Monday, February 21, 2005

Baseball Optimists, And Other Endangered Species

The pitcher pictured is in fact Javier Vasquez. (Whom I can now admire for the cutie and fine pitcher he is, and not have the pinstriped barrier.) You Yankee fans who might be so quick to dismiss him, remember what he did for you the first half of 2004. He was stone cold solid, lights out, the ace of the Yankee staff. Whatever damage his decline in the second half did to his rep, remember the first half. I think that's the type of pitcher he really is.

Then, of course, there is the Damon grand slam. Just as Boone's HR was not really the fault of Tim Wakefield, I don't think Damon's was really Javy's fault. Wake would not have been out there, had Grady pulled Pedro when he should have. Javy would not have been out there had Kevin Brown stepped up and earned his exorbitant contract, instead of alternately serving up fat ones/not being able to find the strike zone with a ten foot pole. Javy was put in one of the most impossible situations a pitcher can face, a bases loaded jam not of his own making. It's the rare pitcher, such as those named Eckersley or Foulke, who can get through something like that without flinching. It was made worse by the fact that Brown had just walked the last batter he faced. Javy had to get a strike over the plate, and unfortunately for him, Johnny Damon was due like postage. Sadly for Javy, that will be the last memory NY fans have of him, it will color his whole Yankee tenure, and I think that's unfair.

However, could you tell all that from the above picture? No. Hell, you can't even tell it's Javy. He's just another Spring Training pitcher, stretching, throwing, getting his arm ready. He's in a new place, on a new team, and has the potential to wipe all of that Yankee/Game 7 baggage away, by going out there and pitching the way he's capable of pitching. Because that's what Spring Training is all about.


The newborn possibility of the season to come. That's why we hang on every BP roundup, every report that "hey, Wade Miller's pitching from 150 feet." By July, we'll be jaded. We'll have seen what we think these guys can do, we'll think we can't be surprised any more. (We're usually wrong but that's a story for another time.)

But right now, in these halcyon spring days, it's all about potential. We've got new guys to take into our hearts, and right now they're Superman to us. Right now, they're all 35 homer-100 RBI guys. Right now they're all Cy Young award winners, past statistics and Bill James projections be damned.

We'd never admit it, of course. On the outside, we're all the "been here before", "seen it all" fans. But inside, we're giddy, we're excited, we're almost naive. That's why we come back, year after year, isn't it? Spring Training, out of all of the baseball season, is the blank slate for all our hopes, our dreams. Right now, every fan cherishes the possibility that "this is the year". That expression has become linked with the Red Sox more than others, but really it belongs to all baseball fans. Each season is a new season, a fresh start, the year that could be "our year" to shine. While July may belong to the cynics, February and March belong to the optimists.

They belong to guys like Javy Vasquez.