Home MLB Rounding the Bases: The Games Begin

Rounding the Bases: The Games Begin

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqIt may be a couple of weeks too long for some people, but Spring Training has a certain spirit to it that gets to the very essence of why so many of us love the game. 

As Steve stated yesterday, it’s “the one time of year where you can watch your team play without worrying that they might ruin their playoff hopes, or dip beneath .500”.  The nervous tension, excitement, joy and despair that the regular season and playoffs bring are all factors that captivate us and we wouldn’t want to be without them for long.  However, they are put to one side for one month of the year to leave us with nothing more than the simple joy of taking in a ballgame. 

It’s a feeling that doesn’t just flow through the fans, from those sitting in the stands in Arizona and Florida to people listening/watching thousands of miles away.  It’s the same feeling that imbibes the players, reporters and broadcasters and that’s what makes Spring Training special.  Imagine if football’s pre-season was seen not as an inconvenience or a chore, but a chance to get back to those innocent ‘jumpers for goalposts’ days of our childhood and you’ll understand what baseball’s Spring Training is all about.  

Us Brits can be a part of it thanks to the MLB.com subscriptions and it’s worth offering our daily ‘thank you’ to the wonders of the Internet for that blessing.  A long day at work and a walk home in the bitter cold (Spring Training’s arrived, so where’s our spring?) were brushed aside on Wednesday by sitting back and listening to the Giants play the Mariners, with the familiar tones of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcaster Jon Miller describing the action.  It wasn’t all fun and joy for everybody. The Giants’ Thomas Neal was beaned by Ricky Orta, both minor leaguers hoping to impress their superiors, while another hitter swung so hard that their bat spun violently into the crowd and struck a female fan.  Thankfully, as befits the Spring Training spirit, those involved were not badly hurt.

Reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum made his first outing and, as with most pitchers at this time of year, was a bit rusty while getting back into the pitching groove.  He had a great day in any case as he got to meet one of his childhood heroes: Ken Griffey Jr.

“Lincy, what’s up? I just want to say hi,” Griffey said, extending a hand.

The surprise appearance by a future Hall of Famer derailed Lincecum’s train of thought and left him happily awed.

“Man! That was pretty cool,” he remarked. “A guy who’s great like that coming over — it just caught me off guard.”

Jon Miller relayed this story during the game and was greatly amused by Timmy’s “starstruck” behaviour, which in turn had me (and many others no doubt) laughing along as well.

That’s the joy of Spring Training for you.

Getting reacquainted with some friends

If you’re a returning subscriber to one of the MLB.com game services, you’ll be glad to be back in the welcoming hands of your chosen team’s broadcasting crews.  The local guys are great to listen to because they are part of the fabric of the club and their tone is one of familiar friends enjoying the game with you. Listening to them on an almost daily basis, you feel like you know them well and they make you feel that you part of the club too, something that means a lot to those of us on the other side of the pond.

It was great to tune in on Thursday and listen to the A’s radio crew of Ken Korach, Ray Fosse, Vince Cotroneo and Robert Buan for the first time in 2010.  It promises to be a season of many ups and downs for Oakland, probably more downs than ups, and I’ll be living through it all with them.  

They started the 2010 season by commentating on Adam Rosales hitting a homer in his first game for Oakland and first base prospect Chris Carter mashing one into the seats, before talking us through the four errors committed by the team on Friday.  One of those errors was initially landed against Eric Chavez’s name.  He’s tentatively getting used to playing first base this spring and his fielding there is a work in progress, but Ken and Ray were quick to absolve him of any blame and were surprised at the official scorer’s decision to land him with an error on what sounded more like a wild throw by pitcher Lenny DiNardo.  Sure enough, that decision was reversed and Chavez got through the game unscathed,

I guess it’s Spring Training for scorers too.

Upton ups his bank account

Lots of people in baseball are smiling at the moment, but few will be smiling more widely than Justin Upton.  He signed a six-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks this week worth $51.25m (£33.836m).  Upton made his Major League debut on 2 August 2007, three weeks before he turned 20 years old, and he hit .300 with 26 homers last year in his second full season. 

Contract extensions with young players don’t always work out, as the D-Backs know all too well.  Centre fielder Chris Young hit 32 homers as a rookie for Arizona in 2007 and was rewarded with a five-year contract worth $28m.  His two seasons since then have been a great disappointment and he comes into the 2010 season under pressure to turn his career around, despite still being just 26 years old.

Few would expect Upton to experience a similar downturn.  B.J.’s younger brother was hailed by scouts as an exceptional talent when he was selected by the D-Backs with the number one overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft and his 2009 season offered real promise that he will turn into a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate over the next few years.

If he does, he’ll be doing it in an Arizona uniform.

Inflicted by injuries already

The only people not smiling are those who have already been struck down by injury or illness.  No one will be more frustrated than Jose Reyes.  He spent most of the 2009 season on the Disabled List and his Spring Training debut was postponed indefinitely this weekend after blood tests suggested he has a “hyperactive thyroid”.  The article on the Mets’ official website explains what this means and how it may affect Reyes.  It doesn’t sound encouraging for Mets fans hoping that their injury-plagued 2009 nightmare would be a thing of the past.

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