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.

The St. Louis Cardinals announce their first Pride Night

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The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they will hold their first Pride Night on August 25th.

A lot of teams have Pride Nights, but it’s worth noting that the Cardinals are holding one given some bad press — some fair, some unfair — they have received in recent years when it comes to matters of diversity and inclusion.

Earlier this month the club received criticism from the LGBT community due to Lance Berkman’s presence for the team’s annual Christian Day, given his past comments about transgender people and his participation in a Houston political campaign over access to public restrooms. Recently, a former Cardinals minor league player claimed he left baseball after enduring anti-gay comments from his coaches and teammates.

As club president Bill DeWitt III noted in the official announcement however, the Cardinals have hosted LGBT groups in the past. He says that the club is eager to “remind fans that everyone is welcome at Busch Stadium.” He notes that the event will raise money for the PrideSTL Scholarship Fund which, in DeWitt’s words, “help courageous students in our community.”

Nice move, Cardinals.

Johnny Cueto expected to opt-out of his deal after the season

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Johnny Cueto signed a six-year $130 million deal with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. In his first season he went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings, helping lead the Giants to the playoffs. This season has been rocky for Cueto — he’s got a a 4.42 ERA in 15 starts and has battled blisters — but they’ve been far rockier for the Giants overall, as they sit in last place in the NL West and have the second worst record in baseball.

Many suspect that the Giants will either rebuild or, at the very least, restructure some in response to this nightmare year. If so, they’re likely going to be doing it with Cueto, who Jon Heyman reports is going to opt-out of his deal:

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but he would listen to any extension offer . . . Cueto has $84 million to go over four years. It would probably take an injury or major slump for Cueto not to opt out. But it makes sense that he will.

Heyman says the Giants are not inclined to give him an extension, so expect to see Cueto on the free agent market three days after the World Series ends, which is the deadline for him to exercise his opt-out rights.