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|Spring training has evolved greatly over time. What does the future hold for MLB's preseason ritual?|
Editor's note: Art Garfamudis originally wrote for Page 2 in 2008 before he retired to dedicate himself to preparing his safe house for any number of civilization-threatening crises. The depletion of his potable water, dried food and ammunition has lured him out of retirement to again present his unique perspective on the sports world.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. I especially liked the stories that talked about the future. (Even stories that were so old that the future they were talking about was already in the past.) Like a lot of people, I thought we'd have flying cars by now and that diseases would all be gone. But here I am suffering from a cold driving a pickup truck that's not too different from the ones back from when I was a kid.
For a while, I wanted to be a futurist, and I was one, actually -- if you count hanging out at the racetrack predicting how horses were going to place. My thought is, the trick to being a good futurist is that you only predict things for a period of time long after you're likely to be dead. This way, you won't be accountable.
With the schedule of spring games getting started here in the year 2012, I figured this was a good time to wonder about what the coming years have in mind for the venerable institution known as spring training. How is it going to change? Is it going to change?
In the old days, there were two types of ballplayers. The first, smaller group made enough money that the players didn't have to work in the offseason. They spent November through February smoking cigars, drinking brandy and eating entire wild turkeys that they had shot themselves on hunting trips. The second group, which contained most of the guys, got jobs as astrophysicists or going door-to-door hawking vacuum cleaners. Some of them managed to stay in shape, but most went to spring training having to wear a rubber suit to sweat off the pounds.
Nowadays -- and they don't get enough credit for this -- the majority of ballplayers show up in midseason trim. So, then, do they really need six weeks of camp to get in shape? Can't that time be cut in half? Sure it could. If it was the same for every team, why not? Will it happen, though? I'm gonna have to say no to that. The powerful forces of tradition and the tourist lobbies will fight against them ever knocking a single day off the duration.
If you really want to get futuristic, maybe the players of tomorrow will have themselves put into some kind of medically induced hibernation every offseason. This way, they won't age as fast and they'll be able to play into their 50s. Someone with some proper training needs to get to work on that idea right away.
This year, Mets manager Terry Collins got upset with shortstop Ruben Tejada because he showed up on time at camp. On time. It used to be a manager would save his wrath for the guy that came four days late stinking of gin with a go-go dancer passed out in the backseat of his rent-a-car. Now they get mad when the players don't come early. What's the logical conclusion to this? Winter-long spring training, right? Management could argue that these guys make so much money that they should report to camp on Nov. 1 to start getting ready for next season. Of course, the real go-getters will leave the team in the last week of the regular season to report to camp to get a jump on things.
In 1976, the average spring training game drew 2,362 people. By 2010, that number had jumped to 7,596. Can we assume that in another 35 years spring training attendance will have tripled again? Of course we can -- it's a free country, isn't it? We can assume anything we want. One of the reasons spring training will never be shortened is that it keeps getting more and more popular with fans. If the rate of attendance growth continues, by the year 2080, spring training games will be outdrawing regular-season games, and the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues will need to build mega-parks with capacities of 65,000 or more.
You probably think I'm one of those global warming deniers. Wrong! I fully embrace the concept. Not only that, but I'm in favor of it. Always have been. I look forward to the day I can beat my snow shovel into a ploughshare. If global warming continues apace, we're gonna have to ask this question: Are Florida and Arizona really where we want to be having spring training? Probably not. I predict that by the year 2112, the Finger Lakes region of New York and the Iron Range of Minnesota will be baseball's two main spring training centers.
Looky here: In 1970, a good seat for a Cardinals spring training game at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., cost $1.50. Adjusting for inflation, that's about $8.50 in 2012 money. Does a top spring ticket cost eight bucks these days? No, it costs more than $20. Over $30 for a Yankees game -- and that's face value, if you can get them. Who are these numbskulls who say baseball isn't popular anymore? If the game is so unpopular, why are people willing to shell out three times as much as they did 40 years ago to see games that don't count for squat in the standings? Using the same master logic I just applied to attendance figures, can't we reckon that a spring training ticket will cost the equivalent of $75 in another 40 years?
So don't be surprised if 90 years from now -- if you can live that long -- you hear the following when you tune in to a spring game: "It's a beautiful day for baseball here in Ely, Minnesota, winter home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Today they're taking on the Chicago Cubs. Starting for Chicago is a young left-hander just let out of hiber-stasis two days ago. There's a huge traffic jam outside the stadium. You know, I would have thought we'd have flying cars by now ..."
Artemis Arthur Garfamudis originally studied typing at the Miss DuPrix School of Business on Route 22 in North Plainfield, N.J. He has since taken several refresher typing courses. It is with great pride that he types all his own columns.
Follow Art Garfamudis on Twitter @artgarfamudis ... if you dare.
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