The Watering Hole: Baseball season approaches with multiple storylines
By Michael Waterloo
Of The Spirit
This is without a doubt the best time of the year for me, and the best time of the year for many sports fans.
Not only are NBA and NHL teams jockeying for position as the playoffs near, but the NFL offseason is in full swing.
However, it's two other events — March Madness and MLB Opening Day — that get me the most excited.
The first two days of March Madness should be a national holiday.
Sadly, this is the first time in recent memory that I've had to miss the majority of both days, but hey, the bills don't pay themselves.
But rest assured I'll be tuned in for baseball's opening day.
I've attended and covered the past two, but this year, I'll be tuning into my (MLB.tv) account at home, work or in the car to listen, watch and follow the happenings.
With baseball season technically just a day away — thanks Dodgers and Diamondbacks for playing in Australia — let's take a look at some of the big storylines from around the league.
The Captains' Last Hurrah
The Yankees are like deviled eggs; you either love them or you hate them.
I find myself on the latter part of that, but I've always respected the hell out of Derek Jeter.
From his defensive wizardry at short stop, to his back-hand flip to get out Jeremy Giambi at the plate, to his famous dive into the stands to record an out; Jeter has done it all.
Sadly, "Mr. November" is calling it a career after this season, as he'll follow in the footsteps of longtime teammate, Mariano Rivera.
Mo called it a career at the end of 2013, which was a year after he suffered a torn ACL from shagging flyballs in practice.
Jeter missed the majority of last season after he suffered an ankle injury in 2012, and he'll look to find the same success in his finale.
I'm not one for retirement tours — I'm looking at you Rivera and Chipper Jones — but if any player in the league is worthy of it, it's the captain
Headgear For Pitchers?
Man, the scene in Arizona on Wednesday night was a scary one.
With Salvador Perez at the dish, the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman saw his career — and life, for that matter — flash before his eyes.
Perez connected on the Chapman pitch, and he sent it flying up the middle.
The ball hit Chapman in the face, which brought the crowd to a complete silence.
Chapman laid motionless on the ground, as both teams had their trainers attend to him immediately before he was taken off of the field via ambulance.
Luckily, Chapman suffered a broken bone above his left eye, a mild concussion and will undergo surgery to have a permanent titanium plate inserted to correct the broken bone, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.
So what's the solution here?
We've seen a number of pitchers — Billy Wagner, Alex Cobb, Bryce Florie,
J.A. Happ, Doug Fister, Brandon McCarthey, to name a few — who have been victims of a comebacker to the mound.
With the increased velocity year in and year out, how many pitchers are going to get hit before one dies on the field?
MLB approved the IsoBlox hat this year, but I can't name one pitcher who is using it or even considered using it because of the comfort.
Concussions and head injuries are usually talked about when discussing the NFL and NHL, but now, you can add the MLB to list of leagues with concussion issues.
Can The Rookies Live Up To The Hype?
This year, there are a bunch of rookies who could make an immediate impact for their teams.
For this column, let's take a look at three of them.
First, Billy "The Fast Kid" Hamilton has been a talking point for about two years now, as he took over the minors with his speed on the basepaths.
Now, he'll get a chance to do the same in Cincinnati this year, as he'll look to hold down the leadoff role.
We know Hamilton can run, but can he hit enough to stay in the lineup?
Next is Jose Abreu, who is the "Next Big Thing" out of Cuba.
Abreu will look to have the same success in his rookie year that fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig had, but is it a fair comparison just because he's from the same country?
Scouts question Abreu's bat speed, and while I don't see him having a rookie year like his fellow countrymen, I do think that the White Sox found the heir-apparent to Paul Konerko.
Lastly, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes was the biggest move to watch during the offseason — other than Robinson Cano — and, of course, the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $155 million contract.
The Japanese import is similar to Abreu, as people want to automatically group him with Yu Darvish, who is also from Japan.
Again, it's not a fair comparison, and those hoping he will reach Darvish's production this year or in the future will be disappointed.
Tanaka is somewhere between Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda as far as pitching goes.
For the pinstripes, that'll be just fine.
Can The Biogenesis Guys Rebound?
It's the question that everyone, especially fantasy baseball players, want to know.
Ryan Braun is the biggest name that was suspended due to his involvement with the Florida-based lab.
Will Braun be able to return to the MVP-type production that opposing pitchers fear, or will he be another Melky Cabrera, who fell off the map after he was busted taking performance enhancers.
Here's the deal with Braun — the stolen bases will be gone just because of his age, and his attempted steals with an open base ahead of him have declined the past three years.
Aside from that, Braun will be the same threat at the dish that he's always been.
Let's not pretend that the seven years of top-level production was all performance enhancers.
As for Nelson Cruz, now of the Baltimore Orioles, I think he'll be just fine, too, and he'll get the chance to prove that with his one-year deal.
Get past the winter weather outside, and cheer up.
Baseball is right around the corner.