By Drew Zuhosky
It’s the middle of February, and we’re basically in a dead zone when it comes to sports. The NFL’s done until next August, and the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship is still a month away with the March Madness beginning four weeks from today.
Fear not, because that dead zone is soon to end with pitchers and catchers from all Major League Baseball teams arriving at spring training camps this week. Games and the regular season won’t be long now.
I’ll admit it, spring training baseball is one of my guilty pleasures every year, and it’s because you see things you don’t normally see in the regular season.
A spring training game operates much like a normal game in the regular season, but with a few variations like the frequent substitution of players from a team’s lineup. Usually, veteran players will only get one or two at-bats in a preseason game with minor league prospects getting the majority of plate appearances.
Additionally, you’ll see more pitchers on the mound for both teams in spring training, particularly in the earlier preseason games. It’s common for managers to use several pitchers in a game for the early part of the exhibition season.
You might see the starting pitcher only work until the end of the second inning with a few relievers pitching the third, fourth and fifth innings of a game, while minor league pitchers may pitch late in the game.
Also, sometimes in spring training you could have teams playing against college programs in exhibition games. The Arizona Diamondbacks will open spring training this season with an exhibition versus The University of Arizona baseball program on March 1. That same day the Miami Marlins open up the preseason versus The University of Miami.
One drawback to spring training is the lack of televised games on the local level. In the regular season, every team’s game is aired either locally or nationally most nights. While in spring training, only a few get shown on TV.
In the case of the Cleveland Indians, SportsTime Ohio, who holds the rights for local Indians broadcasts, is scheduled to air eight preseason games this year including the first three of the exhibition schedule against the Cincinnati Reds from March 1-3.
With the advent of MLB Network, spring training games are more common on TV these days. Every day during the preseason, MLB Network will air several ballgames from Florida and Arizona either live or on tape delay.
During spring training, I’ll stop the remote on MLB Network frequently to see who’s playing and watch a few innings.
Another drawback to spring training is the lack of night games on the schedule. Think about it: These guys are acclimated to playing games at 7 in the evening most days. In spring training, you’re out there at 10 or 11 a.m. getting ready for a game with a 1:05 first pitch time like it’s a Sunday matinee.
Night games are rare in spring training with teams playing one or two 7:05 p.m. games at most.
At the core, I like spring training because it’s fun and entertaining. You get to see the players out on the field having a good time not having to be concerned with divisional standings and what the rival team’s doing in another game.
With that in mind, let’s play ball!