When a team plays a 162-game season, it's hard to care about a 39-game preseason that means nothing. It's hard to watch a game when you know most of the players you're watching will be banished to places like Erie and Toledo and Lakeland when the games that matter start.
But let's be honest, sports fans need something to occupy us in this sports lull.
The NCAA Tournament is a couple of weeks away. The NBA and NHL are in their pre-playoff stretch, right about the time where reporters are running short of storylines. The Pistons are bad anyway. The Red Wings continue to be injured. The NFL combine is over. There's a two months until the draft.
Spring Training is the only thing fans have. It can be interesting. You just have to know how to follow it.
Don't pay attention to the stars. They're performances don't mean anything. Justin Verlander is notorious for bad outings in the spring. Prince Fielder's swinging in February is simply about preparing him to be at full power in May.
The key is to pay attention to the players where Spring Training matters. Bruce Rondon is a start. The 22-year-old pitcher is set to take over the closer's role next season. This time could be utilized to get to know your next conductor of the roller-coaster ninth inning. But you'll have plenty of time to get acquainted with him during the season, and even his job in Lakeland is simply not to screw up too badly. You must go deeper than Rondon.
Look the players you've never heard of. Look at the non-roster invitees. Legitimate dreams are on the line in Lakeland. Look at players like Quintin Berry.
Berry had spent eight years in major league organizations before even getting a callup to AAA. He came to the Tigers' camp last year with a minor league contract and nearly made the team out of Spring Training. By the end of the season he was taking at bats in the World Series.
This year there's Trevor Bell, a former first-round pick of the Angels in 2005. He was released by Los Angeles in the middle of last season. At 26, he's a non-roster invitee with a minor league contract trying to salvage a spot in the organization.
There's second baseman Kevin Russo. Released by the Yankees this offseason, he entered an organization that lacks depth up the middle. He's 4-for-6 in two games with a home run and is hanging onto the (very) outside chance of making the team.
There's Jose Alvarez. Just 23 years old he's dropped out of the Marlins organization and trying to show the Tigers he's a legitimate prospect and worthy of a spot in the minor leagues.
Nearly every story you've ever read about a sports figure deals with dreams coming true, dreams being dashed or dreams coming true and players throwing them away. Dreams will be made and dashed all over Florida and Arizona these next two months. You don't have to watch every game or read every article. Just every now and then look a little right, left, or sometimes behind the spotlight. You'll find a story. You'll find a person. You'll find somebody to who is playing these 'meaningless' games because their careers are on the line.
You may even find a new favorite player.
(You can find more on the Tigers and their unsung Spring Training players at The Detroit Hustle)