“Sports That Could Possibly be Abbreviated ‘Bball’ for $500, Alex.”

Immediately after getting home from work, some friends and I took in the 2007 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Game.

It wasn’t exactly a clinic. Ohio State looked lost most of the night and had trouble getting any sort of outside game that was desperately needed against Florida’s zone defense. Unlike the game in January, the favorites came out on top this time around.

After the end of the night (and hence the lateness of these posts), I poetically segued from the end of one season to the beginning of another. I recorded the Braves’ opener (10:00 am PDT) to view tonight and kept myself willful ignorant of the results.

What a thrill to be back into baseball. I never got into the groove last season – I left for Europe when the season was still young and came back to a team that was realistically out of the playoff hunt. I watched the remaining games, but without my usual zeal. As I watched yesterday’s game, I found my baseball senses were still in great shape – twitching as though I were behind the plate calling the balls and strikes, cringing at the bad swings at fastballs best described as “on the same plane as the batter’s eyeballs”.

Some of the Braves looked a lot more ready for opening day than others. Particular examples that stand out are Edgar Renteria, Chipper Jones, and of course, Brian McCann. Chipper got on base 3 times, McCann was completely himself (i.e., the best young catcher in the National League), and Edgar hit the tying and go ahead home runs. Andruw looked like he was trying to hit the ball to Pittsburgh most of the time, and the bottom of the order after McCann looked completely out of sorts. (I still prefer Chipper batting 4th and Andruw batting 3rd, honestly.)

John Smoltz pitched well, but he was on the hook for the loss after the 6th. Getting him off the hook was Edgar, who took an 0-2 fastball from Brett Myers in the 8th and just belted out beyond the center field fence to tie the game.

The so-called “Big Three” relievers had an interesting debut today. Mike Gonzalez came on in the 7th and proceeded to watch Brett Myers on four straight and give up a double. He then found the strike zone again and struck out the next two Phillies (including Ryan Howard) and retired the side.

Wickman pitched the tied ninth and got two quick out before allowing a double. They opted to walk Howard this time (one of the cases where I agree with that call) and got Utley to hit pop-up into foul territory that was corralled by Chipper.

Kelly Johnson coaxed a lead-off walk in the 10th, and after failing to get a bunt down, Edgar decided to take the next pitch into the right-center field bleachers. A perfect bottom of the inning by Chad Paronto later and the Braves secured the 1-0 start to the season.

It was weird watching this – they showed occasional highlights from last season. Normally, I’d remember these, but it was a reminder this year that even though I tried to keep up online I really had no idea what was going on. What I knew even before I left, though, was how terrible the bullpen was. If this website existed back then it would probably have several posts dedicated to the so-called “reliever” by the name of Chris Reitsma, one of the few people I’ve ever truly hated. (He was that bad.) Needless to say, had he been pitching today, the Braves probably would’ve lost 7-2.

The funniest part was listening to the announcers skip around the topic, saying everything they could about the bullpen last year without out-and-out saying, “Boy, those guys really sucked.” Here was the most damning factoid they presented: John Smoltz had a damn fine year last year at 16-9. He had 10 no-decisions, 6 of which were caused by blown saves, a stat the Braves led the league in last year. Yes, that’s right, with competent relief, he could’ve easily had 19 or 20 wins. Considering neither Cy Young award winner last year had 20 wins, that’s saying something. (Though perhaps it says more about the over-importance on a team-based stat for a pitcher’s performance, but that’s a post for another day.)

Anyway, it’s April, so like the fans of every baseball team, I’m feeling optimistic about this season. Well, except for fans of the Nationals. They don’t have much to look forward to.

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