The Baseball Diaries
I recently read “Faithful,” by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King. Sure, I am nearly two decades late to the party; and sure, you might revoke my membership in the Red Sox fan club for waiting so long to read this charming tome, but what can you do?
For those of you who have not read the book, here is a very brief summary: O’Nan (a Pirates fan living in the Boston area) and King (a lifelong Red Sox fan) decided to watch and chronicle every game of the 2004 Red Sox season. They did this coming off the soul-crushing end to 2003, with Grady Little and Aaron (“Fu%&*ng”) Boone. There was simply no way for the writers to know what 2004 had in store; that 2004 would see the Red Sox win the Wild Card, then come back from 0-3 in the ALCS against the hated Yankees, and then sweep the Cardinals for Boston’s first World Series title in 86 years. In the spring of 2004, they were just two baseball fans who were gluttons for punishment; two men who embarked on a journey that neither will ever forget.
All of which got me thinking: If you were a writer, or a baseball fan, or maybe both, which team would you follow for the 2024 season on the off-chance the you could catch lightning in a bottle and witness a season for the ages? It turns out that there are a few extremely worthy candidates.
Any list wherein one might potentially witness history has to start in Cleveland. This past season marked 75 years since this organization won the World Series. They have been to the Fall Classic four times in that span, most recently in the epic 2016 clash with the Cubs. The Guardians are a perennial threat to win the weak AL Central, and have a good chance to do so in 2024, even though both ESPN and MLB.com have the Tigers finishing ahead of them.
But, like O’Nan and King, if you could hang with this club for 162 games, and they were to win it all, then that book could easily be a best-seller. Plus, watching José Ramirez man third base all summer would be nothing short of delightful.
There are teams with longer dry spell than the Mariners, but none that offer more potential intrigue. Seattle ended a 21-year playoff drought in 2022, but not only have they never won the World Series, in their 47 years, they have never even been there. The Mariners’ President of Baseball Operations, Jerry Dipoto, has never met a trade he wouldn’t do, or an hour of the day he wouldn’t do it.
So, despite the club’s miserly ways (and the fact that they already inferred that they are out on Shohei Ohtani), you can count of Trader Jerry making things interesting and doing everything possible to keep the team in contention. Plus, there are considerably worse places to spend 81 days over the summer than T-Mobile Park.
The O’s got to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule, and then got thumped by the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers. But few teams in baseball have a better, more exciting core of young players than the Orioles. Their largesse is such that they may trade a few of their prospects for pitching, as they simply don’t have enough room on the roster, or the infield, to play them all.
The team revolves around their catcher, Adley Rutschman, whose best comp is Buster Posey. Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson plays short, but will probably move to third to make way for phenom Jackson Holliday. Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, and Joey Ortiz are on their way. Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins are veteran anchors in the lineup, and if the team gets some additional pitching, they will be extremely dangerous in 2024. Plus, like T-Mobile, who could balk at spending every night this coming summer at Camden Yards?
New York Mets
The Mets’ World Series title drought is nine years shorter than the Mariners’ existence, but in New York, you need to calculate the same like dog years. As such, it essentially has been forever since the Mets paraded down the Canyon of Heroes. When billionaire Steve Cohen bought the Mets in November, 2020, he claimed that it would be “slightly disappointing” if the team did not with the World Series in three to five years. Well, this will be his fourth year of ownership, and last season was an unmitigated disaster.
With new President of Baseball Operations, David Stearns, and with new manager, Carlos Mendoza (stolen straight from bench of the crosstown rivals), and with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander mostly off the books, the Mets have even more of Steve’s money to throw at free agents and/or salaries to absorb in trades. The team has already been active (Luis Severino, Joey Wendle), and are rumored to be in on Japanese pitching star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. If the Mets were to take down the Braves and the Phillies, win the NL pennant, and then bring another championship to Queens, the book could join a long list of great ones written about The Miracle Mets.
Like the Orioles, the Reds broke out a year early, and also employ too many great young players for their limited roster. Yes, the team appears to have lost lifelong Red, the legendary Joey Votto, but that just opened up first base for another young stud. The Reds play in the feeble NL Central, where 83 wins was enough for second place, and the low 90’s should win the division. Hunter Greene and Andrew Abbott will anchor a starting rotation that could use one more solid arm; and Alexis Díaz may be every bit the closer that his brother is.
The excitement with this team starts with wunderkind Elly De La Cruz, who made his presence known with a vengeance last season, and then spreads to the likes of Spencer Steer (23 homers in his rookie campaign, arguably their best player), Christian Encarnacion-Strand (13 home runs in 222 at bats), Matt McLain (5’9”, .864 OPS in his rookie year), and TJ Friedl (who hit 18 home runs in 488 at bats, while playing a great center field). It does get a touch swampy at Great America Ballpark during the summer, but the breeze created by these swingers and De La Cruz’s sprinting around the base paths should make it more than tolerable. This team hasn’t won a World Series since my freshman year of college. If they did so this year, while you were chronicling it, you would have quite the tale to tell.
There are, of course, many other teams worthy of your daily diary (the Tigers stand to be much-improved; any team that lands Ohtani; maybe even the woebegone Padres). Just know that whoever you choose, it is a massive commitment, with no guaranty of a 2004 Red Sox anxiety-inducing, brink-facing, record-breaking payoff at the end. Regardless, it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.