Spring training is here. It may sound trite, even banal, but for those who love baseball, these are the four best words in the English language:
Report on launchers and traps.
Spring training means that winter and cold weather will soon be over and sunshine, warmth, hope, green grass and car trips to and from Florida and Arizona are on the horizon. It means that school will soon be over, summer vacation will begin and the wonderful rhythm of baseball season will take hold.
And yet, at the moment, that is not the case. It’s not like spring training. Mainly because of COVIDA-19, many, both inside and outside the sport, are wondering if spring training should not begin before life is safer, before more vaccines are given. Baseball officials and uniforms fear that there will be so many positive tests before the Expo Games in March that the sport will have to be suspended. You can put basketball on pause and the moment it starts again, Steph Curry shoots a ridiculous three-pointer that drifts to the left.
If you get into baseball, as we learned in practice last spring, you have to start all over again.
“It’s my favorite time of the year, but it won’t be as much fun, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that,” said Tito Francona, manager of the Indians. “Sit down in the morning, have a cup of coffee with the coaches, talk about first to third place, national games, see all the players you haven’t seen all winter. I think it’s great. But I think it will be even more different from what people understand. It will be a challenge. I worry about the risks of starting and stopping”.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora warns us and is realistic: “It will be different, very different. We’ll try to play 20 or 30 games and follow all the instructions and protocols. It will take a lot of discipline. It’s always baseball and it’s always fun, but we have to understand that some days it won’t be fun. There will be obstacles. Everyone has to be in the right frame of mind. The biggest obstacle is to play by the rules, to be together and not be selfish. We are fortunate to be able to play this game during a pandemic, but if you take a selfie at home and show it to your extended family at the ballpark, it won’t work.”
Outfielder Brandon Lowe says, “I think we have to get used to it, but I’m sure if we stick to the protocols like we did last year, everything will be fine. The worst thing would be to abort spring training like we did last year. That would have been terrible. But we’ve seen soccer play all season. I hope that will happen for us. I’m not the type of player that thinks the worst case scenario is going to happen, I think it will be fine.
And there is optimism and hope from Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, who said, “What we went through last year will help us a lot this spring. We almost had a game taken away from us. We learned again how much we love it and how much we need it in our lives. We are going to spring training. We still have the chance to do the things we wanted to do as kids. You can’t beat that.
Fans will be restricted in their movements, which is an overwhelming sadness. It is a spring ritual for fans, often with children in arms, to walk around their team’s fields, observe a child who shined in Class A a year ago, perhaps get an autograph from a player as he walks from baseball practice to work on the field. Last spring, thousands of people flocked to Tampa’s Steinbrenner Field to attend Jerritt Cole’s first pressure training session.
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There’s nothing like a lovely Saturday afternoon in Scottsdale after the Giants have just finished a game at their absurdly charming little ballpark downtown. Spring training wouldn’t be the same without fans eating their picnics on blankets on the hillside behind the center field fence.
“I love the fans at spring training,” Francona said. “I like to walk across the foul line before the game, meet people and give autographs.”
“Spring training is my favorite time of year,” said Diamond receiver Stephen Vogt. “There’s a buzz in the air. Every team feels like they have a chance to win the World Series. The fans feel it, too. You can’t replicate that.”
Not all players will be at spring training, which is not entirely COVID-19’s fault. The major league baseball association and its owners have had a contentious off-season, which is nothing new. But now is not the time to bicker and start a dispute before December 1, when the collective agreement expires. This is a time when the parties must work together fully if spring training – and a 162-game season – is to succeed amid a pandemic.
Wrong: The movie isn’t specified.Jackie Bradley Jr. without a landing spot for 2021 and beyond. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
More than 100 free agents, most of whom would have received major league contracts, will be home at the start of spring training. Among them are Jackie Bradley Jr., Trevor Rosenthal and Jake Odorizzi. More money for them, owners say – or, owners say, they’re asking for too much money.
Spring training is a time when we leave the mid-season behind, when we talk about contact play and not contract play. It is a time to focus on who is in camp. Unfortunately, we spend too much time trying to figure out who is not in camp.
“It really bothers me,” Mr. Vogt said. “It’s not fair. Quality players still don’t have a team. Teams are not ready”.
Not everyone is so concerned.
“I’m not worried,” Cora said. “We went through something similar in 2017-18. It sucks that it’s a trend, but it is. But the big leagues are the big leagues. And I’m sure we’ll be in the premier league on opening day.
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Most media will not be there, including me. No pity wanted or needed, but for the first time in 41 years, I will not be attending spring training. Most of us will be there via Long Range Zoom. It’s not like you sit next to your manager in the batting cage and calmly ask “How was your winter? You did something fun,” and Clint Hurdle, the manager at the time, replies, “I rode with a sled dog team in Alaska.
Or the Giants’ manager at the time, Bruce Bochy: “I tried to ski. I thought I could do it, I’m still kind of athletic”. Turns out you can’t. I got on the ski elevator, then I slipped, and the ski elevator hit me on the back of the head. My gloves, skis and hat flew off. It was like a garage sale. I didn’t try to ski after that. I went to the lodge and had a beer”.
For baseball players, it would be strange and unsatisfying to watch spring training from the press box or in the curling room of the stands. Spring training consists of running in the backfield while three guys take multiple hits. It’s about playing Game B at 9 a.m., which I did in 1986, causing Orioles manager Earl Weaver to ask me afterwards, “What are you doing here? What’s the matter with you? Don’t you have anything else to do with your life?
Spring training consists of watching a simulated game in which a young pitcher competes against his experienced teammates for the first time. In the spring of 1984, during Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams’ first major training camp, he threw a single pitch that missed the entire batting cage and hit a tire against the side of the cage. He then hit Alan Bannister with a single pitch. Rangers veterans Buddy Bell and Larry Parrish handed the contract to Williams.
“That’s good,” Mr. Williams said. “I didn’t want to kill a teammate in my first spring in the major league.”
Spring training is the first time you get to know the players. So when they make their major league debut in September, you already know who they are. The first time I met Royce Lewis, a young shortstop in the Twins system, he walked into the clubhouse at 8 a.m. on a skateboard. I met Rangers outfielder Mickey Rivers at spring training in 1982, and he threw an F-bomb at me for no reason and left. He quickly became one of the guys I liked to talk to. Three weeks after that spring training, Mick, who was making $450,000 a year, asked if he could borrow $2,000 from me.
“Mick,” I said, “I make $14,000 a year. I don’t have $2,000.”
Error. Movie not specified.Scottsdale Stadium has always offered one of the best atmospheres for spring training. Matt Kartozian – Today’s Sports in the United States
Spring training is when players meet their new teammates and really get to know them. At Michael Cuddyer’s first big league training camp with the Twins, he infected his teammates by working his magic at the veteran table, including center fielder Kirby Puckett. Cuddyer so amazed the group that he immediately became one of the boys. Years later, Cuddyer did a spectacular magic trick for his new teammate Luis Castillo. Castillo was so surprised that the next day he moved his locker to stay away from Cuddyer.
Spring training means some players like to put a microphone on their shirt. Two years ago, Mookie Betts, playing on the right course, told us about diaper changes and showed us his golf swing. He yelled as he chased the ball into the right corner of the course, “I’m not going to do that, guys. ”
Last spring, Freddie Freeman left first base on high ground in left center and yelled, “It’s in the wind! It’s in the wind!” Oh, the wind got him. Freeman scored first on a 150-foot popup, slipped to the plate, raised his arms and pointed happily to the announcer’s box from old Chipper Jones, who was laughing with tears in his eyes.
Spring training consists of traveling by bus to the games, often fully clothed, a ritual that humanizes and demeans the players and takes them back to their roots.
In 1999, Rockies pitcher David Lee was nicknamed “Diesel.” During a long bus ride during spring training, the bus driver got sick, so Lee offered to drive. After driving about 100 miles, he stopped at a gas station and told the team, “We need to get some diesel!
Players often stay in hotels during spring training; not all of them stay in luxury accommodations at the beach or on the golf course. Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who hit 53 home runs during spring training, stayed at a team hotel. One day, he and I were on our way to the stadium. We arrived at the hotel and he was walking his dog Brody in the parking lot at 5:30 in the morning. We drove to the stadium together and stopped for his complicated coffee order. He gave us a sample of his homemade venison.
“It’s better than the hot links you get at the gas station,” he said.
Things happen in spring training that may not happen at other times of the year.
At Princeton, Padres’ teammates Chris Young and Will Venable played basketball. So they decided to do a practice free throw in the spring. Young and Venable were team captains.
“It was as tough as any sports game,” Mr. Young said. “My team counted on me because I played varsity basketball. But I was not a good free throw shooter.”
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In 1993, Chuck Carr, coach of the Marlins’ field center, drove his car 1,000 miles for spring training. He said he stopped at as many pool halls as he could.
“And I took a lot of money from people,” he said.
In the spring, Jeremy Guthrie, who trained alone, biked to the ballpark every day.
“He played in Scottsdale, then rode his bike – still in full uniform – with his glove on the handlebars and rode eight miles to our facility,” Cuddyer said. “It was like a scene from Sandlot.”
The Mets’ training center is built on a hunting preserve. During the first spring training, manager Davey Johnson asked his pitchers to run long distances on a path in the woods. One day, pitcher Sid Fernandez ran screaming out of the woods.
“There’s a monster in there!” – he shouted.
A warthog chased him.
The Rangers’ spring training center was located in Pompano Beach, Florida for part of the 1980s. It was located next to the runway where the Goodyear airship stood.
“I’ve piloted a hovercraft before,” said Rich Donnelly, the Rangers’ coach at the time. “We drove it as low as we could. We drove it over the team hotel where our players were sitting on the roof drinking. We were shouting at them from the zeppelin. The zeppelin was the highlight of my spring”.
In spring training alone, Barry Bonds becomes Paula Abdul in American Idol with a wig on as he competes with his Giants teammates.
It was not until spring training that Rangers manager Doug Rader organized a picnic for his players, who were not playing well at the time, on blankets in the middle of the field.
It wasn’t until spring training that Charlie Pryde was able to start for the Rangers, Garth Brooks replaced the Padres, and Billy Crystal even replaced the Pirates’ pitcher, Paul Maholm.
In 2003, Indian pitcher Brian Anderson realized after a 30-minute bus ride to Vero Beach that he had forgotten to pick up his cap, cleats and gloves in Winter Haven.
“When we arrived in Vero,” he said, “I was in a total panic. I borrowed a car and drove to the mall, but there wasn’t a single glove in the entire mall.” But I found Adidas cleats. Then I saw Walmart. I thought, “Hey, Walmart has everything – tires, groceries – it must also have a baseball glove.” I found one – $29.95 – already cracked. It was a softball glove, Wilson. It was terrible. I borrowed somebody’s hat and followed the game. Of course I caught three people and I caught them all because my new glove was the size of a butterfly net. Maddux’s glove looked small. That day reminded me of when I was 17 and playing [American] Legion ball. It’s spring training for me.
This time, however, it will not be the traditional relaxing and fun spring training. There will be no alligators, monsters in the woods, magic tricks, sandboxes, blimps, deer, free throws or pitchers behind the wheel of the team bus. It won’t be the same, but it’s spring training, so we’ll take it. Let’s handle it, make sure everyone is safe and arrives in one piece on April 1.
“This will be my 14th spring training, and it will be nothing like what we are used to from spring training,” Vogt said. “We don’t like it, but that’s the way it has to be. I’m disappointed that we won’t have a normal life anymore, but I’m still excited. This is my favorite time of year. It’s spring training.