Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

A’s Muni Joyous Walk in the Park

Every year, I get dragged to at least one spring training game. Last year, it was Tucson. Today was my lucky day again – Phoenix Muni. Most Angels showed up to practice against some of the purported A’s. Vladdy hit a grand slam and several hundred people noticed, at least by the time he rounded third base.

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Come join Diamondhacks for the remaining highlights, wont you?    

Renaissance

Courtjester_1 The car drank half a tank, delivering my young teen and his buds to the Arizona Renaissance Festival, somewhere between Apache Junction and Guatemala. Only after dropping the kids off and returning to the rural highway, could I appreciate the festival’s tallest structure, the medieval jousting stadium, magically lifting thousands of enthusiasts into the bright, sparsely clouded Sonoran sky, transporting them to an earlier time.

I made the trek back towards Phoenix along impossibly linear State Route 60, accompanied by Joni Mitchell on the radio.

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Free of the kids, pointed straight along an endless sunny road, losing count and care of spindly light towers, like aluminum mantises preying in a row. East of Phoenix and far from Eden, the 60 finally and fully arcs into grim, loud Interstate 10 near a place called Diablo, where drunken Tempe chafes devout Guadalupe and brushes up against muscular Phoenix.

It is at this devil’s triangle, where so called Angels play a lazy practice game, and where a voyager, navigating asphalt curves at 72 mph, is struck by how full the stands appear, compared to the half empty hangar due west on Jefferson Street, host to unsplit squads actually try to win.

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This is spring ball’s renaissance. At Diablo, the vermillion crowd is packed like new cherries in a crate, and up the road in Scottsdale, the cheapest seat from which to catch Giants flounder is $13. Well, that’s standing room; an actual seat costs extra. Watching Dan Ortmeier ground out, at those prices, drew ten thousand Saturday.

Far more than before television money drove our entertainments, and baseball stands were made of pine. When Scottsdale had no clubhouse, and all the players filed into the one parking lot, postgame, with the entire scarcity of sun baked cognoscenti, separated only by an equipment bag or a young autograph seeker’s timidity. At today’s secure and "improved" MLB proxy complexes, chances of bumping into a star are as distant as at MLB games – and astronomical compared to hanging around Congress.

Inside the bustling Renaissance Fair, the boy ate a six dollar turkey leg, then ate up the comic stockaded "prisoner" hurling salty insults at passers by. The festival was rife, he told me later, with lonely fellows in their twenties and thirties, many clad like medieval Trekkies, more eager to exit their century than unrequited conversations.

Ballyards also brim with twenty and thirtysomething lonely hearts, instructed largely by television that it’s the place to be – and be seen – preferably in pricey clubwear, authentically sewn in China. Wired hounds and gadflys openly courting a bought and sold scene rather than subtle romance with a game many of them never played.

A Renaissance Fair. The teeming Cactus League. Two corporations cashing in on the present, one by unapologetically immersing itself in the past, the other alternately harkening and ignoring it at its calculated convenience. I’ve looked at crowds from both sides now, and appreciated them best from the highway.


(photos courtesy of danieloates.com)

Spring Training Guide

Cactusdick_3 Welcome!  With 20 Cactus League seasons under our belts, Arizona-based Diamondhacks eagerly unzips our straightforward and upward looking Spring Training Guide, for those making a pilgrimage to our succulent destination. We boast much to amaze you, but regardless of your age, budget, team allegiance or state of origin, we enthusiastically offer all travelers one overarching piece of advice.

Stay home.

No matter what you’ve heard, the Cactus League is an overrated, past its prime disappointment, definitely not worth the trip. The traffic, prices, ambiance, weather – it’s all worse than you can imagine, unless you arrived on a standby flight from Chad.

Getting To The Game

Last March, we naively departed Phoenix for a Royals game in Surprise, which, as it turned out, was twelve miles west of Astonishment. One jammed thruway after another, bumper to bumper snarls on Grand Ave, waiting for railcars full of noxious chemicals to endlessly crawl by. We arrived in the third inning (surprise!), Chicagocouple_1just before the Royal hitters.

For reasons local officials are feverishly "looking into", Phoenix streets currently resemble Mexico City, and visiting Ohioans’ antiquated driving habits – like braking – crimp our urban, on the go, lifestyle. Heartlanders also insist on "hopping out" for sausage and Pancakes_2 pancakes every morning, just as The Modern World is rushing to work, so if you notice an extended finger, Mr Cubs fan, understand we’re not directing you to the nearest Bob Evans.

Parking

MLB clubs enlist packs of elderly volunteers to, as far as we can tell, recreate historically accurate parking crises from America’s past. Woodstock, the NOLA busses in Katrina – it’s all here. Securing one’s car in a Cactus League lot, somehow requires more time – involving longer walks to the venues – than at major league games with 30,000 additional fans.  At A’s Muni Stadium, monoxide trapped families are held captive by orange vested sons of bSons of The American Revolution, keen on changing a driver’s politics faster than a twenty dollar bill.

Ticket Prices

Sleepingatgame_1 If you’re not already asleep, close your eyes during the next Cactus League game. Pretend you’re at an MLB game five or six years ago – because that’s how much it’ll cost you just to sit down. Then, open your eyes and imagine, if you can, one morsel of drama or authenticity.

Concessions

The preseason food’s not cheaper than MLB, but there’s less top end selection, so folks assume it’s more reasonable. You’re not apt to run across sushi or $9 foot longs, like in the show, but large sodas and soggy little hamburgers wrapped in wet foil run about $5 each.

The Games

These half hearted "games" pale in excitement next to exhibitions like the All Star Game or a decent card memorabilia show. Stars appear very rarely and regulars with an eye not to expand or contract major muscle groups. Absolutely no one plays to win. It’s considered poor taste.

Weather

People who havent been to Arizona gush about our Sonoran climate, but it’s not nearly as stable or pleasant as advertised.  We were once forced to flee Phoenix Muni, with thousands of frightened fans, as a vicious hailstorm slammed the Monsoon_1valley – and just last year, my son and I left a game in the second inning because any honest dummy could tell it was way too hot to sit in the sun – and we’re from Arizona. Unlike sweltering out of towners, we didnt have to "justify" the suffering – so we just went home. Then again, today was unusually windy and cold.

Summary

Spring training in Arizona combines the costs and hassles of a major league game while delivering a fraction of the utility. The Cactus League’s once genuine sense of discovery and unique, old time charm has systematically devolved into an overpriced corporate blueprint offering little beyond diarrhea and disappointment.

In The Middle of Things

Bobfellergoodyear_1

Bob Feller threw a strike to some kid in Goodyear the other day to help break ground at the Cleveland Indians new spring training facility. He’s 88, and has been making appearances of one kind or another for more than seventy years.

When he was seventeen, he signed some papers to leave high school early, and struck out 15 batters in his first major league start setting an American League record. At 18, he led the league in strikeouts and went 17-9. By the time he was 20, he was winning twenty four games a year like clockwork.  Not twenty games per year. Twenty four games.

As a 22 year old, he opened the season with a no hitter and was the AL’s top MVP vote getter – among pitchers – for the third consecutive year. They didnt have a Cy Young Award then – he would’ve won a handful if they had. Instead he’d finish behind Jo Dimaggio or Foxx or Greenberg. In 1941, he finished third, behind Dimaggio (56g streak) and Ted Williams (.406). Despite his youth, there was no question Bob Feller was already the major league’s best pitcher – and the sky, of course, was the limit.

Fellertractor_1That winter, Feller was driving from his Iowa farm to Chicago to sign an extension with the Indians. The money would come in handy as his father was dying of cancer. As he crossed the Mississippi river near Davenport, IA, he learned over the car radio that the territory of Oahu had been attacked by Japan. The next day, President Roosevelt delivered his ‘infamy’ speech, and the following morning at 8AM, baseball’s greatest pitcher walked into the Chicago Naval recruiting station, all in.

He says he would’ve enlisted sooner, but had to wait for his friend and former heavyweight boxing champ, Gene Tunney, to fly into Chicago and sign him up. Tunney ran the Navy’s physical fitness program, and that’s where Feller eased into his military service. Before long, he said to he11 with it and trained to be a combat gunner. He fought in the Atlantic and Pacific for nearly four years on the USS Alabama and won eight battle stars.

The war must’ve rejuvenated the Iowa farmboy, because in his first full season (1946) back with Cleveland, Rapid Robert won 26 games , pitching more innings (371) and striking out more hitters (348) than any pitcher in half a century. He pitched 3 innings in the All Star Game that year – at Fenway Park. My father, fourteen, was there and said Feller’s fastballs looked like an aspirin tablets.

Feller finished with 266 victories and a fine .621 winning %. It’s not at all outlandish to assume he could’ve won an additional 80 to 100 games had he not joined the Navy in the prime of his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August of 1962, the same month Roger Clemens was born. 

Feller always had kind of a big mouth. After dominating Jackie Robinson in some exhibition games, he intimated that were Robinson white, he’d not be up for major league consideration. An inaccurate and dumb thing to say, but not all that unusual for it’s time. It would be a far more suspect comment, for example, had he made it today. He’s forcefully spoken out against Pete Rose and recently claimed that Caribbean players "dont understand the rules" of baseball, prompting a radio host to brand Feller a "racist", after which Bob angrily ended the interview.

He’s certainly opinionated and may be guilty of making some sloppy generalizations about people, but I dont feel quite comfortable calling him a racist. He barnstormed with so called Negro Leaguers in the off seasons, indeed helped organize several of the tours, and there’s no evidence that he actively denounced or impeded integration. Besides, as a general rule, I have little stomach for calling out 88 year olds as racists – except for those in official capacities, like elected officials.

FellersnowFeller played his entire career in Cleveland, in the middle of the diamond. Today, he stands on the outskirts of Jacobs Field, beyond the right field fence, in the form of a larger than life statue. For seventy years, Bob Feller has been in the middle of things, in godforsaken places like Goodyear, Arizona and Tarawa, where the allies lost a thousand men. Jim Palmer once joked that Feller will probably never die.

"He wouldnt allow it."

Playing. Fighting. Politicking. Living every day. In the middle of things.

(photo courtesy of Rob Schumacher/ The Arizona Republic)

The Sweet Sell of Success

The most striking on field impression from today’s game was the bunt Stephen Drew blistered at Padre third baseman, Kevin Kouzmanoff. It was a hard bunt that would’ve reached the lip of the outfield grass had Kouzmanoff, who was playing a little behind the bag, let it roll. Instead, he charged, smoothly barehanded the ball, and fired accurately to first, where Drew was already safely decelerating across the bag. I shake my head when people claim that Orlando Hudson and Drew have comparable speed – Drew looks much faster.

Unit_hammock Melvin added Robby Hammock and, surprisingly, right handed hitting third baseman Brian Barden, to the opening day roster. Carrying three catchers enables Snyder and Montero to platoon within the same game, with Hammock back for emergencies. Regardless of how strong the platoon is on paper, Hammock’s presence will make it stronger in practice, even if he never plays. The broadcasters mentioned no less than three times that Robby cried "tears of joy" when informed he made the club, which is a nice story for the 29 year old, had it been brought up only once.

Although Barden will likely be demoted once Quentin or Unit are activated, his selection serves as a wakeup call for Chad Tracy. This team doesnt exactly need a right handed pinch hitter, and it’ll be telling if Barden starts at third against lefty Jeff Francis on Tuesday. Probably unlikely, but Barden’s had a good spring and his lineup status is worth keeping an eye on as a measure of Melvin’s confidence in Tracy as an everyday player.

The unintentionally funny FSNAZ broadcast has a new, young pregame host type guy, named Mark McClune, who will need to improve dramatically if he hopes to keep whatever his job is. We were cheered by the return of Ken "Alternative Music" Phelps, once we recognized it was actually him. His previously dour delivery, which we liked, has been replaced by a huge, stiff grin, no doubt the brainchild of an overzealous consultant. We’ll gladly suffer Ken’s clown smile, however, as long as he keeps telling it like it is.

Randy Johnson stopped by the booth, in a purple checked shirt no less, and was congenial but really had nothing interesting to say.  Mark Grace, whose shirt also looked purple on my TV and who ostensibly gets paid to provide intelligent insight, declared that Randy "hasn’t lost anything if you ask me". Other dubious claims made through the telecast were that the NL West was "much improved" from last year, Brandon Webb would keep getting "better and better", and our experienced rotation Diamondsalesman_1would take pressure off young hitters who just need to "go out and score three runs to win a ballgame". Daron Sutton, who is apparently unfamiliar with Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant or the Minnesota Vikings, also volunteered that red was a "strong, stern" color. Whatever. 

There’s legitimate hope surrounding Arizona’s upcoming season, but nothing saps fan interest like the too eager, easily discredited boilerplate spewing from the broadcast booth and pregame shows. Fan skepticism is a natural, healthy response to such incessant, self-serving salesmanship. 

Sex and Drugs

This sports weekend reminds me of sex and drugs. Sidnancy

Teams at this stage of NCAA men’s hoopla, approach one another much like sexual partners. The first half is foreplay, feeling each other out, as each game assumes it’s unique positioning and rhythm. Teams this good almost always have the passion and experience, that extra trick or gear, that renders blithely going through the motions impossible, and ensures a repetitive tension and release that, quite frankly, gets me off.

My narcotic is Opening Day and the onset of real baseball. Pumping up the offseason is a burgeoning industry drummed up by clubs selling "stuff" and sabermetric think tanks shooting rapid fire predictions. But the offseason is like withdrawl. There’s only so much you can write about essentially nothing; about games you cant see, and extrapolating from others’ first hand written accounts.

Can you help me, Doc? Pleeaassee!  I just need to see a baseball game for myself!

Pointer_s300_1  A game that counts.

So this time of year, much like Pointer Sisters before me , I’m so excited.

Randy Johnson topped out at 92 or 93 MPH yesterday, depending on who you believe, and struck out five Padre doppelgangers in a split squad, sham exhibition at Chase Field.

"There’s a world of difference between how I’m pitching in spring training than the way I was pitching the last two or three months of last year," said Johnson, who won 17 games with the Yankees last season despite back problems

Let’s hope so, because if the gangly one pitches like he did last year, he’ll be worse than either Miguel Batista or Claudio Vargas was – and more expensive. I caught a glimpse of Randy’s performance, and while his control impressed, his delivery looked stiff, compact and cautious. I suppose that makes sense as he’s not quite "there" yet, but I couldnt hep envisioning all the bunts that neither he nor Jackson nor Tracy will field this year.

On a positive note, the Wall Street Journal published extensive preseason predictions from eleven so called experts, six of whom project Chris Young as NL ROY. After yesterday’s 5-2-3 double play with no outs and the bases loaded, let’s just hope Chris makes the team ;-)

The Journal didnt amass the most diverse group of pundits, 20 to 30 something bloggers mostly, but it’s still a collection of shrewd, relatively independent baseball thinkers. The elite eleven selected six division winners each, for sixty six projected race outcomes. Diamondback fans should be heartened by their favorites:

Yankees 9 votes

Angels 8

Mets 5

Dodgers 5

Diamondbacks 4

Indians 4

BP’s Joe Sheehan, a respected analyst – at least before today – actually has ‘em winning the World Series. There’s a certain logic to it, as there is for perpetual motion machines, or proving a bumblebee cant fly – but we still admire Joe’s out of the box thinking, even if he’s so far out of the box he needs a GPS device to get back in.

Memo to Mark Newman. Gameday is totally screwed up. Pls handle ;-)

On my MLBlogs virtual team, I traded Justin Verlander to obtain closer Chris Ray. Thanks, That’s a Winner!  In other fantasy news, Audrey Hepburn remains just beyond my reach.

Audreyhepburn

Down The Tubes

Smashedtv With due respect to the limited efforts of the National League, nothing derails the Diamondbacks quite like putting them on TV.  Bob Melvin’s teams have played with their tubes tied for years now, and after quietly fashioning a 13-7 mark in the relative cocoon of the Cactus League, electromagnetic waves from today’s FSNAZ telecast apparently proved too much for our shy and retiring Scarlets, who were zapped by the Los Angeles Heiligenschein, 8-3.

We braved but half an inning of this…this "telecast" ourselves, hardly sufficient to fully critique the new broadcast team, but between errands and FSN power outages, enough to note first impressions. On a humorous if somewhat rehearsed note, Daron Sutton briskly mocked his own "long drawn out story that no one enjoyed", a welcome departure from Brennaman’s ponderous comedic forays.  His Stevestonian nasal twang, though, was an unpleasant jolt – and made Daron sound whiny even when he’s desperately cheerful – which appears to be most of the time. He talks too fast and too much, as if selling uninspected meat door to door from a van. And that grating voice isnt going away anytime soon.

Colorman Mark Grace has successfully transitioned from semi-interesting ex-player to shameless company shill, gushing about the look of the new Diamond Club one minute, and volunteering "I haven’t seen it yet" the next.

It’s going to be a long year, and the only thing that might salvage it for both the team and their fans, is radio.

When The Levee Breaks

Santacruzbefore_2 Hi, just got back from Tucson Electric Park , where I took a bunch of pictures at today’s game.  Our junket was plagued by all the same problems haunting spring training games up here in the valley, plus it took longer for us to get there. The metro area interstate is peppered with lane restrictions, but having lived in the Old Pueblo some years ago, I snaked my way around alternate Santacruzafter routes to show off the city’s sights to the family. Like the beautiful U of A campus, and my old apartment up near Country Club and Prince. That was where my brother and I got a knock on our door at 2AM from the National Guard, way back in 1983, as the swollen Rillito Creek  voraciously ate our neighborhood’s condominiums in the middle of the night. Ah, good times.

Today’s game, by contrast, was hot and dry. Not as hot as the other day, but still hot enough to almost kill people. We idled out on Ajo Way in a single file line for about twenty minutes waiting to enter the parking lot behind the stadium. As we’ve noted before, it’s baffling how a game with 6000 fans inevitably takes twice as long to park as an MLB game with 30000. Oh well, at least the lady in the dusty gravel lot who took my money was cheerful.

Inside the stadium, there was a colorful concourse booth plastered with Dbacks signage where one could ostensibly enter to win season tickets. I figured you fill out a form, maybe apply for some crappy credit card, and stick your name in a bowl. Wrong. The sleazeball with the bad teeth in the Hawaiian shirt manning the booth was actually hawking timeshares. Turns out you have to sit through a "presentation" back up in Phoenix before you can even enter the drawing for nebulous tickets in an unspecified location.

A younger, less sleazy fella was trying to give away "free Dbacks shirts", the red ones, along the first base side. I watched him for about five minutes. Just one lady stopped at his table. They had a brief conversation and she left without a shirt. I guess she either didnt like it or it wasn’t really free.

Tucsonfansbehindplate2_2 The stadium was pleasantly nondescript, trimmed more in generic green than Sedona Red, in deference to the White Sox who share the facility each March, or perhaps, simply to taste. Our seats were behind home plate, next to the guys with JUGS guns and expensive sunglasses , but the tiny seats were cheaply manufactured with little back support and no cupholders. The Catalina Mountains beyond left field look grand and provide a nice backdrop for the aerial jet maneuvers screeching out of Davis-Monthan AFB.

The game wasnt advertised as split squad but it sure seemed like it. Seattle was without Ichiro, Sexson, Raul Ibanez or Adrian Beltre and our side was missing Byrnes, Hudson, Quentin and Tracy among others. It’d be nice if they told you that before you shell out dough for the tickets. Maybe next time they’ll fill me in after I attend a Hawaiian Getaway seminar.

The Dbacks played well, and I’m not referring to the score, which was something like 8 to 1. Edgar Gonzalez wasn’t dominant but didnt beat himself either – he threw strikes and appeared to mix speeds well. Stephen Drew speared a sure hit up the middle and flipped from his back for a gorgeous 6-4-3 double play. Most of all, I was impressed by Arizona’s hitters.  Not so much by the pair of homers and the eight runs – that’s obvious enough – but more by some of the outs they made. At least half a dozen fly balls that Snyder, Drew and others clearly got under still managed to carry out near the track.

It’s only one game and perhaps a function of a lame Jeff Weaver, Seattle’s starter, as much as anything, but that’s what I took away. Sometimes a team scores 8 runs and you see they combined good hitting with a break or two that busted things open, but this wasn’t really like that. They weren’t exactly driving rockets everywhere, but it was hard not to get the feeling that with a gust of wind, or if a barely foul liner had landed fair, the levee would’ve broke and with it a dozen or more runs. As it was, eight looked effortless and within character – at least for today.   

Tucson Trip Photos

(flood photos courtesy of Peter Kresan)

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Spurred by sign stealing concerns, a formal complaint was filed by an unnamed NL West club against the Colorado Rockies for regularly exceeding the league limit of dugout coaches.

MosesThe Rocky Mountain News speculates that dastardly Walt Weiss was the primary target of the complaint and that the Diamondbacks are the most likely plaintiff, since Eric Byrnes and Shawn Estes are former benchmates of Weiss in Colorado.

Maybe we overlooked it, but we didnt see any mention of this in The Arizona Republic or on diamondbacks.com ?

It’s an interesting move by the Diamondbacks. I like the competitiveness of it, trying to get any advantage one can. On the other hand, sign stealing is a century old, established practice – that’s why there are signs in the first place – and this kind of officious fussing, getting the law involved in what is largely a self policed "game", often has a way of eliciting unpredictable, and unpleasant, retribution.

Neck and Redneck

After enabling more missiles in one inning than Raytheon did during the Cold War, you’d think Doug Davis’d be the one with a stiff neck, but alas, ace Brandon Webb is the hurler so afflicted. Neckpain

"I really don’t have full range of motion, so I haven’t been able to throw my pens…Hopefully we’ll be able to play some catch before too long."

Before too long? A cheerful "real soon" from the affable Kentuckian would’ve helped our morning joe go down better.

"It actually feels a bit better today", he said. "After a few days, it hadn’t gotten a whole lot better. We’ve been getting some treatment, seeing if it will loosen up."

This is beginning to sound like a royal pain in the neck for baseball’s sinkerball king. The good news, if any, is that his recovery time should be accelerated by the fact he’s sixteen years younger than Randy Johnson, a middle aged man easing his way back into the workforce following hospitalization.   

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My son’s junior high class is Peoria bound as I write, on a prepaid class trip to the ballpark. Their seats, more accurately their bony rears, will sizzle on some grassy baked berm, where today’s skin damage index approaches 96′. He’s got a hat, and hopefully they’ll find some shade, if it’s Deathvalley_1not too crowded. People thought I was kidding, going off about the bad weather this time of year, but this is what burns me up about the new Cactus League.

Clearly, they cant control the weather – and stupid Dad should’ve applied sunscreen to junior while he was eating his morning Cheerios – but ten years ago, this little incident wouldn’t have happened. The school wouldn’t have prepaid tickets, because you could typically walk up to the box office at gametime and have a decent shot at some shade seats. Those are mostly season tickets now. Even more likely, free from the burden of prepaying, the school could have simply rescheduled their outing after perusing today’s forecast. Harder to do when you’ve shelled out bucks, money you wont get refunded because the game, such as it is, will be played. Not quite the same as a rainout.

More like a burnout. Amaredunk

Tonight, the busy boy and I will attend the Suns – Pistons game, courtesy of his thoughtful mother’s Christmas gift. The tickets cost a little more, but it’ll be worth it to experience a fiercely contested game featuring one of the NBA’s most exciting teams in a generation.

We’ll be burning up.

In the shade.

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Update 5:50 pm:

The official temp topped out at 99.

The boy doesnt appear to be badly burned, however he confirmed that his class was unable to procure shaded seats and relayed that the best five minutes of the game were when a sliver of shade from a nearby electrical pole provided a brief respite to him and his mates. He doesnt remember the score or who won, only that the game was "hot" and "boring". We’re off to the Purple Palace. Shazzzzaammm! 

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