Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rubby serves me a Plate of Crow and Suchon on the Giant Morning Show

Rubby De La Rosa dominated last night,  is he the "Pedro Martinez" that we won't let get away this time?

It was nice to see Rubby De La Rosa make me look like a fool with my comments from yesterday’s post in which I said I didn’t see any “can’t miss” prospects coming out of the farm system.  I should have known better, because I saw De La Rosa pitch well in Arizona a week ago and he was impressive.
Last night’s 5 2/3 inning stint against Seattle was absolutely masterful.  I was watching the Seattle Mariner feed and they couldn’t stop raving about Rubby.  In fact, in the 4th inning, a visitor to the booth was Mariner General Manager Jack Zduriencik.  He was immediately asked about his club and he started raving about De La Rosa, the fact that the Dodgers snatched him up for only $15,000 and that he was hitting 99 on the radar gun.

I can't get this song out of my mind with the Rubby name.  (Yeah, I know the original song is about a girl named Ruby).  It doesn't matter though, Donald Fagen's 1982 recording of this Dion classic is great.

Dodger Talk Co-host Josh Suchon
So I got up this morning to listen to Giant flagship radio (KNBR), the Murph and Mac Show, interviewing Josh Suchon.  The smack talking began, bright and early.  Suchon was introduced as the “former northern California kid, turned Dodger Superstar.”  Host Brian Murphy then started in stating that “flying over Dodger Stadium today will be World Championship gloating.”
Suchon didnt miss a beat stating, “You guys are still talking about the World Series?  Act like you’ve won one already.”  He added that a phone call woke him up this morning and when he saw that it was from the 415 area code, he knew “it was on.”
They asked Suchon about the Dodgers and what is going on with them.  Suchon’s responses were that it has been relatively quiet spring.  He mentioned the group of 5 on the D.L., the transition to Mattingly and then they started talking about Kershaw.
For five minutes the hosts and Suchon spoke of Kershaw’s potential, his demeanor, the nasty aresenal of pitches, his lack of run support, his Cy Young potential, the 1-0 shutout he pitched against the Giants in the midst of their Pennant run last September.  Suchon also mentioned what a good person he is, his philanthropy, the trip to Africa, the $100/strikeout donation to African homeless children.  It was a good segment and showed the Giant listenership the type of person that Clayton is.
He was asked about Uribe and how he thought he’d be received in San Francisco.  Suchon turned it around and said that Dodger fans have questioned the acquisition and will forever question acquisitions of former Giant players after the Jason Schmidt debacle.  He added that Uribe was convinced to move to L.A. by Dodger coach Manny Mota due to their close connection.
Brian Murphy started talking smack about Matt Kemp, saying that he seemed “disinterested” in attempting to catch a fly ball in a spring training game against the Giants in Scottsdale.  Suchon was immediately defensive of Kemp and said “he is poised to have a Monster season.”  THe S.F. hosts were surprised, and Suchon continued stating that Kemp is the kind of player that “needs to be playing with a smile on his face.”  He added that the departure of Bowa and Schaeffer from the coaching staff and replacing them with Lopes, his agent’s best friend (Dave Stewart), was something that has made “his smile return.”  He further added that Kemp is in shape, that he lost weight and gained muscle and he’s hungry to succeed this season.
Ethier’s comments were discussed next and Suchon stated that Ethier is a “strange guy” that always has to play with a chip on his shoulder, dating back to his days at Arizona State.  He added that Andre isn’t due for free agency for two years and that there is no way that he will be non-tendered after this season.   He said that each season, Andre feels he needs to prove himself because the Dodgers have brought in other outfielders (i.e. Jose Cruz Jr., Luis Gonzales, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre) and that these internal issues have seemed to drive him to perform well. 
So the conversation came back to the Giants again.  The hosts starting gloating about the Giants swagger, their new first baseman, Brandon Belt, who they described as “Will Clarkesque.”  (It should be noted that the Giants announced that Belt will be starting at First Base and that Travis Ishikawa was designated for assignment).   They also mentioned that the Panda has arrived in shape and skinny, the pitching staff is set for years and that the Giants are set for a run for years to come that will lead them into dynasty type status.   I loved Josh’s response:
“Giant fans this spring have gained a reputation of obnoxiousness that surpasses Boston Red Sox fans.  Word around all the Arizona spring training venues, be it Surpise, Mesa, Glendale, Peoria was that their fan base was extremely arrogant.  Don’t start printing the 2015 World Series Tickets before the 2011 season is played.”

Interesting and "spot on" perspective of the Giant-Dodgers rivalry by Jon Weisman over at Dodger Thoughts:


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Negativity is Getting the Best of Me

I can’t remember so much negativity prior to the start of a season since probably back during the Fox years.  Posts on blogs and message boards are really started to slash my optimism of a successful Dodger season.  Opening day has always brought on so much hope, but for some reason, this year, the negative vibe has got to me.  There are probably a number of reasons why this is so.  These are some of them that I can come up with:

First, the ownership issue is just sapping the enthusiasm out of the fan base.  There had to be about 5,000 people at Monday’s game.  I haven’t seen such a sparse crowd at Dodger Stadium in years.  We all know that opening day will be a full house.  Where the real test will be is for Friday’s game.  What kind of turn out will there be for the second match with the hated ones?  
After reading Bill Plaschke’s article on season ticket holders failing to renew until the ownership changes, it simply shows the seriousness of the ownership situation and the anger of the fan base.  There are some real loyal Dodger fans that will not step foot in the Stadium until the McCourts are gone.
Second, there hasn’t been much to cheer since 2009.  The Gnats won the World Series, which was incredibly depressing and the Dodgers simply tanked during the second half of last season.  There aren’t any sure signs that things are turning around and the Giants are a real confident bunch.
Third, the “No Manny” factor leaves this club absent a true superstar.  With all the problems that Manny had, he was the constantly feared bat in the lineup.  Now he’s gone and an adequate replacement has not been found.  Albert Pujols would be an ideal man to fill that void next year, but with the ownership situation the way it is, that is a true “pipe dream.”
Fourth, Spring Training really hasn’t raised anyone’s hopes for the season.  A 13-20 record is not something that should be judged as a precursor of things to come, but it doesn’t raise one’s confidence.

Fifth, injuries to Garland, Padilla, Blake and the absence of Bellisario have weakened the roster even further.  The failure of Ely, Elbert, Hoffman and Paul to emerge and win jobs when it appeared that the door of opportunity had opened for them, leads many to believe that perhaps they aren’t ever going to be anything more than average to marginal major league players in their careers.

Sixth, There seems to be a lack of confidence in the bullpen.  Jonathan Broxton isn’t blowing away hitters anymore.  Hong-Chih Kuo hasn’t shown a propensity to be able to pitch everyday, and Guerrier isn’t showing any signs that he is a solid middle relief pickup.  

Seventh, the two bright lights in Spring Training - Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. are now slumping.  What looked like two locks for the starting line-up a week and a half ago are now not looking too good.  DeJesus may not make the team.
Eighth, Andre Ethier makes an ill-timed statement that he might not be a Dodger next year.  He questions if he’ll be non-tendered if he has a bad year.  So in the back of his mind, he’s thinking that his year might not be too good.  That isn’t a good sign from one of the offensive stars on the team.
Ninth, there are really no stand out prospects in the system that are “can’t miss” stars.  I like Sands, Gordon and Robinson, but are they potential superstars that will carry the club for years to come?  Zach Lee still hasn’t thrown a minor league pitch.  Withrow and Martin haven’t dominated.  I hope I’m wrong, but there doesn’t appear to be any hope to surface from within in the near future
Tenth, the outfield defense.  It is simply atrocious.
Eleventh, the jury is still out there on whether Don Mattingly will make a difference.  Personally, I like him and I believe he’ll succeed.  But we have to recognize that there will be growing pains with having a rookie manager at the helm.
Aside from all those negatives, I see the club doing well. :)  Yeah, I picked them to go all the way again.  My heart is making the pick.  Honestly though, my mind is worried with the reality of the eleven points mentioned above.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Know Thy Enemy Part Four - And Last But Not Least, the Hated Ones

Giants 2010 Victory Parade

About a month ago, I got called out by a Giants fan for being “obsessed” about the Giants on this blog.  My immediate reaction was, “no way, I hate them, but there is no way I’m obsessed with them.”  But I got to thinking about that statement and realized that perhaps there is some merit to his accusation.  So I checked all the 55 postings on the blog up to that point.  I pulled stats on any references I made to teams other than the Dodgers.  If the entire article was on another team, (i.e. Killebrew and the Twins or a pre-season look at the Rockies), then I just counted those articles one time.
From12/22/2010-02/28/2011,Teams referenced in this blog other than the Dodgers:
San Francisco Giants - 17
New York Yankees - 5
Colorado Rockies - 4
Philadelphia Phillies - 4
Anaheim Angels - 3 (I’ll never call them Los Angeles until they officially move to L.A.)
San Diego Padres - 3
New York Mets - 3
Minnesota Twins - 3
Arizona Diamondbacks - 2
Atlanta Braves - 1
Baltimore Orioles - 1
Boston Red Sox - 1
Chicago Cubs - 1
Chicago White Sox - 1
Cleveland Indians - 1
Detroit Tigers - 1
Florida Marlins - 1
Oakland A’s - 1
Pittsburgh Pirates - 1
Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals - 1
Okay, so he’s right.  I’m obsessed with the Giants.  When I address another team on this blog, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be the Giants.   (By my calculations, it's a 30% chance that the mere mention of another team is of the Giants).  So, what you gonna do about it?  After all, it’s only natural, I should be obsessed with the Giants.  I’ve lived in this Bay Area region now for the past 15 seasons.  Every time I turn on sports talk radio, it’s Giants, Giants, Giants.  The anti-LA sentiment is palpable, and it’s not just sports.  Bay Area natives will argue that their region is better from amusement parks, airports, freeways, weather, restaurants, beaches, stadium food, music venues, malls, bike trails, even street gangs.  (Yes,  gang culture divides between regions, with rival gangs “norteños vs sureños”).
When I hear or see something related to the Giants and Dodgers, I often report it.  When I hear or see something that may be only Giants related, I sometimes write about it.  They are after all, the defending champs.  As much as it pains me to write that, the truth is the truth.  I attend at least 6 games between the Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco each year, donning the blue colors.  That alone sparks controversy and creates stories.
So in the past month I have tried to back off from reporting too much Giants stuff, but now that the truth is out there.  Now that the whole world acknowledges my “obsession” with the Giants, well the gloves are off.  I’m not going to hold back.  I guess I could have created this blog on a Dodgers-Giants rivalry theme with the amount of material that there is to report.
So with that introduction, my review today is on the final National League West division rival, the defending champion San Francisco Giants.  
An Amazing Year
The Giant fans had a dream season in 2010.  After having so many great players wearing the orange and black, dating back to the late 50’s.  They were never able to win that elusive crown.  Then a group of misfit position players teamed with the best pitching in baseball got the job done.  I just shook my head as the Phillies rolled over and died in the NLCS.  What happened to that team that dominated us the previous two years?
Their best pitching staff ever
What a staff they have.  Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner and Zito.  I’ll put those five up against the Phillies starters and could easily argue the the Giant starters are better.  They proved that fact in the NLCS last year.  Those top four got the Giants over the hump that the Dodgers were unable to ascend in ’08 and ’09.  And you have to give credit where credit is due.  For the past three seasons, the Giants have led the league in ERA.  The weaknesses they have of the five are obviously Zito, but aside from his salary, he isn’t that bad.  
Giant rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner proved to be a solid addition to an already potent pitching staff
The only current concerns for that staff is keeping them healthy.  All of them pitched injury free in 2010.  Though Bumgarner has been lit up in Spring Training, how seriously can that be taken?  He could simply be working on a pitch or two.  I don’t see that as a big deal.
The Bullpen
Brian Wilson (3-3, 1.81 ERA, 70 games, 48 saves),  Sergio Romo (5-3, 2.18 ERA, 68 games), Santiago Castilla (7-2, 1.95 ERA, 52 games), Late season acquisition from Pittsburgh Javier Lopez (2-0, 1.42 ERA, 14 late season pennant race games).  These guys were lights out.  Others were solid - Dan Runzler (3-0, 3.03 ERA, 41 games), Guillermo Mota and Jeremy Affeldt had their moments.  That starting staff and lights out bullpen carried a poor hitting offense and mediocre defense to the World Series Championship.  The Giant team ERA was a microscopic 3.36.
Sabean acquisition Javier Lopez was a great pick up.  Here he is  in game one of the NLCS against the Phillies

The Giant Offense
How bad was the Giant offense?  Well you need to go back two decades to find a more feeble offensive championship team.  This club had some sock and improved in the latter months, but if it weren’t for a dramatic 10 game Padre losing streak in Aug-September.  The Giants World Championship drought would be working on its 57th consecutive year.
Buster Posey is a beast.  Coming off a well deserved Rookie of the Year campaign, Posey will be an MVP candidate this year if he continues to progress. With only 108 games under his belt last season, Posey’s line was .305, .357, .505, .862, with 18 homers and 67 RBI.
A great hitter, Buster Posey will give nightmares to N.L. pitchers for years to come
Aubrey Huff looks to get the nod at first base.  The 33 year old veteran enjoyed a fine injury free season in 2010 (.290, .385, .506, .891, 26 HRs, 86 RBI).  His ability to keep up that production will be seriously challenged as his age advances.  With up and coming Brandon Belt in the wings, the Giants look to be solid at first base for years to come.  (Belt is hitting .343 over 69 ABs this spring). 

Freddy Sanchez will start at second base and hopes to be healthy.  Sanchez (.292, .342, .397, .739, 7 HRs, 47 RBI) looks to improve those numbers by playing more than the mere 111 games he logged last season.  

Miguel Tejada replaces Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe at shortstop.  With the defensive range of a statue, the Giants hope that his offensive numbers compensate for the runs he will give up due to his diminishing range at short.  Tejada’s UZR over his career is at -30 which is astoundingly bad. His offense is declining too, but not at the steady rate of his defense (.269, .312, .381, .692, 15 HRs, 71 RBI).  

Then the question remains, which Pablo Sandoval shows up this year?  He is slotted for third base, and he has lost a lot of weight.  His numbers thus far in Spring Training are promising over 69 ABs, with 3 Homers, 12 RBIs and a .290 avg.  Sandoval’s competition, Mark DeRosa, coming off an injury plagued season is holding his own this Spring hitting at a .310 clip.
Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrel and Nate Shierholtz don’t really strike the fear in opponents, but they hold their own and they proved last season that they could get clutch hits.  Ross himself carried the club through several post-season victories.   
He hits two homers in a game and gets traded the next day, good thing we kept  Ricky Ledee.  Thanks,  Ned.
Winning does amazing things to a team’s confidence.  The Giants have swagger.  Something they have lacked since the days when Bonds/Kent/Burks/Aurilia/Mueller were in the prime of their careers.  I really don’t see this team as one that  dominates anyone on the offensive side of things.  It remains to be seen how their winning ways affect them this year.  A reality TV show for Showtime will be filmed within their clubhouse for a good portion of the year.  Brian Wilson has proved to the nation that he is one strange man.  Some find him funny.  Others arrogant, while I will just wait it out.   One thing for sure, he is enjoying the new-found celebrity.  Now will the oblique injury linger for the year?  
Will the pitching hold up.  Zito, Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez each had 33 starts last year.  There were no substantial injuries with the club.  How often does that happen for an entire year?  Now the Giants are asking for the health issues not to surface for a second consecutive year.  Are they pressing their luck?  Already Cain and Wilson have had to shut things down this spring.
Bruce Bochy just creates good clubhouse chemistry wherever he goes.  He’s about as interesting as watching paint dry when interviewed.  He’s a real cliche machine, but players love playing for him and he now has a world championship under his belt.  I see the Giants contending throughout the year, but an injury or two will surface and lesson their win total in 2011.  My prediction is that they finish the year with an 89-73 record, just missing the division title and also falling short in the wild card race.  
So I pick the Giants to not make the playoffs.  Is that the Dodger fan in me making a pick with my heart?  Yeah, probably.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Know Thy Enemy Part Three - The Arizona Diamondbacks

Earlier in the Spring I did a quick post on the Padres and Rockies, in an attempt to cover the National League West rivals.  
Now that I’m back from my Spring Training vacation, I continue that series with a look at the remaining teams.  Next up are the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Diamondback Manager Kirk Gibson
An Arizona Republic Sports Poll from today asks fans to pick the winner of the National League West.  The results as of this writing are:
San Francisco 39.91%
Colorado 26.29%
Arizona 19.72%
Los Angeles 7.51%
San Diego 6.57%
Diamondback fans are certainly optimistic considering all the holes this club has.  I find it a little bit refreshing to see that fans of other teams are taking the Dodgers lightly.

The D-backs won't be throwing any Division Championship pool parties this season

Coming off a 65-97 record in 2010 and a second consecutive last place finish in the N.L. West, nearly all prognosticators have the D-Backs again finishing at the bottom of the division in 2011.  I must say, I really can’t argue with those predictions.  The Snakes have some talented young players in Chris Young Justin Upton, and Stephen Drew.  But where I see them having problems is the 4 and 5 spots of their rotation and primarily in their bullpen.
Starting Pitching:
Led by an impressive Daniel Hudson (7-1, 1.69 ERA, 11 starts, 79 IP) who came over from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson deal.  Arizona also has a solid Ian Kennedy (9-10, 3.80 ERA, 32 starts, 194 IP) and newcomer Barry Enright (6-7, 2.91 ERA, 99 IP) rounding out their first three starting spots.   Manager Kirk Gibson as late as two days ago has not announced that former Angel lefthander Joe Saunders (3-7, 4.25 ERA after trade) is in the Diamondbacks starting rotation.  Saunders has had an awful spring, sporting a 14.50 ERA.  The other starting positions were to be fought out by new arrivals Zake Duke and Armando Galarraga, but Duke’s pitching hand was broken when hit by a line drive and he’s out until at least May.   Galarraga has shown promise in his young career but has been unimpressive this Spring.  The Diamondbacks had hoped that a change of scenery will help him improve.  A surprise entry into the battle for the final starting pitching role is veteran Aaron Heilman, who has pitched well in the Cactus League this year.
Lefty Joe Saunders is having his troubles this spring training
Where the Diamondbacks may run into problems with their starting five is that they lack a true innings eater.  Several young arms fill out the staff, with only Saunders having once reached over 200 innings pitched in a season, (203 IP in 2010).  That leads to a need for a decent bullpen, something that the Snakes do not have.
The Bullpen:
After having a fine comeback season in 2010 with the Chicago White Sox, J.J. Putz comes to Arizona after signing a free agent contract.  Putz is being slated for the closer spot, a role he hasn’t filled since 2008 with Seattle.  As a set up man with the Pale Hose, Putz sported a 7-5 record with a respectable 2.83 ERA. 
J.J. Putz, new closer has been hampered by back problems this spring
Last year it was the bullpen that killed this team.  It will probably be the undoing of the 2011 club as well.  I really don’t see much improvement here for the Diamondbacks. For 2011, aside from the addition of Putz, G.M. Kevin Towers has added right handers David Hernandez (8-8, 4.31 ERA, 79 IP) and Kameron Mickolio (a 26 year old with unimpressive major and minor league numbers) from Baltimore in the Mark Reynolds deal.  Juan Gutierrez (0-6, 5.08 ERA, 56 IP) returns, he led the team with 15 saves last year when veteran Chad Qualls faltered. The remaining bullpen spots are being contested among the loser for the 5th spot (Heilman, Galarraga or Saunders) and minor leaguers.
Update: to make matters worse, Putz has been suffering back problems this spring and it is uncertain if he’ll start the season on the disabled list.
The outfield:
Chris Young rebounded respectfully in 2010 and will start in center.  The beast in the lineup is Justin Upton in right and Xavier Nady comes over from the Cubs to start in left field.  It should be noted that Nady has not performed well this spring and scouts are saying that he has lost bat speed.  In the event that Nady continues to falter, youngster Brandon Allen has performed well in spring training, but he may be a victim of the numbers since he has options left.
It was unbelievable that the D-Backs were considering trading 5 tool man Upton this off-season who is far and away their best player.  
The infield and catching: 
Stephen Drew starts at shortstop (.278, 15 HRs, 61 RBI, 151 games) and steady Kelly Johnson starts at second (.284, 166 hits, 154 games).  Melvin Mora is slated for third base, but he is starting to slow down at 39 years old (.285, 7 HRs, 45 RBI, 113 games).  The Snakes will miss the bat and glove of Adam LaRoche who left for Washington.  New acquisition Juan Miranda (from the Yankees) may get the nod here since he is out of options, but he has hardly impressed this Spring.  Both Allen and Nady can play first and veteran Russell Branyan can fill in this position as well. 
Miguel Montero and Henry Blanco will share the catching duties, with Montero handling 60% of the starts most likely.
The bench:  
There really are no real household names here.  Russell Branyan hit .238 between Seattle and Cleveland last season.  Blanco, Blum, and Bloomquist don’t bring back memories of Houston’s Killer B’s.  Gerardo Parra also attempts to land a bench spot.  A recent injury to Geoff Blum has opened a spot for Ryan Roberts to make the team.  Yesterday the D-Backs picked up Kevin Frandsen from the scrap heap, though it looks like he is slated to start the season at Triple A Reno.
Newly acquired Russell Branyan should play a prominent role on the Snakes bench this season
The Outlook
I love Kirk Gibson as a manager.  I wish he was in the Dodger organization.  If there is anyone that can light a fire under a club it is him, as we well know.  But he’ll have to be a true miracle worker to get the Snakes out of the N.L. West cellar this season, and that's too bad, because it could cost him his job.  Arizona lacks a bullpen.  Their starting staff is too inexperienced and has too few that can eat up innings.  There are question marks at first base, third base, left field and catcher and now the closer in the bullpen.  I see the Diamondbacks winning 68 games this season and finishing last.  There are too many holes with this club.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Back From Camelback Ranch - My Impression of the Place

I'm on my way back from Camelback Ranch after spending 4 days there and catching 5 games total.  Here are my impressions of the Dodger new Spring Training Home 3 years in, (as I drive through Arcadia on the 210).

  • Fan access is almost as good as Vero Beach.  It is organized and it’s fun to watch the players practice.  There is close access to both the major and minor league fields.  Interaction with the players continues as it did in Florida.  There are more restricted areas so wandering around the complex is somewhat limited, but I can hardly blame the Dodger organization for tightening that up.  It is my opinion that the open access that presently exists is too liberal.  We should enjoy it while we have it because the day will come that somebody that isn’t quite mentally stable will do something that makes the organization re-think the open access policy that currently exists.  I hope that I’m wrong, but my somewhat jaded view of society as a whole tends to make me think otherwise.
Jonathan Broxton signs for a mob of fans, 3/24/11

  • What I found disturbing was that there is no shortage of adults who will trample over a kid in an effort to get an autograph.  If I were a player, I’d simply refuse to sign for the many adults there.  It is obvious what so many of them are doing as they carry bags with organized cards and photos waiting for signature.  It looks to me that some of the players get it and won’t sign for adults, who then cuss them as they walk away after they have ignored an adult with cards, photos, balls, bats, helmets.  The memorabilia industry has created these monsters and spoiled things for legitimate collectors that simply want the keepsakes for themselves.

  • There is also no shortage of adults that will "pimp out" their young cute kids in an effort to get a signature on a collectible item.  I have no problem with that as long as the child is getting the item for themselves, but a 6-year old girl with a metallic silver pen, being instructed to have the player sign on a specific part of the heavy helmet she carried?  I saw it with my own eyes, and she really didn’t want to be there.
  • The Dodger Dogs are boiled.  Puleease!  Those things weren't Dodger Dogs, though they were advertised as such.  I found that the food options were not anywhere close to as good as those at Salt River Field at Talking Stick (D-Backs, Rockies facility) or at Surprise Stadium (Rangers, Royals facility).
  • There are no cup holders in the stadium.
  • It would be nice if there was a patio with tables and shade to sit down and eat your meal within view of the playing field.  There is something way in the back behind centerfield, but you can't see the field from there. Maybe there is such a place, but I couldn't find it.
  • Ticket pricing structure is a bit high considering that you are watching a Spring Training game.
  • The Camelback Ranch staff is extremely friendly and helpful.  I arrived early each day because I wanted to watch the minor leaguers.  Each day as I drove past each parking lot check point, the employees working the lot would wave “hello” as I drove by.  At the entry to the complex was an extremely helpful lady handing out maps, answering questions and checking bags.  I was impressed with the customer service from the parking lot attendants, security staff, gift shop personnel, ticket office and ushers.  Everyone was polite, helpful and overall very nice people.  
  • I also enjoyed the aisle vendors and their humor and interaction with the fans, ("Ice Cold Beer, as cold as your ex-wife,"  "Lemonade, Lemonade like Grandma made, Ya gotta have it!").  Those guys were real cut ups.
  • No sign of Frank McCourt anywhere.  At Vero Beach he was out hob-knobbing with the fans.  Not anymore.  I didn't expect him there though.
This isn't a real clear shot of Salt River Field at Talking Stick, but you can see that they actually have a video screen/scoreboard similar to many major league parks.  (photo from Mar. 21st game vs. Diamondbacks)
  • I noticed at the other two ballparks that the scoreboards were better quality with more information.  They included radar gun readings for the pitches, something that Camelback Ranch doesn't have.  Salt River Field has a full blown jumbo-tron video screen which is very impressive.
  • The complaints about the parking situation at Camelback Ranch I really didn't see as an issue.  Probably because the crowds weren't that big.  There is only one open exit from the ball park, which slows the exit of patrons due to a stop light on Camelback Road.  Each day I was there, I was able to exit within 10 minutes after getting in my vehicle.
Minor League Practice Field.  Only a handful of fans go there while hundreds await the major leaguers at the practice fields near the stadium.
  • The grounds are pristine and beautiful.  They landscaped it with desert friendly flora and there is a pond that separates the Chisox from the Dodger facilities.  Practice fields are accessible and I spent each day watching the minor leaguers, away from the mobs of autograph hounds.  Interestingly enough, there were some fantastic autograph opportunities for fans in that area had they known anything about past Dodger players that are currently working in the organization.  Those that I saw frequenting the minor league fields were: Charlie Hough, Matt Herges, Lenny Harris, Lou Johnson, Don Newcombe, Jody Reed, and even Tom Lasorda. 
Minor League coach Jody Reed looks on.  Yes, I thought about that contract he turned down and the resulting DeShields/Pedro Martinez deal.
  • Did I mention that the seats don't have cupholders?  Yes, I did.  It's worth mentioning again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More From Camelback Ranch

Tongue Tied
There he was, a baseball icon.  A player that was not only there, but lived through the discrimination and injustices that African American ballplayers endured during the 40’s and 50’s.  A man that roomed with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.  He is the last link to those two that still works with the Dodgers.  Don Newcombe is a true legend, and I got to meet him briefly.
Lou Johnson arranged it.  He introduced us.  I was tongue tied at first.  I didn’t know what to say, but eventually I was able to overcome my nervousness.  I thanked him for his great work with so many that battled addictions.  I told him that I admired his courage and tenacity.  He turned to me and simply said, “thank you.”

Don Newcombe asked my brother Taylor to take a seat in the golf cart as we posed for this photo.  Taylor to his right and I am to his left
The Offense is Coming Around
A dodger offense today showed some promise.  Uribe banged out two hits, Kemp did too including a 420 foot blast to left center.   Also with two hits was James Loney and Ivan de Jesus Jr, who is seriously vying for a roster spot.  Tony Gwynn Jr. started in right field today, drawing a walk, and successfully sacrificing a runner over.  Gwynn motored around from first to third on a sharp single to the outfield.  The man can run!  Marcus Thames lined out and hit a solid single. Altogether the team rapped out 13 hits in a 6-2 victory.

Both Matt Kemp and Marcus Thames had a big day today during the 6-2 Dodger victory over the Chisox
I’m still concerned with the outfield defense.  Matt Kemp got a horrible jump on a catchable ball hit to left center that dropped for a double.  Thames made a fine running catch, but also had a poor jump on another fly ball that dropped for a hit.
The pitching looked good.  Ted Lilly went 6 innings giving up two earned runs and six hits, striking out five.   Scott Elbert continues to impress after his horrid start to this spring.  He pitched the eighth inning, striking out two and giving up a lone single.  Travis Schlicting and his awesome mullet closed out the ninth inning.

Scott Elbert

Again, attendance at Camelback Ranch was poor.  An Announced attendance of 6,037 that I found hard to believe.  Here are photos, you be the judge.

Logan White

They have the first part of a 4 part interview with Dodger Assistant General Manager Logan White who says that he believes that the 2010 draft may have been his best ever, even surpassing the draft of 2002.   Excellent job guys!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Trek to Camelback and an Interview with Sweet Lou

It all started Saturday night at 11:30 pm.  I had a work assignment that sent me to Oakland Airport and I finished the assignment at 3:00 am.  Knowing that I had to depart the Bay Area that morning for the Glendale, Arizona road trip, (a week’s vacation at Camelback Ranch), I had decided to leave directly from work rather than return back home for only a few hours sleep.  I opted to depart early and see how far I could drive before I’d have to stop and sleep for a little while.
My dear wife had prepared me for my long drive by setting my car up with a pillow and blanket.  So off I went, Steely Dan CDs blasting as I set off for Interstate 5.  Within an hour and a half, I was fighting the sleep and soon realized that I’d have to stop at the first rest area for 40 winks.  At 5:00 AM I arrived at an interstate 5 rest area north of Coalinga to sleep. I set my cell phone alarm to wake me at 7:00 am so that I could continue my southward trek.
By the time I hit the grapevine upgrade, the weather was downright filthy.  Wind had literally overturned two cars that the Highway Patrol was attending to.  When I arrived at the Tejon Pass, I needed to gas up.  My GPS indicated that the outside temperature was 32 degrees.  When I stepped outside at the Shell station, the snowflakes were falling at a furious pace on a sideways angle.  “I’ve gotta get out of here before the Chipies close down I-5,” I thought.  And I cut short my work at the gas pump after fueling only 4 gallons and started up the grade again.  By the time I reached Pyramid Lake, the snow had stopped falling and was replaced by the pouring steady rain which took out one of my windshield wiper blades.
I arrived at my brothers Chino home at 11:00 am and was able to nap for an hour or two while I waited for him to return from church.  By 3:00 pm, he joined me as we drove on to Phoenix.  On the way there we conversed about the days ahead.  Dodger tales from the past.  A lot about our Left Field Pavilion adventures as kids.  By the time we had checked in to our Phoenix hotel and got a bite to eat it was around 10 pm and I was exhausted from the long drive and only 2 hours sleep, ( in my car), from the early morning hours.

We got up early for breakfast and went to Camelback Ranch (CR) for when the gates opened.  It was a cold morning and the weather prediction was an 80% chance of ran.  It looked like the skies were going to open up.  After walking the grounds and getting familiar with the layout of the facility, we decided to go to the Minor League Fields and watch the activities.  That turned out to be a good decision.
There were the youngsters playing in two intrasquad games.  And we immeidately recognized former Dodgers some on coaching staffs, others just helping out: Ramon Martinez, Jody Reed, Matt Herges, Steve Yeager, Charlie Hough, Sweet Lou Johnson, Lenny Harris.
We mainly just watched, but during breaks in the action we were able to converse with Yeager and Johnson.
First there was Steve Yeager.
Steve was freezing to death out there.  The expletives were flowing from his mouth over the weather.  He was extremely gracious with my brother who approached him and  spoke with him a few minutes.  He signed his ball and even inscribed “81 W.S. co-MVP” on it.  He mentioned that he missed Vero and said that he’ll be back there for fantasy camp this coming winter.
Just then a kid at third base dropped a win blown pop up, “For the love of (expletive),” said Steve.  He was gracious, and he posed for the photo shown in yesterday's post.  i told him I was disappointed that I didn’t bring the LP he recorded with Reuss, Johnstone and Monday  so he could sign it and he said, “We really butchered the hell out of those two songs didn’t we?”

My brother Taylor and Lou Johnson

An Unforgettable 25 minute conversation with Sweet Lou

I saw Sweet Lou Johnson and struck up a conversation with him.  I was absolutely amazed at his graciousness.  He actually thanked me for taking the time to approach him.  We posed for pictures man, I’m telling you, Sweet Lou started talking and talking and talking.  He wouldn’t stop.  I was trying to keep good notes and keep up with all the topics he addressed so that I could mention them, some of them were:
  • The Giants winning the series and that he was happy for them.  “Man, that team, that city, I felt sorry for them.  All those years, those great players and they never won it.  I was happy for ‘em.”

  • How the game has changed with all the pitching changes and pitch counts and specialization, expansion, body armor. “Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson...those fellas would throw 200 pitches a game, and come back three days later.  Why can’t these kids do the same?  Nobody’s throwing any harder.  And I don’t understand why these hitters are allowed to wear those guards on their arms and legs, it shouldn’t be allowed.  Pitchers can’t pitch inside anymore without getting warnings.  I don’t understand it, with all the protection those batters get to wear now, there should never be warnings for pitches thrown inside.”

  • Stories about beanballs and how pitchers used to take care of players back in his day.  “Bob Gibson hit me in the third at bat in a game after I had doubled off him on the second AB.  Man, I’m telling you, he plunked me like no pitcher has ever plunked me!  The man threw hard!  After he hit me, I wasn’t gonna call him no names, cuz’ I knew i’d have to hit against him again.  That man was intimidating man.  I’m down  like this at home plate, (Lou bends his torso down with his hands on his knees), just like this.  I couldn’t move man.   He hit me hard right here man, (points to his left shoulder).  I couldn’t move, honestly.  And back then we had all these baseball unwritten rules, to not let a pitcher know that he hurt you.  Walt Alston comes out and says, ‘Don’t rub it,’ and I’m bent over like this and I say ‘F$#% man, I can’t even move my right arm even if I wanted to rub the left, How am I gonna rub it?”  (he breaks out in laughter).  That’s the truth, I can’t raise my right arm and I got hit in the left, Gibson threw that hard!
Bob Gibson pitching in the '68 World Series

  • His opinion on differences between the game back then and now.  "But we had some games man!  Those was good games.  We didn’t have but 8 teams in each league.  There was nothin’ watered down with the players back then man.  25 players times 8 teams.  That was the best players in the world. And we had some games.”

By this point, I was firing off the questions and had my camera rolling so I wouldn’t miss anything:
Q: So what can you tell me about the incident in Candlestick Park when Marichal clubbed John Roseboro with the bat.  I saw footage of that brawl and you were (he interrupts)
Johnson:  “I was gonna kill somebody.  I lost it.  I was so angry.  You see, they was using bats.  You just don’t start swinging bats man.
Q: You mean Tito Fuentes?
Johnson: “That’s right.  Fuentes had a bat and he was swinging it at people.  And I was gonna get him.  What people don’t understand man is that Rosie, John he was my closest friend on the team.  We lived two blocks from each other.  We drove to games together.  We socialized together.  When I saw his face, and the blood.  Well, I just lost it.
Marichal and Fuentes with bats swinging during the Aug. 22, 1965 brawl at Candlestick Park
Q: And how did they calm you down?
Johnson:  "Well it wasn’t they, it was him.  Somebody lifted me off the ground.  Someone, a big man.  I don’t know where he came from, but McCovey lifted me up off the ground and said I needed to calm down, and (laughs) I wasn’t gonna argue with McCovey.  That is a big man.
But I knew I was gonna get Fuentes.  The man played second base and the next time I had a chance to come in hard to break up a double play, hell man, I ended up in left field I slid so hard.  But I missed him, ‘cuz he knew what was coming.  Even today when he sees me he says, ‘you were trying to kill me,” and I tell him, ‘I still haven’t got you yet,’"  (he breaks out in laughter again)
Lou Johnson poses for photograph with me

At that point someone from the dugout calls out to Lou, he excuses himself and thanks me for talking to him.  Imagine that.  He thanked me for the conversation.  

Finally Made it...Camelback Ranch

After driving 800+ miles and heading straight to Camelback Ranch, I am exhausted.  There is so much to write, but I'm dropping fast for lack of sleep.  They say a picture paints a thousand words.  I'll have to trust that old saying and post some pictures before I turn in.

Camelback Ranch is an awesome facility.  The game rained out, but I was able to be there early enough, (thanks for the suggestion Roberto), to head out to the minor league fields and see some intra-squad games and chat with former Dodger stars.

At night we went to Salt River Fields at Walking Stick, (another fantastic place), to catch the D-Backs-Dodgers.

On to the pictures...I'll post the long details tomorrow night.

Steve Yeager was very accomodating

Minor League Intra-squad game before the rain arrived

John Ely stopped for everyone, a very nice young man

Clayton Kershaw delivers a pitch Monday night
My brother Taylor shares a laugh with Sweet Lou Johnson