I have never paid attention to off-season baseball the way I have done this year. Spring Training has never held my attention as does right now in its first few days. The reason for this unprecedented attention is simple:
The Houston Astros getting away with cheating and stealing the 2017 World Series title from my Dodgers.
When the initial report on the cheating came out, I kind of sighed and tried not to think about it too much. That 2017 loss was hard to take; the Game 5 loss in Houston, which Kershaw pitching well and then suddenly, boom; the Altuve home run off Maeda, who had been dominant in the post-season; the Astros being held in check and then suddenly, boom. All of that, with the Dodgers coming back in the top of the 9th – it was just too much to go back to.
But the story wouldn’t stop, and it just got worse. Confirmation that they really had cheated during the World Series, meaning that Kershaw and Maeda never stood a chance, not with Astros batters able to avoid their best pitches and sit on fastballs. The strong possibility that they had a system to use in LA for Game 7, just enough to get 5 runs off Darvish and then coast from there.
The story wouldn’t stop, and it was brutal for Dodgers fans to have to relive that Series and realize we didn’t actually lose – we were cheated. Take away that sign-stealing system, and Kershaw wins Game 5 and the Dodgers win the Series. For all we know, the Game 2 loss – the Astros hitting 5 home runs in the last 3 innings against three really good relievers – was a scam, too. To be a Dodgers fan and have this revealed two-and-a-half years later was a gut-punch.
Then came Mookie.
It took seemingly forever, but the Dodgers traded a rookie everyone loved, Alex Verdugo, for one of the best players in the game, Mookie Betts. A former MVP and a World Series champ (who, we hope, did not cheat in 2018; we don’t know that yet, but it doesn’t seem likely). Suddenly, a really good Dodgers team become the 1929 Yankees. We even got a pitcher who, though old and hurt the past year, dominated in the 2018 playoffs – including against us.
The pain of 2017, not to mention 2018 and last year’s abrupt and unfathomable exit from the playoffs, was suddenly being bathed in the sweet balm of near-giddy hope for the coming season. No guarantees in baseball, of course; one or two injuries and the whole thing could go to shit, but this team is not only strong, it’s deep.
Mookie freaking Betts and Cody golt-dern Bellinger; two MVPs in the outfield and the best supporting cast in the National League. Are we counting our chickens? Well, a bit, but these are the Dodgers, and no team – sorry, not even the Cubs who were just plain bad for most of their history – has caused its fans more pain over the years. All those losses to the Yankees. The three World Series in the 70s (Mr effing October). Brutal take-downs by the Cardinals and Giants, both of whom have won multiple World Series while we sit and watch.
All this painful history, so until the trophy is being handed over and hoisted by Dave Roberts and the players, excuse Dodger fans for expecting the sky to fall in on us. But also excuse us for expecting this year, of all years, to end the way it hasn’t since 1988. Given the make-up of this team – not just the talent but the quality of human beings on the team – we do expect to win it all.
So yea, I’m paying more attention to baseball this year. It’s a good way to divert myself from politics; it’s a way not to ruminate on my anxieties (I am planning to use watching games as a way to practice not taking every damn thing as immediately life-threatening; we may win 105 games but that means we’ll be losing 57). But right now, as Spring Training starts, this is the easiest part of the season. The first game is Saturday, against San Francisco. Most of it will be played by minor leaguers, but who cares!
Baseball is back. The Dodgers are back. The world sucks in many ways, but having this season to look forward to is a wonderful thing.