We now have just a little over a week left in Vero Beach before we head west, which means that the process of getting our roster down to the 25 players we will have for Opening Day is in full throttle. Since in the course of my 15-year career I was sent down during Spring Training six times and sent down during the season three times, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on what it feels like.
The most important element to know is what the players know — there is nothing like the big leagues. Nothing even close. Being a big league player is what you dream about your entire life. The money, the lifestyle, the notoriety, the competition, even the pressure is intoxicating. When that is taken away, for whatever reason, it is a blow. In Spring Training, there are generally three types of players that are sent out. There are the young prospects like Andy LaRoche who are on the 40-man roster and are being optioned. There are veterans such as Joe Beimel who have previous big league service time with other clubs and have signed minor league contracts with the understanding that they will have the chance to make the big league team. The third is the Major League veteran who is older that either makes the team or is released. In all cases there is a severe sense of disappointment.
Even in LaRoche’s case where he is a young player with a bright future and without a great chance to make the team, there was disappointment. If nothing else, you now have to spend the rest of Spring Training on the minor league side of the complex, where the uniforms just don’t seem as white and the games are played in front of empty stands. Plus, you have to watch the big league team work out in the morning and while they are only feet away, it may as well be 1,000 miles. In the veterans’ case, it is a failed opportunity to get back to the big leagues, which is the ultimate goal. No one plays with the idea of making a good living in Triple-A. You play to play in the big leagues and in some instances, your window is closing. You know how different the big leagues are from the minors and your hunger to get back is even greater. But you also know that you better get over that disappointment quickly because your goal now shifts to being the first guy up when the season starts.