Pitchers and catchers report….
Those are four blessed words for baseball fans. Particularly this year, with much of the country blanketed with snow and our fair city (and much of the South) still hobbled by ice that’s not been touched by plow on many streets, including mine, due to the fact we’re poorly equipped to handle any sort of real winter storm.
Anyway, it’s coming quickly folks. Pitchers and catchers report.
The epic, tedious bowl season finally ended with the annual crowning of another SEC team as national champion, and fewer than five weeks remain before Braves pitchers and catchers report to Dark Star, aka ESPN’s Wide World of Sports on the fringe of the Disney World fun sector at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
They’re due in Feb. 14, with their first workout the following day. The rest of the position players are to report Feb. 18, although most will be down there before then, some of the more eager – or recovering from injuries, or just from cabin fever or Mr. Mom fatigue — reporting with the P’s and C’s and working out unofficially for several days before the first full-squad workout Feb. 19.
Just five weeks for me to watch as many Kansas basketball games as possible and clear out the remaining unwatched shows on my DVR before total baseball immersion, otherwise known as spring training for scribes in the Internet era.
Not that anyone would have any sympathy for those of us who’ll spend about seven weeks in mostly sunny and warmer-than-where-you-are Florida, but jumping back into the 7 a.m.-to-7 p.m. (or later) spring work schedule is traumatic initially for those of us (OK, me) who stay up till 3-4 a.m. all winter.
(I’ll pause for you to grab a tissue as you consider my plight….)
But we shall put nose to grindstone, and sunblock to neck and shoulders, and slog through the assignment, as always. It’ll be my 17th spring training as a beat writer, ninth covering the Braves, and first covering the Braves without Bobby Cox.
That’s going to be strange, walking into the manager’s office down there and not seeing Cox behind the desk. Or going out to the field before the first workout and not seeing him in the dugout, puffing on a stogie.
But Fredi Gonzalez also smokes cigars, so that should help in our transition to the new manager.
Five weeks to go, folks.
♣ Parrish on hitting: While most of us are familiar with Fredi Gonzalez, from his years as Braves third-base coach and, for me, his years as a Marlins coach back when I covered that team.
But the same can’t be said for the new hitting coach Larry Parrish and bench coach Carlos Tosca.
Most Braves fans and us who cover the team know little about Parrish or Tosca. I only know Tosca to the extent I said hello to him a few times when he was a minor league manager in the Marlins organization years ago, back when he and Gonzalez were both highly regarded as prospective major league managers (Tosca would go on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002-2004).
Tosca would later serve as Fredi’s bench coach with the Marlins. They were both born in Cuba, for those of you who might not know that, and Tosca is 57 — 10 years older than Gonzalez.
It’ll be interesting watching Parrish and Tosca in spring training and seeing how they work, how quickly the players get comfortable with them, all that. So far, I’ve heard good things from a few players who’ve recently met Parrish and talked to him about his approach to hitting and working with hitters.
When the Braves hired him a couple of weeks after Gonzalez was hired, I ran some of the quotes from my phone conversation with Parrish. Here are a couple of things I didn’t use from that Oct. 29 phone call.
On his general philosophy of hitting and teaching hitters:
“More than anything, I try to talk mechanics, being natural and being athletic. Sort of hitting from the ground up. By that I mean, much like golf, in hitting you use your legs, the big muscles to drive the ball. The hands are sort of what guides the bat through the ball, but to use the big muscles involved in supplying power, at the same time staying through the hitting zone so you can drive the ball to the middle of the field.”
On what he uses to study hitters and communicate ideas with them:
“So much goes into it. I watched a lot of film in recent years. In the last part of my [major league playing] career I started thinking about coaching, so I started watching players that were successful that I played against. And recently I got video of guys who were great hitters, going all the way back to Babe Ruth, up through Aaron, Mantle, Bonds, McGwire, to see the things they all have in common….
There are different ways that different guys learn. Some, you can talk to and they can feel it, while others need to see it. Whatever’s best for that particular player. If he needs to see it, or see someone else, we’ll do that. I’ll try to take some swings sometimes, to try to get my point across.”
On the idea of teaching guys one way to swing:
“Every coach has this idea of what the ideal swing is like. But it’s impossible to get every guy to dot every i and cross every t the same way. And I don’t think you can clone hitters. I don’t think you should try. There’s a whole spectrum with the Braves, young guys and veterans, who hit in different ways. I just want to do everything I can to help them be successful.”
Note: Carroll Rogers wrote a good story today on Parrish, now posted on our website. Here’s the link.
♣ Glavine on Phillies: Ex-Braves lefty Tom Glavine was on the MLB Network Radio channel on SiriusXM on Tuesday, talking to hosts Jeff Rickard and Rob Dibble. They asked the (future) Hall of Famer about comparisons between the Braves’ great rotations of the 1990s the Phillies’ rotation with Cliff Lee added to the trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
“I’ve already heard the comparisons between what we did and what those guys are gonna do and things of that nature,” Glavine said, “and I’m not sure that it’s fair. Even for us, in the early to mid-nineties, it was a different game, you know?… I mean, the game’s changed in that regard now so I think there are some numbers out there that they’re being compared to with us that are maybe, you know, maybe a little bit unrealistic for them. But I do think they’ll possess a lot of the same things that we did in that when a team comes in to play them in a three-game series they’re not going to be looking forward to the three guys they are facing.”
A few Braves numbers that Glavine referred to, that might be difficult or unrealistic for the Phillies:
• In six years from 1996 through 2001, the Braves had four seasons where at least three starters pitched 219 or more innings, five seasons where three starters combined for at least 50 wins and four combined for at least 58 wins, and four seasons where two or more starters had at least four complete games.
• In 1996, Greg Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz went a combined 54-29 in 734 innings, each with a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 235 innings and 35 starts.
• In 1997, the quartet of Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Denny Neagle combined for a 68-28 record — think about that – with each totaling more than 230 innings and only Smoltz (3.02) posting an ERA that wasn’t in the 2’s.
Maddux and Neague were a combined 39-9 that season, with 404 hits and 69 walks in 466 innings, and Smoltz had 241 strikeouts with 63 walks in a whopping 256 innings. Besides them, no other Brave made more than nine starts that season.
• In 1998, Braves starters went a stunning 90-40, with five pitchers combining for an 87-37 record. Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Kevin Millwood all finished with at least 17 wins and single-digit losses, while Denny Neagle was 15-11.
The Phillies’ rotation is obviously outstanding, potentially the best in the majors in years, if they stay healthy. But there’s almost no way they’ll match what some of those Braves rotations did.
The game’s changed. Only Halladay is likely to produce anything comparable to the overall numbers, including innings and complete games, that those great Braves pitchers put up on an almost annual basis for much of a decade.
♣ Salary-swap date nears: The Braves have until next Tuesday (Jan. 18) to reach agreements with unsigned arbitration-eligible Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens, Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty. If they don’t come to terms before then, the Braves will swap arb-salary figures with any of those four who remain unsigned.
Arbitration hearings will be held during the first three weeks of February.
Given their history with arb-eligibles, I expect the Braves to reach agreements with all four by next Tuesday. Few players go to arbitration these days with any team, and the Braves rarely get to that stage with any player. Arb hearings are, by nature, contentious things, and neither side usually wants to go through it.
Of the Braves’ four, only Moylan has been through arbitration before. The others are first-time arb-eligible players, which means their salaries will expand exponentially.
Prado, an All-Star in his first season as a lineup regular in 2010, could see his $440,000 salary multiply five- or six-fold in 2011, perhaps to $3 million.
Jurrjens, as a starting pitcher who won 27 games in his first two full seasons (2008-2009) and posted the league’s third-best ERA (2.60) in 2009, might have seen an enormous salary increase with a similar season in 2010. He spent much of the season on the DL with a string of injuries, and couldn’t pitch during the playoff stretch drive and division series.
Still, with 34 major league wins and a 3.45 ERA, the righty can probably command a salary of at least $2.5 million in his first arb run. His agent, Scott Boras, isn’t shy about taking clients to arbitration. But again, I don’t think it’ll come to that. The Braves are adept at the system, and realize the potential pitfalls of taking a player through it.
O’Flaherty was DL’d for much of 2010, but the lefty reliever could still double his $440,000 salary.
Moylan, 32, has been one of the Braves’ most valuable relievers since the team signed him from the Australian team at the World Baseball Classic in 2006. He’s got a 2.58 ERA in 274 appearances, including 80 or more appearances in each of his three healthy seasons (he missed most of 2008 for Tommy John surgery).
The thing that will prevent the Aussie sidearmer from getting a really big raise in his second run through arbitration is the fact that he’s been mainly a sixth- and seventh-inning reliever, rather than a closer or a primary setup man. Fair or not, the bigger bucks go to arb guys who’ve notched plenty of saves.
Moylan will receive a nice raise from last year’s $1.15 million, but will likely make less than $2 million in 2011.
♣ City paralyzed: We still can’t get mail or a FedEx package, or play an NBA game at Philips Arena in Atlanta 48 hours after 4 inches of snow and ice fell on our city. But by gosh, our most famous street could’ve hosted that NHL Winter Classic. Click the link to get a load of this video.
♣ Etc. Fans are invited to a free-admission day at the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame on Saturday, Jan. 22, at Turner Field. It’ll be open for its normal hours 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there will also be free guided tours of the ballpark….
The Braves 400 Fan Club will honor Bobby Cox at its annual winter banquet and fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 5, with Cox in attendance. This year it’ll be at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta at 285 Andrew Young Blvd NW.
The event starts at 5 p.m. and tickets are $95, which includes dinner and a bag of souvenirs. The night kicks off with a gala reception and a silent auction and raffle of Braves memorabilia. The awards dinner follows at 6:30 p.m.
Braves radio man Jim Powell will emcee the event, and the 400 Fan Club says that Phil Niekro, Leo Mazzone, Gene Garber, and Darrel Chaney are scheduled to attend, with plenty more commitments expected.
Tickets must be purchased in advance, and the deadline Jan. 31. Go to the fan club’s website at www.braves400.org<http://www.braves400.org/ or mail a check to the Braves 400 Club, P.O. Box 7689, Atlanta 30309. More info at 770-416-4539.
♣ Let’s close this with Dylan’s “Series Of Dreams,” and this great video, which has a lot of footage of the young Bob, including a quick scene with him and our man Johnny Cash. If you can’t click that link, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgqGUBP3Cx0
“SERIES OF DREAMS” by Bob Dylan
I was thinking of a series of dreams
Where nothing comes up to the top
Everything stays down where it’s wounded
And comes to a permanent stop
Wasn’t thinking of anything specific
Like in a dream, when someone wakes up and screams
Nothing too very scientific
Just thinking of a series of dreams
Thinking of a series of dreams
Where the time and the tempo fly
And there’s no exit in any direction
‘Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes
Wasn’t making any great connection
Wasn’t falling for any intricate scheme
Nothing that would pass inspection
Just thinking of a series of dreams
Dreams where the umbrella is folded
Into the path you are hurled
And the cards are no good that you’re holding
Unless they’re from another world
In one, numbers were burning
In another, I witnessed a crime
In one, I was running, and in another
All I seemed to be doing was climb
Wasn’t looking for any special assistance
Not going to any great extremes
I’d already gone the distance
Just thinking of a series of dreams