Mother Nature has a field day in Florida
Rain plays havoc with Friday's Grapefruit League schedule
The sunshine and green grass that normally rule the Grapefruit League has given way to torrential rains and soggy infields over the last few days, cancelling a majority of the action in Florida on Friday.
Atlanta and Pittsburgh were the only Grapefruit League teams to play, but got in three innings of action before the game was called.
Many teams had their contests cancelled for the second day in a row, disappointing eager fans and players and leaving managers with little to nothing to analyze.
"I'll tell you what, it was an all-around team effort today," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston joked after his club's matchup with the Astros was wiped from the slate, along with six others.
With widespread rain ruining even chances for live batting practice, fans were forced to find other entertainment, for at least one more day. For many of the players though, there was no rest for the wet or weary, as Opening Day -- now just 23 days away -- draws closer.
Some clubs, like the Twins, did everything they could to get work in, even improvising with jogging and stretching in the clubhouse.
"We're doing the best we can today. Just ugly [out there]," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was just really muddy on the field and just too much rain. Rather than take a chance on getting someone hurt, we just banged the game. ... Guys got in as much work as they could and that's where we are at."
With at least some extra free time on Friday at Tigers camp, players and coaches were already looking ahead to some extracurricular activities.
Catcher Alex Avila had a long list for his partial day off: "[Catch] bullpens, work out, lift, catch up on some sleep, shopping with my fiancee, maybe catch a movie."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland had just one thing on his list.
"I don't know, but I want to watch that Notre Dame [basketball] game tonight [in the Big East Tournament]," Leyland said.
In many cases, before heading off to non-baseball activities, the pitchers were able to get some sort of work in, even if that meant pitching a simulated game in an indoor batting cage, like the Nationals' scheduled starter, Jason Marquis.
"You want to get your work in the proper way -- pitch to live hitters on a competitive level," Marquis said. "But at the same time, it is what it is. You still have to find ways to simulate game situations, so you don't lose track, lose time and back the schedule up for the start of the season."
Yankees hurler Andy Pettitte was forced to throw a similar simulated game at George M. Steinbrenner Field, just the way A.J. Burnett did after last night's washout. Manager Joe Girardi said he didn't really consider shifting the rotation to get Pettitte a start on Saturday, citing his veteran hurler's ability to get himself ready for the start of the season.
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"If it wasn't a veteran, you might make him pitch tomorrow," Girardi said.
Braves' hurler Jair Jurrjens, making his Grapefruit debut on Friday, did manage to finally get his two innings of work in against the Pirates in the short rainy affair, as he started his first game after coming back from shoulder inflammation earlier this spring. His work was about the only result that came out of the extremely short outing.
Jurrjens wasn't the only player looking to return from an injury on Friday. Florida's Cody Ross was set to re-enter the lineup at designated hitter in a contest against the Orioles after being sidelined with a strained left groin. With weather conditions deteriorating, manager Fredi Gonzalez was more than happy to forgo the chance of Ross further injuring himself.
"The only guy I was worried about was Cody Ross with his little groin thing, but Mother Nature took care of that [on Friday], so I don't have to worry about him," Gonzalez said. "[Saturday], it's supposed to be beautiful, so he should be fine."
For some, like Derek Jeter, who has been battling food poison, the rain has been a welcome respite. Jeter, who is known for rarely missing any action in the regular season, ended up not missing anything as Thursday's contest against the Braves and Friday's against the Nationals in Viera, Fla., were both rained out. Jeter is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.
Despite frustration around the league, many players and coaches took a carefree tone, citing the inability to control the rain.
"You know what, what are you going to do?" said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whose players hit in the cage and threw off the mound before packing up and returning to Fort Myers, Fla. "It's better than doing nothing. Guys did the same thing at home, anyway."
Several managers joked about the inconveniences the rain was causing in terms of fruitless travel.
"It's too bad the Mets had to drive all the way over here, but they did," Gardenhire joked. "Then they get to drive all the way back. They got to see the country."
Francona, whose Red Sox were to play in front of a sold-out crowd at the Cards' Roger Dean Stadium, stayed overnight on the eastern coast of Florida in preparation for Friday's game. He, too, quipped about the inconvenience.
"If I was the Cardinals, and I had a sellout, I would want to play the game, too," Francona said. "I don't blame them. If they want to pay for our dinner last night, we'll accept it."
The affected home teams -- St. Louis, Baltimore, Toronto, Washington, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay -- allowed fans to trade in their tickets for a later Spring Training contest, or in some cases a refund.
Known for a rainy spring, Florida's Grapefruit League is no stranger to washouts, but had avoided a deluge of this magnitude so far this spring. Arizona's Cactus League, however, dealt with its rain earlier this spring when nearly a whole Sunday's worth of games was washed out.
"You lose the battle with Mother Nature every time she shows up," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch joked with reporters on Friday under sunny skies in Arizona.
With better weather in the forecast for Saturday, many of the teams are likely to be back in action (hopefully not of the clubhouse sprinting variety), continuing their preparations for the start of the season.
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.