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Spring Training Harder On Some Players Than Others

February 18, 2011

OFFSEASONS AREN’T JUST FOR STAYING IN PLAYING SHAPE. FOR PLAYERS WHO SHOW UP TO SPRING TRAINING AND CAN’T HOLD THEIR LIQUOR, THE RESULTS CAN BE DISASTROUS

The majority of players arrive for spring training with their baseball skills a bit rusty. However, after having spent most of the winter tucked away in a sleepy suburb with a wife and kids, many are also out of drinking shape. During the offseason, staying in playing shape takes priority, but it’s also important to begin preparing one’s body for a long season of blacking out on plane rides and post-game binges. While not everyone can maintain an offseason regiment as strict as Josh Hamilton’s, many teams’ trainers highly encourage a twice-a-week foray to the closest watering hole.

When players arrive for spring training, it’s pretty obvious who spent the offseason drinking, and who tried to kick the habit. Unfortunately, notorious lightweight Miguel Cabrera again showed up to Tigers camp in Lakeland, Florida woefully out of shape.

On Wednesday, Cabrera was arrested for driving under the influence. In the portion of the police report titled “Psychophysical Evaluation,” the arresting officer checked the boxes marked “cocky,” “combative,” “argumentative” and “belligerent.”

Cabrera and booze have a checkered past, plagued by inconsistency. In 2008, Cabrera signed a monster eight year extension with the Detroit Tigers, and in retrospect, this may have marked the beginning of the end. Everyone knows what happens when some players sign huge contracts: they get complacent. Their motivation may wane a bit. Or perhaps they start feeling the pressure of heightened expectations. For whatever reason, during the 2008-2009 offseason, Cabrera spent the majority of his time ordering Diet Cokes instead of the requisite Jack and Cokes. He showed up to camp in 2009 especially out of drinking shape, and so it came as no surprise that he inevitably broke down in September, attacking his wife in a drunken rage.

During the 2009-2010 offseason, Cabrera was determined to turn his career around. He arrived at camp with a massive beer gut, proof that he had continued to heavily drink well into the offseason. The season was a success—though he routinely blacked out three to four times per week, he had been conditioned well enough to keep himself under control and out of trouble.

Unfortunately, this past offseason, he relapsed back to his old, tired ways. Some say he became a regular at local AA meetings; others say his wife threatened divorce if he didn’t stop drinking, and he finally caved to her demands.

Either way, Cabrera’s spring training is off to a disastrous start.

The star first baseman spent his first night out in Lakeland at Dave & Buster’s with a couple of friends from Venezuela and a female escort on each arm. Throughout the course of the evening, witnesses stated that Cabrera consumed ten to twelve shots of whiskey and seven beers, while blowing at least three lines of coke—standard fare for a seasoned spring training vet like Wade Boggs.

But for Cabrera, the night began to unravel at 2 a.m. He attempted to engage in intercourse with Dominique Farrell, one of the escorts, on a pool table, and was subsequently tossed from D&B’s. While he has no recollection of getting into his car, according to ESPN.com:

Cabrera was spotted by a deputy in a car with a smoking engine alongside a road in Fort Pierce. Inside the vehicle, Cabrera smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and took a swig from a bottle of scotch in front of a deputy, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. He refused to cooperate and more deputies were called to the scene.

Cabrera was wandering into the road with his hands up before he was handcuffed. The report quoted him saying, “Do you know who I am? You don’t know anything about my problems,” and cursed at deputies who tried to get him into a patrol car.

One deputy struck Cabrera in the left thigh several times with his knee after Cabrera pushed into him, causing the ballplayer to fall into the patrol car. Cabrera refused to take a breath test, deputies said.

Teammates, along with manager Jim Leyland, expressed concern, while stressing the need for their star first baseman to mature.

“At some point, you have to look in the mirror,” explained third baseman Brandon “b-inge” Inge. “And ask yourself: do I want to drink with the big boys, or am I just a massive pussy?”

Leyland, meanwhile, evoked a Tigers legend.

“It’s easy to spend your entire offseason trying to kick the habit. I often tell my players—WWKGD, or What Would Kirk Gibson Do? And I know it’s hard—I mean, the guy would spend most of the offseason drinking, then go all of spring training without sobering up,” the skipper said, shaking his head in awe. “But I think it’s time for Miggy to take a page from one of the game’s greats.”

If there’s any silver lining to this incident, it’s that time is on Cabrera’s side: with a month-and-a-half until the start of the season, there are plenty of long nights to be had getting trashed at Hooters. And rumor has it that the Lakeland TGI Friday’s is extending its last call by one hour in order to accommodate Cabrera’s recovery.

Side note: I, for one, am looking forward to “special instructor” John Valentin’s SUV swerving through the empty streets of Fort Myers at 6 a.m., Bobby Jenks getting into an epic bar fights, and stumbling into Tim Wakefield on the Big M Casino Cruise at 1 p.m.

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