Troubles of the offseason put to rest as baseball starts anew

Updated: March 29, 2009

AP Photo/Richard Drew

After a long offseason, on and off the field, the start of the regular season comes at a good time.

TIME TO FEEL GOOD AGAIN

This has been one of the most turbulent offseasons in baseball history. Figure all that has happened: Alex Rodriguez became embroiled in a steroids mess; the devastating economy has resulted in veteran players either completely out of work or being forced to settle for spring training invitations that come with no guarantees; and Joe Torre wrote a book which brought on criticisms of some of his former players and took a bit of the shine off the Yankees' mystique.

But now it's time for regular-season baseball to start, and with it comes a sense of renewal. Every spring, when the season starts, I start to think about how much this game has given to me and how much it gives to others every year. I think about the rookies and how these young men are able to live out their dreams on the biggest stage of all. Every one of us has been a child throwing the ball around with friends or by himself, imagining being in the bottom of the ninth with a 3-2 count and the weight of the world on our shoulders. We dream about coming through in the biggest spot of all. Every one of us has been a young man wishing that his arm could unleash a 95 mph fastball that had more movement than a belly dancer. We all wished we could be on the field listening to the national anthem, getting ready to play a game.

These young men paired their natural talent with hard work and took advantage of some good fortune and are now getting ready to play on the biggest stages in the world. To wish for something so large and to put forth the effort and hard work to make it happen is amazing to me. To fight so hard against the thousands of others coming up through the minor league system to get that opportunity to play this game, in the majors, is inspiring.

When I think about the great feel-good stories of this baseball season, I think about fathers and sons. I think about my father and how much he taught me about the game and how proud he was of me when I made it to The Show and fulfilled my dreams. I think about my son, Eric Young Jr., and how proud I was when I was able to play against him in the twilight of my career as he began his career. He took the best from me and made it his own, just like every father dreams.

I think of my colleague here at ESPN, Mark Schlereth, and his son, Daniel, and how Daniel followed Mark into the world of professional sports. I think of how proud Mark is of his son, not just because he's a baseball player, but because he's living his dream just like every father wishes for his son.

So, yes, we had a horrible offseason, but that's not what I'm going to be thinking of come Opening Day. No, on that day I'm going to be thinking of the rookies putting on their spikes for the first time ever as big leaguers and getting to play in Yankee Stadium. I'm going to be thinking of the swell of pride in their eyes and the smile they try to hide as they stand in the on-deck circle and take a peak at the stadium and the thousands of fans cheering for them. I'll be thinking of the fathers playing catch with their sons and taking them to the ballpark and teaching them how keep score. I'll be thinking of every player, past and present, who made it possible for this game to continue.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 26 | March 25 | March 24 | March 23 | March 22

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney points out Oakland's deal with Mark Ellis was one of the smartest of the offseason:

Mark Ellis likes playing for the Oakland Athletics and appreciates the way they have dealt with him during his time with the organization. That's why he agreed to a two-year, $11 million deal so quickly in the fall before the free-agency period. The timing of the deal really didn't have much to do with the economic forecasts.

Ellis' deal was privately criticized in the fall by agents and executives who weren't involved in his negotiations. But he looks pretty smart now, given how the offseason played out. "It wasn't a stressful winter at all the way it was for a lot of guys," Ellis said. "A lot of buddies had a tough time."

As Ellis and his agent, Jamie Murphy, spent some time in the fall considering what the market might look like, they believed the free-agent market for second basemen would be set by Orlando Hudson, who was recovering from a significant wrist injury but had an excellent track record.

By winter's end, however, Hudson had settled for a one-year guarantee for about a third of what Ellis signed, with incentives that could push the value of Hudson's deal to about $8 million if he achieves all his performance bonuses. If you had told baseball folks in August that Hudson would wind up signing a deal worth less than Ellis' contract, they would have scoffed.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Peter Gammons thinks the Royals might be the surprise team of 2009:

We all know that Kansas City is a small market. Fine. But we also know what it was like before any player made $3 million per year, when in the George Brett era -- from 1975 through 1989 -- the Royals averaged 89 wins a season, the ballpark was a model of civility, and their fan base was loyally rooted in small havens across Missouri and Kansas, from Columbia to Lawrence and dots along I-70, baseball's original road west of the Mississippi.

By the time of the 1994 strike, the franchise was already struggling to deal with the material realities. And since the strike, the Royals have had only one winning season and have averaged 94 losses. The smudged post-strike history is dotted with a refusal to fund the draft and poor ownership decisions. But now, with GM Dayton Moore apparently supported by the Glass family, there seems to be hope. This team that won 56 games in 2005 and last season won 75 is one of those franchises -- like the Reds and Giants -- that have been designated as this spring's fair-haired risers.

"We are getting better, I really believe that," says manager Trey Hillman. "We have a ways to go, but there is progress. If we pitch and some of our young players improve the way we think they can, we will be improved. How much? I don't know."

The American League Central is a fascinating division, running from the $83M payroll of the Indians to the $140M of the Tigers, with the Royals somewhere in the middle at $90M. Moore looked at a team whose .320 on-base percentage was 26th in the majors and whose .389 slugging percentage ranked second-to-last in the American League and acquired Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs for relievers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez, which necessitated signing Kyle Farnsworth.

For the rest of this entry from Peter Gammons' blog, click here.


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SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Scott Kazmir• The Rays' Scott Kazmir had a big day at the plate. Yes, at the plate. The Tampa Bay pitcher led the team with three RBIs in an 11-2 victory over the Reds on Sunday. Kazmir went 2-for-3 and is hitting .500 this spring.
WORST
Joel Zumaya• After a disappointing 2008, the Tigers hope for a revival this season -- but they've already hit a few roadblocks. Oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya is hurt again, and his sore right shoulder will force him to start the season on the disabled list. Joining him there will be left-hander Dontrelle Willis, who will begin the season on the DL because of an anxiety disorder.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight he looks at Hanley Ramirez, who has had a rough spring but who had a nice day Sunday, going 3-for-3. The three hits were as many as he had in his first 33 spring at-bats. But the expectations are still high based on past performance:

30+ HR and .400 OBP in season
middle infielders (since 2000)
Player Year HR OBP
Hanley Ramirez 2008 33 .400
Alex Rodriguez 2000 41 .420
Jeff Kent 2000 33 .424

DIAMOND NOTES

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Cubs manager Lou Piniella announced Sunday that Kevin Gregg will start the season as the team's closer, beating out Carlos Marmol, who served as set-up man a year ago to Kerry Wood. Is Gregg over Marmol the right move?

Gregg vs. Marmol
Past two years Gregg Marmol
ERA 3.48 2.13
1st-pitch strike pct. 58.7 53.1
BB pct. of PAs 11.8 12.0
K pct. of PAs 22.1 33.2
Miss pct. (swings-misses) 24.4 30.5

While Marmol walks a few more batters than Gregg and throws fewer first-pitch strikes, he generates many more swings and misses and several more strikeouts. Those are good traits for a closer.

Marmol lowered his walk rate slightly from 2007 to 2008 (4.5 to 4.2). If he can make a bigger improvement in that area, he could make a case to take the closer's job from Gregg at some point during the season.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

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