By Jim Sullivan
Today was a little cool by Florida standards, mid to upper sixties with a strong breeze, but it was a super day for baseball fans, with the position players not only participating in the on-field activities, but actually facing live pitching for the first time today.
The last two days were pitchers and catchers only, so I lamented about the lack of on-field activity. Today was the exact opposite, with the batters facing live pitching on all four diamonds simultaneously, and this fan/(amateur reporter) trying to catch the best matchups by moving among all four fields.
Let me try to do justice to this scenario: All four backstops are angled toward each other with a two story edifice in the middle, which contains a 2nd floor open porch for optimal viewing, though of course, the fans are denied usage, ostensibly due to safety concerns.
On field one, Matt Capps is the lead-off Pitcher, while Adam LaRoche is the lead-off batter. Now, you may question why one would not stay put at that location, except that on field two, Tom Gorzelanny is the lead-off Pitcher, and Freddy Sanchez is the first batter on that diamond.
On field three Jason Bay is batting lead-off, followed by Jose Bautista, Andrew McCutchen and then Josh Wilson.
It appeared that each batter was in the box for eight to ten pitches, and then stepped aside for the next batter. Each round
(inning) consisted of four batters, who then got a second shot at that same pitcher. Then Jonah Bayliss replaced Sean Burnett, and the process began anew.
So I'm constantly moving from one backstop to the next, trying to find the best match-up.
Please remember that these are professional athletes, and as such, egos are definitely involved.
I remember a few years ago, when the Buccos had selected Miguel Batista with a Rule V pick. Batista was the early camp sensation that year, until Barry Bonds got a hold of him. On the first day that hitters had an opportunity to face live pitching, obnoxious Bonds verbally challenged Batista, as soon as he entered the batting cage, to "show me what you got, hot shot".
Now remember, Batista couldn't have been any older than 20 or 21at the time, and after that challenge was issued, Batista immediately lost his composure and couldn't find the plate.
Miguel Batista was not the same pitcher after that encounter, though I believe he is, to this day, a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. So, egos do matter!
As a self-professed "baseball junkie" there are singular activities that capture one's attention, but would never make the newspapers.
One such activity occurring today was the two hitting coaches, Greg Ritchie, the Minor League Hitting Coordinator, and Don Long, the Major League Hitting Coach discussing one player's inability to hit an inside pitch.
This animated discussion occurred no more that ten feet in front of me, though I, (and another individual), were five feet on one side of the fence, and the two coaches were five feet on the other side.
The coaches were using a hitting tee as the prop for this discussion. First Greg Ritchie would pull the tee toward himself and take an imaginary swing to make a point, then Don Long would take the same batting tee, and with his imaginary swing, make a counter proposal.
In between, Long would glance at his notes, and then the above procedure would continue, each time one coach, then the other would grab the tee, and make his point. Try as we might, we could not make out the ballplayer's name. And the two coaches appeared to be oblivious to the two fans who were unsuccessfully hanging on their every word and action.
But just watching two professional hitting instructors voicing competing views on how a specific ballplayer should handle a pitch in a certain location, was worth the price of admission, to a "baseball junkie".
Twenty minutes earlier, on another diamond, Don Long was demonstrating to Nyjer Morgan how he should close his stance at the plate, to the extent of drawing an imaginary plate in the dirt, and then showing Nyjer how he should close his feet to better handle certain pitches.
I do not know if the discussion between Long and Ritchie was related to the discussion between Long and Morgan, as this batting coach appears to have many balls in the air at the same time.
The new three story building that will house the clubhouse, dormitory, dining room and offices is to be officially "christened"
tomorrow. That is why Bob Nutting, Frank Coonley and other team executives were in Pirate City today.
As such, I had an opportunity to meet the new club president and asked if it was possible to tour the building after the official Open House for various dignitaries was completed.
During the latter stages of today's workout, General Manager Neal Huntington was in an extended discussion/interview with noted baseball writer Ken Rosenthal, who I mistook for a young Pirate intern due to his physical stature. This lengthy discussion took place in the common area of Pirate City, and not realizing that the GM was giving an interview to a national baseball writer, I went over to interrupt the Pirate General Manager in order to identify some club executives whom I had not seen before.
I do owe Neal an apology, and will offer one at the earliest opportunity,
I now recognize Larry Corrigan, Greg Smith and Kyle Stark of Neal Huntington's staff. Whether the opportunity presents itself to talk baseball with these individuals, remain to be seen.
We'll do this again tomorrow, and hopefully I'll concentrate more on the ballplayers, and less on my activities.