A warm welcome to BFN for a stalwart of the UK fan community, Mark Smith…
Saturday March 23rd – sunshine, clear blue sky, temperature touching 70 degrees at 10am. You’re right – I wasn’t at home in London. I was lucky enough to be in Clearwater, Florida, mid-way through a week of watching Spring Training baseball.
With time to kill before a Blue Jays game that afternoon in Dunedin, about three miles up the coast, I decided to take a wander around the Phillies Spring Training complex, literally 10 minutes’ walk from where I was staying. I’d already been to a Phillies game and seen the expanse of buildings and diamonds, so thought it was worth a visit.
As I approached I could see there was actually a game in progress on one of the four diamonds. Getting closer I realised it was a minor league game between the Phillies and the Yankees.
There was a small spectator area along the third base line so I sat down and started watching.
It’s easy to get talking to someone if you’re on your own watching baseball in the US. All you do is ask the person next to you a question. They hear your English and ask what a Brit was doing watching baseball. So –
‘Why are they using DH when it’s the Phillies who are the home team?’
‘No idea, buddy! Hey, are you English? Why are you wearing a Red Sox cap?’
And the conversation went on from there.
From mid–March, Major League training coexists alongside the minor league equivalent – and unlike the stars who are probably just honing their skills and to an extent just going through the motions, the minor leaguers really turn up to play. At the lower end, some are desperate just to start the season within the organisation. Higher up, it’s a last chance to impress and maybe squeeze into the AA team, or even AAA. So the games are deadly serious.
An additional plus point was that you were close enough to hear exactly what was being said by the players on the bench and their manager. You heard everything –
• The struck out batter returning to the bench going through the pitches he’d been thrown – ‘fastball up, then one down, curveball then a wicked slider’
• The third base coach rushing to the bench, embarrassed because he’d forgotten what was the ‘live’ signal was to tell the runner on first to steal (it was the peak of his cap – it usually is at that level, according to the guy I was talking to)
• The equally embarrassed and hugely apologetic base runner who had overrun third base and got tagged out vainly sliding back.
• The Phillies radar gun handler telling the manager that their pitcher was peaking at 94mph (more of him a bit later)
You also saw details you might not pick up, or appreciate at the higher level. You had time to watch player movements on each play, and you saw how three umpires worked together, and interacted with the players.
It was absolutely fascinating.
As a quick aside – the Phillies manager was former Blue Jays catcher, Pat Borders. Yes, he was wearing one of his World Series rings!
With no programme or scorecard, I started jotting down names from the backs of the Phillies players’ shirts, with a vague idea that when I got home, I might check up on who they were.
Since getting home, I’ve picked out six of them.
My plan is to follow their journey as the season progresses. I’ll see who does well enough to move up, and who struggles and drops down a level. If they move, I’ll still keep tab on them. There’s a possibility that one or two might even end up in the big leagues when they expand the rosters at the end of August – one might be released, one might end up as the ‘player to be named later’ in a trade.
It’s something to do, and it seems a decent way of following some Minor League baseball.
Three spent the whole of 2018 at Clearwater in the single A Florida State League; one was in AA ball for a time before dropping down to A, and the other two split time between lower and upper A ball.
Five made brief appearances for the Phillies in Spring Training and all six have made the opening day roster for the AA Reading Fighting Phillies, who play in the East Coast League.
At this early stage, Parkinson seems the intriguing one. He was voted Phillies minor league pitching prospect of the year for 2018. Check out these stats – an 8-1 record, 1.51 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 95 IP and 116 K! Even to my eyes on that Saturday morning in Clearwater, he was bringing some serious heat and had a great curveball that made a couple of the Yankee hitters look silly.
They opened their season against the Portland Sea Dogs last night. Moniak, Hall and Williams all started and all contributed to their 4-0 win. Luke Williams was probably the star, going 2 for 4 with two runs and a stolen base.
David Parkinson starts on Saturday in the third game of the season. It’s live on MiLBTV.com – I think I’ll be watching!