One of the wonders of a ballpark in Spring is the things you see. The guy in the section behind the screen giving a little boy a ball he caught. Or the girl at the end of the aisle waiting to buy an ice-cold Lemonade from the hawking vendor. There is the guy with a bullhorn for a voice screaming at the top of his lungs, the name of the player coming to bat. Always a pleasure to be near this guy at Maryvale.
It is also the thrill of seeing a great play from a player this early in the season. One of those is the White Sox third baseman, Conor Gillaspie, who tied a record held by thousands when he assisted on all three outs in an inning. But it was how he did that which was amazing. On one play in particular, he made a fantastic back-handed stab at a hard hit ball, grabbed it with his glove, whirled around and threw a strike to the first baseman (on this day it was Adam Dunn) to record the out.
The agony is seeing yet another poor outing by Matt Garza, the pitcher the Brewers rescued from the Rangers via the Cubs by beating out the Angels to sign him. Every pitch he throws looks like a grapefruit. One should remind him it is the Cactus League.
The occasional player running on the outfield track is always a pleasure to see and for those who have not been to Spring Training, they often talk aloud in wonder that the game is not as sacrosanct as during the regular season. It really is the visual essence of Spring Training.
Skip Schumaker in a Cincinnati uniform just looks strange. But he does have his familiar #55 on his back this season and is hitting .478 this Spring in that Red uniform. Of course, Lyle Overbay looks strange at first for the Brewers. Wasn’t he here before? Doesn’t he hold the Brewer record for doubles? Just imagine, you could have a different Brewer first baseman every inning. Beside Overbay there is Mark Reynolds, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado (both catchers combined for 24 games at first base last season) and then there is Hunter Morris, Sean Halton and Jason Rogers, all who have been up and down from Nashville in the past few years. In addition, there is the one who started most of the games last year, Juan Francisco. An entire team of first basemen on one team. Only in Spring Training. And, only with the Brewers.
Speaking of former Brewer first basemen, Prince Fielder in a uniform, baggy as usual, with the number 84 on it is so discomforting. One can only suppose that the number stands for the $84 million he is earning each year for the next 100 years.
The Texas Rangers Avisail Garcia is a massive fellow. At 6’4”, 240 lb., he reminds one of all those old pictures in the era of Babe Ruth who was clearly so much bigger than most of the other players in the Bigs at that time. The other day, after hitting a single, he was standing just off the first base bag, clearly a head taller and much bigger than Prince Fielder (see picture above). Not much love here. All you have to know is that they hate each other after both were Tigers together and that’s not all.
The player of the year in the American League could very well be the Cuban All-Star for the Chicago White Sox, Jose Abreu, #79 in the program and #1 in your hearts. A big (6’3”, 255 lb) first baseman, he is superb. Powerful and an RBI machine, Abreu is the real deal. The Southsiders are going to have fun with this fellow on the first bag this season.
The hope of Spring would not be complete unless you saw the flawless swing of Logan Schafer. It is one of those picturesque left hand hitter swings that mesmorizes. And as usual, he is hitting well above most (.345 this Spring) and will make the team with all of the hope of past years but while sitting on the bench in Milwaukee, he will cool down and barely hit his weight during the regular season. He looks heavier this season but the speed is still there.
Vonnie Gallardo is still throwing 200 pitches a game with more 3-2 counts than he can nibble away the corners with. If he just did less of the nibbling, he would get through a game in about 55 minutes. The starting rotation of the Brewers look like, #1 Vonnie; #2 Kyle Lohse; #3 Wily Peralta; #4 Eric Estrada #5 Matt Garza.
At Camelback Ranch the other day, the four umpires marched down the third base line, in unison abreast of one another, to the music of ‘Hill Street Blues’, a hilarious moment few would ever see in a real game in The Show.
The ongoing conversation between the umpire and the third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers throughout one of the games this week had one wondering, ‘Are they talking about going to Don & Charlies or the value of the baseball memorabilia collection there’? Guess that’s the reason why he continues to coach even if he personally is responsible, and leading the league, for about five lost games a year.
The Angels keep believing that Albert Pujols will come back from old age and make a difference this year. But the real wonder plays centerfield. Mike Trout is magnificent. He also has 11 RBI this Spring already.
The sun is warm, the drinks are cold. The hamburgers, hot dogs and brats are giving a wonderful aroma throughout the stadiums. People are smiling. No one is being annoyed by that unruly fan or the stumbling drunk. Hey. It’s Spring Training. Everybody is out of shape during this time of the year.
The Dodgers? Their wallets are so heavy, there are just a lot of smiles over at Camelback Ranch. But they do have one of the greatest pitchers in The Show, Clayton Kershaw, even if he has lost all three decision this Spring and has a 9.20 ERA.
Martin Prada is flashing his glove for the D’backs and makes it look easy playing third base. Plus he’s hitting .500. Yikes.
Then there is Jonathon Lucroy. He is one of the most underrated players in the major leagues. Although his arm has never been one to compare with others, he is a sure handed backstop and a bat like Yogi. He can flat-out hit. And for a catcher, that is fantastic. They are going to have to really keep him fresh and move him to first base if the squad of many over there don’t pan out.
Then there are the managers for many of the teams who sit next to their dugouts on folding chairs as if to see the action even closer. You can just imagine that they are saying, ‘Did you see him dip his shoulder on that one?’, as if they couldn’t see that a few feet from where they are sitting, back in the dugout. It’s a sun thing. They want to get their share of Spring Training sun to take back to those freezing fans in Milwaukee, Chicago and all places other than Florida or Arizona.
Cleveland is showing signs of being very interesting. It is largely a cast of players the manager really loves. And they are leading the Cactus League. Is that a good thing?
Scooter Gennett has outplayed Rickie Weeks in the Spring. And Aramis is ready. His hitting never needs a refresher. And Braunschweiger? He is hitting the cover off of the ball. And strangely, the other day in a visiting ballpark, there were no adverse jeers. Amazing what .500+ hitting will do.
The pitchers are rounding into shape. Chris Sale is the real deal. He looks overwhelming this spring. For a left-handed batter, it must seem like the ball is coming out of the back of their right ear.
Then there is Hank the dog.
The sausages are running in the Seventh at Maryvale and pose with the kids for what seems like hours after their race. The line at the merchandise shop is back up outside the door. Can’t tell the players unless you are wearing his name on your back. The grills are being cleaned for the next day and as you walk out of the stadium, people are smiling and happy. Why not? It’s 80 degrees and you’ve just taken in a game, some with kids, grand children and friends. Walking past the vacant practice fields, you know that you are one of the luckiest people in the world.
This is a ritual everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.