PSA: The St. Louis Cardinals will participate in exhibition games until the beginning of April. These games will be played on several fields not named Busch Stadium, and will not count in any way. I repeat, these games do not count. They aren't real. It's practice.
Every spring, baseball fans witness the first pitches and overreact. To them, it all counts. Since they are on a pitching diamond, it counts in some way. They are wrong, but it all comes from an area of passion and consent to give your heart to the game of baseball two months early.
They don't call it spring training for nothing. This is where starting pitchers pull the car out of the garage for the first time and take it for a spin. Today, Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas got hammered by the Houston Astros. Six runs. Less than two innings of work. It was rough, but it didn't count, so forget about it. Here's the takeaway from Mikolas' appearance: he took the mound, threw pitches, and left without getting hurt. The mission was a success.
Spring training is also a time for experimentation. Position player turned pitcher Jordan Schafer gave up a home run on Friday that is still traveling into outer space, but if there was a time to see if the guy could get outs, late February and March is the time.
sometimes, fans latch onto a great hitting performance. Marcell Ozuna cranked a couple home runs, which is pretty sweet. Fantasy owners don't care, because it won't help them win the week, since the stats don't count yet. Spring can be a tease for certain players. Opposing teams are throwing their youngest and most raw arms, so disregard certain long, wind-aided home runs and decent at bats. Take it all with a grain of salt.
For example, the minute Jason Motte records an out, Motte addicts will think he's still got it, when he most likely just struck out someone who can't even legally buy a drink yet. It happens to the best of us. I want Motte to succeed and make the team, but I don't see it happening.
Here's the thing, spring training is the time to dream about those things. Wild ideas that don't make sense unless you have to close your eyes to realize them. This is the time to watch baseball without a care in the world. Mike Matheny won't be able to drive you insane just yet. He will make you practice pacing on the front porch, but it's nothing a cold beer and hug won't cure, at least for now.
Spring is where the seed of obsession is merely planted in people's minds; it hasn't sprouted out of the ground just yet. The games will matter before you know it. Winter has left the stage for a quick swig of water before coming back out for an encore, but spring is warming up behind the curtain. It will be here, and summer will follow.
The dog days will arrive in July and August. The weather will be unbearably hot and humid, leaving the people who complained about 32-degree temperatures in disarray. Busch Stadium will be packed to the brim with 40,000 united maniacs who believe this is their team's time. Deep down, you may not believe it. Right now, every team in the Majors believes.
Who is that guy who just pinch-hit for Ozuna? I'm not sure, so keep your smartphone close so you can Google a few of these young players and journeyman one-last-timers. What about that pitcher who only pitched an inning? Look it up and learn. Now is the time.
Spring training moves slow and easy. It's Matheny's favorite time of the year. He gets to double-switch players out constantly and actually be applauded for it. He's giddy. The regular season moves fast, leaving certain managers dazed and confused.
Should you relax after every Adam Wainwright home run allowed? No. Get angry and fired up, but don't remain that way, or do it every time Carlos Martinez gives up a hard hit baseball.
Should you perk up when Tyler O'Neill hits a baseball off an office building behind a baseball field? Yes. Should you feel some warmth in the heart after Daniel Poncedeleon throws a pitch off a mound this spring? Yes.
Right now, it's all relative and harmless, so enjoy the care-free atmosphere-because it will change. Games will matter, minds will be lost, alcohol will be viciously consumed, relationships will be lost, and friendships and marriages will be tested.
Baseball is back, but as the late Apollo Creed's trainer Burton once said, "It's just an exhibition!"