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

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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.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.