Single page view By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Ah, spring training – is there anything better? After that long winter dry spell, all our favorite baseball rites return like old friends: the crack of the bat, the smack of horsehide on leather, the parade of spoiled, selfish egos. (How spoiled, you ask? This spoiled.)

Uni Watch has been keeping an eye on spring training, looking for new uniform developments and personal stylistic quirks. Jim Thome, for example, has been wearing his pants uncharacteristically low this spring. And Sammy Sosa's elasticized sleeve cuffs, which he began wearing in 2003 with the Cubs, have traveled with him to the Orioles.

Spring training is known for its high uni numbers, but David Wells is going in the other direction. Wells, now with the Red Sox, is fulfilling a long-held dream by wearing No. 3, in honor of Babe Ruth. Assuming he avoids the police blotter long enough to make Boston's regular-season roster, Wells will become only the 13th pitcher since 1960 to wear a single-digit number, and will join Toronto's Josh Towers as MLB's only single-digitized pitchers.

Although the party line is that spring training is all about bunting practice, cutoff drills and hazing the rookies, the real point is much simpler: getting the players to pose for yearbook and media guide photos, often under less-than-glamorous conditions. Since these photos usually show the players only from the waist up, it doesn't matter if the jersey and pants don't match – or if there are no pants at all.

Back in the day, teams wore their regular uniforms for Grapefruit and Cactus League games. A few teams still do this, but most now wear their batting practice jerseys and caps. By now everyone knows this is just a merchandising scam, one that Uni Watch usually prefers not to dignify with further discussion. But since they're essentially functioning as game attire this month, here's a quick rundown of this season's new designs:

  • The Expos-turned-Nationals have a nice enough practice jersey and cap. But the uniform numbers, which are supposed to appear three-dimensional, instead look like they've got these weird, talon-like serifs. Chalk it up to growing pains.

  • Sales of sunglasses in Port St. Lucie have no doubt plummeted now that the Mets have replaced their neon orange practice jerseys with a more subdued black-on-blue design. In keeping with that color scheme, they've also changed the bill of their practice cap from blue to black.

  • In this confusing and contentious world, it's nice to know there are a few universal truths we should all be able to agree upon. For example: No team could possibly need two practice jersey designs. Until this spring, only the Reds, Dodgers, Tigers and Phillies failed to grasp this premise, but now we add the Rangers to the list. The relative simplicity of their old jersey has been replaced by this and this (note the "26" memorial patch for Johnny Oates). Think of this as subtraction by addition.

  • The Astros have ditched their old practice cap in favor of a Texas-centric design. As we all know, anything related to geography or maps is totally cool (it's another one of those universal truisms, kinda like "Stirrups rule," or "Purple uniforms are completely lame-o"), so Uni Watch heartily applauds this change. While we're at it, how come the only other MLB teams currently wearing state-based imagery are the Brewers and Twins? Uni Watch hereby goes on record in support of a greater cartographic presence on uniforms.



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