Spring Training provides some clues to MLB season


Jenny Fromer

It won't be often that I get to talk baseball, domestic or professional, in my blog, so I'm kind of 'shoe-horning' it in here. In early March I made a trip to Florida to catch some spring training games, and now, three weeks into the MLB season I thought I'd look at whether the trip gave me any clues to the season ahead. As a Yankees' fan, my Florida time was all spent close to Tampa and largely within walking distance of George M. Steinbrenner Field. That said, I caught some games that did not include NY and got to see Boston, Tampa, the Mets, Philly (twice) and Toronto (twice).

It had been 5 years since I last made a similar trip and a lot seems to have moved on in the world of spring training. For a start, it's all a lot more serious and professional than I remember. Tickets aren't cheap, many of the games are sell-outs and there's very little hanging around to watch BP and maybe speak to a star player or two. Another change is that the Tampa Rays no longer play in Tampa, but rather in Port Charlotte, 100 miles south. A fact I only discovered after hastily buying tickets to squeeze in a game before seeing the Yankees host the Phillies that night.

The thing about spring training is that everything about it gees up the fan to take it seriously and to care about the outcome. From the pricing to the announcers, you are fooled into thinking its about winning a game. The reality is that it isn't. Managers aren't managing to win, they are managing to look at players, to begin the process of stretching out pitchers and to start starters to get their eye in. Speaking of starters, that's another change. Last time out, I got to see starters play through six innings. This time, I got to see opposing starters through five and only ever a smattering of Yankee starters due to their split-squad approach – only the starting infield or outfield were ever in a game. The last game I saw, at Toronto's really cute Dunedin Park, was played at exactly the same time that the Yankees were also hosting Atlanta, and therefore only included pitcher Ivan Nova and two regular outfielders: Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson.

So what clues did any of this give me to the season ahead? Well, I saw Manny swinging late on fastballs and do nothing three times at the plate. I saw the Red Sox' mighty offensive line-up fail to convert chances to overcome the Mets. As for the Yankees, I saw AJ Burnett throw 6 perfect innings, Halladay and Sabathia match-up to leave the game at 0-0, and I saw the old pitchers, who would have made a dream rotation in the 90's – Colon and Garcia, look like they could compensate for loss of power with smart pitching. And I saw Hughes and Nova looking decidedly hittable. So, one could argue that a week in Tampa provided quite good clues to the April ahead.

Two other highlights of the whistle-stop tour for me were seeing Mike Nickeas, from GB Baseball's 2009 roster, start against the Red Sox and get the first hit of the game. And finding myself beside the pool at my hotel chatting with Yankees' announcer, John Sterling. But as someone who really prefers to watch games that matter, I think my next baseball trip will be to the minor leagues.

tagged under: baseball, mlb, spring training, season, mets, yankees

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