By Michelle Dingley
Spring is the metaphorical and literal season of rebirth, when the world awakens from its winter slumber, shakes off the ice and snow, and vegetation re-emerges, green and strong. During spring training, the teams head out to the desert to prepare for a new season, a new chance for glory after they failed the previous year. Following them are loyal fans, many making the trek across the country to cheer on their team. This is my first time at spring training. It seems that baseball is everywhere in Phoenix. It is comforting, a constant reminder that the new season is almost upon us. Everywhere I look, I see baseball fans – followers of the Angels, Athletics, Dodgers, Padres, and, of course, Giants. Giants fans greet each other all across the city – in restaurants, at the zoo – attracted to the solidarity signified by the wearing of orange and black. There is a feeling of camaraderie among fans of all teams. We all packed up and traveled to Arizona just to see our favorite team play, to rush the season along just a little.
Though the spring in Arizona is supposed to be hot and dry (after all, that’s why teams from Chicago and Colorado leave their snowy home for the desert), this weekend has been cold and rainy. The ominous clouds over the stadiums make me wonder if they forebode more than just the weather. On Sunday, Huff was scratched from the lineup for the second straight day with a tight back. Freddy Sanchez, though he has acted as DH, has yet to take the field this spring. According to Andrew Baggarly, Bochy says it’s doubtful Freddy will start at second on Tuesday, after the team rest day on Monday. It’s starting to look like he won’t be ready Opening Day.
Here and there, the bleak skies part and sun shines through. Buster plans to catch six innings on Tuesday, a personal high for this spring season. Sadly, I did not get to see him play on Saturday (he DH’ed in a minor league game) nor Sunday (he was given the day off). At least I know he’s doing well even if I don’t get to see it with my own eyes.
There are bright spots in the Giants camp. On Saturday, Brandon Belt hit a two-run homer and a sac fly, knocking in all the Giants’ runs against the Dodgers. The game ended in a 3-3 tie, a disappointment for the huge crowd, which was a record attendance for the Cactus League. Belt played in left field and looked good out there, with several quick relays into the infield and an outfield assist at third. Gregor Blanco was impressive in center. I had heard stories but his prowess was confirmed in person. In the bottom of the fifth, the wind caught a fly ball headed to center, pushing it into left. Blanco booked it, covering tons of ground before sliding on his belly to make the catch. At the plate, Blanco went 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. It’s quite a small sample size, but after that performance, I would definitely like to see him on the 25-man roster.
This was the first time I’ve been to a Giants game at a Dodgers park. I wondered what the vibe would be like, especially considering this is spring training and the games don’t count. In the Cactus League, it is rather common for fans of the visiting team to fill up a large portion of the stands. I’d estimate about 30% Giants orange, 40% Dodger blue, and 20% green (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all). There were competing chants and some light-hearted booing, but I didn’t witness any problems. Before the game, I saw Dodgers fans and Giants fans tailgating and playing catch. There was little animosity between the rival groups. Spring training is, after all, a time for fans of all teams to come together and enjoy America’s pastime.
The action in Sunday’s game against the Padres was vastly overshadowed by the weather. A game that had potential to be rained out, we played the entire nine innings – not that it did us any good. The Giants lost 5-1 after giving up 2 in the seventh and 3 in the eighth. On the positive side, Bumgarner threw five scoreless and looked good. Burriss hit a triple and scored our only run on a Brandon Belt single (fourth RBI in two games). It could have been ugly on the field due to the wet conditions, but it turned out to be ugly only in the stands. After a sprinkly early afternoon, the cloudy opened up around the third. Rain turned to hail. Fans ducked for cover or did their best to stay dry. The players, however, stayed on the field, playing through the pelting, the soaking, and the freezing wind. We weren’t sure if this was Arizona or Candlestick.
The weather didn’t exactly cooperate this weekend, but Giants Cactus League baseball has its sunny moments. The games themselves don’t matter, and as a group we haven’t looked great, but individuals have stood out. The team will fall into place and the players will meld. And if it happens to hail again when the Giants open the season against the Diamondbacks on April 6, well, Chase Field has a roof.