Baseball’s Spring Training Getting Under Way

Players for California’s five Major League Baseball teams are in the process of reporting to their Spring Training camps all located in Arizona, where inter-league pre-season games for about four weeks will get under way starting March 3.  Catcher Buster Posey returns to the World Champion San Francisco Giants camp in Scottsdale, Arizona as the only returning starting position player to have participated in all three recent World Champion teams.  Though several of the Giant’s pitching staff have rings from all three of those World Series wins, free agency and trades have seen the departures of great regular position players like third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has gone to work for the Boston Red Sox.  The Giant’s pitching staff remains very strong, with a great five man rotation that includes not only MVP Madison Bumgarner, but also Matt Cain and now again Tim Lincecum as the fifth starter.  Lincecum, a former Cy Young winner who has had trouble the last few years, has been working hard off season to get his pitches back.   But the Giants had a little scare when Manager Bruce Bochy was admitted to a hospital in Scottsdale for a heart ailment and had two stints implanted.  Bochy is expected to recover very quickly and be at the stadium this next week.

The Los Angeles Dodgers open their pre-season on March 4 with a game in Glendale, Arizona against the Chicago White Sox.  The Dodgers added catcher Yasmani Grandal as a back-up to A.J. Ellis in a trade with the San Diego Padres that gained the Padres slugger Matt Kemp.  Ellis caught for Clayton Kershaw all the way to his Cy Young Award last year, the first pitcher to win both that award and be the MVP for a National League team since 1968 (Bob Gibson).  Though Grandal can swing the bat, this observer believes the Padres got the better end of the deal, and just what they need, a really, really good hitter for the third or fourth spot.  Outfielder Kemp is apparently eager to play for the Padres, reporting early to camp in Peoria, Arizona, where the Padres play in a lovely little stadium and where you can almost always get a pretty good seat in the shade.  Kemp should be the star of the team in 2015.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim train in Tempe, Arizona.  But news of the Angel’s spring training was dominated at the first press conference of the season by owner Arte Moreno’s complaints about the lack of progress in negotiating a new stadium lease with the City of Anaheim.  The Angels have a four year window from 2016-2019 to opt out of their lease, and if they don’t, they must stay in the current 50 year-old stadium until 2029.  All the news of possible NFL teams moving to the Los Angeles area and new stadiums being built is very much in Moreno’s mind.  The Angels failed to land free agent pitcher James Shields in the off season and Home Run Derby winner Josh Hamilton has had problems with injuries.

Rounding out the California teams, the Oakland A’s players are in Mesa, Arizona, where they will also return to play at historic HoHoKam Park, most recently the home of the Chicago Cubs, but a familiar former base for the A’s fans, where the A’s played in the late 1970s.  A very interesting development is the potential addition and return of left-hander and former San Francisco Giant Barry Zito, who rejoins the A’s on a minor league contract.  The 36-year-old, who won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award, left the A’s to sign a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco before the 2007 season.  Zito was spotty during his entire term with the Giants until 2012, when he featured in three playoff victories, going 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA that helped propel the Giants into the World Championship.  And he won Game 1 of that World Series.  He became a favorite in San Francisco because of those key victories, and received a standing ovation when he left the field in 2013 after striking out Mark Kotsay of the Padres in relief in Zito’s last game as a Giant.  The Giant’s subsequently declined Zito’s 2014 option and bought it out for $7 million.  Zito sat out that season but now appears to be working hard to get back into baseball and on the A’s roster.

The A’s ace pitchers, right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, are both coming off “Tommy John” surgery, Parker for the second time.  (No wonder the A’s are tinkering with the idea of left-hander Zito making a come-back!)

March will be pre-season month and then play will begin on Easter Sunday, April 5, when the St. Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs, with opening day for the rest of the teams on Monday, UTI1827040_t730April 6.