WHAT’S THIS NOW, it’s spring again? Whatever happened to the winter? Not to mention the fall? Let’s forget about all that nonsense, and think back on happier times while we wait for a new season to begin.
The good eggs at YFSF.org have set their happy thoughts on October in March — a compilation of the most significant postseason plays ranked by their WPA, or the potential effect the play had on the outcome of the game. The result is a strange combination of analytical and emotional gooeyness that at once fills you with an appreciation for the role of stats in modern day baseball-ing and pure, old-fashioned reverie.
Ranked this way, Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS versus the Indians bubbles up as one of the top three most dramatic games in Red Sox postseason history. Watching the game on iTunes 10 years later, the lineup looks familiar, but any postseason game before 2004 still seems a parallel universe away. Certain scenes stick out as particularly odd/amusing: Pedro throwing to Tek, but with Manny at the plate. Manny sharing the outfield with Dave Roberts, who catches a towering fly off the bat of Trot Nixon. Plus, appearances by good ol’ Lou Merloni, Nomar in his prime (intentionally walked twice), and the Derek Lowe Face. The game itself is dramatic and fun; the intervening events since 1999 and the overlapping, wacky “what we know now” quality make it even more enjoyable to watch today.
Regarding events closer to the present, Sox first base coach Ron Johnson got to experience his own personal happy moment during spring training, in the form of an on-field reunion with his son. From the Sox-Astros game update on Boston.com:
Pre-game: The exchange of lineup cards had an interesting twist with Sox first base coach Ron Johnson (coaching third in today’s split-squad game) exchanging lineups with son Chris, who will play third base for the Astros today. Umpires seemed to get a big kick out of it.
Seems like simple, father-son baseball fun. But the next day’s follow-up by Nick Carfado hints at something a little deeper:
Johnson has been a baseball lifer, which means being away from your family. He probably missed most of Chris’s Little League and high school games. But yesterday he watched him as a major leaguer.
“I’ve been around the game for a long time,” said Johnson, “and I’ve seen everything and been around a lot of players, but I almost can’t explain it. It was a strange feeling.
“There were just a lot of things that kept sinking in during the course of the game. I know he’s been doing well, but I’m a developer and an evaluator for the last 20 years, and all of a sudden now I see my son on the major league field.
“I know he came up last year in September, but to see him with my own eyes . . . and I’m in the third base coach’s box . . . and there’s Terry Francona and Brad Mills and Roy Oswalt, Jason Varitek, and Jon Lester is on the mound . . .
“Obviously you’re looking at a guy on the other team who you have emotional ties to, and you realize that he moves around and he looks like he can play here. It was exciting. It was really very exciting.”
Baseball’s timelessness can also turn into a form of time travel: today’s games mingling with the memories of games past. There are always the same nine positions on the field – but it’s a little bit strange when you look back and one of them is played by a shortstop whose greatness you’d forgotten or when you look up and third base is occupied by your very own son. It’s baseball’s ability to keep telling stories across years and generations that lets us appreciate and experience the past and the present in new ways.
But enough of yesterday’s happy thoughts. As Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau once said, “On Opening Day, the world is all future and no past.” Right now, every team’s got a .500 record, and it’s anybody’s guess what happens next.
Happy Opening Day.