One of the beautiful things about spring training is that the games don’t count.
So why are St. Louis Cardinals fans losing their minds about the fact that three Redbirds baserunners were picked off in one inning Tuesday – two of them on the same play? Why are people making a big deal about Matt Adams starting the season 0-for-12 with six strikeouts?
I get it. We want the local team to be perfect. We want them to inspire confidence. But spring training is the time of the year when they’re supposed to be working the bugs out. So, let’s take a step back and let them do their job.
Baserunners are more aggressive because they’re trying out their wheels after a long off-season. They’re taking more chances because the outs don’t matter. Adams, who people are talking about because he lost about 35 pounds over the winter, is a little more subtly working on a new swing that he hopes will allow him to become a more consistent hitter. He’s trying to get comfortable now so he can count on his new skills when the at-bats and the score matter.
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If weird things aren’t happening in spring training, the players and coaches aren’t pushing the envelope enough. I’ve seen slow-footed runners try to do their best Lou Brock impression in Grapefruit League games. When Mike Matheny was a player, I saw him hit into a triple play against the Baltimore Orioles trying to squeeze home a run with a bunt. Did it ruin my day? Absolutely not. I still went to one of my favorite Palm Beach restaurants and enjoyed the sea breeze without another thought about it.
Who cares who wins or loses in games that don’t count in the standings? What difference does it make if a player is hitting .200, .300 or .400 in the first week of March? Isn’t it cool enough, after a long winter, that there are professional baseball games going on? And you can even see them. It wasn’t long ago that we were lucky if a couple of spring training games were on the radio every March. All we knew about what happened was what we saw in the box score the next day. Now you can get almost all of them with a cell phone app or a satellite radio subscription – and you can even see a lot of the exhibition games on television.
It seems to me over the past years that baseball has become so competitive that it almost takes some of the fun out of it. There’s as much tension in the stands – or possibly even more – than there is on the field. So, I find it to be refreshing that you can watch a few games where the intensity dial is turned down quite a bit. Something I like to do every spring is sit in the stands at Roger Dean Stadium with my eyes closed just listening to the sounds of the ballpark to celebrate the game of baseball as opposed to worrying about championships, awards or accolades.
Please, if you want something to concentrate on during spring training games, I suggest you try to focus on the growth of the young players instead of expectations for the veterans. It’s exciting to see the hunger in the eyes of players who haven’t made their mark yet in the big leagues. And most of them probably won’t be around for long before they’re shipped off to minor league camp.
Minor league outfielder Mags Sierra has opened eyes is off to a .625 start with five hits in his first eight at-bats. He’s also stole a base. Catcher of the future Carson Kelly collected a pair of hits and a pair of RBIs in his first three plate appearances of the season. Harrison Bader, a threat to win a roster spot at the end of the spring, has already muscled up for a homer.
But the numbers aren’t really important. Even if the players weren’t working on things that they wouldn’t experiment with during the regular season, the amount of plate appearances or innings pitched aren’t going to add up to enough to be statistically significant. So don’t drive yourself crazy about it.
The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. So, let’s not burn ourselves out during the warm-up lap.