Who’s in first? Frost and Kipling call the NL East

By | March 30th, 2011 | No Comments
Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra, baseball's accidental bard

Poetry and baseball have long been good friends. “I see great things in baseball,” Walt Whitman said of America’s pastime to be. Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” is as ubiquitous as the game itself. Ogden Nash wrote “A Lineup for Yesterday”, a poem paying tribute to his favorite players in alphabetical order. I’m partial to the Dizzy Dean entry: “D is for Dean/The grammatical Diz/When they asked, Who’s the tops?/Said correctly, I is.”

In honor of fertile spring’s most sacred pitch and O, Miami’s righteous resolve to confront the masses with poetry in April, I’m bringing verse and baseball together once again in a preview of the Marlins and the rest of National League East before the 2011 season starts on Thursday. In addition to a brief team summary and projected record, I’ve assigned each team a verse (taken out of context, of course) befitting its place in the league. Batter up.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (101 – 61) – By reacquiring Cliff Lee, the Phillies put together a pitching rotation that is arguably (hardly) the greatest in baseball history. Will it be enough to compensate for an aging and oft-injured lineup? Methinks yes.

Jest send in your Chief an’ surrender –
it’s worse if you fights or you runs:
You may hide in the caves, they’ll be only your graves,
but you can’t get away from the guns!

— Rudyard Kipling, Screw-Guns

2. Florida Marlins (89 – 73) – In good health, this team is wild card-bound. Unfortunately, the Marlins are as consistently fragile as they are talented. When every pitcher in your starting rotation has required major arm surgery, you can’t expect better than second place. Even so, the Marlins will contend with a youthful combination of hitters who routinely get on base (Omar Infante, Logan Morrison, and Gabby Sanchez), guys who will drive them in (Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez), and a pitching staff entering its prime that, when healthy, stands toe-to-toe with any rotation besides the Phillies’.

While defense remains a major weakness, Infante’s scrappy versatility is a major upgrade over Dan Uggla’s lead glove. If 21-year-old Matt Dominguez can hit even a little bit to start his Triple A season, he’ll be called upon shortly to do his best Brooks Robinson impression.

Chris Coghlan is Florida’s wild card. Penciled in to lead off, Coghlan will have to prove last season’s strikeout issue was just a fluke (whiffs increased from 15 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2010). Even more challenging, Coghlan will be facing his fourth position change since joining the Marlins organization, having moved from third to second to left and now to center field. Roaming “Joe Robbie’s” endless outfield won’t be an easy task for a guy still healing from a torn knee.

All in all, the Fish have the talent, but they need the health. Without it, that record will look more like 80 – 82 with a third place finish.

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

— Robert Frost, Fireflies in the Garden

3. Atlanta Braves (86 – 76) – While they have an excellent mix of youth and experience, the Braves will rely heavily on aging veterans. Their top two pitchers, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson, are 38 and 36, respectively. Starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez is 34, and oft-injured third baseman Chipper Jones is 39. Age, however, does funny things when surrounded by youth. Especially when that youth is Jason Heyward.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

— Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight

4. Washington Nationals (75 – 87) — With once-in-a-generation talent on the rise (Bryce Harper) and on the mend (Stephen Strasburg), the Nationals’ will be a competitive force as soon as next year. Until then, Nationals fans will question why they gave a second-tier, 32-year-old outfielder $126 million over the next seven years.

“Then from the maelstroms of the surf arose
Wild laughter, mystical, and up the sands
Came Two that walked with intertwining hands
Amid those ocean snows.”

— George Sterling, The Swimmers

5. New York Mets (71 – 91) — It’s hard to feel bad for a New York team $600 million in debt when the owner of the $1.2 billion franchise, Fred Wilpon, allegedly knowingly profited from the Madoff scheme. Alas, it is the fans who suffer, and that makes me feel bad (especially for those who witnessed the ’69 season). In addition to financial woes, fans are still forced to look at an inexcusably botched roster. It’s hard to screw up building a team around David Wright and Jose Reyes with $134 million, but Omar Minaya pulled it off.

“There! little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your heart I know;
And the rainbow gleams
Of your youthful dreams
Are things of the long ago;
But Heaven holds all for which you sigh. —
There! little girl; don’t cry!”

— James Whitcomb Riley, A Life-Lesson

William Alton is a Miami native and regular contributor to our music section. He is also a baseball nerd and poetry binger.

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