Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Training, Day 5: Zito Dominates

There are probably a dozen small stadiums within minutes of our hotel, a fact I find amazing. The farthest we’ve had to trek so far is about 15 miles, to Maryvale, but you could take surface streets to get there if you wanted to. It helps that Phoenix/Scottsdale seems to be plotted in a grid. But every time we’ve driven to the next stadium, we might see two more on the way. However, as the parking lot attendant told us at Scottsdale, there’s a rule about minor league teams competing with another team within 30 miles. But this rule doesn’t apply to spring training facilities.

We passed Papago Park on our way to Scottsdale Stadium yesterday, and figured out that the Oakland Athletics pitchers who aren’t scheduled to pitch that day probably stay at Papago to do their workouts. That’s why we haven’t seen Barry Zito at any of the games so far. Hopefully he’ll be scheduled to pitch today.

Rick has a new belief, that Barry Bonds will use this “excuse” of having surgery on his knees to bow out of baseball and thus avoid the further controversy of the steroid scandal. However, my argument is that he’ll stay because of the home run record; his deepest desire, besides the World Series ring, is to eclipse Babe Ruth in home runs. Rick and I bet a carvery sandwich at the Club level at SBC Park. If Barry returns by the end of the season, I win.

Our early estimation of our two teams, the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, is that the A’s have the pitching, defense and hitting to compete well in their division, whereas the Giants look weak in pitching and in depth. We’ll know more today when the A’s take on the Giants. We thought it might rain, but it’s beginning to look like a beautiful day.

Rick spotted Mike Krukow, the former Giants player and current announcer, as he was parking in the same parking lot. Alongside him walked Duane Kuiper, another former player and current Giants announcer. Both of them are considered excellent announcers alongside Jon Miller, one of the best in the business. I grabbed Mike when he got closer to us, blurting, “Mike, could we get a picture of you and Rick together, with Duane?” Rick took the time to schmooze with his favorite announcers, quickly slipping off the A’s visor before they got to us. As they left, Rick blurted, “I’d listen to you on the radio today, but I forgot my radio this trip.” Kruk said as he walked off, “That’s okay – we’ll talk loud.”

While we waited for the game to begin, we saw Kruk and Kuip in the booth, and Jon Miller as well. In the A’s booth we spotted Ray Fosse and oldtimer Bill King, getting ready for the broadcast. One booster sitting next to us rushed over to see if he could get autographs. Unfortunately he was too late for Foss.

Rick saw that Norma and her husband were sitting in the sun five rows below us, and they weren’t happy. With my agreement, he went down and offered our seats to them in trade, which were in the shade. They happily accepted. As it turned out, we were in the shade by game time.

There was a row of about five women in their 40’s and 50’s right behind us. A couple of them were keeping score, and seemed to really know who the players were and what the plays were. What irked Rick, however, was when they were constantly yelling, “Down in front!” to the people walking in front of us. Since these people were just following the natural aisle, it was silly to assume they could move any faster, or stop walking in front of us. Still, they persisted, as these passers-by were distracting them from the game.

Zito was the crowd favorite today, probably because Byrnes wasn’t playing. He wasn’t even in the dugout, and the rumor is that Eric wasn’t feeling well today.

Zito vs. Schmidt. The actual game wasn’t that close. The A’s scored 17 runs on 17 hits, while the Giants floundered with 3 runs, most scored in the latter innings. Jason Schmidt was removed in the 5th; we feel he’ll recover from this devastating spring outing. Zito, however, used all his pitches and did very well, giving up only 3 hits (including a homerun) in 6 innings.

As you can imagine with 17 runs, the A’s enjoyed their day at Phoenix. Here’s a synopsis of hit totals:
Kotsay – 1 for 3
Kendall – 3 for 3
Suzuki (rookie catcher from Stanford) – 1 for 2
Durazo – 2 for 3
Daric Barton (rookie at 1st base) – 1 for 2
Chavez – 1 for 3 (and made a spectacular stop at 3rd base, throwing the runner out at 1st)
Rouse (rookie at 3rd base) – 1 for 2 with 2 runs
Dan Johnson (rookie at 1st base) – 2 for 5
Quintanilla (RF rookie) – 2 for 2
Swisher – 2 for 3
Bocachica – 1 for 2

The A’s seem solid in all aspects of their game. Swisher seems to be getting his swing, and even the rookies and invitees are showing their stuff. The Giants, however, are another question. There’s a lot of concern with Bonds missing, and the pitching seems suspect. We feel that Schmidt will get his tools working by opening day, but we wonder about the rest of the pitching staff.

A bright spot for the Giants was their new closer, Armando Benitez, who hasn’t given up a run in the last 2 games/5 innings. Another one is Jason Ellison, who appears to have won the backup right field position.

We heard that Ken Macha made the team bus stop at the Dairy Queen Saturday on the way back from the Tucson game. He let the players order anything they wanted, it was on him. The DQ workers weren’t sure if a softball team had wandered into their store, or if this was just a joke.

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