Most of the romance is gone from pro sports. The holdout is baseball Spring Training, conducted in Florida and Arizona, 15 teams in each state. Optimism is high, because everybody’s record is 0-0. Rookies get to move up in their organization’s plans. Established veterans, long-term contracts in hand, polish parts of their game. Reporters arrive hours before each exhibition contest, eating up every tidbit.
But there are sad stories, and one of them is the Atlanta Braves, who have traded off talent for prospects, gambling they can be better in 2017 and beyond at their new stadium in Cobb County. Sample interview:
Reporter: Could this team lose 100 games?
Braves official: No way. We are confident that will not happen.
Reporter: Could this team lose 95 games?
Braves official: I’d rather not comment.
The saddest stories of all involve players at or near the end of their careers. Consider 35-year-old Nick Swisher, a first baseman/outfielder with surgically repaired knees (both, in 2014). Wearing bulky braces, he appeared in 76 games last season with Cleveland and then Atlanta, hitting .196.
He’ll make #15 million this season, guaranteed, no matter where he plays (or doesn’t). Of course, the Braves would like to trade him and dump part of that salary, but that isn’t going to happen, so he likely will be released. If you see Nick in an exhibition game, expect swings for the fences.
“I know the situation I’m in and I’m stoked to go out and prove what I can do, because I’d love to help this team. But if I can go help somebody else, I’ll go do that, too,” he told Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
Note the optimism. That is why fans love Spring Training.