Spring Training is the opposite of memorable. It happens and then the real games begin. Hopefully nobody gets hurt. That’s the ultimate goal for most players and fans – keep everybody on the field. As such, it makes very few spring moments unforgettable.
Spring Training lolls like a ship in a gentle current, listing side to side until the season begins and real excitement spills over for most fans. It takes a lot for spring memories to persevere.
Yesterday in Arizona, fans were treated to the perfect storm of Spring Training excitement. Mike Trout lined a rope to center field that eluded Yasiel Puig — a corner outfielder playing out of position during Cactus League action — as the hulking Cuban misfired on a diving catch attempt. As Trout raced around the bases, Puig tracked the ball down and hit Hanley Ramirez with a relay toss. Hanley threw a BB to the plate and A.J. Ellis smoothly fielded a tough hop, lunging to apply the tag on a sliding Trout.
The most exciting play in baseball ended with an out call by the home plate umpire, a call Angels manager Mike Scioscia disputed. The call went to video replay but stood as the replays did not offer a definitive answer.
The nature of the play and the “PUIG GUNS DOWN TROUT” headline made it a must-see play. Here, “must see it” for yourself.
Will this play outlive our goldfish-length memories and last forever in Spring Training lore? It’s hard to say. Here are eight other plays and moments that make the Spring Training cut.
A.J. Burnett takes one off the mind
Poor A.J. Burnett. At the lowest ebb of his career arc, Burnett showed up in Pittsburgh after the Yankees basically paid him to go away. Then this before Grapefruit League action even begins.
As far as inauspicious starts go, this looked like a potentially bad omen for the enigmatic Burnett. In the end, it was the opening chapter of a great story, as Burnett rejuvenated his career and the Pirates started down a path that lead them to the playoffs in 2013.
Hot pain for Miggy at the hot corner
Speaking of inauspicious beginnings, Miguel Cabrera‘s controversial move back to third base after the Tigers signing of Prince Fielder had many Tigers fans wringing their hands. Early in 2012 spring action, a bad bounce came up on the Tigers talisman, catching him under the eye and breaking his orbital bone.
As it turns out, Cabrera didn’t miss any regular season time and went on to win the American League MVP award by posting the first Triple Crown season in nearly 40 years. Perhaps broken orbital bones are in fact a good luck charm!
The Big Unit’s everlasting legacy
Did you know Randy Johnson was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time? The author of some of the greatest individual seasons in the modern era, one of the most productive pitchers through his late-thirties in the history of the game? You probably did. But you know what everybody remembers about Randy Johnson? The time he blew up a bird.
As our own Dustin Parkes said two years ago, this is a very important play in baseball history because it takes the well-worn “anything can happen” edict to its illogical conclusion. Anything can happen. In a random Spring Training encounter more than 13 years ago, anything happened all over one poor bird.
Note: among its many injuries, the bird suffered a broken orbital bone. Also: it died.
The Yankees and Rays throw down
There was a time, before Jonny Gomes was a key cog in the Red Sox machine, that he was just another guy playing for the Tampa Bay Rays. Before the Rays began their march toward perennial contender, they cut their teeth getting under the skin of their divisional foes and starting fights. Fights in Spring Training!
Shelley Duncan smashed through Akinoria Iwamura with a high slide, hostilities carried over from an earlier spring game that featured some aggressive play from the Rays. Jonny Gomes dashed to the rescue of his teammate, crashing into Duncan and kicking off a round of shoves, points, and salty language.
This wasn’t a one-time deal for the Rays, as they famously went at it with the Red Sox in regular season brawl to remember.
Vin Scully introduces Clayton Kershaw to the world
Before we was the best pitcher in the world and the proud owner of a $200 million contract, Clayton Kershaw was just another skinny kid with a weird number taking the field for the Dodgers in 2008. That didn’t last too long.
Scully’s famous call and Kershaw’s mind-bending curveball came together to make beautiful music during this spring outing. Kershaw made his big league debut later that year at the tender age of 20. The legend began that spring and shows no signs of slowing down after he captured his second Cy Young award in three years.
Sergeant Runnells falls flat
Gather ’round children. Here’s a secret your history books won’t tell you – there used to be a professional baseball team based in Montreal. Quebec! They had some laughs and were run into the ground and put together a great team at the worst possible time. As I understand it, somebody recently wrote a book, throwing back the curtain on the whole facade.
They’re most famous manager was Felipe Alou, a great manager and baseball man beloved around the game. The guy before him now works for the Colorado Rockies, if you’re comparing legacies. The guy before him, Tom Runnells, took over in the middle of the 1991 season and came to camp in 1992 ready to make his mark on the club.
His way of “making his mark” came in the form of…corporal punishment? Runnells donned military fatigues and rode onto the spring fields on the back of a jeep, eager to channel his mental image of a Leader of Men. Rob Neyer details the scene in his Big Book of Baseball Blunders
Runnells didn’t last the season, paving the way for the legend Alou and the greatest “what could have been” case in baseball history.
Reporter suits up for Blue Jays
Tom Verducci is a respected baseball writer, a long-time columnist for Sports Illustrated. But in the spring of 2005, he spent four days with the Blue Jays at their facility in Dunedin going through the paces.
Verducci offers a rare glimpse into the world of Spring Training, the drudgery and camaraderie and routine that marks six weeks of run up to a six month season. He also offers insight into a 40-year old writer taking his whacks against a Cy Young winner.
Halladay’s fastball is angry, announcing its indignation with an audible hum that grows frighteningly loud as it approaches. His slider is even more evil because it presents itself in the clothing of a fastball but then, like a ball rolling down the street and falling into an open manhole, drops out of sight, down and away. His curveball bends more than an election-year politician.
As far as introductions go, that’s a pretty good one. Even if we don’t all recall Verducci’s time at Blue Jays camp, you can bet Tom will never forget it.