March 2013

Spring Training, Day 8: Eastbound and down

Today marks my final day on the west side of the state. I’m delighted I got to make a stop at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, which is my favorite place in the Grapefruit League now that the Dodgers have left Vero Beach. Fantastic place, highly recommended.

I’ve watched the saga of the Tigers’ ninth-inning plans with interest, in part because I love the fact that they’ve been, up until now, so willing to go with a young pitcher with talent, rather than worrying about having a “Proven Closer.”

And this is just a guess — really, just a guess — but I have a hunch that much of the freaking out that’s going on right now in the coverage of the Tigers, is not reflected within the organization.

The Tigers know what Bruce Rondon did last season in the Minors. He threw really hard, struck out a bunch of guys, didn’t allow many hits or home runs, and walked too many guys. He did exactly the same thing in winter ball.

So, hey, guess what? He’s striking out a lot of guys and walking too many guys in Spring Training. In four outings, he’s been a slightly worse version of what they always knew he was.

Maybe they do decide to cut the cord. Maybe they trade for a reliever. Maybe they install Benoit or Coke or someone else in the ninth. All of that is possible. But I am, personally, dubious of the notion that 3 2/3 innings of Spring Training have significantly changed the plans of a pretty smart brain trust.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Rick Porcello was very sharp, Jarred Cosart was not, and the Tigers were able to hold on for an 8-5 win. Houston roared back after trailing 6-1, but couldn’t quite pull it out. Justin Maxwell hit a ball a very, very long way — over the berm and up onto the terrace in left field.

Quote of the day: “We played that [game] like we were being paid by the hour.” — Jim Leyland

Player of the day: Porcello. He threw hard (consistently sitting at 93) with movement and had a nice curveball. He struck out six over four shutout innings.

Miles driven: 41 so far today (but many more to come tonight), 820 for the trip.

Miles run: Still sitting on 13 1/2.

Starbucks visits: 1 so far today, 8 for the trip.

Up next: I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s task. I’ll be covering the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team in an exhibition against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. So I’m driving east across the state to Jupiter tonight, hitting the Crazy Cuban for lunch tomorrow and heading to the ballpark for what should be a fun ballgame.

And, finally, the playlist:

See the past few posts for what’s going on here, as I finally roll out my favorite albums from 2012. Today, we’ve reached the top-10. And that’s the point where my lovely wife Erin steps in and offers her selections, as well. We’ve been doing this for years upon years. For more explanation on how I’m doing this exercise this year, check out the previous three entries at this very site.

The first half of Erin’s top-10:

Purity Ring, “Grandlove” (album: Shrines)
Passion Pit, “I’ll Be Alright” (album: Gossamer)
The XX, “Fiction” (album: Coexist)
Kendrick Lamar, “[Redacted], Don’t Kill My Vibe” (album: good kid, m.A.A.d city)
Garbage, “Blood for Poppies” (album: Not Your Kind of People)

And mine:

Aimee Mann, “Charmer” (Charmer, No. 10)
Corin Tucker Band, “I Don’t Wanna Go” (Kill My Blues, No. 9)
Jamey Johnson, “I Don’t Do Windows” (Living for a Song, No. 8)
Bob Mould, “Star Machine” (Silver Age, No. 7)
Kendrick Lamar, “The Art of Peer Pressure” (good kid, m.A.A.d city, No. 6)

-M.

Spring Training, Day 7: Phirst time in Clearwater

I hadn’t been to a Spring Training game in Clearwater since sometime in the 1980s. Put it this way: the last time I saw a game here, Mike Schmidt was the starting third baseman (and he made two errors in the game!). 

So obviously this was my first time covering a game in Clearwater, and my first time at Bright House Field. They got it right. Compared to the other big-ish, new-ish facilities in Florida (Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals/Marlins, Braves), I think it’s entirely fair to say that this is the one with the most charm, the most feel. 

There’s local flavor, with stands for Clearwater’s own Frenchy’s and Pete & Shorty’s. There’s hometown Philly flavor, with cheesesteaks and a Tony Luke’s stand and places where you can get Yuengling and Victory beer. 

You would not confuse BHF with any other spring stadium, or with any other team’s facility. That, to me, says a lot. Good place. 

Today’s game in a nutshell: Both teams kicked it around a bit on defense, especially the Phillies. But Philadelphia hit the stuffing out of the ball, and that was more than enough. Ryan Howard hit a homer that left the ballpark. Domonic Brown, Jose Bautista and even Mark DeRosa went deep.

Quote of the day: “I feel like every year, everybody says it’s a big year for me.” — Colby Rasmus (look for a Rasmus feature tomorrow at BlueJays.MLB.com)

Player of the day: Howard, for that one swing. He absolutely obliterated the ball, which may well have landed on the highway outside the stadium. Off a lefty, no less. He’s fun to watch right now.

Miles driven: 26 so far today, 739 for the trip

Miles run: 0 today, 13 1/2 for the trip

Roadside sight of the day: I saw a bald eagle sitting on top of a streetlight on highway 60 on the way to the park this morning. I dunno, some of y’all may say “meh” to that, but it put a spring in my step for most of the day. A bald eagle. Awesome.

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 7 for the trip

Up next: Tomorrow morning I check out of my Tampa hotel and begin heading east. I’ll be visiting my favorite remaining Spring Training facility, Tigertown, tomorrow, then spending the first of several nights in Jupiter at the end of the day. I’m on columnist duty, so who knows what I’ll write.

Ballpark music note: They brought it pretty much all day today. Some well-chosen 90s alt-rock, some well-chosen hip-hop, but the highlight for me was Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” General life rule: it’s always good to hear “Surrender.”

And, finally, the playlist:

We’ve gotten to the top-15, right around one of the two dividing lines in this list. There was  line between 16 and 17, and there’s another one between 5 and 6. Most of the albums I have between 6 and 15 are, if not completely interchangeable, not all that far from it. There was a lot of stuff I liked this year. (And for an explanation of what in the world I’m talking about, see Friday’s and Saturday’s posts.)

Jack White, “Love Interruption” (Blunderbuss, No. 15)
The Gaslight Anthem, “Handwritten” (Handwritten, No. 14)
Craig Finn, “New Friend Jesus” (Clear Heart Full Eyes, No. 13)
Purity Ring, “Belispeak” (Shrines, No. 12)
Lucero, “Like Lightning” (Women & Work, No. 11)

-M.

Spring Training, Day 6: A good day to hit

Today was my second straight day at Dunedin, and it was a very good day to hit. With my parents in attendance (hi!), the ball was jumping out, especially in the early innings. Everything that was hit in the air, against two of the best starting pitchers in the game (Cliff Lee and R.A. Dickey), carried. Balls went to the wall, balls went over the wall.

It’s days like this that really drive home why you should never get too worked up about Spring Training performances. Lee, to my eye, actually threw the ball pretty well. But when he made mistakes, he got punished for them.

If anything sums this day up, it’s Emilio Bonifacio taking Cliff Lee deep. I’m pretty sure that’s not something you’re going to see in a game that counts.

By the way, Ryan Howard’s homer may have been wind-AIDED, but it wasn’t wind-CAUSED. It was legit, easy, opposite-field power. Quite a sight.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Extra bases for everybody! The teams combined for five homers and eight doubles as the Jays thumped the Phils, 11-6. Tyler Cloyd had a particularly rough day, giving up six runs.

Quote of the day: “He’s going after Ripken’s record.” — Charlie Manuel on Ryan Howard, who will make his ninth Grapefruit League appearance on Sunday.

Player of the day: Jose Reyes was 3-for-3 with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs. I think this kid has a chance to make it.

Miles drive: 24 so far today, 693 for the trip

Miles run: 4 1/2 today, 13 1/2 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 6 for the trip

Up next: I’ll be filling in for my esteemed colleague Gregor Chisholm on the Jays beat tomorrow. They play a “road” game at the Phillies in Clearwater. It’s such a long trip that they’ll dress, stretch, work out and take BP here in Dunedin, then hop over to Clearwater for the game.

Ballpark music note of the day: They played “Closing Time” as Ramon Ortiz came out to finish off the game in the ninth. Despite being nominally appropriate, it’s a little less then intimidating. Then again, you might say the same thing about Ramon Ortiz.

And, finally, the playlist:

(See yesterday’s post for explanation. Counting down my favorite albums from last year.)

Big Boi, “In the A” (Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, No. 20)
School of Seven Bells, “White Wind” (Ghostory, No. 19)
El-P, “Tougher Colder Killer” (Cancer 4 Cure, No. 18)
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On” (Boys & Girls, No. 17)
Henry Clay People, “EveryBandWeEverLoved” (Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives, No. 16)

-M.

Spring Training, Day 5: Also yes.

*sigh* I promised I wouldn’t make any Archer jokes. Ah well.

Pretty entertaining game in Dunedin today, despite some early-spring follies on the bases and in the field. Some good plays to balance out the iffy ones, and some nice tools on display to boot (Moises Sierra’s arm, Anthony Gose’s speed, Chris Archer’s heat).

This was the first of three straight days seeing the Blue Jays for me, which I’m looking forward to. They are, of course, a fascinating team.

I don’t really have an anecdote today, so I wanted to talk (write) a little something about seeing things in Spring Training and sample sizes and all of that.

I have a deeply-held belief that bigger samples are better. If I have 1000 at-bats that say one thing and 20 at-bats that say another, give me the 1000. So in general, I’m highly, highly skeptical of Spring Training performances. Especially this early, when you’re talking about a week’s worth of games that don’t count. Occasionally someone really has taken a step forward. It happens. But it’s exceptionally rare, and if the month of spring games isn’t telling, the real season will be.

And yet, as I go through camps, I do form impressions. It happened last year, it’s already happening again this year. I don’t think this is contradictory, for me or other people who come to cover spring, and I want to explain why.

I’m not just watching games down here. I’m constantly thinking about baseball and the teams I’m watching. I’m talking to other national writers who have been to other camps, and talking to beat writers. These are long days, and it’s basically sleep-ballpark-dinner-sleep on many days, with the occasional drive thrown in.

So I’m thinking about these teams and players to a degree, and in a way, that I haven’t even as I was writing ball over the winter. I see the Rays three times in a week, and it’s not just that I’ve seen them play three games. I’ve thought about their lineup and their rotation and their bullpen, asked people about the team, etc.

The point is not to pat myself on the back or be all “I’m here so I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.” It’s just to explain something that on its face may seem contradictory — on the one hand always warning not to make too much of spring stats, on the other telling you about impressions and opinions that I’m forming while watching spring games.

Or maybe I’m just a hypocrite.

Today’s game in a nutshell: The Jays committed three errors but hit a couple of homers, and hung runs on both of the pitchers that Tampa Bay acquired in the James Shields trade en route to a 5-4 win.

Quote of the day: “Cy Young. If I strike out 80 guys a year, is that going to [be enough]?” — Mark Buehrle, upon being asked by ESPN’s Jayson Stark what he has left to accomplish in his career.

Player of the day: Rays pitcher Chris Archer was bringing serious gas. 95-97 for strikes on his fastball, a nice slider, really impressive stuff. One hit, one strikeout, no walks in three innings. I said this on Twitter, but it was the most impressive pitching performance I’ve seen so far on the trip.

Miles driven: 22 today, 650 for the trip.

Miles run: 0 today, still on 9 for the trip

Starbucks trips: 0 today, 5 for the trip (powered by espresso over the final hour of the drive back from Port Charlotte last night)

Up next: Back here in Dunedin again tomorrow for the Jays against the Phillies. I’ll be on columnist duty again, but since I wrote Toronto today, I’ll almost certainly be doing something on the Phils tomorrow. Oh, and my parents will be there, so look for them on TV!

As an aside: BEAT PRINCETON

Ballpark music note of the day: They played the beginning of the Drive-By Truckers’ “Ronnie and Neil” when Adam Lind came up to bat for the first time. That was pretty great.

And, finally, the playlist:

So, I never did post my top albums of 2012. And it’s really too late to make it a separate post at this point. So I’m going to reveal them in playlist form over the next few days. I actually had a much different music year this year than in recent years. Due to Spotify, I heard a whole lot more albums a few times, but I didn’t hear as many albums a lot of times. If that makes sense. So the list reflects that. It’s longer, just because I came into contact with so much more music.

BTW, those of you who care about this know that my lovely bride Erin also always contributes a list. She has a much shorter list this year, so when we get to the top-10, her picks will be included. Anyway, one song each as we climb from No. 25 on up…

Red Collar, “American Me” (Welcome Home, No. 25)
Sleigh Bells, “True Shred Guitar” (Reign Of Terror, No. 24)
Killer Mike, “Anywhere But Here” (R.A.P. Music, No. 23)
Garbage, “Blood For Poppies” (Not Your Kind Of People, No. 22)
Metric, “Synthetica” (Synthetica, No. 21)

-M.

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