Waves crash on a sandy beach as the palm trees sway in the cool gulf breeze. You get up from your spot on the beach just in time to hear someone ordering a Grouper Sandwich and a Bloody Mary as a band plays some reggae tunes from inside Frenchy's. You hop in the car, light up a cigar you bought in Ybor City, Tampa the night before and head on your way. It’s about noon, and your beach day is already over.
You then proceed to make a left hand turn and a ballpark built in classic Floridian style architecture begins to appear. With the car in park you step out and the smell of spray sunscreen infiltrates your nostrils. An older man in a Hawaiian shirt approaches you and offers you tickets to see a baseball game. There’s a police officer that is smiling, laughing, and joking around with some people. You walk up a small driveway and a statue of a pitcher delivering a fastball on top of a fountain comes into view.
You can hear someone selling programs and then all of a sudden you hear what seems to be a trumpet playing the “charge!” music. You are astounded to find out there is no trumpet, just a short Italian man with a beard and a pocket full of programs using nothing but his hands to make the sound. There are people sitting on the steps around him as he shouts “Where is everyone from Bucks County?!” A small group of people cheer. “Deleware County!” Yet more cheers. “South Jersey!” Cheers mixed with boos*. “Where's my friends from the great city of Philadelphia?!” The loudest cheering and then the charge music again.
You move along the way and hand your ticket to a somewhat attractive ticket taker and walk through an archway and the sight of a baseball diamond is in front of you. You take a few pictures with your cell phone so you can send them to your friends back home (who are stuck in 40 degree temperatures and possible snowy weather) and then head out to left field. You walk up to a tiki bar and, as a fan of great deals, you see you can get a bucket of ice** and 5 beers for $30. With your bucket in hand you head towards left center field and down a grassy berm. You are about 5 feet from the outfield wall when you lay down, take one of the beers from out of your bucket, breathe the crisp warm Florida air and take a swig of the first of your bucket beers.
You start talking to a knowledgeable fan about if you think Delmon Young can maintain weight, or whether or not Dom Brown will finally be good. You and he ponder questions about whether Ryan Howard Achillies is fully healed, or whether or not Cliff Lee will win a game before July. Your new found “leisure bro” wants to know if Roy Halladay can have a bounce back year, and wonders if Chase Utley will actually play some spring training games this year***
It’s about 1:00PM at this time and you are about to see the first live action baseball game you’ve seen in about 5 months. You take a sigh of relief and you know you’ve completed your journey from Clearwater Beach to Bright House Field, ready to take in all of the leisure and excitement of spring training baseball.
As a knowledgeable baseball fan and fan of vacations, there is no better trip than spring training. The combination of learning about what your favorite baseball team will look like in the upcoming year, learning about the future of your franchise and also being able to go from beach to baseball in 20 minutes makes spring training a desirable destination for many baseball fans.
This spring, right here on Buzz on Broad, you can find a weekly spring training column ending the day before opening day. You can follow the journey as we will be tweeting and blogging live from the final game of the Phillies Clearwater schedule. Not only will these columns recap major events from Phillies spring training, but will answer some questions about the intricacies and strategies of the spring session, such as "what the heck does a split squad mean?"
The Phillies lost their first spring training game this weekend and fought to a tie today against the Tigers. Throughout the spring, you care less about the overall record of the team and more about the stat lines for individual athletes.
In the pitching department, Cole Hamels pitched two scorless innings in his first outing and Roy Halladay pitched 2 innings only allowing a homerun. Doc’s fastball was in the 90mph range, but his changeup looked good as he recorded 2 strikeouts. Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman and BJ Rosenberg all saw action this weekend, with mixed results. Most of the time this early in the spring, you want to see what kind of pitches are thrown and where the velocity is on fastballs.
With that, pitching velocity is down this early in the spring, so hitters look slightly better as they are quicker to learn the timing. Also sometimes, pitchers like to work on only a few pitches at a time in game situations, so hitters can use that to their advantage. In spring training, its all about finding a groove. Early on, Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard have both recorded 2 hits, and Chase Utley looked sharp in 2 plate appearances.. If these players and others can get into a groove early in the spring, it can carry on into the first month of the season Since it is so early in the spring we cannot take too much stock into these early at bats or pitching lines.
One semi-big news item out of camp yesterday was that reliver Michael Schwimmer was dealt to Toronto in the 8th inning for a minor league first baseman (Art Charles). Schwimmer had fallen out of favor with management for a variety of reasons (tweeting roster moves, claiming an injury as the reason he was optioned to AAA last year) but neither side will claim that is the reason. Bottom line is, with a plethora of relievers in addition to some of the off the field issues, the Phillies felt they could send Schwimmer packing and take a chance on a “guy that might be good down the road because he’s big and hits homeruns and strikes out like our current first baseman” prospect.
This week, the Phillies will see action against the Yankees, Braves and Blue Jays among others. Cliff Lee will get his first Grapefruit League start before we get a look at the “competition” for the 4th and 5th starter spots. We will also get some good looks at bullpen pitchers as the starters will continue to only see a few innings of work through the first few weeks of March. The next week or so will see a lot of action from minor league players, as the starters will likely only see 2-3 at bats per game they play in.
Stay tuned as we continue to take you though the Phillies spring slate and other Grapefruit League action!
*I live in South Jersey so I can say this. And yes Pennsylvanians boo us.
**The ice also comes in handy in the hot florida sun, making the bucket challenge totally worth it.
***As we know Chase Utley played in the spring opener Saturday.
John Carullo is a Phillies contributer for Buzz on Broad and Self Proclaimed Spring Training Guru. If you are planning a trip to Clearwater, ask him your questions on twitter @jcarullo19. Feel free to ask him any of your other spring training questions as well!