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March 6, 2012
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
Spring Training Diary, Day 5
Day 5: 4:30 PM
On the way back to the house I was overcome with anticipation as I pored over my scouting notes from the previous week, knowing that the upcoming dictation of these thoughts would reanimate them in my mind. The process I constructed is as follows: Observe the talent on the field, and take notes on the talent using a standard issue soft-cover Finest Selection Gold Fibre notebook from Ampad, with its 80 medium-ruled sheets that are micro-perforated for neat sheet removal and a convenient 5’’ x 8’’ size, which fits neatly into my leather Wenger portfolio, which also houses several varieties of custom made hit and pitch charts, several Pentel EnerGel pens (black), a respectable stack of glossy Baseball Prospectus business cards that bear my name and my contact information, an extra AX725 AccuSplit stopwatch (yellow), and a backup legal pad, which comes as standard issue when you purchase the Wenger portfolio.
After documenting my observations, I read over the notes found in different locations within the Wenger portfolio, move the information found in the notes and pitch/hit charts from standard issue sources into hardbound notebook, with faux tortoise shell spine and college-ruled paper; transfer notes from hardbound notebook to laptop computer (MacBook Pro); read over the notes in order to fashion them to my memory; discuss memorized notes with others; and excavate specific material from notes for baseball related articles. This process keeps me sharp. It’s important to stay sharp. Be right back.
Day 5: 7:30 PM
I had to take a shower. The dirt found at the fields can be quite intrusive and sinister. If I wasn’t wise to the reality, I’d suggest the dirt had criminal intent. I have five days of proper notes, and I spent the first phase of my shower allowing those thoughts to leave my soul. It’s good to cleanse your mind of the thoughts you wish to retain.
Day 5: 7:40 PM
I already saw Japanese sensation Yu Darvish throw a bullpen session and a live round of batting practice a few days prior. Standing an undeniable 6’5’’ with a muscular and athletic build, Darvish looks the part of a power arm; add to the mix his fashionable hair tinting and his feel for pitching and you have a true on-the-field superstar. Knowing Darvish was set to throw his first “real” inning of the spring, I arrived at the field early and anxious, glossed with enough sunscreen to survive a walk on the surface of Mars. The intra-squad game was scheduled for noon, which meant 12:15, and I was on the scene with my supplies at the ready by 11:00.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by members of the Texas Rangers front office and scouting staff, a handful of fans and lunatic autograph seekers, a few random olds, a few dozen members of various Japanese media outlets, and a mix of 25-man roster players and minor leaguers, all of whom were being pursued for signatures by the lunatic autograph seekers. You know, Patricia, I understand the allure of hero worship and attempting to find a tangible connection to them, but the majority of the lunatic autograph seekers are these white, middle-aged memorabilia hunters who are only looking to enhance the value of their next eBay transaction. Most of the time, it’s not about connection, it’s about commerce. It’s a turn-off.
While I’m jockeying for position behind home plate–a desired location for proper radar gun readings and pitch evaluation–I notice several things that occupy my mind right up until first pitch:
1) Several members of the Japanese media arrived with 6ft-8ft. ladders, most likely purchased at the local Lowe’s or Home Depot. Two of the ladders were already operational, with one already housing an adult male, placed on the top step on the ladder. The ladder in question was placed directly behind the backstop in between the two sets of metal risers, and the Japanese man on the top step of the ladder was setting up a potential shot(s) on the field from his lofty perch. Behind this ladder lived another ladder, only a tad shorter and unoccupied when I noticed it. Next to the smaller ladder, holstered on the ground next to the first set of metal risers were two more ladders, backups in case more ladders were necessary in photographic situations. Members of the Japanese media carried cameras of all varieties, from monolithic video cameras capable of detailing the individual hairs that make up Darvish’s styled faux mullet to digital cameras with various accessories and attachments, which were removed and returned to specifically designed cameras bags that lined the backstop fencing area like a strip of unclaimed luggage at an airport.
2) The members of the Japanese media had a far superior sense of style and execution of style than members of the domestic media. First of all, most of them looked healthy and in shape, which comes in handy when you are trying to properly dress the body. Most wore either blue jeans or shorts, tailored to fit the frame and either pressed or recently laundered, with stylish tennis shoes of different varieties that suggested professionalism and comfort with each and every step. It was nice to witness such aesthetic effort.
3). Speaking of steps, the energy displayed by the Japanese media was kinetic and commendable; although, it didn’t take long for the non-stop display of hustle to prompt those who were less inclined to hustle to make it clear said hustle was annoying and hopefully not contagious.
Darvish walked to the mound in the third inning of the Surprise, Arizona backfield intra-squad game between the Rangers and the Rangers, and the cameras clicked and the scrum compacted in anticipation of his scheduled inning of work. It was pre-determined that he would face the top-third of the Rangers lineup, consisting of Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre. This was Darvish’s first test of the Spring, and the Rangers wanted it to count. I’m reasonably tall, so I was able to drift back from the backstop–home of the cameras, and the men with cameras on ladders, and the men with cameras next to ladders–and maintain a very clean line of sight to the mound, where Darvish now stood.
Patricia, I really wish you could have seen this. It was a spectacle and chaotic at the moment, but observing Yu Darvish’s first spring training inning was pretty cool, and I generally struggle to allow myself to feel that way, especially when I’m attempting to be objective in my observations. Being “inside” often prevents baseball-related emotion to escape “outside,” but I was able to appreciate the moment.
Darvish is very coordinated and controlled on the mound, with a calmness to his delivery and approach. He starts from the windup with a slight rock and a movement that throws his hands high above the head, coming to a resting point at the top of the arc, where they are allowed a natural drift back into his launch, which is both explosive and contained. After the drift, Darvish continues downward as he lowers into his drop, where his back will bend and his body becomes like a jack-in-the-box that compacts itself into position, only not as extreme and not as mysterious to children. Ever balanced, Darvish reaches the point of trigger and explodes forward, driving towards the plate, generating tremendous power with his stride. The arm itself works extremely well, from pickup to release, with arm speed that can stand with any pitcher in major league baseball. I can’t stress the speed of the arm enough. It’s remarkable.
The mechanics are repeatable, which allow for release point consistency and command, although Darvish wasn’t especially sharp in this regard during his inning of work. Facing Ian Kinsler, Darvish pumped several fastballs into the zone, ranging from 92-95 mph, the lower velocity showing some nice vertical action while the high-end had late horizontal wiggle as it neared the zone. Everything this guy throws has movement; sometimes it goes down, sometimes it cuts, sometimes it bores, sometimes it runs, but it always does something. This type of ball manipulation allows Darvish to make numerous weapons out of the same gun, a product of his hand speed, arm speed, hand size, extension, and overall feel.
After missing enough of the barrel to induce a weak flyout from Kinsler, Darvish gave Andrus a look at four different pitches. To open the at-bat, Darvish busted out the 66 mph slow curve, a show-me pitch thrown with similar arm speed to the fastball and a long, balloon break. It won’t be heavily featured in the arsenal, but could represent a solid “change the sightline and disrupt the bat speed”-type of offering. He followed the novelty with a lively four-seamer that bored into the hitter and missed the barrel, resulting in a foul. The next pitch was an 85 mph two-plane slider that just missed the zone; a nasty, nasty offering that already looks like a 70-grade pitch, and very well could grade out as elite. The pitch was so good it made me want to climb one of the Japanese media ladders and shout its praises. I was informed that it wouldn’t be wise to perform such an act. During the same at-bat, Darvish threw a sinking fastball at 90 mph, one that had impressive vertical dip, just missing the bottom of the zone. He retired Elvis on a 94 mph fastball that was on the same plane as the bat until it dipped below the wood at the last second, which then made Andrus want to climb the ladder behind the backstop and shout its praises.
He lost his release point during Josh Hamilton’s at-bat, which resulted in a walk, but never lost his focus, even when forced into the stretch. Maintaining not only his pace but his balanced delivery with a runner on first, Darvish forced Adrian Beltre into a weak groundout to end the inning, and the Japanese sensation walked off the mound to cameras performing in their most manic state, and the Beatles got back on the plane at JFK. It was a very brief appearance, so you shouldn’t spend too much time spelunking for meaning, but it did provide a decent snapshot of the heralded off-season addition, and it did bring with it chaos of sorts, which was entertaining and interesting, if anything.
Day 5: 10:40 PM
While certainly not as thorough as I could have been, I hope you enjoyed the business notes, Patricia. It’s fun to play dress-up and get serious for a while. I can flip the switch when necessary. I’m actually quite serious when I’m serious about work. I’ve been thinking about you more and more. I keep asking myself: When will we meet? I’ve eaten 20 Special K fruit crisp bars in the last 20 hours, which gives me just enough fuel per serving to survive until the next Special K fruit crisp bar is consumed. I have other options, and often I partake in them, but the fruit crisp is an easy 100 calorie, artificial fruit snack and I like the packaging.
I forgot to tell you that while on the way home from the stadium I saw an unattractive GMC van operating as a mobile ice-cream dispensary in an underdeveloped neighborhood. It always catches your eye when you see a personal vehicle wearing a cheap disguise in order to sell frozen treats to children under suspect circumstances. The sign on the back read: “Alaska Ice Cream,” which I assume is supposed to impress people living in a desert climate because Alaska is regarded as a cold area of the world and therefore has the best ice cream as a result. I don’t have children, but I’m going to assume I would be hesitant to let a child under my protection approach a slow-moving GMC van, with its right side-doors open to handle all consumer transactions, as it canvassed the impecunious neighborhood looking for pennies from the poor. I took a picture of the van in case I have ever decide to have children and move to the greater Phoenix area. Talk to you soon, Patricia.