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.

Video: Benches empty after Yankees, Blue Jays trade beanballs at the Rogers Centre

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 22:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees throws during the seventh inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 22, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Emotions are apparently high all around baseball, not just in Miami. In Toronto, the emotion was anger between the Yankees and Blue Jays.

Josh Donaldson was hit by a Luis Severino 1-1, 97 MPH fastball with one out in the bottom of the first inning. In the top of the second, J.A. Happ threw to fastballs back-to-back that were up and in to Chase Headley. The second one hit him. The Yankees, understandably, were not too happy about it, but order was quickly restored and play resumed with home plate umpire Todd Tichenor issuing warnings to both teams. The Yankees would finish the inning without scoring a run.

In the bottom of the second, Severino began the inning with two up and in fastballs at Justin Smoak. Both Severino and manager Joe Girardi were ejected and the benches emptied again, this time with more anger. There was some yelling as well as some pushing and shoving.

It doesn’t appear that Severino appeared to intentionally hit Donaldson, but he very clearly intended to retaliate against Smoak. Happ has issued retaliatory beanballs before in defense of Donaldson. He did so on April 23 against the Athletics. Donaldson hit a home run in the second inning and was hit by a Liam Hendriks pitch in the sixth. Khris Davis led off the next inning for the A’s and Happ hit him with a pitch. Plus, Happ’s two pitches to Headley were both up and in.

Severino and Happ are likely looking at fines. There’s a possibility of suspensions as well. Happ, however, was not ejected from the game.

Marlins, Mets pay tribute Jose Fernandez prior to Monday’s game

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A memorial outside of Marlins Park in honor of late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez before the game against the New York Mets on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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As expected, the Marlins and Mets paid their respect to pitcher Jose Fernandez prior to the start of Monday night’s game at Marlins Park. It was emotionally charged and very tough to watch without becoming a sobbing mess.

The stadium was as quiet as a library even before the P.A. requested a moment of silence. The Marlins’ players rubbed the chalk line, just as Fernandez used to do. The starters — sans starting pitcher Adam Conley — rallied around the pitchers’ mound. The Mets’ players poured out onto the field and removed their caps as the National Anthem was played.

Once the anthem was completed, the stadium remained quiet. The Mets and Marlins formed lines and went through hugging each player. The fans began chanting, “Jose, Jose, Jose!”

The rest of the Marlins joined the starters and they wrapped around the edge of the dirt on the pitcher’s mound. Some of them drew in the dirt with their fingers. Others rubbed dirt on their pants. Then, they huddled and Giancarlo Stanton gave a motivational speech of sorts. The players came in close and they all put their index fingers in the middle, pointed up at the sky, and broke the huddle to begin the game.

There is crying in baseball.