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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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Follow that: how to choose your very own baseball team

Andrew McGeady explains how you can pick a baseball side to follow as the action gets underway in the States.

Baseballs for use in practice sit in a bin before the Washington Nationals' workout at Nationals Park this week.
Baseballs for use in practice sit in a bin before the Washington Nationals' workout at Nationals Park this week.
Image: .(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WITH BASEBALL’S Opening Day yesterday, it’s time to choose a team to follow this season. Sport is always more fun when you’ve a team to root for.

Of course, maybe you’ve a team already. Perhaps you were in Chicago on a J-1 visa for the summer, dragged along to Wrigley Field for some beer in the summer sun with the Cubs playing some baseball as a backdrop; you paid little interest but that Cubs hat is still at home in your bedroom.

Or perhaps a relative brought a Yankees cap back from New York to a younger version of you, and that interlocking ‘NY’ has stayed in your mind ever since. If so, your ship has sailed and no more can be done for you.

But if you’ve no team, read on. The job of this column is to leave the rookie baseball fan with some little piece of America to call your MLB home during the 2011 season. Since there are 30 teams to go through, we’ll first cull a few by making some obvious eliminations.

Ease of Following from Ireland Factor

Any team playing in the Pacific time zone is ruled out. Harsh but necessary. If you’re getting into baseball for the first time then there’s little point in 90% of your chosen team’s games starting between midnight and 3am Irish time. Unless, of course, you’re an insomniac or warehouse night-watchman.

Ruled out: Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, LA Dodgers, LA Angels of Anaheim, San Diego Padres.

Perhaps unfairly, any team playing against these clubs regularly must also go. This means the loss of the remaining AL and NL West teams; we bid adios to the Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Probability of Attending a Game While on Holiday Factor

Boston, New York and Chicago are popular destinations which are hugely accessible from Ireland, and to a lesser extent Toronto and Philadelphia.

After that, St Louis is a lovely town and Baltimore remains in play because, fans of The Wire notwithstanding, one can stay in the infinitely more attractive Washington DC.

Pittsburgh… well, the Pirates’ PNC Park is so beautifully situated that one could, at a stretch, see the hardcore fan make their way to the Steel city for that reason alone. Solely by virtue of being in Florida, popular holiday destination that it is, Tampa Bay and the Marlins remain in the discussion for now.

Ruled out: Minnesota (unless you’re a huge fan of Fargo), Milwaukee, Detroit (unless you’re a huge fan of Motown or visiting broken cities), Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Houston.

Horrible Ballpark Factor

Ruled out: Bye bye Tampa Bay and their horrible, domed Tropicana Field. Cheerio to the Florida Marlins and the hulking, empty Dolphins stadium that’s home to about 50,000 empty orange seats even while the Marlins are actually playing. It’s no fun watching games when the building is simply miserable.

No Possible Feeling of Optimism Factor

Non-masochists generally like to have some sprig of hope to cling to at the start of a season. It doesn’t have to be much, just the ability to enter a place of annual self-delusion that the hometown nine, if everything went right, could possibly end up playing meaningful baseball down the stretch in September. Not much to ask even once every few years.

Ruled out: the Pittsburgh Pirates, with 18 consecutive losing seasons and counting. They have been so bad that it has been rumoured that team management had at times been losing on purpose as they were making more money that way. Caveat: the Pirates have been so monumentally awful for so long that they’ve actually got some good young prospects; probably not much good to you until at least 2013 though.

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Star Player Factor

Having a few recognisable stars on the team is important for the rookie fan, even if they’re not a lock for the playoffs each year. Bonus points to Philadelphia, the Yankees and St Louis in this regard.

Ruled out: Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves.

Team in Possible Financial Crisis Factor

Trivia question: what MLB owners are being currently sued by the victims of Bernie Madoff, billion-dollar-ponzi-scheme-crook? It’s Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, owners of the New York Mets, who are now trying to raise capital by selling the team. It’s not easy to get into a pennant race when the bosses are saving every red cent for their court expenses.

Following a Canadian Team in an American Sport Factor

Ruled out: Toronto Blue Jays (unless you plan to emigrate there). North of the border is hockey country and always will be.

The Final Candidates

After that uber-scientific method of whittling things down to a manageable number, the seven remaining candidates to whom you might hitch your rookie MLB fandom wagon are: the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Nationals, Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox and the St Louis Cardinals.

  • New York Yankees (AL East)

They’ve got more money than anybody else, possibly including God, and spend it in large bucketloads every season. The bottom line? Rooting for the Bronx Bombers is like rooting for death or taxes: there’s no real joy or exhilaration to be found, just sorrow and anger if the Yankees somehow don’t win the World Series. Of course, they’re on television a lot, have multiple star players and generally stand a good chance of keeping you interested in October. But you’ll have sold your soul by then.

  • Boston Red Sox (AL East)

Until 2004 the Sawx were, famously, the team who hadn’t won a World Series since they sold Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees in 1920. The Curse of the Bambino having been laid to rest in 2004 and utterly stamped out with another championship in 2007, Boston has been one of the preeminent powers in the game for the past decade. Bonus points for playing in charming little Fenway Park, oldest and smallest ballpark in the majors. Common ownership (John Henry) with Liverpool FC could be bonus or minus points, depending on one’s point of view in matters footballing.

  • Philadelphia Phillies (NL East)

Funnily enough, the team from The City of Brotherly Love has fans that are famously brutal on players, and not just their opponents. On the field, the 2011 Phillies will roll out a historically strong starting rotation with four pitchers capable of being the ace of almost every other major league team. As Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt put zeros on the board during the regular season, excitement could actually be relatively low. That should be balanced, however, by their excellent chances of going deep into October’s playoffs.

  • Washington Nationals (NL East)

Formerly the Monteal Expos, 2005 saw the team move to Washington, D.C., reviving baseball in the nation’s capital. Although they are still some way from achieving major success, they made a splash this winter with the signing of outfielder Jayson Werth from the Phillies after having drafted Bryce Harper, hitting phenom, and pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg in the amateur player drafts of the past two seasons. Note: Strasburg is currently injured but his form last season was so utterly sensational that people are still hugely excited about his future. Bonus points for Washington, former murder capital of the USA, now being a very pleasant and interesting place to visit.

  • Chicago White Sox (AL Central)

The team from the southside of the windy city usually has a puncher’s chance in the always-exciting AL Central division. Note that “exciting” does not always mean “good”. Obama’s team of choice, for what that might matter, the White Sox receive bonus points for having a manager, Ozzie Guillen, who’s more than a little excitable and liable to either get into a fight with a player or blast umpires and reporters in the media. One of my great regrets is that I can’t understand what Guillen, from Venezuela, tweets in his native Spanish. Minus points for having, in Hawk Harrelson, the single most irritating commentator in any professional sport on the planet.

  • Chicago Cubs (NL Central)

The Cubbies, lovable losers, play in beautiful, ivy-clad Wrigley Field. It’s such an enjoyable a place to go that the Cubs enjoy consistent sellout crowds year after year. This phenomenon is so entrenched that the price of beer has more effect on the team’s attendance than if the team is actually winning or not. Bonus point: the Cubs traditionally play more day games than any other team, meaning many games starting at a reasonable hour for the fan in Ireland. Minus point: the Cubs are the current “cursed” team in baseball, not having won a World Series since 1908.

  • St Louis Cardinals (NL Central)

A proud baseball town, in the days when the Major Leagues were mostly confined to the populous north-east of the country St Louis was historically the great western outpost of the game. Back then the mighty KMOX radio station would broadcast Cardinals contests to millions with its signal capable of being heard all over the nation. Now they’re an annual favourite for the NL Central with bonus points for having future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols, best player in baseball by some distance, as well as the Budweiser Brewery and Gateway Arch to visit while there.

Choose wisely.

Read how John Riordan picked his fantasy baseball team | Andy explains how the Irish fan can follow baseball in Ireland

About the author:

Andrew McGeady

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