By Brad Thompson–
Baseball returns to the Friendly Confines on Friday, while Sox fans will have to wait until April 7 for their home opener, either way, baseball is back!
Opening Day is special for baseball lovers. The start of the season rejuvenates fans that have been dormant for several brutally cold winter months, particularly in cities like Chicago.
The crack of wooden bats and the sight of a chalk-lined diamond signals that spring has come and summer will soon follow. The sound of peanut vendors and the smell of cooking hot dogs (Vienna dogs at Wrigley Field this year) means hot summer days and warm summer nights filled with home runs, strikeouts and crackerjacks are near.
The feeling surrounding ballparks for baseball’s Opening Day for is energetic and unique. The day is full of optimism, hope and thoughts that this might be “the year” for your team. Usually there are more questions than answers to begin the season, but each team starts anew, hoping for a World Series title.
Both Chicago ballclubs improved their rosters in the offseason, but Sox fans have more reasons to cheer. The franchise decided to spend more money and filled a huge hole by signing left-handed power hitter Adam Dunn. He fits the role DH role nicely and should have a monster season at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Question marks have surrounded Jake Peavy and his returned from an injury all spring. If he can become an effective starter, even if it’s after the All-Star break, that could be the difference between the Sox winning the Central Division or not. Konerko’s production is another question mark. If he can come anywhere close to matching the incredible numbers he put up in 2010, the Sox should pile up runs this season.
The Sox have improved defensively and also strengthen the bullpen from a year ago. The single most important factor though that needs to improve is Chicago’s record against Minnesota. Last year the Sox were a woeful 5-13 against their Central Division rival. If Dunn’s bat helps the Sox beat the Twins, there’s a strong chance that baseball will be played on the South Side in October.
Even though the weather forecast for Friday doesn’t look promising for baseball at Wrigley Field, the Cubs hope it’s the start of a surprising season. Some feel Chicago is a sleeper team in the NL Central, while other think their lack of an impact player make them a .500 team.
The Cubs have a new look and feel to them this season. New manager Mike Quade has a direct approach and hopes to build on last season’s success when he was interim manager. He’s already made moves, like cutting Carlos Silva, that speak to his business-like attitude.
Gone are clubhouse veterans Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly and in their place are Matt Garza and Carlos Pena. The problem is Garza’s coming off a shaky spring and Pena struggled last season. Both players have the potential to be extremely productive, but for right now we’ll have to wait and see.
Returning to the North Side are the familiar faces of Zambrano, Ramirez and Soriano. Their performances this season will ultimately determine how well the Cubs do. If Ramirez and Soriano, along with Fukudome and Byrd, can be productive at the plate, then the Cubs can contend with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and St. Louis. It’s a big if.
The good news is that Castro and Colvin had solid rookie seasons and should only improve this year. Castro needs to limit his errors at shortstop and Quade needs to find more at-bats for Colvin.
Who knows if Zambrano can keep his head on straight and anchor the starting rotation? Carlos Marmol is an outstanding closer and offseason improvements to the Cubs’ bullpen make it a strength. Whether the starting rotation can provide enough quality outings to get the game to the bullpen remains the question.
If the Cubs maximize their potential then they can make some noise in the Central, but a lot of things have to go right for that to happen.
Regardless of what happens at the Cell or Wrigley this year, Opening Day is the start of something great. It’s a time for optimism. A time to dream, hope and wonder about your team’s chances this season. It’s time to play ball.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.