Monday

2-16-09: Spring Training

Hello again everybody...

I have to preface today's column by admitting that I'm trying to fight off a lousy mood. Having a lousy morning is bad enough, but when it happens on a Monday, it feels twice as bad. So I'm trying to relax, take deep breaths and stop jumping down people's throats. Let's hope penning this column has a therapeutic effect.

Besides, today is a day of celebration! Pitchers and catchers have reported, and the countdown to Opening Day in baseball has officially begun. I'll discuss the wonder of Spring Training and what's to come here at The Sports Take.

So let's get to it!

"Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he's supposed to be doing at the moment."
- Robert Benchley (1889-1945), American humorist


Um, yeah. No comment. (*whistling innocently*)

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Twins pitchers and catchers reported yesterday and as of today, practice is officially underway in Ft. Meyers, FL. In this day and age of year-round access to state of the art workout equipment and regimens, I'm not sure it's all that necessary for pitchers and catchers to report ahead of the rest of the position players. But baseball is a game of tradition, and traditionally getting a pitcher's arm in shape takes more time than getting a batter's swing in shape.

That doesn't stop some position players from showing up early. Veterans who were injured last year (Michael Cuddyer) and want a head start on getting in playing shape, and young guys trying to impress management (Matt Macri/Matt Tolbert) will often report to camp around the same time that pitchers and catchers arrive. There aren't any scheduled practices or workouts for them, but there's still plenty they can do to get settled in for when the rest of the boys show up next weekend.

I read somewhere (apologies, but I forget where) that Spring Training is actually starting earlier than usual this year. It doesn't feel that way to me, but maybe they're right. The reason cited for the earlier starting date is the World Baseball Classic.

The WBC is Major League Baseball's attempt at creating an international event starring some of it's star players. The inaugural event was held in 2006 and was a moderate success. If MLB had it's way, I think we'd have seen the USA vs. Cuba in the finals. Instead we got Japan vs. Cuba, with the Japanese squad emerging victorious. This wasn't all bad, since if you'd like to market the game internationally, Japan's Ichiro isn't a bad player to focus on.

The 2009 version (supposedly after this year, the WBC will be played every 4 years - why they went 3 years in between this time is beyond me) runs March 5th through March 23rd. This works out swimmingly for me since I'll be heading to Arizona to check out some Spring Training games (oh, and to visit my parents) right around the time that the WBC is wrapping up, so most of the players I'd like to see will be back with their MLB clubs.

Which brings us to the main problem with the WBC: timing.

When you hold an event like this in the Spring, you create situations where teams are forced to decide whether they want to allow a player to go play for his country in the WBC, or keep them at their Spring Training facility to get ready for the upcoming season. Sure, it's an honor for anybody to represent their country in international competition. But players also are acutely aware of who butters their bread. And risking a player's MLB season for a 3-week tournament is a dicey proposition. So if there's any question as to a player's health, they generally don't go.

It's also bad timing for fans who annually attend Spring Training workouts for their favorite teams. While it's true, that you don't go to a Spring Training game expecting to see the same starting nine for your club that you'll see on Opening Day, it's tough on fans when you know you've got no shot at seeing a team's stars, because they're off playing in a game between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

The trick is, there really isn't a better time to do it. The World Series now ends in early November. And you'd have to give guys at least a month or two to wind down from the season itself. That leaves you sometime in January. And if you try and hold it then, you're severely limited as to what venues you can hold it in. Not that the weather in Northern climes is significantly better in March, but there's at least some flexibility.

So instead, we get Spring Training interruptis. It's not the worst thing in the world, but I'm not sure the event itself is exciting enough to justify it. Maybe this year's WBC will prove me wrong. You know I'll be watching!

I mentioned in the preamble that I'd be outlining what's coming here at The Sports Take. Those of you who've been reading for the duration will recall the mammoth post that started the whole thing and previewed the 2008 MLB season.

(If you haven't read it, check the main page, on the right side til you see the list of my favorite posts. The post at the bottom is the original 2008 preview. My picks are high comedy, unfortunately, that was completely unintentional!)

This year rather than forcing you to digest it all at once (or print it out for some throne room reading), I've decided to break it up into 1 division preview per post. So starting March 20th, you'll be getting the finest in baseball previews (or the best I can put together for you)!

Until then I'll keep mixing in some hockey and college hoops for your reading pleasure. But I'm not going to bother trying to hide my excitement for the upcoming baseball season. I wouldn't be able to pull it off even if I wanted to!

That's all for today. If you're wonder, I'm feeling much better now! I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take wonder. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Sorry to stray from baseball, but I just saw this and it made me laugh. Why are the Bengals always bad? Well, they just put their franchise tag on their kicker Shayne Graham (Yeah, you don't want to lose him). Why pay a kicker the average of the 5 highest paid at the position when the team isn't anywhere near being a contender? I'd laugh even more, but Cincinnati beat Jacksonville last year.

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  2. Feel free to stray all you like.

    I saw that story today too and did a double-take.

    Amazing that team hasn't been to a Superbowl since what? '88?!

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