the Indians would lose the Division Series. Houston predicatively won the Division Series and lost the Championship Series. The Dodgers won the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. The Winning Run made six correct Postseason predictions for an October best 44 points.
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox celebrated another World Series victory. (www.CBSSports.com)
The baseball season is an arduous journey with many highs and lows. Champions are successful in the Regular Season and Postseason because they find a way to win. The final standings for The Winning Runs Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0. In last place, with a meager 30 points, Derek. He choked in the Postseason despite tying for a Regular Season high 12 points. A horrendous October left him wondering what could have been. In fifth place with 35 points, John. His solid Regular Season, 11 points, could not overcome a pedestrian Postseason. In fourth place, Kevin with 44 points. A weak Regular Season left too few options for the Postseason. He made the most of his October, but it was not enough. Tying for second place with 46 points, Jesse and Bernie. Jesse struggled in the Regular Season with just eight points. Riding the Dodgers deep into October, Jesse to edge out Kevin by a mere two points. Bernie overcame a six point disastrous Regular Season. Against all odds, Bernie used the few teams he had in October to make a deep run to collect 40 points in the Postseason. Despite our individual efforts, no one was destined to wear the championship crown as The Winning Run Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0 champion. We tied Derek with 12 points for the best Regular Season before dominating the Postseason with 44 points for a total of 56 points.
The 2019 Major League season is just around the corner. We will once again attempt to predict the future. This time honored tradition continually shows we are great at predicting what will not happen. Someday we could predict the future, but I doubt it.
DJ, JJ, JB, BL, & KB
February is not the most thrilling month of the year. It is cold, dark, and miserable. The only real excitement in February is the return of baseball. Pitchers and catchers report, full squad team workouts, and Spring Training games. Most of the country remains covered in cold weather and snow. However the end of the long, cold winter appears on the horizon. Winter’s grip remains, but it will not last much longer. This glimmer of hope makes the sad days of winter a little less difficult.
Baseball fans have long had the pitchers and catchers report date for their favorite team marked on their calendars. It is the most anticlimactic event in baseball, as there is nothing to see unless you are at the team facility. The same applies to the first full squad workout. You might see a video of players playing catch, nothing you could not replicate in your backyard. The beginning of Spring Training is about the building excitement than actual action.
The sun is shining, time for baseball. (www.nj.com)
Mark your calendars these exciting, non-events, begin February 11th as pitchers and catchers report for the Oakland Athletics. They conclude on February 16th as the Atlanta Braves are the last team to have their pitchers and catchers report.
The actual fun begins a few days later. Spring Training games begin on February 21st when the Seattle Mariners visit the Oakland Athletics in Mesa, Arizona to open up the Cactus League. The next day, February 22nd, the Grapefruit League begins in Port Charlotte, Florida as the Tampa Bays Rays host the Philadelphia Phillies. The Grapefruit League Opening Day will also feature the defending World Series Champions, Boston Red Sox, beginning their 2019 campaign by hosting the Northeastern University Huskies in Fort Myers. The third game of the day had the Detroit Tigers hosting the Southeastern University Fire in Lakeland.
The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues help shape the regular season. Spring Training is short, and the regular season is fast approaching. Baseball is a train leaving the station. It slowly builds up speed as it races towards October. Climb aboard, it will be a fun ride.
My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot.
This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.
First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.
Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.
The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.
The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.
A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)
2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.
Chipper Jones was the face of the Atlanta Braves during their run of consecutive Division titles in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The pitching trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine were equally important, but Chipper was on the field everyday. If the Braves needed a big hit, Chipper was the guy they wanted, especially against the Mets.
Chipper Jones’ memoir Ballplayer written with Carroll Rogers Walton rewinds the Hall of Fame career of one of the greatest switch hitters to ever step on a baseball field. Hard work meant never settling for good, it meant understanding the results would come after listening to his coaches, putting in the work, and preparing for success. The highs and the lows of his career are laid out for everyone to inspect. Chipper does not sugar coat anything. This refreshing take, even in addressing his much publicized infidelity, only adds to the respect he earned during his career. He could have avoided discussing the financial woes he faced as a young player. He explains the physical toll of playing for so long. Readers come to understand injuries robbed Chipper of long stretches of time and some of his abilities on the field, even after he recovered. There are no excuses in the book, just the facts and an understanding that life is not always perfect.
Ballplayer gives an honest look inside Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career. (Penguin Books)
While his play on the diamond may have looked natural, Ballplayer shows you the hours, days, and years of practice it takes for even the most gifted athlete to make it in the Major Leagues. Players are too often viewed as robotic until they make a mistake. Baseball and the life playing in the Major Leagues requires is stressful. The constant travel, few days off, missed family time, and the physical and emotional strain of the game is too much for most people. Baseball players have the same issues we do, except they live under a microscope. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people, this should never be forgotten.
The loyalty Chipper gave to the Braves was reciprocal. He never chased more money through free agency, instead staying with the team that believed in him as a high schooler in Jacksonville. Loyalty to the game, respecting his teammates and opponents, striving to make himself and others better is what separates those who play the game and those who have an impact. Baseball gives you back what you put in, and Chipper Jones gave a lot of himself to the game.
Ballplayer is an excellent read for anyone who loves baseball. Chipper lets you inside his Hall of Fame career, on and off the field. He tells it like it is, never trying to make himself look better. The honesty is obvious as you read. Those who watched the Braves’ dominance will be flooded with memories of Chipper charging a ground ball and flipping it to first, his toe tap as a fastball screams towards the plate, the beginning of Crazy Train as he walks to the plate. Chipper Jones is among the greatest players to ever play baseball, and yet his memoir shows the humility necessary to successfully play a game filled with so much failure.
Thanksgiving is when we show our gratitude for the wonderful things in our lives. We ought to give thanks more than once a year, as there is always good in our lives. Life is not perfect but there is always a reason to be thankful. I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is baseball. Baseball is so much more than just a game. It touches every area of my life.
I am thankful for the close friends I have because of baseball. John, Bernie, and Kevin are a few of my friends who share in my obsession with the game. Discussions of a game, a player, a stat, or something funny are daily occurrences. Whether we are together or a thousand miles apart, friends make life and baseball better.
Bernie, Kevin, and I at our second Pirates games over Memorial Day Weekend 2017. We saw Pittsburgh play the Mets and Diamondbacks that weekend. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for my family and the memories we have because of baseball. Attending baseball games with my Parents and Jesse. Watching the Braves play on television with my Grandfather and Great Aunt. Sharing my love of the game with my Wife. Plotting the baseball indoctrination of my Nephew and Niece. Who better to share what you love than with who you love.
I am thankful for the travel my love of baseball has spurred. Driving to Boston with my now Wife to watch a game at Fenway on Memorial Day. Going to Giants and Athletics games on our honeymoon. Last minute trips to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. Planned trips to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Mets and Diamondbacks. Flying to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to see historic ballparks. Minor League road trips. Exploring Cooperstown and the Negro Leagues Museum. I love traveling and baseball, they are better when they are together.
I am thankful I became an umpire. Having a front row seat to a baseball game is the best way to watch. Baseball makes the weather perfect, regardless if it means calling games on the surface of the sun in July or in the Polar arctic in March. The bumps, bruises, and trips to the Emergency Room are the cost of admission. Umpiring was not in my life’s plan, but I am glad life does not always follow the plan. There is no better way to spend a day than calling balls and strikes in the sunshine. I umpire for the love of baseball, not the paycheck.
Jesse, John, and myself at a Pirates game in 2013. We decided to drive to Pittsburgh for the game at 2 a.m. that morning. It was a long drive but worth it. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for endless baseball trivia. Learning random tidbits and then quizzing friends and family on said information is always entertaining. You will never know everything about baseball, but this does not stop me from trying. Baseball trivia is mostly useless in real life, but each tidbit broadens my understanding of the game.
I am thankful for the feeling baseball gives you. Playing catch or hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. The sounds, smells, and feel of the game are timeless. The joy of the game never ends. We do not remember the score of the games, but we remember how we felt. Baseball is fun. It makes you smile and warms your soul.
I am thankful for baseball, it is so much more than a game.