COLUMN: It’s not too early to start thinking about baseball



The Chicago Cubs celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians on Nov. 3, 2016 in Game 7 to win the World Series 8-7. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

As a football fan, I tuned in to watch all four of this weekend’s NFL playoff games. Despite the NFL’s assurances of excitement that bombarded me, courtesy of their enormous advertising machine, I could not help but walk away from the latest slate of games dissatisfied.

This weekend featured a game with the largest ever point spread for a playoff game — and the Patriots still beat the projected 16-point margin of victory as they manhandled the Texans, 34-16. The Steelers defeated the Chiefs, despite scoring zero touchdowns, in a game that was exciting only because both teams were equally offensively inept. As Matt Ryan and Atlanta blew out Seattle, I watched the second half more out of habit than any real sense of curiosity of the final result.

The only game that matched league-set expectations was the matchup between Green Bay and Dallas, which came down to the wire and resulted in a Packers victory. Yet, this game alone could not make up for the rest of the weekend’s disappointments.

There are only three more likely-to-be-mediocre games left in the NFL season so it seemed apparent I had to start looking elsewhere to get my sports fix. Unfortunately, there is not much excitement to go around in the athletic world currently.

I first turned to Pitt basketball and predictably was let down. Miami crushed the Panthers Saturday in the Petersen Events Center, showing that the Oakland Zoo doesn’t provide the home court advantage it once did. Beating No. 11 Virginia on Jan. 4 is already a distant memory, and my friends have started joking about filling out brackets for the second-tier postseason competition — the NIT — as Pitt’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament seem to diminish by the day.

With a bleak sports world out at the Pete, I then turned my sights to the refuge of every winter-worn sports fan — baseball.

It may be early to start thinking about the baseball season. After all, the Super Bowl has not yet taken place, and Opening Day, which is April 2, is still months away. Nevertheless, there is much to be excited about for this upcoming season of baseball.

First, this March will feature the World Baseball Classic. The quadrennial competition, which is baseball’s rendition of soccer’s World Cup, will pit some of the world’s best players against each other in international competition. Unlike in basketball internationals, in which the United States almost always wins, the final outcome of the WBC is far from certain. In the previous three installments of the contest, the US has never medaled.

Most exciting for me, the presence of the WBC has moved baseball’s start date up a month, meaning the doldrums between football and baseball have dramatically shrunk.

In terms of regular MLB play, this year offers many intriguing storylines. Last year, the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years against the Indians. Coming into the 2017 season, the Cubs seem poised to repeat as world champions, losing no key pieces aside from closer Aroldis Chapman.

In the American League, the Red Sox have lost their defining player, David Ortiz, to retirement and their lineup will not feature him for the first time since 2002. In addition, the team traded away several prospects to the Chicago White Sox for Cy Young contender Chris Sale. How the team will cope without their long-time leader and how Sale will deal with the change of scenery are still up in the air, but the transition is sure to entertain.

Beyond the concrete storylines and the prospect of elite competition, much of my anticipation comes from the state of mind baseball is associated with. Baseball does not just mean the sport itself — it evokes within me images of summertime and all its attendant pleasures.

My favorite football team, the Redskins, were left out of the playoffs and the Pitt men’s basketball team seems poised for yet another mediocre season. The near-universally hated Patriots are on their way to their fifth Super Bowl, with Vegas setting the chances of their winning at unheard of 13-10 odds. All my currently playing teams are underperforming. Fortunately, baseball season isn’t too far away — and it’s never too early to think about summer.