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February 26, 2013

Western Front

Even Writers Need Spring Training

by Geoff Young

Spring training is finally here again. Games are on television. It is exciting, but in truth, these early games are rough to watch. The first pitch I saw in 2013 was from Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg to Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. The ball landed over the left-center-field fence. As a friend remarked on Facebook, “Now, Strasburg knows which part of the strike zone Tejada hits for power.”

Sure, but does anyone want to see Strasburg serve up homers to a hitter like Tejada? Actually, the answer to that is an emphatic yes. Among those who might want to see such a thing are:

  • Friends and family of Tejada
  • Mets fans
  • People who root for the underdog
  • People who like surprises
  • People who are grateful to be watching baseball on television in February

The list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. Tejada owns a 667 OPS in roughly 1,100 career plate appearances and wasn't much better (689 OPS) in about 1,900 minor-league plate appearances. Tejada has hit 16 professional homers, one of which came last season, when he took San Francisco's Matt Cain deep to lead off an August 1 game.

Cain is a pretty good pitcher, last time I checked. But these things happen. I once saw Strasburg surrender a mammoth home run to Taylor Teagarden in college. Teagarden at least hit 27 bombs in a minor-league season and has 18 in his big-league career.

Put a bat in a guy's hands and he becomes dangerous. Just ask Rick Camp.

I had to go out and do life things shortly after the Tejada homer. I got to see the on-field interview with Mets outfielder Mike Baxter, which was nice because Baxter was always a favorite of mine when he played at Lake Elsinore. I've forgotten what he said, but he seemed well-spoken, and I'm glad that he's getting a chance to have a career in New York. It's hard not to pull for guys you saw in the minors.

My most vivid memory of Baxter is probably not the same as yours. In March 2007, at Maryvale, Baxter fouled a ball through the screen behind home plate. It struck then-Padres GM Kevin Towers in the face, breaking his nose and chipping teeth. Towers was seated two rows in front of me.

Spring training. The screen was not in the best shape of its life.

* * *

On Sunday, I watched a few innings of the Astros and Phillies. Actually, it was Saturday's game, but at 6 a.m., I'll take whatever baseball I can get.

I figured it would be good to familiarize myself with the newest member of the AL West. Plus I was getting desperate for article ideas. I even took some notes:

  • Justin Maxwell led Houston in home runs last year?
  • Chris Carter could be fun.
  • Lucas Harrell is struggling to command his sinker. He is constantly behind in the count.
  • Nice job by Chase Utley going first to third on a grounder to second off the bat of Ryan Howard with the shift in effect and nobody covering the bag. The Astros should fix that.
  • Phillies open the season against Kansas City? So wrong.
  • Phillies announcers are trying to sell interleague play on Opening Day as a good idea. It's part of their job, but ouch.
  • That's a terrible throw home by J.D. Martinez, way up the line on a Yuniesky Betancourt single.
  • Betancourt singled? Sweet, there's my story.
  • The Astros have a pitcher named Xavier Cedeño. That is the most Astros name ever.
  • Speaking of which, I still need to write something about Cesar Cedeño, but what?
  • Darren Ruf is having a terrible time playing left field, which is the sort of thing that happens when you stick a first baseman out there. I'm resisting the urge to make puns about his “rough” fielding, but in the end, the urge is just too much to overcome.
  • Gary Matthews Sr. is in the booth, talking about hitting coaches. Wally Joyner in a Phillies uniform seems weird. Matthews notes that Sammy Sosa wasn't interested in his hitting instruction until after Sosa was caught using an illegal bat. Funny how that works.

These are not the best notes I've ever taken. But I'm not as young as I once was (let me tell you about my lucky knee), and even writers need spring training. I'll be good to go once the games count.

* * *

Seeing Matthews reminds me of the time I spent the better part of a Padres homestand sitting behind his son in the right-field stands. Before the 1999 season, I'd estimated when Tony Gwynn would collect his 3,000th hit and figured it would come in early June, so I bought tickets to several games.

But Gwynn landed on the disabled list, and so I got to watch Gary Matthews Jr. and the late Mike Darr patrol right field instead. Even Phil Nevin for a game, which I had forgotten on account of that is not the sort of thing one wants to remember.

Gwynn, meanwhile, got his hit in front of 13,540 people in Montreal in August. Also in attendance was Gwynn's former college teammate, Kerwin Danley, the first-base umpire. This led to one of the few times you will ever see a player hug an umpire on the field. Maybe off the field, but I wouldn't know about that.

Gwynn's son later ruined a perfectly good 2007 season for the Padres by hitting a triple off closer Trevor Hoffman late in the year. Tony Jr. sports a career 630 OPS. That's 52 points lower than Betancourt's if you're keeping score at home.

* * *

A friend complains on Twitter about Bull Durham: “Some people love the rambling, grandiose monologs. I don't at all.”

My response, which should be self-evident to anyone who has read this far: “...as someone given to rambling, grandiose monologs, I can't criticize.”

* * *

I haven't liveblogged a baseball game in a while. I tried a few years ago, during a Red Sox/Yankees game on Opening Day, but lost interest after Radiohead's OK, Computer stopped playing on my stereo in the top of the fourth inning. The last time I did a full nine was probably 2001, during Game Six of the World Series.

I thought I might try doing it during Sunday's game between the A's and Angels. I kept meticulous track of the action in a spreadsheet (huzzah!) for the first inning. But that inning lasted 45 minutes, and a calculation in said spreadsheet put the game on pace for nearly seven hours. Mercifully, it lasted only four, although I did fall asleep at some point. I'd been up for a long time, and our living-room furniture is very comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

Some of my notes from that first inning:

  • Angels announcers think Chris Young should hit .280-.300, suggest he use the whole field.
  • Angels announcers rave about Yoennis Céspedes' bat speed, note his improved plate discipline as rookie season progressed.
  • Daric Barton has a manly beard. R.J. Anderson calls it “big-league quality”; I say All-Star.
  • Angels announcers inform us that Vernon Wells is a right-handed batter, while Travis Blackley is a native of Australia; one of these is obvious just from watching.
  • I start downloading Skype for a Reds season preview podcast I'm recording later this afternoon, Trumbo singles to right.

There's no way I'm up for eight more innings of this. I review my notes from the Reds chapter of the BP Annual to reacquaint myself with the team and reflect on the term “podcast.” It calls to mind someone flinging seeds. Then again, maybe my thoughts on the term “podcast” are ill-founded. It's not like “broadcast” makes me think of someone flinging women.

* * *

I've seen parts of three games and found three potential stories:

  • Tejada homered off Strasburg.
  • Betancourt singled.
  • Barton has a manly beard.

But their potential is never realized. They are not so much stories as bullet points.

My knees and shoulders ache. I've got nothing but an arthritic toe that I could do without. The arthritis, not the toe.

One thing is painfully obvious as we approach the end of February: I need this next month to get into playing shape. Thank goodness there are games on television to help me through these difficult times.

5 comments have been left for this article.

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