A week in Winter Haven

After an 18 hour drive that started in Washington DC in a snowstorm and ended just before midnight with the car windows open, I'm in Winter Haven (well, actually Davenport, 20 miles away).

Today's game was with the Phillies. I'll be here for five more games.

The Indians won, but it took a 9th inning, bases loaded hit by Shin-Soo Choo with one out to clinch it. (I know a lot of you heard the game today, but hey...second pair of eyes and all).

I arrived at Chain-O-Lakes Field at 9:30. All six practice fields were full of activity, There are well over 200 players here, broken down into groups that change activities, lessons, and workouts every 20-30 minutes, the change is signaled with a blast of hand-held horn. The minor league players run from diamond to diamond, very much reminisent of my weeks in basic training.

Fans can wander from diamond to diamond to watch the workouts. Most of the attention is focused on the diamonds where the major leaguers train of course.  Today I watched Garko, JMike, AstroCab, and Rivas take extended batting practice. On another field I watched the pitchers practice pickoffs and holding runners (Tony Sipp had trouble focusing. Late night?)

It's fascinating to get so close to the players, getting to see what they really look like, their height and build, how athletic they are, how they relate to teammates.

The game started at 1:05. I sat on the visitor's side, box seats about even with third base, so I got to see the Phillies players up close as they warmed up. (Ryan Howard, for one.  His fame hasn't affected him. He signed autographs and chatted with the fans).

C.C. started the game for us and looked great (Howard took him deep though). C.C. looks in great shape for this early in the season. Hafner DHed. He looks a slimmer than the last time I saw him.  He sure doesn't look like your typical slugger.  Victor had a home run today and threw out a runner. I wouldn't be surprised if he throws out significantly more runners this year.  Victor has pride and his pride got hurt last season.

Michael Aubrey played first and looked solid. He had to go high for a bad throw from Jhonny and not only grabbed the ball but came down on the bag to get the runner by just inches.  He went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.  If he can stay healthy all year he's going to make Garko nervous.  Early in the game he hit a loud foul into the Phillie's dugout.  It hit a water pipe which broke, immediately creating a huge geyser in the dugout that drenched  everyone and sent a stream of water onto the field. Actually, with the hot sun and the temperature in the 80s no one was complaining.

Jhonny played most of the game.  He looked okay but did launch a high throw to first. He stole a base however. I had my first look at Barfield and was impressed. He did everything right today. He plays with confidence and even a little flair.  Brad Snyder played RF. He looked overmatched at the plate.  Mike Rouse played 3B and looked good. He went high in the air to rob Chris Coste of a sure double.  He got a nice round of applause for that.

Jason Davis pitched a couple of innings. He was ineffective.  Sikorski pitched two innings and looked solid. I like him.

Rafael Perez followed and allowed three runs in the 8th, letting the Phillies to take the lead. He looked uncomfortable right from the first pitch.

At the end of 8, the Phils led, 6-5.  In the top of the inning they managed to get a few guys on base.  Hoping to extend their lead, up came Karim Garcia who promptly ended the rally. In the bottom of the inning, Charley Manuel sent in our old friend Big Jim Ed Warden, with his new side-arm delivery, to protect the lead.  Wedge tried to make it easy for him by sending up Luna, Hodges, Max Ramirez, and Cabrerra.  Despite the help, Warden soon found himself with just one out and the bases loaded.  Wedge decided he had done Jim Ed enough favors for the day and let Shin-Soo bat for himself. BL Chew promptly slapped a solid liner between the left and center fielders and the crowd rose as one.

Damn, it's good to have baseball back again!

This is a bit long winded. Sorry.

If anyone is interested, I'm posting pictures on the Internet at

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