It has been 11 days since I went out to the ballpark to watch spring training drills. I did take the family to a Twins/Pirates game a few days ago when the Twins got blown out but other that I have not been out to Hammond Stadium for 11 days because our son and his wife came down to Cape Coral for a visit and the time just wasn’t there.
I knew that the Twins were facing the New York Yankees in Tampa today and that I probably would see few if any of the actual Twins themselves but I wanted to see a little baseball on the minor league side. Not long after I arrived I watched as the Tampa Rays bus pulled up from Port Charlotte which is just 30-40 northwest of here and their advanced A Port Charlotte team and their A ball Bowling Green got off the bus and walked over to fields 2 and 3 for a 1:00 game against the Twins respective squads. At the same time, the Twins extended league players prepared for an inner squad game on field 1. The Twins New Britain and Rochester contingent had gone up to Port Charlotte to take on Tampa AA and AAA teams. As the Tampa teams took the field for warm-ups, the Twins teams were on their lunch break.
While I was waiting for the games to begin I was just sitting down jotting a few notes when who walks up but former Twins infielder and now Tampa Rays scout Mike Cubbage. I introduced myself and we chatted about the phone interview I had done with Mike back in February of 2010 and then we talked about the Twins and some of their players both in the majors and in the minors. I had a chance to chat with Mike off and on for over three hours and I really enjoyed it, he was both interesting, informative, and fun to talk with. I think our opinions of how the Twins will do this season are actually not that far apart and it was interesting to hear Mike tell me what the life of a scout is really like. Mike shared his schedule with me through the end of May and the man is on the road probably 25 days each month and it is not unusual for him to scout games in the afternoon and catch another one that same night. After Cubbage stepped away to talk with some of the Tampa players, I was joined at the table I was sitting at behind home plate of field 3 by Tampa pitcher Jeff Ames who was assigned chart duty on this day since he is scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Jeff was very nice and he told me what it was like to attend spring training for the first time since he was just drafted last year. I didn’t know it at the time and Jeff never mentioned it but my research indicates that Ames was drafted by Tampa last year in the 1st round as a compensatory pick (number 42 over-all) and according to scouting reports throws over 100 MPH on occasion. We talked a little about spring training and what the players do when they get some free time. According to Jeff, when he is not playing baseball or enjoying a little down time, you will find him and his friends at the local golf course. It just so happens that if you are a Rays ballplayer you get to golf free but that does not help me. A little bit later we were joined at the table by a Twins player I did not recognize. I introduced myself and the player turned out to be catcher Phillip Chapman, a Twins 35th round pick in 2011. Phillip explained that he was on the DL and that he hurt his knee working out just before camp opened and had arthroscopic surgery on his knee just a week ago. I asked Phillip when he expected he would be back on the field and his reply was “I really don’t know, it has been a week since my surgery and I can’t run yet”. The man obviously has high expectations for a quick recovery, I am sure I would not be expecting to be able to run just a week after knee surgery. It has got to be extra tough to get back when you are a catcher, I wished Phillip a speedy recovery.
Once the game started I wandered between the three fields since they are so close in proximity and I was able to watch all 3 games and take a bunch of pictures that I have uploaded to my 2012 Spring Training pictures that you can find on the right side of this page. Enjoy the pictures and I will label them as soon as I can. In one of the games Jamey Carroll and Danny Valencia batted 2nd and 3rd in every inning trying to get more at bats against live pitching. Valencia hit a nice double down the line but I never saw Carroll get the ball out of the infield. Valencia hung around for a few innings before calling it a day but Carroll was still going at it when I left. Earlier I was standing just behind the screen getting ready to take some pictures as Valencia was walking up to get in the on deck circle and he glanced at me as he walked by and then turned around and said to me, “it will help if you take your lens cap off first”. We both got a chuckle out of that one and then he walked up and proceeded to hit that double down the line.
All toll I spent about 5 hours at the ballpark today and I had a great time. Just wandering around and talking baseball with everyone at the ballpark during spring training is more fun than you should be allowed to have. I saw a couple that sat and diligently watched the extended players playing their inter squad game and I stopped by and asked if they were enjoying the game. They said they were and that they were excited about watching their grandson play. Naturally I asked who their grandson was and they told me it was Corey Kimes, a LHP that the Twins drafted from Illinois last year. All they hope for Corey is that he does the best he can do. Is that cool or what? For all you baseball fans back there that have never attended spring training here in Fort Myers, I feel bad for you because you are missing out one of life’s great pleasures.