Tonight’s Contest:

In tonight’s series opener, Ranger Suarez was pulled at 2 2/3rds after surrendering 3 runs on 5 hits to the visiting New York Mets. He needed 63 pitches. He struck out just 1 hitter. It wasn’t exactly the dominant return to the mound fans had hoped for nor was it what they’d come to expect, based upon last season’s brilliance. Ranger struggled to locate his fastball – or any of his pitches for that matter – and when he did throw it over the plate, the pitch lacked its mysterious elusiveness than it had in the season prior. His lack of faith in his slider, his only true breaking ball, remains a concern. How long will his magic last before MLB hitters feast on a diet of low velocity fastballs and change-ups?

Alarm bells needn’t be set off just yet, however, as Suarez, still a young pitcher was held to a strict pitch count and hadn’t gotten a full spring of preparation due to visa issues.

Another young Phillie, Alec Bohm, had struggled early on in the game as well – at least in the field. Through 3 innings Bohm had posted 3 errors – all on errant throws from his post at 3rd base. These errors – as chronicled in his struggles last season – are a cause for long-term concern. Not only do they muddle his immediate and long term future as a Phillie – at 3rd base or otherwise – but they are a sign of a mental block or lack of confidence to put it bluntly. All 3 of Bohm’s errors came on throws in which he had time to spare – time to think. This minute form of the dreaded yips is far scarier than just a lack of physical ability. Rather, this mental block has the potential to impede his future at any position in the field.

However, In plays in which Bohm doesn’t have time to think – like his beautiful double play turn with Jean Segura – he performs adeptly, his movements swift and confident. It’s plays like these where Bohm flashes his true potential – soft hands, quick reflexes, an ever quicker release, and an incredibly strong arm – the raw traits of which make Bohm more suitable for 3rd base prized shortstop prospect Bryson Stott.

At the plate, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, Bohm continued to shine in tonight’s game. Following his 2-hit season debut on Saturday, Bohm, through 3 at-bats tonight, had 1 hit and 2 walks. His hit, a double scorched to the left-center field gap, was 1 only 3 Phillies hits through 6 innings. His 2nd walk turned into the Phillies 1st run of the night in the bottom of the 8th inning, the beginning of a late-game rally that propelled the team to a 5-4 victory, their first comeback win from a deficit of 4 runs or more since August 15th, 2019.

Tonight’s victory has been a joy to watch – not only by virtue of the Phillies’ late-inning heroics, but just through the mere presence of the contest itself. As New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner stated in an article earlier this week, “baseball is a game that comes to you,” and tonight it has come to us with the magic and excitement of a tight win in a young season. 

MLB Expansion:

That same buzz filled the stands of Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day, this past Friday in a smackdown 9-5 win over the Oakland Athletics. For the first time, in a long time, the stadium held a raucous sold-out crowd. The energy for this team and this season, was markedly more optimistic than it had been in years past.

The experience made me think of all the other Major League stadiums across the continent, their fan bases welcoming back the return of America’s pastime after a long, dark winter lockout. What became apparent, even amidst an age where the sport seems to be fading from the national spotlight, is that there is still a demand for the live, in-person attendance for MLB games. It’s a setting- that on a night with agreeable weather – can make for perhaps the most unique and enjoyable fan experiences in all professional sports. The game can be appreciated from all viewpoints in a stadium and moves along slowly enough to allow auxiliary conversation, yet provides enough excitement to keep those in attendance involved throughout its duration. 

This demand for baseball from MLB’s existing fan bases should push the league to foster future development through the addition of expansion teams in various cities across the country. All of this is far easier said than done, however, with the league’s last expansion occurring 24 years ago, it is the least recent of the big four North American professional sports leagues to add an expansion team. 

Expansion – probably in the form of two teams, one for each league – likely wouldn’t occur until two existing franchises, the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays, procure new stadiums to better market to their fan bases. That fact, in and of itself, is saddening because two cities with loyal fan bases are likely to lose their teams – Oakland, because of the city’s unwillingness to spend exorbitantly on a new stadium and Tampa Bay, because of an inability to garner enough attendance, regardless of their recent success as a small market team. 

While I bemoan the potential of the Athletics leaving for Las Vegas or the Rays moving to Montreal – where financial struggles and a lack of interest already doomed the Expos in 2004 – I would love to see MLB expand to cities both in the U.S. and internationally that have a craving for the game. One region that particularly stands out is the Southeast. From the Nationals in Washington D.C. all the way to the Braves in the middle of Georgia, there isn’t one MLB team to be found. For everyone in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Tennessee – traditional baseball hotbeds – there isn’t an MLB team representative of their region. A team in a proven sports town such as Charlotte, N.C could provide a home base for baseball fans in that area. A move westward to Nashville, TN – where Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski was lobbying for a team prior to his involvement with this club – could cater to the eastern seaboard in addition to bridging the gap between the South and Midwest. A Tennessee team based in Nashville or even Memphis could also foster future fan development in states like Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi – states with a proven fervor for college and minor-league baseball, yet without the financial means to build tax-funded stadiums. 

A final thought would be for MLB to expand internationally – not North to Canada, but South to Mexico, the Caribbean, and even South America. Mexico City, the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America, is the first location that comes to mind. As seen in the NFL’s trips to Estadio Azteca in recent years, Mexico City is a proven and viable venue for the big four North American professional sports. Already a hotbed for professional baseball – and a large talent pool for MLB along with numerous other Latin American countries – an expansion Mexico City could turn MLB’s image from old and boring to new and exciting overnight. The fanbase is already existent, the location is manageable by flight, and the opportunities for more Spanish-language broadcasts and content are endless. Games could air on ESPN or MLB.com with dual-language broadcasts – turning the MLB into an international spectacle across the Western Hemisphere. 

Additionally, expansion teams in areas like San Juan, Puerto Rico – although the risk of hurricanes and natural disasters may be an impediment to further development – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic or Caracas, Venezuela could further the export of MLB to Spanish-speaking countries. Havana, Cuba is another obvious choice, but seems less likely to happen due to political obstacles. Doing so, however, could also provide MLB an opportunity to give back and invest in these communities from which the league draws so much talent from. 

In the event of a mass expansion in Latin America – 2 to 4 new teams – a new division could be created altogether, similarly to the NHL’s strategy with their Canadian teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. A “Caribbean” or “Southern” division could see teams play 70% of their schedule in their division, while flying out to the continental U.S. 30% of the time.

 

Featured Image: Rotoballer.com

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