Good day, Sunshine

IMG00102-20100313-0921

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.

When Roy (nearly) fought Larry

Bowa_halladay By 2003, there were plenty of players in the Phillies’ clubhouse who wanted to take a poke at their manager and the pitching coach. Eventually, one pitcher is said to have cold-cocked the pitching coach, but the manager only ever (publicly) started fracases with the opposition.

That manager, of course, was Larry Bowa whose house-divided style of skippering never really caught on. And certainly we’ve seen enough of his act to know how it works. It’s just like clockwork:

• Something happens in the game that wrankles Larry’s delicate sensibilities.
• Larry starts talking trash.
• Benches clear.
• Larry gets behind two or three players/coaches in uniform who, “hold him back.”
• Rinse and repeat.

It was something that was put on display a few times during Bowa’s stint as manager of the Phillies and then, famously, during the 2008 NLCS where as a coach for the Dodgers, Bowa was reported to have been chirping, “You started it!” toward Brett Myers.

Cooler heads prevailed before Davey Lopes could put Bowa over his knee.

Nevertheless, one of Bowa’s better known bench-clearing incidents with the Phillies happened in a spring training game during 2003 at Jack Russell Stadium against the Blue Jays. That was the one where Roy Halladay plunked Jim Thome with a pitch and immediately got an earful from Bowa. By the time Halladay took his turn at the plate, he had heard all he could handle from Bowa and did what most sane people do in those situations…

Try to stick a foot down his throat.

Before he could dig in, Rheal Cormier missed twice while attempting to plunk Halladay. Still that wasn’t enough to stop Bowa from running his mouth. By the sixth inning of the game, Halladay had heard enough and went after the Phillies’ skipper only to be intercepted before he could shove his foot down Bowa’s throat. Bowa, meanwhile, fell back into his old tricks… he talked, postured and talked some more.

Take a look:

Halladay_fight

Bowa_halladay

Madson_bowa

After the game Bowa claimed Halladay intentionally tried to hit Thome—in a Grapefruit League game—and based it on the fact that the Jays’ pitcher has really good control. Ultimately, Bowa was suspended for a game. He later had his revenge, too, when he had rookie Ryan Madson drill a Blue Jays hitter in a Grapefruit League game in 2004.

Halladay, meanwhile, was a bit stunned by the whole thing. He said he told Bowa that he didn't try to hit Thome, but just got cursed at.

"He said a lot of things," Halladay said back in 2003. "But when he finally came close, I said, 'I didn't mean to hit the guy.' And he said, '[bleep!]' and a few other four-letter words."

All that yelling by Bowa was a bit confusing to Halladay.

"I don't understand why anybody would think I'd intentionally hit Jim Thome in that situation," Halladay said. "After all the times I faced him in the American League and never hit him, I can't imagine why they thought I'd intentionally hit him here."

Halladay continued:

"I didn't mean to hit the guy, but I understood why they were upset," Halladay said. "So you take your shots at me. Then it's over and done with. That should have been the end of it. … If he hits me, fine. He tried twice, and he didn't get me. But to come out there screaming and yelling … that was ridiculous."

Bowa was a bit more, um, curt.

"I don't know what he said, to be honest with you, and I really don't give a damn," Bowa relayed from his on-the-field "conversation" with Halladay.

So not only was Halladay a next-door neighbor to the Phillies during spring training at the Jays’ base in Dunedin, but like a lot of the old-time Phillies he also wanted to fight Larry Bowa.

Welcome aboard, Roy!

Back to earth

andrew_toneyLANCASTER, Pa. – Going to Spring Training to write about baseball is a lot like walking into a hermetically-sealed cocoon. Nothing pierces this bubble, which is more roach motel than a simple picket fence.

Ideas from the outside check in, and then they die.

So the first order of business since checking out of Camp Big Britches in Clearwater was to reconnect with reality. Or at least some facsimile thereof. And a quick look back at my version of reality shows that I missed some pretty cool stuff back here in Philly.

Lancaster? Not so much.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

• Apparently there is a basketball tournament going on. Villanova is in it, though it must be pointed out that the current version of the team is only slightly less evil than the older versions. Yeah, those fans/alums are still as arrogant as can be, but Jay Wright makes it all a bit more tolerable.

gonzo_gonzoMore interesting, Villanova plays Duke in the regional semifinal in Boston this Thursday. In the old days rational folks would have rooted for both teams to get lost on the way to the arena. Baring that, some discomfort or at least a few flat tires were in order. These days, anytime the li’l general at Duke gets beat is pretty sweet.

Hey, I’m not one of those hater guys (at least I hope not), so I guess it’s not fair to pick on Coach K because he has a really, really important job coaching basketball. He’s very important. Just ask him.

• The biggest whiff was skipping out before the Sixers played one last game at the Spectrum. No, not for the sentiment of playing a game in an old building because overwrought pining for things seems kind of silly. Besides, as Joe Strummer said, if you think too much about the past it will drag you down.

Joe… Joe was the greatest.

Sentiment and nostalgia are hard things to ignore. It’s the emotion of it, probably. Life can be difficult if you’re one to wade in past the shallow end, so comfortable memories of old times can be soothing on occasion. So for a lot of us – especially pre-teens who hawked the team during training camp at F&M – that ’83 Sixers club would have conjured up some fun memories.

If, of course, I had been at the Spectrum instead of sunny Florida.

Regardless, does it really count if Andrew Toney wasn’t there?

Sure, the Sixers undoubtedly did a wonderful job putting together a memorable event for the fans and the players, but Andrew Toney was such an important player of that era that it actually belied mere statistics and wins and losses. The truth is Andrew Toney changed everything in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

It’s possible Toney was the most important player in the game for a few years.

Here’s why:

If the Celtics had anyone remotely capable of guarding Toney, they would not have traded to get Dennis Johnson. And without Johnson, the Celtics are just a very good team, but not that much different from the rest of the very good teams.

So without Toney, the Celtics dynasty might have just been a blip in time and the Sixers might have snuck out of the East another time or two.

• Elsewhere, before Lance Armstrong broke his collarbone and possibly lost his shot at returning to the Tour de France, he had to submit some of his hair for DNA drug testing. Yep, athletes in sports outside of the big three, are submitting to DNA drug testing.

Meanwhile, baseball’s drug problem gets sillier and sillier by the day.

• Finally, speaking of drug-testing, maybe A-Rod should have been forced to offer a hair/urine sample after posing for this picture:

awhat

Seriously, I’m all for defying the conventional wisdom, but what is he doing? That’s something some dudes do when there is no one else at home and they don’t have to worry about being caught acting like a goof. But not A-Rod. He invites a photog and goes all out.

So when he puts on his Sunday best, grabs his parasol and sashays through the town square, don’t be surprised.

Utley to play… again

bpCLEARWATER, Fla. – Just catching up on some reading here at sunny Bright House Field before the Phillies take on the St. Louis Cardinals with Chase Utley hitting leadoff. Chances are Utley will get a handful of ABs before calling it an afternoon, but the Phillies have to feel good that their All-Star second baseman is trying it out for a second straight game.

This one, though, is an actual game without bloused uniform pants and mucho sock exposure, so it will be interesting to see how Utley performs in the formal structure.

Chances are he’ll do well.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus and his own FiveThityEight blog, wrote an interesting story in the latest edition of Esquire sizing up different investment strategies. The premise of the story was if a person put $1,000 in the stock market, cash, real estate, etc. in 1998, how much would they have made in 2008?

Across the board the returns were pretty consistent, except for one entity:

Major League Baseball.

A $1,000 investment in a big-league ballclub in 1998 would have quadrupled one’s investment in ’08. Better yet, though such high returns have slowed slightly, count on the growth to continue.

Writes Silver:

A catastrophic collapse of the baseball market remains unlikely, however, for two reasons. First, major league baseball is a monopoly with a legal exemption from antitrust laws, and therefore it’s not subject to the ordinary laws of supply and demand. In 1908 – the last time the Cubs won the World Series – there were sixteen major league baseball clubs for about 89 million American citizens, or one team per 5.6 million potential fans. But now there are thirty clubs for around 300 million Americans – just one to go around per 10 million of us. If not for its monopoly status, there might be forty or sixty major league baseball clubs, and the individual franchises would be less valuable. But because of it, buying a piece of a baseball club is a bit like marrying into the Rockefeller trust.

Second, and a little surprisingly, the sport has already begun to do something that so many other industries have struggled with: rationalize its pay structure. In the winter before its 2007 season, the industry spent a total of about $1.7 billion in commitments to free-agent contracts. But that amount dipped to “only” $1.1 billion last winter and should finish at around the same total this year.

So there you go. Take your money and put it into baseball.

Batting practice time… be back in a few.

Welcome to Camp Sleepy Time

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The sun is high up in the sky just beating down on everything beneath it. The thermometer on the scoreboard reads 76, but with the sun unblocked by the clouds it feels 20-degrees warmer.

It’s freaking hot for us dudes who prefer the cooler climes of the Northeast in mid-March. Some of us like to ease into the hot weather. Some of us need to run to the drug store to get stronger sun screen.

But unlike in Philadelphia, there is nothing happening with the WFC Phillies. All is quiet here at Bright House Field. It’s so quiet, in fact, that players actually played duck-duck goose during the morning stretch before heading back into the clubhouse to watch the country music video countdown on TV before Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against Cincinnati.

Looked like Keith Urban or Taylor Swift was No. 1.

Who is better and what’s the difference? Seriously, these are the big questions to ponder surrounding the Phillies these days.

Nevertheless, it was quite difficult to find topics to small-talk about these days. Ryan Madson only grunted a few “yeahs” and “I don’t know about thats” when asked ambiguously about the vagaries of Grapefruit League action.

Yes, welcome to the dog days here at Camp Sleepy Time ‘09.

Continue reading this story…

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.

Fish story

grouperThe sun is shining brightly here in Clearwater, Fla., a city where one can purchase illegal fireworks and a big bottle of Boone’s Farms Chablis with a twist-off cap at the Target on the Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. It should be noted that folks tell me that the Chablis goes nicely with the grouper they like to eat with damn-near everything around these parts.

You got your grouper sandwich…

You got your grouper kabob…

Grouper fritters…

Sautéed grouper…

Buffalo-style grouper…

Blackened grouper…

Grouper Mediterranean…

Also around these parts, the Phillies opened the Grapefruit League season with a resounding 8-1 victory over the new-look Cincinnati Reds yesterday at Bright House Field. The big story of the game, of course, was the Phils’ pitching, mostly because scoring eight runs ain’t no thang for the club’s offense. The truth is, the Phillies are going to bash the hell out of the ball this summer, but we’ll dive into that in a bit.

Back to the pitching…

As noted extensively and exclusively (for the first time since the last time), cagey vet Jamie Moyer was stellar in his three-inning stint. His lack of velocity on his fastball was in mid-season form and, as the lefty noted, his curve and change are a step or so ahead of the hitters at this point in the spring.

“I got away with a lot of pitches. The first strikeout to (Ryan) Freel was a real bad pitch, but those guys are just getting started as hitters. I would never get away with that during the regular season,” Moyer opined. “I don’t like to make pitches like that, but when you do it forces you to figure out what’s going on. I think, if anything, that’s what I take out of it. It took me two innings to figure out the minor things and now I’ll have something to work on for my next bullpen moving ahead.”

Mentioned, though not delved into too deeply, was the fact that Rule 5 pick-up Travis Blackley also tossed three shutout innings in relief of Moyer. Certainly the outing bodes well for the left-handed Australian in his quest (yes, a quest!) to make the ballclub. If Blackley doesn’t make the club he has to be offered back to the Giants, and only if the Giants don’t want him back can the Phillies slip him down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

It’s the same type of deal the Phillies had with Shane Victorino two years ago when the Dodgers didn’t take him back.

Anyway, Blackley says he likes what he’s seen from his Phillies’ teammates so far and really hopes he can fill a role on the pitching staff.

“I’d prefer to start. I’ve always started, but I just want to pitch at that level,” Blackley said. “I’m just down to throw. If it happens to be a bullpen spot, sweet, I’ll take it. If it doesn’t work out here, I’m throwing for other teams as well.”

Bubba, Forrest, Lt. DanGrouper parmesan…

Grouper chowder…

Grouper casserole…

Grouper au gratin…

Pan-seared grouper with curry cous cous…

As for the offense, all the big off-season acquisitions smacked doubles. Infielders Eric Bruntlett and Pedro Feliz went 2-for-2, while Geoff Jenkins went 1-for-3.

The theory floating around is that the Phillies should count on big years from Jenkins and Feliz because they can comfortably slide into the team’s lineup without any pressure to carry the load. For the Brewers, Jenkins was counted on to slug 30-plus homers and to be the team’s main run producer for years, but with the Phillies he will likely bat sixth in the lineup comfortably behind Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell.

Out of San Francisco, Feliz no longer has to protect Barry Bonds in the batting order. Instead, he’ll fit into the battom-third of the order and could be a 30-homer threat at cozy, Citizens Bank Park.

Anyway, here’s the lineup for this afternoon’s epic tilt against the Pirates here at Bright House Field:

11 – Rollins, ss
99 – Taguchi, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
7 – Feliz, 3b
10 – Jenkins, rf
28 – Werth, lf
19 – Dobbs, dh
51 – Ruiz, c

Pitchers: Kyle Kendrick; Joe Savery; Josh Outman; Francisco Rosario; Lincoln Holdzkom.

Time to stretch

Will & HeidiI’m not an expert on much, but it seems to me that there is much more anticipation about the official opening of spring training this year than in the past. Folks are charged up about baseball and spring training as if the day pitchers and catchers are expected to report to camp has some sort of significance. I don’t know – maybe it is significant. But it’s kind of like the first day of summer or something in that it might be hot for weeks leading up to the “official” day, but it’s not really summer until the third week of June.

Spring training “officially” begins this Thursday, but it’s largely ceremonial – a made-for-TV moment, if you will. The fact is most of the ballplayers have been working out since November and shifted their regimes to Florida or Arizona earlier this month. This Thursday teams like the Phillies will stretch and run formal drills with the wags from the press in attendance. But really, nothing changes for another few weeks when they kick-off the exhibition season.

Still, who doesn’t like the first days of spring training? Watching ballplayers stretch and go through old-timey calisthenics under sun-soaked skies from snowed-in northeastern cities is a way to mark the seasons. TV folks trot out the standard clichés while the newspapermen get to work on the issues facing the club, such as when will the team add another arm to the pitching staff and when will they come to terms on a contract with the top slugger.

New year, same themes.

So while the ballplayers go through their stretches and cover-first drills, I’m going to hang out up here in the snow and cold until Feb. 25. That’s when I’ll go to Clearwater for all the color and pageantry of spring training. Besides, spring training is the best part about baseball.

Until then, it’s back to the ol’ grind.

Here are a few sports-related stories that actually turned my attention away from the stuff I normally read about for a spell:

***
Bryant GumbelBryant Gumbel’s Real Sports on HBO is easily the best sports show out there. The reasons for that are myriad and too long to get into now, but it’s always enjoyable to watch and listen to topics that get into issues.

One of the issues tackled by Gumbel in the latest episode of the show was the ethics of Roger Clemens’ lobbying of Congressmen ahead of tomorrow’s hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Gumbel questioned whether Clemens’ overt wooing of specific Congressmen would affect the legitimacy of the hearings and closed the show with this:

“Finally tonight, a few words about flattery. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and notorious self-promoter, once observed that ‘Those who say flattery doesn’t work have never had it practiced on them.’

“That quote would seem to have registered with Roger Clemens, who, facing congressional hearings this week into his alleged steroid use, suddenly became civic minded last week, and made a number of personal house calls on Capitol Hill. Given Clemens’ well-earned reputation for surliness, his transparent charm offensive was to many— exactly that. Aside from the obvious question about why elected officials would consent to meet with a freshly deposed witness in advance of his testimony, you’ve also got to wonder just how much Roger’s shameless slurping may have compromised the objectivity of those slated to question him.

“Following some face time with the accused, one California Republican came away gushing about how much Clemens was the kind of guy you’d want as a neighbor. Since neither party has a monopoly on bad judgment, a Democratic congressman from Brooklyn named Edolphus Towns, all but fell at Clemens’ feet. Parroting the pitcher’s defense after their meeting, Towns claimed his half hour personal visit had made him a believer in Clemens’ character.

“Now I obviously have no idea if Roger Clemens is guilty of that which he is accused. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But you do have to wonder why someone who’ll be under oath and claims he’s innocent would engage in what looks like the political equivalent of jury tampering to try to influence his reception before a House committee. You could argue it’s good insurance. Or you could conclude that on the heels of an interview, a press conference, a taped phone call and a deposition…he doth protest too much.”

It makes one wonder not only about the relevancy of Congress tackling the issue of steroids in baseball, but also if the hearings are nothing more than the typical political dog-and-pony show. The New York Times examined the issue, noting Congressmen in charge of questioning the pitcher posed for pictures and got autographs during Clemens’ lobbying jaunt.

***
According to published reports, The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was released this week. Hey, who doesn’t like swimsuits? But really, does the SI swimsuit issue really matter anymore? With all the stuff out there on the Internet – swimsuit or not – is the issue just another media anachronism from another tired magazine?

Hey, I’m not telling them to stop…

***
One of my favorite sporting events takes place this weekend in San Diego where some of the best runners in the country will battle it out over the hills and dales in the U.S. Cross Country Championships. This being an Olympic year with the Trials in Eugene quickly approaching, some runners decided to sit out, like defending champ Alan Culpepper. But the top two finishers in last November’s Marathon Olympic Trials will be there.

Undoubtedly, the 12-kilometer championship race will be hyped as the match-up between tough Dathan Ritzenhein and the American distance running’s great hope, Ryan Hall. Runners Dan Browne, Andrew Carlson, James Carney, Anthony Famiglietti, Jason Lehmkuhle and Jorge Torres will also be in San Diego fighting for both a national championship and a spot on the national team for the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 30.

Livan HernandezSo who’s going to win? Certainly it’s hard to bet against Ritzenhein and Hall, who clearly are the class of the field. Dan Browne is another Olympian and a veteran of some big-time races, while Torres is an excellent cross runner and Famiglietti has the pedigree, too. But my dark horse is James Carney, a graduate of Millersville University, who won the U.S. championship in the half-marathon last month in Houston.

With the way he has been racing, Carney could make the Olympic team in the 10,000-meters if he isn’t careful.

***
Speaking of the Olympics, there was an interesting story in The New York Times on how the USOC will supply athletes with American food and chefs while in Beijing for the games. Now we all know that holding the Olympics in China is wrong for thousands of reasons, with pollution, environmental and human-rights concerns right at the top.

But according to the story in The Times, an American delegation traveled to Beijing and tested out the food sold in Chinese supermarkets… let’s just say it didn’t go well.

While in China, USOC caterer Frank Puleo picked up a 14-inch chicken breast and had it tested – the results:

“We had it tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive.”

That’s really saying something considering how full of hormones and steroids (and other things) meat sold in the U.S. is loaded up with. That is, of course, if author Eric Schlosser is wrong… which he is not.

***
Finally, it’s interesting to note that the Twins signed Livan Hernandez for $5 million for one year. An innings-eating right-hander, Hernandez hasn’t missed a start in years and routinely piles up 200-plus innings every season. Even last season when his Ks-per nine innings were way, way down, Hernandez still threw close to 220 innings (counting the playoffs).

Knowing that it only took $5 million to get Hernandez, 32, to sign with the depleted Twins, would it have been wise for the Phillies to take a shot at the righty? I say yes because I like sure things. Hernandez is almost guaranteed to turn in another 200-innings season in ’08.

Randomness

I’m not angry about anything today. The snow and ice (or “snice”) is finally starting to melt and it looks like I might be able to get my car out of the driveway by tomorrow some time. I also had a decent run that wasn’t impeded by too much snice that formed like a glacier over the neighborhood. I’m properly caffeinated, not over-fed and everything appears to be coming off without a hitch.

Since that’s the case, let’s just do an old-fashioned link dump.

Ready?

  • In New York the big deal seems to be the story about the relationship between A-Rod and Derek Jeter. Actually, it all sounds like the time in eighth grade when my friend John got angry with me for making fun of his parachute pants. Hey, he knew where he got those pants – why should I apologize because he wore the same pants as Micki Free?

    Nevertheless, Tyler Kepner and Ben Shpigel of The New York Times are keeping a baseball blog this season. Guess what? It’s pretty good.

  • No one asked, but judging from some of the photos from Clearwater, Ryan Howard isn’t in great shape.

    Remember in the old days when guys showed up at spring training and wore those rubber jackets the entire time? It’s interesting to see how far training and the science behind it has come.

  • Here’s one – three guys ran across the Sahara Desert. To cover the 4,000 miles in 111 days, the trio ran the equivalent of two marathons a day.
  • What’s going on with the Phillies? Check it out, I broke it down:

    In today’s Daily News, Marcus wrote about Jayson Werth and how he hopes to catch on with the Phillies.

    In today’s Inquirer, Todd wrote about Jayson Werth and how he thinks he can help the Phillies.

    In today’s Courier Post, Radano offered this piece on Jayson Werth and his prospects for 2007.

    In Tuesday’s edition of the News Journal, Scott Lauber gets in to how Jayson Werth is looking to bounce back in 2007.

    On Phillies.com, Ken Mandel takes a look at the maturation of prospect Kyle Drabek.

    For today’s edition of the Bucks County paper, Randy Miller wrote about Jayson Werth and his recovery from surgery.

    The good people in Delaware County were treated to a story by Dennis Deitch about how Jayson Werth says he has something to prove in 2007.

    Stephen Miller of the Morning Call wrote in the Tuesday edition about how Jayson Werth is feeling ready to contribute in 2007.

  • Elsewhere, Paul Hagen’s updates on Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal were excellent.
  • Go figure… it’s warm in Florida

    Let’s start with what you are going to see in the first dispatches from the Phillies’ training camp in sunny Clearwater, Florida. They pitchers will be doing the requisite calisthenics and running along the outfield grass. They will be images of them smiling and laughing while playing catch – maybe even a whoop or holler from a hitter as the crack of the bat gives off the aurality of a shotgun report as a line drive rockets toward US-19.

    It’s fun just imaging it.

    But then it happens. Some TV reporter – or maybe even a coach or player – will come on the screen with a Cheshire-cat grin as they inform viewers that the current temperature is 68 degrees and the weekly forecast is only calling for temps in the mid-60s.

    “Getting a little chilly down here,” someone will condescendingly spit through that grin.

    Frankly, those moves are nothing more than the refuge of an ultimate hack, so get ready for it. Just resist the urge to shout back at the TV, “Hey Hack, I guess you’re trying to point out that it gets warm in Florida. Right? Gee, I didn’t know that. Guess what? It snows in Pennsylvania during the middle of February. Sometimes it even gets cold and I didn’t even have to get the meteorological society stamp of approval to figure that one out. Now get back to your 30-second ‘report’ while I sit here and wait for the 17 minutes of weather in a 22-minute ‘news’ report.”

    Thanks for indulging that little rant. I do it so you don’t have to.

    Anyway, here are the other stories you can expect to read (and then hear) about this week from Clearwater:

  • Pat Burrell’s health, outlook for 2007, whether he can “protect” Ryan Howard and his thoughts on Mike Schmidt’s assessment of his game. No, there will be no shortage of Pat Burrell reports this spring/season.
  • The bullpen – specifically, who is the set-up man. Will Antonio Alfonseca or Ryan Madson be able to fill that role or will the Phillies have to make a trade to get that much-coveted reliever?
  • Who is the odd man out in the rotation? Is Jon Lieber on the block or is Adam Eaton going to the ‘pen? To a lesser degree, can 44-year old Jamie Moyer continue to rack up the innings and be an effective fifth starter?

    Better yet, can 23-year old Cole Hamels continue to pitch as well as he did to close the 2006 season or is he doomed to suffer another injury? Has Brett Myers really “matured” or will he resort to his old habits when the new contract and season settles in?

  • Ryan Howard and the long-term contract issue… Let’s see if he turns out to be more like Willies Stargell and McCovey than Joe Charboneau or Bob Horner.
  • Charlie Manuel’s contract. In the last season of a three-year deal most fans would be content to let the skipper walk away. However, most fans don’t go into the Phillies’ clubhouse.
  • Who is going to be the every day catcher?
  • Who is going to be the every day third baseman?
  • Most importantly, are the Phillies really ready to challenge the Mets and the Braves in the NL East?

    So many questions and a lot of fun trying to figure out the answers.

  • Now is the time: Phillies open camp filled with high expectations

    John R. Finger
    ComcastSportsNet.com

    CLEARWATER, Fla. — Quick, has anyone seen any story, TV clip, or mention of the Phillies’ opening of spring training that did not start with the phrase, “Now is the time.”

    Anyone?

    Didn’t think so.

    When Larry Bowa placed those red t-shirts in every locker of the spanking-new clubhouse at Bright House Networks Field, he not only put his players (and himself) on notice, but he also provided the local scribes and talking heads with a ready-made lead.

    Not bad.

    Nevertheless, t-shirt philosophy and cliché-addled copy be damned, is there a better slogan for the 2004 Phillies? After all, now (thanks Larry) really IS the time.

    What? Does “World Series or Bust” sound a little too bold?

    Regardless of what the Phillies wear while they soak in the warm Florida sunshine as they begin their eight-month pursuit to play baseball in October, it is hard to cloak the high expectations enveloping every aspect of this club. Yes, failure to reach the post-season for the first time in 11 seasons would be bad. Very, very bad. Hey, Now is the Time.

    And why shouldn’t it be? New players, new stadiums, new outlook…

    “We’re supposed to win,” new closer Billy Wagner told Comcast SportsNet. “I’m supposed to play good and everyone in that clubhouse is supposed to play good. It’s not like it’s something that’s just on my shoulders, it’s going to take an effort from 25 guys to go out there and win the World Series.”

    Yeah, it always does. But the 25 players the Phillies will head into the season with are as talented as any nine a Philadelphia club has fielded since… well, ever. Gone are Jose Mesa, Terry Adams, Turk Wendell, Brandon Duckworth, Mike Williams, Dan Plesac, Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Arriving are Roberto Hernandez, Todd Worrell, Eric Milton, Shawn Wooten, Doug Glanville and Wagner, while Kevin Millwood, Jim Thome and David Bell return with mainstays Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf.

    Simply adding Wagner, probably the best lefthanded closer ever, would have been enough, but the Phillies, with general manager Ed Wade calling the shots, added starter Milton, re-signed Millwood and shored up the ‘pen with former All-Star closers Hernandez and Worrell.

    Geez. Who owns this team? Steinbrenner?

    “It’s pretty exciting to see the evolution of the team from ’99 until now,” Wolf told Comcast SportsNet. “There was no secret that when I came up, we weren’t a very good team and we went through really tough times. I think the progress of us getting players like Jim Thome, Billy Wagner and the development of a lot of young guys coming up — such as myself, Brett Myers — is pretty cool. To see the culmination of the ballplayers with the new ballpark here in Clearwater and the new ballpark in Philadelphia is pretty cool to see. Everything is coming together at once.”

    Ah yes, like boastful t-shirts and lofty goals, optimism oozes like lava from a volcano during spring training. Everyone is healthy and happy with unlimited potential. Tough-minded questions and the notion of what could go wrong hasn’t even entered into the conversation yet. In fact, the perception that there is pressure on this team to win, and win now, was quickly dismissed by Bowa.

    Never mind those t-shirts he was passing out.

    But since we’re working with an unoriginal concept here, let’s play the question game. Perhaps when the club heads north in six weeks, the answers will be that much clearer.

    · Has Pat Burrell fixed the problems that ruined his 2003 season? Is he the 37-homer, 116-RBI guy from 2002 or the guy who batted .209 last season?

    · Is David Bell’s back and hip healthy?

    · Can Jimmy Rollins grasp the concepts that have made Juan Pierre one of the most exciting players in the game?

    · Will the team cut down on all of those strikeouts that have plagued the club like walking pneumonia since Bowa took over in 2001?

    · Will Marlon Byrd avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”?

    · Are the rumors about Vicente Padilla’s alleged drinking problem truly fiction?

    · Can Jim Thome hit 50 homers?

    · Can Placido Polanco stay healthy?

    · What’s going to happen with Chase Utley?

    · How many post-game pies will Tomas Perez dish out this season?

    · Burrell?

    · Is Milton’s knee ready for 34 starts?

    · Can Wolf maintain his All-Star form?

    · Is Abreu ready for the breakout season people are touting?

    · Will the Phanatic be allowed to ride his motorcycle on the new grass at Citizen’s Bank Park?

    · Are veterans Hernandez and Worrell ready to go the entire season injury free?

    · Can Rheal Cormier encore his strong 2003 season?

    · Will Bowa and his players get along?

    · How good will the view from the new press box be?

    · Burrell?

    · Is Millwood in good enough shape to be able to crank it up during the stretch run?

    · Finally, is it possible for a parade down Broad St. in October? Has there ever been a season so eagerly anticipated than 2004? “There’s a lot of excitement because of what we’ve brought in,” Wagner told Comcast SportsNet. “Being part of a trade and the expectation to win a World Series is something that’s new to me. Each year in Houston we took one step forward and two steps back, get one guy, get rid of two, but here it seems like they have made a commitment to doing what they want to do.”

    Play Ball!

    Hey, now is the time.

    E-mail John R. Finger