The months between the end of the World Series and the beginning of another spring training are dark, lonely days for those who can’t get enough of the national pastime.
Think about it. How many times during the off-season did someone or some business or even the ballclubs themselves calculate, report or tweet how many days were left until pitchers and catchers reported to camp?
It’s like a kid counting down to Christmas, which brings me to another question: Why aren’t there spring-training advent calendars? My Amazon search came up empty, so they obviously don’t exist.
Think about that invention-waiting-to-happen. Each day, a baseball fan pulls back another flap on the calendar to find a piece of stale bubblegum, or a handful of sunflower seeds, or hairs from Elvis Andrus’ failed beard experiment in 2014.
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Someone get me a number for the patent office.
But the countdown to spring training ultimately just ends in another countdown. That’s right: It’s only 45 days until Opening Day.
23 Pitchers on the Rangers’ 40-man roster. There are also seven pitchers who are non-roster invitees in camp.
The April 4 opener, though, is the last thing that should be on the minds of Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers, who went through their first spring workout Friday.
No matter how insufferable the routine will get in a town full of pleasant yet slow-driving and early-eating citizens, the pitchers don’t need to rush into anything, especially early in camp.
“I told everybody to take it slow,” pitching coach Doug Brocail said. “There’s nobody out today that’s going to win a job.”
Nevertheless, pitchers were reminded of that before heading out to the back fields at the Surprise Recreation Campus. Starting pitchers threw on Day One, including right-hander Colby Lewis.
He threw his first bullpen session since having surgery in October on his left knee, and did so without incident. It probably helped that Lewis has dropped more than 25 pounds riding his bike near his home in Bakersfield, Calif.
Even Yu Darvish did some throwing as he continues his way back from Tommy John surgery. He threw off a flat mound, which is more challenging than flat ground but not as challenging as the next step, a half-mound.
In addition to 283 combined appearances in 2015 among Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Keone Kela and Jake Diekman, Tom Wilhelmsen, Tony Barnette and Sam Freeman combined for 166 more.
“The first day is a tough barometer,” Brocail said. “But you like to see guys not breathing hard, and I didn’t see anyone breathing hard. That means everybody’s done their work.”
Relievers are scheduled for bullpen sessions Saturday, and all pitchers will progress toward throwing live batting practice and then participate in the two intrasquad scrimmages that come on the eve of Cactus League games.
But within the group of 30 pitchers are individualized schedules. Cole Hamels and Lewis, for instance, will likely get their work in B games and against minor leaguers until later in camp. The same could hold true for the core relievers who finished last year pitching on fumes.
Right-hander Shawn Tolleson was one of them. The closer finished with a team-high 73 appearances, though Sam Dyson finished with a combined 75 between Miami and the Rangers. Those two, Jake Diekman and Keone Kela combined for 283 appearances in 2015.
Tolleson said that four months was enough rest for his arm and body to recover, but is under the impression that he will have a significant say in how much work he does each day.
“Today, I went out there and played catch and got my feet under me,” Tolleson said. “It’s going to be more like, ‘Do you need another ’pen? Do you want to throw to hitters? What do you want to do to get yourself ready?’ ”
The younger pitchers, the prospects with the big arms and the big dreams, are the ones who will get more regimented work as they get acclimated to the way the Rangers want their next wave of pitching talent to prepare.
My goal for this spring is we leave healthy. I plan on winning this thing, and you can’t do it without healthy arms.
Pitching coach Doug Brocail
“My very first big league spring training, you better believe I was out-of-this world excited,” Tolleson said. “It felt like it was one of the biggest days of my life, but the longer I’ve been doing this, I take the first day of spring training as, ‘OK, let’s take a few deep breaths.’ ”
The young pitchers and those fighting for jobs will be the ones pitching the eighth inning in Cactus League games after the regulars have showered and headed for the golf course.
Those veterans, the ones who don’t have to win a roster spot, know how to get ready for a season. No matter how badly they wish they were somewhere else, like Arlington or Seattle or even Oakland, they put themselves on the proper pace for the regular season.
They aren’t the kind who would buy a baseball advent calendar.
“I don’t want to be an idiot and go out there throwing 100 mph and get hurt on the first day,” Tolleson said.
But he and the other established pitchers are on the long countdown to Opening Day.
Only 45 more days.