How to Learn Something from Spring Training

Every winter right before the pitchers and catchers report to spring training baseball fans start to get excited.  While it is OK to anticipate baseball, it will be  six weeks of spring training before the baseball season will actually begin.  The spring games themselves mean nothing.  Teams are charging outrageous prices for tickets to these practice exercises.  About the only real news notes that occur during the early days are negative.  This player or that player has torn his elbow, shoulder or knee and will be missing much or all of the upcoming season.

But there are ways to get some value out of watching the doings from the camps if one simply must.  First of all start paying attention only to the players who will likely have a real chance to make the team.  That is why wins and losses don’t matter at all.  The players who will definitely make the team play sparingly during the spring until the last week or so.  Up till then players who are being used just to get some experience wearing the major league uniform with the major league manager and coaches watching will get far more innings than anyone should want to pay to see.

While results for the veterans don’t matter much, they do matter for those veterans on minor league contracts or in competition for playing time even if their spot on the roster may be nearly assured.  Watch those guys.  Don’t worry about the AA pitcher who gives up four runs in one inning of work.  He is not going to be on the team anyway.  Wait a year or two on him.

Eventually those minor league guys won’t be playing much.  Then you can start trying to see if the team has hopes of being better than the previous year.  Are the hitters hitting a lot of balls hard against major league pitchers?  Are your pitchers throwing strikes and getting real major league hitters out?

That won’t start occurring until most of the spring games have been played.  The last week or ten days regulars will be playing more, starting pitchers will be going deeper in games and the bullpen will be used in the manner planned during the off season.  THEN you may have some games worthy of inspection and be able to deduct just how well your favorite team may be able to play when the games count.

There are a dwindling few major league clubs who still have live radio broadcasts for all spring games.  It was never 100 percent, but the figure is dwindling as stations don’t want to give up valuable air time for games that number in the hundreds instead of thousands of listeners.

Instead many teams are offering some of the live game on the team internet site.  For some clubs that is an addition since all spring games were never on the radio.  For others it is change with some of what used to be on live radio now on the internet.

Announcers who truly love baseball don’t mind if their team is radio-silent for spring games.  The early ones are almost impossible to call with confidence for all nine innings.  Players enter games that have no number on the roster sheet–perhaps last minute call ups from the minor league camp. Substitutions are made that are not seen. Players that have no chance of being on the big club get a lot of playing time.  It is a somewhat casual set up for the managers and coaches, but a long day at the office for announcers.

Many clubs traditionally have aired weekend games and started doing all or most games in that critical last week to ten days when the club that would open the season was nearly down to its roster.  Television is still relatively untapped with most clubs holding themselves to no more than three or four games for the spring.  While exposing the team on television from Florida or Arizona is used as a ticket-selling ploy the teams are wise in keeping the number of games at a minimum since it isn’t really championship baseball but many fans still agonize over losses just the same.

The best way to follow spring training is to stay at home…check the local newspaper or its internet site to look at box scores.  Note if players being counted upon, especially pitchers, are doing well or not.  Listen to as many broadcasts or telecasts as you wish.  That is a personal preference.  Take the most interest in that final week.  That is when you can agree or disagree with your general manager regarding which players he is choosing to make the team.   Just always remember in modern baseball performance on the field in the spring is not as large a deciding factor as contract status, money owed and what sort of and how long the team has control on players.  Good young players that have options left are much more likely to be sent to the minors than players without options even if they perform slightly below expectations.  Teams want to try and squeeze the last possible play out of veterans if they can.

Baseball history is littered with great spring training numbers by future stars who still did not make that team that spring because a higher priced veteran player with fewer skills, but with experience and a guaranteed contract was ahead of him.  It will happen this spring, too.

So, remembering all these things follow as closely as you wish.  Just remember baseball really starts on Opening Day.  And that is not too far away.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports.
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