Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 2

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Pirates stretch.jpgI made my way down to the field as the Pirates came out to do their morning workouts, batting practice and the like.  Weirdest thing:  the team does all their stretching in a big circle with a couple of players leading the drills in the middle. Maybe other teams do this on some back field somewhere, but I have never seen such a thing.  Especially weird: when they were done they all gathered together in a big “whoop! whoop!” circle like they were a high school football team or something.  Odd.

At this point my basic observations of what happens before the game would be somewhat repetitive — news flash: managers think their teams have “a good chance to be competitive this year; players “feel good” — so let’s take a brief photo tour:

Russell Fungoes.jpg More hands-on managing. If I become a billionaire and buy a team I’m going to make hitting fungoes an essential requirement for my managers. Sure, La Russa, Cox and Torre may get fair results, but there’s something really cool about the skipper handling infield drills. When your team loses it’s 100th game this year, Pirates fans, at least remember that your manager cares.

Raynor net.jpgJohn Raynor was a Rule 5 pick of the Pirates. He’s got a great glove, is super fast, and stands to break camp with the Pirates as a backup outfielder. His bat, however, is most charitably described as a work in progress.  Here he was working to make some progress.  This is one of my favorite drills to watch. They’re pros and I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but I kept wondering whether the coach wasn’t worried about taking one off his forehead. In fact, as I moved in to snap this picture, I kept wondering whether I would take one off the forehead.
Milledge waits.jpgI walked to from the parking lot to the field alongside a guy from ESPN the Magazine, and as we passed the player’s parking lot and noted a much smaller number of high end vehicles than you normally see, we talked about just how anonymous the 2010 Pirates really are. One of the few names that non-Pirates fans are likely to know is Lastings Milledge, late of Washington and New York.  Milledge is an interesting case. Miscast as a centerfielder, he took a lot of heat last spring and his status as a top prospect more or less evaporated.  Still, he turns 25 next month and for the first time in his career he starts a season with a more or less set position. Pittsburgh doesn’t look anywhere close to contending, but I at least like that they’re giving guys with upside like Milledge a chance.  For what it’s worth: Milledge was running, doing extra work in the field and took extra long batting practice before the game.  It’s hard to judge these things, but he seemed serious. Focused. I’m kinda rooting for him this year.

Morris bullpen.jpgBryan Morris in the pen.  Morris was the Dodgers 1st round pick in 2006 and came over to the Pirates as part of the Jason Bay trade.  He’s had Tommy John surgery. He’s struggled since he came back from it. He got suspended by the Pirates due to “professionalism” issues after he blew up and berated an umpire in a single A game last August.  Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was watching his bullpen session very, very closely, and was almost whispering words of encouragement after every pitch. “Nice plant . . . good form; batter can’t see your release point at all . . .”  There was a zen vibe to the whole thing that I found fairly mesmerizing. If they haven’t already, someone probably needs to write the definitive book on pitching coaches.  I get the sense that dealing with pitchers is the closest thing to magic and voodoo that happens on a baseball field.

My morning rounds out of the way, I headed back up to the booth for what would be, bar none, the worst baseball game I ever saw.  Come back in about an hour to hear the gory details.

Cincinnati Reds fire Bryan Price

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The Cincinnati Reds have fired manager Bryan Price. He’ll be replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Jim Riggleman. The team also fired pitching coach Mack Jenkins. The club also added Louisville manager Pat Kelly to the staff as the new bench coach and Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin as the new big league pitching coach.

It was only a matter of time for Price, whose Reds have begun the season 3-15. This was Price’s fifth season at the helm and the Reds never won more than 76 games in any of his previous seasons, doing so in his first year, in 2014. They won 68 games in both 2016 and 2017 and 64 games in 2015. While that’s far more attributable to the Reds talent level than anything Price ever did or did not do, at some point the manager will take the fall for a team that makes no progress.

Price’s tenure will likely be considered largely forgettable in the view of history, but he did have a pretty memorable moment as Reds manager in April of 2015, when he went on a profanity-laced tirade at the media because they reported the availability or lack thereof of certain players for an upcoming game. Which is part of the media’s job, even if Price didn’t fully grok that at the time. The tirade itself was pretty epic, though, with then Cincinnati Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans reporting that “there were 77 uses of the “F” word or a variant and 11 uses of a vulgar term for feces (two bovine, one equine).” 

Taking over will be Jim Riggleman, who last managed in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, resigning in June of 2011 because he was unhappy that he did not get a contract extension. It was a weird episode, the sort of which a lot of guys couldn’t have come back from, perhaps being considered quitters. Riggleman took a job managing the Reds’ Double-A team, however, then moved on to Triple-A and then the Reds’ big league coaching staff. There’s something to be said for persistence. And for being a big league lifer.

Anyway, Price’s exit is not likely to change the Reds’ course too much in 2018. But, as it is so often said in baseball, sometimes you gotta make a change all the same.