View from Spring Training: 2011 Minnesota Twins

2011 Minnesota Twins

NFL Equivalent – Tennessee Titans: This comparison worked a lot better back when Jeff Fisher was still head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Now, with a new coach on the way in Nashville, the Minnesota Twins are the only one where consistency on the coaching staff still matters. In 2011, manager Ron Gardenhire will entire his 10th year at the helm for the Twins which in itself represents remarkable stability in professional sports. In that time, the Twins have remained competitive in the AL Central and a model of mid market excellence.

Google Search: As Justin Morneau battles to return from a debilitating concussion that has kept him off the field since early July 2010, a new discussion regarding safer, bigger helmets has moved to the forefront of sports science, health pages. Should MLB, much like the minors, mandate that all of players wear these safer helmets? Apparently, the helmets that players wear now provide protection up to 70 mph while the new helmets protect players up to 100 mph. Major league ballplayers are notoriously opposed to change – see steroid testing – and in the end these new helmets might not be aesthetically pleasing enough for the very fashion conscious union.  However, if we are talking about preventing concussions, and in reality the helmets aren’t that much bigger, eventually MLB will hop on board.

Famous Movie Quote: So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it. – Frances McDormand from Fargo

Do you think the people of Minnesota are sick and tired of being associated with Fargo? What percentage of people, when they meet someone from Minnesota for the first time, reference Fargo to show that they know at least something about the upper Midwest? 50%? 75%? 90%? I’m as guilty as the next person with this and see no real reason to change when after all, Fargo remains an all time classic.  After Joe Mauer signed a lucrative contract extension before the 2010 season, expectations remained high for the star catcher. After a power shortage last season, Mauer, along with a healthy Morneau, look for a return to their old M & M Boys ways this season. 2011 prediction: 83-79, 3rd place AL Central

view from Hammond Stadium courtesy of @Brandon_MGraves

View from Spring Training: 2011 San Diego Padres

2011 San Diego Padres

NFL Equivalent – Jacksonville Jaguars: I really don’t like doing this to Padres fans whose history with their franchise dates way back to 1969, however, in recent years both Petco Park in San Diego and EverBank Field in Jacksonville have become relative ghost towns with swaths of empty seats and eerie echoes cascading off of low expectations and struggling local economies. Sure each team has had their fair share of recent success but, certainly with the case of the Jags, the top story always seems to be if and when the team will relocate to Los Angeles. Now, the Padres, with their new, beautiful stadium, are in no jeopardy of leaving San Diego, but with a very modest payroll the franchise will struggle to keep up with the deeper pockets of San Francisco and LA.

Google Search: It must have been so incredibly disheartening to the San Diego community when the Padres traded their star first baseman to the Boston Red Sox for three highly touted prospects including minor league P Casey Kelley. Gonzalez was born in San Diego and as a Mexican American ballplayer seemed to embody the diverse cultural background of his hometown and sport. With the move to Boston, Gonzalez becomes just the latest in a long line of high powered assassins to join the ranks of the MLB high payroll elites while San Diego must fill the void with the likes of Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Famous Movie Quote: Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era. – Ron Burgundy from Anchorman

Using another Anchorman quote here was predictable I know, but sometimes life and culture is just so blissfully obvious. Diversity, as it applies to the NL West, is alive and well. All five teams have either won the division or made the playoffs at least once in the last ten years. I would expect that trend to continue in future years but in 2011, when the music stops, the San Diego Padres will be left without a chair. 2011 prediction: 74-88, 4th place NL West

view from the Goodyear Ballpark courtesy of @hunyfour

View from Spring Training: 2011 Boston Red Sox

2011 Boston Red Sox

NFL Equivalent – Pittsburgh Steelers: As a proud member of “The Nation”, and a huge Pats fan to boot, it pains me to compare the Steelers to the Sox but the similarities are there. Both are storied franchises with fervent fan bases who have each remained relevant, championship contending teams in the 21st century. Ignoring the detestable – and overrated – Ben Roethlisberger, to whom no one compares, there are some player similarities, with veterans WR Hines Ward and C Jason Varitek as team leaders, speedsters WR Mike Wallace and OF Carl Crawford, and some pirating, roving defenders like S Troy Polamalu and OF Jacoby Ellsbury.

Google Search: Nobody maid more off-season noise than the Red Sox. The major acquisitions of Crawford and 1B Adrian Gonzalez aside, the 2011 Sox got another player who might end up being more important to their offense this year, and he was already on the team! Two years ago, Jacoby Ellsbury was the next Ricky Hendersen. He danced around .300 while stealing a crap ton of bases while hitting more than his fair share of homers. After getting steam rolled by Adrian Beltre, and then whining about it in Arizona, he is back, he is healthy, he is happy about his return to center, and he is ready to ignite the powerful Sox offense. For Ellsbury, getting to first means taking second. He will set the table for an unmatched 2-3-4-5, however Tito Francona decides to arrange the hot bats of Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez and Youkilis. You heard it here, he’ll be healthy and starting the All-Star game in center field for the AL team with about 25 SB by mid season.

Famous Movie Quote: …people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray.  – James Earl Jones from Field of Dreams

Not that the Red Sox need any help with attendance, but lets not forget that Ray Cansella had to bring Terrence Mann to Fenway in order to find Moonlight Graham. Ignoring the loudmouths behind you, Fenway still has the most magic of any stadium in baseball. It is a time warp. You can imagine Foxx and Williams, and Yaz trotting during warm-ups. You can feel the rich history of what is still America’s most important game, if no longer its most popular. The Red Sox have put together an impressive team this year, reminiscent of the days before over-expansion diluted the game. The aggravatingly peace-less fans of Boston will breathe easy with every Sox win… and they will win. Tons. And people will come. 2011 prediction: 98-64, 1st place AL East

view from City of Palms Park courtesy of @stephbam

View from Spring Training: 2011 Chicago White Sox

2011 Chicago White Sox

NFL Equivalent – New York Jets: This is really only because of the similarities between Jets head coach Rex Ryan and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Both are loud, bombastic, braggadocios leaders whose words/actions tend to overshadow the accomplishments of their teams. Chicago has at least won a World Series under Guillen while Ryan’s act in New York cannot last unless the Jets eventually come through on some of his bold pronouncements.  Ozzie is an active member of twitter, @OzzieGuillen, and we need to start a campaign to try and get Rex Ryan to join the Twittesphere. What would his handle be?

Google Search: Free agent acquisition Adam Dunn makes perfect sense for the White Sox. With the addition of Dunn, Chicago significantly added to their payroll and seems to be going all in in 2011. One thing that could stand in their way is the health of SP Jake Peavy who is rehabbing after surgery to repair a detached latissimus dorsi. This is the technical term for “he tore off the muscle that connects his shoulder and back”. When you put it this way doesn’t sound so nice does it?

Famous Movie Quote: You get out there, and the stands are full and everybody’s cheerin’. It’s like everybody in the world come to see you. And inside of that there’s the players, they’re yakkin’ it up. The pitcher throws and you look for that pill… suddenly there’s nothing else in the ballpark but you and it. Sometimes, when you feel right, there’s a groove there, and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball and you feel that ball just give, you know it’s going to go a long way. Damn, if you don’t feel like you’re going to live forever. – John Cusack from Eight Men Out

Underrated quote from and underrated movie. Can you imagine the type of impact the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919 would have if it happened in 2011? I guess MLB players today would never throw a World Series like the Black Sox did because players today make way too much money to risk giving it all away. Even still, it does make you wonder…..2011 prediction: 88-74, 2nd place AL Central

view from Phoenix Municipal Stadium courtesy of @chipcali

View from Spring Training: 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

2011 St. Louis Cardinals

NFL Equivalent – Green Bay Packers: No, the St. Louis Cardinals are not VMS pick to win the 2011 World Series. However, the Redbirds do share many characteristics with the Packers, their brethren from the Midwest. Much like GB, the Cardinals boast some of the friendliest, most loyal, and knowledgeable fans in all professional sports.  Cardinals/Packers fans do not carry themselves with the same hardened, acerbic grittiness as say Red Sox or Yankess fans but their passion rivals any other fan base in the country. Both franchises have a history of winning as well.

Google Search: Two stories this offseason: 1) Albert Pujols’ contract talks 2) Adam Wainwright’s arm injury. The Pujols contract situation – he enters 2011 in the final year of his current deal with the Cardinals – threatens to dominate the back pages of most St. Louis newspapers. It’s been said that he is looking for ARod type money, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million a season, which clearly the mid market Cardinals cannot afford to pay him. So, if he’s really looking for that sort of cash, he will have to look to the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, or (gulp) Cubs. Here’s hoping Albert chooses to stay in St. Louis, it’s much better for baseball that way. Wainwright, along with Chris Carpenter – from New Hampshire – have been the workhorses of a very stable Cardinal starting rotation. With Wainwright now shelved for the season after Tommy John surgery, who does St. Louis turn to to provide them with those same innings/quality starts?

Famous Movie Quote: Look, we’re gonna spend half the night driving around the Hills looking for this one party and you’re going to say it sucks and we’re all gonna leave and then we’re gonna go look for this other party. But all the parties and all the bars, they all suck. I spend half the night talking to some girl who’s looking around the room to see if there’s somebody else who’s more important she should be talking to. And it’s like I’m supposed to be all happy ’cause she’s wearing a backpack, you know? And half of them are just nasty skanks who wouldn’t be nothing except they’re surrounded by a bunch of drunken horny assholes. And I’m gonna tell you something T. Are you listening? – Jon Favreau from Swingers

This quote is for Albert Pujols who while searching for that $30 million a year will no doubt be wined and dined by all types of suitors, some attractive – Cubs – some downright nasty – Royals. In the end, will he come to his senses and realize that the chase is never as satisfying as the one you already love, who also happens to love you? The 2011 Cardinals will have another good year but the Pujols contract talks will be the loudest topic in St. Louis since the Blues signed Wayne Gretzky. 2011 prediction: 85-77, 2nd place NL Central

view from Space Coast Stadium courtesy of @athalonathlete