Spring training is back to basics
By Brad White
Perhaps only during the laidback days of spring training do all baseball fans have some hope for
The Red Sox havent managed to choke yet. The Brewers havent begun their barrage of
strikeouts. Even the Mets havent yet managed to completely destroy any chance at team chemistry.
I grew up watching spring training games in central Florida. Until very recently Florida had no
permanent professional teams. All it had was the Grapefruit League. The laid-back style of spring
training in the Grapefruit League was a perfect fit for Florida. Really, Ive always believed
spring training is how baseball is best watched. There are no umpires trying to speed up the games.
Baseball was meant to be played slow so that the fan can reflect on the subtleties and intricacies
of the game. It is not a game of instant gratification, but for the intellectual in each of us.
Maybe the best part of spring training is watching all the young guys trying to win jobs for the
season. That is, if you ever want to see someone hustle, watch a guy fighting for a decent paycheck.
Sure, maybe the veterans slack a little, but for many, one spring can make or break their careers.
Here are three young guys that I expect to win jobs this spring.
Lyle Overbay, the 26-year-old Diamondbacks lefty, should be able to supplant Mark Grace at first.
He has the consistency and fielding that the Diamondbacks could never get out of Erubiel Durazo.
Really, he is the reason that Durazo was traded to the Athletics.
Look for Middle Tennessee State graduate Dewon Brazelton to at least be in the Devil Rays
starting pitching staff, if not their number two, by the end of spring training.
This guy is loaded with talent and has an unbelievable curve. By the end of the year, he will be
competing with Joe Kennedy for the title of staff ace.
Moving to the outfield, Marlyn Byrd has a good chance to be a real impact player patrolling center
for the Phillies. This guy has some power, plate discipline and above average defense. Three reasons
why Doug Glanville was not offered arbitration.
The Phillies are definitely a team worth watching this spring. They were willing to go out and
spend some money because the ownership sees big profits coming in when the Phils move out of Veterans
Stadium and into their new stadium at the end of this year. Kevin Millwood, Jim Thome and David
Bell were three big free agents that the Phillies were able to win this off-season. If the chemistry
falls into place for this team, they may just be able to give the Vet fans the championship the
Eagles could not win for them this year.
When speaking about chemistry my thoughts always move in the direction of the Yankees. Like the
Lakers, the question really seems to be about balancing egos. Will Jeff Weaver and Cuban import
Jose Conteras be able to accept roles as relievers? Will the bickering by Bernie ever be quelled?
Can the Rocket keep his temper under control?
Speaking of dynasties, I have to say that the Braves pitching over the last 12 years almost
certainly represents the best run in the history of the game. The Braves have not made it to October
every year riding on their bats. After the spring is over, will the team believe that the starting
four of Maddux, Ortiz, Hampton, and Byrd is as good as last years top four that consisted of Maddux,
Glavine, Millwood, and Moss? If these new guys can have good springs and the team can gain confidence
in the staff, pencil Atlanta into the post-season for the 13th straight year.
Perhaps the most intriguing team going into this spring is, believe it or not, the Cubs. They have
one of the best young pitching staffs in the past decade. Prior is the second best young lefty
in the league, only behind Zito. Matt Clement is one of the most exciting young right-handers in
the league, trailing only Houstons Roy Oswalt and Philadelphias Brett Myers in talent.
The right side of the infield is going to be manned by two young talents in Bobby Hill and Hee
Seop Choi. Throw in the veteran talent of Sosa, Estes and Wood and the team looks like a contender.
If Baker can bring the young guys along and teach Corey Patterson some plate discipline the Cubs
may just be around in October.
Although there are a lot of interesting and developing storylines for the baseball fan to look
forward to this spring, all enthusiasm will be slightly tempered by the tragic death of Orioles
pitcher Steve Belcher. Belcher collapsed during workouts last week and was dead less than 24 hours
later. Heatstroke, which has gotten so much publicity for recent deaths in the football world,
has now caused a loss in the baseball family. Let our prayers be with the Belchers family
and the Orioles this spring.