McGrath: Enough wacky spring, let’s play baseball!


TACOMA — The 2013 Seattle Mariners can do it. All signs are go. They’ll need some help from Lady Luck, of course, but there’s reason for high hopes and big dreams.

A playoff run? Who knows? I’m not thinking about the playoffs. I’m thinking about them surviving the longest, strangest, bleakest spring-training season in memory.

Spring training is supposed to be a time when veterans are boasting how they’re in the best shape of their careers, when phenoms are emerging, when comeback stories are as prevalent as breakout stories.

But I look around, and all I see are ominous clouds. Take the Yankees, for instance. Shortstop Derek Jeter likely will begin the season on the disabled list with problems related to the broken ankle he suffered last October. First baseman Mark Teixeira could be a candidate for wrist surgery, Alex Rodriguez’s ailing hip will sideline him for several months, outfielder Curtis Granderson broke a forearm when a foul ball grazed it and closer Mariano Rivera – determined to retire on his own terms after missing almost all of 2012 with a torn ACL – is battling headache issues reported as “severe.”

The injury plague even extended to general manager Brian Cashman, who recently broke a leg and dislocated an ankle while performing a skydiving stunt with the Army’s Golden Knights.

And to think, Cashman wasn’t the only executive to make a trip to the emergency room this spring. Brewers general managerDoug Melvin was rushed to a Phoenix-area hospital after noticing a bug crawling across the floor while dining with his wife in their condo.

Melvin did the valiant thing – he grabbed some tissue paper and confronted the pest – and then he did a stupid thing: He squeezed the tissue, not realizing the pest was a poisonous scorpion.

Been there, done that. Last summer I sprayed insect repellent at a wasp who’d strayed into my kitchen. Zap, see ya later, sucka. Except the wasp didn’t die. It took a Brian Cashman parachute dive toward me and disappeared. Where could it be? The sweatshirt hood dangling on my back, perhaps? I checked and, sure, enough, the wasp had settled in for one last stab at retaliation.

So I can understand Doug Melvin’s absent-minded encounter with the scorpion, or understand it more than Elvis Andrus’ missing some Cactus League action because of “tattoo soreness.” The Rangers shortstop honored his late father with an elaborate tattoo, and upon completion of the nine-hour procedure, Andrus’ right arm was inflamed.

I’m not sure what Hell is like – my fingers are crossed that I make the last cut – but devoting nine hours for a tattoo artist to carve a design on my arm strikes me as a typical day down there.

Meanwhile, in other spring-training news, erstwhile San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum, the ex-Washington Huskies pitcher, two-time Cy Young Award winner and surprisingly effective long reliever during the 2012 playoffs, has a 10.97 ERA after four Cactus League starts.

Spring training stats can be misleading, especially for pitchers prone to experiment with grips on breaking balls, but Lincecum has lost more than four mphof velocity from a fastball clocked at 94.60 mphas a rookie in 2007.

The Phillies’ Roy Halladay, a fellow two-time Cy Young recipient, can relate: His Grapefruit League fastball is sitting between 86-89 mph, well below the heat he brought in his prime, and he’s talking about “evolving” with his body.

“It’s not a boxing match,” Halladay said Saturday. “It’s not strength vs. strength. It’s a chess match. It’s a competition of the mind and execution and being smarter and being more prepared.”

Yikes. Roy Halladay, among the handful of most dominant pitchers of the past 10 years, is sounding less like a future Hall of Famer than a potential panelist on The View.

Closer to home, in the American League West, the Angels’ ERA of 7.26, through 25 Cactus League games, finds manager Mike Scioscia suspecting his pitchers are ill-equipped to box and not so hot at chess.

“With our rotation in particular, yes, I’m concerned,” Scioscia said the other day. “Some guys aren’t quite where they need to be.”

At least the Angels are where they need to be, in a comfortable ballpark that has been refurbished with enough luxurious amenities to keep ownership content for another year or two. The Cubs aren’t so fortunate. While the team has been working out in Arizona, preparing to conclude its 106th consecutive season without a world championship, Chicagoans are probing the possibility the team will leave deteriorating Wrigley Field for a glitzy new stadium in the suburbs.

Six night games a week, a retractable roof, convenient parking, seats without obstructed views, what’s wrong with the Cubs joining the 21st century?

Besides, like, everything?

The 2013 baseball season begins Sunday night, when the Rangers take on the Astros in Houston. I can’t wait, because I’m starving for good news, fun news, news missing during a weird baseball spring training that underscored an obscure but fundamental truth:

A split-second encounter with a scorpion can be as painful as a nine-hour tattoo.


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