Let the record show that the 2017 baseball season began, officially if not all that notably, with Wednesday's exhibition tilt between the Arizona D-backs and the Grand Canyon Antelopes. As beautifully depicted in a Will Leitch column we re-ran this week, games featuring big league ballclubs vs. "Rando U." are a rite of spring, and there are three more of them on the Thursday schedule.
But then the real fun begins Friday, as the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules get underway in Florida and Arizona (time to subscribe to MLB.TV, if you haven't already). And though these games are obviously just warm-ups for the regular season, they do offer their own unique set of charms that are independent of anything we see in the season proper.
Inspired by a draft of silly spring stuff I did earlier this week on a podcast with the @CespedesBBQ guys, here are 10 things to love about the exhibition season.
10. The Grapefruit League logo
Look at this logo. Take a good, gosh darn look at it…
Unlike the Cactus League logo, this one offers nothing specific to the region, nothing specific to the traits of the league, nothing specific to the winter getaway motif. It doesn't even include a grapefruit. It looks like the cover of some low-budget computer game from the early 90s.
So why do I love it? Because I respect that the logo has a quiet confidence to it. It approaches the spring like an established veteran superstar. This logo is not looking to wow you or make the team. It just shows up on time and gets its work in.
The games don't count, so why should the logo?
If deadlocked after nine innings, the managers will confer and decide if they want to play a 10th. If they play a 10th and it's still tied, they're generally out of pitchers and will agree to call it a day. Last year brought us our first regular-season tie (a late-season game between the Pirates and Cubs was called after 5 1/3 innings because of rain) in more than a decade.
But in Spring Training, the kiss-your-sister finish is weirdly commonplace. Forget rookie ball. Maybe MLB should experiment with a runner at second at the start of extras in spring ball.
8. Pitchers jogging on the warning track during games.
I'd rank this higher, but it doesn't happen very much anymore (if ever). These Spring Training complexes have become, well, increasingly complex. Agility fields are in more ample supply, and there is often more efficiency to the layouts. So a guy running foul pole to foul pole to get a little more sweat going after pitching a couple innings is no longer all that practical, and many pitchers hated feeling like a distraction -- or, worse, a fly ball target -- anyway. But this was, for so long, a spring staple and an inherent part of its appeal.
7. Players giving interviews during the game
I'm not talking about the (often worthless) in-game interviews that have become ubiquitous in sports broadcasting, at large. I'm talking about the clubhouse opening to reporters midway through exhibition games, after the starting pitcher and the regulars call it a day.
Talk about feeding the beast. In Spring Training, you don't have to wait a full nine innings to find out if David Price felt the ball was coming out of his hand well or what pitch Corey Seager was looking for when he ripped that second-inning solo shot. This ultra-important info is available to the reporter -- and, by extension, the public -- well in advance of the final out, and it allows visiting players, in particular, to get their media obligations out of the way before they board the first bus back and beat traffic.
Generally speaking, the ease of access for fans and reporters alike is one of the great things about Spring Training.
6. Non-ironic high jersey numbers.
You'll see occasional outliers like Manny Ramirez when he wore No. 99 or Prince Fielder when he switched to No. 84 or Jose Abreu going with No. 79, but, generally speaking, anything from 70 on up is limited to the spring season. These are the numbers often assigned to the Minor Leaguers and non-roster invitees who have to earn their way into the good graces of a more traditional integer, and that makes them a handy -- although far from infallible -- means of knowing whether the guy you are watching has a realistic shot of being on the Opening Day roster.
Just don't totally dismiss the dudes with big digits. In 2001, some kid fresh out of A-ball, wearing No. 68, lit up the Grapefruit League and won a roster spot with the Cardinals. Albert Pujols went on to put up big numbers of a different sort.
5. "B" games
If the "A" games in Spring Training often feature guys with inordinately high jersey numbers, you can imagine what you're getting into with "B" games. But they are an integral part of spring.
You would think a slate of 30-some Grapefruit or Cactus games would be enough to satisfy all needs, but managers always find a need to arrange these side games (they're usually 10 a.m. tilts) with another skipper so that he can get guys adequate at-bats or innings. And if, say, a player is working his way back from an injury and needs a specific number of at-bats, batting out of the order is not unordinary.
The best is when the "B" games are used for a little spring subterfuge. Say Madison Bumgarner is lined up to start, but the Giants are facing the Dodgers in Cactus League play that day. It wouldn't be unusual for Bruce Bochy to decide to start Bumgarner in a "B" game so that the Dodgers don't get a look at his stuff (as if they don't know him pretty well already).
4. The home team sets the DH rule
On the one hand, there is value in NL clubs wanting to give the opportunity to their pitchers to hit in exhibition play so that they can prepare for their regular-season responsibilities at the plate.
On the other hand, if pitchers hitting in the regular season is a little risky and, therefore, a little crazy, then pitchers hitting in exhibition play is absolutely nuts, which is why the DH is often utilized even by NL teams in the early portion of the spring schedule.
But that's not always the case. A few years back, Reds manager Dusty Baker wanted to use the DH for an away game on March 3, but D-backs manager Kirk Gibson refused. They argued about it at home plate before first pitch, and the encounter ended with Baker waving Gibson off when he was offered his hand to shake.
"We play by the rules here," Gibson said at the time.
Hey, even weird rules are rules.
3. Unjustifiable statistical scrutiny
We just can't help ourselves. We're so excited about the dawn of a new season that we make ridiculous conclusions from non-binding baseball. The small-sample analysis is silly enough in April. But in March, it's especially unproductive. Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, for instance, hit .173 with a .449 OPS last spring -- hardly an indicator of the Silver Slugger season ahead. Nats outfielder Michael Taylor, on the other hand, churned out a 1.340 OPS in the Grapefruit League, only to hit .231 in the season proper.
So don't freak out about spring stats
Then again, Jason Heyward did hit .164 in his first Cactus showing with the Cubs, so…
2. The spring phenomenon
Somewhat of an offshoot of the stats chat and certainly an offshoot of the 2001 Pujols mention, this one's less about the specific numbers themselves and more about those goosebumps we get when some guy who was either off the radar or unproven previously has his Spring Training coming-out party (unsustainable or otherwise).
My dad used to tell me about the spring of 1954, when he was one of many cold Clevelanders reading reports about Rudy "The Red Hot Rapper" Regalado, who tore up Tucson to surprisingly make the Indians roster and… die a quick big league death. There have of course been many other spring stars who fizzled.
But every once in a while, the magic is real. Remember two years ago, when Kris Bryant was hitting a home run seemingly every other day? Remember 2008, when a 19-year-old Clayton Kershaw (wearing No. 96!) strode out to a Dodgertown mound and struck out Sean Casey (Casey sure does…).
There's something especially thrilling about a kid who conquers the spring stage, because, whether it works out in the long run or not, it kicks an already optimistic environment up a notch.
1. Managers and coaches on chairs
What did Joe Girardi think of that Masahiro Tanaka outing? I don't know, ask him yourself. He's sitting right there on a chair in front of the net, and I'm sure he'd love for you to bother him during the ballgame.
Coaches on chairs (sometimes they'll make it even more Spring Trainingy and sit on buckets) is an oddity born out of practicality. There are simply too many dudes in the dugout this time of year, with some teams carrying upward of 70 players on their early spring rosters. And sitting outside allows a manager and his staff to have both evaluative discussions and elbow room, all while dodging the occasional opinion of the drunks in the first rows or, you know, the occasional batted ball.
"I hate sitting out there," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "You feel like you're going to have to play dodgeball a little bit."
Hey, they may hate it. But we love it. Nothing says Spring Training like coaches on chairs!
--Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.