The Short Game: Spring (Training) is in the Air

Mike Carlson, Spear Contributor

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The fact that everyone is springing forward, the snow is slowly melting away, and people are dusting off their baseball gloves can only mean one thing: Spring training 2015 is underway.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Baseball fans are awakening from their long winter slumbers and preparing for the long, slightly-more-exciting summer slumber known as baseball season. But, not before tightly scrutinizing their respective teams. Will this year be the year? How will the new rookie shortstop fare? Will we be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? Will the stadium still charge me $25 for a bottle of water and small cup of Dippin Dots?

Teams, much like their corresponding fanbases, are shaking off the rust and weighing their odds for the upcoming odyssey that is the 162-game baseball regular season. Most are asking themselves the same questions as the fans. That is, unless, you are last year’s bottom-feeding Arizona Diamondbacks who are humbly searching for a winning percentage that will put people in the stands to buy those outlandishly priced Dippin Dots.

Of course, there are the many storylines for spring training. Everyone and their mother are coming into camp in “The best shape of their life” and seemingly every manager will tell you that their squad “Will turn heads come the regular season.” Whether those heads are shamefully being turned away from the team or not is still left to be seen. But, you can’t knock these managers for believing in their ball clubs. I’d hate to hear a manager say, “We’ll be lucky if we can outscore a soccer team this year,” or “The most competitive games this year will be the pop-a-shot battles in the clubhouse.”

One of these storylines, inevitably, ends up centering around the gaudy numbers some no-name rookie with a hockey number on his back is putting up. Sadly, these storylines fade into the background quicker than you can say, “Who was that guy?” come Opening Day.

There are also the stories about the teams which finish first in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Should these teams be in the World Series conversation? Will these guys now run away with the division? In short, swing and a miss.

Spring and spring training alike also signify rebirth, a second chance.

This could not be more true than for the champion of cheating himself, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The man they call A-Rod has come back from a suspension which lasted 505 days. If you ask me, I think Anakin Skywalker coming back as Darth Vader was much more sinister, but that is a conversation for a different time. Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez has been absurdly repentant about the steroid abuse which cost him over one full season of baseball. I know his apology is about as phony as cafeteria meatloaf, but a fake apology is better than no apology, right?

Perhaps the best story of rebirth this spring may be the Chicago Cubs. The once defunct franchise is back from baseball’s oblivion and primed to compete this year. The Lovable Losers signed Jon Lester to a hearty six-year $155 million deal and snatched Joe Maddon from the clutches of the Tampa Bay Rays. At 12/1 their odds of winning the World Series are better than the 18/1 odds the defending champion San Francisco Giants are currently sporting. Cubs fans haven’t been this excited for a championship in, quite literally, 107 years.

Nevertheless, this could all be proven wrong. A-Rod could put up the best numbers of his life and win AL Comeback Player of the Year. The no-name rookie could win Rookie of the Year and lead his team to the playoffs. The guy who is “in the best shape of his life” could win the Most Valuable Player award. And the Cubs could make it 108 years of futility.

That’s the beauty of it though.

Because if there is one thing which springs more than a baseball off a bat in spring training… It’s hope.

 

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