Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Spring Training Photo Essay - Part Five

Our final game of the 2013 Spring Training season took us back to Joker Marchant Stadium to see the Detroit Tigers take on the New York Mets. Max Scherzer (DET) was facing Dillon Gee (NYM). The pitchers, although both talented and major cogs for their teams during the regular season, were not huge factors in this game. Scherzer in fact only lasted 2.2 innings. Six of his eight recorded outs were by strikeout but that may have had more to do with New York than him.

We decided to sit in the berm seats this game. The berm is a weird area. Fans bring their own blankets and lay and relax. Some did not even seem remotely interested in the fact that a baseball game was being played in front of them. Staff members come along and collect trash as well as offer to take pictures of folks. They also made a very large deal about this strawberry shortcake dessert they sell. Apparently Joker Marchant is the only stadium where you can purchase a hand-delivered piece of strawberry shortcake while sitting in the grass. not doubt this is true.

As for the baseball, the Mets seemed barely more interested in this contest than the berm fans did. In fact, they barely swung their bats at all. 

New York's offense through the first six innings: 
5 walks
2 hit-by-pitches
2 stolen bases
11 strikeouts
2 hits
1 run

Detroit was only slightly better but their offense at least was lacking some of their big bats. I'm not sure I can say the same for New York. David Wright was off playing for Team USA. Other than that, everyone was there...they just aren't very good. 

The main attraction of this game was Detroit's left fielder. He looks like Miguel Cabrera. He swings like Miguel Cabrera (visually). He is Avisail Garcia, AKA Mini-Miggy! And his future is bright. This afternoon was nothing to write home about but after his postseason performance last year and his striking resemblance to one of the best hitters alive, the sky is the limit. 

As may be obvious, this final photo essay is a bit lacking in the photo department. To be honest, not much happened that was worthy of capturing. But going to Spring Training baseball is not always about seeing something special. It is about watching your favorite players close up and without their entire guard up. It is about sitting (or lying) in the sun, in Florida and taking in a fun experience. It is about spending time with friends and family and paying $8 for turkey leg...which, in hindsight, I probably should have taken a picture of. It was pretty noteworthy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My Spring Training Photo Essay - Part Four

We attended two Yankees games this trip. They occurred back to back, one Tuesday evening and the next Wednesday afternoon. In game one, the Yankees took on the revamped Atlanta Braves. Atlanta looked loaded with the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman. New York...did not. I had not even heard of the players who were starting at third base and in right field for the Yankees this evening, had not even heard of them! This would not be a good sign for our offensive production.

We decided to stick it out anyway. After all, George M. Steinbrenner Field is as close a Spring Training stadium gets to feeling like the real thing. There are more seats, a legit second deck, the famous facade and beer vendors who know what they're doing.

When one vendor was questioned about his product: "If it ain't cold, I'll take it back and drink it myself!"

When another ventured into a section where a second foul ball just hit after the first made quite a dent in one gentleman's leg: "He's a man; he's not crying." 

And then there was the beer guy who looked like James Harden.

"No, his hair is like mine. I'm older."

As for the game itself, it was the right amount of ugly. Yankees starting catcher Chris Stewart came up two straight times with multiple runners on base. He ended both innings and stranded all five runners. At one point, Brett Gardner was on first with a man on third and stole second base only to have the Braves catcher fake a throw down to second and pick-off the runner at third base. Eduardo Nunez proved once again with some of his defensive adventures that he is probably not fit to play shortstop. And, of course, there was an inning where both the pitcher on the mound and the first baseman were wearing jersey number 94. 

The scene outside afterward was perfectly pleasant. After all, this game didn't count. Braves shortstop Tyler Pastornicky had the ultimate Spring Training performance at the plate. He reached base twice on errors, advanced to third on another error, scored on a balk and managed one hit: an infield single. 

The second Yankee game would be during the sunlight, against Robinson Cano and the Dominican Republic WBC team. After seeing what they did to the Phillies, confidence was not high in the Bronx Bombers. Although Cano was the enemy this afternoon, he got a huge cheer. This had plenty to do with the fact that he is the Yankees best player. This also had a lot to do with the large number of Dominican fans in the crowd. 

The Dominican players once again acknowledged the crowd like nothing I have seen. They were constantly tossing things back and forth. People would toss balls, shirts, flags, whatever into the dugout and they would get tossed back, signed. The players were just having a good time, like they should, especially knowing what type of offense they have at their disposal.

Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda fared quite a bit better than Cole Hamels did against the Dominicans. He went 3.0 innings, allowing no runs and just two hits, while striking out four. Take that Cole! The DR in general were not nearly as explosive as the other day. But it would have been impossible to repeat that performance. Nevertheless, they collected 8 runs on 12 hits and put away the pitiful Yankees. 

Eduardo Nunez had another bad game in the field. He hopped one throw, alligator-armed a play and just seemed to have no confidence throwing the ball from short. Meanwhile, the Yankees offense didn't manage a hit until Zoilo Almonte knocked a home run out in the seventh inning. With just two hits, the Yankees bats sprung a leak and were hemorrhaging smoke faster than these stacks; a fate that has unfortunately continued into the beginning of the regular season.

My Spring Training Photo Essay - Part Three

Game three featured quite a treat. We would get to see the Dominican Republic Team play against the Phillies in preparation for the World Baseball Classic tournament, which would kick off in a few days time. In future news, the Dominican Republic won the World Baseball Classic in steamroller fashion: they didn't lose a game the entire tournament. This was not a surprise after seeing them play in person.

Sitting directly behind the DR dugout, we had a great vantage point of the field and the excitement that is Dominicans watching their countrymen play baseball (even if the game doesn't count). The Dominican fans were very loud, very animated and very excited to be here. It led to some slight racism on the part of white people. They seemed genuinely upset that people were yelling and cheering so obnoxiously in Spanish. Also a point of blatant jealousy: the Dominican players were throwing balls and other memorabilia into the crowd at an alarming rate and not a single item (NOT A SINGLE ITEM) went to a white or non-Spanish-speaking person. In fact, two separate groups of gentlemen seemed to each collect a good half dozen balls. Whether they knew the players personally and just happened to be sitting close is up for debate. Either way, Team DR loved the atmosphere and spent a lot of time chatting with fans nearby. It was pretty fun and refreshing to see.

Today's starter for the Philadelphia Phillies was ace Cole Hamels. Above is a photo of how Hamels felt about himself prior to this afternoon's game. He was cocky as hell, standing on one foot and all, knowing he's untouchable. After all, he is the best pitcher on a team that has Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. 

What Hamels may not have been aware of was the roster he was about to face. The lineup of the Dominican Republic team was so stacked, most All-Star games have less star power. Here was the starting nine with a quick description to accompany each player:

Jose Reyes (stud)
Robinson Cano (stud)
Edwin Encarnacion (stud)
Nelson Cruz (borderline stud)
Hanley Ramirez (stud)
Miguel Tejada (former stud)
Carlos Santana (borderline stud)
Ricardo Nanita (some Dominican guy)
Alejandro De Aza (future stud)

Bobby Cano and the rest of the Dominicans had confidence. But even they didn't know what type of show they would put on this afternoon. Here are some of the numbers from the early innings: Cano collected three hits, including a home run; Reyes hit a home run, a single and stole a base; Tejada went 4-4 in his first four plate appearances; Encarnacion had three hits to his name; Hanley had four hits, three went for extra bases, one was a home run and he knocked in three. Poor Nelson Cruz was the only man not having fun. He managed to be the final out in each of the game's first three innings.

Here is a photo representation of how Cole Hamels felt after his outing. His cockiness long gone, Hamels instead is resigned to staring off into the distance from his place behind the bars that Team DR seemed to place all around him. Hamels' final stat line: 2.2 innings pitched, 8 earned runs, 12 hits allowed. Ouch.

The only things more newsworthy than Hamels' day was Jose Reyes' beard and Phillies' sorta-prospect Darin Ruf. Ruf, of 'Spring Training Photo Essay Part One' fame and the future of the Phillies (according to someone, somewhere) went 0-4 with three strikeouts. 

This Dominican Republic team looked unbeatable, foreshadowing of how the actual WBC would play out. DR final stat line: 15 runs on 28 hits.