The key to surviving Spring Training — to actually enjoying all the long days and hard work of Spring Training — is to make peace with failure.
That could be said about baseball in general, of course. There are tons of guys with amazing raw talent, but the ones who make it are the ones who aren’t crushed by the failure. Because there is a ton of failure, as any baseball fan knows.
Spring training is Ground Zero of failure.
You know you’re better than what you’re showing at the moment, but that’s where you are right now. You’re still getting in your groove, still getting your legs back, still getting your head back to focusing on all the little things that mean the difference between winning and losing.
So what I’ve learned over the years is to be patient with myself. But I see the frustration bubbling up now and then among the younger guys who are desperate to show everyone they’re big-league material. I tell them it’s OK, they don’t have to do everything all at once. They’re expected to make mistakes — though preferably not the same one twice. As long as they learn and keep improving, they’re doing their jobs.
As for me, my body is tired some days and energized others. Catchers tend to have more ups and downs as far as feeling tired during Spring Training because there’s so much wear and tear on our bodies behind the plate. Sunday I felt great for whatever reason and hit an inside cutter over the left-field fence for my first HR of the spring.
Randy Johnson pitched and even though he didn’t have his best stuff, he pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out three. That shows what kind of a pitcher he is, especially this early in the spring.
I got another chance to watch Buster Posey, who came in late in the game. He’s going to be a great catcher, a great player for many years in the league. I don’t know how soon, but he wants to learn. He’s pretty quiet by nature, really humble, but he asks questions and seems to be a fast learner.
It’s been a little sad around here, though, with the departure of Dave Roberts. We lost a great man, a great human being, a very loved teammate. Whatever reason the team decided to release him, that’s not for me to have an opinion on. They’re doing what they think they need to do to put the best team on the field come April.
But personally, it’s a great loss. He was like a brother to a lot of us. I remember last season when I was really struggling at the plate, and we had lost three games in a row, I was so down on myself. Dave came over to my locker and sat down next to me. He told me to go home that night and spend time with my family. Have dinner. Relax. Enjoy their company. Then come back tomorrow and start all over. He reminded me there is life beyond the baseball field, and that it didn’t help anybody for me to get so down on myself. He was absolutely right.
The next day, I went 3-for-4.
So even though I remind the younger players to not get too down on themselves in Spring Training, I need guys like Dave Roberts to remind me sometimes.
My daughters are coming to stay with me this coming weekend. We will go to miniature golf and go-karts and the batting cage. We’ll play a lot of Wii bowling and tennis, I’m sure. They always help me keep the game in perspective. As important as it is to be a great player, it’s more important to be a great human being. No one showed that better than Dave Roberts. He is already sorely missed.
This is my 12th Major League Spring Training, and every year it’s different. Each of us is a slightly different player from what we were last year. We know more, or we’re in better shape, or maybe we’ve aged a little. The combination of players is slightly, or significantly, changed.
What stays the same is you’re always excited. You’re always optimistic. But sometimes you feel something a little extra. This is one of those springs.
For one, what’s better for a catcher than having three Cy Young Award winners in the starting rotation, plus an All-Star closer? And the young guys are one year more experienced and seasoned.
The feeling I get in this clubhouse is that we feel we can win. There’s a feeling among ourselves that we can do this, no matter what anyone OUTSIDE the clubhouse says. We’re the only ones who know what this team is capable of. What you can’t see in the statistics is how much these guys want to win and how hard everyone worked in the offseason. Every single player showed up in shape. That says something about the team’s desire and dedication.
OK, we’re only a week into Spring Training. I know. And there are some questions that probably won’t be answered until close to the season begins. But if you could see how, even this early, everyone is carrying himself, how loose everyone is, how happy we were to see everyone again.
I spent the first part of the week catching for the pitchers — we show up earlier than the rest of the team, as you know. I’ve learned over the years just to leave the pitchers alone for the first week. They need to do their own thing to get ready. They don’t need to hear anything from me.
By tomorrow or Sunday, I’ll sit down with each pitcher. We’ll talk about their goals for the season, what they might be working on during Spring Training, what they want the ball to do, how they’re feeling, whether they want anything different from me. I keep a little notebook where I write down anything that might be new.
I also leave my hitting alone early in Spring Training. I give my mind a rest until the games start. In batting practice, I’m just trying to get the rust off, get my bat ready for swings. I’m not working on anything specifically — just getting loose.
We all work a lot on conditioning during the spring, building a solid foundation for the rest of the season. This team’s trainers do such a great job building us up gradually, understanding that a baseball season is a marathon not a sprint. They keep working with us through the year, so by October we’re still fresh.
I worked in particular during the offseason on my legs. I increased the weights and built strength. As you get older, you have to keep working harder so you don’t fall behind.
There’s not much news to report during Spring Training, at least until the games start. But I’ll try to post as often as I can.
Thanks for reading. And thanks especially for all the lovely notes about my father’s passing and for sharing your own stories with me.