Maybe it’s weird that I gave up three days of skiing in Colorado to watch baseball games in Arizona that “don’t count.” Maybe it’s even weirder that I drove to do so, spending nearly 30 hours of my spring break in the car—alone. Yet, after spending three days in Surprise, Arizona, home of the Texas Rangers spring training complex, nothing could be weirder than spring training itself.
Something of a mystery until I finally experienced it last year, spring training is different than any other preseason in professional sports. It was not until this year that I truly reveled in the oddity of these games that are irrelevant to end-of-year standings. Last year I was caught up in the novelty of it all—my first time at spring training, up close and personal with the players—it was all quite amazing to me. This year, the splendor wore off and I realized how truly strange it was that baseball fans gather every year to experience the events of March in the desert of Arizona. Let me give you some examples:
Turning the Desert into Paradise – Perhaps to our largely LA-area-based readership, the idea of beautifully manicured green lawns in the middle of the desert is not that shocking, but there is something slightly alarming about these perfectly kept stadium fields in the middle of a concrete sprawl and dust bowl.
The (Least) Biggest Loser – At no other time is the play of the most insignificant team member—like a utility infielder, who might play a total of 50 innings all season, or the seventh man in the bullpen, who will likely log even less innings on the mound—so important and scrutinized. I was more interested in a Matt Brown throwing error than a Nelson Cruz homerun. Matt Brown who? Exactly.
March Madness – Sunscreen? In March!?! Now THAT’s March Madness. I was driving through snow just 20 hours ago!
Jailbait – I got giddy about meeting teenage Dominican players Jorge Alfaro and Jurickson Profar, who are at least four years away from the Major League and who weren’t even in diapers when I began to walk. On the other hand, both have now made a million dollars more than I have. Weird.
Stalkers – As strange as it was for me to be excited about these 16-year-old kids, how weird must it have been for them? They were in a small suburb of a city in the middle of the desert in an obscure state nearly a month before the regular season starts, and two college dudes were waiting near their practice field with a sharpie and a baseball.
RoboCop – Being in Phoenix feels like being in a movie or at least living in the future. There are “speed enforcement zones” every five miles or so that use stationary radar guns and camera to take pictures of cars going over the speed limit. Something about getting caught by a camera and not a person is jarring to say the least.
Did I Just See That? – Want to see one of the league’s best power hitters lay down a bunt? Test the wheels of a catcher on the base paths? How about see your favorite reliever stroke a double down the line? Look no further than Spring Training.
These Games Don’t Count, I Promise – Contrary to the screaming opinion of the 6-year-old Cleveland Indians fan in front of me at a game, a 12-2 deficit for my team shouldn’t faze me. Especially when umpires can place runners on base when they screw up a call. Yes. That happens.