Archive for the ‘Spring Training’ Category

Seeing Strasburg and Paying the Cost

Sorry I am little late in writing this, but did you know The Battle of New Orleans took place two weeks after The War of 1812 ended?

What do you mean, that was 200 years ago?

Last Sunday on a gorgeous day in sunny Viera, Florida, I saw “The Next BIG Thing” Stephen Strasburg make his second spring start as the Nationals squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals. I was impressed as were the Cardinals.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised by Strasburg’s wind-up. Having never seen him pitch before, I pictured him as more of a straight up and down, standing tall pitcher – a la Mark Prior – but his wind-up reminded me a bit of David Cone, except with only one arm angle.

Unfortunately, the Capital City Messiah only pitched three innings. Then the Nationals featured a litany of has-beens, never-will-bes, and future insurance salesmen. The only names I recognized were Livan Hernandez and Ron Villone.

Of course, the Nationals lost.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t mind. As cliche as this sounds, I was there to have a good time. I met up with fellow BusLeagues writer Will, made friends with the Nats Tiki, heckled Mitchell Boggs of the Cardinals, saw former Mets manager Davey Johnson (now working with the Nationals in some capacity), bought a cheeseburger, almost met Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com, talked blues with a random stranger, and saw people wearing some awesome jerseys, to include a Don Drysdale, an Ozzie Smith, a George Foster, a Johnny Bench, and one that just said “Funk”.

Unfortunately (yes, again), my day at the ballpark almost didn’t happen. Even though I was told there were plenty of seats inside Space Coast Stadium, there were no tickets being sold outside the ballpark.

That’s right, it was a sell-out.

Thank you, Mr. Strasburg.

Fortunately (again), I found someone scalping a ticket. 30 bucks for a 17 dollar seat! For a spring training game! Where the main attraction is only in 1/6 of the action!

I am seeing this more and more every spring. When I was a kid growing up in Central Florida, I used to be able to go to the ballpark right before a game and buy a seat in the bleachers for less than 10 bucks. Now the only team you can do that with is the Pirates.

I know it makes me seem old and crotchety, and maybe I am, but I miss those spring training days. Before teams realized they could capitalize on spring match-ups. Before tickets were 30 dollars each (as they are to see the Yankees).

Before the dark times. Before The Empire.

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The Strasburg Era has begun

It seems like this day has taken forever to come. With all the hype at San Diego State, his performance at the Olympics in 2008, Steven Strasburg finally made his major league debut.

Like every 21-year-old making his debut, there were definitely some jitters on the mound to be expected. Strasburg fell behind in the count 2-0 against the first two hitters he faced. Fortunately for him those hitters were Austin Jackson and Clete Thomas who grounded out.

The second inning came and Strasburg appeared to settle down, striking out Miguel Cabrera with an amazing 98 MPH fastball after throwing two knee buckling curveballs to set up the pitch. Remember that because it’s going to be a trivia question someday and you’ll impress all your friends with that kind of knowledge.

I’m not going to go crazy over Steven Strasburg yet, just because he pitched two shutout innings in a spring training game. He did struggle with location throwing only 3 more strikes than balls, and only started 2 batters with first pitch strikes. Are the Nationals going to rush him through the minor leagues or even crazier put him in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season?

Since the beginning of the MLB draft there have been 10 pitchers that were thrown directly onto starting rosters without starting off in the minors. Those pitchers hold a combined record of 523-660. Mike Morgan leads that list with 141 wins , but is mostly known for giving up Mark McGwire’s 61st homer (another trivia question answer).  I’m in no way comparing Strasburg to Mike Morgan, Jim Abbott or any of the other pitchers on that list. He is an amazing talent with skies the limit potential, but he still has a lot of work to do before becoming a dominating pitcher in the majors.

I’m really hoping that the Nationals decide to take their time with this guy, let him go down to Harrisburg or Syracuse at least until the roster expands to 40 men later in the year. I’m not just saying this because I want to see him in Rochester a few times or even bite the bullet and drive the hour to Syracuse, although that would be nice. The list of highly touted pitchers that have been rushed to the majors and failed is high, and hopefully the Nationals won’t add Strasburg to that list…… hopefully.

Jason Heyward is a Whole Lot of Awesome

As you might have noticed, we’re typically a little slow to unfold from the winter-long hibernation here at Bus Leagues. This is our third spring, and the routine is almost always the same: finish the season strong, fade away to virtually nothing from October to February, start working out the kinks in March, and really start firing on all cylinders in April. Just like the players, we need a little bit of spring training to get ourselves back in the groove.

I bring this up because it is the best explanation for our ignorance to-date of Braves minor leaguer Jason Heyward. Heyward is Baseball America’s top-ranked preseason prospect, although you wouldn’t know it from the way we (and, in fairness, everyone else) wax poetic about Stephen Strasburg. Not that there’s anything wrong with Strasburg – it’s just that Heyward is pretty darn good too.

In fact, here are three good reasons to keep an eye out for Heyward this season (besides the fact that Baseball America – and pretty much the rest of the baseball world – has already proclaimed his excellence):

  • He Tweets – Not only does Heyward have a Twitter account, he’s active on it, taking time to answer questions from his 3,000+ followers.  That’s where I found out that he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies to chocolate chip (BLASPHEMER!) and grew up a Yankee fan (…).
  • He Has Already Drawn Favorable ComparisonsBobby Cox is 68 years old, 69 in May.  He’s been around baseball, and the Braves, for more than fifty years.  So while his statement that the sound of Heyward’s line drives is “kind of like ol’ Hank Aaron’s sound” might initially be taken as an off-the-cuff utterance of a grandfatherly old man, it also has to be considered as the wisdom of a guy who has seen a lot of good players in his day.  Oh, who am I kidding – it was a completely crazy thing to say.  All it does is make the public’s expectations of Heyward even more unreasonable.
  • He Destroys Stuff – Earlier this spring, Heyward’s bombs to right dented cars and smashed windshields in a parking lot used by Atlanta’s front office, requiring a net be put up for protection.  Once you get past the fact that these people continued to park there – maybe someone familiar with the Braves’ spring training facilities could shed some light on that, because I find it hard to believe that there was NOWHERE else to park safely – you realize how awesome it is: a 20-year-old kid consistently hitting the ball 450 feet.

So yeah, Heyward is good.  And truth be told, all of this got me thinking.  Two years ago, we had a contest and gave Jay Bruce (the consensus number one prospect at the time) a nickname.  Shouldn’t we do the same for Heyward?  (I know what you’re thinking – what about Matt Wieters?  Unfortunately, Wieters appears destined to go the way of the 1904 World Series – he loses out because the powers that be couldn’t get their crap together.)

I tossed the idea around Bus Leagues headquarters, where it was well received (not a surprise, really; giving people stupid nicknames is one of our raisons d’etre).  A few ideas were tossed around – Hank; the J-Hey Kid; at one point, Pookie was mentioned (I think Eric might’ve been drinking) – but nothing definite.  So what we can do is backburner this for the moment.  It’s only early March, no need to rush things.  If you, the reader, happens to think of one that works, leave a comment or email us.  Pay it forward.  And when we have a few, we’ll figure out some way to pick the best one.

But rest assured, Jason Heyward will be awesome.  And he will be awesomely nicknamed.  This is fact.

The Buses have Returned to Florida

For those of us lucky enough to live in Florida, particularly in Central Florida, there is a certain buzz in the air come March. Not quite March Madness, but better than just a night out drinking green beer and praising the Irish Saint of Bacchanalia. I am talking of course about Spring Training.

(Oh, sorry. Before I go any further let me introduce myself. I am Jordi Scrubbings of JordiScrubbings.com. You may have known me from my other blog TheSeriousTip. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, I’ve been invited to contribute here this season, and if things work out, every season for the next decade (Scott Boras hooked me up). A few things about me: I am from Tampa, Florida, I’ve been known to “go ‘fro”, I am a Rays season ticket holder, and I actually sat through all of Major League 3.)

Although the spring exhibition schedule officially kicked off on Tuesday, my personal baseball season began Wednesday night when I journeyed over the bridge and through the urban sprawl to Brighthouse Field, spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies and summer home of the Clearwater Threshers. As has been recent tradition, the Phillies once again opened their spring schedule against the Florida State Seminoles. This was the third iteration of the exhibition, with the Phillies beating the Seminoles 12-4 in 2007 and neither team taking the field due to rain in 2008.

Due to time constraints, and the unfortunate fact that I have to go to work tomorrow (I’d much rather be going to Port Charlotte to see the Rays play the Orioles!), I’m going to use the legendary bullet style to talk about Phillies vs. Seminoles III: Charlie Manuel Don’t Surf.

  • I am from Florida, like I said. I’m used to baseball being played in the heat or indoors. I’m not used to cold, windy days at the ballpark. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees all night with gusts probably close to 10 mph. Enough to send a shiver through my bones. Too cold for baseball. But I endured.
  • The crowd was probably 50/50 Phillies/Seminoles fans. There are a lot of FSU alumni in the Tampa Bay-Clearwater area and we usually represent well at sporting events. But there were some diehard Phillie fans in the house. I saw one guy with a replica Steve Carlton jersey.
  • Unfortunately, although she was at the first two Phillies-Seminoles contests, Jenn Sterger was not in attendance.
  • The Phillies played most of their regulars for the first two innings, to include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, and starting pitcher J.A. Happ. After Rollins lead off with a hit, the Phils regulars were shut down by the first three FSU pitchers.
  • Due to the game being an exhibition, and because the Noles played the night before in a regulation contest against the rival Florida Gators, head coach Mike Martin opted to use a pitcher an inning for the first five innings.
  • After five, the Seminoles were up 6-4. Then the wheels came off. A bunch of walks, a few hits, and a throwing error quickly made it 8-6 Phillies and they never looked back.
  • Many of the FSU faithful were seen checking their phones for the score of the FSU-Wake Forest basketball game (Check Storming the Floor for the result!). Because their preoccupation and the freezing temperature I only heard one school chant and only once did we do the Tomahawk Chop. Too cold to do the Tomahawk Chop? Preposterous.
  • FSU head coach Mike Martin threw in the towel after the Noles were retired in the 7th, down 13-6. Between the weather, the lack of pitchers, and the 4.5-hour bus ride Martin’s team had to do after the game, I was not surprised. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
  • As I left, I saw a charter bus pull in, ready to either take the Noles home or the Phillies to their next contest.

The buses are back, and so is baseball.

MiLB is Renting Dodgertown

dodgertown_10

Odds are, you’ve heard of Dodgertown. Maybe you’ve even been there. It’s the famous Florida spring training facility of the Los Angeles Dodgers; or, at least, it was. After 61 years of training in Dodgertown, The west-coast based franchise decided that traveling to Glendale, Arizona suited them much better than a cross-country voyage every year. They’ll keep the rights to the trademarked name when they move.

So what becomes of the original Dodgertown? Well, MiLB, which is headquartered in Florida, has stepped in to sign a five-year-lease to manage the facility. They’re currently negotiating with the Dodgers to retain the name in some fashion, possibly “Historic Dodgertown”. They’re going to continue multi-use applications for the facility, allowing the county to stage events there and generally trying to keep the facility up and running. The ultimate goal is to attract another spring training resident.

Here are some provisions of the deal:

Similar to the Dodgers agreement, the MiLB lease provides the county with 10 days a year to use the facility, in addition to the Harvest Festival, an annual fundraising event for St. Helen Catholic School.

The lease charges MiLB a token rent of $1 a year and allows it to keep the proceeds from ticket and concession sales. But that’s no giveaway, County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said.

“They get all the revenue, but they also get all the expenses,” he said.

Also:

• MiLB will have restricted access to a $2 million capital reserve account for improvements to the facility.

• MiLB will include Vero Beach and the county in its advertising of sporting events and receive at least $50,000 annually from tourist tax revenue for this.

• Field lights will be added to two existing playing fields this year and two additional playing fields in 2010. Vero Beach will provide up to $126,000 in tourist tax or local optional sales tax money toward the project

[TCPalm.com]

Sounds like a pretty sensible arrangement for everyone involved. As often as we see historic structures torn down, this should be a perfect interim arrangement until Dodgertown can find its ultimate future use, either as a history theme park, a home for a new team, or both.