Players find value, camaraderie in spring
Camp provides preparation for grind of long Major League season
PHOENIX -- Starting the clock with the two games in Australia to kick off the year, the Major League Baseball regular season is scheduled to last a grand total of 191 days. Throw in six weeks or so of Spring Training, along with the whole month of October for the playoffs, and the MLB season is edging toward a 250-plus-day process.
Out of all of the North American professional sports, Major League Baseball could be considered the most strenuous, with each club playing nearly twice the number of regular-season games as their NBA and NHL counterparts.
For A's veterans Nick Punto and Scott Kazmir, who have a combined 22 years of experience in the big leagues, there's no reminder needed.
"One hundred and 62 games is an extremely long season," Punto said, "but we prepare for it. It's a yearlong thing that we are preparing for now, and as athletes you're preparing in the offseason for that September grind and that August grind, which can be even worse depending on whether you're in the playoff hunt or not. So it is a long season, but it's just part of the experience."
"It's definitely a grind, especially for me as a starting pitcher," said Kazmir, who joined the A's this winter after a bounce-back 2013 season with the Cleveland Indians. "You have 35 starts lined up and you have to take one at a time. Throughout the season, you have to add and subtract pitches in between starts just to stay healthy and fresh. It's something where experience definitely comes into play to remain healthy for a whole season by just knowing how your body is going to react."
You'd think a training camp before such a long and arduous regular season would lead to complaints from Major Leaguers, but it's quite the opposite. Sure, doing the same drills year after year could be monotonous for vets. Yet, according to Kazmir, there's something about being out on the field with his teammates and the camaraderie that makes it all enjoyable.
"The personalities you find in a baseball player, we can have fun and figure out a way to make it entertaining no matter where we are," Kazmir said.
Under the right leadership, Spring Training is beneficial and serves a purpose greater than just going through the motions, according to Punto.
"Spring Training is fun, especially when you do it right," Punto said. "It really feels like [manager] Bob Melvin knows how to control a Spring Training. You're making sure you're getting your work done; it's crisp, clean and very punctual. If you do that, it makes for a spring that's not taxing on you and not as long as it could be.
"It's not boring, it's where you learn about the fundamentals. You also learn a lot in Spring Training about your teammates' tendencies, and that carries you through that six-month period."
Punto played for five teams prior to joining Oakland in the offseason, and if there's one thing he knows, it's how to adjust to different clubhouses. Spring Training is not only a time to put in work leading up to the season, but also a time for players to figure out where they fit in a clubhouse.
"Getting to know the guys, all of that is really important," Punto said. "I got traded in August one year and it's tough to walk into a clubhouse and not have that bond that you get from Spring Training. Being together for 40 straight days without really any days off is really important."
Those 40 days aren't spent entirely at the facilities, however. Before the Cactus League games start, a ballplayer's workday typically ends around 1 p.m. With the rest of the day free, barring any team meetings or extra work on the field, a player has free reign to explore what Arizona has to offer.
"We spend most of our time on the golf course," Kazmir said with a smirk.
Golfing has long been one of the favorite activities outside of baseball for big leaguers, particularly pitchers such as Kazmir. But position players get in on the action, too.
"There's probably 15 or 16 guys in here that like to get out [on the golf course]," Punto said of the A's. "When you have a short day, what else are you going to do in beautiful Arizona?"
Ross Dunham is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.