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Baseball O’Clock

Spring has sprung, and it’s about dang time

MLB: Spring Training-San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

While blizzards pound the altitudes of the high Sierra, fraying into a wintry mix that coats the hills overlooking San Jose and peppers the Hollywood sign above L.A., spring has sprung in the desert. Major League Baseball unfolds its limbs and yawns out of hibernation into its first weekend of games with our San Francisco Giants visiting the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Arizona.

As pleasant and familiar it is to dial KNBR on the radio and hear Duane Kuiper’s and Jon Miller’s sonorous call already in mid-season form, spring training will always be slightly off-brand.

The daily line-ups an odd mix of everyday big leaguers, down-farm prospects and invitees all on-field with different goals, routines, and individualized workout plans; the every 2 or 3 inning shuffle unconcerned with game situation; the inverse color uniforms and wide-receiver numbers; the occasional collapse into Little League play of late-innings—its baseball and its not. Like how sleep-away camps and senior living facilities gesture towards reality while purposefully remove from it, spring training mimics the game in an orchestrated, Truman Show-esque bubble.

Sure, Steven, but just shut-up...because we’ll take sloppy play in the sunshine a million times over the late-February content fans have been treated to as of late.

This spring feels even more off-kilter than previous with the blanket institution of rule changes: digital clocks have been mounted behind home plate and in the outfield of stadiums; enlarged bases have shortened base paths by inches; previously shifty infielders have been restricted to their respective sides of the diamond.

After watching today’s game, the off-season’s alterations hemmed in the on-field product but did not fundamentally change it. No, the shift was not missed, and, except for a couple of pitch clock infractions, the Chicago broadcast effectively cropped the ugly digital clock from frame while it forced a livelier pace of play. Out of sight, out of mind. Hits up the middle, balls in play, stolen bases—what was once organic now requires scaffolding. I suppose this is to be expected with a 150-plus year old institution.

Today’s 9 innings still exceeded the 3-hour mark, but 18 runs, 25 hits, 13 walks, 12 strikeouts and 6 errors (all SF’s) will do that. San Francisco lost 10-8, with some really sloppy play though it’s best to not read too much into team performance in spring training. As I said before, this next month is more about individual conditioning and preparation than a W-L record. A positive performance in March tends to weigh heavier than a poor one, and some cusp players looking to make impressions made some statements in today’s game.

Rule-5 pickup Blake Sabol who is competing for one of two catcher positions against incumbents Joey Bart and Austin Wynns among others, manned the dish for 5 innings. He’s a big target and looked decent framing pitches. While he got yanked around a bit by a wild Drew Strotman and displayed more of a Nerf gun than a cannon throwing to second on a stolen base attempt, his defensive work wasn’t notably lacking.

A better impression was made with his bat though, going 2 for 3 with 3 RBIs. 6’4’’ Sabol took on centerf ield with little fuss for a 2-run homer in the 4th.

Casey Schmitt, MiLB Gold Glove winner, started at third base and immediately flashed leather starting a 5-4-3 double play in the 1st while saving a run with a diving stop to close out the 2nd. (And a nice pick by Wade to boot!)

He also do-si-doed with Sabol, launching a no-doubter to his pull side.

Another notable blast came off of LaMonte Wade Jr.’s bat who launched a line drive over the leftish-center field wall in the 3rd. It’s the kind of homer a player can hang their hat on, especially one who struggled to generate power from his bottom half with a naggy knee all of last year.

Out your window, it’s snowy and cold, but it’s baseball season somewhere.