Tuesday, February 20, 2007

71 Players, 75 Degrees, The First Full Squad Workout

On an absolutely beautiful sunny day in Viera, Florida-Our Washington Nationals conducted the very first full squad workout for the 2007 season. Only, "The Chief", Chad Cordero was missing. Chad was in Phoenix, Arizona for his Arbitration Hearing. With so many new faces, there were many first time introductions and handshakes going around. But, none more interesting to me than this conversation between Chris Snelling and Travis Lee sitting in the dugout before the first workout began.

Lee" "So, where did you say you played?" Snelling: "Seattle for the past five years" Lee: "Really, never heard of you. And, how old are you?" Snelling: "25, but I have had seven surgeries on my legs" Lee: "SEVEN!! How in the world are you even walking, much less playing baseball?" Snelling: "Persistence, hard headedness, a complete miracle--actually." Lee: "I guess there is alot of truth to "Crocodile Dundee. You are an AUSSIE." Snelling: "Yeah, I hear that all the time. (But serious, not a hint of humor in his voice)."

Later, I would catch up with Snelling, he was reserved, guarded, quiet and a little bit quirky. Looks like your buddy from your weekend bowling team. Not too tall, stubby, shaggy hair. For the past nine years, Chris has used the very same baseball glove. The same glove since High School. And, it showed. Not a single player noticing his mitt, did not make a joke about it--bound in twine, to keep the fingers together. I just can't imagine Major League Baseball allowing him to use it in an actual game. That glove was a sight to behold.

"Its my glove, I love it," Snelling told me. "I am very comfortable using it. I really don't want to give it up. I just got it repaired—it needed some work."
Manny Acta had not seen this work of art glove, but did say to me: "If it’s as bad as you say, Its next on my list on things to do with him.”

Yet, Snelling had another repair that surprised not only me, but Acta, as well. Chris Snelling would jog out onto the practice field wearing a very heavy brace on his left leg, showing under his pants from knee to calf. So, I asked Chris about that brace?

He was honest: "I have had seven knee surgeries and I need some help (right now), So that’s why I am wearing the brace. (Does that mean you need to wear it for every game this season? SBF) " I don’t know, I am hoping to work my way through using it. But, I am good to go."

Although, Manager Acta seemed caught off guard at Chris' brace: “It’s the first time I ever saw it on him (clearly not expecting it). But, he did have surgery on his knees. So, I think he’s trying to protect himself. “

Pitchers and catchers continued their work from Monday. Group Bullpen sessions for those scheduled to get in work. While all other pitchers practiced their fielding drills and pickoff throws from the mounds on the four practice fields. John Patterson noticed us right away, from last nights run in at Carrabba's. "I haven't seen you two in a couple of hours," he chuckled, while signing Sohna's Tee-Shirt. John said he appreciated Sohna and I not letting anyone else in the restaurant know who he was last night. He appreciated the privacy. Luis Ayala came over to meet The African Queen, pleased to meet her. "I have heard about you," he laughed. Then, seriously telling me his bullpen session went well today. "No problems, I threw hard, no pain. Its a good sign. I feel good-really (and sweating profusely)"

28 everyday players (minus the 6 catchers working in the bullpen) loosened up and jogged together on one field, beginning at 10AM. Manny Acta then addressed this group, before splitting them into two groups, infielders and outfielders for Batting Practice and Fielding Drills.

The much maligned, Cristian Guzman was on hand, but not taking part in any throwing Drills. His agent, Stan King, told The African Queen and I: “He’s going to be fine. I really believe that all Guzman needs is the opportunity to work himself into shape. He took his MRI yesterday. We don’t have the results back right now. So, we are being cautious. (Yet, it had to be a surprise that Guzman was not 100% coming to camp? SBF). "I would not read too much into it," Stan replied. "The throws from shortstop are hard and long, at times. He needs to buildup his arm strength. I feel the sun and climate here in Florida will work well for him. He did have his eye surgery. He’s in shape, physically, but certainly not into baseball shape."

Sohna and I continued on this subject with Washington Times Beat Writer, Mark Zuckerman, who was kind enough to chat with us for a good 15 minutes today. "Manny went down to the D.R. (Dominican Republic) to visit him last month," said Mark. "Everyone seemed to be of the belief that Guzman would come to camp 100%. But, for him to say on the very first day upon arrival that he's not ready, has got to be of some concern." (That's why Ronnie Belliard is here?, SBF) Yeah, that has something to do with it." Mark also told us it was his understanding that the liquid injected into Guzman's shoulder for The MRI does need to dry out, before he can begin throwing, again. Apparently its a medical recommedation that goes along with the scan.

Guzman himself, was very untalkative. Even his agent, Stan King, realizes that "The Guz" is much maligned in Washington. Stating to The African Queen, "So you where that lonely voice cheering for him in 2005!!" "Yes," she replied, "along with Section 320 faithful, NatsDelNegro." Yet, when The Queen approached Cristian upon his arrival today to sign her tee shirt, she cheerfully asked : "How are your feeling?" he mumbled "all right," never making eye contact, looking down to the ground at all times. Then, at the end of practice, She again asked him nicely--"How's your day!!" The Guz never replied, signed one of two autographs and ran all the way to the clubhouse, ignoring everyone.

Considering how approachable each and every other player and coach for Our Washington Nationals are to The Fans down here. Guzman's actions were a stark contrast. The African Queen now considering whether see really wants to support him anymore.

Then, MY MAIN MAN!!--Ryan Church came along. If there is ANYONE in this camp with a friendly, happy and confident attitude--its Number 19. Church looks alot bigger in size. Maybe 10-15 pounds heavier. By far, Ryan is the friendliest Nats player I have approached over the first two days here. A fan favorite, yet a very puzzling player during the first two seasons of Nats Baseball. After signing a baseball for The Queen, I asked him: You look really happy this spring?

Smiling, Ryan jubilantly stated: “I am loving it. We got a new manager in here. Things have turned brighter for me. " (This is your opportunity?--SBF). “THIS IS IT!! I am going to take it and run with it!" (Fans like you, but you never seem to receive a fair chance? SBF)
"Yeah, I know, but its all about MY OPPORTUNITY NOW. This is the year now that I am going to get it. It really comes down to what I DO ABOUT IT. Not anyone else. I need to run with it, not be the 4th or 5th outfielder. And, make no mistake about it, I don’t want to be in that position." (You have to be the starter? SBF). "Yeah, no question, anything else is not in my mind.”

A lot of people have criticized your off speed hitting? Saying you can't hit a breaking pitch?

“Yeah, That's CRAP!! I can hit a curveball. But, I need to work on it. The coaches have all that set up for me in the (batting) cage with Mitch (Paige—Hitting Instructor) with the curve ball machines. But, I will be ready."

You seem confident, which you may not have been last season?

"Yeah, it was tough last year, for many different reasons. It’s a new story now. A new page in the chapter of the book. I am really looking forward to starting for The Nationals this season. I am going to win a job and keep it. That’s really the truth. Basically, I need to go out and play the game hard. You need to get better every day, be consistent. I don’t need that up and down stuff, anymore."

Was your off season eye specialist work part of your new found trust in yourself?

“I worked with Dr. Bill Harrison (Optometrist—Eye Specialist) who runs SlowTheGame.com, that works visually with many Major League Players. His expertise, strengthens your visual ability and enables you to pick up the rotation on the ball faster, when its coming right out of the pitchers hand. From day 1 (working with Harrison over the winter), it helped me working through the drills in Arizona."

Church only had a few moments, as he and Ryan Zimmerman were heading off in a golf cart to make another appointment. "Z" was kind enough quickly jump out of the cart to greet The African Queen and I, pleased to see us again. Both Ryan's telling me to stop them later this week for more conversation.

Of course, Ryan Church's enthusiasm for the upcoming 2007 season, may well mean that Up and Coming Rookie Prospect, Kory Casto, may be the odd man out. I had an extended conversation with him after practice today, but this remark was very telling: "it doesn’t appear that I will be playing out there much (left field)," stated Casto. " I will be playing more 3rd base to get even more at bats this spring."

So you don’t sound hopeful about making the Nationals this spring?, I asked. Casto, seriously replied, “Yeah, there is always a chance. But, I am fighting for at bats, stuff like that, and sometime during the year, I will be able to get up there and make a contribution, just not now."

Today's First Full Squad Practiced lasted until past 2PM. And, ended with Manny Acta and Barry Larkin working directly with Ryan Zimmerman, Felipe Lopez and Guzman on fielding drills.

Later this evening, in Vignettes with The Nationals: More with Kory Casto, Matt Chico (very interesting guy), Mike O'Connor, Brandon Claussen, Jesus Flores and a first day wrap up with Manager, Manny Acta.

Quote of The Day:

A television reporter asked Jon Rauch: "Did you know a study is out claiming that Tall People are the smartest people in the world? Rauch, beady eyes laughing: "I guess I missed the boat on that one." Everyone within earshot, busted out laughing.

1 comment:

Jim H said...


Another great dispatch from Viero. Thanks much. About the Casto comment:

I read that Casto will play third base when Zimmerman rests during spring games to get the at-bats. This is not so much because he's out of the competition in left...it's more because of all the other outfielders in the mix for at-bats. Playing third will allow Casto to get his shot and free up some turns for the other left field competitors.

Thanks again for the all the good questions and info.

See you in 320 later this spring.