Spring Training: Then And Now

Jamie Moyer missed all of last season with an injury, but the 49-year-old pitcher is back for one more season. (AP)
Jamie Moyer missed all of last season with an injury, but the 49-year-old pitcher is back for one more season. (AP)

These games don't matter. Everybody knows that.

Except that they do.

They matter because almost 2000 guys will play in them, and there are only 750 jobs available in the Major Leagues.

For those of us who watch, most of us from afar, spring training games signify the run-up to the regular season of the only sport still at least vaguely associated with one particular type of weather. It begins too early in April and goes too late in the autumn, but most of baseball in most of the places it's played is still the summer game.

And spring training matters for the stories generated there. It was during a spring training batting practice session in Miami in 1956 when Ted Williams is said to have stepped into the cage and taken one strike from an Orioles prospect named Steve Dalkowski, after which Williams allegedly stepped out of the cage and announced that he would prefer to avoid doing that again, because the pitch was so fast he hadn't seen it. That story had to have happened during spring training – if it happened at all – because Steve Dalkowski, who may have been the fastest pitcher ever, never learned to locate the plate often enough to make a Major League roster.

This time around, there is a candidate for most excellent spring training story in the Colorado Rockies camp in Arizona. The story involves a pitcher who throws about half as fast as Steve Dalkowski allegedly did. His name is Jamie Moyer, and at 49 he is trying to come back after a year off and extensive surgery on an arm that he says feels better than it did before he was injured.

One night during the 2006 season, Moyer was apparently all set to retire, perhaps in part because he was middle-aged, and certainly in part because he was discouraged with the team employing him, the Seattle Mariners. He woke up the next morning to find that the Mariners wanted to trade him to Philadelphia. Over the past couple of decades, he'd bounced from Chicago to Texas to St. Louis to Baltimore to Boston and to Seattle, sometimes with minor league stops between big city employment. How bad could Philadelphia be? Not bad at all, it turned out, when he won 16 games for the World Champion Phils in 2008.

And now Jamie Moyer, half a year short of 50, is tossing on the side for the Rockies. Pretty soon he'll take the mound for a spring training game. Who among those watching will suppose that it doesn't matter?

This program aired on February 28, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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