Even in spring ball, winning can mean everything

By Kyle Betts

Earlier this week, some nameless player on the Tampa Bay Rays ran over some nameless catcher on the New York Yankees during a spring training game. The home plate collision was awesome, but the catcher broke his wrist so Yankees manager Joe Girardi threw a little hissy fit.

Then, four days later in another spring training game, the two teams clashed in an epic battle when a Yankees pitcher hit a Rays prospect with a pitch in the second inning.

Later in that same game, a Yankees player made an aggressive slide with his cleats up into the Rays’ second baseman, which led to a benches-clearing fight between the two teams.

Ejections followed.

Hilarity ensued.

I repeat, all this happened in spring training.

While some people are confused as to why these players would be acting this way in a meaningless game, should we really be surprised?

Athletes are taught to go all out all the time.

The objective is to win, no matter the opponent and no matter the situation.

Afterward, they may say that a game like one in spring training is meaningless, but when they’re on the field nothing matters but victory.

That’s the way they’ve been programmed and that’s why we sometimes don’t understand athletes.

We’d like to believe that professional athletes are just like us but with special abilities.

We’d like to think they are normal people who just happen to able to dunk a basketball or throw a football 65 yards.

Here’s the truth: Athletes are not like us because they don’t think like us.

For physically average people, the threshold of professional sports is unattainable.

It’s a magical place where we get to be kids forever playing the games we love for nauseating amounts of money.

For athletes, though, this is their life and their obsession.

We think superfans like Ronnie “Woo Woo” obsess about their teams, but these athletes obsess about every aspect of the game, on and off the field.

For us it’s our dream, but for them it’s their reality.

That’s why when professional athletes retire, they cry at their press conferences.

They are giving up the only thing they’ve known how to do and the only thing they were taught to do.

This often leads to two misconceptions about professional athletes and their world.

The first one is that athletes are greedy and don’t appreciate what they have. Actually, they appreciate it so much that they attack and criticize the media because they don’t appreciate other people telling them how to do their jobs, or in this case, live their lives.

This creates the sports’ nemesis like Terrell Owens.

On the other hand, there’s the perceptions of the blue-collar athlete who plays the game the “right way.”

They are supposed to be a champion of the average people, and they give us hope that maybe someday we can achieve something great.

David Eckstein comes to mind.

He looks scrappy and is average at best, but when he won the World Series’ MVP honor, the Babe Ruth Award, we couldn’t help but feel like he won it for us.

Eckstein is just like every other athlete, though.

He’ll do whatever it takes to win, and in his case, it happens to be playing fundamentally.

His way of life depends on him being able to do the little things.

Is there a difference between the Terrell Owenses and David Ecksteins?

Besides Owens being faster, bigger and having an eight-pack, they are essentially the same. They want to win no matter what because winning means they get to keep playing.

This idea has been pounded and programmed into their mind, and that’s why we see washed-up athletes go on shows like “Dancing with the Stars” or “Pros vs. Joes.”

All they want to do is win and compete, even if it is at the expense of former sitcom actors or weekend warriors.

So when that nameless Tampa Bay player started to head home and saw the nameless New York Yankees catcher holding the ball, I understand why he tried to run him over and break every bone in his body.

It’s not because he was playing for a paycheck or because he hates New York, it was because he didn’t have a choice.

It’s the only thing he knew how to do.

Kyle Betts is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]