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Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Updated: March 24, 7:54 PM ET
A wild and wacky spring

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

If Tom Glavine is giving up 10 runs in a start that lasts 11 outs, if Ricky Ledee is driving in nine runs in one afternoon, if a pitcher gets hurt taking out the trash, you know what that means: It's time for another spectacular edition of Spring Fever.

Box score lines of the spring
  • Offensive division: You can go to a lot of ball games -- Grapefruit League, Little League, any kind of league -- and not see a box-score line like backup Phillies outfielder Ricky Ledee's, against Toronto in Dunedin, on March 13:

    6 AB, 4 R, 4 H, 9 RBI, 3 HR

    Superhuman of the spring
    Guerrero
    Guerrero

    In a March 7 game against the Expos, Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf made the mistake of trying to bounce a changeup to the modern hack machine, Vladimir Guerrero.

    Except a funny thing happened to that changeup on its way to the dirt: Guerrero golfed it right over the fence for a home run.

    "That's another example," Wolf announced afterward, "that he doesn't have human blood coursing through his veins."

    Phew. Ledee, if you're wondering, had only one 9-RBI month last year (July). He hasn't driven in more than three runs in a regular-season game since Aug. 12, 2000. He has never hit more than one home run in a regular-season game -- let alone three. And only four National Leaguers at the time had driven in nine runs all spring.

    So you know Ricky wouldn't want to lose this number. Asked by Spring Fever if he could ever recall seeing a "9" next to his name in a box score, Ledee chuckled: "I don't know. Strikeouts, maybe."

  • Moundsmanship division: At least Tom Glavine had 7,000 excuses for his un-Glavine-esque outing Sunday against the Dodgers -- one for every foot that Mexico City elevated itself above sea level:

    3 2/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR

    Glavine wasn't sure which was more scary -- what happened to fly balls when they got up there in the nearly oxygen-free ozone or what happened to ground balls when they whooshed along the local AstroCement. "If I had to pitch here," Glavine announced, "I'd probably retire."

    Creative injuries of the spring
  • Third prize: Arizona closer Mat Mantei had to leave a game last week when he tore a fingernail. The good news was: He was still throwing 96 miles per hour.

    "His arm strength is there," said manager Bob Brenly. "His fingernail strength is not."

  • Second prize: Arizona non-roster self-server Carlos Baerga was out a few days this month with a cut finger -- which he got when a car door slammed on it, as he was handing money to his cousin to pay for gas at a gas station. Just one more reason to pay at the pump. Of course, some people think Baerga has been out of gas for years.

  • Grand prize: We've heard of "waste" pitches, but San Diego reliever Jay Witasick is now down for a week to 10 days after straining his elbow -- while throwing out a trash bag.

    So we checked with former Padres bullpen humorist Larry Andersen, a man who once got hurt in a Jacuzzi, to see where this ranked among great garbage calamities.

    "At least the garbage I threw out there went a long ways," Anderson told Spring Fever. "But he probably didn't have to throw his as far."

    Andersen recommended that Witasick work on his mechanics by throwing his trash bags off a flat surface for a few days. Then he can call us in the morning for more helpful advice.

    Collegians of the spring
  • A-Rod division: Alex Rodriguez may not have his college degree yet, but he's obviously an excellent student -- of college pitchers.

    Rodriguez
    Rodriguez

    In a Feb. 27 exhibition between the Rangers and the University of Texas, A-Rod actually struck out looking in his first at-bat. But two innings later, he got a 3-and-0 fastball from UT right-hander Kevin Frizell and mashed it 506 feet, onto a hill beyond the center-field fence.

    "A couple of coaches and I went and took a cab to see where it landed," quipped Rangers manager Buck Showalter.

    Observers reported that the ball just missed hitting the giant Coke bottle that looms beyond the fence at Surprise Stadium. What they didn't realize, Rangers outfield-quotemeister Doug Glanville told Spring Fever, was that "it actually hit the Coke bottle at the headquarters in Atlanta."

    "I think he should get a version of Coca Cola named after him," Glanville suggested. "Coke-Rod or something like that."

    Or maybe, Glanville went on, "he was trying to be the founder of his own city, since there is so much room out here in the desert. Wasn't Mexico City built when the settlers finally saw an eagle on a stick, or a snake, or something? Whenever and wherever that ball lands, we can recognize that area as A-Rod, Arizona. Population: Baseball."

  • Under-pirate division: Meanwhile in Bradenton, the Pirates also have played a couple of exhibitions against college teams this spring. In one of them, they were held to four hits and one run in a four-inning stint by Duquesne walk-on freshman Bob Hartle -- a guy who had actually been cut from the team last fall.

    Hartle, whose fastball peaked at 75 mph, told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto: "I'd like to tell you I fooled them, but I don't think they were really used to my speed."

    Well, after that spectacle, pitcher Salomon Torres was determined that he wasn't going to get embarrassed in a charity game against Manatee Community College. So he used his whole repertoire in two shutout innings.

    "Guys were getting on me for throwing those college kids too many curveballs," Torres said. "Hey, I'm trying to make the club. I'd throw curveballs for my little 18-month-old daughter if she stepped into the batter's box:"

    Juan Pierre wannabe of the spring
    Reds pitcher Danny Graves already has figured out the best part of making the transition from closer to starter this spring: He gets to take a lot more batting practice.

    Graves
    Graves

    And you know Graves enjoys hitting because he already owns two career home runs -- and no other hits (in 22 at-bats).

    So he's sure he can hit. What he doesn't know is whether he can run.

    "Yeah," he told Spring Fever. 'I've only trotted around."

    OK, not really. He actually did walk once. And he pinch-ran once for Junior Griffey. So he has done some occasional baserunning. But he's been looking for some more extensive baserunning tips this spring -- and not getting many.

    "Basically," he said, "they just say, 'Don't get picked off.' "

    Braves new world of the spring
    It didn't take new Braves reliever Ray King long this spring to discover that like Toto, he wasn't a Brewer anymore.

    "Here, guys talk about winning the World Series," King told Spring Fever. "And I say, 'Hey, I came from Milwaukee. I just want to be playing after April."

    Speedsters of the spring
    Speaking of the Brewers, they were visited recently by the MLB crew that's indoctrinating players on the new speed-up-the-game policies. The highlight of those visits is a video that shows various game situations and how players can help the game zip along better in those situations.

    "They showed us the video," Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Drew Olson. "But it was in slow motion."

    Manager Ned Yost was clearly caught up in the speed-up spirit, because he suggested a measure that wasn't included in the actual video. It would revolve solely around noted sprint champ Eddie Perez, in the Brewers camp as a backup catcher.

    "Because of all the speed-up rules," Yost said, "when Eddie hits a home run this year they're going to call it a ground-rule double. That will save about 17 minutes a game.'"

    Sparkyisms of the spring
    In baseball clubhouses these days, many languages are spoken -- English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean ... And then there's a language now being spoken in the Tigers' camp -- one of our all-time favorites: Sparky-ese.

    Most of everything is an opinion. There are very few facts. You're always better off going with your opinion. You might as well be wrong as have them be wrong along with you.
    Sparky Anderson, former Tigers and Reds manager

    Thanks to new Tigers manager Alan Trammell -- who invited his old manager, Sparky Anderson, to come visit this spring -- we have a fresh supply of vintage Sparky-isms, courtesy of Spring Fever emissary Danny Knobler, of Booth Newspapers:

  • Sparky on why he was talked into putting on a uniform by bench coach Kirk Gibson, after insisting he wouldn't wear one: "Gibby took no for an answer."

  • On what he thought of the Tigers' prospects this year, after seeing their young players firsthand: "There's more hope at the rainbow than I thought."

  • On those pearls that never stop pouring off his tongue: "Most of everything is an opinion. There are very few facts. You're always better off going with your opinion. You might as well be wrong as have them be wrong along with you."

  • And finally, on why he could claim that in his day, he was never afraid of failure: "Now, as I look back, my greatest thing was ignorance. I didn't know I wasn't smart enough to be afraid. If I was starting all over, I'd be afraid. But I wasn't then. No, never."

    Happy camper of the spring
    Even those cutoff-and-relay drills felt great this spring to the always-ebullient honorary mayor of Cincinnati, Reds first baseman Sean Casey.

    Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that he suffered for weeks with a torn shoulder muscle last season _ forcing him to spend the whole winter in the slightly less enjoyable task of rehabbing.

    "Now that," Casey told Spring Fever, "is like a job, that rehab. There's no zippity-do-dah to that."

    Hidden-ball trick of the spring
    Seems as if those innovative Red Sox always have something up their sleeves. But down their shirts?

    Hillenbrand
    Hillenbrand

    Devil Rays catcher Toby Hall nearly wound up with the goofiest ground-rule double of all time last Saturday -- when he chopped a ground ball to third base that skipped off Shea Hillenbrand's glove and got stuck inside his shirt. (Technically, it was an error -- but the umpires decided to award Hall second base, based on the same rule as if a double gets stuck in the outfield fence.)

    Afterward, reports the Boston Globe's Gordon Edes, pitcher Pedro Martinez accused Hillenbrand of "cuddling the ball."

    Which Hillenbrand denied vehemently.

    "Hey," he said, "I'm a happily married man."

    Human shields of the spring
  • Red Sox division: Little did we know that the Red Sox's specialty this spring would be getting hit by batted balls. Three days later, Derek Lowe got nailed on the old derriere by a rocket off the bat of the Twins' Matt LeCroy.

    Lowe staggered for a couple of steps, then crumpled to the ground, where he remained for about a minute. Then he got up and completed a rocky outing that left his unsightly spring ERA at 7.71.

    "If this were boxing, I would have been up (at the count of) seven," Lowe told the Providence Journal's Sean McAdam. "I'm glad I got hit. Now I don't have to talk about my pitching."

  • Buccos division: But Lowe wasn't the only guy maintaining his delicate sense of humor in the face of such pain and suffering. Pirates left-hander Dennys Reyes got nailed in the noggin March 12 by an Aubrey Huff line drive. But when the cobwebs cleared, it turned out (miracle of miracles) he had no fractures, no concussions, not even a headache.

    "I've always hated having my big watermelon head," Reyes told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto. "But now I'm happy I have a big head. If I had a small head, I might be in trouble."

    Headliners of the week
    Finally, here's the latest baseball-related news and headlines from the consistently hilarious ironictimes.com:

  • Bush Proposes Privatizing Federal Government
    Would be run like professional baseball team; might trade Powell for some pitching

  • Baseballs Go Too Far, Must Be Destroyed, Says Blix

  • And this special note from the column of spring-training correspondent Fred "Beanball" Smith:

    "Unusually quiet at the Senators' camp. ..."

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.