Posts Tagged With: spring training

Derek Jeter’s last hurrah

Major League Baseball is losing one of the best players to ever play the game this season in Derek Jeter.  Jeter, who is set to begin his 19th season in pinstripes, announced this offseason that this would indeed be his final year in baseball.  During his time, the New York Yankees have won five World Series Championships.  He is looked at as one of the best shortstops of all-time, and arguably one of, if not, the best Yankee of all-time.  Derek Jeter’s first game came on May 29th, 1995 which seems like forever ago.  This was before the steroid age started in baseball, and before Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record.  This was also right around when the Yankees started to dominate baseball.  From 1996-2000, the New York Yankees won four World Series Championships.  Along with being a huge contributor to those rings, Jeter is probably most respected because of his clean image.  Playing in an era where steroids was dragging the sport down with all of the athletes who used it, Jeter was never involved with biogenesis or HGH.  He was a clean player that was respected by all, yes even Red Sox fans!

As for the Chicago Cubs, things were a little bit different back in 1995.  For one thing, Chicago didn’t and still doesn’t come anywhere close to the success level that the Yankees have had.  The Cubs in 1995, just like today, were searching for their first World Series title since 1908.  The curse of the billy goat was in full force, but thankfully Steve Bartman didn’t happen yet….  The Cubs finished the 1995 MLB season with a record of 73-71 which was good for a third place finish in the NL Central.  Two very familiar players who played for the Cubs during this season were Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez.  On May 29th, 1995 the Cubs were playing a home game at Wrigley Field against the Atlanta Braves and they lost by a score of 2-1.

— Nick Konotopskyj  

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Inter-squad Competition

As any baseball fan knows, the starting pitcher cannot always do it all himself. While Julio Teheran will open the 2014 season for the Atlanta Braves, the last spot in the rotation is still empty.

According to Braves reporter Mark Bowman, Gus Schlosser and David Hale both look good and will be provided equal opportunity to make their way into the rotation.

“Whichever of the two doesn’t gain a rotation spot will be placed in the bullpen,” says Bowman.

Hale’s advantage comes with the two starts he made for Atlanta last September. He has not stopped there, though. He has maintained a 6.62 ERA in his five starts during spring training.

On the other hand, Schlosser’s 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings has caught the attention of many Braves fans this spring.

As of now, the competition is between the two right-handers, but who knows what could happen; baseball is just getting started.

Caitlin McClare

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Miami Marlins Update

So far, the Marlins haven’t been doing half bad in the Grapefruit League.  With a no-hitter against the Yankees by a combination of pitches by Brad Hand, Steve Cishek, AJ Ramos, and Arquimedes Camineros, the Marlins are beginning to resurrect themselves from last years brutal, “near death” season. Right now, the Marlins even have the lowest team ERA in spring training.

Marlins Relief Pitcher Steve Cishek Photo By: NBC Sports

Marlins Relief Pitcher Steve Cishek
Photo By: NBC Sports

Along with the no-hitter, many of the Marlins are thriving during spring training. The biggest surprise so far has come from right-handed pitcher, Tom Koehler.  He is three years older than lefty pitcher Brad Hand, who has also caught some attention, but Koehler has been unexpectedly impressive.

Right Handed Pitcher Tom Koehler Photo by: Miami Herald

Right Handed Pitcher Tom Koehler
Photo by: Miami Herald

He has only allowed one run and seven hits over 12 spring training innings, and he has had 11 strikeouts. Needless to say, Koehler will be one to watch during the season.

Another surprise has come in the form of veteran Reed Johnson. This 37-year old might be a bit more mature than most of the Marlins players, but he is holding his own amongst the fresh faced prospects.

He is batting .438 after getting five hits against the Mets two weeks ago.  Johnson will most likely be used as a pinch-hitter for the Marlins if he makes the club.

Reed Johnson is still competing at 37! Photo by: Trotman/Getty Images

Reed Johnson is still competing at 37!
Photo by: Trotman/Getty Images

We’re keeping our eyes open and are seeing some promise for this season. Let’s hope the Marlins are heading for a revival. Just keep swimming Marlins!!


Sam Arena

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Delaying the Future: Polanco Packs for Indianapolis

Pittsburgh fans will have to wait a few months to see the promising young slugger Gregory Polanco make his regular season debut with the Pirates. The 22-year-old was sent down to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians on Friday, March 14, after what describes as a “brief and impressive” spring training.

The Dominican-born outfielder certainly made the most of his limelight, going 6-for-22 with two doubles and a home run in just 10 Grapefruit League games. So, why is it that his time in the MLB is being pushed back already?

Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco waits his turn to hit against live pitching during the team's baseball spring training workout in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco waits his turn to hit against live pitching during the team’s baseball spring training workout in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

“Our job is to put him in position to thrive, not just survive,” Bucs General Manager Neal Huntington told‘s Tom Singer. “We’re excited by where we believe he can go and how quickly we can get him there to help us win Major League games as quick as possible.”

The Pirates administration expects that Polanco will make his grand entrance to “The Show” about halfway through the season. Their strategy is similar to what they did with center-fielder Andrew McCutchen and fellow Dominican outfielder Starling Marte. McCutchen played in over 500 Minor League games before his call-up, while Marte played in 431 before his. Both players impressed their coaches during their first spring, but were optioned to the Minors for further development. Marte used his experience to assure Polanco that his time will come.

“He said he went through the same thing and told me, ‘Keep playing. Keep doing what you’re doing, and see what happens,'” Polanco said. “I know I’m young. I’ll have to wait until they call me up.”

So far in his career, Polanco has played in 410 Minor League games, but has only made nine plate appearances as a Triple-A ballplayer. Building on these statistics is only the start of his development process, and Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle is confident that it’s the right move for Polanco’s career.

“Every time he steps into the box, there’s going to be a pitcher thinking, ‘That’s a springboard to the big leagues’… he’s hungry to go. We want him, when he gets back, for it to be for good.”

-Vinnie Bellardini

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Starlin Castro out seven-10 days

USA Today photo

Chicago Cubs starting shortstop Starlin Castro is out seven to 10 days with a right hamstring strain.  It is a minor strain which shouldn’t keep him sidelined for the start of the regular season.

Castro had a very similar injury around this time last year, the only difference being this time it won’t keep him out as long.  Castro had to be carried off the field last year when he was hurt and it was an injury that didn’t fully heal until the end of spring training.

This time around, he is expected to make a full recovery in about a week and get back onto the field before the end of spring training.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said in an interview regarding the injury, “It’s seven to 10 days, and we’re just being cautious with him.”

Since Starlin Castro is one of the most important players on this team, it only makes sense that the Cubs medical staff waits until he is fully ready to come back.   The injury occurred in the first inning on Sunday after he tried to steal second base.  Current second baseman Darwin Barney and prospect Javier Baez will get more starts in place of Castro while he is sidelined.

~Nick Konotopskyj

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Pittsburgh Pirates Outlook

PittsburghPirates8 photo

Prior to last October, the Pittsburgh Pirates had not played a single playoff game since 1992. The 20-year stint made losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS an occasion well worth celebrating. Now, the organization is doing everything it can to build off its success and delete the word “fluke” from its critics’ vocabulary.

 On the surface, the Pirates appear to have had a quiet offseason. They lost more players than they acquired, including particularly notable departures in first baseman Justin Morneau, right fielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, catcher John Buck, catcher Michael McKenry, and most recently, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. Still, there is nothing but optimism in the “Steel City,” and the Bucs look forward to 2014 as a year of proving their resilient determination to remain a serious playoff contender.

It would be nothing short of naive to look at the lengthy list of departing players and conclude that the team’s success will be out the door with them. Instead, one should look at what Pittsburgh is left with to make a better judgment of where it’s headed. photo

The team’s pride and joy, center fielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, enters only the third year of his six-year contract. He led the team in nearly every statistical category last season and his leadership was a big reason for its success. Another strength early on is the depth of Pittsburgh’s pitching staff– particularly its starters. The team acquired right-hander Edinson Volquez during the offseason, who has yet to post superb numbers since his breakout season in 2008. Still, he has put in some quality starts over the past few years, and he’ll grow being around the cumulative experience of Gerrit Cole, Jason Grilli and Francisco Liriano—who has already been named the Pirates’ starter on Opening Day in April.

As for Pittsburgh’s starting lineup, with the exceptions of Morneau and a 36-year-old Byrd, it won’t look much different than it did last year. Starling Marte will begin the season in left field and continue leading off as the Pirates 1-hitter. Following him will be Clint Barmes, sharing time at shortstop with teammate Jordy Mercer—who’s only played in 145 games as a big leaguer. Superstar McCutchen will hit third and set up the clean-up hitter and third-baseman, Pedro Alvarez, who looks to build off the 36 homers and 100 RBI’s he posted last season. Second baseman Neil Walker will bat fifth, preceding Pittsburgh’s incredible value of a catcher in Russell Martin. Gaby Sanchez will bat seventh and try to fill in the Pirates’ inexperienced gap at first base. Hitting eighth will be right fielder Jose Tabata, and whoever happens to be pitching will wrap up the order—as is National League tradition. Obviously a 162-game season will bring about some variety, but the core foundation will be there barring any injuries. photo

Though the lineup lacks any obvious punch, other than McCutchen, it still has the remains of last year’s success to drive it towards more this year. The Bucs finished last season 14th in home runs, 20th in runs scored and 22nd in batting average. Yet, the team still managed to forge themselves into the playoffs, where they took a very good team to five games before having to ship back to Pittsburgh. Even if nothing changes statistically, the Pirates have shown that they have heart. They’re mostly a young team, with an average age of 27 and a couple baby-faces coming up. This translates to the Pirate’s resiliency, which will be crucial in late games this season if they plan on playing ball in October.

-Vinnie Bellardini

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Bradenton, Fla. (Pirates)

Bucs photo


Bradenton, Fla. is the place. Pittsburgh Pirates is the team. Baseball is the game. Need it be any more complicated than that?

McKechnie Field, named after Pittsburgh native and former Bradenton resident and Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, will host the Bucs in their second spring training since its significant renovation last year. Fans and visitors can look forward to a 19,000 square foot boardwalk that offers both an incredible walk around the outfield and an all-you-can-eat picnic at the Boardwalk Barbecue Area. Additional dining can be found across the ballpark at the Left Field Party Deck, and it’s top-notch menu is certainly no downgrade.

Pittsburgh has held its spring training in 16 different sites since 1900, but the 2013 upgrades that followed those made in 2006 and the early 1990s suggest that McKechnie Field will house the Pirates for years to come. After all, it attracted an attendance in its final game last spring that shattered the records of any before it. The one flaw in the facility is the lack of an official parking lot, making it the only field in the Grapefruit League with this issue. Still, enough friendly business and homeowners– and an advantageous grassy field just outside the centerfield fence– have prevented the absent lot from causing any chaos.

The stadium’s upgrades also provide fans with improvements in field visibility, expanded restroom facilities, new concession locations and an enlarged Fan Plaza. The enormous palm trees that now surround the stadium perfect the tropical look that makes spring training so magical. Since the Pirate ship landed in Bradenton in 1969, McKechnie Field has built itself up to be one of the finest facilities in all of baseball.

Beyond the walls of the stadium, Bradenton is an industrial town that makes its age very obvious to the naked eye. Only some of the buildings have been modernized, with the others maintaining the early 1900s look that’s especially concentrated in the Manatee Village Historical Park just a few miles from McKechnie Field.   There are several hotels and even more restaurants for residents and Pittsburgh roadies to choose from. A few museums and state parks provide additional potential for something to do. However, as puts it, “the only reason to be in this part of town is the ballgame.”

As for the players, the convenient location on the coast of a peninsula puts them right on the beach. South Florida is an ideal place to relax and soak up some sun. When they’re not on the field, the players can plant their butts in a chair next to the ocean and breathe the non-Pittsburghian (clean) air.  I’m sure they do it a bit more luxurious, though. Yachts, beach house parties, expensive meals– am I rambling?

Regardless of what they do in their leisure, there’s no doubt the Pirates will be ready for baseball come February 26. Aye-aye Bucs!


Vinnie Bellardini

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Wishing For The Worst

Ian Kinsler isn’t too happy these days.  After being traded to the Detroit Tigers, Kinsler wishes the worst on the Texas Ragers.  Kinsler is quoted in ESPN The Magazine “I hope they go 0-162, I got friends, and I love my friends, but I hope they lose their ass.”

According to the Freep Tigers twitter account Kinsler wasn’t pleased with the story.  “I’m not happy about it. The story was written for drama and taken a little out of context. But it is what it is.” he told ESPN.  Kinsler did not hear about the story until several hours on after because he was on flight. “It’s a matter of telling a joke, to be honest with you.” Kinlser will have to defend his world when the Tigers take on the Rangers in a four game series opening on May 22.

– Nicole Assimon



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