The Baltimore Orioles and other MLB teams closely monitor how many reps and how much playing time their players get during spring training. The question is whether or not that’s as necessary as people think. In essence, are spring training games really important?
And speaking for myself, the answer is yes. Every year in the NFL we hear the criticism of preseason games and how they’re meaningless. In terms of the standings, yes they’re meaningless. But for the same reasons, athletes in both leagues need exhibition games.
In baseball, hitters often need two weeks worth of games to get their timing back. That’s why often the first two weeks of Grapefruit or Cactus League play is vanilla – even by exhibition standards. And I’m not disagreeing in that the “on-field product” is vanilla in those games. But they’re necessary.
Pitchers and catchers of course report a few days before position players, and that’s for timing reasons as well in a sense. It gives them some extra time to acclimate or re-acclimate themselves with one another, because obviously if they aren’t on the same page…needless to say the games will take on a poor quality. And they’ll be very long!
When people question the need for exhibition games I’ll always say that they’re very necessary. There are a lot of things that can be simulated in a practice. But there’s a big difference between that and playing in a game against another team with umpires and so forth.
There’s also a chance for coaches to take a look at young players who may have a future in the organization. As the later innings of these games go on, we see them being rotated into the games. So coaches can get a look at players that might well be the future of the organization, in real live game action. That’s a valuable tool.
In essence, what happens in October began taking place on the sunny fields of Florida or Arizona back in March. And the fact is that spring training is a leisurely atmosphere, as opposed to the intensity of the regular season. Players and coaches are often much more accessible for autographs, and in a sense teams literally uproot their entire operation and move it to a small community in Florida or Arizona for a month-and-a-half. Spring training has a certain charm with which the regular season can’t really compete. And that’s part of the beauty of baseball.