Sting training: Buzz about Oliver, Rockies

Originally Published: April 2, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

MORE SPRING FEVER

And now Spring Fever recaps the highlights, the lowlights and the nonstop chucklefest that makes spring training the lovable phenomenon it is.

BEELINE OF THE SPRING

It was the kind of game that only B.B. King, Bea Arthur and Clair Bee could have loved.

A game called on account of bees? Only in spring training.

It happened March 24 in Tucson, when a swarm of bees – apparently tired of watching the Rockies play the Diamondbacks – decided to attack Colorado pitcher Darren Oliver's alluring hair gel in the fifth inning and wouldn't give it up.

So the game actually had to be stopped. Which means, among other things, that the insect lineup was able to knock Oliver out of this game before the Diamondbacks' lineup.

And seeing as how those bees have been assembled for a much lower payroll, we all might have missed the biggest story of the day. But what the heck. You can't blame anyone for buzzing about that bee attack.

Oliver told the Denver Post's Troy Renck afterward: "Maybe I can do a National Geographic special on this." But instead, he settled for a 5:30 a.m. Today Show guest shot, in which he was ragged relentlessly by Matt Lauer and finally said: "I might have to go bald next time."

We know there's a lot of confusion outside Arizona about what really happened here. So we've called in Spring Fever's chief Arizona investigator, Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly, to provide the real story.

Luckily, the Brewers played a game in the same ballpark the next day. So Donnelly reports that he grilled the security guards until they cracked.

"You know, it wasn't like those bees went after everybody," Donnelly told Spring Fever. "They didn't go after Bob Melvin. They didn't go after Craig Counsell. They just went after certain people. They were targeted."

Targeted? Whoa. That sounds ominous. How can that be true?

"Well, let me ask you this," Donnelly snapped. "Was Darren Oliver on the big-league roster? No, right? Well, there ya go. Obviously, somebody turned those bees loose. They didn't just fly over that field and say, 'Hey, there's a big mound down there – and there's a guy on that mound whose head would be a good place for a hive.' "

In other words, the other Rockies competing for that fifth starter's job are prime suspects. You heard it here first.

Donnelly – who also reports, informatively, that he once caught Buzz Capra in a college league – says there is one other reason those bees are often buzzing around Hi Corbett Field.

"You know, there are a lot of women in that area who have that beehive hairstyle," Donnelly said. "In fact, I saw one there the next day, and I said, 'Lady, you're asking for it.' "

But those Brewers didn't have any interest in asking for it. So before they played there, they took emergency precautions.

"The rule was: No hair gel," Donnelly announced. "And if you had wavy hair, you had to get a buzz cut – so you could avoid the buzz."

Well, it worked, for the most part – although sweet-swinging prospect Ricky Weeks did get stung during batting practice. But Donnelly says local authorities have assured him they are prepared to take aggressive action to ensure that no future games are ever called on account of bees.

"Anybody with coconut oil, they'll be charged with aiding and abetting bees," Donnelly reported. "And if you've got a beehive hairdo – bam, put the cuffs on 'em."

HORSE SENSE OF THE SPRING

We all know Lou Piniella has a track record. But we didn't know he'd apply it to fill the Devil Rays' center-field vacancy this spring.

A couple of days after the Tigers released outfielder Alex Sanchez, Piniella asked a writer from Detroit why the team had chosen to axe its everyday leadoff man.

The writer then described Sanchez's inability to max out his talents – by comparing him to a race horse that didn't want to get into the starting gate.

"Well," Piniella quipped, with that horse sense he's famous for, "I'd rather have a horse that doesn't want to get into the starting gate than a horse that doesn't belong in the race."

Sure enough, a few days later, the Devil Rays allowed Alex Sanchez to join their race, by signing him to a one-year contract. So Piniella is hereby banned by Spring Fever from saying, at any point this season, that he didn't win because he didn't have the horses.

RUMBLER-BUMBLER-STUMBLER OF THE SPRING

One thing the Twins know about their favorite catcher-first baseman-DH-comedian, Matthew LeCroy, is that life will never be dull when he's around.

TRIPLET OF THE SPRING
It isn't easy to hit into a triple play. So think how tough it is to hit into TWO triple plays in 6 months.

Todd Pratt
Pratt

But Phillies catcher Todd Pratt proved just what a triple threat he was this spring -- by lining into a triple play against the Red Sox, a mere 199 days after he'd grounded into another one, against the Astros last Aug. 19.

We've heard of guys finding their niche, but this is ridiculous.

Asked what he thought as he watched trifecta No. 2 unfold, Pratt told Spring Fever: "Only me. Two times in six months."

And how many times had Pratt hit into a triple play in the 1.8 billion other times he'd gone to the plate in his life? "None," he said. Of course.

Pratt's teammates, naturally, have been very sympathetic -- pointing out, among other things, that maybe he wouldn't hit into as many triple plays if he didn't swing so hard that he practically topples over on every hack. But at least, since his latest trey came in spring training, Pratt's penchant for doing everything in triplicate hasn't spread much beyond his own clubhouse.

"I'm trying to hide it as much as possible," he said. "At least one of them doesn't count."

At this pace, by the way, Pratt's next triple play should arrive on Sept. 21. But by his calculations, he's predicting a different date.

"Yeah," he laughed. "Never ... I hope."

The second thing the Twins know about Matt LeCroy is to always keep the video cameras rolling when he's in the lineup.

So there he was March 15, taking one of his usual furious swings in a game against the Marlins – when another highlight on his ever-growing blooper reel busted out.

The baseball went one way (toward third base). But LeCroy went another way – as in straight down. And then, as he was wriggling in the dirt, trying to figure a way out of this mess, he almost took catcher Mike DiFelice down with him – as DiFelice made the mistake of trying to scramble up the line to back up first base.

"Just more evidence," LeCroy told Spring Fever, "of what a talented guy I am."

Yeah, he's so talented, all right, that the Twins have collected numerous classic Matt LeCroy moments just like that one and assembled them on a video that is a prime candidate to become the baseball comedy hit of all time – if it ever makes it out of the clubhouse.

Asked if he was expecting his teammates to blackmail him with that tape, LeCroy chuckled: "Well, either that or put it on America's Funniest Home Videos."

DEL-GOTCHA OF THE SPRING

True fact: The Marlins got a home run from Wilson Delgado this spring before they got one from Carlos Delgado.

"Hey, we got the right name," assistant GM Dan Jennings told Spring Fever. "Just the wrong one."

INJURIES OF THE SPRING

• THIRD PRIZE – Two different Pirates pitchers were out for a couple of weeks this spring after getting hurt while sleeping. Oliver Perez showed up on the first day of spring training with a sore shoulder he said he got from sleeping on it funny. Then, a few weeks later, Salomon Torres fell asleep during a two-hour bus ride, woke up with a stiff neck and missed almost two weeks worth of games.

• SECOND PRIZE – Devil Rays pitcher Bobby Seay was out nearly a week with a bruised toe – after a stool fell on it. Ah, but what kind of stool? It was originally announced as a bar-stool incident, but Seay told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin the incident actually happened in his kitchen. "It was just a stool,'' Seay said. "I'm trying to take 'bar' out of it."

• FIRST PRIZE – Red Sox manager Terry Francona may have stayed healthy this spring, but his car didn't. He was driving to the ballpark, doing a radio interview on his cell phone, when he got rear-ended live. Which, he discovered, was a handy way of ending an interview.

"Next time someone asks me a tough question or a dumb question," Francona quipped, "I'm going to say I had a car accident."

BOXSCORE LINES OF THE SPRING

• San Diego's Woody Williams, March 10 vs. Colorado:

2 1/3 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

"On the plus side," joked manager Bruce Bochy, "he got a lot of work in backing up bases."

• The Cubs' Glendon Rusch, March 19 vs. Oakland:

2 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR

"It was an ambush," Rusch said.

• Cleveland's Denny Stark, March 18 vs. Atlanta:

1 2/3 IP, 6 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 2 HR (one to pitcher Mike Hampton)

If it's any consolation to Stark – who also gave up 11 runs in a real game last year against the Cardinals – Hampton said he had to hit a home run to avoid endangering his surgically repaired knee: "If I keep hitting homers, I'm going to be all right," he said. "As long as I don't have to break up any double plays or beat any balls out in the infield."

• Baltimore's Eric Dubose, March 27 vs. the Twins:

4 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2 HR

"I got my work in," Dubose said. "But it wasn't the work that I wanted to get."

HOW'D HE DO THAT BOX-SCORE LINES OF THE SPRING

• Washington's John Patterson, March 27 vs. the Mets:

3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

Obviously, a guy who strikes out eight hitters in three innings is unhittable. Then again, you can't get much more hittable than seven hits in three innings. So what the heck was he?

"You know, that's kind of crazy," Patterson told the Washington Times' Ken Wright. "You won't see too many lines like that."

• Cleveland's Jake Westbrook, March 20 vs. the Phillies:

5 IP, 14 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP

Fifteen baserunners in five innings. Only three runs. Hard to do.

• And here's one for the hitters – Detroit center fielder Craig Monroe, March 30 vs. Cleveland:

0 AB, 1 R, 0 H, 2 RBI

How'd he do it? A sacrifice fly. A bases-loaded walk. Then he scored after the walk. No problem.

RECEPTIONIST OF THE SPRING

We all know Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is a man with all the answers. So it only makes sense that three times on the same rainy morning, fans called his office to ask if the game was going to be played.

"That's what happens when you sign an extension with the Twins," Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune's La Velle Neal. "They give your extension out."

MARK BRUNELL IMITATION OF THE SPRING

Cleveland's Aaron Boone, just back after missing a year with knee surgery, committed throwing errors on his first two throws to first base of the spring. But at least his sense of humor wasn't as rusty as his throwing technique.

"I'm just looking to complete a pass," Boone told the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes. "I wonder what my quarterback rating is."

HEADLINER OF THE SPRING

One of the highlights of every spring comes when teams call up their best young prospects for a day, just to give them a taste of big-league life.

So on March 12, the Phillies tried to give hot center-field prospect Michael Bourn a thrill – by inserting him into a game against the Yankees at Legends Field.

The good news was: Bourn marched up there in the seventh inning and lined a single off Mike Stanton.

But then came the bad news. The next half-inning, Bubba Crosby hit a fly ball to center that disappeared into the Florida sun – and didn't reappear until it conked off Bourn's face, and caromed away for a Canseco-esque inside-the-park homer.

"It was the first time," Bourn told the Bucks County Courier Times' Randy Miller afterward, "for everything."

HAPPY NEW YEAR OF THE SPRING One of the beauties of spring training is that stuff happens there that bears no relation to anything that goes on in the regular season.

So it was nearly fitting that, in a March 12 game against the Pirates, Reds pitcher Todd Coffey gave up homers to three consecutive hitters. Which was one fewer home run than he allowed all last season in the minor leagues (in 55 innings).

"It was one of those days when I could have rolled the ball up there," Coffey told the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy, "and they would have 9-ironed it out of there."

STRAIGHT MEN OF THE SPRING

You knew the Red Sox camp was officially out of control when the cast of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" checked in to try to remake every Red Sox employee in sight.

The Boston Globe's Gordon Edes reports that ringleader Carson Kressley showed up in a pink jersey with rhinestone-studded letters – and asked GM Theo Esptein if there was any chance the club could change its name to the Pink Sox.

To which Theo replied: "I think red worked for us last year."

RED SOX ALUMNI OF THE SPRING

• One man who admires the Red Sox's generosity in handing out World Series rings is reliever Brandon Puffer (currently a Giants minor leaguer). His entire contribution to that world championship last year consisted of: 1) Getting traded to Boston by San Diego in July. 2) Spending the next two months in Triple-A. 3) Getting called up Sept. 2 and sitting in the bullpen. And 4) getting designated for assignment the next day, without ever pitching. But the Sox still phoned him in February to ask his ring size. What a country.

As it turned out, the only time all year Puffer appeared in a Red Sox game came last June 10 – when he pitched against them in their 9-3 win over the Padres. So at least, Puffer told the San Jose Mercury's Chris Haft, "I contributed that way."

• Another shocked ex-Red Sox notable this spring was shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who signed with the Angels and was stunned by his new team's attention to detail. Especially when compared with his former team's lack thereof.

"I got to Minnesota for my first game [with the Sox] and started asking guys what the signs were [on defense] for a double steal," Cabrera told the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna. "They said, 'The catcher just throws to second base.' But what about the sign from the catcher? 'The catcher will do a lot of stuff, but he just throws to second base.'

"What about a bunt? 'The catcher just throws to first base.' What about a stolen base [on offense]? 'If you want to go, just go.'

"They didn't bunt. They didn't hi and run. We won a World Series with no signs. Then you come here, and it's a big difference."

TRAVIS HAFNER-ISMS OF THE SPRING

No one outside of Ohio has noticed him yet. But Cleveland's Travis Hafner is more than just the next big slugger in the AL Central. He's also one of the funniest men in any division. Here are two of his most amusing pronouncements this spring:

• Is there an art to getting drilled? The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes wondered about that after noticing that the Indians had Hafner (17 HBPs last year), Alex Cora (18 HBPs) and Mike Kinkade (12 HBPs in only 26 games in Japan) on the same spring roster. But here's how Hafner described that "art":

"You could send a monkey up to the plate to get hit by a pitch," he said. "It takes no talent."

• Meanwhile, Akron Beacon Journal beat man Sheldon Ocker caught Hafner in a rare serious moment one day – and asked where his new philosophical tone came from.

"I read a lot of Socrates over the winter," Hafner quipped, then added: "Don't print that. You'll ruin my reputation."

Fully suckered in by this point, Ocker asked: What reputation was that?

"I'm not smart," Hafner replied, "but I can lift heavy things."

PINIELLA-ISMS OF THE SPRING

Not that Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella had any chance of topping that horse quote we fired out there earlier. But he's always a punch line waiting to erupt. Here are three we found particularly amusing, courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin:

• THIRD PRIZE – On having 22 percent of his starting lineup (Roberto Alomar and Danny Bautista) retire on the same day: "I didn't realize it was so tough to be a Devil Ray."

• SECOND PRIZE – On how he hoped to rework his batting order following those retirements: "I like [Aubrey] Huff in the third spot. I like Huff in the fourth spot. I like Huff in the fifth spot. Let me get three Huffs – Huff-Huff-Huff."

• FIRST PRIZE – On his new workout routine: "I'm benching about a 16-ounce porterhouse."

McKEONISMS OF THE SPRING

Then there's our generation's Casey Stengel – Marlins manager Jack McKeon, a man who always knows what he means. Even if no one else is quite sure. His greatest spring hits included these gems:

• On the juggling act the manager had to perform on a day the Marlins had split-squad games on both coasts of Florida – one in Jupiter, one in Tampa:

"It's tough when you've got two games overseas."

• On his new book:

"I can't remember what I put in it. But it's all positive."

• On the difference between this book and his first book:

"It's just like the first one. I don't know what's in that one, either."

MORE QUOTES OF THE SPRING

• From Marlins pitcher Al Leiter, after a reporter asked how he felt: "With my fingers."

• From new Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, on his unique shot-put throwing style: "It's disgusting. It's weird. I hate watching myself throw on TV."

• From Giants manager Felipe Alou, on the tortuous commute to Surprise, Ariz.: "You think it's close, but it's far. I think that's why they named it [Surprise]. You look at the map, you think it's eight blocks from here, but then it takes you an hour."

• From Reds outfielder Jacob Cruz, on what it's like to be on the bubble on the final cutdown day of spring training: "You feel like a turkey before Thanksgiving. You don't know which way to look. You are afraid to close your eyes or there might be a guillotine over your neck."

• From always-amusing Angels catcher Josh Paul, on how he'd been planning to argue for himself in arbitration this winter: "My big statistic was the number of innings caught between innings. I think I set a record last year."

• From new Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano, on how different it was to be a Yankee: "If I'm not mistaken, my first BP might've been [the same as] the attendance at my first home game with the Marlins. But I'm not sure, I'd have to look that up."

• Finally, from David Letterman, on his favorite moment from the congressional steroid hearings: "This one Congressman said baseball could not be trusted, and I was thinking, 'Well no, not like you can trust Congress.' "

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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