There are two ways to look at Major League Baseball’s spring training. Most fans use it as an opportunity to soak up some sun, get a close-up view of their favorite players and take a generally optimistic view of the upcoming season. Others, however, might prefer to see the action from a glass-is-half-empty perspective.
While I must admit that I did more of the former than the latter last weekend in Arizona, I will nonetheless provide both views for those of you not lucky enough to make the trip south this year. With temperatures in the 80s and bright sunshine abundant, Cactus League action provided the perfect way to get a first look at old standbys and exciting new faces for the 2001 season.
San Francisco left fielder Barry Bonds showed that he still has plenty of pop left in his bat when he blasted a towering 480-foot homer to straightaway center field last Thursday in Scottsdale. On second thought, the more pessimistic onlookers may have noted that Bonds displayed his typically abrasive attitude towards fans, providing little hope that the superstar will ever change his disappointing ways.
Thirty-eight-year-old reliever Norm Charlton baffled Cubs hitters for two innings Saturday in Mesa as he attempted to come back from an injury that allowed him to pitch in just two games last season. The “glass-is-half-empty” gang probably felt that Charlton’s successful outing revealed more about the Cubs’ ineptitude than about his potential for this season. The 80-mile-per-hour “fastballs” from the former Cincinnati “Nasty Boy” are about as nasty as Cindy Crawford.
After signing a $72 million contract extension with the Cubs, Sammy Sosa is once again pounding Cactus League pitching. He smashed his eighth home run of the spring on Saturday. Curmudgeons likely pointed out that Sosa’s power outburst in spring training displayed his penchant for hitting them when they don’t count, evidenced by his team’s pathetic won-loss record the last two seasons despite his gaudy numbers.
Jose Canseco dazzled fans in Tempe on Sunday with the laser-beam line drives he generated from his unusually wide stance, which he hoped to display this year in an Anaheim Angels uniform. Others may have believed that they were getting a rare look at Canseco, who has not managed to stay healthy for 120 games in any season since 1991. As it turned out, the skeptics’ reservations were legitimate — the Angels released Canseco yesterday after trading for the healthier and more effective Glenallen Hill. Canseco batted just .231 and failed to hit a homer in 13 spring training contests.
Before a plethora of Japanese media on Saturday, Seattle’s “rookie” leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki displayed his effective hitting style and impressive speed as he prepared to become the first Japanese position player in Major League Baseball. Doubters likely noted that Suzuki has yet to prove himself in the majors, has an unorthodox swing, and cannot speak English.
Fireballer Kerry Wood hit the upper-90s on the radar gun Sunday and allowed just one run and struck out six through nearly six innings of work. The game was one of Wood’s final tune-ups before what he hopes will be his first full season since his Rookie of the Year performance in 1998. The nay-sayers likely pointed out that Wood showed bouts of wildness, launching one pitch to the top of the backstop. They probably also believed that his arm could give out any time, as it has in each of the previous three seasons.
With traces of snow still on the ground and weather forecasts calling for temperatures in the 40s for Opening Day Monday in places like New York, Chicago and Cleveland, many teams will have to adapt to the customary climate change they experience every year. For this and other reasons, spring training action cannot provide an accurate gauge of a club’s potential.
Nevertheless, it makes for a lot of fun in the sun — regardless of how you view the glass filled with the beverage of your choice.