Monday, March 26, 2007

SPRING TRAINING ACTION '07

Every spring I get that itch to head to spring training everytime I hear the phrase "pitchers and catchers reporting". I haven't been to Florida for a few years, but I'm content on going back to Arizona because you're forty-five minutes away from ten teams in the Phoenix area. This year, I had about thirty six hours to spend, but I returned with Spring Training Alumni '98, James Campbell.

We arrived Saturday morning and made a b-line out to Surprise to catch the A's and Rangers in action. We got there early enough that we made it out to the practice fields to see some of the Royals(they share the complex with the Rangers) warm up. Unfortunately, it was just a group of players outside the majors playing soft-toss so we just headed into the game. The stadium itself is the best(and newest) facility in the Cactus league.

Right before the game, a bunch of A's came out to home plate to greet Ron Washington, who left the A's as third base coach to manage the Rangers. Nick Swisher trotted out, gave Wash a big hug, and headed pretty much all the way to the wrong dugout without getting in. He made a pretty funny gesture as the fans were laughing at his gaffe. Gotta love the guy. Strangely, no one wanted to talk to former A's manager Art Howe. Maybe too much time has passed.

A bulked up Dan Johnson walked by us, only it wasn't DJ, it was prospect Travis Buck. One thing I've been concerned about with GM Billy Beane is that many of the players he drafts don't look like athletes, but finally, someone who looks like a real deal. Buck hit a really deep shot out in the second inning reaffirming my beliefs. Other highlights included Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza unable to hit a ball out of the infield, Estaban Loaiza keeping the ball down inducing many ground balls, Bobby Crosby committing the inevitable error and Milton Bradley making a couple of great catches in the field.

After the game, we headed to a sports bar in a shopping mall, which pretty much describes it all, to catch the UCLA-Kansas game. We got so caught up in the game that we almost forgot that we had a hockey game to catch that night. As we pulled up, I loved the sight of the new football stadium across the street and was giddy that they don't CHARGE FOR PARKING! As we were walking up into the back entrance to the arena, something didn't look right. Later, we figured out that it looked to short because the rink is submerged from ground level.

Walking in, we were very impressed. Maybe Staples Center is nicer, but this rink was perfectly built for this locale. Not too many luxury boxes, great viewing angles, a nice team merchandise store and plenty of concessions. A nice touch also was that the upper concourse was mostly open to the rink as you were walking around. Probably, the thing we were most surprised about was that it was a sellout for a team that's been out of the playoffs most of the season and been playing at the same rink for three years. I think the future will be bright for hockey out there.

The next morning, we snuck into a parking spot at the A's stadium to buy some green and gold merchandise for the trip. We got trapped in the team store as they were letting people into the game, meaning we could have snuck in real easy, but Campbell didn't want a guilty conscience.

We drove back over to the A's practice fields, which are about a mile away through beautiful Papago Park, even though the guy in the gift shop said there was nothing going on there. Sure enough, a couple of intrasquad games were going on with minor leaguers. There probably was only about thirty other people watching the games there, but getting foul balls was tough because they asked for them back. Oh well. There was another team there, dressed in red and white, which I assumed was an Angels B-Team, but upon closer inspection turned out to be the Chinese National Team.

We plunked ourselves down to watch a game of guys with major league numbers, but last year's spring training uniforms. We didn't recognize anybody until Jeremy Brown of Moneyball fame came to the plate. He struck out. An inning later, a pitcher took the mound with this year's spring training jersey and was the only player wearing white pants. It turned out to be A's ace Rich Harden. He clearly was working on his curveball and offspeed pitches, but when he got behind in the count a couple of times, he turned on the high nice. Impressive to watch close up.

Once again, we were battling time to catch our next game, the Padres/Giants out in Peoria. Traffic was a mess getting in and we made it a half inning late. There barely was space for us on the lawn as the Padres set an attendance record for the game in anticipation of Bonds playing. He didn't. But there were plenty of home runs, but strangely the furthest hit ball wasn't a home run or a foul ball. It was a four hundred foot double that bounced about thirty feet up the center field wall. Otherwise, not to many things to note during the game.

All in all, the weekend was a full success. We ended with a pretty tasty dinner at Thunder Dan Marjele's sports bar before catching the plane. The only thing the weekend could have used more was even more baseball.

1 comment:

project: Mike said...
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