Monday, February 28, 2011

The Boys of Winter

They call it "spring training", but it starts in the dead of winter. Heck, spring doesn't technically arrive until a few days before Major League teams break camp and "head north" (an evocative phrase from the past) to start the regular season.

For the last two weeks, ballplayers have been working out. For the last few days, they've been playing a few innings at a time, easing their way back into the grind of another long season.

I was lucky enough to stumble into Scottsdale Stadium the other day while the Giants were working out. Within a few minutes, I could see a trimmer Pablo Sandoval was absolutely locked-in with his lefthanded swing, but struggling from the right side. I could see that Mark DeRosa had bulked up a bit. I could see the intensity guys like Andres Torres and Buster Posey bring to their craft. And I could see the boost of energy Miguel Tejada is already providing.

The quiet days in the desert are when you can tell who's ready and who has a ways to go. It's when you can see if a team is a team or a bunch of disparate individuals. You can't tell how things will end up in October--there are way too many variables for that--but you can get a sense of whether a team has a chance or will be left in the dust.

After watching that workout, it was no surprise to me that Sandoval, DeRosa and Posey all came out of the box hitting line drives in their first exhibition games. These guys obviously approached winter with a sense of purpose. Sandoval has lost a ton of weight (my son, watching the Dodgers a few days later in Glendale AZ, jokes that the Panda must have given the pounds to Jonathan Broxton) with a workout regimen that undoubtedly involved a few lost lunches while running the notorious "A" Mountain in Tempe.

It would, of course, be easy for the Giants to ease into 2011 on the cushion of their 2010 championship. But from what I saw in Scottsdale, they seem to be taking a different approach. The last thing we saw as we left the stadium was Sandoval, alone, on the back diamond taking ground balls. Call it winter overtime.

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