I can’t believe there’s no in-game entertainment this spring at McKechnie Field. No Parrot or Marauder running around, no Hooters girls telling little kids to spin around a bat 10X then run the length of a baseline like a drunk. What is the world coming to? In fact, the Pirate Parrot actually quit to join the Chicago Cubs franchise and replacement birds are now being auditioned – I’m not making this up.
Alas, we spent the last two days at Pirates City and at McKechnie. The Bucs played a “B” game against the Twins at Pirates City on Friday and a regular-squad tilt later that same day at McKechnie. Saturday, we went back to Pirates City and spent time watching the minor leaguers.
The “B” game was well worth the price of admission (and then some) – free. I have never seen the area so crowded. It’s as if the Pirates were good or something. Scouts lined up and stood behind home plate. I secured a spot behind a bench to their immediate left. I even met a guy who has tix at PNC Park and mentioned his usher’s name, whom I am friends with. The gent also purchased a Rotowire fantasy baseball magazine recently and we talked fantasy baseball and now follow each other on Twitter.
Back to the game. The home plate wasn’t loud, gregarious or outspoken, pretty much the opposite of Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle. Gerrit Cole pitched for the Pirates and had an uneven outing. I was seeking out as many pictures of Byron Buxton as possible. Buxton is the top-rated prospect in all of baseball. I had my dad also snapping pics of him, too. Well, Buxton started in center and led off for Minnesota.
Cole whiffed Buxton looking with a curve ball. The Twins phenom contorted his lips in amazement after watching the hook for a called strike three – a picture of that would’ve have priceless, almost like a welcome to the big leagues moment.
Cole looked a little uneasy and gave up some well-struck balls. He reared back and struck out a batter after No. 8 took him deep with an opposite-field dinger.
Pirates third-base hopeful, Brent Morel, went deep to left center with a three-run bomb that cleared the fence and nearly plugged right behind it like a golf ball.
Ex-Bucco Kevin Correia pitched for Minnesota. He was hittable, but for the most part got through the lineup, just like he usually does. Gaby Sanchez returned and flew weakly to short right field after a long plate battle with Correia.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the scrimmage was the interplay between the Pirates management bench and the Twins’. With big no. 86 at the plate for the Twins, the home plate ump called a 2-2 pitch ball three. The Twins called out “nice call” and “good eye” within earshot of the ump. The Pirates and Hurdle said the pitch looked good, in so many words. The whole time Pirates pitching coach, Ray Searage, and a Minnesota coach were looking at each other and laughing, trying to influence the home plate ump – who never looked at either bench but could hear every spoken word.
Well, on the 3-2, it looked like Cole threw the exact same pitch in the exact same spot as his previous one. This time the home plate ump called “strike three” and Searage said “good call” and started cracking up while the Twins coach simply laughed. It’s amazing how lobbying for the next call pays off.
Saturday at Pirates City, the hot dog guy who set up shop in between two of the practice fields saw his car get hit. I could hear the players yell “heads up, hot dogs” as a foul ball hit his little shade tent. When we walked passed him, I mentioned that I saw him nearly get hit and he remarked that a foul ball already broke his front windshield. I surveyed the damage and true enough, his windshield was laced with a 10 inch or so break.
I wanted to get some photos of Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, two prospects on the rise but couldn’t locate either player. I did take a number of photos of unknowns. The Pirates hand out rosters of players and their corresponding numbers and I snapped photos of many players, especially ones under 22 years of age. I took pics of Starling Marte before he was well known four or five years ago and hope that some of the new guys come through the system like Marte – almost like prospecting for gold.
Hurdle made his rounds on each of the four practice fields, almost to the point where it felt like he was
following me around. It was interesting to see how the 20-year-olds respond when they see Hurdle standing behind the cage where they’re batting. Of particular interest was Josh Bell. Bell is a player who could make his way to the majors in the next couple years. Big, switch-hitting outfielders with power don’t grow on trees – especially in Pittsburgh – and Bell has a chance to be a good one. My thinking is that he could move to first base to fill a need at first base, but for now he’s an outfielder.
I watched Bell hit with Hurdle directly behind the cage and he did well. A couple of the other hitters seemed like they were pressing too hard to impress the Pirates’ big-league manager, but not Bell. He drove the ball to all fields while batting right-handed.
Super Latino scout, Renee Gayo, walked past me and went into foul ball territory. Gayo just looks like a guy you want to sit down and talk baseball with. He’s definitely one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for the Pirates in Latin America. His find of Marte, among others, is very impressive. I hope Gayo watches his weight a little better, he’s too big to have a nice long ride ahead of him unless he takes better care of himself. I know, who am I to criticize anyone else, but I’m just sayin’.
I recognized Josh Bell’s parents and went over to speak to his dad. I wished the family well and told them I’ve worked for the Pirates the last 13 years. Mr. Bell and I chatted about ex-players and the Red Sox failing to draft his son and Theo Epstein, etc. He humored me for more than five minutes before I realized that he probably wanted to watch his son, so I wished him well and let him have his time back.
I was happy to snap some shots of first-round pick, catcher Reese McGuire. He’s not a real big guy or real stocky, but the reports are that he’s an excellent defender who could turn into a surprisingly good hitter. We shall see. I watch fellow catching prospect, Ryan Mathison, last spring and he was tasering the ball at Pirates City but had a regular season that proved less than successful.
It’s true that Luis Heredia has lost weight, noticeable weight. He was cordial enough to sign autographs behind the pitching area and he almost looked skinny after having a pot belly last spring.
We closed out Saturday’s Pirates City trip on two accounts. First, we went to Mixon’s Fruit and Farms right down the road. If there is a bigger rip-off place in the world, I have not seen it. I bought six chocolate malted milk balls for $3.06 (at $16.99 per pound). I also purchased a 16-ounce chocolate milk (marked local) and it cost $1.95. Second, my dad found an Apple phone. We saw a Facebook friend posted on it and sent a message to the owner. Hopefully we find these folks at Sunday’s Pirates game or sooner. It’s amazing how much info I found on these people with only a few clicks of the Internet.
Spring training shots from the last couple days …