Spring Training – “For The Love Of The Game”

Middle Innings

The game falls into three distinct phases. In the first couple of innings, you are enjoying your new surroundings, savoring the first beer of the night and anticipating how the game will go. In contrast, the last few innings of a close game are tense, how will it end? The middle innings, like a novel, are where the story develops. The same is true for my spring training trip – the story developed in the middle games and was where I reaffirmed my “love of the game.”

Two key themes were the so called “road roster charade” and the rain. Yes dear friends, I learned that it actually rains in sunny Florida.

Monday – Cardinals vs. Phillies – Where’s Bryce?

Unfortunately, and not terribly surprising, visiting teams in spring training don’t bring the “A” team if they have to travel far. The league argues that there are rules against this travesty happening. After all, they don’t want fans to pay a lot of money and have high expectations only to be disappointed, or do they? MLB’s rules state that at least four players who either played MLB ball last year or have the chance to do so need to play at least three innings of a spring training game.1. So what’s wrong with this lineup?

The Phillies “B” Team

In comparison, this is the Phillies projected 2019 lineup per MLB.com 2 the bolded ones appeared in Jupiter:

1) Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2) Jean Segura, SS
3) Bryce Harper, RF
4) Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5) J.T. Realmuto, C
6) Andrew McCutchen, LF
7) Odubel Herrera, CF
8) Maikel Franco, 3B

Rotation and closer:
1) Aaron Nola, RHP
2) Jake Arrieta, RHP
3) Nick Pivetta, RHP
4) Zach Eflin, RHP
5) Vince Velasquez, RHP
Closer: David Robertson, RHP, or Seranthony Dominguez, RH

So, no Bryce, no Rhys, no J.T. And where’s McCutchen and Segura? Clearly, the Phillies did not field a compelling team on Monday and the fans deserve better.

Although the Phillies train in Clearwater on Florida’s west coast and Jupiter is on the east coast, it’s not that far away. Per Google Maps, the drive from Clearwater to Jupiter is 209 miles which equates to 3 hours 29 minutes travel time. I assume the busses are nice, it’s not clear why the players are not expected to appear.

Thursday – Is That The Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders?

Similarly, George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is only 194 miles from Roger Dean Stadium. It’s only a 3 hour and 9-minute drive. Yet the team that appeared seemed to be more like the Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRaider, the Yankees AAA farm club than the mighty New York Yankees.

Normally the minor league players in the major league spring training camp wear numbers 50 and above (Aaron Judge’s #99 is an exception). However, Thursday’s Yankees lineup featured 5 players with numbers higher than 50.

Not The Real Yankees

Moreover, no one in the starting lineup was a member of the Baseball Prospectus top ten prospects 3.

Meanwhile, the game drew a standing room only crowd. The Cardinals’ regulars outclassed these dregs from the Yankees farm system and won 11 – 3. We went back to the hotel pool after six innings.

Standing Room & “Yankees” With High Uniform Numbers

MLB can do better – and the Yankees should have more respect for their fans.

Tuesday/Wednesday – “Buckets of Rain”

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears…

…Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must

Bob Dylan 4

For the first time in 16 years of Spring Training we experienced a rain out. It poured for most of the day. It was an awe inspiring tropical rain storm with high winds and sheets of water. We stayed near the hotel and didn’t do much.

It was still cloudy on Wednesday and there were a few episodes of light rain and drizzle, but we got the game in. In comparison to Thursday’s drubbing of the so-called Yankees, the Cardinals lost 6 – 0 to the lowly Marlins. My opinion of this spring’s version of the Cardinals is that they are playing a somewhat uninspired brand of baseball. I don’t sense a fire in their belly. They’re not hitting, and their defense is spotty. They’re not a team that should beat the Yankees 11 – 3.

“For The Love of The Game”

Credit where credit is due, “For The Love of The Game” is third and somewhat maudlin installment in the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy. I’m a bigger fan of “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” but still, recommend you watch it. With that said, I am simply borrowing the phrase to explain why I will continue to come back to Spring Training.

Despite the great “road roster charade”5, and despite the rain, not to mention the rising ticket prices, I’m having a great time. Yes, Florida – I’m coming back! You see, I love the game.

I love what my father used to call “performance art” when the teams change sides. The ritual of the players running onto the field, warming up, then throwing the ball once “around the horn” before play begins. I love the sights, the sounds, the smell of fresh grass. I love sitting in the sun watching to see what will happen next. “Get me a weiner before I die!

One more thing I love is meeting baseball fans – those who understand the world as I do. After Monday’s game, we got a beer at DAS Beer Garden, which is down the street from Roger Dean. We started talking to a guy in a Phillies jersey and compared notes, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Brye Harper, and Chase Utley. Yes, Chase Utley. Sorry Mets fans, despite the shameful play in the playoffs that broke Rubén Tejada’s leg, Utley was a great hard nose ball player. I’m guessing he’d ride the bus to play one more game.

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  1. https://www.news-press.com/story/sports/mlb/springtraining/2016/03/18/great-spring-training-road-roster-charade/81817472/
  2. https://www.mlb.com/news/projected-2019-lineups-rotations-all-30-teams-c303706990?t=trade-talk-and-rumors
  3. See “Baseball Prospectus 2019
  4. Buckets of Rain © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music
  5. https://www.news-press.com/story/sports/mlb/springtraining/2016/03/18/great-spring-training-road-roster-charade/81817472/

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