The attitude of baseball in spring is wonderful to behold. Think of that feeling while standing at the altar on your wedding day. Think of the unrevealed scratch-off lottery ticket. The hair plug. The fad diet. None exist without this sense of uncut optimism, sometimes totally unfounded but nonetheless as potent as absinthe. It’s what makes us human. That’s the start of spring training.
Pitchers, catchers and the usual air of boundless belief reported here to Braves camp Friday. All beneath a robin’s-egg sky and cottonball clouds, of course.
And so many cheerleaders. Not just those inhabiting the Braves’ spring clubhouse at Disney, but squadrons of the real thing locked in competition Friday just beyond the ballpark gates. Hundreds of them, each trying to out-pep the other.
How’s a person expected to maintain his cynical sneer in a setting like this?
The basic question on the day that Braves pitchers and catchers reported to camp, of course, is do the Braves have enough pitching and catching to go anywhere this season?
Behind the plate, they’ll rely upon the well-worn hinges of 30-somethings Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers. The plum catching acquisition of the offseason, J.T. Realmuto, went elsewhere within the division.
On the mound, the Braves made no daring move for a front-line starter, and made no reach for someone else to handle the last inning either. Theirs is a camp filled with the promise and uncertainty of strong young arms, pitchers who hopefully will find the plate while they’re finding their way in the big leagues.
But if there’s a piece missing anywhere here, this wasn’t the day to bring it up to Braves manager Brian Snitker.
“I like where we’re at. I like our guys, I like our team. What we did was pretty significant in my mind (like bringing back McCann and signing once-upon-a-time AL MVP Josh Donaldson for a hopeful infusion of power). And you add Darren O’Day (a reliever acquired last season while recovering from hamstring surgery) – he looks great. I really like where we’re at. I have a lot of confidence in that room in there.”
Any team that won its division by eight games a season ago might have some cause for confidence, no matter the prevailing sentiment that Washington and Philadelphia have passed it by with their various roster redecorations.
“It’ll be real fun when we pull out in front again this season,” Braves reliever A.J. Minter observed Friday.
The Braves had answers at the ready for any doubt. Because it was the first day of spring.
From McCann, reunited with the team with which he spent nine very productive seasons, on the youthful pitching staff: “I’ve watched some film. The arms are incredible. There’s one after another under 25 years old. I think that’s how you have to win in today’s game.
“This team is so talented, where they got last year. Everyone’s going to be a year older, more experienced. Add a guy like Josh Donaldson, but him in the middle of the order, it’s a game-changer. I know this team in here is extremely talented and has a chance to win the World Series.”
From starter Kevin Gausman, a veritable antique on this staff at just 28: “We have a good core of guys coming back from last season, a ton of young talent. I was able to watch some of these young guys’ bullpen sessions yesterday, and the ball just kind of explodes out of their hands. They’re young and talented and ready to go. They came into camp ready to compete. I’m excited to watch them kind of do their thing.”
From the manager, talking about the change of attitude from last year to this: “We were hoping (in 2017) we could be competitive and do good. I think this year we’re going to expect to do that. I think there’s a big difference in that.”
“People should be optimistic and excited,” Snitker said. “This is a good group of players.”
On the day that pitchers and catchers report, we all might indulge in a brief flight of unchained optimism. What’s the harm? While realizing, of course, that the brains behind both Amazon and New Coke must have felt equally good about the day they launched.