Spring Training: The time when the bad are now good, and the good are now better

Spring Training time! Optimism abounds! Your team, no matter how bad last year went or ended, if thing’s break right, or, in some cases (Astros), a miracle happens, has a chance! Articles mentioning fresh-cut grass (that one’s always been odd to me … do most people who attend/report on spring camps live in caves in the offseason? I enjoy the smell, but I’ve never missed grass enough to mention it) will be published. Winter is nearing its end! While I enjoy all these things, even the bizarre talk of grass, my favorite part of Spring Training are the endless stories, and quotes, that almost always center around three things – if a player was bad last season, hey, he’s going to be a good again. Injured last year? Feeling tremendous! If a player had a good or great season? Watch out! He’s just getting started.

I do kind of wish there was a sprinkle of bizarro articles around every season, just to mix things up. A guy who had a great season might go, “I hope you all enjoyed the ride last year because, let me tell you, that’s as good as I’m going to get. I have reached my  peak!” The no-hope-returning-from-injury-guy, “I am a beaten and broken man. I feel worse than when I started this quote.” Or the guy who had a down year expecting even more trouble ahead: “They’ve all figured me out. I’ve got no more tricks up my sleeve. I am the captain and we are on the sea of uncertainty.*” I enjoy things that will never happen.

However — back on course — while it’s still early in the Spring Training season, I have already seen some memorable optimistic quotes/stories. The first one ends on a sad note. And I feel really, really bad that this guy is injured again, but it’s kind of what led me to this post.

Joel Zumaya was a bit of a breakout star during his rookie season with the Tigers in 2006, throwing 100 mph out of the bullpen and striking out tons of people, but he’s battled injuries pretty much ever since. He signed a Minor League deal with the Twins this offseason, and this was him just a couple of weeks ago:

“They’ve said they’re going to just watch over me a little bit in the beginning,” Zumaya said. “I’ve told them, ‘Don’t baby me; I’m here to go full out now.’ I took a whole year off, so my arm is basically healthy. Progressing will be the main thing.”

Zumaya then tore his UCL in his first bullpen session, ending his season and, possibly, his career. That led to this quote:

“Maybe it’s time to move on. I’m a pretty dang good fisherman, so I might pursue professional fishing.”

Such a quick turnaround from clear skies to the crash. Feel better, Zumaya. I hope you can either make your way back or find them fish.

The great Ichiro Suzuki didn’t exactly have a bad year last season, but he was down from his usual elite numbers. Now, I’ll take any excuse to quote Ichiro, and here’s what he said on last year’s “struggles” and this year’s expectations:

“We always feel fresh and always feel open to new challenges every year,” he said. “That’s never changed. I feel the same way this year. But I’m happy that a lot of people say I suffered last year.”

I have a feeling I am also going to be happy about this.

Matt Kemp, who finished second in the NL MVP voting last year with his .324 average, 39 homers and 40 steals is not messing around when it comes to the upcoming season:

“Fifty-fifty? Hey, I set my goals high.”

Hell yes, Matt Kemp.

Now, not everyone does the positive-spin thing. Jayson Werth, who got that ridiculous contract from the Nationals then struggled last year,  and has always come off as a bit gruff (and not just because of the beard), had this quote:

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 years old. I’ve had really good seasons, I had really bad seasons. I’ve had average seasons. Last year was just a bad season. Whatever. I’m over it. I’m ready to play ball, play 162 games.”

I kind of like that one! Although it’s basically him saying I will promise you nothing. “There’s been sunny days, there’s been rainy days. There have been days when it’s rained when the sun has been out. Yesterday was rainy. I’ve over it. I’m ready for more weather.”

Well, those are just a few I’ve seen so far, but I’ll be on the lookout for more as Spring Training rolls on. Now, I must go … I’m feeling pretty good right now, but I expect I’ll feel even better soon.

Also, again, best of luck, Zumaya

Thanks.

*Stolen from photographer Ross Halfin quoting producer Martin Birch on an Iron Maiden DVD.

— Brian Cougar

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Spring Training: The time when the bad are now good, and the good are now better

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