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Monday, March 20, 2006

Cactus League Day 4

All good things must come to an end and today was our last day in the desert and luckily the weather was a bit more palatable than yesterday. BTW, you can read my preview of the Royals, Five Questions: Kansas City Royals, up on THT today.

We checked out of the hotel and headed for Surprise, the home of the Royals and Rangers. After a quick McBreakfast where we were the only customers under 80 years of age, we arrived right about 10AM when the gates are opened and headed into the Royals practice facility. As is usually the case the minor leaguers were already hard at work and so I headed over to the set of four minor league fields.

On field one Frank White and another coach (Garber?) were working a group of minor leaguers in several interesting drills. The first drill involved second baseman and right fielders working on communication on popups. The coach would throw a popup between the two and they had to work together in calling the ball and hopefully not running into each other. Once, the right fielder did run into the second baseman, but generally the kids did a good job with the coach shouting instructions, generally to the right fielder, to take charge of the play or get out of #@#%$ out of the way. They then worked on the same drill with the first baseman involved and popups going behind first base towards the foul line. I had never seen them do this drill before in Surprise and it did look like the players learned some things.

Next, infield practice consisted of Frank White calling out game situations ("1 out runners on first and second, tie game" etc.) and the other coach hitting grounders and line drives. What was interesting was that White would additionally call out the running speed of the batter (4.2, 3.9, with 4.3 being average) and the fielders were expected to position themselves accordingly as well as play to the situation. When the ball was hit White would time the play and then call it out to the infielders, for example, "3.89" after the second baseman and shortstop turned a nifty double play with a 4.0 fictional runner. When a shortstop or second baseman played too deep or made a risky play with a runner on third, White would interrupt the drill and walk to the mound and reiterate the primary objective and how they should have reacted. That too, looked like a drill the players got some use out of and was refreshing to see. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like most of the time spent on drills consists of run downs, which frankly, are a low frequency play.

From there we headed over to the major league fields where the Royals were just coming out at 11AM to take some batting practice before the game with the White Sox. The last couple of years they too would work on drills but both days we were in Surprise they only took BP. I'm sure Buddy is emphasizing the fundamentals, right?

While I watched them take their cuts on one of the fields I was able to snag a foul ball and then I headed to the bleachers where you can see both fields simultaneously. In an interesting juxtaposition Mark Teahen was in the cage on one field while Alex Gordon was in the other beig pitched to by George Brett. I watched as Teahen sprayed line drives all over the field, rarely hitting a fly ball while Gordon pulled the ball more frequently and hit a series of fly balls.

When BP was over we headed into the stadium but not before my friend Ron was able to flag down Denny Bautista and get an autograph on a ball they recovered during BP. They ended up also with Leo Nunez and Alex Gordon before the day as done.

The game started at 1:05 so we had plenty of time to soak in the sun down the left field line and have some lunch. When the sun was out the temperatures were a perfect 70 degrees and I shuddered as I thought about the high in Colorado Springs today - 26.

There was a game too.

It featured Hideo Nomo, who was released by the Yankees after last season, pitching for the Sox. Nomo pitched two innings giving up two runs and didn't appear to have much velocity as his fastball topped out at 85mph. He was able to strike out John Buck and Clapinski with his collection of 75 mph junk however. I'd be surprised if the Sox didn't let him go.

Tamayo started for the Royals and topped out at 88mph while throwing a changeup that didn't fool anybody. He only went one and two-thirds giving up 6 hits and five runs. He also has a funky arm angle and throws between three quarter and side arm. Probably the most encouraging performance for the Royals was the two innings put up by former Red Luke Hudson. He got up to 94 on the gun and his control was adequate giving up 1 hit and striking out one. Jimmy Gobble also looked good in an inning of work and it would be nice if he were an insurance policy that could stay in Omaha.

On the offensive side Doug Mientkiewicz went 3-for-3 with four RBIs. Mientkiewicz had an RBI double in the first and a three-run homer in the fifth. Angel Berroa also had a couple of hits. In the two games we saw I don't think we saw Mientkiewicz make an out. Hmmmm.

Alex Gordon got into the game and played first base. In two at bats he swung at all three pitches and lined out to third and grounded into a double play to end the game.

Brian Anderson, the Sox rookie center fielder hit a triple down the left field line against Ambiorix Burgos which proved to be the winning run as the Royals lost 6-5. Burgos, however, looked ok as he struck out both Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye with his 96 mph fastball in his one inning of work.

Another great trip but unfortunately, time to get back to the real world.

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