“Spring Training results are meaningless.” We hear that every March, nearly as often as “He’s in the best shape of his life.”

By and large, it’s true. Players put up awesome numbers in March, then fizzle out when the season starts. Or the reverse, of course, coasting through Spring Training with little to show, then having a career year when the games mean something. Winners of the Cactus and Grapefruit League titles rarely win the World Series.

And yet…

It’s still early in Spring Training, but last year’s playoff teams have a combined record of 73-54. Over a 162 game schedule, that .575 record translates into 93 wins. Six of those ten teams had at least 93 wins last year. The Cubs and Yankees had 92 and 91 wins, respectively.

For what it’s worth, the five worst teams last year–the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Tigers–have a combined 26-36 record, the equivalent of 68 wins in the regular season. The 2017 Reds went 68-94, the White Sox were 67-95, and I won’t embarrass fans of the other three teams by quoting their records. No other team in either league had less than 70 wins.

I haven’t done the research to see if this is typical or a freak occurrence. But it does make one ponder the value of consistency. Dynasty by another name, really.

Moving on, slightly.

The Mariners (.481 last year, .417 in Spring Training thus far) looked to have one of the hottest–or at least fastest–outfields in baseball this year. They may yet, but thanks to some fan- and player-vexing injuries, it won’t be at the start of the season.

In need of help, they turned to the free agent market and picked up a 44-year-old left fielder out of Japan.

For a decade, Ichiro was the face of the Mariners. Gone for half a decade. Now he’s back.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the situation, as do many Mariners fans. We miss the Ichiro of the mid-2000s–but we know that’s not who’s joining the team. We thrive on nostalgia and swoon when a well-loved player returns and does well–but we remember the crash-and-burn ending to Ken Griffey Junior’s career.

There’s no question Ichiro can still perform at a major league level. Whether he can do it as an everyday player remains to be seen. We want–need–him to succeed. In theory, he only needs to play every day until the injured players come back. If that’s the way it works out, he should be able to slide back into a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/late inning replacement role as he’s done with the Marlins and Yankees. But trouble comes in bunches, and there’s no telling whether everyone will come back on the currently-projected timetable.

If one can believe the newspaper reports from 2012, his trade to the Yankees came at his own suggestion, because he felt he could contribute more to the Mariners that way than on the field. If he can’t produce as an everyday player, that same ethic should lead him to retire rather than drag the team down. But that would be a tough choice for anyone, much less a man who wants to play baseball until he’s fifty.

And, of course, it would leave the Ms with an outfielder shortage again–but sometimes there is no good answer to a question.

So we hate the necessity of bringing him back, but love the fact that he’s here. The ovation when he steps onto the field on Opening Day in Seattle will, in all likelihood, rattle windows as far away as Mount St. Helens.

Go Ichiro. Go Mariners.


Baseball is upon us and everyone around here is getting in the mood.

They’re coming out of hiding.

Checking to be sure they’ve got all their gear.

Come to think of it, this may explain a lot about the relationship between ‘Nuki and Rufus. NL vs. AL. Both teams with storied pasts–though, granted, the Giants is a heck of a lot longer and holds more stories–trying to return to the glory. And yet, at the end of the playoffs, there can be only one. Very Highlander.

But I digress.

They’re making sure everything still fits.

Even if they’re a little unclear on some of the concepts.

Never mind. Play ball!

Still Not There

As expected, the Diamondbacks beat the Sun Devils yesterday. The score was 6-2, but that makes it sound closer than it actually was.

If, as I said yesterday, preseason baseball is horsehide methadone, then reading box scores from games between MLB and college teams is–with apologies to any heroin addicts who may be reading this–like sucking throat lozenges to stave off your cravings.

But in the absence of any more compelling ideas, let’s enjoy that cool menthol flavor.

Arizona took an early 2-0 lead off of Ryan Hingst, leaving him with a 9.00 ERA. Fortunately for Ryan, yesterday’s stats don’t count against his Pac-12 record.

ASU came back in the second, tying the game with a pair off Yuhei Nakaushiro, who went 1/3 of an inning. That gives him a preseason ERA of 54.00, and unfortunately, that number does count. Not as much as his performance in later preseason games will, of course, but it’s not a good start. Four straight singles out of the bullpen isn’t confidence building–on the other hand, he’s had problems with his control; at least his showing suggests he’s getting the ball over the plate.

All was quiet for a couple of innings, before the Diamondbacks broke the tie in the fifth on a walk and a two-out triple. That was followed by two more walks before ASU got a bases-loaded pop up to escape with no further damage.

And then, of course, the wheels came off in the sixth. Arizona beat up poor Brady Corrigan and Drake Davis for three runs on a combined four walks, one hit batter, and a single. Corrigan’s inning of work left him with a 9.00 ERA on the day, and Davis matched Nakaushiro’s lack of success, giving up two runs in a third of an inning for a 54.00 ERA.

At that, Davis only got the third out thanks to batter’s interference. Said batter, one Jason Morozowski had a lousy day day at the plate, going 0-2 and leaving six runners stranded. Had he not been nabbed for interference, the Diamondbacks could easily have picked up another couple of runs.

In an early sign that MLB’s emphasis on speeding up games this season is working, this one ended a bare two hours and thirty-three minutes after it began. Don’t look for that success to be replicated during the season, though, as this game was scheduled for seven innings and only went six and a half.

More exciting, unbroadcast pro/am play tomorrow, with five games featuring the Twins, Phillies, Tigers, and Red Sox (twice) against college teams.

It won’t do much for our desperate need for baseball, but at least our breath will be fresh.

Not Yet

These are the times that try sports fans’ souls…

Well, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But honestly, this is the second-worst week of the year. The first, of course, begins the moment the third out is made in the last game of the World Series.

But this one, the one that began when pitchers and catchers started to report to their teams’ training camps, isn’t far behind.

Why? Because, despite what so many people on the Internet and assorted traditional media would have you believe, baseball is not back.

Yes, those who follow college baseball have a different perspective. Their seasons are already in progress. Those of us who don’t root for a college team have to wait.

The first pre-season game involving a major league team–the Arizona Diamondbacks facing the Arizona State University Sun Devils*–isn’t until Wednesday afternoon.

* Does anyone else find it as amusing as I do how heavily the Diamondbacks have stacked the deck in their own favor? Not only do they have the home field advantage, but ASU can’t even use their whole squad–they’re listed as sending a split squad, i.e. their backup players, even though they don’t have a Pac-12 game that day.

The first game available to those of us outside of Arizona and Florida isn’t until Thursday, when the Minnesota Twins host the University of Minnesota Gophers. It looks like the radio broadcast will be streamed through (and, one presumes, the MLB app), but I don’t think the TV broadcast will be available anywhere but in Minnesota.

Friday, we’ll finally get the first games between major league clubs. There are fifteen on the schedule, and some of them will be televised outside of the teams’ respective markets.

It won’t be good baseball. The first exhibition games are always rough. Star players often don’t appear at all, and players never stay in for more than a couple of innings*.

* “What, never?” “Well, hardly ever.”

But no matter how sloppy it turns out to be, it’ll still be baseball. In ballparks and on our TVs, radios, and other media consumption devices.

Almost all of the stories we’ll get between now and then, designed to convince us baseball is back, will be nonsense. Nobody cares who’s “in the best shape of his life.” Nobody really cares that Pitcher X, coming off of surgery, took the mound: we expect he did, and as long as he doesn’t re-injure himself, tossing a double-handful of pitches is irrelevant to our view of the world.

In a normal year, the free agent signings would be, by and large, over with by now; this year, for the most part, they’re not happening. Either way, it’s thin gruel to tide us over until Friday.

20-1We’ll get there. As the saying goes, “Hang in there, Baby. Friday’s coming.*”

* I used to own a copy of that poster, back in the dim reaches of history. I’d love to get a new copy, but not at the prices they’re going for on eBay these days.

Not all of the current news is useless. We now know there won’t be a pitch clock in MLB this year–no promises for next year, though.

And, if you’re following the saga of the Athletics’ search for a new stadium, you’ll no doubt be interested to hear BART has definitively ruled out the possibility of building a new stadium near the team’s second choice location. That’s a bit of schadenfreude that’ll keep me entertained until at least Thursday morning.

But actual baseball? Still a few days away.

Back On Track

Baseball is back!

Well, for suitably generous definitions of “back”.

Spring Training has started. Pitchers and catchers for all teams have reported to camp, and the position players are coming–the reporting date is today for nine teams and tomorrow for eleven more. Since some players show up early, it’s safe to say that by the time the sun sets on Friday, more than two-thirds of players will be with their teams in Florida or Arizona.

Actual preseason games, meaningless as they are, don’t start until the twenty-second (the Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in a game that will, no doubt, give us a good idea of whether the consensus of 76-78 wins for the Diamondbacks this year is accurate.)

MLB is sending out reminders that MLB.TV subscription renewals will happen at the end of the month. However, despite the email’s announcement that subscribers will be able to watch more than 300 Spring Training games, the information about which games will be streamed hasn’t been posted yet. Annoyingly, audio-only streaming, which has traditionally included almost every game, is also still a black hole at this point. There’s no information about which games will be available–and, in fact, I can’t even find anything to support the notion that there will be any radio broadcasts.

But I’m not worried. I have faith that something will be worked out by the time two putative major league teams take the field against each other on the twenty-fourth.

I say “putative” not because of the teams involved (the first games, all at 10:05 Pacific, feature the Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, and Yankees), but because it’s usual for the first few games to feature players who will probably be starting the season in the minors. Gotta protect those name-brand players, and indeed, anyone who’s a probable lock to be on the twenty-five man roster, on Opening Day.

Of course, the World Baseball Classic may put a wrinkle in the works. With so many players leaving camp early, teams may have to decide between playing major leaguers earlier than usual or cutting games short.

But in the first couple of weeks, I really don’t care who’s playing, and I doubt I’m alone in that. For many fans, it’s the presence of the game that matters, and many of us tend to binge-watch or binge-listen through Spring Training and even into the first days of the season. All part of the process of emerging from our baseball-deficient hibernation.

I’m especially looking forward to being able to put a game on in the background this year. It may be biased observation, but I believe I write faster and more fluidly when I’m listening to baseball. I haven’t done exhaustive word count checks, but I think the totals are highest in March–the time of year when there are multiple games during my writing hours every day. I have no idea why that is; speculation about the rhythms of the game relaxing the logical parts of my brain and letting the creative parts take charge are completely unscientific.

But, regardless of why it works, I’m looking forward to exceeding my writing targets for a few weeks. Even if it’s just the placebo effect, the words on the screen will be real.

It’s too early to say “Go Mariners!” How about a resounding “Go Baseball!”?


It’s been a damned long winter, but signs of spring are everywhere.

I’ve finished my current bag of oatmeal–Bob’s Red Mill Rolled Oats. I don’t insist on the organic variant, but Amazon doesn’t seem to have the inorganic variety–and it’s warm enough I feel no urge to replace it.

The Chron is beginning to run baseball stories that have nothing to do with the As’ attempts to relocate outside of Oakland. According to the latest story, their slogan this year is “Rooted in Oakland”. I’d suggest they reconsider, but since they’ve already filmed commercials using the phrase, it’s probably too late. (To clarify, “root” has several meanings, not all of which convey the sort of message the As probably had in mind. In particular, the Australian slang interpretation makes it a darn good summary of the organization’s attitude towards the team’s fans over the past decade or so.)

And, arguably most importantly, the recent rains have resuscitated our lemon tree. After more than a year of producing next to nothing, it’s suddenly covered in lemons.

Let’s get one thing clear. I know some of you outside the Bay Area are thinking “Whoa, that writing thing must bring in pretty good money if he can afford a house with an attached citrus grove.” Untrue. It’s one tree. And, to be blunt, lemon trees are common around here, only slightly rarer than indoor plumbing. Granted, ours is a little unusual, in that–until the drought took its toll–it produced so many lemons we thought it must be part zucchini. But realty listings don’t even bother mentioning lemons; they’re just assumed.

But I digress.

It’s not exactly the season, but what can you do? When your lemon tree gives you lemons…

So there’s a jug of lemonade in the fridge, made to an exacting, complicated recipe:

  1. Combine one part sugar, two parts lemon juice, and six parts water.
  2. Mix well.

(You can make this at home, even if you don’t have a tree. Do not get packaged lemon juice, especially the kind that comes in a little plastic lemon. The flavor just isn’t there. Buy lemons and squeeze ’em yourself. Better yet, get the kids to squeeze ’em. It’ll keep them out of trouble for a few minutes and give them a sense of accomplishment.)

I know some of you are thinking “Sugar? No, honey!” It’s a valid point. But I’ve never had much luck with honey. It doesn’t dissolve as well as sugar.

And, while I’ve had some tasty honey-based lemonades, IMNSHO the flavor of the honey distracts from the pure lemon-sour/sugar-sweet contrast that’s the soul of the beverage.

Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to Spring Training on Sunday. Have a cold glass of lemonade and enjoy the turning of the season.


It’s finally here.

Four long, cold*, dark months are behind us.

* I’m well aware that the weather in the Bay Area has been far warmer than about 90% of the rest of the country since October. I’m talking spiritual cold, OK?

Sure, we’ve had four games involving something approximating professional baseball players already. The Phillies beat the Spartans 8-3 on Sunday, giving fans in Philadelphia faint hopes that the 2016 season won’t be too embarrassing. Yesterday, the Red Sox won both halves of a three-team double-header, beating Boston College 6-0, then turning around and trampling Northeastern University 8-3. And, in a stunning upset*, the Tigers squeaked past Florida Southern College 7-2 on the strength of five late-inning runs.

* Not really. Despite predictions that the Tigers will be lucky to scrounge 80 wins this season, I doubt anyone seriously expected the Mocs to pull this one out.

But those four games had more in common than simply pitting a bunch of unpaid hopefuls against professionals. They also lacked any form of broadcast. No radio, no TV. Or, to be precise, none that MLB deigned to share with MLB.TV purchasers.

It changes today. Those of us who don’t follow the college game get our first dose of live baseball shortly after 10:00 Pacific time when six professional teams take the field in head-to-head competition.

No, not one six-way game. Get serious! MLB is trying to speed up games. Nine innings with six teams batting every inning would take forever. Sheesh!

Anyway, fans of the Orioles, Braves, Pirates, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Phillies can get their first glimpse of the minor-league players who hope to make their teams at 10:05. The Red and Indians will brighten their fans’ days as well, but they’re waiting until 12:05 to start the festivities. (The less said about Arizona’s and Miami’s plans to beat up a pair of college teams the better.)

Those of us rooting for other teams will have to wait another day or two for our initial doses of optimism*, but we can turn our faces to the metaphorical east and await the rising of the sun of BASEBALL.

* Pity the poor fans of the Mets, who’ll have to wait until Thursday to see their World Series runners-up. At least the Series-winning Royals have a game Wednesday.

Remember, these are Spring Training games. They don’t count in any official standings; only the hearts of the fans. But isn’t that where any religion belongs?

Play ball!


A federal court has made it official. We knew it was coming, but I don’t think any of us expected it to arrive this promptly. Now we know: as far as the Federal Government is concerned, your right to “life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff” doesn’t include privacy.

I’m not going to write about it at length. It’s a rainy day, the turkeys are arguing about something incomprehensible outside my window, and I already said most of what I think last Tuesday. Why should I take out my frustration on you?

Bottom line: it’s still worth the time it takes to encrypt your electronic devices, but not by as much as it was last week. And don’t expect it to do you any good if any police officer anywhere takes an interest in you for any reason.

If you want any detail, go read Ars’ take on the news.

Then you can come back here for something slightly more cheerful.

Back? OK, good.

Baseball is back!

OK, OK, so far it’s just pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, but we’ll take it. Position players will be showing up over the next week, and we can look forward to the usual slew of articles telling us which athletes are in “the best shape of their lives” and which ones let themselves go over the off-season.

More importantly, we’re less than two weeks away from the first Spring Training game–as previously noted, between the Phillies and the University of Tampa Spartans*–and that means it’s time to start warming up your MLB app for the season’s radio and TV broadcasts.

* I’ll skip the jokes about “picking on someone your own size,” mostly because I’m not sure who those jokes should be aimed at.

There’s some good news about MLB.TV, too. According to the renewal reminder I received a couple of days ago, the full-season package is $20 cheaper than last year. Even better, if you’re only interested in one team, you can get a “Single Team Package” for $25 less than the regular package.

A price drop? Customer-friendly features? Is anyone surprised that the changes are the result of a lawsuit?

To nobody’s surprise, the changes are part of a legal settlement. In essence, MLB agreed to lower the price of the “Premium” package and introduce the “Single Team Package” to avoid the risk of going to trial and potentially be forced to modify their obnoxious blackout policy.

The Single Team Package is only available for out of market fans–Giants fans in the Bay Area, for example, can’t buy the package to follow their team unless they can prove to MLB that they can’t get satellite or cable TV in their home. That’s “can’t get,” not “don’t want”.

As in years past, out-of-market teams’ games against in-market teams will be blacked out. So if our hypothetical Giants fan moves to LA, he can watch the Giants via either a Single Team or Premium package, except when the Giants are playing the Dodgers or Angels–even if the game is in SF. Interestingly, MLB.TV is offering a limited exception to the blackout rule*. For $10, our Giants fan can also watch the Giants’ broadcasts when they play the Dodgers and Angels. But he’s out of luck if he’s also an As fan. The exemption is only good for a single team. There are also a couple of significant limitations to which fans can purchase the add-on. It can’t be added to a Single Team Package, only the full Premium Package, and it can only be purchased if the fan gets the in-market teams’ games if he subscribes to Comcast cable or DIRECTV satellite service with a package that includes the local teams’ broadcasts. If our Giants fan has satellite service from DISH, or if Comcast drops the Dodgers’ games, he’s SOL.

* This is, IMNSHO, the most significant change MLB agreed to in the settlement. It’s the first, faint hint that MLB might be willing to think about considering the possibility of down-scaling the tight relationship with their BigMedia sponsors.

So, all-in-all, the good news is limited. But fans are certainly no worse off than they were last year, with faint hints of improvement ahead. In today’s climate of lowered expectations, that has to count as a victory.

As Predicted

Ha! Nailed it!

Pardon my excitement, but I’m not used to seeing my predictions come true so quickly. Last week I suggested that Microsoft would “encourage” diehard Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10 by making the upgrade tool a “Recommended” update in Windows Update. And now several reputable technology sites, including ArsTechnica, are reporting that Microsoft will do exactly that.

If you haven’t already upgraded, you’ll see Windows 10 showing up as an “Optional” update soon, and early next year, it will switch to “Recommended” status. Users who let Windows install updates automatically (the default for non-business users) will see the installer prompting them to carry out the upgrade once the flag is flipped to recommended.

Note that you will be prompted–it won’t be a silent install that suddenly drops you into Windows 10–and you can hide the update in Windows Update to prevent it from being installed, but that could certainly change, especially after the “Upgrade free until July” period.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 hard. After October 31, 2016, you won’t be able to buy a new computer with an older version of Windows pre-installed. Windows 7 will still get security updates into January of 2020, but which bugs get fixed is completely at Microsoft’s discretion. As we saw with XP, the number of security flaws deemed not worth fixing grows rapidly as the end of support approaches.

Not all of my predictions come true. After last year’s correct call of the Giants over the Royals in seven games, I had high hopes for the Mets this year.

Unfortunately, the Royals had other ideas. Not only did they stomp the Mets into submission, they didn’t even take the full seven games. A true shame.

New York had good, solid pitching, but as I’ve said before, pure defense will only get you so far. You still need to score runs to win. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but to a significant extent the Mets relied on Yoenis Cespedes to spark their offense for much of the second half of the regular season. When he went cold in the playoffs, Daniel Murphy took over the ignition duties, but nobody (ahem) stepped up to the plate in the World Series after Murphy’s home run streak ended.

Full credit here to KC: they just plain outplayed the Mets–and everyone else they faced in the playoffs–to earn the title. But it’s still disappointing that we only got a five game Series.

Ah well. Back to cooking contests on Food Network to keep me entertained.

Only 108 days until the start of Spring Training.

Ready to Roll

We’re at that point in MLB’s preseason where everyone is ready for games to start.

OK, everyone except pitchers. Position players, broadcasters, fans; we’re all ready for games that mean something.

It’s those darn pitchers needing more time than anyone else to get all stretched out. At this point, most of the starters are up to five innings, give or take. So close. (Starting pitchers are expected to go six to seven innings–teams track “quality starts” in which the pitcher goes at least six innings, giving up no more than three runs–before they hand the game over to the relievers.) That means they need another start or two to get themselves fully ready, and we get to sit through another week and a half of preseason games.

I’ll spare you the fond memories* of “the good old days” when pitchers routinely pitched 2,000 innings every year and teams expected to get through the entire 308 game season with no more than two pitchers.

* Not my memories. I may be a curmudgeon of a certain age, but but I can’t remember the start of the “modern era,” whether you date that to 1876, 1893, 1900, or 1920.

Those memories are usually coupled with assertions that modern teams are too careful of their pitchers’ arms and blame for the current epidemic of season- and career-ending surgeries on under-work. I don’t buy the argument–but I digress.

Whether pitchers are pitching too much, not enough, or just in the wrong way to preserve their arms, I can’t help but wish they could get ready a little faster.

So in that spirit, how about a modest tweak to the process in the interest of starting the season a little sooner?

By definition, there are players who get ready faster than the average, and those who need more time. That doesn’t just apply to pitchers, but to all positions. Let’s take advantage of that. Let’s move Opening Day up a week, to the last week of March instead of the first week of April. At the same time, keep Spring Training going for the same amount of time, allowing it to overlap with the season by a week. During that week, players on the 40 man roster can move freely between the Spring Training team and the Real Games team.

Sound wacky? Maybe so, but it does offer a couple of advantages over the current schedule in addition to starting meaningful baseball sooner. It offers additional impetus for schedule-makers to put early games in locations with warm climates or indoor ballparks, reducing the chances of losing games to snowouts. And, by ending the season a week earlier, it reduces the odds of the postseason sliding into November.

Imagine a World Series game in New York with a blizzard coming in. The mayor closes the subways. Sound like fun to you?

Me neither.