Posted By Jeff Fletcher on February 25, 2009 9:37 am
Today is an exciting day. It’s the start of exhibition games. From my years of covering spring training, I can tell you the first exhibition game is an eagerly anticipated event.
The second? Not so much.
In fact, the Cactus League Opener is just about the only one of these games with any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
I remember back when I was a fan, I used to make an annual trip to Arizona and watch games for a week. Although I knew they didn’t count, and I knew the players weren’t necessarily giving it 100 percent, I still enjoyed them and rooted for my team to win.
Now that I’ve been on the inside, so to speak, and I really see how different these games are from real games, I find them difficult to watch. Exhibition “games” is not the right term. The object of a game is to win, right? How about “baseball related activities.” I came to this realization one day when I was talking to a player in the morning, and he asked me: “Did we win yesterday?” Or maybe it was when a player asked me: “Who are we playing today?” Or maybe it was when I was in the clubhouse during a game interviewing a starting pitcher, and a dozen other players were in there watching the NCAA tournament.
The problem is not simply that the players don’t care, it’s the way the games are played. The pitchers generally don’t use any sort of game-like strategy against the hitters. They just throw what they want to work on. Doesn’t matter who’s hitting. Managers determine in advance which pitchers are throwing which innings, regardless of the results. When the teams are completely turning over at least once during a game, it’s difficult to have continuity. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve seen that were 6-0 in the fifth and 12-10 at the end.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. That’s exactly the way you should approach practice. It’s just a little tiresome to watch for three hours a day.
Hopefully, most people who go down and pay money to see these games go with the right frame of mind. It’s a chance to spend some time in sun and dream about the baseball season.
It’s funny. During the regular season I’d think anyone who left a game before the final out “doesn’t get it.” During spring training, I’d say that about anyone who stayed.