Tagged: Nick Stavinoha

Spring Training Trip 2010

This week I made my first pilgrimage to the festival known as Spring Training.  There is no better excuse to get out of town, find some sun and get a taste of things to come.

I had my first ballpark hotdog of the season within minutes of arriving at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida.  It was a little taste of heaven.  Grilled.  Spicy mustard and sweet relish.  Yuuuum!  
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Roger Dean Stadium is a nice place to see a ball game.  It is the size of a minor league park, so all the 6000+ seats are close to the field.  The atmosphere is more relaxed and loose than during regular season games.  Players take more time to sign autographs and interact with the fans.  If you want autographs, spring training is the place to be.
Here is a picture of the Cardinals’ clubhouse:
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The flag in the picture reminds me of a particular gripe I have concerning the Star-Spangled Banner.  There are many rules dictating how we should fly Old Glory.  There should be rules about how the National Anthem is sung.  
First, it should not be drug out like a funeral dirge.  I do not care how lovely your voice is, nobody wants to hear you hold notes for excessively long times because you want your five minutes in the spotlight instead of three.
Second, nor should it be sung like a ditty in a lounge act.  Keep it sharp.  Keep it tight.  If you do that, then you can have your big moment of embellishment at the end.
Third, we all stand for the anthem because it is the rule.  A proper anthem, sung with heart and gusto, should make people jump to their feet and be ready to go and fight!  They should want to cheer with patriotism at the end, and not simply because we are glad it is over.  
I would rather hear someone sing it badly with heart, than a beautiful voice that misses the point.
But, I digress…
You can read the stats, scores and analysis elsewhere.  I will give you what we all really want: pictures!
I suppose we should start with this guy:
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Sure hope he makes the club!
Here is Ryan Ludwick at the plate.  With all the talk about Pujols and Holliday, Ludwick gets left out of the conversation a bit.  He is a Silver Slugger, and I expect in this lineup, he will get some pitches to hit.
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One of the things I was most looking forward to was watching my favorite catcher, Yadier Molina, play.  At his first at bat, he did not disappoint, sending a ball into the left-field corner and sliding into second, safe with a double.
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Sadly, that slide did him in for the time being.  Here he is at second after the slide.  I have looked at this picture trying to decide if I can see the pain. His stance seems uncomfortable.
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Molina left the game after running to third and pulling up when Oquendo was waving him home.  Strained oblique.  I got to see him play less than two innings.  Bummer. The next time I saw him was a couple days later in the dugout, next to Oquendo:
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Due to a bruised knee, I did not see much of Colby Rasmus either.  I will be interesting to see what he does in 2010 with a year of major league experience under his belt.
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Felipe Lopez is back with the club.  I hope he does as much damage for the Cardinals as he did against the Cardinals last year.  Lopez was my only “away from the park sighting” of a player.  I saw him with his family at the pool.  No, I did not talk to him.  I am shy and did not want to intrude.  Here he is at the plate, wearing number 8.  I still think of that number as Troy Glaus.
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Speaking of Glaus, last year due to his injury, the Cardinals had an opening at third base.  This year, they do, too.  David Freese won the job last year, then lost it due to injury.  He seems on track to win the job again this year.
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The contest for the last couple of roster spots is a tight one.  Joe Mather seems to be a strong candidate, particularly since Rasmus is hurt and Mather can play center.  Mather had a 2009 season plagued with injury and illness.  
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The other two strong candidates are in the picture below:  Nick Stavinoha and Allen Craig.  Stavinoha has the advantage of some major league experience, but Allen Craig has put together two strong spring trainings in a row, as well as a great Triple-A season in 2009.  Cr
aig first caught my eye playing for AA Springfield two years ago.  I liked him immediately, and I am pulling for him to make the club.
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What a difference a year makes.  Last year, Brendan Ryan was just trying to make the club.  This year he is the everyday shortstop.  He played acrobatic defense last year and hit around .300.  I love it that he is still wearing the socks!
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Much to my pleasure, there is another Cardinal wearing the socks this year.  Our newest starting pitcher, Brad Penny.  Brad Penny had an excellent outing on Saturday.  Our rotation is really looking tough this year.
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Here is another shot of Penny before the game with backup catcher, Jason LaRue.  I was happy to see LaRue re-signed this year.  It is so nice to have a backup of that quality.

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Hmmm…who else did I see?  Oh yeah, this guy.  Chris Carpenter was in excellent form on the day I saw him pitch.  He ready to go.  Opening day, maybe?  Last year, I got so sick of the term “a healthy Chris Carpenter”.  This year, it has been nice to think of him as a lock, rather than a question mark.
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On the day Carpenter pitched, I sat next to a couple friendly old fellows.  They were testing me.  Asking me questions.  Some I knew.  Some I tanked, but that was okay because then I got to learn something. Here are the two I got right:
The game was low scoring, so one of the guys says, “Only a few runs and hits.  Pretty boring game, huh?”  
I said, “No.  This is great.  I love pitching.”  
I could hear the approval in his voice when he said, “Good for you.”
The other guy asked me a question that I am sure he did not think I would know the answer to.
He says, “Do you know the first two words to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’?”
I immediately guessed the trick.  “You mean the first two words to the verse, right?” I said and began to rack my brain.  I had looked this up once.  I knew I knew it.  Finally, the words flowed.
“Katie Casey was baseball mad.  She had the fever and had it bad.”
I got it!  I liked the verses to the song because they are girl that wants nothing more than to be at the ballpark.  I was pretty sure it was written about me in a former life.
But…back to the players.
In the way of former Cardinal sightings, I offer you Brian Barden.  Brian tagged teamed with Joe Thurston at third last year before a little guy named Mark DeRosa came along.  Why did we not re-sign DeRosa?
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And, I enjoyed watching this exchange between the NL MVP and the guy that would likely be the NL MVP, if Pujols went to the AL.  Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez have a friendly chat behind second base before the game:
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Under the category of “players that I remember making a splash at the World Baseball Classic”, I offer you, Frank Catalanotto.  He played very well for the Italians.  I particularly remember his defense.  Although, he had a double off Carpenter, so maybe it was his bat.  The Mets fans around me said he was competing for the last roster spot.  
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This was a trip I will never forget and intend to repeat!  I was so happy be at the ballpark again.  To see the green grass.   To be in the sun.  And, to be hot.  I was actually hot for the first time since September.  
If you go, I recommend eating at The Food Shack and The Lazy Logger Cafe.  Both were excellent.  I also recommend taking the tour of the Jupiter Lighthouse.  105 steps up, but worth the view.  
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But, possibly my favorite sight of all was my toes buried in the sand:
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Memphis Redbirds in Oklahoma City

From April 17th to April 20th, the Memphis Redbirds were in Oklahoma City taking on the Oklahoma City Redhawks. Even though the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark is two hours from my house, it should come as no surprise that I was there for three of the four games.  The only reason I missed the Saturday game is that I went to the wedding of friend that I obviously like.  A lot.  
The pictures here were taken over the course of three games.  The friday and sunday night games were chilly, but I took off work for the 4:00 game on monday.  That day the sun was out.  The sky was blue.  I got there in time to watch batting practice.  In the mostly empty ballpark, I settled into my row three seat near the on deck circle.  I kicked off my flip-flops, propped my legs up on the seat in front of me.  I knew my shins were getting a nice sunburn, but I did not care. Warm weather, bright sunshine and baseball players preparing to play the game I love.  I was in heaven.
One thing I often say is when the happy times come, you should enjoy them to the fullest because there is always some problem or sadness lurking just around the corner.  There in Section 113, Row D, Seat 12, I soaked up happiness with a sponge.
Enough philosophy, how about pictures?  The first is a picture of “the colors” being unveiled for the National Anthem.  I liked how the sun shown on the flag, while all else is in shadows.
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I do not know who the powers that be have listed as the top prospects in the Cardinals organization, but here are mine.  Conveniently, the bat one, two and three in the lineup and are all standing together as the lineups are called.
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Here is leadoff hitter and fine center fielder, Shane Robinson, at the plate:
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Robinson on base with his lead-off double:
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Here Shortstop, Tyler Greene bats while left fielder, Jon Jay, waits on deck:
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Tyler Greene actually struck out in the first inning, but hit a triple in the second inning.  Here Tyler Greene is on third base, while Jon Jay tries to bring him home.
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Last year, Joe Mather saw a good amount of successful playing time in St. Louis.  He came into spring training hitting very well.  He seemed a lock for the replacement third base job.  Then, he got the flu, lost weight and stopped hitting.  As I pondered the mystery of Joe Mather’s slump, I noticed that he still looked really thin.  Too thin.  I wondered if he ever really gave himself a chance a recover from his illness.
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It’s tough to watch a good hitter slump.  Especially, away from home.  When a batter strikes out, the announcer says, “That’s another Redhawk…”  and everyone (not me) yells “strikeout”.  And, there were the boys who sat next to me that said after seeing Mather’s sub-100 batting average, “That’s the worst player on the team.”  There was the heckler that yelled to the Redhawk’s pitcher something about “his average is on the scoreboard.”  Just brutal.
Word from Memphis is that Mather broke out of his slump over the weekend and is hitting well once again.  Hopefully, he will shut up his critics when he returns to Oklahoma City.  Here Mather takes a strike.  I was excited to actually catch the ball in the frame!  JoeMatherTakesaStrike.JPG
I also caught the ball taken by Jon Jay:
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I saw one Springfield Cardinals game last year.  From that game, I remembered one player, third baseman, Allen Craig.  When Allen Craig was hitting over .500 in spring training, and everyone was saying, “Who is this Craig fellow?”, I was thinking I was a pretty decent scout with good instincts because I do not remember him doing anything special in the game.  I just remember thinking he was something special.  I still do.  Craig had some nice picks at third and he is still raking at the plate.
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I like Jarrett Hoffpauir, too.  Here the second baseman is going after the throw from center fielder Shane Robinson:
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Nick Stavinoha spent some time in St. Louis outfield last year.  This year, he is playing first base and so far, he is not hitting great.
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As I sat in the sun on Monday, a strange event unfolded before my very eyes.  Brian Barton took batting practice and went out to shag flies.  A few minutes later, he was called into the dugout and did not go back to the field.  When batting practice was over, I walked up to the concourse to get refreshments because watching BP is such hard work.  
I saw Barton in the concourse talking on his cell phone.  I thought that was odd, but I just assumed the cell phone reception in the clubhouse was bad.  When I got back to my seat with my peanuts, I checked my phone, and received the news that Brian Barton had been traded to the Atlanta Braves…right before my very eyes.  
I will not miss the need to specify “Barton with a T” or “Barden with a D” in conversations, but I will
miss Brian Barton:  hitter, rocket scientist and world traveler.
Here are the last pictures of Brian Barton in a Redbirds uniform:
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Here is very much the last picture of Barton in a Redbirds uniform.  In Sunday’s game, this check swing was called strike three.  Barton, who has been struggling at the playing, allowed his frustration to boil over.  He threw down the bat, said something to the umpire and was promptly ejected.
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There were pitchers, too.  Brad Thompson, fresh from his demotion from the Big Club, pitched a gem.  He went five innings, giving up only an obligatory long ball to the short porch in left.  Mitchell Boggs good start against the Cubs may keep Thompson in Memphis longer than he would like.
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Clayton Mortensen pitched seven really nice innings giving up only two runs, while getting in and out of trouble.  It was not enough as the Redhawks shut out the Redbirds on Sunday.ClaytonMortensendeals.JPG
Kat Maekawa looked great until he left with an injury to his leg at the end of the fourth.  A combination of relief pitching by Matt Scherer, Ring and Todd finished the game, which was a winner.  Jess Todd, in particular, was impressive, retiring six in a row.  Here is Maekawa:
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Here is the battery for Monday’s game:  Matt Pagnozzi, Blaise Ilsley and Kat Maekawa
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Which brings me to this guy:
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Matt Pagnozzi is a catching prospect to get excited about.  Last year, the Memphis Redbirds catcher, Brian Anderson, impressed me at the plate, but never behind it.  In contrast, Matt Pagnozzi looks great behind the plate, and while he does not swing an exciting bat, his bat was serviceable.  He takes good at bats, can lay down a bunt and did get three singles in two games.  Here Pagnozzi, nephew of Tom Pagnozzi, gets instruction from the dugout:
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Here is a warm-up throw to second.  He has a plus arm.  In his only chance to catch a base stealer, the pitcher did not really give him a chance.  The throw was on target, but not in time.  I predict that Jason LaRue will not be re-signed and Pagnozzi will be next year’s backup catcher.
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I do not often talk about a player being hot, cute or handsome, even when I do find them attractive.  I will go on and on about a great clutch hit, a sparkling defensive play or a perfect pitch because I take the game seriously and I want to be taken seriously. I do not let a player’s good looks make me think he is a better player than he is.  I have years of practice making that separation…not just in baseball, but in life.
However, a strange think keeps happening.  Every time I see an unfamiliar baseball player and his above average attractiveness registers in my mind, he will turn out to be a catcher.  It is really unbelievable.  It is not like they are wearing gear when this happens.
This happened at a Redhawks game this weekend when I saw an Omaha Royals player walking to the dugout.  I thought, “Wow, he’s really nice looking.  Who is that?”  I look at my player list.  Of course, it was the catcher.  We all know how much I love great catching, but this is starting to get ridiculous.  It is like I have an over-active catcher radar.
So, it should come as no surprise, that I noticed Matt Pagnozzi, even before I knew I was looking at the catcher.  Rarely does male beauty actually take my breath away, but his did.  Tell me, ladies, am I off the mark?  Can you not see him in a Calvin Klein ad?
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Thank you for allowing me my “girl” moment.  Seriously though, if he had been a poor catcher, he would have gotten ugly fast.
The Redbirds split the four game series with a very good Redhawks club.  Cardinal fans should rest easy.  The Triple-A club is packed with talent.  Depth is so nice to have.
Next weekend, I will get a look at the Springfield Cardinals as they travel to Oklahoma to face the Tulsa Drillers.  There’s some Wallace kid that they say is pretty good. ; )