Opinion: Baseball is back, baby!

Matt Poe

The start of Major League Baseball is right around the corner, folks, and I could not be happier.

Baseball’s inevitable return serves as a glorious reminder of several things. First, it means we’ve finally exited the darkest days of the year and have left winter in the rearview mirror. Secondly, it arrives at the end of March Madness, which is always a bittersweet end to one of the most exciting times of the sporting year. Baseball’s following is certainly not what it once was; the game has been surpassed in popularity and participation by football and basketball, no questions asked.

While many argue this may be bad for baseball, I say otherwise. Many of the casual baseball fans have left the game and in turn, the fans who have stayed are baseball-crazy. They bleed the game, digesting every stat and matchup like the three hot dogs you scarf down before the second inning is over (or is that just me?). I say good riddance to the people who claim the sport is too boring, too slow or in need of some drastic innovation to enhance it. Every year I write some sort of ode to baseball. While some would call that lazy journalism, I call it consistency. So here’s a few sporadic thoughts heading into opening day on April 4.

The talk of the league this year is the Chicago Cubs, the holders of sport’s longest championship drought at 108 years and counting. They’re the favorite to win it all this year; young, hungry and loaded with talent between first baseman Anthony Rizzo, third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielder Jason Heyward and reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. They were happy to make the playoffs and win a series last year. Now, they’re expected to win it all.

Young guns to watch include Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros and Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. Both of these shortstops are going to be incredible players very soon. Old faces in new places are free agent pitcher David Price in Boston, the aforementioned Heyward in Chicago, pitcher Johnny Cueto in San Francisco and pitcher Zack Greinke in Arizona, all of who will make huge contributions to their respective teams.

What does Bryce Harper do for an encore? The Washington outfielder finally looked like the prodigy everyone said he was, culminating in his best year where he hit .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs. I’ve had my doubts about Harper for many reasons, such as boneheaded plays and an aura about the guys that wreaks of self-entitlement. But hey, he killed it last year and may only get better. At the young age of 23, that’s scary to think about.

The National League will have the usual suspects of World Series contenders: San Francisco, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, the Cubs and New York Mets. All these teams have legitimate shots of winning it all. The American League is far trickier to decipher. Many people have apparently jumped off the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals bandwagon, but I expect them to be solid again. Same goes for Toronto. But between Boston, New York Yankees, Minnesota, Texas and others, I have no idea what to expect. It’s anyone’s race.

There you have it. I’m not sure what we accomplished there, as I didn’t even mention how my Reds will win eight games, or the beautiful lettuce owned by Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard or old-school grouch Goose Gossage’s comments. I’m ranting at this point.

All I know is baseball is back and its return couldn’t have come at a more needed time.

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].