People get all excited about pitchers and catcher reporting, but what does it really mean? There are no games, no real news. We don't get to hear Vin Scully on the radio yet. It just means some puff pieces about how good Jason Schmidt's arm feels will start coming out. The Tomkos and Hendricksons of the world will claim to have turned things around with a new approach. Spring Training is actually quite a maddening time. Even when the games start, they don't count, and no one really plays to win. Not really.
Pitchers and Catchers reporting means that baseball is coming, I guess. It's not here, not yet. But it's close. For the first time in months I'm excited about baseball again. I found this offseason really brutal. I didn't trust Colletti; I was sure that Kemp or LaRoche or Kershaw would be traded for a bodybag full of expired reputation at any moment. And so at the end of it, I was exhausted and unable to write anything for months. It's my own damn fault --- I should have ignored all the rumors. But that's over now. Baseball is fun again. Martin and Saito are reporting TODAY! That is exciting, if one looks at it correctly. They're getting ready to thrill, laying down the careful preparations to excel in a month and a half. There are not games today --- except in our imaginations. Feel free to snicker at that. I did as I wrote it --- but it's also a little bit true, at least for me.
Spring Training is the time for stories about how players are going to turn things around, or make a new beginning, or enjoy their new team, or carry on their past excellence. Spring Training articles are a lot like a Barack Obama speech: heavy on the hope and change. Not too much like an Obama speech, though. I don't want to hear about Dodgers needing to reach across the field to work with Giants.
Spring Training is a time for fluff. So why fight it, I say? I will combine two of the great examples of fluff, predictions and top ten rankings, into the first annual Dodgerama Spring Training Spectacular Top Ten Rankings Featuring the Players and Coaches Most Likely To Be Featured in Spring Training Fluff.
1. Joe Torre
Hey Joe, what do you think of the Yankees?
Hey Joe, do you think you can finally finish the job and blow out Proctor's arm this year?
Hey Joe, what about the Yankees?
Hey Joe, what is is like to face your old team in Spring Training?
Hey Joe, are you going to show those young players their place?
2. Juan Pierre
I just think the wronged lunch-pail-everyday-hard-worker angle will be too hard to pass up. We know Pierre is cranky about how things went this offseason, and that should be good for a few tense quotes about how he's just trying to do his job everyday regardless of what the team has in store for him. Writers will talk about all the hits and stolen bases and runs he piled up. They'll ask him if he gets along with Andruw Jones. Pierre was the Dodger lightning rod last year, and given that this year he's lost centerfield, lost his stranglehold on playing every day, but not lost his crazy huge contract, he'll continue to be a lightning rod.
3. Andruw Jones
New players and players who need to bounce back are common features for ST stories. When you have a player who fill both roles, you have someone who's going to be in heavy Gurnick-rotation over at Dodgers.com.
4. Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar, you sucked last year. Can you make a comeback this year and keep young punk Andrew LaRoche away from your job? Nomar still has huge name recognition, which makes him an attractive target for spring fluff. And I'm sure there will be some references to Mia and the twins in these pieces, further upping the fluff factor. If Mia had given birth to triplets this winter Nomar would have come in at number 1 for sure.
5. Jason Schmidt
Breathless stories about how he's now throwing 10 miles per hour await. "Schmidt pitches T-ball practice" headlines will declare. Torre will say he looks good, "as good as Mike Mussina".
6. Matt Kemp
These stories can go either way. They might be about the newly humbled youngster who just wants to learn and contribute any way he can. "I'll sweep up Jeff Kent's sunflower seeds." Or they might be about the unrepentant brash youngster who vows to do it his way and take the league by storm. "I'll hit home runs so far they break Jeff Kent's motorcycle in the parking lot." Both angles are spring training gold.
7. Hiroki Kuroda
New guy. Big expectations. Cultural awkwardness. Any story about Kuroda will heavily feature: his translator, Takashi Saito, a humorous incident involving trying to communicate with Russell Martin, and either his love or disgust for American food.
8. Russell Martin
How good can he become? What about the contract negotiations? Who is he dating now? How will he deal with no longer catching Hendrickson?
9. Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent is kind of like John McCain. He's a weird older guy with a reputation for "straight talk". Kent's remarks about steroids this off-season will only help his profile in ST stories.
10. Tommy Lasorda
You know he's going to mug his way into a few Spring Training stories. It's inevitable, especially with the final season at Vero Beach. In a way, Tommy Lasorda is perfect for Spring Training. All fluff and little substance. Ugh, what a depressing way to end the Spring Training top 10.