Spring Training is all about repetition -- in word as much as deed. In a largely unpredictable sport, you can predict with great accuracy the utterances and instances that will make up the exhibition season experience in the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.
To illustrate the point, I've identified the top 15 Spring Training cliches, many of which have already been employed in these early days of camp. I was going to make this a top 10 list, but, well, that would be pretty cliche.
15. "He got his work in."
This is used by managers when they have quite literally nothing else positive to say about the starting pitcher who just got shellacked by a lineup heavy on guys wearing jersey numbers in the 70s and 80s.
14. "The ball's coming out of his hands well."
Another managerial masterpiece meant to distract from the less-idyllic reality of what is happening when the ball comes off the opponents' bat.
13. "Things have a way of working out."
This is manager or general manager speak for "Stop asking me about the supposedly heated battle for the seventh spot in the bullpen, please." While it is true that injuries or spring performance or Minor League options (or lack thereof) tend to support the theory that "things have a way of working out," tell that to the 30-something dude dispatched back to Triple-A.
12. Any reference to working hard on controlling the running game, pitchers' fielding practice, infield work or bunting drills.
You know, all the stuff that will be basically abandoned as part of the pregame routine beginning with Opening Day.
11. "He'll get better with time."
This is the sort of thing you say when you're openly experimenting with Hanley Ramirez at first base or 260-pound Miguel Sano in right field.
10. "General soreness."
General Soreness is not the name of a Union soldier who defended Fort Sumter. Rather, it is the term used to identify an injury that a team would rather not, you know, directly identify at the moment.
General soreness sounds harmless enough to deflect further questioning and vague enough to necessitate anything from an ice pack to arm amputation. It is brilliantly ambiguous. And the obvious truth is that on any given day of the baseball schedule, from February to November, every player -- and for that matter, every fan over the age of, say, 29 -- can be diagnosed with "general soreness."
9. "Player X had LASIK surgery." Matt Cain is our latest Player X in this category. He's hoping the procedure helps after an 0-for-16 showing at the plate last season. Alas, at least one clinical study (published in the Journal of the American Optometric Association in 2005) found no statistically significant or practically significant effect of laser refractive surgery on offensive performance.
Then again, that study came out several years before I personally had LASIK, so I may have read it wrong.
8. "We're going to be more aggressive on the basepaths."
New Mariners manager Scott Servais is the latest skipper to utter this annual spring stance. And given the more athletic look of Seattle's roster, maybe his promise will hold true.
But let's just say that, on measure, given the number of times we hear this campaign promise, you'd think this line graph -- depicting the number of stolen-base attempts per game over the past 30 seasons -- would trend in a different direction.
7. "We're going to surprise some people."
There are legitimate surprises every year, of course (hello, Mets). But what good is a surprise if you announce it in advance? How about some quiet confidence, guys? All you're doing here is setting up either an obnoxious "I told you so" or a humbled "I'm surprised we didn't surprise" at season's end.
And furthermore, let's try to be more judicious about what constitutes a legitimate surprise in our increasingly analyzed, scrutinized sport. (I saw the Rangers -- the defending American League West champions -- described as a sleeper team recently.)
6. "We have great chemistry."
For the first couple weeks, you're working half days between rounds of golf. For the next month, you're playing non-binding games in sunny environments before spring breakers, vacationing families and retirees, many of whom are sunbathing or drinking alcohol in the middle of the day and all of whom are too busy bragging to their friends up north to heckle you.
I'm not saying you don't have great chemistry. I'm just saying let's hold off on the chemistry gauge until you're in the midst of your first six-game losing streak in the regular season.
5. "I'm finally healthy."
Kind of an offshoot of the chemistry conversation. If you've been limited to only a handful of games played in recent years because you've battled elbow strains, back pains, neck twitches, body itches, arm slings, hamstrings, busted knees, bed fleas, jammed toes, ankle woes and the occasional -- ahem -- general soreness, let's hold off on any bold proclamations about your physical condition until you're playing every night under the lights.
4. Any reference to the game-time temperature vs. the temperature up north.
We get it. Spring Training is warm. Many other places are not. We get it.
3. The weird injury.
Not a quote or phrase, of course, but odd injuries are a Spring Training truism of a different sort. Really, what would spring camp be without news items like the one the other day about Micah Johnson needing stitches after cutting his hand trying to remove an avocado pit? Or past items like Elvis Andrus missing time because of arm pain from a new tattoo, Corey Hart slicing his foot on a hot tub, Michael Taylor cutting his finger while trying to throw gum away or Hunter Pence falling through a glass door?
2. "[Pitcher X] is learning a new [cutter, changeup or otherwise diabolical delivery]."
All right, so maybe his ERA was the same as his hat size last season. Fear not. That dude battling for the fifth spot in your team's rotation is on the verge of summoning his inner Mariano Rivera with a new grip he learned from a great guru after an arduous climb up a craggy peak in a far-off foreign land.
Or something like that.
1. "Best shape of my life."
Well, of course, this ultimate spring platitude had to be No. 1. Urged on by a willing media that both solicits and devours claims of personal physical improvement and the means by which said improvement has been obtained ("Russell Martin did MMA training!" and "Adrian Gonzalez boxes!" are two recent favorites), "best shape of my life" (or words to that effect) has become so ubiquitous as to be employed as a trendy Twitter hashtag (#BSOML) every time a guy trumpets his offseason regimen and his optimistic outlook for the supreme athletic feats he is sure to accomplish in the year ahead.
It is the individual expression of the Spring Training ideal -- that this is the year, the team, the moment (and, yes, the body mass index) where it all comes together.