Greetings from the Grapefruit League

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LAKELAND, FLORIDA — Hello, folks. How’s the weather? Here’s it’s just dandy. A bit nippy now — only about 50 degrees at 7:30 AM — but I suspect it’ll get much nicer as the day wears on, so don’t worry about me any. I’ll be just fine.

Thus begins my annual trek around spring training. This year, for the first time since 2010, I’m in Florida. I’m a bit ambivalent about that. Arizona is such a much more convenient place for this sort of thing. The parks are closer together and the planning much easier. And, while neither is ideal, if I have to choose one vibe or aesthetic over the other, the Arizona thing beats the Florida thing in my mind. But I suppose people’s mileage varies.

One benefit Florida has is more marquee teams. Yes, east coast bias and all of that, but there is value in going to see the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Braves, Phillies and all of that. They’re popular and fans of those teams have been underserved in our spring training coverage over the past few years, so here we are. I am excited to revisit those teams and those fan bases in the spring.

I’m also excited to see Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow. He goes in Tampa and I suppose I’ll be one of a gabillion reporters there. I am getting a bit of inadvertent Yankees overload, though, as by coincidence they’re here in Lakeland where I am today to play the Tigers. And they’re going to be in Dunedin on Sunday where I planned to go to catch that ballpark as a fan (never been there). I think that’s it, though. On Monday I head toward the gulf and points south and will see some other teams. I’m not making it to the Atlantic coast to see the Cards and Mets and Nats because, well, Florida is hard to do in a week.

Anyway, I’m heading over to the Tigers’ clubhouse to see Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager and talk to some Tigers players.  I’ll be checking in later today here, and I’ll be tweeting photos and observations all day via my Twitter feed.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉