Thursday, March 1, 2012
Spring Training Workouts
When we arrived at the complex at 9:00 on Thursday, we saw that the players had gotten an early start. We stopped to watch Carlos Silva throwing on one of the mounds, when we realized that the players had already come out to the agility field to begin stretching, ahead of their usual 9:30 start time. (We surmised this was because some of the players would be participating in an unofficial “B” Game at the Twins’ complex in the afternoon.) Unlike the other days, there were probably only a couple dozen fans watching them stretch at that time. When they finished, they split up among the other fields, with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis jogging right past us on their way to Field 2. Pedey looked out at the sparse crowd and said, “Where is everyone today? Thanks for coming out, fans… all seven of you!” Youk mused, “We haven’t even lost a game yet!”
After watching the infielders practice, I walked around to two other fields where rundown/cutoff drills involving the pitchers, catchers, and infielders were taking place. The drills all move quickly, and before long they were setting up for batting practice. Two of the fields had the various catchers in camp taking B.P. I watched Dan Butler and Max St. Pierre, both of whom had signed autographs for us earlier in the week, as well as Luis Exposito and Jarrod Saltalamacchia taking their turns in the cage.
After watching them for a while, I went back up to Field 1, where the heart of the everyday lineup – Pedroia, Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Adrian Gonzalez – were taking batting practice. Just before they wrapped up, we noticed two-thirds of the ownership team – John Henry and Tom Werner – were making the rounds and watching too. When B.P. was done, the players got on a cart and were whisked away quickly for their next drill, but the owners lingered a bit before exiting the field and walking down the pathway used by the fans. Most of the fans had run off to follow the players, but I ended up right behind the owners. I was hesitant to interrupt them, but once someone else flagged them down for an autograph, I was able to ask for signatures from both of them too. We also got third base prospect Will Middlebrooks to sign as he came off an adjoining field a couple of minutes later.
The final drill of the morning was Gonzalez, Pedroia, Youkilis, Mike Aviles, and Nick Punto – basically our major league infield – taking more fielding practice together. By now there were a lot of people gathered around the one remaining field with any action on it. I’ve definitely noticed how much bigger the new complex is compared to the old place on Edison Road. The new place doesn’t feel crowded at all, but every day I’m amazed when we get out to the parking lot and see how many cars are there. This time all the players stopped on their way in to sign some autographs. Most of them went to the side of the walkway opposite where I was (which becomes roped off when the players need to cross from one field to another) but I was excited that Youk stayed out there a long time and signed for many people on both sides, including my mother and me (especially since we had both been close to getting his the other day when a bunch of people stepped in front of us in a place they weren’t supposed to be, causing us to miss out).
That ended the workout for the day, but we were just getting started. We headed out to the car, ate the lunches we had packed, and then drove over to Hammond Stadium, where the Minnesota Twins play, about 6 miles down the road from JetBlue Park. The Red Sox and Twins were playing a “B” Game in the afternoon, and admission was free.
Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers
Twins 6, Red Sox 5 (sort of)
The Red Sox have 35 pitchers in camp this year, many of whom are starters, so it’s going to be hard to find enough innings for them all to pitch enough. One of Bobby Valentine’s ideas, we read in the paper, was to make the college games the Red Sox play against Boston College and Northeastern be nine innings instead of the usual seven. He even offered to have Red Sox pitchers throw the eighth and ninth innings for the college teams, but instead of doing that they decided to recruit a major league opponent for a “B” Game. A “B” Game is just an extra exhibition game between two teams looking to get their players some additional time, and it doesn’t count in the standings. Because it’s not a real Grapefruit League game, teams are allowed to bend the rules if they have a player who they need to get more – or less – playing time. (My parents went to a “B” Game a couple of years ago when Jason Varitek was coming back from an injury, and he led off every inning, before continuing with the rest of the batting order, so he could get a lot of at-bats.) Today’s game was being played at Hammond Stadium and was open to fans for free. I was especially happy because I thought I’d mostly be seeing workouts on my week in Ft. Myers, and I didn’t expect to get to a game other than the college games this weekend.
We were allowed to sit anywhere in the park, so we chose a spot right in the front row behind home plate. The view was fantastic and I was able to take a lot of good photos. Notice anything strange in the picture above? There’s no umpire – it’s a “B” Game after all – and Minnesota third base coach Steve Liddle donned catcher’s gear and called balls and strikes for both teams. There was also no National Anthem before the game, no announcements over the loudspeaker, and the scoreboard was turned off. After a while, a knowledgeable Twins fan took it upon himself to loudly announce all the Minnesota batters like a P.A. announcer would, which was actually very helpful. I like to keep score at games, but going in I said that my new rule was that I wasn’t going to attempt a “B” Game. But once I got there I realized that with “B”Games the rules are made to be broken – I feel lost when I don’t keep score, and it might prove to be a necessity in order to know what’s going on in the game, so I gave it a shot.
Ryan Lavarnway got the Red Sox off to a good start with a homer in the first inning. Alfredo Aceves started for the Sox and gave up one run on two hits in his inning of work. Both teams had scheduled nine pitchers to each throw an inning in the game. In the second, it was Daniel Bard’s turn, and he also gave up a run on two hits, plus a wild pitch (or maybe it was a passed ball, but since I was the only one keeping score, I made the call on that). All of a sudden in the middle of the third, three umpires came out of the dugout and took their places on the field, with Liddle returning to his coaching duty. It was almost an hour into the game, and we wondered if maybe the umpires got the start time wrong. Good thing it’s a “B” Game!
Clayton Mortensen, the player acquired in the Marco Scutaro trade, threw a 1-2-3 third inning, but Jesse Carlson, the former Blue Jay who’s trying to come back from a year lost to injury, gave up a two-run homer in the fourth to former Sox prospect Aaron Bates, who’s now with the Twins. The Sox got a run back on a sac fly in the fourth, but then Tony Pena Jr. faced eight men in the fifth, giving up two more runs before finally leaving the bases loaded. That put the Twins up 6-2.
And then in the sixth, things got strange. The Red Sox were batting and starting to mount a comeback. With two men on via walks and two outs, Nate Spears hit a triple that drove in two runs. Lars Anderson was next, and he appeared to take ball four. He tossed his bat gently aside and trotted to first, so I wrote the BB down in my scorecard. But then both teams, including the fielders, the baserunners, and the umps, walked off the field. I thought for a minute that they had reversed the call to a strikeout, which would have ended the inning, but it really was a walk. The Twins pitcher had reached the pitch count the team wanted from him, and both teams wanted all their pitchers to start with clean innings rather than bring a reliever in with people on base, so they had just decided to end the inning, even though there were two outs and runners at the corners. I joked that the Red Sox should play the rest of the game under protest. But the Twins returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, stopping after their hitters recorded their second out.
In the seventh, it got even weirder. Anderson’s walk had ended the sixth, and catcher Dan Butler led off the seventh, presumably pinch-hitting for outfielder J.C. Linares, who followed Anderson in the order. He hit a homer to pull the Sox to within a run, but the weird part was that the next batter was Linares, who was apparently still in the game. The batting order then continued the way it had been going. Linares played in center the whole game. Lavarnway caught the first three innings, and then was replaced by Luis Exposito, who we saw catching the rest of the game. We never saw Butler play a position, but he wasn’t just a pinch-hitter because he got another at-bat a couple of innings later. Josh Kroeger was the DH, and he stayed in for the whole game, picking up four at-bats. It was as if they had inserted Butler as a second DH, and played the second half of the game with ten batters in the lineup. “B” Games are cool!
When Butler made the final out in the top of the ninth with the Twins up 6-5, that should have been the end of the game. But by now I was getting the hang of these flexible “B” Game rules, and correctly guessed that they were going to play the bottom of the ninth anyway, because the Red Sox would want to get all nine of their pitchers some work. Sure enough, Justin Thomas took the mound and pitched a nice 1-2-3 inning. Here we were applauding his outs, even though we had already lost the game! When the Twins went down in order, the game did finally end. But the whole game was an unexpected treat. It was fun to see the players I’ve been watching in the workouts all week in action, and there’s something appealing about seeing professional baseball players play a game like they’re in someone’s backyard.