Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Updated: March 29, 7:57 PM ET
Spring training offers up a little of everything and a lot of entertainment

ESPN.com

AP Photo/Richard Drew

The beauty of spring training, when you can get an autograph while the game is going on.

JOY OF SPRING

By Tim Kurkjian, ESPN

Spring training is my favorite time of year for a lot of reasons. Here are just a few:

Many years ago, Brian Anderson, a pitcher for the Indians, was taking a long bus trip with the team in spring training. After he got on the bus and the team was on its way, he realized he forgot his glove, hat and spikes back at the complex. There he was on the way to a game, in which he was pitching, without a hat, glove or spikes. He went to a mall and bought a pair of spikes, but he still couldn't find a glove. So he tracked down a Wal-Mart where he knew they had to have one.

"Wal-Mart's got everything. They have tires. They have produce. So they have to have a baseball glove," he told me later.

Well he did find one, but he said, "it was the most hideous thing you've ever seen. And it was even bigger than Greg Maddux's glove."

He wore the monster on the mound and, of course, had five comebackers hit to him that day. To me that sums up what spring training is all about. All the guys take long bus rides just like they did in high school. Even the major league veterans are treated like the guys in A-ball.

Another thing I love is that there are so many people at camp. I'm old enough to remember that in 1980 the A's had no fewer than 100 people in camp. They had a backup catcher named Scott Meyer and they actually issued him a jersey with No. 100. So here's a baseball player with a three-digit number out there because they had no other choice. As you might imagine, he did not make the team that year.

In spring training you obviously have a lot of roster changes and plenty of players coming and going. When I covered the Orioles many, many years ago, a writer from the Miami Herald hurriedly asked me who was starting the next day for the White Sox. Nobody knows a lot of the guys pitching in spring training because they are from A-ball and who knows where else. I jokingly said Gary Peters and Joel Horlen were pitching. He didn't even blink and I didn't know what he was doing, but it ended up in the paper the next day that Peters and Horlen were pitching. Both of them were well into their 50s at the time!

I just heard this story this week: Duane Kuiper, the great broadcaster for the Giants, told me that about eight years ago, Danny Navarro, the kid who lived down the street from him, had just been cut from his high school team and he was pretty down about it. So Kuiper decided that he would get him into the game somehow the next day. So there was a fly ball to the outfield in the ninth inning of a meaningless spring training game and Duane's call was "fly ball to Danny Navarro … he catches it … throws it back into the infield."

Kuiper got a tape of it made and sent it to Navarro, who proudly took it to his coach and said, "Listen to this. I may not have been good enough to make your team, but I was good enough to play in a major league game."

Only in the ninth inning of an exhibition game at spring training can you get away with that.

Years ago when I covered the Rangers, the team's hilarious manager, Doug Rader, found a drunk on the street outside the ballpark in Pompano Beach, Fla., where the team trained. He tried to sober him up a little bit, but basically just put him in a Rangers uniform and introduced him to the clubhouse as the new special hitting instructor that the team was going to use that spring. So, this hopeless drunk who had no clue what he was talking about, started to instruct the guys on proper hitting techniques. Half the team caught on quickly and was in absolute hysterics, but the immortal Mickey Rivers said, "Yeah, this guy is really good we should listen to him!"

They gave the guy a shower, helped him back to the street, and there he sat, still in his Rangers uniform.

So spring training is such a relaxed and different time from the regular season because once the real season begins nobody is having this kind of fun.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 25 | March 24 | March 23 | March 22 | March 19

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney notes that the economic troubles in Detroit are impacting the Tigers:

There have been rumblings all during the offseason about how teams such as the Padres are having a tough time selling tickets, but here is the biggest red flag to date: The Tigers' season-ticket sales have dropped from 27,000 to 15,000, as Shawn Windsor and Jon Paul Morosi report.

So now we have a clearer understanding of the context in which the Tigers are making their final roster choices. Their ticket sales are awful, making it even more important that Detroit starts its season strongly. If the Tigers get off to a terrible start, as they did last season, fan interest in the team -- already impacted by the economy -- will take a body blow. (Privately, executives with other clubs say the same thing could be said for about 15 to 20 other teams in the big leagues.)

The Tigers are obligated to pay $22 million to Dontrelle Willis in 2009 and 2010, and although Willis made some progress in a minor league game Tuesday, the hard truth is that he is not one of the 11 or 12 best pitchers in the Detroit camp. "He looks terrible," said a rival talent evaluator who has seen Willis pitch several times this spring.

In another time, such as Spring 2008, the Tigers easily could have considered tucking Willis into the No. 5 spot in their rotation as they bought time for their investment to pay off. In another time, they easily could have ignored the promise of 20-year-old right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello and assigned him to the minors, rather than employing him in the big leagues and running the risk of rushing him.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Rob Neyer offers some thoughts on the Rays' controversial decision to send David Price to the minors:

David Price has been sent to the minors, and The Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly is less than thrilled:

Well, yeah. But I'm not sure what Fennelly is suggesting here. Is he suggesting that David Price should open the season in the Rays' rotation and -- pitching against most of the best hitters in the world -- wind up throwing more than 180 innings? After throwing only 130 professional innings last year?

For the rest of this entry from Rob Neyer's blog, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Buster Olney

BBTN MINUTE: EMPLOYMENT LINE

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Derek LoweDerek Lowe is, at least during spring training, making the Braves feel good about their offseason investment. Lowe allowed one run over six innings Thursday against Toronto. He struck out seven and did not issue a walk. He is 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA this spring, with 21 strikeouts against just two walks.
WORST
Miguel Tejada• More performance-enhancing drugs news: Miguel Tejada was sentenced to one year of probation for misleading Congress in regard to his own use of performance-enhancing drugs. The sentence, however, did spare Tejada from serving jail time.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight he looks at Ken Griffey Jr. and offers up hope that Griffey can indeed find some of his old form as he gets, well, older

Notable Hall of Fame outfielders in the season turning 39
Player Year BA HR RBI Games
Dave Winfield 1991 .262 28 86 150
Reggie Jackson 1985 .252 27 85 143
Hank Aaron 1973 .301 40 96 120
Willie Mays 1970 .291 28 83 139
Ted Williams 1958 .328 26 85 129
Babe Ruth 1934 .288 22 84 125

DRAFT PROFILE: STEPHEN STRASBURG

NUMBERS TO KNOW

J.J. Putz earned the win for the Mets in their spring training game against St. Louis on Thursday. He struck out one during a perfect inning of work. Putz was acquired in a three-team, 12-player deal this offseason, and the Mets might have just gotten themselves a bargain. Putz dealt with injuries for most of the 2008 season, which was likely the biggest factor in his drop in production.

J.J. Putz (past two seasons)
2007 2008
Strikeout pct. of PA 31.5 26.5
SLG against .252 .389
Walk pct. of PA 5.0 13.3

If Putz is healthy for 2009, look to see his numbers return to their 2007 level, and that would give the Mets a dominant set-up man in front of new closer Francisco Rodriguez.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY PREVIEW: SECOND BASEMAN

FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy Have questions about how to build your roster? Whom you should choose early or late in your draft? Which catcher you want? We have the answers. Draft Kit

ESPN INSIDER

Insider The Tigers are looking for a revival after a rough 2008. Will it happen? 30/30 takes a look. 30/30

For more, check out ESPN Insider.

SABATHIA GETS NOD IN OPENERS