The WBC and Aramis Ramirez

You Know Better….

Aramis Ramirez knows better. The prevailing thoughts about the WBC have been that the American players aren’t overly psyched up about this Olympic-type of event, but that the foreign-born players, such as the Dominicans, were taking it very seriously. However, when Aramis Ramirez woke up in the morning, in what I can only assume is a very large bed in a very large house, with several nice cars in the garage, I imagine he had about $10-12 million reasons to feel more loyal to the Cubs than to his home nation. So he did the only thing, the smart thing, and the wise thing, and decided to skip the WBC to focus on getting through Spring Training completely healthy so that he could have a monster year for our Cubbies.

I selfishly applaud his decision, as should all Cubs fans, and I hope that he doesn’t get too much negative reaction from his homeland due to it. I think the WBC is an interesting idea, but having it during Spring Training is just the wrong time to do this, I believe. In general, it seems Americans care less and less about world sports these days, as the Winter Olympics are ending and I have really not paid much attention to any of it. Even the Summer Olympics have lost a lot of their luster, as I could probably name 4 or 5 of the gymnasts on the 1984 men’s team, I remember Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton and the basketball Dream team, and many more highlights from the early 80s to the mid 90s. But the last few Olympics have seemed to lose their appeal. I think a lot of it has to do with ESPN, and the total saturation of the sports markets by local American teams and sports media. Your average guy has only so much time he can dedicate to sports, as he also has family and work, etc…. So if a guy is a big Cubs fan, follows the Bulls and the Bears, and catches SportCenter or sports radio frequently, and he isn’t divorced yet, then he is probably close to maxing out his allowable sports time in his life schedule. That is kind of how I view my life right now….I have a wife, a kid, I work a lot, I get 2 sports packages on DirecTV, I check all the Chicago sport sections online everyday, I read and contribute to the CCO, and I play in a couple fantasy sports leagues. I am pretty much maxed out, and I could care less if Pedro Martinez strikes out Derrek Lee in the WBC, as long as D. Lee hits a homer off Pedro when he is wearing a Mets jersey!

I am as patriotic and pro-American as most people in this country are, and maybe my attitude is due in part to the post-9/11 culture, but I care a heckuva lot more about Aramis Ramirez than I do some random guys on the “American” team from the Royals or the Reds. This is because Aramis is a great player and because he plays on my favorite baseball team! Why should I care how some of the American players from the Cardinals and Astros do against Freddy Garcia? Am I supposed to watch Al Leiter suit up for the good ol’ USA and cheer him on when Aramis Ramirez is up to bat for the Dominican team? That just seems silly…. I will cheer for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan any day, but I don’t know why I have to interject patriotism into my sports viewing habits. My favorite Bulls player is Luol Deng, who was born in Africa but raised in Great Britain….so does that make me a fan of African or British sports? No….it just means I am a Bulls fan!

All of this flag-waving in the middle of Spring Training seems like a needless distraction to me. I should be able to watch all my favorite players in Spring Training, and gauge their progress, and see how healthy they are. I shouldn’t have to worry (along with Jim Hendry) about my star 1st baseman getting injured in a meaningless exhibition series… just does not make sense. So just when I was convinced that all the foreign players were brainwashed (or scared of a backlash) into thinking they absolutely HAD to play in the WBC, it was a refreshingly pleasant surprise to hear that Aramis had decided to join the growing number of top stars that are saying “no thanks” to participating in the upcoming Classic.

By the way, how much of a “classic” is this event going to be when so many big names are not going to show up? It will have less talent than the MLB all-star game….so what is so compelling about that? It is kind of like me deciding to have a music tour called the Hard Rock Classic or HRC, and I claim it will have all the greatest rock bands of the 80s and 90s in a once-in-a-lifetime tour. Then you see the actual lineup of bands and realize that my big headliners are Skid Row, Cinderella, Slaughter, and those two Nelson brothers. Meanwhile, Gary Cherone keeps flip-flopping on whether he will join the tour or not, as he can’t decide whether he should go as a member of Extreme or as a member of Van Halen. Inevitably, Ozzie Guillen calls Cherone a hypocrite, as no one ever really considered him a member of Van Halen anyway.

So I really want everyone to put their hands together for Aramis Ramirez, and thank him for fighting against the foolish majority of his fellow countrymen. The next time that Carlos Zambrano is being interviewed about how excited he is to be pitching in the WBC, and how important it is to him, I hope that Aramis will walk right up to him, and politely tell him, “you know better….”

Spring Training Thoughts

I am going to see my first Spring Training game ever, this coming Sunday, when Neil gets into town. The weather here in AZ feels like late Spring in Chicago, so there is definitely a feeling of baseball in the air, and I am excited about checking out HoHoKam for the first time! I was very happy to hear that Wood and Prior are pitching well off the mound so far, and it sounds like Wade Miller is also progressing along well. I really don’t like that our two main catchers, Barrett and Blanco, will both be missing time due to the WBC, as I believe pitching (and handling the pitching staff) is the biggest key to our success this year. I think Maddux and some of the other pitchers are creatures of habit, and it would probably serve them well to pitch to Barrett and Blanco all Spring. Hopefully this turns out to be a non-issue. I don’t think Jerome Williams will win 15 games, for a couple of reasons. First, 15 wins is a lofty number to throw around, as Wood has never even won 15 games yet! More importantly, if Williams does win 15 games, who is not a starter for us then? Rusch? Miller? Is he pitching due to injuries to Prior or Wood, or because he wins the job in camp? I think the five to starting pitchers to focus on are Prior, Zambrano, Wood, Maddux, and Miller. Until Miller is ready, I am betting veteran-lover Dusty goes with Rusch over Williams, and Williams will be stuck without a role and sent to AAA. Next year will be the chance for Williams, Rich Hill, Guzman, and other young pitchers to make their case for being a starter, as Maddux won’t be back, and possibly Wood and/or Miller may not be back. Go Aramis….Go Cubs!!!

Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon