Thursday, April 5, 2012

SMALLS TALK: O's lose to college team - big deal?

It's not out of the ordinary for a Big League team to face college competition at some point during Spring Training. It's a tradition that several clubs have honored for years as both a showcase for fans and a special treat for the college kids. It is out of the ordinary, however, for a Big League team to lose to college competition. Enter the Baltimore Orioles.

The O's lost 2-1 in a charity game against Miami Florida Florida State State College of Florida on Tuesday and, just as you'd expect, a media frenzy ensued, resulting in two very different spins on the game. First came the more obvious take: your classic doomsday predictions of an 0-162 season. The O's couldn't beat Little Leaguers, nevermind a college team! Or my favorite: Playing the Orioles will kill SCF's RPI! There were also plenty who chose to downplay the significance of the event. After all, it was a charity game, and the bulk of the Baltimore starting lineup was out of the game by the 5th inning. Who cares? They probably just wanted to get their work in and get out of there.

It's a classic "story vs. non-story" debate, and having heard both spins, I was prepared to form my opinion on the matter. But then another factor was thrown into the mix that changed everything: since SCF is already into their season and wanted to save some pitching, there were a few innings that featured Orioles pitchers and catchers playing for the college team. And just like that, what had become such a hot and lively debate got flipped on its head. In my mind, the Oriole vs. Oriole matchups negate the entire story - case dismissed. 

But just for fun, let's say the teams played straight up. Now is it a story?

At this point in the Spring? Absolutely. I've played the game, I know the difference in competition, and while baseball is the only sport that offers a college team a realistic chance to beat a professional team, I believe the Major League club should win this game 99 times out of 100. The only exception would be a lights out pitching performance by the college squad's ace (sometimes you just can't beat good pitching). But that'd only be if the game actually meant something and the college team was pitching their stud, playing to win. In today's world of Spring Training exhibition games, the MLB club should win every time.

I understand both sides of the argument, but at the end of the day, it's Big League talent vs. college talent. Sure it's Spring Training, but if you think the professionals aren't trying during their at-bats you're out of your mind. You think they want to strike out against some snot-nosed college kid? While it may not be the end of the world, losing to a college team is flat out embarrassing. 

When I was in college my team played against a Big League squad every year, and while we managed to give them a good game once or twice, no one, ourselves included, expected us to win. Even though our dugout was full of energy and we played harder than our professional opponents, we were in college. We weren't used to wood bats, we weren't going to waste our best arms on an exhibition game, and only a small fraction of us would evolve into minor league ballplayers, let alone Big Leaguers.

If a MLB team lost to a minor league team - or a Division 1 college club lost to a D3 opponent, for that matter - I wouldn't bat an eye. It's baseball, anything can happen. But just as college should never lose to high school, professional should never lose to college. The talent gap is too great and the games are too long. Even if you want to argue that it's mostly minor leaguers who play in those exhibition games, those are the absolute best minor leaguers - it's not exactly an open invitiation to Big League camp.

So had SCF beaten the Orioles straight up, I'd find it hard not to call it a story. It doesn't label every future O's win a miracle, but it's a story. Any time a massive underdog overcomes great odds I believe appropriate kudos are deserved. But in this particular case, the details negate any significance - the unlikely victory is tainted by SCF's borrowing of Baltimore pitchers and catchers. Well played, Buck.

Regardless of the details, congrats to State College of Florida on the win. As for the O's - I've dismissed this game on a technicality but something tells me they're in for another long summer in Baltimore. They do have those cool new hats, though. Baby steps.

Terry Francona on Baseball Tonight

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  1. Good point, well played by Buck indeed.

  2. O's are 1-0 chief.

  3. Now that it is officially the offseason, I think we can say that the plan that the O's had with this loss paid off.