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Four camps in four days. Detailing Week 1 of the spring training bus tour in Arizona
The "Baseball Tonight Goodyear Bus Tour" is one week old and John Kruk has not strangled me yet. That will come in March when I'm recording spring training box score lines on the way to Jupiter, Fla.
In the first week on the bus, we saw the two defending league champions, the Giants and the Rangers, as well as the Reds and Angels. We heard of Bronson Arroyo's meeting with Eddie Vedder; Cody Ross' meeting with Jerry Rice; and we had separate interviews with the Wilsons, the Giants' Brian and the Rangers' C.J., who are so well, let's just say if Tom Hanks was stuck on the desert island with these Wilsons, he probably would have stayed.
Here is our weekly bus diary:
Feb. 15 at Giants camp in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Ross, an obscure outfielder who was acquired by the Giants on a waiver claim last summer and went on to be a World Series hero, was asked how his offseason went.
"Amazing,'' he said. He was given the key to the city in his hometown of Carlsbad, N.M., and Albuquerque, N.M., and there was an official Cody Ross Day all across New Mexico. "And I played golf at Pebble!'' he said, meaning the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Rice, Dwight Clark and a few other famous athletes from the Bay Area were there. Rice knew who Ross was.
"A year ago, if someone had asked him, 'Who is Cody Ross?' he would have had no idea,'' Ross said, laughing. Rice, the greatest wide receiver ever, was announced to the crowd and got a huge ovation. "Then they introduced me, and I got an even bigger ovation, it was unbelievable,'' Ross said, embarrassed. "And Jerry Rice is one of my heroes.''
Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a big offseason, too. Brevard Junior College in Florida, where he attended, named its baseball field after him. "Who would have thunk it?'' Bochy said, smiling.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had a small offseason, so to speak. He lost so much weight that he looks like a completely different person. Asked how much weight he lost, Sandoval said, "A lot.'' Asked what that meant, he said, "A lot,'' but said he wouldn't officially weigh in until all the position players reported. Sandoval confirmed that he weighed 278 pounds at one point last year. "He was so big,'' one teammate said. "He couldn't even bend down to pick up a ground ball.'' But in his personal workout on a back field, he moved very well taking ground balls and doing agility drills. "He challenged me to a race today!'' Ross said. "He said he can run a 6.7 [in the 60-yard dash].'' Sandoval said he took two weeks off after the season, then worked out every day, doing what he called "football workouts.'' Sandoval might be the most important Giants player this year. If he can play the way he did two years ago, their third base issue will be solved.
The Giants are the first team in divisional play history (1969-present) to win the World Series in a season in which they finished last in their league in batting average with runners in scoring position. And they became the first world champion since the 1968 Tigers to win the World Series in a year in which they were last in their league in steals (tied) and in stolen base percentage.
Closer Brian Wilson toured the bus. He was bearded, bizarre and brilliant. His act is partly contrived to some, but as the Rangers' C.J. Wilson said, "He's just messing around because he is so smart.'' When asked what it was like to walk into the clubhouse as a world champion this spring, Brian Wilson said he "can't help but look at my teammates and laugh, knowing all the characters we have. It's so lax and loose, guys in thongs, in weird costumes, guys fist pumping to 'Jersey Shore.'"
When he was asked for the moment he will remember most from the celebration immediately after winning the World Series, Wilson said, "I went up to Fordy [outfielder Darren Ford] and he was bleeding under his right eye. I said, 'Getting after it?' And he said, 'Dude, you punched me in the face.' I was so happy, I just blacked out.'' Wilson said he won't shave his black beard as long as the Giants continue to win, so if they win the World Series again he said, "I will be Rasputin.'' You are never sure if Wilson is being serious, but as he exited the bus he told a friend, "Dude, you should see my new ride for spring training. It's an unmarked police car.''
Feb. 16 at Reds camp in Goodyear, Ariz.
Arroyo called Wood "a mini-Cliff Lee,'' that's how talented he is. If Leake doesn't make the rotation, he would be a perfect long man out of the bullpen because he is such a good hitter. If he needed to go three or four innings, the Reds wouldn't have to burn a pinch hitter. Dontrelle Willis also is in camp, but he is being considered more as a left-hander out of the bullpen, where the Reds already have Bill Bray and Aroldis Chapman. Having three lefties out of the 'pen is such a bonus for a manager. There is pressure from some of the media to replace closer Francisco Cordero with Chapman, but don't look for that to happen, certainly not early in the season. Chapman has an amazing arm, but having thrown only 13 1/3 innings in the big leagues the thought of making him the closer, which he has never been, out of spring training doesn't make much sense.
Arroyo had a busy offseason, traveling all over the world (two trips to Costa Rica) and doing all sorts of things, including his second passion: singing and playing music. When asked if he could play with any band, he said without hesitation, "Pearl Jam. I met Eddie Vedder this winter. It was such a thrill. Now I've met him and Ozzie Smith. I can die as a happy man.''
A Kruk revelation: During his early days with the Padres, Kruk had a roommate, who unbeknownst to him was a bank robber. Kruk estimated that the guy robbed 20-30 banks before being caught.
Feb. 17 at Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz.
Spend a day with the Rangers and you will leave with the feeling Michael Young isn't going anywhere. Young's contract (three years, $48 million) will be very difficult to move, and the Rangers will not be willing to pick up a good portion of it just to get rid of a guy who is very much in their plans for 2011.
Young will get most of his playing time at DH, but the DH will also be used to give Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, among others, a day off but still get their four at-bats. Young could DH one day, play first base the next, third base the next and second base the next. The Rangers' goal is to get him a couple days in a row in the field each week to develop a rhythm on defense.
The Rangers may feel like they have 11 everyday players for nine spots, and every day two guys who want to play aren't going to play.
The Rangers are going to see this spring if closer Neftali Feliz can be a starting pitcher. They are going to stretch him out and have him develop his secondary pitches, and if all goes well he might go in the rotation, with Alexi Ogando or Mark Lowe doing the closing. If it doesn't work out this spring, Feliz will stay as the closer, and many would vie for three rotation spots.
Brandon Webb, who has missed the last two years with arm injuries, has gotten medical clearance to do all baseball activities this spring, but he will be brought along slowly on a more cautious program than the rest of the pitchers. Last spring while with the Diamondbacks, Webb went too hard, too quickly and didn't recover and missed the whole season. Asked how bad it has been for him sitting and watching the last two years, Webb said, "It has been terrible.'' He is very much in the 2011 plans for the Rangers, but having him ready by April 1 is a real reach.
C.J. Wilson visited the bus. Upon seeing the enormous heads of Kruk and Kurkjian painted on the back of the bus, Wilson said, "Your heads are as big as [Bruce] Bochy's [hat size eight].''
Wilson stayed for 30 minutes, but he could have talked for 30 days, that's how many interests he has. "I just love everything,'' he said. "I'm the opposite of ADD, if there is such a thing.'' He told us about the African safari he went on this winter: "We saw two alpha male lions fighting from 30-40 feet away, they are like 480 pounds. Ray Lewises, so muscled, so quick and agile. Remember how Brad Pitt used to stick his sword in people in 'Troy?' That's how the lions fought.'' Asked if he was afraid being that close to the lions, he laughed and said, "No. I knew I was faster than the six people in the jeep.''
Wilson went to Africa with his girlfriend, who is from South Africa and is a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. "I might be a little bit over my skis on this one,'' he said. And while he was in South Africa, "I did my first oil painting,'' Wilson said, proudly.
Wilson is one of the greatest fans of the TV show "Lost," and in great detail he explained what the hell happened in that show, especially in the final episode. "They use an element of non-linearity,'' he said. "I'd have 15 people over for a dinner party and we'd watch 'Lost.' No one talked, no one texted. In the commercials, we would discuss it. I was drawn into that universe. When the show ended for good, it was like a relationship ending.''
He also explained the ending in the movie "Inception," and in doing so he used the word "ambiguous'' and the phrase "spiritual zenith'' in the same complete sentence. Wilson said "Inception" or "Black Swan" should win the Oscar for best picture, saying, "The sound design in the 'Black Swan' was great.''
Wilson also spent the winter driving race cars, mostly a Mazda MX5. He is on a racing team and he won a few races, once going 145 mph on a curve on the ice. Asked if the Rangers had an issue with him driving a race car, he said, "I look at it like I'm unemployed every winter. I can do what I want. [Rangers general manager] Jon Daniels and I have a don't ask, don't tell policy.''
Wilson said he will miss teammate Vladimir Guerrero for two reasons: Guerrero is really good at taking a down-and-away fastball right back at the pitcher, "so I'm saying right now I will pitch him inside every time so he can hit the third base coach,'' Wilson said. He also said he will also miss Guerrero's mother's cooking. "She would make these stews with goat, weird parts of a cow and ox tail,'' Wilson said. "Everyone on our team will lose at least two pounds this year because we won't be eating Vlad's mom's cooking.''
Wilson said he can remember pitch counts, hitter tendencies, etc. from any point in his career because "I have a photographic memory. I can remember everything that I've ever done in my life. I never drink and I've never done drugs, so I have all my brain cells left."
As he left, Wilson explained that he also took a course this winter on knife fighting. "Now,'' he said, "if someone ever comes at me with a knife, I will know how to defend myself.''
Another Kruk revelation: His senior year of high school, when Kruk was 5-foot-10, 155 pounds, he could dunk.
Feb. 18 at Angels camp in Tempe, Ariz.
First baseman Kendry Morales, who broke his leg during a walk-off grand slam last year, is running at about 60 percent capacity but he's expected to be 100 percent by Opening Day.
The Angels will rotate their outfielders on certain days. They likely will start the season with Vernon Wells in left field, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right, their best defensive outfield. That is important because for the first three months of last year they might have had the worst corner outfield defense in the league.
Wells said he is open to playing left field. "The ball goes up, I go get it; I know how to do that,'' he said. When asked how much he's played left field, he said, "I did it once in the All-Star Game.'' And the last time before that? "Never,'' he said. If the Angels aren't getting enough offense from Bourjos, Wells can go to center and Bobby Abreu can play left.
The Angels acquired pitcher Loek Van Mil from the Twins last season. He is 7-foot-1, he is from the Netherlands and he didn't play basketball as a kid because it wasn't offered at his school in Holland. He said he gets asked "10 or 15 times a day'' if he is a basketball player. "I've played some pickup basketball, that's all,'' he said. Asked if he can dunk, Van Mil said, "Yes, I can. I only need a six-inch vertical [jump]. White men can't jump, but I can jump six inches.''
Van Mil said he was a catcher until he was 14 years old, when he was 6-6. "I got a little too big to be a catcher,'' he said. "Shin guards are supposed to cover the tip of your toes, they only covered my ankles. That's why I quit catching.''
He is 26 years old and said "time is running out,'' but he loves the game and his teammates love him. "I ride my bike to the ballpark,'' he said. "A lady stopped her car today and said, 'You are too big to ride a bike.'''
Yet another Kruk revelation: He retired suddenly in Baltimore in 1995. A week later, his agent called and asked, "Are you hurt? I haven't seen your name in the box scores.'' Kruk said, "Oh, I retired.''
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.
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