March 2007

Dice-K Time

He’s the cover story on Sports Illustrated and will be a hot topic all season long.

“He” is 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who signed a major bucks contract last winter with the Red Sox.   He pitched today at Citizens Bank Park.

“Dice-K” joined the Red Sox after eight standout seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan.  He compiled a 108-60 career record and was instrumental (3-0, 1.38 ERA) when Japan won the first World Baseball Classic a year ago.

The addition of Matsuzaka has brought on some changes for the Red Sox.  They’ve hired a full-time interpreter, enlarged the Press Box as best they can in ancient Fenway Park and constructed an interview room for his post-game starts.  At home, the Red Sox will hold two post-game press conferences, one for the Japanese media and one for the other media. On the road, they probably will have just one.

Following today’s outing, Dice-K met with the media in the Media Room.  63 media types were on hand.  The interpreter and Dice-K stood at the podium and answered questions.  The interpreter  repeated the questions and answers in both Japanese and English.

Somewhere between 45 and 55 Japanese media are expected to cover the Red Sox full-time.  Some of the games will be on live TV in Japan, even at hours as strange as 2 a.m. Japan time.

Dice-K will make his first start in Kansas City next week and his first start in Boston the following week against Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners.  One can only imagine how many Japanese media will be there for the Boston debut.  The second coming of a Boston Tea Party?

Dice-K tomorrow

Florida sunshine was replaced by Philadelphia sunshine today as the Phillies are back in their  Citizens Bank Park home.

The annual Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce opening day reception is taking place this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.  Nearly 1,000 fans are expected to be here for the second annual event.

A game tonight against Boston is followed by an afternoon game tomorrow vs. the same Red Sox.  That will be the end of pre-season baseball as we know it in 2007.

Big news tomorrow is the northern debut of RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, better known as Dice-K.  He’s the phenom pitcher the Red Sox paid big bucks for during the winter.  He pitched in Florida and now he’ll be taking a mound in a big league park for the first time.

Pitching for the Seibu Lions last year, Dice-K was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA.  In 186.1 innings, he allowed 138 hits and 34 walks while striking out 200.  He’s listed as Boston’s number three starter behind Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett.

A large Japanese media contingent will be here for his start tomorrow.  It includes 17 writers, six still photographers, one Japan Radio reporter and 21 representing six different Japanese TV networks.

Where has the time gone?

The last out in a spring game in Clearwater is now history.  At one point, this day seemed so far in the distance. 

Reporting time for the players was 11 a.m., rather than the normal 9:30 routine they’ve been following for the last six weeks.

Some players will be boarding a 9:15 bus tomorrow morning for the last Florida game in Bradenton.  The team will fly out of Sarasota tomorrow evening and play the Red Sox on Friday and Saturday in the traditional On-Deck Series at Citizens Bank Park.

Some players will not be on the charter as they are remaining in Clearwater to rehab their injuries. 

Some players left the Bright House Networks Field clubhouse today, no longer Phillies.

Some players on tomorrow’s charter will return to the minors after this weekend.

So, the end has come to another spring training in Clearwater, the final one for me in this PR capacity.  As a rookie in 1964, I was able to put on about 25 pounds thanks to expense accounts and endless restaurant dinners and deserts.  I’m proud to say, I haven’t shed one pound since.

Six weeks or 43 springs.  Where has the time gone?

Rounding third base

With another road game today, things were pretty quiet again at Bright House Networks Field.

Tomorrow, the team’s equipment truck will be packed for the trip north to Citizens Bank Park.  Players and staff may send personal belongings.  Some baseball equipment, boxes of office-related items, medical supplies and even a few sets of golf clubs will be on the truck.

Some of the players will ship their cars north on auto transport vehicles. 

This morning, more players were sent to Carpenter Field (see the story on this website).  Three were told they would make the trip north for Friday’s and Saturday’s games against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.  Catcher Jason Jaramillo is back with the big club as Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste are still nursing injuries.

Four other minor leaguers will also be on the charter flight on Thursday evening for the Friday-Saturday games.

On the minor league front, the Reading, Clearwater and Lakewood clubs will be finished with spring training this weekend.  The Ottawa Lynx (AAA International League) will be here through Monday.

Another year of spring training in sparkling Clearwater is rounding third base.

2+2+2=April 2

Two more Florida road games, two more Clearwater games, two more games at Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies will be set for their season opener on Monday, April 2. 

Before the eighth Bright House Networks Field sellout this spring, the Phillies bats came alive and the pitchers did their thing taking the sting out of the last eight games that produced one win and one tie.  The rest fell in the L column.

Chase Utley hit a pair of home runs today.  In spring training games, when the starting pitcher or a starting position player leaves the game, the media is permitted in the clubhouse.  Chase was surrounded by a dozen writers, two radio types and two TV cameras. 

As I had mentioned sometime ago, spring training comes in three phases:  glad to start, glad to start playing games and let’s get outta here for the regular season.  We are definitely in phase 3.

There are still some roster decisions to be made between now and 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 1, when the Phillies’ 25-man roster must be finalized. 

With Freddy Garcia still rehabbing from right bicep tendonitis and Jon Lieber unable to throw right now because of a muscle strain, rookie Zack Segovia gets another start tomorrow at Tampa against the Yankees.   He started there on March 20 and was very impressive, one run in five innings, with no walks and two strikeouts.

Quiet bats

It was pretty quiet around Bright House Networks Field today.  Those on the travel roster for Sarasota left on a 9 a.m. bus.  Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Chris Coste and a handful of pitchers that weren’t on the trip had a light workout in the morning.

It was a quiet day in Sarasota too as the Phillies bats produced just six singles in a 7-0 loss.

Dr. Michael Ciccotti, the Phillies’ team doctor, arrived in the early afternoon and had follow up examinations with several injured players.  Ken Mandel has a complete wrap-up on the medical update on this website.

Paid a quite visit to an old friend this afternoon, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, the Phillies’ home from 1955 through 2003.

The place, being used by The Winning Inning (winninginning.com), an organization that hosts baseball clinics, camps, college tournaments, high school teams and men’s baseball leagues, was empty.  Grass was still green, although not as plush as it had been when the Phillies were there. 

Four-color outfielder billboards have been replaced by green padding.  Rumor has it that some of the seats in the park will be demolished this summer.

Physical things may leave us but memories last forever, including the pigeon droppings that used to decorate the open-air press box some 40 years ago.  Rest assured, there were a lot of pleasant memories, too, at the old stadium.

Final Week Approaches

It was another gorgeous weather day in Clearwater again, except for the numbers on the scoreboard in left center field.  Atlanta downed the Phillies in front of the seventh spring sellout.

Ryan Madson tossed a three-batter scoreless inning, featuring his new biting slider.  Tom Gordon was tagged for a couple of unearned runs before leaving because of a pitch count (Phils didn’t want him throwing more than 30 pitches).  His velocity did touch 93 on the radar gun.

Pinch hitter Greg Dobbs, battling for a spot on the bench, hit a three-run, opposite field homer in the 9th, his fourth of the spring.

The real pitching match-up took place at Carpenter Field where Brett Myers hooked up against A. J. Burnett in an AAA game between the Phillies minor leaguers and Blue Jays.  Attendance there barely reached 40 people. 

After the Bright House Networks Field game, Charlie Manuel announced that Myers would be the Phillies opening day starter on Monday, April 2.   Myers was pitching at Carpenter Field today rather than face the Braves, whom he’ll duel on April 2. 

Tomorrow, the Phillies travel to Sarasota (9 a.m. bus) for a game with the Reds.  Back home on Sunday for the Twins.  Phillies need to get in gear as the final week approaches.

ESPN day one

Pretty typical day for a spring training game in Clearwater even with ESPN here to televise the game as well as tomorrow’s 1:05 game against Atlanta. 

Three ESPN trailers and a big satellite uplink vehicle were located in the parking lot on the third base side of Bright House Networks Field.

For the first time, fans throughout the country got a first-hand look at the four-year-old park, which was sold out for the sixth time this spring.  Fans began lining up as early as 7:30 a.m. for berm and standing room tickets.

Buck Martinez, one of the three ESPN announcers, called the park the finest he’s seen. 

An alarm sounded last night in Dunedin when catcher Carlos Ruiz was scratched from the starting lineup and starting pitcher Freddy Garcia was lifted after one inning because of injuries.  Assistant GM Ruben Amaro handled a medical update with the media this morning while seated in the Phillies’ third base dugout.  Ken Mandel has all the details on this site.

If you haven’t had a chance, voting for the Phillies Wall of Fame ends on this website at 12:01 p.m. tomorrow.  The top five vote getters then are submitted to a special Wall of Fame Selection Committee that will choose the 2007 winner.

Another night game

Eleven more games of spring training nature and then the regular season starts.  It breaks down to nine games in sunny Florida and two On-Deck Series games in sunny Philadelphia, March 30-31, against the Red Sox.  So much for a commercial message.

Another night game is on tap for today, so the players didn’t have to report until 3:30 p.m.  Since Dunedin is just three miles north of Bright House Networks Field, the Phillies will take batting practice here and then board a 5:30 bus.

A pair of outfielders, Jayson Werth and Aaron Rowand, were at the park early.  Werth was the DH for the Phillies AAA and AA teams, who were playing their counterparts with the Yankees at Carpenter Field.  Werth led off every inning on one field, hustled over the another field and hit.  Overall, he was 6-13 for the afternoon. The idea was to get as many at-bats against live pitching as possible. 

Both the Phillies and Yankees also had a AA game at Carpenter.  With the Phillies playing tonight, Carpenter Field was packed with fans.  Admission is free.

Also playing at Carpenter were the Gildea Raiders from Wilmington, DE.  The semi-pro team spends a couple of weeks in Florida playing games in various minor league camps.

If you are a baseball fan and the Phillies aren’t playing in Clearwater that particular day, there are always two 1 p.m. games at Carpenter Field through this month.

Rowand arrived around 1 p.m. and spent a long time taking extra batting practice in one of the Bright House Networks Field indoor batting cages.  The pitcher?  Charlie Manuel.

A little more than an hour later, Karim Garcia, an outfielder, was taking ground balls at first base from coach Steve Smith on the half-field at the park.  No, Ryan Howard is coming out of the lineup.  Just a chance to see how versatile Garcia can be.  Versatility is very important off the bench.

ESPN on tap

While the team hopped aboard the bus at 3:15 this afternoon for a 30-minute trip east to Tampa to take on the Yankees tonight, a small group of players remained in Clearwater.

Lakewood BlueClaws athletic trainer Ichiro Kitano put the small group (six pitchers and Chris Coste) through a series of exercises and jogging at Bright House Networks Field.  Coste, nursing a sore right hamstring, took ground balls at third base on the half-field and then served as the first baseman as Tom Gordon worked on fielding ground balls.

Before calling it a day, Coste went into the batting cage and hit off an iron mike machine.  Joe Bisenius and Matt Smith spent time in the weight room.

Cole Hamels, working on mechanics, pitched in a minor league game in the afternoon at the Devil Rays’ minor league camp.  Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro, Charlie Kerfeld and Rich Dubee were there to observe.  They then headed for Tampa.

Tomorrow is another night game, this one in Dunedin, the best spring training trip for the Phillies: three miles.

The Phillies are back home Thursday afternoon (Boston) and Friday afternoon (Atlanta).  Both games will be televised by ESPN.  The broadcasting crew will be Gary Thorne, Buck Martinez and John Kruk.  It is the first ESPN telecast in Clearwater since 1995.

Both games will also be broadcast on phillies.com.

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