Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fighting the broken bus blues

The Dugout woke up early and hustled up to Jupiter, Florida's Roger Dean Stadium to catch some minor league Dodgers games. It would have been the first – and possibly only – chance to talk face-to-face with L.A. farmhands this season.

The Double and Triple-A clubs were slated to play the Cardinals, but that game never materialized. The story being told by Cardinals' players was that the Dodgers bus broke down on the way to the game, so the team never showed up.

There are some pretty funny stories in The Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy minor league baseball stories that deal with bus problems. There are a couple of instances where the bus caught fire. In one, the players were jumping off the bus while it was still moving, scattering players along the highway for about a mile.

In the other, players boarded a second bus to the game. When they returned past the original bus, they were shocked to see that it had burned almost completely to the ground. Only the shell remained.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, their problems were not nearly that bad. If the game was a regular season contest, they certainly would have found alternative transportation. During the laid back times of Spring Training, they just decide to scrap the game.

How many times have you started your car in the morning; then wished aloud that you didn't really have to go to work?

Monday, March 26, 2007

The days of Knights and Tunas

JUPITER, Fla. - The St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A club has found an interesting way to beat the South Florida heat. By starting their games at 10:00 a.m., the players clear the field before the searing afternoon sun is able to do most of its damage.

The Triple-A Cardinals, who call Memphis their regular season home, finished their game against Florida and were off the field before 1 p.m. on Monday. It's a nice deal for Cardinals fans, who can watch some of their top prospects in the morning, then enter Roger Dean Stadium and watch the big club.

Those who don't have a ticket for the big league game can turn the day into a minor-league doubleheader. The Dugout caught the end of the Triple-A game before headlining to a back field to watch the Double-A game.

The only drawback of these quasi-minor league doubleheaders is that they won't last much longer. Memphis will play a couple of exhibition games prior to the start of season - one of which will be against the big league club in Memphis - so they are shipping out earlier than most minor league clubs.

The Dugout ran into old friend Pop Warner for the first time this spring. Warner skippered Palm Beach last year before spending September in the St. Louis dugout as an extra coach for the World Series Champions. He's been bumped up to Double-A Springfield for this season and from the sound of it, he's taking almost the entire 2006 Palm Beach pitching staff with him.

Top-prospect Colby Rasmus, who ended 2006 at Palm Beach, is also slated to start the season in Springfield, as is former first-round draft choice Tyler Greene, a shortstop. Greene started 2006 in Palm Beach, but was sent down to Quad Cities after hitting .224 over the season’s first 71games.

He's apparently performed well enough this spring to leapfrog Palm Beach and head to Springfield. The Dugout isn't sure why he struggled so mightily in Palm Beach, but he wouldn't be the first player to say he simply didn't see the ball well at RDS.

Final note: Bill Parcells and Bobby Knight shared a skybox for Monday's Grapefruit League contest between St. Louis and Florida. The Tuna has seen a couple of Cardinals games this spring, but as far as The Dugout knows, this was the first General sighting. Knight kept RDS soundboard operator Ross Howard busy by requesting an obscure song be played over the public address system. To his credit, Howard took less than an inning to track down the song. No chairs were thrown and Knight isn't believed to have threatened to fire anyone. Wasn't General Tuna a character in the board game Clue???

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where baseball and music combine

ORLANDO - The Dugout first noticed the phenomenon in 2001. Seven Mary Three was in San Antonio touring in support of their fourth album, The Economy of Sound. The San Antonio Missions - at the time the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners – had a day game, affording some players the opportunity to leave the park in time to catch 7m3's late afternoon show.

Following the show, Missions' pitcher Matt Jarvis and catcher Brad King were talking with band members by their tour bus. King had been a fan of 7m3 for years. His eyes were as big as the baseballs he’d just finished swatting, and from the smiles on his and Jarvis’ faces, it was obvious they were thinking, "Wow, we're talking with rock stars."

Though not nearly as popular as when their debut album, American Standard, hit the charts 7m3 was still pretty big at the time. Which made it seem odd that the band members talking with the minor leaguers had the same looks on their faces: "Wow, you guys play professional baseball."

King, who doesn’t really have any musical talent, would often joke about starting a band when his baseball career ended. At least two of the 7m3 guys are baseball fans, frequently watching a few innings of minor league baseball games before their gigs. They talked that afternoon about how cool it would be to be professional baseball players.

That scenario played out again Friday night when members of the Detroit Tigers made the short trip from their spring training home in Lakeland, Fla., to downtown Orlando to see Lucero lead singer Ben Nichols (top photo) and Seven Mary Three's Jason Ross (lead singer, middle photo) and Thomas Juliano (bottom photo, guitar) play acoustic shows as part of the opening night activities for an art gallery expo of rock-n-roll art.

Two of the guys in the Tigers' contingent were wearing Lucero shirts. They talked with Nichols after his set, congratulating him on his performance and just shooting the breeze. The Dugout was fortunate to stand next to a beaming Nichols for part of Ross’ and Juliano's set. The conversation went something like this:

Nichols: Can you believe some of the Detroit Tigers are here?

The Dugout: Some of them are even wearing Lucero shirts.

Nichols: Yeah, how amazing is that?

Ballplayers and rock stars possess talents that ordinary people planned to master before growing old enough to learn that adults, more often than not, cannot grow up to be anything they want to be. Perhaps that's why the average fan becomes so excited to meet people who are living their dream.

Because they know how difficult it is to become an elite athlete or musician, practitioners of those crafts tend to have a mutual admiration for the other’s accomplishments. Or maybe baseball players and rock stars are still young enough that they consider music or baseball to be the career that got away. Either way, after seeing ballplayers and musicians constantly having to respond to the needs of their fans, it's unusual and ultimately refreshing to see the rolls change – to watch the idols become fans. It's a humanizing transformation, and one The Dugout believes makes both the musician and the ballplayer that much more interesting.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Braves and The Mouse mix well

Orlando – One word to describe the Atlanta's spring training complex: Holy Freakin' Cow! Or, perhaps more accurately, holy freakin' mouse.

The Braves train at Disney's Wide World of Sports, which is located on the massive campus owned by the Disney Corporation. The Mouse did it right. There are some 30 different athletic fields in the complex. On Thursday, the complex was flowing with high school lacrosse teams and softball teams in town for a tournament.

Oh, and there were a few minor league games. Because of the corporate nature of the complex, The Dugout expected a hassle obtaining media credentials. Not so. Walked freely through the lush campus talking with players and management, alike.

The minor league camp setup is the best in Florida. The fields are close together and the bleachers are covered (top photo), a big plus in the burning Orlando sun. The Braves also have a policy that players makes players who don't travel with their minor league teams sit in the stands and watch at least five innings of a Braves game being played on site. As a result, The Dugout talked in great length to some Triple-A pitchers who didn't make trip to Lakeland as they watched the High-A team play Lakeland. Those stories will appear on in the coming months.

The Big League park is even more phenomenal (bottom photo). Aside from being aesthetically wonderful, the park is absolutely huge. It is one of the few Grapefruit League parks that doesn't host a minor league team, which is a real shame. Tampa Bay's Double-A squad played there for three years, but attendance was abysmal and the team moved. Word is the folks ran the stadium as though the Orlando Rays were a major league team. Tickets were too expensive and the promotional stuff – other than Disney tie-ins – was non-existent. If Major League Baseball were smart, it would extend the bleachers to create a full park and move the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to Orlando. Nothing could be worse than leaving the Devil Rays in that awful dome in Tampa.

The Dugout also visited the Astros complex in Kissimmee. The facilities appeared functional, but were no match for the quaintness of Dodgertown and Chain of Lakes Park, or the vastness Disney.

Gotta cut this short. Going to see Seven Mary Three's Jason Ross and Thomas Juliano, along with Lucero's Ben Nichols play tonight in downtown Orlando. Should be a great evening.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rock down to Edison Avenue

The Dugout has been quiet. That doesn't mean it hasn't been busy.

We've hit four minor league spring training camps in the last two days. Internet issues on the road have kept us from updating the blog until now.

The Red Sox have an interesting set-up for their camp. The minor league camp is located two miles down Edison Ave. from their major league camp/ballpark. The players seemed to split on how much they like the situation.

The younger guys would like the big league players to train in the same complex, while the older minor leaguers are glad to be away from the media circus that follows the Red Sox nation. Look for a full blown feature about the Sox minor league camp on in the coming weeks.

The Sox held a camp day on Monday, which featured a bunch of intra-organizational scrimmages. The highlight was watching Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski (above, signing an autograph) pull aside some of the younger hitters to give them pointers. He kept preaching “soft hands.”

Left Fort Myers and found a new way to get to Orlando. Took Route 17, which is mostly a rural road through orange groves, churches, cow pastures and the occasional goat farm. It was quicker than the normal I-75 to I-4 route and much more enjoyable.

Hit the Cleveland and Detroit camps today. Does any uniform look cleaner the Detroit Tigers? Too bad most fans don't get to see the minor leaguers. The folks in Lakeland don't have the best setup for viewing the minor league games. Some are completely hidden from fans, and access to players is more restricted than any other complex in Florida. The Dugout managed to talk to a few players. Those interviews will be posted on the site or in this blog periodically during the season.

Atlanta and Houston camps are scheduled for tomorrow. Some basketball; then a beer at the Matador in downtown Orlando on are tap for tonight.

Most minor league seasons open in two weeks. The countdown is on.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Head to the Outback, mate

Want to make an Australian-born minor league baseball player laugh? Ask him about Outback Steakhouse. Turns out we Americans have been duped. The Aussies will tell you there is nothing like Outback in the Land Down Under.

What makes it even stranger for the Aussies is that there always seems to be an Outback near a ballpark or hotel. Unwitting fans often comment to the Aussie players that if they get homesick, they can head across the street to the Outback.

They mostly smile. The players seem to like the food, even if Outback doesn't remind them of home. Here's what a few of them said about the restaurant:

There's nothing like it mate. You come over to Outback and none of the food they serve there is Australian. We don't have any cheese fries with bacon on it. I don't know where that came from. – Minnesota farmhand and Perth native Luke Hughes, who is featured in the currrent lead story on

I like it. It's a bit of a corny gimmick. I like them even more now that they have Coopers beer. That's the beer from my home state in south Australian. – Florida's Paul Mildren, who also referred to Fosters as a “sell out beer.”

I love Outback. I think it's the greatest marketing idea ever made. But it has nothing to do with Australia, except for the maps on the walls, what they call certain burgers and "Blokes" and "Sheilas" on the bathroom doors. We have no steak. We have no blooming onions. We have no cheese fries. We have nothing like that. – Pittsburgh's Brett Roneberg, as quoted in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Curing a bout of Madness

Been light on the blog, but with good reason. The first two days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament should be national holidays. I spent Thursday and Friday sitting on virtually the same bar stool at Bru's Room in Delray Beach, Fla. Any bar that allows you to control four TVs at once can't be all bad. (Yeah, I've been there before).

I'm watching Saturday’s games from home. Delray is holding its annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which turns Bru's into chaos. May try to get there for the night games, but don't have much need to get pushed around by drunken green people who aren't interested in the ball games.

Caught up with Chris Ashby, whose story about being hated in Norwich, Ct. was the inspiration for The Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen. He's in camp with the Marlins (Jupiter) and hopes to start the season with Triple-A Albuquerque. I'll keep you posted.

Next week looks like a good one for baseball. I'm planning to spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Fort Myers talking with minor league players from Minnesota, Boston, and maybe Pittsburgh. Thursday features trips to Lakeland (Tigers), where I'm interested to see the complex's makeover, and Winter Haven (Indians), a complex I have never visited. Friday should be Kissimmee (Astros) and Orlando (Braves). Saturday stops in Melbourne (Nationals) and Vero Beach (Dodgers) complete the trip.

As an added bonus, Jason Ross and Thomas Juliano (Seven Mary Three) and Ben Nichols (Lucero) are playing together at the opening of an art gallery. Two greatly underappreciated bands.

Planning to post a story about Australian baseball players on by the end of the weekend.

More soon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An order of Pujols, some false teeth and a couple of suits

Yet another postcard-quality day for baseball. St. Louis defeated Minnesota 2-1 in a split squad game. Joe Mauer and Johan Santana remained on the west coast, but still got to see Albert the Great and Justin Morneau. A treat, indeed.

Roger Dean Stadium (below), home of St. Louis and Florida, is situated as part of Abacoa, which is like a town within a town in Jupiter, Fla. The surroundings are pretty cool, even if some parts of the stadium lack warmth. After seeing more than my share of sparsely-attended Florida State League games at RDS over the past couple of seasons, it was good to see the stadium filled to near capacity.

Saw two things I still haven't fully processed. When I arrived, I walked past an overweight, mobile-home-living woman getting out of her car. The overweight lady was sporting a quality wifebeater and was bulging out of the bottom of her jean-shorts. As I approached her car, she was bending over to pick something up – trust me, not the best view to start a day. I finally got close enough to see what she was picking up. Apparently as she got out of the car, her false teeth fell out of her mouth and were lying on the grass in the adjacent parking spot, teeth part facing the sky. Unfortunately, I was running late and couldn’t stick around to see what happened next.

I had almost purged that image when, in the third inning, two men wearing full suits and carrying winter overcoats walked into the stadium and down to their box seats. It was 80 degrees. I was hot in shorts. Now, people leave the office and come to the ballpark in suits all the time, but why the winter coats? Did they just fly in for the game? In that case, why didn't they leave the jackets in the car? If they took a cab, where was their luggage? If they stored their luggage, why didn't they store their coats? We made fun of them for an inning. Two innings later, they were gone. They never took their suit jackets off. Maybe they lost a bet.

Minnesota's Tommy Watkins, a favorite of, continues to impress. The utility infielder featured in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen, made a diving play behind first base to quash a Cardinals' rally. That's three big plays in three days.

Rounding the Bases:

  1. I personally am not a big believer in this whole global warming thing, but maybe it explains the weakness of both team's bats. It's hard to generate much offense when bats are shattering all afternoon. No less then six bats broke – some spectacularly, including one barrel that sheared off at the handle and sailed over the third base dugout, clobbering a couple of fans. I'd consider suing Al Gore.
  1. RDS is an autograph seeker's Mecca. The bullpen benches are so close to the stands that fans carry on conversations with players throughout the game. Great for fans. For players, not so much.
  1. RDS food ranks near the bottom of spring training sites. The hot dogs may be the worst around, the peanuts lack salt and everything was overpriced, even for ballpark cuisine. Two beers and a bag of peanuts: $19.50.

Home: Getting home was no cinch. The quaintness of a stadium tucked into a small community loses some of its appeal when there aren't any officers helping direct the 7,000 or so out of the ballpark. Spent as much time going the first mile as I did going the final 39. That said, it’s still better than working.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spring is here, even for Australians

I’m a little late getting to spring training, but I’m cutting myself a break because the minor leaguers are just starting to arrive in many camps. Where to start the tour this year? Why not the camp that hosts the reigning AL MVP (Justin Morneau), batting champ (Joe Mauer) and Cy Young award winner (Johan Santana)? Those three and the rest of the Minnesota Twins make Fort Myers, Fla., their spring home.

Plenty of Midwesterners make the trip to Fort Myers, which makes for a pretty friendly atmosphere. Truthfully, I think they are just happy to be away from Minnesota for a week or two. The announced temperature at the stadium was 77 degrees. They were kind enough to announce the temp in Minneapolis – two degrees with the wind chill. Nice.

Minnesota’s minor leaguers don’t report until tomorrow (March 8) but a few guys were already in town working in the cage and the weight room. Three of the guys (Luke Hughes, Trent Oeltjen and Allan De San Miguel) had just flown in from Australia. Travel time: 30 hours. Again, nice.

Funny part of their story is that these guys were happy to play in the cool Florida temperatures. It’s the dead of summer right now in Australia and they left 100 degree days down under. Just shows everything is relative.

Look for a story featuring those guys in the coming weeks on

Saw Twins host the Dodgers on Tuesday and the Pirates on Wednesday.

Three Ups:

  1. fav Brad King (above, left) has a big league invite with the Twins. Good to see him with a major league organization after two years in the Atlantic League sandwiching one year of retirement.
  1. Two players featured in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball, Tommy Watkins and Glenn Williams (also an Aussie) are in the Twins’ big league camp. Williams went yard against the Dodgers and Watkins hit an absolute bomb off the Pirates.
  1. Had my first Eb and Flo’s dog, which is essentially a fat hotdog covered in coleslaw. Not a big fan of coleslaw, but decided to give it a try. Excellent. Highly recommend it. Still don’t know where the name comes from. Is this a Minnesota thing?

Heading across Alligator Alley. Will spend tomorrow at Roger Dean Stadium with the World Series-champion St. Louis Cardinals. Many, many more then.