Spring Training day 2: Back in the old stomping grounds

It was really, really nice to be back at Cardinals camp today, seeing familiar faces, treading familiar ground and of course having lunch at Pyrogrill. The Cards even worked out inside the stadium, so I got to set foot in there one more time. Definitely a treat. Headed to Viera tomorrow, and then over to the western coast of Florida after that.

A few nuggets from today’s camp. If you want more details, head over to Cardinals.com for David Villavicencio’s notebook. David filled in for Jenifer Langosch, who received a well-earned day off.

* As I was walking back from watching some of the prospects take BP, I saw a curious sight on Field 1. There were three people on the entire field: Minor League pitching coaches Dennis Martinez and Blaise Ilsley, and Adron Chambers. Martinez would mimic a pitching motion, Chambers would take a jump from first to second, and then they would confer.

It turns out Chambers was working on his jumps, and specifically on getting down the exact number of strides to get to and from various places on the basepath. He’s also been working with Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee on base-stealing technique.

“It’s good to know how many strides does it take me to get to the base,” Chambers said. “So when I’m stealing, I can understand, OK, it took me three strides to get right there where I wanted to get. So in my head I can feel good. That’s just what I’m trying to do. Trying to get a jump and then understand how long it takes me to get to that spot. And then once I figure it out, try to get there as fast as I can.”

* Chris Carpenter was, as usual, not all that chatty about his live BP session. Carpenter can be a fascinating, thoughtful guy when you get him sitting down, but in Spring Training he often doesn’t have a lot to say. He made one rather interesting point this afternoon, though.

Though Carpenter doesn’t often throw a four-seam fastball in games, he’s throwing only four-seamers at this point. The idea is that he first trains himself to locate the four-seamer in certain “lanes,” as he put it. You throw it to those points, locate it, and then you start cutting and sinking the ball. For him, throwing a cutter or sinker to a spot at this point is not necessarily valuable because you end up aiming at the wrong place. Throw the straight one, to a spot, and then start worrying about making it move.

* A much shorter version of this quote appears in the story I just filed to MLB.com on Yadier Molina’s contract, but here’s the whole thing. I asked Mike Matheny about whether catching gets more draining/grinding/difficult as you get into your 30s, and he said it doesn’t have to be.

“I think I had my best season at 35, so it depends on how you go about your business. It depends on being blessed with health and staying on top of it. I’ve got to tell you, he’s worked harder this year than I’ve ever seen him work. There’s just something about some people. No matter how much they’re acknowledged, how many things they acquire as far as trophies on the mantel, their motivation is bigger than that. Every once in a while you come across that. I think those guys are special, and Yadi to me has been one of those guys. I think we’re going to continue to see great things from him for a long time. It’s just a matter of his body cooperating.”

* One newsy tidbit: Matheny confirmed that Shelby Miller will start Wednesday, and Adam Wainwright’s first game will be on Friday in Fort Myers.

And, finally, the playlist. Today’s is a day late, but it’s a tribute to one of my all-time favorite bands. Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of Living Colour’s amazing, challenging third album, “Stain.” So the playlist is five favorites from that album:

“Go Away”
“Ausländer”
“Never Satsfied”
“Nothingness”
“Wall”

-M. (photos to come)

Spring Training Day 1: Photos from Marlins camp

Here are some photos from today at Marlins camp…

 

Mark Buehrle throws a pitch in live batting practice

 

On a generally pretty day, the skies threatened for a little while.

 

Hall of Famer Tony Perez watches the workout.

 

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen looks on as his team practices.

 

Hanley Ramirez gets in place for a bunt drill.

 

Heath Bell lets a pitch go in live BP.

 

Another of Heath Bell throwing in live BP.

 

Catcher John Buck squeezes a pitch.

 

Jose Reyes watches a pitch approach in live BP.

 

Hanley Ramirez takes a ball in live BP.

Spring Training Day 1: Planet Jupiter and the Ozzie Show

Greetings from my old stomping grounds, Jupiter, Fla. I checked out Marlins camp today and I’ll be over on the Cardinals side tomorrow. A little later today, I’ll be posting some photos I took, but in the meantime, some tidbits…

* Hanley Ramirez had a rough live BP session facing Alex Sanabia. One of the first pitches he saw was up and in, caught him on the shoulder and knocked him down. He was fine, and stayed in. A little later, he broke a bat on a ball he hit into left field.

* Jose Reyes appears, from today’s sampling, to be THE guy among Marlins fans. He has a gallery like a star golfer. When he goes from one field to another, the crowd follows. And, I might say, understandably so. There aren’t many players who are actually fun to watch practice, but Reyes is one of them.

* Mark Buehrle was among the guys who threw live BP, as were Heath Bell and hard-throwing lefty Mike Dunn.

* And, of course, I got to sit in on the Ozzie Guillen Show. It is, in fact, that entertaining. Much of it simply can’t be put up here, not even paraphrased or with …’s. Ozzie works blue. A few nuggets from his session…

* Talking about games starting very soon: “[That's when] the good things start. This is boring. That’s the fun. It’s fun to see people compete.”

* On Ramirez playing third base, and the fact that Ramirez is finding that the ball gets on you a lot quicker at third base than at shortstop: “Good. You don’t have a chance to think. Just grab it and throw it.”

* On retiring managers: “I wish I could do like Tony [La Russa]. Win a championship and go home. That’s awesome.”

* On tomorrow’s fan event in Miami: “We lead the league in fan fests.”

 

For more and better Marlins news, you should of course check Marlins.com and Joe Frisaro’s blog and twitter feed.

Lucky Seven: Two is a streak

Welcome to the second non-StL-centric edition of Lucky Seven. Let’s get rolling, shall we?

 

1. Pardon me a little synergy here. In this article, I examined some of the various candidates for the title of best player in baseball. In your  mind, who’s the best right now?

 

2. Heck, while we’re at it, who’s the best pitcher in the game?

 

3. Which team will employ A.J. Burnett when Spring Training games start?

 

4. A lot of you named the Phillies last week as the NL’s best team. Which NL East team will give them the most trouble this year?

 

5. Granting that the MLB All-Star game is the best (c’mon, you know this is true), which is second-best? NBA, NHL, or Pro Bowl?

 

6. Last really great meal you had at a restaurant?

 

7. Best novel you’ve read recently?

 

-M.

The Express, the Rocket, the Can, the Can’s sister, and me (and my parents).

Note: This is the first in what hopefully will be a recurring series of anecdotes from my life as a baseball fan and a person working within the game.

As I may or may not have mentioned in this space before, I grew up a Red Sox fan, and to a lesser extent a Braves fan (big league sports didn’t really exist in Florida then, except for the Dolphins and Bucs, so everybody just really picked teams to follow; one of my best friends was a Blue Jays fan). Team fandom pretty much goes out the door once you have a beat, so those alliances are long gone for me in 2012, but from childhood till about age 28 I lived and died with the fortunes of the Red Sox. Two years after I stopped following them, they won the World Series, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway. Though I grew up in Florida and lived there for the vast majority of my pre-adult years, we spent one year living in Norman, Okla. — my ninth-grade year, from summer of 1988 to summer of 1989. I had seen the Red Sox play in person once or twice before, but obviously from Florida there weren’t a lot of chances to do so, other than Spring Training.

From Oklahoma, though, it was another matter. Arlington was about a three-hour drive away, and so I began lobbying my parents to make the trip down when the Sox came to town. Bless them, they said yes, and we began making plans to drive down for a Sunday afternoon game at old Arlington Stadium.

And then I started paying attention to the pitching rotations. And counting five days and five days out. And it became clear that we were in for a treat. It was this game. Follow the link, check that pitching matchup, and come back for the rest.

That’s pretty cool. It was the first time the two Texas legends had pitched against each other, and in Texas, no less.

I don’t remember a whole lot of very specific details about the game itself, aside from Palmeiro’s homer, the outcome and the thrill of being there for a historic occasion. I do remember being very close to the Rangers’ bullpen, which was along the third-base line, and seeing (and hearing) Nolan Ryan warm up. That’s still one of my most vivid memories, ever, at a ballpark. Even at 42 (holy cow, FORTY TWO YEARS OLD, and he was still four years from being finished), Ryan could absolutely bring it, and being up close to see him fire laser-beam fastballs and evil breaking stuff was really cool.

But that’s not the reason I thought of this game today. Oil Can Boyd has been in today’s news, and not in a good way. Once again, news about the Can is sad, which is unfortunate for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he was a really good and entertaining pitcher, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him pitch for longer.

After the game, my parents once again humored me by coming with me to wait outside the Red Sox clubhouse so I could try to get autographs as the players went to the bus. Clemens signed but barely stopped. Dwight Evans, my favorite player at the time (and one of my all-time favorite players still to this day), signed. For the most part it was tough going, though.

Then a woman approached us… enthusiastically. I was, being a 14-year-old fan, decked out in Red Sox gear. And she came up to us and acted like we were dear, long-lost old friends. She practically yelled how happy she was to see any other Red Sox fans at the park, that people gave her a hard time in the stands, and just generally chatted us up for a while.

She was very friendly, very animated, and had an accent that made it clear she wasn’t from Boston. I think she actually may have hugged me, but if she didn’t, rest assured she may as well have. She asked us where we were from, what we were doing there, all that. She saw my baseball cards that I was waiting to get signed.

Then the conversation started to wrap up, and she started heading toward the clubhouse. And she asked me for my Oil Can Boyd card. She was his sister, she told us. She took the card, took it in, and Can signed it and personalized it. She brought it back out with a smile and put it in my hands.

I’ve been an Oil Can fan ever since, and I’m still pulling for him in whatever he does next.

-M.

Lucky Seven: It’s bad, it’s nationwide

I’m beginning to get some feel for what the new assignment is going to look like. First big project will run a week from today, and there will be stories between now and then as well. Additionally, though, I think that being off the beat will free me up to do some different stuff from the blog.

And to resurrect some stuff that used to be on the blog, like Lucky Seven. For anyone who’s forgotten, or hasn’t seen this before, it’s pretty simple. Just answer the questions. This is your feature, not mine. One rule and one rule only: if one of the questions doesn’t interest you or appeal to you, just don’t answer. “The DH is stupid” or “I hate basketball” or “who cares about that?” doesn’t advance anything. Besides, obviously I care about it or I wouldn’t have asked.

One other thing: this blog, and this feature, obviously won’t be nearly so Cardinals-centered anymore. That starts now.

So anyway, on with the questions.

1. I count 11 teams with realistic playoff hopes in the National League. What’s the BEST team in the senior circuit as Spring Training approaches?

2. The Tigers are pretty much a consensus favorite in the AL Central. Which of the other four teams is the biggest threat to them?

3. What team improved itself the most over the winter?

4. What team will employ Roy Oswalt on Opening Day, if any?

5. Aside from Spring Training/Opening Day, what’s the next sporting event you’re really looking forward to? Masters? NCAA Tourney? NFL Draft?

6. What’s the funniest show on TV (pretty sure y’all know my vote on this one)?

7. You saw my list. What was YOUR favorite album last year?

-M.

Here we are

All:

 

The time has come, and for once I have very little idea of what to say or write. As of today, I’m no longer the Cardinals beat writer for MLB.com. I’ve handed the reins to Jenifer Langosch, who has covered the Pirates for us for the past five years, and I begin my new journey writing more national and analytical pieces for MLB.com.

 

Here’s Jenifer’s hello to all of you, and I hope you’ll take a minute and go read it. I would wish her luck, but she doesn’t need it. She’s going to do great work and I’m eager to read it.

 

I don’t really have a lot to add that I haven’t already said. This blog isn’t going away, and neither is my twitter feed. The focus will obviously be a bit different, though I’m sure some folks would argue there’s never been much of a focus to OYNAG or my twitter feed anyway. We’re not moving to New York for another couple of months. For the coming weeks, I’m going to be feeling out what exactly it is that the new job is going to look like.

 

But I just wanted to pass along, one more time, my thanks to everyone for making a truly amazing chapter in my life what it was.

 

-M.

The LONG-overdue top-10 (or so) and some housekeeping

Hello, all… First a little housekeeping:

* We have an official, formal date for the transition on the beat. Jenifer Langosch will take over in nine days, on Feb. 3. I’ll start writing in my new capacity that day. This blog should continue to exist, as should my twitter feed, but as of Feb. 3, I will no longer be MLB.com’s beat writer. If this is all news to you, check this entry for the story. We will probably be moving in April.

* Tonight at 9 p.m. CT, MLB Network will run a special on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects. Spoiler alert: there are some Cardinals on the list. So come to Cardinals.com about that same time for more on them. My good friend and longtime colleague Jonathan Mayo does great work with the prospect stuff for us, and you should definitely check it all out.

And now, on with the music.

This post gets later and later every year, which I apologize for. But hey, maybe I win some sort of prize for the last top-10 of 2011 list of any kind, anywhere.

Anyway, first a disclaimer/explanation. Actually, I’ll just re-run what I wrote in the intro to this piece last year:

If you’re not interested, just stop reading now. Won’t hurt my feelings. Head over to Cardinals.com for the news on Jason Motte’s contract and all the other stuff we’ve had there in recent days and weeks. … I know this is a baseball blog, but as I’ve made clear over the years, I also always intended it to be a little more than that. So thank you for indulging me. And most of all, thanks for reading all of it — blog, stories, everything — and for taking the time to comment and keep me on my toes. 

In past years, my wife and I have done two separate posts. This year, she has simply emailed her list, which is a top-11 (I DO WHAT I WANT, she notes). So here it is. I’m not sure we’ve ever had so little overlap in our favorite albums in a year:

1. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit–Here We Rest
2. TV on the Radio–Nine Kinds of Light

3.  Gillian Welch–The Harrow and the Harvest
4. The Decemberists–The King is Dead
5. R.E.M.–Collapse Into Now
6. Ha Ha Tonka–Death of a Decade
7. Wild Flag–Wild Flag
8. Cut Copy–Zonoscope
9. Foo Fighters–Wasting Light
10.Cold War Kids–Mine is Yours
11. Childish Gambino–EP
And now mine. Like Erin, I had a very hard time narrowing down to 10. Unlike last year, there weren’t a lot of records that just FLOORED me. But there was an absolute ton of albums that I really enjoyed. I heard more than 20 albums this year that, in some years, could have cracked my top 10.
As it is, I went with 11 just as Erin did. Could EASILY have been 14.
11. Buffalo Tom, “Skins” – Much better than their last one, “Three Easy Pieces,” and it felt like something out of their 1990s heyday (in a good way, not in an overly retro way). Love this band, always have, and this fits right in with a fantastic catalog.
10. Frank Turner, “England Keep My Bones” – A first-listen grabber. I love his voice, love his sound.
9. Drive-By Truckers, “Go-Go Boots” – A bit of a disappointment at first listen, because I prefer rocker DBT to slow-and-quiet DBT. But it’s a great collection of Patterson Hood songs, and the high points are incredibly high (I think “Mercy Buckets” was my favorite song of the year).
8. Ha Ha Tonka, “Death of a Decade” – Big ups to a band from Springfield, Mo. They do the same things that a lot of other bands do, in broad strokes. But they do ‘em SO well that I couldn’t stop listening to this album.
7. Jay-Z/Kanye West, “Watch the Throne” – Overhyped, and then there was a backlash. So what. Great record, one of two albums I listened to more than any other this year (the other one is No. 1).
6. Cold War Kids, “Mine Is Yours” – This year’s grower. First listen was meh. Second and third were meh. It was poorly received critically. And I kept giving it more listens and it kept growing on me. Lots of people really didn’t care for this album, including (especially?) CWK fans. I loved it.
5. Black Keys, “El Camino” – A late entry, but another that I had a really hard time taking out of my CD player.
4. Foo Fighters, “Wasting Light” – Maybe too low. Another grower, an album I really dug on the first few listens but then totally grabbed me in the past couple months. “These Days” was another of my 4-5 favorite songs of the year.
3. Wild Flag, “Wild Flag” – This took two listens. First one, I didn’t quite feel it. Second one, I was hooked. Loved Sleater-Kinney and I love this.
2. The Horrible Crowes, “Elsie” – It’s no secret that I don’t love the Gaslight Anthem as much as I feel like I ought to. If you’re a Springsteen fan, a Hold Steady fan, it’s just assumed that you’ll love tGA too. I like them. I don’t love them. But this album… wow. Grabbed me on first listen, I kept coming back to it. Just felt so much more relaxed, less just-so than how Gaslight feels to me. If there’s some of this feel on the next tGA album, color me VERY excited.
1. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Here We Rest” – In short, this is the record I’ll remember this year by. Probably listened to it more than any other two albums this year combined. One fantastic song after another. It grabbed me on first listen, and it stuck with me.
-M.

Club confirms Motte agreement

The Cardinals have confirmed a Wednesday afternoon report that they have agreed to terms with right-hander Jason Motte. The deal is worth $1.95 million according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who first reported that a pact was in place.

That would exactly split the difference between what the club offered and what Motte requested when arbitration figures were submitted earlier this month.

Motte, who emerged as the club’s closer late in 2011, requested $2.4 million. The club offered $1.5 million. As a matter of policy, the Cardinals do not divulge contract terms.

Motte was the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Cardinal. As a result, the team will avoid arbitration for the 13th straight winter. The team has not gone to a hearing since 1999, when it won its case against left-hander Darren Oliver.

-M.

Final round of Warm-Up tidbits: Beltran edition

Carlos Beltran was engaging and entertaining over his session chatting with us before he signed. A few tidbits:

 

* Beltran will wear No. 3.

 

* He didn’t express any real preference as to a spot in the batting order.

“I’ve hit second in the past, a little bit with the Mets, a little bit with Houston. I don’t mind. As players sometimes you go through situations where you’re swinging the bat well and the manager feels that he wants to hit you third or fourth. That’s his decision. I’m just going to come to the ballpark every day prepared to play, and wherever he needs me, I’ll be there.”

 

* Asked about the finalists to sign him, Beltran named the Indians, Rays and Giants along with the Cardinals.

 

* He explained that the easiest thing last year, with Angel Pagan around as a capable center fielder for the Mets, and Beltran recuperating from knee trouble, was just to go ahead and move him to right field from the start.

“Let me play right field and let Pagan play center field, and if later on in the season you need me playing center, then you know, I’m fine. I have played center for 12 years and I feel very comfortable playing center. But moving to right, it was an easy transition for me. So if they need a center fielder, I will prepare myself to be there.”

 

* Finally, I asked him about something J.D. Drew said a few years ago: that for a player with knee trouble, center field could actually be easier on the knees than right field. Drew’s contention was that in center, you can sort of glide to a stop, whereas in right field you sometimes have very sudden stops, which is difficult on the knees. It’s fair to say that Beltran doesn’t agree.

“No way. There’s no way, because you have to cover right center. You have to cover left center. You have to cover a groundball to second base. You have to cover a groundball to shortstop. In right field, a ball to left field, I just stand.”

 

That’ll about wrap it up. They’re not bringing any more players in today. We’ll have two full stories on the site, about Allen Craig and about Beltran, as well as a notebook and plenty of video. Hope you’ve enjoyed all of the content this weekend.

-M.

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