I can’t believe what I just saw: Could the Padres be the new Gashouse Gang and other first week MLB musings

It’s been a great season to date, the first week of MLB 2009. Lots of surprises, uplifting moments, tragedy and pathos as well as new stadia.

With the exception of Fox’s odious Saturday blackouts, every game is available for live viewing between MLB Extra Innings and MLB.com.

I’ve watched every inning of every game. Your reporters and anal assyss hired by MLB.com haven’t. Neither have your MLB TV studio analysts, baseball executives, sports observers, practically everybody else in America.

For what it’s worth, since everybody else gets the recognition and perks — MLB.com doesn’t believe I know anything about baseball or have any insights, ability etc., and denies me access to the press room, thanks Dinn Mann, Bill Hill, Jim Banks — here are some of my insights into the new season.

For starters, looks like I was right on about the Royals. I believe this team will be in the playoffs for the first time in decades. Too bad the Orioles are deficient in pitching since they have a hitting juggernaut. Rangers pitching appears improved. They throw bat after bat at you with a legion of MLB-ready players in the high minors along with several MVP candidates including my fellow Hebrew Ian Kinsler and the Mickey Mantle clone that is Josh Hamilton. The Angels have been hit hard by injury, death, everything, so we got a race here.

We got a race everywhere in fact. It looks surprisingly — given the disparity in team payrolls — like parity on the field. I firmly believe in parity. That makes it great for the majority of fans. Dynasties are for elitist losers.

The teams succeeding this year — year two of the steroid-as-free-as-monitor-able era — have certain similar characteristics. These teams comprise a slew of interchangeable, moving parts; extreme flexibility as far as position players and pitching assignments. The Cardinals look to be a prime example of this post-steroid phenomenon along with the aforementioned Royals and restocked for prime time Marlins.

The new stadiums have been great. Despite pre-opening pitcher park rhetoric, the Mets new Citibank ripped me off and now gets a government bailout and gets to name their stadium a la” Enron Field remember that kiddies, ballpark, looks to be good hitting. So does the new Yankee Stadium, which looks like the ultimate culmination of the new age of cookie cutter cool experience stadiums, but in a good way. The games there have been wild and the ball goes Babe Ruth into the Right Field day.

The most amazing series of on-field happenings have surrounded my pride and “joy?” Padres. While I predicted 105 losses, the first week has given me pause. They still may lose a ton of games but as in the 2000 stolen presidential election — and thanks for screwing up the world, Bush — the results may take a while to come in and surprise in the end.

A number of factors have aided the Padres, which is why I’m saying the season is too close to call as yet. For one thing, they beat up on the Dodgers at Petco — an annual tradition, regardless of disparate team strength — then beat up on the Giants. the Jints, however, appear weak and listless, any progress they seemed to make last year probably was a mirage.

The Padres ushered in new Enron Field. Initially, I looked at this like Texas scheduling Rice for homecoming, a sure win for a new era. On further review, one might conclude the Padres caught a break as the Mets may have been tentative and nervous with the new field. As well, the Mets were no more familiar with the field than the Padres, losing part of the traditional home field advantage.

Yet, the Padres clearly played with unusual fervor, a newfound sense of purpose and true grit. I was unprepared for this based on last year’s listless litany of loss. Part of this, it turns out, may be due to adding Ted Simmons and Jim Lefebvre to the senior coaching staff. These guys — and Bud Black is the first to acknowledge — have added a lot of knowledge and pizzazz to the team mix.

Even more-so, the addition of David Eckstein, maturing of Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff, solid pitching, especially from castoff relievers added in the last few weeks of spring training, as well as a tough, underdog, devil-may-care attitude — maybe a new Gashouse Gang in these troubled economic times — has paid dividends.

Here is the yin and yang of this. Some of the success of the new wave of Padres pitchers may be due to the league’s unfamiliarity with them. Maybe the second time around the league won’t be so fruitful. Same goes for Padres hitters, most of whom are young and untested. On the other hand…

A team that learns it can win, often does win. The Padres have come from significant deficits in difficult games to win several times. Given their lack the high-priced talent, they also lack the high-priced egos. Many Padre players already have noted the team chemistry and spirit of self-sacrifice, although winning generally pins a happy spin on such perceptions, Despite the individual nature of much of the baseball experience, it remains a team game with sacrifice and execution a large part of team success.

Several come from behind victories on the road — including Saturday’s shocking stopping of Brad Lidge’s 47-save straight streak — have planted a seed in the Padre brainwaves and sometimes that seed grows to be a mighty redwood. It has happened before.

With that said, I continue to believe the Padres will sink fast into oblivion, but 

my slam dunk feeling has tempered greatly given what has transpired this first week. I’m willing to let it slide a few weeks because stranger turnabouts have happened.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that being the frontrunner I am when it comes to hometown baseball, I am quite willing to jump on the Padres bandwagon should it continue to roll downhill.

But that’s for another day, a further column. In the meantime, continue to play ball!

And a shout out to MLB.com for employing everybody but me, so I get to stand in the soup line and starve, while everybody else gets to get paid for covering baseball somewhat less well than me. At least, I was able to pay in advance for MLB.com before I went completely broke this week. 


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