The Major League players definitely weren’t cocky. They all knew the danger of cockiness. Besides, after an eleven-week midseason layoff, they needed all the conditioning they could pack into eleven days. Many had continued to pump iron and hibernate in batting cages during the strike, but it didn’t compare to running the base path and shagging fly balls under a scorching sun. Yet batting practice was not like those heading into the World Series. In that situation, players actually subsisted on their own adrenaline. They could spend all day being drilled in a single element of the game and actually enjoy it, simply because they knew they were there while everyone else had migrated home for the winter. But these eleven days of practice were different. They were viewed as a chore, something they shouldn’t be doing yet had to be done, like guest appearances at car dealerships and store openings. But being professionals, they recognized the need to take practice seriously, whatever their thoughts on the Grudge Game itself. It wasn’t much different than preparing to play the team with the worst record in baseball: they were confident of victory, but they wanted to make sure they’d avert the humiliation attendant with losing such a game.
And so a week and a half passed, long and tedious days. Thousands of scuffed baseballs and dozens of cracked bats. A mountain of dirty laundry and a reservoir of Gatorade. And when the last cup of the drink was consumed in the Cleveland home clubhouse, it was game time.
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