Another day, another slate of contests from Arizona and Florida to ponder.
Spring Training games generate a measure of meaning and interest through fringe players or newcomers competing to win roster spots and talented youngsters trying to catch the eye. Whether a veteran looking for another chance or a rookie hoping to make it, the dream of the Big Leagues dangles in front of them all.
The promised land is within touching distance for a mighty few and achieving the goal of making an Opening Day roster in the Majors is something that should never be underestimated by us onlookers, conditioned as we are to seeing the best players making it look so natural and easy.
And yet the painful truth is that so often rosters are determined, and headlines are dominated, not by glorious tales of players winning positions, but others losing them. The sheen of optimism that covers Spring Training is always broken by the dreaded curse of injuries.
The St. Louis Cardinals were dealt a thumpingly hollow reminder of this within days of their camp opening. Adam Wainwright’s elbow injury was the nightmare scenario that all teams dread. Knowing that they were part of a fiercely competitive division this year, they couldn’t afford to lose their best pitcher, and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, for any stretch of time.
To lose him for the entire season before a game has been played is the cruellest blow. It’s certainly not the case that their season is already over, but they know how tough it will be to win the NL Central after losing an irreplaceable part.
One thing is for sure, it doesn’t pay for anyone to gloat about these things. Any professional, indeed any true baseball fan, wants to see the best players on the field and wouldn’t wish an injury on anyone. And even if you are of a heartless, cynical persuasion, avoiding the mocking of injuries is essential because you never know what is around the corner.
The Milwaukee Brewers knew that Wainwright’s injury weakened one of their rivals, but they also knew a similar fate could be awaiting them with one slip or trip or fling of an arm. Or even an ill-timed basketball game. Zack Greinke’s rib injury takes the gloss of his arrival in Milwaukee and he’ll still be recovering, rather than pitching, when Opening Day arrives. While it doesn’t look like Greinke will be out for too long, a Brew Crew basketball ban is surely now in effect.
Why risk another mishap when the injury bug is already no respecter of name or status and doesn’t care if it’s timing couldn’t be worse.
The Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation is seemingly lined up to dominate the National League this year, but they will need some offence to go alongside the pitching. Their batting lineup is no longer quite the threatening force of previous years. A recent article on ESPN.com by Jayson Stark showed how the league has caught up with some of their hitters and the last thing the team needed was for players to start reporting hurt.
Which is, of course, exactly what is now happening.
Domonic Brown was pencilled in to be the guy to fill the hole made by Jayson Werth’s free agent departure to Washington; however he’ll start the season on the Disabled List after undergoing surgery on his right hand. That’s a blow, but not to the level of Chase Utley’s situation. A knee injury that was initially dressed up as a mild inconvenience is now a full-blown problem of a frustratingly vague kind. The Phillies know what’s wrong with him (mild patellar tendinitis); deciding on the most appropriate course of treatment is less straight forward and that means they have no clear idea of when he will be back on the field.
And it’s not only real-life General Managers that are left pondering such uncertainties. Fantasy baseball owners too are adjusting their player rankings at each piece of injury news filtering through as drafts approach.
The BaseballGB Fantasy draft takes place this Sunday. All of us involved can check on current injuries and weigh up the risks and rewards that could be involved with selecting players currently battling an injury. However, once the draft has been completed, we’ll be at the mercy of injuries like everyone else. We don’t have the problem of contracts and financial commitments to worry about, but we’ll still have cause to worry here and there as trainers walk out onto the field to talk to pitchers and position players report soreness that could always lead to something more serious.
The only hope for fantasy players is that waiver claims and free agent pick-ups can help to avert a crisis. As for the real teams, their only hope is that an injury creates an opportunity for a walk-on recruit or a prospect to step up and take their chance. It’s not the way they would want the chance to fall to them, but that’s how all sports work and it’s the positive way of looking at a bleak subject.
You’ve got to take the positives from the negatives, especially during these optimistic Spring Training days.