What’s Your Countdown?

Mailbag: Quality Starts
Sunday Open Thread

Holy crap, baseball is so close I can almost taste it. Like many of you, I have several countdowns going, one at work, one on my computer, on my calendar… and so forth. It’s only a matter of time before we have to stop paying attention to less interesting sports to turn our attentions to diamonds, curveballs, dingers and TOOTBLANs. I can’t believe I’m this excited to complain about Derek Jeter leading off and Robinson Cano swinging at crazy pitches to foul them off rather than just taking a damn walk every once in a while.

The problem is, there’s a lot of different was to go with your countdown. Do you start at when pitchers and catchers report? Wait for Spring Training for begin? Is Opening Day the only one that really counts? Let’s break down the different events and see what the best place is to be waiting for.

Pitchers and Catchers report.
Pro: It’s the first thing to happen.
Con: There’s no games to be had.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In less than a month, the optional reporting date for batteries rolls around. The pitchers and catchers can show up if they want and begin their stretches, long-toss, short-toss, running up and down the steps – whatever it is they’d like to do. Here’s where a few pictures start trickling in from the beat writers and official twitter accounts, along with Best Shape of His Life stories and subtle comments about who was lazing off during the offseason (Phil Hughes, don’t hide). It’s hard not to be excited about the reporting date, because getting the pitchers to the spring complexes is pretty important — hard to play a game if you don’t have a pitcher — but in essence, you’re waiting for a day when there’s no games.

The fact is, it’s an optional reporting day for only a small part of the team. There’s a solid chance that most of the people won’t even be there, and Mo only knows when all the beat guys are going to show up. The day, besides being a great day when the cogs of baseball start to break the rust and begin to turn, is a day of nothing. If you’re counting down to actual baseball, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, unless you can be satisfied by pictures of CC Sabathia running steps and Phil Hughes looking not-so-chubby. Like the pitchers and catchers themselves, the fans need to warm up to the constant stream of baseball information that we haven’t had in what seems like so long. The cold, dark offseason is done. Baseball is back. (Cue YES music.)

Or…. maybe you’re waiting for some actual games. Maybe you can only be satisfied by the crack of the bat and the thwock of the catcher’s mitt and the analyzation of pitch types and batting stances. In that case, you’re most likely looking forward to…

Spring Training games begin.
Pro: Actual baseball being played!
Con: Games don’t matter, and managers treat them like so.

(AP Photo)

In Spring Training 2011, A.J. Burnett didn’t issue a single walk.

There’s so much hope in the Florida sun! So much excitement! Baby Yankees running around striking out major leaguers! Rotation competitions (that aren’t actually competitions)! Hope for the hopeless! The weak competition, plus the rust coming off the rest of the league, usually makes the fans feel pretty optimistic about everything. This is gonna be the year. Look at all our players! They look awesome! Totally get a ring in 2012, guys. I can feel it.

There’s nothing better than Spring Training in the sense that after a cold, hard offseason nothing hits the spot like baseball. It’s like hot chocolate after dragging yourself down a snowy street or your air-conditioned house when it’s boiling and humid outside. Real baseball, with hits and strikeouts and eye-rollingly bad plays, and pitchers, and outfielders… God, what’s better, honestly? It’s a breath of fresh air with the hopes and dreams of everyone waiting.

Of course, the games don’t matter. They’re try-outs for the invites and practice for the veterans, and usually feature three to four innings of what one might call “competitive baseball” before the AAAA outfielders come in. There’s funky lineup changes, pitchers trying to make pitches work (when they don’t), hitters testing out new everything, players in strange positions, all the stuff that makes a fan go nuts when he (or she) sees it happen. And, as I mentioned earlier, the wins and the losses are both equally meaningless. It’s frustrating, when watching a game, to know it means nothing.

If you actually need that competition, you’re stuck waiting for…

Regular Season begins.
Pro: Actual, real baseball that counts.
Con: Far away.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s here. The real season. Stuff counts. Anything could happen. The rotation is (probably) set. The lineup has been decided. Alex Rodriguez has hopefully avoided embarrassing himself for a whole month. Phil Hughes is skinny again.

Go time.

Is there any better guaranteed day in the year than Opening Day? Real, actual baseball, with players and teams that mean it, and games that matter towards that offseason that seems like it’s never going to come. While game one is, relatively speaking, just as important as game 162, the first is always the best. Our acceptance level of bunting, manager dumbass-ness, and general stupidity is at a high because baseball is baseball and thank god it’s back. Hell, maybe no one will actually whine about the lineup because it’s been so long.

Ok, that’s unlikely.

But just think about how long the regular season is from now: over two months. It doesn’t seem like a lot typed out, but every day with no real baseball is a painful one, especially when you’re watching Spring Training and waiting and waiting and waiting for it to matter. Staring at a baseball game knowing it’s utterly insignificant can be pretty bad, and knowing even more there’s a month or a week to go before things start counting sounds worse.

For me, pitchers and catchers is the day. It’s just so soon, and there’s so much possibility, and everything’s so close – I just can’t help it. I’ve got a countdown widget and everything.

What are you waiting for?

Mailbag: Quality Starts
Sunday Open Thread
  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Steve S.

    I mark the calendar for each date. Pitchers and Catchers is big, but you quickly realize that there’s not much of substance until they start playing some games. First televised/radio game is huge, and I really enjoy that for the first few innings. By mid March, you’re dying for Opening Day.

    This spring, the 5th starter competition is the most interesting storyline, but its really centered on Phil Hughes. Everyone knows what Garcia and Burnett are all about. The guy who I’ll be watching closely this spring is Hughes. I think the Yanks are leaning toward sending him to the bullpen this year. But if he looks good, he makes that decision much harder.

    • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Steve S.

      Another note. Watching the kids in camp is always good, and I think the Yanks will go out of their way to start hyping up the Next Big Thing, which is Manny Banuelos. He is now their top prospect, and will get the spotlight on him this spring.

      • Steve (different one)

        Agreed, but mostly because he was already mega-hyped LAST spring training. Baneulos was the big story last spring, not Montero.

  • http://twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    D) None of the above

    I look forward to the date that players report…everyone is in camp, and things start to rock and roll.

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Steve S.
    • dalelama

      Jorge “Tootblan” Posada

  • Monterowasdinero

    Hannah is the Bay Area’s greatest female Yankee fan. Good stuff but now I will follow the Cactus League more closely.

  • Rainbow Connection

    Holy typos.

    • ryan

      Yeah, almost unreadable at times.

      But, very nice article, just start to give a quick glance over for errors in the future and you’ll be fine

      • PBFog

        Yea, because Mike never makes any mistakes *poor comma use*.

  • Mike MzX

    The wait for spring training is always rough, then it comes and you watch a few and then wait for the “real baseball” to get going. Then opening day happens, and it’s great and all, but then after a week or so I fall into the “nothing really matters (unless they’re having a hideous losing streak) until the All Star Break”, and I fall off a little until around June.

    Here’s to 2012!

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      That’s the best thing about fantasy baseball – or fantasy sports in general for that matter. They give you something that “matter” when things for your real team may not seem all that important.

  • PinedaColada

    My countdown is set for Pineda’s first expected start (I’m going under the assumption he will pitch 4th)

  • CMP

    I wish the authors would stop mentioning AJ Burnett in every article. It’s like repeatedly throwing salt onto a festering wound.

    • http://twitter.com/firstheart42 Hannah Ehrlich

      For some reason, I really like AJ Burnett. Apparently, I’m a horrible masochist. I talk about him as much as I can when he’s not awful yet. MAYBE HE’LL BE BETTER THIS YEAR. YOU DON’T KNOW.

      /crazy person.

  • Now Batting

    Spring training is rough for me. It makes it seem like the regular season is right there, when in reality you have another month to go. There’s usually (and hopefully) very little in the way of news and rumors. For me spring training is the most boring time in baseball for the whole calendar year.

  • https://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    Opening Day without question. Spring Training is way too long and almost completely without entertainment value.

  • JD

    Love it all.
    I have tickets to the first spring game against U of Miami?
    Anyone know what that’s about?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      MLB teams usually play one or two games against college teams before Spring Training starts. It’s a promotional thing, helps the local school sell tickets and what not.

      • TCMiller30

        They should let the big leaguers use metal bats.. Imagine being in the front row of seats when someone ropes a liner foul. It’d probably be a true “life flash before your eyes” type moment

    • CMP

      It helps the Yankees prepare to play teams like the Orioles, Royals and Mets.

      • Bo Knows

        thats insulting….to the college players!!!

  • Bo Knows

    Season needs to start, I am aching to start (the real) trash talking to boston fan roommates not just veiled insults about beer and chicken.

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      Just be warned, the Yankees may not head into 2012 that much better than the Red Sox – even though everyone is already brushing them off.

      • RetroRob

        Yeah, I don’t get it. Some fans are treating the Red Sox like they’re some second-division team. They’re the same team that led the AL East until September. Their front three starters are back, and losing Lackey and Dice-K will probably help them.

        They’ll be there with the Yankees all year.

  • Reggie C.

    Pitchers and catchers reporting is kind of a bigger deal this year than most, well, at least since CC and AJ initially signed.

    I think we’re all intrigued with how Pineda and Kuroda will handle the initial interviews those first few days and what they’ll say. I definitely am looking forward to seeing Pineda’s initial FB readings. The man is one of the hardest throwing starters in the game. Love. It.

    Oh yeah… i’m also intrigued to see if Hughes can show up to camp weighing less than 240 pounds.

  • CJ

    First is the release of Baseball Preview Magazines in February. With the Internet they are almost obsolete but it’s a nostalgic thing. Next is the week of preparation for fantasy baseball draft. Then of course, opening day even if it’s at 4 am in Japan before work.

    • http://twitter.com/urbainshockcor Urban

      The arrival of the basball/fantasy magazines on newsstands was always a welcome site. Even back before the Internet, most were annoyingly outdated, but always still bought a few.

      Among “old school” things I miss is the Baseball Encyclopdia. I would still buy the damn thing if MacMillian would do a real update, hopefully adding in a few more advanced stats. There is something quite different about simply picking up a book, opening to a random section and then flipping from page to page. Very different than doing targeted research. Tablet computing might eventually address this to some degree, and bring the best of both words together.

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      “The week of preparation”? That’s it?

  • Urban

    Pitchers/catchers reporting is a welcome reminder that winter will soon be over and real baseball games are on the way.

    The start of actual spring training game provides fans the opportunity to see and discuss the last few remaining question marks on the team. Unfortunately, this year that will mean endless debates about who should be the fifth starter!

  • Ken

    Opening Day – when the games begin to count – is the magical day for me. Once football is over(a lot of fun, but not the daily thrill that only baseball provides)and there are no sports that interest me (sorry NBA and NHL), I CAN’T WAIT until baseball begins. I enjoy Spring Training from afar (I live in South Florida but REFUSE to go to “practice games” that do not count) and look for the players to work on things to make them better (BUNTING Mr. Gardner!!!!) in situations that don’t count and to see some of the younger players who may one day be on the 25 man roster or used as trade bait. Spring Training is about getting ready for the season – April 6 @ Tampa. LET’S GO YANKEES!!!!

  • GardnergoesYardner

    My countdown is for pitchers and catchers, because it’s on my birthday! It actually falls on my birthday every so often, and it’s a really nice present, the best you could ask for.

    Really though, I count down for the first Spring Training game, because that’s when televised games and counting stats come back, even though they don’t matter. I always get bored with ST around the middle of March, and then my interest wanes for a week or so, but Opening Day is one of the most rewarding days of the year. Too bad they have to play it at the Trop this year:(

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Pitchers and catchers has a double meaning, as it is both a sign of the season approaching and winter actually having some sort of end to it, which can be hard to believe during an NYC February.

    I love Spring Training, as its my often my first chance to put faces and actual opinions to many of the MiLB names I read about here, and does come with its fair share of excitement. Not much beat ManBan versus the Sox last spring.

  • dalelama

    I hope this season isn’t as predictable as the last two…make the playoffs, choke, rinse, and repeat.

    • CJ

      ALDS and ALCS losses are the same? Anything but a World Championship.

    • Monterowasdinero

      I hope this season doesn’t end like the last two with an ARod K.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      You predicted how the last two seasons would end? When?

      Did you also predict the WS in ’09?

      Do your predictive powers extend to the stock market?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I hope next season doesn’t start with dalelama whining.

    • Urban

      I never quite equated losing = choking. I guess 29 teams choke every year, and the one winner is filled with gutty, gritty winners.

      • Dalelama

        I only consider it choking when players underperform against inferior competition aka Swisher, Tex, and Purple Lips.

  • Jared

    For years I paid only the slightest attention to Spring Training, maybe I’d check in on the tabloids once in awhile, maybe catch an interview or two by chance on FAN. Then 2 years ago I was jonesing bigtime for some baseball & actually watched a bunch of Spring training games, followed the buzz, etc. What a mistake. Man, that felt like the longest Spring ever. I thought they’d never come north. It was just basically an unsatisfying tease. Spring training is to the regular season as an O’Douls is to a Fuller’s ESB. So now I’m back to waiting for April 6 & trying not to pay TOO much attention in the meantime.

  • BK2ATL

    I’ll periodically check up when ST begins in earnest, just to see who’s reported in shape and who’s improved. I might even catch a Yankees ST game on tv, if time permits. My main interest will really pick up around Opening Day and when March Madness ends.

    This year, I’ll be paying attention to how A-Rod and Tex look at the plate, how Hughes looks, how Pineda and Kuroda assimilate to the new team, and how Banuelos and Betances come back. The rest will fall in place, I guess.

  • Scott

    I wait for Who’s Who in Baseball–also called the “red book.” I buy a few for friends and family including “Sawx” fans here where I live in RI, and Reds and Tribe fans, and mail them out. I have red books going back to 1962. Also I wait for the first radio broadcast of a spring training game.

    • Urban

      They still produce those? Who’s the publisher?

      • Urban

        Sorry, missed the “joke” on that one first read through.