Friday, February 28, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Some of you may not know this, but these days the word "Cadillac" is being used as a verb. The recent emergence of Yasiel Puig has brought that word into light on more than one occasion.
Meaning: to run in an unhurried showy way; generally, to perform or operate lackadaisically, carelessly, or without worry.
So I'll say it, and I make no reservations about it. Yasiel Puig is the cadillac king of MLB. The Coupe DeVille of Cubans, the Fleetwood of sleek footed outfielders, the Escalade of Esquivadores. NOBODY cadillacs catching a warning track fly ball like Yasiel. The only thing lacking when he makes those plays is a nonchalanted yawn, or perhaps blowing a bubble gum bubble while he flicks that glove open and makes the snag.
|Yasiel Puig makes the catch in Washington last year. Turned head away, nonchalant snag. (photo by Greg Fiume, Getty Images)|
He has such style and panache that he is reinventing what is "cool" on the field. Dodgers fans love it. Opposing fans hate it. One thing is certain though and that is the dude is one cool cat. Baseball is entertainment and Yasiel Puig reminds us of that every time he steps in between the lines.
Puig snagged a warning track fly today that many thought was out of the park. Yasiel had that thing in his back pocket the whole time. The collective groan of Diamondback fans at Salt River Fields was one of the funniest things Ive seen at a ball park. A groan of frustration and anger, then a few outbursts and name calling. "Showboat!" screamed a fan a few rows from me. The Dodger fans in my section just laughed. "I love watching Puig play," said Sheila, a Dodger fan seated next to me who I had struck up a conversation with. "He has a style and personality when he plays."
The Cuban stars are often misunderstood. They play baseball like Brazilians play soccer, "O Jogo bonito," which is translated to mean "The beautiful game." The take the field with flair, style and spirit. They personalize the game with an exclamation point. They make the routine look so cool and that's not easy to do. It's almost natural the way a player like Puig does it.
Take a look at a player like the Giants Hunter Pence. He's a good player and talented All Star, but everything he does is awkward. His swing is rough and lanky. He throws with a form that is crooked and bumpy. There's nothing in his game that looks fluid. I hand it to him because he get things done, but it's ugly looking.
Now compare that to Puig. He runs as smooth as silk. His form when he makes throws is near perfect. Even when he swings and misses he looks pretty. We know a lot of his ability was learned through extensive training, but you can't teach fluidity. You can't show someone how to properly run the bases with breakneck speed while hardly wrinkling his uniform. Those things come naturally. Those traits are possessed by Yasiel Puig.
So as he "cadillacs" his next warning track fly and we hear the groans of opposing fans, remember that we have a gem out there. This is the type of player that surfaces only once a generation, and this time he's a Dodger. Put the Caddy in gear and enjoy the ride.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
One of the fun parts of blogging is that I'm still a fan. I still put on my Dodger cap and maybe a Dodger related t-shirt and I go out and do fan stuff. Having the opportunity to work in the press box and get credentials is an exciting opportunity and all, but it has its drawbacks too. I think I prefer the fan thing. With all the access to players and interviewing them and getting the great quotes and inside stories, there's a downside, and that is that you have to maintain that unemotional demeanor and unbiased allegiance to the almighty sense of impartiality.
|Chone Figgins, fighting for a roster spot, takes time to greet fans after Tuesday's practice. He joked with a fan, "I don't sign anything where I'm in a Seattle uniform, the stats on that card are awful."|
Maybe that's why I didn't pursue the journalism profession many years ago when I had the opportunity as an undergrad. I was interested in it to no end, but now I realize that if I had gone that route, my Dodger allegiances would have probably had to go out the window. Or at least left on the window sill. And that wouldn't have been very fun at all.
So this morning, the 52 year old me got up early and boarded a plane to excitedly attend a week of spring training in Arizona. It is vacation time for both my not so enthusiastic wife and I. We landed in Phoenix at 9:00 am and headed straight for Camelback Ranch to watch morning workouts. At least that was the plan.
Now I'd love to say that the trip didn't take any detours, but my husbandy duties required a stop for breakfast. Then just as we were about to enter the facility, dear wife tells me that we need to find a JC Penney store to purchase a hat for her to shield her face from the Arizona sun, (and it couldn't be just any hat as there was a CVS pharmacy right there. It had to have some stye and match an outfit). Needless to say, my childlike patience was being worn quite thin as I pulled into the parking lot at around 11:00 am to watch the players workout.
To her though, it was just a workout. "Not a game, a practice." She doesn't understand that at all. In fact, she has a hard time understanding why an old guy like me still gets excited watching men that are younger than some of my kids playing baseball. She decided to just stay in the car as this morning the Arizona heat was quite bearable and she had enough reading material to keep her busy.
So I grabbed a few pieces of memorabilia. A ball, the ESPN magazine with Puig on the cover and a 55 commemorative pin with a photo of Lasorda pitching on it. From there this middle aged kid entered the CBR facility to take in the Dodger experience. At least for an hour before the team finished for the day. I was pretty sure that they were wrapping up for the morning as a saw a few sporty vehicles departing the complex as I entered, (most likely those of players that were done for the day).
And there they were. The boys in blue, with those heavenly home white uniforms. You know the "white" I'm talking about. That crisp white that hits the senses with a power that simply tells you, "those are the good guys." Memories come back. I think of entering Dodger Stadium as a seven year old boy with my dad and those sparkling clean home whites worn by the good guys. Forty-five years later those same units are worn by kids, some less than half my age, but they are still the good guys.
Maury is teaching bunting techniques over at the pit. Players are shaggy flies in the outfield. A trio of Figgins, Guerrero and Puig are batting at the plate in front of the cage, receiving pitches from a machine. Mark McGwire is patiently providing instruction and a translator is conveying his message to Guerrero and Puig. Davey Lopes is proving base running instruction to Yasiel in between turns that he takes with the bat.
|Newest Dodger Alexander Guerrero signs for fans following his Tuesday morning workout at Camelback Ranch.|
It is spring training at its best. Young players honing their craft. Crusty veteran coaches spreading their knowledge. Willing and earnest players soaking in that data. I love this time of year. It is the end of winter. A new year is dawning and a new hope is felt in the air. This is "the year."
The cell phone chimes. "Yeah, I'm almost done, honey." She came and joined me. Heck, she even was able to coax both Guerrero and Puig over to us to sign a ball and my magazine. She's good at this stuff, but she doesn't understand the passion I have for it.
Seven days, in the candy store. I love this stuff.
|Not the greatest strategically placed autograph, but a signature nonetheless. Thanks, Yasiel.|
Friday, February 21, 2014
While fans clamor to Glendale, Arizona to watch the big leaguers come out and run through drills, they stand behind ropes and barricades. Depending on the time of day and whether Sandy Koufax is present, these throngs can number from the hundreds to well over a thousand. I don’t blame fans for doing so. This is an opportunity to get up close to their favorite players and perhaps receive an autograph on a piece of memorabilia. Interaction with the players in spring training is a long-standing Dodger tradition, dating back for decades and it’s no secret that the Dodger organization has been tolerant and supportive of such traditions.
It’s one of those things that makes the Dodgers stand out from others. They aren’t the only organization that allows fans to get autographs from players, but they are by far the most fan accessible of all of them.
There’s a piece of CBR that many ignore that is baseball nirvana to a select few that know of it. They are the back fields. About 1/8 of a mile walk away where the major leaguers are practicing, this is where a lot of young prospects wearing uniforms with no names on their backs are working with coaches, simulating games, running drills and working on the fundamentals. It's also the spot where a lot of former Dodgers, many instructors and coaches, have congregated to help out the young prospects.
|Don Newcombe told my brother Taylor to have a seat next to him in his golf cart. They chatted for several minutes as they talked of the old Brooklyn days.|
It is future Dodger central and the barricades are not present. You can sit on a elevated tiered bench, the type that your parents sat and watched you in little league on, and sit next to the likes of Sweet Lou Johnson and Tommy Davis. Or carry on a friendly conversation with Steve Yeager , Matt Herges or Ramon Martinez (all Dodger organization coaches).
|Snapped this photo at the back fields. That's former Dodger Jody Reed watching the action.|
Why doesn’t anyone talk of this? Well, I don’t think it’s a super secret spot or anything like that. It’s just that most fans concentrate on the major leaguers. They like watching the guys with some current fame and recognition in action. Little do they realize that a lot of hidden gems hang around the back fields. Imagine talking to Don Newcombe for a half hour about the old Brooklyn days. I did back in 2011. it was an unforgettable experience. Sweet Lou entertained me for a while talking about his rhubarb with the Giants in 1965 and the series that culminated in the Marichal-Roseboro brawl.
|Steve Yeager was kind enough to pose for a photograph. We were absolutely freezing to death that March morning in 2011.|
Then there are the prospects. Most fans wouldn’t recognize a Ross Stripling from an Adam Law or a Kyle Farmer or Chris Jacobs. To be honest, I’d have difficulty identifying them all but that’s what makes the back fields fun. If you stay long enough, talk to a coach or two or simply watch, listen and learn, after a few hours you’ll be able to identify many of them.
They’re kids playing a kids game. They’re working hard and the enthusiasm is vibrant. Tis is Baseball 101 in full action at the primary levels of the organization. With apologies to Mr. Weisman, this the the 101st thing that every Dodger fan should do before they die.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Jon Weisman's Spring Training piece at Dodger Insider again reminds us what an outstanding writer he is. To read it click HERE
After this season Juan Uribe can say he's been a Dodger twice as long as he was a Giant. Never thought that would happen about ten months ago.
It's crazy how trade rumors take off. ESPN's Buster Olney admits in a piece that it is pure "speculation" on his part, but that Ethier would probably be better off in another uniform and a trade to Cincinnati for Brandon Phillips would be a good move. Suddenly everyone starts tweeting that the Dodgers are rumored to make such a move and that they're unhappy with Alexander Guerrero's progress at 2B. This social media stuff can really get out of control. Ethier isn't going anywhere. Matt Kemp still hasn't even tested his ankle beyond jogging.
After last season's madhouse at CBR with fans clamoring to see Sandy Koufax and the stampedes and rude behavior that accompanied it. I have mixed feelings about going there next week if I have to put up with the same thing again. Poor Sandy just wants to help out the ball club in peace. Can't we respect that? Let the man be.
I loved going to Vero Beach for spring training. It was a favorite vacation destination and all and the history of the place was almost palpable, but I have to admit that AZ Cactus League action is pretty sweet. The Spring Training venues are closer. It's much easier to see two games at two different places in a day. And best of all, a day off from the Dodgers can be utilized to take the family to the Grand Canyon, something I'll be doing this trip.
I never would have guessed this back in 1986 when I was a grad student at the Thunderbird School of Global Business Management, that the Dodgers would have their spring training facility in the same city 22 years later. Then again, back in '86, the city limits of Glendale, Arizona didn't stretch west past 107th Avenue as it does today. We couldn't even imagine where in the far west strands of the desert a 107th Avenue would be. I lived off of 59th Avenue, and that was considered the western part of the city back then.
In fact, I delivered the morning Arizona Republic to the farthest remote western ends of Glendale back then in order to help defray what I thought were outrageous tuition fees, ($4,000 per semester). The city expansion didn't extend any further than 83rd Ave I believe. Beyond that was a lot of cactus and tumbleweeds. So essentially Glendale, AZ has expanded another 50 blocks west since then. At that rate, they'll hit the California border by the year 2055. It was quite a shock to see all the changes when I first returned to region after 23 years, back in 2009.