Nations: Learning to love football season

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^ Posted 3 days ago

By Jeff Nations

I know, I know -- it's football season. Now is the time that I, along with the rest of the free world -- the American part, and the Canadians at least -- are supposed to be locked into full engrossment mode over National Football League. Watch ESPN, and every breathless report from the New York Jets' post-practice press conferences is an implied life-changing event.

If you're like me and actually don't obsess over Ben Roethlisberger's sprained shoulder or ... well, anything at all about Peyton Manning, then you're probably not the super-charged, frothing NFL fan you're supposed to be -- or you're a Redskins or Ravens fan, which this season amounts to much the same.

Don't get me wrong -- I do love watching football, just not the NFL so much. College football is generally my television refuge, but this year feels more detached than any I can remember. I guess that's what down years for both Virginia Tech and Virginia -- let alone West Virginia -- does to a fan with a regional rooting interest.

Still, even without the NHL -- I believe that league still exists, allegedly -- there's still plenty of basketball, pro and college, to occupy the time I don't have to be watching it. Again, though -- meh, check back with me in March.

The sad truth is, I miss baseball -- no withdrawal symptoms, maybe, but my interest still borders on the obsessive. Part of that is having a team worth a darn again -- in my case, the Oakland A's, but I imagine there's a few fans of the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals out there who are dealing with the same thing right about now. I find myself checking my favorite baseball-related web site (www.mlbtraderumors.com) oh, about 20 times a day. From there, it's on to the web sites for Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, then a daily stop at www.fangraphs.com (check that one out, if you haven't -- great stuff). Then there's the team blogs, the major newspaper feeds, even the network web sites. It's all-encompassing, all-engrossing, all the time -- my goodness, do you realize the Rule 5 Draft is less than a month away? I thought you did.

As far as actual games go, the Arizona Fall League is wrapping up -- still time to monitor a few of your team's top prospects. There's still the Dominican Winter League, the Mexican Pacific League, the Puerto Rican League and the Venezuelan Winter League -- I tend to check out those box scores every night. For the real hard-core baseball fan, look in on the Australian Baseball League. Here's another plus for the baseball-starved -- qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic (scheduled for March) are ongoing and televised on MLB Network.

The legendary "Hot Stove League" isn't really supposed to start heating up until Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings scheduled for early December in Nashville, Tenn. That didn't stop me from monitoring last week's annual General Managers meeting with all the intensity of the presidential election (that happened, right?). There's the annual owner's meeting coming up, as well.

It's all grist for the rumor mill, and this offseason promises to be a thriller for both the Orioles and Nationals. That's what being a bona-fide contender means -- it's not about enjoying the warm afterglow of an unexpected rise to prominence, it's about plotting and scheming about every trade scenario, every free agent possibility, anything and everything to see your particular team take that next step toward claiming a World Series championship.

Which brings me to Josh Hamilton and, to a lesser extent, Zack Greinke. Those are the two biggest names on what has been widely considered a "thin" free-agent crop this offseason, and the O's and Nats are supposedly both big-time buyers.

If the Orioles, prominently linked to the slugging but fragile Hamilton, are looking to make a splash this is the way to go. The 31-year-old Hamilton is said to be looking for something in the neighborhood seven years, $175 million. That's a huge commitment for a player with very real question marks concerning his health and past makeup issues. At that price, which I think will come down as the market solidifies, the Orioles might do well to let someone else role those dice.

Greinke also has some baggage in the makeup department, and is seemingly a bad fit for the hyper-scrutinized markets like New York and Boston. That could make his a bargain for the Nationals, but probably not. Again, with the pitching already in Washington -- Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez heading that list -- a massive commitment to Greinke might not be the best way to spend.

Both the Nationals and Orioles have holes to fill, and watching the construction of those teams will be almost -- not quite, but almost -- as entertaining as seeing them take the field next April.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>


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