Braves pitchers and catchers report to spring training Tuesday, with the rest of the infantry required to be on the grounds five days later.
This was thought to be their last spring at Disney, but, alas, every building project involving the Braves seems to be lagging behind the most optimistic of schedules. Be that team-building or the actual brick-and-mortar kind.
The Braves – the Amazon of North Port, Fla. – reportedly will not open their fancy, new research-and-development facility before the spring of 2020, full time. By then, we wonder, is it too much to hope that a contender be training there?
For now, on former ranch land in Sarasota County, all that’s growing are construction costs.
On the familiar fields at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, who can be exactly sure what is going to sprout? The seed, we have been told for a couple of springs now, is of the highest grade. It’s just that the harvest has yet to make anyone really satisfied.
There has been just too much unsettled with this team’s management to believe fully that there is a single, unified vision for success. Too little belief in ownership to know for sure that this franchise can make the step from promise to productivity. Four consecutive seasons of less than 80 wins will erode even the staunchest faith.
Here is one other parallel between the Braves and their spring-training construction site: Just as there was a late change in general contractor for the North Port project, there also was a big developer change back at team’s main office.
When GM John Coppolella got caught trifling with international prospect rules – the hanging judges of baseball deeming it to be a felony worthy a lifetime ban – it was bound to throw the Braves builders off stride. The team responded, hiring Alex Anthopoulos and renewing its commitment to employing sharp, yet unproven, young execs whose surnames will fry a sportswriter’s spellcheck. Any certainty that Anthopoulos has the tools to finish the Braves rebuild is more wish than verified fact.
Truth is, you just don’t know. And, unfortunately, the Braves have squandered so much of that benefit of the doubt they accumulated throughout the late 1990s, early 2000s.
As I pack for the trip south next week, there is no shortage of interest already folded and laid out on the bed. Spring training never fails to spark curiosity – and the day it does is the day to shutter baseball itself.
Ronald Acuna is in himself a novelty worth the trip. So intense will the vetting be that by the end of spring, the 20-year-old may qualify for a spot both as a Braves outfielder and as a CIA operative.
Beyond that, other questions will carry us all from here to March 29 and the opener against the Phillies: Where will all the young arms get slotted? Will there be a semblance of long-sought stability at third? Can Dansby Swanson get his groove back? Is there any reason to believe this team will make an actual measurable step toward competitiveness?
To that point, I just don’t know how much optimism to pack for the start of spring. That is supposed to be an item as essential to this trip as the sunscreen, the tacky Hawaiian shirts and the Sun Pass toll transponder. And yet, as has been proved, such hopefulness can be really uncalled for.
Oh, OK, throw some of that in, too. Can’t help myself. I always over-pack.