Friday, February 25, 2011
Putting a wrap on a fun week in the sun
By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
The "Baseball Tonight Goodyear Bus Tour" has finished its stay in Arizona. Two people will drive the bus to Florida. There is no time to stop so one will drive while the other will sleep. John Kruk and I will fly to Florida, of course.
Here is a look at Week 2 on the bus:
Feb. 21 at Rockies camp in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The new facility shared by the Rockies and Diamondbacks is sensational in every way. "We don't deserve this,'' Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs said, laughing. The clubhouse is enormous, it's like a sports bar. The workout room is two-tiered, and it's gigantic. The facility has six full fields, and two half fields. Two of the fields are replicas of Coors Field so when the players are practicing relays, etc. they will be receiving and throwing the ball from the same dimensions as the big league field. There are cameras stationed above the bullpen mounds, so after a pitcher has thrown, he can watch how he threw on video.
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez reported to camp at 222 pounds, a good 10-15 pounds heavier than last year. And, as Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd calls it, "it's good weight.'' There is every indication that Gonzalez can be as good as he was last year, which was spectacular.
Here's how much of a breakthrough year it was: Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez are the only players ever to drive in fewer than 30 runs in each of his first two years in the majors, and then have 117-plus RBIs in their third seasons. "Carlos is the most graceful baseball player I've ever managed,'' said Rockies manager Jim Tracy.
The Rockies will use spring training to find their second baseman from Eric Young Jr., Jose Lopez, Chris Nelson and Jonathan Herrera, or some combination of those four players along with utilityman Ty Wigginton. Young brings the most speed, but he is being brought along cautiously due to a minor leg injury. Lopez is the most accomplished hitter in the group, but he was moved off second base last year by the Mariners because of his defense. The Rockies took a step back on defense in 2010, but they are committed to playing better fundamentally in 2011.
Jason Giambi and Spilborghs play important roles for the Rockies, but they are also the leaders in comic relief. This spring, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Giambi went to the see the Justin Bieber movie ("Never Say Never"); Giambi acknowledged that he was the only one in the theatre with tattoos and huge biceps.
"The people thought we were predators,'' Giambi said, laughing.
Daily Kruk Revelation: He was in the movie, "The Fan." It was shot in 1995, and he was on location for three months. "Robert De Niro killed me near the end, he stabbed me in the eye with a knife,'' Kruk said. "It was pretty wild. I could see 'Cape Fear' in his eyes.''
Feb. 22 at Brewers camp in Phoenix, Ariz.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had a "good discussion'' Monday with first baseman Prince Fielder about his potential free agency after this season. But more importantly, Melvin talked to Fielder about how important the focus for this season will be on winning. The Brewers aren't going to be able to afford Fielder long-term, but it is clear they will keep him all season if they have a chance to make the playoffs. If, however, the Brewers aren't in the pennant race at the end of July, logically they would trade Fielder before he gets to free agency.
One of the Brewers' plans for spring training is upgrading their defense. They don't have an above average defender in the infield, and maybe only one in the outfield. The Brewers haven't had a Gold Glove winner since Robin Yount in 1982. They are hoping their upgraded pitching staff, especially their rotation, will make the team's defense better.
The new Brewers rotation is among the best in the game with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, who won 12 games last season and was one of the league's best pitchers the second half of the year.
"If it weren't for the Phillies,'' one Brewer said, "everyone in the world would be talking about our rotation.''
Wolf visited the bus. Asked if he had any advice for someone spending that much time on a bus with Kruk, he said, "Just keep plenty of Purell [a hand sanitizer] on hand.''
In December, Marcum found out he had been traded to the Brewers while attending a Kansas City Chiefs football game. Marcum is a Chiefs season-ticket holder. "[Blue Jays general manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] called me, I texted him back to see if I could call him after the game because you can't hear anything at Arrowhead [Stadium],'' Marcum said. "He texted me back, 'It's important. Call me now.' So I went up to the concourse and talked to him for about 30 minutes.''
Daily Kruk Revelation: He signed autographs for a family from Milwaukee, a mom and her two kids, a boy about 13, a daughter about nine. He invited them for a tour of the bus. "We'll never forget this,'' the mom said, then she started to cry.
Feb. 23 at Dodgers camp in Glendale, Ariz.
New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly visited the bus. "I used to own a bus like this, my last two years as a player, we'd drive the boys around in it on road trips, we'd go camping,'' he said. "When I picked it up, I took it for a test drive, and I turned a corner too sharply and, screeeeeeech I scratched the whole side of it. You can't take one of these to a gas station, either, you have to go to a truck stop. When we went into one of them at 2 in the morning, I made sure I had on jeans, boots and a three-day beard.''
Mattingly is off to a great start as the manager of the Dodgers. "The camp reminds me of the first year Joe [Torre] was here,'' said Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier. "Everyone is stoked. Last year, we got a little stale. I don't think that's going to happen this year.'' Then he laughed and said, "Don has already threatened us. If we don't play like we want to be here, we're gone.''
Mattingly said that managing in the Arizona Fall League "was a huge help'' in getting him ready to manage in the major leagues for the first time. "I was feeling my way through the games when [Dodgers hitting coach] Jeff Pentland gave me some great advice,'' Mattingly said. "He told me, 'Let the game come to you, just let your instincts take over.' So, I'd be thinking, 'OK, we're a run ahead in the seventh inning, we can't allow a double here,' so I'd adjust the outfield.''
Mattingly is so involved with his players, he occasionally actually stands in the batter's box against a pitcher who is throwing in the bullpen. Asked with or without a helmet, Mattingly said with a smile, "Without
Mattingly said the plan is to platoon in left field with Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, with others available, including Tony Gwynn Jr.. That's not exactly "Mannywood" from a few years ago, but they might provide a few home runs from left field. The Dodgers hit only 120 homers last year, second fewest in the National League ahead of only the Astros.
The Dodgers should be much more productive at second base with Juan Uribe, who hit 24 homers last year for the Giants. The Dodgers got only three home runs out of their second basemen last year. The Dodgers also plan on getting a little more rest this year for third baseman Casey Blake. With Uribe, they can do so by playing Jamey Carroll or Uribe at third, with the other at second.
Ethier on ace Clayton Kershaw: "I have been on him since the first day he came in here a few years ago, and he can take it. He's great. Someday soon, he is going to be scary good.''
Daily Kruk Revelation: When Kruk was traded by the Phillies, he essentially gave up all his Phillies memorabilia and equipment, saying, "Why would I keep it? I wasn't on the team anymore.''
Feb. 24 at Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz.
Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, who will start on Opening Day, visited the bus, and did an absolutely hilarious impression of Chris Farley's famed "Down By The River'' skit from "Saturday Night Live." When Dempster screamed the line "Jack Squat,'' our camera guy, Jim Farrell, was laughing so hard that his camera shook. Dempster did a standup comedy routine one night at Fanueil Hall in Boston during a huge construction project there about 10 years ago, he used that in his comedy bit, telling the 150 people in the crowd that on his tour of downtown that he saw the state tree of Massachusetts, "that little orange tree shaped like a cone.'' Everyone laughed. "I was so nervous,'' he said. "Give me 40,000 screaming fans any time over that. But once they laughed the first time, it was easier.''
Cubs manager Mike Quade has made an instant impression this spring with his amazing energy level, his communication skills and his down-to-earth personality. Last year, after being named the interim manager, he took the subway to the ballpark some days. "I was on the subway one day last year when, finally, the guy who drew the short straw came up to me and said, 'Are you Mike Quade?''' he said. "Then he said, 'What are you doing riding the train? You're the Cubs manager.' '' Quade said, "I've been riding buses and trains for the last 30 years. I'm not going to change just because I have a new job title now.''
Last year, Quade removed Dempster for a pinch-hitter after 78 pitches, with a two-hit shutout going, but it was a scoreless tie in the eighth inning, and the Cubs needed to get someone on base. They did, and they won the game. After the game, Quade called Dempster into his office and asked, "Are you pissed?'' And Dempster said, "You're damned right I am.'' Quade said, "Good, I want you to be pissed. I wanted you to be pissed if I take you out after 120 pitches. But I had to do what I had to do to win a game.'' To which Dempster said, "It's pretty hard to argue with that.''
Dempster on closer Carlos Marmol: "He took PFP [pitchers fielding practice] this spring, and I asked him, 'What are you even doing this?' No one ever puts a ball in play against you. It's either a walk or a strikeout.'' In 77 2/3 innings last year, Marmol had 52 walks and 138 strikeouts.
Quade made a tremendous impression on the Cubs last year, and not just in the won-loss column. On the second to the last day of the season, owner Tom Ricketts addressed the players, and thanked them for their efforts. And, he said, he wanted their input on things in the future. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano, from the back of the room, said, "Bring Quade back.''
The Cubs are looking for fourth and fifth starters to slot in behind Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. There are many options, including veterans Carlos Silva and Randy Wells, but the Cubs are hoping that two kids, Andrew Cashner and James Russell, can make a run at the rotation. Cashner was a closer in college at Texas Christian University and in the minor leagues, but his stuff is terrific. Russell, the son of former pitcher Jeff Russell, "has a big set of stones in every way,'' Dempster said. "Tell him to go get Joey Votto out, and he says, 'OK, what do you want me to throw?' We did the 'American Idol' thing last year, and, as a judge, I kept advancing him each round even though he was terrible. He couldn't sing at all, but he wasn't afraid to get up there and sing in front of everyone. That's hard for a rookie to do.''
Daily Kruk Revelation: He took Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd to dinner Wednesday night. "I told him, 'You pick, I'll pay,' '' Kruk said. Byrd picked the best place in town, then ordered a special $100 steak. "Two people, it cost me $360,'' Kruk said. "He told me, 'This is the greatest steak you've ever tasted.' And then he didn't even give me a bite.'' Afterward, Byrd and Kruk were approached by two women. "Could you please go get us our cars?'' they said. They thought Byrd and Kruk were valet workers for the restaurant.
Feb. 25 at White Sox camp in Glendale, Ariz.
Jake Peavy is attempting to come back from a shoulder injury.
"The White Sox have never seen me healthy, they've never seen me at my best,'' Peavy said. He is on the same work schedule as the rest of the pitchers, but they're going to be extra cautious with him given his recovery from shoulder surgery. If Peavy is healthy enough to make the club on Opening Day, he likely will be the fifth starter so he will only have to make two starts in April. The extra rest might allow him to get to 100 percent, and the Peavy-at-his-best, by the beginning of May.
The White Sox will use spring training to decide whether 21-year-old Chris Sale or Matt Thornton, two hard-throwing left-handers, will be the closer. Don't count out Sale, who struck out 32 in 23 1/3 innings last year after being taken in the first round of the June 2010 draft. "I have never been around a rookie who understands what this [the big league experience] is about better than him,'' said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Plus, he has great stuff, he throws three pitches for strikes, including a fastball in the upper 90s, and he's fearless.
"He is 6-foot-5, and I think he weighed in at 158 pounds,'' said Pierzynski of Sale. "He basically has no body fat.''
The White Sox moved third baseman Dayan Viciedo to right field, to compete with Carlos Quentin, leaving the third base job to either Mark Teahen or Brent Morel. Teahen will get the first look due to his veteran status, but Morel is the better defender. The White Sox are trying to get better on defense, their third basemen made 23 errors last season. Omar Vizquel will play third, also, but mostly he will be used all around the infield.
Pierzynski laughed about his relationship with Ozzie Guillen. "It's great, he yells at me, but it's OK because I can't understand what he's saying," Pierzynski said. "He never gets on me about what pitch I called. He and I get along great because we're supposedly alike. I don't think that's good for me.''
Daily Kruk Revelation: Guillen acknowledged that he didn't know any English when he came to this country as a minor league player 35 years ago. Asked who taught him to speak English, he said, "Krukie did.''
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.