TAMPA, Fla. -- The best part about Spring Training is that it is about the future. Everything is dreams and hopes and aspirations, the disappointments of the past forgotten and the grinding reality of the season not yet in sight.
For most players, Spring Training is about getting ready. CC Sabathia will take the ball today for the Yankees in Lakeland, and it matters not at all what he does in the game. Sabathia is a star, an established Major Leaguer, and so for him, spring is about preparation. Several years back, in the same stadium where Sabathia will pitch today, I remember seeing Mike Mussina give up a mammoth home run that went so far it struck a parked car beyond the fence. It was an embarrassingly long home run, an emasculating bomb to have given up if it had happened in July; in spring, though, Mussina was more curious than crushed.
"What kind of car was it?" he asked.
To him, the day was about getting some work in, getting the arm in shape for the coming season -- same as it will be for Sabathia. But there are moments, in every spring game, where it is possible to see a little further.
The Yankees had one of those moments on Sunday. In the fifth inning of their win over the Phillies in Clearwater, Dellin Betances came on in relief for his first Yankees appearance. He is 22 years old, 6-foot-8 and right-handed, and he used a fastball that touched 97 mph to strike out the side. As he walked off the mound there was a noticeable spring in his (very, very long) step.
"I thought I was going to be more nervous," Betances said afterward. "I mean, I was a little nervous. Not too bad. But it kind of helped that I had somebody working behind the plate that I worked with for four or five years now."
He was referring to Jesus Montero, another kid, another top-rated prospect for the Yankees. Montero was making his first start of the spring behind the plate for the Yankees, the first start in a year he hopes will be spent in the Major Leagues. Only minutes after catching Betances' lightning performance, Montero cracked a single to left field to record his first RBI of the spring.
Montero spent last season at Triple-A, and there are those who believe it would be better for him to return there than spend a season backing up Russell Martin. Montero disagrees. He believes he is ready to play in the Majors right now.
"Earning the trust of your staff, that's a big thing," manager Joe Girardi said when asked for the most glaring difference between the Minors and Majors for a catcher. "Where they know that you're prepared, and you know what pitches are supposed to be called, and you are there for them on an everyday basis. You have to develop that relationship with your pitching staff, and that can be difficult."
Maybe so. But on Sunday in Clearwater, there was an opportunity for Yankees fans to imagine a day when Betances would be pitching to Montero in the Bronx. And if this performance was any indication, the dynamic between the two is already smooth.
"I trust him back there, so whatever he calls, I'm going to throw it most of the time," Betances said. "Every year, he has gotten better calling pitches, and you know, just working with pitchers.
"He just came out and he's like 'let's go, you know you can do this,'" Betances added. "He knows when to cheer me on, like when I need that extra kind of help. It was nice to have him there."
A pitcher of the future and a catcher of the future, working together on a sunny Sunday in February. It was a pleasant glimpse for Yankees fans. It was a reminder about what, exactly, the best part of Spring Training really is.