By: Kurt Snyder
Is it wrong after professing how meaningless spring training stories are to come back two days later and draw a conclusion based on a spring training game? Well yes. Yes it is.
So I will ignore how Joe Nathan doesn’t look to be doing particularly well. I will ignore that he has had a hard time throwing a 90 mph fastball. I will ignore that he has mentioned having some arm fatigue. No mention of a dead arm yet, but as soon as he says it, I will ignore it. Maybe Joe’s practicing how to throw an 89 mph fastball, pitchers work on a lot of things. So ignore that too.
But don’t ignore these questions: Who boos at a spring training game? What’s the median age of someone attending a spring training game? Holly, where are you with this info anyway? You just finished studying trends but never discussed the ageing spring training fan base. I guess we will solve that when people quit going to Florida to retire. But what we do know is that these fine people don’t attend these games to boo. Right?
Well, it happened. Joe Nathan got booed in a spring game. And just as if he had learned nothing at all, he couldn’t ignore it.
I mentioned in a comment somewhere in the News or Free Press last season that in the middle of all of his struggles, I could not believe that Joe Nathan was distracted by the crowd while he pitched.
Closers are a different breed and they tend to possess a certain demeanor. It’s the reason not just anyone can be a closer. You can have all the pitching talent in the world, but it takes a certain disposition to be a closer.
You need the ability to block out everything and dominate the situation. The successful ones are imposing figures on the mound, have thick skin and the ability to shake off the pressure. And if you don’t get the job done one day, you must have the ability to forget and recover so you can succeed the next day. It’s not for the faint of heart. People are going to cheer you when you’re good and boo you when you’re bad, and you have to ignore all of it.
And when Joe struggled last year, people booed; and it got to him. He reacted with gestures and he said things about fans he wished he didn’t say. But the most disturbing thing was that he reacted at all. Where’s the focus, where’s the resiliency? After so many years of success as a closer, how could he be so fragile? Is he losing his edge?
Spring training should be all about a “to do” list. No numbers to worry about, just get in the best shape possible, master your stuff and get ready to finish games come April.
Vacationers and retirees should be the last thing on your mind. But Joe got booed the other day and he reacted afterwards, saying something again about fans he shouldn’t have said and then feeling the need to explain himself the next day.
When the crowd can upset one of the premier closers in the game in the regular season or, God forbid, spring training, that’s a pitcher fighting himself, and losing.
Joe Nathan has a couple more weeks to render this whole discussion just another meaningless spring training story. But the signs are disturbing.
He’s always been a battler, but since he put on the D, he’s appeared to only battle himself and weaken his resolve, letting every possible distraction in. Those are not good signs in any month of the year. And that I can’t ignore.