Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MiLB LIFE: First Day of Spring Training [Part Two]

After an early wake-up, an extensive physical, and a hearty breakfast, it's time to do what we all traveled thousands of miles to do- play some ball.

8:30 AM - Cages Open
After hanging around the clubhouse, catching up with forgotten faces, and digesting my heaping pile of eggs, it's finally time to swing a bat. I head outside amongst a crowd of clones- all outfitted with the same new gear head to toe, bat in hand- as we make our way to the cages for "optional" early work.

Once outside, we are greeted by a row of eight batting cages, all set up to serve a different purpose. For the next half hour we work out the off-season kinks in our swings through tee work, flips, and soft toss- elementary cage drills focused on perfecting your bat's path to the ball.

There's some definite rust on the old swing, but for the moment I'm just thrilled to be outside. Baseball is a game that rewards repetitive practice, so although I may not feel great right now, I have no doubt everything will start clicking again soon after consecutive days of countless swings and hard work.

I look at this half hour as a chance to simply get back into baseball mode, put the bat on the ball a little bit, and really just get excited about the start of Spring Training. After months of swinging indoors, this Arizona sun is feeling mighty nice. 

9:15 AM - Orientation
Orientation is a term I had never previously heard used in baseball, but it is an everyday occurrence in our organization. Essentially a pre-practice meeting, it's a time used by a manager or authority figure to address the team and discuss the day's schedule and any other announcements he may find relevant.

Since today is our first day, the organization's Head of Minor League Operations addresses us as a group. He keeps it simple, laying out the do's and don'ts, touching on team rules, and explaining the general layout of our upcoming days in camp.

After the full rundown, he introduces essentially everyone on our organization's staff- front office employees, team counselors, managers, coaches, rovers, clubbies, you name it.

Once every person on the payroll has been introduced, it's time to split up into our assigned work groups (divided by levels), head to our respective field, and get to work.

9:30 AM - Team Practice
Our practices are extremely long, as they tend to cover just about anything you will ever encounter over the course of a baseball game, or season for that matter. As boring and repetitive as they sometimes get, today's day one, and I'm eager to start those same drills I had been so sick of just months ago.

Warm Up: We begin with a thorough stretch, led by our team's strength coach. We go through dozens of stretches- some essential, some useless- and run through a dynamic warm up filled with shuffles, back pedals, and form runs. Once we're loose, the pitchers go off and do whatever it is that pitchers do, while the more athletic position players go through some agility or base-running drills.

Once the legs are loose, we complete a ten-minute throwing program to get our arms ready for action. It is then, after about a half hour of preparations, that we are finally ready to begin practice. What a process.

Defense: Next, we break up into defensive stations. As outfielders, our job is pretty obvious: catch the ball. A simple task perhaps, but you'd be surprised how much emphasis is placed on body positioning, footwork, and the always important post-catch throw. We spend forty-five minutes every day working on communication, cuts and relays, and routes to the ball- all this work so that once games start up we can make our catches look effortless. Repetition, remember?

Team Defense: For the next half hour, infielders and outfielders join forces for a team defensive session. This block of time is usually spent covering situational cuts and relays, a run-through of the pregame warm up, or practicing fly ball priorities (which positions are able to call off other positions when catching a pop fly- Hint: Pitchers, get out of the way).

Batting Practice: This is easily the best portion of practice for hitters, although it also serves as the worst part of any pitcher's day. The position players are broken up into four groups, usually by position, and cycle through four 15-minute stations: base-running, bunting, defense, and, of course, hitting.

When I say that this is the best part of any hitter's day, I mean solely the 15 minutes of hitting. The other 45 minutes are only made tolerable due to the fact that they accompany a quarter of an hour of swinging a bat. On days that you start off in the hitting group, the next 45 minutes are brutal- talk about anti-climactic.

For pitchers, it's the same routine every day- fan out in the outfield and help shag the barrage of baseballs flying in every direction. Add that daily job to their ridiculous running routines and the fact that they don't get to hit, and I just can't figure out why anyone becomes a pitcher.

After batting practice, it's time to head back to the clubhouse- our work day is complete.

Our practices will evolve as days go by. Soon, we will begin live batting practice off of pitchers. After that, we'll work some simulated games into the practice plan, and eventually we will begin intrasquad scrimmages. Before you know it, it'll be time to finally start our Spring Training schedule of games.

As I mentioned before, the theme of all baseball practices is repetition. You get good at doing something on the baseball diamond by practicing it hundreds, often thousands of times. You want your swing, your footwork, your throwing motion- everything you do during a game- to be polished and crisp. We practice it every day so that eventually, come game time, it has become instinctual. Repetition.

This focus on repetition gets old after a while, there's no doubt about it. But today, on day one, everything is fresh. Everybody's flying around, there's an excitement in the air. No one is in mid-season form, but that's just baseball, and that's what Spring Training is for.

There are some definite kinks that need to be worked out, and that's exactly what I'll spend every day for the next month doing. But today, I was just having fun again.

MiLB LIFE Series
First Day of Spring Training [Part One]
Packing for Spring Training
The Dip Police
Do You Have an Agent?
How Long Until You're in the Bigs?
Being a Senior Sign
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Bus Rides
Wasted Hat Collection
Draft Day
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Clubhouse Rules
Drug Testing
Being the New Guy
Fat Camp
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court
Kangaroo Court

1 comment:

  1. Great read as always. As a fan I love seeing the pitchers in the OF during bp because it makes you realize just how good actual outfielders like you are. It is scary though because things like Josh Beckett getting hit happen as a result.

    Enjoy the start of spring training and try to remember the happiness you feel right now for the game as the season wears on.