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TUESDAY MARCH 15, 2005

Mesa and Phoenix, AZ – The excitement hit full stride as we enjoyed our first two-camp day of the trip. On the agenda were games at Hohokam Park in Mesa, where the Cubs were hosting the Royals, and in Phoenix, where the Rangers were visiting the Brewers.

The slugging Chicago lineup did not disappoint. Nomar Garciaparra, Derrick Lee, Todd Walker, and Jeromy Burnitz beat up Royals pitching to carry the team to a 6-1 victory.

We almost saw an exciting and rare play as Garciaparra was running on a hit to the left field gap. The runner in front of him was holding to see if there would be a play on the ball. As we turned toward the plate to see the throw coming in, we saw the lead runner heading home, with Nomar no more than 2 steps behind him. He had the presence of mind, however, to hold up and return to third. Good thing, too. His teammate was dead-to-rights at the plate. Seeing the catcher tag out successive runners in the space of a few seconds would have been pretty exciting.

As we were leaving the park, I noticed some guy throwing orange traffic cones into a tree. The mystery was solved when I also saw yet another California surfer-dude, this one standing under said tree wearing only one shoe and looking up into the branches at the other.

The Brewers facility immediately became one of our favorites here in Arizona. Perkins correctly observed that it has much in common with the Astros’ Osceola County Stadium in Kissimme, FL. Both parks are located near lots of development, but upon turning into the complex, it is immediately as though you are in the middle of nowhere. The below-ground-level field is the most intimate setting we have seen out here to date.

The Rangers had already scored a run and were leading 1-0 when we got to our excellent seats behind the plate. I do not know if it was the fact that it was the Brewers, or the fact that it was only 50 degrees, but I think our presence doubled the game’s attendance.

Seated behind us was the wife of Brewer’s relief pitcher Nick Slack, a Double-A closer who is slated to get a shot at the AAA team this season (he posted an impressive 71-19 strikeout to walk ratio last year in just under 60 IP in A ball). She said her husband was going to pitch during the game, but unfortunately he never made an appearance. She seemed none too happy about sitting out in the cold for nothing! Or maybe it was just because she ended up sitting with us.

During the middle innings, the Lizard and I had the privilege of visiting with Dallas sports radio personality Mike Rhyner for several minutes.  While we were reviewing the finer points of spring training, maligning the cool temperatures, and discussing the Ranger roster, we had what is probably the greatest moment of the trip, as former Rangers and current Brewers GM Doug Melvin joined us. Actually, I am pretty sure he just wanted to talk to Ryner, but he obliged us with several of his thoughts.

After the two friends caught up with one another, the baseball talk
began. Melvin asked Rhyner if he was tired of covering the steroid
controversy yet, to which the disgusted broadcaster rolled his eyes and ranted on about the non-story. Melvin’s comments were interesting, though.

“We knew back in those days [mid-to-late nineties] that players were bulking up a lot with weight lifting, and maybe some of them were putting something over on us with steroids. But you’re hearing about things now that we didn’t even know existed,” Melvin said. “After all,” he asked me, “did you ever know there was a steroid that came in a cream?

“People want to talk about statistical aberrations, ‘Brady Anderson hit 50 homers in one season and never got close any other time,’ they say.  But they forget George Foster did the same thing twenty years earlier.  Players having seasons that are out of line with the rest of their careers happens. It doesn’t prove anything.”

Melvin also beamed about his starting 1-2 pitching punch of Ben Sheets and Doug Davis, the latter a Rangers castoff. “Did you know Sheets and Davis had more quality starts last season than any other pitching duo in the Majors?”

And while the “quality start” stat is certainly overrated, no one can
argue with the success of the duo. Davis has pitched 259 innings for the Brewers since signing a minor league deal in July 2003, posting a fantastic 2.81 ERA.

I am sure it gives Melvin a lot of pleasure to see the young players he brought into the Rangers organization that have become solid big league talent. I am also sure that particular enjoyment doesn’t compare to the elation of taking players the Rangers have dropped, like Davis, and seeing them go on to stardom.

Melvin is a great baseball guy, a very good GM, and someone the Rangers fans miss tremendously. After all, would you anticipate seeing John Hart sitting out in the 50-degree weather among the fans behind home plate at a spring training game, quietly sipping his coffee?

Other Spring Training Notes:

Detroit – The Tigers released CF Alex Sanchez, favoring hustling
youngster Curtis Ganderson instead. No doubt some team will give Sanchez a contract, but let the buyer beware. Jumping at his .322 batting average and league-leading 29 bunt singles from 2004 will also get you a paltry 7 walks (an abhorrent .335 OBP), a pitiful 19 for 32 steal rate, and defense that will cost your club wins.

Seattle – Fun with names: Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is back in camp after missing a few days for the birth of his son, Moo-Bin Choo. I am pretty sure I was served some Moo-Bin Choo at a Chinese buffet recently, but I can’t be sure.

Kansas City – Potential trade suitors beware: Mike Sweeny has missed five consecutive games with a “strained side.” Sweeny has not reached 500 ABs in any of the last three seasons, a time frame over which his OBP has dropped by 70 points.

Texas – The Rangers added Greg Colbrunn to the 40-man roster, as stipulated by his contract. Here’s hoping his platoon with David Dellucci at DH is successful, as the Mike Sweeny name continues to float around camp (see above).

Chicago (NL) – Aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood both are missing significant time with various injuries. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild says Prior’s elbow problem may be an annual event. “The way he extends his curveball and pushes himself with the hitters, he may go through this every year.”

San Francisco – The Giants insist Barry Bonds will be ready for Opening Day, but the slugger has yet to play in a spring game.

--Joshua V. Best
THE FOURTH ANNUAL "OUT OF BOUNDS" SPRING TRAINING JUNKET -- ARIZONA 2005
HoHoKam Park (outside-above, inside-2 below), a popular spring destination in the Arizona Cactus League.
Chan Ho Park pitched well on this day, and went on to be the Rangers pitcher of the month in April.
Shoe in the tree incident, documented for posterity. (above)

Outside HoHoKam Park (Below L to R Kenny "The Lizard" Lattin, Joshua V. Best, and Dan "Blue" Wilson).
Nighttime pictures didn't turn out very well this year, but I did manage to get these two shots of the Brewers facility.  On the right, Hank Blalock takes his cuts.
Nomar Garciaparra smacks a hit for the Cubbies (above).

As is common in spring facilities, the Cubs pay tribute to various team legends (below), in this case broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray, and players Ron Santo, Gabby Hartnett, and "The Hawk," Andre Dawson.
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