My dad, my granddad, my grandma, and I went on a trip to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona over Spring Break. It was the 7th straight year we’ve gone to Arizona for Rangers Spring Training, and the first for my grandma. We got there on Sunday, March 11th and left on Thursday, March 15th. It was a great trip and I had a blast. This week I’ll give a recap of my trip and a report on how the players looked.
Sunday, March 11th:
On Sunday morning, my dad and I had an 8:30 AM flight from Dallas to Phoenix, causing us to wake up at around 5:00-ish, which was not fun since it was the morning we last an hour due to daylight savings. However, the flight went very smoothly, as we got upgraded to first class and there were no delays. The rental car pick-up went smoothly when we got there and the drive to Surprise was just fine, too.
Once we got to Surprise, we went straight to the backfields and saw the amazingly large crowd of people that were back there. It was larger by a good amount than any other year. When we first started attending spring training in 2006, there were usually about 10-20 fans at the backfields during workouts. This year, I heard estimates of anywhere from 1000 to 1500 fans attending the workouts every morning. The scene has definitely changed as a result of the team’s success and popularity. One positive change this year is that the Rangers moved the entrance to the backfields from the west side to the east side. This makes it a much shorter walk to get to the fields where the major leaguers practice and, more importantly, is on the same side of the complex as the stadium, so you can now walk from the backfields to the stadium after morning workouts instead of driving.
We got our first look at Yu Darvish that morning, as he spent some time throwing the ball on the side. It was interesting to see the large group of Japanese reporters who followed him wherever he went during the week.
We also met up with my granddad and grandma once we got there, as they had driven up from Dallas so that they could see Sedona and the Grand Canyon once the Spring Training part of the trip was over. This year was my grandma’s first year to come with us.
After spending an hour or so at the morning workouts, my dad and I headed on into the stadium for the Rangers game against the Indians. Derek Holland pitched in this game against Kevin Slowey for Cleveland. Holland looked very sharp on the mound, going three innings and allowing one run. Greg Reynolds also pitched well in relief, throwing two perfect innings. I can’t say the same about Joe Beimel though, and despite his not allowing a run, he looked poor, throwing 86 mph, completely straight fastballs with poor command on almost every pitch. Neal Cotts, another lefty, was also very uninspiring, throwing in the low-90s with poor command. However, Mitch Stetter, a third straight lefty, looked brilliant, with great movement and location making up for his low-80s fastball. Michael Kirkman pitched very okay in his inning of work. Hitting-wise, Luis Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte, two men fighting for the utility infield job, both played well, combining to go 3-for-5. Julio Borbon also played well at the plate, but made a base running blunder and got picked off of second. The Rangers ended up winning the game 6-1, with 3 of those runs coming in the 4th inning, an inning which seemed to go on forever. Tony Sipp was the pitcher, and he was using every possible tactic to delay throwing the ball. His at-bat vs. Solarte took so long that the on-deck hitter, Josh Hamilton, ended up sitting down on a chair next to the coaches by the end of the at-bat.
It was great being back at the Rangers stadium in Surprise, which is still one of the nicest stadiums in the Cactus League. It has open concourses and a good look and feel to it. It’s a comfortable place to watch a game. The only negative is that they need a bigger gift shop. It has two but they’re both too small to handle the large crowds the Rangers are now drawing. The weather was perfect all week. A little hot in the sun but perfect in the shade. We know the stadiums well enough that we made sure all of our seats were in the shade throughout the week when we bought tickets.
After the game ended the three of us picked up my grandma and drove over to Red Robin for dinner. We go there every year, and their burgers and fries are fantastic. After we ate, we drove to our hotel, which is on the same street as the Rangers ballpark, just a 2 to 3 minute walk away, checked in, hung out, and went to sleep.
Monday, March 12th:
I went over to the morning workouts again this morning, and I got to watch Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez each throw simulated sessions. Ramirez really struggled, having a hard time keeping the ball down, as he left almost all of his pitches up in the zone. Perez also had some trouble, as his curveball was all over the place despite him having pinpoint fastball command. As far as batting practice went, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre were by far the two most impressive hitters, while Michael Young really struggled, hitting weak grounders on almost every pitch. To get by the media this morning, Yu Darvish hid on the back of a golf cart until he got to a roped off area. Also, Josh Hamilton, as always, was really good with kids and was really, really friendly. I also got to see and talk with TR Sullivan, Evan Grant, and Jamey Newberg .
My dad, granddad, and I went to Peoria after the workouts to see the Rangers play at the Mariners, and Matt Harrison started this one. Like Holland, Matt went 3 innings and allowed 1 run, and like Holland, Matt pitched very well. The pitchers after him were Yoshinori Tateyama, who pitched well, Mark Lowe, who was okay, Joe Nathan, who had no control and allowed 3 runs in 1 inning, and Mark Hamburger, who also struggled, allowing 2 runs in 2 innings. At the plate, no one was very impressive and no one had more than one hit. However, both Nellie Cruz and David Murphy hit solo homers. The final score was Mariners 6, Rangers 4.
Peoria has a middle-of-the-road spring training stadium. It’s a nice enough place to watch a game but has closed concourses, so you can’t see the game when you get concessions or walk to the restroom.
Before the game, I got to meet Rollie Fingers, who was signing autographs for charity. For $20, you got an autographed ball, with a case for it, plus you got to pose for a picture with Rollie. He seemed like a good guy.
After the game we did the same thing we did on Sunday, we picked my grandma up and went to eat, this time at NYPD (New York Pizza Department). Like Red Robin, we go there every year. NYPD has such good pizza, and I got pepperoni and sausage. After dinner, we went back to the hotel room and I watched some Prison Break and a little of The Office before going to bed.
Tuesday, March 13th:
Tuesday morning was a pretty slow one at the Rangers backfields, and the only thing of note that I saw was a Greg Reynolds simulated session. Greg didn’t pitch too well, as despite good command of his pitches, he had almost no speed and almost no movement. He got hit pretty hard.
The Rangers played at the Indians (in Goodyear) this game, and my grandma came with us to this one (her first-ever spring training game). It was also Yu Darvish’s start. It was a very interesting atmosphere, as the fans were much more into this game than any other one, and there were Japanese advertisements in the Rangers bullpen. Darvish struggled a bit in this one, walking 4 and allowing 2 runs in 3 innings of work. He had some control issues but you could also see that he has good movement. But he wasn’t the only pitcher to struggle, as Koji Uehara came in after him and allowed 2 runs in just 1 inning, and Joe Beimel and Mike Adams both did the same thing in the 5th and 6th innings. Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Mitch Stetter, and Roman Mendez combined to throw 4 scoreless frames the rest of the way, with Ross really pitching well. Craig Gentry sprained his wrist going after a fly ball early on in the game. At the plate, Yangervis Solarte had another good game, hitting a home run. Yorvit Torrealba, Engel Beltre, and Mitch Moreland also hit well in this one. The game ended in an 8-8 tie after going 10 innings.
Goodyear is a very disappointing ballpark, as even though it is one of the newest, it is awful. It has this metal that is designed to look old and rusty, which is ugly, and has almost no shade. However, the Reds and Indians backfields are very nice.
Once we left the game, we drove straight to Outback, and then went back to our hotel. I watched the NCAA tournament first-round games and then went to sleep.
Wednesday, March 14th:
Wednesday was a very good day at the Rangers backfields, as I got to see Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland, and Scott Feldman all throw simulated sessions. Ogando and Holland both looked fantastic, each with good to great command with nasty movement, but Feldman really struggled, with poor command and not much movement. I interviewed both Jared Hoying and Robbie Ross this morning, and those interviews should be posted within the next few weeks. They’re both great guys and I appreciated their giving me their time.
After the workouts, we headed over to the Rangers ballpark to watch the Rockies at the Rangers. Feliz was the starter in this one, and went 3 innings allowing 1 run. Despite allowing 4 hits, Neftali pitched great, and really controlled his breaking stuff, which had a lot of movement. However, after Feliz came out, the pitching fell apart, with Kirkman allowing 1 run in 1 inning, Sean Green allowing 3 runs in 0.2 innings, Cotts allowing 1 run in 1.1 innings, but then finishing with 3 scoreless innings by Cody Eppley, Miguel De Los Santos, and Justin Miller. Offensively, Ian Kinsler was the only Ranger with multiple hits. Colorado won the game 6-1.
After the Rangers game, my dad, granddad, and I picked up my grandma and we all drove down to Scottsdale to see the Diamondbacks play at the Rockies (Colorado had a split-squad this day). Both teams play at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, which is the newest ballpark in the Cactus League and by far the nicest. It has great food selection, a great jumbotron, and a lot of shade. The Rockies won that game 7-4. The only disappointment was our choice of food for the evening. They had a burger bar, which made itself appear like it was a real burger place. Normally burgers from concession stands are terrible. But we were assured that these were high quality and not typical concession burgers, so we ordered some. What we got were standard ballpark burgers, pre-cooked and pre-wrapped with no flavor.
After the 6th inning we headed on back to our hotel since it was about an hour away. We all crashed almost as soon as we got back.
Thursday, March 15th:
Thursday was the last day in Phoenix for me and my dad, and my grandma and granddad were already gone to see Sedona and the Grand Canyon. This morning I interviewed Mike Adams (another great guy). I also got to watch, or should I say had to watch, Koji Uehara throw a simulated session. He left almost every pitch either down the middle or up in the zone and he got crushed.
Since we were leaving this day and Surprise is so far away from the airport, my dad and I drove down to Tempe Diablo Stadium to see the Reds at the Angels. The Angels stadium is one of the worst. It looks great from the outside but has nothing to offer from the inside. It has narrow concourses, making it incredibly congested and hard to walk, and probably has the least amount of shade of any ballpark in the Cactus League.
We got to see a tremendous pitching match-up between CJ Wilson and Johnny Cueto. I actually got to talk to CJ for a couple of minutes before the game, and as always, he was super nice. It was a very well-pitched game by both pitchers, and the two teams combined for 5 extra base hits the entire game. The Angels won the game, 3-1.
Our experience getting home was the exact opposite of when we flew to Phoenix. Going there, we had an early morning flight with no delays, we got upgraded to first class, and we got there on time. Coming back, we had a late night flight in coach (which was packed), with a two-hour long delay and we didn’t get home until after 1 AM.
Despite a bad ending, it was an amazing trip, like always. I would like to thank my dad and granddad for taking me every year, and my grandma for coming with us this time. It was a lot of fun.
Come back next week for my pre-season predictions.