Despite a disappointing end to the four-game series with Detroit, it was encouraging seeing an energized crowd at Camden Yards this weekend.
Matt Wieters may be off to a slow start at the plate, but that won’t dampen the enthusiasm for the 23-year-old catcher. National pundits are calling him the most hyped prospect since Bo Jackson.
It was clear the organization was going to bring up the rookie to debut in front of the home crowd, but a west coast trip might be the best thing for him. It allows Wieters to simply play baseball without the bright lights of Camden Yards or the primetime audience. I look for him to start showing what he’s capable of doing at the big league level during the trip, but will many Orioles fans be watching late at night?
Here are the 5 Ws and 1 H for the week:
1. Who will win the NBA Finals? It’s not the highly anticipated Cavs-Lakers series, but the Orlando Magic continues to prove the doubters wrong. Dwight Howard is a man possessed down low, and it’s doubtful the Lakers will have anyone to stop him—short of Andrew Bynum using six fouls and hoping Howard falls apart at the line.
The Lakers are the favorite, and Bryant is still the best player on the planet—sorry, LeBron—but don’t forget about Orlando’s outside shooting. Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus, and Rashard Lewis are all capable of hitting the three-ball to complement the inside presence of Howard. The acquisition of Rafer Alston saved the Magic’s season.
This will be an intense series, but Kobe will finally get his ring without the assistance of Shaquille O’Neal.
Lakers in seven.
2. What will be Ken Griffey, Jr.’s place in baseball history? The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer is hitting just .208 in his return to the Seattle Mariners.
In this well-chronicled age of steroids, it’s easy to overlook Griffey’s brilliant career. He had an amazing 438 home runs before turning 31. If not for his body breaking down shortly after being traded to the Cincinnati Reds, the Kid would be the most prolific home run hitter in the history of the game.
While it’s impossible to declare any player from the past 20 years as indisputably “clean,” Griffey may represent something even better—a player with tremendous skills who, despite battling injuries for nearly a decade, managed to hit over 600 home runs. While it may lack the pizzazz of Barry Bonds, Griffey’s story is far more heroic—if legitimate.
He is my generation’s Mickey Mantle, but is less fortunate. Mantle chose to drink and not take care of himself while Griffey was often injured going all out in the field.
3. Where will LeBron James be playing basketball in the fall of 2010? David Stern may be crushed to lose his dream matchup of Kobe vs. LeBron, but Cleveland’s loss might increase the likelihood of James ending up with the New York Knicks.
Being the most valuable franchise in the league at $613 million (according to Forbes magazine), the Knicks—and the NBA—are desperately looking for a big star in the Big Apple. James remaining in Cleveland would be a nice story for the hometown kid, but the bright lights of New York might just be too much for the superstar to ignore.
4. When was the last time Orioles fans suggested that a starting pitcher with a 4.09 ERA go to the bullpen when he returns from the disabled list?
The fact that some are even suggesting the notion speaks volumes about the current state of the organization. Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, and David Hernandez are still unproven and need at least a dozen more starts before Andy MacPhail determines their future, but the early returns have been positive.
Koji Uehara has struggled to pitch effectively past the fifth inning, but it’s hard to imagine the organization moving him to the bullpen when he returns next week.
It’s nice to actually have some young options for the rotation though, isn’t it?
5. Why would the Orioles even think about moving Wieters to first base? The hype and expectations are magnified, because HE IS A CATCHER.
Wieters has the potential to be a consistent 30 HR-100 RBI catcher, numbers that would put him in the class of Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza. If you move him to first base, he is still an above-average first baseman, but his numbers aren’t nearly as phenomenal.
His great value is created from the fact that he catches. It’s a distinct possibility that he eventually moves to first base or becomes a full-time designated hitter, but doing it now would diminish his value exponentially.
To put it in perspective, Chris Hoiles’ 1993 season (.310, 29 HR, 82 RBI) is widely regarded as the best season by a catcher in team history, but those numbers don’t look nearly as impressive coming from a first baseman—even if it came with 75 to 100 more at bats.
Bottom line, Wieters would be a good first baseman (offensively), but he has the chance to be a Hall of Fame backstop—if you believe the hype, of course.
6. How many of your friends can—or willingly—keep score at a baseball game? It is quickly becoming a lost art, especially with technology allowing us to pull up a box score on our cell phone or computer with just a couple clicks.
I had the opportunity to teach a friend of mine how to keep score at last Thursday’s game. She wanted to learn and, to my surprise, she stayed with it the entire game. A very cool chick.
It brought back memories of my dad teaching me to keep score when I was seven—a skill I enjoy passing on to others. I even taught her the legendary Phil Rizzuto’s symbol for missing a play—WW for “wasn’t watching.” What other sport has the traditions and quirks of baseball?
Most detractors will tell you keeping score forces you to pay close attention to the game—something that hasn’t been very pleasant over the last 12 years if you’re an Orioles fan—but it’s a rite of passage for any serious baseball fan.