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Spring Training: Preparation or Tradition?

Spring Training begins in February for some, and March for everyone. Should teams switch things up to better accomodate their players' needs?

Christian Petersen

Let’s not skirt around the issue, Spring Training is baseball’s preseason. Preseason games are for tune-ups, kicking off the rust of the offseason, doing everything possible to prepare for the time when the games actually count. As we’ve already seen, the statistics players compile during spring training have little significance when considering regular season performance. For prospects and journeymen hoping to make the squad, Spring Training productivity can prove paramount, but for most, the whole process is akin to taking one’s car in for it’s yearly service.

While Spring Training has its positives and negatives, one fact of baseball remains prevalent: the month of March allows players to regain their routines, get back into a lifting schedule, a cardio schedule, specific dieting, stretching, and most importantly, throwing and hitting schedules. In a piece by Jared Diamond on routines --especially pitcher’s routines -- in Spring Training, the Wall Street Journal writer points out a long known, but ever-present piece of information.

"Pitchers, perhaps more than any group of athletes in sports, are slaves to routine to the point that it becomes superstition."

During the regular season, pitchers throw once every five days, and plan their other pitching-related responsibilities between starts as if constructing the President’s daily agenda. The typical routine in between starts includes a day of rest, long toss, running, weight training, some calisthenics, and a bullpen session.

Some aspects of these strict regimens come from the advice of doctors, physical therapists, strength and conditioning instructors and the like. Other aspects change as players go from team to team due to the change in pitching coaches. In fact, especially in the preseason, coaches often have to put extra restrictions on pitchers, as competitive athletes at the highest levels often try to do too much too soon.

"But the onus can't fall solely on the pitchers to police themselves. It is up to the coaching staff to make sure they don't throw too much too quickly. Pitchers are hardwired to get on the mound and throw."

Diamond’s piece touches on the fact that Spring Training may be a bit too long, as some Mets pitchers, especially veterans, preferred not to pitch until later in the spring. For most players, the offseason encompasses the months of October through mid February, a stretch of 4 and half months in which players can decompress, relax, and pursue other, non-baseball related activities. While Diamond makes a reasonable argument, Spring Training isn’t too long, and he touches on the other side to this suggestion.

"Managers like having all that time because it provides them access to their teams and allows them to audition inexperienced players. Manager Terry Collins said he plans "to get at-bats for a lot of these outfield candidates" with the added days."

Spring Training, like the NFL, NBA, and NHL’s preseason, allows the coaching staff time to evaluate their entire team, filling the holes and cracks with young, new, or well-traveled veterans in order to put forth the best roster possible at the start of the regular season. Should Spring Training be shortened? I don’t think so, but maybe teams should give a bit more latitude to their veteran players as to their arrival dates and the time at which they feel ready to appear in a game. It’s a tricky business to manage a wide range of personalities. When it comes to professional athletes with fixed routines, superstitions, and regimens, the process only becomes more difficult.

Food For Thought:

1) Should Spring Training be shortened?

2) Instead having players report at the same time, should veterans who wish to report later be allowed to do so?

3) Do you think that a pitcher’s inert routine is a good thing or bad thing, especially when considering radical changes like the four-man rotation attempted in Colorado?