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Not Your Father’s Spring Training

March 12, 2021

We just passed the one year anniversary of the official start of the pandemic. I think people knew it was serious when sports started shutting down. Last year it was during baseball’s Spring Training that a Utah Jazz basketball player named Rudy Golbert, tested positive for Covid.

Rudy was talented, but not the smartest epidemiologist. The week before, so 53 weeks ago, Rudy was making light of the potential danger. He went around during a press conference and licked the microphone of multiple reporters.

A week later Rudy tested positive and first basketball and then other sports, including baseball quickly shut down. We all went into lockdown. We figured it out eventually. . .how to live. And slowly, ever so slowly, things came back. Including a vastly shortened baseball season.

That was 2020. Now, we are in 2021, we are older and wiser.

“When you’re 16 going on 17

. . .

You need someone older and wiser

. . .

I am 17 going on 18

I’ll take care of you”
– Sixteen Going on Seventeen

So, this year baseball Spring Training started on time. It’s almost like all was right in the world again. But, things have changed. For all of us and also for baseball.

It’s great to be watching baseball again. The Mariners announcers are a familiar voice in a sea of uncertainty. The roster, as baseball roster do from year to year, has some old familiar faces and some fresh young guns trying to make the team.

But, there are some rule changes. They almost seem like mercy rules from 5th grade. For example, managers can decide to end a game after 7 innings. Just say, “Nah, I don’t wanna play any more. . .you win.” Or if the score is tied, as many Spring Training games are both managers just throw in the towel.

Spring Training is a time to test out different players. Let pitchers try out new pitches and perfect their old ones. And it’s not always pretty watching a pitcher try to recover his form. So, another rule is the new 20 pitch rule. After 20 pitches, a manager can declare, “Inning is over.” The fact is if a pitcher throws 20 pitches, the other team has probably scored a couple of runs.

But, Spring Training isn’t really about winning and losing. As a fan it’s sometimes hard to remember that. Tie games? Shortened games? Mercy rules for pitchers getting rocked? What kind of baseball is this?

Baseball is a game of tradition. More so than any other sport. And yet, it’s also a game of innovation. Last year, we saw the four pitch walk turned into a simple wave by the opposing manager. And with that, the game changed. April 15 is Jackie Robinson day. Celebrating the day in 1947 that Jackie Robinson started at 1st base for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the baseball color barrier.

What’s ironic about that momentous Spring day in 1947 is that baseball was integrated before it was segregated. In the late 19th century, baseball had black players and no one really cared. Eventually, the black players were regulated to the Negro Leagues and white players (or passing white) played in the Majors. Two separate leagues.

Another change over the past year is that MLB announced that the stats for MLB and the Negro Leagues would be combined. The announcement passed with little fanfare, but it was a big deal for baseball geeks like me. They can’t go back in time and allow the players to compete against each other. But, they can give the great black ballplayers their due in the record books.

So, things change. The game is alive. It’s played differently today than it was a century ago, or even a year ago.

It’s not your father’s game. . .but then it never really was.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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