On Tuesday, we started the day against JR’s (John Russell) team. His teams are always good teams. I was going to list ways in which they’re usually good, but it’s in almost every aspect. Only a few players are good at most things, but each player he has can boast of one above average skill. That’s true of most of the players down here. One might wonder how someone who’s around 80 can compete with players 20-30 years younger. If you hit the ball hard or throw strikes or can play catcher, you don’t have to move fast or have another skill.
Every year at our spring training, we have a day on which we do “specialties” and the professional coaches do some skill training for the players. Most years, we haven’t had a catching session because the turnout would be pretty low. This year, they had one before the morning game, run by Stan Clyburn. Since I know I’m going to be catching a lot and probably not pitching at all, I had to miss Rick Knapp’s pitching session. One of the best aspects of coming to Ponce Spring Training is that these pro coaches add so much knowledge to the team – they give great instruction and they learn our quirks over the years. It’s what they do when they’re with their minor and major league clubs, so it should be no surprise. I’ve never heard of that kind of skill work when teams go to a tournament – you just play.
In our games, we always have run limits in all the innings except the last one. This avoids destroying the arms of the pitchers. When you have at least 58 innings you need to cover with pitchers and you start the week with only 4 pitchers, having those innings end mercifully is quite important. Each of our four pitchers has to pitch every day in order to cover 14 innings.
The games on Tuesday bounced back and forth. Holding a team scoreless for an inning is probably a bigger deal here than anywhere else. 3-run innings are not rare, but scoreless ones are. The game against JR got rough in Fred Jaffke’s second inning on the mound. His control started to deteriorate and I should have gone out on the mound to give him a chance to reset. Pitching can be a finicky thing and Fred will do fine in his next outing.
Sonny Hill kept racking up the RBIs. The hitters in front of him have done a good job of getting on base and it’s paid off. Not everyone runs fast or throws strikes, but they have a talent. Sonny’s is driving runs in.
We managed to squeeze out the morning win with some shutdown innings from Glenn Strachan. It’s been a delight catching for Glenn as his location is very good and the velocity exceeds the rest of the pitching staff. Sometimes, we get the pitch we watn, where we want it and they still hit it, but more often than not, we’re getting weak contact or swings and misses. Those misses are increasing as the week goes on.
Jerry Spitz started the second game and we weren’t great in the field behind him. The estimates of the number of outs we gave them with errors in the first innings were around 7-8 outs. That makes it hard to win. Jerry did get into an argument with the umpire when an opposing player stepped into the plate to avoid a curveball that hit him… over the plate. Jerry turned in 3 innings with the lead passing back and forth between the teams, with one or the other being one run up.
A late add to our team was Rick Kramer. He’s a little speedster and used to be a “vacuum cleaner” in the outfield. There might be a step lost that prevents him from getting to all the balls he used to, but he does well. His bat speed is exceptional and he’s been scooting around the bases for us, scoring critical runs. When the second game went into extra innings and Rick started the inning on second base, I knew we had that run.
In the extra innings, Glenn felt that his hand was doing well enough (recovering from a line drive off it last week) that he took his turn at bat. Mitch Orcutt was pitching the late innings and kept right on going in extra innings. Mitch sometimes comes inside and, sure enough, he hit Glenn on the first pitch. I went up next and got hit on the hand on the second or third pitch. It’s the hazard of pitching inside and, for me, the hazard of crowding the plate. As a result, we took the lead.
On a bloop that landed at the edge of the grass and bounced to Bill Murray, the opposing team’s runner on 2nd tried to score. Bill made a nice throw, which I caught a few feet up the line to beat the runner by a large margin. Those extra innings are a jumble in my head of what happened when and how.
With the heart of their lineup coming up in the bottom of the 9th, Glenn shut them down and I caught strike three to end the game. Hard-fought and nicely won.