February 2011

Spring Training II: Milton Bradley

So, we’ve been taking a million pictures at Mariners Spring Training this week.  I’ve been debating how to write up our experiences.

Chronologically by day?

Nah…too many pictures for some days and not many at all for others.

By experience (or groupings of experiences)?

Okay, let’s give that a shot.

First up, the Milton Bradley experience.

The first week or two of Spring Training are the best.  Games haven’t started yet.  Its just practice.  The Mariners have 6.5 practice fields.  During most of Spring Training, the big leaguers practice on the two least accessible practice fields.  But during the first couple weeks, the big league camp spends most of its time on the four most fan accessible fields.

A couple days ago, the Mariners stretched, played catch, ran defensive drills, and then broke into hitting groups.  Groups rotated between four practice fields — M3 through M6:

1 - BP diagram.jpg

M3 – batters tried to get hits off of pitchers, but the pitchers played hard to get;

M4 – pitchers threw their “bullpen” sessions on the field as batters stood in and tracked the pitches and baserunners practiced leading off of second and breaking for third base;

M5 – batters took traditional BP while baserunners practiced leading off of third base and breaking for home plate; and

M6 – traditional BP, no baserunning.

Here is a peak at M3 with Brendan Ryan in the cage (I cannot recall or identify who was pitching):

2 - live BP.JPGAt the beginning of the rotation process, Tim, Kellan, Colleen, my mom, and I watched live BP on M3.  The first batter was Milton Bradley who faced Chris Seddon.  Bradley’s first two swings hit the right centerfield fence on the fly.  His third swing almost took out Seddon on the mound.  After a couple more random hits, Seddon’s final pitch to Bradley was hard and inside.  Milton swung defensively and helplessly (and sarcastically) yelled “Get off me!” as he hit a weak can of corn into the grass just behind second base.

I could tell Milton cracked his bat on the swing.  He immediately went to his duffle bag and swapped out bats (each player brings two bats from the clubhouse to the practice field).  I took a mental note.

My mom, Colleen and Kellan generally stayed put at M3.  But Tim and I shifted around and watched some of the action on each of the fields.

On M4, Tim and I stood just behind Ichiro and watched him sit on a bucket and swing a weighted bat as he prepared to not take some hacks at the plate…

3 - no swing BP.jpg…all the while Michael Saunders and his group practiced getting a jump from second to third base.  When Milton Bradley’s group was at this station, I noticed he was using a bat with athletic tape around the middle.  I figured it was probably the bat he cracked against Seddon.  (By the way, Seddon really settled down and missed a lot of bats after Bradley’s first round).

On M5, Ichiro and his group got jumps from third toward home plate as other guys took BP:

4 - BP and baserunning.JPGFinally, on M6, we watched Ichiro take some hacks (as shown in a video clip in our last entry):

5 - more BP.JPGThe rotations were timed and after…oh, maybe 15-20 minutes…one of the coaches would call out “rotate” and then all of the players would run through the public grass to their next station:

6 - Round-and-Round.JPGAbove, Brendan Ryan, Mike Carp, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Matt Mangini and others run past me from M6 into M3.

We had planned to leave at 11:30 a.m. to head down to Chase Field for a tour.  We started to leave — we made it out to the sandy/rocky area beyond the OF wall at M3.  But then we decided to push off Chase Field until later in the week.

When we got back to the area between the four home plates, Kellan and I looked around for Milton Bradley, but we couldn’t find him anywhere:

7 - looking looking.JPGWe milled around a bit…

           
8 - maybe over here.JPG    
Thumbnail image for 9 - hmmm.JPG

…and all of a sudden I saw Milton enter M3 coming from M4.  (By the way, that’s Tim in the red and blue in front of Kellan and me in the picture above to the right).  Players were starting to pack up and head back to the clubhouse.

As Milton headed toward his duffle bag, Kellan and I took off (my mom and Colleen had no clue what was going on, but they followed us)…

            10 - plan in motion.JPG    

11 - Excuse me Milton.JPG

…and rounded the corner of M3′s 1B dugout.  There is a gate just past the dugout and I was hoping it would be open.  As you can see in the picture above to the right, it was.  As Kellan and I arrived at the open gate, we saw Milton pack up his duffle bag and start to walk toward the RF corner (where players exit the field to return to the clubhouse).

Todd:  “Hey, Milton!”

[Milton looks over and sees us.  He veers over in our direction.]

Todd:  “Hi, Milton.  Hey, is there any chance my boy can get your broken bat?”

Milton:  “What’s he gonna do with it?”

Todd:  “Hang it on his bedroom wall.”

[Deeming this a worthy response, Milton extracts a bat from his bag and hands it to me and starts to walk off.]

Todd:  “Thanks, Milton!!!”

            12 - bat for my boys wall.JPG    
13 - bat switcheroo.JPG

[I start to walk away with the bat and a great big smile.]

Milton:  “Hold up!  Is that the broken bat?”

I didn’t hear him.  But my mom pointed me back to Milton.

Lo-and-behold, Milton had given me the wrong bat.  Above to the right, we made the switch.  Now, I had the bat with the tape around the middle that he’d been using on M4.

In the next picture, I guess we’re examining the bat:

14 - examinign bat.JPGI figured, hey, let’s add to the goodness.  So I asked Milton if he’d sign the bat.

Sure he would:

            16 - joking about getting a picture.JPG    
17 - reaching.JPG.

You know, Milton has a terrible reputation.  But I invite you to click on these pictures to enlarge them.  As he was signing the autograph, he has a big huge smile on his face.  He was very pleasant in our little interaction.

As he signed the bat, I added:

Todd:  “Hey, could we get a picture too?”

Milton:  “Hey, you got me here, why not?”

So we turned toward my mom and Colleen (who both had cameras out and trained on us).

As they snapped away at the pictures, Kellan grabbed at Milton’s hat:

18 - and reaching.JPGI had no clue what was going on becaue Kellan was essentially behind me.  But all of a sudden, everyone started laughing — my mom, Colleen, Milton and a crowd of people who had gathered to watch.

Milton had taken off his hat and put in on Kellan’s head:

19 - put a lid on it.JPGKellan was lost in a sea of Milton Bradley hat…

            20 - lid.JPG    
22 - still struggling.JPG.

…as Milton and I smiled for the cameras:

24 - struggling with hat.JPGBy the way, yes.  I am holding Kellan in these pictures (with my unseen left hand).

After more “thank yous” to Milton, we split up and started celebrating Kellan’s awesome new bat:

23 - Hooray.JPGWe tried to get a family picture, but Tim didn’t want to jump in with us:

25 - Happy bat owners.JPGBut a few minutes later, after the rest of the players left the field, Tim was more than happy to wield Kellan’s new lumber for this picture:

26 - carry a big stick.JPGSo, it was an awesome interaction and experience with Milton Bradley.  Many, many thanks to Milton!  He was incredibly nice, and not just becuase he gave us the bat.  He seemed like a very nice and genuine guy.  We’ll be pulling for Milton to have a comeback season in 2011.

Anyway, check out the bat closeup:

27 - Milton Bradleys C331.jpg

UPDATE:

We had to mail the bat home because we couldn’t carry it onto the airplane.  Its finally here and hanging on Kellan’s wall.  Here is what it looks like now:

Miltons Bat Kellans Wall.JPGThanks again, Milton!

Mariners Spring Training Video Update

We’re here in Peoria, AZ for Mariners Spring Training.  We’ll see no games while here.  Just practice.  Frankly, I think that practice is the best part of Spring Training.  We’ve had many memorable encounters and have tons of great pictures to share.  But I haven’t had time to put an entry together yet.  So I figured we’d share a couple videos from Spring Training before putting together a write up.

The first day of spring training was extremely windy with periodic spurts of rain. After the Mariners stretched on one field, the different position groups split off onto separate fields. This video shows the outfielders running over to the Mariners main practice field, and features Ichiro giving me a funny little look as he passes by me and Tim:

Many of the chain link fences on the Mariners Spring Training complex are wrapped in dark green fabric meant to cut down wind on the field. Its my least favorite part of the M’s Spring Training complex. Interestingly, the Padres complex (just on the other side of the Mariners and Padres shared stadium) doesn’t have any of these annoying wind barriers on the fences. In this video, Felix Hernandez is seen pitching in a jumbo-bullpen through a little flap in the wind barrier:

In this video, a group of Mariners pitchers are going through pitcher fielding practice (PFP) on one of the Mariners practice fields. At this point, the pitchers were fielding ground balls and then throwing to third base. You’ll notice that the few fans watching the Marines practice are almost completely silent. That’s the standard at Mariners Spring Training. Well, Tim isn’t the standard fan. He’s loud. After this video, Felix fielded a ball and threw to third base. Tim let out a loud, “Good job, Felix,” prompting Felix to spin, lung toward Tim and give him a double arm point and a loud “THANK YOU!!!” This prompted Nate Robertson (following Felix) to ask, “What about me?” Tim was silent, so I responded in a somewhat sarcastic tone, “Good job, Nate.” All of this drew a chuckle from the players and normally silent fans.

In the final video in this entry, Ichiro is shown taking BP on one of the Mariners practice fields. Pretty much every swing shown here resulted in a nice line drive into shallow right field:

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Customers Report to Spring Training

I’ve mentioned on here before that there is a Rawlings outlet store in our town.  I’m one of the biggest Rawlings baseball glove advocates in the world.  So, needless to say, I think the Rawlings outlet is just about the best store ever (the Mariners team stores are also excellent).

Tim and I often swing by “the baseball store,” as we call it, on weekends, just for kicks.  And that is where we found ourselves on Sunday, February 13, 2011, as MLB pitchers and catchers began arriving at their respective teams’ spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida.

We weren’t the only ones with the idea.  The place was a buzz with amateur baseballers of all ages.

The trough along the back wall of the store was filled to the brim with an assortment of beautiful gloves of various colors and styles.  Tim gave his mark of approval:

rawlings tim.jpgThis closer view of the trough…

rawlings outlet.jpg…gives a better view of the dark brown and black glove with white lacing that I’ve had my eye on.  I might have picked one up, but the Trap-Eze style was already sold out!  I liked the modified Trap-Eze and one other style, but there is no beating a Trap-Eze.  I decided I should hold out for it to be re-stocked — not that I necessarily need another glove (see below).

When we wandered by one of the bargain glove bins, Tim pulled out this catcher’s glove…

rawlings orioles glove.jpg…and announced, “Look, its an Orioles glove.”

I checked out the “Primo” line of fancy Italian leather gloves:

rawlings primo.jpgThat’s some nice looking leather!  But I don’t need that fancy of a glove.  I think these were in the $300-$400 range.  I’m sure they are outstanding gloves.  But if you know how to treat a glove right, I think you can be just as happy with any of the more modestly priced gloves.  I’ve never spent even $100 on a glove…and I’d put any of my gloves up against the top priced gloves (well, most of my gloves, at least).

Here is the other glove that I really have my eye on:

rawlings training glove.jpgIt is a training glove similar to the “flat” gloves.  This one looks like a normal glove (i.e., it is not flat), but it is really stiff and essentially doesn’t close at all.  By the 2011 Cook Grandfather-Father-Son Baseball Roadtrip of 2011, I plan to own this glove and play lots of catch with my dad using it on the trip.

Interestingly, you cannot see anyone but Tim in any of these pictures.  But the place was packed.  People were looking at gloves, trying on gloves, debating gloves (including one dad who wouldn’t even let his son try on the $300 gloves), swinging wood bats, looking at clothing, cleats, batting T’s, baseballs, and catcher’s gear (in fact, Tim asked me to buy him an entire set of catcher’s gear, I did not).  It was great to see that the world is getting back into the swing of things…baseball things, that is.

With all of this talk of Rawlings gloves, why don’t I take the opportunity to share mine??  And how about in chronological order?

Wally Joyner model Rawlings RFM14 (first basemens glove):

Rawlings RFM14.JPGI probably got this glove in 8th or 9th grade, around 1990.  I restrung this glove with green laces in 2010 and featured it in an entry called “The Tale of the Prodigal Glove.”  This glove has the distinction of being my only all-brown leather glove.

Rawlings RBG36B:

Rawlings RBG36B.jpgMy first glove growing up was an old used Rawlings.  I don’t have it anymore.  Aside from the Prodigal Glove, this RBG36B glove was my first “new” Rawlings glove.  It was also my first black glove.  I got this in high school to replace my old Spalding Dwight Gooden signature model glove.  This was my outfield “gamer” in high school and American Legion ball.  It is formed to absolute perfection.  It is also the first glove that I restrung with different colored laces (because I loved Griffey’s black Trap-Eze with brown laces) and the first glove that I installed extra ties between the middle three fingers (see upper right picture).  It sits on my bookshelf in my home office and I almost never use it.  But, of all of my gloves, it is the glove to which I have the strongest sentimental attachment. 

Randy Johnson signature model Rawlings RBG10B (modified Trap-Eze):

Rawlings RBG10B.JPGI wrote an entire blog entry about this glove in 2009:  “Weekend Project:  The Trap-Eze-ification of a Non-Trap-Eze Glove.”  This glove holds an interesting place in my life.  My folks gave me this glove as a gift while I was in college so I could use it for intramural softball — I didn’t want to ruin my RBG36B by using it to catch softballs.  In years of playing softball, it never felt right.  I just couldn’t get it formed to my liking.  Because of this, I really didn’t care for this glove.  And that’s probably why I didn’t mind experimenting with it.  After I turned it into a blue-laced Trap-Eze, it was a whole new glove.  It feels perfect as a Trap-Eze.  It craddles the ball effortlessly.  It went from my least favorite to my most-used glove.  Since the modification, I have taken it to almost every game Tim and I have attended and I now use it as my softball glove.  I absolutely love this glove now.

Rawlings RBG22NC:

Rawlings RBG22NC.JPGIn a new city without any friends (or sons), I found myself at Dick’s Sporting Goods a day after receiving my first paycheck in my first (real) job out of school.  I was looking at gloves, just for kicks, when I found this beauty.  I loved the thatched pocket and grey “Rawlings” stitched on the back of the index finger.  I had no softball/baseball team and no one to play catch with me, but I had a new job and my first paycheck, so I decided that was all the justification I needed to buy myself this glove.  I’ve hardly used it since I bought it and its still not formed to my liking (largely because I let someone else use it and they, lets just say, didn’t treat it in compliance with my standards).  Eventually, I’ll break it in properly in the backyard with Tim (hopefully before Kellan can even play catch).

Rawlings RBG10H:

Rawlings RBG10H.JPGThis glove is absolutely perfect for softball.  I got it to replace my pre-op RBG10B as my everyday softball glove.  I found this beauty in the “blemish” bin at the Rawlings outlet.  I’m not sure why it was in the bin, I cannot find a blemish anywhere on it.  My folks were visiting when I bought this and my Dad bought the same glove at the same time.  Interestingly, they charged him $19.99 for his non-blemished “blemish” glove, and they charged me $12.99 for the same exact thing.  It was the deal of the century because this is a stellar softball glove.  By the way, you can see my Dad’s RBG10B in our GFS Roadtrip entries (see, e.g., here).

Rawlings GG601B:

RawlingsGG601B.JPGThis is my first ever “real” Trap-Eze glove.  I love it.  I bought it a couple years ago at the Rawlings outlet.  I’m very protective of it.  If you ask me to borrow it to play catch in my presence, I will say no (unless, perhaps, you are my dad, brother or Paul Samione).  I have respected (i.e., not restrung) the factory lacing, which is odd for me.  I have not even installed my customary between the finger ties.  I use this glove a lot in the backyard with Tim (or with my Dad when he visits), but I almost never take it to games and I never use it for softball.  Interestingly, this is my only glove that I wear with my fingers slid over one slot to the left (i.e., two fingers in the pinky slot and no finger in the index finger slot).

Rawlings GG12XTCBW:

Rawlings GG12XTCBW.JPGThis is the last glove I have bought - in 2009, I think.  I bought this glove at the Rawlings outleft because I loved the white Trap-Eze lacing and I thought it would be good to have a shorter (infield sized) glove (although I never play infield).  This glove is still very new, but it feels good.  Like the GG601B, I use this primarily around the house.  I did take it to one Mariners game at Fenway on July 4, 2009 –  see here

There you go:  a glimpse into the bustling Rawlings store on the day PItchers & Catchers began reporting to Spring Training and a tour of my person baseball glove collection.  Hope you enjoyed.

Go Mariners!

The Houstralian Austro

Hey, pitchers and catchers report in just about 10 days.  Excellent!

But its been a slow month for baseball.  So slow, in fact, that I recently saw an article “reporting” that Derek Jeter was hitting in a batting cage with his team’s hitting coach.  Wow, that’s shocking “news”!

To fill a tiny little part of the pre-spring training baseball void, I thought I’d share a picture of Ryan Rowland-Smith that I just slapped together:

Houstralian.jpg
For some reason, I was recently thinking about the Australian flag, which of course features six stars.  Before long, I figured I should replace those stars with the Houston Astros’ star logo in honor of C&S Hall of Famer and new Astro, Ryan Rowland-Smith.

After combining the Australian flag and the Astros’ logo, it was only logical to go the extra step and create a nickname for RRS with another Australia-Houston Astros smash up.  So, I came up with “The Houstralian.”  Of course, “Australia” also blends nicely with “Astros” — so I modified RRS’s jersey to read “Austros.”  (I also modified it by adding the “18″ from my RRS Mariners jersey).

So there you go MLB play-by-play announcers and color commentators, feel free to start tossing around “Ryan ‘The Houstralian’ Rowland-Smith” or the more formal “Ryan ‘The Houstralian Austro’ Rowland-Smith” while commentating.

Is its baseball season yet?

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