PEORIA – From an outside perspective, spring training is a fun month filled with cheap baseball games and eating a hot dog while watching a bunch of players — most of whom won’t make the big league roster — play a game that is considered the national pastime.
From the inside, however, the start of spring training is filled with excitement and new possibilities for the players who will be trying to make a major or minor league roster.
“You’re obviously very excited to come back and see your buddies,” San Diego Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe said, “Honestly, you want to come out here and get ready for the season and do the best you can to help the team and be there for your team.”
The 26-year-old Renfroe and 25-year-old pitcher Kyle McGrath are both young players with just a taste of big league experience. Renfroe has appeared in two seasons for the Padres, and McGrath made his debut last year.
For young players like Renfroe and McGrath, it can be difficult to watch as their minor league friends are sent down throughout spring training.
“I mean, it’s tough definitely,” McGrath said, “You get close with everyone in here, but everyone knows it’s just part of the game and it happens every year.”
It’s a part of the game that everyone knows and understands, but that’s the purpose of spring training — to give young players an opportunity to prove themselves and established players an opportunity to work on their game.
“No matter how good you get there’s something you can work on,” Renfroe said, “Major, minor, whatever they can be, I just keep working on it and move on.”
There is plenty for the young guys to do during spring training, regardless of if they make it on the major league roster. For veteran players like Chase Headley, however, there is a certain feeling of relief when spring training is coming to an end and the roster is starting to shrink down.
“I hate to say it, but it’s kind of nice,” Headley said, “The light at the end of the tunnel is a little bit closer. The games become more meaningful because you are really preparing for the season now.”
Headley is one of the more experienced players in the Padres clubhouse this year, and he was a former Padres player before a three-year stint with the New York Yankees. The veteran tag that is associated with older players comes with certain expectations, like giving out advice and mentoring the young players.
“It’s been really good,” Headley said. “A lot of the younger guys are really hungry and are eager to learn. It’s fun when they give you an opportunity to share what you’ve learned and what you’ve been through.”
Headley spent last year with the New York Yankees. The “Baby Bombers,” a play on the Yankees’ old nickname, the “Bronx Bombers”, is a perfect example of an MLB team allowing younger players to play important roles. It paid off for the Yankees with a trip to last year’s ALCS where they took the future World Series champions Houston Astros to seven games.
“It’s fun, the game has really transitioned,” Headley said, “There are a lot more younger players that are impacting the game now then there ever has been. I know when I came up I was pretty much the only rookie on the team. Now you have four or five guys usually that are playing key roles that are either rookies or second year players.”
Headley has really taken to being a mentor to the young Padres players, and with Eric Hosmer, A.J. Ellis, and Tyson Ross, the Padres will have an interesting mix of youth and experience. Will it be enough to make San Diego competitive this year? We’ll find out soon.