Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 4

Leave a comment

Remember that thing Tom Verducci wrote back in December about how the Phillies are turning into the Yankees?  I thought that probably overstated things, but there is at least one thing they have in common: Obstructed press box views in their spring training ballparks:

Press Box Clearwater.JPGI was able to position myself to where I could see most of the field and crane my neck to see the parts I missed, but given how the Phillies seemed to get almost every detail right at Bright House Field, I was surprised to see this kind of thing. Of course, the fans don’t have obstructed views, so maybe this was an intentional move designed to screw with reporters a bit. If so, I’ll give Philly credit for either excellent priorities or a nice, if somewhat harsh, sense of humor.

By the way, the dude on the left in that pic is Buster Olney. A minute after that picture was taken, Olney opened the window in front of him and returned to that exact chin-in-hand position. A minute after that a foul ball bounced off the facade of the press box and somehow ricocheted through the window. Olney caught it with his left hand without otherwise budging. It was a pretty swift move. Certainly the coolest thing you’ll ever see Olney do, and certainly swifter than some of the reporting he did regarding the Phillies that day.

By the way: Ruben Amaro called Olney’s Howard-for-Pujols rumor “lies.”  Who knows where Buster came up with that one, but I did see Olney talking to a bunch of Philly reporters earlier that morning. I have no idea what they were saying, but I’d like to think that the Philly guys were peddling that stuff to Olney to see what he’d do with it. I further imagine that when Olney’s report went live yesterday they all called each other to say “Ha! Olney bought it!”

Anyway, there was a game on Saturday:

  • Jamie Moyer wasn’t with the Phillies. Reason: The rain messed with the schedule and to keep him on track they scheduled him to pitch against the Blue Jays’ b-team up in Dunedin today.  For the third time this spring. I’m not big on predictions, but if the Phillies and Jays meet in the World Series, and the plane carrying the Jays’ starters goes down in a cornfield, thus pressing the backups into service, I’m giving the edge to the Phillies. Moyer probably owns them by now. (UPDATE: Or not).

  • As the game began the wind was blowing out to right at approximately 158 m.p.h. Carl Pavano was the Twins’ starter. As such, I predicted 12 Ryan Howard home runs. Sadly he didn’t deliver.

  • Oh, forgot this bit from before the game: The Phillies were taking infield practice when the coach hitting the fungoes yells out “$500 for a perfect infield!”  As soon as he said that, Ryan Howard bobbled an easy one. Then Utley threw one away. Then Polanco bobbled one. By this time they’re all laughing their heads off and can barely field the ball.  During the game: no infield errors for the Phillies.

  • Jimmy Rollins came to the plate to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” I have no idea if he was doing that before, but this was the first time I had noticed it. Either way, I like Jimmy Rollins about 123% more now than I did before Saturday.

  • The grounds crew dragged the infield after every two innings, which is way more frequent than you usually see. Bonus: no “YMCA,” “Thank God I’m a County Boy” or “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Grounds crew members are professionals. Maybe some of them like that song and dance stuff, but I bet more of them prefer to simply do their jobs.

  • So much for the wind: both Carl Pavano and J.A. Happ were on point. Pavano threw a perfect three innings. Happ only gave up one hit and struck out three in four innings. The game hummed by.  Way crisper and regular-season feeling than any game I saw last week.

  • Best beer guy of the spring was at Bright House too: “Beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!” He sounded like he could have been a member of the Asylum Street Spankers.

  • Official attendance: 10,501,
    which is largest in Phillies spring training history. This is the second time that has happened at a game I attended last week, the first being at the Twins-Cardinals game. I had no idea I was so popular.

  • Shane Victorino made a two base error that allowed a run to score, but it was nice to see him replace his divot in the OF grass.

  • Antonio Bastardo came into the game and quickly blew up, allowing four runs on five hits in a single inning of work. You may be surprised to hear that some fans began doing a clever little play on words with his last name. Bet he’s never heard that before.

  • Jacque Jones came into the game to play right field. According to the little media notes they handed out, Jones is 10th all time in homers for the Twins. I never would have guessed that in 100 years.

  • Matt Tolbert had a hell of a day after coming in to spell Orlando Hudson at second. In a single inning:  average-speed grounder hit to him and he pulls a Roger Dorn Ole job on it to put a runner on first. Next up: infield popup. The infield fly rule is in effect so it doesn’t matter if Tolbert catches it or not, but it is an easy fly and he drops it. Couple plays later, no runner on first this time, popup to second. Alexi Casilla runs over from short, ignores Tolbert’s “I got it” and catches the ball himself, saying more or less everything that needed to be said about Tolbert’s defense. Orlando Hudson: you are in no danger of losing your starting job late this season.

  • Cody Ransom comes in for the Phillies and hits a home run. Between the homer and the fact that he doesn’t have to talk to the feds about Dr. Galea, the New York tabloids dust off last year’s stories and begin their “Ransom should start at third instead of Planco” campaign.

  • Jose Contreras
    came in to pitch. Between him, Thome and Raul Ibanez, there were three guys in the game older
    than me. That doesn’t happen too much these days.

  • Pat Neshek came in to pitch for the Twins. His windup and delivery is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
  • I decided that I had had enough of catered press lunches, so I went out onto the concourse during the game to grab something to eat:

Horsemeat and Velveeta.JPGThat, my friends, is a horsemeat and Velveeta sandwich from Delco’s. Old Gator can pretend he doesn’t like them, but I think he’s just trying to start arguments. Either that or he’s crazy. Best ballpark food I had all week.  Oh, and the stuff in the cup? Um, something must be wrong with the color on my camera because I was drinking soda. Yeah, that’s it, soda. Any resemblance to Yuengling is completely coincidental. I was working after all, and you certainly can’t drink a tasty, tasty beer while working on a sunny Saturday afternoon when there’s a baseball game happening. No siree. That would be wrong.

Game ended with the Phillies beating the Twins 5-4. It was over in a cool 2:28 (would have been 1:57 if it weren’t for Bastardo and Tolbert). Between the size and modernity of the park and the overall quality of play in the game, I left feeling jazzed, stoked and otherwise hyped for the regular season to start. Spring training is wonderful, but bring on the games that count.

Former MLB player Andy Marte also killed in car accident

GOODYEAR , AZ - MARCH 06:  Andy Marte #15 of the Cleveland Indians looks on from the dugout during the spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Goodyear Ballpark on March 6, 2009 in Goodyear, Arizona. The Brewers defeated the Indians 17-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Compounding the tragic news of Yordano Ventura‘s passing is a report that fellow Dominican and former MLB infielder Andy Marte was also killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic early Sunday morning. The report was confirmed by Marte’s agency, J.M.G. Baseball, as well as Marte’s former MLB clubs. No further details have been released so far.

Marte, 33, appeared for the Braves, Indians and Diamondbacks from 2005 through 2014. He was ranked in the top 10 MLB prospects by MLB.com in 2005 and held a career .218/.276/.358 batting line, 21 home runs and a .634 OPS over seven seasons in the majors. He signed with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization after the 2014 season, slashing .312 with 42 home runs in 206 games.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marte’s family and teammates during this terrible time.

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.