You know you’ve had a long day when you watch both the sunrise and the sunset on Alligator Alley. But when it comes to baseball, a 14-hour workday (not including transcribing interviews and writing this) is something I approach with a smile, not a grimace.
I felt compelled to get to the new complex by 8:30 a.m. because I needed to get my bearings if I was going to have any success. With City of Palms Park and the old Players’ Development Complex, I felt complacency, intimacy, and familiarity because I knew what I was doing. This time, I was going in fairly blindly. I had only a decent idea of where I was going, and I had no idea what kind of access I was going to have.
That’s what made the day so much fun though: it was an adventure, and the unknown is both fascinating and troubling. While most protagonists have at least one companion, they end up carrying their burden alone. The ring is Frodo’s burden and his alone; Harry is Voldmort’s last horcrux and must face him alone; and Luke knows he must face Darth Vader alone. Similarly, my adventure was characterized by the bliss of solitude, but it wasn’t nearly as daunting.
I arrived at the complex a bit before 8:30 as planned, and attempted to figure out where the minor leaguers where practicing. I asked the first security guard I came across if the minor leaguers practiced where he had directed me to park.
“Not to my knowledge,” he responded.
This is when I knew that I had made the right call in arriving at the complex so early. The complex was massive, but there was no way that the players did not practice back there. I knew I had to figure it out for myself rather than just take someone else’s word for it.
I could hear players in the batting cages (which are right behind the stadium), but I decided to respect the sign that said “Staff Only Beyond This Point.” The gates were open to the empty complex though, so I decided to explore.
It is an absolutely massive complex and completely overwhelming at first. But I was more overwhelmed by my excitement than its size. They say that “old habits die hard,” and I guess trespassing is a habit of mine. I made my first turn, and hardly a minute later, I saw the vague figure of a security guard in the distance. His face was masked by the sun, but his voice put me at ease: It was one of my favorite security guards, Jim, from last spring.
He greeted me with a hug and informed me that I technically was not allowed to be on the premises until nine. I asked him if he wanted me to leave, but he said no, and agreed to show me the ropes. Jim described it perfectly when he said that covering this complex was like covering Montana instead of Rhode Island.
Jim tried to explain to me where the players come out and what they normally do first, but even he could not explain the method to the madness. After spending the day there, I saw no patterns or logic to the workouts.
The minor leaguers were not out by 9:30. Instead, I saw Daniel Bard, Matt Albers, and Rich Hill warming up. Other pitchers started to coming out to throw their bullpens, too, and before I knew it all of the position players were out on the field doing agility drills.
The greatest part of this, and easily one of the highlights of my day was when Adrian Gonzalez hurled two cones as he came across them. If Adrian “Cone-Hurler” Gonzalez ever goes on the disabled list with a lower back strain, you know why.
It’s just that I didn’t get to the complex at 8:30 a.m. to watch the major leaguers workout. I was itching for Single-A pitching-fielding-plays, batting practice, and every drill in-between. Don’t get me wrong, I love the major league guys too, but They didn’t start coming out en masse until around 11:30.
It was great to see a lot of the guys from last year. They were nothing but friendly, and their recognition was the only gratification I needed to justify a 5 a.m. wakeup call. I truly appreciated how welcome they made me feel–like I’m a fixture of spring training, and that it was weird that I showed up so late.
I swear I have baseball ADD. I could hardly stay at one field for more than a minute because I was so afraid that I was going to miss the guys I was targeting for interviews on their way in. This complex is different: the players can sneak around into places that fans can’t access.
There are six fields and only one of me and they are very spread out. But I was satisfied with the coverage I got my first day.
-Brandon Workman told me he anticipates starting the season with High-A Salem. Workman was drafted in the second round in the 2010 draft out of the University of Texas. He spent all of 2011 with the Greenville Drive where he posted a 3.71 ERA and struck out 115 over 131 innings while walking only 33. Workman said he didn’t do as well as he would have liked, but I think those are pretty respectable numbers for his first full year in professional ball.
–Garin Cecchini (click the link to read my interview with him last year) was glad that he finally felt healthy and told me that he feels “100%.” He’s really looking forward to the season and anticipates starting the season in Greenville. Cecchini was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of high school (he intended on going to LSU). Cecchini was still recovering from an ACL injury at the start of the 2011 season. He played 32 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners where he posted a .298 average and a .398 OBP and struck out only 19 times in 114 at-bats before being sidelined by a wrist injury. If Cecchini can stay healthy the entire season, look out for him. In my interview with 2011 first-round supplemental pick Henry Owens, he said he was particularly impressed with Cecchini’s hitting.
-Speaking of interviews, besides speaking with Owens, I also spoke with the Red Sox’ third round pick in 2011, Jordan Weems. Both interviews should be on SoxProspects.com within the week. I’ll post a link here as well.
-I’ll also be doing a “first-take” piece for them on my first impressions of the new complex.
I didn’t get over to the major league game until around the fifth inning. I had to linger by the entrance to the batting cages because I was not allowed back by the entrance to the clubhouse. I couldn’t talk my way into the game, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy standing-room only tickets. They were supposedly on the Green Monster, and as much as I would have liked to sit there, I wanted to be able to actually see the game.
It didn’t take me long to find a seat, and by the seventh inning, I was right behind home plate. I liked what I saw from Mark Melancon. Andrew Bailey struggled in his debut, giving up three hits in a row. I’m not concerned, though. I think Melancon and Bailey are going to be a great combination. Bailey also made a great play to catch the runner at third in a rundown. I think it was scored 1-5-2-5. Ryan Lavarnway also made an incredibly impressive play at the plate. Juan Carlos Linares hit Pedro Ciriaco on the cut-off and Ciriaco relayed to home. Matt Dominguez also made a few nice plays at third base. It’s good to see him playing, but one has to wonder what his role is with the organization now that Hanley Ramirez is moving to third after the Marlins signed Jose Reyes.
Scott Atchison completely botched an easy grounder that only made me dream of more pitching-fielding-plays. Ciriaco’s walk-off home run was the icing on the cake, and it was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Everything was baseball, nothing hurt. (I swear if I ever write a book that will be the title. Kurt Vonnegut is the man).
I’ll be going back to the complex tomorrow for the first minor league spring training games. I’ll be seeing the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates take on the Twins’ affiliates. I’ll be tweeting lineups, so if you’re interested, follow me on Twitter @Eli_Dreesox.