Good day, Sunshine


CLEARWATER, Fla.—Same time, same spot. Big difference. Much nicer day today in Clearwater for Saturday’s game against the Twins and Jim Thome at Bright House. For the first time in a long time, the sun is out here…

Well, technically, the sun is out every day. Let's just say there is not a cloud in the sky. It's almost too sunny.

See you in Florida

Phillies Spring BaseballBy the time you read this I will already be dead…

Wait, what?

No, I’m just kidding around so I hope the the celebration hasn’t begun. at least not yet. Anyway, hopefully I will be in Clearwater, Fla. for a two-week stint writing about the World F. Champion Philadelphia Phillies beginning on Friday.

Should be fun.

As regular readers of this li’l dog-and-pony show know, we have written plenty about Clearwater, airports, security lines, the TSA threat level and Florida in the last 12 months, so don’t look for any insight on that kind of stuff here. Last I heard all the staples were still down there: Lenny’s, Frenchy’s, Hooters, the ballpark, strip malls as far as the eye can see, and that bar where Cole Hamels got into a fight and broke his hand.

All open for business and all ready to serve.

Anyway, click here, here and here for old Clearwater stories. We were there for the World Series just a few months ago and had a blast.

Nevertheless, it’s been a pretty quiet camp for the Phillies so far, which is a really good development. Is there anything better than a quiet camp four months removed from a World Series victory?

No. No way.

See you at the airport.

All work and no play…

burglasLet me preface this by harkoning back to last night’s jag of a post fueled by another full day at the ballpark and a veggie burger/side salad combo thang served at one of the many chain establishments that have sprouted up throughout Clearwater proper. If you like chain places, Clearwater is the spot because the strip malls filled with big-box stores have sprouted where once were palmettos and reeds of tall marsh grass. Now, instead of swamps, it’s Target, Borders, Costco, Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, etc., etc.

If you thought the Philadelphia suburbs (and now exurbs) were over-developed, you ought to check out the Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater. Either the folks really want to be homogenized by chain stores or they get really, really peeved if they have to drive the SUV more than three minutes to get a venti mochachino or an industrial sized vat ‘o mayonnaise from the Costco, BJs, Sam’s Club or whatever else folks go to.

Remember, you need a membership to go to those places. It’s that exclusive.

Anyway, the easy and relaxed part about spring training is the baseball. The guys playing and coaching are truly having a blast playing ball, getting into shape (yeah, a few of the guys look a little paunchy), and pushing away the stress before the games start to count. It almost seems as if the teams should get together during the afternoon and choose up sides.

Yes, the atmosphere is that informal.

But there is a misconception that the scribes covering the ballclub for the seven weeks of spring training are having the same type of relaxation and fun. In fact, I know for a fact that more than a few of the writers were taunted (taunted!) with the ol’ rolling of the eyes and the, “It must be nice to go watch baseball in Florida and write about it for seven weeks…”

First of all, unironic sarcasm is a character flaw. My suggestion for folks that engage in such banter are the books of Deepak Chopra.[1] Mellow out, dudes.

Secondly, it’s not all fun and games for the scribes toiling away in Florida. Actually, it’s no vacation at all – hell; it’s hardly even a picnic. For the writers, the day starts before the sun comes up and it ends long after the sun goes down. Sure, writing about baseball is hardly the same thing as digging ditches, but by the end of flexing all of those brain waves, the scribes are too tired to spend any time at the beach or the Target. Sometimes they are even way too tired to stumble back to the hotel, crawl into the whirlpool and crack open a bottle of Chablis. Most of the time the guys fall asleep in front of the TV with a half-eaten hot pocket stuck to their dirty Motorhead t-shirts.

No, nobody should live like that.

Perhaps most importantly, the writers back up and move away from friends and family for two months. While life goes on back in Philly, the fellas are trying to chase down Ryan Howard to glean sometime of emotion from him regarding his new salary.

Oh, but on occasion there is a chance to unwind. For instance, take what went the other night…

After the Phillies-FSU game was mercifully rained out and all of the stories about Brett Myers-over-Cole Hamels-as-the-Opening-Day-starter stories had been filed, it was nearly 11 p.m. Famished after another 12-hour day, the writers wanted to go out for something to eat but quickly realized every place was closed. It was a Tuesday night, after all, and in the straight world folks don’t keep baseball hours. That’s especially the case at the Sand Dollar – a favorite spot amongst the baseball-types for its all-you-can-eat grouper buffet.

Knowing that the joint was closed, the gang somehow coaxed the new guy, David Murphy of the Daily News, to go back to his room at the Holiday Inn Express for his piece. When Murphy returned, the rest of the guys talked the newest member of the baseball-writing group into forcing the place to stay open after closing so the guys could attack the buffet and eat everything in sight.

Thanks to Murphy and his pearl-handled berretta, a good time was had by all.

Of course, that was until the Clearwater P.D. showed up and put the kibosh on the evening. Though the rest of the scribes got off with just a written warning from the police, Murphy is still awaiting arraignment in the Pinellas County Jail. Word is his bail was set at $50,000 bond and until he raises the dough, the only meals he’s going to get are the three squares paid for by the taxpayers of Pinellas County.

Fortunately, the kid smuggled in his Blackberry from which he has been able to file his dispatches about the ballclub for the paper as well as updates for his blog, “High Cheese,” about life in the hoosegow.

We’re all hoping Murphy gets out soon, but in the meantime it seems as if the clink is the best place for him.

Anyways, the writers got up early on Friday morning to catch the morning “B” game at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. That’s where Myers will begin his spring action in attempt to prepare himself for his big, Opening Day start back in Philly against the nine from Washington, D.C. on March 31.

Me? Well, as I type this sentence I’m about 32,000-feet over the deep, America south jetting back to snowy Philadelphia and then home to The Lanc. Yeah, a few more days in Florida to chronicle the comings and goings of the Phillies would have been kind of interesting, but I miss my two boys and with any luck I should be back home before bedtime.

[1] That, folks, was ironic sarcasm. See how different it is from unironic sarcasm?

Ode to spring

Ryan HowardCLEARWATER, Fla. – The best part about spring training is the informality of it. The strict protocol and rules of the regular season are pushed aside explicitly for the regular season, but while in Clearwater for seven weeks in preparation for when the games really count, the Phillies have been pretty good about keeping it light and getting their work in.

Frankly, the best part about baseball is spring training. In the laidback atmosphere here in Florida, the players’ and coaches’ love of the game oozes like lava down the side of a volcano. For a change – at least when there are no cases for the arbitration panel to hear – baseball looks like a game. The corporatization of a simple ballgame takes a backseat until the scene moves north to the big, taxpayer subsidized stadiums.

Aside from getting in the work (who doesn’t love watching players do their strides on the warning track while the game is still in progress), players experiment and try things they would never do in a real game. For instance, if Ryan Howard would have come to the plate with runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth inning of a regular-season game, he never would have taken the bat off his shoulder. He would have taken four pitches wide and outside and then trotted to first.

But in Clearwater against the Pirates on Thursday afternoon with runners on second and third and two outs, Howard got a fastball right down the pipe. Needless to say, the big fella knocked it over the berm ringing the ballpark beyond the outfield fence and into a pond just shy of the chain link fence separating the grounds of the park from southbound lanes of US-19.

Chances are the ball turned into a meal for an alligator.

The best part about the homer was that Howard talked to the scribes about it just a few innings later. No one had to wait until the end of the game because the clubhouse opens up for media access a few innings into the game so that the ballplayers can take care of the reporters before taking off for the day. Frankly, it’s an odd thing being in the clubhouse while a game is in progress, just as it’s a peculiar thing to watch the final innings of a game from foul territory in left field.

Do that during the regular season and it’s off to the roundhouse.

Anyway, the proverbial book goes out the window at spring training. Instead it’s a straight ahead, backyard game. Pitchers challenge hitters and hitters swing (or don’t) at pitches they normally would not. That’s because it’s not about the stat numbers on the page, but instead it’s about being able to play baseball.

And who can’t appreciate that?

The Phillies will play a regular Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at Bradenton’s McKechnie Field at 1 p.m. in front of paying customers featuring a majority of the players on the spring roster. However, the more interesting matchup will be the “B” game played at Pirate City located at 27th Street in Bradenton, which is where newly-named Opening Day starter Brett Myers will make his 2008 spring debut. Lefty reliever J.C. Romero is also scheduled to pitch in the “B” game.

Two players that will not make the trip to Bradenton are catcher Carlos Ruiz and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Both players were given the day off, which, for Rollins means an early morning workout and then some relaxation at home for the rest of the day.

Rollins, needless to say, is pretty excited about the rare day off.

On another note, at his locker in the veterans’ corner of the clubhouse in Bright House Field, Rollins proudly displayed the championship belt awarded to him as the team captain in the weekly bowling matchup against a team led by Ryan Howard and featuring bowlers Brett Myers and Shane Victorino. Apparently Rollins’ team is such a juggernaut that Howard and his club were pleased that they pushed the best-of-3 series to the limit.

Afterwards, when asked whether the problem was the management as opposed to the bowling, Howard complained that the Philadelphia media was calling for his head.

“You lose one game and the Philly media tries to get you fired!” he yelled.

Hey, you can’t fire the bowlers.

That’s one down

Brett MyersThe Phillies’ first game of the spring came off without a hitch on Tuesday night here in Clearwater. Actually, it was one of those nights when the outcome was never in doubt… the players would never get out of the clubhouse.

Actually, the only debate was whether the rain was going to continue to fall perfectly vertical or sweep in sideways.

Interestingly, the cooler temps and the pounding rain came right on the heels of some 80-degree heat, which I clearly wasn’t ready for based on the aftermath of the morning workout (I’ll spare the details).

Anyway, I’ll dive in more in-depth tomorrow when an actual baseball game is played. In the meantime, here’s the latest opus on Brett Myers being named the Opening Day starter for 2008. There is some school of thought out there that Myers got the nod over All-Star Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier last season. As we all remember, Myers valiantly moved to the bullpen first as a set-up man for Tom Gordon and then as a closer after working as a starter for his first three starts of ’07.

Anyway, according to the Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater, Fla. is known to be a city of extremes. Actually, I just made that up. I doubt any chamber of commerce would drop that moniker on its town. However, based on the weather today and what is expected for the rest of the week, we’re going to be all over the map.

Still, while watching the rain pelt the ballfield, windows and landscape before pooling up wherever it could, I thought out loud, “Yeah, that’s so much better than snow.”

But snow melts and rain dries and so we’ll get back at it bright and early tomorrow morning.