Scenes from Spring Training: Red Sox Nation South Part 3

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Price hand.jpgBack up to the press box, I got my lunch on.  Much more elaborate spread than the Mets or the Twins put out. Lasagna, hot dogs, cold cuts, chicken salad, fresh fruit, cake and all kinds of other stuff. And though I didn’t hang around that long, there was a sign saying that they did a press box dinner too.  Given the amount of copy Red Sox beat writers generate I’m surprised they don’t have breakfast and a room full of cots for allnighters too.

Eventually, a game started.  Some random observations:

  • There were three fans in Rays shirts standing in front of their seats just below the press box,stretching along with the team. They were doing the same drills and everything. And it’s not like it was smartass college kids. It was a woman in her late 50s or early 60s and a guy around my age who was probably her son. Odd;
  • When I got to the press box that morning, all the windows were closed. I assumed at some point people would begin to open the windows so as to, you know, be able to enjoy the weather and listen to the sounds of the game. As the first pitch drew near, however, everyone’s window was still closed.  Given just how many seasoned pros were there I didn’t want to be the first one to open a window. Maybe there was some dumb ritual involved? Protocols beyond my understanding.  A sacred rite of window opening that, should I violate it, would cause unspeakable horrors to be visited upon me. Ah screw it. I opened my window. Then everyone else opened theirs. I tend to over think stuff like that;
  • Garciaparra threw out the first pitch, which was caught by his college and pro teammate, Jason Varitek. It went over the plate and, amazingly, Nomar didn’t rupture or strain anything.  David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus was standing near me when it all went down and he had a great idea: Nomar should have stood at short and made a throw to first base instead.  Assuming he can still make that throw I think it’s an awesome idea.  If anyone who matters in Red Sox Nation is reading this, you should totally do that at Fenway sometime this season;
  • Adrian Belte’s bat broke in the second inning, sending a shard in David Price’s direction. It hit him on the hand and forced him out of the game with an abrasion. BatGlove anyone?
  • Jacoby Ellsbury hit two home runs.  What with all the power I guess it’s safe to say that he’s taking that move to left field to heart;
  • After Ellsbury hit the first one, the PA announcer said “this home run was brought to you by Germain Toyota!”  Germain is actually a Columbus, Ohio-based car dealer, who opened up a Fort Myers branch a few years back.  Earlier in the day I heard a promo on the Ft. Myers NPR station saying that the show was “brought to you by Roetzel & Andress,” which is an Ohio law firm that happens to have a couple of south Florida offices. The main drag through Ft. Myers is called Cleveland Avenue. A half hour north of town there’s an exit off of I-75 for Toledo Blade Blvd., obviously named after the newspaper.  Call me crazy, but I think the Ohio invasion was a success.  Governor Strickland should come down to Tallahassee and accept Charlie Crist’s surrender;
  • Things you forget when it’s been a while since you’ve seen a baseball game in person:  they call it a “base knock” because I’ll be damned if doesn’t sound just like someone knocking on a solid wood door when it’s the ball is hit just right.  So simple. So satisfying.

OK, here’s the Jonny Miller story:  Miller keeps meticulous score during the game. Doesn’t miss a play. Around the fourth inning the Red Sox PR guy comes by and tells Miller that Jon Lester is available for interviews. Miller turns to me and says — doesn’t really ask, just says — “you make sure to keep score for me while I’m gone.”  Despite the fact that I rarely if ever keep score during games, I nodded and said I would.  Crap.

OK, so I start keeping score, utilizing my sloppy, inconsistent system, in smeary pen on the paper score sheet they hand out in the press room.  Miller is gone a long time. Two thirds of the Red Sox half of the third and the entire Rays half of the fourth, during which they sent ten guys to the plate. My score sheet is a complete disaster at this point and there’s no way Miller’s going to be able to follow it.  I can read it, however, so I figure that I’ll just read it back to him when he returns.

Miller comes back and says “hand me your score sheet.”  I tell him it’s hard to read. He either doesn’t hear this or doesn’t care and just repeats “hand me your score sheet.”  I give it to him and nod my head in shame. He starts writing, then stops. Then he just kind of looks at me with an expression that seems to say “kid, you got problems.” He hands it back to me and says, wearily, “just tell me who got the RBIs.”  I only knew this guy for about three hours at this point, but I felt like I was disappointing my father or something.

We parted on a great note, however.  The game was running really long, and since I had to drive up to Bradenton afterward to meet my mother-in-law for dinner, I figured I’d skip the postgame interviews and get on the road early.  As I was packing up, Miller asked me if I was leaving. I explained and he understood.

“Long game today,” he said. “Could go four hours. You’d better go see your mother-in-law.”

“Yeah, just too long for me today,” I said.

“March 8, 1973. Longest spring training game I ever been to,” Miller says. “Red Sox and White Sox in Sarasota.  Twelve innings.”

“That had to be a killer,” I said.

“No. It was great.”

And you can tell by his tone that he truly meant it.  I’ll remember that the next time I’m bitching about a long game.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.