Spring Training Is a Joke

By Drew Fairservice

Spring Training is routine. Spring Training is measured. Spring Training is predictable. It is the birthplace of a thousand clichés, the recycling plant for a thousand old story lines. Players show up, stretch some, and nod along when asked about the team’s chances this year, while trying to fit in a couple innings of baseball a day. After a month of standing around and pretending to stretch, they head home, ramp it up, and get down to regular season business. So it’s even less exciting than baseball usually is.

So when a professional baseball player—when anyone—is arrested for and charged with “extreme DUI,” it should set off alarm bells. Extreme? That’s not part of spring’s DNA. Nothing extreme happens in Spring Training aside from extreme sunburns earned by cabin-fevered Northeasterners dying for a sunshine fix.

Still, Rockies pitcher Alex White was booked with an extreme DUI wrap Monday for more than doubling Arizona’s legal BAC limit, but all that’s followed in the baseball world has been shrugged shoulders. Drunk driving, strangely, is par for the course this time of year, one of many ugly but banal sides of Spring Training.

Drunken driving arrests are as much a fabric of spring as Best Shape of His Life stories and shitty veterans retiring three years too late. Players do it, coaches do it, Hall of Fame managers do it. Stuff like this gets swept under the rug because, surprise surprise, Spring Training is a huge money-making enterprise.

Half-frozen baseball fans who want to thaw out head down to Spring Training, and local chambers of commerce in Arizona and Florida are so desperate for tourism dollars that they offer sweetheart deals to lure organizations to their ‘burb and away from others’ (even though some economists say this is a horrible idea). The city of Peoria, a suburb of Phoenix, just re-upped a joint agreement with Mariners and Padres to keep them there through 2034 (are we even going to have baseball in 2034?), kicking in a cool $48 million to spruce up the not-yet-20-year-old facility.

Officials from local government and the front offices hold photo ops and shake many a calloused hand, putting the tax base on the hook for significant long-term commitments while teams go about business searching for the opposite. The reality of it is that these relationships don’t last long in the modern baseball economy: You can’t throw a bell pepper in Arizona without finding a mayor who wants to lure a big league club—the bigger the traveling fan base the better—and teams are constantly searching out the best deal. No one thought the Dodgers would leave Vero Beach for the desert, but they did.

Clubs use Spring Training to reinvigorate their brands and buy back the love of their fans. Baseball mandates how many stars and starters teams must bring on the road so spectators won’t have to watch a bunch of no-names, and thus the die-hards are kept just happy enough to renew their season tickets. To give some credit, the stubs are a relative steal, but the price has been creeping up and up lately, not unlike game start times. And you have to be rich enough to travel out to Arizona or Florida anyway.

Despite “meaningless” games in which bona fide Major League players sleepwalk through only a few innings, networks, such as the Yankees’ YES, pick up even the earliest spring games on the schedule, beaming images of bright sun and terrible pitching matchups back to the lucky cable subscribers at home. As the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules progress, the games start later and later in the day, attracting a bigger gate and drawing bigger TV audiences than midday games. Pretty soon, there will be no more day games.

Spring Training isn’t the debaucherous Bacchanalia of the old days: Players make a lot more now, and "Fuck you money” contracts are at stake, so most of the conditioning work is done in the winter: bulking up, building muscle, dropping fat before the 162 game season beats them into tiny lumps. The guys that don’t end up being Adam Dunn.

If getting drunk, wasting tax days, and coasting through work are your thing, Spring Training is your dream vacation. Swing on down to Florida or Arizona to soak up some sun, or get run over by a boozed-up millionaire. It’s a tradition like no other!

@DrewGROF

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