Spring Training is all about repetition – in word as much as deed. In a largely unpredictable sport, you can predict with great accuracy the utterances and instances that will make up the exhibition season experience in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
To illustrate the point, I’ve identified the top 15 Spring Training clichés. I was going to make this a top 10 list, but, well, that would be pretty cliché.
A version of this story first appeared in 2016.
15. “He got his work in.”
This is used by managers when they have quite literally nothing else positive to say about the starting pitcher who just got shellacked by a lineup heavy on guys wearing jersey numbers in the 70s and 80s.
14. “The ball’s coming out of his hand well.”
Another managerial masterpiece meant to distract from the less-idyllic reality of what is happening when the ball comes off the opponents’ bat.
13. “Things have a way of working out.”
In any sport, this is coach-speak (or in this case, manager-speak) for, “Stop asking me about the supposedly heated battle for the seventh spot in the bullpen, please.” While it is true that injuries or spring performance or Minor League options (or lack thereof) tend to support the theory that “things have a way of working out,” tell that to the 30-something dude dispatched back to Triple-A.
12. Any reference to working hard on controlling the running game, pitchers’ fielding practice, infield work or bunting drills.
You know, all the stuff that will be basically abandoned as part of the pregame routine beginning with Opening Day.
11. “It’s a great group of guys. It's a nice mix of veterans and young guys.”
They won’t tell us if they hate each other until years from now, when their autobiographies come out. And every team has veterans and young guys. Every. Single. One.
10. “General soreness.”
General Soreness is not the name of a Union brigadier who stormed Fort Sumter. Rather, it is the term used to identify an injury that a team would rather not, you know, directly identify at the moment.
General soreness sounds harmless enough to deflect further questioning and vague enough to necessitate anything from an ice pack to arm amputation. It is brilliantly ambiguous. And the obvious truth is that on any given day of the baseball schedule, from February to November, every single player -- and for that matter, every single fan over the age of, say, 29 -- can be diagnosed with “general soreness.”
9. “Player X had LASIK surgery.”
Mets catcher Tomas Nido is this year’s Player X. He’s hoping the procedure improves his plate performance and speeds his path to the bigs. Alas, at least one clinical study (published in the Journal of the American Optometric Association in 2005) found no statistically significant or practically significant effect of laser refractive surgery on offensive performance.
Then again, that study came out several years before I personally had LASIK, so I may have read it wrong.
8. “We’re going to be more aggressive on the basepaths.”
I remember the Mariners’ higher-ups saying words to this effect going into the 2016 season. That year, their stolen base total went from 69 … to 56. (The number of stolen-base attempts per game has generally trended downward for the last 30 years, so the M’s were hardly in the minority there.)
7. “We’re going to surprise some people.”
There are legitimate surprises every year, of course (hello, 2018 A’s!). But what good is a surprise if you announce it in advance? How about some quiet confidence, guys? All you’re doing here is setting up either an obnoxious “I told you so” or a humbled “I’m surprised we didn’t surprise” at season’s end.
6. “We have great chemistry.”
For the first couple weeks, you’re working half days between rounds of golf. For the next month, you’re playing non-binding games in sunny environments before spring breakers, vacationing families and retirees, many of whom are sunbathing or drinking alcohol in the middle of the day and all of whom are too busy bragging to their friends up north to heckle you.
I’m not saying you don’t have great chemistry. I’m just saying let’s hold off on the chemistry gauge until you’re in the midst of your first six-game losing streak in the regular season.
5. “I’m finally healthy.”
Kind of an off-shoot of the chemistry conversation. If you’ve been limited to only a handful of games played in recent years because you’ve battled elbow strains, back pains, neck twitches, body itches, arm slings, hamstrings, busted knees, bed fleas, jammed toes, ankle woes and the occasional -- ahem -- general soreness, let’s hold off on any bold proclamations about your physical condition until you’re playing every night under the lights.
4. Any reference to the game-time temperature vs. the temperature up north.
We get it. Spring Training is warm. Many other places are not. We get it.
3. The weird injury.
Not a quote or phrase, of course, but odd injuries are a Spring Training truism of a different sort. Really, what would spring camp be without news items like the one about Brandon Nimmo getting ill from not cooking his chicken properly (for the record, that one turned out to be a virus, so you can cancel the Nimmo cooking classes)? Or past items like Elvis Andrus missing time because of arm pain from a new tattoo, Corey Hart slicing his foot on a hot tub, Michael Taylor cutting his finger while trying to throw gum away or Hunter Pence falling through a glass door?
2. “[Pitcher X] is learning a new [cutter, changeup or otherwise diabolical delivery].”
All right, so maybe his ERA was the same as his hat size last season. Fear not! That dude battling for the fifth spot in your team’s rotation is on the verge of summoning his inner Mariano Rivera with a new grip he learned from a great guru after an arduous climb up a craggy peak in a far-off foreign land.
Or something like that.
1. “Best shape of my life.”
Well, of course, this ultimate spring platitude had to be No. 1. Urged on by a willing media that both solicits and devours claims of personal physical improvement and the means by which said improvement has been obtained, “best shape of my life” (or words to that effect) has become so ubiquitous as to be employed as a trendy Twitter hashtag (#BSOML) every time a guy trumpets his offseason regimen and his optimistic outlook for the supreme athletic feats he is sure to accomplish in the year ahead.
A recent story from The Athletic (subscription required) about many of the Dodgers going on a dairy-free diet adds the unique twist of a team-wide BSOML. But generally, this is the individual expression of the Spring Training ideal -- that this is the year where it all comes together for the team, the moment (and, yes, the body mass index).