This week, the Giants opened the kind of spring training that makes a former big-league beat writer wish he could turn back the clock and dive back in for a bit.
As noted in this space — and any other space dedicated to providing a preview of the Giants’ title defense — we touched on the team’s decision to keep the title winners intact, and one of the products of that decision is the primary reason for the aforementioned itch to dash for the desert and cover this camp.
It’s like this: With everyone back in the mix, the fierce competition for jobs that defines spring training most years will be virtually nonexistent. Sure, a bullpen spot might be technically up for grabs, and a bench role could be snapped up by a Cinderella in spikes, but that’s about it.
For the sportswriter who leans heavily on chronicling camp battles, this is not a good thing.
For the sportswriter who loathes such daily dispatches and instead sees the spring as an opportunity to connect player and fan through storytelling that focuses less on what the player does on the field and more what he’s like away from it, it’s an absolute joy.
Let’s face it, in this day and age, you can find out, via any number of media outlets, from legitimate monster websites to blogs and tweets manned by fans, exactly how many batting-practice home runs Pablo Sandoval hit in the morning session by noon.
And 30 minutes later, you can log back on and find out what he had for lunch. You might even get a corresponding caloric value report for the meal, and the big fella’s most recent body mass index reading.
It’s information overload, and the information is generally disposable. It means very little in the grand scheme of things. That’s not to say there aren’t appetites (no Panda pun intended) for such information, but it’s lightweight stuff.
Better, from this perspective, to take advantage of the relative peace of a noncompetitive camp by spending a little extra time digging into the players’ past, talking not to coaches and teammates but brothers and sisters and former teachers and childhood friends in an effort to discover more about the man, not the player. There’s often a huge difference between the man and the player, and those are the stories, when properly researched and relayed, that strengthen the bond between fan and team.
Do you really know much about Hunter Pence? Marco Scutaro? Brandon Belt? Angel Pagan? Let’s hope you do when this campm concludes.
SPEED ROUND: It’s been quite some time since the A’s opened camp with this much electricity. For the first time since the early to mid-2000s, it’s a team loaded with personality and humor, from Coco Crisp’s odd but endearing form of arrogance to Brett Anderson’s laconic brand of humor. What an attractive mix of characters. ... No team in the NBA needed the All-Star break more than our beloved Dubs. With the exception of those who have to be part of the league’s weekend orgy, the Warriors need to splinter off in every direction, spend some “me” time away from everyone else and re-connect with the selflessness and sense of purpose that made them so tough for so long. All that praise Mark Jackson was getting in the first few months was well-deserved, but this is when truly great coaches make their bones. ... Jeff Garcia and JaMarcus Russell. Is that not the strangest mentor-protege combo on record? More opposite quarterbacks, in every respect, you will never find. Up next, Meryl Streep takes Lindsay Lohan under her wing.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.