Even though my legs won’t agree with me Spring Training is flying by right now, we’re already a couple of days into full squad workouts meaning there are close to 200 Tampa Bay Rays running around the back fields at Charlotte Sports Park. As was the case when I met the bunch of guys that were down here for early workouts all of the position players that just arrived have been great to me. Tuesday night was the reporting date for the position players, so there were reunions of all sorts around the hotel. I went with my roommate Justin and one other guy (whose name escapes me right now) to see Ride Along, a movie starring Kevin Hart, in the afternoon. There’s a theatre right around the corner from our hotel, so it was a quick ride over and back for us. The movie was funny at times, but certainly wasn’t anything worth talking about. When we got back to the hotel O’Conner asked if I wanted to go get dinner with him and a bunch of the guys which was awesome, so we went down to Luke Maile’s room to wait for the rest of the guys to arrive. We sat and chatted for a little while, the two of them catching up and Luke and I getting familiar with one another and trading stories about guys we’d both played with and against. After a while the rest of the Bowling Green guys showed up so I met Patrick Leonard, Joey Rickard, Tommy Coyle, and Marty Gannt. We split up into three cars and met over at Outback for dinner, and we talked about all the guys we faced last year, while Joey, Pat and O’Conner talked about their time in the Australian Baseball League this past winter. It was a really nice night getting to meet all those guys and hang out, and to try and start to build a new group to hang out with during the year. The weirdest and most difficult part of camp so far has been not having my guys around. It’s weird not getting to go and hang out with Fried, Walker, Shepherd, Joe Ross, and all the other San Diego/Fort Wayne guys.
I started out yesterday early with an interview on CBS Sports Radio Orlando, as I was invited on the morning show called “Baumann and Big Joe.” The show had featured Ronnie Richardson, my former teammate from Eugene on Tuesday morning, so I guess they’d asked him to contact me and see if I wanted to go on. I was thrilled to be invited, and even though I had to wake up early I had a great time talking to them about camp, the big league team and my blog. It’s very cool to know that even sports talk radio guys know about this, and it was fun to discuss all of that stuff with them. Since most of you follow me on Twitter or are friends with my sister and I on Facebook you may have already seen a link to the interview, but for those who haven’t, you can listen through the link my sister tweeted.
With the position players now in camp we’ve switched the format of the workouts from pitching groups to team groups. We’ve been divided into working groups that will eventually begin to form into the Minor League rosters later on in camp. Each morning we meet as a large group on Field 1 to go over the important notes for the day about which guys will be switching fields, and other housekeeping reminders. Hoffy leads the meeting and almost always “Skip” Evers has a quick comment for the group. Normally Skip talks about certain words like responsibility, and respect, reminding guys that the only way to make a career in this game is to be smart, and make responsible decisions that allow for proper rest, recovery, work etc. We then split up onto two fields, pitchers on Field 1 and position guys on Field 4 (which is beside, the numbers go around in a circle around the observation tower in the middle). We go through our stretching program, lead by a different strength coach every morning and then we do our conditioning. Next is base running, same as last week when it was just catchers. We then get our arms loosened up with our throwing program before the day really starts. At that point the catchers all head down to one of the bullpen areas to do defense work with Hoov, Skip and the other coaches. We have a specific area we work on each day and every one of us goes through the same series of drills. For example, yesterday we did a lot of receiving work, so each coach was given a different drill to work on with a group of 3 or 4 catchers. We started with some barehanded drills, working on staying under the ball, then we went to some mini glove work which is very similar in that we’re trying to work to keep the ball on the almost flat surface without closing the pocket. We finished with a “receive and footwork” and a throwing station. The receive/footwork drill helps to take us from just catching the ball to getting into our throwing position as if we were going to throw to get a runner at each base. The throwing drill is always just down to second base, and I had a lot of trouble with it yesterday, struggling to stay on line and gain ground toward my target. Yes Coach Pennucci, I STILL have an issue with gaining ground.
After we finished our defense work we head to our team fields to go into live BP (*title tie in*). Live batting practice is more geared toward pitchers, getting them on the mound, and having a hitter in the box. We as hitters are allowed to swing so it’s technically working both guys, but it certainly is a pain in the ass as a hitter. Unlike in a game when a hitter has a count and a scouting report live BP is done based on 5 pitches per hitter, and the guys throw their pitches in no particular order. Since they have no fear of walking somebody they could miss with two fastballs and then throw something off speed, which in a game is pretty much a sin, so it makes our job as hitters much more difficult. My group has three catchers, so during live BP we have one catcher on the field catching, one in the bullpen and one in the hitting group. Yesterday I got to lead off, which again means nothing other than I went first. I faced a lefty who threw from a high 3/4 arm slot, meaning that my first live pitches since last year were a little tricky to track. I spent the first 5 pitches just watching, getting used to seeing the ball out of his hand and recognizing spin. After that I figured I’d cut it loose a few times and swing. I made some solid contact off both pitchers I faced, and a whole bunch of ass out, completely fooled “doinkers” off of changeups I didn’t pick up well. I didn’t swing through any pitches, so that was positive, but knowing my eye at the plate during the season this was certainly day 1. When I finished hitting I went to the bullpen to warm up three pitchers, two of whom would throw to the other catchers. The third guy I brought in with me, and caught him on the field. Both of the pitchers I caught on the field threw 20 pitches, but the two sessions flew by and I remember very little of them. I think I was nervous, excited and a lot of other things that contributed to my blanking on them, but I know they went well because I only had 1 drop all day behind the plate, which was significantly better than my previous best of 3.
Today we battled bad weather so everything was moved up earlier than normal to try and get it all in before the rain. Half way through early work somebody called an audible, cut it short and we started practice at 9:15. Normally we switch early work stations at around 9:15 and we finish at 9:45. We hurried through stretch and conditioning and didn’t do base running in order to get our throwing and live BP in. Today I started in the bullpen, warming up Molina who has the dubious honor of being the last guy to surrender a home run to me. He’s a lefty from Bowling Green’s team last summer with a good fastball, a change up and a slider that is still a work in progress. I caught his thirty warm up pitches and sent him to the field, and he was followed by Ryan Garton who was also in Bowling Green last year. He also pitched at FAU against us my sophomore year at Stony Brook, so I’m fairly familiar with him. We talked briefly before he started throwing since he came over to the pen early, and he asked me how I liked catching, and if I had ever done it before, seeing as he’d only ever faced me as a 2B or SS. He threw thirty or so pitches in the bullpen, working on his fastball, curveball, change up and cutter before being called onto the field. As we walked out of the pen I asked how he wanted to work during his time on the field since the 20 pitches are limited to fastball and change up the first few times. We decided upon a routine and went to it. I had another clean day behind the plate, and was 2 pitches away from finishing his work when Araiza, one of the other catchers who was hitting at the time, fouled a ball off my right shoulder. It was the first time I had gotten hit with a foul ball, and even though I thought it would be a traumatic, horrible feeling it really wasn’t awful. I actually kind of liked getting hit in some weird way because it made me realize that it wouldn’t be that bad. My last pitcher was Faria, a tall right hander who would only throw his fastball and change up to me since we were on the field. He’s a taller kid, so I had a little bit of adjusting to do with my eyes because his high release point was above the batters eye in center field and with the grey cloudy sky the ball blended in. I had 1 drop during his work on the field, a change up that just sort of floated on me and I didn’t follow it into my glove, yes Molly it was a f****** focus error. As I trotted off the field to get ready for my live BP hitting the rain began to come down hard, so Hoffy blew the air horn and we all headed under the canopy at Field 5. We met quickly and were sent inside to wait for our turns in the covered batting cages. Group by group we darted through the rain to the cage, trying to get soaked as little as possible. We hit inside for 15 minutes each, and were allowed to pick which cage we hit in, so I ended up hitting with Johnny Field, who I knew from my trip to Las Vegas, and from playing against him in the Cape. The third guy in our group is Raul Mondesi’s son. I remember watching Raul as a Blue Jay when I was growing up, he was known for having an absolute missile for an arm, routinely throwing guys out at third and the plate from way out deep in the right field corner. When our 15 minutes was up we ran back inside, avoiding Oscar Hernandez who decided to try and jump in every puddle and splash us. It was another good day baseball wise, and I’m starting to get comfortable with coaches names and some of the players.