MESA, Ariz. — They’ve been at it for weeks, as Bob Melvin reminded. But with the temperature rising, the stands filling and the mood as perfect as the weather, for the Oakland A’s this glorious Friday, March 1, was the first day that spring training 2019 felt like spring training.
Some time ago Roger Angell, very much a fan, not to mention a brilliant author, wrote of baseball’s joyful noise, fans discussing the game, concessionaires yelling for customers, the sound of bat against ball. And that’s the way it was at HoHoKam Stadium.
Only an exhibition game certainly, one in which Oakland defeated Colorado, 6-3, before 5,463 fans. But it was also an introduction, as well as a promise. Summer is coming. The proof arrived on Friday. We’ve escaped winter. Play ball.
Melvin wasn’t opposed to such romantic thinking, albeit tempered with realism. “The first good weather,” he said, “and the big crowd, I agree with you on that. But we’ve been working hard for a while. We’re under the gun to get the amount of at bats we want before we go to Japan.
“But it was a nice day for sure.”
A day when starter Aaron Brooks gave up a hit to the first Colorado batter he faced and then never gave up a run in four innings, pleasing Melvin with the way he worked out trouble.
A day when Stephen Piscotty, who came to the A’s virtually a year ago, had a double and scored a run.
A day when Franklin Barretto, still listed as the infielder he was until few days ago, played center, had a couple of hits including his third double of this brief Cactus League schedule and drew this comment from Melvin: “You’d think there would be some trepidation moving to the outfield, but he’s a natural.”
It’s funny about baseball people. They are locked into the game. Into how to get the best pitch over the plate. Into how to get that bat on the ball with the next swing.
Maybe the rest of us are fascinated by the enormous contracts for Nolan Arenado ($260 million for eight years), Manny Machado ($300 million for 10 years) and Bryce Harper ($314 million for 10 years), but the players themselves worry about more down-to-earth items.
Such as performing to the best of their abilities and (this is unspoken) maybe someday putting themselves in the same enviable position as Machado, Harper and Arenado, who batted second in the order for Colorado and went 0-for-3.
“In my situation,” said Brooks, trying to gain a spot in the rotation, “it’s kind of easy to let the names on the back of the jersey dictate how we feel and throw. I’m trying to get away from that and focus on my job.
“We kind of stick to the things in here. What they’ve done is great for guys like Harper and Arenado. They’ve been extremely good for a long time time and get what they deserve. When I faced Arenado, I tried to pitch the same way. You focus on the name on the back, I think the situation gets more rowdy.”
“In other words, too wild to handle. So just think about what and where the catcher wants you to throw.”
Piscotty, a Stanford guy, has thoughts similar to those of Brooks: Play the game as well as it can be played; what those big-time free agents accomplish is not your concern.
“We have a lot of great guys,” said Piscotty, “a young nucleus. You see what we did last season. We think we can top that.”
Asked how important he considers the hits and runs of spring training, Piscotty explained, “Mathematically it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to get our timing down, put the bat on the ball.”
And about the huge salaries just agreed upon for Harper, Machado and Arenado? “I’m not in a position to judge. They’re great for their teams.”
You mean you don’t sit around and ruminate as we do in the press box?
“You got that right,” said Piscotty.
So did baseball on the first day of March, when spring training truly arrived.