Spring Training


This is the first year in forever that I’m not attending spring training as a member of the media. I thought I’d be a bit twitchy, missing the sun and laid-back atmosphere and the sound—a truly sweet sound, cliche be damned—of baseball hitting glove.

But I’m not twitchy. It was time. Truth be told, it was time many years ago. When I first started covering the game for Sports Illustrated in the mid-to-late 1990s, spring training was my favorite thing in the world. The magazine rented out condos in Tampa and Tempe, and a rotation of writers would stay for a week or two. It’d be me, Tom Verducci, Steve Cannella, Dan Habib, Jamal Greene, Mark Bechtel, a little Phil Taylor or Steve Rushin tossed in. I dug waking up early, driving to, say, Pirates or Reds camp, eating breakfast with the local writers, then casually strolling into a clubhouse. It wasn’t like the regular season, when ballplayers hid. No, in spring people are still feeling good. Need Shawn Green? Just go get him—he’s sitting there reading a magazine. Want some time with Gary Sheffield? Well, join him for breakfast. No biggie.

You’d be done by—at the absolute latest—4; free to spend the evening having a nice dinner, catching a movie, whatever.

So what changed for me? To be honest, I simply grew tired of chasing around athletes. Especially athletes who were significantly younger than I was. I can’t explain this very well, because I’ve never met a journalist who shares this take. But I no longer felt the joy in jotting down the words of some half-brained 22-year-old reliever for the Tigers who wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. The splendor of spring was tarred by the weight of spring. I began to think of it not as a rebirth, but a return—to boring baseball cliches and never-ending games and an increasingly arrogant generation of players.

So here I sit, in Cosi, happy.

Plus, it’s 55 degrees.  🙂

PS: Funny spring story. Went to dinner with Phil Taylor in Arizona one night. We were at the table, ordering our food, when out of nowhere the waitress started telling us about the loose lips on her vagina. Now, when I talk or e-mail with Phil, I ask him how his vagina lips are doing.

3 thoughts on “Spring Training”

  1. Say hello to another sports writer who shares your opinion on the age thing.

    Funny, some high school athletes are surprisingly candid. Yet, when these kids get to major Division I college sports, they’re suddenly boring and cliche and coated in PR laquer by the media relations staff.

    This topic started to tug at me a few years ago (I’m 29). At the same time, I also found it difficult as a 21 year-old sports writer to garner respect from my “peers” (22, 23, 24 year olds…). It has gotten better now that there’s a bit of a gap in age and, in my case I’m sure, maturity.

  2. Jeff, you had me all the way until I got to this: “when out of nowhere the waitress started telling us about the loose lips on her vagina.”

    One anecdote you for got: “Need to talk to A-Rod, meet him at the Clinique counter at the local Dillards.”

  3. Sportswriting Refugee

    Jeff – I’m shocked you never met another sports writer who shared your opinion on chasing athletes around. I was in the game for several years, covering a couple of major beats including MLB like you, and I thought that a lot of us were in this boat. I thought it was totally degrading. In a lot of ways, I felt it even moreso covering colleges. I had to get out and accomplish some things on my own instead of doing celebrity journalism. But when I tried at first to get out of the business, I would explain it that way to people from other businesses and they absolutely would not understand at all. I think they thought I was selling them a line. I even had to change my story before I was able to land something else.

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