Saturday, February 16, 2008

Baseball is Back!

What a great day. A bright blue, cloudless sky, 70 degrees and the sound of baseballs snapping into catchers’ mitts can mean only one thing. Spring training is back in St Pete. Since I had nothing better to do I wandered down to the Namoli complex to watch the Rays pitchers and catchers work out.

There is nothing more unlike a baseball game then a workout. Basically the pitchers were divided into three groups: one throwing in the bullpen, one working on fielding drills and one working on the most boring play in baseball – covering first base. Every 20 minutes or so the groups would rotate and once all three had completed the different stations they went to another field to run. Good times.

It’s the last season for the Rays to train at the Namoli Complex, a group of fields in St Pete that I happen to have played on at one time in my life. As a matter of fact, during the half season of adult baseball that I played in a few years ago I managed to give up a prodigious homerun on the very field the players were warming up on. Good times indeed.

I managed to snap off a couple of photos while Scott Kazmir and David Price’s group threw in the bullpen. They were joined by Jake McGee (slowly gaining popularity as the next great pitching prospect), Edwin Jackson and Trevor Miller. Miller, the old man of the group, seemed to be working on a couple of sidearm pitches while the young kids snapped the mitts rather briskly.

A large size group of fans offered their well informed opinions as they watched the players work out.

“Mike looks a lot smaller than the last time he was here…looks like he lost about 20 pounds…must have been on the juice.”

“Well he was here with Canseco.”

“Yup. Must have been on the juice.”

That was pretty much the most intelligent conversation I overheard. The guys who were criticizing Price’s location were priceless as well. Apparently to those professional scouts 10 pitches on the second day of training camp were enough to form an opinion on the Rays best pitching prospect. After hearing one of them complain about Jim Hickey for the 4th time I turned up the volume on my Ipod and went back to snapping photos.

After a hot dog and a Pepsi (nothing better on a warm Saturday afternoon at the ball yard) I wandered down to the players’ entrance where a group of about 10 fans stood waiting for autographs. Al Reyes signed for a few fans before heading into the clubhouse. It took another 15 or 20 minutes before the players started trickling by.

Matt Garza signed for most of the fans and took time to comment on the 2008 Topps card that he signed for me. Apparently he knew that was taken in Cleveland, based on the road uniform and his “bald haircut”. He seems to be happy to be on the team and looking forward to playing this year.

The autographer of the day was definitely James (Don’t Call me Jamie!) Shields. He started at one end and worked his way all the way down the line, signing for about 75 fans. John Jaso signed for everyone as well even taking the time to sign about 12 cards for one kid.

Scott Kazmir and David Price came by and signed a fair amount as well. Overall everyone was very respectful and didn’t ask for more than one auto’s per person.

Here’s hoping the Curse of the Autograph goes away this year. I walked away with signed cards of Kazmir, Shields, Paul and Garza. Jaso, Price and Chris Mason signed a blank sheet of paper that I might use for cut signatures down the line. The countdown begins, let’s see how many of them are still here in a year.

All in all a day well spent.

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