Survival Guide for Baseball’s Offseason

Last week, the 2009 baseball season came to an end with the announcement of the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, marking the start of the six longest months of every baseball fan’s year: the offseason.?For over half a year, we watched teams evolve as they transitioned from spring training to the dog days of summer and an eventual pennant race. As the postseason wound down, we turned to our national pastime to keep us distracted from the decaying world around us. The Yankees’ Evil Empire was kind enough to take a break from counting their piles of cash to let a pair of World Series games slip to the Phillies, keeping the baseball season on life support for a few more moments.

But — like all good things in life — the season came to an end. Now, baseball fans have reverted back to post-breakup 16-year-old emotional states; looking back over old pictures, rereading old baseball articles and piecing together the previous year to see where we went wrong.

The main difference is that when Chelsea Huang broke up with me sophomore year in high school, she made it pretty clear that we were through forever. With baseball, I get the satisfaction of knowing that, in only six short months, I will form a beautiful and compassionate relationship with the sport all over again.

But what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Instead of binging on nachos and garlic fries to drown my off-season tears, I plan, instead, to find solace in the sloppy seconds. Here are my five top picks:

1. College football

Aside from the Florida Gators’ run at their second-straight national championship, the 2009 season has delivered plenty of surprises. If, like me, you’re sad that you can no longer watch baseball rivalries like that between the Giants and Dodgers, the Civil War Game between Oregon and Oregon State on Dec. 3 for the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl birth should provide enough drama to make Ralph Branca jealous. Heated rivalries not cutting it? Try your hand at guessing how many sweater vests Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel owns.

2. Chris Andersen

If you ever get a pang of nostalgia for baseball’s drama kings — or queens, in the case of Manny Ramirez — just keep tabs on the Denver Nuggets’ unpredictable center, Chris “Birdman” Andersen. Once a top prospect, Birdman spiraled out of the NBA due to a crack addiction. Now a celebrated graduate of rehab, the oh-so-tatted Andersen is back as a successful member of a Nuggets squad looking to reach the NBA Finals.

Playing just over 20 minutes a game while contributing an average 5.9 points, 6.3 boards and 1.6 blocks a night, Birdman finally has the productivity level to match his eccentric behavior — he always seems on the verge of a mental breakdown or starting an on-court fight. Baseball might have Milton Bradley’s temper tantrums, but the NBA has Chris Andersen and his pure insanity.

3. Super Bowl commercials

Notice, please, that I am not including professional football on this list. It’s sad but true: The television advertisements between plays have become more important than the game’s championship showdown. The NFL has become a bastion for overpaid and uncooperative egos (read: Michael Crabtree, Terrel Owens, Chad “Eighty-Five,” Jerry Jones and about half the Cowboys’ roster). This football season will most likely close with a classic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchup at some point, and perhaps a game-winning field goal somewhere between unnecessary clumps of timeouts and official breaks. But for what it’s worth, the big boys in the NFL have very little to offer.

So feel free to space out until the Super Bowl approaches, then tune in and gear up for a real slice of Americana — normally a toss-up between a busty Go-Daddy girl or E-Trade’s talking babies.

4. Winter general-manager meetings

You didn’t expect to actually go an entire six months without ever thinking about baseball, did you? After a few months of withdrawal, the winter general-manager meetings is just the fix I need.

Throw 30 baseball executives together in a hotel, let them trade players as if they were corn-stock commodities and it will produce more than enough headlines to keep your Google alerts working overtime.

Thanks to the meetings, you’ll have enough reading to keep you busy until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

Which team will Scott Boras swindle into signing Jason Bay and Matt “Good Thing I Remembered to Wear My Cup” Holliday? Will Pedro Martinez decide to skip out of the AARP line and have another go at being New York’s daddy? Personally, I just want to see if San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean takes a page out of his Cy Young winner’s playbook and tokes up at the meeting to celebrate a blockbuster deal.

5. March Madness

Just as baseball’s spring training is moving into first gear, college basketball will be the perfect substitute for the stretch run. I’ll never understand it, but year after year, it seems that every single March Madness game unfailingly ends with a thrilling buzzer-beating shot soaring through the air and swishing into the net, setting off a swarm of crazed college students and creepy mascots.

Hyperboles aside, the beautiful 65-team dance is easily the non-baseball sports highlight of the year (No. 5 on this list solely for chronological consistency). Who will be this year’s 12-5 upset? Can the Kansas Jayhawks run the table? Just how freakin’ old is Dick Vitale? Somehow, Cinderella shows up at the big dance every year, and — pumped with March Madness spirit — never fails to put out.

So there you are: five solid reasons to keep your head above water this offseason, and away from a Prozac addiction. Life may seem a bit more bleak without the joy that a 162-game baseball season brings, but hang in there, follow up on my top five and just remember: only 123 days until Opening Day, 2010.

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