Spring training is all about working out the kinks. Getting back into the swing. Finding a groove. Ramping up. Not screwing up. That last one, especially, during a pandemic.
Here’s what it isn’t about: winning and losing. That stuff can wait for the regular season, when every move counts and every blunder threatens to leave a nasty mark in the standings.
Look, they don’t call it the Cactus League because the White Sox and 14 other teams just happen to be playing their spring baseball in Arizona. Wait, did you really think that was the reason?
Fine, it is. But it might as well be because who wins and who loses is about as riveting as watching a scaly, spiny, leafless plant do a whole lot of just standing around in the desert.
All of which is to say: Nobody really cares.
Correction: Nobody really cares as much as back-again Sox manager Tony La Russa.
“That’s actually the first thing at the top of [my] list,” he said before the Sox’ 7-4 loss to the Reds on Thursday in Goodyear. “That’s why you keep the score.
The Sox are a not-so-hot 1-7-3.
“[Each time] that we’ve been losers, it has messed up the rest of the day. You try to draw some positives because work got in, all that stuff, but you’ve just got to manage better. [It has been] bad managing. Because the guys are trying hard, so I’ll manage better. Or try to.”
By the sounds of it, the return of La Russa, 76, has been nothing less than an unmitigated disaster. That isn’t actually true, mind you. How could it be? The man just climbed back into a uniform. And did we mention it’s spring training?
“Professionally, the game dictates how you feel,” he said.
One supposes that’s simply the nature of La Russa, known far and wide for the extent of his competitive burn. Losses have always eaten at him. It must be one of the not-so-secrets to his vast pile of managerial successes.
But maybe he’s pulling our legs a bit on the spring thing?
“I was always taught — my dad said — ‘You get confused, keep it simple.’ Our team plays their team, and they’re keeping score. So the people that pay you to manage or coach or play, they want to win the game.”
OK, maybe he isn’t. Holy cacti, he cares a lot.
The Sox lost three in a row heading into Thursday, and it was kind of ugly going by the scoreboard. They were shut out in two of those games and really haven’t started hitting yet on the whole. They faced three starting pitchers — the Rockies’ German Marquez, the Dodgers’ Julio Urias and the Padres’ Blake Snell — who combined for eight scoreless innings.
“Great practice,” La Russa said, “because they’re seeing guys who seem to me like they’re opening-season ready. So it’s good for us, and we’re working on it, and I think we’re going to get better and better.”
Ready for Opening Day? That’s more than doubtful. Nobody is ready yet. The people who lay the foul lines, rake the mound and wash the uniforms aren’t ready.
But at least La Russa used the words “great” and “good” in regard to his own team, which happens to be more than a little talented.
“At some point,” he said, “based on what I’ve seen, we’re going to improve and improve, and I believe we’ll be tough to play. We’re going to win our share. More than our share, hopefully.”
By that, he meant once the games start counting for real — during the season.
At least we think he did.