Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is about games.
Pure, unadulterated game action drives America’s Pastime unlike most team sports.
Practices outnumber games roughly 5:1 in football during the season, and that does not account for the month or more of preseason that includes few if any intersquad games depending on the level of competition.
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In basketball, too, players spend much more time practicing than playing, but in baseball the games are almost everything from late February until October.
That starts in spring training where most of the work players get is in games, and it ramps up in the regular season when the 162-game schedule does not allow much time for practice.
Like many other industries, the coronavirus has caused clubs to have to go about their business differently since getting back together early this month.
For a three-week ramp-up process for the regular season called Summer Camp, teams are training at their home ballparks in attempts to balance getting into shape and avoiding contact with others.
That means practices and scrimmages that let manager David Bell and his coaching staff draw up specific situations to practice rather than hope they manifest themselves in games.
“It’s been great,” he said. “We’ve stayed out of it on some days where we just want to let situations come up organically, but there have been days where we’ve identified, ‘Hey, let’s create some of this.”
A hit-and-run, suicide squeeze or simply moving the runner over without having to bunt — they are all unique strategic situations that test a manager’s decision-making and a player’s ability to execute.
And Bell has enjoyed getting to create them instead of waiting to see what presents itself during daily games against other teams in spring training.
“We give the players a heads up beforehand not exactly what the situation was going to be but that it was going to happen,” Bell said. “So it’s been it’s been a learning process but something that we want to utilize moving forward if we have that option.”
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The baseball lifer still sees the value in outside competition — which the Reds will get in two exhibition games with Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday at Great America Ball Park — but he has a new appreciation for being able to control the situation.
“I just don’t know if (competition) is as important as we thought,” he said. “I mean I think it’s important, but to be completely honest what we’ve seen out on the field in almost two weeks now, just like I said being able to play the exact amount of innings, create what we need to create every day, has been so nice that in some ways it outweighs the outside competition, at least for this unique situation we’re in.
“It’s been successful, and we weren’t really sure if it would be.”
New looks nightly?
With a plethora of options in the outfield and now the designated hitter every game, Bell could change things up quite a bit with his lineups.
However, he sounded this week like he is leaning toward a consistent group to run out every day.
“It’ll be slightly different if we’re facing a left-hander or right-hander,” he said. “There are players on our team that are going to play every day, and that’s not going to matter right or left and when we do switch it up.”
He did not go into greater detail, but he did put a positive spin on it.
“It’s not at all about not believing in our guys to be able to play that particular night, it’s more getting the other guys into the lineup and really doing the best to maximize our roster.
“We really feel great about the depth, and we’re going to utilize everyone, but maybe even more so this year than last year there are several guys that can play each day as long as we keep everyone healthy.”