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

Loosey Goosey times with MLB’s most entertaining player

I came across a photo today that brought me to a realization I did not expect, and one that might be a bit of hyperbole (this is an MLBlog, after all) – A-Rod is the most entertaining baseball player of my lifetime.

Image

Here’s the link: http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/27/10519504-new-york-yankees-baseball-players-pose-for-media-day

The circumstances surrounding this photo are pretty basic and bland: The Yankees were taking their generic annual portraits for the media. However, in the wide shot of the photographer taking the picture of A-Rod, we see that this is all happening in some random men’s bathroom, with three urinals in the background. I enjoy everything about this picture … it’s currently the background photo on my laptop, and I honestly want to print it on some nice glossy paper and frame it.

Now, I’m not saying A-Rod is the best player of my lifetime; that’s certainly open for debate – especially with Albert Pujols around, plus A-Rod’s PED past, and he even has some competition for most entertaining, the most obvious being Manny Ramirez, but I think Manny hit his high water mark with Mannywod in Los Angeles during the 2008 season, and it’s all sort of been downhill since (although I’m glad he’s back with the A’s … maybe he’s got one last run left, however I thought that was going to be the case with the Rays last season, and that obviously didn’t work out). I’ll even throw Ichiro and his 200-hit seasons, “If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying” quote and Ichiro-designed T-Shirt nights into the mix, but he comes across as more enigmatic that entertaining. A-Rod, on the other hand … I’m going to list, without any Googling, some memorable A-Rod moments, both on and off the field:

Stripper in Toronto; poker game; three home runs off Bartolo Colon; Kate Hudson; Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn; “loosey goosey” PED defense; calling reporter who broke PED news a “stalker;” two-homer, seven-RBI game to end ’09 season; Get off my mound; homering in first at-bat of ’09 season; ending the past two Yankees postseasons with strikeouts; yelling “Hah!” in Toronto; fight with Varitek; announcing extension with Yanks during ’07 World Series; slapping the ball away in 2004 ALCS; driving home Damon after Damon’s double steal in ’09 World Series Game 4; kissing himself in the mirror; centaur painting rumor …

I’m going to stop there, and I’ve surely left out a lot of other moments. A-Rod is not my favorite player of all-time, not even close (that would be Yankees legend Bernie Williams), and I also grew up watching two future Hall of Famers, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who have had plenty of memorable moments of their own; but have they been as entertaining as A-Rod? I don’t think so. More respected? Definitely. More easy to root for? Certainly. Do I expect/want them to be any more than elite baseball players who have helped and continue to help the Yankees win games? No. But A-Rod, for good reasons and bad, has been so, so entertaining throughout his career, especially since he first signed with the Yankees in 2004.

Outside of diehard Yankees fans, kids and maybe men/women who find him overly attractive, A-Rod is, obviously, not a beloved figure. The rest is generally broken down to people who respect his immense talent but think he’s a bit of a diva/phony, and those who think he’s just an outright chump. The diva/phony thing, while probably true, is a label I can’t really hold against A-Rod. This is a guy who was an elite big league player at 20, signed the biggest contract of all-time by the time he was 25, then joined the most famous franchise in his sport only after their biggest rival was blocked from trading for him in 2004. Should we expect someone like this to be some normal dude? I know people will point to Jeter and Pujols as MLB megastars who have managed to avoid the types of negative tabloid headlines A-Rod has brought on, but those two also are overly protective of their private lives, and don’t really show you anything about themselves outside of their performance on the field (which I’m 100% fine with). Plus, if the NY Post is to be believed (and who wouldn’t believe them?), Jeter leaves gift baskets for ladies after a night out with a bunch of signed autographs … and that’s A-Rodian levels of bizarre behavior, if true.

A-Rod’s weird behavior also always seems to come from an honest place of obliviousness. There are some “characters” in MLB, like Derek Holland, Brian Wilson and Logan Morrison, who, while on occasion pretty entertaining, seem to be trying really (and sometimes way too) hard at being entertaining. A-Rod, on the other hand – especially the off the field stuff – seems like he just can’t help it, and I find that a bit more endearing.

Finally (ending this like a high school book report), there’s how entertaining A-Rod can be when he’s at his best as a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player. Back in 2007, I was at a Yankees/Orioles game in the first week of April featuring a pitching matchup of Steve Trachsel vs. Kei Igawa, and this was moving along as one of those forgettable early-season games where you go, have an alright time at the ballpark, and never think of the game again. Igawa and Trachsel were both pretty terrible, Trachsel was his usual slow-pitching self and the Yankees were trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth. Then, single, walk, HBP, and A-Rod steps up to the plate with that glorious chance to be the hero or the goat. He gets himself into a two-strike count; my roommate (and Mets fan … but he got me a free ticket to the game, so he’s A-OK) is outright laughing about how great it will be to watch A-Rod choke, then – BOOM! – ball goes flying into the black at old Yankee Stadium, walk-off grand slam.

A-Rod’s walk-off grand slam

He may not be the best, but he’ll get himself photographed wandering around Central Park shirtless and hit walk-off grand slams, and, to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb, the quest to be entertaining is not a sin.

Thanks (that’s for @sportsangle).

— Brian Cougar

Loosey Goosey times with MLB’s most entertaining player