has turned the final corner toward the finish line. Spring training comes in three phases, in my
experience: (1) Can’t wait to get here; (2) Daily practices become so routine
that you can’t wait to start playing games; (3) The exhibition games eventually
make you anxious: "Bring on the season!"
During the final
days of spring training shaping the opening day roster takes precedent. Players in the big league camp are returned to the minors for the most part. Players in the minor league camp face a different fate. A few days ago 20 Phillies minor leaguers were released. Gone.
Leftover thoughts from the 60th spring season in Clearwater:
Frequent mileage: Rookie outfielders
Shane Victorino and Chris Roberson made all 14 road trips and put in 751 miles
riding buses. "Beats not being on the bus," philosophized Roberson.
Oh no: John Vukovich, Special Assistant to General Manager Pat Gillick, spent his spring scouting the Phillies, Yankees, Devil Rays and Blue Jays. Late in the spring, he hopped in his car and headed for an afternoon game in St. Petersburg to catch the Rays. As he pulled up to an empty Progress Energy Park, he learned the game was a 7:05 night game as originally scheduled. At least
no one ribbed Vuke.
Interesting sign: A hand-printed sign in the press box at
Marchant Stadium in Lakeland: "Everyone Brings Great Joy to This Press Box… Some when they arrive… Some when they leave."
How times have changed: The Phillies’ game
against the Red Sox drew a stadium, Clearwater, and Pinellas County record 9,893 fans on
the final Sunday Florida afternoon. That fell just short of the Phillies’ entire spring training attendance in 1960: 10,269.
Hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park appears to be a topic again. It was mentioned in newspapers this past week and on ESPN’s spring training telecast from Orlando on March 22.
As we announced just before last Christmas, the left field wall was being adjusted after studying home runs at Citizens Bank Park for two seasons. The wall moved back five feet and the height was increased from eight feet to 10.5 feet. The 329-foot foot marker at the left field foul pole remains at that number with the wall angling back five feet from there. The 369-foot mark that was on the left field wall for two seasons is now 374 feet.
It is a fact that Citizens Bank Park ranked third among all Major League parks in home runs hit in 2004. The number was 228, trailing two Chicago ballparks, Wrigley Field (233) and U.S. Cellular Field (272). Seven different ballparks topped 200 home runs that season.
Last year, five parks surpassed 200 homers: Citizens Bank Park (201), Yankee Stadium (206), U.S. Cellular Field (213), Ameriquest Field (233) and Great American Ball Park (246). Citizens Bank Park climbed over 200 when seven homers were hit in the final home game.
It all means that there were 27 fewer homers at Citizens Bank Park in year two.
Our video survey estimates the new dimensions will subtract another 15-18 home runs in year three. One of the goals in building the park was to have a fair park for pitchers and hitters. It didn’t play that way the first two seasons but an adjustment was made. Correcting wind patterns is unsolvable, unless we put a dome on the place. Don’t count on that happening.
Physical changes in ballparks are not unprecedented.
The outfield wall at Veterans Stadium was raised from eight feet to 12 feet after the first season (1971) to eliminate the frequency of ground rule doubles.
After one year at Minute Maid Park in Houston (then Enron Field), an adjustment was made to make home runs to left-center more difficult. The distance in the power alley remained at 362 feet, but the height of the yellow line indicating a home run increased from 10 to 25 feet. The 315-foot distance to the left field foul pole remained, keeping it the shortest left field in the National League. As I recall, there were two or three "cheap" home runs hit to left field in Houston during last year’s postseason, but no fuss was made over the fact of the short porch there.
In Detroit, the Tigers moved the left-center field power alley from 395 to 370 feet following the third season at Comerica Park. The San Diego Padres shortened Petko Park’s right-center fence from 411 to 402 feet after last season.
See what’s new at Citizens Bank Park in 2006.
The Grapefruit League calendar says it is Sunday, March 19. The Phillies have a 56-mile trip south to play the Reds in Sarasota.
The office at Bright House Networks Field is quiet. Folks back in the Philly office won’t be calling because it is Sunday. Emails even seem to take a holiday on Sundays.
Carpenter Field is a different story. Phillies minor leaguers are spread on four different fields this afternoon. There’s a triple-A game on the Richie Ashburn Field, a Double-A game on the Mike Schmidt Field, a game against a college team on the Robin Roberts Field and a group of young minor leaguers working on fundamentals on the Steve Carlton Field.
The weather for the day is typical of the entire spring: sunshine, blue skies and a rare cloud or two.
The Triple-A game has a different flavor today because lefty Cole Hamels is going to throw three innings. He’s been slowed by back problems and the program of getting him back on the field in a regular rotation is a methodical process.
GM Pat Gillick chose a walk to Carpenter Field rather than a car ride with Dallas Green to Sarasota. Nothing personal, Dallas. Pat wanted to see Hamels pitch. He was perched behind home plate on the rooftop level. In three innings, Hamels allowed 3 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 0 walks and 2 strikeouts.
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Dickie Noles walked by: “You can see why this guy is special. He stands out.” Someone responded, “Just like you when you were younger?” “I wasn’t even close,” laughed Dickie.
Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle was also on the roof standing at the top of stairway that is midway between two fields. On his right, Hamels was pitching and on his left, Gio Gonzalez, the prospect acquired in the Jim Thome deal with the White Sox, was hurling in a Double-A game. Hamels’ performance: “Most impressive was his command. For someone who hasn’t pitched in a while, he was around the plate and worked his pitches to spots,” said Arbuckle.
Also playing in the same game for five innings was Alex Gonzalez. The free agent infielder signed by Gillick this offseason was spending his third minor league game in left field. The Phillies are in need of a fifth outfielder and the brass wants to see if Gonzalez can play out there. He had a run-scoring double in two at-bats and caught the only fly ball hit his way.
“It is a different feel out there,” said Gonzalez. “Getting a read on the balls is the biggest adjustment from playing the infield.” Gonzalez will continue to shag fly balls during batting practice. More minor league games or the outfield in a Grapefruit League game or two will be pondered.
Meanwhile next door at Bright House Networks Field, one Major Leaguer was still at work following a short morning workout. Veteran Mike Lieberthal took extra batting practice in the enclosed left field batting cage hitting off a tee under the watchful eyes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre coach Sal Rende. Later, “Lieby” donned catching gear and spent time catching bullets from a pitching machine. The guy’s caught 1,079 games and he’s still polishing his skills.
Rusty Kennedy / AP