Results tagged ‘ Chi-Chi Gonzalez ’
This marks the fourth day, third full day, of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. In our fourth installment, Steve Goldberg recaps the Rangers’ weekend trip to San Antonio and the adjustment to getting back in a rhythm at camp. All installments can be found here, including Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.
With two full days of Spring Training under our belt, we move on to our third day here at the Rangers’ training complex. When we arrived in Surprise on Saturday, a group of players were noticeably missing. They were playing two games against the Kansas City Royals in San Antonio.
It was a very enjoyable weekend for the group who made the 850-mile trek back to Texas. The Rangers won both games against the Royals, scored a total of 20 runs, and played in front of 27,536 fans on Friday and 33,592 on Saturday. This was indeed a major change of pace from playing in smaller Cactus League ballparks.
The team experienced many thrills over the weekend, highlighted by former RoughRider Lewis Brinson’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Friday’s 7-5 victory.
Hanser Alberto, another former Rider, enjoyed the change of pace going from Surprise to San Antonio for the weekend. Alberto was a perfect 2-for-2 in the first game Friday.
“The San Antonio weekend was great,” Alberto said. “It’s a good city and it was great to be around the guys. We had a lot of fun there and played very well.”
Alberto and the squad who made the trip to San Antonio were back at the Rangers’ training complex Sunday. They had a quick turnaround, with a 1:05 p.m. big league game against the Angels looming. Despite the major contrast between playing at the Alamodome and Surprise Stadium, the team had a smooth transition back to the everyday routine of camp.
“It’s the same game, nothing new,” Alberto said. “You see the ball and hit the ball. You make the routine plays and play your hardest. We came back here and are continuing to work hard. We want to keep showing everyone that we’re ready.”
For Alberto, his first taste of Major League action last year has impacted his mindset at this year’s Spring Training. He continues to receive valuable advice from the experienced players in the clubhouse that have helped him with adjust to playing in the big leagues.
“I have learned a lot from the veteran guys,” Alberto said. “It’s been a great experience. Now I have a better idea how to work and concentrate. The results are going to be different every day, but now I feel comfortable at every point in the game. I am more ready than ever.”
There are many other former Riders in a similar position. Chi Chi Gonzalez, Keone Kela, and Ryan Strausborger all made their Major League debuts with the Rangers last season and bring that experience with them to this year’s Spring Training.
As mentioned in our Day 2 post, this is my first time at Spring Training. One of the most noticeable and pleasantly surprising things has been observing the interaction between Major League veterans and the up-and-coming prospects throughout all levels of the organization.
Everyone here is striving to improve and advance to the highest level of the sport. The veterans have a visible presence at the camp giving their tips and offering advice to the younger players, who are learning as much as possible in their quest for success.
Baseball term of the day: freight delivery – slow pitching
(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)
Miss the last RoughRiders game? Catch up on the action or relive the highlights with ‘Riders Rewind, a daily capsule of yesterday’s big moments. Listen to previous editions of ‘Riders Rewind here.
Magic Number: 2
The RoughRiders can taste it now. A 7-2 win over the Midland RockHounds on Tuesday drove the Magic Number down to two. A win by the RoughRiders on Wednesday night against Corpus Christi, combined with a Midland loss to San Antonio, will seal the franchise’s eighth postseason berth. Click here to read Tuesday’s full game recap.
Once again, the new kids on the block for Frisco (38-25) stole the show. Joey Gallo and Chi Chi Gonzalez shone bright and lead the ‘Riders to a 2-2 series split with the ‘Hounds (34-30). The RoughRiders finished 5-3 on the homestand and now embark on a season-long 12-game road swing that straddles the season’s midway point.
The first half officially wraps up after Frisco’s June 17 showdown with Midland from west Texas. Hopefully, the ‘Riders will put an end to the drama well before then; they lead the RockHounds by 4 1/2 games with six to play.
To calculate the Magic Number, determine the number of games yet to be played in the first half (6), add one (6+1=7), and subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column of the standings from the closest opponent (7-5=2).
Star of the Game: 3B Joey Gallo – 2/2, 2R, 2B, HR, 2RBI, 2BB
Everything Joey did on Tuesday came in a tandem. He now has two home runs and three extra-base hits in his first seven Double-A at-bats along with six RBI, three runs, three strikeouts and two walks. His home run on Tuesday went pull-side down the right-field line and snuck inside the foul pole before landing in the CoServ patio. It was little more than a 350-foot pop fly that floated over the fence after Joey sent it a mile high.
In spite of the fantastic start at the plate, the slugger has yet to truly connect on a pitch in Double-A, a sobering thought for opposing pitchers in the Texas League. Joey’s two homers thus far have essentially been misses in which supreme strength has guided the ball out of the park as opposed to square contact made on, say, a 95-mph heater. We aren’t going out of our way to perpetuate the Joey Gallo hysteria here on the ‘Riders Insider Blog, he’s earning the recognition with timely hits and disciplined at-bats in competitive games with a playoff berth on the line.
In case you missed it:
-Chi Chi Gonzalez was excellent in his RoughRiders debut. The 2013 first round draft choice pitched an abbreviated five innings and only threw 61 pitches (38 strikes), but it was more than enough to earn his first career win at the Double-A level. He allowed one hit over five innings with now walks and six strikeouts. His cut fastball is as advertised.
-To elaborate on the sole hit allowed by Gonzalez, it occurred with no outs in the fifth inning after the righty retired the first 12 batters he faced. On a line drive out to left field by Josh Whitaker, Trever Adams dove and appeared to make the play, but the umpiring crew ruled Adams trapped the ball. Gonzalez faced one over the minimum through his five innings of work.
-Jake Smolinski moved to the infield at made his second start of the season at first base. Adams took Smolinski’s customary spot in left field, and Ryan Rua took a turn as the DH.
-The RoughRiders played error-free baseball for the first time in the series.
-Rua extended his on-base streak to 18 straight games on Tuesday with a two-run double in the fifth. He now has 13 doubles and 35 RBI on the season.
-Jake Skole ripped three singles in his first three at-bats and finished 3-for-4 at the plate. Each base knock was sent to a different part of the field. It marked the second three-hit game of the season for Skole (May 31 at Springfield).
Enjoy the highlights, and thanks for tuning in,
Yesterday the RoughRiders’ 2014 Opening Day roster was announced and there was a little confusion around the inclusion of Nick Martinez. The right-hander was listed on Frisco’s roster, but was also announced as the Rangers’ #5 starter to begin the season. The schedule of Texas’ rotation plans haven’t been completely finalized at the moment, but I’m guessing there’s at least a chance that the Rangers could do the same thing with Martinez as they did with Nick Tepesch a year ago. In 2013, because the Rangers didn’t need a fifth starter until the second time through the rotation, Tepesch made a start with Round Rock before joining the big league club.
With the early season off-days the Rangers have, they could wait until April 9 in Boston (game #9 of the season) before needing a fifth starter. That could allow Martinez to make a start for Frisco and then join Texas for as long as the Rangers need him. I haven’t heard that formally announced, but it would make some sense.
As for Martinez himself, he’s a bit off the radar compared to the other pitching prospects you’ve probably heard about (i.e., Luke Jackson, Chi Chi Gonzalez). The former Fordham second baseman has become a polished pitching prospect who throws a 91-94 mph fastball, an excellent curveball, a changeup and a slider. He works quickly and is very athletic (as you would expect from a former middle infielder). He was stellar in his month with the RoughRiders last season, going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32 IP).
Nathan Barnett, my broadcast partner from last season and the new Voice of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, interviewed Martinez last season and they talked a lot about his development as a pitcher. It’s definitely worth a listen:
This article originally appeared in the March 21 edition of SportsPage Weekly, which is a free publication available throughout the Metroplex. To view the article in the online edition, click here.
There are very few “sure things” in life, but when it comes to local sports and entertainment options, the Frisco RoughRiders are just about as close to a sure thing as you can get. Year after year, Dr Pepper Ballpark hosts exciting baseball action, premium prospects and fun for the whole family. Ask anyone who has ever been to a RoughRiders game and they’ll tell you how memorable the experience is.
It’s almost hard to believe, but the RoughRiders will soon begin their 12th season on April 3 at home against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals affiliate). In honor of a dozen years of Frisco baseball, we present the top 12 reasons to catch the RoughRiders in action this season at Dr Pepper Ballpark.
#12 – A winning tradition
Everybody loves a winner. And over the past decade the RoughRiders have been one of the most consistent winners in Minor League Baseball. In 2013, Frisco finished with a 70-70 record, its eighth consecutive season with a .500 or better mark on the ledger. The last time Frisco finished with a losing record was the only time in team history: back in 2005, when the team finished 58-82. The streak of non-losing seasons is by far the longest in the Texas League; every other team in the circuit has had at least one losing season in the last three years. The streak is the longest in Double-A and the third-longest among all 120 full-season minor league clubs, exceeded only by the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats (11 straight non-losing seasons) and the Advanced-A San Jose Giants (ten). Including teams that play in short-season leagues, Frisco’s streak is the sixth longest; the Elizabethton Twins (25), Brooklyn Cyclones (13) and AZL Giants (13) have the longest such streaks in stateside Minor League Baseball.
#11 – History in the making
Baseball fans appreciate the sport’s history and tradition, and the Texas League plays an important role in the lineage of the game. The RoughRiders and their fans belong to a storied Texas League pedigree that dates back to 1888 (the American League was founded in 1901). A game at Dr Pepper Ballpark is more than just a chance to contribute to baseball’s history; it affords fans the opportunity to witness history as it happens. Notable Texas League alumni span the generations and include Major League Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Dizzy Dean, Joe Morgan and Whitey Herzog. It is a legacy furthered by many stars in the game today who also enjoyed success in the Texas League. Current Rangers Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus had All-Star seasons in the Texas League in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Outside the organization, an impressive crop of recent alumni continue to cultivate the Texas League brand as their big league careers flourish. The Texas League footprint extends across the Major League map and features young stars Mike Trout, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Lance Lynn, Jean Segura and numerous others.
#10 – Rehabbing Rangers
Players, coaches and fans dislike injuries, but they remain an inevitable component of any professional game. For a major league club, the inconvenience of an in-season malady is lessened—somewhat—when an affiliate team plays in the neighborhood. No one in Frisco hopes for a rehab assignment, but when a Rangers’ regular tweaks a calf or strains a wrist, Dr Pepper Ballpark provides a two-fold benefit for both the player and the fan. Players can stay in the Metroplex to nurse an injury and play in an atmosphere that approximates a big league ballgame. On the other hand, fans receive a unique opportunity to view their favorite Rangers in a more intimate setting and at an affordable cost. A total of 13 Rangers players donned a RoughRiders’ cap for a rehab assignment in 2013, including pitcher Matt Harrison, who unfortunately started as many games for Frisco (two) as he did for Texas. Rehab assignments rarely occur with much forewarning, but thanks to Derek Holland’s dog, Wrigley, the southpaw has likely already booked a stint with the RoughRiders in 2014. Make sure you’re in the stands when the Rangers’ rehabbers visit Dr Pepper Ballpark.
#9 – A new skipper
For the first time in five years, someone other than Steve Buechele will write out Frisco’s lineup card. With Buechele managing the Rangers’ Triple-A club this season, Jason Wood steps into the role for the RoughRiders in 2014. Wood, a five-year major leaguer and veteran of 18 professional seasons as a player, will begin his fourth season as a manager in the Texas farm system. The 44-year-old spent the previous three years as the skipper for Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. He led the Pelicans to the playoffs in all three campaigns and looks to get the ’Riders back to the postseason this year. While Wood is a fresh face in the dugout, the rest of his coaching staff will remain in place from the last two seasons. Jeff Andrews returns as the team’s pitching coach following a season in which Frisco’s hurlers collectively set numerous team records. This past offseason, Andrews was honored the co-recipient of the Rangers’ annual Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year award. Jason Hart will begin his third season as Frisco’s hitting coach and his instruction has been lauded for helping former RoughRiders Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, Leury Garcia, Chris McGuiness and Engel Beltre all reach the major leagues over the past two seasons.
#8 – Affordability
One of the charms of Minor League Baseball is getting a big league experience without paying a premium price. RoughRiders games are no different because the team strives to make sure everyone can afford to watch games at Dr Pepper Ballpark. It can be a major strain on the wallet to attend other professional sporting events. The average cost for a family of four to attend a Major League Baseball game is approximately $208; for an NFL game that number is $444, with the NBA checking in at $442 and the NHL at $355. That figure for a Minor League Baseball game? Just $61. With RoughRiders tickets starting at just $7 (less than the cost of a movie theater ticket), attending a game at Dr Pepper Ballpark is very much accessible. But say you’re interested in getting even more value at the ballpark. The RoughRiders offer affordable ticket plans that include all-you-can-eat food and drink, and even packages that include alcohol. These value-based ticket plans make attending games in Frisco possible without denting your bank account.
#7 – The other guys aren’t too shabby either
Tomorrow’s stars play today in the Texas League and 2014 is no exception. The RoughRiders will welcome a host of talent from around the circuit to Dr Pepper Ballpark this season, many of whom are ranked on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list. The Tulsa Drillers figure to field a strong pitching rotation bolstered by top 50 prospects Jon Gray (#14) and Eddie Butler (#41). Both pitchers bring high-octane velocity to the Drillers’ staff and can touch the upper 90s on the radar gun. Catcher Austin Hedges (#24) of the San Antonio Missions is rated as the second-highest prospect at his position by MLB.com. His strong arm and good footwork behind the plate will give would-be base stealers second thoughts. Kyle Zimmer (#25), the number five overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, is expected to start the season with the Northwest Arkansas. The Royals promoted Zimmer to Double-A late last season where he held a 1.93 ERA through four starts with the Naturals. Position players to watch for elsewhere in the Texas League include speedy leadoff hitter Delino DeShields (#66) of the Corpus Christi Hooks, Jorge Bonifacio (#91) of the Naturals and gifted batter Stephen Piscotty (#98) of the Springfield Cardinals. Every mentioned player has big league potential.
#6 – You won’t be the only one cheering
The vocal and expressive fan will find a home at Dr Pepper Ballpark. For nine consecutive seasons, the RoughRiders have led all 30 Double-A teams in total and average attendance. More than half-a-million fans routinely fill Dr Pepper Ballpark every season and the team averages better than 7,000 fans per game. Not only is that the best in Double-A, but it’s also higher than 17 Triple-A teams! On 21 occasions in 2013, the ’Riders drew crowds of more than 10,000. Frisco’s fan base is second to none and players say the crowds enhance the in-game environment more than anywhere else in the Texas League. Bring a sign, be loud and shout until your voice goes out. You won’t be cheering alone.
#5 – More than just peanuts and Cracker Jack
RoughRiders cuisine far outstrips traditional ballpark fare. Sure, fans can still fill up to the gills on foot-long hot dogs and brats from Smokie’s Sausage Shack, but Dr Pepper Ballpark serves something for any palate. The new Beer & Barbeque stand will cook in-house, smoked Texas barbeque favorites while Lone Star Pizza offers a wide range of personal style pies. Deep-fried Oreos grace the à la carte lineup for the first time this season, and for those in search of a healthy option, Greek yogurt is also available. Of course, many Frisco fan favorites will be back on the menu as well, from fresh-spun cotton candy and funnel cakes to snow cones and freshly squeezed lemonade. Of course, few things taste better on a hot Texas night than a cold serving of Dippin’ Dots. It’s never summer without great food, great drinks and RoughRiders baseball.
#4 – An arsenal of arms
For the best pitching this side of Yu Darvish and Arlington, Dr Pepper Ballpark is the place to be. The RoughRiders will rely on their mound men to bolster the franchise’s quest for an eighth playoff berth. Right-hander Luke Jackson is expected to lead the group in 2014. The fireballer started the previous season with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and made his RoughRiders’ debut on August 4, 2013. He didn’t miss a beat in Double-A and finished the season with 134 combined strikeouts at both Myrtle Beach and Frisco and held the eighth-lowest ERA among all full season minor league pitchers (2.04). Those numbers were a big reason why the Rangers named Jackson the club’s 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Alex Claudio figures to take the reins from Jackson and the starters as a key piece in the RoughRiders’ bullpen in 2014. The deceptive Claudio fools batters with his changeup and was named the Rangers’ Minor League Reliever of the Year last season. Another burgeoning prospect, Alex Gonzalez, hopes to excite the Frisco faithful this year. Don’t call him Alex, though. Gonzalez prefers the nickname “Chi Chi,” given by a family member. Baseball America rates the 2013 first round draft pick as the number six prospect in the Rangers’ organization. Fans on the wild side will anticipate the return of eight-year veteran Kevin Pucetas as he unleashes his newly developed knuckleball pitch on the diamond this season. Other highly-ranked pitchers that are expected to see time in Frisco this season include Alec Asher, Nick Martinez and Jerad Eickhoff.
#3 – Rougned Odor
Because the makeup of minor league teams are up to the discretion of the parent club, you never know who will be on the Opening Day roster until very late in spring training. That is typically the case with the RoughRiders, but one player who looks very likely to be with the team on April 3 is second baseman Rougned Odor. The Venezuelan with the memorable name is the Rangers’ top-ranked prospect according to Baseball America and he showed why during a 30-game stint with Frisco at the end of the 2013 season. Odor was promoted to Double-A in early August and hit .306/.354/.530 with six home runs, eight doubles, two triples and 19 RBI. And he did all of that as just a 19-year-old, the youngest player in Double-A. (Projecting those numbers out over a 140-game season, he would have hit 28 homers with 37 doubles, nine triples and 89 RBI.) Now 20, Odor spent the first half of spring training in big league camp and hopes to use that experience to further propel his ascension to the major leagues. For the time being, however, the spunky infielder with the big bat is expected to ply his trade at Dr Pepper Ballpark.
#2 – Family-friendly entertainment
The RoughRiders are well-known for making trips to Dr Pepper Ballpark about more than just the game on the field. The atmosphere on game nights is a blast, even for folks who aren’t big baseball fans. The RoughRiders employ a full-time entertainment director whose sole job is to make sure that families have fun when visiting the ballpark. From spectacular fireworks shows following every Friday night home game to a collection of more than 180 hilarious on-field skits and promotions that rotate throughout the season, there is something fun for everyone who comes to a game. Dr Pepper Ballpark even features a pool in right field and two playgrounds (including one specifically designed for two-to-five-year-olds). And for a lot of fans, their favorite RoughRiders aren’t ones you might see in Arlington someday – they are Deuce and Daisy, the team’s loveable mascots.
#1 – The home of future Rangers
With Odor and a tremendous pitching staff leading the way, there should be another impressive assortment of talent on display at Dr Pepper Ballpark this season. This has been the norm in each of the RoughRiders’ first 11 seasons in Frisco, and with the Rangers’ relentless pursuit of building a winning organization from top-to-bottom, don’t look for that trend to change anytime soon. Since 2003, 107 former RoughRiders have reached the major leagues, almost one-third of all Frisco players. In 2013, ten former ’Riders made the big leagues, including Nick Tepesch, Beltre, Garcia and McGuiness. One look at the Rangers’ 40-man roster shows that half of its members played in Frisco. Elvis Andrus, Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Holland, Leonys Martin, Profar, Neftali Feliz, Mitch Moreland, Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez are just a few of the Texas stalwarts who once wore a RoughRiders uniform. Outside of the Rangers organization, All-Stars such as Ian Kinsler, Chris Davis, Adrian Gonzalez and C.J. Wilson all spent time in Frisco as well.
With the RoughRiders, fans get winning baseball, exciting prospects, delicious food, affordable family fun and the future of the Texas Rangers on display. It all shows that the Frisco RoughRiders continue to be a sure thing for families and sports fans across the Metroplex.
This week I’m taking in my first visit to Surprise, Arizona for Rangers Spring Training, and I’m bringing you with me. If you missed the recap of Day One of my trip, check it out right here.
From what I can gather, you go through a few different phases during Spring Training as a player,coach and executive.
1. There’s the initial burst of excitement over getting back to a baseball field and rediscovering your passion for the game you love. This period is great – until you grow weary of the numerous of meetings, practices, simulated situations and other minutia that, while important, is not why anyone signed up to be a part of this game. All during this time, you’re chomping at the bit to start playing something that at least resembles a game.
2. You eventually do move into this phase, but they’re not real games (granted, Spring Training games are not really like real games, but at least it’s somewhat close); they’re more like scrimmages that you play against the same people you’ve been practicing against for the last week or two.
3. Just when you get to the point where you’re mentally over the idea of facing the same opponent day after day, you start games against other organizations, which is a major refresher for the mind.
4. Then, you just get sick and tired of being in Arizona for up to two months and playing the role of “human sunny-side up egg” in the roasting desert sun. You want to get the season underway and start playing games that count (with real stats too).
The big leaguers are in the midst of Phase 3, while the minor leaguers have just gotten to Phase 2, which I watched begin in earnest on Monday morning at the Rangers’ Spring Training complex in Surprise. Along the way, I witnessed the start of a comeback, a rebirth, the long-term future and the bizarre before finishing the day with a Hall of Famer.
7:45 a.m. – As I alluded to at the end of yesterday’s post, I was not going to play the role of fool two days in a row (at least in this specific respect) and get microwaved by the southwest sun once again. Upon the recommendation of the helpful hotel lobby person, I headed over the nearby “99 ¢ Only Store” (because dollar stores are considered too bourgeoisie here) to purchase some sunscreen. Now, I was just as suspicious as you probably are reading this about buying 99-cent sunscreen. “Wouldn’t splashing a layer of water on your skin be at least equally effective?” Yeah, that ran through my head, but my faith in “Hypoderm Sunscreen” (Note to anyone who thought, “Why didn’t I think of an amazing name like that?”: it’s not a registered trademark, apparently) was rewarded. My burns from Sunday were reasonably contained and my skin did not start falling off at any point. And I feel like a true bargain hunter after spotting this attempt on eBay to charge some poor sap $12.99+shipping for three of these babies. The whole episode felt a little like hitting a three-point bank shot that you didn’t call.
8:15 a.m. – Things are still fairly quiet by the time I reach the complex, probably due to the fact that fans won’t be let into the facility until 10 a.m. There are a few hitters getting some early work in and some of the big leaguers are trickling in for the day. The Rangers clubhouse is divided into two sides: one for the major leaguers and one for the minor leaguers. The minor league clubhouse is a lot bigger, but more crowded because there are so many more players in that camp. I am a bit surprised at how nice the minor league clubhouse is, however. I wasn’t necessarily expecting Bull Durham or some high school level accommodations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly equal in many respects to the big league side. The lockers are made of wood (like the major leaguers) and are certainly an acceptable size, the flood is nicely carpeted and it has a welcoming tone to it. It’s much better than many road stadium clubhouses (and some home ones too) I’ve seen in my baseball travels.
On this particular morning, I meet Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez in the clubhouse and we talk about his outing in the big league “A” game the day before. He allowed three of the four men he faced to reach base before being removed after hitting his 20-pitch limit. A pair of meekly-hit grounders were able to sneak through for hits, so he isn’t overly negative about his performance even though all three men came home to score later in the inning. As for his nickname (which he prefers to go by, by the way), Chi-Chi says it was given to him by his grandfather’s brother; he nicknamed Gonzalez’ two older sisters Nina and Nene, so Chi-Chi seemed to fit the bill for Alex.
9 a.m. – Pockets of minor league hitters are taking batting practice out on the back fields (the big leaguers practice on the two fields closest to the stadium/clubhouse). I stumble upon the BP group that folks who love prospects dream about: Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. Like many, I’ve heard a lot about these players but have never seen them in person (Ronald Guzman and Jorge Alfaro are also among the super-prospects who are super-young and populated Hickory’s Avengers-like squad last season). Like many, I am impressed at first glance. I didn’t realize how big they all were. At 6’3″, Brinson is the shrimp of the group. The others are either 6’4″ or 6’5″ and aren’t just tall rods with pine tar on their batting gloves. They’re built like stallions and we may see one or two gallop to Frisco by the end of 2014 if things go well.
I have a nice conversation about Cody Buckel with rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock, who says that Buckel is throwing the ball as well as he ever has. Buckel, the Rangers’ 2012 Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year, suffered a bad case of the yips last season and spent most of the campaign rewiring himself mentally and mechanically. I hadn’t heard much about Cody since the end of the season and am excited to see him pitch later in the day.
9:30 a.m. – The pitchers meet as a group with new farm director Mike Daly right next to the tall observation structure pictured at the start of the blog entry and it’s not long before Daly is about to give another talk to the hitters. It’s recommended that I join the group if I want a cool history lesson. Daly proceeds to educate the players about notable players from the 1966 MLB draft. The first overall pick was Steve Chilcott by the Mets – a seven-year minor leaguer who never reached the show. The second pick did slightly better. His name is Reggie Jackson. Daly tells the group about Reggie’s career and his epic performances in the World Series before finishing up by talking about the sixth overall pick from that draft: none other than Tom Grieve. I later speak with Daly and we talk about his history lesson. He’s concerned about the relative lack of knowledge many young players have about players who came before them, so he makes it a point to relay some history during camp through his own lessons and visits from legends like Pudge Rodriguez and others. Hopefully Texas’ minor leaguers can avoid the fate of Josh Hart.
10 a.m. – After the meetings wrap up, it’s more practice time on the back fields. The four fields are filled with defensive drills, bunt plays and batting practice. I’ll see infield work before games throughout the season, but never 20-30 minutes’ worth with every pitcher also taking part in these simulated situations. These are the minor leagues, and the minors are all about development. We see that over the course of the season, but the foundation is laid right here.
11:30 a.m. – Most of the big leaguers have left the practice fields to get ready for that afternoon’s game against the Reds, but not everyone has headed back to the clubhouse. On the infield-only field, Greg Maddux is hitting ground balls back to Matt Harrison, Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson. So not only the minor league guys work on fielding, and what better mound defender to learn from than Maddux, who only racked up a record 18 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career. With not a whole lot else going on, a crush of fans flock to get in prime autograph position for when the session is over (for Tepesch, obviously).
On my way back to the big league side, I have a short chat with Rangers manager Ron Washington who is about to drive his golf back to the clubhouse. I wish him luck this season at the end of our conversation, to which he responds, “Well thank you baby!” and drives off.
12 noon – I meet Brandon Boyd, who is one of the Rangers’ clubhouse managers and also a former RoughRiders employee. Brandon oversaw the ‘Riders clubhouse from 2005-09 before moving on to Arlington. He takes me into the big league clubhouse, where I catch up with several familiar faces: Mitch Moreland, a RoughRider in 2009 and a rehabber in 2012 & ’13; Ryan Feierbend, a 2013 ‘Rider who would throw a scoreless inning in relief of Yu Darvish later in the day; and Brett Nicholas, Frisco’s best offensive player in 2013. Nicholas has been with the big club for the spring, mostly as a catcher after spending nearly all of last year at first base. Most of the clubhouse is vacant, but that is probably because it is when media is allowed in for interviews (nobody likes the media, especially radio guys).
On my way back to the minor leaguers, I stop to talk to Harrison, who I met during his rehab stint with Frisco last summer. Harrison will pitch for the first time in Tuesday’s game and says he feels completely healthy for the first time in a very long time. He says 2013 was agonizing, but feels like he is in great shape and is ready to get back to what made him an All-Star in 2012.
12:15 p.m. – I return to the back fields to watch the three intersquad games being played (the start of Phase 2 of Spring Training). Basically, all of the players in camp are mixed into random teams and pitted against one another for games that would last approximately five innings. This is once of the coolest parts of the day. On Field 5 I see Jorge Alfaro lace a Kevin Pucetas knuckleball to right-center for a triple. Pucetas is reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher after toying with the pitch in Frisco last season. Despite the Alfaro three-bagger, the knucklers dance enough that Pucetas does not allow another baserunner.
When I turn to Field 4, I watch Alex Claudio end an inning with a pickoff at second base with Juremi Profar batting and later Jon Edwards hits 98 on the radar gun. It is tough to keep up with all three games at once, so I miss some action but thoroughly enjoy what I did see. And the players seem to enjoy playing in games for the first time since last season. The minor league guys will play intersquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday before squaring off against other organizations beginning Thursday.
Soon enough, it’s Buckel’s turn to pitch and I am not disappointed. Cody looks a lot like the 2012 Cody; the one who struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and displayed impeccable control. Buckel gets a strikeout and ultimately retires three of the four men he faces. Afterwards, he tells me that it felt good to finally pitch in his first game action since a pair of early-August AZL contests. He says he didn’t attack the strike zone the way he has in recent bullpens, but chalks that up to the long delay in facing live batters.
As an aside, I don’t want to make Buckel’s outing out to be more than it was. It was a good step in the right direction after a nightmare 2013, not a guarantee that he will never struggle again on the mound in the minors. I hope that he can string outings like this together and get his career back to where it was, and then beyond. Monday was not a definitive answer to anything, but it certainly was encouraging to see.
2 p.m. – Following the intersquad games, I head back to Surprise Stadium, where the Rangers and Reds are well underway. But before I can enter the stadium through the team offices, I encounter an obstacle I just am not expecting: bees. Lots of them. A stone column that sits between the office and the stadium concourse apparently gathered an enormous mass of bees over the span of an hour. There was no hive there previously; they just all swarmed to that spot and just stayed. I’m told it’s probably not safe to walk past them and that pest control is on its way. I agree that missing an inning or so of a Spring Training game in exchange for avoiding hundreds of simultaneous bee stings is probably a fair trade. It isn’t long before a group of close to a dozen people (including Rangers special assistant and former pitcher Darren Oliver) join me to watch the extermination.
A photo essay of the kill:
2:15 p.m. – The Rangers and Reds are in the fifth inning by the time I get past the bees and into the stadium. Yu Darvish is finishing up his outing and both teams get ready to send in position players that 95% of the stadium has never heard of. Now 11 years old, Billy Parker Field at Surprise Stadium holds up very well and seems to be an enjoyable place to watch a game. There’s a big Monday crowd on hand; hopefully most of them do not leave with bee stings.
3:15 p.m. – Because I did not get the chance to see him on Sunday, I make a stop by the Rangers’ broadcast booth to see Eric
Nadel. I’ve met Eric a few times at Rangers games and he has always been kind to me. Rangers fans are lucky to have had him for so long and I wasn’t the only one who was very happy for his Hall of Fame election this past off-season. I don’t want to take too much of his and Matt Hicks’ time during the game, but I congratulate Eric on the honor during an inning break and then scoot out of the booth. In the radio booth right next door, fellow Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman is broadcasting for the Reds’ radio network. Eric calls Marty one of his career mentors.
3:40 p.m. – The Rangers wrap up an 8-2 win over Cincinnati as former RoughRiders Neftali Feliz and Nicholas form the game-ending battery. It’s Texas’ first win since Thursday against San Diego and the last game I’ll see at Surprise Stadium during my stay in Arizona. The team heads to Camelback Ranch in Glendale to play the White Sox on Tuesday and I’ll be there for at least some of it as I hit the home stretch of my stay in the desert.
As always thanks for reading,