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Spring Training: The Game

So far so good insofar as spring training has gone for the Yankees. Call me jaded, but I have conflicted feelings after so many years of writing about these March rituals. I still feel the romance of spring training, that "We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field" thing that John Fogarty sang about in "Centerfield." At the same time, I recognize that a great deal of spring training action isn’t all that meaningful, and as long as no one gets hurt, we shouldn’t impute all that much in the way of importance to the performances. After all, we talk about not falling for small samples during the regular season, why not during spring training?

Spring training performances are compiled under conditions nothing like the major leagues. The starters are in and out of the game, so the quality of hitters, pitchers, and defenses vary. The parks may or may not have the same dimensions as major league fields, but the weather conditions can be intensely windy or wet. Players get judged under these conditions: did the prospect go 15-for-30 or 0-for-30? Was the pitcher dominant, or was he pounded? There are mechanical things that can be seen in these performances, physical things that might require adjustment in the minors, but the reverse is true as well—maybe the mechanics are just fine, but the batter went 0-for-30 anyway and the balls the pitcher allowed in play just weren’t fielded by the Triple-A shortstop who happened to be behind him that inning. At the end of spring training, a lot of what you knew about a player from last season’s stats will still be a better indicator of their progress than anything they do this month.

Even with the NRIs, you mostly know what you're going to get. No doubt someone in the comments will shout, "Yeah, dude, but BARTOLO COLON!" and s/he would be right, but Colon was the exception that proved the rule. Point me to the next Bartolo. I'll watch him attentively.

As such, I am in a strangely ambivalent place right now. We know who is going to do what for the Yankees, with the possible exception of some shuffling around the margins of the pitching staff. I realize that aside from starters Sabathia and Kuroda, the pitchers are supposed to be competing for their jobs, but there are a finite number of pitchers to choose from and a certain willing suspension of disbelief that is lacking on my part—you don’t trade Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda to put the latter in the bullpen. Right now, the pitching story is a rare instance of smoke but no fire.

So, like you, I’m waiting. As the games roll on and news emergences from them, there will be much to talk about, but the fact of the games themselves are unimportant—except insofar as baseball is back and you can go see it if you happen to be in Florida or Arizona or turn on your television and watch it. And, of course, it’s fun to get a glimpse of some of the kids on something approximating a big-league stage, but as far as getting caught up in something that doesn’t count and has less meaning than is generally suggested… I’m still not psyched. I get my real charge out of Opening Day.