Expect the Top 9 to list a lineup’s worth of hot takes, topics, stats or weekend preview points during each (or at least most) Fridays during the MLB season
It may have seemed like we let the Major League Baseball Opening Day sneak up on us here at WARR, but that really wasn’t the case. Our fever here to see just how the White Sox are going to mature and how the Cubs are going to compete has fueled us through a blah winter that has only been saved in the last seconds by Loyola’s unexpected Final Four run.
And as it would turn out, Loyola having to play on Saturday is pretty much the only reason why it was decent that the MLB season started unprecedentedly on a Thursday and only in the vicinity of April Fools Day. To keep it minus 100 of the Mendoza line, I’m a proponent of the traditional Monday afternoon season start — y’all can keep the ESPN-placating Sunday Night opening nights too.
As baseball takes over the daily spring and summer routines of those who follow it, it only makes sense to kick things off at the top of a work week, mixing it into the grind that you expect to follow for the next several months and allowing the game to apply itself as a valve of release, something to give you a reason to ditch the office, take a “long lunch” or keep a tab with your MLB “At-Bat” account at the ready. And whether or not your gig allows for “summer hours” you can even plan for a trip or two to Wrigley or The Rate (*annoyed grunt*) with a clear conscious.
Such is the wonder about the baseball season. So many people fault baseball for what it isn’t, mainly football and basketball, but baseball provides a perfect pulse that will extend through the background of the next couple seasons. Other pastimes will get all in our faces with desperate and cynical plays for our attention, but baseball lays in the cut knowing itself and its worth — there when you need it and not really tripping if you spend some of your time elsewhere.
Baseball is the only sport confident enough to play most of its games when the weather is at its best and at the same time it makes itself a welcome companion for a time when grass grows most effectively, the sun shines brightest and feels warmest and the air is easiest to breathe into the lungs. You don’t want to rush during those moments and we don’t want to rush through the next 162 games. Judging by the respective Games 1 from the Sox and Cubs, we got a lot to learn and enjoy from them.
Leadoff — Opening day is a fine day to make general statements about the season to come, its the best time to do so because nothing can be held against you yet, but it doesn’t pay to make specific statements like the one Cubs blogger Michael Cerami made regarding Ian Happ prior to the North Siders’ opener at Miami.
You have to say Cerami did a nice bit of business for himself simply by underestimating the magic of Opening Day. I definitely give him credit for owning up to the lake jump on the same day. Couldn’t have been me, I would have made use of the fact that I didn’t say when I would jump in the lake. Seems like a much better thing to do around July.
2. — As for Happ’s leadoff homer, it certainly was needed for the Cubbies, providing an early pop of energy that the team needed to sustain itself through the Marlins’ mid-game comeback. The Cubs scored the first four runs and the last four runs in their 8-4 win, but the most important thing about Happ’s star turn may be how it mirrors former Boston Red Sox Dwight Evans, who hit the very first pitch of the 1986 season out the park against Detroit, setting up a season where Da Sawx made another (then) rare World Series appearance.
Happ can be seen as a leadoff hitter of his time, while Evans — who wasn’t a speedster at the top of the order in the era of Rickey Henderson, Vinnie Coleman and others — was kind of a forerunner, a good on-base guy who wasn’t a threat to go 40-40 or even 30-30, he just started innings well by getting to first base more often than not, along with popping out a few dingers.
Should Happ establish himself as a similar presence atop the Cubbie lineup that would do a lot to help set them on a path to win the National League again.
3. — Of course, the real big hits of the day came from the South Siders, who I believe would do themselves well to play every game this season after the Cubs. Can’t help shake the feeling that the Yung Sox felt an urge to upstage after having a chance to see how Happ and his guys set things off.
4. — Matt Davidson hasn’t exactly set 35th and Shields on fire in his first couple seasons with the Sox but he’s shown himself to be of value. Davidson’s performance Thursday furthered that argument and showed just how effective he could be in the middle of the White Sox’s order, taking advantage of pitches that opposing teams will have to throw him after navigating the likes of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu before him. Davidson’s three HRs, five RBI and four runs scored powered the Sox’s 14-7 win in Kansas City and allowed him a place in Chicago opening day history.
6. — I guess exit velocity is gonna be one of those things people lean on to make themselves seem like they really know the game going forward. It is a nice, visceral measurement that relies on physics and can underscore just how quick and powerful a hitter is turning on the ball. Can also be flukey as hell, I suspect. Regardless of if Davidson’s long balls went fast enough to warrant a night in a Kansas City jail, what’s most important is that they made it over the damn wall. Steady wins the race. Anyone who loves baseball knows that.
8. — “he already isn’t tho…” My man Faruq knows better. Of course Davidson isn’t Tuffy Rhodes, who literally goes down as a one-game wonder. Davidson will have more memorable moments by June possibly than Rhodes provided to the Cubs, but we downplay Tuffy completely. There really isn’t nothing wrong with being Tuffy Rhodes.
Ian Happ hit the first pitch of the season out of the park today. On #OpeningDay 1994 — April 4 — Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes led off the bottom of the 1st with a home run of his own… and hit two more! HR #1: 1st inning, 6th pitch (full count), 0 outs, 0 on, 1-0 Cubs HR #2: 3rd inning, 5th pitch (3-1 count), 0 on, 2 outs, tied the game at 2 HR #3: 5th inning, 2nd pitch (1-0 count), 0 on, 0 out, 9-6 Mets Rhodes got all 3 homers off of Mets ace Doc Gooden and finished 4-4 with a walk, 3 RBI, 3 runs, 3 HR and a single. The Cubs lost 12-8. As I write this, the Cubs lead the Marlins 4-1! – – – – – – #openingday #chicagocubs #tuffyrhodes #homerun #leadoffhomerun #wrigleyfield #harrycaray #docgooden #mlb #baseballisback
There is no better story in Chicago opening day history. Sox fans have to admit this even though they’ll try like hell to hold up Davidson as the South Side’s Tuffy from here on. But nothing will match the randomness of Tuffy, the resonance of his outdoing Doc Gooden, the perfectness of his doing it on a sunny day at Wrigley with firmly established drunk grandpa Harry Caray on the call.
Tuffy Rhodes managed in his performance from way back in 1994 to show just how hope springs eternal each baseball season, how the unexpected is the only thing to be expected once the tarp is rolled up and the ump calls to play ball. The weather may not always cooperate, the teams themselves may not and the game itself may fall to internal or external pressures, much like baseball did in not even finishing the ’94 season.
But when you got a bat in your hand your chances are as good as anyone to knock one out as it is to whiff and take a seat. It’s the thrill of taking destiny into your own hands that allows ball players to forget 0-for-5 days and turn them into history-making performances. Getting to watch such things can turn a 10-year-old into a fan for life, believe me, I can speak from experience.
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