I love this gig.

Right a @#$% column you lazy bastard...I have a workday to waste.

That Valentine popped into my life Friday afternoon, just after I’d moved to my third hotel of the week. I’m "right"ing this early Monday morning, having just slept in my sixth bed in nine nights. I’m not looking for sympathy–my absence has been the result of a long-scheduled vacation that backed up against a Prospectus business trip–but I want everyone to know that I’m aware of my disappearance, and that I look forward to getting back on the horse this week.

The last week was a whirlwind, with four Pizza Feeds in three days in the Philadelphia and New York areas. At every one, I got to meet enthusiastic BP readers who provided both great feedback on the book and the Web site, as well as hours of interesting baseball talk. The highlights for me were the first and last events: Tuesday afternoon’s Feed in Philly’s Central City included a great Q&A session from an overflow crowd, while Thursday night’s session in Brooklyn featured another group that spilled out into the Fiction and Literature aisles, and a panel of five BPers touching on everything from fantasy baseball to what wins in the postseason to the World War II-era Washington Senators.

One thing I’ll take from this trip is the enthusiasm for baseball I encountered in both cities. For all the shots Philadelphia sports fans have taken, they seem genuinely excited about this year’s team and the opening of Citizens Bank Ballpark. They have good reason to be, because their boys are the consensus favorite to win the NL East. Even my pessimism about Larry Bowa can’t convince me that the Phillies will do anything but win the division comfortably this year. Meanwhile, New York was its usual baseball-crazed self; I had any number of random conversations with people who, upon discovering what it is I do, wanted to give me their analysis of the Yankees’ rotation, the Mets’ new acquisitions, and the not-so-popular baseball team located a bit to the Northeast.

While on this trip, I participated in an industry fantasy-league draft, the AL version of Tout Wars. I’ve been put on notice that no one wants to read about my fantasy team, so I’ll just say that Jason Grey and the boys put together a ridiculously strong field, which is why my Stars and Scrubs strategy, which started so well, ended up flaming out in a flurry of late errors and with $19 left on the table. You can check the Tout Wars site for all the details.

After all that, I’m almost home, just in time for a Pizza Feed in an L.A. suburb (Jonah Keri! Fred Claire!) on Thursday night. Before my next trip through a metal detector, though, the 2004 season will have begun, as the Yankees and Devil Rays open in Tokyo less than 24 hours from now. I think some of the novelty of the event has worn off, but the way I see it, this trip to Japan means that we get meaningful baseball sooner than we otherwise would. That’s a good thing, and it’s why I’ll be up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. A diary of my Baseball and Bagels experience–MLB, where’s the marketing push?–will be posted in this space later in the day.

Can anyone else remember such a flurry of deals this late in March? I counted five last week, including a couple of real head-scratchers that may have closed the gap between the Braves and the Phillies. The Braves added potentially 400 innings of above-average pitching to their staff–realistically closer to 300, as it’s unlikely we’ll see both Chris Reitsma and Juan Cruz in the rotation all year–but that’s a lot of talent to be handing Leo Mazzone this close to Opening Day.

One Reds fan I know was pretty ticked about his team’s swap of last year’s closer for Jung Bong and Bubba Nelson, but the deal makes sense beyond money concerns. With the commitment to Danny Graves as a closer and the presence of Ryan Wagner and John Riedling, you could argue that Reitsma was only the Reds’ fourth-best right-handed reliever. Bong is of roughly the same quality, left-handed, and will be a lot less expensive over the next two years. I would have used Reitsma as a starter and given Jimmy Haynes bad directions to the airport when camp broke, but that doesn’t seem to be an option in Cincinnati right now.

The deal between the Braves and Cubs was just a steal. Andy Pratt has made a nice comeback from injury, and Richard Lewis is fast, but neither of them has anything close to the talent Cruz possesses. He could be either a high-leverage reliever or a very good mid-rotation starter this year, and is the best young strikeout pitcher the Braves have had since Kevin Millwood came up in 1998.

By this time tomorrow, we’ll have standings. Who’s excited?