Hot Stove League smolders on in small towns
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The non-descript buildings that serve as general stores, post offices, grocery refuges and gathering spots for retirees and opinionated sorts in the small towns of America are still in demand. Those clapboard buildings with their well-worn floors, calendars from the 1950s and ever-present pot-bellied stoves are just warming to the Hot Stove League of this winter.
Opinions come cost-free. Chewing tobacco is still wadded firmly in the cheeks of those wanting to vent about their favorite baseball team. Gentle arguments — mostly just differences in judgment about baseball skills 1922.
Off-season baseball is always the topic of the day. The price of milk, dairy cattle, corn, soybeans and diesel fuel has to take a back seat. Sure it’s cold outside, and the snow makes traipsing through the barnyards a little hazardous, but what is going to happen in the spring, when Major League Baseball cranks up another season in the heartland?
The Washington Nationals? Who knew it?
Even before the new year cast its shadow on the calendar, there had been plenty of player movement on the major league level.
The dustiest of franchises — Baltimore, Miami, Detroit, San Diego and the Chicago White Sox — moved players in and sent them out in interesting numbers.
Quality players like Anthony Rendon went from the Nationals to the Angels, signing a seven-year contract. Pitcher Gerrit Cole took his 20 wins to the Yankees from Houston and signed a record contract. Former Dodger pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu went off to Toronto with his 14 wins. Cincinnati began moving players around like chess pieces when it grabbed third baseman Mike Moustakas from the Brewers and signed him for four years.
Milwaukee went in all directions in changing its roster by acquiring pitcher Brett Anderson, outfielder Aduisail Garcia and catcher Omar Narvaez and seeing off pitcher Gio Gonzalez. And Minnesota and Detroit showed no reluctance to give prospective season ticket buyers fodder for the winter.
Minnesota landed pitcher Rich Hill and kept pitcher Sergio Romo and brought in pitcher Kyle Gibson and pitcher Martin Perez, while bailing on first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
The Motor City Tigers — last seen scrambling to stay behind Baltimore for the worst record in the American League — took catcher Austin Romine, Cron and Schoop.
Baltimore traded second baseman Jonathan Villar (.274 average, 24 homers and 73 RBIs) for a minor league prospect. And long-time Oriole favorite Adam Jones left Arizona (where he played in 2019) to fly to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes this season.
Coal and kindling gathered from next to the track of the friendly railroad that meanders by the home of the Hot Stove League fires the pot-bellied stove. But it’s baseball that holds the interest of those strong-voiced men staying warm by spouting the statistics of their favorite teams.