Friday, March 4, 2011

Minor League Spring Training Underway

Today, minor league players everywhere in grapefruit and cactus country are reporting to their respective training complexes for physicals, blood tests, and then their first true workouts for 2011. Some of these players, champing at the bit since October when they flew home from fall instructional league, have been hovering around their teams' training grounds for the past few weeks (or longer), working out some, but just waiting for today to come.

A few of these guys are tomorrow's stars. Some -- most -- are never going to make it. All of them get paid little more than $1,000 a month (before taxes, room and board are taken out) from April through August. Every one of them wants to be a big leaguer. Some have the talent but don't understand how hard it is to make it all the way. Others don't quite have what it takes, but hang on and struggle at all cost to make it. There are also guys in the mix who will work hard, stay focused, and continue to develop the talent that got them drafted and signed. Watching this play out is highly recommended. Every one of these guys is damned good...some are just going to figure out how to keep getting better and better.

Getting used to wood...and the sun.
It is confounding that so many people don't pay attention to minor league baseball. Every fan who goes to Florida and Arizona to watch spring training games for their favorite major league team also has the opportunity to check the back fields this March where they can see young players facing off and still learning how to play the game the right way. The youngest of these guys are still trying to get used to hitting with wood. Pitchers are finally getting a chance to try out the change-up they were never allowed to throw in college or high school. For the first time in their lives players get to spend everyday, all day working on fielding, base running, and throwing.

Sometimes the view is limited.
As the father of a pitcher, one of my favorite things to do is watch pitchers take fielding practice -- PFP. 50 - 100 reps a day fielding comebackers and bunts, throwing to first, spinning to fire a shot to second, flipping a gloved dribbler home, this is what being a pro is all about. You get to watch the big boys do this in February, but watching the young guys in March is more entertaining because they are still students and beginners. They learn, slowly, that it takes more than natural ability to perform consistently. Baseball is about skill. Fielding is a special kind of dance. Some guys figure this out. Others don't.

Brooklyn, N.Y. native Dellin Betances (Charlie Niebergall/AP)

So, if you're heading out for a long spring vacation to watch the Dodgers or the Mets or the Blue Jays under the warm sun of early spring, make sure you spend time on the back fields watching the youngsters learning the ropes. Even the most cocky of them is humble and honest when he's on the field trying to figure out how to move to the next level. You may get to chat a little with him or at least listen to him chatting with teammates. The joy they feel can be infectious. If you ask them for an autograph, they'll be honored. Some of them are going to have long, illustrious careers. Most won't, but they're all pros and they've all figured out that baseball is worth their sweat and their love.

See you out there.

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