SPRING TRAINING: THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Crystal blue skies, temperatures
in the high 70’s, and the glorious aroma of orange blossoms in bloom. Spring Training in Arizona may not be heaven, but according to
reliable sources, you can at least see
heaven from here. That being said,
spring camp is anything but relaxing and carefree for some A’s players. These final days in the desert represent
“crunch time” for a select few veterans and prospects who are still trying to
earn a spot on this year’s Opening Night roster.
Tonight as I peer out of the Scottsdale
Stadium press box, I see a 31-year-old right-hander named Jason Jennings who is
pitching for his baseball life. Signed
to a minor league contract Feb. 28, Jennings
is far removed from his 2002 Rookie of the Year season with the Colorado
Rockies. He brings a rotund 12.27 ERA
into tonight’s game against the Giants–not exactly the kind of spring he needs
to turn heads among Oakland’s baseball brass as they consider him for either a
fifth starter or middle relief role.
Depending on how he does tonight, he may or may not get another start in
Arizona. So, Jason knows the deal. He needs to step it up, and he needs to step
it up now.
There are other players in camp who must
play “the game within in the game” as well.
There’s the versatile Eric Patterson, primarily an outfielder and second
baseman, who is out of options. With
veterans like Jack Cust, Gabe Gross and even Travis Buck offering more big
league experience as backup outfielders, and Adam Rosales apparently the club’s
primary utility infielder, Patterson is battling steep odds to land a job on
the 25-man roster. However, you can’t
say Eric isn’t doing everything possible to make the A’s final decision difficult. He’s hit .364 with six RBI and four walks in
his last eight games and is tied for fifth in the Cactus League in triples. And there’s Jake Fox, an off-season
acquisition from the Cubs who has yet this spring to exhibit the power the A’s
coveted when they made the trade. Will
Fox’s miniscule .063 average this month have much bearing on his chances of
making the cut? Or will his 11 home runs
and 44 RBI in only 82 games last year with Chicago–not to mention his no-option
status–carry the most weight?
While Jennings, Patterson and
Fox live in a more pressurized world due to the precarious stage of their
careers, there are a few younger players who tasted the major league lifestyle
last year and are embroiled in daily competition for their second season with
the big club. Gilded armed starters
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro fall into that category, as all
three continue to compete for the A’s fifth slot in the rotation. Without question, all three have promising
futures. But while Ben Sheets, Justin
Duchscherer and Dallas Braden take the mound this spring to merely work on new
pitches or raise their pitch counts, the aforementioned young guns are trying
to hang zeroes in every inning they toil.
They all know that per diem and salaries–not to mention travel
accomodations–are vastly different in Oakland
than they are in Sacramento.
made progress, striking out four batters and allowing two runs in three innings
of work. Patterson, a late-inning
substitution at second base, booted a routine grounder hit by Pablo Sandoval in
the seventh which opened the door for a game-deciding two-run rally by the
Giants. As the days dwindle here in Arizona, both men know a
life-altering decision is on the horizon.
The window of opportunity is closing quickly.