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Around the League (Opening Day)

No amount of hyperbole can quite measure up to Jason Heyward’s superhero like introduction to MLB yesterday. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a debut quite as spectacular. Not to say there hasn’t been one, just that I haven’t seen it.

I am fully prepared to allow that yesterday could have just been the perfect storm of talent and hype, in a day and age where passionate fans aren’t the only ones reading Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, or subscribing to ESPN Insider to read insight from likes of Keith Law and Buster Olney. No, the average fans are also sponges for in-depth analysis these days. So perhaps that explains why on a day when the Braves were hosting a team with the nation-wide fan base like the Cubs, their 20-year-old right fielder had the sand crunching beneath his spikes essentially worshiped, before he even offered fans so much as a single swing.

But consider this: Heyward, who had never before played a game in the Majors (no 2009 September to get his feet wet), was asked by Atlanta brass to catch the first pitch by a legend many have compared him to; Hank Aaron. Heyward then had a half-inning to calm his nerves in the field before finding himself at the dish, with two men on in the bottom half of the inning. As he strode to the batters box and began waving his bat, Turner Field fans rose to their feet, giving him a first at-bat standing ovation.

HIS FIRST AT-BAT!

So what does the guy do? Swing at the first shoulder-level fastball or curve in the dirt because he’s so antsy to prove himself?

No.

The kid took two borderline balls (patience is one of his biggest strengths) before crushing the living snot out of a pitch over the inside part of the plate, for a three-run-jack. Geez!

I was at a Round Table Pizza watching it all unfold and rose to my feet screaming as Heyward connected. In the pizza parlor. With other families not watching the game around. Wondering if I was on drugs. I wasn’t. Every living sole at the ballpark in Atlanta was engulfed in the same hysteria. Euphoria was in full effect.

Just amazing. Watching this kid and the things he could do, even in his rookie season, is going to be a ton of fun.

-If I could have any single prediction back, I’d rearrange my AL West standings, pitting the Oakland A’s in last. I know, I know, jaded A’s fan giving up on the season, blah-blah-blah. But it’s really this simple: The Rangers are likely going to be a little better than I expected and the A’s have no offense.

Ben Sheets certainly looked rusty against Seattle, but at least he showed two encouraging signs: His fastball touched 94 a couple of times and his curve had a great plane of break on it. By May, with no set-backs, Sheets could end up helping both Oakland and your fantasy club.

Albert Pujols isn’t just great, he’s historically great. While sitting in that Round Table yesterday, Britton Dennis and I began talking about how good the guy really is and how strangely under-appreciated he is. Sounds weird doesn’t it. Well, it’s true. As much national publicity as Pujols receives, we don’t seem to realize that in the not-so-distant-future, he may end up considered the best first baseman of all time. Yes better than Jimmy Foxx. Yes better than Lou Gehrig.

Not only that, but if Pujols keeps at his current pace, it’s pretty likely that he will end up revered as the greatest all-around hitter to ever lace ’em up.

Britton brought up a great point that in baseball – like art and life – fans seldom understand what they have until it’s gone. MLB legends aren’t made in front of our eyes, they are created long after the fact.

I’m not going to make that mistake with Albert. He’s the best I have ever seen and may ever see.

-The biggest mistake one can make on Opening Day, is to rush to judgment based on one performance. Backing up what you already suspected however, is another matter. Tim Lincecum was nearly un-hittable, but Roy Halladay was even better. I see no reason to believe the Doc will not cruise to the NL Cy Young Award as so many of us expect.

-The L.A. Dodgers have reason to worry after that performance by Vicente Padilla. If you can’t silence the bats of the Pirates, it’s not a good omen of things to come. Give him another start or two before you start to pull the rug from underneath him, but it’s not to soon to go to the store and pick out your next living room floor decor. Things could get ugly in a hurry.

L.A. needs Clayton Kershaw to mop up Padilla’s mess tomorrow.

Regular Season Award and Playoff Predictions:

Due to real life taking precedence over my writing of late, I have lagged on my division break-down series. I am hoping to finish the NL Central today, before pounding out both East divisions over the course of the next week. But since I don’t want to appear like a total cheating schmuck, let’s get my award and playoff predictions out in the open here and now…

REGULAR SEASON AWARDS

MVP:

NL: Albert Pujols, STL

AL: Alex Rodriguez, NYY

CY Young:

NL: Roy Halladay, PHI

AL: Felix Hernandez, SEA

Rookie of the Year:

NL: Jason Heyward, ATL

AL: Wade Davis, TB

PLAYOFFS PREDICTIONS

AL:

West: Seattle

Central: Detroit

East: New York

Wild Card: Tampa Bay

NL:

West: Los Angeles

Central: St. Louis

East: Philadelphia

Wild Card: Atlanta

World Series:

New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies

2010 WORLD SERIES CHAMPION:

Philadelphia Phillies

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