Spring training is important. It’s where players get in shape for the new season. An impressive performance can make the difference in whether or not a player makes the team. It matters.
The actual results of the game don’t matter, really. The guys who will make the Opening Day roster don’t usually play the whole game. There’s a reason most teams will just agree to a let a spring training game finish in a tie. It doesn’t matter enough to let the players risk injury to finish things up before the games start counting for something.
That can often lead to some bizarre scenarios in games. Here are five of the weirdest and funniest moments from recent spring training camps.
5. Aaron Judge’s Least Important Game-Tying Home Run
About 17 months before he made his actual major league debut, Aaron Judge stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth and the Yankees down 5-2 against the Phillies on March 3, 2015. The Yankees had come into the inning down four runs, but a Jake Cave single trimmed a run off that. Down to his last strike, Judge gave a sign of things to come with a game-tying three-run home run.
At any other point of the year, a Judge game-tying home run down to his last strike would be cause for even more celebration. However, what followed that was a scoreless inning by Chasen Shreve, leading to a tied game.
4. A Pointless Roller Coaster
The year was 2013. A young writer named Matt Ferenchick was in his first full season of writing on a website called Pinstripe Alley. He was tasked with doing the recap for the March 24th spring training game against the Rays. He would become quite annoyed that day, especially towards the end of the nearly three and a half hour game he had to write about.
The Yankees trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the eighth. However, they they took a lead when Kevin Youkilis hit a home run after Eduardo Nunez walked, because the year was 2013. The Yankees suddenly had a lead going into the ninth.
In between innings, the Yankees emptied their bench and brought in the likes of Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and Ronnier Musteleir. David Aardsma then surrendered a game-tying home run. In the bottom half of the inning, the Yankees went down in order.
Unlike the game above this one, the two teams decided to play a tenth inning. Josh Spence and Preston Claiborne combined to throw a scoreless inning, and then Mustelier gave the Yankees a walk-off win in the bottom of the inning. Meanwhile, I finally got the recap up at 4:44 PM after having to rewrite it about four times. Thanks for nothing, spring training game.
3. The Least Eventful Walk-off Balk
Spring training is the only time you will get Jose Gil facing Luis Marte in the biggest at-bat of the game. (Especially since they played a combined 17 major league games, all by Marte.)
With two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth in a tied game on March 7, 2014, Marte balked. The winning run in the form of Zelous Wheeler was allowed to come home and the game was over.
Here is where I would link a video of this balk, but none probably exists. This seems to have been one of the occasional non-televised spring training games. The only evidence that this actually happened is a play by play on MLB’s website. That entire box score could be fan fiction.
If you are the one person on earth with video of this walk-off balk, please email it to me or something. I’ll send you a forged Jose Gil autograph.
2. Aaron Judge’s Unusual Replacement
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will reportedly be coming to spring training this year, much as he did in 2018. Wilson has played baseball as high as single-A, and is an official member of the Yankees’ organization, having been acquired in a trade in February 2018. That being said, he was in Tampa mainly for PR and photo ops. However, the Yankees let him play in one game.
On March 2nd, Wilson was sent up as a pinch hitter to lead off the fifth inning. The person he was replacing in the lineup was Aaron Judge. The one guy in camp who was absolutely not making the opening day roster replaced a guy who, barring injury, had no chance not to make it. It wasn’t even a “starters coming out, backups coming in” change over either. Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez hit in the following two plate appearances.
As for what happened in the at-bat, Wilson struck out.
There is only one moment that can occupy this slot.
On May 18, 2014, the Yankees were playing the Red Sox in a game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The game itself wasn’t that eventful, as the Yankees won 8-1. However in the third inning, a swarm of bees developed near one of the bullpens.
The game would be delayed while the grounds crew worked to clear them with a spray.
However, the spray was not the only removal idea suggested. Mark Teixeira had another, more humorous idea: honey.
When asked what exactly his plan was, Teixeira told the Sporting News:
“What I thought was, if you could just do a line of honey out to the parking lot, the bees would maybe follow it, and then just leave us alone.”
I suppose there are worse ideas.