Well, we made it. Through grit, focus and a little liquid courage, we braved the drudgery of the offseason, the brutality of winter and the misery of Browns football, and here it is once again, Opening Day.
For all the cliches about rebirth and how all we do in the winter is sit by the window and wait for spring, it’s amazing how even after literal decades of enjoying this silly game. A childish glee that just infects the whole day and a whole week if not month of anxious excitement running up to it. It’s Christmas, but instead dawning on of one day of joy, it’s six months of a weird blend of peace of mind, unbridled joy and just... everything being right.
For as bad as last season ended, you’d think there would be some trepidation mixed in with the excitement of Cleveland baseball’s new beginning. And it was terrible, make no mistake. A season that perfect, to end the way it did, it still hurts a bit. Each memory fires a sad neuron in my brain. Didi Gregorious’s homer off Kluber, Frazier and Hicks scoring late in Game 5 on a throwing error, even Carrasco’s wasted outing because Masahiro Tanaka turned into Greg Maddux for a day, these still make my heart heart. Just looking at the play-by-play to make sure I got those names right was surprisingly crushing on a March afternoon. But for as bad as it was, that’s the magic of the offseason.
Yes, Octboer (and most of November) were made a little less bright, a bit less happy. Winter certainly came early, no matter the weather. But time has that way of making any pain a bit softer. It’s mostly just a dull ache, completely subsumed by the excitement for a new year and another chance.
There’s so much I can’t wait to see, too. It’s going to be hard to not see Carlos Santana in the lineup anymore, and it’s odd when I catch a glimpse of him in those Phillies pinstripes. Red is a good color for him, but the blue helped so much. Even without Santana though, the Cleveland Indians are going to be a blast. Leaving aside another season of watching Lindor and Ramirez grow, my biggest thing is seeing if Yonder Alonso’s commitment to launch angle and swinging hella hard is going to carry over to another year. His second half was much poorer than his first last season - his wRC+ fell from a superstar-esque 146 to a merely solid 113 — but I have to believe it takes some time to adjust to the adjustments pitchers make after you, well, adjust your own swing. And Jason Kipnis being healthy, and a whole season of Bradley Zimmer in the outfield, Edwin Encarnacion giving us another year of some of the furthest homers and highest pop-ups ever in history, and maybe an actual healthy Michael Brantley please? No, it’s not a perfect team, and not everything has gone just the way they wanted this winter, but it’s the team we want to watch, and get to watch.
Oh yeah, and also Lindor and Ramirez. God damn.
And Bauer, man. Trevor Bauer has been so much fun to watch as he’s grown in the Indians system. He’s become a flesh-and-blood video game Create-a-Player. Each year he pours more upgrade points into a different attribute, in hopes of becoming that 99 pitcher we all want in MLB The Show. He’s been able to avoid getting sent to the bullpen like half of my pitchers do, so that in itself is impressive, and evidence the manager AI in those games is moronic. Seriously, what are you doing sending a guy who can throw 98 for seven innings to the ‘pen? And you want Jeremy Hellickson to start over him? What the hell is wrong with you, digital Phillies manager?
In all seriousness, this pitching staff is incredible. Remembering how blessed the Indians are with this is vital. We’ve become used to it. I’ve been writing about the Indians seriously for about seven years now. It’s easy to lose perspective, but this is amazing. Every day is appointment viewing with this staff. Either it’s a top five or ten pitcher, a totally intriguing and excellent younger guy, or even just watching Josh Tomlin somehow get pro players out. Every day is something dazzling, and we haven’t even touched on the chance to see Andrew Millre pitch. The team has come from the dregs of baseball to being utterly stacked.
Taking a step back, marveling at this whole thing and realizing that with Zimmer and Mejia’s flourishing still in the offing, how can you not be blown away? Like, it took the Phillies back in 2010-ish a bunch of money and trades to assemble one of the best rotations ever. The Indians grew theirs. And then built the best left side of an infield probably in baseball. Each day we get to see this is a pleasure, a rare blessing that comes around maybe once in a generation if you’re lucky. Or a fan of a team with money to burn I guess.
Expectation is a real millstone this team wears, but hopefully the ultimate ending isn’t something we have to think about for a few months. Because it’s still baseball. We’re all bound to get wrapped up in some random Tuesday game or collapse in despair over a stretch of three bad games in June, but none of that sticks around. Another game happens tomorrow. People who don’t like the game see the season as an interminable slog, but this is the time when everything seems right, even when so much else out there is wrong. There’s a rhythm returning to the day, the week, the summer. Whether getting excited about the new face or the cool rookie, overreacting to a small sample size or two, or delving into pitcher development, I can’t wait to spend too much time thinking, talking, and writing about this silly little game.
Thanks for spending it with me.