Take Me Out, Coach

With almost incredible suddenness, spring training is upon us once more, and not a moment too soon - hallelujah! This is comfort enough even for those who don't follow baseball much, a sure sign that spring is coming despite the fact that many of us are still a mite chilly. There's a palpable sense that the players enjoy it almost as much as the fans; many of them seem genuinely glad to renew old friendships and shake off the cobwebs of the off-season. Or winter, as the rest of us call it. But amid all this joy there is always grumbling from some quarters that spring training is, if not unnecessary, then at least overrated and certainly overlong. This has been especially true in recent times, when sky-rocketing salaries have provided the motivation for ballplayers to work out regularly during the winter and report in tip-top shape. It's argued that many of them could play real games right now, a far cry from the days before free agency when most players were working stiffs like the rest of us and had to hold down winter jobs to make ends meet. Many of them sold cars or insurance or worked in factories; Richie Hebner famously worked as a gravedigger in his off-seasons. Whatever the job, the work tended to discourage much winter training, so many players would show up to camp ten or fifteen pounds overweight and use the sunshine games to work themselves back into playing shape. Ex-Blue Jay slugger Edwin Encarnacion provided a fairly eloquent argument against the value of more [...]