On of the advantages of living in the Tampa Bay area is that somewhere at just about any time of day or night within a few miles a minor league baseball game is taking place. Up early this morning for Baseball Betsy and me, it was two extended minor league spring training games taking place at 10 a.m. at the Carpenter Complex to see. We just had to be there I guess. It was the young Blue Jays and Phillies going at it on Carlton and Ashburn Fields on an already warm Saturday morning as we arrived a bit late. Let’s hope no one noticed.
If you position your self just right you can stay out of the sun. So we huddled close to the Paul Owens Administration Building which separates the two fields for the shade it provides. We were ready for some baseball. Andy Tracy, who will be the Williamsport manager when the New York-Penn league opens in mid June was calling the shots on Ashburn and Roly De Armas who will run the GCL Phillies in the Gulf Coast rookie league was doing the same on Carlton. Phillies minor league pitching coordinator Gorm Heimueller was stationed behind the home plate screen at Carlton evaluating the pitching. All was well on the Phillies Pharm.
Extended Spring training games are like watching the walking wounded moving around, future prospects hoping for an assignment, rehabbing prospects trying to shake the injury bug and resume their careers and marginal players doing everything to avoid the dreaded final plane ticket home. Many of them are international players from the Caribbean countries, primarily from the Dominican and Venezuela; a small contingent from Australia is there too. The mystery guy that I have never seen pitch from Eastern Europe, who seems to be always there in blue Phillies baseball shorts, has been a two year regular at extended spring games.
Several players last week finally were assign out of the extended spring camp. Third round 2011 draft pick, third baseman, Harold Martinez and pitcher Matt Campbell were sent out to Lakewood. A week before Jose Contreras left to join the Phillies after spending several weeks rehabbing here. Ryan Howard is expect in next week to start his rehab. No word yet when Chase Utley will be in. Other minor league players like pitcher Jordan Ellis who showed some promise last year before he went on the disabled list can be seen walking around. Another rehabbing pitcher Nick Hernandez, who seems to be a permanent resident of the Carpenter Complex, is a regular at watching the extended spring training games.
This morning’s main event was Drew Naylor making an appearance on the mound after under going Tommy John’s surgery last summer. He was on a strict pitch count and left after facing several Blue Jays batters. He threw only fast balls and did not show his once knee buckling 12 to 6 curve ball that was his out pitch most of his career, making it as high as a Reading Phillies Eastern League All Star in 2010. The big curve ball does take its toll but it can be reported Drew is on his way back.
Another player who caught our attention was playing third base for Andy Tracy. It was Jeremy Barnes. We had just seen Jeremy playing in a game at third base and serving in other games as the primary designated hitter for the Threshers this season. He struggled mightily in both roles. He was put on the disabled list earlier this week but it looks like he has sent back to extended spring training to find his stroke, his throwing arm at third and his confidence again. We have always been fans of Jeremy as he has worked his way up the system.
This was only my second time at extended spring training games this season. One player who always seems to hit when I am there is Alejandro Villalobos. He is listed as an infielder but I have never seen him play the field. Don’t know much about him but he always puts on a show for me. Today it was a double down the right field line. In my first trip it was a home run off the the left field foul pole netting. In that game the Pirates manager came over and asked me if that ball really went over the fence fair. I was standing in a direct line of sight so I guess he thought I had a better view than the umpire . Guess he thought I was a Bucco fan since I was standing next to their bench. What was I going to say? But the ump did make the right call.
Roly De Armas is one of my favorite managers to watch . Fluent in English and Spanish Roly can always be counted on to give encouragement to whomever is batting from his third base coaching box. This morning it was the Phillies 2011 No. One draft pick Larry Greene. Larry seems to be late with his swing at times and Roly is always reminding him to “get it ready” when Larry is at the plate and especially when he is behind in the count. Taking Roly’s advice Larry dropped the barrel of the bat on a fast ball and looped a single to center in the game today. Roly did not have to tell third baseman Mitch Walding to “get it ready”. His lefthanded swing is quick and compact as he usually drives the ball hard to the right side. That’s what he did in the at bat I saw him take this morning.
As the noon hour approached Baseball Betsy and I headed for the parking lot to get the car do other chores. We were greeted by a big bus parked behind the right field fence at Ashburn firing up to get ready to take the Blue Jays extended spring training teams back up the road a couple of miles to Dunedin. Another week has passed. It’s like the lull before the storm here as we await appearances by the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and maybe Cliff Lee hopefully in the near future which will signal the start for them on the way back to the Phillies active roster, not a day too soon.