Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 3

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Pirates Pen.jpgThis was an ugly, ugly game. Highlights, such as they were:

  • As I sat down in the box I realized that the netting behind the backstop was lower than the already fairly low pressbox level.  During the course of the game three or four foul balls came in my general direction, each time banging loudly on the metal roof or facade of the box, scaring the tuna salad out of me.
  • As the National Anthem was being sung, the Pirates’ employee who seemed to be in charge of everything going on that day saw that one of the padded panels on the outfield wall had fallen down. He jumped on his walkie talkie and started stage managing. In the space of, like, 25 seconds, he had (a) dispatched a couple of members of the grounds crew to fix the wall; (b) got someone else to go tell John Russell and the umpires about the panel and to not start the game yet; (c) spotted a plastic bag floating across the field and got someone else to run out and retrieve it; and (d) watched the guy retrieve it and reminded everyone on the line to NOT walk over the pitcher’s mound if you have to go out on the field. The dude was just hyper-competent. If they could bottle whatever moxy he has and distribute it throughout the rest of the organization the Pirates wouldn’t be in nearly the dire straits they’re in these days.
  • In the top of the second, Jose Tabata badly misplayed a fly ball to center, allowing the batter to circle the bases for what was ruled a single and a three base error. The next batter hit one right back out to him, he was once again turned around, the ball dropped for what was called a double simply because Tabata didn’t get close enough to even really say that he made a play on it.  To be fair to Tabata, the winds were whipping terribly yesterday, but none of the other outfielders seemed to have the kind of trouble he was having.
  • Carl Crawford hit a long, long home run to left centerfield. Almost landed in Tampa. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Yankees’ camp to get the lay of the land before he starts training there next spring.  The next batter, Pat Burrell, hit a home run to the same part of the park, also a long shot. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Tampa too. There are a lot of senior citizen communities up that way so maybe he was scouting his 2011 spring home too.
  • Though the writers in the box said that the Pirates’ media lunch was
    good as far as those things go, I skipped it. Even if the food is
    decent, these catered, chafing dish affairs remind me too much of those
    rubber chicken lunches at political events I used to have to attend for
    my job and those working lunches in law firm conference rooms. I went
    down to the concourse and got a hot dog and a Pepsi instead. Bonus: I
    talked baseball with a couple of fans who were eating too.  Columbus,
    Ohio is not a baseball town, and though I “talk” baseball all day with
    you guys here, I don’t get a chance to chat casually and face to face
    about the game that much when I’m home. This was a treat.
  • Because the Rays were playing with a split squad — the rest of the team was playing the Blue Jays yesterday — the bullpen
    coach,
    Bobby Ramos coached third base. Between innings one time they did the
    old t-shirt launch thing along the third base line. One of the shirts
    misfired and landed near Ramos. He picked it up and started walking it
    toward the stands. Then he put it behind his back. He did this, like,
    five times, taunting the fans who soon began to boo him. Ramos had a
    huge grin on his face. Any chance he had at becoming my favorite
    bullpen coach was dashed, however, when he gave in and threw the shirt
    into the stands.  We don’t have enough heels in baseball. I think we’d
    be better off with a few Mr. Fujis or Bobby Heenans.

  • As the game dragged on there were a lot of substitutions. They led to near-bedlam in the pressbox. Overheard: “Jonson’s in.”  “Wait, is that Dan Johnson?” “No, I think it’s Elliot Johnson.” “Too damn many Johnsons around here.”
  • Top of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez pops a foul behind the plate. He audibly registers his disgust at himself. The wind whips, however, and catcher Hector Giminez can’t get it.  Rodriguez then does some little nod-with-a-fist-pump thing that seemed a bit out of line. Rodriguez took the next pitch which seemed to be way inside from where I was sitting. John Hirschbeck rang him up anyway, and I can’t help but think he did so as a means of getting Giminez’s back. Not that he’d ever admit it or anything.
  • Around the sixth inning the game just flew off the rails. Lots of home runs — understandable with the wind — but it was dragging in every other possible way as well.  The best thing that happened during the game after the sixth: someone sent me this picture to remind me of what the Pirates were like back when they were totally cool.
  • As the game drew to a close, a man in the pressbox said “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the absolute worst game I’ve ever seen.”  I think I have to agree with him: worst game I ever saw too.  The final score was 16-15 in favor of the Rays. There was bad defense.
    Nearly every count went 3-1 or 3-2, sometimes because the pitchers
    didn’t have control, sometimes because Hirschbeck’s strike zone
    seemed rather erratic. The game lasted three hours and forty-one
    minutes and actually felt longer than that.

But here’s that epiphany I mentioned earlier this morning: I am damn, damn lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. The worst baseball game of my life was 100 times better than the best day I ever had in an office.  It was awful baseball, sure, but it was baseball. In a nice, unassuming little park, with the smells of hot dogs and beer and fresh cut grass and the sounds of the bat cracking and, jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, I could go on with those cliches all day.

As I drove back to Tampa, I was tired and weary and stuck in traffic. And you couldn’t peel the grin off my face.

Kolten Wong lashes out after losing his starting role with the Cardinals

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Kolten Wong is no longer the only second baseman being considered for a starting role on the Cardinals’ roster, and he’s not happy about it. On Saturday, GM John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny hinted that Wong could lose playing time to Jedd Gyorko or Greg Garcia in 2017 — in other words, an infielder who brings a little more pop at the plate. Prior to the Cardinals’ game against the Marlins on Sunday, Wong gave his heated response to the media. Via Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

I don’t think you give somebody a contract for no reason,” Wong said. “When you are given a contract, you are expected to get a chance to work through some things and figure yourself out. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, all these guys never figured their stuff out until later on down the road. It’s the big leagues. It’s tough, man. For me, the biggest thing is I just need people to have my back. When that comes, it will be good. But, I think right now, it’s just staying with my play, understanding I’m working toward getting myself more consistent, understanding what kind of player I can be. If that’s going to be with another team, so be it.

When pressed, Wong said that he would rather be traded away from St. Louis than step into a limited role with the team. “I don’t want to be here wasting my time,” he told the press. “I know what kind of player I am. If I don’t have the belief here, then I’ll go somewhere else.” The 26-year-old was inked to a five-year, $25.5 million extension prior to the 2016 season, complete with a $12.5 million option and $1 million buyout.

Part of Wong’s frustration stems from the Cardinals’ backtracking on their stated commitment to him as their starting second baseman last winter. Mozeliak admitted that while Wong had the defensive tools necessary to hold down the position, he failed to impress at the plate. It’s an argument that Wong hasn’t been able to rebut this spring, going 8-for-44 with two extra bases and 10 strikeouts in camp. He hasn’t looked much better in the regular season, sustaining a career .248/.309/.370 batting line with a .678 OPS and 5.1 fWAR over four years with the organization.

Still, the second baseman feels that he should have been given some heads up that he was playing to keep his starting role this spring, admitting that he entered camp with the mentality of someone who had a guaranteed spot on the Cardinals’ roster and not someone whose job security was dependent on his day-to-day results. “I need the time to consistently figure out how to be me and succeed at this level,” said Wong. “Everybody goes through it. Not everybody is Mike Trout.”

The Tigers are trying to convert Anthony Gose into a pitcher

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Tigers’ center fielder Anthony Gose wants to try his hand at pitching, according to comments made by manager Brad Ausmus on Sunday. Gose is poised to start the year in Triple-A Toledo after receiving a midseason demotion to Double-A last summer following an altercation with Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon.

While the experiment won’t detract from Gose’s outfield work in Triple-A, the 26-year-old is expected to take on additional bullpen sessions throughout the year. According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the left-handed hitter last took the mound in high school, where his fastball was clocked as fast as 97 m.p.h. Gose ultimately rejected the idea of starting his professional career as a pitcher, despite receiving favorable assessments from scouts.

Ausmus said the idea first surfaced at the end of the 2016 season. It appears to be a fallback option for the outfielder, who has struggled at the plate over his five-year career in the majors. Via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:

Doolittle in Oakland did it and he was in the big leagues a couple of years later,” Ausmus said. “It’s going to take some time. He’s going to have to be a sponge and catch up on experience fast. But we feel it’s worth investigating.