Once again we’re in Scottsdale, this time watching the Royals play the Giants. Apparently, Scottsdale Stadium has been here since tail fins, but still a very nice field. Travel days for a 1:05 game means no early work, but there were a few things going on in the clubhouse this morning: Jeff Francoeur arrived with his hair going 93 directions, wearing a T-shirt, shorts and cowboy boots. He tried to explain the get-up: apparently, Frenchy’s going out to dinner here in Scottsdale after the game and didn’t want to mess up his dinner clothes, which were on a hanger. Alex Gordon looked at me and said, “That still doesn’t make sense.”
Frenchy walked off saying, “It is what it is.” He’s right — it is.
The reason I was over by Alex Gordon’s locker in the first place was to ask him about his contact negotiations. That’s because someone asked me about his contract negotiations. I told Alex to just give me the stock answer he gave everyone else and I’d be satisfied. So here it is: they’re still talking, everybody wants to get a deal done, but it’s going slow. One side makes an offer and the other side takes a week to respond. When negotiating, being in a hurry is not a position of strength.
Mike Moustakas, wearing cartoon socks that said “Santa Cruz” on them (his socks have to produce a hit that day or they get tossed) was standing about 30 feet away from a pitching machine. He was wearing the small “training glove” I described yesterday and snagging line drives. Mike said kids shouldn’t try this drill. Moose wasn’t standing directly in front of the pitching machine — he made sure the balls shot past off to one side. First to his forehand, then to his backhand side. Moustakas was working on reaction time. He then backed up, caught the ball and worked on his throwing footwork. When Mike does this drill, he goes through one bucket of balls.
When professional ballplayers practice, they figure out a way to get a lot of repetitions in a short amount of time. Moose caught more line drives in 15 minutes than he will in a month of ballgames.
Here’s another one:
Mitch Maier has a bat worth at least one dollar. That’s because he’s taped 100 pennies to the bat head. Apparently, he learned the trick from David DeJesus . The bat head is wrapped in athletic tape, but one layer includes pennies. (Lay strips of tape on the ground, sticky side up, place the pennies on the tape, the tape on the bat and then add layers of tape over that.) Mitch uses the bat to hit off a tee, not live BP.
It’s good practice — and you get to keep the change.
Instead of standing on the mound, throwing batting practice, professional hitting coaches often do “flips.” This morning, Kevin Seitzer, was standing behind a pitching screen, sticking his arm out to the side and “flipping” the ball underhand to the hitters who were maybe 20 feet away. Alex Gordon told me Seitzer has three speeds: fast is a semi- fast pitch softball motion, medium is a regular flip and slow has a bit of an arc in it. Once again, lots of repetitions in a short amount of time.
And get that hand back behind the screen after you do the flip.
While driving to Scottsdale, Bob Dutton and Joel Goldberg talked about defense while I listened; basically, it’s cheaper than offense. A small-market team, trying to establish an identity and get the most bang for their buck, is smart to emphasize defense. Of course, everyone prefers players who give you both defense and offense, but those guys get expensive.
It’s been suggested that I spend time talking to umpires while I’m here, but it sounds like that can be a tall order. So much of this job is about trust and trust comes from familiarity. When it comes to umpires, I have neither. Unlike players, there is no set time that umpires are available to the media. There’s no hanging out, talking in the dugout. There are people who have been around long enough to have developed relationships with umpires. Right now, I’m not one of them.
Yesterday, Felipe Paulino attempted a pickoff at second base and threw the ball into the right-center field gap. You’d think a guy who makes a living throwing a baseball wouldn’t miss his target by that much, but there’s a reason it happened. Here it is:
Pitchers sometimes have trouble throwing to bases. Throw 100 pitches 60 feet, 6 inches and then throw a ball 45 feet — in a hurry — and things can get complicated. The arm speed is different and so is the release point. That’s why pitchers (and infielders) sometimes use a “dart throw.” It’s just what it sounds like; put the ball at your ear and throw it with the same motion you would a dart. It’s good for all those in-between-I’m-not-sure-whether-to-underhand-this-or-let-it-rip throws. Dave Eiland says the Royals don’t use the term “dart throw,” but instead talk about “staying short.” Same deal, basically, but whether you “stay short” or “dart throw,” it’s a club you want to have in your bag.
Paulino added to his woes by not getting his feet set correctly. Players get in a rush and sometimes try to skip this step, but that often results in a throw to second that your right fielder has to chase.
The organizational manual:
The Royals have one. It describes how things are done, on and off the field and is used to make sure everyone is on the same page. Bunting in Single A is done the same way in Triple A. That means players moving up (or down) in the organization, don’t have to learn a new way of doing things. Unfortunately, if I want to see the manual, I’m going to have to kill someone. And if I see it, then the Royals need to kill me.