I hate spring training.
It’s a time of year when I should be thrilled for any kind of baseball to be happening in front of me, but even in my own deprived state I cannot get pumped up to watch High-A players face No. 8 pitchers in business casual versions of real baseball jerseys. Sure, some of the excitement is there for the first game, but it evaporates so quickly that it never even registers as real baseball.
My disdain for spring training even goes so far as to ruin the flow of this article, because in any other case this is where a specific example of spring’s awfulness would go to help illustrate my point and hopefully rally you to my side. But I have watched exactly two outs of spring training this year and I really do not want to sit through more of it for the purpose of a throwaway joke. I’m also going out on a limb and hope that you, too, are not a fan of spring training if you’re still reading to this point.
This post isn’t just about the awful boringness of spring training, though. It’s about the World Baseball Classic, which is a contiguous series of games in March that’s is both not at all spring training and also kind of basically spring training.
Where the two are similar is most of the on-field, strictly baseball stuff. Grown men are still hitting baseballs with sticks in an orderly fashion and occasionally someone will catch a ball or miss three times and have to go sit for a little while and think about what he has done. The games are still not much more than a warm-up for major leaguers, but at least you’ll occasionally get that patriotic blood flowing and have someone (preferably not an Indians pitcher) throwing gas in a game in early March. But they differ in the fact that Major League Baseball still wants you to care about them.
Everyone knows spring training is boring, but it’s not really for fans. We’re allowed to watch and attend, obviously, but that’s only because we as a human race enjoy some good self-flagellation once in a while. In the same way that you once stepped on a LEGO on purpose just to “see if it actually hurts that bad,” you also watch spring training to see if it’s worth the pain just so you can say you experienced it. Spring training is really meant for pitchers to get back into game shape and for hitters to pretend they need a month to do the same.
The World Baseball Classic is a series of meaningless games that the overlords at the controls want you to believe are meaningful; it’s fake baseball with the production of real baseball, without the stringent “unwritten rules” of American baseball. It’s this delicious nugaty center of weird wrapped in a sparkly cover that makes for some strange — and most importantly, fun — moments.
Already, in just the first round of pool play* we have several memorable moments. The biggest, and best, is this fantastic bat flip from Francisco Lindor after he crushed a ball to give Puerto Rico an early lead over Mexico on Saturday.
Which, getting back to my earlier point of less bullshit unwritten American rules, probably does not happen if this no-doubter is hit out of the park in Guaranteed Rate Cellular Sprint Cup Field Park of the White Sox in June.
*I’m really not that familiar with international sports, do we call it pool play? That feels weird. No one is wet, that I’m aware of, and no one is wearing swim caps so I’m not sure if we call it pool play. Please send me several emails correcting this error.
Then there was Bruce Chen, another former Indians player (now quasi-coach), just heading out to work in his Sunday best dress shoes:
Bruce Chen, I got one question for you... pic.twitter.com/QYlhwDPZuh— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) March 8, 2017
And, finally, just look at the jubilation on the faces of these young Americans after they crushed their free-health-care-havin’, syrup-lovin’ neighbors, Canada.
I’m at least 93% sure Jim Leyland was sleeping in the dugout and was woken up just before the camera cut to him, and if you look closely you can see some players almost start to jog at one point. Not completely, but it gets close. Someone at MLB Network knew they were going to have to tweet out a GIF of the final out, and I can just imagine the long sigh when they saw no one on the field really gave two hoots.
There is also the fact that the bizarre rule of having a runner on first and second to start extra innings was put into effect yesterday and, there is even a mercy rule of all things. A mercy rule in Major League(ish) baseball. Both of those rules are in effect for the same reason: the games don’t really matter and they have to wrapped up in a timely fashion that causes no one to get hurt. More tasty bits of weird.
The WBC can get so weird, in fact, that Andrew Miller almost appears mortal. But ignore that.
So the next time you’re watching an overmatched Eric Stamets facing some Reds pitcher you’ll never see and preparing to call into your local radio station (or @ your favorite Indians blog) about making moves based on spring training stats, consider turning on a WBC game when it’s on. You won’t regret it.