Notes from Peoria

On practice field no. 2, relievers play long toss. Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell are throwing to each other. Chad Qualls is throwing to a left-hander whose name is not visible from here.

On other fields, players are working on bunting, fielding, and other skills that might come in handy during the season.

It’s 9:30 a.m., and they’ve been at this a while. First pitch of today’s game is 1:05 p.m.

Once the long tossing is done, a new group gathers on the field and a coach starts hitting fungoes to outfielders, who throw to an infield base or home depending on vocal queues: “Three, three!” or “Four, four!”

Jesus Guzman is getting some reps in at third base. Terry Kennedy is working with the catchers: Jason Hagerty, Luis Martinez, Kyle Phillips, and Guillermo Quiroz are his posse.

The coach with the fungo hits grounders to the infielders. They throw home. Now they throw to first. Now they turn imaginary double plays.

Muscle memory is developing, or so that is the hope. All of this has to be instinctual for the next several months. Repetition builds skills.

Batting practice begins. Several players are assigned to other fields or to the batting cages behind practice field no. 2. Fans seek autographs while players move from one place to the next, in their elaborate preparation for the coming season.

Forsythe lays down a couple bunts, then hits everything opposite field. Anthony Rizzo appears to be trying to go the other way as well, so maybe this is by design.

Rizzo is huge. He crushes a couple of balls to left-center.

Kennedy talks to Forsythe after one of his rounds about head movement. It’s a productive talk: Forsythe will hit a towering two-run homer to left-center in the second inning of today’s contest, still a few hours away.

As Kennedy and another player discuss the merits of jambalaya, Rizzo plays pepper with the 410-foot sign in center field. Strong kid. It’s batting practice, but he hits one out to right while swinging off his front foot.

Over on practice field no. 7, more infield drills. I hear Orlando Hudson. Everyone hears Hudson.

On practice field no. 1, it’s batting practice. Ryan Ludwick is taking his swings. Bud Black, Jorge Cantu, Aaron Cunningham, and Kevin Frandsen look on as “Eleanor Rigby” plays in the distance.

Mat Latos wanders into the outfield wielding a bat. Expecting Giants fans?

Hudson arrives from the next field and fans ask how he’s doing. “Pretty good, pretty good.” He is the Energizer Bunny.

Guys are running along the warning track in right field. Cunningham smokes the ball to all fields. Ludwick deposits a few baseballs over the left field fence. So does Frandsen. It’s easy to hit batting practice fastballs.

Coaches Randy Ready and Glenn Hoffman are here. After the Cantu/Cunningham/Frandsen/Ludwick group is done, the next foursome takes its turn: Brad Hawpe, Chase Headley, Hudson, and a guy wearing a warmup jacket who might be Jason Bartlett… or someone else.

They do their thing. I head over to the box office and pick up my ticket.

* * *

Gates open at 11:30 a.m. I throw down some ribs and a beer before heading to my seat.

Chris Denforfia, who used to play with the A’s, is chatting with a couple of their players 35-40 minutes before the game. Bartlett stretches his hip flexor, Hudson runs a little just beyond the infield grass. Latos and one of the catchers are playing long toss in right field.

Former Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff walks past. I try to snap a photo but he is in the dugout before I can get the shot.

A bunch of dogs are at the ballpark. Something to do with the Humane Society. Harriet the dog throws out the ceremonial first pitch. Well, her handler walks from the mound toward home plate holding the baseball in front of Harriet and places the ball in the catcher’s mitt.

Seriously, dogs can’t throw.

Hudson chats with some A’s. Forget the Energizer Bunny, he’s The Mayor. Someone has to be now that Sean Casey is retired, right? Might as well be Hudson, who later taps the plate umpire and Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki before his first at-bat. Dude is working it.

Latos gets the start and, as in his previous outing, can’t find the plate. He throws 38 pitches to six batters and is lifted with two out in the first inning.

Minor-league left-hander Colt Hynes replaces him and strikes out Jai Miller to end the frame. Hynes escapes trouble again in the second. After two singles and a passed ball put runners at second and third with one out, Hynes fans Cliff Pennington and Daric Barton (nice 2-2 curveball), and gets David DeJesus to ground out. That’s the top of the A’s lineup and those are legitimate big-league hitters.

Matt Lollis works an inning. I try to snap a photo but he obscures the sun. His nickname is “Big Country,” although I think “Tiny” would be funnier. Lollis is wild. The pitchers are giving Gregg Zaun a serious workout in his spring debut.

Evan Scribner works an efficient fourth. Bell follows with a perfect fifth in his first appearance. Qualls strikes out the side in the sixth, although by this time it’s all scrubs.

Casey Kelly works the seventh and eighth. He throws 30 pitches. The radar guns are all a section over from me, so I can’t tell you his fastball speed.

The Padres hit four home runs. Forsythe’s is the most impressive, although Oscar Salazar’s to the same general area isn’t far behind in that department.

The Padres win on a Mike Baxter walkoff sacrifice fly. I’m happy for the win, but torn… Rizzo is left standing on deck, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing him swing the bat one more time.

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5 Responses »

  1. Good stuff!

  2. Love this stuff. More of this would be awesome. Close-up observations from Spring Training where we all wish we were.

  3. I can smell the grass.

  4. Here’s my new “favorite picture of all time” :-)

    I think the spirit of Norman Rockwell framed it!