Monday, February 28, 2011

Driving By Osceola County Stadium

Heading over to Lake Buena Vista and Disney World this morning, The African Queen and I travelled along a different route, on Hwy 192, from Melbourne via St. Cloud and Kissimmee. Unbeknownst to us, we happened to drive past Osceola County Stadium--the spring home of The Houston Astros. Having never been there, we stopped by for a short visit.

The Astros' Facility is located within an exhibit, arena and convention hall complex. From the outside, the ballpark looked nice, the training facilities OK. But what really struck us was the congestion on Vine Street running by the ballpark. Stoplight after stoplight, traffic backed up for a few miles and nearly every single fast food and tourist operated gift shop one could imagine lining the street. Kissimmee wasn't beautiful nor near beaches like Viera, Florida is to Cocoa, Satellite and Melbourne beaches. Kissimmee was like driving down Route 1 in the Fairfax County portion of Alexandria, Virginia.

Just not pretty.

A turnoff if Our Washington Nationals are seriously considering the Osceola County Stadium Complex for spring training in the future. No question, Disney World and Universal Studios are close, shopping opportunities available to no end. But that's not enough, because The Osceola County Stadium complex didn't look as fan friendly as Nationals fans have come to appreciate in Viera since 2005.

On another note--this conversation actually took place while on the grounds. Looking to pick up some information about the Osceola County Stadium, I walked to the ticket office and got involved in the following conversation:

Two guys from New York wearing Yankees gear were questioning The Astros Ticket Agent about why there was not a game today at the ballpark? The lady behind the window stated there was no game in Kissimmee as The Astros were playing The Atlanta Braves at the Disney World Sports Complex. But these guys insisted they had purchased two tickets to see The New York Yankees play The Atlanta Braves today. That's right, The Yankees against The Braves.

Ticket Lady: "Why would the Yankees and Braves play here?"

New York Guys: "We are not from here, but that's what it says on our home printed tickets."--as they palm the copy onto the window for the Ticket Agent to look at--"Our GPS told us to come here!!"

Ticket Lady: "I am not responsible for your GPS or your online purchase. You need to take that up with whomever you bought the tickets from."

New York Guys: "Well, were do The Braves play?"

Ticket Lady: "Wide World Of Sports at Disney World."

New York Guys: "Where's that?"

Ticket Lady: "Never been there."

So I chime in:

SBF: "Guys--just go west here on 192 and take the Downtown Disney exit and follow the signs to the Sports Complex at Disney World--it's not too hard."

New York Guys: Well are The Yankees playing The Braves there?

SBF: "The schedule right here says The Astros are playing The Braves there today and then again here tomorrow."

New York Guys: "But what about The Yankees?"

SBF: "I have no idea."

New York Guys: "OK, thanks we'll go over there and try to figure it out."

As they walk away, this retired guy standing in line watching this conversation play out:

"What in the world were those guys smoking!!"

Everybody busts out laughing.

Ticket Lady: "There was nothing else I could tell them."

SBF:  "Me too." (laughing)

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Garrett Mock--In His Own Words

Making the squad out of spring training in 2010, Garrett Mock was looking to finally establish himself in the Major Leagues. One start into his regular season, his Big League season was over. After allowing two home runs and five walks to The New York Mets on April 9th, Our Washington Nationals optioned Mock to AAA Syracuse. But before Mock made even made one start at Syracuse doctors diagnosed a slipped disk in his neck--which required surgery and started a long process back to the playing field.

Garrett Mock's neck injury, surgery and subsequent rehabilitation is a story all on its own. In his own words--Garrett Mock talked at length with Nats320 about the entire ordeal:

Mock: It was a weird deal to be honest. The surgery I had done was not common in baseball.  Remember how cold it was last year in spring training? (Yeah—Nats320) I came out here and it was kind of cold. Well, one day I woke up and I felt like I had a crick in my neck and I figured it would go away.  And it did--but I ended up with a little soreness, a knot in the back of my shoulder. It wasn’t anywhere that caused any worry. Who doesn’t have a knot in their shoulder? So I went in (to the trainers) and got treatment on it.

Coming out here and throwing—it was really cold, pretty windy. We all have hand warmers in our pockets for those days but it took a little bit more time to get going. During my first few throws I couldn’t feel the ball in my hand and I really didn’t think much of it. Once I did get loose, I was fine.  And then during the first few outings last spring, I had some pretty good outings. I threw the ball really well. All the things I needed to work on, trusting my stuff, was going just fine. I was throwing the ball real well. Then slowly but surely things just got worse.

Instead of being able to throw fine after I got stretched out, by the time the 3rd, 4th or 5th inning came around, it would take all my warmup pitches just to feel like I could throw a strike. But then I would have good innings and some bad ones where I walked a couple of guys, give up a bloop hit and then get out of it. So eventually I threw against The Mets (on April 9th) and it was pretty cold that night. I still had a little soreness in my shoulder when I threw against The Mets and I walked five guys and gave up two home runs in three and a third innings but only gave up two runs.

So I am walking guys and making pitches and getting outs. I was battling as hard as I’ve ever battled before in my life. And in that particular game, both home runs I gave up came on 0-2 counts—where I was trying to make a pitch off the plate and caught too much of the plate. Anyways, after the day I started, I was playing catch with Craig Stammen. The guys playing catch in line with us had a ball get loose and it kind of ricochet. I was JUST STANDING THERE.  I saw the ball get away and I just said: ‘Hey!' (as Garrett reaches out with his right arm to catch the baseball). I reached for it and my neck just (hands slapping together) popped!! I just went down to the ground. Everyone thought I got hit with the baseball. I was laying there in the dirt and I couldn’t really feel my arm. I said to myself: ‘This is weird?’ I got up and went back over to Craig—he had to throw. I started to flick the ball back to him and everything went numb. It was like I lost total control of my right hand and arm.

Even then, before the neck popped, I would be eating cereal and the spoon just fell out of my hand. I would be walking to the parking lot and my keys would fall out of my hand. I hated myself for it. What’s wrong with me? Be an athlete. I am eating cereal and the spoon falls out of my hand. My son can eat cereal with a spoon and I can’t right now? I had no clue what was wrong with me. Then my neck popped, my hand went numb and then everything went back to normal—as if I hadn’t been hurt at all.

So while the trainers were looking into things, I went to get a workout in. So I went in early that morning to tell ‘Skip’ (Jim Riggleman) something is just not right. If I throw a bullpen and it doesn’t go well, I am just going to have to miss a start. Here I was walking into his office to talk to him about it and they were calling me into the office to tell me that walking five guys and giving up a couple of bombs—that’s not going to cut it—which I agree (chuckling).  So they optioned me down (to AAA). But I got to throw a bullpen. One way or the other, if I go and throw a bullpen and it doesn’t feel well, I am not going to make a start in AAA.  I ended up throwing 15 pitches—off the backstop, in the dirt—and I was just throwing fastballs  down the middle. I was just trying to throw fastballs down the middle and I was throwing the ball all over the place.

It hurt bad, physically. My arm felt fine but it just doesn’t work. The trainers had been looking at it since the day my neck popped, but my arm really didn’t hurt. They had conducted all these tests and everything turned out great. They are trying to figure out if something is hurting. They are stretching me out and as they saw and I felt: ‘Feels good, I don’t know what’s going on?’ Eventually they found I had a ruptured disk in my neck. It had been calcified and that part broke out and landed on a nerve—and that’s what caused everything to go bad.

So I had surgery, it went well. I got a little scar (on the back of his neck). It was about 6-8 weeks that I was out before I could resume normal activity and go through spring training again. I was here (in Viera) pretty much the entire 2010 season. It was a weird surgery. The rehab was strange. Some days I felt great, others not. I was at times throwing BB’s and others I had no idea what was going on.

They sent me out on a rehab assignment in August. Some days it would be great and others not so. On one rehab start I think I struck out eight guys in three innings. The next rehab start I threw pretty much the exact same amount of pitches against the same team and I had no idea where the ball was going. It was frustrating. But at the end of the season, I got stretched out. My last rehab start I threw six innings and didn’t walk anybody. I really finished up on a strong note last year.

And in this off-season, I got the proper rest so I feel like I am back—much better than I did last spring.  Going home, resting and doing the training—getting heavy into the weight training—getting my body back in line—I feel really, really good this spring and I am ready to compete.  I don’t feel I have to prove myself again. As far as what I am capable of doing, I’ve done well before. The way the ball is coming out of my hand feels great now. I am not going to put more pressure on myself to try to prove anything to anybody. I am literally reverting back to the exact mindset I had the entire time—which is that I am not going to do myself any good if I am not throwing strikes.

Garrett Mock--In His Own Words.

Photo Credit--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday, Fun Day & No Run Day

The last day of full squad practice for Our Washington Nationals in spring training was also the last day for Amber & Sam from Social Circle, Georgia's week in Viera, Florida. This after Little Andy, Charlene and Joe left two days ago along with Mary & Mike from Maine, leaving Darlene & Dave alongside The African Queen & I to watch a few of the upcoming games kicking off Washington's preseason schedule this week.

Zimmy & "Zimmy" Photo From February 22, 2009

Of course when some leave, others arrive and that was the case this morning when the "Zimmy" Dog returned for a 4th consecutive year.  Yes "Sunny" the lab and "Rosie" the dachshund posted up at the practice fields of Space Coast Stadium along with their family--Susie & Barry and children. Ardent Nats Fans Susie & Barry used to live in Viera, but moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 2010.  But that didn't keep their entire extended family from returning to the Space Coast Stadium Practice Facility today to take a look at their favorite baseball team. They drove nearly three hours south to see Our Washington Nationals on the practice fields.

Good thing too because WTOP's Craig Heist had the opportunity to reacquaint himself with his Puppy Love "Rosie" when they met up behind Field Number 1 during today's practice session. Heisty knows "Sunny" and "Rosie" well from their appearances over the years at Nationals Spring Training. Have you ever seen Craig Heist so happy? Heisty was feeling the love.

This after Nats Dedicated Season Ticket Holder Frank Cumberland and his wife, Laura, made their first appearances of spring in Central Florida. Laura & Frank loving the fact it was 32 degrees Friday in Washington before they left and 87 degrees in Melbourne, Florida today--nearly a record for this time of the year here. Frank also proud to have streamlined himself like Charlie Slowes this off-season. Working out strenuously and eating right, Frank lost 60 pounds and looked GREAT!!

Smiles all around including the face of Principal Owner Mark Lerner--making his first appearance on the practice fields this morning. Chatting with Jayson Werth & Ryan Zimmerman as well as many other players and staff, Mr. Lerner also came over to say hello to The African Queen and I as we moved around the practice facility today.
A Sunday that was so low key that many players were not required to do personal training nor running drills with the spring instructors.
"Sunday, Fun Day And No Run Day!!" as hilariously stated by Garrett Mock moments before an extended interview with Nats320 that will be posted later. "Mr. Quote Of Day" contender along with Livan Hernandez this 2011 spring training season.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Off To The Kennedy Space Center

With the last full squad practice this morning for Our Washington Nationals a low key affair before the preseason games, The African Queen and I headed over to Cape Canaveral and The Kennedy Space Center for a few tours and a little shopping. Knowing the Space Shuttle Program is winding down and many NASA employees are being laid off, we used our NASA Commanders' Passes to take a look at things on the Space Coast before the possibility America's Space Program may become a thing of the past--which is sad for us.
Here are a few pictures from our visit.

And Of Course There Was Shopping To Be Done
All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Getting To Know Corey Brown

Traded to Our Washington Nationals on December 16th, 2010 along with flame throwing hurler Henry Rodriguez for Josh Willingham, Corey Brown brings power, speed, defense and an arm capable of playing centerfield to Washington's group of prospects. Picked in the first round, 59th Overall, of the 2007 Draft by The Oakland Athletics, Corey has the ability to hit to all fields, but his high rate of strikeouts is still a concern.

Nats320 met up with Corey Brown after Spring Practice in Viera, Florida to find out a little more about him. Getting To Know Corey Brown--a very quiet and reserved young man.

Nats320: Were you surprised to be traded to Washington?

Brown: Yeah, in a way I kind of was. In the A’s Organization—it’s a great organization—but they are stocked with prospects. So over there in Oakland, it was sort of tough to get to the big leagues as soon as you wanted to. And not that I deserved to get there any faster or quicker than anyone else—because I’ve had my struggles—but when I found out I got traded, I was really excited. I got the call from Dave Forst, the Assistant GM, over there letting me know the news. I told him: ‘Thank you for everything.” But I am excited to be here. So far it’s been fun. Everyone here seems to be really nice people. They’ve greeted me with open arms and I'm just looking forward to this year. And hopefully, good things can happen.

Nats320: You feel you might have been blocked in Oakland in making the majors?

Brown: I wouldn’t say I was blocked, but they had so many prospects over there that it made it difficult for me, prospect wise. With the A’s there were several people in front of me. In fact I should say a lot more people in front of me because here (in Washington) there are several people now in front of me. But I feel with the Nationals there is a much better opportunity. I feel that here I can get to there (the big leagues) faster.

Nats320: You had good numbers last year at AA ball (Midland), not as good at AAA (Sacramento). What happened last season at AAA?

Brown: I started the year off in AAA and that was the first month. Unfortunately, I was in one of those funks that was hard to get out of and I only blame myself for that. Everyone goes through a little bump in the road. Mine just happened to carryover into the whole first month I was there. I then went down to AA and I didn’t hold anything against anyone. It was my fault to get sent down. So I went out there to perform again and work my way back up to AAA. When I got called back up there (late in the season--final seven games), I was able to start over. I finished great, real strong, and I felt I could handle the pitching there (AAA) a little better. AAA is a little more advanced than AA. In AAA they attack your weaknesses a little more. You have to be prepared when you face all these really good pitchers and when I got called back up to Sacramento I had more confidence in myself to perform well. Confidence was the difference.

Nats320: GM Mike Rizzo would not have traded for you unless he saw talent in your skills. What do you feel you bring to this organization?

Brown: From what I hear—I am a toolsy guy. I think that helps me. I can play good defense. I have a little speed and some pop in my bat. That’s really helped me throughout my development. I am not just a one-dimensional guy. But it’s always about staying healthy—which has always been the question about myself throughout my career. The little injuries that I have had here and there. I’ve felt that over the years I have been able to take better care of myself and done a better job where before I didn’t know too much (about training properly). I used to go day-to-day and hoped that something wouldn't pop-up. Now, I am in the training room every day preventing things from happening—the precautionary reasons.

Nats320: Do you have a skill that is more developed than another at this point?

Brown: I can’t really say. At times I’ve had seasons where I’ve hit a lot of home runs. Then I would say it’s power and then you could say it’s the California League. But I don’t try to concentrate on just one thing. Others might say my speed is my best tool, or my defense. I don’t answer those questions, I let everybody else make those judgements.

Nats320: Is it strange coming to a new team, with a bunch of new faces, for the first time?

Brown: It’s tough because I’ve only played with a few guys here and that was in the Arizona Fall League. I know Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Espy (Danny Espinosa). There are some familiar faces but it’s definitely tough the first week to learn all the new faces because I am not the most outgoing person (chuckling). I stay back and let everyone come to me.

Nats320: But they’ve made you feel welcome?

Brown: Oh yeah. It’s a great organization and everyone has treated me great. So far I’ve been having a great time. Now I just need to go out, be confident, and show them what I can do.

Photo Copyright--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Moments Like That

"Heeeeey Mikey Mo!!", shouted out Livan Hernandez from the mound as Michael Morse trotted onto Field Number 3 near Space Coast Stadium this morning for live batting practice. Since the early days of camp, Livo and Morse have engaged in a running battle during BP as to who is the mightier.  All in fun and highly enjoyable to watch.

"I going to get you again Mikey Mo!!" stated Ole Number 61 as Morse stepped to home plate. (We love the fact that Livan has adopted Mikey Mo as Morse's name as we did last year)

"Just bring it big boy!!" fired back Michael.
Which the Ole Cuban did by firing fastballs and breaking pitches past Michael during the first three pitches chased by Morse. But then, Livan Hernandez let go a fastball that Mikey Mo ABSOLUTELY crushed. Not only over the right centerfield fence on Field Number 3 but into the water pond a good 10 feet beyond.

That ball was SMACKED.

Livo leans his head back in disgust yelling: "NOOOOOOOO!!"

Michael Morse: "OK!! I'm done now!!"

As Mikey Mo rejoices by throwing up his hands, embracing Jerry Hairston, Jr. and fist pumping with Pitching Coach Steve McCatty, Morse proclaims: "I need to run this one out!!" And proceeds to romp around the bases triumphantly as Livan Hernandez says: "Man, you're embarrassing me now!!"

Morse: "Yeah, I know."

Great stuff that you just can't make up. Moments like that which make attending Spring Training practice for The African Queen and I worthwhile.

Much like what happened about 10 minutes later on the very same field.
As Matt Stairs trots from Field Number 4 to Field Number 3 and enters the 3rd Base Dugout for more live batting practice, he looks over and sees Tyler Clippard warming up on the mound and pointedly screams: "Oh, #&$#%!!"

When someone asks him what's the problem? Stairs says: "I haven't got a hit off of him in four years of at-bats. I can't stand hitting against Tyler Clippard."

With Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Pudge Rodriguez and Alberto Gonzalez all watching, total laughter ensues when Matt Stairs steps into the batter's box and proceeds to barely foul off one of the first five pitches thrown to him by "No Nonsense Tyler". The domination so bad by Our Number 36 that Stairs is bailing out after a few pitches--bringing even more snickers from his teammates.
"I have had it. That's enough for now," proclaims Matt Stairs, as he dejectedly gives way to Zimmy in the batting cage. He wanted no more nonsense from Tyler.

More snickers, more fun.

That's great stuff too.
Just like the moment when Agent 99 met up with Agent 86 for the first time this spring next to Field Number 1. Yes, it's true, one-half of the famed "Boys Of Summer" Broadcasting Crew arrived in Viera, Florida today to take in his first practice. With Dave Jageler to follow in just a few days, Charlie Slowes graced the practice fields of Space Coast Stadium and the laughter and entertainment truly began.

"Tell everybody this is the 'streamlined' version," said Charlie (Agent 86) while posing with The African Queen (Agent 99) for their customary spring photo. "I've lost 15 pounds over the winter."

Charlie looked good, ready to go for another year in the radio broadcast booth for Our Washington Nationals. Now lets get Jags down here so the Dynamic Duo can return to mid-season form.

Few broadcasting tandems more special than Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler.

Yes, it's the moments like that which make Spring Training with Our Washington Nationals so special.

Today's Other Highlights From Practice:

Chien-Ming Wang again impressed during his live BP session on the mound. Pushed back one day for extra rest, Wang showed command of all of his pitches and was watched closely Our GM Mike Rizzo, Our Manager Jim Riggleman and VP Of Player Development, Bob Boone. After his session ended, Wang was congratulated by Pudge Rodriguez, Jesus Flores and Livan Hernandez for his performance. The foursome talked at length about his workout.  Wang now scheduled to pitch in a minor league inter-squad game this coming Friday on the Space Coast Stadium Practice Fields.

A Big Step Forward For Chien-Ming Wang.

After most every player had left the practice fields, Zimmerman, Rick Ankiel, Matt Stairs, Jerry Hairston, Jr, Laynce Nix and Danny Espinosa stayed extra time for additional batting practice with Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein. The sign of the times for 2011 Spring Training--Washington Players are taking every aspect of the game very seriously.
And finally, once that extra session ended, the Z-Man took time for a brief chat with The African Queen and I before he headed back to the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium. Having only had the chance to say hello since practice has been so intense, it was good to touch base with Zimmy as the new season gets underway.
P.S. In what other sport but baseball do you see a star player pick up the practice used balls and put them into a ball bag at the conclusion of practice? Ryan Zimmerman does, just like everybody else.  Good for the Z-Man.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved