Over the past few years, baseball has made a comeback. While Major League Baseball is not quite as popular as the NBA or NFL, it’s more popular than it was and presents fewer concerns about CTE and ticket pricing. For fans, this is the best news possible. Why? The game got fun again. Seriously. Thanks to the return of genuine superstars and the emergence of several scrappy and talented teams, the days of never-ending snoozefests are long gone. In its place is a sport in the middle of an evolution, a sport that moves faster and features more monstrous dongers than ever. So, whether you are a lifelong fan or just trying to convince your kid baseball is less boring than golf, here is everything you should know before Opening Day.
Three Empty Bandwagons You Should Consider Hopping On
Oakland A’s: Why root for a team that finished last in the same division as the World Series champs? Because they hit a fuckton of home runs, that’s why. The A’s tied for the most homers hit after the All-Star break last season, and even added a couple of players who have primed Oakland to become the most dinger-happy offense in baseball.
Chicago White Sox: Chi-Town’s long-forgotten team is constantly living in the shadow of the more popular and beloved Cubs, which makes them a perfect team to root for. Sure, they lost 95 games last year, but they have one of the best farm systems in baseball and hot prospects – notably Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer – who may finally make good on their potential this season. They’re probably not going to make a serious World Series run but they may surprise people and steal a playoff spot. Don’t believe us? Just ask Kevin Millar.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves don’t have the top-heavy talent of other teams, but they have quietly put together one of the most solid lineups in baseball. Freddie Freeman is a perennial All-Star first baseman, Ender Inciarte has won two straight Golden Gloves for his impressive play in centerfield, and Ronald Acuna looks like a future MVP candidate. They aren’t ready to catch the Nationals to reclaim the NL East but they are definitely ready to rise above the Marlins. Then again, who isn’t?
Bonus Pick: The Houston Astros. Sure, it might seem incredibly lame to hop on the bandwagon of a team that just won the World Series, but the Astros aren’t like most World Series winners. They’re a lovable team composed of scrappy veterans and exciting up-and-comers and, despite being the reigning champions, they still get about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield. So if the other options don’t appeal to you, don’t feel bad about going all-in for the Astros. No one should feel bad about rooting for Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.
Are There Any Good Curses Left?
Sadly, no. There was a time when baseball was defined by curses. The Red Sox were haunted by the Great Bambino for 86 years. The Cubs had to wait more than half a century to overcome the Curse of the Billy Goat. And the White Sox couldn’t shake the 1919 Black Sox cheating scandal. Famously, though, all three teams have won Championships in the last 15 years, which means that the only curses left are pretty lame. Cleveland may seem like the most obvious candidate, but LeBron delivering a title for the Cavs made it a lot harder to feel bad for that fanbase. Hopefully, a new curse emerges soon and some poor franchise will be unfairly haunted by a seemingly inconsequential decision for the next century.
Good News: You’re Probably Not Going to Get Hit By Any Foul Balls This Season
Last September, a young girl was sent to the hospital after a foul ball hit her in the face during a Yankees game. At the time, only a third of the teams in the league had extended protective netting that could have prevented this horrific accident. Cut to six months later and all 30 teams will have extended netting by Opening Day. It’s a huge step for fan safety and should make families feel more comfortable heading to games.
Bad News: Cleveland Still Has a Racist-Ass Logo (For Now)
During the offseason, Cleveland announced that they would finally be retiring Chief Wahoo, the racist caricature that they were somehow using as their team logo despite Native American groups rightfully asking for it to be removed for nearly 40 years. Unfortunately, Wahoo won’t be officially phased out until the 2019 season, meaning that we are going to have to endure another season of this casual bigotry.
Appreciation Corner: Mike Trout
By now, pretty much everyone knows the 26-year-old center fielder is a great player but somehow, people do not seem aware of just how incredible his career with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has been so far. Trout is the rare player who has no weakness in his game. Since he entered the league in 2011, Trout has ranked in the top five for batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and on-base plus slugging. He’s a six-time all-star, a two-time AL MVP, and even lead the American League in steals in his second season.
There are only a handful of players in history who he can be compared to and all of them are either in the Hall of Fame (Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr.) or are guaranteed to get there one day (Albert Pujols). Take the time to admire this guy while you still can because it might be a while before we see this level of talent on the field.
A Humble Plea: Go to a Game
The beauty of baseball games is that, unlike basketball or football, you don’t have to actually care about the game to enjoy the experience. Thanks to bitchin’ stadiums, great food, more subdued fans, and weird, fun rituals like the seventh-inning stretch, the game itself is not necessary to have a fantastic night with your family. Even if your kid thinks baseball is the most boring sport in the world, they will love getting to walk around the park and getting to enjoy a bag of peanuts or a mini helmet filled with ice cream.
Plus, there are so many games that you can get tickets for much cheaper than the NBA or NFL. So, make sure to get to a game at some point this season, because it’s a great way to spend some real quality time with the whole family, even if none of you particularly enjoy baseball.
What is the Ultimate Ballpark Snack?
As mentioned above, one of the best parts of going to a baseball game is the food. There are so many fantastic options but which truly reigns supreme? With all due respect to cracker jacks and ballpark franks, peanuts remain the king of baseball snacks. Almost anywhere else, the idea of letting your kid eat something as messy as peanuts is frightening enough to give you nightmares for weeks. At a baseball game, however, they are free to drop the shells without fear or consequence. It’s the perfect ballpark snack and it’s hard to imagine it getting dethroned any time soon.
Three Baseball Players Who Are Actually Fun
Bryce Harper: We’ve already talked about how Bryce Harper is the asshole that baseball needs, but he’s also one of the best young players in the game. He was a serious MVP candidate last year and, at age 25, there’s no reason to think he doesn’t get even better this year. Let’s just hope he hasn’t matured too much, because we love his slightly absurd antics.
Aaron Judge: A big part of Judge’s appeal is that he has an extremely high ceiling. In what was essentially his rookie year, the guy effortlessly crushed home runs and gave the Yankees hope again. The risk? He also has an incredibly low floor, as his swing-for-the-fences attitude caused him to strike out a borderline historic rate. Is he ready to become a well-rounded superstar or is he going to crash and burn? Only time will tell.
Yasiel Puig: From the minute this guy entered the league, he has been nothing if not entertaining. He’s self-confident in a way that few in the league have been for the last decade, but he can also be incredibly charming. His play is every bit as unpredictable as his personality, as he shows signs of incredible talent only to then slump for weeks at a time. No matter if you love him or hate him, Puig is always a blast to watch.
The Best Player Who Hasn’t Won a Ring (Yet): Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw is arguably the most dominant pitcher of the century. At age 30, he’s already put together a borderline Hall of Fame career with a 2.36 ERA over nearly 2,000 innings. By the time his career is done, he could very well be considered one of the best pitchers to ever play the game. His one weakness? His postseason performance, where his career ERA jumps to 4.35. The Dodgers remain one of the most stacked rosters in baseball, and if Kershaw can deliver the team’s first World Series in 30 years, it would dispel any notion that he’s anything other than a bonafide superstar.
Three Teams That Will Be Lucky to Win 60 Games
San Diego Padres: Sure, adding Eric Hosmer was an exciting move but, other than that, there’s not much to love about this team. Almost every aspect of their roster is noticeably weak, and they don’t have much in terms of prospects to imagine them getting any closer to leaving the MLB cellar behind.
Detroit Tigers: Simply put, this offense is going to be bad. The rapid decline of Miguel Cabrera has been surprising but even if he were to make a comeback to his old form, there are almost no other reliable hitters on the team. The pitching is less mediocre but not by much, so there’s a good chance this is the worst team in the league this year.
Miami Marlins: This team was not half-bad last season but that was primarily because of MVP Giancarlo Stanton, whose record-breaking contract was traded to the Yankees. The Marlins are openly in full rebuilding mode, and things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.
And Finally…Who’s Gonna Win It All?
There are seven teams that most experts agree are the cream of the crop heading into the season: Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, and Cleveland’s Baseball Team. So, which team has the best shot at winning this year’s World Series? It’s a tough call, as all of these teams are legitimately talented, plus there is guaranteed to be at least one surprise team that makes a run.
Still, if we had to choose, it feels like the Dodgers’ time. They have been one of the best teams in the league for the last several seasons and have come too close too many times not to win it all eventually. So why not this year? They have the best pitcher in the game, a loaded offense, and, most importantly, are really desperate to win.