Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – The surging Braves have a night game at Dark Star, which meant last night was an all-night swingin’ soiree at the AJC rental mansion here in picturesque Kissimmee.
Actually, I fell asleep watching Damages at about 10:30 p.m., a couple hours after driving back from Port St. Lucie, where the Braves won yet again (ho hum, right?) as they move closer to clinching the coveted Grapefruit League title.
(Fortunately, they replay Damages on FX in early-morning hours, and I woke at about 1 or 2 and the show was in almost the same spot where I fell asleep watching it hours earlier. I kid you not. So I finished watching it.)
We’ll get this blog up now and update you later today with news on rehabbing guys and WBC pitchers returning to camp, when they’ll see their next Grapefruit League action and all that.
Meanwhile, about that mythical title…. We mention the Grapefruit League title sort of sarcastically, because it ain’t gonna mean much if the Braves leave here with the best record in spring training, then stumble out of the gate.
And regardless of what happens, these wins (and losses) will be forgotten by the time the team leaves Philly after its season-opening series that begins Sunday night, April 5).
That said, it’s certainly better to win all these games than to lose like the Houston Astros. You can develop a losing culture when you’re getting beat every day, day after day, the way the ‘Stros are. Especially if you’ve got a young team, or had questions coming into camp about your ability to conted.
They’ve won one spring-training game, the Astros. One!
The Braves are 14-3 in Grapefruit League play, and 16-3 with wins against WBC teams included. They’ve won 11 of their past 12 games against major league squads, and 13 of 14 including the wins against Panama and Venezuela.
But it’s not so much the wins as what the Braves are doing TO win. And the major injuries they’ve avoided (a side strain for Chipper, who might be back by this weekend, and a strained calf for Garret Anderson, who could be playing sometime next week, are not major injuries, nothing like the stuff the Braves have endured in recent springs).
As for what they’re doing to win, they’re getting plenty of hitting, mostly solid defense, and outstanding pitching, particularly from their starters (1.93 ERA in the past 12 games). They have the best team ERA (2.86) and the best team batting average (.302) in the National League, and that’s including teams in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.
Actually, their team ERA is a full run lower than the NL’s next-best.
Granted, several teams have been without their top starters, such as the dismal Astros (Roy Oswalt is with Team USA) and the Padres (Jake Peavy is with Team USA, not quite matching the performance of hunting pal Oswalt).
The Braves have been without Javier Vazquez, who pitched well for Puerto Rico, and Jorge Campillo, who was solid for Mexico. We’ll let you know later today what the plans are for those guys in the coming days.
Bobby Cox had said before yesterday’s game that Vazquez would throw an intrasquad game today at Champion Stadium, but changed his mind after talking it over with pitching coach Roger McDowell. The Braves announced late yesterday afternoon that there’d be no intrasquad game today.
A few leftover quotes from the past week:
– Tommy Hanson yesterday at Jupiter, where a few New York writers were the latest to ask the Braves’ top-rated pitching prospect about what it feels like to be the center of so much baseball buzz this spring, and whether he believes he can win a spot in the starting rotation and if he can win now in the bigs:
“I’m just going to go out and throw,” he said. “Wherever they want to send me, that’s where I’m going to go. If I do get to Atlanta at some point in the year, obviously the goal would be to try to win games….
”I’m just going out, just trying to staty healthy, trying to get ready for the season. It’s one of those things where I don’t get to dictate that. They tell me where to go. My goal is just to be healthy and get ready for the season, and wherever they send me.”Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
As for the buzz: “Really it’s just kind of cool to hear my name and hear people talking about me. But I just go out every day and, I know I’ve still got a long ways to go to get better, still got a lot of stuff to learn to pitch in the big leagues and to be successful. So I think when it comes to that stuff, I kind of just let it go in one ear and right out the other, just because I know I’ve got a long ways to go and a lot of stuff to work on.
But, he was asked, could he help the team now, if he was in the rotation to start the season or soon after? Here’s where the big kid’s confidence prevailed.
“I think with what I’ve got right now, I feel like I could go out and get whoever’s in the box out with what I’ve got,” he said. “I’ve still got things to work on, but as far as that goes, I feel confident with what I’ve got right now that I could go out and do well.”
Most who’ve seen him this spring, and last fall in Arizona, would agree….
– Jordan Schafer, after facing Jo-Jo Reyes’ changeup in an intrasquad game Monday (Reyes is throwing it to lefty hitters this spring, something not many lefty pitchers do). “If he would have thrown that with two strikes, I would’ve swung through it,” Schafer said. “I mean, you don’t ever see that really, lefty-lefty changeup. He don’t have to use it a lot, just once in a while, just as another pitch to put in the back of their mind, especially with two strikes. It’s not a changeup that kind of goes where a lefty likes, where it’s going to drop on the [bat]head. It’s kind of like a four-seamer that just drops down.”…
– Derek Lowe after his Saturday start, on gauging how feels and if he feels ready for the season: “I firmly believe hitters will tell you how good your stuff is. I don’t care what I think my stuff is. Hitters will tell you, especially later in spring training when you’re facing more regular guys.
“So, you know, the results are letting me know I’m doing fine, if that makes any sense. Whereas if I was going out there giving up six or seven runs every game, that’d be a different story.”
On whether starting opening day still is a big thing for him (it’s assumed he’s the Braves’ opening day starter, though Bobby Cox hasn’t announced anything): “He [Cox] hasn’t even spoken with any of us about it, so it’s kind of hard to say where and when you’re going to pitch,” Lowe said. “But opening day is always exciting. [He smiles.] My last two have been horrendous.
”We’ll talk about that whenever he decides what’s going to happen.”…
Finally, Lowe on his overall impression of his first Braves camp: “It’s fantastic. I’ve said since Day 1, he [Cox] allows you to do your routine. So I’ve been doing my regular-season routine in between each start the last three weeks. So that makes it easy. Instead of, ‘everyone’s got to run on Tuesday, we’re going to run 10 poles,’ he knows you’re going to get your work in. It’s kind of hard to complain when a guy lets you do your regular routine.”…
– Casey Kotchman on not having a 40-homer type guy in the lineup: “We didn’t really have anybody that could hit 40 over there [with his former team, the L.A. Angels]. When you have guys that can take extra bases, hit balls to the gaps, the home runs are overrated. You’ll take them any time because it’s instant runs on the board, and obviously as a lineup we would like to him ‘em, and who knows maybe we will. But when you don’t have name guys who are established who’ve done it, it’s moot.
“You need to have quality at-bats with guys on base. Pitchers can pitch to guys with a lot of holes in their swings who are going to hit a lot of homers. They know if they make their pitches, guys make outs. Whereas if you can hit, they know they’ve got to work, especially with guys on base. We just need to put the guys out there.”
OK, enough baseball talk. Let’s talk sleep patterns, etc: Just to expound upon something I was saying this morning on the other blog to a question from Chris from the Rock, about why or how some people (including me) post at 3 or 4 a.m.: My sleep patterns during spring training are stupid. Illogical. Unhealthy.
I’ll fall asleep at 10 o’clock sitting in this uncomfortable loveseat chair thing that doesn’t face the TV. Rather than angle it toward the TV, which would be too easy, I’ll instead sit in it sideways, with my legs on top of one chair arm. I’ll wake up at 1:30 with my leg feeling like it’s been amputated, it’s so numb from being almost hyperextended and blood flow cut off for 3-1/2 hours.
Then I’ll hobble around for 10 minutes, literally wondering if I might have done permanent damage this time. I’ll sit up for a while, read the comments, post one or two, watch the third or fourth replay of SportsCenter, read part of a magazine, fall asleep again literally while flossing my teeth watching the second half of an NBA game replay on ESPN, and wake two hours later with floss wrapped around my finger so tight that it’s as numb as my leg was earlier.
By now it’s 5:30 a.m. and my alarm’s going to go off in 45 minutes or so. So to complete my idiot’s cycle of [non] sleep, I’ll typically just decide to stay awake and make coffee.
And if that’s more information than anyone needs, well, sorry. I’m loopy and cranky from no real sleep. Point is, this lifestyle, or my approach to this lifestyle, to spring training, isn’t conducive to normal human existence. But caffeine and adrenaline, and Padrons and Cohibas, make things better.
Besides, it’ll be back to normal soon, when the regular season begins, and I can resume my regular pattern going to bed at 3 a.m. and waking at 9 a.m., like a regular person. What’s that? Whaddya mean?
Going back to Atlanta for the weekend, last couple of days off before we go into the final stretch and directly into the season opener at Philly, etc. Can’t watch Kansas play in the NCAA tournament while on Disney grounds or within sight of Disney property, as its resulted in a list of dismal upsets in the past, ranging from both of those first-round NCAA tourney exits a few years back, to the loss to Baylor the other day in the Big 12 tourney (made the mistake of putting it on in the pressbox TV at Dark Star, figuring no way the curse could affect my boys in a second-round Big 12 tourney game vs. Baylor).
Anyway, while home I’m gonna try to a little more reconnaissance in the mission to establish a new blog CD/record store. We can only mourn Ella Guru’s demise for so long, have to turn to the page and find another purveyor of quality music. Gotta get the new CDs by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Atlanta’s own Black Lips (who happen to be playing here in downtown Orlando on March 30 at The Social, along with another stellar Atlanta band, Gentlemen Jesse & His Men).
I’m leaning toward giving our much-sought (yeah, right) endorsement to Wuxtry Records (I’m talking about the one by Emory, not far from my house, but you near Athens, Ga., can enjoy the larger store over there). Always loved the cramped, old-school, dusty-record-bin feel of the place, the one on North Decatur Road.
When I went in there a couple of weeks ago, the guy behind the counter struck up a conversation when I asked for the new Neko Case CD,and and next thing you know, the dude’s burning me a copy of the hard-to-get third CD from Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8. The two discs in the regular package are outstanding, but the third, which they only made available in a special overpriced package with a coffee-table book you’d probably look at twice, is even better. And the guy burned me a copy of it, and he would’ve burned you one, too, if you were there (he doesn’t know me, I don’t know him, I never mentioned what I did for a living or anything like that, because I never do anyway, because I hate talking about Braves baseball when I’m in a record store, unless it’s with Don, who knows how to do it painlessly).
If you have the time, here’a a link by brother sent me to a a good read on a dude, James McMurtry, who in the past decade has moved to the very top of my list of favorite singer-songwriters, as most of you know by now: http://www.slate.com/id/2213709/
Alright, that’s it. Gotta wrap this up and write a Yunel Escobar story for tomorrow. Here’s a ditty from Mr. Waits’ terrific Small Change album.
“THE PIANO HAS BEEN DRINKING (NOT ME)” by Tom Waits
The piano has been drinking, my necktie is asleep
And the combo went back to New York, the jukebox has to take a leak
And the carpet needs a haircut, and the spotlight looks like a prison break
And the telephone’s out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make
And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking…
And the menus are all freezing, and the light man’s blind in one eye
And he can’t see out of the other
And the piano-tuner’s got a hearing aid, and he showed up with his mother
And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking
As the bouncer is a Sumo wrestler cream-puff casper milktoast
And the owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a fence post
‘Cause the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking…
And you can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter
And she hates you and your friends and you just can’t get served without her
And the box-office is drooling, and the bar stools are on fire
And the newspapers were fooling, and the ashtrays have retired
‘Cause the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking
The piano has been drinking, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me