Spring Training, Part I

Greetings from Kissimmee, Florida! Not only have I made my inaugural pilgrimage to Astros Spring Training, but it’s my first time going anywhere in the Grapefruit League. (I have been to the Cactus League a couple times in the past.)

The main reason for my trip was to be a part of the Astros broadcasts for a couple of games. The Astros have radio broadcasts of all their Spring Training games, which is pretty rare. The games are tough to do since there are tons of substitutions and involves keeping track of a lot of players from the Majors and Minors. Also, the road games are all commuter trips, making for some really long days.

And remember, this is all done before a 162-game season. So in order to give each member of the regular broadcast team a breather, I was invited to fill-in for a couple of games. I was very fortunate to receive the opportunity, and I was not going to pass it up.

The trip hasn’t been all about the broadcasting, as I’ve been able to do some RedHawks-related things as well. Here’s a recap of my first two days.

Day 1

You know you're in Florida when there's palm trees in front of the offices.

The scenery here is a bit different than Bricktown.

Entrance to Major League clubhouse and administrative offices.

Entrance to Major League clubhouse and administrative offices.

My first day in camp was spent mostly on the big league side getting ready for that day’s game against the Marlins. Turns out I didn’t miss much on the minor league side since the Double-A and Triple-A groups were playing road games.

During batting practice I was able to catch up with several players from last year’s team, some of whom could be back in Oklahoma City this season. I also chatted with all the members of the RedHawks coaching staff, including hitting coach Leon Roberts, who was in his usual spot at the cage.

Leon Roberts observes batting practice, as he is wont to do.

Leon Roberts observes batting practice, as he is wont to do.

Two players likely to start the season in Oklahoma City: Carlos Perez and Gregorio Petit.

Two players likely to start the season in Oklahoma City: Carlos Perez and Gregorio Petit.

The game between the Astros and Marlins featured several former RedHawks, including a couple who made stops in Bricktown several years ago. Astros starting pitcher Scott Feldman (2006, 2007) and Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2008, 2010) both suited up for the RedHawks when the team was affiliated with the Rangers.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia gets loose before the game.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia gets loose before the game.

View from the booth.

View from the booth.

The Astros fell, 7-2. The Marlins seized control of the game with three runs in the fifth inning, due in large part to a couple of Astros errors. RedHawks alumni Robbie Grossman and Marc Krauss each scored one of the team’s two runs. Josh Zeid also had a nice relief outing, striking out four straight batters at one point and drawing high praise from manager Bo Porter after the game.

Later that night I attended a BBQ hosted by Astros media relations director Gene Dias. The food was prepared by broadcast engineer Lowell Matheny, and it was all superb. Lowell’s signature fried ribs were a big hit.

Day 2

Minor league clubhouse entrance.

Minor league clubhouse entrance.

I made sure to get to Osceola County Stadium a bit earlier in order to spend some time on the minor league side. I was able to catch some of the Triple-A group’s workout. Keep in mind these are only work groups, and just because a player is in that group doesn’t necessarily mean he will be assigned to that team. The team played a game against the Braves later in the day, but since it was at the same time as the big league game, I didn’t get to see it.

Tom Lawless hits fungoes during a minor league workout.

Tom Lawless hits fungoes during a minor league workout.

After that I headed over to one of the bullpens. Most of the pitchers throwing at that time were players who are more likely ticketed for A-ball or Double-A. The highlight, though, was listening to a conversation between Astros broadcaster–and former knuckleballer–Steve Sparks chat with knuckleball pitcher Blaine Sims.

Blaine Sims and Steve Sparks talk shop.

Blaine Sims and Steve Sparks talk shop.

Sims picked up the pitch within the last year or so, and from what I understand, he’s really improved. The Astros were intrigued enough by the development of the pitch that they plucked him in the minor league phase of this past year’s Rule 5 Draft from the Braves. Sims probably won’t be in Oklahoma City this season, but he’s a guy to keep an eye on.

The Astros squared off the Cardinals, and as is the case wherever the Cardinals play, there was a throng of red in the stands. St. Louis jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning against former RedHawk Brett Oberholtzer and went on to win 5-2. Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha looked like the reigning National League Championship Series MVP that he is, keeping the Astros quiet over seven strong innings while featuring several devastating changeups.

After all the scheduled Astros pitchers threw, Ross Seaton finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. 2013 was a tough year for Seaton, which he spent mostly with the RedHawks. However, he’s gotten into a couple of Grapefruit League games this spring and has performed well. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this season.

I’ll be hitting the road Sunday as the Astros face the Cardinals again, but this time at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. I’m looking forward to seeing another stadium down in these parts. My next post will recap that day, as well as provide some closing thoughts on my time down here.

Thanks for reading.

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