On Tuesday alone: At Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Yankees began their scheduled 7:05 start at 7:04 p.m., before the TV broadcast was ready. At Surprise Stadium, the Dodgers played to an 11-11 stalemate against the Rangers, their fifth tie in 15 Cactus League games. At Salt River Fields, Albert Pujols grounded out by the rare 6-5-3 scoring.
This is Spring Training. Life is different in March.
Cameras can be found on the playing surface in the outfield while the game is going on, as can players, doing wind sprints along the warning track amidst the action.
There was sparse hand-wringing (mostly from football’s John Madden) after Will Ferrell’s helicopter-aided journey from game to game to game to game to game last week, finishing with ten positions played in ten different jerseys and his own inimitable Baseball-Reference page. Those with stronger memories pointed to other similar celebrity spring moments: Billy Crystal’s 2008 at-bat with the Yankees, Tom Selleck’s 1991 at-bat with the Tigers, and, more controversially, Garth Brooks’s fantasy camp-esque tryouts with the Padres in 1998 and 1999, the Mets in 2000 and the Royals in 2004.
Go back further in baseball’s annals and you’ll find even more absurd attention-grabbing distractions: Ping Bodie battling an ostrich in an eating competition — the ostrich not only lost, it expired — and catchers looking to top one another in snagging balls dropped from outrageous heights, be it a plane or a blimp. (Senators catcher Gabby Street waited until August to hang onto a ball dropped from the Washington Monument.)
There are moments for seriousness during the spring. The “training” aspect is real, getting players in game-shape for the season, whether by slowly stretching starting pitchers out or challenging youngsters to make the team. Lefty Tyler Olson is the talk of Seattle Mariners camp, having allowed only one base runner while striking out eight in six impressive innings; the Gonzaga product made it as far as Double-A last year. Toronto is giving 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna honest-to-goodness opportunities in Grapefruit League ball, despite the two combining for 30 1/3 career innings of experience at the A-Advanced level, and zero innings at Double-A or higher.
But in the thick of the competition and meaningful pitches, those this-isn’t-the-regular-season-yet moments still have their place, bringing a wide smile to the faces of players and fans alike. Days after Will Ferrell livened — and lightened — up Arizona, the Blue Jays thrilled their own nation’s growing baseball fanbase with their annual exhibition against the Canadian Junior National Team. The top prep stars from north of the border met the professionals, first in action (facing Opening Day starter R.A. Dickey, who pushed in knuckleballs for five innings) and then in conversation afterward. The Jays made sure to add Canadian natives from Minor League camp to their roster for the game, playing Ontario-born farmhands Marcus Knecht and Mike Reeves, British Columbian Justin Atkinson, and Saskatchewan’s own Andrew Albers alongside Ontarian Jays regulars Dalton Pompey and Russell Martin. It was particularly special for the Pompey family, with younger brother Tristan suited up for the JNT.
The regular season is coming, a mere few weeks away. To many of us, this is what we have been anticipating for many months now. We are ready for its arrival.
But while it is here, we can still appreciate all that Spring Training has to offer before it is gone for another year: its warmth and sun, its cheer, and its ability to celebrate the game without losing the national pastime’s innate sense of fun and personality.