Spring Training: Baseball’s Lent

Seems like every year about this time, I make the same analogy.  Spring training is Lent for the baseball fan.  Of course, it’s not just me that’s making the connection.

If, unlike me, you didn’t grow up in the Christian church (or were part of a denomination that didn’t emphasize this), Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) right before Easter.  It’s a time of preparation.  Many people give up something for Lent, a tradition that seems to be what most associate with this time of year.  However, many others add a new discipline, whether it’s a focus on Bible reading, on extra prayer time, on something that they feel can help them on their walk with God.

Given the fact that Easter moves around in March and April, spring training doesn’t always perfectly correspond with this part of the Christian calendar.  However, it’s almost to the day this year, as today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and the Cardinals officially begin reporting tomorrow.  Both end on April 5, as St. Louis faces Chicago on Easter night.  Six weeks of focus, dedication and training, no matter which way you want to look at it.

Even though there is sacrifice involved, both spring training and Lent are wonderful times of the year.  We move from the cold and snow in most places to the green grass and budding flowers.  We go from lack to abundance.  We go from grumpiness to optimism.  We are transformed, if we allow the transformation.

I’m no theologian, of course.  I’d suggest reading some of those that are on the matter as they could do a much better job than I of making these connections.

What you come here for is the baseball portion of the equation (the other is just an added bonus) and we start seeing more of that as players continue to file into Jupiter.  Perhaps the most notable person to come into camp recently has been Carlos Martinez.  When we last saw Martinez, he was mourning the passing of his good friend Oscar Taveras.  Many of us still remember the video interview he gave where he sat at a picnic bench and just looked absolutely lost.  Now, he seems focused on honoring the memory of his friend by playing the best baseball he can.

As Doug talked about yesterday, Yadier Molina requested that Martinez get a locker in Jupiter next to him.  That’s a move that can only help Martinez as he prepares for what well may be his first year fully in the big league rotation.  Getting advice from a respected player like Molina, who knows pitching better than any non-pitcher could and will be able to give him strategies, tips, and ways to prepare to be a strong starting pitcher.  He’ll also be there for other types of advice as well.  He’s been there for unexpected death, when his father passed away in 2008.  (I just found Benjie Molina’s account of that time, which is a powerful read.)  He’s known loss as well.  While no doubt Martinez has many people that he’s relied on since that October night, Molina can be one that he can rely on daily throughout the season.

It’s interesting, if not surprising, to hear that the Cardinals want to limit his innings this year as he transitions into the rotation on a full-time basis.  If you are limiting his innings, if you want to be easier on Adam Wainwright‘s workload, if you don’t want to stress Michael Wacha, then either the bullpen is going to be a huge factor or you are going to have to get creative.  The Cards have the option for the latter, what with Marco Gonzales and the apparently-healthy-at-the-moment Jaime Garcia, so we’ll see what happens as the spring progresses.  Could we see some sort of modified six-man rotation?  It would seem unlikely, but there could be ways of letting Gonzales (for example) swing between the bullpen and the rotation while letting people like Martinez or Wainwright skip a start here or there.  Something to keep an eye on.

A couple of pitchers returning from injury got the paper spotlight yesterday.  Kevin Siegrist and John Gast both seem to be healthier this year and able to really fire their pitches with the velocity they’ve come to expect.  If Siegrist is healthy and shows the form he did in 2013, he’s on the team.  (He’s probably there if he’s healthy and just shows improvement from last year–reaching 2013 levels is probably a tall order.)  Gast is a different story.  There seems to be no way to fit him on this roster.  There are enough long guys not in the rotation that the bullpen really isn’t an option.  The rotation is already crowded.  Gast would seem to be Memphis bound anyway to make sure that he’s fully recovered, but with Gonzales ahead of him on the depth chart, it might be tough to see him in St. Louis anytime soon.

Matt Holliday expects the offense to be more aggressive and powerful this season and is doing his part to encourage that mindset.  On the one hand, it couldn’t hurt to be a little less picky, I don’t guess, but I don’t think we want to see a complete “boom or bust” lineup.  There is value in drawing walks and getting good pitches to hit, which I don’t think Holliday would deny.  I think he’s saying when you see your pitch, go after it, even if it’s early in the count.  He’s also correct that just given regular corrections, the offense should be better.  A lot of folks were at “the bottom of their potential” as he put it.  Surely Jason Heyward will be better than Allen Craig was last year.  Matt Carpenter may improve his power output, Matt Adams may hit a few more long balls at the expense of his average.  This lineup still seems like a strong one, strong enough to back this outstanding pitching staff and then some.

I’d like to say that as part of my spring training/Lent discipline that I’d post everyday.  No guarantees I can get back into that habit, but I’ll do what I can.  If nothing else, you’ve got our countdown to Opening Night going.  Just 46 more days!

 

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