3/29/21 : The Spring Back
Today 2021 Big League Spring Training Camp concluded ... here’s a few thoughts and memories from this year’s camp.
A camp like none other with workout groups parsed down to limited numbers and slotted into separate times ... the day elongated so that all groups could get in and out. Coach Thompson again at the helm of organization albeit this one certainly most challenging. A bubble approach as required to keep everyone safe.
As is our tradition we were there to greet the truck on 2/11 and wave em in to the complex early in the morning as camp was set to start.
We officially began 2021 ST camp on February 17th as pitchers and catchers reported. No fans allowed inside the Complex gates so the three amigos ( Mark Wylie, Jim Peyton and yours truly ) masked up, brought step ladders to see over the fences and observed/photographed from outside the gates socially distanced and cognizant of our surroundings.
Soon we learned that JT had suffered a broken thumb and would be limited in training for the majority of the camp. Odubel addressed both the media and his teammates about the elephant in the room and vowed to earn back trust and hopefully forgiveness for his prior errors in life. We watched and interacted as it evolved and his play began to earn recognition and respect both in approach and results ... at least from most.
The stadium was renamed as BayCare Ballpark in honor of the new sponsor.
Early morning practice observations on Bowa field progressed to Grapefruit League games as camp activities migrated from initial bullpens, drills, live BP’s and simulated games. My wife Barb and I were on hand for the first Baycare Ballpark game against the Tigers on 2/28 and attended each and every home game thereafter plus two road games in Dunedin.
The revamped bullpen shined from day one ... Jose Alvarado popping the mitt in triple digits, Hector adding a slider to his repertoire, Archie being Archie, Dr’s Watson and Kintzler in the house and young guns like Rosso, Coonrad, Brogdon and Romero bringing the heat. Quite a difference from 2020 👏.
Zach Eflin continued to excel, looking more and more elite ... some back stiffness caused pause but he worked thru it. Zach Wheeler dominated and Aaron was Aaron. Matt Moore and Chase Anderson looked like savvy veteran signings. Spencer Howard and Vinny Velo suffered injury set backs with a little over two weeks to go till camp break but like Eflin worked thru them. Spencer and Jo Jo Romero were disappointed to be optioned to Alternate Camp on 3/26 but we are confident that both will contribute in the big leagues at some point this season.
A few fellas were delayed due to visa issues and never caught up thus extending their Clearwater stays. Simon Muzziotti missed the entire camp and was placed temporarily on the restricted list ... hope to see him at some point in April.
Brad Miller looked great early but an oblique issue sidelined him for a bit. Matt Joyce also sat a few with hamstring tightness. Both veterans made the opening day roster.
The center field competition went to the last day ... Adam Haseley won the starting job with Roman Quinn as the fourth outfielder.
The mini campers and minor league reserves on the 40 man roster played in Grapefruit League games a lot ... especially the position players. Moniak, Hall, Williams, O’Hoppe, Stott and Vierling each homered and had shining moments. Less experienced players like Stott, Garcia, O’Hoppe and Rojas looked a bit overmatched early at the plate but got invaluable camp learning time ... each player had more positive results at the dish in the last week of games. Rojas, in fact had his personal camp high note with two hits against the Yankees on 3/25 including a game winning walk off single !
We thank Tom McCarthy and Scott Franzke for the plugs of our book “Life in the Minors” on the TV and Radio broadcasts of the 3/25 ballgame 👍.
The final Grapefruit League record ended up at 12-15-1... not that it matters, no one ever won a playoff berth in February/March exhibition play 🤓.
All in all a good camp, great to be back outside and watching once again ... even if with the necessities of wearing a mask on each and every day albeit some in the stands chose to not do so. Now the big team gets to play games that count.
As for us ...the complex training process starts all over. Minor League camp now begins ... I’m sure we will be outside looking in once more, we understand our place as non essential and respect the given boundaries. We know the routine ... shall we do it again and write about what we see 🤷♂️. Time will tell ... we’re at least vaccinated this go round.
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️