But enough about my "down time". Let's talk about Spring Training!
Most people, even baseball enthusiasts, have some confusion about what Spring Training is actually for or what it looks like day to day. Time to put your learning helmets on because we're gonna take a crash course on Mets Spring Training. Ready?
There is one facility that the Mets use for Spring Training. It's in Port St. Lucie, FL and has been for like 20+ years. Both the minor leaguers and the big leaguers train at the same facility. The Big Leaguers usually do their practice in the mornings then play games (or golf) in the afternoons. Us minor leaguers show up a little bit later (8-9 AM) and don't get out on the field until they are finished. Usually around 11:00 AM. Then we play our games in the late afternoon.
Yes "baseball fan", you were right, pitchers/catchers do report earlier than other position guys. Big League pitchers/catchers report Feb. 20. Big League position guys report a week later so that by the time they get there, the pitchers are ready to throw live batting practice to them. All STEP Campers (the mini camp between big league and minor league camp) report on Feb. 24. Minor League pitchers/catchers report March 6, with the position players following around the 11th.
The first week is devoted to pitchers and catchers getting back into the swing of things. We usually throw 2-3 bullpens before the position guys get there. Once they arrive, we throw our live batting practices to them. The goal of these live sessions are two-fold. First, it's for pitchers to get the feeling of throwing to hitters again. It sharpens your release point and gets your adrenaline flowing again. For hitters, this is usually the first live pitching most of them have seen in months. It's not very competitive, but it reminds us what games will look like.
Besides our 30-45 minutes of actual pitching per day, we do lots (and lots and lots) of drills. Come-backer ground balls. Covering first base. Pick-offs. Bunting. Backing up bases. Practicing and re-learning bunt plays. etc. etc. With over 150 guys in camp this can take hours. It's usually set up in stations that rotate every 30 minutes or so. Position guys do the same thing, but with their own set of fielding and hitting drills, and of course BP every day. After two weeks of drills and bullpens, we begin to play games. We start by playing intersquad games and work our way into playing other organizations. The Marlins and Cardinals share a complex in Jupiter, FL just down the road. We play one of those teams basically everyday. The AAA, AA, A+, and A teams will play each other and rotate between the complexes daily. Needless to say, we know the Miami and St. Louis organizations pretty well by the end of camp.
Now you might be wondering how we get organized with that many players in camp. Here is the mental/emotional pitfall for many Spring Trainers. After the first couple days of camp, the front office guys and coordinators split up everyone into 5 groups and post it (tryout style) in the locker room. One group for each full season team and one for the extended Spring Training group. They always follow up the posting with the phrase "Don't read anything into these groups. They are simply working groups for getting everybody their reps." They're not fooling any one. Everyone knows that there is a reason people are in the groups. Yes, things change over the course of a couple weeks with people getting moved around/released/hurt, but there is definitely a process by which people are sorted. Some guys take these groupings harder than others, especially the ones trying hard to make a full-season club. I was placed in the "extended Spring Training" group my first year and had to make the best of it. These groups will change right up until the last day of camp, when they let you know where you're going this season.
Now I know you're saying to yourself, "There's no way they let you know where you're going on the last day of camp, 3 days before you have to report to your affiliate." Yes, they do. It's not entirely their fault. Because of the volatility of the business and how players progress, they can't make final roster decisions until last minute. We get used to it. It's a trickle down process. If the big league team signs a guy, they have to send someone down to the minor league side. Then from there, Buffalo, Binghamton, PSL, Savannah, and Brooklyn have to make the necessary adjustments as the players come down the ladder. Not ideal, but c'est la vie.
Spring Training is one big chaotic wonderful experience. Getting to play games again, compete, and see all your teammates is something we all look forward to. Regardless of how monotonous it can be 3 weeks in, living in south FL in early Spring is hard to beat.
It's getting close, people! Get ready. You know we are.