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…

That’s no coach… it’s Jamie Moyer!

moyerCLEARWATER, Fla. – Back here at Bright House to watch the workouts and a minor-league game featuring Brad Lidge and Chad Durbin (and surely a handful of others on the 25-man roster). The formal version of the Phillies are off in Kissimmee to face the Astros.

Perhaps the most significance regarding the game against the Astros is that Carlos Carrasco will pitch, who is competing to make the team in the No. 5 starting pitching spot. However, all indications suggest that the one-time four-man race has whittled itself down to just Chan Ho Park and J.A. Happ.

Kyle Kendrick appears to have pitched himself out of contention.

Nevertheless, one guy who really doesn’t have to worry about pitching himself in or out of anywhere is veteran lefty Jamie Moyer. In fact, this is the time of year the 45-year-old pitcher can take his time, relax and slowly work himself into game shape for the season.

Of course such silly ideas like relaxation and taking it easy are foreign concepts to Moyer. You might as well speak to him in Mandarin Chinese if you suggest, “Hey, old-timer, take it easy…”

When you have a 70-mph fastball like Moyer, there is no taking it easy.

moyer1Nevertheless, upon walking out of the parking lot to the training complex this morning, one was greeted with the sight of a few dozen minor-league pitchers – including first-round picks Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery – circled around a pitchers’ mound for a demonstration and lecture from Moyer. Never at a loss for words or insight on pitching (or anything else), Moyer left the kids rapt in attention as he used words like, “focus,” “easy,” and “respect.”

Still, the odd thing was that Moyer was twice the age of some of his potential teammates and as old as some of the coaches and yet there he was working out alongside of them and giving his time on a Saturday morning when all he could have done was put his feet up and relax after an easy workout.

But there’s no such thing as easy with Moyer.

*

Ryan Howard, Pedro Feliz and Chase Utley went through some infield and hitting practice this morning while the pitchers who stayed in Clearwater stretched and did their non-game day work. Interestingly, during one drill a game of duck-duck-goose broke out amongst the pitchers.

Yep, loose and easy here in Clearwater.

You are quite welcome, Pat

empty-fieldCLEARWATER, Fla. – Not much going on here in sunny Bright House Field. The Phillies have a game against the Pirates with the aim to snap the four-game losing skid. Worse, the WFC Phils have lost six of their last seven spring games.

Not good.

But get this – the first time through the lineup in Friday’s action, the Phils grounded out eight times and whiffed once. Even the team’s first hit was an infield single from leadoff hitter Eric Bruntlett. A walk to Ryan Howard and an error loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth for the Phils, but young slugger John Mayberry whiffed on a 3-2 count to end the threat.

Bummer.

No worries though. The Phillies are just getting their work in.

Nevertheless, the big news here this morning was about the full-page advertisement ex-Phillie Pat Burrell purchased in the Daily News thanking the fans for the support during his time in Philadelphia.

Here, take a look:

pat-ad

Oddly, Burrell did not thank the Philly media by name, but by purchasing such a big, costly ad, he kind of did.

So you’re welcome, Pat. Don’t mention it.

Otherwise, the other big news is that third baseman Pedro Feliz suited up and played in his first spring game of the year. Feliz’s return from off-season back surgery has been a little slow going, but all indication have him back in the lineup at full bore by Opening Day.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley is expected to get into some Grapefruit League games next week. On another note Utley was in the clubhouse before the game with a big grass and dirt stain on his uniform pants.

The guy isn’t even playing and he’s already mixing it up.

He’s a gamer.

Finally, saw a whole bunch of the Maple Street Press Phillies pre-season annual out and around for purchase at the ballpark today. Considering some of the authors in that book, I don’t understand why it isn’t flying off the shelves.

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.

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.

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.

A slight return

Scott RolenWith former Phillie Scott Rolen headed for the Toronto Blue Jays (pending a physical) and their spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla. — just five miles and two turns from the Phillies’ training site in Clearwater, Fla. — who wants to make a bet that one day the new Jay forgets what year it is and accidentally drives over to the Carpenter Complex?

Anyone?

On another note, a trade from the Cardinals and, most importantly, away from Tony La Russa is just the first step… the time spent in Dunedin and the two trips to Citizens Bank Park in 2008 will convince Rolen that Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs aren’t the answer for the Phillies at the hot corner and in the interest of karma, the cycle of life and what-goes-around-comes-around, Rolen must return to where it all started…

… If he’s healthy, of course, because they always come back.