This weekend marks the beginning of baseball season, a wonderful time of year when America's oft-tainted pastime (one of the many) moves back onto the center stage of sports. Being the most warm-weather sport we have (AFC Championships. Pittsburgh. January. Monumentally numb.), the return of the baseball season also acts as an indisputable Groundhog's Day of sorts: we Northerners know that, excepting upstate New York and Wisconsin, it will be sunny and sixties within six weeks (upstate and Wisconsin enjoy a three-day window of warmth before a blistering mid-July snowstorm forces them back into their homes and Uggs.)
Of course, the return of baseball and warm weather coincide with another much-needed event: the spring fling. This refers not so much to your year-end high school dance (though it may very well serve the same purpose), but rather to the shoes-off attitude of youngsters everywhere once the weather gets talented. Guys sport shorts and gals rock skirts, and beyond the allure of exposed ankles, it's that much less material to tear off in the throes of sunny-season passion. Naturally, this discussion begs one question; a question that will tie this entire two-paragraph introduction together: "what type of position do you play in the big baseball game that is dating?"
"Ehhhh, juuuice?" you ask, confused. Simply put: when it comes to kickin' some game, everyone out there is a particular type of baseball player; more specifically, everyone is a type of pitcher. With opening day finally upon us, it's essential that you know your role, polish up your splitter and, if necessary, beg the manager for a switch. After all, it's a long season, and you don't want to be stuck in a role you hate.
The starter: The pitcher with the draw. This player has the ability to get the game started. In a social setting, this is the person who will approach and successfully engage the opposition, locking them down for the majority of the innings. Sometimes they will tire and need relief, though may still end up with the win; other times, they'll leave the game in such a shoddy state that some high-powered relief will be necessary to salvage a victory. Occasionally, a truly gifted starting pitcher will come along and throw a complete game, perhaps even a Perfect Game. It's at moments like those when surrounding pitchers on both teams can do little but look on in admiration at a true star.
Middle relief: The beginning of the bullpen. What you'll find here are pitchers whose stuff is either sub-par, thus preventing them from achieving starter status, or so unique and specified that they're brought in for special situations. But make no mistake; being relegated to middle relief isn't nearly as bad as it may sound. Often times, the most difficult part is getting the game rolling or establishing a lead. If given the game with a few runs in the bank, many middle relievers can easily lock it down for the remaining innings; something that struggling starters would have otherwise been powerless to do. Still, even with a solid mid-game effort, most middle relievers can't seal the deal. Sometimes this is because they're an intentional set-up / wing man, occasionally because they're gay, but most commonly because they eventually have to begrudgingly hand the game over to the
Closer: The true power pitcher on a team. The opposition has seen the closer countless times before, but that doesn't mean that they can do anything to overcome the closer's stuff. It doesn't matter if their team has a single run lead or if they're blowing the opposition out; the closer will nonchalantly waltz into the situation, do their thing and all but ensure another victory. Every team has one, and as Mariano Rivera proves with every passing season and frightening Nike commercial, it's pretty fuckin' nice to be the closer. Admittedly, some may question the value of a save in modern baseball's "ninth-inning-only" closer era, but one thing's for sure: no one cares about the stats when they're getting all the late-game action.
I think any lonely middle reliever will attest to that.
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3. Enjoy these hotlinks and have a glorious spring weekend. Yes, glorious.