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Greetings from Phoenix where the weather has turned balmy after some unusual coolness and even rain just before I arrived in town. Yesterday I saw Ichiro rope the second pitch of the Mariners-Giants exhibition game from Tim Lincecum into the right field corner for a double that during the regular season Seattle’s great All-Star might well have stretched into a triple. Baseball had returned for me in its most beautiful sense, renewing hope in the future and excitement for another wonderful season.

Later in the afternoon I did two radio interviews. One will air on Marty Lurie’s pre-game SF Giants radio show and focused on the newest expanded edition of my “The Imperfect Diamond.” The other will air on April 15 on Seattle’s KIRO radio network, an interview with Rick Rizzs about the special day in baseball and American history when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. It seems to me without a doubt that the spring celebrations of Passover and Easter should be joined by April 15, another holiday commemorating the triumph of strength and courage over ignorance and bigotry.

The opening of the baseball season is now barely three weeks away. It is not what it used to be but what is? Cincinnati, the oldest franchise in professional baseball dating back to 1869, for decades enjoyed the traditional first opener followed by a sitting President throwing out the first ball at Griffith Stadium in Washington. This year Opening Night will be at Fenway Park Sunday April 5 on ESPN as the Yankees will be visiting the Red Sox, the two American League leviathans.

I am hoping that the Tampa Bay Rays can horn in again this year to the select elite at the top of the tough AL East but only time will tell. I am amused at the Baseball Prospectus predictions that the Red Sox will win the AL East in 2010 by two games followed by Tampa and the Yankees. Why even play the games then?

Here to me is a pertinent analogy. Nate Silver, a founder of Baseball Prospectus, accurately predicted the 2008 Presidential election results almost to the exact electoral vote and yet neither he nor anyone else predicted how deadlocked our system of governance would become in the first 14 months of the Obama Administration.

We don’t need incessant pundits throwing numbers at us in either politics or baseball. Leadership and the will to win are worth all the stats in all the spread sheets. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has a new slogan and acronym for 2010: What’s Important Now=WIN. It has a chance to be as successful as his mantra of 2008 when the Rays stunned the baseball world by winning the American League pennant.

9=8 – 9 players working as a team will result in winning one of the 8 playoff spots. That will to win combined with taking advantage of the breaks of the game and avoiding major injuries will be determining factors as usual in any pennant race. And having what Earl Weaver once called “deep depth” to offset lost time by regulars is always another important factor.

I post from the next-to-last day of the 17th Annual Nine Baseball Magazine conference in Arizona. Our leadoff speaker Marty Appel, the prolific author of 17 books including the recent best-selling biography of Thurman Munson, made a lovely point in his talk Wednesday night. He said that the most special moment for the true Yankee fans on Opening Day April 13th will be when Hideki Matsui comes out of the visiting Angels dugout to receive his 2009 World Series ring. The versatile Larry Dierker, the former star Astros pitcher, broadcaster and manager, will deliver the closing keynote address tomorrow night. He is a man of wry wit and deep feel for the history of the game and I am honored to be introducing him as well as earlier this week Appel.

Ciao for now – next post most likely from Orlando where I speak on Branch Rickey’s signing of Robinson a week from Monday at the University of Central Florida.
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