The Fellas Just Wanna Sleep In

March 31, 2010

So here we are in the last week of spring training. Not the funnest of all times for a pro. For starters, your seeing some guys get cut or sent down who you may never see again. One day they’re your teammate, the next day the lockers empty and it’s like they disappeared. If they got released, odds are your paths will never meet again. Not fun.

If you’re a bubble guy fighting for that last spot, this time is murder. Will you be traded, sent to the minors, or maybe grabbing a roster spot? Where should you tell the wife to send the boxes? Do you need to go out and buy a suit for the plane flights or a new pair of sweats for the bus rides? Pressure city.

The other thing about the last week of spring training is nobody really wants to be there. Regardless of if your swing feels perfect or crappy, everyone is ready to make it count. I had springs where I hit .500 and felt great going into the season. I also had springs where I felt like I was going into battle equipped with a pocket knife for a weapon cause my swing was so anemic. Either way, about now everyone wants to get the hell out of Arizona or Florida to test their acts under the bright lights.

Your also pretty sick of the early morning schedule. Ball players, (unless you play for the Cubs) are like vampires. We don’t like mornings. About now, guys are really looking forward to nights games, late nights, and sleeping in.

Another factor is baseball players have troubles staying in one place for too long. About now, that condo or hotel you’ve been occupying for the past five or six weeks during spring has gotten real old. Time to get on the road, do the traveling circus thing. You’re also completely sick of the crappy rent a car you’ve been using.

You’re done with the conditioning. Done with the B games, done with only getting a few at bats a game, done with the sandwiches after the game, done with getting stuck behind old people on your way to the ball park. Done being so close to the fans. Done having pitchers run in the outfield while you’re trying to hit. Done facing kids you’ve never seen before and have no idea where the balls going. Done with those goofy spring training hats. Done practicing first and third situations. Done with PFP. And above all, done with catching eight million bullpens a day. Done. Done. Done.

Geez, to be honest, the very best spring trainings I ever had were the ones that were affected by labor negotiations. The ones that went about 3-4 weeks. Perfect. In my opinion, that was the perfect amount of time to get ready for the season.

Either way, were almost there…another spring in the books. Let the games begin.

Wade Boggs & Rickey Henderson

March 29, 2010

Here’s a couple funny stories that occurred while I was catching. Both involve Hall of Famers and both happened more than once. The first one involves Wade Boggs. Widely considered one of the greatest hitters of all time, Boggs had a legendary batting eye and a Ted Williams like command of the strike zone. I knew this, but this first story will give you a taste of just how good he was.

It was my rookie season and we were in Kansas City hosting the Red Sox. Boggs walked up to the plate, went through his weird ritual of drawing symbols in the dirt, (Nomar had nothing on Boggs in the strange ritual category) and stepped in the box. I wish I could properly describe what it felt like when he got in the box…all I can say is an intense focus radiated off the guy – definitely different than most hitters.

Anyway, we go first pitch fastball away on the black for a strike. Being my rookie season, I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing back there, but I figure if we got that pitch on the black, let’s expand the zone a little more and see if the umpire will bite. So I call for another fastball a little more outside. The pitch comes in and it’s a fraction of an inch outside, but the umpire calls it a strike. As was his style, Boggs followed the pitch all the way to my glove and when the ump called it a strike he immediately blurted out, “nope, that ball is definitely an eighth of an inch outside.”

It was classic, because he said it just like Rain Man. “Definitely a good driver.” Come to think of it, Boggs did have a little Rain Man in him. He could’ve been the hitting Rain Man with a Magnum P.I mustache though. But the best part about the whole incident was he was right! That ball was exactly an eighth of an inch outside. Do you realize how thin an eighth of an inch is? I was blown away. And he put to rest my notion that it was a fluke by repeating that act on different occasions.

My second funny behind the dish story came courtesy of Rickey Henderson. Actually, this was a common occurrence when Rickey came to bat. To preface the story, you have to understand that umpires (for the most part) didn’t really dig Rickey’s act. They never said that to me, but judging by some of the strike calls against the guy when I was catching, that was the impression I got.

The cool thing about Rickey though was that he never complained to the umps. Instead, he would talk to himself in the third person. An umpire would call a ball way outside for a strike, Rickey would jump back and start yapping, “OK now, Rickey can’t hit that pitch…Rickey’s good but not that good.” Stuff like that. He was amazing, the words never stopped. He actually talked to himself…as the pitch was coming. The pitch was in mid flight and you could hear him say, “Rickey’s gonna get it.”

I honestly think Rickey may have talked himself into being a Hall of Famer. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say, to no one in particular, “Dang Rickey, you’re good.” Or if he was a little behind a pitch…”Ok Rickey you’re a little sleepy but your still good.”

Both Henderson and Boggs were great, weird, and amazingly funny to me in their quirky ways.

The Best Acquisitions of the Year

March 26, 2010

As we wind down the last couple weeks of spring training and prepare for the regular season, I think I should throw out my choices for the best moves of this off-season. Better late than never, right?

If you remember, last year I picked Raul Ibanez. Let’s hope my choices for this season do just as well.¬†So here goes…I’ve got a tie for my first pick this year between Adrian Beltre and Hideki Matsui. They’re closely followed by Edwin Jackson.

ADRIAN BELTRE

It’s tough to beat this guy’s act. He’s solid. I’m not sure that he’ll ever reach his Dodger offensive numbers, but he’ll definitely fare better in Fenway than SafeCo. Defensively he’s the best. But his intangibles are his most interesting quality for me. He’s a gamer, a leader without even trying, and he’s Latin. When you’ve got a Latin guy who goes about his business the way Adrian does, you’ve really got something special. Something that money can’t buy. All the other guys just fall in line. It’s like having another coach or something. Beltre is going to make a nice impact in Boston.

HIDEKI MATSUI

Well, I think when you hear Derek Jeter cite¬†Matsui as the best teammate he’s ever had, that’s saying something. First of all the guy can flat out hit. And this is good because he’s not great defensively. Despite the prowess of Torii Hunter, if you put him in the same outfield as Rivera, you’ve got the worst defensive outfield in baseball. That being said, did I say he can hit? Professional, clutch, and a really tough out. It’s going to be fun watching him and Abreu in the same line-up. The thing I really like about Matsui though is his demeanor. Just like Beltre, I anticipate his intangibles being a big factor and adding an interesting facet to an already good Angel team.

I hope Matsui keeps doing that goofy face after he scores. Love it.

I hope Matsui keeps doing that goofy face after he scores. Love it.

EDWIN JACKSON

I played with Edwin in LA in 2004. What I see in him is a battler with outstanding stuff. This is a guy who has taken some lumps and persevered to become an excellent big league player. He has made the turn from a thrower to a pitcher, but the exciting thing for me is he’s just making the turn. In my opinion, Jackson has his best days in front of him and I anticipate him having a breakout year. He’s a good guy, a hard worker, got a good approach to the game, and a great pick up for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So that’s it. Hat’s off to the Angels, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks for making some great moves. We’ll soon see if they pay off.

The Band / Gamers

March 23, 2010

I’m super late to this party, but I finally just saw Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. One word. Wow. Goose bump city. Yes, this film probably moved me a little bit differently than most being that I grew up in a house filled with music from The Band, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, etc. Yes, I grew up in Southern California. Yes, my parents were fringe hippies (Coach Mike Mayne!) Yes, we had the VW van with flowers painted on hubcaps.

All that said, this movie is flat out amazing. And for the purposes of this blog, what I’d like to do is make a connection between the performances in the film to baseball performance. Crazy? Yep, probably…but bear with me. I might just pull this off.

After I watched it, I made my 7 year old daughter watch the clip below with me. It’s my favorite part of the movie and I wanted to get her reaction. Check it out.

Ok, so her reaction? She loved it. Her exact words were, “they’re really good cause they play with their soul.” Bingo. I mean there’s a lot of talented bands, a lot of great voices, but not a lot of what The Staples and The Band and Martin Scorsese did right there. That clip had soul.

So here’s the connection. That feeling I got when I watched The Last Waltz is exactly the same feeling I get when I watch a baseball player…a baseball player who competes with his heart. There’s a lot of great athletes out there and a lot of great ballplayers, but not too many with this look in their eyes…there’s not too many George Bretts.

Gamer.

Gamer.

There’s not too many guys who are going to ride onto the field on a dirt bike like Robin Yount.

Gamer.

Gamer.

Not too many guys who take a hack like Reggie.

Gamer.

Gamer.

This is playing the game without fear. Without a safety net. When I see pictures like this, I see guys who are willing to take risks, are willing to look like fools, are brave enough to play with their heart regardless of what people might think. And to me, that is inspiring in the same exact way that The Band inspired me in The Last Waltz.

Do you get it? Did I make the connection? Or was this a complete dud. Was it a good try at least? What inspires you…gives you goose bumps (G rated)? Lemme know. Till next time, be well.

And oh yeah, I’m adding Levon Helm onto my all-time favorite drummer list.

The Band

The Band's Levon Helm.

Pitching Thoughts

March 18, 2010

I’ve been listening to “HomePlate” on XM radio 175 a lot lately in the car. Between this and reading Buster Olney’s great ESPN blog, I feel like I’m able to stay current enough for the questions lobbed at me during my guest gig Thursday mornings (6:35PT) on the same XM channel.

Anyway, a couple interesting pitching things have come up through this process. The first thing I’d like to mention was a great interview Kevin Kennedy had with Royals pitching coach Bob McClure a couple days ago.

McClure seems like an excellent pitching coach and he said a couple things that I think bear repeating. The first idea surprised the heck out of me but made a ton of sense. He was sharing his philosophy of warming up before games and how it relates to his staff’s stamina over the course of a season.

Basically McClure tries to limit his starters to 30-35 pitches before a game. He said Cy Young winner Zack Greinke averaged closer to 25 and has started games with as little as 18 warm ups! 18 warm up pitches! Fantastic. McClure made the point that over the course of a 35 start season, this saves each pitcher about 700 game speed pitches. (This is assuming the last 20 or so pitches a guy throws in the bullpen are equivalent stress-wise to a game situation.) He’s talking about saving 7 outings worth of pitches by being thrifty in the pen. I like it a lot.

The second thing I loved about the interview was when McClure revealed his keys to pitching success. And that was – in order of importance – command, movement, and then velocity. Very wise words to aspiring pitchers (and catchers trying to help pitchers). Location, movement, then velocity. Success on the bump is all about throwing the ball where you want to with some movement.

The last thing I want to mention came from host Jeff Nelson on the XM show this morning. He asked my thoughts on whether or not Steve Strasburg should skip the minor leagues. I started to ramble on a bit and Jeff brought up the point of understanding how to attack hitters and calling a game. Great observation.

I’m not positive, but if San Diego State was like 99.9% of the teams in amateur baseball right now, it’s quite possible that Strasburg has never called his own game before. In other words, he may have no clue on how to attack hitters…much less big league hitters. Yes, he’s got Ivan Rodriguez back there to take most of the pressure off, but there’s no way he’s going to hold his hand every outing. The fact is, Strasburg better have a clue and if that means going down to the minor leagues to figure it out, so be it.

Then again, maybe Tony Gwynn at SDSU didn’t call pitches and Strasburg already has an idea. In that case, it’s just a question of whether he has the stamina to handle a big league workload and has the resilience to deal some failure. It’s gonna be interesting.