Spring Training Q&A, Notes on Fandom and a 5K Wrap Up

Players who will be on the field in a TinCaps uniform on April 5th are hard at work right now in Peoria, Arizona, the home of Padres spring training. For some players, it’s a chance to get back into gear for the long ride of the baseball season. For others, it’s the opportunity to prove themselves and try and show the organization why they deserve to earn a starting spot in Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, San Antonio or Tucson.

There are also many members of the media, from San Diego, and across the country who trek out to Peoria to cover the team as it gets ready for a new season. I asked Bill Center of U-T San Diego (formerly The San Diego Union Tribune) to answer a few questions about spring training to help us find out what it’s like on the inside.

Mike Couzens: For fans that aren’t familiar with the daily routine of spring training, what’s a typical day like on the minor league side of camp?

Bill Center: I don’t think people realize how early the day starts. Players begin arriving around 6 a.m. They dress, have breakfast in the cafeteria, have treatment if needed and do some weight training. Some start hitting as early as 7:30 in the cages before the sun comes up. The players usually have a meeting every morning, then they go to the field for practice (fielding, bullpen sessions, live batting practice). After that, they break for lunch, change into their game uniforms and either catch the bus for a road game or head to one of the fields. There are four minor league games every day, AAA. AA, high-A and low-A. After the games end, the players shower and head home — around 5 p.m.

MC: What’s a normal day like for you as you cover the major league side of things?

BC: I usually get to the ballpark between 6:30 a.m. and 7. The first thing I do is check the assignment board before heading to the media room. I’ll set up my computer, tweet the lineups and pitching assignments and start working on my daily on-line update that is posted around 10 a.m. I’ll go into the clubhouse and talk to my feature of the day as well as chat with other players. The Padres have a team meeting at 9 a.m., which is when I have breakfast. Bud Black meets with the media each day between 9:15 and 9:30. The players take to the field around 9:30, which is when I put the topper on the online story and start writing the daily feature as well as tweeting any immediate news. After that, I stop by the minor league camp, talk to front office people, have lunch and head to either the home or away park of the day. During the game, I’ll finish my feature. After the game, we meet briefly with Black, talk to players and I write my notebook. I finish around 6-7 p.m., have dinner and work on special section stuff that runs before Opening Day

MC: What are some of the aspects of the game that the coaching staff looks to focus on with the players?

BC: Even at the major league level, fundamentals are stressed, particularly on the minor league side. But even on the major league side, fundamental defensive plays like run-and-hits, bunt drills (offensively as well as defensively), covering and backing up plays, etc., are practiced much more than you would think they are. Remember, spring training is mostly about stretching out the starting pitchers. All else revolves around that. But that also gives teams plenty of time to work on everything else

MC: Who are some minor leaguers that you’ve heard good things about during the course of their time in camp?

BC: Rymer Liriano looked good in the major league camp before being sent to the minor league camp. Pitcher Joe Ross and catcher Austin Hedges, who are both expected to start the season at Fort Wayne, have looked sharp. Edinson Rincon, Matt Clark, Jedd Gyorko, Jonathan Galvez, Jeudy Valdez also looked good in the major league camp. Donavan Tate has been playing very well, and, given his 2011 season, could be returning to Fort Wayne to at least start the season.

MC: How have former TinCaps like Anthony Bass, James Darnell and Blake Tekotte looked during the spring?

BC: Anthony Bass has been one of the sharper pitchers in the major league camp and has an excellent chance at making the Padres. James Darnell being groomed as a major league 3B-OF, although he will likely open the season at Triple-A Tucson. Blake Tekotte has already been optioned to Tucson. Fort Wayne fans should keep their eyes on Liriano and Keyvius Sampson. Both could be at Double-A by midseason.

Big thanks to Bill for taking time out of his schedule to answer some questions. You can find Bill’s work here: http://www.utsandiego.com/staff/bill-center/ and get complete coverage of the Padres from U-T San Diego on Twitter @sdutPadres.

Why Do We Like Who We Like?

I am a lifelong Mets fan. I usually say that it’s for better or for worse, but since I’ve been alive, it’s been for worse. That’s part of the fun of sports, right? Right? Even though sometimes it just feels like you’re a self-flagellating monk from Monty Python:

I bring this up because of a great article written in The New York Times earlier in March by David Brooks. He talks about his lifelong fandom of these perpetual heartbreakers:

“I’ve since come to accept that my connection to the Mets exists in a realm that precedes individual choice. It is largely impervious to calculations about costs and benefit. It is inescapable.

Since I am me, I’ve read a bunch of social science papers on the nature of sports fandom, trying to understand this attachment. They were arid and completely unhelpful. They tried to connect fandom to abstractions about identity formation, self-esteem affiliation and collective classifications.

It’s probably more accurate to say that team loyalty of this sort begins with youthful enchantment. You got thrown together by circumstance with a magical team — maybe one that happened to be doing well when you were a kid or one that featured the sort of heroes children are wise to revere. You lunged upon the team with the unreserved love that children are capable of.

The team became crystallized in your mind, coated with shimmering emotional crystals that give it a sparkling beauty and vividness. And forever after you feel its attraction. Whether it’s off the menu or in the sports world, you can choose what you’ll purchase but you don’t get to choose what you like.

The neuroscientists might say that, in 1969, I formed certain internal neural structures associated with the Mets, which are forever after pleasant to reactivate. We have a bias toward things that are familiar and especially to those things that were familiar when life was new: the old house, the old hometown, the people, smells and sounds we knew when we were young.”

Wow. He hit the nail on the head. Whether you’re a Cubs fan, a Red Sox fan, whatever…you can understand where he’s coming from. When we’re young, we form an emotional and deeply seeded connection with players and teams, and those ties stick with us for life.  Great stuff.

5K Follow-up

On St. Patrick’s Day, along with co-workers Brent Harring and Abby Naas, I ran in the 5-Kilt Race in downtown Fort Wayne. While last we spoke I said I might wear a kilt, and well, I definitely wore a kilt.

It was a lot of fun, and you don’t stand out all that much when you’re one of several hundred people wearing one. I finished the race in an unofficial 26 minutes 12 seconds, which was about 2 minutes slower than I had aimed for, so it looks like I’ve got some work to do. The race was a lot of fun, and seeing the river greening where the fire department sprayed bright green water into the St. Mary’s river was a great experience.

Musical Guest: John Mayer!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

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