Toby on Assignment: Spring Training First Impressions

on 03/10/2003


After a long winter of watching all the changes in the Brewers organization from a distance, being able to watch the team from close range is a real special treat. Hearing the sound of real, live coaching and the sound of the crack of the bat is wake-up call that spring is here and that all teams still have hope, to some degree or another. This time of year, everyone is playing for jobs. New talent has arrived, some team veterans are still around, and youngsters are all vying to take the best spots they can within the organization. It's a great time of year to watch baseball.

The surroundings in Arizona are also awesome. It's going to be in the low to mid-80's all week here, with a light wind and no humidity. I was outside for the better part of 5 hours in a row on Sunday and didn't sweat one drop. The grass is green, the nights are cool, and the sounds of Latin music are in the air everywhere. Arizona in March is a paradise, and the fact that a baseball game is never more than a couple of miles away makes it all the better.

On my first day here away from the cold Minnesota winter, I slept in a little too long, having been up for about 34 of the previous 35 hours making my way here from Minnesota, via Milwaukee. It is hard staying awake all the way through Oklahoma and New Mexico, but it's worth it once you get here. Once I did crawl out of bed, I made my way over to the Brewers' Maryvale baseball complex. It was about 10 a.m., but it was already pretty crowded. I didn't know who they were playing today, but I soon realized it was the Diamondbacks. The stadium lot usually doesn't really start filling up until 11:30 or so against most other teams.

I was able to watch the Brewers' major league camp practice defense against situations with runners on base. Pitchers did most of the running. Ruben Quevedo going from first to home on a ball hit into the gap in the outfield was fun to watch. Shane Nance seems to be a very good athlete running from base to base, he was very quick. Before each "batter" (bench coach Rich Dauer did the actual hitting), Ned Yost would set up a situation, such as runners at first and third with one out, or the bases loaded with no outs. The point of the drill was basically to make sure everyone was calling out where the ball should go, and that everyone was backed up correctly. A couple of times, the situation had to be run over again so that everyone did everything right. Communication was stressed, and if Yost couldn't hear you call out a base, you had to do it again. Billy Hall made a couple nice relay throws, and a couple bad ones as well.

After that drill, the positional players and pitchers split up. The pitchers went to do batting practice, but I stayed and watched the positional players. This drill was for the catchers. Pitches were thrown to them, some normally, but most in the dirt. All the rest of the positional players lined up at second base and tried to steal third. The goal for the catchers was to block the ball, pick it up, and get ready to throw before the runner could get within sniffing distance of third base. Of the group of major league catchers, the most impressive of the bunch at blocking balls and keep them in front of him was Keith Osik, who looked very athletic behind the plate. Eddie Perez also looked very good at blocking pitches. Cody McKay and Joe Lawrence both had their moments, good and bad. Javier Valentin seemed to have a bit of trouble getting in front of the bouncing balls, as well as finding the ball once he stopped it.

Once they were done, I decided that it was time to play some catch with my friends before they opened up the gates to let people in. The grass in the complex was extraordinarily green, so it was impossible to resist. I do admit, we probably looked fairly bad out there, especially with all sorts of baseball players that could throw more than 10 feet on a straight line walking around us. An old lady did ask me if I played for the Brewers and my friends had a good laugh at that.

As I said before, since the Diamondbacks were the Brewers' opponent, the park was going to be pretty full. There was already a big line by about 11 a.m., two hours before game time. Once we got into the park, we were able to bask in the sun for a couple hours before game time. We got lawn seats, and were able to sit/stand right next to the Brewers' bullpen. I got to talk to Matt Ford and Joe Lawrence for a bit. Ford said he was excited about the chances of staying with the major league club all season long. Lawrence mentioned that he had been playing second and third base a bit, but it looked like he was going to be playing in Huntsville, to start the season at least.

The game itself was pretty lousy. Dave Mlicki got hit hard for the three and two-thirds innings he pitched and the offense didn't have much of a spark all game. Mlicki didn't do a good job of keeping anything low, and though his breaking ball was "on" some of the time, nothing else was working and he got hit hard. Francisco Campos pitched a solid game. Unlike Mlicki, Campos kept the ball low at all times and got a lot of weak pop-ups and ground-outs. He didn't seem overpowering, but he pitched smartly, and put the ball where it needed to be. Brooks Kieschnick pitched OK. He had some control problems and had to rely almost solely on his fastball. He didn't get hit hard, but if he had pitched much longer, it might have gotten ugly. David Pember finished out the game. He seemed to leave to much right over the middle of the plate, even if it was down in the zone. He got a couple of grounders, but he also got hit hard by a couple of batters.

The offense wasn't much to speak of on this day. The Brewers started a number of non-regulars, and it showed. Osik was solid behind the plate, but didn't put much on the ball when he hit. Richie Sexson started at first, and made a nice play saving a ball from going into the OF on an errant throw from Mlicki, but also didn't do much at the plate. Keith Ginter showed good patience in the batters' box and made a couple nice plays at second base. Royce Clayton and Alex Sanchez had non-descript days. Scott Seabol didn't fare very well defensively at third or first base. Cristian Guerrero played the whole game in RF and botched a few defensive plays, and looked generally lost at the plate. He took a number of weak looking flails and didn't make good contact. Scott Podsednik showed good range in the OF, both in left and center. The star of the day for the Brewers' offense was Jed Hansen, who came in for Ginter at second base about half way through the game. Hansen made a couple very nice defensive plays, including catching a pop-fly running backwards from the infield. He also hit the ball hard in both at-bats.

The Brewers lost, but that's fine. Being able to watch baseball was good enough on this day. I'll be back out there tomorrow, so keep warm wherever you are and have a great day.