SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jeremy Guthrie is riding a red bicycle thats maybe three sizes too small, his knees pointed to the sides as he pedals, and for some reason one hand dragging a recycling bin behind him.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
We cant be sure why hes doing this because he doesnt stop to talk; he just slows down a bit when he sees a few reporters.
Dont worry guys, we can still win the Cactus League, he says. Its just one loss.
This is the proper reaction after the Royals lost 12-2 in an epic Cactus League showdown with the Mariners, or at least thats what it would have been if a spring training game could be categorized as either epic or a showdown.
The Royals unbeaten spring is finished. Their Cactus League lead over the second-place Mariners is down to 2½ games. Maybe all the media pressure got to them. Well have to wait to see how they bounce back. Anyway, they are now 11-1-1, which is a good record in soccer or hockey but in spring baseball is meaningless.
Guthries joking aside, the Amazing Royals spring start is at least a casual curiosity back home, so even with a no-longer-perfect record, you start to wonder what any of this actually means.
This is huge for all the rookies who dont have the TVs and stuff they give away for winning, he says earlier in the day. It means a lot to these guys. Some of these guys, they havent made big-league money yet, so it means something.
Well, OK. Guthrie isnt done joking. But more about those TVs and stuff later.
You know, if the Royals finish this thing out, they have the makings of a budding Cactus League dynasty. What, you dont remember 2011? Two springs ago, the Royals took the pennant. Or, they would have, if baseball gave out spring-training pennants.
They went 20-10 in Arizona that year, finishing a half-game ahead of the 23-12 Giants. And if youve already noticed the Giants played five more games than the Royals and are wondering what kind of championship is won by a half-game, well, youre on to something.
Last year, the teams with the five best spring-training records averaged 83.6 wins in the regular season. The teams with the five worst spring-training records averaged 81. The year before, the best teams in spring averaged 77.8 wins. The worst averaged 75.
So, the best spring-training record is worth two or three more wins than the worst spring record over 162 regular-season games?
Sounds about right, second baseman Chris Getz says. Like a lot of guys, he cant talk much about what winning these games means without laughing.
Ask James Shields, and after hes done rolling his eyes about win-loss records in spring training, hell tell you about years with the Rays when they both won and finished dead last in the Grapefruit League and ended up in the American League playoffs. But if you look it up, the Rays never actually won the Grapefruit League in Shields time there.
Maybe it just felt as if they did, which further proves the point that none of this matters much no ballplayer forgets how his teams did in the regular season.
There are a million reasons that spring-training results carry the importance of what color underwear you put on in the morning. This year, many of baseballs better players are competing in the World Baseball Classic. But even aside from that, spring starters rarely play full games and are often on the golf course before the game is over.
Some pitchers throw only fastballs; others concentrate only on throwing to one side of the plate. There is a light air and often heavy wind here that can manipulate scores, and a cloudless and sun-soaked sky that can camouflage pop-ups into big innings.
Split-squad games are often tilted toward the home team because those with enough juice avoid the road trip. Substitution rules are sometimes fuzzed. And its hard to take games seriously when theyre played while some guys run sprints on the warning track.
So, how important could this possibly be?
Thats a loaded question, is what it is, Billy Butler says. It really is. You cant answer how its going to play out.
Butlers only saying that because hes taking the question seriously. Guthrie refuses to have that problem.
A teammate overhears Guthries insistence about the televisions and stops.
Really? he asks.
Of course, Guthrie says.
I didnt know that, says the teammate, a pitcher. Im going to snap my head header now.
Guthrie laughs. Were leaving the teammates name out of this because he may or may not be in on the joke. Guthrie is pushing a time-honored prank pulled on young players every spring. The big-screen TV or some other flashy electronic device (Guthrie said one year it was an Apple computer is said to await the winner of each league in spring training.
Theyll keep up the joke as long as they can, too, because giggling at a rookie is both a rite of passage and good way to make a long spring training go by faster.
What, you didnt think theyd spend their time focusing on the Cactus League championship, did you?
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.