March 2013

Spring Training 2013: Final Wrap-Up

So like I expected, my yearly spring training trip flew by! I was able to catch up with many former ValleyCats, current Astros and my friends within the front office. They treated me extremely well and it is much appreciated. A big thank you to Allen Rowin, Jay Edmiston, Pete Putila, Steve Grande, Paulie Burgess and the rest of the Astros staff for dealing with me these past six days.

Following the storms on Sunday, a cold front moved through the Orlando area and brought with it very windy and cool conditions (my inner meteorlogist at work again!), as evidence by Jorge De Leon all bundled up.

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On Monday the Astros were hosting the Washington Nationals in a night game, a rare occurrence during spring training. Before the game I was able to catch up with Bud Norris and Brandon Barnes, two former ‘Cats looking to make an impact with the big league club this upcoming season. Norris has been named the Astros number one starter, and Barnes just found out that he has made the team. I’ll be posting my interviews with both of them before the end of the week. Bud is excited to get the nod in the Astros home opener, a nationally televised game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball to open the Major League season. Barnes attributed his success to hard work, resilience and his faith.

ValleyCats fans should know that Bud is a huge ‘Cats fan, and even went so far as to call them “my ValleyCats!”. So be proud when you all watch him throw the biggest game of his short career, and remember that he began his professional career at “The Joe!”

For Bud’s final tune-up, he threw in a minor league game on Tuesday. Jason Castro caught him during the outing. Norris gave up some hits and a couple of runs, but you can’t read much into it. I’m sure he wasn’t throwing at 100%, as he wants to save his stuff for when it really matters.

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Right after Norris threw, 2012 ‘Cats pitcher Brady Rodgers took the hill with ’12 teammate M.P. Cokinos behind the plate.

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On the other field, Erik Bedard was getting his work in. Bedard has just been named the Astros number five starter.

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I mentioned the weather became much cooler, and by that I mean MUCH cooler. It was actually downright freezing! Wind gusts of 50mph and temps in the 50’s created tough playing conditions, and viewing conditions.

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Astros Manager Bo Porter and Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken watch Bud Norris make his final tune-up before Opening Night.

The Astros are traveling to Tampa to face the Yankees in another night game on Tuesday, so Porter was one of many from the big league club who stopped over to watch the minor league action.

Former 'Cats, David Martinez and Jose Altuve.

Former ‘Cats, David Martinez and Jose Altuve.

As my trip wraps up and I prepare to head home to get ready for the ValleyCats 2013 season, let me leave you with a few more photos from my last day, some great photos of your former ValleyCats!

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Catfish Elkins

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Carlos Correa

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Jason Castro

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Joel Chimelis instructing Carlos Correa

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Dan Gulbransen, M.P. Cokinos and Catfish Elkins.

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Mark Bailey, Morgan Ensberg and Tony DeFrancesco.

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Gulbransen, Cokinos, Elkins

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Joel Chimelis and Justin Gominsky.

Spring Training 2013: Day 4 Rainy Recap

I can now say that I’ve witnessed the severity of tropical Florida storms. All over the Orlando area on Sunday received severe storms, tornado warnings, heavy winds and a good amount of rain. It had been overcast most of the morning, with a few breaks of sunshine during the early afternoon before giving away to torrential downpours and tropical force winds and rain (my inner meteorlogist at work).

The major league game ended up being called in the fifth inning, an official game with the Astros on top 4-1. The winning pitcher? None other than 2010 Tri-City ValleyCat David Martinez. He was making his first start ever for the major league squad during spring training. Martinez had made one relief appearance earlier this spring. He gave up one earned run on eight hits over four innings of work. Most importantly, he didn’t walk a batter and struck out Justin Ruggiano and Nick Green.

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Since it was a camp day for the minor leaguers, they finished early enough for many of them to catch Martinez’ start. That list included good friends and former ‘Cats Carlos Quevedo and Juri Perez.

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The Astros were hosting the Miami Marlins, and it was nice to see their new hitting coach, “Bam-Tino” Martinez. I grew up a huge New York Yankees fan and Tino was one of the biggest stars during their incredible run between 1996-2000.

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Meanwhile, the minor league camp day featured an interesting storyline in Jordan Lyles.  He started during one of the intersquad scrimmage games and an intriguing matchup came versus Carlos Correa. He looped a ball into left center during his first at-bat and hit a triple down the right field line during his second. I can see how Correa was a number one pick, as he just looks like a big leaguer. Although it does help that he can really smack the ball and play great defense.

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Following the short scrimmage games, I was able to snap a great photo of five ValleyCats from the historic 2012 season:

(Lance Day, Brady Rodgers, Travis Ballew, Catfish Elkins and Joe Bircher)

(Lance Day, Brady Rodgers, Travis Ballew, Catfish Elkins and Joe Bircher)

The full day in photos is below. I will try and post parts of my interviews with Stubby Clapp, Jesse Wierzbicki, Andrew Aplin & Catfish Elkins before I leave on Tuesday.

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Jordan Lyles on the bump

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Non-starters watching all the action, along with ValleyCats 2013 pitching coach Doug White.

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‘Cats 2013 hitting coach Russ Steinhorn, and manager Ed Romero also catching the game action.

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Marlins manager Mike Redmond speaks with the media.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond speaks with the media.

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Tino Martinez, the new Marlins hitting coach.

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Houston Astros mascot, Orbit poses with a Braves fan.

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Spring Training 2013: Day 3

With the big league club on the road in Disney, it gave me a chance to spend time roaming the backfields of Osceola County Park. The Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi clubs were hosting the Tigers affiliates. I should point out that the only teams the Astros minor leaguers scrimmage are the Tigers, Nationals or Braves (The three closest spring homes to Kissimmee).

Pitchers that threw at the complex today included Jorge De Leon, Jonas Dufek, Carlos Quevedo and Jake Buchanan. Also in action was George Springer, Jake Goebbert, Austin Wates, Ben Orloff, Enrique “Kike” Hernandez, Erik Castro, Mike Kvasnicka, Drew Muren, Tyler Heineman, Chris Epps, Rafael Valenzuela and Andrew Aplin.

I mentioned yesterday the fact that walking through the halls of the minor league clubhouse, I’m constantly saying hello to dozens of old familiar faces. Something that’s hard to miss are the new motivational wall decorations. The major league clubhouse features these same signs.

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Today I was able to catch up with Murilo Gouvea to talk about what it was like growing up in Brazil, playing for his country in the World Baseball Classic, and his success last season at Lexington. I also spoke with Jesse Wierzbicki and Andrew Aplin about the ‘Cats memorable 2012 season and more. I’ll be posting those interviews upon my return north.

One thing that I’ve learned over these past two days is that Carlos Correa and George Springer are very entertaining individuals with outgoing personalities. For example, while I was watching the first four minutes of the UAlbany/Duke game during lunch, he asked who I liked, then how to pronounce “Albany” and he immediately said “Go Duke!” He later asked me what the final score was and said he doesn’t really pay attention to college basketball, but just wanted to root for the opposite team.

Then while walking through the clubhouse, I was trying to move out of the way for a group of players to pass by, but Springer kept pushing me into the wall as if I wouldn’t budge. I’ve also noticed that they are always joking around with their teammates. It’s attitudes like that, that get these guys through the grind of spring training. At this point, they are all ready to begin the season.

How many times have you been to a baseball game and seen batted balls come close to hitting the lights? You’ve probably never witnessed it actually happen, but it did today. A foul ball hit a light bulb on the top of the light tower, sending a loud popping noise throughout the complex and glass falling onto the field of play. Play was halted while the the grounds crew made sure all the pieces had been picked up.

Tomorrow the Astros major league club will host the Miami Marlins. Giancarlo Stanton, Juan Pierre and Justin Ruggiano will be making the trip. One guy who will not is Troy native Joe Mahoney. He is out with an oblique strain.

Below are photos recapping my day in Kissimmee. Tomorrow’s post will feature bits from the Astros vs. Marlins, and camp day on the minor league side (intersquad scrimmages).

-CC

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Tyler Heineman behind the dish

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Lancaster hitting coach Darryl Robinson speaks with Drew Muren.

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Field Coordinator Paul Runge talking to Quad Cities Outfield/Baserunning Coach and two time MLB All-Star, Vince Coleman.

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Fans line the outside of the clubhouse.

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Corpus Christi catching coach/2012 ‘Cats hitting coach Mark Bailey alongside Lancaster infield coach/former Astro, Morgan Ensberg.

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Jake Buchanan on the hill.

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Carlos Quevedo and Roberto Pena.

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Andrew Aplin.

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Chris Wallace.

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Tom Lawless, Adam Everett and Mark Bailey.

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Aplin awaiting his at-bat.

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All former major leaguers: Lawless, Everett, Ensberg, Bailey.

Spring Training 2013: Day 2 Recap

Hands down the best part of spring training is seeing all of our former players. I’ve now been through three full seasons as Media Relations Manager, which means about 25 players per year for a total of around 75. Granted, many have been released (an unfortunate truth in minor league baseball), but each spring that I come to Kissimmee, it seems like I say hello and shake hands every corner I turn.

Two of them include Catfish Elkins and Dan Gulbransen, the “It’s Gatorade” dynamic duo. (See video…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLhNJOX_ccA).

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Today I spent the majority of my time over at the major league side, as the Astros were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals. Former ‘Cats pitching coach Gary Ruby and ‘Cats 2013 manager Ed Romero, were both on the bench. Ruby handled the pitching coach duties and Romero exchanged lineup cards. Meanwhile the Astros coaching staff was on the minor league side for the Class A games. (Minus Bo Porter, who did manage the major league game).

This was an idea Porter came up with in order to get the major league coaching staff more familiar with the minor leaguers. They don’t get to see much of them in action because most of the time the games are going on simultaneously.

Former ‘Cat Bud Norris was on the mound for the Astros in his last spring start before Opening Night on March 31. Norris will toe the rubber in front of a national television audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, as the Astros host the Texas Rangers to kick-off the 2013 MLB season.

Out of today’s nine starters, five were former ValleyCats. Norris on the mound, Castro catching, Altuve at second base, Barnes in left and J.D. Martinez in right. It’s great to see!

Below is my day in photographs. I must mention that longtime ValleyCats usher and valued employee Dan Carubia, spent the day with me at the complex and it was a pleasure to show him around. He is also a very talented photographer and took many great photos during the day. I will post them as soon as I’m able to.

Here’s Dan taking some photos during the major league game:

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Below is my day in photos. Stay tuned for the next recap tomorrow night!

-CC

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Bud Norris warms up with Jason Castro

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Manager Bo Porter speaks with the position players following the half inning.

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Jose Altuve

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Lance Day throwing to Cristian Moronta on the minor league side.

A Day in Dunedin

ValleyCats Media Relations Manager Chris Chenes has arrived in Florida for his yearly spring training trip, and his first stop was the Toronto Blue Jays minor league complex in Dunedin, Florida. ‘Cats former manager Stubby Clapp is now in the Toronto system and will be the hitting coach for long season Class A, Dunedin Blue Jays. Chris recaps the day below:

Spring officially arrived on Wednesday, but the weather sure didn’t portray that. The Capital Region got hit with a “winter” storm, and depending upon where you live, some received over a foot of snow. “The Joe” was covered with about six inches:

Joe Snow

You could imagine how relieved I was to touch down in Orlando on Thursday morning. Green grass, blue sky, warm weather and spring training baseball! Arriving early made it possible for me to drive about two hours west to Dunedin. The main reason for the visit was to speak with Stubby Clapp. He led the ‘Cats to a franchise record 51 wins last season, but unfortunately fell just one game short of a championship.

Luckily for me, Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and his father Sandy were both in attendance. They serve as special assistants for the Blue Jays.

Robbie & Sandy Alomar posing for a photo with a fan.

Robbie & Sandy Alomar posing for a photo with a fan.

The Blue Jays minor leaguers have their daily workouts and scrimmage games at Englebert Complex. This is also where the Gulf Coast Blue Jays play their home games. It is located just about 10 minutes away from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the major league club holds their spring games and also where the Dunedin Blue Jays call home.

On this day, the Jays were hosting the Pirates minor leaguers. It’s very hard to see, but Stubby is in the first base coaching box below.

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A few more photos:

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Convenient location for Blue Jays staff and media to check out each game going on at the complex.

Convenient location for Blue Jays staff and media to check out each game going on at the complex.

A decent sized crowd wandered the complex.

A decent sized crowd wandered the complex.

Players charting the pitches.

Players charting the pitches.

Robbie Alomar showing a baseball that had been ripped apart during the game.

Robbie Alomar showing a baseball that had been ripped apart during the game.

I was able to speak with Stubby for about 20 minutes and will post the interview when I return to the Capital Region next week. I can tell you one thing, he enjoyed his time in Tri-City and appreciated all the fan support.

I’ll be in Kissimmee for the rest of my trip, speaking with a bunch of former ‘Cats at the Astros spring training complex. Stay tuned to Twitter for daily updates including photos, and I will also be posting another recap on Friday night. Meanwhile, try to stay warm!

-CC

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