On the second day of spring training I drug myself out of bed early and went over to the minor league practice fields. I used the wrong entrance and made it all the way inside before a security guard caught me. He was cool about the whole thing, and I dutifully left, parked my car in the right spot, and and re-entered via the right gate.
There might have been 6 fans present. I guess that's the glory of following a team with poor attendance, but it made the experience that much more awesome. I had intended to grab an auto or two of some of the Rays prospects but decided not to in favor of just taking in the scene. Guys doing drills (the catchers were already working when I showed up), guys running between stations, fans and others milling about.
I had some great conversations, first with a friend of Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo who had come down to check things out. It's strange, but I'm a Bulls fan even before I'm a Rays fan, and it was interesting to meet someone whose interest in the proceedings was limited exclusively to the AAA team.
Next I had a longish chat with an agent who said he was there to take a client or two out to lunch. He seemed like a nice guy. He had stories about playing Legion ball with guys who went on to be Charleston Rainbows and pointed out that the family of one player (a client, I'm guessing) was in the adjacent bleacher watching their kid take batting practice.
Finally, I ran across former Bulls coach Bill Evers. I stopped him for a moment as he passed by and told him that I really appreciated his Bulls teams. More than a decade after the ruined season of 1994, his teams were the ones I watched when I fell back in love with the game. Sadly, despite being wildly successful in terms of W-L record Mr. Evers lost his gig due to the, um, player development.
Later on we attended the Rays 6-4 loss to the Twins. It was a spring game that actually went into extras, which was something of a treat. Roberto Hernández looked serviceable in the battle to be the #5 starter and the ML relief corps of Farnsworth, Wright, Peralta, and Mcgee was outstanding as they allowed 2 hits over 4 innings with 4 Ks. Luke Scott also hit a BOMB, which hopefully is a sign of good health and good things to come later on.
Before the game, of course, I tried to get an auto or two.
After two near-hits in Minneapolis and Baltimore, I finally landed a Matty Ice. It was signed with someone else's pen for the sake of efficiency.
The big "score" I guess was getting Longo's signature for the Topps Rookie AS project. Folks were saying he never signs anymore, particularly not for adults, so I got really lucky.
Rich Thompson signed a team card for me, and in fact signed ttm for me last year. He's got a really cool story and, truth be told, is one of the players who fairly or not has been saddled with the AAAA label. Here's to hoping he gets a legit shot at coming back up this year. As side note, I briefly confused him with Brandon Guyer. I swear those dudes were separated at birth.
Another team card, this one signed by Chris Gimenez. He's battling for the backup catcher spot and having a hell of a spring (OPS of .917) but still has options remaining while other guys don't. What else can you do but play?
Stephen Vogt came up to the big club last year and went hitless in 25 AB. He's got the skills, so it's just a matter of time. I'm hoping he doesn't go a decade between ML stints like Thompson, or goes 30 or so hitless ABs to begin his career like new Ray Kelly Johnson.
And the craziest auto:
Cecil Fielder was in the house through the Adopt a Legend Program. He was one of THE guys when most of us were young, and getting his auto in person was pretty amazing. I told him his 51-HR 1990 season was one of the most exciting things for my friends and I when we were kids. He said he was mostly lucky. There's "luck," then there's "lucky x 50," which points to successful process.
The highlight of getting autos that day was talking baseball to a mother and her son up by the wall. They are Stone Crabs fans and the son even goes to kindergarden with one of the kids of a Rays player. I was able to given them cards of said Rays player, plus several others, Longo included. Last week I sent them a 400-couunt box of Rays, which I hope they enjoy!
Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!