At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Thoughts Clogging the Cranial Vent

The U.S. entry in the World Baseball Classic starts play today at 4pm EST, when it takes on the team from Mexico. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the WBC is how non-U.S. centered the tournament really is. As Americans, we’ve grown used to having world and sporting events revolve around us; the WBC, however, is aimed at audiences elsewhere, and it was refreshing, and a bit disconcerting, to have the Pool A games in Asia start in the wee hours of the morning here in the U.S. This, to me, is a good thing, and it is absolutely necessary if baseball is to become any kind of global force. With that in mind, I’m keen to see what will happen should the American team find itself in a tight contest, or even lose a game. We think of baseball as being ours, but few of its dominant stars are actually American, and it may take a serious challenge in a tournament such as this to wake us up to this fact.

The Boston Herald today speculates that the Red Sox may go north with only 10 pitchers instead of the usual 11, or even 12. The Sox have a couple of off days in their early-season schedule that makes such a decision feasible. Making this choice also allows them to easily carry Rule 5 draftee Adam Stern without having to sacrifice someone else to make room for him. (Stern must spend the first 17 days of the schedule on the major league roster or be offered back to the Atlanta Braves, from whence he came.) What’s funny is that, not so long ago, teams used to carry only 10 pitchers as a matter of course: back then, four-man rotations were the norm, and being in the bullpen generally meant you weren’t good enough to start. Ah, well: how the times have changed!

Read absolutely nothing into Josh Beckett’s Red Sox debut performance yesterday vs. the Devil Rays. Yes, he surrendered two first-inning home runs and left after three innings trailing 5-0. But this is the time of year pitchers are more concerned with the feel of certain pitches than with getting batters out, and it is not unusual for them to deviate from their usual strategies, especially in these early days. Think of Ft. Myers as being similar to Las Vegas in that what happens here, stays here, and has no impact on what happens at home.

We conclude with a moment of silence to mark the passing of Hall of Fame and Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett, who died yesterday following a stroke at the too-young age of 45. No one had more fun playing major league baseball than he did, and his joy brought a lightness to the game that too often goes missing.

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