Florida is warming up for Spring, and the Yankees are heating up, even on the road this afternoon. The Yankees headed down to the Orioles’ Spring home in Sarasota (just over an hour south) to face another division rival. (They faced the Blue Jays yesterday in Tampa.)
The Yankees sent young pitcher Chad Green to the mound to start things for the Yankees this afternoon. Green threw his 2 innings, allowing a total of 2 batters (a walk and a single), but keeping the Orioles from doing much damage. Green set the pattern fairly well for the rest of the game, which was 2 hours and 14 minutes. Aside from a lead-off solo home run for the Orioles in the 3rd, the Yankees kept the Baltimore power-hitters from doing much more than 4 total hits (and 3 walks). It was a really strong show for a roster full of mostly minor league pitchers.
In the 1st inning, the Yankees punched through the scoreboard first. With 1 out, Austin Romine singled and Greg Bird doubled to put them into scoring position. Then Aaron Judge reached on a fielder’s choice (the easy out, really), getting Bird out at 3rd and scoring Romine.
The game sat tied after the Orioles tied it up in the 3rd for most of the game. So the Yankees saw their opportunity in the 9th. Clint Frazier doubled and Deglan singled to put runners on the corners. Young infielder Thairo Estrada showed up with a big 3-run home run to hand the Yankees the lead (and the win).
Final score: 4-1 Yankees.
Most of away teams are composed primarily of minor leaguers, while most home teams are heavy on the veteran and starters. Which often goes well for the hometown crowd, expecting to see their stars shine. But I’ve found that it’s the farm guys that tend to show up and play hard because they’re the ones who want it more, need it more. They’re vying for a chance at “The Show” this year and willing to try their all at every play, every pitch, every out, every at-bat. For them, it’s not a warm-up for the season, but rather the last chance many of them have to get the front office guys to remember their names.
My mom likes to call Spring Training an “audition”. And she’s right. People may show up for the stars and the starters, but what makes the game worth watching is all the “nobodies” trying to become “somebodies”. The kids who are still trying to see if they “can make a go of this baseball thing”, the ones who still dream of what playing at Yankee Stadium feels like, the ones who imagine what their Bleacher Creature Roll Call could be (and practice their signature response).
Spring Training is 36 (ish) exhibition games to get players back in the baseball momentum. But mostly, it’s a chance to watch a player like Gary Sanchez, as we did last year. He really wasn’t ready for the Bronx back in March/April 2016, flirted with a call-up for a day at the end of May, and then shows up in August to blast away all the critics and expectations with 20 homers and 42 RBIs in just 53 games. Sanchez was even credited with keeping the Yankees’ postseason hopes alive right up until the final week of the season last year.
Yesterday, I was watching Sanchez taking swings in the on-deck circle waiting for his at-bat early in the game. And it made me smile because I remembered thinking that this kid was so not ready for the Bronx by the end of Spring Training. Whatever it was, he honed that time in Scranton and just burst on the scene, late in the season but perhaps right on time for him. And I glanced to my right at the young players hanging over the dugout fence. Which one of these guys is going to be in that situation this season? It could be someone no one’s expecting. Or it could be someone (like Sanchez) that everyone expects something from but in a different time frame.
And isn’t that just like life? We like our time frames and time lines to “make sense” and be a semblance of what we deem as the right order. But then when things work out or we see success or highlights, it very often comes out of the blue in unexpected ways or (even more often) in unexpected timing. I guess it keeps us on our toes and moving forward — the unpredictability, the unexpected, the hope.