There is nothing like opening a new baseball. The look, smell & feel are full of possibilites. Home Runs, strikeouts, triples to the gap and diving catches. When I was a kid we rarely got to handle a new ball. We would play at Boileau Field behind Athletic Park almost every day from April to September and use old balls that we found or that we chased down as foul balls from the Wausau Baron games. We would use them and tape them up until they would unravel. A new ball was a gift from the gods. In my over 30 years as the Wausau Legion coach I have rubbed down thousands of new balls and the feeling is always the same. They say in Japan baseballs come wrapped in tin foil and the process of unwrapping them is almost mystical. Here it's clear plastic and they come in dozens in a cardboard box but to me a new ball signals one thing. Renewal. This process ties us to the players and games of the past. The lineage is strong in baseball...Masahiro Tanaka will wear the same pinstripes as Ruth and Gehrig...Xander Boegarts will step into the same batters box as Ted Williams...Wausau East and West will have the sons of former Lumberjack & Warrior players suit up this season...and the beat goes on. But it cant start until the first ball of the new season is unwrapped. Its Opening Day...let the unwrapping begin.
The Milwaukee Brewers open the season this afternoon against Atlanta. The Brewers are not getting much love from the fans or the pundits heading into the season but I think they may surprise you. One again it all comes down to health. Gomez, Braun and Ramirez give them some pop...Lucroy is a very underated catcher. Both the starting pitching and the bullpen are better. Yes the Cardinals are good and are still the team to beat in the Central but I think the Brewers have a chance to win 88 games and if not win the division at least grab one of the wild card spots.
The Badgers head to the Final Four for the first time since 2000 but this is not that team. Dick Bennetts crew that year went 22-14 and 8-8 in the Big Ten before reeling off four straight wins in the Big Dance before losing in the national semi-final to Michigan State. The 200 team had no stars...they were the epitome of the grind it out defense first teams that Bennett used to turn around the Badger basketball program. Remember Duany Duany and Jon Bryant ? (they were the only seniors on that team)...Mike Kelley was the best player and got help from freshman shooting guard Kirk Penney and sophomore point guard Travon Davis. Andy Kowske and Roy Boone were the leading scorers.
The current team may be the most enjoyable Badger team I've ever watched. The ball movement...the dozens of low post moves from Kaminsky (has any player ever improved more from one season to the next?)...the sharp shooting of Brust...the glimpses of how good Nigel Hayes will eventually be...They may not win it all...but they could and thats all any coach or player wants at this time of year.
And how can you not feel happy for Bo Ryan? He is a genuine guy and the emotions he's feeling right now (losing his father this fall...first trip to the Final Four) are very moving. The thing I like about Bo is that he always deflects praise onto the players and for him winning is only a part of the equation...how you got there is just(if not more) important. There is little joy in winning if you don't enjoy the ride and I think his players have a genuine joy in the journey. You can tell they are enjoying themselves and that starts at the top.
Songs of the Day (what could it be except...)
Take Me Out To The Ballgame-Gretchen Wilson
Centerfield-John Fogerty (1985)