Warning: the name I am about to drop may cause fierce partisan bickering in the comments section. Keith Olbermann spent the day at Bright House Field today, taking in batting practice on the field and watching the game from the press box. Given Keith’s intense—and that is the word—interests in current events and baseball, I chatted with him about the impact of the economy on baseball, and then about the N.L. East
“700, 000 people lost their jobs in February,” Olbermann said (he uses that same booming, ironic voice when standing next to you, by the way). “That’s a horrific number, and it will affect attendance at major league stadiums. But the number was so horrific, that people may finally see the bottom, and start to open up their wallets a little toward the middle of the year. They’ll say, hey, the worst has passed, I’m probably not going to lose my job.”
During the Great Depression, many Americans turned to baseball, finding escape with teams like the St. Louis Cardinals’ blue collar “Gashouse Gang.” But the game has become so corporate, and a day at the ballpark so expensive, that Olbermann does not believe fans will seek solace in sports in the same way during this downturn.
“In the thirties, the highest ticket price for a major league game was seven dollars,” he said. “Now the high-end ticket at Yankee Stadium costs $2,500.”
He added that because teams rely on corporations to buy pricey luxury suites and box seats, they could be in for a dramatic drop in revenue until Wall Street stabilizes. “A lot of people with very good incomes have never seen anything like this,” he said.
I then asked Keith for his take on the N.L. East, which he sees as a tossup this year. Fans of K-Rod and Raul Ibanez fans are not going to like what follows. “K-Rod is not going to save 70 games this year, and some people are expecting that, but the Mets have so overcompensated in improving their bullpen, that their team will be better.”
Keith loves Mets’ outfielder Daniel Murphy: “He will not swing at a pitch he can’t do something with,” he says, and is underwhelmed by Ibanez.
“I know Pat Burrell was the streakiest, most frustrating hitter in baseball history, but I don’t think they adequately replaced him in left field,” he said.
He concluded by saying that the summerlong showdown between the Mets and Phils will be close enough that it may come down to injuries and chance. Of the Phils, he says, “The danger of having so many exceptional players at important positions is that when you lose somebody to injury, they are impossible to replace. That’s what could be the difference this year. The margin for error is even now between the Mets and Phillies (because the Mets improved their bullpen). That’s why the division is fifty-fifty.”
If any of that makes you mad—well, Keith is used to that.
There was a lot of news in Clearwater today, including injury updates and roster moves. As blogged earlier, Brad Lidge will pitch one inning in Wednesday’s 12:00 p.m. intrasquad game. Lidge said his arm felt strong after throwing a bullpen session Sunday. Rich Dubee said that Lidge would make at least two minor league appearances before pitching in a Grapefruit League game, though the closer told me that he feels ready to compete on the big field.
After entering as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning and grounding out in his only at-bat, Chris Coste had good news about his hamstring. “It was fine,” said Coste. “I didn’t really have any doubts about it.” He did admit that he’ll be gobbling lots of Advil tonight.
Charlie Manuel said that Coste will catch several innings in Wednesday’s intrasquad game. The manager also said that Pedro Feliz will play Wednesday in either the exhibition or in the Phillies’ Grapefruit League game against Atlanta, and that Chad Durbin will pitch in the intrasquad game.
The Phillies sent their first round of players to minor league camp yesterday. RHP Yorman Bazardo, INF Ozzie Chavez, INF Anthony Hewitt, INF Terry Tiffee, OF Jeremy Slayden, OF Chris Walker, and RHP Justin Lehr were reassigned to minor league camp. The first full-squad minor league workouts will be held tomorrow.
Hewitt, the first rounder who I profiled last week, looked overmatched during his brief time at camp. He struggled to make contact and did not look comfortable at third base. A quiet kid who kept mostly to himself in the big league clubhouse, Hewitt sat in a chair in front of his corner locker most of the time, while many of the other players gathered around a table in the middle of the room and chatted or watched T.V. At 19, he is clearly far from being ready, but the organization remains excited about his raw skills.
Geoff Jenkins and Ryan Howard homered in the Phillies 8-4 loss to the Reds today. Jason Donald went 3-for-4, and Manuel is making it obvious that he likes the young infielder. Cole Hamels pitched 2 2/3 innings and allowed two runs, both on a two-run homer in the second. Dubee said that Hamels looked fine and was on schedule, and Hamels said that his arm felt as strong as can be expected—though he wishes the season would come already. He understands that his job right now is to work on command, but he’s getting antsy to play in a meaningful game. “I don’t think my arm strength comes until I get under the lights,” Hamels said.
Amaro says he expects Carlos Ruiz to return to Clearwater on Wednesday. Team Panama responded to their president’s passion for the World Baseball Classic by going two and done.