Remember a few weeks back when there was all that fear that the big boys in helmets and shoulder pads might actually have to deal with a few snowflakes when they played the Super Bowl?
Well, they got lucky that Sunday night, though a few days later the blizzard-that-never-ended blew in. It seems like it hasn’t stopped snowing since. So much so, in fact, that I am seriously worried about the impending baseball season. The Super Bowl may be the biggest night of hype on the planet, even if the game is a dud, as it was this year. But the real thrill of the Super Bowl is that, when it’s over, you know baseball season is just a few weeks away.
That means not only the joy of daily baseball, but warmer weather!
The New York Yankees begin their spring training season of exhibition games on Tuesday, February 25, while the Boston Red Sox kick off their slate on the 27th and the Mets get things started on the 28th.
But given the Antarctic extremes of this winter in the Northeast, I fear the warmer weather may never get here, thus threatening the very existence of baseball.
For those, by the way, who say good riddance because baseball has become way too damn boring, I say good riddance to you, because baseball has always been a thinking man’s game.
Which is a polite way of admitting, yes, it is kind of boring, but in the way a great literary novel or independent movie is, in that it doesn’t send up flares or fireworks to demand your attention, but instead, compels us to appreciate its leisurely beauty and poetry on its own terms.
Anyway, in New York, the talk of the town has been all about Derek Jeter, the fan favorite who may end this season with the fifth most hits in baseball history. The five-time World Series champ -- whose mother is Irish American Diane Connor -- announced he will retire after this year, thus setting up a farewell tour for Jeter, who will surely receive warm welcomes all over the American League -- even in Boston.
On the more tawdry end of the spectrum, there is the saga of Jeter’s alter ego, Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees’ slugging third basemen was suspended for the entire season related to his use of performance enhancing drugs. He tried to fight the suspension, succeeding only in generating the type of negative attention that has dogged Rodriguez most of his years in New York.
A-Rod simply can’t get around the fact that for all of his supreme talent, Jeter simply remained more beloved by the fans and respected by his peers. Given the way they are both winding up their careers, it doesn’t appear that’s going to change any time soon.
Beyond the A-Rod/Jeter saga, there is a fascinating Irish American sub-plot to the Yankees’ 2014 season.
Behind the plate, they have high hopes for their new free agent (and Irish American) catcher Brian McCann. Catching remains such a grueling position, however, that one question the Yankees must face as they movie into the season (provided it ever stops snowing) is who will be McCann’s backup.
The Yankees have not one but two Irish Americans who may take that spot -- and one of them may even be the solution to the Yankees’ long term Rodriguez problem.
First, there’s catcher John Ryan Murphy, who played in a few Major League games late last year. Murphy was drafted in the second round of the amateur draft and though he’ll face stiff competition from Gary Sanchez he stands an excellent chance to back-up McCann for years -- or become a star in his own right elsewhere, if he is traded to another team.
More intriguing is another young Yankee slugger named Peter O’Brien. O’Brien is also a catcher, meaning there is quite a crowd built up behind the all-star McCann.
One solution? O’Brien played infield positions in high school, so there is talk that the Yankees might try to convert him into a third basemen.
Meaning that even if Alex Rodriguez somehow bounces back to play after a year off, O’Brien may, by then, be ready to become the Yanks’ third baseman of the future.
But that’s a ways down the road. First it has to stop snowing.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”