Michaux: Commings toiling in extended spring training

The first visual proof of the existence of black holes was published in 2012, when scientists revealed images of a red giant being swallowed 2.7 million light years away.


Black holes – a region of space so dense that not even light can escape from it – supposedly don’t exist on Earth. However, scientists might want to turn their attention to one theoretical source – baseball’s extended spring training.

Since former Westside High star Sanders Commings Jr. was assigned to extended spring training with the Braves down in Florida, all information of his existence in baseball has essentially ceased to exist. Google searches turn up no reports about the former Georgia football player and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback beyond his signing with the Braves in late February.

News and stats coming out of baseball’s instructional league boot camp aren’t concrete enough to even qualify as rumors. Voicemail and text messages requesting updates from the source have gone unanswered.

The only proof of life that Commings is still working on his comeback journey to baseball after a decade playing football come from secondary sources – his father and agent – who have breached the vacuum by talking to Commings this week.

“He’s waiting for a slot to come open and transfer,” said Sanders Commings Sr., who says he’s seen his son in Florida twice since the Braves signed him to a minor-league contract Feb. 23. “He don’t know when but I’m hoping it will be soon. He’s ready to move. I told him to be patient and keep working and improve himself to get better.”

“They don’t want to rush him,” said Jerry Hairston, the former major leaguer who helped coach Commings and steer him back into baseball. “He spent a lot of time not being on a baseball field, so they want to make sure that he develops and have a crash course the first couple of months. He’s had March, April and now May and my prediction is they’ll send him out in June.”

Rookie leagues start in places like Danville, Va., in late June, and that’s when the 27-year-old Commings is most likely to reappear from the void of extended spring training.

There’s obvious value in Sanders getting daily work on fundamentals after a decade away from the game. He only started training to return to baseball last fall. When he got to spring training, his timing at the plate may have been a little off and though his instincts and skills in center field hadn’t diminished, understanding what to do in every defensive situation needed some refreshing.

“Just getting acclimated on what to do whatever the situation is with runner on base or whatever — which he already knew,” said his father. “That’s the thing about baseball, is you’re going to have your fundamentals down before you ever make it up to majors. They make sure of that. That you do all the things that people may overlook.”

It’s not glamorous scrimmaging against other incoming prospects or rehabilitating players from other extended spring camps the Orlando area. Commings did get to work with former Braves slugger Fred McGriff during an early week of spring training in May.

“He’s swinging the bat real well now and hitting the ball real hard,” his father said.

Those who have talked with him say Commings isn’t complaining about the obscure work necessary to get back on the baseball track after a football career in college and a few injury-riddled seasons in the NFL.

“He’s glad to be in baseball,” said his father. “It’s good to wake up every day knowing you don’t have to get iced down or banged up playing football. He said it’s kind of easy, a lot easier than what he went through in football as far as conditioning and everything. He’s learning the ropes of it and enjoying it.”

It’s hardly the kind of crossover comeback to baseball that Tim Tebow is enjoying, drawing record crowds to whatever minor-league ballpark the Columbia Fireflies show up to with the former Heisman-winning quarterback. Commings will never have Tebow’s curiosity profile, but he would just like the chance to show what he can do in real games, whether it’s in Danville or Rome, Ga.

“He’s ready to get to a team so he can be an everyday player so he can improve his status and maybe work his way on up,” Commings Sr. said. “Being in the instructional league right now, he’s not able to show what he can do day in and day out. He’s ready to move on so he can show that in a starting lineup. Hopefully he can work his way all the way up. I think he will, the more he plays the better he’ll get.”

Hairston understands how frustrating it can be waiting for that first minor-league assignment, but that Sanders knew that the challenge of working his way back into baseball wouldn’t be an overnight project.

“He’s chomping at the bit to get out of there and that’s natural,” Hairston said. “Sometimes when you’re in it you feel like you’re ready for the big leagues now. That’s unrealistic. I told him to continue working on your craft and he’s doing just that. He’s doing everything that the Braves have asked of him.

“I kind of like that he feels a little bit impatient and is ready to go and play under the lights. I want him to experience getting out there and playing night games and playing in front of crowds because I think it will benefit him. And I think he’ll get to do that really soon.”

A few months of disappearing into baseball’s instructional black hole isn’t going to deter Commings’ mission.

“He’s got the patience,” his father said. “He’s not a person that’s going to give up that easy. He’s not going to get homesick. He’s one who’ll be able to handle the duration of it however long it takes.”