[The Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer] claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared to use it. When put to the test, however, it invariably produced a plastic cup filled with a liquid which was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. – Douglas Adams, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe
If you think about it, once you get past the excitement and spectacle of actual, live ballplayers doing their thing on a real baseball diamond during that first broadcast game, Spring Training bears a strong resemblance to Arthur Dent’s doomed quest to get the machine to produce the perfect cuppa…or even a halfway decent cuppa. The end result is something which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike baseball. Spring Training is practice and working through the rust. It’s a try out and a breaking in, a stretching out, loosening up and learning to play together. Spring Training is a lot of different things, all of them important but, as much as I find myself longing for it in January as a more palatable alternative to nothing, it is not baseball, not really. It’s more like proto-baseball. The real thing is a few days off yet.
The annual Freeway Series exhibition games back at home in Anaheim and Los Angeles, however, are almost an exception to this rule. Yes, the ghosts of September Call-ups future are still playing, most of the starters are flipped out before the 8th inning, and there are a few odd rules – in this case that a full nine innings, no more, no less will be played. (Ten shalt thou not play, neither play thou eight and one half, excepting that thou then proceed to nine. Eleven is right out…*snerk*) But even so, the games are played on the Angels and Dodgers Regular Season turf, at night. And they typically draw an approximation of a Regular Season crowd. This is closer to real baseball. And with the longstanding rivalry between the two teams – much like siblings who probably really love each other…deep, deep down…probably – adding a certain passion lacking in your typical ST game, this is closer still to real baseball and a tradition I have seldom missed since I was a child.
Hey, it may not be precisely real, but it’s certainly fun. The Angels took the first game this evening and the first five innings or so were a pretty good game. Dan Haren looked sharp, so did the Dodgers starter Jamey Wright. A solid Trumbomb here, a spectacular Matt Kemp catch there. *shakes fist at Kemp* A good game…but there were the errors, and then the abrupt pitching changes on the Dodgers side, and before you know it the starters were being pulled for the kids, the score deficit grew and grew (as it most likely would not have during a Regular Season game), and that Spring Training game feel became inescapable. Oh well, so it’s only mostly like a Regular Season game. But we only have two more of these, which promise to be equally fun for most of the innings, and then the real games begin! *boingy, boingy, boingy*