Rushin: Rites Of A New Season

Image credit: Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley slides into third base after hitting an improbable triple during the 2017 NL Wild Card Game.

Every pilot has a pre-flight checklist, the routine maintenance required before takeoff, and so it is with the baseball enthusiast, who requires a honeydew list to post on the fridge, tasks to be completed by Opening Day, before we go wheels-up on another new season.

[ ] BUY NEW BATs. Little League softball and baseball have a new standard this year, rendering composite barrels illegal, to be replaced by bats with a “wood-like performance,” while further enriching the youth sports/sporting goods industrial complex.

If history holds true, it will be difficult to leave Dick’s Sporting Goods without also acquiring eye black, batting gloves, elbow shields, wraparound shades, high-topped cleats, a new catcher’s mitt, home and away pants, a red belt, a five-gallon bucket of balls, a burlap feed bag of sunflower seeds and—if the credit card limit has not yet been breached—something for the kids.



[ ] THE KIDS: pitch to them in shin-high snow ahead of their preseason baseball and softball assessments, lest they exhibit their own wood-like performance. And watch as the tennis ball, chosen for contrast and visibility, vectors majestically toward the neighbor’s yard before it’s retrieved and eaten by your yellow lab, who patrols the outfield like a canine Jeff Conine.

Then ask why she won’t eat the organic gourmet locally-sourced dog food in her dish but recently devoured your Wilson A2000 glove.

[ ] BUY YOUR 9-YEAR-OLD A PACK OF 2018 SERIES 1 TOPPS WITH MIKE TROUT ON THE WRAPPER and gape in astonishment at the orange price tag: $3.49. Your shock at the cost of the cards quickly yields to delight, for 3.49 is also Tim Hudson’s lifetime ERA, a figure that has crowded out pi in the junk-drawer of your mind.

From the back seat of the car, your son announces his first card of the new year: “Howie Kendrick,” to which you reply: “Of the Angels! I mean the Dodgers! No wait, the . . . Phillies?” He sighs and says: “The Nats.”

[ ] GET YOUR BEARINGS. Remembering who’s on what team this year will take at least a week, and be briefly disorienting, as when your classmates returned to school from summer vacation bigger, without braces and in different clothes. You’ll have to get used to Yu Darvish as a Cub, Ichiro as a Mariner again and Giancarlo Stanton in pinstripes.

But the most welcome change this year is the return of the prodigal bullpen cart, ushering Diamondbacks relievers in from the bullpen, doing little to speed the game but much to speed the pulse of anyone who remembers terrifying relievers like Al Hrabosky being chauffeured 300 feet to the mound in a child’s toy car, despite the Mad Hungarian being perfectly capable of locomotion.

In 1980, Padres traveling secretary Doc Mattei was married before a Dodgers-Padres game, and he and his wife were driven away not in a limousine, but in the Padres bullpen cart, with its baseball chassis and its Padres-cap roof. Picture the newlyweds, making stately progress up the 405 at 7 miles per hour in their brown and yellow chariot, trailing tin cans on a string.

[ ] OPEN THE MLB.TV APP ON YOUR TABLET, seal yourself in your panic room and watch 35 live games in the first four days of the new season. By mid-July, your binge-watching will have tapered down to nothing, before ramping up again for the pennant races, so that a bar graph of your season-long viewing will look like the Olympic halfpipe, with April and September as the high banks, and the All-Star break as the bottom of the trough.

Then congratulate yourself for knowing what an Olympic halfpipe is, because the average age of the Major League Baseball viewer is now 57.

[ ] CIRCLE SEVERAL MINOR LEAGUE GAMES ON THE SCHEDULE, and hope at least one goes into extra innings, if only to witness the spectacle of the new rule: at every level of the minors, the top and bottom of all extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. That runner will, for all practical purposes, have been born on second base while thinking he hit a double.

The question remains how he’ll arrive there: jogging from home to second, via first base, as if receiving a double-base on balls? Sprinting directly across the infield from the dugout? We can only hope—we can dare to dream—that he’ll be dropped off at second base to a great ovation, having been ferried there in a bullpen cart.

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