I often get asked, usually from those that want to troll me, why I love baseball so much. I have to admit, despite purporting to be a baseball writer, I often to struggle to answer the question with any clarity. It’s like getting asked what I see in my wife. There’s so many things it’d be a shame to focus on one defining element.
A recent holiday experience may go some way towards uncovering the building blocks of my baseball passion. The family and I left the rain of Vancouver to get some sun in Palm Springs. My wife had done a bit of research and realized we’d be there while the California Winter League — how can you not love a wife who lets me know baseball is on when she knows I’m going to drag her there — was ongoing.
So, as an early birthday present I got to see some pseudo professional baseball in early February. Let’s cover the obvious reasons why this was awesome. The average age of the crowd made me feel very young. A not so simple thing these days. The sun was shining, a lot, and it was hot. The beer was cold and good, including this tasty drop, although I wasn’t averse to having a Bud or 10 when it was going for 2 bucks a draft.
It’s the dedication these kids show to the game which also plays on my emotional heart strings. The CWL is basically a showcase and instructional league. If you click on the link tagged above it shows you the cost breakdown to come to Palm Springs (travel to and from is on your own dime as well) to play in a league which hopefully gets you signed in one of the various independent leagues around the country. So basically you’re paying upwards of five grand in the hopes of inking a deal that will end up paying you peanuts.
I actually spoke to one of the 20 players that had travelled over from Japan. Through a combination of his pidgkin English and my, even worse, Japanese it became apparent that he didn’t yet have a contract offer but was still hopeful, even if time was running out. If a deal wasn’t forthcoming then it was back to Osaka to carry on his playing career in Japan.
You have to admire that sort of commitment. Coming all that way, spending the money, with no guarantees at the end. And even if a contract was offered, the rewards, if you could call them that, would be nominal at best.
As he got up to leave I wished him all the best and couldn’t help but feel optimistic for him (despite never seeing him play) and if you can’t feel optimistic when you’re a few beers deep, in the sun, watching ball, what’s the point?
Speaking of optimism, the Blue Jays got the trucks fired up last week:
— Blue Jays-Official (@BlueJays) February 12, 2015
I also saw some twitpicks from Dunedin, showing all of the young Jays hurlers already at work. I made my feelings perfectly clear as to where I stand on how mechanical tweaks and repertoire additions could mean the trifecta of Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison provide far more value to the Jays then they are currently being predicted for.
Andrew Stoeten recently penned a piece similar in vein, but, rightfully so, he doesn’t allow wild eyed enthusiasm to override certain realities:
‘There are caveats to all these potentially exciting changes, however. Development doesn’t often happen in a straight line. For pitchers, especially, it comes in fits and starts, and sometimes even the greatest one have stretches, or even entire seasons, where they’re not as effective as we know they can be. It would be foolish to simply assume that the book is now written on them, and Hutchison, Stroman, and Sanchez are now and forever the superb pitchers we witnessed at the end of the 2014 season.’
Stoeten isn’t wrong. Given their ages, and experience levels, there are going to be plenty of frustrating patches for the kids (mix Daniel Norris in here as well) in 2015. It’s just, similar to the Japanese player intent on winning himself an independent league contract, it’s a great time of year to be looking at the glass — preferably beer — as more than half full.
And, oh ya, in case you missed it, fangraphs have fallen in love with Marcus Stroman.
More ‘like’ for Jays prospects as Baseball America mentioned forgotten man A.J. Jimenez in the all title post Players to Monitor After Big Winter League Performances List. Jimenez put up some decent numbers in the Puerto Rican league this winter (which Bernie Pleskoff told us was akin to AAA) with the most impressive being the .437 slugging percentage. Which is the highest of his minor league career.
We all know that most of A.J.’s value lies within his catch and throw abilities so I’m going to throw out a few big IFs here. IF he can continue hitting in Buffalo and IF Russell Martin proves he can catch the knuckleball then the Jays catching situation becomes far more fluid.
‘Smith, who’s expected to open the season at double-A New Hampshire, will arrive at camp looking to make the transition from outfield to second base. He worked at the keystone during the Arizona Fall League, and the Blue Jays are hoping he can make the transition full-time.’
With Devon Travis also in mlb camp, Smith Jr has to keep hitting to get himself noticed as he may be blocked at the keystone if Smith comes good.
None of the topics discussed above are going to be resolved in March. Like watching baseball in sunny Palm Springs though, that’s not going to stop me from getting excited. Pitchers and catchers are officially reporting in just over a week. Bring it on.
(as an aside: looks like Team Caskey backed the right team — see picture — as the Canada A’s — with one whole Canadian on the roster — took home the CWL championship after pasting the Midwest Haymakers 9 – zip)