|Christmas in July? Try spring training in August.|
Listening to some Bears chatter in anticipation of tonight’s game against the Raiders, I laughed at the intensity with which football fans discuss preseason games. Wins and losses are insignificant at this point. Most of the guys you’ll depend on to win games when it counts won’t see meaningful action. And a high percentage of the guys on the field will be off the roster before too long. But as much as they say they don’t care, the fans still find themselves completely pulled into these games like the division championship is on the line.
And then the question hit me: What Chicago team am I talking about?
So I was going to write something about how the Cubs’ regular season is looking an awful lot like the Bears’ preseason. Then I realized it’s looking a lot like spring training. And when I stopped to really think about it, the truth became obvious. This is spring training.
Forget Mesa. Screw Naples. The Cubs’ new spring training facility (reeeeeeaaaaallllly extended spring training) is in Chicago at good ol’ Wrigley Field. The Cubs are no longer just giving a rookie or two (or three or four) a shot at earning some playing time. They’re handing the playing time to the prospects, because this is the time to do it . . . when the games don’t count. Not really, anyway. The Cubs could run the table the rest of this year, win every remaining game, and they still wouldn’t reach 90 wins.
Jim Hendry said he’s not giving up and doesn’t want his players to quit, either. And they shouldn’t. They’re basically auditioning for playing time in 2011, just like they will in spring training. So call it extended spring training or call it a really advanced head start on 2011, but this season is more about talent evaluation than winning baseball right now. Hendry’s outlook on this season via Bruce Miles:
It’s going to be a good opportunity for a lot of people to establish themselves going into the off-season. I think we’ll see a few more guys from the minor-league system eventually here, whether anyone one else is traded, or in September, you’ll see some other new guys.
The good thing, if you can be persuaded to agree that 2011 is still worth fighting for, is that the Cubs expect the games to count again sooner rather than later. Also from Hendry:
I’m here to tell you it’s not some kind of a major rebuilding job. When you start seeing the improvement in the young people that we have and the type of young arms that we have and the arms that we have coming, you make three or four solid moves in the off-season and your young guys keep developing, then you’re right back to being a contending team, and that’s the way we’re going to go about it.
I really can’t fathom the concept of next year anymore, because I’m still watching the awful melodrama unfold this year. My first step, I guess, is to stop watching these games with any regard to wins and losses. I can’t really enjoy it as good baseball, either, because lately it just isn’t. From here on out, I’m trying my best to watch as a scout. I’d like to see who impresses me, who shows promise, who seems better off playing near cornfields.
It’s the spring training mentality from this day forward. Maybe I should fly to Arizona and watch the games from there to enhance the effect.