By Jim Sullivan
Though the morning started off cloudy with a 60% chance of rain, the baseball gods were kind to us fans once again, and by late morning the sun was as bright as ever.
The first drill of the morning turned out to be, undoubtedly, the most entertaining aspect of the complete workout session, though not for the proper reason.
The coaching staff unveiled a machine which shot pop-ups high
into the air above home plate, probably higher than would occur during
the course of a major league baseball game.
Four catchers took part in the drill, one by one, trying to catch the high pop-up at home plate.
The participants were Ronny Paulino, Ryan Doumit, Michel Hernandez, and Raul Chavez. Now remember, the ball was shot up quite high in the air, and only one catcher at a time was given the opportunity to catch the ball.
One catcher, Ronny Paulino, had particular difficulty, not only in catching the pop-up, but even in locating the trajectory, so that most balls were not just clanking off his glove, but in fact, hitting the dirt too often, ten feet from where Ronny ended up standing.
Though none of the four catchers were successful 100% of the time, Paulino started to draw laughter from the crowd of 100 fans, at his apparent ineptitude.
At one point, Ronny had only caught one out of six pop-ups.
Then the highlight of the drill, as Paulino caught a particularly high pop-up, and then turned to the crowd with his glove in the air, and a great big smile, to literally a standing ovation from the crowd.
I wish that event could have been caught on tape, the crowd erupting as if a soccer goal had just been scored.
In fairness to Ronny Paulino, he did get better as the drill continued, and later on, the bullpen coach, Luis Dorante, started to shoot two balls in the air, five seconds apart, to improve the catchers dexterity.
Bob Nutting attended the majority of today's workout, and was involved in some of the more memorable sights.
Chuck Tanner was behind the backstop, observing Pitchers fielding practice, when he noticed Nutting, and immediately placed his arm around Bob Nutting's shoulder, as if he had just found his long lost buddy. In the next twenty minutes or so of one-on-one conversation, Bob Nutting probably learned more about Pirate Baseball than he ever imagined.
At one point, Chuck looked face to face at Nutting, with a hand on each shoulder, so that Bob Nutting had no choice but to listen attentively to the point that Tanner was making. Good for Chuck Tanner.
Another noteworthy Bob Nutting moment took place while Masumi Kuwata was jogging from one work station to another, and crossed paths with the Pirate CEO. We were literally ten feet away (separated again by the yellow chain which divides the fans from the players and media).
It appeared that Bob Nutting said to Kuwata "Welcome Back", and Masumi replied in clear english "Nice to meet you" to Nutting. At this point, the ten to fifteen Japanese cameramen (with cameras held high to record the event) and microphone holders (again with equipment held high), and print media descended upon the scene quickly, so that we no longer could hear the rest of the conversation, or even see Nutting and Kuwata. And this to cover a forty year old pitcher (as of April 1st) who has no chance to make this squad leaving camp.
What we probably didn't need at today's practice, was the Dickie Vitale "Circus", which occurs once each camp when he brings his wife and two small children, and sucks the air out of whatever is occurring at the time.
Normally, Jim Tracy would then gravitate to Dickie V, and the whole focus would be on Vitale. To his credit, John Russell paid no attention to the "circus", and continued to monitor the progress of the various drills. Though a mandatory picture was taken (as usual), on the field , of Vitale and his two small children, this time with Freddy Sanchez.
Neal Huntington and his staff, Kyle Stark, Larry Corrigan, and even Greg Smith are on the field (normally behind the various backstops) observing the action, but not talking to the fans at all.
A couple points here about Neal and his staff. The previous GM (and his staff) in my opinion, spent entirely too much time on the 2nd floor porch kibitzing, as opposed to mixing with the players when time permitted.
The GM approached Jason Bay, outside of the batting cage, and talked to him for a good fifteen minutes. This was something you would not see from the previous administration.
Yesterday, I wrote "that I owed the GM an apology for trying to bug him while he was giving an interview to a national sportswriter". After the apology today, Neal replied to me "I'm sorry I made you wait". He is definitely a "people person".
One of my favorite moments today was when I approached the highly respected "talent evaluator", Larry Corrigan, who doesn't appear to entertain small talk with fans, at all.
Let me try to set this scene, though I don't believe I can do it justice. In the twenty years (off and on) that I have been attending spring training, I have yet to see an individual that looked less like a baseball official than Larry Coorigan. From his beat up RED baseball cap (that Honus Wagner may have originally worn), to his wrinkled dress pants (which may not have been introduced to an iron in the past thirty days), to a tan jacket (that obviously belongs somewhere else), this man doesn't appear to fit the mold, except for this most important virtue. He is an excellent talent evaluator.
So I had the unmitigated audacity to introduce myself to him, and say how this ballclub really needs his skill set.
He looks down at me with this craggy weatherbeaten face and says "YOU DON"T KNOW WHO I AM!" I then replied "Larry Corrigan, well respected scout from the Twins organization, and we are lucky to have you." He then replied "You folks in Hershey do your homework". End of conversation, but I"m trying to lay the groundwork, though this one ain't gonna be easy.
There was one scene playing out in the bullpen today which should give every youngster (and parent) hope in the American dream. Zach Duke, and Casey Fossum were throwing side by side in the Pirate bullpen. What's so special about that you ask. They pitched for the same small high school, Midway High, in Waco Texas, though they were not teammates because of their age difference.
We'll close with the last drill of the day, a serious bunting drill led by bench coach Gary Varsho. Varsho stood ten feet to the side of home plate, and literally barked out situations to Bucco regulars, Jason Bay, Nate NcLouth, Jose Bautista and others.
The scenario was two strikes on the batter, and you've got to lay down a bunt in fair territory, but only if the pitch is a strike. For the final round, Varsho barked out an old football order. "If the bunt is foul, you've got to run a lap".
First Jason Bay. The bunt was fair.
Then Nate McLouth. Also a fair bunt.
Then Bautista. He bunted foul, and Varsho barked out again, "Take a Lap".
As the drill finished and the participants walked away. Varsho again repeated "Jose, give me a lap". Bautista, with a sense of puzzlement on his face, said he would. But he was probably wondering what he was doing in a football camp.
I'm not sure what to expect tomorrow, but we'll continue to look for something more eventful.