Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Training drags on; Opening Day draws near

I have always said that Spring Training is an extreme tease for baseball fans.

It begins when most fans are mired in the middle of a very cold winter. They see clips and highlights of their favorite team and favorite players playing the game of summer in the hot sun of Florida or Arizona. It makes fans feel like baseball is close.

It always brings hope. It brings hope that winter is soon to be finished, and summer will be arriving shortly. It also brings hope to fans of all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Inevitably, articles are published about this player or that player talking about how they worked out this offseason. Some lifted harder than the prior offseason, some ran more. Some gained weight, some dropped weight. However, no matter what they did, it was to become a better baseball player.

While the fan sits in their snow-covered, iced-over homes that feel more like an igloo at that point in February, these types of reports bring hope. Maybe this is the year. No matter how the club looked the prior season, there is reason to believe that this just might be the year.

The spring training let down begins very quickly. Ten games into the spring season, it once again becomes evident that summer isn't as close as once thought. Starters like Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki are playing four or five innings, then leaving the field in favor of young kids wearing numbers that invoke memories of an NFL receiver, in the mid-80's, rather than a player the fans can anticipate seeing on Opening Day.

Spring fever is in full effect around the middle of March. This is the point in spring when players have just enough plate appearances, or just enough innings for fans to over analyze their meaningless spring performances.

Suddenly, a player's 1-for-10 sets off panic that maybe all of that working out, all of those weight lifting sessions for 'Player X' weren't what they should have been doing. Maybe that player should have been focused on their swing.

The pitcher with a 6.55 ERA in five innings of work is cast off as a failure, someone who shouldn't be in the role that that club has projected for them to be in.

It is easy to ridicule these perspectives, but the reality is, these over reactions are based on fans who are jaded by the teaser that baseball has actually arrived, when it really was another six weeks away. It is spawned from fans so eager to see how their club will look that they can't help but jump to conclusions based on small sample sizes.

As late March arrives, the games start to take on a little more meaning. Fringe players are battling it out for those final spots, pitchers are vying for the final rotation spots, or their place in the bullpen. Veteran starters are taking their at-bats more seriously, looking to get in a groove before the real games start.

At this point in spring, the luster of Spring Training has worn off. Fans are now eager for games to mean something. They are eager to see what their favorite players can do with the new names and faces in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

The good news for those fans is, as March quickly turns to April, real games will quickly be arriving. Coors Field will be waking up from its deep winter hibernation, and the excitement of baseball and summer time will be upon us soon.

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