TGFS, Thank Goodness for Starbucks. Not only am I completely geeked out halfway through my 2nd iced Venti Americano, but their Wi-Fi, which is the equivalent of gold to bloggers, rocks.
Today was the highlight of my week long mecca to Camelback Ranch aka Dodger Spring training, and it was actually the only day off for the Dodgers all spring. Thanks to Dave ‘Bags’ Baggot, the President/Owner of the Dodgers Rookie League affiliate Ogden Raptors,who I plan to blog about all year long beginning in June, I got a rare behind the scenes tour of CBR. And it’s not even close, from the guy who greeted us at the Dodger gate, to the receptionist, to the greenest grass this side of Augusta National Golf course, and every single person we met, the Dodger’s Cactus League facility at Camelback Ranch has no rival.
But let’s regress to yesterday 12 rows behind home plate as the Dodgers battled the Texas Rangers B squad to give you all a little context. First of all, the Dodgers seats seemed wider than the seats at the Rangers Ballpark in Surprise, however, they maddeningly don’t have cup holders on the back of them, so my ice cold beverage sat in my lap or on the red hot concrete floor. Also if you are planning a trip to CBR bring sunscreen, there is very little shade and it was 90 degrees but it felt like 100. Finally, the Dodgers/White Sox need to spend the couple thousand bucks it will cost, and put up a radar gun on the scoreboard in right field or somewhere, it was frustrating to not know how hard Kershaw, Kuo and co. were throwing. But those are very minor complaints.
Don’t let Clayton Kershaw’s final stat line of 11 hits and 5 earned runs allowed concern you. At least half of the hits were bleeders, bloopers and clunkers that somehow managed to turn into a hit, despite the batters getting totally jammed, and I can guarantee half the guys would rather have feeling in their hands today, rather than have the bloop hit they got yesterday. It was a rough day for Kershaw no doubt but he’ll be fine.
Matt Kemp will be an All-Star this year, write it down in permanent ink. He is noticeably leaner than he was last year. Which no doubt will turn into more stolen bases, more plays on balls in the outfield that last year he barely missed, and most importantly he wasn’t swinging at any 2 strike pitches in the dirt. In fact he fell behind 0-2 in his first at bat, laid off 2 straight balls in the dirt which last year he would have swung at, fouled off at least a half dozen pitches and ultimately forced a walk. He also hit a 3-2 fastball off of Rangers flame thrower Alexi Ogando so hard it almost put a hole in the left centerfield wall. He looks fabulous, and quite serious about his craft, as he should in what could very well turn out to be a career defining year for the talented young man.
Hong-Chih Kuo did allow a hit and a walk, but he also struck out 2 batters to go with it, and Blake Hawksworth looked really good in his 1 inning of work and no doubt will break camp on the final 25 man roster, barring something strange happening. Also on the Jerry Sands front, I have now seen him in 3 AB’s against Neftali Feliz and the aforementioned Ogando ie Major League Caliber Pitchers, the final 2 AB’s resulting in strike outs on 3 straight pitches. I have officialy put down my cooler full of Jerry-Aid, he will hopefully be the Dodgers LF/RF/1B for the next 10 years, but he does need some time in AAA first. No offense cause I still got nothin’ but love for Mr. Sands.
So all in all the Dodgers scored 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th to prove that their A squad is 1 run better than the Rangers B squad, the exact opposite of yesterday, when the Rangers A squad beat the Dodgers B squad by 1 run.
Now let’s get back to today and the 2 hours this morning that was right up there with the birth of my son, my wedding day, and watching game 3 of the 1978 World Series in-person at Dodger Stadium. Ok all joking aside, I got an email yesterday during the 6th inning from Dodgers Director of International and Minor League Relations, Joseph Reaves, who, thanks to Raptors President Dave “Bags” agreed to meet me at CBR this morning to “show me around.”
Well for a Dodger fan like me, and my Uncle whom I’m staying with here in Arizona, this really is the equivalent of a Dodger dream come true, so off we went this morning not knowing what to expect. To say that everyone we met was classy would be an understatement. Joseph couldn’t have been more cordial, in taking time out of his busy schedule to show us the places at CBR that only Dodger employees and players are allowed to go.
The buildings were immaculately furnished, and the grass on each of the practice fields surely would make the greenskeeper at Augusta National envious.One interesting fact is the main practice field has the exact same dimensions of Dodger Staduim. So, from Dodger Assistant GM De Jon Watson, his Assistant Director Chris Haydok to the guy who greeted us at the ‘Dodger’ employee entrance the entire facility and each person in it oozed with class. Some of it obviously rubbed off on my Uncle and I while we were there because ever since I’ve left the place people have actually treated me great, a far cry from the guys I golfed with this past weekend.
One highlight of the day, out of many, had to be watching the last 4 Dodger first round picks throw BP sessions with none other than Tommy Lasorda standing behind them, and telling 2008 1st rounder Ethan Martin, “you keep your fastball down there’s no reason you won’t be pitching in the Majors, you don’t you’ll end up robbing church donation boxes to make ends meet.” How’s that for pressure, no doubt young Ethan will be up to the task. The most noticeable thing watching he and Chris Withrow and Aaron Miller throw, along with Zach Lee was that the catchers mitt really popped when one of them let loose with a fastball.
I hope I speak for all of Dodger Nation when I say I wish them all good health, hard work and hopefully they join Kershaw and Chad Billingsley as part of the Dodgers rotation/bullpen of the future. One final funny moment happened after Zach Lee was done throwing and a nice lady asked,”Young man do you mind if I ask what your name is?” Unfortunately for her she didn’t have a coveted minors roster like I did, and Zach simply smiled and said “I’m Zach Lee.” My guess is that this will be the only Spring training of his career he will ever be asked that question again.
On the hitting side we got to see most of the top prospects take BP. Kyle Russell is a very large young man and like the pitchers mentioned above, the ball made a different sound, compared to most others, when it left his bat. Trayvon Robinson, jokingly taped a 1 to the back of his jersey and it wasn’t until after I saw his face that I realized who it was, as I didn’t see any other players with triple digit numbers. We did see numerous former Dodgers who are now coaches, far too many to mention but Charlie Hough, Steve Yeager, Darren Dreifort, Lenny Harris were among the few of many who were roaming the minor league fields. Needless to say Dodger prospects are in terrific hands, at all levels, in terms of coaches.
I must say that I was very impressed with Jamie Hoffman and John Lindsey, as they both were no doubt disappointed to have moved their belongings from the extravagant Major League Clubhouse, to the very nice minor league clubhouse, yet you couldn’t tell as each went about their business as true professionals. I preface this next comment by saying I may be totally off base, but Dee Gordon didn’t seem to share their same ‘professional’ attitude about being at minor league camp instead of still with the big boys, but he’s young and again I may have completely misinterpreted his on field actions vs Hoffman and Lindsey’s.
Finally Chris Jacobs, a 2007 17th round pick who is listed at 6’5 257lbs was by far the largest hitter I saw in camp, unfortunately his stats haven’t demonstrated the raw power he surely posesses. On the pitching side Chris Handke a 41st round pick in 2009, is easily the tallest player in camp he’s every bit of the 6’10 he’s listed at and I’m hoping the Dodgers send him to Ogden this year and I get the chance to see him pitch in person.
All in all as the great Ice Cube said, “Today was a good day.” Thanks again to ‘Bags’ in Ogden for giving me the hook up, and big thanks to Joseph Reaves for making 2 huge Dodger fans feel like a part of the Dodger family today, and reaffirming my belief, that other teams may spend more money than the Dodgers do, but when it comes to class no one in all of pro sports is even close. CBR is a must ‘bucket list’ item for any Dodger fan out there. (And being the rookie that I am in sports writing I will refrain from posting the great videos and photos I’ve got from this week out of respect to those who’s job it is to do that for a living)
Being in camp I’ve noticed there are 2 types of baseball fans at Spring training games, those who are there solely to get an autograph and then they more than likely turn around and sell it on ebay, and those who are there because they love the game, I promise Dodger Nation I will always be the latter.