King Kaufman's Sports Daily

How spring training is like Christmas, right down to the chestnuts.



Salon Staff
February 22, 2007 10:00PM (UTC)

I love spring training. It's sort of like Christmas. Stay with me on this.

There's a comfortable sameness to the season, a ritual. When the same thing happens year after year, it reminds you of all those years in the past. Not to get all green fields of spring and the heartbreaking beauty of baseball on you, but it feels like home, like childhood, like everything makes sense, to hear that first golf clap for a base hit in a game or to watch some pitcher with 87 on his back trying to strike out an established big-leaguer.

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The games won't start for a little while, so at the moment we're floating in that delightful warm bath of first-week stories, the myths and legends we as a society tell one another on cold dark nights, or at least over our cereal, as the players trickle into camp.

So here comes the annual jovial Barry Bonds story, the great surly one yucking it up with his teammates as though he were some sort of human being, calmly telling reporters he doesn't worry about all this off-the-field stuff they're always asking him about. Certainly not. It's just you media guys who care about that stuff.

Why, I don't care about it so much, jovial Barry Bonds says, I created a TV show last year about how much this stuff doesn't bother me -- except in that one scene where I stopped slagging my dad long enough to sit on his grave and talk about how hard everything is for me.

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Welcome to camp, Barry.

And here comes "When will Manny Ramirez get to camp, why will it be so late, and will he be happy?" It's like waiting to hear the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

Let's see, we have some other chestnuts.

Headline: Gary Sheffield unhappy about [insert pretty much anything here].

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There's the guy wearing new glasses or contacts or, lately, having undergone laser eye surgery. I can see! Now good things are going to start happening.

The Sports Frog blog points out that this year's models are first baseman Dan Johnson of Oakland, who has introduced a misdiagnosed double vision twist -- all better now, so look out, pitchers! -- and pitcher Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore teammate of Brian Roberts, author of the 2005 classic "How My Experimental Nike Contacts Turned Me Into an All-Star." Cabrera got Lasik.

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So that's where home plate is!

There's the old guy making a comeback after some time away, usually with a bad injury involved. But hey, he feels great now! His weight's down. He's moving well. He's swinging/throwing real smooth. His wife told him to give it one more shot. I think he's got a chance to make this club!

Good luck with that, Dave Veres. Oh, and there's Rich Garces, a little farther away, hooking on with the Nashua Pride of the independent Can-Am League.

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There's always a handful of guys scattered around who made a big impression in an independent league.

Headline: [Insert manager's name here] likes [team name]'s chances.

There's the player who has come to camp all buffed up and cut. New York Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, complimented by reporters on his new physique, said, "I'm glad you noticed. I've been working hard in the off-season."

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Byung-Hyun Kim of Colorado, of all people, has packed on 10 pounds of muscle. And here's one that never gets old: Know how Nick Swisher of Oakland beefed up over the winter? Farm work.

I guess you can't write this on the beat, but in this day and age, even in the (snicker) post-steroids era, my first thought when someone comes to camp having "packed on XYZ-pounds of muscle" is about steroids. Isn't yours? Come on.

Then there's the guy who comes in slimmed down. Usually one of those 275-pound pitchers cutting out Mallomars over the grueling winter months and getting down to 260. Hey, we're talking about El Guapo again, but outfielders Brad Wilkerson of Texas and Adam Dunn of Cincinnati are among the diet boys this spring. Even Alex Rodriguez has dropped a few.

Headline: [Insert name of speedy guy with a career .318 on-base percentage here] excited to try leadoff role.

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There are various pitchers working on new pitches, adding a curve or a slider or a change-up. Hey, I used it in high school and it worked pretty good, so I've been playing around with it.

There's a guy who plans to steal more bases this year. Maybe 30 of 'em. Yup.

Who's going to pitch on Opening Day?

Headline: [Insert player's name here]'s [insert body part name here] injury fully healed.

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Or not.

We cannot live on chestnuts alone, so every year brings a few new stories that have a chance to become old favorites someday. This year's contenders are the annual A-Rod-Jeter relationship check -- cool temps this spring, kiddiwinks -- the new synthetic-material caps and some minor rule tweaks designed to speed up play.

I don't think any of those stories have the legs to become golden oldies, but you never know. And speaking of legs, here's another annual ritual: Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson is likely to spend much of the season on the disabled list.

Previous column: So long, Chief Illiniwek

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