| March 17, 2018

Column: Preventative warm-ups

March 1, 2017

I’m not a big baseball fan. The idea of spreading 30 minutes of excitement over four hours is just appalling to me — but I’m not a very patient person.

I struggle to find reasons to be a baseball fan, knowing that I may end up working for a baseball team one day. As a front office employee, I know I’d look forward to spring training.

As someone who hates winter, the idea of spending large portions of winter in Arizona or Florida is heavenly. All I want is to be able to wear sandals every day. I want for simple things.

The bright sunny days signal a new beginning — new season, new members, new hopes for spring.

But in the grand scheme of things, spring training only benefits a few people and takes countless resources to pull of. Is it really worth all this effort?

Hundreds of staff for every team arrange the training period’s lodging, transportation and community events throughout the stay.

Some teams can make a little money off spring training, some don’t make any. There’s hardly any financial incentive here. MLB can’t charge season ticket holders for attendance at preseason games. Media rights contracts aren’t common.

Generally, franchises turn a small profit – sometimes barely enough to cover the cost of operation. According to the Washington Post, popular teams like the Red Sox, Giants, Phillies and Yankees can earn six to seven figures, but in the scale of the annual revenue, spring training earnings are a piece of hay in a haystack.

Local cities and counties seem to be one of the only parties who benefit from hosting a spring training camp. Potential hosts fight to offer deals and for the bump in revenue. On the surface, it can be appealing to play host to an MLB team in the spring, but that’s not always the case.

Lee County, which is home to the Red Sox’ training camp in Fort Myers, Florida, built the Sox an 11,000-seat stadium in 2012 to keep the team in Florida for training. Nicknamed “Fenway South,” the Sox gain a majority of the revenue from ticket sales and the stadium’s naming rights. It depends on the lease agreement, but most of the time, the team gets most of the revenue – even though the municipality built the stadium.

All of this effort goes towards helping the pitchers get warmed up and ready for a grueling season. Pitchers are an essential part of baseball and their arms need to be ready to pitch for an entire season.

During the first ten days, pitchers throw three monitored bullpen sessions. The first live action session consists of throwing 25 pitches over one or two innings. The next start is about 40 pitches over three innings. Pitchers throw for longer every start, until they’ve made four to five starts. This means most teams play upward of 30 games to accommodate the pitchers.

While this happens, position players shag fly balls and practice bunt plays and rundowns.

Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman told the Washington Post he needs about 60-75 at-bats, or two weeks’ worth of play, before he thinks he’s ready to start the season. Zimmerman said the rest of training is spent trying not to get hurt and practicing situational baseball.

But it’s hard to practice specific scenarios when players don’t know anything about the minor league pitcher who took over at the third inning, after the major league pitcher was done for the day.

“It’s hard to do that in front of 2,000 people and you’re facing No. 97,” Zimmerman said in an interview with the Washington Post. “You ask [hitting coach Rick] Schu, ‘What does this guy throw?’ ‘We don’t know. We don’t even know his last name.’ The guy’s throwing 95 miles per hour, and you don’t even know what his secondary pitches are.”

Of course, there are always players coming back from injury who need the extra time to ease into things — spring training is great for that.

But it seems like the guys in good physical condition – and especially the pitchers — aren’t being well served by the current warm-up routine.

A study by published in March 2016 by Stan Conte, Christopher Camp and Joshua Dines, titled “Injury Trends in Major League Baseball

Over 18 Seasons: 1998-2015,” shows pitchers are more frequently injured and thus, spent more time out of play due to injury compared to position players.

Perhaps this is because spring training isn’t as effective as previously thought. I’m not an athletic trainer, I don’t have any experience in ensuring athletes’ bodies will operate well. But it seems like, at this peak age of science and technology, we should get some training pros together and devise a new way to prepare pitchers for play.

There are plenty of other factors that could be feeding into the amount of injuries, but it’s pretty well-known warming up in the best way to prevent sports injury.

This would probably take some experimentation and testing, so there probably wouldn’t be an immediate change, but I think it is worthwhile that people start addressing this problem.

Especially considering the lack of financial incentive for most teams, it doesn’t make any sense to not operate in the most beneficial way possible.

Now, I can hear die-hard baseball fans lighting torches to come protest this. I understand that spring training has existed for a long time and it’s a staple of many people’s late-winter schedule. I’m not saying MLB should completely do away with spring training — I think there are some serious concerns that should be addressed with the way things work right now. Maybe position players show up later, and the way pitchers start the season changes a little.

But tradition for the sake of tradition, for how it’s always been, just isn’t a good enough reason to sacrifice an athlete’s safety — as much as everyone could use a break from the snow.

Tess Fox can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos

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