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Pragada: Major League Baseball is back

I’m writing this column while sitting behind home plate at the Stanford-UC Davis baseball game, and despite the excellent pitching of Brendan Beck and the productivity of the Cardinal bats, I can’t take my eyes off of my computer screen, where I’ve got the first Yankees-Red Sox game of the year pulled up on a questionably legal streaming website. And wouldn’t you know it, just as I was drafting that last sentence, Mookie Betts just crushed a grand slam right over the Green Monster to put the Sox up 14-1. And if you were wondering if I’m overjoyed or upset at that outcome, I’ve been a massive Red Sox fan since I was 10 years old. Seeing the Yankees get smashed is pure ecstasy. But even so, I’ve got to sit back and ask myself, why am I actually watching Major League Baseball?

The MLB has only been back for a week and a half, and it’s already shaping up to be a season full of exciting storylines and exceptional players. Baseball has recently been catching criticism in the media as attendances fall for certain franchises, average game length increases and overall interest in the slow-paced game of baseball wanes. With more exciting franchises like the NFL and NBA ever-growing, many believe baseball could lose its throne as “America’s Pastime.”

But as a certain former Daily sports writer and current Daily COO said to me the other day, “This year of baseball is shaping up to be insanely marketable.” And when he said that, I realized that he was absolutely right. I was caring and actively thinking about random specifics of teams that usually I wouldn’t care about at all. I mean granted, I am a massive sports nerd, but even putting that aside, Major League Baseball has a whole host of storylines to play with.

You’ve got the returning World Series champions, the Houston Astros, looking to become the first team to go back-to-back since the 2000 Yankees, a feat which they seem highly capable of doing through 11 games. You’ve got the Dodgers coming off of a crushing World Series loss with a bit of a hangover, eventually looking to make it back to the title game and change their fate. You’ve got what seem to be expected perennial playoff contenders in Cleveland, Chicago and Washington making moves to try and improve their chances. And teams like the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Yankees are just waiting for their chances to jump to the top of their divisions, though the Yankees might have to wait a while. Plus, it’s an even year, so the Giants will eventually pull something together and make a run in the playoffs. It’s tradition.

Plus, we saw the New York Mets and my beloved Red Sox set franchise milestones for records to start the season, with the Mets shooting out of the gate at 9-1, and the Red Sox dropping their game on Opening Day before winning 9 straight (including one tonight) to reach 9-1 as well, the best either team has ever been after 10 games. And in my unbiased opinion, the Sox have one of the League’s most fun rosters to watch; the talent and youth they’ve developed is unreal.

Speaking of talented youths, there have been some absolutely monstrous performances by some of the league’s veterans and rising stars in the mere week and a half since the season started. Something baseball has lacked in comparison to other major sports is the presence of a LeBron James or a Tom Brady, a player that is truly the face of the sport. But there’s a whole host to choose from this year, as individual performances have been insane recently! The Giants’ Andrew McCutchen went 6/7 in a contest against the Dodgers, culminating with a walkoff home run in the 14th inning off of an insanely well played at-bat. The reigning AL CY Young winner Corey Kluber pitched an immaculate eight-inning shutout against the Tigers, letting up only two hits and fanning 13 batters. My personal favorite performance would have to be Giancarlo Stanton’s record-setting performance, striking out five times in TWO games last week. The current record for 5-strikeout performances in an entire SEASON is three. Let’s see how quickly he can break it!

And how can you talk about individual performances without bringing up the fact that Babe Ruth is actually playing in the MLB this year? Well not the actual Babe Ruth, he’s dead, but a hotshot phenom from Japan’s NPB who was signed by the Angels in the offseason, Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani stole the show from the rest of baseball, becoming the first real two-way player we’ve seen in quite some time. And he certainly plays both ways, homering in three straight games from the DL spot before picking up his second win as a pitcher and taking a perfect game into the sixth, striking out 12 batters in 7 innings! There were questions about his ability, but for the moment it seems as though this kid is the real deal, and I could not be more excited.

People can say that baseball is boring all they want, but with a league as chock full of stories, tension, personalities and stars as the MLB is, I don’t see how baseball could ever go away. You’d have to be insane not to want to watch these players on your television, or to avoid hitting the ballpark on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, hot dog in hand. The MLB has it all: narcissistic umpires, bench clearing brawls, players in pinstripes whiffing at fastballs and batting into 1-2-5 double plays, Bartolo Colon still playing somehow and even more excitement on the horizon. I’m honestly surprised to find myself following so closely, even with the NBA playoffs about to start.

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at” stanford.edu

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