In many ways, Spring Training does matter
When Bobby Cox was nearing the end of his managerial career just a few months ago, I began to wonder how so many of our lives might have been different had Ted Turner and the Braves front office not hired Chuck Tanner almost immediately after the 1985 season concluded.
At the time, Cox was guiding the Blue Jays through their first postseason experience. Once his club was eliminated, he made it known he wanted to return to Atlanta even though the only job the Braves had to offer was the general manager’s role.
Had Cox made it known he wanted to get closer to his wife and daughter, Tanner might never have made his way to Atlanta. At the same time, the Braves might not have gained the direction provided once Cox, Paul Snyder and Bobby Dews committed themselves to overhauling a horrible farm system.
Once Cox returned to the bench in the middle of the 1990 season, he began the historical journey that included 14 consecutive division titles.
When I asked Cox what would have happened had he returned to Atlanta to be the Braves manager in 1986, he said he would have ended up in “in five different places trying to raise a family.”
Had Cox been forced to continue living the nomadic lifestyle reserved for many baseball managers and coaches, he might have never crossed paths with Fredi Gonzalez — the man he proudly will watch assume his role as the Braves manager.
(Of course if the Braves are 10 games out of first place by the end of May, I’m pretty sure many of you will have wished that Cox never had gained that opportunity to be impressed by Gonzalez.)
Life is full of twists and turns that are influenced on yesterday’s events. There are countless “what if” scenarios that could be analyzed in every aspect of life. In fact, if we wanted to further the one above, we could ask “what would have happened if the Tigers didn’t make John Smoltz available or if the Cubs gave Greg Maddux what he was seeking?”
With this said, it was still interesting to sit with Gonzalez this week and hear him talk about “the good fortune” he has experienced during his coaching career.
While in Atlanta for the final weekend of the 2001 season, the Marlins parted ways with a number of coaches, including Gonzalez. A few weeks later, Gonzalez accepted the Braves offer to manage their Class A club in Macon.
It was a role he would have filled had some guy named Carlos Tosca not vacated his role as Triple-A Richmond’s manager to become the Blue Jays manager. Yeah, this is the same Tosca who will once again serve as Gonzalez’s bench coach this year.
After working in Richmond during the 2002 season, Gonzalez was watching television and saw that Ned Yost was hired to serve as the Brewers manager. His reaction was simply “good for Ned.”
Soon he realized, it was actually “good for Fredi”.
With Yost no longer around to serve as his third base coach, Cox called Gonzalez and asked him to fill the role.
It was funny to hear Gonzalez reminisce about taking this call and hearing Cox say, “do you want to talk to your wife about it and call me back?”
Obviously there was no need for Gonzalez to talk to his wife. This was the opportunity he wanted and the one that brings us where we are today, anticipating how he will do while serving as Cox’s successor.
Those previous 16 graphs were either meaningless or simply longest introduction ever written. Let’s go with the latter and promise that we’ll make these graphs and thoughts a lot tighter by the time this computer is brought back north at the end of March.
Looking back on the paths traveled by Cox and Gonzalez, we are reminded that every decision and every action can influence what transpires in the future.
This is pertinent now because over the next few weeks, you’re bound to read or hear somebody say, “it doesn’t matter what happens in Spring Training.”
In some instances, this is somewhat true. In other words, I don’t think people are going to be overly concerned about what Brian McCann hits or the ERAs produced by Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe during the Grapefruit League season.
Because of the small sample sizes, there really isn’t any reason to put stock in the stats produced during Spring Training. But with this being said, Nate McLouth is one of those guys who desperately needs to head back north with a batting average that starts with a 3 or above.
McLouth is on a mission to regain his confidence and he’s seemingly made some progress during the winter. But the only true way for him to truly do this is to find success at the plate during this exhibition season.
As he struggled to hit during last year’s Grapefruit League season, McLouth attempted to convince himself that things would change once the regular season arrived. When they didn’t, he gained first-hand knowledge of the value of confidence.
The Braves will truly benefit if they are re-introduced to the care-free McLouth, who can provide a power-speed mix at the plate and also play much more aggressive defense than he did during his 2010 nightmare.
During the past two exhibition seasons, Freddie Freeman has held his own in big league camp. But now that he’s at the mature age of 21, he will have to do so with the pressure of knowing he’s being counted on to serve as Atlanta’s starting first baseman.
If he needs any advice about how to handle this pressure, he can simply ask or tweet his good friend Jason Heyward, who truly never seemed fazed by all of the attention he gained when he was in the same position last year.
Heyward, Freeman and many of the other position players will participate in the first full-squad workout next Saturday, exactly one week before the Grapefruit League opener is played against the Mets.
Because the game is in Port St. Lucie, there’s definitely no reason to believe Chipper Jones will be playing in that first game. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll take it easy during the first week of games.
But it still appears he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play by the time Opening Day arrives. Whether or not this proves to be true will be dictated by what transpires over the next couple of weeks.
I‘ll be providing regular blog updates again beginning Monday, when Gonzalez welcomes his pitchers and catchers to camp.
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