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Sports Commentary 3/25/14 – The Distorted Prism of Spring

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Derek Jeter, Yankees, in Panama (Rodrigo Arangua/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter, Yankees, in Panama (Rodrigo Arangua/Getty Images)

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THE DISTORTED PRISM OF SPRING

You know what they say about spring training, turn the standings upside down to get a handle on the regular season. Based on the results with less than a week left to the Grapefruit and Cactus circuits, the Twins will have the best record in the American League while winning the Central division, while the Indians finish at the bottom of the division with the league’s worst record.

No one pays attention to wins and losses in spring training, it’s about who’s ready when the cry goes up for real and who’s not. Spring is known for it’s sweet distortions, as much in baseball as anywhere. Other factors distort the meaning of spring in the baseball camps. The perspective is quite different for World Series champions from that of World Series “wanna-bes”. What better case in point, from our perch on baseball’s Mason-Dixon line, than the Red Sox and Yankees?

Everyone knows how old Yankees captain Derek Jeter is, it’s in the lead paragraph of every story about the veteran shortstop. He’s 39 years old. He’ll be 40 before the season ends. Everyone also knows his spring training batting average, it’s right behind the age in the leads, an anemic .114. Every headline over a Jeter story seems to come with a question mark.

In the Red Sox camp no such questions dog designated hitter David Ortiz. No one questions his age, which is just a year behind Jeter. He’ll be 39 when next season starts, the second year on a two year plus option deal he signed yesterday. No one seems concerned about how old he’ll be next year, or whether it will be his final season, something we knew about Jeter before he entered his 39 year old campaign. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about Ortiz’ spring batting average, which, at .062 makes Jeter look like Ted Williams.

Of course, Ortiz doesn’t play the field, so the daily wear and tear on his body probably hasn’t been as great as it’s been for Jeter, though no one’s questioning Jeter’s defense, he looks pretty solid so far, and Jeter has kept himself in better shape throughout his career and has never showed up on a steroid list. The two players have suffered similar injuries in their career. Jeter is coming off an ankle injury, but he’s also coming off a year in which there was no wear and tear on the body. And when age catches up with the eyes and the swing it catches up whether the guy plays the field or not.

In the Red Sox camp mound ace Jon Lester has yet to sign a contract beyond this, his walk year, but no one seems concerned, despite earlier suggestions he might want to take a post season peek, just to see if there might be some “Clayton Kershaw” money, as he put it, in his future. In the Yankee camp headlines blare about the expense to which the Yankees went for a number four starting pitcher, as it it’s wasted money. They announced the rotation yesterday, with Michael Pineda winning the battle for the fifth slot while all one $175 million of Masahiro Tanaka’s contract plugs into the fourth slot. No mention of how that works out logistically for a guy who came from Japan, where he pitched once a week, and now tries to ease into an every fifth day situation. There’s no telling how the chips will fall over a long season, but the fourth slot immediately puts him on course to pitch one less game and fewer innings than the front three. Still, there’s more concern about Tanaka in the Yankee camp, though he’s done nothing short of showing himself to be the real deal, than there is about Lester in the Red Sox camp.

World Series “wanna-bes”, World Series Champs. It’s all a matter of perception. “What cry?” you ask. Why, “Play ball!” of course.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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