Trites of spring

As baseball's exhibition season begins, is there a single team that isn't counting on an unhappy millionaire outfielder, a surgically repaired pitcher who "looks great" and a better finish than last year?

Published March 1, 2001 9:53PM (EST)

The Local Team opens its spring training schedule today with an afternoon game against the Other Team, and it'll be Ace Right-hander's first test of his surgically repaired elbow.

"He looks great," says Pitching Coach. "We have full confidence in his ability to get people out. We did spend the entire winter trying to trade him for a fungo bat and a bag of sunflower seeds, but that doesn't mean he's not our guy. It's just business."

"I feel good," Right-hander said yesterday. "I can't worry about the trade rumors or anything. I've just got to go out there and make my pitches. If it's here, it's here, if it's someplace else, that's fine too, although I don't think anybody's gonna give up any sunflower seeds at this time of year."

Right-hander's health is just one of many questions the Manager will have to answer if the Locals hope to improve on last-season's finish, which wasn't as strong as Manager predicted in spring training, when he said he thought the Locals would "make some noise." Star Left Fielder has demanded a trade if his contract isn't renegotiated, Rookie Second Baseman has played only 11 games in the majors and has yet to prove that he can find the stadium consistently on game days, and the Locals are going to have to find a way to replace the seven pitchers lost to free agency over the winter.

"Yeah, we lost about 62 wins right there," Manager said about the bolted septet. "The other guys are just gonna have to step up. I think we can find those wins. We've got a kid we think can step into the rotation and win 45, 46 games if we can get the contract issue worked out."

That kid, Lefty Fireballer, is demanding a raise from the $600,000 he made last year, when he went 1-4 with a 6.87 ERA in seven starts. Fireballer has asked for $57 million over 10 years. The Locals have countered with $600,250 over one year, with a club option for a second year at $600,257. "I think we'll get the deal done," Manager said. "If not, the other guys are just going to have to step up. That's how it is in this business."

Left Fielder is coming off a career year. He hit .338 with 43 homers and 136 RBIs last season, and the Locals rewarded him with the richest contract in baseball history, eight years, $173 million. Unfortunately for Left Fielder, Alex Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers seven minutes later, relegating Left Fielder to second highest paid player in history. Nine minutes later, he announced he wanted to be traded if the Locals wouldn't renegotiate his contract.

"It's not about money," Left Fielder said upon arriving at camp last week, "it's about respect. A-Rod's a good player, but I had a better year. I'm sure the fans understand that it's not about the money. You can't expect a guy to do his job properly when he's only making $21 million a year. I mean, imagine if your boss came to you and said, 'OK, this year you're only making $21 million,' and the guy in the next cubicle's making $25 million. You'd be like, 'What's up with that?' Am I right? I love the fans here, and I'm sure they understand that it's not about the money, but when I see this uniform on my body I just want to throw up."

Left Fielder said an extra two years and $76 million would be a fair amount of respect and would calm his stomach. "We might have a lockout at the end of the year," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure my family has some security."

General Manager said the team, playing in a small market, simply can't afford those kinds of numbers. "The salaries are just getting out of hand. It's killing the game, just ruining it, although, strangely, attendance keeps growing, and no team has ever gone bankrupt, or missed a payroll, or failed to increase in value logarithmically from year to year. But still, you know?"

Rookie Second Baseman was unavailable for comment yesterday, having gotten lost on the way to the ballpark, as he did 17 times in the last 22 games last season. "He's got a little directional problem," said Salty Old Coach Who's Always Good for a Quote Because the Other Ballplayers' Crashing Dullness Makes His Feeble Attempts at Wit Seem Sparkling. "You know what Yogi said: 'If you come to a fork in the road, take it.' Well, that's ol' Rookie. Heh heh."

"I think we've got a real chance to make some noise this year," Manager said before announcing his batting order for the spring opener, which included Leadoff Hitter batting first and All Field No Hit Shortstop hitting eighth. "I know I say that every year, but that's the great thing about spring training: Everybody's tied for first place, and all us managers look like geniuses."

This column was written using an unregistered version of Spring Training Story Generator®. Click here to register your copy now.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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