Spring Training, 49ers Stadium - and More
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 30, 2006

IN 1966, Juan Marichal held out until the final 10 days of spring training, and that hurt him so much that all he did was win his first 10 games, en route to a 25-6 season.

Now you know why Iíve been skeptical about spring training ever since.

Marichal, of course, was an extraordinary pitcher, not just in his ability but in his preparation. In an era when it was common for players to slack off physically in the offseason Ė often because they had to get a job to supplement incomes which were far, far less than todayís Ė he made certain he was physically ready for the season.

Now, players come into camp in much better condition. Some players, primarily the Latinos, are game-ready because theyíve been playing in winter leagues.

Yet, spring training is now longer than ever. Go figure.

Certainly, thereís a need for a training period. Pitchers need to work on strengthening their arms, hitters need to work on their timing.

But as a method of assessing individual players or teams, itís very unreliable. Young players play with a high energy level, trying to impress the manager, while older players, who have made their reputations, work more slowly to get ready for the regular season. Playing conditions are much different than the regular season, with makeshift lineups. Managers know all this and are very wary of making evaluations, but that doesnít stop writers and fans from doing that.

Each spring, there are ďphenomsĒ who spring up; Freddie Bynum is in that category with the Aís this year. Maybe Bynum is the real thing, but I remember Randy Elliott. Each spring, there is a veteran pitcher who has discovered a new pitch or a different style that is going to rescue him from the mediocrity of his careeer; hello there, Jamey Wright. Each spring, there is a veteran player who is set to rebound from a poor season the year before, for a variety of reasons. That would be Jason Kendall this year. Each spring, there is a pitcher who gets lit up, as Armando Benitez did in his last outing, and explains itís because heís working on a specific pitch.

Spring training always works in its main objective, though: Gaining publicity for baseball. It began originally because baseball people figured, correctly, that they could lure writers down from New York winters to Florida sunshine to write reams of copy. Spring training gets even more publicity these days, and itís even become a money-maker for clubs because fans plan vacations around trips to Arizona and Florida to watch their teams.

I wonder what Juan Marichal thinks of all this.

ITEM: Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jeff Kent to a one-year extension of his contract, through the 2007 season when heíll be 39, for $11.5 million.

Whenever I asked Giants people what exactly Ned Colletti, a.k.a. Brian Sabeanís right hand man, actually did, the answer was, ďWell, uh, he negotiates contracts.Ē So, after the Kent deal, on top of the overpay for Rafael Furcal, itís beginning to seem that we shouldnít have blamed Sabean for the too-rich contracts to Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham.

A REAL CHAMPION? I would hope the NCAA tournament this year would finally shut up those who have campaigned for a similar football playoff to determine a national champion. I donít think there could be any doubt that Texas and USC were the two top teams in college football this year, so their game could truly be said to determine the national champion. But with four No. 1 seeds eliminated and No. 11 seed George Mason in the Final Four this year, can anyone truly say this tournament will determine the best in college basketball?

Donít get me wrong. I love the NCAA tournament for its very unpredictability, and Iíve never understood why itís so important to couch potatoes that they know whoís No. 1. Does that keep them awake at nights?

But be wary of making evaluations off this tournament. Pac-10 supporters now are saying that the fact that UCLA is in the Final Four (and Washington and Arizona made reasonable showings) shows that the conference was much stronger than it was given credit for. Not necessarily. As an evaluation tool, the NCAA tournament is barely better than baseballís spring training (see above).

NFL NEWS: The league owners did right by cutting down on end zone celebrations, ruling that players could not use props or lie down in the end zone. Predictably, Dallas owner Jerry Jones was one of three owners to vote against the proposal. After all, he just signed Terrell Owens.

Football is an emotional game and I have no problems with players reacting emotionally when they make a big play or score a touchdown. But itís gotten ridiculous in recent years as players plan out their celebrations in advance. It was past time to cut back on the excesses.

Owners did not make one change recommended by the competition committee: to allow a wide receiver to re-set if he flinched before the snap but the defense didnít react. The purpose of penalties is to prevent a team from gaining an unfair advantage, but a receiver re-setting after a flinch hardly qualifies. The false start penalty has become the most frequent and most annoying in the game, with 850 of them called last year. Owners should have approved that change.

49ERS STADIUM: John and Denise York are meeting with stadium architectural firms today and tomorrow to discuss financing plans for a new stadium. Donít hold your breath.

The basic problem remains: To build a stadium, Denise would have to contribute at least $300 million. Itís questionable whether she even has that money now, with the breakup of the DeBartolo Corporation, and she certainly doesnít want to pay that much for a stadium to house a team she never wanted.

That laughing you hear in the background comes from Eddie DeBartolo. As brother and sister divided the spoils, he got the Simon DeBartolo stock which has shot up in value, making him one of the richest men in the country Ė and able to fund the huge bash last week in Las Vegas.

Denise should sell the team and buy her husband another toy.

TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! Those of you wanting to buy Giants or Aís tickets, or tickets to any other sports or cultural event, locally or nationally, can do it by clicking on the links below this column.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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