Here we go, it's Opening Day.
Ah, yes, sports begins for me at the beginning of the baseball season. I was a marginal jock; I could always hit, was a reasonably fast runner, but was no good with a glove, and never played after high school. But I am a Baseball Monk, a baseball historian and arch-traditionalist.
I am a third-generation citizen of Red Sox Nation. My grandfather watched Babe Ruth pitch in Fenway before the US entered World War One, and Grandpa went to France. We Homanses predate the Alleged, Lifted, Curse of the Bambino.
The National League team with the longest and most honorable post-season rivalry with the Red Sox has been the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, one of my friends, very late in his life, was the late Jerry Wexler, the impresario of American popular music for the second half of the 20th century. Jerry paid me the honor of writing an endorsement which was used as a sticker on my CD The Wheel Man (2007).
Despite that, Jerry and I rarely talked about music, in our long conversations on the phone (we never got to even shake hands, siiggghhhh....). We talked about baseball. Jerry was, like me, a paleo-traditionalist, who barely ever even tolerated expansion, and to whom the Designated Hitter rule was a grave sacrilege. Regular season interleague play!? Not on your tintype!
Jerry was lucky enough, as a young man, to watch the 1946 World Series, pitting two of the top 5 hitters ever to play the game, Ted Williams-- The Kid-- and Stan the Man Musial. Neither hit very well though Stan found ways to contribute. It was to be Williams' only World Series appearance. Musial, though winning 3 World Series rings for the Cardinals, had a World Series batting average of .256, 75 points below his career BA. Williams was nearly absent. .200, 5 for 25, 2 runs scored, one measly RBI.
11 or 12 years later-- I forget exactly-- I was a small boy in Yankee Stadium with my dad and late brother when Williams singlehandedly beat Mickey Mantle and the Yankees with two three-run homers. Mantle only managed to hit one, a line drive to left. Ted hit his first, an opposite-field drive, in roughly the same spot. And then, batting against the shift, Teddy Ballgame hit a towering fly 15 rows deep in the second deck in right field. The Sox won 8-6. It was my first major league game.
Who do I like for 2018? Well, of course, the money has ruined sports for me forever. I mean, it was always a business, but I just read a sports columnist I kinda respect talking about "400 million, 500 million, maybe even more" for Bryce Harper's next contract. (Obscenity) THAT!!
But I was at least there in the days before the money ruined sports. And not just in baseball, the dear old game that as a sportsman and an American I shall never get out of my blood. I was watching stock car racing in my own home town before Daytona was even a track. I watched Banjo Mathews, the hardest, cleanest driver that ever gripped a wheel, race against, among others, Dale Junior's GRANDFATHER Ralph Earnhardt.
In 2015 I drove 8 laps at Daytona. As a rookie, all I got to go was 135 MPH, I was just getting the feel of the place. I'll go faster next time!
I'm several years retired from all sports due to multiple serious injuries, some from sports, others from work, still others from fights, a nearly fatal mugging, and mere freak accidents. I could hurt myself walking, because I am clumsy and generally incautious. I'm lucky I can still even dance a little.
So who do I like? Well, in the American League, I will have to grant that the Astros should be favored to repeat as World Series Champions. Should be. On the other hand, the Yankees with Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the same lineup are SCARY. An opposing manager's nightmare. The Red Sox are a very good team, with Mookie Betts just hitting his prime, and a better pitching staff ON PAPER than either of those two. But they're going to do well just to keep up, unless they can find a way to beat their Division rival the Yankees consistently.
In the NL? I'll take the Cardinals, sentimentally of course, but also because they narrowly missed last year, and haven't lost anybody significant that I can put my finger on.
My only MLB game last year was coincidentally my first West Coast contest ever. The Giants were woeful, but Madison Bumgarner was pitching when I happened to be in town on tour. I wanted two things: first, I wanted to see Bumgarner, who was having the worst season of his career, pitch an outstanding game. And second, I wanted to watch him hit a home run.
Well, he hit the homer, a 389-foot solo shot to left into the equipment entrance way behind the fence. He powdered it. But he gave up three, including two on successive hitters, and it was almost four but for the greatest homer-robbing catch I ever watched live, in major or minor league play. The ball was three feet into the seats when it was caught. The Cardinals won, 8-4.