Like Groundhog Day, spring days out here in the warm desert (sorry, low blow considering the blue blob of a winter storm I watched creep towards the Midwest all day) are starting to blend into one another the way they tend to during the summer when it’s impossible to tell whether it’s a Saturday or Thursday. But a quick peek at the calendar tells me today is Monday. So, yeah, we’ll go with that.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. I love baseball the way some people love beer. Or peanut butter. Or in my case, Dodger Dogs and the Giants' garlic fries. Understand, baseball was my first love as a tomboy growing up in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium. And it will remain that way until the day I die and my ashes are sprinkled in McCovey Cove just beyond the outfield at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
So you can give me a laid back baseball day like today’s - the Indians first full-squad workout - any day. A day where the sun is warm enough to feel heavenly shinning on your face, but not too hot to induce a makeup-smearing sweat.
A day where there’s no major injuries or heart-breaking losses yet. A day where the manager and players alike are nothing but smiles and happy to answer reporter’s boring questions all day long with a hint of an eye roll.
A day where even old, out-of-shape guys like beloved Carlos Baerga can put on a uniform and spend the morning pretending he’s back in his 20’s again (although I suspect by Tuesday morning he’ll be feeling all of his 45 years after participating in infield practice).
Asked if were impressed with Baerga’s skills at second base – he does still have good hands - Indians manager Terry Fancona instead deadpanned: “Well, he’s certainly enthusiastic.”
But before Baerga and his former teammate Kenny Lofton suited up as guest instructors at camp for the day and before their skipper Mike Hargrove stopped by, the day began with Francona feeling a little anxious about the important speech he needed to deliver at 9 a.m. to his troops in the clubhouse.
I have to admit, I was rather taken aback by Francona’s admission that despite entering his 14th year as a manager at the big league level, he actually felt a bit nervous when he woke up Monday morning.
“It was so much fun,” Francona said after the first workout was in the books that afternoon. “I missed these guys, man. I was so happy to be back. But I always have a little bit of anxiety about that first meeting because it’s an important one.”
The topic of Francona’s speech was simple, yet heart felt.
“The way we feel about the game never changes,” he said. “But it’s important – especially for the new guys – to hear it. We want everybody to be on the same page and let all the players know what we expect. That’s where we start to form the bonds, the chemistry and the personality of the team.”
It’s also where Francona likely got the attention of a lot of the players who are on the bubble, or those hoping to get a taste of the major leagues sometime this season. Echoing a theme he began to share with the players in their pre-season one-on-one meetings, Francona reminded his team that of last year’s 62 players in camp, 49 went on to see playing time in the big leagues (all but two with the Tribe).
“It’s a very important statistic,” he said. “It shows those guys in that room that we’re not just talking. That is gonna happen. It has happened and it could happen again…when you send guys down (to the minors), you tell them. That’s part of the good thing about being honest with players; when you tell them the truth and then when it bears itself out, it can be very rewarding.”
So if you ever wonder why Francona’s players play so hard for him and seem so dedicated to him, it has a lot to do with the fact that first and foremost, he’s dedicated to every one of them.
HE SAID IT – Asked if he were happy the rival Detroit Tigers traded right-hander Doug Fister, Francona replied without hesitation: “No, I was hoping they'd trade (Justin) Verlander and (Max) Scherzer.”