Back in the early days of baseball, Spring Training was used for two reasons. Get players in shape because many had to work full time jobs in the off-season and make some money for the owners with some barnstorming on the way north to start the season.
If you show up for Spring Training out of shape now, you will almost certainly be looking for a full-time job outside of baseball. Also, there is no barnstorming. There's starting the regular season with two games in Australia to grow the game...but, there's no barnstorming.
Now, Spring Training on the major league side is about preparation and getting in work, and oh, just fill in the rest of the buzzwords here.
Since this is a minor league website and I am down here for the fifth straight spring, I thought it might be time to talk a bit about what the training camp for the minor leaguers is supposed to accomplish.
I think that I have done a decent job with the slice of life from Arizona for the future Brewers. But, what is the goal and how do you use this month to get guys ready for their climb? I turned to Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson for the answer.
"You want to get them ready physically and mentally," he answered.
There is also extensive grading and discussion of where to place players.
"I think our staff puts in a lot of time going over and evaluating these players," Erickson continued. "We want to make sure we put them in the right spot. We don't necessarily want to put them in a place that's too easy for them or a place that's too tough for them. At this time we are trying just to find a league that is going to challenge their abilities and - hopefully - get some consistent play from those players as they develop routines."
"Routines" is one word that Matt Erickson has used a lot in his previous three seasons as the manager of the Timber Rattlers. In the season, a player should get used to doing the same thing at the same time before the start of a game. Getting settled into a routine makes you comfortable and relaxed and lets you go out and just play baseball when it's time.
"Those routines start here in spring training; the daily routine of taking care of yourself," Erickson said. "Then, there's the buildup to competition in the game."
There are some obvious differences.
"It changes a little bit because most of your work is morning and afternoon here in spring training. Then, we get on the birds to fly to our affiliates and it becomes more of an afternoon-evening affair, but very much the same routine."
There can be additions to that routine in the spring. For example, I wrote on the blog about how the Rattlers game on Sunday went to both the bottom of the ninth and the top of the tenth even with Wisconsin leading 7-2 after the end of the top of the ninth.
Why did this take place?
"Spring Training is all about building up your pitchers," Erickson explained. "The situation today was that we had a big leaguer come over - Will Smith threw an inning for us. We plan for nine innings and we're trying to extend some of our guys out. We wanted to make sure [Preston] Gainey was up and down three times and we wanted to make sure [Barrett] Astin was up and down three times and then we had [Josh] Uhen who needed an inning of work.
Smith starting the game threw that schedule out of whack. But, by letting Dayton manager Jose Nieves know what was happening ahead of time, everyone knew there would be a tenth inning on Sunday no matter what the score.
"If you communicate with the other managers - I mean everybody's asking for favors once in awhile, especially when you're dealing with pitchers," Erickson said. "It's about the players and getting them ready so pretty much everybody is accommodating for that."
Communication and accommodation are two pretty good words to live by whether it's Spring Training, the Regular Season, or the offseason.