The Season Before
Despite the fact that school is still being delayed because of snow, baseball season is upon us. While the snow has forced the Green Terror squad to stay in Gill Center (all but eliminating any chance to find a pick-up bball at night between Men’s BBall making a playoff push, Girls Softball, and intramurals, but that’s a different story) in Florida and Arizona, Major League Training Camps are well underway.
Arguably the biggest story heading into this preseason was Albert Pujols’ self-imposed deadline to end contract negotiations when he reported to training camp. Pujols, the best hitting/position player in the game today, bar none, is in the final year of his contract and will be eligible for free agency following this season.
The Cardinals inability to lock up the face of their franchise has given many teams around the league hope. To put into perspective how good of a player we are talking about here, Albert’s accomplishments as a hitter thus far in his career are rivaled by the likes of Ruth and Gehrig.
With Albert looking to test the free agent market, his possible landing spot has been a topic of sports banter all across the nation lately. An iconic player like Pujols brings instant credibility to any clubhouse he enters, and has the ability, in this sports writer’s opinion, to make even an average team into a legitimate championship contender.
So for this edition of Out Pick, I will respond to an article by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, co-host of PTI and avid Chicago sports fan, in which he made his argument for why his beloved Cubs should do whatever it takes to land Sir Albert. While stealing their arch rival’s best player has a “curse of the bambino” aura going for it, what could be a better landing spot for the game’s best player than the game’s best division—the AL East.
In a lineup stacked with young talent, top pitching prospects galore on the verge of breaking out, and a manager who reviving the spirits of a franchise that had all but forgotten what it feels like to win, the folks in Charm City are looking for a hero. Oriole fans are ready to come out of hibernation and remind the Yankees and the ‘Sox that a game in birdland isn’t just another home-away-from-home tune up game.
Pujols says he wants to go down as one of the greatest ever. What better way than to play home and divisional games in 4 of the top 8 hitters ballparks in the league? Talk about feeding an ego, how about reviving a franchise that has been all but irrelevant since the Jeffrey Maier series in 1996 and without a championship since 1983. Still not enough to make your engine roar? How about doing it by dethroning the two most dominant, and most hated, franchises in the game!
If the Cubs can come up with the money, there is no logical reason why the O’s shouldn’t be able to, especially considering stop-gap one bagger Derek Lee will be off the books next year and the ability to DH would alleviate some of the fear about Albert having to play the field in the twilight years of his looming record deal. The Cardinals lost a big bargaining tool when stud pitcher Adam Wainwright had to be shut down for the entire season just this week. With the spending powers of the north seemingly out of the race, the Yankees having already committing to Baltimore native Mark Teixeira and the Red Sox in negotiations with recently acquired slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, there is a glimmer of hope in struggling big league cities everywhere saying, “Why not us?”
Why not Baltimore? Simply take a closer look at what the O’s have already done to position themselves for this moment. By adding a bonafide superstar to a lineup where he’ll be surrounded by the likes of Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Luke Scott, and possibly Vlad Guerrero for a year or so, watch out. If even a few of the slew of young, potential top-of-the-rotation type arms pan out, we could be looking at a vintage Atlanta Braves type dynasty in the making.
While they enter the season as a long shot in next year’s MLB version of “The Decision”, (note to Albert, don’t go on ESPN and shatter any glimmer of admiration your former loyal supporters may still have for you, or go to the Cubs for that matter!) if Lebronathon has taught us anything, it is that sometimes things don’t always go as planned and every now and then when a once in a generation type player hits the free agent market in his prime, it can invigorate an entire sport.
Now it’s your turn. Don’t agree with me? Share your thoughts on where you think “El Hombre” should end up. O’s fans, what did I forget to mention? Perception is everything in sports. If the O’s can convince Albert that they belong in the discussion, then they will be there. That means players performing, coaches instilling a winning mindset, ownership shelling out the dough, but possibly the most important job rests in the hands of fans. Get out there and support your team. Make Baltimore a place where a big name player like Pujols would actually want to come for something more than a paycheck.