Spring Training 2008 @ The Cactus League
This Spring Break, I will embark on a journey I’ve wanted to do with my Dad for years….Spring Training! What follows is anecdotal information and summaries of my travels in the Cactus League in Arizona, and notes and quips for your reading pleasure. Also, fantasy tips and thoughts!
Finally time for a game. While my flight was planned for Saturday morning at 7:10 AM, the flight was cancelled, and my leave was postponed until 6:30 PM on Sunday. I got into Phoenix at midnight, just in time to pass out in my hotel.
Waking up at 8 AM was harsh, but necessary for the day ahead. Our home base is a shoddy Best Western in Phoenix, Arizona, minutes away from the Peoria, AZ site of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. After a breakfast at the always delightful Black Bear Diner, where I semi-enjoyed a meat lovers omelet and hash browns.
Our first game, however, took us to Tucson, to the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks home, Tucson Electric Park. The drive was around an hour and a half, and we entered a fairly empty stadium, because we were still hours early.
At first look, lawn tickets look like the way to go. Aside from losing the opportunity for autographs, you can pay $5 dollars (the same price as parking) to watch the game, and sprawl on the grass and enjoy a hot Arizona day. Game time temperature was 72 degrees, which felt more like 90 to me, coming straight from the always cold Ithaca. Needless to say, I left the stadium sunburned (and now resemble Two Face).
The stadium is nice, and the atmosphere is a delight. It’s casual, and has the feel of little league. And, judging by my first game, has plays straight from little league (not a compliment). Before the game starts, the only thing I really notice in pre-game warm-ups, is that Mariners second basemen Jose Lopez sucks at fielding grounders, and there was a severe lack of homeruns (maybe that’s because I didn’t see the White Sox hit). Another note: the drills and warm-ups are always the same, and it just feels SO much like high school and middle school baseball here, a lot moreso than during the regular season. And I like it. Also: Everyone still hates picking up baseballs at the end of batting practice.
1st Autograph: Rick Rizzs, one of the excellent broadcasters of the Seattle Mariners (this fact an in-joke really for only local Seattle-ites). I never go for autographs, but when I saw a guy whose voice I’ve listened to since I was in diapers, I leapt at the chance. And, I couldn’t help but laugh at getting his autograph, which is why I went for it.
GAME #1: Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox
Dry. Hot. Cacti. Forgot sunscreen, shades.
Erik Bedard vs. Mark Buehrle. Could be a pitcher’s duel, right? Wrong. They both stunk.
I was very excited to see Erik Bedard in my first game in Arizona, and felt blessed by my good fortune. I had seen him pitch, but I didn’t study him as much as I did on this day. He has a very deceptive windup; he conceals the body until the last moment with his windup, where he turns away from home plate and then whips the ball to the plate. He also tends to short arm the ball, and he’s very deliberate, but maybe that’s just in comparison to the most impatient pitcher alive, Mark Buehrle.
Hopefully Bedard’s performance wasn’t a harbinger of doom for his and the Seattle Mariners season. Bedard gave up 4 runs without getting an out in the first inning, yielding homeruns to Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. From there, he settled down and lasted 4 innings, not giving up any other runs, and only allowing a few hits from then on. Most puzzling, he didn’t strike out a single batter. While it was concerning to watch, and concerning to many naïve Mariners fans in attendance, I’m not worried. As long as Bedard is healthy, I have absolute faith in his all-world ability. Spring training stats mean little to guys like Bedard.
Buehrle looked sharper, but not much. He was hit hard in several innings, and left after 4 innings with a 4-3 score. I hate him. As usual, he picked someone off (Charlton Jimerson, a Mariners journeyman OF who deserves a spot just for his name). He should be good for his usual 200 mediocre innings this year and 10-13 wins.
Tucson Electric Park had 4,000+ in attendance. Nice little field. White Sox fans can be dicks though.
Joey Cora sighting. I need his autograph.
Nick Swisher is an arrogant bastard.
Mike Morse, LF, Seattle Mariners: He had a pretty good day. He still doesn’t look completely comfortable in left field, but he looks good at the plate. He was hitting over .500 coming in, and while he didn’t have a hit and went 0 for 2, he got 2 walks and lined out for one of his outs. I really think the Mariners should give this guy more of a chance than they have (since acquiring him from the Chi Sox they have moved him from SS to 3B to OF and made him into a utility man, despite never doing anything particularly wrong). Give him a bench spot at least, and I bet he could outplay Vidro in the lineup, and he would still provide better range and arm than Raul Ibanez in the outfield (so we could move Raul to DH).
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B, Seattle Mariners: I hate this guy. The Mariners give him a 2.3 million dollar signing bonus to lure him away from big time college football just because of his famous last name, and his family’s connections to Washington. He’s still 22, but it’s been four years since they’ve drafted him, and besides being a good athlete, he hasn’t done anything. He went 1 for 5, and hit into two double plays on the day (both of which I called). It’s not too late for the light to come on, but man, I can’t help but view this guy as a big mistake.
Joe Crede, 3B, Chicago White Sox: I was kind of disappointed I didn’t get to see Josh Fields play, but I’m almost a bigger fan of Crede anyways. I feel like this guy gets a harsh rap nowadays. He’s definitely stalled in his development, and never could build on his breakout season a few years ago, but I think injuries had as much to do with it than anything, and he’s in his prime now. He went 0 for 3 today, with a spectacular diving play at third to rob Betancourt of extra bases, but also had a throwing error later in the game. The inconsistencies continue for Crede, but I definitely think he’s worth a gamble. I’ve heard the Giants are interested. Somebody with 30-100 potential with a good glove is worth it, especially for a team as hapless as the Giants. He just needs a fresh start. Please, give it to him (for my fantasy team’s sake, I need a 3B).
Wladimir Balantien, OF, Seattle Mariners: I love this guy. Him and Jeff Clement are basically the only good prospects left in Seattle after the Bedard trade, and judging by his results today, we made a very good decision in keeping him. The guy went 4 for 5, with a double, 1 RBI and a stolen base. He can rake. His knocks have been his plate discipline and some questions with his defense in right field. But he’s a good athlete and has a great arm, and best of all, monster power. This guy can hit 40 homeruns. I can’t wait for the Mariners to trade him before he fulfills that (ugh).
Brad Eldred, 1B, Chicago White Sox: I remember this guy from the Pirates organization, and I remember everyone drooling over his power potential. He still has it. While he doesn’t fit with the White Sox right now, with Konerko and Thome manning 1B and DH, the two primary outlets for his talent, he’s a good guy to have in case of injury (Thome will be on the DL at least once this year). He hit a 3B off of Morrow, and just missed a homer in his other at bat. He puts a good swing on the ball. Definite fantasy sleeper if he ever gets at bats.
Boone Logan, RP, Chicago White Sox: Very easy inning, making a case for a bullpen spot. He’s got a cool enough name for it.
Ehren Wasserman, RP, Chicago White Sox: Another cool name in the White Sox pen, and I think he’s a keeper. He’s got a herky jerky sideways delivery that mixes K-Rod and Byung Hyung Kim. The results were pretty good: a perfect inning of relief with a strikeout.
Ryan Feierabend (LHP): The young lefty came in and recorded 1.1 IP hitless innings, recording one strike out. He was also rumored to be involved in many a trade this winter, but I’m glad we kept at least one of our pitchers with an ounce of potential. He was pounded hard last year, but I think Ryan is already perhaps a better option than Washburn and Silva (though that hardly says much).
R.A. Dickey: I had to say something about this guy. The right-handed pitcher out of the Texas organization has bounced around for years, and remodeled himself into a knuckleballer and has found himself in the Mariner organization. Judging by his option, he’s got chops and the talent to make it as at least a long reliever. He kept hitters off balance in his 2 innings, only yielding 1 hit, and striking out 2. I could’ve gone for his autograph, but I opted for Rick Rizzs instead.
Jenks and Linebrink each put in an inning of scoreless relief. With Wasserman and Logan improving, and Jenks and Linebrink as some of the most consistent relief pitchers in the business, the White Sox have the makings of a solid bullpen. Jenks should get his usual 30-40 saves, and with his new cool goatee, I have him penciled in for 43. His WHIP was unreal last year (.89), and I think it’s unrealistic to assume he can be THAT good again, I’ve stopped assuming that Jenks is bound for an implosion. He’s an All-Star. And Linebrink, he’s good too, despite being mediocre for the Brewers after the trade last year.
Back to the game:
The game was excellent, if not poorly played. The pitching was poor, the defense porous. The White Sox had three errors (Crede, Eldred, Cabrera), with Cabrera’s boneheaded throw to third base on a double play as one of the stupidest plays I’ve ever seen.
After 1 run in the 1st, the White Sox responded with 4 off of Bedard. Then the Mariners got 2 in the 3rd, and this 4-3 score stayed until the 8th, when the Mariners believed they put it into their best available bullpen arm (needless to say, Putz was not available): Brandon Morrow. Brandon Morrow, who was tentatively penciled into the #5 spot in the rotation until the Mariners dealt for Bedard, has been relegated back to the bullpen for another year. He doesn’t look much improved, at least in his inning against mostly scrubs of the White Sox. With 1 out in the 8th, Morrow came in and this is what followed: 3B, 2B (should’ve been a homerun by Swisher), BB, HBP, BB, BB. Morrow failed to record a single out, and after Jon Huber relieved him, and let one of his inherited runners score, Morrow finished by giving up 4 runs in the outing, with an infinite ERA and WHIP. Fun. It’s hard not to be bothered by this outing. Morrow still shows his tendency to get rattled and his inability to find the strike zone at times. I think this proves that he wouldn’t have been ready for a rotation spot yet, and maybe he might need some triple-A seasoning as a starter if the Mariners desire to switch during the season (he’ll still be better than Carlos Silva).
Going into the top of the 9th, the Mariners decided to make it exciting. Going in, it was 8-3, and the White Sox put in Oneli Perez. Needless to say, he won’t be making the team out of spring training after this one. Oneli’s outing went like follows: BB, 1B, 1B, Error, Groundout, 1B, 1B, 1B. An onslaught of singles did him in, and the Mariners got 5 runs in the 9th to tie the game at 8. Very exciting, and like I said, very much like a little league game. Carlos Vasquez, a lefty, came in to finish the 9th against the Mariners.
In the bottom of the 9th, against rubber armed right hand pitcher Sean Green, the White Sox finished things up very quickly with two hits, including the game winning single by Nick Swisher. Turns out, Swisher can afford to be arrogant on this day: 3 for 5 performance, with a double, a triple and a game winning single and 2 RBI’s. I tend to underrate Swisher, but he has big fantasy potential this year in the Coors Field of the AL in Chicago. I could see him hit 40 homeruns, and get his average around .280, perhaps higher. He’s worth it to go out and get, hitting after Thome and Konerko, and before Dye, a much better order than what he had to work with in Oakland.
So my first game in the books, with my team, the Mariners coming up short and the White Sox barely prevailing 9-8 in the bottom of the 9th. Vasquez got the win, and Green the loss. It was Vasquez’s second win of the year, and I have a feeling he’s going to make a positive impact in Chicago this year.
Anyways, I’ll keep to that for this first game. Next up: the Oakland Athletics at the Chicago Cubs in Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona!
Post if you have any comments or questions!