The Priest, the Kid, and the Vet: Motives of Baseball in 2010


A simple glance at Roy Halladay’s Baseball Reference page will, yes, be an orgy of carefully arranged columns and decimal points.  There’s high numbers and low numbers and they’re all in the right places.  Except for the “postseason stats” box, in which you’ll find tumbleweed, carelessly tossing through a blank white chunk of the internet.

It is a portrait of a man so blue balled by the chance to grip a baseball in October he can barely speak.  Halladay isn’t a student of the game; he’s a priest.  This is an icon whose relentless dedication got to the gym first, and when his arrival was contested by upstarts, he showed up even earlier.  Even the sun was racing the ringless pitcher with the cutter that, in every season previous, stopped the AL East from rotating around Boston and New York… if only for an afternoon.

It is all so simple to Roy Halladay:  Get up, baseball.  There is no distraction.  There are no excuses.  There is no HGH or book deal or trying to board a plane with a gun for some reason.  There is just Roy, and the ball, and the dust cloud hovering over home plate where his latest masterpiece sits comfortably in the catcher’s mitt and his victim retreats to the dugout, where its safe.

And even with this mindset, this discipline, Roy Halladay still has something to prove.  And today, in our nation’s capital, Roy will walk past the president of the United States after his ceremonial first pitch, and begin his expedition to the top of the heap.  Taking up arms in Philly will see him finally in a locale that is much more accustomed to catching the postseason.  And taking up arms.

512 miles away, Mike Leake has done something impossible.  If you skip on over to his Baseball Reference page, you’ll see that he’s right-handed.  He’s 6’1″.  He weighs 190 lbs. and he was born in San Diego.

Although Mike Leake is likely to begin the regular season in the minors, the Cincinnati right-hander is giving Reds management plenty to think about,” the Associated Press reported on April 1.

Two days later, the news hit the world, via the Cincinnati Enquirer:  “[The Reds] Named right-hander Mike Leake, who’s never pitched in a minor league game, their fifth starter.”

Somewhere… bubbling over with white hot rage… Chris Coste clenches his fists and quietly shits himself.

It is an accomplishment not seen since the legendary Darren Dreifort, whoever that is, skipped like a rock over the Dodgers’ farm system and landed comfortably in the Big Show in ’94 (A year substantially marred by some crappier stories in baseball).

Mike’s got no stats or minor league horror stories to share.  He’s in it now; balls-deep in a game that can keep guys like Roy Halladay from a World Series and guys like Darren Dreifort from being known outside of shouting matches between obscure statisticians.  He can’t commiserate about that one time coach was so pissed he stripped naked and screamed himself hoarse in the showers, or that game in Memphis when it was so hot, birds were dropping out of the air and exploding like gut-filled feather-bombs.

He’s got his pitches, and his wishes.  And a fist-bump, for the guy who DIDN’T get the last spot.

Mike’s got a broad horizon in front of him, cast by the pressures of never playing for teams prefixed by any number of upper case A’s.

But now, the world knows how his story began, and will wait–patiently, at first, and then maybe a little peeved–to see just how Mike Leake, the San Diegan Sun Devil with the pockets bursting with collegiate baseball awards, reacts to first class flights, steroid investigations, and Buster Olney.

Three things that a guy like Chipper Jones has more than likely slept through on numerous occasions.

Chipper’s 38.  He had a dismal 2009.  His manager’s calling it quits.  And the only fold in which he was ever welcomed may spend 2010 watching him go.

There could be priorities being question–the dude’s got a family–or maybe he’s just sick of hearing the antagonistic chants from the 400 level… “La-rry, La-rry”… at least, those of us in Philly would love to think we were having an impact.

A winter spent tinkering with his swing mechanics had Chipper finding himself in Kissimmee, microphones in his face, reporters asking just how long the five year playoff drought felt from Atlanta.

All you ask for coming out of Spring Training is a chance, and we’ve got that chance.”

The only misleading part of his prediction is that he only gives the Braves a single chance.  This is a hitter whose next to Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray in the record books, and had so much fun drilling the innards out of Mets’ pitching throughout his career he named one of his kids “Shea.”

But Chipper’s far from alone.

He asked for a powerful right-handed bat, and the Braves gave him Troy Glaus.  He didn’t ask for a streak-hitting rookie phenom, and he got Jason Heyward.  There’s arms in the rotation that, if healthy, could be the flip side of Atlanta’s postseason coin.

There will be chances on the dirt of Turner Field this season that would have less fortunate clubs foaming at the mouth.  If there was a year Chipper and the Braves could send Bobby Cox off in style, it’s 2010.

Roy, Mike, and Chipper.  The priest, the kid, and the vet.

No matter what your metaphor, this minuscule cross section of baseball has already enough drama for an entire season, and I haven’t even gotten to Ozzie Guillen.  But now, the gates are up, and 30 hordes of 25 barbarians run screaming at each other, whipping fastballs and splintering bats in a ferocious pursuit of the W.

Today, the cool breeze of spring makes way for summer’s violent maelstrom.

When the anthem’s over, and the grounds crew is off the field; when the outfield seats are full of impassioned assholes, chucking drunken vulgarities at the family section; when that quirky starter has hopped over the foul line and those rival managers have pretended to respect each other long enough to shake hands, the motives of spring are gone, like dirt off the plate.

Because today is April 5.  And now, it’s all about where the ball goes.

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