The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 9, 2014

Thoma column: The many purposes of spring training

An amusing verbal scuffle broke out last week when the Boston Red Sox sent a contingent of minor leaguers across Florida for an exhibition game against the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins, who jacked up ticket prices for the game, beefed that the defending World Series champs had failed to field a lineup with at least four regulars, which is the official expectation.

Ben Cherington, the general manager of the Sox, apologized for the B-squad lineup, but he stopped short of saying it wouldn’t happen again. (Truth: It will happen again. The Sox aren’t going to bundle David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and A.J. Pierzynski onto a bus for a three-hour journey, no matter how much the opponent is charging fans.)

Then Boston owner John Henry — who once owned the Marlins before the Bud Selig-designed shuffle that ended up with Henry owning the Red Sox, Jeffrey Loria (owner of the Montreal Expos) the Marlins and the Expos as a dead team walking — tweeted that the Marlins should apologize for their regular season lineup.

Which ... yeah. The lineup the Bosox sent on Thursday had only two players with even one major-league at-bat, but it probably had more talent than the Marlins lineup. (The game itself ended in a scoreless tie, but the Sox outhit the Marlins 7-2.)

Underlying Henry’s barb: The Marlins are a poor champion of consumer rights. Loria’s operation is highly profitable, but that profit is based on ripping off the local taxpayers, conning the fan base and exploiting his fellow owners’ success via revenue sharing. The disdain around the game for Loria is manifest and growing.

But the Marlins’ gripe raises an intriguing issue: What is spring training’s purpose?

For the established players, it’s about preparing for the coming season.

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