Ah, Spring Training, a time when reality takes a backseat as the baseball season begins anew. Heralded prospects and reclamation projects mingle with the shoo-ins for the 25-man roster and all is right with the world.
Well, sort of. In the antediluvian opener for WGN Radio, we witnessed -- or, rather, heard -- the best and worst parts of Cubs fandom.
Chicago Cubs baseball was on the air and Pat Hughes, after a few months on the shelf, was once again able to describe uniforms in painstaking detail. Beside him was yet another former Cub, though not necessarily one of considerable repute.
Now perhaps I'm alone here, but even though I was well aware of Coomer's first name, I grossly underestimated the strangeness of hearing Hughes address his partner as Ron or Ronnie. I mean, Ron Santo passed a few years ago and Zonk had been there in between, but still.
It was a little like seeing my uncle get re-married the other day. But in both cases, the feeling quickly wore off as I recognized what a good pairing it was. My imaginary friends on Twitter seemed to agree as well, as the broadcast was largely enjoyable.
And while Spring Training, by nature, is enjoyable, there was still something odd about having to put up with winter storm warnings during commercial breaks. So we watch or listen to the boys of summer while still waiting for Mother Nature to release us from the icy grip of her cruel, heartless winter.
Alanis Morissette might call that ironic, though someone with a more firm grasp of semantics would simply say it's unfortunate. That's certainly the right way to describe the teams that took the field at Tempe Diablo Stadium, though for different reasons.
The Angels were a team with an identity crisis last year. Not only do they keep changing their name, or at least their home city, but they're paying through the nose for talent that grossly underperformed. Of course, Cubs fans are all too aware of their team's identity, which is a big part of the problem.
And at least their only high-priced talent is Edwin Jackson. Anyway, moving on...
But as Pat and Ron pointed out, probably more than was necessary, wins and losses don't really matter too much in the Spring. No, it's more about individual performances and getting more experience for young and old players alike. With that in mind, fans were salivating at the thought of seeing what all the fuss was about with the young guys and some of the new guys too.
Well, we certainly didn't have to wait long for the doom and gloom to set in. After giving up 9 runs in the 4th inning, Cubs fans everywhere were stepping out onto the ledge, social media posts serving as their respective suicide notes.
Ah, but Pat Hughes was there doing his best T.I. impersonation and talking them all down. The important thing is the experience, not the score, right? After all, that's what Wrigley Field has been selling since time immemorial. Or 1914.
And while he contributed to their team's demise, many Cubs fans surely saw the exploits of Angels phenom Mike Trout as a blueprint for their own young sluggers. From the moment he burst onto the scene, Trout has been arguably the best all-around player in baseball. And there's probably very little argument to be made for anyone else. Trout is certainly a Gallery of Stars performer.
Ah, that phrase brings back some memories. You see, when I was a boy, all teh kids in the neighborhood would play baseball all summer. The empty lot that served as our field had a huge tree in center, and hitting the ball high up into said tree was a big deal.
While not a part of our immediate clique, there was a kid named Cheese (real name Kevin) who would show up on occasion. He collected sports cards and was always trying to hawk an Eric Lindros or Juan Guzman onto one of us unsuspecting schlubs. But though he was relatively harmless, Cheese never really fit in. This was due to either his status as an interloper or his frequent questionable maladies (he once claimed that he was born without knees).
Cheese did, however, make a few contributions to the mythology of George St. The first was that in crunch-time situations in whatever sport we happened to be playing (football and dunkball were in the rotation), he would break into an a cappella version of "The Final Countdown."
The next, and to this day the most well-remembered, was his proposal that whosever should launch a ball over the tree in center would be worthy of being forever enshrined in the Gallery of Stars. I believe said Gallery is still bare, though not for lack of trying. While Cheese didn't have juice like Tupac or Omar Epps, he still put up an enticing challenge.
While Cheese later claimed that he himself had cleared the tree, Helen (real name Jason) was the only witness to said exploit, thus invalidating the accomplishment. To this day, my failure to earn entrance to the GoS haunts me.
But on Friday in Tempe, Kris Bryant stepped to the plate for his first-ever AB with the big club. And when he saw a slider that didn't quite slide, all he did was crush it way out to center. I highly doubt he'd have made it over my tree, but it was a pretty good shot for a young guy.
Not everyone was impressed with the effort though. Perhaps channeling Cheese, freelancer and craft beer aficionado Sahadev Sharma tweeted:
Just saw Bryant's homer. It didn't clear the batter's eye. Weak.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 28, 2014
Of course, he was obviously displaying more than a fair bit of sarcasm, but I think he lost at least one follower who didn't pick up on that fact.
For the most part, Twitter was, well, atwitter with praise and accolades for the kid with the golden bat and the platinum smile. Okay, I guess it should be a silver bat, but given the value we assign to precious metals, I felt co-opting the element typically associated with defense was a better fit in the end. And I felt that describing his grin as "diamond" would've been too ham-handed. Then again, so was this justification.
Bryant's blast came not long after Javy Baez's bomb in BP, the one that put out a window in a car sitting nearly 500 feet from home plate. That driver should've known better than to park there, as Happy Gilmore could probably have told him.
But lost in the midst of all the adulation was the fact that this was a Spring Training game. In February. Off of a non-roster invitee wearing No. 96. So let's all just chill out a bit on Bryant winning the 3B job anytime soon.
Spring Training is great. Much like the season itself, it signals new life. But in the case of the Cubs, the preview is less of what's going to be playing at Wrigley this summer as it is a teaser trailer for a big release next year. So as much as the fanboys want to get excited for the prospects, it's important to temper that excitement with a little dose of reality.
Then again, it's sure nice to see Cubs fans fired up about actual baseball, rather than news about a new mascot, new beer sponsor, or new video board. Eamus Catuli indeed!
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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