Thoughts from Tucson, Part 2

The minor leagues can be funny. In Albuquerque, I saw a fly ball kick out of the glove of Dodgers prospect Trayvon Robinson and over the left-field fence for a home run. I saw former Padres right-hander Tim Redding face San Diego native (Hilltop High School) Mike Jacobs.

In the first of two games I caught in Tucson, catcher Luis Martinez stole second base on a throw back to the pitcher. I didn’t actually see the play, but when I looked up, Martinez was cruising into second base and everyone else was kind of standing around doing nothing.

In the second game, as Salt Lake right-hander Eric Junge was making his warmup tosses before the bottom of the first, the umpires convened for a little conference. Then they chatted with Bees skipper Keith Johnson. Then they had Junge remove his glove, which catcher Kevin Richardson replaced with what from my vantage point (again, just over the third-base dugout) appeared to be an exact duplicate.

Everyone seemed happy. Junge, being the cagey veteran that he is (at 34, just a few months younger than Friday night’s starter, Brian Lawrence), didn’t let this faze him one bit.

That Salt Lake rotation is old (says the even older guy). Of their 52 starts this season, 23 (44.2%) have been made by pitchers in their thirties.

Meanwhile, left-hander Wade LeBlanc got the call for the home team and… well, he faced 27 batters and allowed 14 hits. You won’t believe this, but he was a bit unlucky. Part of it was his own doing, as he often worked behind in the count, which is a poor strategy for a guy with a mediocre fastball in a bandbox.

I mean, it’s a poor strategy for anyone, but someone like LeBlanc really can’t afford to deploy it. Hitters made contact, and although it wasn’t always solid, putting the ball in play is half the battle. Everything found a hole. (Resist…)

The one well-struck ball was Richardson’s grand slam that sent LeBlanc to the showers. Richardson wasn’t getting around on LeBlanc’s fastball. In the first, he singled to right; in the third, he lofted a lazy fly ball in the same direction. But with one out in the fifth, Richardson smacked a 2-2 pitch that I’m assuming from movement was a changeup over the left-center-field fence.

LeBlanc appeared to be frustrated by a few borderline ball/strike calls (he wasn’t the only one; former Padres farmhand Paul McAnulty, now with the Bees, got into it a bit with the plate umpire after being called out on strikes in the third). LeBlanc also didn’t get a lot of help from his defense.

Cedric Hunter, starting in center field, got a late break on a soft line drive with one out in the first that fell in for a single. Two batters later, McAnulty hit a sharp grounder toward first that Anthony Rizzo sidestepped. It wasn’t an easy play but it looked makeable. Next thing you know, the Bees have scored three runs and the rout is on.

At the plate, Rizzo drew a walk, popped up to third base, grounded a single through the middle, and struck out swinging. He also was batting when Aaron Cunningham tried to steal second in the first on a 3-1 count. Cunningham was called out, although I thought he beat the throw. So did manager Terry Kennedy, who had the same view I did, only closer. That helped turn a potentially big inning into a one-spot.

Cunningham also showed his one glaring defensive deficiency, a weak arm, twice skipping balls back to the infield from left field. As he admits, speaking of his time as an amateur player in Alaska, throwing has always been a trouble spot:

I was bad. I couldn’t throw. I was a bad infielder. I don’t think I was terrible with the glove, but I just couldn’t throw well.

Cunningham hits the ball hard and runs well. With a better glove, he could have a Chris Denorfia type career. But Cunningham is 25 years old and, like the two men patrolling center field at Tucson — Hunter and Luis Durango — lacks a clearly defined role in this organization.

Speaking of guys who hit the ball hard but who struggle on defense, Jesus Guzman went 2-for-4. One of the outs, a fly ball to center to end the sixth, was a very loud out. He hit a 3-2 pitch off the end of his bat and it carried to the wall. Granted, this is Tucson, but Guzman can hit. He reminds me a little of Pedro Guerrero, although Guzman won’t have anywhere near Guerrero’s career.

* * *

The other thing I wanted to mention about Tucson is its viability as a long-term Triple-A solution if the whole Escondido thing doesn’t work. For a town that didn’t know it would have an affiliated ballclub until very late in the game, fans have done a nice job of supporting the T-Padres (and give credit to the folks in charge, Mike and Pattie Feder, for hustling to make it all happen).

The ballpark experience is pretty no-frills, but considering the lack of time to prepare, this isn’t surprising. What may be surprising are the value ($10.50 for seats behind the plate as of this writing) and the knowledgeable fan base.

On Friday, we sat next to a woman who recently moved to town from the Pacific Northwest. She noticed I was keeping score and struck up a conversation. When I mentioned that we were visiting from San Diego, she immediately asked me about the Escondido situation.

This woman is not your typical fan. Come to find out, she’s a huge Mariners fan who saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in his pro debut at Bellingham back in 1987. Still, the fact that I sat next to some random person who was that in tune to the potential future of this ballclub gave me pause.

For largely selfish reasons, I’ve been in favor of seeing the Padres Triple-A affiliate come to Escondido. That said, with finances being what they are and given that folks in Tucson have warmed to a team they didn’t know would exist, I wonder if keeping it out there — not as close as the San Diego front office might like, but still closer than Portland — might make more sense?

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20 Responses »

  1. re: Tucson warming to a team? Now that’s punny :-)

    re: Guzman (and McAnulty) … it always frustrates me when guys are good hitters and still seem far, far away from MLB … it just seems tragic … reminds me of Wily Mo Pena … who got noticed by KG @ BP today …

    Wily Mo Pena, OF, Diamondbacks (Triple-A Reno): 2-for-4, 2B, HR (17), 2 R, 2 RBI, K. 17 home runs in 169 at-bats and .361/.438/.740 overall.

    re: LeBlanc … he doesn’t even seem to be a good AAA pitcher? What’s your prediction … does he ever help the Padres again … or is he done?

  2. I really, really, really hope Escondido doesn’t pay for a stadium. There are so many more important things the city should spend its money on.

  3. @lynchmob – leblanc could be another greer

    @pat – I couldn’t disagree more. The project would bring jobs and taxes. Restaurants would pop up around the area, maybe even some much needed Escondido nightlife(currently non existent). Hotel, restaurant, and memorabilia tax revenue are all important in addition to the jobs.

  4. Setting aside the economics of such a deal, AAA in Escondido, with some sort of cool little park like the Diamond, would put a lot of pressure on the MLB Padres to field a good team.

    I can’t be the only person who’d rather spend $9 on a AAA seat to watch players I’ve never heard of than drive downtown, pay for parking, pay $18 for a seat and watch players I’ve mostly never heard of. What would you bet that the AAA crowd would be a lot more into the game than a typical Petco crowd, too?

  5. The overall financial of new ballparks is questionable, at best. Best outcome: Private company builds and maintains stadium, downtown Esc. benefits:

  6. @ Padresfuture: Spoken like an owner. I have no problem with it as long as the owners buy the land and build the stadium, or even lease the land at FMV and build the stadium, but public funding of stadiums which generate tons of money for the owners of the teams who inhabit them is just plain wrong. There’s plenty of evidence out there the deals are bad for the public/taxpayer and great for the owners.

  7. I hope Tucson makes the AAA Padres their team for a long time. It’s a nice little road trip and it’s closer to Kartchner Caverns State Park.

    Escondido is just too close and stands between the Padres and the Storms.
    Wanna see the young guys, go up 15 and check them out at the Diamond.

  8. @Pat

    Totally agree. I’m unaware of any unbiased study that shows publicly funded stadiums offer a good ROI for the city/county that provides the money. Sure, there’s more activity in the Gaslamp now. That could have happened in many other ways, for less investment, on a less seasonal basis, and without enriching John Moores.


    There’s a possibility that instead of vulturing fans from the big club, a AAA team in Escondido would create more baseball fans, period, with a strong affinity for the Padres. Think of minor league baseball as a gateway drug, cheap, easy to get, and fun. So few players from High A will even get a cup of coffee, and when they do it will be years since they played in Elsinore. There’s just not the same knock-on effect at that level as seeing guys who are one phone call away from Petco. Let’s not forget that the Padres may not stay in Elsinore forever, affiliation turnover is common.

    The Braves have a similar setup with a Low A team in Rome and Gwinnett, Georgia. The former is a Low A team about 90 minutes from Atlanta, the latter is a AAA team less than an hour away. Both draw well and don’t seem to have pirated fans from Turner Field, based on attendance numbers.

  9. @ Tom Waits, Couldn’t agree more. It works both ways as well, If the AAA Padres were in North County this season imagine how much more Buzz Rizzo would be creating throughout the county. That buzz would translate to better AAA attendance this season and better MLB attendance in 2012.

  10. @Tom and Pat – I don’t want the city of escondido to get gouged, so a fair deal would be great.

  11. To be clear, my feelings on an Escondido ballclub are that while it could be viable and create the type of synergy TW mentions, the fact that things are working well in Tucson makes me wonder if messing with that is worth the risk. If it ain’t broke…

    @LynchMob: The pun was unintentional, although this one isn’t: Free Wily! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

    @Steve C: Rizzo wouldn’t be putting up those numbers at Escondido, which in a weird way is an argument in favor of moving the team there. Kino Stadium couldn’t play any more differently than Petco Park. One of my concerns about Rizzo is that folks will look at his numbers and get crazy ideas, then be disappointed when he hits like (pre-2011) Adam LaRoche.

    And if it seems like I’m waffling on the issue, that’s because I am. There are pretty solid cases to be made either way, IMHO.

  12. I have seen what the Glendale stadiums and shopping district have done for Glendale, AZ. This is coming from someone who used to live in Glendale and worked in the city treasurers office in Glendale. Nobody in the phoenix are ever made Glendale a destination for shopping, entertaining, and nightlife…. everyone went to Scottsdale and Tempe. Now, the entire west valley has the option. I have gone to westgate in Glendale during non sports season, it is bustling. If Escondido does it right, they can turn Escondido into more of a destination place as rancho bernardo and san marcos don’t exactly have much by way of nightlife and entertainment. How about some concert revenue at an escondido stadium, or a beer festival? It is up to the city to take full advantage of this opportunity. I for one can’t wait to watch the Escondido Padres opening day!

  13. @Geoff: I’d be pretty disappointed if all we ended up with from Rizzo is Adam LaRoche. From what I understand, apart from the numbers scouts are liking what he’s doing quite a bit as well.

  14. @PadreFuture

    The real question is whether those results could have been achieved, in Glendale (or any other city that paid for park) at a lower up front and long-term cost. Sure, more people go to the Gaslamp during baseball season than they did before, and maybe they come more often in the offseason after experiencing it. Petco wasn’t the only way to make that happen. In terms of net tax revenue and the lost opportunity cost to do something else with that money, all the independent studies show publicly-funded parks are a poor investment for government and a gold mine for owners.


    LaRoche was a very well-liked prospect in his day, who put up a few very good years in the majors. We’d all love him to be a consistent 135 OPS+ bat, but GY is right to be cautious about predictions.

  15. Re: Aaron Cunningham’s arm: Didn’t Tony Gwynn have the same rep? Tony went to Jack Mckeon who told him to practice throwing to second from the RF fence (a good way to blow out your arm), then Tony asked other major leaguers and got some tips about going back on a fly ball and coming in on it to get a little extra on the throw. Tony didn’t get his strong accurate arm until he went to pitching coach Galen Cisco, who got Tony to throw straight overhand to avoid a throw leaking left or right, and worked with Tony on his release point so Tony’s throws to second hit the ground once and bounced right over the bag. Result: gold gloves.

    I don’t know why outfielders who don’t know how to throw don’t get coached by the pitching coach. Everyone who throws a ball should be instructed on good mechanics. Somebody tell Cunningham to go to Balsley or even Bud to work on his throwing mechanics. It could help a lot, and possibly impress Bud and Jed that’s he’s willing to work to improve.

  16. @TW: great point. you, sir, are quite the gateway drug dealer of baseball.

  17. @Zach: LaRoche has had a solid career. One of my concerns with Tucson is that it creates unrealistic expectations for our hitting prospects, particularly given where they will play their home games once they reach the big leagues, but that is an article for another day…

  18. Rizzo’s home/away stats are remarkably well balanced