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Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 2

Mar 12, 2010, 9:33 AM EDT

Pirates stretch.jpgI made my way down to the field as the Pirates came out to do their morning workouts, batting practice and the like.  Weirdest thing:  the team does all their stretching in a big circle with a couple of players leading the drills in the middle. Maybe other teams do this on some back field somewhere, but I have never seen such a thing.  Especially weird: when they were done they all gathered together in a big “whoop! whoop!” circle like they were a high school football team or something.  Odd.

At this point my basic observations of what happens before the game would be somewhat repetitive — news flash: managers think their teams have “a good chance to be competitive this year; players “feel good” — so let’s take a brief photo tour:

Russell Fungoes.jpg More hands-on managing. If I become a billionaire and buy a team I’m going to make hitting fungoes an essential requirement for my managers. Sure, La Russa, Cox and Torre may get fair results, but there’s something really cool about the skipper handling infield drills. When your team loses it’s 100th game this year, Pirates fans, at least remember that your manager cares.

Raynor net.jpgJohn Raynor was a Rule 5 pick of the Pirates. He’s got a great glove, is super fast, and stands to break camp with the Pirates as a backup outfielder. His bat, however, is most charitably described as a work in progress.  Here he was working to make some progress.  This is one of my favorite drills to watch. They’re pros and I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but I kept wondering whether the coach wasn’t worried about taking one off his forehead. In fact, as I moved in to snap this picture, I kept wondering whether I would take one off the forehead.
Milledge waits.jpgI walked to from the parking lot to the field alongside a guy from ESPN the Magazine, and as we passed the player’s parking lot and noted a much smaller number of high end vehicles than you normally see, we talked about just how anonymous the 2010 Pirates really are. One of the few names that non-Pirates fans are likely to know is Lastings Milledge, late of Washington and New York.  Milledge is an interesting case. Miscast as a centerfielder, he took a lot of heat last spring and his status as a top prospect more or less evaporated.  Still, he turns 25 next month and for the first time in his career he starts a season with a more or less set position. Pittsburgh doesn’t look anywhere close to contending, but I at least like that they’re giving guys with upside like Milledge a chance.  For what it’s worth: Milledge was running, doing extra work in the field and took extra long batting practice before the game.  It’s hard to judge these things, but he seemed serious. Focused. I’m kinda rooting for him this year.

Morris bullpen.jpgBryan Morris in the pen.  Morris was the Dodgers 1st round pick in 2006 and came over to the Pirates as part of the Jason Bay trade.  He’s had Tommy John surgery. He’s struggled since he came back from it. He got suspended by the Pirates due to “professionalism” issues after he blew up and berated an umpire in a single A game last August.  Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was watching his bullpen session very, very closely, and was almost whispering words of encouragement after every pitch. “Nice plant . . . good form; batter can’t see your release point at all . . .”  There was a zen vibe to the whole thing that I found fairly mesmerizing. If they haven’t already, someone probably needs to write the definitive book on pitching coaches.  I get the sense that dealing with pitchers is the closest thing to magic and voodoo that happens on a baseball field.

My morning rounds out of the way, I headed back up to the booth for what would be, bar none, the worst baseball game I ever saw.  Come back in about an hour to hear the gory details.

  1. enough already - Mar 12, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    That’s so nice that you are rooting for Lastings Milledge, Craig. I mean really charitable of you. Now if only you could extend the same courtesy to Jeff Francoeur. Yeah, I know, I know. A man doesn’t get over that kind of pain so easily. I’m just sayin’.

  2. Old gator - Mar 12, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Odd, but the Pirates’ circle dance drill reminds me a lot of the kids marching around in a mesmerized circle near the conclusion of Childhood’s End. Or maybe a big square dance – so named because people get together in a barn and dance around in a circle.
    Or, perhaps more befitting the way the Pirates go about their buying, selling and trading affairs, like a crop circle. Dooodooodooodooodooodooodooodooo…you’re traveling through another dimension….

  3. Joe G - Mar 12, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Isn’t it a little strange that Milledge is wearing such a high number during spring training?
    By the way, I absolutely love these spring training posts. Keep up the good work.

  4. JC - Mar 12, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Joe G….that’s his number, he’s said in interviews he picked it b/c that’s the year he was born

  5. Joe G - Mar 12, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    I’m an idiot. After I posted that I was thinking there had to be some reason for it which I was not aware of. Thanks.

  6. DK - Mar 12, 2010 at 11:49 AM

    I’m a Cubs fan and don’t have any love for La Russa, but he does plenty of his own hands-on managing. Whenever the Cardinals are in Chicago, I watch them take BP (Albert is amazingly consistent and the top group was a pleasure to watch several years ago – Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds). I distinctly remember La Russa hitting fungoes during pre-game. Before the mob showed up and wandered onto the field. But that’s a story for another day….

  7. Julian - Mar 12, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Oh come on Gator! You seem like the kinda guy who would know that square dances are all based on groups of four (two couples), hence the “square” in the name. Even contra dances (often confused with square dances) are performed in lines, not circles. If you’re gonna mock American folk dances, you should get the details right.

  8. Preston - Mar 12, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    The drill Raynor is doing is called soft toss – it’s a common drill all the way down to the little league level, and I’ve never seen the tosser get with a batted ball (though sometimes little leaguers will pop it up over the fence). Of course, the first time kids do it, they all have that same fear, and end up kneeling much too far away.

  9. Old Gator - Mar 12, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    Gee, sorry, I didn’t mean to sound unpatriotic or anything, especially considering how I already sound when discussing that other great American musical atrocity, “The Star Spangled Boner” – although, at least, it doesn’t frighten the cows as badly. And here I always thought that contra dances were Nicaraguan.

  10. Michael - Mar 12, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Normally, I don’t put too much stock in these kinds of ancillary considerations, but I wonder if spending March in his hometown will help Milledge this year. He’s always shown talent, but perhaps being home will have some positive effect on the mental aspects of his game. I grew up just a little ways south of Bradenton and am roughly the same age as he is, so I’ve been reading about his exploits in the local sports page since I was in middle school. Point being: I’m rooting for him, too.

  11. Omega in Colorado - Mar 12, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    Looking at the picture of that batting drill, I swear I can hear the coach saying, ‘Ok, I am gonna toss the ball up in the air, and when I nod my head you hit it.’ (Like the old cartoon gag).
    Anyways, I don’t think you could pay me enough to be the coach for that drill.

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