The opening of spring training is normally an upbeat time in Major League Baseball. Most of us are excited that another season is around the corner and optimism abounds almost everywhere. Commissioner Rob Manfred, however, found the opening of training facilities in Florida and Arizona anything but exhilarating.

Manfred made an unforced error by saying that he wanted to add two more wildcard teams in both the National and American leagues. A key advantage baseball has over its rivals is that fewer teams gain entry to the playoffs, which makes its regular season far more meaningful.

If you are going to alter anything in a sport as traditional as baseball it’s important to get buy-in from owners, players, media partners and fans. Questions need to be raised such as “Will the regular season be shortened?” and “Is this being done primarily to raise the rights fees of future broadcasting contracts?”

The 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal cast a pall over the entire baseball offseason, so it wasn’t a surprise that it became even more magnified with the beginning of spring training. Manfred didn’t suspend or remotely discipline any active members of the 2017 Astros, which has understandably led to some public anger, particularly in New York and Los Angeles since the Astros defeated the Yankees and Dodgers on their way to winning the title.

Manfred may not have wanted to challenge the Major League Baseball Players Association on this issue with the current collective bargaining agreement slated to expire after the 2021 season. He did state that since some of the members of the 2017 Astros are now playing for other teams it wouldn’t be fair to their current employers to suspend them in 2020.

The Mets have two members from that tainted team on their roster, slugger JD Davis and backup centerfielder Jake Marisnick. Both came clean about the scandal last week when other Astros players finally did after either stone-cold silence or outright denials.

While there is nothing heroic about Davis and Marisnick finally making mea culpas, one can be somewhat sympathetic to their complicity when the cheating was occurring. Davis was a rookie who got called up by the Astros during the season so he was not in any kind of position to alter a bad culture at that nascent point in his professional playing career. Marisnick, as is the case now with the Mets, was a 25th guy on the roster and lucky to be in the majors, particularly on a very talented team like the Astros. He could not have been expected to speak out against the cheating when it was happening at the risk of forfeiting his career.

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Most spring training stories in the dailies could cure insomnia, as they are generally little more than cheery puff profile pieces on the player du jour. A good case in point was how nearly every paper reported that Mets starter Marcus Stroman feels that he will dominate this year and is not afraid of appearing cocky.

What else would you expect him to say during spring training? “I will be happy to have an average at best season” has never been uttered by any ballplayer in the history of spring training. Stroman was the Toronto Blue Jays pitching ace for years but when he was traded to the Mets last year he was mediocre at best. The shopworn cliche “talk is cheap” is apropos here. Let’s see performance when it counts before paying any mind to boasts made in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

The one buzzworthy story emanating from Mets camp last week was team general manager Brodie Van Wagenen responding to ex-Met pitcher Zack Wheeler’s complaint that he did not get an offer from the team.

In my book, Wheeler was complimenting the Mets because he clearly did not want to leave Flushing. Instead of Van Wagenen being gracious and saying that he wished things could have worked out financially for both sides and wishing him well in Philadelphia, the GM took the low road, saying that Wheeler enjoyed two good second halves of the season in 2018 and 2019 and parlayed that into a big payday well outside the Mets’ budget. Van Wagenen’s comments are surprising because he is both a former player agent and normally far more diplomatic. In retrospect, he probably wishes that he had handled the Wheeler situation better.

In a story that kind of went under the radar, the Brooklyn Nets ended the Toronto Raptors’ 15-game winning steak in their last game before the NBA All-Star Weekend break. Normally the Nets extend other teams’ winning streaks.

It was a heady week for the Nets because they also beat the Indiana Pacers on their Indianapolis home court, which happens as frequently as a total solar eclipse.

Since ESPN and ABC are owned by Disney Corp. it was smart corporate strategy to have ABC devote a half-hour to Peyton Manning’s humorous “Peyton’s Place” in which he interviews fellow athletes much the same way Jerry Seinfeld interviews comics on his Netflix series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The goal was to increase awareness for ESPN’s premium streaming service, ESPN+, on which “Peyton’s Place” airs.

Life and style

Ginger has numerous health benefits ranging from reducing inflammation to relieving nausea. Ginger beer is starting to rival ginger ale in terms of soft drink market share. A local company, Brooklyn Crafted Ginger Beer, is producing bottles that contain actual pieces of ginger. Another benefit is that it’s not as sweet as ginger ale, which gives it a more adult taste.

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