What we’ve learned from spring training
A particularly long spring training is in the books. Here are five observations I took from Tampa.
The WBC is an admirable but fatally flawed concept.
disclosure: There were times when I was kind of feeling the second
edition of the World Baseball Classic. I was into the opening
U.S.-Canada slugfest (by into I mean I was in a bar watching the
SportsCenter highlights), I enjoyed that excited walk-off win against
Puerto Rico when the nice baseball men were nice to that one Iraq
veteran for like 45 minutes. But when the U.S. was mercy ruled –
seriously — in a semifinal game against those same Puerto Ricans, I
essentially cashed out. The U.S. team was loaded — even with injury
issues and bushels of big stars opting to sit out the tournament — and
to see Jake Peavy get wrecked over two innings and the offense muster
two runs on seven hits, it shows you that these guys simply aren’t
ready for the competition. March is too early for an event that’s goal
is to crown the world’s best baseball country. If you want actual
American baseball fans like me to take it seriously, you have to take
it seriously, MLB. Every four years, shut down the regular season for
10 days around July, name your All-Stars and have them play in the
tournament, and knock this thing out when your stars are in playing
shape. Otherwise, fans like me will continue to see the WBC for what it
is, a gigantic marketing ploy to corner the Asian market. I like Asian
chicks as much as the next guy, but let’s up the effort level here,
A-Rod should be separated from teammates in a Hannibal Lector-type prison cell when not on the field this season.
of the odder subplots of this very long spring has been the numerous
stories we’ve read about the newfound camaraderie in the Yankees
clubhouse. The starting pitchers are all watching each others side
sessions and cheering (which is funny in an uncomfortable bromance kind
of way), Nick Swisher is a wacky cut-up that makes everyone realize
that baseball really is just a game, man, and meanwhile, CC Sabathia is
supposedly like the best dude ever, befriending teammates and basically
being the exact type of dude you’d want to tailgate with. All of which
is even funnier when you remember that Alex Rodriguez has been
essentially shipped off to rehab Siberia, aka Colorado. I can picture a
scenario on May 10 where Hideki just served an amazing dinner cooked on
the new Yankee Stadium hibachi grill, Swish just told a particularly
good howler that has everyone slapping their knees and CC just ripped a
big one that even cracks up Girardi when all of sudden A-Rod walks in
and … everything … gets … quiet. Then the Yankees will lose in
Joba Chamberlain may or may not be a horrible disappointment this season.
anyone else have a weird feeling in their stomach regarding Joba? The
Yankees’ No. 5 starter is about to begin his first full season in the
rotation, but I have a nagging feeling this is going to be a difficult
year for hoss. There are, of course, the velocity concerns, though on
Tuesday he was said to have hit 94-96 MPH consistently. But I’m also
worried about his inability to finish hitters, and how he doesn’t seem
like he’s ready to pitch late into games. Add the fact that he was shut
down for a month last summer with shoulder problems and the random
stories you hear that his dad Harlan may actually be a dick, and I’m
not so sure that Phil Hughes won’t be pitching in Joba’s spot at some
point this season. Of course, now that I’ve written this, Joba will go
17-5 and throw seven shutout innings in the World Series clincher.
Perhaps this was my plan all along.
Mark Teixeira doesn’t seem like he’ll be affected by the dreaded New York Transition Period.
unifying theme of many big ticket Yankees acquisitions in recent memory
has been early struggles to get comfortable in baseball’s biggest fish
bowl. Guys like Giambi, Sheffield and A-Rod all initially struggled to
adjust, while stiffs like Kenny Rogers, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano
were swallowed whole. Perhaps there’s a link that the latter three
names are pitchers. It kind of makes sense; everyday players have more
opportunity to get comfortable while pitchers get one shot every five
days with the spotlight shining directly on them. Mark Teixeira will
get the benefit of playing every day, and robot that he is, I expect
him to put up numbers representative to previous seasons. He just has
that look. And back to the robot thing, I’m dead serious in my belief
that Teixeira is a T-800 model Terminator. I guess we’ll know for sure
on opening day if smoke and electric current surrounding first base
clears to reveal a totally nude Tex in a weird crouching position. To
Cody Ransom: “I need your uniform, your bat, and your glove.”
Joe Girardi’s newfound mentality toward players, media will be tested quickly.
Girardi didn’t make many friends in his first season as Yankees
manager, running a tight clubhouse where candy and ice cream was
outlawed (it was kind of like Footloose) while being short, and at
times, untruthful with the media. So it may not be coincidence that the
second-year skipper entered camp this season with a new, sunnier
disposition. There was the team field trip to play pool, and the
mini-golf/baseball-putting thing, all while initiating a noticeably
more open dialogue with the same media that wanted to wring his neck by
last September. I kind of see the transformation having been played
Hal: Hey skip, you got a minute?
Hal: You did a good job last year, but you’re going to have to stop being such a dick or we’re going to fire you. Understood?
seat may be hotter than some people realize. With a new team, a new
stadium, and huge expectations, heading into July at 38-38 may not cut
it. He’s kind of like the non-tenured elementary school teacher who all
of a sudden is super nice and attentive because the principal is
sitting in on the class. Once the season starts and the pressure
builds, it will be interesting to see if his nice guy shtick holds up.
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