[This post was submitted by loyal Nation member Brian Van Hook who attended a Spring Training game in Arizona last week. Thanks, Brian!]

A Few Hours in Goodyear

I’ve always wanted to hit spring training, and I finally got my chance. I made the 4-plus hour drive over from Southern California to Goodyear on Sunday and spent a few hours around the practice facility on Monday morning, and then went to the Reds-Padres game a few hours later.

At the practice fields:

One of the highlights for me was watching Barry Larkin work with some players – I didn’t recognize them – on adjusting their footwork as the ground balls came their way, so they were already set to make the throw to first. I found it odd that he said at one point something like he “knew this wasn’t what they were used to hearing” from coaches, so I’m kinda curious what the difference was! And he said he would be checking on them to see how they were doing later on. A few days later in camp? Maybe later in the season?

As that drill broke up, I said hello to Larkin and told him how much I loved watching him play and how much that ’90 team meant to me, and he said he really doesn’t mind hearing that, despite how often he hears it. He also asked me if I recognized the guy who was helping him during the drill, and I kinda sheepishly told him I didn’t. It was Gookie Dawkins, and then he was teasing Gookie about being an OK guy, except that he was from South Carolina.

My funny story from the practice field: To get to the tiny field where Larkin and his guys were practicing, I had to walk around the outfield fence of one of two fields that were being used for batting practice. (I was the only “fan” out there, it was away from where the few dozen fans were: between the two fields, watching batting practice and waiting for autographs.) Before I got to where Larkin was, a ball came flying over the right-field fence, and with dreams of making up a good story about how I caught a stinging foul ball or a home run at that day’s game, I walked the 30 yards or so to where it finally stopped rolling. Then I went back to the outfield fence and asked a guy named Stefanski (he’s listed as the catching coach) who was shagging flies, who the player was who hit that ball. Thought maybe I’d get it autographed! … Stefanski told me the guy that hit it was (drum roll, please!) JASON MARQUIS.

About the game:

–Snarkiness first: Brandon Phillips, batting leadoff, nonetheless came up twice with two runners on base, both times with two out. He popped out to the catcher, and struck out. And he says he is an RBI man!

–Joey Votto looked good to me. He hit three balls very well, but had only a single and a hard-hit sacrifice fly to show for it. The pitching pattern to Votto seemed to be, try to get ahead with off-speed, then come in hard on him. That’s how they struck him out in the first inning. The pattern seemed similar in the 7 th, when he struck out. … A side note that if Marty was calling the game, he must have had a fit in what would have been Votto’s third plate appearance. Votto took a pitch that might well have been called a strike three, it was so close, but was called a ball. But then he blistered a line drive that the second baseman snagged.

— Jay Bruce looks really bad. He whiffed once and barely made contact a few other times on weak grounders. My concern deepens.

–Billy Hamilton, moved to seventh in the order, looked overmatched against Ian Kennedy. The Padres were playing him in so tight, daring him to hit it past them. He still tried to bunt twice. He popped one up to the catcher, then he bunted one that the third baseman had to rush to play, and threw it down the right-field line. I’ve said before that I wonder how long the Reds will let him struggle if he begins the year like he finished last year.

–I’d platoon Marlon Byrd and Brennan Boesch.

–Todd Frazier hit the ball hard all day long, too. A single, double and a hard out.

–And what would a Reds’ game be without a TOOTBLAN? Skip Schumaker drove in a run with a single, then went too far around first base and got nailed. He must have thought a runner on first was going to go to third instead of stopping at second as the throw from the outfield came to the plate, but geez. (One guy sitting behind me wisecracked that Schu “acts like he’s never driven in a run before.”)

–I don’t know what to make of Anthony DeSclafini. The second time through the Padres’ order, the pitches looked like meatballs.

—Oh, by the way, if there’s any “tension” between BP and Joey, it didn’t show on the field. After Phillips struck out with runners on second and third to end an inning, it was Votto who brought out his hat and glove, and they seemed to be yukking it up a bit…. And when Votto laid back to field a bouncing ball, he and BP seemed to be joking after the play was over, since Phillips had ventured over to field the ball if needed.