Monday, March 31, 2014

The crack of the bat . . .

We pause on what is a hockey-dominated blog to worship for a while at the Church of Baseball.
Opening Day! There’s still nothing quite like it. Even though it happens on a Saturday -- or was it Sunday -- in Sydney, Australia, and a Sunday in San Diego and a Monday in a lot of other cities. Hey, Bud, whatever happened to Opening Day in Cincinnati? Didn’t that use to be as American as apple pie and Chevrolet?
Anyway . . . Monday was Opening Day. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.
And here are a few thoughts:

1. In his first at-bat of the new season, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels drilled a two-run homer off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez. If Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is worth US$292 million over 10 years, what is Trout, who is being paid $1 million for 2014, really worth?

2. In his six seasons with the Tigers, Cabrera has averaged 676 plate appearances per season. Under the terms of his new contract, he will make US$43,195 per PA. In Monday’s 4-3 Detroit victory in Kansas City, Cabrera got to the plate four times (1-for-3 with a walk). That means he made $172,780 on Monday. And you made how much?

3. This is the year of the Chicago Cubs. How do I know this? Elementary, dear sir. The Cubs were in Pittsburgh on Monday and got their leadoff batter on base. He then was picked off, with the first-base umpire emphatically signalling the out. Cubbies fans around the world went: “Arrgh! Here we go again!!” Except that the Pirates first baseman had dropped the ball, so the runner was safe. Never mind that the Cubs didn’t score that inning, or in any inning, it was still a positive sign. The Pirates went on to win, 1-0, on second baseman Neil Walker’s HR leading off the bottom of 10. . . . A great story? Walker is a native of Pittsburgh and this was his first Walker-off home run.

4. Opening Day also is the beginning of the end for Toronto Blue Jays’ fans. Sorry, but as much as I like R.A. Dickey, I don’t think a major league team can win with a knuckleballer at the top of its rotation. A team needs consistency from its No. 1 starter and the knuckleball is anything but that. . . . Toronto Sun headline after Blue Jays lost 9-2 in Tampa on Monday: DEJA BLEW.

5. The Jays also lost starting shortstop Jose Reyes in that one. He left after one at-bat with an apparent hamstring problem. He was on the 15-day DL before day’s end. A shortstop with range and a hamstring problem don’t exactly go together like bacon and eggs.

6. You have to think that Don Baylor was excited to begin his first season as the Los Angeles Angels’ hitting coach. That was before he got injured during the ceremonial first pitch last night. Former Angels DH Vladimir Guerrero signed a one-day contract that will allow him to retire with the Angels, and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Baylor, in the process of receiving it, suffered an injury to his right leg and needed help getting off the field. It turns out that he has a broken femur and will have surgery today. . . . (@TBrownYahoo pointed out that Baylor is a survivor of multiple myeloma, a cancer that weakens the bones and makes one susceptible to fractures). . . . BTW, Guerrero (2004) and Baylor (1979) are the only two players to have won AL MVP awards while with the Angels.

7. Seattle starter Felix Hernandez struck out 11 batters in six innings, and got the victory, as the Mariners drubbed the host Angels, 10-3. That is the sixth time a Mariners starter has whiffed at least 10 on Opening Day. . . . It was the second time for Hernandez. Randy Johnson also did it twice, while Mark Langston and Floyd Bannister each did it once. . . . Hernandez is the only right-hander in that bunch, although he does wear his cap like a southpaw.

8. In Milwaukee, right fielder Ryan Braun of the Brewers, who sat out the last 65 games of last season with a drug suspension, received a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat. He later went into baseball’s record book as he became the first player in MLB history to be called out on a call that was reversed by video review. The Brewers went on to beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0.

9. In Arlington, Texas, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who seems to have been in manager Ryne Sandberg’s doghouse for a lot of the spring, hit a grand slam as the Phillies beat the Texas Rangers, 14-10. That was the 200th HR of Rollins’ career. He also was making his 14th consecutive Opening Day start for the Phillies, tying Cal Ripken’s MLB record for most consecutive OD starts at shortstop with the same franchise.

10. If you are a baseball fan, you will be aware of the way defences shift depending on a hitter’s tendencies. Well, a Wall Street Journal story that I read on the weekend reported that “major league teams ‘shifted’ 8,134 times last season, compared with just 2,357 in 2011.’ ” . . . Obviously, there aren’t any statistics in the world of baseball that aren’t tracked by someone.

11. This, of course, is the debut for extended video review in baseball. Teams are allowed to have someone watching replays in their clubhouses. That person then signals to someone in the dugout. While this is going on, we are treated to a manager on the field chatting with an umpire, all the while looking into the dugout for a signal . . . to challenge or not to challenge, that is the question.

12. The Seattle at Los Angeles Angels game last night was an ESPN production and was available on TSN-2. Following the game, viewers got to watch ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, a terrific package of highlights and analysis. Here’s hoping that Baseball Tonight is on every night during the MLB season.

Villach (Austria, Erste Bank Liga) has exercised an option for next season with F Eric Hunter (Prince George, 2002-07). Hunter started this season with Herning (Denmark, Metal Ligaen), putting up 13 points, including seven goals, in 15 games. He joined Villach in mid-January and had nine points, three of them goals, in 10 games. . . .
F Pavel Padakin, who played the last two seasons with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, has signed with Donbass Donetsk (Ukraine, KHL). No terms were released. This season with the Hitmen, he had 54 points, including 27 goals, in 66 games. Padakin, who is from Kiev, is to turn 20 on June 8.

A trust fund has been established to assist the Bozon family with medical- and rehabilitation-related costs with which they now are faced.
You are able to make a donation at any BMO Bank of Montreal branch in Western Canada.
Should you live outside of that area and want to donate, please mail donations to:
Western Hockey League
c/o Tim Bozon
Father David Bauer Arena
2424 University Drive NW
Calgary AB
T2N 3Y9
As the second round of playoffs begin this week, the Portland Winterhawks go in riding an 11-game winning streak. In fact, going back to the regular season, they have lost just once in 33 games. . . . Portland lost on Jan. 10 when it dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Royals in Victoria. . . . One night later, the Winterhawks beat the host Royals 2-1 and started a franchise-record 21-game winning streak that ended March 1 with a 4-1 loss to the host Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . In the four-game season series between Portland and Victoria, the Royals went 3-1-0, winning once in regulation time, once in OT and once in a shootout. That left the Winterhawks at 1-1-2. Three of the games finished with 3-2 scores, while the fourth was that 2-1 game. . . . The Royals and Winterhawks are to be second-round opponents, starting Friday in Portland. If you are a subscriber to Shaw-TV, you will be able to watch the entire series from the comfort of your living room. Enjoy!
Late Monday morning, Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald tweeted that Silvertips D Mirco Mueller is joining the Worcester Sharks, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, while F Jujhar Khaira will finish the season with the Oklahoma City Barons, the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. . . . Mueller was a first-round selection in the NHL’s 2013 draft; the Oilers took Khaira in the third round of the 2012 draft. . . . Oklahoma City also has added D Graeme Craig, 20, who finished his WHL career with the Prince Albert Raiders. Craig missed some time late in the season with an undisclosed injury, and sat out the Raiders’ first three playoff games as they were swept by the Edmonton Oil Kings. He did play in Game 4, though, so perhaps will see some AHL playing time.
As well, Carlos Sosa of Turning Point Sports Management advises that Everett F Josh Winquist also is headed to Oklahoma City. Winquist, 20, has twice been passed over in the NHL draft. Winquist is coming off a monster offensive season, as he finished with 93 points, including 47 goals, in 67 games.
The AHL’s Abbotsford Heat announced Monday that it has signed Prince Albert Raiders F Collin Valcourt, who played out his junior eligibility this season. He started the season with the Saskatoon Blades, before being traded to the Raiders.
The Kootenay Ice and Medicine Hat Tigers, who also are second-round opponents, evenly split six regular-season games. They didn’t play any OT games, nor did they need any penalty shot competitions to decide matters. Each team won three times at home. . . . They open the series Friday night in Medicine Hat. . . . Ice forwards Jaedon Descheneau and Sam Reinhart lead the WHL playoff scoring race, each with 17 points. Descheneau also leads in goals, with seven. . . . Kootenay D Jagger Dirk went into these playoffs without a point in 28 postseason games. In the six-game victory over the Calgary Hitmen, Dirk had nine points, including two goals. . . . Just for the record, his father, Robert, who also was an excellent defenceman, put up 21 points in 41 playoff games with the Regina Pats (1983-86).
You may have noticed that Game 2 of the series between the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Oil Kings will be played on Saturday, starting at noon, at Rexall Place in Edmonton. . . . Why noon? That’s because the National Lacrosse League’s Edmonton Rush also is playing there on Saturday, with its game set to begin at 8 p.m.
The QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers will have a new coach next season. They have dropped head coach Yanick Jean following a five-game first-round loss to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Jean spent six seasons with the Tigres and is the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.

THE SECOND ROUND (best-of-seven; all times local):
(x - if necessary)

Season series: Edmonton, 3-1-0; Brandon, 1-2-1.
Thursday: Brandon at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Brandon at Edmonton, noon
Tuesday, April 8: Edmonton at Brandon, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 9: Edmonton at Brandon, 7 p.m.
x-Friday, April 11: Brandon at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
x-Monday, April 14: Edmonton at Brandon, 7 p.m.
x-Wednesday, April 16: Brandon at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Edmonton: F Brandon Baddock, 3-5 weeks; D Blake Orban, indefinite; F Reid Petryk, day-to-day.
Brandon: None.
WHL Playoffs
Season series: Medicine Hat, 3-3-0; Kootenay, 3-3-0.
Saturday: Kootenay at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: Kootenay at Medicine Hat, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, April 9: Medicine Hat at Kootenay, 7 p.m.
Thursday, April 10: Medicine Hat at Kootenay, 7 p.m.
x-Saturday, April 12: Kootenay at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
x-Monday, April 14: Medicine Hat at Kootenay, 7 p.m.
x-Wednesday, April 16: Kootenay at Medicine Hat, 7 p.m.
(NOTE: Kootenay plays home games in Cranbrook, B.C.)
Medicine Hat: F Anthony Ast, indefinite; F Gavin Broadhead, day-to-day; F Hunter Shinkaruk, indefinite.
Kootenay: F Tim Bozon, indefinite; F Ryan Chynoweth, indefinite; D Tyler King, day-to-day; D Tanner Faith, 3-5 months.

Season series: Kelowna, 2-1-1; Seattle, 2-1-1.
Thursday: Seattle at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Seattle at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday, April 8: Kelowna at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday, April 9: Kelowna at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
x-Friday, April 11: Seattle at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
x-Sunday, April 13: Kelowna at Seattle, 5:05 p.m.
x-Tuesday, April 15: Seattle at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
(NOTE: Seattle plays home games in Kent, Wash.)
Kelowna: F Myles Bell, day-to-day; D Jesse Lees, indefinite.
Seattle: F Connor Honey, indefinite.

(Series televised by Shaw-TV)
Season series: Portland, 1-1-2; Victoria, 3-1-0.
Friday: Victoria at Portland (Veterans Memorial Coliseum), 7 p.m.
Saturday: Victoria at Portland (Moda Center), 7 p.m.
Monday: Portland at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday, April 8: Portland at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.
x-Thursday, April 10: Victoria at Portland (Moda Center), 7, p.m.
x-Saturday, April 12: Portland at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.
x-Monday, April 14: Victoria at Portland (Veterans Memorial Coliseum), 7 p.m.
Portland: None.
Victoria: None.

From Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) of the Everett Herald: “#Silvertips F Ivan Nikolishin says he's headed to Finland to play for Russia at the U-18 World Championships.”
From Ed Tait (@WFPEdTait) of the Winnipeg Free Press, after the Jets blew a 4-0 lead and lost 5-4 in OT to the host Anaheim Ducks last night: “#NHLJets Paul Maurice on the third period: 'Too much clinching of the cheeks.' That pretty much sums it up.”

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